“Last week I had the opportunity to speak with reporter Adam Huras on a number of topics surrounding the provincial election slated for next year. The subsequent article that followed “Ballot Box Issues Examined”, accurately laid out my thoughts on one of the main issues that will no doubt be central in voters minds as they cast their ballot in 2018: Language. This topic came to light once again (further confirming my prediction) when the spotlight was on the Fredericton Police Force and a recent traffic stop on Smythe Street.
According to media reports, a vehicle was pulled over by the Fredericton Police because of an invalid registration sticker. What ensued quickly became an issue over language, as the driver of the vehicle wanted service in French and the officer was not bilingual. The back and forth between the officer and the driver concluded with a ticket for an expired registration. The driver reacted by sending an eight page complaint to the City of Fredericton who turned it over the the New Brunswick Police Commission.
What puzzles me is the fact that there were three other people in the vehicle. Was everyone in the car that day unilingual francophone? Could those individuals not assist a simple conversation between the officer and the driver if it was needed? Did the officer conduct himself respectfully, or was he so boisterous to cause intimidation and shock amongst the occupants of the vehicle?
I do not know the answers to those questions, but one thing I have learned about language in New Brunswick is how sensationalism can quickly drown out any rational debate on the topic. There are some who believe New Brunswick should be English only in how government offers service to it’s citizens, which is completely unreasonable considering approx. thirty percent of our citizens are francophone. Then there are others (like our language commissioner and sitting MLAs) who believe all government staff and agencies, those subcontracted through government, and professional associations should be bilingual. The latter two was actually brought into the Official Languages Act under the former Tory government and passed unanimously by all MLAs.
I believe that the majority of New Brunswickers, French and English alike, believe a balanced and common sense approach to language is not only possible but is becoming increasingly necessary. How is it that large cities like Toronto and Vancouver are able to effectively serve their multi-cultural populations without all the commotion we see in this province? The answer is simple: they use a team approach, dedicated translation lines and technology to overcome the language barriers. What they don’t use is a central government to dictate language quotas and over reaching legislation.
The People’s Alliance has advocated for a rational approach to language in New Brunswick. We do not need an Official Languages Act that stretches into the private sector. We do not need a divisive Language Commissioner that is constantly on the witch hunt for unilinguals.
Government offering front line service to both linguistic communities where numbers warrant is reasonable, but in doing so should not exclude or demote public servants who are not bilingual. Rather, it should be based on demographics and utilizing translation services, technology, and a team approach. Good will, a sense of fairness, and above all common sense can go a long way when it comes to language in New Brunswick.
Leader, People’s Alliance