As a citizen of the only officially bilingual province in Canada, I want to share a few thoughts on bilingualism and linguistic duality, two topics that were the subject of much discussion and debate during the election period in New Brunswick. I would like to begin by congratulating the candidates from all parties, who wanted to work for the betterment of the public by running for office. Their involvement deserves to be recognized, appreciated and applauded.
I have the privilege of living in a province where, close to 50 years ago now, women and men of vision had the courage and the determination to enshrine their linguistic and cultural reality in a legislative framework. These visionaries created an environment where both official languages could develop and flourish in New Brunswick. While some challenges remain, New Brunswick has become a source of inspiration for the entire country.
Promoting and understanding bilingualism and linguistic duality in New Brunswick means recognizing and appreciating the social contract that unites its citizens. It also means honouring a vision of Canada firmly rooted in its Constitution, its statutes and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
What legislative measures do we have at our disposal to ensure that we can live together? It is important to note that New Brunswick is subject to two different legislative frameworks that govern official languages: the federal legislative system and the provincial legislative system. These two systems are independent, but largely complementary.
As an example, one of the areas covered by the federal legislative framework on official languages is the obligation to offer services in both official languages in all federal institutions. This includes regional Canada Post offices. However, these obligations do not apply to institutions that fall under provincial jurisdiction.
Indeed, New Brunswick created its own language regime, which is made up of provincially adopted statutes. Just like the federal government, the Government of New Brunswick passed its Official Languages Act in 1969 in response to recommendations from the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. This act, along with the accompanying policy and regulations, outlines the obligations and responsibilities of the provincial government regarding official languages.
However, the province wanted to go beyond its Official Languages Act. In addition to recognizing and protecting the status of the official languages, the government of the Hon. Richard Hatfield gave the province the Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick. This is what sets New Brunswick’s linguistic regime apart. By recognizing the equal status of the two linguistic communities, the spirit of the province’s social contract, rooted in linguistic duality, is affirmed.
Linguistic duality in New Brunswick is characterized by the way provincial institutions are run “by and for” official language communities. In 1993, the province succeeded in having this principle enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in section 16.1(1), which states that “the English linguistic community and the French linguistic community in New Brunswick have equality of status and equal rights and privileges, including the right to distinct educational institutions and such distinct cultural institutions as are necessary for the preservation and promotion of those communities.”
Since 1993, this provision has protected all educational and cultural institutions needed to preserve and promote New Brunswick’s linguistic communities and, notably, its health-care institutions.
New Brunswick and Canada have established a constitution, a charter, acts and regulations to prevent the infringement of the two official language communities’ rights.
Of course, people need to be aware of the existence of these instruments to preserve and promote official languages, and they must also understand them as well as grasp how they affect our collective governance. It is our individual and collective responsibility to increase awareness of the power and impact of these legal instruments at all levels of government and in all spheres of our society.
As a senator and as a resident of New Brunswick, I am very proud of the unique status of my province in Canada’s Confederation. That said, much remains to be done to achieve true equality, and that can only be accomplished through dialogue and openness. My hope is that we will be able to increase the number of such spaces where our two linguistic communities can meet as equals and work to build a promising future for New Brunswick.
This article appeared in the October 12, 2018 edition of The Daily Gleaner
Senator René Cormier is chair of the Senate Committee on Official Languages. He represents New Brunswick.