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Historical overview of language rights in New Brunswick (Part 3)

*** To read part 1, "The Robichaud Years: The Birth of Language Rights in New Brunswick" and part 2, "Richard Hatfield: The 70s and Recognition of Collective Rights", of this series click here and here.

The 80s: Hope and Disappointment [1]!

The 1980s began on the right foot for the Acadian community of New Brunswick. As we saw in the previous text, in 1981 the Hatfield government adopted the Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Language Communities. However, this law was not to be the only moment of celebration for the Acadian community.

On July 1, 1982, after some stormy negotiations from which Quebec felt excluded, Canada repatriated its constitution from London, adding a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that specified those values deemed fundamental to the Canadian identity. New Brunswick's Acadian community would benefit from this constitutional amendment because of the inclusion of linguistic guarantees specific to New Brunswick in the Charter. For the first time since 1867, English and French were constitutionally recognized as official languages in New Brunswick.

Subsection 16 (2) of the Charter makes English and French the official languages of New Brunswick. It also specifies that the two languages have equal status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in the institutions of the legislature and of the government of New Brunswick. Subsection 17(2) recognizes that everyone has the right to use either English or French in the debates and proceedings of the legislature. Subsection 18(2) declares that the laws of the legislature shall be printed and published in English and French and that both versions have equal force of law. Subsection 19(2) recognizes the right of the public to use either English or French in all matters before the courts. Also, subsection 20(2) provides that the public has the right to use English and French to communicate with or receive services from any office of the institutions of the legislature or the government of New Brunswick.

Another very important language provision of the Charter is found in section 23. This provision guarantees, in all Canadian provinces and territories, the right of official language minorities to an education in their language and the right to manage and control the schools offering this education. As we have seen in the previous text, this right existed in New Brunswick before the adoption of this constitutional provision, the Hatfield government having recognized duality in education in the 1970s. Section 23 thus constitutionalized what already existed in New Brunswick.

Premier Hatfield surprised many, including myself, with his decision to enshrine these language guarantees in the Canadian Constitution. I have asked myself on several occasions why the provincial government agreed to these new constitutional commitments. The inclusion of language rights in the Constitution was not part of the Acadian community's demands at the time and did not seem to be part of a calculated political plan. In the early 1980s, the Bastarache-Poirier Task Force, which I will discuss further below, was given the mandate to conduct a complete analysis of the Official Languages Act without mentioning the possibility of constitutionalizing certain parts of the Act.

Some have tried to explain this decision of the New Brunswick government by associating it with a federal manoeuvre to force Ontario to proclaim itself officially bilingual as well. They may be right, but I do not subscribe to that hypothesis. I do not see why Ontario would suddenly feel compelled to become "bilingual" because New Brunswick opted for constitutional language guarantees.

In my view, the explanation lies elsewhere. Ever since the results of the Quebec referendum, which was a rejection of sovereignty, Hatfield felt the need to demonstrate to Quebec the willingness, if not of English Canada, at least of New Brunswick, to transform the Canadian federation. I believe he saw his decision to constitutionalize language rights as a way of stating loud and clear that New Brunswick's French-speaking minority has rights that protect its language.

Whatever the reasons for constitutionalizing these rights, the fact remains that it was an important victory for the Acadian community. It could finally count on rights enshrined in the most important document in the country, the Constitution, and expect that equality between the two official language communities could become a reality. Unfortunately, almost forty years after the adoption of these constitutional rights, this goal has yet to materialize.

In the election of October 12, 1982, Richard Hatfield's Conservatives won a fourth term with 39 of the 58 seats (Conservatives 39, Liberals 18, and NDP 1) in the Legislative Assembly. Even more significantly, the Conservative Party won the election in most of the predominantly Acadian ridings!

How can the Conservatives' tour de force in the Acadian regions be explained? To answer this question, we must go back to the progress made in language matters under Hatfield. Duality in education and the commitment to extend it to community colleges, the proclamation of the last sections of the Official Languages Act of 1969, the creation of a law school at the Université de Moncton, the inclusion of certain linguistic guarantees in the Charter, and finally, the adoption of the Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick are all feathers in the Conservatives’ cap that allow it to proclaim that it has heard the Acadian community.

However, the Conservative Party was a very heterogeneous and unique group at the time. It had brought together under the same banner, Acadian nationalists who spoke of autonomy and duality, as well as "Orangemen" who had little affection for language rights and none for the concept of duality. What united this disparate group was Richard Hatfield's iron fist.

We should not overlook the role that the "Grand Ralliement 82" held in Shippagan played in this electoral strategy. The official idea was to bring together Acadian leaders to provide them with an opportunity to publicly expose what they hoped for the future. The unofficial reason was to allow the Conservative party to get closer to the concerns of the Acadian community. Participants left the event convinced that the Conservative Party was the solution. They quickly became disillusioned when they discovered, following the election, that the fine speeches delivered in Shippagan were nothing other than hot air.

Having achieved their goal of winning the 1982 election, Richard Hatfield's Conservatives, exhausted and lacking imagination after 12 years in power, now had to find a way to govern the province for another term. This victory had the appearance of defeat and was already foreshadowing the disaster of 1987. What would become of the fine words spoken at the "Grand Ralliement" in Shippagan? Would the government announce new measures to lead the province on the road to linguistic equality? It was becoming increasingly clear that the government did not have the will or the energy to carry out the promised reforms.

Nevertheless, Jean-Maurice Simard succeeded in persuading the Premier that the time had come to review the Official Languages Act to bring it in line with New Brunswick's new reality. Premier Hatfield commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the Official Languages Act. He assigned the task to an anglophone from Ontario, Robert Kerr, of the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law, and three Acadians, Bernard Poirier and Martin Thériault, of the Official Languages Branch, and Michel Bastarache, then Dean of the Université de Moncton École de droit. Bastarache would coordinate the work and lead the Task Force.

The Group's mandate was to study and evaluate the impact of bilingualism in all areas of activity, whether in government services, parapublic organizations, municipalities, professional associations, or the private sector. The group was also given the responsibility of proposing a review of the Official Languages Act and presenting an action plan that would serve as a blueprint for implementing the fundamental principles of language planning in the province.

On May 7, 1982, the Task Force presented the government with a lengthy report that recommended, among other things, a radical overhaul of the province's language policy. The proposed new direction sought to achieve four objectives:

(1) to ensure that all citizens receive services of equal quality in both official languages. This equality of status would result in the elimination of delays and the establishment of a system that reflects the value of Francophones;

(2) to ensure that all citizens have reasonable access to a career in the public service and the opportunity to work in the official language of their choice;

(3) to ensure the equitable participation of both linguistic communities in the public service; and

(4) recognize the regional identity of linguistic communities and foster the development of both official linguistic communities.

To achieve these objectives, the Task Force suggested that the need for a form of duality and regionalization be recognized. In its view, duality would protect the large number of unilingual public servants and make bilingualism essential for only a small number of them. Duality would give primacy to the public servant's language of work and the provision of services to the public without intermediaries in either official language. By advocating this approach, the authors excluded solutions adopted elsewhere, such as the establishment of unilingual administrative regions as was done in Belgium.

Contrary to what some suggest, duality does not imply total duplication of the provincial administrative apparatus nor the appointment of two deputy ministers in each department. Rather, it provides for the creation of a Francophone and an Anglophone unit in each government agency where the language of work would be French and English respectively, with coordination and technical support services to be bilingual. This is more of an administrative rearrangement, rather than a political duplication as some had suggested. Autonomy would no longer be territorial; it would be administrative.

The report presented administrative regionalization as a cornerstone of its new language policy. Although the authors did not retain the idea of territorial duality, they argued that, for the linguistic homogeneity of New Brunswick's Francophone regions, regional identity must be recognized.

The Task Force also commissioned several analyses including a survey of the attitudes of both linguistic communities towards bilingualism. Michel Bastarache argued in his most recent book that this commission may have been a mistake. With all due respect to my friend, I must disagree. That study came to conclusions that I consider to be just as relevant today as they were then. It is sometimes difficult to hear the truth, but it must still be told, and for this I thank the authors of the Bastarache-Poirier report.

The survey revealed, among other things, that Anglophones in the province have little interest in bilingualism, unless it is to get a job. They do not seem to understand why Francophones should be treated differently than any other minority. They believe that their language is the language of business, the one best suited to new technology and the one most likely to develop in the coming years. They do not feel the need to learn French since most Francophones are bilingual.

The misunderstanding between the two communities is even more evident when it comes to discussing the degree of individual bilingualism that is required to respect the bilingual character of the province. A significant portion of the Anglophone population sees this objective as an attempt by Acadians to "win back the country". Other Anglophones ask the Acadian community to be patient, stating that with immersion classes, we will succeed in making the new generations bilingual. Let us take note that more than forty years later, bilingualism has not made much progress within the Anglophone community of the province.

On the other hand, the Acadian population does not aim to make Anglophones bilingual. Rather, they seek to have the right to live publicly in French and to preserve their language and culture. The fact that it is essential to speak English in North America does not seem to shock most Acadians. However, there is a big difference between speaking a language and having to adopt the cultural mentality of its users to succeed. What Acadians expected in terms of language was to have, not the privilege, but the right to receive services from their government and its institutions in their official language, on an equal footing with the majority.

As the Task Force survey showed, the attitudes of the linguistic communities towards each other are markedly different. Designing a language policy in this context is not easy. The Bastarache-Poirier study group responded valiantly to the task and was guided by one principle: to guarantee progress towards linguistic equality.

The Bastarache-Poirier report proposed a bold and innovative program. It made ninety-six (96) recommendations to bring about linguistic equality. Virtually all spheres of activity are included: professional associations, private and public sectors, as well as education, justice, municipalities and health. It also proposed the adoption of a Linguistic Rights Act to replace the Official Languages Act, and the creation of an official languages office, to ensure the implementation of language policies.

The Anglophone community reacted negatively to this report, rejecting it outright. It particularly condemned the concept of duality. The principle of equitable representation was also unacceptable to them, because, in their view, it would deprive Anglophones of jobs that should be theirs. Nothing in this report seemed to please them.

The Acadian community was satisfied with the work done. The recommendations met expectations. Regionalization and duality were already part of their demands. Duality in particular was considered essential, and moreover, it already existed in the social organization of the Acadian community. It would be a long-term battle to have it implemented within the Department of Education, but it was also the rallying cry for many other demands of the Acadian community.

While the Acadian community seemed to take the principle of duality as a necessity, this was not so obvious to the political class, which seemed embarrassed by the study group's conclusions.

When the report was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on May 7, 1982, Hatfield stated:

"While the government acknowledges that the current system needs to be seriously and carefully analyzed and that the objectives are fair and reasonable, we cannot accept duplication or parallel structures for government departments and agencies".

At a press conference on January 4, 1985, he stated again:

"Since June 1980, I have made two key statements on this issue [duality] on behalf of the government. The first was made in the House on May 7, 1982, when I tabled the Task Force Report entitled Towards Equality of Official Languages in New Brunswick. At that time, I strongly rejected the concept of duality, duplication or parallel structures".

But what to do with the Bastarache-Poirier report? The reasonable course of action would have been to prepare a white paper and submit it to a committee of the Legislative Assembly for review, which is what the report's authors proposed. Instead, on March 23, 1984, the Premier announced his intention to hold public hearings on the reports.

He announced the creation of a seven-member committee whose mandate was to seek public reaction to the Bastarache-Poirier report. The committee was initially co-chaired by Irène Guérette-Smith and Horace Hanson, but on November 30, 1984, Hanson resigned, accusing the provincial Official Languages Office of interfering in the committee's affairs. The committee therefore got off on the wrong foot.

Mr. Hanson was replaced by Lloyd B. Smith. The other members of the committee were George Cyr, Euclide Daigle, Forbes Elliott, Nancy Juneau, Margaret Larlee, and Duncan McGeaghy. To carry out its mandate, the Committee held nearly 150 hours of public hearings across the province and received 512 written submissions, 308 of which were presented in person to the Committee.

I did not experience the work of this committee live, given that during this period I was doing my Master of Law degree at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and since there was no Internet at the time, I could not follow the proceedings of these hearings. My father regularly sent me newspaper clippings and what I was able to read about them was not very encouraging.

Unfortunately, during these public hearings, some Anglophones demonstrated very hostile behaviour and an open hatred towards Acadians and Francophones. In Miramichi, individuals threw eggs at committee members. Some participants accused Euclide Daigle of having conspired with France against Canada during the visit of the "Acadian Four" to Paris in 1968! In Moncton, the information session degenerated into insults and jostling.

Humiliated and offended, the Acadian community discovered the two faces of the Anglophone community. The cordial face of the neighbour, the co-worker, the childhood friend, and the face of hatred of the large crowds at these hearings. Some seven years later, this opposition to Francophones would translate into significant support for the Confederation of Region Party, CoR, of which today’s People’s Alliance of New Brunswick is the natural heir.

It is also at one of these public hearings that Blaine Higgs would submit a brief entitled "Canadian or French, what are we going to be? "[2] In his brief, he denounced what he considered to be the "unrealistic fantasies of linguistic rights" and called for the dismantling of bilingualism in the name of "national unity". He wrote: "We have some 80 different cultures in this fine country. Imagine the chaos if each one of them demanded services in their native tongue. »

In his submission, he attributes some of the economic problems in northern New Brunswick to language, and praises the United States for its ability to unite under "one flag, one government and one language"!

In 1989, Higgs ran for the leadership of the CoR, a political party that was fiercely anti-bilingual and anti-linguistic equality.

In 2018, Higgs claimed that his views on official languages had changed. I am willing to acknowledge a certain "evolution", but I am not ready to accept, in his case, a conversion like that of Paul on the road to Damascus. Some of his recent positions show a very great lack of understanding of the raison d'être of language rights.

To come back to the Guérette-Smith Committee, it released its report on June 19, 1986. The report set out four principles to guide the development and implementation of a language policy in New Brunswick:

1) Every citizen has the right to receive government services of equal quality in the language of their choice.

2) The legal equality of the two official languages, the provision of government services in both official languages, and the presence of anglophone and francophone public servants in the civil service indicate that English and French are the languages of work in the institutions of the legislature and the government of New Brunswick. The Committee therefore proposes the organization of homogeneous linguistic work units.

3) Both linguistic communities must be equitably represented at all levels of the public service.

4) The government must create administrative regions on a linguistic basis to foster greater participation of the various socio-economic stakeholders in the planning, adoption, and management of programs and policies specific to each community.

Once again, the Francophone community reacted favourably to the findings of this report, and the Anglophone community totally rejected them. Politically, the report was rejected by both Conservatives and Liberals. In presenting the report to the Legislative Assembly, Hatfield rejected all the recommendations. The Liberal party took a few weeks to think about it, and on August 7, 1986, the new leader of the party, Frank McKenna, announced the Liberal position, which was identical to that of the Conservatives.

Michel Bastarache summarized the response of the political class, as follows:

"The Premier's response ... [to the Bastarache-Poirier and Guérette-Smith reports] does not do them justice; it signals the end of a regime. The Liberal Party's response is equally disappointing, but hardly surprising. Both Liberals and Conservatives are adopting statements of principle and refusing to consider any enforcement mechanism that is coercive in nature. It is not that the consequences of government inaction are unknown, although it is doubtful whether Mr. Hatfield and Mr. McKenna have actually read either of the reports, judging by some of their statements. It is that they accept the status quo, that they consider the situation perfectly legitimate. In New Brunswick, realpolitik is not designed around the needs or rights of the minority, or the concept of the two founding peoples; political realism is one that reflects the balance of political power, ignoring major principles. It is important that Acadian supporters of liberals and conservatives step forward without delay. If they condone the statements of the party leaders, Acadians who are members of these parties will be in conflict with Acadians who took a position on the language issue during the Committee hearings. Such a disconnect between political commitment and social commitment is unacceptable".

Michel Bastarache's warning is as relevant today as it was then. We still see a disconnect between political commitment and social commitment when it comes to language. In any case, none of the recommendations of these two reports were implemented. On the linguistic front, it would be a few more years before significant changes would take place.

The 1980s, which started on a promising note, ended in a disappointing manner on the linguistic front. The reaction of Anglophones at the public hearings and the creation of the CoR party caused Liberals and Conservatives to be doubly cautious regarding official languages. An attitude that continues to this day. Official languages are considered a hot potato that parties dare not address and if they must, they do so with excessive caution.

It is an exhausted, divided, and discredited Conservative party that would face the electorate in 1987. That evening, as president of the Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, I was part of the election night live coverage on Radio-Canada. The Liberal hurricane sweeping across the province left little room for comments. A first! All 58 seats to one party, the Liberals!

Despite the problems at the end of his reign, Hatfield will have made a positive mark on the political life of the province. The Acadian community would judge favourably the measures his government adopted to ensure greater equity in the treatment of the two official linguistic communities, especially during the 1970s and early 1980s. Hatfield had continued along the path laid out by Robichaud. He responded sympathetically to many of the Acadian community's requests. Despite his obvious political opportunism, he was an understanding and generous premier towards Acadians.

Also, Jean-Maurice Simard's immense contribution in all matters relating to official languages cannot be overlooked. I have often wondered if Hatfield would have been so receptive to these linguistic demands if Simard had not been there. The Acadian community owes a great deal to Simard. Unfortunately, we too often forget our own.

With Hatfield and Simard gone, the Acadian community had to deal with a new actor, Frank McKenna. He had captivated and filled many Acadian nationalists with enthusiasm. These Acadians ran and were elected under the Liberal banner. However, what was McKenna’s position on language issues? This will be the subject of my next text.

[1] If references are needed, I will be happy to provide them or you may consult my two books, Le discours confisqué, and Les droits linguistiques au Nouveau-Brunswick.

[2] This information is taken from the article by Mathieu Roy-Comeau, "Exclusif : Blaine Higgs n’a pas dit toute la vérité sur son passé", Acadie Nouvelle, April 20, 2018.

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