French New Brunswick is losing ground

This text was first published by the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal on June 23, 2018.

As an Acadian New Brunswicker, I can tell you my community is losing ground. We have used the courts and the ballot box, laws and community organizing and fundraising. We’ve survived, but things are not going great. And, to tell you the truth, we still don’t have what you have in English New Brunswick.

What has been your best strategy for obtaining service in your language? What exactly do you do when you can’t get served in English? I don’t mean the everyday stuff, like buying milk and bananas at the corner store. I mean what do you do when the government office, or your MLA, or the day care operator, or the nurse can’t speak English? You obviously have better strategies than we, French-speaking New Brunswickers, do. Do you pay extra to be guaranteed service in your language?

When you have an emergency and you go the hospital or call an ambulance, how do you prepare? People I know call their bilingual children to come over so that when the ambulance gets there, they will be understood. Others ask around or search on the internet how to say in English, « it hurts like hell right here. » What do you say when the ambulance person speaks in another language? Are charades or software apps useful? Or do you just hope for a fast ride to the hospital?

What has been your best strategy for the survival of your language? Could I attend the meetings where you strategize on ways to avoid assimilation? What measures does your community take to ensure your language and culture survive?

These questions are important to New Brunswick. If we can’t empathize and be rational about English and French co-existence, if we can’t see that French and English co-existence is important, we won’t get around to our real issues.  There are New Brunswickers who blame other New Brunswickers for wanting what they have, and there are New Brunswickers who want to make New Brunswick better for all.

That Acadians are losing ground is seen in everyday experiences, in statistics and in politics.

The lack of progress in obtaining service in French even for basics such as health care, and the lack of a plan for progress.

The incivility increasingly shown and tolerated when these issues are raised in person or in the media.

The recent decline in the percentage of New Brunswickers using French as their first language – to 31.9 per cent in 2016 from 33.8 in 1971.

The government unwillingness these last few years to concern itself with the status of linguistic equality and how bilingualism is working, with ensuring it is following its own language laws.

The loss of control of some segments of services such as extra-mural services and nursing homes, due to privatization.

Politicians’ fear, nay disdain, for discussing these issues, their dismissive treatment of reports by the Commissioner of Official Languages, their unwillingness to prioritize linguistic equality when planning services, privatization, immigration.

In about three months, we will have a provincial election. The campaign leading up to it could go a few different ways regarding the language question.

Maybe it will be avoided. In that case, we’ll deal with it after the election.

Maybe one party will force the other to defend its stand on bilingualism. Maybe Blaine Higgs will force Brian Gallant to either defend linguistic rights or continue to remain silent, forcing him to lose and attract voters with either choice. Maybe Brian Gallant will ask Blaine Higgs, since when did conservatism mean that public workers trump taxpayers?

Maybe the campaign will descend into the abyss of neighbour-bashing and New Brunswick will be shown to be a backward land, where politicians and communities have no idea how to govern themselves.

Maybe reasonable people in the political parties and in the communities will wake up and say stop avoiding the real issues.

The Gallant government benches had the highest proportion of francophones of any provincial government and, yet, due to party politics and lack of courage, competence and vision, this is the government that has done the most damage to Acadians’ ability to thrive. The Opposition eagerly helped the government down that slope. There was the actually wonderful Gallant coming-out speech given in southern and northern New Brunswick: « Hi, I’m Brian, I’m Acadian. » But nothing before or since.

Bilingualism will not bankrupt this province, but scapegoating will. Refusing to discuss issues, rationally will. The fixation on turning back the clock will. Blaming poor economic performance on school buses will. Letting citizens spew hate and false information, while we silently tut-tut and sit on our hands, will.

The lack of reaction from responsible institutions such as government, political parties, media – nay, the collaboration of some of these in blaming the minority – is hurting the province, not just Acadians. Some politicians treat the “language issue” as if it was taboo. Who would think of becoming a politician if they don’t know how to discuss issues? Are the main political parties so devoid of ideas that they’ll jump on the blame bilingualism bandwagon because then we might not notice they don’t really have a plan to help the province thrive?

Is there an adult in the house? These are not New Brunswick’s finest days in politics. We’ve come through a few years of political improv, of more and more government by preferred supplier, of unchecked hostility against Acadians, and useless discussions about everything but what matters most to the province’s future.

We could be marshalling and equipping all the forces in this province, the municipalities, associations, economic movers and shakers, universities, citizens’ groups – all world-class and undeserving of the poor political leadership we have seen lately – to be successful at implementing the plans they have for improving community and economic life.

Or we could do what we’re doing.

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