At the time this article was
written Emery Fanjoy was Secretary to the Council of Maritime Premiers. This is
a revised version of a paper delivered to the New York State Political Science
Association held in Albany, New York
Sixty three percent of the
population of New Brunswick is English-speaking, almost all of British descent
and with a loyalist tradition. Thirty two percent is French-speaking, the
greater portion of them being Acadians. About five percent have another mother
A peaceful social revolution has
been under way in that province for about 25 years. It is transforming the
province from one of political and economic dominance by the linguistic
majority to one of more representative participation. New Brunswick language
policy now reinforces the province's uniqueness. In all essential aspects of
public administration, both languages are legally equal.
Operationally, the new relationship
is not fully in place. Public services are not yet being delivered adequately
in both languages in all regions. Francophones are under-represented in the
senior ranks of the public service and in the capital. English is still the
predominant working language in most central offices. Municipalities and public
utilities have a mixed record of serving the public in the language of choice.
However, solid progress has been
made in implementing the policies and the new vision behind them. The province
has been transformed in both reality and attitudes from what it was only 20
The mainline political parties have
consistently supported the vision of New Brunswick as an officially bilingual
province, with the party leaders being in the forefront. Conflicts or concerns
on language policy have been worked out or suppressed within their caucuses.
With perceived public acceptance of the changes, the subject has not been a
major political issue except in the last few years.
Opposition to the vision was muted
and generally felt to be socially unacceptable. The risk of being labelled
"bigot" was real. There were no effective vehicles for opposing views
to be expressed. That changed last year with the formation of a new political
party. The Confederation of Regions Party exists because of its opposition to
official bilingualism. We will consider what led to its creation.
The English and French cultures are
not easy to summarize. They have been on this continent for hundreds of years,
in New Brunswick alone for 225 years, competing and cooperating in many ways
and at many levels. They have a thousand years of interwoven history in Europe.
In large part, Canada is defined by its French-English duality, with all the
historical baggage this implies. Our history is one of peaceful evolution based
on talking things out. You hear a lot of that on French-English relations these
days. We are country-building and, in the case of New Brunswick,
New Brunswick has a population of
720,000, with a density nearly the same as Maine, about 25 persons per square mile.
Several other characteristics of the province are similar to Maine: about a
50:50 urban/rural split of the population; a woods and water tradition for
employment and recreation; three dominant cities, with the capital being the
smallest of the three; and lastly, a remoteness from power in their respective
nations for most of this century.
The province is approximately a
square. If you draw a line from the northwest to the southeast, francophones
are mostly above the line and anglophones below it. Generally, throughout
history, anglo and franco New Brunswickers have not mingled much. Interaction
has been mainly between the elite, employees in branches of large firms,
travelling salesmen, some intermarriage plus people crossing the imaginary line
for casual employment. English has been the dominant language of business,
political and intellectual life. Economic power has been largely concentrated
in anglophone institutions. The capital, Fredericton, has been a unilingual
As an anglophone New Brunswicker,
with at least eighteen loyalist names in my family history and all other
ancestors having come directly from Ireland and Britain, my upbringing and
education in the 1940's and 1950's were typical of that for an English-speaking
New Brunswicker in the eight anglo counties. The upbringing was based on pride
in loyalist roots and British traditions. The French were portrayed in an
unflattering and detrimental light. The history and myths I was taught were no
different than those taught to generations before me and for some time
afterward. We were part of the majority — part of great English-speaking North
America and part of Great Britain. We seldom visited the French part of New
Brunswick and never saw anything that portrayed it in a positive light or in a
way that would increase one's curiosity. If one left anglo New Brunswick for
holidays, it was to New England or English Montreal.
I can only guess at what my
francophone fellow citizens were taught in their youth in the 1940's and
1950's. To be sure, their formal education was hampered by less money for
facilities and equipment. Their teachers had less education. Families had less
income and therefore less opportunity to be exposed to outside influences.
Their communities and institutions were visibly less wealthy. The church was an
important player in education, as well as in cultural and language cohesion.
With few exceptions, the people were Acadians, descendents of the original
settlers of the maritime provinces in the early 1600's. They too had their
myths. They were seared by the mass expulsion in the mid 1700's, so
imaginatively portrayed by Longfellow in "Evangeline". They were on
the edge of society politically, economically and socially. They were not
Quebecers. France hardly knew they existed. They had learned to survive by a
combination of determination, courage and compromise. If they left French New
Brunswick for holidays, it was probably to Quebec.
Stability and change
The province has had a history of
political stability. Those in authority have generally been respected and
accepted in the British tradition. The book, In Search of Political
Stability: a Comparative Study of New Brunswick and Northern Ireland, by
Edmund Aunger, documents it well. His study focused on the French-English
cleavage in New Brunswick and the Protestant-Catholic cleavage in Northern
Ireland as potential sources of instability. The negative headlines of the
Northern Ireland story are well known. The positive story of New Brunswick is
hardly known at all.
The tradition of stability in New
Brunswick continued throughout the 1960's, the period of awakening of
Quebecers, closely followed by the Acadians. One of the most important
francophone institutions, the Université de Moncton, a unilingual French
university, was created in 1964. The violence in Quebec during that decade and
the next was not replicated in New Brunswick. The stability continued when
francophone New Brunswickers gained basic legal rights related to language in
1969. The Department of Education was divided into autonomous French and
English components, each with a deputy minister, in 1974.
In the 1970's, Fredericton started
to become the emotional capital for all New Brunswickers and a place where
francophones could live happily and raise a family in their language and
culture. This change was vital to make public service employment in Fredericton
attractive to francophones. That task is far from complete but progress has
been made. Moncton, a city of both cultures but economically a bastion of anglos,
recently elected its first Acadian mayor and made other moves to become more
hospitable to the francophones of the southeast region. Saint John, the largest
city, with a deep and proud loyalist tradition, has also been gradually opening
its mind on this issue.
In hindsight, the changes go back
many years. The pace of change however has quickened dramatically in the last
20 years. The old vision and reality of New Brunswick is being replaced by the
new vision. The old vision included English dominance in key affairs. It was
reinforced by loyalist myths. The new vision includes fundamental equality of
the two language groups in all affairs and all parts of the province. It is
built on a blending of the loyalist and Acadian myths into something that
describes the combined history of the people.
There are many milestones in the
evolution of the language vision of New Brunswick but these stand out:
1960 election of the first Premier
of Acadian descent;
1969 passage of the Official
1974 administrative changes in
department of education;
1981 passage of the Act to
Recognize the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities;
1982 entrenchment of official
languages provisions in the Constitution Act, 1982;
1988 official languages policy for
the civil service;
1990 request to entrench the
equality provisions of 1981 in the Constitution Act, 1987.
One aspect of the voting profile is
important. Because of the concentration of francophones in certain regions,
they dominate voting in 19 of the 58 constituencies in the province. Further,
they are a significant minority or small majority in another eight
constituencies. This political leverage combined with other factors has been
used effectively to maintain, create and expand their institutions and symbols
and to secure favourable laws and public policies.
New Brunswick like the other
maritime provinces but unlike most of the remaining provinces, has been
dominated by the two major national political parties throughout this century,
the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. Flurries of interest in a third
party, once in the 1920's and again after World War II, were shortlived.
The Liberal party now forms the
government, having won every seat in the legislature in 1987. The Progressive
Conservatives, in office for 17 years (the longest period for one party in the
province's history) are recovering from their defeat. The Tories had
traditionally been the party of the English. That long-standing pattern was
broken during the 1970's and both parties now have a good base throughout the
province. The Tories are going through a difficult rebuilding, no one knows how
ready they will be for the election expected next year.
The New Democratic Party has never
been a serious factor in the province but its members have been trying for
about 15 years to make a breakthrough. Their current leader is dynamic and
respected. The next election will be an important test of whether the NDP has
become a significant force in the province.
Interestingly, the leaders of both
the Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party are women. That
reflects well on the province's capacity for change.
Last year the Confederation of
Regions Party came into being. Its origins are on the prairies, where it is still
active and in English New Brunswick it has taken root, attracting large numbers
of people. Its raison d'être is to oppose official bilingualism.
The current tension over language
is not the only major change New Brunswick society has recently absorbed. In
1967, the Robichaud Liberal government enacted a series of legislative changes
known as "the program for equal opportunity". The previous system of
public services was heavily based on local ability to pay. Since services such
as health, education and welfare were local responsibilities, the quality of
those services depended on the wealth of the community. People in poorer
regions had less opportunity to get the basics of life as a prerequisite to
improving their circumstances. The legislation transferred total financial
responsibility for four people-related services — health, education, welfare
and justice — to the province. Municipalities were left only with the financial
and delivery responsibility for property-related services.
There was strong reaction to the
program from the better-off areas of the province for obvious reasons. There
was also reaction because the outcome was, in general, that funds were
transferred from anglophone areas to francophone areas. Nevertheless, the
legislation was passed and equal opportunity has been in place for 23 years.
The laws have been progressively fine-tuned since the highly centralized
original regime and are now well accepted.
Few, if any, other jurisdictions on
the continent provide such a consistency in the level of basic public services
to all, and I emphasize all, as are now delivered in New Brunswick.
The events, forces and conflicting
visions in other provinces on the subject of language and on Quebec affect New
Brunswick. One example is that people of the province share in any great
national debate and are concerned about the outcome. Being one of the founding
provinces, New Brunswick has always been comfortable with a strong national
government. At the same time, they have a long-standing relationship with
Quebecers and are sensitive to their concerns. Given their unique history of
passing progressive laws on official languages, New Brunswickers have felt free
and perhaps even obligated to express and press their views and visions of Canada.
A second effect of external factors
has been their influence on debate within the province. Examples of perceived
or actual intolerance elsewhere by one language group against the other are
magnified and internalized in New Brunswick. The recent "sign" issue
in Quebec is used by English-only advocates in New Brunswick to justify their
views. Anti-French moves by Ontario municipalities and in the legislatures of
Saskatchewan and Alberta increase the insecurity of New Brunswick francophones.
The possibility of the breakup of Canada is seen as a great threat.
At the individual level, perceived
insensitive application of language policy and questionable appointments in the
federal public service in New Brunswick have been unsettling on more than one
occasion. Just one example: the Fredericton airport is operated by the federal
ministry of transport and Commissionaires provide the first level of security,
offering advice, information and assistance to the public. The commissionaires
are generally older men, veterans and proud to have a job to maintain their
financial independence. In Fredericton, they are unilingual. A federal
directive was issued that the service had to be bilingual. A great uproar was
created, raising the spectre of these fine unilingual veterans being done out
of a job in favour of bilingual persons — francophones obviously. Of the
thousands of management decisions made annually by both levels of government,
there are many such opportunities for misunderstanding and administrative error.
Occasionally they become perceived publically as examples of grievous threat
and are used by one side or the other to reinforce a point of view.
One final question is how external
factors concerning language influence attitudes about the strictly New Brunswick
issue. Do New Brunswickers feel that, no matter what happens elsewhere, they
have a unique problem that they must solve for themselves. Historically, the
answer has clearly been "yes". That is perhaps less certain now, but
I am optimistic that the answer will continue to be "yes".
The Current Political Scene
As mentioned earlier, in 1974 the
Department of Education was divided into English and French units. A new Schools
Act in 1981 established 27 English-language and 15 French-language school
districts. New Brunswick's education system is definitely the most
comprehensive in Canada in terms of linguistic equality.
These changes have permitted
curriculum and materials to be sensitive to each culture, and all controversial
aspects of the education function to be managed and delivered by people who are
part of each culture. Previous tensions in a number of communities have been
dissipated by this refinement.
French immersion is very popular,
as you would expect. It is available in all school districts and demand has
continued to grow rapidly. Fully 16,335 of the 89,649 students in the English
system this year are in full immersion programs — 18 percent of the school
population, which is the largest percentage in Canada. The first products of
this system are either in the work force or coming out of university in growing
numbers. They are already having a leavening effect on language tensions.
Another area of sensitivity is
employment in the civil service. In 1988 the government issued its policy on
official languages. The policy is in two parts: the language of service to the
public, and the language of work.
The policy requires all departments
and agencies to have the institutional capability to meet their obligation in
both parts. This is being done by requiring "teams" to be defined and
have the team, rather than each employee, meet the obligation. Using this
approach, positions are in general not identified by language requirement. This
is in contrast to the federal government approach which designates every
position by language. All teams are to be functioning with their planned
capability by September 1993.
All government departments have
spent over a year designing their teams and analyzing how they will meet their
obligation under the policy. A detailed report on the current plans of each
government department was recently made public. The results make clear that the
goal is achievable. Reaction by employees and others has generally been
There are 12,000 civil service
positions. For all but 702, the current language capability is not changed.
About 430 of the 702 people will be offered language training, while 268
positions must be filled by hiring or transfer. That is two percent of the
Staffing of positions in
Fredericton is particularly sensitive in that it is where most policy and
management functions are and, therefore, the best opportunities for senior
positions. For francophones, it means moving to a non-francophone community.
There are 4,127 positions in Fredericton. Action is required on 459 of them,
with 171 needing staffing. That is four percent of the total.
There has been steady progress in
making courts and administrative tribunals offer services in both languages. At
present 12 of the 27 provincial court judges and 15 of the 28 Court of Queen's
Bench judges are bilingual. The province has recently announced that it will
introduce legislation ensuring people can appear before administrative
tribunals, such as the workers compensation board and the liquor licensing
board, without interpreters.
The Controversy: The Disaffected
Significant changes in society are
not accomplished without problems. What are the sources of these tensions?. One
is fear. There is a fear that public service employees will have to be bilingual
and only franco-New Brunswickers will fill them. There is fear even that the
goal of franco-New Brunswickers is the takeover of the government, a variation
on the same fear expressed about the national government and the subject of a
book in the 1970's, Bilingual Today: French Tomorrow. There is a strong
feeling in some people that public spending is skewed to francophone areas and
fear that the trend is increasing…an example of the perceived takeover.
There is also general concern about
the economy and jobs in the private sector. New Brunswick has had unemployment
rates in the 10-14 percent range for many years. The economy has always been
vulnerable to global economic forces, the state of the American and central
Canadian economies, and to exchange rate changes plus other factors. It is
convenient to blame the English-French issue for what has diverse and complex
There are serious language tensions
currently in New Brunswick. The tensions have led to the creation of a new
registered political party, the Confederation of Regions Party, dedicated to
removing all rights based on the French language. There is no doubt that it is
considered acceptable to say things, write things and print things that we have
not seen for a long time.
The bilingualism program is
considered to be very expensive. If funds are available, many people feel that
other public programs such as roads, debt reduction, teachers and hospital beds
should be a higher priority.
Finally there are those who see
Canada as a unilingual country based on the defeat of the French on the Plains
of Abraham in 1759. To them, there is neither the slightest rationale to do
anything special for the French nor any legal or moral obligation toward them.
The people who express extreme
views on this matter are determined: their minds are made up. They have
"facts" of which they are certain and they have built mythology
around them. Loyalist myths reinforce their conviction. I am using
"myth" here in the same sense that Walter Lippmann did when he said,
"the distinguishing part of a myth is that truth and error, fact and
fable, report and fantasy, are all on the same plane of credibility."
It is hard to know how many people
hold extreme views. The views of the anglophone populace cover the spectrum
from strong support for the official languages policy to extreme opposition to
it. One recent poll suggests 20 percent of New Brunswick anglophones oppose the
policy. That is not high, but definitely too high for comfort.
Who are these people? That too is
hard to know. They probably represent a cross-section of rural and urban people
and cover the economic and social spectrum. After all, people can have a
variety of motives behind their common views on this subject. The only point
that seems to be agreed is that, on average, supporters of the more extreme
views tend to be older citizens.
The Confederation of Regions Party
has become the party of protest on this subject. Some 2,500 people attended the
founding convention last year. It has some 20,000 members. Its president is a
former cabinet minister. The leader is a soft-spoken person who communicates
reassuringly, at least if you're English-speaking. The party insists that it is
not a one-issue party and is developing policy positions on other issues. It
probably has, or could obtain, the funding needed to run a serious campaign.
The party intends to run candidates in most ridings. A poll in February of
voting intentions indicated that twelve percent of voters would vote for the
COR party if an election were held then.
The three mainline parties all
support the bilingual vision of New Brunswick. There has been no political
home, until now, for those who opposed the vision. There is an official vacuum
in the politics of the province because there are no opposition members in the
legislature. The COR party competes equally and rather effectively for
headlines. One could see it electing some members at the next general election.
However, it is no longer a bed of
roses for the COR party and its supporters. Now that it has official status,
statements by its leaders are given closer scrutiny. Like all politicians,
sometimes their flights of rhetoric get them in trouble and open them to
effective criticism. Francophones have protested the more extreme statements
with moderation, but have stayed generally quiet. Moderate francophones have
challenged moderate anglo New Brunswickers to deal with the COR party, just as
Acadian moderates dealt with the separatist Parti Acadien in the 1970's.
There is evidence of that
happening. Letters to press editors and editorial comment are challenging
supposed facts in letters from the COR party and its supporters. Leaders in
several walks of life are praising the virtues of brotherhood, tolerance and
generosity in newspapers, the pulpit and on the podium. Communities are
twinning. Dialogues are being organized between Chambers of Commerce, youth and
senior groups and service clubs. Exchanges are increasing. The mainline
parties, starting with the premier, are attacking the values, visions and erroneous
statements of the COR party head on. None of these things were being done a
These comments would not be
complete without mentioning certain other issues. One is isolation between the
two cultures. The creation of independent education systems has reduced the
opportunities for student interaction. A youngster can more easily go through
his or her school years and not rub shoulders with someone from the opposite
language group. That is a concern. Further, francophones have split away from a
number of English-dominated provincial associations because their concerns were
not being met. Again, this has advantages but has serious disadvantages also. I
think you will see actions to reduce the tendency toward isolation resulting
from structural changes. In addition, habits that have kept each culture from
knowing the other will be attacked in several ways: exchanges, conferences,
A number of public services are not
yet subject to legal provisions on language. These include professional
societies, hospitals, municipalities and utilities. In general, they are
reacting to the wave of change constructively and without coercion. But it is
doubtful that francophones will be satisfied to not have legal rights in these
areas and to risk being treated in a second-class way. And there is a deeper
concern. At some point, when there are a large number of bilingual anglophones,
will Acadians feel secure that people of their culture will get key public
posts, or may people of the other culture get them? This is the reverse of the
problem now, but one which is already creating fear among anglophones.
I am very optimistic for the future
of New Brunswick. The people are moderate, and modest in the best sense of the word.
They are generous. They have a track record of absorbing and accepting change.
Most understand and accept that a better balance between anglophones and
francophones is necessary. They know language policy is an area in which they
lead Canada and have obligations to set an example. They know that knowledge of
more than one language can be an asset. I see no workable alternative to
meeting the reasonable expectations of 240,000 people who are educated,
determined and have the law and moral authority behind them.
At a conference last winter, Mme.
Antonine Maillet, a writer, winner of the Prix Goncourt and probably the best
known New Brunswicker, attempted to describe her fellow citizens. She said that
they are neither Acadians nor loyalists nor natives. They are New Brunswickers.
They all have been shaped by the intermingling of the three cultures over eight
generations and in infinite ways directly and indirectly; and shaped by the
sea; by being a peripheral people; by history and by the natural environment.
Taken together, these forces make New Brunswickers distinctly different. I am
confident in the wisdom of the people to continue to build on their positive,