Notes for an address on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act

Fredericton, New Brunswick -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be back in New Brunswick again and to be speaking to you this morning.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is part of the traditional and unceded territory of the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq. For thousands of years, these Indigenous peoples lived, hunted, traded and travelled here. They have been important allies throughout the province’s history, and today, they are a vital part of New Brunswick society.

Before embarking on the topic of celebration that has brought us together today, I would like to extend greetings to Premier Blaine Higgs, Lieutenant Governor Jocelyne Roy Vienneau, and my counterpart, Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick Michel Carrier.

Those who know me know that I grew up in a Francophone community on the Prairies and that I’ve worked and lived in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. I therefore consider myself lucky to have been able to live the Canadian experience in a variety of ways, each with its own unique character and challenges.

Now, to kick off the celebration of the 50th anniversary of New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act, let’s go back in time a bit.

Historically, economically, geographically, and above all, linguistically, no other province has represented the Canadian reality better than New Brunswick.

This province boasts a rich Indigenous, French Acadian, and British Loyalist heritage. Today, it is the heartland of burgeoning cultural diversity. Its agricultural, forestry and industrial sectors have made a significant contribution to the rest of the country, not to mention the intellectual wealth and advances that continue to flow from its renowned universities.

Since the adoption of its Official Languages Act 50 years ago to this day, New Brunswick has been Canada’s one and only officially bilingual province. The effect this decision has had on the other Canadian provinces, which have gradually adopted their own measures over the years to advance English and French in Canada, cannot be overstated.

This year, Canada’s Official Languages Act is also celebrating its 50th anniversary. As part of an exercise to review the federal legislation, I will soon be tabling my recommendations for amendments. Some are directly inspired by New Brunswick’s experience, such as the decennial review of the act and the requirement of an implementation plan for official languages.

Promoting and protecting New Brunswick’s official languages have not been without their share of challenges, conflict and tension. But their success has been and continues to be the result of Anglophone, Francophone and allophone New Brunswickers working together in a partnership of mutual respect. On this special day of celebration, I think it’s important to focus on the ties that have united you for so long.

It was in this spirit that Premier Louis Robichaud, a French-speaking Liberal, ushered in New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act in 1969. And it was in the same spirit that Premier Richard Hatfield, an English-speaking Progressive Conservative, implemented the Act in the following decade. This legislation has been the legacy of both language communities and of all political parties for half a century.

Official languages have never been about competing against each other for a prize. As I said when the bill on the Indigenous Languages Act was introduced, recognizing linguistic duality is not a zero-sum game where we increase what we have at the expense of others.

New Brunswick is Canada’s role model. You set the standard on advancing official languages locally, nationally and internationally.

I encourage you to continue to live and promote the values that inspired Canada’s pioneers. Let the principles of openness, inclusion, respect for others and protection of both official language communities continue to guide your decisions, no matter what the context and no matter what the language.

As I’ve said many times, investing in young Canadians and in our communities ensures the vitality and longevity of Canada’s official languages.

For five decades, now, and against all odds, New Brunswick has been a leader in official languages and the Canadian experience. You have every reason to be proud. And that’s why you need to pass down this precious gift to future generations. My heartiest congratulations to you all! Thank you for your attention.