Higgs’s changes to NB language law would eliminate automatic 10-year review

The Higgs government has introduced amendments to the Official Languages ​​Act that would eliminate the legal requirement for a review of the legislation every decade.

It’s the only major change to the law, which has been a source of controversy for Premier Blaine Higgs since a mandatory review began in 2021.

The bill, introduced by Higgs in the legislature Wednesday, also authorizes the creation of an official language secretariat within the executive branch of government to co-ordinate compliance with the law in the civil service.

Higgs told reporters the secretariat would be able to recommend updates to the act at any time, rather than when the mandatory 10-year review is due.

“Rather than it becomes a big event that actually creates a whole lot of anxiety at the time, let’s have an ongoing ability to address any shortcomings, and let’s have an ongoing dialogue that allows us to have a meaningful way to do it,” he said.

A man in glasses and a suit responds to a question off camera inside the halls of the legislature.
“The fox is saying, ‘I can take care of the henhouse, and I don’t need to be accountable,'” said Liberal MLA Benoît Bourque. (CBC)

Nothing in the existing law prevents a government from updating the statute at any time outside the 10-year cycle.

The legislation requires the equal provision of provincial government services to the public in English and French throughout New Brunswick.

The 10-year mandatory review became law in 2002.

“I am appalled,” opposition MLA said

Opposition parties denounced its elimination and said they could not support Higgs’s bill unless that change is taken out.

“I am appalled,” said Liberal MLA Benoît Bourque, suggesting he may attempt to use procedural rules to filibuster the bill.

“The fox is saying, ‘I can take care of the hen house, and I don’t need to be accountable. I’ll be fine. Please trust me.’ That’s the message the minority is getting out of this. It’s totally unacceptable.”

Green MLA Kevin Arseneau said removing the mandatory review was a step backward for the legislation language.

A man in a gray suit flips through pieces of paper while a TV cameraman records over his shoulder and a reporter stands watching.
Green MLA Kevin Arseneau, holding the bill in question, said Higgs’s bill will be the first official legislation languages ​​to not win the support of all MLAs. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The province’s first Official Languages ​​Act was passed unanimously in 1969. A new act also passed unanimously in 2002, and updates to it were adopted unanimously in 2013.

Arseneau said Higgs’s bill will be the first official languages ​​legislation to not win the support of all MLAs. “Not in this form, absolutely not,” he said.

Despite a push from Kris Austin, a Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and former People’s Alliance leader, to eliminate the position of commissioner of official languages, the new bill would leave the position intact.

It also wouldn’t reduce the powers of the office, which independently fields complaints and conducts investigations when the act isn’t followed by provincial institutions.

The amendments would let the commissioner delegate her role to the secretariat in cases where she is in a potential conflict of interest.

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