Language commissioner finds ‘myths’ about government jobs and bilingualism

The majority of New Brunswickers continue to strongly support official bilingualism, but myths persist about language and government jobs, the language commissioner says.

More than 80 per cent of people taking part in a survey by MQO Research for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages expressed support for bilingualism and the Official Languages Act.

Language Commissioner Shirley MacLean said the overall results are positive, but she hopes to address “myths” about the act. She said she continues to encounter people who believe the act favours francophone people for government jobs.

MacLean said 55 per cent of government jobs in the civil service sector are available to unilingual people.

“It’s more like 40 per cent of government jobs, where there’s a bilingual component,” she said.

MacLean said it’s up to individual departments to decide exactly how that percentage is applied across different levels of responsibility and pay scales, as it depends on how public-facing the job is and the size of the department.

“It’s hard to say from department to department, quite honestly, what that percentage would be. It would vary,” she said.

She did not have the percentage of unilingual jobs for other sectors such as health care.

Some people also believe the act’s goal is to make everyone bilingual. In fact, the act mandates that public bodies be able to adequately serve people in both languages, not that everyone be bilingual.

11:54Bilingualism support

A public survey busts some myths and examines the health of bilingualism and the Official Languages Act in New Brunswick. Shirley Maclean is the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick. 11:54

MacLean also said she can’t explain where the idea that there aren’t unilingual government job opportunities comes from. She compared bilingualism job requirements to the requirement for a nurse to have a nursing degree.

“If I did not have that competency, then … I’m not eligible for that particular employment. And it’s the same for the bilingual capacity.”

She said in the health-care sector, some people who interact directly with patients need a certain level of knowledge of both languages in order to serve every New Brunswicker safely.

Health-care bilingualism requirements have been under the spotlight for years, especially after the rise of the People’s Alliance Party in 2018.  

Former Alliance leader Kris Austin campaigned on making hiring requirements more “fair” for unilingual Anglophones. Before being elected, former Alliance MLA Michelle Conroy also told her story of being passed over for a health-care job because she did not have the French requirements, despite her years of experience. 

The party was dissolved last week after both MLAs joined the Progressive Conservative government and reiterated that they’re not against bilingualism as a whole. 

Solutions and other survey findings

MacLean said one way her office will try to address the hiring myth is to try to educate people about how the Official Languages Act works and the services her office provides.

She said the majority of people surveyed didn’t know her office existed, and she believes raising awareness will give people confidence to bring complaints to her when encountering perceived language discrimination.

“It’s up to us really to get out there and explain what those rights are,” she said. “It’s important to get out there and talk about the positive aspects of it, because clearly the survey shows that the majority of us do support it.”

For the survey, 800 New Brunswickers were chosen randomly. Eighty-nine per cent of respondents were confident that they could receive government services in the official language of their choice, but some francophones said the quality of service they received in French was worse than the service they would have received in English.

Ninety-two per cent of respondents felt it was important that instruction in the other official language be available in New Brunswick schools, and 91 per cent felt that second language training for adults should be available free of charge.  

MacLean also said young anglophone were more likely to report a good level of bilingualism than their older counterparts.