Canada: Listening on language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jun 17 12:48:43 UTC 2008

Listening on language

>>From Monday's Globe and Mail

June 16, 2008 at 8:13 AM EDT

'Quashing" is a technical, but pleasingly expressive word for what
happened to an ill-considered decision to phase out early French
immersion (EFI) in New Brunswick, Canada's most genuinely bilingual
province, and our only officially bilingual one. The judgment on
Wednesday of Mr. Justice Hugh McLellan of the province's Court of
Queen's Bench rightly took no position on the policy issues of
bilingualism and education. On procedural grounds, he quashed, or
struck down, a decision in March by Kelly Lamrock, the Minister of
Education of New Brunswick. But those matters of procedure point to
matters of substance.

One moral of the story may be that politicians should be careful of
what they promise in the way of consultation. In July, 2007, the New
Brunswick government appointed two commissioners to review
second-language education in the province. The government would
respond to their report within two months, which Mr. Lamrock said
would "allow for a full debate and cabinet response." The
commissioners reported at the end of February. A government news
release said the views of citizens on their findings and
recommendations would be welcome and listened to.

 The report found that many children who start in early French
immersion do not carry on in French through high school, and concluded
that it should be phased out. That was just before the March break
began. Within two weeks, Mr. Lamrock announced that the phase-out
would start in September.
On the causes of the attrition in EFI, the commissioners had little to
say. The report has many quotes and numbers, but little analysis - a
gap that a real public debate could fill.

Two parents applied for judicial review, and Judge McLellan decided
that Mr. Lamrock had raised a legitimate expectation that citizens
would really be listened to on this language issue. It is now Mr.
Lamrock's legal duty to go back and review the question. Early French
immersion in New Brunswick has at least two months more of a lease of
life. Canada leads the world in French immersion, and hitherto New
Brunswick led Canada in providing it. The provincial government must
now engage in genuine consultation, and the result should not be a
forgone conclusion. It has an opportunity to reconsider its rushed
ending of this valuable program.

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