With the upcoming review of the Official Languages Act, the self-styled Anglophone Rights Association of New Brunswick (ARANB) is once again beating the same old anti-francophone drum.
As anglophones, we categorically state that the ARANB does not represent us. Nor does it represent the vast majority of decent anglophones who welcome and respect the diversity that the francophone community brings. Would the ARANB care to tell us how many members it actually has?
The ARANB has concerns about many things, notably access to public service employment. Normally in that situation, people take practical steps to address those concerns. One step is learning and knowing the other official language well enough to work and deal with the public in that language. That is what people interested in pursuing such careers do.
Learning another language is possible for anyone seriously interested. As Micheál Mac Liammóir, the great actor and director of the Gate Theatre in Dublin, remarked when people commented on his beautiful (learned) Irish: “The average waiter in Central Europe can speak about five languages.” This is an individual as well as a political issue.
The real problem here, lurking behind the demands of the ARANB, is a stubborn refusal to recognize the rights of the French-language community. It is no exaggeration to say that ARANB resents the very existence of that community.
We are dealing with residual racist issues here, an underlying dislike and resentment of a whole community. This dislike is not shared by the vast majority of anglophones. And, lurking in the background, the beat of the Orange drum, is the inherent sectarianism that makes our province a leader in the number of right-wing hate groups.
The ARANB claims on its website to be “the only organization that represents the Anglophone population.” This is nonsense. In our democracy, we elect people to represent us. They sit in the Legislative Assembly and we expect them to not endorse groups making false claims like ARANB.
ARANB also claims to be concerned “with current barriers and restrictions placed upon the English-speaking community with regard to employment and opportunity in New Brunswick.” One person’s barrier or restriction is another’s opportunity when the will or desire is there.
To target the success of one community and blame it for the failings of another is perverse. It creates unwarranted hateful and fearful feelings for both francophone and anglophone populations in New Brunswick. Rather than unifying and protecting everyone’s rights, the ARANB is attempting to create a divisive situation that feeds people who are against anything that challenges their comfortable existence.
French immersion education has not fully succeeded. Yes, by all means let us examine it and see how language training can be improved. New approaches are perhaps necessary, particularly in rural areas. New opportunities for creating a truly bilingual population for all ages must be considered. However, a review of French immersion issues should not be part of a review of the Official Languages Act.
It is disturbing that the current review of the Official Languages Act is taking place behind closed doors, particularly given Premier Higgs’ background in the anti-francophone Confederation of Regions (CoR) Party. This review should be an open, transparent process. It should not include private meetings with the ARANB.
Gerry McAlister, Susan O’Donnell and Brian Beaton live in Fredericton.