Reducing the number of electoral districts in New Brunswick “would be catastrophic for Acadian and francophone representation in Fredericton,” and the Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick (SANB) says it won’t accept it.
The SANB President Alexandre Cédric Doucet said his organization is well aware that a significant proportion of the Acadian and Francophone population lives in rural areas where the population has decreased. “This issue is of great concern to us right now and we have sought legal advice.”
The current review of the New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act and the ongoing review of the province’s electoral boundaries were the primary policy concerns raised by representatives of the SANB in a meeting with the NB Media Co-op on March 9.
Doucet and SANB Director of Communications Éric Dow requested a meeting with the NB Media Co-op to share with us the organization’s priorities for the next year of operations. The SANB, the official political voice of Acadian and Francophone communities in New Brunswick, is dedicated to the defence and promotion of the rights and interests of Acadians, Francophones, and Francophiles.
The organization is closely following the review of the province’s Official Languages Act. The report of the two commissioners, Yvette Finn and John McLaughlin, was submitted to the Higgs government on December 15, 2021.
Doucet said that the Commissioner of Official Languages, Shirley McLean, reacted favourably to the report, and she encouraged the government to act quickly on the report’s recommendations, stating: “The public has been consulted, the analysis has been done, and now it is time to act. I urge the Premier and all members of the Legislative Assembly to ensure that legislation is introduced and passed as soon as possible.”
In its official response to the report, the SANB highlighted the three main recommendations: 1) establishing a Standing Committee on Official Languages in the Legislative Assembly, 2) creating a Department of Official Languages, and 3) expanding the scope of the Act with respect to the language obligations of health authorities and nursing homes. The SANB believes that adopting these three recommendations would be a major step toward achieving greater linguistic equality in the province.
At the March 9 meeting, Doucet said that Premier Higgs had not commented publicly on the report since it was tabled. The SANB is organizing meetings with elected officials in Fredericton at the end of March, in collaboration with Acadian organizations, to “get things moving,” said Doucet. The day after our meeting with the SANB, Premier Higgs stated that he needed more time to study the report’s recommendations and would not propose any responses this spring.
The SANB believes that the Electoral Boundaries and Representation Commission of New Brunswick will be looking carefully at rural ridings in its review. The Commission must submit its final report by September 2023. However, its work must begin two years before the next election, in September of this year. The last readjustment of electoral districts in 2013 reduced the number of MLAs from 55 to 49.
The federal government is also currently reviewing the ten federal electoral districts in the province, with a report due at the end of 2022. “We are confident that there will be no change in the number of federal ridings,” said Doucet.
Among other topics discussed at the meeting were economic development in the North and links with the minority language English-speaking community in Quebec.
The SANB also mentioned its satisfaction with the NB Media Co-op’s focus over the past year to publish more articles in French, and its wish to continue publishing articles with us in both official languages to ensure that the Anglophone community is aware of the priorities of Acadians in the province.
Jean-Claude Basque is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op. Susan O’Donnell is a regular contributor to the NB Media Co-op.