The Higgs government is compromising on its update to the province’s Official Languages Act in the hopes of winning unanimous support for the legislation.
Premier Blaine Higgs is backing away from the elimination of a mandatory 10-year review of the act contained in the statute.
He told the legislature the government will introduce its own amendments on “establishing a time frame, or periodic review” of the law.
“We believe the amendments will be in the spirit of continuous improvement of the act,” he said.
The original Official Languages Act was adopted unanimously in 1969 and the new version of the act, passed in 2002, also won the support of all parties and all MLAs in the legislature.
But the Opposition Liberals and the Green Party have said they could not support Higgs’s updates if they got rid of the built-in automatic review every decade.
Higgs said while unanimity is not a priority for him, “it’s nice” to have.
“Certainly the opposition has talked more about that than I have but we would like to do the same thing. We would like to have that,” he told reporters.
“We think this addresses the concerns that have been brought forward already from the opposition and that should allow consensus.”
Liberal Leader Susan Holt said it appeared the legislature was getting closer to a consensus, but she wouldn’t commit her party to voting with the government until she saw the actual amendments.
“I’m really hopeful that the amendments that they present will give us the opportunity to adopt this with the unanimity of the house,” she said. “I think that’s what New Brunswickers want.”
Higgs said other amendments will clarify what must be included in the annual report of the commissioner of official languages and the role of a new official languages secretariat.
An independent commission that conducted the most recent 10-year review recommended that reviews be required every five years.
It’s not clear what the Higgs timeline has in mind.
Acadian Society of New Brunswick president Alexandre Cédric Doucet said the organization had been discussing the bill with the government and was encouraged the door is open to keeping the review.
“We’re happy the government is open but the devil’s in the details,” he said.
Green Leader David Coon was more pessimistic about the legislation winning all-party support, saying the premier had only given “a bare outline of what the amendments are.”
“We’ll have to wait and see what he says. I don’t have much confidence in what he’ll bring, but we’ll wait. It’s the reasonable thing to do.”
Higgs promised the amendments at the start of the second-reading debate on the bill.
It passed the second reading Friday and was sent to a committee where the government will be able to introduce the amendments.