Newspaper article The Canadian Press

New Brunswick Party Leaders Clash over Bilingualism at Second Televised Debate

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

New Brunswick Party Leaders Clash over Bilingualism at Second Televised Debate

Article excerpt

N.B. leaders clash over bilingualism

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FREDERICTON - New Brunswick party leaders clashed over language in their second televised debate Friday night, debating whether the premier of Canada's only officially bilingual province needs to speak both French and English.

"I agree (bilingualism) is a very important skill. It's not the only skill you need to bring to the premier's office," said Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs, who isn't fluent in French.

"We've seen that we need more than that in order to fix our province."

Higgs, Liberal Premier Brian Gallant and the other party leaders squared off on a community centre stage in Fredericton in a 90-minute debate carried on Rogers TV.

Gerald Bourque, the folksy, cowboy-hatted leader of the KISS party -- or Keep It Simple Solutions -- said with modern translation it's not necessary for the premier to speak both English and French.

He joked that if you want a bilingual premier, you should vote for Gallant.

"He's putting this province into debt in both official languages," Bourque quipped, drawing laughter from the audience of staff and supporters for all the parties.

Gallant later acknowledged the joke was "pretty funny," but stressed it's important for the premier and cabinet ministers to demonstrate to both communities that they take their language seriously.

"I'm proud of the fact New Brunswick is bilingual," he said.

Asked if the premier needs to be bilingual, Higgs said he supports bilingualism and is working to learn French.

"Yes, it's an important asset to be bilingual. But it's not the only thing," he said, adding there are other big problems that need solutions.

The People's Alliance party finds itself at the centre of the language debate. It advocates ending some forms of service duality, such as merging French and English health authorities into a single administration and shared school busing. Leader Kris Austin said the money saved could be better spent to improve services.

He said being bilingual is an asset, but quoted Louis Robichaud, the premier who brought in official bilingualism, that unilingualism should not be a hindrance for government employees.

"We should not allow language to trump experience, qualifications and the ability to get things done. We've done this for too long in New Brunswick, allowing language to divide us, and allowing language to trump qualifications and skills," Austin said. …

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