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French Education in New Brunswick—Inquiry

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Statement made on 15 May 2012 by Senator Rose-Marie Losier-Cool (retired)

Hon. Rose-Marie Losier-Cool:

Honourable senators, you will recall the history of French education in New Brunswick that I presented in January. Today, I would like to speak to you about the struggles and the successes, which are a source of pride for me, of French education in my province.

Right now, French-language elementary and secondary school education in New Brunswick falls under the French half of the Department of Education pursuant to section 4 of the 1997 Education Act. The French sector covers five of the 14 school districts in the province. As of summer 2012, the government's budget cuts will decrease the number of districts by half — three French districts and four English ones will be cut.

The department's French sector programs are developed completely independently. Each district has school boards made up of members who are publically elected at the local level. Each school board is responsible for establishing the school district's direction and priorities and for deciding how the district and the schools within it will operate.

Until 1999, education was compulsory for young people in New Brunswick from the age of 6 to 16. In 1999, in order to address the issue of school dropouts, education became compulsory until the age of 18, and I am proud to tell you that over 90 per cent of students in my province now continue to go to school past the age of 16 and graduate from high school. A high school diploma is a prerequisite for any post-secondary education, whether it be college or university.

The Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour is responsible for professional development and post- secondary education in New Brunswick. This department covers the 11 community college campuses in New Brunswick, including the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick's five francophone campuses, and the three campuses of the Université de Moncton, the only francophone university among the eight universities in my province. This department is also responsible for two specialized colleges, not community colleges, including one for forestry, which has a francophone campus in Bathurst.

In New Brunswick, 42.8 per cent of the people speak French and French is the mother tongue of 31 per cent of New Brunswickers. Most people live in the south, which is predominantly English, while 54 per cent of the francophones live in the north and northeast of the province, 33 per cent live in the southeast, and 13 per cent in the rest of New Brunswick.

Because of population aging, the number of students decreased by 14 per cent between 2001 and 2009. In addition to the demographic challenge is the geographic challenge. The northern part of the province, which is predominantly francophone, including my corner of the country, the Acadian peninsula, is slowly depopulating as people move to the three major cities in the south and southeast, namely Moncton-Dieppe, Fredericton, the capital, and Saint John.

These two challenges combined create an interesting situation: there are starting to be too many empty schools in the north and not enough French schools in the south. That is why the French school district in the Acadian peninsula is considering closing schools with low enrolments, while in the south of the province, there is not enough room in the schools.

A combination of an aging population, migration and linguistic assimilation is surely what is behind the drop in enrolment of francophone students in French schools. From 2000 to 2007, enrolment had dropped by 16 per cent in primary and secondary classes.

The drop in the number of elementary and secondary school students and the southward migration of francophones is beginning to affect university enrolment because the Université de Moncton and its regional campuses are reporting a drop in enrolment again this year.

Speaking of students, let us not forget their growing debt load. University tuition in my province is the highest in Canada, and graduates in my province have the highest debt load in the country. Community college students have not been spared either; their tuition fees will go up this fall.

More and more New Brunswickers are talking about whether such an extensive school, college and university infrastructure is the best option for our small population of approximately 753,000. That is why the community college and the Université de Moncton have started a process to better target program offerings on specific campuses. The college and the university are also looking at ways to share space and resources on their campuses where possible.

There is no denying that New Brunswick is still facing challenges in the French-language education sector. But there are also success stories.

Is there any other Canadian province or territory that, like New Brunswick, automatically requires all students in the school system to be taught the other official language?

I have long believed that all Canadians should speak both of our country's official languages as a way to open twice as many doors and to experience twice as much culture. If the rest of Canada followed New Brunswick's example, all Canadians would be much more engaged with the rest of the country and the whole world.

The fact that communities in my province can be very far apart has led to innovation in education. The New Brunswick Community College and the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick offer online courses to students enrolled in several of their programs, such as library science, office automation and medical secretary. I am very proud to say that the CCNB's placement rate is very high: 87 percent of graduates are employed after graduating.

The Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick is also innovating on another front: international partnerships. For the past several years — I brought this up in December 2006 — the CCNB has fostered close relationships with several developed and developing nations, including members of la Francophonie. The CCNB trains students from its partner countries in certain disciplines, both in New Brunswick and in the students' home countries. For example, in 2003, the CCNB partnered with the Institut supérieur des technologies et du design industriel in Douala, Cameroon, a partnership that enabled 455 Cameroonians to receive CCNB training in Cameroon.

At both the primary and secondary levels, it is a question of granting the school boards and francophone communities of my province greater powers to manage our schools. A bipartisan committee will propose amendments to the Education Act that will ensure greater compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and with recent case law regarding education in minority settings.

I would like to conclude on a more personal note, so I will leave you with a list of a few great Acadians who are the pride and joy of my province and are the product of our French-language education system: former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache; well-known singer Édith Butler; multidisciplinary artist and former Lieutenant-Governor Herménégilde Chiasson; Radio-Canada's new Director General of News Programming, Michel Cormier; a lawyer who specializes in language rights, Michel Doucet; boxer Yvon Durelle; former Governor General, the Right Honourable Roméo Leblanc; the very first winner of Star Académie, Wilfred LeBouthillier; President and CEO of Assumption Life, Denis Losier; the internationally acclaimed author and only Canadian recipient of the Prix Goncourt, Antonine Maillet; my former provincial premier and our former Senate colleague, the Honourable Louis-J. Robichaud; and last but not least, the handsome and charming renowned singer, Roch Voisine.

It is always dangerous to name people. I hope to be forgiven if I have missed anyone.

Hon. Hugh Segal: Honourable senators, I would respectfully like to add someone to Senator Losier-Cool's list: Donald Savoie, the esteemed writer on Canadian public administration and academic leader at the Université de Moncton. I only raise this point because I know she does not wish to forget anyone.

Senator Losier-Cool: I thank Senator Segal for raising this point. I am sure I would have heard from Donald Savoie!

New Brunswick's Acadia and its French education system have produced and continue to produce many successful citizens. I will soon retire from the Senate. During the 17 years that I have spent with you here in this august chamber, I have always placed a great deal of importance on the issue of French education in minority communities. I hope that other representatives of Acadia and New Brunswick will continue my efforts after I leave. As for me, I do not have a choice; I will continue to fight for this issue as an ordinary citizen.

In conclusion, honourable senators, I wish French education in my province continued success. Long live our Acadia of which I am so proud. I will say it and even sing it: come and see Acadia, Canada's Acadia.

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