Monday, June 16, 2008


June 16, 2008, Globe and Mail Print Edition

'Quashing" is a technical, but pleasingly expressive word for what happened to an ill-considered decision to phase out early French immersion (EFI) in New Brunswick, Canada's most genuinely bilingual province, and our only officially bilingual one.

The judgment on Wednesday of Mr. Justice Hugh McLellan of the province's Court of Queen's Bench rightly took no position on the policy issues of bilingualism and education. On procedural grounds, he quashed, or struck down, a decision in March by Kelly Lamrock, the Minister of Education of New Brunswick. But those matters of procedure point to matters of substance.

One moral of the story may be that politicians should be careful of what they promise in the way of consultation. In July, 2007, the New Brunswick government appointed two commissioners to review second-language education in the province. The government would respond to their report within two months, which Mr. Lamrock said would "allow for a full debate and cabinet response."

The commissioners reported at the end of February. A government news release said the views of citizens on their findings and recommendations would be welcome and listened to.

The report found that many children who start in early French immersion do not carry on in French through high school, and concluded that it should be phased out.

That was just before the March break began. Within two weeks, Mr. Lamrock announced that the phase-out would start in September.

On the causes of the attrition in EFI, the commissioners had little to say. The report has many quotes and numbers, but little analysis - a gap that a real public debate could fill.

Two parents applied for judicial review, and Judge McLellan decided that Mr. Lamrock had raised a legitimate expectation that citizens would really be listened to on this language issue.

It is now Mr. Lamrock's legal duty to go back and review the question. Early French immersion in New Brunswick has at least two months more of a lease of life.

Canada leads the world in French immersion, and hitherto New Brunswick led Canada in providing it. The provincial government must now engage in genuine consultation, and the result should not be a forgone conclusion. It has an opportunity to reconsider its rushed ending of this valuable program.

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