The head of the society representing French speakers in Greater Victoria said her organization would not object if the proposed citizens’ assembly on amalgamation between Saanich and Victoria does not use French.
“We don’t have any problems with it,” said Pauline Gobeil, general director of the Société Francophone de Victoria. “It would be nice, but legally there is nothing we can do,” she said.
Since British Columbia is not a bilingual province, nothing requires it to offer services in both official languages, she said.
By way of comparison, New Brunswick, Canada’s sole bilingual province, has a policy to “actively offer and provide services of equal quality in both official languages” to any members of the public or organizations who wish to communicate with any department, agency, Crown corporation or institution of the provincial government including municipal bodies.
The language question arose after the Victoria committee reviewing the proposed terms of reference for the citizens assembly tasked with “exploring the costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating both municipalities removed language that identified English as the working language of the assembly. It now omits any statement about language.
The Saanich version still identifies English as the assembly’s working language. “Translation services are not available,” it reads in copying the terms of reference for the Duncan-North Cowichan citizens’ assembly.
This said, this language remains provisional. Saanich has yet to confirm its proposed terms of reference, which the municipality must still reconcile with Victoria’s terms of reference.
Saanich’s citizens’ assembly standing committee scheduled what will likely be its final meeting for April 15 following three earlier meetings, in February, March and April.
The issue of the assembly’s working language appears against the backdrop of growing interest in French as measured by rising enrolment in French immersion programs.
The region will also host the 2020 Francophone Games.
According to the 2016 Census, 1.1 per cent of Saanich’s residents and 1.9 per cent of Victoria’s residents consider French their mother tongue.
The question of the assembly’s working language also goes beyond the question of whether it should recognize one of Canada’s two official languages, notwithstanding British Columbia’s unilingual status.
The proposed absence of translation services could potentially limit the pool of available candidates. According to the 2016 Census, 19.7 per cent of Saanich’s residents and 13.8 per cent of Victoria’s residents speak neither of Canada’s two official languages.
While many of them will likely be able to communicate in English, the absence of translation services could discourage this demographic group from participating, thereby turning the eventual assembly into an unrepresentative group.