The Congrès mondial acadien (Acadian World Congress) was held in summer 2004 in Nova Scotia to mark the four centuries of French presence on the territory. Afterwards, on 1 October 2004, the Progressive Conservative government under John Hamm introduced a legislative bill recognizing the Office of Acadian Affairs. The bill was subsequently embedded into the provincial Public Service Act. The Act Respecting the Office of Acadian Affairs and the Delivery of French-language Services by the Public Service was passed by the legislature on 14 October 2004 and received royal assent on 18 October that same year.
Adoption of the French-language Services Act
Bill 111 recognizes that the Office’s mission is to support the government’s ministries and agencies and Crown corporations in developing, adopting and delivering policies, programs and services in French adapted for the Acadian and francophone community of Nova Scotia (seeHistory of Acadia).
The Act stipulates that a regulation is to be adopted by 31 December 2006 to determine what services would be offered in French.
In its preamble, the French-language Services Act (short title), underlines that the Constitution of Canada recognizes French as one of Canada’s two official languages, that the Acadian and francophone community plays a significant role in the province and that Nova Scotia is committed to promoting the development of this community and “maintaining for future generations the French language” (see: Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism; Official Languages Act (1969); Official Languages Act (1988); Acadian French).
The Act entrusts the Office of Acadian Affairs with the task of advising and supporting the government’s ministries, offices and agencies. It also assigns duties to the Minister, who must advise the government regarding the of French-language services within departments and agencies and the development and enhancement of the Acadian and francophone community. Other than establishing priorities and responding “to public concerns respecting the quality of French-language programs and services”, the Minister’s duties include developing plans, services and policies, monitoring their implementation by the public service and making recommendations in connection with their financing. The Minister must submit annual reports setting out the initiatives and programs undertaken, the services provided and the access by francophones to those services.
The departments and agencies must each appoint a French-language services coordinator. A French-language services coordinating committee was created. It consists of the French-language services coordinators and is chaired by the senior employee of the Office of Acadian Affairs.
The coming into force of the French-language Services Regulations
The French-language Services Regulations made under Section 10 of the French-language Services Act came into force on 31 December 2006. They define the actions which the government’s departments, offices and agencies need to take to improve the French-language services offered by the provincial government.
The objective of the French-language Services Regulations (short title) is to “ensure that there are substantive and measurable improvements to the French-language services offered by the Government of Nova Scotia.” The Minister was to conduct a review of the French-language services before 31 July 2010 for the purpose of “evaluating the effectiveness of these regulations in achieving the objective set out”.
As of 2007, each designated public institution must develop and publish a French-language services plan annually before 31 March. Each plan must describe how the staff have been instructed to respond to requests for French-language services, the services offered, the steps which will be taken to preserve or improve the French-language services and “how the plan will contribute to the preservation or growth of the Acadian and francophone community”.
As of 1 January 2008, the French-language services plans must describe the progress achieved. In establishing their goals, designated public institutions must give priority to two elements in particular : the demand from the population for French-language services and the risks of compromising the health, safety or security of members of the public if such services are not provided. Each year, the Office of Acadian Affairs must publish a list of all French-language services coordinators.
The Regulations stipulate that the designated public institutions will reply in French to all written correspondence that is received in French, that all information material issued to the public simultaneously in French and English will display a bilingual Provincial logo and that “reasonable and appropriate steps are taken to make members of the public aware that services are available in French and English”.
The Office of Acadian Affairs is responsible for conducting regular consultations with the Acadian and francophone community regarding services offered by the government.
Any third party contracted to is required to do so in accordance with the Regulations.
The complex reality of using French in a public space
In 2007, the Office of Acadian Affairs commissioned a study on the ethnolinguistic experiences, beliefs and attitudes of Nova Scotian Acadians and francophones. The goal was to support governmental departments and agencies and Crown corporations in creating and adapting policies, programs and services in French to fulfil the needs of the Acadian and francophone community.
The study took place in 2007-2008 and involved 600 Nova Scotians residing in the regions of Argyle, Clare, Chéticamp, Halifax and Isle-Madame. Together, these regions hosted 70 per cent of the province’s francophone population. Kenneth Deveau, Rodrigue Landry and Réal Allard formulated approximately a hundred questions with the goal of evaluating the structures connected to the proactivity in the offering of service in French as well as the sociological, psychological and linguistic variables surrounding the respondents.
The study reminds the reader that French has held a limited place in terms of the respondents’ schooling, especially at the secondary and postsecondary levels. In most cases, the respondents’ studies were conducted partially or entirely in English. A slight majority of the respondents said that they were not well informed of their language rights. Of the respondents, half believed that French now had an equal status in their region and two thirds thought that the situation around the language would improve in their region, despite the statistics revealing a decrease in its usage: 80 per cent of the respondents spoke French with their parents; 74 per cent with their siblings and 67 per cent with their children.
Three quarters of the respondents preferred that their children be educated in French. However, a vast majority of them preferred to use English in public, institutional and cultural environments despite being Acadian or francophone. Indeed, the respondents considered themselves equally proficient in French as in English orally, but better in English reading and writing.
In general, the respondents tended to speak French in private and English in public.
When it came to government services, the respondents were more inclined to use French if there was an active offer of French-language services (when the service provider greeted them in French, wore a pin indicating that French-language services were available or spoke French fluently, etc.). However, if such an offer was not available, most respondents would not demand service in French.
If the offer of service was active, 87 per cent of the respondents would continue the conversation in French. Otherwise, they would be less likely to do so, because, as the researchers explained, “the Frenchness of the ethnolinguistic experience, the level of education and the frequency of experiences of a consciousness-raising nature indirectly contribute to an increase in the probability of utilizing government services in French”.
Nova Scotia’s Acadian and francophone community has shown remarkable perseverance in resisting the cultural and linguistic assimilating forces it has been subjected to. It has also proven welcoming to new francophones who settle in the province. However, researchers are only beginning to grasp the complexities behind the individual use of the French language in public environments.
In conclusion, the researchers recommended that services be offered in French orally (in offices and during phone calls) and bilingually in writing (namely in forms, posters and signage); that civil servants who are bilingual and aware of the issues pertaining to the utilization French-language services be recruited and trained; and that a provincial campaign to promote the French language and Acadian and Francophone cultures be developed.
Limits and difficulties
In the matter of healthcare, the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities conducted an exploratory study in 2012, comparing the francophone spaces in residential homes for the elderly. The study underlined that the Homes for Special Care Act did not include provisions related to language and that the French-Language Services Plan did not provide measures for care homes.
Among the 15 Nova Scotian homes who participated in the study, six declared that they had no francophone elderly persons in their care. Of the homes that responded to the survey, 60 per cent had 20 to 40 francophone residents. Nevertheless, a slight majority of the establishments made no effort to communicate in French with their residents, and three quarters had no beds reserved for francophones. Very few residents requested access to services in French, but some asked for French-language radio or television shows, or menus adapted to the Acadian or francophone culture.
The Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse criticized the changes brought to the French-Language Services Act in 2011 by the New Democrat government. The same year, the latter had abolished the protected Acadian electoral districts and put the Minister for Communities, Culture and Heritage in charge of Acadian Affairs, thus reducing the powers held by the Minister for Acadian Affairs and by the Acadian and francophone community.
In fall 2013, during the electoral campaign, the liberals under Stephen McNeil proposed to re-establish the Acadian constituencies and to reinforce the French-Language Services Act.