The premier of the Canadian province of New Brunswick has been criticized for his “bizarre” appointment of a Minister for Celtic Affairs.
Brian Gallant shuffled his cabinet on Monday evening, appointing Lisa Harris in the dual role of Minister of Seniors and Long-term Care, and Minister responsible for Celtic Affairs.
Critics have dubbed the portfolio creation as “bizarre” and “laughable,” however, with some saying that the Liberal premier is pandering to the wishes of the monolingual New Brunswick community angry at provincial bilingual requirements, and it is not, as Gallant claims, an attempt to support the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh festivals in the province.
“It’s a nice way for us to have a co-ordinated approach to the investments that we make in that realm,” Gallant said.
“Many festivals are supported by the government, whether it’s the Irish festival in the Miramichi or whether it’s Scottish festivals that happen in many communities.”
Green Party Leader David Coon has accused Gallant of attempting to placate those who oppose bilingualism and duality in New Brunswick, the only constitutionally bilingual (English–French) province in Canada, while political scientist Mario Levesque told CBC Canada, "If he thinks that the people of New Brunswick and anglophones in particular are that naive to buy that hook, line and sinker he's way off base."
Coon believes the pressure placed on the government regarding requirements to hire bilingual staff and supply separate French and English school buses is the basis of the decision.
“I think they’re trying to send a message that somehow they’re promoting at least one part of the anglophone side,” he said. “It would have been fair to have in the department, perhaps a culture section for Celtic Affairs with someone with that responsibility, but actually to appoint a minister of Celtic Affairs seems unnecessary.”
“The only explanation I can think of is that the government has been sensitive to claims that it is too pro-French language, too pro-Acadian [Francophone] and it is doing this in some way to try to correct the balance. I don’t think that’s going to impress anybody,” commented Tom Bateman, who teaches political science at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.
“I don’t think this will do anything to mollify peoples’ other concerns about language in the province.”
Those with ties to Celtic culture, however, have welcomed the move, stating that it will bode well for the future of many festivals celebrating different Celtic heritage throughout the province.
Steven Tweedie, the past president of the Greater Moncton Scottish Association and chair of the Moncton Highland Games, believes it’s high time those of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh descent were no longer landed in the same category as the English, also claiming that as much as half of the Brunswick population has Scottish, Irish or Welsh backgrounds.
"Celtic peoples in the past have always been lumped in with English … but that doesn't cut it when it comes to our heritage," he said.
"There are a lot of things that go on that tend to make some of us feel that we've been forgotten about and I think this provides the opportunity to bring those things back to the spotlight."
Tweedie is hopeful, in particular, that the addition of a Celtic portfolio will see a rise in support given to New Brunswick Celtic Festivals such as the Highland Games.
"The prominence of these events seems to be dropping off,” he continued, “and we need to recognize the number of people that share a Celtic background and ensure that people don't forget that heritage."
Although the creation of a Celtic portfolio could be seen to cover the promotion of Celtic languages, if any, in the province, Levesque has argued that the new minister represents a monolingual portion of the population who are not in danger of losing a part of their culture through a loss of their language in the same way that French-speakers in the area do, he claims.
"The thing is, whenever you appoint a minister for a designated population, it's usually a minority population," he explained
"Anglophones are not under threat of their culture or anything else right now so it's quite the opposite, so from that perspective this is totally off."
The political scientist suggests it would have been more beneficial for Gallant to create a portfolio for immigration. This call has been echoed by Alex LeBlanc, executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, as New Brunswick continues to seek out immigrants to boost its shrinking population.
“Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario have all done that. It could be a strong signal for New Brunswickers and for the federal government that we take those issues seriously,” he said.
The province of New Brunswick is Canada's only officially bilingual province with Anglophones making up around two-thirds of the population. The French-speaking community is highly represented, however, making up the majority of the remaining third while 33.2 per cent of the population claim to speak both languages.
Tensions surrounding the province's bilingual policy have been a constant presence, however, with some Anglophones claiming that the preservation of a French-language public services and fair representation in public sector employment is inefficient and not worthwhile.
The argument in New Brunswick echoes the claims of those opposed to the support of the Irish language in Ireland, where supporters of Irish often clash with those who do not see its benefits.CBC Canada