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Former complaints officer says P.E.I. still not offering enough French-language services

Jean-Paul Arsenault has been working to improve French language services on P.E.I. for decades. He recently resigned in protest from his part-time position dealing with complaints related to the province’s French Language Services Act.
Jean-Paul Arsenault. - SaltWire Network

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - Two years after Jean-Paul Arsenault quit his job as a complaints officer in protest, he says the province still hasn’t meaningfully increased the number of French-language services.

Arsenault resigned from his job with the Acadian and Francophone Affairs Secretariat in December 2016, two years before the end of his term. As a 21-year veteran of the provincial government, he knows more can be done.

“I see tremendous opportunity to designate additional services under the regulations,” Arsenault wrote in an email when approached for comment by the Journal Pioneer.

“I'm disappointed that more hasn't been done,”

His role was to handle complaints made about services covered within the scope of the French Language Services Act.

What is a designated service?

  • The service must be provided in a person’s choice of French or English
  • The service must be provided with comparable quality in French and English
  • Measures must be taken to make it known to the public that the service is provided in both languages

In 2016, Arsenault and the francophone community were frustrated there were only three services required to be offered in both official languages: road signage, the 511 road conditions telephone line, and the two French public libraries.

At the time, Premier Wade MacLauchlan said efforts to increase the number of designated services were ongoing.

Two years later, the list has grown to nine services, but Arsenault said they’re the “low-hanging fruit.”

Services at Musée Acadien and the Access P.E.I. office in Wellington are obvious choices for bilingual help.

“Can you imagine not receiving service in both languages at either location?”

It’s not because the province lacks qualified staff.

In the 2016-2017 French Language Services Act annual report, Arsenault counted 143 positions that must be staffed with bilingual employees and an additional 131 who were able to offer service in French or English but were in jobs that didn’t require it.

“The causes? Bureaucratic inefficiency, lack of political will, or both,” said Arsenault. “If there was political will to match the community's needs with bilingual service capacity, it could be done strategically and at no additional cost.”

What services are currently designated?

  • All services offered in person at the Bibliothèque publique d’Abram-Village, the Bibliothèque publique Dr.-J.-Edmond-Arsenault (Charlottetown) and the Bibliothèque publique J.-Henri-Blanchard (Summerside)
  • ­Coaching support services offered to early childhood educators
  • The provision of the Community Cultural Partnership Program
  • The traveller information service (511) by phone and online
  • The Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy traffic signs (except for those erected before the General Regulations came into force, stop signs and electronic variable message signs)
  • All services offered in person at Access PEI in Wellington
  • The Telehealth information service (811) by phone
  • The provision of information within or in support of permanent or temporary exhibits at the Acadian Museum
  • All services offered in person at the Acadian Museum

In his three years as complaints officer, Arsenault said he presented his ideas to the Acadian and Francophone Community Advisory Committee, Acadian and Francophone Affairs Secretariat, Société Saint-Thomas d'Aquin, and the premier.

Despite Arsenault’s ongoing concerns, the province says it is pleased with its progress.

An Acadian and Francophone Community Advisory Committee was struck and continues to play an important role, said a spokesperson for the secretariat.

“They advise government on the priorities of the Acadian and francophone community, which informs government's plans for the designation of services.

“Since the resignation of the previous complaints officer, there have been many changes. An additional six designated services have been added, bringing the total to nine as of today,” said a government spokesperson.

More services are slated to be designated this year.

“I simply don't believe that government has taken the matter seriously, despite the apparent interest of the minister responsible,” said Arsenault. “I resigned because I felt the position was a waste of my time and government's money. I don't regret my decision, and I'm certainly not satisfied with the progress made since I left.”

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