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P.E.I. Opposition questions Paula Biggar in legislature over French email

Paula Biggar speaks during question period in the P.E.I. legislature Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.
Paula Biggar speaks during question period in the P.E.I. legislature Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. - Mitch MacDonald

Brad Trivers claims response may have contravened French Services Act

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Transportation Minister Paula Biggar faced questions during the first question period of the fall over a curt email exchange between her and a francophone parent last week.

Referring to a response sent by Biggar to an emailed question from parent Mélanie Gallant, Rustico-Emerald MLA Brad Trivers claimed Biggar had contravened the Island’s French Services Act. The act requires official correspondence be responded to in either French or English – the language in which it was originally written.

Brad Trivers
Brad Trivers

Trivers asked Premier Wade MacLauchlan what training and guidance have been provided to members of cabinet in relation to compliance with the French Services Act.

MacLauchlan responded to the question by claiming his government has adopted initiatives to improve French language services for Islanders.

“Since last year, we have added five areas of service – important areas of service – on the advice of the French Language Services Act Advisory Committee,” MacLauchlan said.

The exchange was pointedly conducted, on both sides of the aisle, in French and English.

Gallant had sent to an email on Nov. 7 asking about renovations to the Evangeline School in Abram-Village. Biggar’s response ­– “I don’t speak French” – was captured in a screenshot and circulated on social media.

Biggar has since posted an apology for the “hastily written e-mail” on her Facebook page.

The Evangeline School was built in the 1960s and is in need of significant capital repairs. The school functions as an important community centre for French-speaking residents in the area.

Following a public meeting in October, parents claimed rainwater regularly leaks from the roof and runs down interior walls. Parents also claimed that no infrastructure has ever been built to support the school’s function as a community centre.

Biggar did not address questions on the subject during question period on Tuesday.

Trivers also asked about capital improvements to the Evangeline School on Tuesday.

“Where does the Evangeline School rank in the priority list for school capital repairs?” he asked.

In response, Education Minister Jordan Brown said recommendations from local parents might be addressed in a coming capital budget.

"We expect there will be a capital budget put before this chamber at some point during this session," Brown said.

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