Government of Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island recently introduced a new French Language Services Act. It was without a doubt an important milestone for the Acadian and Francophone community of PEI, as well as for all Islanders. It is through the collaborative efforts of several key stakeholders that this new act came into existence.
Prince Edward Island's first French Language Services Act was introduced in the fall of 1999 and was partially proclaimed on April 1, 2000. Even at that time, its creation was an important step towards improving access to French language services for the Island's Acadian and Francophone community. In 2007, government made a commitment to pursue the enactment of the existing French Language Services Act; but the Act first had to undergo a thorough assessment. Advice was then sought from former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache, who guided government throughout the process. Provincial departments, the general public and key community organizations were all included in government's consultation efforts. The Société Saint‑Thomas‑d'Aquin, the spokesgroup of the Acadian and Francophone community of PEI, played a significant role in these consultations, as did the Acadian and Francophone Community Advisory Committee. Internal and external assessments determined that the original Act would require significant overhaul to be further proclaimed. It was clear that stakeholders had their work cut out for them, but they were ready for the challenge!
The text of the new French Language Services Act was based on the priority services identified by the Acadian and Francophone community through public surveys. The new Act was introduced in the Legislative Assembly on April 18, 2013, and received Royal Assent on May 8, 2013. The current Act will be repealed and replaced by the new one once it is proclaimed.
First and foremost, the new Act will allow for aligning the priority needs of the Acadian and Francophone community with government's capacity to deliver services in response to those needs. By building on the existing legislative framework, the Act will allow for the official designation of services to be provided in French by government. It will also include an accountability framework in the form of annual plans and reports by government institutions subject to the Act, as well as a complaint mechanism for designated services.
The passing of the new Act in both official languages was in itself an important gesture towards the Acadian and Francophone community. Prince Edward Island doesn't have an official bilingual designation; hence, it will be the first time the province has an act that is equally authoritative in English and French. The bilingual legislation was supported by all members when it was tabled in the Legislative Assembly for its readings. Proclamation of the new Act is expected in the fall of 2013 once the supporting regulations have been developed.
The new French Language Services Act is the result of significant consultation with the Acadian and Francophone community and government stakeholders. What's more, it provides an opportunity to pursue this important dialogue for many years to come. The development process may have required a great deal of work—but it was well worth it!