The CSAP school board sign outside a francophone school.
CSAP sign outside École secondaire du Sommet in July, 2021. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

A group representing Nova Scotia’s Acadian and francophone parents is holding a rally outside the legislature on Wednesday to support French first-language education and to urge MLAs to support a Liberal private member’s bill.

“We’re often not very loud about our needs as a community and as an education system,” Caroline Arsenault, president of the FPANE (Acadian parents federation of Nova Scotia) said in an interview.

“This is a chance for us to remind everyone what it is that makes our (French first language) school system special, why it needs protection, why we need to uphold it, and what it is that Nova Scotia can do to protect and preserve this education system.”

The rally is happening the day after Liberal MLA and Acadian Affairs and Francophonie critic Ronnie LeBlanc introduced the Acadian and Francophone Education Act in the Nova Scotia Legislature.

In a media release, the MLA for the Acadian riding of Clare said if passed, the piece of legislation would ensure students in the province’s Acadian school board (Conseil scolaire acadien provincial – CSAP) “would receive a Charter-compliant education, reflecting the cultural and linguistic rights of Acadians and francophones in Nova Scotia.”

‘Tools to flourish’

The province’s Liberal party consulted with the CSAP to develop the legislation which, if adopted, would be the first of its kind in Canada.

“Promoting and preserving our rich culture and heritage must be a top priority for government,” CSAP chairperson Marcel Cottreau said in the Liberal Party’s media release.

“Our Acadian and francophone students deserve to have the tools they need to flourish in school, and this bill would do just that.”

‘Concerns continue to grow’

Arsenault said the FPANE and parents the organization represents have been concerned for years about the erosion of French language services in the province’s education sector.

A smiling woman wearing a long sleeved black dress top stands against a dark grey background leaning slightly forward.
Caroline Arsenault, president of the Fédération des parents acadiens de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FPANE–Acadian parents federation of Nova Scotia). Photo: Contributed

Concerns began in 2014 when the Department of Education abolished its Acadian and French Language Services branch and amalgamated it with second language services.

In a media release, the FPANE said this contributed to “the weakening of the understanding of the needs” of the Acadian and francophone population.

“Our concerns continue to grow as we observe the government’s reluctance in proposing the promised CSAP legislation since the adoption of the Glaze Report recommendations in 2018, despite numerous proposals and attempts to collaborate by the CSAP,” the release said.

‘Not just a translated version’

The announcement of LeBlanc’s private member’s bill on Tuesday was seen by Arsenault as “an encouraging move.”

Among her concerns, Arsenault said Acadians and francophones are often made to feel they should be content with French translations of material taken from the English language public school system.

“We know that the French language education system is protected by the Charter and it is a distinct education system. It is made to recognize the place of the French language and of Acadian communities and Acadians and francophones in Nova Scotia,” Arsenault said.

“Our schools are places not only for our communities to gather, but it is where our children learn the history, the culture, and where they build their cultural identity, they solidify their cultural identity as Acadians, as francophones. We’re not just a translated version of the (English) public school system.”

‘Anchor the Acadian and francophone community’

In its own media release Tuesday afternoon, the CSAP said it “loudly applauds” the tabling of the bill.

The school board said French first language education in Nova Scotia hasn’t been reviewed (or reformed) since the 1996 creation of the CSAP despite the board’s growth, “significant” legal developments regarding the Acadian and francophone community’s Charter rights, and the English language education reform initiated by the province in 2018.

“There is no better way to protect and promote the French language in Nova Scotia and the culture it conveys than by passing legislation that ensures the vitality of the CSAP,” notes the CSAP release.

“There is no better way to redress the injustices of the past, as required by section 23 of the Charter, to recognize the struggles and endurance of generations, and to anchor the Acadian and Francophone community, as well as its history, in the province’s fabric.”

The CSAP’s chairperson Marcel Cottreau said they’re urging all MLAs to work together to enact the bill and to “rise above partisanship to ensure that the future of the Acadian and Francophone community does not fall victim to parliamentary games.”

‘A historic moment’

Wednesday afternoon’s rally in support of French first-language education in Nova Scotia will celebrate the tabling of the Acadian and Francophone Education Act and highlight the joint goal of the CSAP and FPANE–urging MLAs to work together to pass the bill “and make it a historic moment for French first language education.”

The rally outside Province House takes place between 3pm and 4:30pm. Arsenault said students will be leaving CSAP schools for the day around that time and they’re hoping to see many parents, students, community members, and allies.

“I know this is short notice, but we’re hoping that lots of people are able to show up and lend their support,” Arsenault said,

“We’re just asking the community to attend to show support for this private member’s bill, to show all MLAs that this is something that’s really critical for the Acadian and francophone community, and that we hope that this will get the attention and the debate that it deserves.”

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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