Cardy resigns, questions about French immersion rise

    Graph made to represent the French Immersion Program debate, and the influence to the Cardy resignation. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

    Former minister of education and early childhood development Dominic Cardy resigned via a letter on Oct. 13 citing disagreements on French immersion as the cause.

    In the letter, Cardy wrote that an incident with Premier Blaine Higgs was his last straw. Higgs allegedly said “data my ass” after seeing positive statistics on the effectiveness of French immersion on New Brunswick’s bilingualism. 

    “Serious changes to our French second-language education are required. Change requires care, not a wrecking ball,” reads Cardy’s resignation letter. “Reform is about inspiring movement, not ordering people to move.”

    Thomas Bateman, a professor of political science at St. Thomas University, said changing, eliminating or improving the French immersion program has been a point of tension in New Brunswick for decades.

    “[A] big change is almost never attempted in the last year of a mandate,” he said. “Mr. Cardy was on the same page [of changing French immersion], but he disagreed with the premier’s demands for change in a relatively short period.”

    Bateman argues that, while Cardy and Higgs wanted significant change in French immersion, the pressure to make it happen before the term ends is what pushed the two apart.

    “Cardy had reason to believe that the premier would remove him from his position as Minister of Education for lack of results,” said Bateman. “And accordingly, it appears that Cardy had a letter of resignation already prepared and in his pocket ready to produce.”

    Donald Wright, professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick, said Cardy argued that changing the program in time for September 2023 would be “unfair for students, teachers, principals and parents.”

    “It looks like French Immersion stages are numbered in New Brunswick,” said Wright.

    Both Bateman and Wright agreed that the time matter created a cleavage between the premier and the education minister, but without Cardy, the future of French immersion is uncertain.

    Chantal Bourbonnais, executive director of Association Canadienne des Professionnels de l’immersion, an organization dedicated to training immersion teachers, said the future for French immersion in New Brunswick is “very concerning.”

     “[The letter revealed] what was happening behind the doors … and we were very concerned about the recommendation to do away with the French immersion program,” she said.

    Bourbonnais argues that French is a pillar of Canadian society and bilingualism is “a door to the world,” which is why she said suddenly changing the program or getting rid of it is counterproductive.

    “French immersion programs have existed in Canada now for almost 60 years and many studies show that French immersion programs are still the best way to become bilingual,” she said.

    Bourbonnais said French immersion needs improvements as the program suffers from a shortage of teachers in rural schools. Still, she disagrees with the vision Higgs has of how this change should look.

    “Take the time to review the extensive research on French immersion and listen to the professionals who are working hard to help.”