A letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Resource Development, the Honourable Blaine Pedersen, from the President of the AMBM, Mr. Ivan Normandeau, sent on Friday, January 29, 2021.
The Association of Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities (AMBM) is the voice of bilingual municipal leadership in our province. The AMBM has 15 member municipalities, including Winnipeg and 14 other rural municipalities. Through the exercise of its mandate, our association contributes to the development of Official Language Minority Communities (OLMCs).
On January 6, 2021, the Province of Manitoba announced a drastic reduction in the delivery of agricultural services in rural areas, resulting in the imminent closure of 21 agricultural service centres housing the offices of Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development and the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation.
This decision by the Province is contrary to the principle of Progress under The Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act adopted by the current government. In fact, the disappearance of three agricultural service centres designated bilingual and/or including designated bilingual positions is a historic step backwards for the Province in terms of offering services in French to the Manitoba public.
The decision is also contrary to the principle of Collaboration and Dialogue described in this same law since your government made this decision unilaterally without consulting the AMBM, its members, or the province’s OLMCs.
Two of the centres being closed are designated bilingual and are located on AMBM territory (Somerset and Saint-Pierre-Jolys) while another centre has designated bilingual positions (Sainte-Rose-du-Lac). In the spirit of the Chartier and Gauthier reports, these centres were designated to provide services to Francophones throughout the region and it is therefore crucial to maintain bilingual services for these regions with a high concentration of Francophones. In addition, other regions frequently use the expertise of representatives from these service centres which, historically, play an important role for the entire territory of bilingual municipalities because of the presence of services in both official languages.
Thus, on January 28, 2021, the AMBM Board of Directors adopted a resolution containing two complementary statements regarding this situation, which is deplored by our elected municipal officials.
The first part of this resolution asks “the Government of Manitoba to reconsider its decision made public on January 6, 2021, and maintain the two designated bilingual Agricultural Service Centres in Saint-Pierre-Jolys and Somerset, as well as the Agricultural Service Centre in Sainte-Rose-du-Lac which includes designated bilingual positions.”
The second part states that “pursuant to The Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act and its principles of Progress and Recognition, the AMBM requests that the Government of Manitoba designate all Agricultural Service Centers in the province as bilingual.”
The economic fabric of bilingual rural municipalities is largely based on the primary sector, particularly agriculture, and this cut in the provision of agricultural services in both official languages by the Province will clearly have a negative impact on the prosperity of our agricultural businesses and the vitality of our OLMCs.
We note that of the 17 offices that will continue to provide agricultural services in rural and northern regions of the province, none will be located in a bilingual municipality. In addition, your government has not shared any information about its vision and plan for providing agricultural services in both official languages as of April 1, 2021.
In addition, your January 6 press release announces the implementation of new service delivery options for rural clients. In particular, your government is offering a range of online services to replace the 21 service centres that will be closing their doors. This solution does not address the significant challenges of providing reliable high-speed Internet access in rural and northern Manitoba. These challenges are a daily reality for 14 of the 15 AMBM members.
Ultimately, this decision by the Province of Manitoba comes at a most inopportune time and is at odds with an important collective movement to increase the availability of and access to public services in both official languages throughout Manitoba. This commitment is reflected in the development of an Integrated Rural Development Strategy for Manitoba’s Francophone Community, as well as the implementation of a maturity model to increase the delivery of municipal services in both official languages.
These initiatives are particularly based on the principle of Progress under The Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act. This very principle clearly illustrates your government’s recognition that “steady growth in the provision of French language services across sectors will enhance the vitality of Manitoba’s Francophone community and benefit the province as a whole.”
In this difficult period where the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened our OLMCs more than ever, threatening them with linguistic assimilation, we are committed to working with the Province of Manitoba to help strengthen and entrench agricultural services in both official languages in rural Manitoba.
Signed Ivan Normandeau
For more information: Justin Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, 204-289-4077, [email protected].