By: Chelsea Perry
The Hon. Paula Biggar has received substantial criticism after an email correspondence between an Island mother and herself gained traction on Facebook.
Melanie Gallant of Evangeline reached out to the minister with letters requesting funding for renovations at Ecole Evangeline in Abrams Village. Biggar responded abruptly saying, “I don’t speak French.”
A Facebook screenshot shows the Honourable Paula Biggar’s response to an Island mother’s inquiry over email. (Tony Davis)
The original Facebook post shared by Gallant read: “I sent letters of support for the project school renewal project to provincial ministers last night and here is an answer I received this morning ….. a good demonstration of ignorance!!! Google translate exists Yet……. no meaning!!!!!”
Another government official has since reached out in response to Gallant’s email, though no apology has been issued from the minister.
Biggar’s reply violates the French Language Service Act and displays a lack of respect for her constituents, opposition parties say.
The Office of the Third Party released a statement this morning calling for the minister’s resignation from the Executive Council, citing her response as “a shocking disrespect for the Island’s Francophone community and clear language rights.”
“There is a legal requirement for representatives of the Crown to respond in whichever official language they are addressed in. If you’re not able to do so, it’s fine to have a translator or staff person assist you in doing so. By law, you cannot refuse,” says Hannah Bell, MLA and Third Party House Leader.
This is in reference to the French Language Services Act, passed in 2013, which states “where a government institution receives written correspondence in French, the government institution shall ensure that such correspondence is responded to, in writing, in French.”
Bell noted that this was not Biggar’s first breach of conduct. The minister came under fire earlier this week for falsely claiming that all ATV deaths since 2012 “have been directly related to alcohol or not having a helmet on.”
Bell continued that “it’s part of a pattern … she’s not conducting herself appropriately for her position.”
Biggar also exchanged some harsh words over Twitter with Elections PEI on the night of the municipal election.
A Twitter screenshot shows the Transportation Minister’s tweets to Elections PEI on the night of the municipal election. (Chelsea Perry)
Biggar tweeted at Elections PEI asking “why the advance pools are taking sooooooo long.” She added that she was “glad this is not a PROVINCIAL election.”
Her Twitter account has since been deleted.
Brad Trivers is the MLA for District 18 Rustico-Emerald, and opposition critic for the Department of Communities, Land and Environment. He released a statement in response to the incident on his website:
“As the Opposition Critic for Acadian and Francophone Affairs I find this very disappointing. The French Language Services Act, originally passed by a former PC government, has clear rules that require official correspondence to be replied to in the original language it was received in. The Minister may not speak French but there are many public servants who do and could have helped prepare a proper response. The issue being discussed was about local school infrastructure needs and the community concerns being raised were dismissed out of hand with the Minister’s rude and inappropriate response which is just wrong. Government needs to make a better effort to live up to the spirit of its own law”
On Thursday, Société Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin, the official spokesperson for the Acadians and Francophones of Prince Edward Island, issued a news release after several members reached out for comment.
They called the situation “unacceptable” and emphasized the continuation of awareness work to ensure government employees understand their obligations under the French Language Service Act.