This Week in History
Establishing equality throughout New Brunswick
On October 21, 1925, Louis J. Robichaud, Premier of New Brunswick from 1960-70, was born in the small community of Saint-Antoine-de-Kent. He was the second Acadian to hold this position after Peter Veniot.
Growing up in one of the province’s poorest counties during the Great Depression, he was inspired to seek change for New Brunswick’s Acadians, who at that time accounted for one third of the province’s total population. As premier, Robichaud was able to set up the “Equal Opportunity” program, which included various social reforms, the impacts of which are still being felt today.
Robichaud’s program essentially sought to establish equality within the province. One of the program’s reforms ensured equal access to services in all regions of the province. Under his initiative, numerous hospitals were built in more remote areas, hospital insurance premiums were eliminated and New Brunswickers were able to access free medical care. In addition, new road infrastructure was built in rural areas.
A large part of the “Equal Opportunity” program had to do with education. During his three-term tenure, Robichaud allocated the majority of the provincial budget to improving the education sector. He reduced the number of districts and ensured that each of them had a secondary school. However, even though there was a Francophone college, there was little opportunity to pursue post-secondary studies in French in New Brunswick. Therefore, Robichaud helped to create the Université de Moncton in 1963. To this day, it is the only Francophone university in New Brunswick. Robichaud also introduced linguistic duality into the education system by separating French and English, which provided a better balance of power between the two linguistic communities.
Louis J. Robichaud played a decisive role in the future of New Brunswick’s Francophones, and he is still regarded as a staunch defender of the French language. In 1969, Pierre Elliot Trudeau declared Canada to be an officially bilingual country, and Robichaud seized the opportunity to make New Brunswick an officially bilingual Canadian province. With this reform, Francophones could now ask to be served in their own language in provincial facilities, such as hospitals. The proceedings, sessions and all of the records of the Legislative Assembly were also required to be in both languages.
The Founding of New Brunswick and The First Meeting of the New Brunswick Legislature are designated as national historic events. For more on the history of New Brunswick, read Loyalists Arrive in New Brunswick and The Wall Street of Saint John. To learn more about the history of the Acadians, take a look at National Acadian Day and The Acadian Deportation in the This Week in History archives.
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