Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 6 - Evidence - November 6, 2006
OTTAWA, Monday, November 6, 2006
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages is meeting today at 4:10 p.m. to study, and report from time to time, on the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations and directives made under it, within those institutions subject to the Act.
Senator Maria Chaput (Chair) in the chair.
The Chairman: Honourable Senators, we will begin the meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. Our first witness, the Honourable Josée Verner, Minister of La Francophonie and Official Languages, will be joining us in a few moments.
While we wait for her to come before the committee, we could start a less formal discussion with there present, Ms. Judith LaRocque, Mr. Jérôme Moisan and Mr. Hubert Lussier.
To begin with, I will give the floor to Ms. LaRocque for a few moments but, first, allow me to present the members of the committee to you.
To my left, Senator Champagne, Vice Chair, Senator Tardif, Senator Murray, Senator Robichaud and Senator Losier-Cool.
Senator Robichaud: Ms. LaRocque could perhaps suggest some questions to ask the Minister?
Judith A. LaRocque, Deputy Minister, Canadian Heritage: Thank you, Madam Chairman, for the suggestion and thank you for welcoming me here today. I am happy to be here and to be able to answer your questions. Personally, I know the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages well because when it was a joint committee presided over in part by Senator Murray, I was deputy-clerk to the House of Commons.
I always follow your work with special interest. I know that it is a committee that has been particularly active of late. I have had to respond to your reports and take note of your recommendations. I do not wish to take up any more time than necessary and I would like to move on to the questions right away.
The Chair: Senator Champagne, do you have any questions?
Senator Champagne: My questions were intended for the Minister and I am told that she is currently at a cabinet meeting. She should not be too much longer.
We could start with the relocation of several federal institution offices, such as the Canadian Tourism Commission, which was relocated from Ottawa to Vancouver. Do you believe that this relocation will have an impact as far as official languages are concerned? When we think of the application of the different parts of the act, it will surely mean new difficulties or additional challenges for the Minister responsible for official languages and her team?
Ms. LaRocque: I only know of one case and it is that of the Canadian Tourism Commission. If there are any others, I am not aware of them. It is clear that this organization has linguistic obligations regarding service to the public. It has obligations with respect to employees' language of choice. The Commission confirmed its support for the Official Languages Act, in writing, to the Official Languages Directorate. Whether they will be able to attract bilingual personnel in Vancouver remains to be seen. It will happen eventually. We have offices in Vancouver and we have always been able to find bilingual people for the regional office of the Department of Canadian Heritage in Vancouver. This will be the challenge.
Senator Murray: I would like to know how this works within the new Government of Canada. In the past, there were three decision centres, three centres of responsibility within the government with respect to official languages: the Department of Canadian Heritage, specifically with respect to federal-provincial agreements, federal education assistance; the President of the Treasury Board for the Public Service; and, finally, the Department of Justice for the Official Languages Act. Is that the current distribution of responsibilities?
Ms. LaRocque: Not exactly.
Senator Murray: Not exactly. Is Ms. Verner playing an analogous role to that of Mauril Bélanger in the past? You should know since you were there all that time.
Ms. LaRocque: Yes, but beyond that, Ms. Verner is responsible for official language programs, responsibilities that were previously those of the Minister of Canadian Heritage. For example, all education and service programs, provincial and community agreements that were the responsibility of Mr. Lussier are now Ms. Verner's responsibility. The Justice Minister still plays his role, as well as that of President of the Treasury Board. Ms. Oda has a role to play with respect to Francophone culture, but the programs supporting official languages are now Ms. Verner's responsibility.
Senator Murray: She is not a Minister of State? Is it a distinct portfolio? She is Minister of International Cooperation and Minister of La Francophonie. Now, these two roles come under the jurisdiction, firstly, of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Official Languages and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, is that right?
Ms. LaRocque: I can offer you the example of the Minister responsible for Intergovernmental Affairs and also responsible for Sports. Sports Canada programs are delegated to him and, in this instance, official languages support programs are officially delegated to Ms. Verner.
Senator Murray: So the Minister responsible is the Canadian Heritage Minister?
Ms. LaRocque: I would not describe it that way, but there is a special delegation to Mr. Emerson for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, a special delegation to Mr. Chong for Sports Canada programs and a special delegation for Official Languages to Ms. Verner.
Senator Tardif: Who signs the cooperation agreements with the provinces?
Ms. LaRocque: The agreements are co-signed by Ms. Verner and Ms. Oda for the federal government.
Senator Losier-Cool: Perhaps in Ms. Verner's absence, Mr. Lussier could reply to my question concerning the Association de la presse francophone. Last Friday, the Association wrote informing me that Canada Post Corporation had decided to withdraw its $15-million financial contribution to the program. We know that Canada Post Corporation is a service for everyone and that the Official Languages Act states that it must help and promote the development of language communities. Does your department have financial plans to compensate for this budgetary cut? I would like to hear your comments on this subject.
Ms. LaRocque: It is a problem for the French press, but for the press in English Canada as well. This portfolio falls under Minister Cannon with respect to his responsibilities for Canada Post. If I understand correctly, Mr. Cannon is currently working with Canada Post to find another solution to this matter.
We are closely following these discussions to find a satisfactory solution that will satisfy everyone. You are right to point it out as a problem.
Senator Losier-Cool: The minority French press is an important development tool. This brings me back to my general question, whether or not the adoption of Bill S-3 necessitated many changes for you?
Ms. LaRocque: It significantly changes the way we look at everything we do. Before, we had to look at things in terms of diversity or in terms of equality of the sexes. Now we have a third angle and we have to apply it to all we do. Mr. Lussier could explain to you how we are set up or equipped to do it.
Hubert Lussier, Executive Director, Official Languages Support Programs, Canadian Heritage: Madam Chairman, this has changed things a lot in that the frequency of contacts with federal institutions has grown. We already had networks of contacts established to explain commitments that predated the changes to the Act. Now, there is an additional obligation that has increased the frequency. We had several dozen meetings with federal institutions, myself and certain legal experts, because there is an important legal dimension. We are in the process of developing a guide, which should be out in a few weeks, to help federal institutions understand what these new obligations mean.
We held workshops with communities to better understand what their positions were on the subject. I do not get the feeling that this will stop. I still have several of these meetings noted in my appointment book.
Senator Tardif: I would like to go back to the issue of the relocation of head offices. There have been other relocations, prior to the Canadian Tourism Commission: Veterans Affairs Canada, Farm Credit Canada, as well as the National Energy Board.
Has your department carried out impact studies on the language of work, on services to the public, on the communities that were getting these head offices?
Jérôme Moisan, Senior Director, Official Languages Secretariat, Canadian Heritage: Madam Chairman, generally, with respect to the management of human resources within the Canadian government, when we speak of the working environment, this falls under the Human Resources Management Agency of Canada. It is they who, when there are relocations, are concerned with language in the workplace and employees' rights to be able to continue working and to be supervised in their language. They would most likely be better able to understand the historical impact because they have probably more closely followed the situation of Veterans Affairs and the two or three other situations that you brought up.
Due to this experience, in the case of the Canadian Tourism Commission, a rule has been established that applies to all federal institutions whose head office moves from a designated bilingual region — as was the case for the Canadian Tourism Commission — to a unilingual region. Henceforth, there is a rule establishing that employees can continue to work in the language of their choice regardless of where the head office is relocated to, since it is a head office and not a regional activity. Given its status as a head office, all the requirements in terms of language of work apply.
Senator Tardif: But this was a temporary protection. Do you foresee taking permanent measures to definitively protect the rights of employees in terms of language of work? For example, do you foresee implementing regulations?
Mr. Moisan: We can follow up with the Human Resources Management Agency of Canada to find out what their plan is. But this temporary measure remains in effect as long as the Treasury Board does not decide to replace it. An evaluation is underway. I could check the scheduling for you and provide a response to the committee afterwards.
Ms. LaRocque: Following this evaluation, there could be a decision made that necessitates it being more permanent, but for the time being, it is a temporary measure, taken in June 2005.
The Chairman: Madam Minister, I would like to welcome you to the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. We thank you for finding the time to join us. I will immediately give you the floor before we move on to questions.
The Honourable Josée Verner, P.C., M.P., Minister of La Francophonie and Official Languages: Thank you, honourable senators. All of you present here today are well aware of the stakes involved in the promotion of official languages in Canada. I am happy to be here to discuss this subject.
I would like to share with you the role that I play as Minister of La Francophonie and Official Languages. I would also like to talk to you about the work that we have done to promote official languages and to coordinate the efforts of our government in this matter. Finally, I would like to share with you a few reflections that arise from consultations that I have had over the last few months.
Last January, Canadians elected a government that was proposing a new road map to build a stronger, more unified Canada. For us, building a stronger, more unified Canada means taking the necessary measures to promote the development of our two official languages. Prime Minister Harper has therefore created, within his cabinet, a position of Minister of La Francophonie and Official Languages.
By acting thus, he sent a clear message, that our two official languages are important for the new Government of Canada and that we want to promote them as effectively as possible. I am very proud that the Prime Minister has entrusted these responsibilities to me.
On the one hand, I am responsible for Department of Canadian Heritage programs related to linguistic duality. This includes support to communities, agreements with the provinces and territories in terms of education and services in the minority language, and the development of both official languages throughout the country.
On the other hand, I am responsible for the coordination of federal official languages activities. My efforts are focused on activities to support communities in minority situations, promotion of linguistic duality, the language in which federal institutions serve the public, and the linguistic rights of federal employees.
This is the first time that responsibilities for the international Francophonie and for official languages have been combined and entrusted to a single Minister. It is a role that means a lot to me as a Quebecer, as a Canadian and as a Francophone.
These two hats that I wear allow me to serve, here and abroad, the cause of our linguistic duality within the government as well as in all spheres of Canadian society: education, service delivery, youth, immigration, culture and the arts, linguistic exchanges and second language learning. As you can see, my field of action is vast, but I intend to always act responsibly to the benefit of all Canadians. Besides, this is one of our government's priorities. The time has come to make this linguistic duality, which is at the heart of our identity, an economic, social and cultural asset for the whole of Canada.
In order to achieve this, we must adopt an innovative approach, firmly aimed towards the future. Our efforts in this area are not recent: The adoption of the amendments to the Official Languages Act, which the Conservative Party supported before its election, will soon be celebrating its first anniversary.
These amendments have strengthened federal commitment to minority-language communities and recognize the use of French and English in Canadian society. We supported these amendments because we believe it is important to ensure that Canadians have the opportunity to work in French or English in federal institutions, to obtain Government of Canada services and information in the official language of their choice, and to live anywhere in the country.
These rights are part of the contract that unites our country. They are entrenched in the Official Languages Act and in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Let me be clear: There is absolutely no question, for the current government, of denying the importance of these rights, or challenging them. Today, more than ever, the government is aware of its obligations and responsibilities. We will be using the new legal context to double our efforts because we hold dear the future of minority communities and the use of French and English within Canadian society. Upon my arrival, I signed with each province and territory bilateral education agreements totalling $1 billion over four years, with each province and territory. We have signed major agreements on services in the minority language, representing nearly $64 million over four years. As well, our government continues to directly support non-profit organizations that represent the official language minority communities. In fact, we have increased budgetary envelopes for this purpose by 11 per cent, compared to two years ago.
Thanks to these agreements, the minority communities are in a position to implement programs suited to their reality. This is what I was talking to you about earlier when I was explaining the importance, for us, of strengthening linguistic duality. These agreements are a step in the right direction and this is not the only step that we have taken.
In addition to signing these agreements, we have supported the creation of the Assemblée franco-ontarienne; participated in the efforts to revive the Franco-Ontarian Festival; granted $660,000 to the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada for the organization of its Summit of Francophone and Acadian Communities in 2007; and allocated $500,000 to the City of Ottawa in order to help the city provide services in French.
We have signed a cooperation agreement with the anglophone community sector in Quebec. We want to maintain an open and honest dialogue with this community, which contributes significantly to Quebec's national and international reputation.
On the legislative side, I have worked closely with the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, Lawrence Cannon and the Justice Minister, Vic Toews. We put Bill C-23 back on the table in order to allow an accused to be heard by a judge or a jury in the official language of his/her choice.
Also, basing ourselves on a report from the Standing Committee on Official Languages, we proposed amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act. Thanks to these changes, the official languages requirements will continue to apply to the new structure of Air Canada and its subsidiaries.
It is measures such as these, geared towards the future, that we must count on, and we are also counting on our capacity to channel all our government's efforts into the creation of dynamic official language minority communities. As you know, the Official Languages Secretariat is now part of the Department of Canadian Heritage. This reorganization has had a beneficial effect on the promotion of linguistic duality and on the development of official language minority communities. The Secretariat helps me to implement a horizontal approach, and I have major allies.
For example, in September my colleague Monte Solberg, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and I together unveiled a plan to encourage immigration in French minority language communities.
In the last budget, our government also announced an additional $307 million for immigrant settlement in the country. This will also greatly benefit minority French communities.
More good news related to official languages is the appointment of Graham Fraser to the position of Commissioner of Official Languages. Mr. Fraser, who will appear after me, has in-depth knowledge of the country's linguistic policies and is already bringing with him a fresh perspective and new ideas.
Finally, I believe that the spirit of cooperation that I intend to create was present at the Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie held in October. During this meeting, the Ministers of the provinces and territories and myself decided to reach out to youth. Young Canadians are open to linguistic duality; they are increasingly bilingual, mobile and connected to new technologies. They represent our future, a future full of promise.
The report presented to us, Canadian Francophonie: Issues, Challenges and Future Directions, contains much of interest for Canadian Francophones. I am proud that all Ministers agreed on the premise of the report and that our government has ratified it.
We have also agreed to use major meetings such as the Quebec Francophonie Summit in 2008, the Acadian World Congress in 2009 and other celebrations to promote the Canadian Francophonie.
I am confident that with this kind of cooperation, the governments of Canada, the provinces and territories will be able to take the lead on key issues and promote concrete projects for communities. This is further proof of our support for open federalism.
I believe there will be many opportunities to follow up on our work in the future. The Canadian government needs to draw up an assessment of the programs and projects of Canadian Heritage, Health Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada that support the Francophonie and official languages. This will be an opportunity to identify what we are doing well and to find new ways to do more and to do it better. This exercise will allow us to lay the groundwork so that our work will have the greatest impact possible in minority communities and throughout the entire country.
If we want our efforts to be effective, we must ask whether we are fully exploiting the increasing fund of sympathy towards linguistic duality? I would even go further. Are we sufficiently exploiting the advantages that duality offers in economic, social and cultural terms?
I believe our linguistic duality is much more than just an aspect of our rich heritage. It is a tremendous asset for individuals and for all of society. Like me, more and more Canadians realize that our linguistic duality is not only a vestige of our past, but also an essential part of our country's future in a world that increasingly values the ability to communicate.
A recent survey done for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages revealed that 72 per cent of Canadians consider bilingualism to be important. This is an eloquent statistic that buttresses my willingness to work towards the development of our linguistic duality.
Being bilingual increases the capacity to learn other languages. The more our workers are bilingual, even multilingual, the more competitive Canada will be in an increasingly interconnected world. We are not the only ones to recognize this. The European Union has also made it a cornerstone of its prosperity.
Here in this country, the development of certain industries is already linked to the presence of two official languages. Think of the language industries such as language training, translation and language technologies. Then there is cultural tourism, which will be growing thanks to French and English.
As you can see, certain paths are opening up and in order to make headway in these areas, we need to move towards a renewed and strengthened partnership with all interested parties. The Government of Canada must lead the way by helping Canadians take advantage of their knowledge and seize all the opportunities that are available to them in today's ever more competitive and interconnected environment.
We must build bridges between all Canadians so that French and English can become a collective force, the bond that unites us more securely than legal obligations. We have an asset in our two official languages that play a prominent role in the economic, social and cultural universe of the Americas, the Francophonie and the entire world. We must take full advantage of it.
Between now and the end of the decade, two major events will give us an opportunity to focus on the richness of the Canadian Francophonie and our linguistic duality. First, a historic window of opportunity is opening up with the advent of the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. It will be a tremendous opportunity to celebrate the cultural vitality of Quebec and the dynamism of the Canadian Francophonie.
This celebration will remind us that the French language is Canada's founding language. During this great festival, all Canadians will be able to express their pride in being a part of the great family of francophone countries and living in a country with two official languages.
Then, in 2010, the eyes of the world will be on Vancouver and Whistler during the Olympic and Paralympic games. I know that this is an issue that is near and dear to your hearts. I can already say that the Government of Canada, in collaboration with the organizing committee and British Columbia, wants to project to the world not only the excellence of its athletes and the richness of its culture but also the image of a strong country, proud of its linguistic duality.
I recently signed agreements with the Dialogue Foundation and the Federation of Francophones of British Columbia so that Francophones from that province as well as all Canadian Francophones can play a central role in the Games. This then is the essence of what I wanted to share with you today. The Canadian Francophonie and our two official languages must be promoted and I intend to work with you and people from all backgrounds to achieve that objective.
The work of your committee is important because it looks into issues that closely affect all Canadians. On this subject, allow me to point to the tremendous work that you have accomplished in connection with the study dealing with the Francophone and Acadian communities of Nova Scotia and the report entitled: French-language Education in a Minority Setting: A Continuum from Early Childhood to the Postsecondary Level. Last week, our government submitted its reply to this report, reiterating our willingness to play our role, whether it be in terms of education in a minority setting, training or early childhood education, and doing so with regard for each individual's abilities. In closing, thank you for inviting me to speak and I am now ready to answer your questions.
Senator Champagne: Madam Minister, as you mentioned in your speech, in a few days we will be celebrating the first anniversary of the adoption of Bill S-3. It was one of my first pleasant moments in the Senate, which I had just joined.
The reinforcement of Part VII of the Official Languages Act is very important in that the stated obligations can now be enforced through the courts.
During this past year, has your department received any complaints? Have you made a list of complaints regarding compliance with the stated obligations of federal institutions? Have any legal remedies been sought?
Ms. Verner: Since this question deals with specific cases, I will ask my colleague, Hubert Lussier, to answer your question.
Mr. Lussier: Yes, there have been complaints. We do not know about all the complaints that may have been filed. As you know, complaints are filed with the Office of the Commissioner. Perhaps some of them affect us as a department, but I have no in-depth knowledge of what complaints have been made. However, there are some of which I am aware that go back some time.
Senator Champagne: People are beginning to get used to living with the Official Languages Act.
Ms. Verner: Moreover, it was with great pride that our party supported Bill S-3 in the fall of 2005.
Since then, the Clerk of the Privy Council has forwarded a letter to each federal institution outlining the amendments to the Act and the measures which must accordingly be taken. Presentations, training sessions and forums have been held by Canadian Heritage and the Department of Justice in an attempt to raise awareness about Bill S-3 in federal institutions. We are currently working on the development of a strategic guide for the implementation of Bill S- 3.
Senator Champagne: Has the abolition of the Court Challenges Program made for fewer complaints or less litigation?
Mr. Lussier: The mechanism by which a complaint can be made under Part VII was not affected at all. It remains entirely available to communities and to anyone who wishes to use it.
Senator Champagne: Last week, we heard rumours on Parliament Hill that with respect to official languages the Court Challenges Program would rise from the ashes. Is this just a dream?
Ms. Verner: We can always dream. As you know, this program is being appealed before the courts. So it would not be wise for me to comment.
Senator Tardif: I would like to turn your attention to the relocation of head offices, more specifically, that of the Canadian Tourism Commission from Ottawa to Vancouver, on other words, from a bilingual region to a unilingual region.
Before your arrival, Madam Minister, Ms. Larocque and Mr. Moisan were sharing certain facts with us. Under the cuts and fund reallocations announced by your government on September 25, the Canadian Tourism Commission lost $5.675 million. This amount was to have been used for its relocation. But the funds were not used.
Does your government intend to return these funds to meet certain needs? For example, language training or the employment of bilingual personnel in Vancouver, in order to meet the requirement to provide services in French. Another need would be allowing federal employees to work in French.
Ms. Verner: Your question is very specific and requires a very precise response. It touches on a particular aspect of the Canadian Tourism Commission. If I am not mistaken, this Commission falls under the responsibility of my colleague Maxime Bernier. If you wish, I can ask him the question and forward you his response. I do not have any information with me about this sum of $5 million.
Senator Tardif: It is more like $5.675 million. This amount was mentioned on the list of cuts announced on September 25. It was stated that this cut would affect the Canadian Tourism Commission.
Ms. Verner: I will find out and get a specific response to your question.
Senator Tardif: I would like to go back to the issue of the relocation of head offices. Presently, a temporary regulation protects employees and allows them to work in the official language of their choice.
Are you planning to implement regulations that will guarantee, in permanent fashion, the rights set out in Part V of the Official Languages Act?
Ms. Verner: As you say, this is a temporary measure. I would like to refer you to my introductory remarks. Our Prime Minister, as well as our government, as committed to not contravening any law that guarantees the rights of Francophone minorities, or even the charter.
That said, I am going to look into this question, but do look at my introductory remarks on this issue.
Senator Tardif: My concern is the following. During relocations, we often do not take into consideration the impact with respect to the Official Languages Act. When departments or agencies relocate from one region of the country to another, we seem to forget the impact that this may have with respect to the Official Languages Act. We do not do this on purpose, we simply do not take impact into account.
After the relocation, it is always more difficult to go back to the impact and it is almost by an ad hoc process that we get back to it. If we could do something more permanently, we would not have to deal with it on a case-by-case basis each time a situation arises. I also believe that there is a certain interest in encouraging more relocations of head offices to different regions of the country. This is why I hope that the government will take the lead on this issue.
Ms. Verner: I thank you for your advice about the need for vigilance. I can assure you that I fully intend to have the Official Languages Act complied with. I think that Ms. LaRocque would like to add to that.
Ms. LaRocque: Just to remind you that an evaluation is underway for this temporary measure, the results of which will be forwarded to the government. I imagine that at that time, this issue will be considered.
Senator Losier-Cool: Good day, Madam Minister. My question deals specifically with the Official Languages Action Plan. Madam Minister, on May 24, I think I understood that you had committed to maintaining the $751-million funding, over five years, for the Official Languages Action Plan. I know that last week you met with the representatives of the FCFA, the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada, and that they shared their concerns with you. And afterwards, when the deadline arrives, that is, after 2008, if the current government is still there, will it be possible to renew the action plan? Will the funding be renewed in order to reassure the people in these communities?
Ms. Verner: Thank you for your question. Let me tell you right away that our government's commitment towards minority communities is absolutely unwavering. We support the action plan, that is for certain. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we announced a series of measures, we signed agreements with the provinces on education and on service to communities, I put forward a plan with my colleague the Minister of Immigration to promote francophone immigration. In short, I am working energetically as Minister of La Francophonie and Official Languages. I can assure you that we will continue our discussions with the communities, especially our dialogue.
With respect to 2008, I can tell you that next year, the plan will be evaluated and we will make the best decisions in the best interest of the communities.
Senator Losier-Cool: Thank you. When the action plan was adopted, cultural organizations were critical of the fact that they were not consulted during the development of the plan. I would like to know if, when you carry out this review, you could take into consideration the grievances of these cultural organizations.
Ms. Verner: I met with them last week.
Senator Losier-Cool: They are doing a great job for us. I think they are contributing a great deal to Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
Ms. Verner: You are right. I met with them last week and they were particularly disappointed to have been more or less forgotten in the action plan. As I have said, since taking up this position, and even before that, I started a dialogue when we were in opposition. I see people from various organizations on a regular basis and I fully intend to hear from each one of these groups in order to find the best way to help them, and as effectively as possible.
Senator Losier-Cool: I think they have some suggestions.
Ms. Verner: I know, I met with them, they have a lot of suggestions. We set up a future meeting to continue our discussions.
Senator Robichaud: Good day, Madam Minister. I would like to come back to the Court Challenges Program. I know that there is a challenge with respect to the abolition of certain programs. I would like to know what role your department has played in the discussion that preceded the announcement that your government was no longer supporting this program.
Ms. Verner: My colleague Bev Oda was consulted because the program comes under her responsibilities, so maybe Ms. LaRocque could answer you.
Ms. LaRocque: I know that this committee sees the Court Challenges Program in terms of official languages, but it is a program emanating from Canadian Heritage rather than from Minister Verner. It has been used for several purposes, to further several aspects of the Charter. It is quite right that in light of this, Ms. Oda was a part of the consultations on this issue.
Senator Robichaud: But you will agree that this program has greatly helped people in minority situations; it has been very useful. So I would like to believe that several Ministers would have stood up and supported this program that has been so very useful. Am I to believe that at some point this program was no longer thought to be useful, or to have served well, and so it would be dropped?
Ms. Verner: Senator, thank you for your question, but as I said earlier, the Program is before the courts and I do not wish to comment on it.
Senator Robichaud: Ms. Verner, I am not asking you to comment on what is currently before the courts. I am simply asking you to comment on the discussion that took place earlier. I would like to believe that there were defenders of this program that is very important for some minority communities.
Ms. Verner: Senator, you are asking me to take a stand on the Court Challenges Program that will likely be the subject of discussions in court. That is why I cannot comment.
Senator Robichaud: I do not understand, Ms. Verner. I am not asking you to comment on what is going to happen. I simply want to know whether the program had defenders other than Minister Oda, and particularly from your perspective as Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages. I think my question is quite simple.
Ms. LaRocque: It is unfortunate, senator. Normally we very much enjoy answering all of your questions, but it is true that we are before the Federal Court regarding all aspects of the decision made by the government, and because of that, it would unfortunately be inappropriate for us to comment further.
Senator Robichaud: Then I will have to wait. We may ask you to come back to see us, then.
Ms. LaRocque: We would be delighted to come back. We usually enjoy answering your questions, but our hands are tied in this situation.
Senator Robichaud: Please do not think that I believe there is a lack of good will on your part — absolutely not — but I would have liked to have more information.
The Chair: It is certainly very difficult when responsibility is passed from one department to another. For example, official languages used to be the responsibility of Canadian Heritage; it is now yours, Ms. Verner.
How are you dealing with the fact that Canadian Heritage was previously responsible for raising awareness about official languages in the other departments? Who is responsible now for building departmental awareness and for consulting with communities? You? Canadian Heritage? Or both departments together? In the past, communities were always consulted for their feedback. Who is handling what? Who is responsible? And how is it being done?
Ms. Verner: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to explain my mandate to you. In fact, I am the one who has the honour of handling the various components of official languages, as well as the Canadian Heritage team, both in terms of my mandate's horizontal and vertical aspects. That is what I call them. They give me a great deal of support. We meet every week. I have an office at Canadian Heritage, and in my view, my mandate is extremely clear. I have all the tools I need to carry out my duties. I am not left to work in a vacuum. Absolutely not. I have an excellent team supporting me at Canadian Heritage.
Senator Murray: I did not know, until you mentioned it, Ms. Verner, that the Clerk of the Privy Council had written a letter to the federal institutions reminding them of the new amendments to the act. I do not know whether the letter was made public but I presume it is available.
Ms. Verner: Yes, on December 23, 2005. The letter is available. If you would like a copy, we can send you one.
Senator Murray: The Act authorizes the government to make regulations prescribing the manner in which federal institutions' obligations are to be carried out for Part VII. Are you planning on developing regulations in this area?
Ms. Verner: Actually, all options are on the table and we are weighing the pros and cons of each. You probably know far better than I do that it is a process that could be very lengthy. For example, I am told that for regulations, it could take up to two years before everything is in place. All opportunities, all options are on the table. We want to make sure that we have a highly effective act. That is certainly our government's creed. Until then, the act is in effect and we fully intend to obey it. All of the options are on the table, and we are examining the various possibilities.
Senator Murray: What do the organizations representing the minority community think? Have they asked you to make regulations?
Ms. Verner: I will let Mr Lussier answer that because, of course, I meet with the communities for various things, but for now, the matter has not yet been brought up with me directly. I know that Mr Lussier does a lot of consultation with the communities, so I will let him answer.
Senator Murray: I understand the pros and cons very well. I wanted to know what side you were leaning toward.
Ms. Verner: For the moment, I am studying all of the options.
Mr Lussier: There is not a great deal of movement at this point. It is one of the things that certain community members are pushing for and they are also in discussion with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, which has taken a few steps in that regard. There is interest in certain segments of the communities.
Senator Murray: I will ask the same question to the Commissioner of Official Languages.
The Chair: We are running out of time but I will take a few more very brief questions, and I hope the Commissioner of Official Languages will understand.
Senator Tardif: My question is somewhat similar to the one asked by Senator Murray. The issue of regulation aside, has the term ``positive measures'' been more clearly defined?
Ms. Verner: You understand that there needs to be more discussion and study of the various options before a definite stand is taken, whether it be regulation or the whole notion of what is called ``positive measures.'' So I will let Mr. Moisan answer.
Mr. Moisan: Obviously, when the Act was being amended, the legislator decided not to define the term ``positive measures,'' and we cannot just invent a definition after the fact. It is the job of the courts, insofar as these matters will be before the courts, to clarify what the term means. We can ask questions, and in the guide that we are working on, we are suggesting questions to the Department and to the policy developers, the type of questions that can be asked, but we do not have a definition of the term ``positive measure.''
Senator Tardif: Could part of the definition come from the communities themselves?
Ms. Verner: There is ongoing dialogue with the communities and if they have suggestions to make, they are welcome to do so.
Senator Robichaud: The last question pertains to the Jeux de la Francophonie canadienne funding requests to the Department to keep the event going. In my view, it was a very important event for young people. It brought young francophones and francophiles together from every province and territory. Are they still looking for funding?
Ms. Verner: Last week, the Francophonie team came to meet with me, and a representative from the young francophone community let me know that they were very interested in the games. Things are going well in terms of their funding request to Canadian Heritage. Several thousand young people are taking part. I gave them my full and very positive attention.
Senator Robichaud: I urge you to support them. If you have a chance to go to the opening of the games, you will see that it is truly spectacular to see these young people from every province and territory having fun together and celebrating Canada's Francophonie.
Ms. Verner: You are absolutely right. I had the opportunity, specifically during the meeting with the francophonie team, to share my personal impressions. Young people are the best ambassadors of La Francophonie in Canada. They are highly mobile and it is because they travel a lot within Canada that la francophonie is spreading. I can never emphasize enough the extraordinary boost that we get from the fact that there is 72 per cent support for bilingualism, according to one survey. Young people are among those who are contributing to this.
If I have understood properly, Senator Robichaud, you are inviting me to attend the games with you!
Senator Robichaud: I would love to go, but you will definitely be receiving an invitation. I have already attended a few of them.
Ms. Verner: It is certainly very interesting. Some of my staff have been involved in the Jeux de la Francophonie and I have received very positive feedback.
Senator Losier-Cool: Ms. Verner, you were at Bucharest for the Sommet de la Francophonie. In your view, does Canada figure highly in the international French-speaking community? And if so, can its standing be further enhanced?
Ms. Verner: Absolutely. First, FCFA representatives accompanied us to Bucharest. During the sessions with Francophonie ministers leading up to the Summit, Secretary General Abdou Diouf made a request of the representatives of the various countries in attendance. Not all of the countries are unilingual francophone. Some have a tiny French-speaking community, but a community nonetheless, one that needs to nurtured and promoted. That said, he asked the representatives to use French when making speeches on the international stage. He then used our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, as an example, saying that with two official languages in his country, Mr. Harper always begins his speeches in French. This was to the credit of our Prime Minister, as well as to Canada and La Francophonie in Canada.
The Chairman: Ms. Verner, on behalf of the honourable senators, I sincerely want to thank you for coming to meet with us today, and I also thank the staff who accompanied you. I hope that, at one point, if we have further questions, we can invite you again before the committee.
Ms. Verner: It would be a pleasure.
(The sitting was suspended.)
(The sitting resumed.)
The Chairman: We now have the pleasure of receiving, for the first time since his official appointment as Commissioner of Official Languages, Mr. Graham Fraser.
Mr. Fraser is accompanied by members of the staff of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, who, for the most part, are accustomed to appearing before our committee. We have Mr. Gérard Finn, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch, Mr. Rénald Dussault, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch, and Ms. Johanne Tremblay, Director, Legal Affairs Branch. Welcome, everyone. Mr. Fraser, you have the floor.
Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Honourable senators, thank you for the invitation to appear before you.
I hope that my first appearance as commissioner before the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages will mark the beginning of a successful collaboration between us. I have already learned that we share the goal of advancing official languages in Canada. My predecessors greatly benefited from your support, and minority official languages communities have used the results of your many initiatives and studies over the years.
As I begin my mandate, I am struck by the fact that your projects and inquiries continue to reflect concerns expressed by Canadians on the future of official languages. With those thoughts in mind, it is with optimism and considerable enthusiasm that I undertake the mandate that I have been given.
As you may recall from my last appearance before you when you considered my nomination, Canada's linguistic duality has always been of great concern to me. Last spring, as a journalist, I was very impressed to hear Minister Josée Verner express her commitment, and that of her government, to the changes made to the Official Languages Act and the 2003 action plan for official languages. Those statements, which I gather she repeated here today before you, are very encouraging and a source of great hope for all Canadians.
I must also point out that since taking office, the government has tabled some legislation related to official languages under which Air Canada is affected, in particular. In addition, the government has indicated that it will never do less than what was set out in the action plan for official languages, that the plan is a minimum that can always be improved.
Furthermore, the same government announced budget cuts in September. I cannot comment in detail on these actions since the Office of the Commissioner received numerous complaints and an investigation is underway. I will say, however, that I find it difficult to see how the government's actions are consistent with its words. I therefore urge the government to take all opportunities provided by the current context to put its words of last spring into practice.
There are many themes that deserve government attention. The studies and reflection being undertaken by the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, on the 2010 Olympic Games and the relocation of head offices to unilingual regions, for example, are very important, and expectations in these areas are considerable. The same goes for Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations that are the subject of a proposed amendment dealing with the services provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the Trans-Canada Highway.
As indicated in studies conducted on high-performance sport by my office, English is the language of international sport. At the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, English was predominant; French was only used at the opening and closing ceremonies, even though French is an official language at the Olympics.
In 2010, in Vancouver, here in Canada, we will need to do much better. This is a perfect opportunity for Canada to promote its linguistic duality internationally. The organizing committee must ensure that the requirements set out and the agreements signed with the Government of Canada for cultural events and services to the public and athletes are fully respected. The committee has already signed agreements with various organizations and the Government of Quebec to ensure that the games are a symbol of Canada's linguistic duality, and I applaud them for these initiatives.
As far as I am concerned, it is important that the announced cost overruns do not compromise the bilingual nature of the games. During a recent trip to Vancouver, I had the opportunity to meet with John Furlong, the CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, and we discussed these issues. I was impressed by his sensitivity, his respect for linguistic duality and by the efforts he has already made to ensure that the games reflect that reality.
The broadcasting of the games is also of concern to me. The English language broadcasting rights are held by the CTV network, which is available live throughout Canada. The French language broadcasting rights are shared by TQS and RDS. Outside Quebec, in most cases, those channels are available only on digital cable or by satellite.
This means, for example, that francophones in British Columbia who do not subscribe to those services will not be able to watch the Games in their language. The number of broadcasting hours in each official language is not equal either. In fact, the English-language network, CTV, intends to devote 1,117 hours to the Games, compared with 550 hours for French-language networks.
All of the country's francophones, and particularly those in a minority setting, are at a disadvantage. We need to find a solution to ensure that broadcasting of the Games is accessible and of equal quality, in both official languages, for the benefit of all Canadians.
The production of the Games concerns me as well. In that regard, I draw your attention to the fact that CTV will be responsible for everything related to television production. Interviews and analyses could be conducted in English only. As a former journalist, I am keenly aware of the importance of telling the stories of our French- and English-speaking Olympic athletes.
One of the remarkable aspects of the French-language media coverage in the last Olympic Games was the number of English-speaking medalists who, still out of breath, were able to give interviews in both official languages. I am therefore concerned that no French-language team will be on site during the event and that French-language athletes will be left without media coverage. CTV should consider partnership possibilities. Radio-Canada, for example, could become a partner.
However, French-speaking athletes have to deal with the issue of respect for linguistic duality well before the games, because they often encounter language obstacles that add to the difficulties of their sport. Despite the efforts of Sport Canada and some organizations to integrate linguistic duality into the sport system, work remains to be done to provide support services and mechanisms to athletes in both official languages.
The relocation of central head offices from a bilingual to a unilingual region is becoming more frequent, an occurrence that has significant repercussions. A case in point is the Canadian Tourism Commission. The commission must not lose sight of the francophone tourism market. When I was in Vancouver recently, I learned that that is the province's only tourism growth sector, thanks in part to the institutions in the minority community and their efforts to sell francophone travellers on British Columbia. Relocation must not affect the right of employees to work in the official language of their choice. Thus, it is important to make provisions for permanent measures to safeguard employees' language of work rights, as well as those of future hires.
On June 27, 2005, the Treasury Board established a temporary implementation principle, but its scope is rather limited. Indeed, under this principle, institutions relocating their head office to a unilingual region are only required to maintain the status quo regarding the rights of employees choosing to relocate.
It is my opinion that the government should adopt regulations that confer language of work rights on employees working in head offices located in unilingual regions. This would eliminate the need to intervene each time the head office of a federal institution is relocated from a bilingual to a unilingual region.
Lastly, the government could use its regulatory power under subsection 38(1) of the Official Languages Act to recognize the special situation of single vocation institutions, like the RCMP Training Academy in Regina, the Royal Military College in Kingston, and the Canadian Coast Guard College in Nova Scotia, and grant language of work rights to the employees of these institutions.
Regulation is also necessary with respect to the implementation of institutions' obligations in the area of communications with and services to the public. As you know, the President of the Treasury Board published a proposed amendment of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations in the Canada Gazette. The amendment follows the Federal Court's decision in Doucet vs. Canada, which dealt with the RCMP's obligations on a section of the Trans-Canada Highway served by the Amherst detachment in Nova Scotia. In her last annual report, my predecessor indicated that the federal government should take advantage of the opportunity to consider reworking the Regulations.
Instead, the government chose a minimalist approach that will result in the imposition of linguistic obligations on a single RCMP detachment. The amendment to the Regulations will create a situation whereby RCMP detachments will have obligations if they provide services to sections of the Trans-Canada Highway where there is a point of entry to another province that is officially bilingual. However, according to the wording of the proposed amendment, a detachment would only have obligations if the demand from the public for services, over a year, is at least five percent in either official language.
I simply cannot support the amendment in its current form. The approach that imposes an assessment of demand based on the criteria of proportionality is unacceptable. It disregards the Federal Court's decision that accepted the evidence that the demand from the travelling public for services in French largely exceeded five percent of the overall annual demand. Moreover, the second criterion chosen in the proposed amendment, that is, a point of entry into an officially bilingual province, makes the criterion of proportionality useless.
To improve the amendment, I propose that the government remove the obligation to assess demand and that it also consider modernizing the Regulations to clarify the implementation of federal institutions' obligations.
I must tell you, honourable senators, that I take the linguistic rights of Canadian travellers, whether they be French- or English-speaking, seriously. I believe that it is paramount that linguistic policies be designed with the travelling public in mind. It is essential that Canadians be able to travel this country knowing that particular attention will be paid to their linguistic rights.
The efforts you are undertaking on the issues I have discussed here are very important. The government must listen to the official language minority communities and adopt concrete measures to demonstrate its commitment to linguistic duality.
Honourable senators, I am now ready to answer your questions.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Fraser, I want to congratulate you on your appointment. I would also like to thank you for your excellent presentation. You understand the issues affecting official-language-minority communities and the issue of linguistic duality in our country. I was very happy to hear some of your observations.
I would like to come back to the matter of the relocation of head offices of federal institutions. You suggested that it would be important to adopt regulations ensuring language-of-work rights to employees of head offices located in unilingual regions and to create a permanent measure. You acknowledge the importance of regulating that aspect.
Mr. Fraser: I think it is important. If we look at the Canadian Tourism Commission document, we see that nine French-speaking employees out of 90 requested a transfer from Ottawa to Vancouver. That already constitutes a significant drop in the proportion of French-speaking employees. Clearly, a federal institution that does not have French-speaking employees finds it increasingly difficult to provide services in French.
In my travels to Vancouver, Halifax and Charlottetown, I have noticed that the Part 7 issue and the right to work in French are related. If a minority community does not show signs of vitality, French-speaking employees will have difficulty agreeing to a transfer. And if they do take one, it will be difficult for them to remain there. I think that there is a fundamental link between a community's vitality and the right to work there in one's language in an institution that is transferred to another region.
Senator Tardif: If I understand you correctly, you believe that in the case of the Canadian Tourism Commission's relocation, it would be important to insist on Parts 4, 5 and 7 of the Official Languages Act?
Mr. Fraser: Yes, I think it is important. If not, we are going to slowly reduce the number of French-speaking employees and the impact on minority communities and limit the ability of institutions to provide services in both official languages.
Senator Tardif: Has the Office of the Commissioner ever undertaken a study on the impact of the Canadian Tourism Commission's relocation and perhaps the impact of previous relocations of head offices?
Mr. Fraser: Mr. Finn can better answer your question as I have just been appointed Commissioner of Official Languages. I do not know whether any such studies were or are currently being conducted.
Senator Tardif: I ask the question because our committee is studying the matter.
Mr. Finn: There are no current studies on the impact of the Canadian Tourism Commission's relocation. However, in 1997, the Office of the Commissioner published a study on transfers, particularly those of manpower services transferred from the federal government to the provinces. However, there were no specific studies on the transfer of head offices and the effects on communities.
Senator Champagne: I must say that, like you, I am furious about what is going to happen with the broadcasting of the Olympics. We discussed the matter last week with people who were speaking about negotiations.
The figures you give us indicate less than half the number of broadcasting hours in French. To receive TQS or RDS, you need access to cable services. Cable is not available in all rural areas and not everyone can afford it. And if you do not have cable, you cannot get RDS. As for TQS, I believe that it is available with basic cable service.
If there is no French-speaking team on site, one would hope there might be someone in the studio. Yet, French- speaking athletes who do not speak English will not be able to say ``Hi, Mom and Dad. I'm very happy.'' It is very sad.
Mr. Fraser: The problem is actually two-fold. First, I think that it is a very serious issue for francophone viewers. The issue is tricky because it is like what happened with La Soirée du Hockey. The rights did not belong to the Vancouver Games. The Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games sold the rights for a rather substantial fee. This makes it more difficult to fix the situation.
Are partnerships possible? After paying so much for broadcasting rights, CTV is not going to race after additional costs. It is not something that is controlled. My fear is that all of the efforts being put into the site will be lost if television production of the Olympics does not respect linguistic duality. There might be great respect for linguistic duality on site, but that will be completely lost on most Canadians who will be watching the Games on television.
Senator Champagne: When the rights were awarded, someone somewhere on the IOC could have insisted and pointed out that while CTV may be willing to pay a higher price, it should also be able to provide Canadians with the broadcasting that they are entitled to expect.
Mr. Fraser: You are going beyond my current research.
Senator Champagne: If I have given you a new lead, I am delighted.
The Chair: My question builds on Senator Champagne's question. It is disheartening to see that the same thing happened with the Calgary Olympics in 1988. If this is the case, is there a mechanism or regulation that would prevent this from happening again, so that we do not end up with a fait accompli that is more or less acceptable?
Mr. Fraser: I share your concerns, but I can tell you that as a viewer of the Torino Games, I noticed how much the coverage of the Games was an asset to Canada's linguistic duality. If I understand correctly, you have invited CTV representatives to appear before the committee. Those are the people you will have to put these questions to.
Senator Robichaud: Speaking of broadcast coverage, section 13.1 of the multiparty agreement stipulates that:
[t]he Parties will make reasonable efforts to ensure that domestic radio and television broadcasts of the Games by the Canadian broadcast rights holders for the Games are in French and English.
Their only obligation is to make reasonable efforts. We asked the people who came to testify last week when they would know whether or not it was possible.
I congratulate you for recommending that the government withdraw the obligation to assess demand for services along the section of the Trans-Canada Highway. Although New Brunswick is officially bilingual, there are a lot of people from out of province, including Quebeckers, who use that section of the Highway. And often, people who get stopped by police for an infraction, whether it be speeding or illegal passing, do not ask for service in their language, which is their right, for fear of vexing the officer and in the hopes that they can get away with a simple warning.
Mr. Fraser: You are speaking of something I have not yet experienced!
Senator Robichaud: I spoke earlier about court challenges. In your view, was the program very important for official language minorities?
Mr. Fraser: I will be cautious. If we look at the Supreme Court decisions that have affected Section 23 of the Charter, for example, whether it be reinforcing access rights to education in French, control over school boards or parents' immersion rights in Quebec — rights that were clarified by the Casimir decision — you will find that, as you look closer, those proceedings were funded through this program.
I do not want to go any further because the Office of the Commissioner is in fact in the process of conducting an in- depth study of the complaints received. There were 40 complaints on my desk the first day I arrived. I think there is double that or more now. We have already begun researching the complaints. Mr. Dussault, would you like to add something?
Renald Dussault, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch, Office of the commissioner of Official Languages: Madam Chairman, as the Commissioner indicated, the process is underway. We already have an investigator working on the complaints received. You also understand that given the confidential nature of the complaints, I cannot give too much detail. I can certainly assure you that an investigator is working very hard to try to follow up on the complaints that we have received.
Senator Robichaud: Have you considered intervening as a third party in the case that is now before the courts?
Mr. Fraser: We decided not to intervene at the first level. I will spare you the details, but we looked at it. Ms. Tremblay could perhaps give you a more detailed answer.
Johanne Tremblay, Director, Legal Affairs Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Because we are investigating the complaints regarding the program funding cuts, we are unable to intervene in the judicial review proceeding that is taking place at the same time. This is so that we can maintain the impartiality of our investigations, as the priority is currently on the investigation.
Senator Robichaud: Cuts were also made to the literacy program, another program that was of great help to some minority communities. That is the case back home in New Brunswick where there were a number of initiatives. We are told that the federal government will no longer intervene at the local level, but rather at the provincial or regional association level. In my area, the loss of this funding will cause serious hardship. Do you intend to examine the impact of these cuts on the communities?
Mr. Fraser: I know for a fact, looking at a number of the complaints received at the Office of the Commissioner, that those cuts were definitely mentioned. That is part of the investigation underway.
Senator Robichaud: You are looking at all of the cuts?
Mr. Fraser: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: Can we expect to hear your opinions on the cuts soon?
Mr. Fraser: Certainly once we have completed the study required to know whether we will follow up on the complaints, I will be in a better position to comment. However, in the meantime, I definitely do not want to prejudice the investigation in any way. We are not free to comment, and we must remain impartial. I already gave you an analogy: when I appear before you, I am somewhat like a lawyer who becomes a judge. The first cases are the most important ones for reinforcing the position's impartiality. I am going to reserve the right not to comment in this case.
Senator Robichaud: I understand, but what I wanted to know was rather how long it would be before we could benefit from your advice, once all the complaints have been examined?
Mr. Fraser: For the moment, I am not in a position to give you a timeframe.
Mr. Dussault: It might be helpful to point out, obviously, that the formal investigation process currently underway — again, speaking in confidence — is a process that leads to a preliminary report, which we share with the complainants and institutions involved. It is after this that we take these comments into account in terms of the final report.
The investigation process itself, unlike the verification process, is always conducted in confidence and contains a certain number a stages. It is probably safe to say that a preliminary report will be ready by early next year, but the report will be discussed and submitted to the parties involved.
Senator Murray: With regard to the Olympics, I presume that if CBC Radio-Canada had outbid CTV, we would not be facing this problem. Is that correct?
Mr. Fraser: That is correct. Take a look at the difference between the CBC bid and the CTV bid. There is a substantial margin present.
Senator Murray: I did not know that.
Mr. Fraser: I believe is about a $40-million difference.
Senator Murray: The role of the government, as the banker for the CBC, does come into play here.
Mr. Fraser: My understanding is that the CBC was stretching to make as generous a bid as they did in seeking partners, but then they were simply not in the same ballpark as CTV.
Senator Murray: I know, as you have reminded us, it is in the nature of a private contract between CTV and the people who run the Olympics. There will be a role for the government to solve this problem. One hopes that its moral authority might suffice, but if that does not, they will have to come up with money one way or another.
Mr. Fraser: Certainly, if there is a partnership with another network, that is not a partnership that will be entered into pro bono. There will be costs incurred. Whatever network agrees to undertake that will be seeking some basic guarantee that they can cover those costs, and perhaps more than that.
Senator Murray: The sense that I do not have, nor do I believe any of us have, is whether those responsible for all this see this as a real problem and are working on it with a view to the right solution. I hope they are, and I hope the Government of Canada is doing everything possible to encourage them along that road.
Mr. Fraser: I hope so too. I feel it is a serious issue. I know you are already aware of some of the details, but I wanted to underline its importance when I appeared before you.
Senator Murray: Thank you for doing so.
With regard to Part VII — the amendments to make Part VII and section 41, in particular, obligatory upon the government and justiciable, which former Senator Gauthier finally succeeded in having passed by Parliament — there is authorization in the amendment for the government to pass regulations to help make this happen. I put the question to the minister. She described, quite accurately, the complexities of getting regulations through the government, and now through Parliament, because Parliament has been involved, thanks to private members legislation we passed a few years ago.
My question on the substance of the matter is whether you feel, at this stage, that regulation is needed for that section or whether it is not better to wait for a while to see how circumstances play out.
Mr. Fraser: This is a fairly spontaneous answer on my part. I might revise this view after examining the regulation process more carefully. My feeling about the new, strengthened Part VII is that everyone is feeling their way. I talked to minority community representatives from British Columbia. There were representatives from Alberta who came and spoke to me here in Ottawa. I also met with people from Halifax and Prince Edward Island. Different communities have different ideas as to what positive measures there could be; for example, praising the post office for having located a post office in a French-language community centre in Edmonton.
In Vancouver, they are bringing forward proposals of how some of the French-language services that are offered by government departments could be centralized in a single location in Vancouver, which would make it possible to have some French-language businesses located in the same complex.
Different communities have different needs and are working on defining what constitutes a positive measure. At this stage, the important point is for government departments to be fully aware of their responsibilities and to be thinking about positive measures.
Senator Murray: Have you seen the letter, which the minister referred to, that the Clerk of the Privy Council sent out toward the end of last year to all federal institutions, reminding them of what is now expected of them as a result of the amendments? I have not seen it.
Mr. Fraser: I, personally, have not seen the letter. My predecessor has seen it. I am having trouble keeping up with my current correspondence at this point.
In terms of the amendments to the legislation, I am very aware that the legislation itself required an adjustment period when it was introduced in 1970 and when it was amended in 1988, and I am sure this is the case now with the 2005 amendments. Royal Assent to amendments does not suddenly transform the way government departments function. Parliamentarians have set the bar significantly higher. Judging by the public servants I met in Halifax, I believe people are working with the best intentions and goodwill to try to define what kind of positive measures there could be.
My instinct is that as we are working through this initial period of the implementation of the new amendments, let us see how those amendments are applied. Regulations can follow in due course. It takes a while for regulations to be developed anyway, so those regulations can be developed as people are examining how the introduction of the new amendments is taking effect.
Senator Murray: With regard to the Trans-Canada Highway near the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border, I have been following that a little and I understand what you say about it and about the inadequacy of the Treasury Board response. Does it matter that the highway patrol is under the Attorney General of Nova Scotia, or the Attorney General of New Brunswick, on the other side?
Mr. Fraser: The RCMP functions, as I understand it, as provincial police, and, therefore, responds with different arrangements in different provinces. I was personally struck by the recommendation that your committee made when you examined Nova Scotia. In your report, you quoted Judge Blanchard's judgment, which took a broader look at how the regulation could be amended. The government has taken a narrower approach. I preferred the broader interpretation that Judge Blanchard recommended and that you took up in your report.
Senator Murray: Overall, it is the commissioner of the RCMP who assigns people to various provinces; but once they arrive, my impression is that they are under the direction of the provincial authority if they are acting as a provincial police force. I just wondered to what extent the province came into that.
Mr. Fraser: They do, however, remain subject to the Official Languages Act. The provincial requirements that they have to meet are different. Obviously, New Brunswick, as the only officially bilingual province, has specific demands. However, the RCMP does remain as a national police force under the requirements of the Official Languages Act.
Senator Murray: Fair enough.
On the budget cuts, I understand your reluctance to go too far, but when you mention budget cuts, are you speaking in particular or exclusively of the Court Challenges Program of Canada?
Mr. Fraser: Some of the complaints that my office has received were wider than simply the Court Challenges Program of Canada and covered some of the other cuts as well.
Senator Murray: It is no part of my brief to defend the present government, but I must say I have been agreeably surprised, starting with the support that that party gave to former Senator Gauthier's bill while they were still in opposition. I have been agreeably surprised with the way they have proceeded with regard to bilingualism — linguistic duality — especially given their previous policies and some of the declarations of their leader. Contestation judiciaire apart, I cannot fault them so far on their approach to this.
The minister, when she was here, said that, since she took office, she has signed bilateral agreements in education with every province and territory for more than $1 billion over four years. She talks about important agreements with regard to service in the minority language for $64 million, and that she has increased the envelopes for the non-profit organizations representing official languages communities by 11 per cent compared to two years ago, and so on.
On the face of it, in terms of budgets, matters seem to be moving along pretty well. The decision on the Court Challenges Program of Canada was a decision about a program that has been of particular help to linguistic minorities, as Senator Robichaud has pointed out; but they got side-swiped in this. There are a number of other organizations and causes that use the Court Challenges Program of Canada to good effect. However, for whatever reason, and one suspects it was more ideological than financial — you do not have to comment on that, and I am sure you would not — away went the program, and the linguistic minorities got side-swiped. That is my interpretation of it.
Reading what she had to say about spending, I do not get the impression that they have been scrimping on official languages; I believe they have been doing well.
Mr. Fraser: I take note of your interpretation, senator, and were I in my previous line of work I might have made use of it. I will absorb it for internal discussion.
I heard the latter part of the minister's appearance before the committee. I did hear her appearance before the committee in the other place last spring and was impressed by the commitments she stressed and the way she made it clear that as far as she was concerned the commitments for the action plan were a minimum. I made a point of mentioning this in my statement. I was very conscious of her remarks when I applied for this job.
Senator Murray: You perhaps do not want to get into it immediately, but at a later time, either here or in some other forum, you might wish to comment because it is an important point. If you believe, in respect of their responsibilities for linguistic duality and official languages, that those areas are bearing a disproportionate part of the burden of economies, you are the person to say so.
Mr. Fraser: It is certainly something I will be watching very closely.
Senator Murray: That is not your point today, I take it.
Mr. Fraser: No.
Senator Murray: When you mentioned budget cuts, there was one big one you had in mind.
Mr. Fraser: Yes. The office is responding to a number of complaints that have addressed both the Court Challenges Program of Canada and some of the other programs that have been identified by complainants as having particular impact on minority language communities. We are looking in detail at the bundle of cuts that have been identified by the complainants in those.
Senator Murray: It is likely that you will make a judgment — you will comment on them, put it that way — perhaps in your next report.
Mr. Fraser: Yes. If we have reached the end of the process by that time, I will certainly be giving an update. I will say what I can in the annual report and when the process is complete, I will be free to comment in detail. I am not really in a position to comment at all right now.
Senator Losier-Cool: I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you, Mr. Fraser.
Mr. Fraser: Thank you very much.
Senator Losier-Cool: Senator Murray asked you a question about funding. You will also have an opportunity to follow the developments starting in 2008.
The minister indicated that she would be re-assessing the action plan and that some of the funds announced are already earmarked for the action plan.
I would like to briefly come back to the matter of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games to make sure I have properly understood.
I hope that it is not too late for the committee to make a recommendation on the broadcasting of the games on CTV. Our committee has to go to Vancouver next week to meet with certain organizations. The broadcasting issue will certainly come up in our discussions.
Lise Bissonnette, grand francophone observer at the Torino Winter Olympics, indicated two weeks ago that Canada had a unique opportunity to promote La Francophonie at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games to be held in British Columbia, which is home to a large official-language minority. We are not only talking about bilingualism at the opening and closing ceremonies, but in day-to-day activities, interviews, anecdotes, and so on. I hope it is not too late for us.
Mr. Fraser: This is 2006, so there are three and a half years left. The preparations are underway. You will be able to make recommendations. I know that you will be going to Vancouver. I had the chance to go there ten days ago. I think that you will be very impressed by the vitality of British Columbia's minority community. At least I was.
Senator Losier-Cool: My colleagues are no doubt aware of this, but I did not know that, as you mentioned, CBC/ SRC and CTV had bid on the games. Is it a question of money, then? And yet, it is more a matter of fairness than of dollars.
Mr. Fraser: If I understand correctly, CTV submitted a bid, assuming that RDS and TQS would translate the games from Montreal. In the past, that is how parts of the world series and the National Football League were able to be broadcast, that is, with the help of a team of sports analysts in Montreal studios. So it was based on that model.
If I am correct, you have asked representatives of Bell Globe Media to appear before you. They will be able to provide you with more details on the broadcasting aspects.
Senator Losier-Cool: We will inform you of their answers.
Senator Tardif: I still have a number of questions, but we are running out of time and I hope that we will be able to invite you to appear before us again, Mr. Fraser.
I would like to come back to the matter of the Canadian Tourism Commission. Our committee has undertaken a study of the matter and we would like to obtain complete and detailed information.
Your predecessor had published a rather negative report on the Canadian Tourism Commission, particularly with respect to its obligations under the Official Languages Act.
Can you tell us whether things have improved at the Canadian Tourism Commission in the past year? Have you followed up on the matter?
Mr. Fraser: We do not know yet and have not yet followed up on the matter.
Senator Tardif: Do you have any suggestions for us, since we will be meeting with these people in Vancouver?
Mr. Fraser: Canada's tourism industry is in danger of not performing as well as its U.S. counterpart. There are three reasons for this. Since September 11, Americans are travelling less, the Canadian dollar is strong making the Canadian market less attractive to U.S. tourists, and the price of gas is high. Also, because the dollar is strong, Canadians are more likely than before to go the U.S.
It is important to encourage francophones to visit Canada and to ensure that they are properly welcomed in both official languages. We also need to target the international francophone tourism market. We have an advantage in France, where Canada's tourism and immigration rating is very high. In Vancouver, I met with an economic development director from one of the francophone minority organizations who told me about efforts being made to publish brochures and advertise not only to francophones but also hotels in British Columbia. The result was that last year, francophone tourism was up in British Columbia. This is an example of the importance of promoting linguistic duality within the Canadian Tourism Commission.
Senator Tardif: Was it the commission or the francophone community making the efforts?
Mr. Fraser: The francophone community.
Senator Tardif: Do you know whether the commission made any efforts?
Mr. Fraser: I do not know.
Senator Champagne: I cannot help but go back to Senator Murray giving a good grade to the Harper government concerning official languages. One of the good things that Mr. Harper did, and I feel you will agree, Senator Murray, was to name Mr. Fraser as the new commissioner.
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Mr. Fraser, what is the one thing that you really want to do during this term?
Mr. Fraser: I want to build bridges. There are a number of areas where I want to improve communications connections between the minority communities and the government and between minority communities themselves. Minority communities are so scattered that at times I can play a useful role just in bearing witness to some of the best practices that are being carried out in the minority communities; between the minority communities and the majority; and between the two majority communities. I am the first commissioner since Max Yalden to come from an anglophone majority community. All the others have come from either the francophone majority in Quebec or from minority communities.
One of the conclusions I came to, after writing my book on language policy, is that we have come a long way in 40 years. Many of the elements that are required to have a language policy that works are there, but they are badly attached. Part of the process in creating a better linguistic ecology is to try and build bridges between some of the dysfunctional areas of that language ecology.
Senator Champagne: If at any time we can be of use to you, I am certain that you will let us know. Thank you, and I wish you a successful mandate.
Mr. Fraser: Thank you.
The Chairman: Mr. Fraser, on behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, I want to thank you very sincerely for coming to speak with us today. I also thank your staff. I assure you that you will receive other invitations in the future to discuss matters of concern to us.
Mr. Fraser: Thank you. This was a very enlightening discussion for me.
The committee adjourned.