STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON OFFICIAL LANGUAGES
OTTAWA, Monday, September 28, 2009
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 5 p.m. to study the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations and directives made under it, within those institutions subject to the act. Subject: Olympic and Paralympic 2010 Winter Games.
Senator Maria Chaput (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I see that we have quorum. I call the meeting to order.
Before we move on to the presentations of the witnesses and before we begin recording, I want to briefly discuss the issue of chair at the next meeting. The deputy chair and I will not be at Monday’s meeting. The health minister confirmed that she was available to appear before the committee at that meeting.
If I may, I would like to hear a motion to elect the Honourable Senator Losier-Cool as acting chair of the committee for the meeting on Monday, October 5, 2009.
Senator Comeau: I move the motion.
The Chair: Is it agreed that Senator Losier-Cool will serve as acting chair for the meeting on Monday, October 5?
Some honourable senators: Agreed.
The Chair: I would like to welcome you to the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. I am Senator Maria Chaput from Manitoba, the committee chair.
I would like to start by introducing the committee members here today. Beginning on my far left, we have Senator Comeau and Senator Nolin. To my right are Senator Tardif, Senator Losier-Cool and Senator Greene.
We have with us today the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, accompanied by Johane Tremblay, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch, and Ghislaine Charlebois, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch.
On September 15, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages published the follow-up to its study entitled Raising our Game for Vancouver 2010: Towards a Canadian Model of Linguistic Duality in International Sport. The report documents recent observations of preparations aimed at offering services in both official languages at the 2010 games. As you no doubt know, the committee also published a follow-up report on linguistic duality at the 2010 games.
Mr. Fraser, the committee thanks you for accepting our invitation to appear here today. The floor is yours.
Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Senators, members of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, good evening. It is a pleasure to talk about my follow-up report on the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which was recently released, as noted. I was glad to see that your committee also released its report on this matter, and I was impressed by your recommendations. Your committee's sustained interest in this issue has contributed significantly to the progress made in this important area.
In December 2008, I published a report on the significant official languages shortfalls of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games — VANOC — and Canadian Heritage. I also highlighted VANOC's good will and commitment, but also the many challenges that must still be overcome in order to make the 2010 Winter Olympics an event that reflects Canada's linguistic duality.
I noted that several federal institutions did not realize that the games are an important test of their capacity to serve the public in both official languages. My staff therefore launched an awareness campaign for federal institutions last winter.
Now, five months before the games begin, I see that significant progress has been made. VANOC has accomplished a great deal, and some federal institutions have launched innovative initiatives to provide the public with an Olympic-calibre performance that is also authentically Canadian. However, the follow-up report that I have published highlights many areas for improvement. If these shortcomings are not rectified soon, they could compromise the success of the games where official languages are concerned.
The deadline is looming, and it is time for an extra push. There are only 137 days until the opening ceremonies. To be fully prepared when the puck drops, VANOC, Canadian Heritage and the various federal institutions that will be providing services to Canadians and visitors during the games must take decisive action in the coming weeks.
My follow-up report contains 11 recommendations. Some are for VANOC, others are for Canadian Heritage in its coordination capacity, and a number of others are for federal institutions, especially those present in Canada’s major airports.
Most of the recommendations for VANOC deal with recruiting and training volunteers, signage, translation and the delivery of services to the public. I was pleased to learn that the federal government announced an additional $7.7 million for translation, signage at the Olympic venues, and for the medal ceremonies. Given the urgency and importance this issue, VANOC and Canadian Heritage needed to find a solution to the problem as soon as possible. This announcement was certainly a positive one.
VANOC is now fully equipped to succeed and to ensure that all clauses of Annex A of the Multi-Party Agreement are respected. My expectation is for these additional funds to produce concrete results that will enable athletes, media representatives and Canadians to have a positive experience of the games.
That being said, the other challenges identified in my report should not be ignored. Recent changes to the model that VANOC plans to use for outdoor signage are very encouraging. However, I am still concerned that VANOC's municipal and provincial partners have not shown enough urgency in this respect. The Olympic Oval in Richmond is a symptom of a larger problem. The additional funds for signage should allow VANOC to prevent this type of situation from occurring in the future.
Regarding volunteers, the follow-up report notes that the assessment of the level of bilingualism for volunteers is adequate. In addition, VANOC seems to be on its way to reaching its objective of 3,500 bilingual volunteers out of the total 25,000 volunteers. However, this 14 per cent proportion leaves very little room to manoeuvre in cases where personnel may need to be moved or replaced. The volunteer deployment plans should include provisions for posting bilingual volunteers wherever they are required, at any time.
As you note in your report, I also found that the countdown ceremony was very disappointing in terms of reflecting the country's francophonie. The quality of the cultural festivals surrounding the games should be much higher in order to reflect all Canadians and to provide a complete image of Canada's cultural richness. This is especially true for the opening and closing ceremonies of the games, which will be watched around the world.
This is, in sum, what my report says about elements that are under the responsibility of VANOC.
For the majority of people who travel to Vancouver to celebrate, work or participate in the games, the Olympic experience starts at the airport and in other places where federal institutions are in contact with the public. That is why my report examines in detail the measures taken by these institutions.
We have also made a series of observations on the availability of service in numerous locations. I am highly concerned about the results.
Our analyses of on-site observations show that, despite efforts made by some institutions to improve their result, generally, there is still no reflex to actively offer service in English and in French.
In general, the airports are not prepared to welcome visitors in both official languages. There is often a complete lack of French-language service. And when it is present, employees still tend to make initial contact with visitors in English only. At Vancouver airport, the gateway to the games, security screenings, Air Canada and even the airport authorities obtained particularly alarming results, including a score of zero for commercial tenants at Vancouver airport.
As host airport and official supplier for the Vancouver 2010 Games, Vancouver International Airport will be welcoming thousands of travellers. If the observation results are any indication, a business-as-usual approach is clearly insufficient. The situation is also far from perfect at Toronto’s Pearson airport, which is Canada’s largest airport as well as a major hub. A large number of visitors will be passing through Pearson while travelling to the 2010 games.
On a more positive note, I should emphasize that employees of Parks Canada and Service Canada can provide bilingual service in nearly all cases. However, these institutions need to ensure that all their employees greet visitors in both official languages to let them know that bilingual service is available.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which administers the important Granville Island site, also seems to be able to provide bilingual services but has the same issues with bilingual greetings. I have asked each of these institutions to provide me with an assessment of their official languages performance, after the games. I hope that these will be stories of success and innovation, not embarrassing failures.
In conclusion, I would like to clarify one thing. The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games belong to all Canadians, and it is essential that they reflect Canadian values, including linguistic duality. I do not want visitors to be greeted with "Sorry, I don’t speak French".
Let me echo your third recommendation on the need to develop tools for volunteers in order to ensure an active offer of service in both official languages. My own follow-up report also contains a similar recommendation for federal institutions.
I believe that there needs to be a system, a protocol or a method in place where volunteers, VANOC personnel, security officers or other employees can say "Un instant s’il vous plaît" and refer a visitor to a bilingual colleague.
In Western Canada, 600,000 people are fluent in both our official languages, about half of whom live in British Columbia. Many federal institutions prove every day that official languages are an important part of quality service, and for every challenge there is a solution. These solutions may be those developed by the various players themselves or put forward in my report, or in yours.
I am pleased to see the progress made thus far but worried that certain key elements are still not in place. Everyone involved must act now to give it the necessary push.
The games are an international event and a unique opportunity to showcase linguistic duality as a fundamental Canadian value. The international Francophonie’s expectations for Canada are high. As Mr. Raffarin, former French prime minister and Grand Témoin de la francophonie at the Beijing Games, pointed out, "since Canada is an official bilingual country, no one would understand if French were to take a back seat during the games" [Translation].
Thank you. I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
The Chair: Thank you, Commissioner. We will begin the questions with Senator Nolin.
Senator Nolin: I would like to commend the Commissioner as well as his assistants for their ongoing efforts. It is not always easy to promote Canada’s bilingual reality. Canadians are proud and do recognize, often silently, this distinctively Canadian characteristic. Hosting the Olympic games in Vancouver comes with its fair share of pride and challenges.
One of our brief recommendations, as you will have noticed, is the involvement of the Privy Council Office. We felt that it was important to mobilize a major player in the coordination of Canadian government activities. I was wondering whether you see that as a possible solution.
In your remarks, you said that you were in contact with various federal service providers, I assume with the help of your staff. You mentioned the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, as well as Parks Canada. Perhaps other institutions could help shoulder the federal responsibility of ensuring that the Olympic games are bilingual. What do you think of that recommendation?
Mr. Fraser: Indeed, I noted that recommendation; during a meeting with the clerk, I mentioned that that recommendation was in your report.
In fact, Ms. Tremblay was also in contact with one of her assistants to ensure that the system was aware of that recommendation, and we were assured that it was.
It gives me great pleasure to think that 6 hours after we released our report, Minister Moore announced a $7.7 million investment. I do not think that that decision was made within 6 hours of our report being released. If that is what people think, I will not object, but I think that it is an expression of the government’s will.
Five months ago, the minister and other government officials appeared before your committee and spoke about their determination. It is essential to remind all levels in central agencies that this is important.
Treasury Board is an important institution that is responsible for overseeing federal institutions. I have had discussions with government officials, whom I reminded of the importance of using available federal space to offer information in both languages both within the federal government and in federal institutions.
Often, when people arrive at an airport for the Olympic games, they are not just looking for flight information but also information on where to go, for example. This is an opportunity for the federal government to ensure that the information is available well before people arrive on site, whether on cathode ray screens, internal televisions, banners, signs or in other formats. Certain weaknesses with respect to the availability of services in both official languages have been identified in airports.
It is a very good idea to get the message across to central agencies such as the Privy Council. Ms. Tremblay, do you have anything else to add?
Johane Tremblay, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: No. That is along the same lines as reminding people of Treasury Board’s role.
Senator Nolin: You know, when all is said and done, the last thing we want to see in some hidden corner of the federal government — and to some extent, this inspired our recommendation — is someone raising their hand and saying: "Why didn’t you ask me? I already did that. I could have helped you". We do not want to see that happen. That is why we believe that there is undoubtedly an orchestra conductor somewhere who can help you and help Minister Moore, who, despite a great deal of goodwill, I am sure, does not have the ability to reach all of the individuals on the move within the federal government, individuals who could certainly help out and raise their hand after the fact and say: "You did not ask me".
Mr. Fraser: In this whole process, regardless of the weaknesses we identified, there is no enemy. No one is against the idea. There is a consensus that this has to happen. Sometimes, certain elements got to the funding stage, but there were some criteria that were not quite in line with the needs. That is why this has taken some time.
Senator Nolin: That is the power of inertia.
Mr. Fraser: The power of inertia. I think you hit the nail on the head.
Senator Nolin: Thank you very much. I will stop on that note.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Commissioner, it is always a pleasure to see you. I want to congratulate you, as well as your entire team, on your excellent report. In reading the observations and comments in the report, I was disturbed by the whole issue of providing services to the travelling public, more specifically, as it relates to institutions such as Air Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority. There seem to be very few active offers of service in French. I know because I often travel between Edmonton and Ottawa, and in many cases, bilingual service means being able to say "Hello. Bonjour". And that is where it ends.
Are you confident that these institutions will be able to fulfill their official languages obligations? And what mechanisms do we have to encourage them to do more to meet their obligations?
Mr. Fraser: I always try to avoid the question of confidence or non-confidence because I do not want the question to affect my mood. We identified gaps, and we identified weaknesses, and we continue to monitor the situation closely. The problem for the travelling public is, to some extent, even more serious than that of the Olympic games because this is the first time that the Olympic games are taking place in Vancouver. The organizers of the games signed a multiparty agreement, and they are making an effort, but it is not as if these people work for an agency that has had to meet these obligations for 40 years. When we talk about Air Canada and airport facilities, we are talking about pre-existing obligations. And that is why the important thing is to remind these organizations of their obligations and the importance of providing service in both official languages. We must remind them that all of this is not just some rule that they might forget about, but that it is current and real, that it is intertwined with our Canadian identity and with the fundamental concept of service to Canadians and the travelling public.
From our observations, I noticed that some institutions have really stepped up. Parks Canada put together a DVD for its employees. Security officers from various organizations have also made an effort. The Canada Border Services Agency is making a significant effort to provide services at ports of entry, where, traditionally, that has not been a concern. As a result, employees are being relocated to improve bilingual service delivery. There are some federal institutions whose efforts are highly commendable; they see this as a challenge and are determined to rise to it. And there are other institutions that do not seem to be getting the message.
So we will continue to monitor them closely. I have committed to submitting quarterly reports to the House of Commons committee. Between now and the Olympic games, I will be able to tell whether any progress has been made. There are also meetings scheduled this week to discuss the issue. Ghislaine, could you tell us a little more about that?
Ghislaine Charlebois, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Yes. This week, we set up a meeting with the association of commercial tenants at the Toronto airport precisely to educate them about their obligations. This is a very positive step. We are going to talk to these commercial tenants directly. As the Commissioner said, our job is to continue to remind institutions that they have obligations now, not just during the Olympic games. When people tell us that it is business as usual, we answer that business as usual is already not good enough, as shown by our observations. We tell them: "You have to put permanent measures in place to ensure that service is available now, during the Olympic games and afterwards".
Senator Tardif: Thank you for that information. Did you ask the organizations to submit a concrete or strategic plan regarding what they intend to do? You noted certain shortcomings in the services being offered to the travelling public. Are the organizations in question being asked to submit an action plan to you? It must be said that Air Canada is a national company and one of the sponsors of the 2010 Olympic Games. It has some commitments to respect. I know that we always have problems with Air Canada, but the situation is critical.
Mr. Fraser: Yes, you will see that there are a certain number of institutions that have been asked to submit their plan by November 30. That is in recommendation number 9. Air Canada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, the Canada Border Services Agency and the airport authorities must demonstrate by November 30 "that they have taken concrete measures to ensure that front-line personnel who will be working specifically during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games and Paralympic Winter Games fulfil the institution’s obligation to make an active offer of service in both official languages". We are expecting a response from these institutions by November 30.
Senator Losier-Cool: Welcome, Mr. Commissioner. I would like to continue somewhat in the same vein as Senator Nolin.
I do not know if this is astuteness or something else, but I think we are going beyond the mandate of the commissioner.
Two weeks ago, with parliamentarians from all provinces, territories and Louisiana, I attended a meeting of the Regional Assembly, America, in Halifax. I was accompanied by our colleague, Senator Champagne, chair of the Canadian section, who is very interested in the Olympic Games file. Among other things, she submitted and had adopted a recommendation containing some of the advice included in our reports.
Parliamentarians focused their attention on two matters in particular, on which we did not really receive any reply, i.e.: bilingual volunteers and interpretation services.
These parliamentarians — there were some from Saskatchewan, and Alberta — were wondering to what extent the provincial parliaments had been contacted. We talked about Treasury Board and federal institutions, but were parliaments approached by their staff, for instance? Those parliamentarians have bilingual personnel that could volunteer. This may be outside your mandate, but did the COVAN and its advisory committee approach the volunteers? The interpretation service in each province could perhaps contribute to this. As you said earlier, no one is against this, everyone is in agreement and wants to participate.
Mr. Fraser: I know that one of the first agreements was signed with Quebec. That was three or four years ago. I know that the Quebec Premier is very interested in this file. I think that there were also discussions with the Government of New Brunswick.
Senator Losier-Cool: Yes, that is the case.
Mr. Fraser: If I understand correctly — and this is outside my mandate — but if I understand the problems correctly, the fact is that the interpretation of sports events requires a certain expertise in that area, which the interpreters of the parliamentary debates do not necessarily have — with all due respect — they do not necessarily have the expertise needed to interpret sports events such as figure skating, for instance. Those are specialized areas.
Concerning the volunteers, an objective of 14 per cent was set and they identified 3,500 bilingual volunteers. One hears that there are more staff members who have a certain knowledge of both official languages, but they are not in positions that are designated bilingual.
You recommended, as did we, that there be a coordination system so that bilingual volunteers are made available on a flying squad in order to take over if someone requests information from a non-bilingual volunteer. We agree that a certain system should be put in place.
As to the details of your question, I don’t know exactly whether provincial parliaments were contacted in this regard.
Senator Losier-Cool: The first concern you mentioned, the matter of interpretation expertise, was raised by parliamentarians and this is why they hesitated to pass a resolution. We will inform the governments that this interpretation requires specialists.
Mr. Fraser: I can tell you that right from the outset in my conversations with people from the government, I suggested that the federal government provide a pool of expertise for the interpretation. I suggested that they consider the use of such a pool of experts. I know that this was raised right from the beginning, but to what extent did people go beyond that suggestion to encourage interpreters to volunteer, I don’t know.
Senator Losier-Cool: How many volunteers do we have now?
Mr. Fraser: We have identified 3,500 volunteers.
Senator Losier-Cool: If they come from Edmonton, for instance, is their travel paid for?
Mr. Fraser: No, the volunteers are responsible for paying for their own transportation and accommodation, and this is not always easy.
Senator Greene: You mentioned the open and closing ceremonies. Have you had a preview? If so, where are they lacking?
Mr. Fraser: I have not. The organizers of the ceremonies are determined that the ceremonies will be a surprise and they do not, understandably, want to share the details of them. They want to dazzle the world. Each conversation I have had about them has told me that I will be impressed.
They are aware of the criticisms that were made about the countdown ceremony a year before the games. I believe that last spring your committee received a detailed explanation from Guy Matte from la Fondation canadienne pour le dialogue des cultures as to how that misunderstanding took place. Certainly the reaction to the small presence of French in the countdown ceremony was a wake-up call for the organizers. I have been assured that they have learned a lesson from that, and they are determined that that will not be the reaction to the opening and the closing ceremonies.
I do not want to break the rule of secrecy or pierce the bubble, but I am assuming that I will be positively impressed. I am taking them at their word.
Senator Greene: That is good to hear.
You said that the quality of the cultural festivities ought to be much higher in order to reflect all Canadians and to provide a complete image of Canada. I absolutely agree, but how should they be higher? What is lacking? What other festivities are there besides the opening and closing ceremonies?
Mr. Fraser: A series of cultural events is being planned for various sites on Granville Island and other sites around the Olympic site. The negative reaction to the countdown ceremony galvanized cultural organizations like la Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique, la Fondation canadienne pour le dialogue des cultures and others to emphasize to the organizers of the games the importance of ensuring that there not only be a solid audible and visible presence of French language culture at these cultural events but also representation of francophone artists from outside Quebec.
Again, I have not seen the list of which performers will be there, but it is certainly something that I take seriously. My sense is that many other people take it seriously and have been working hard to ensure that there is an appropriate representation of both linguistic cultures at the events.
Senator Comeau: Madam Chair, I would like to get back to a comment made by our colleague Senator Tardif concerning service in airports, when someone arrives and is greeted with: "Hello, bonjour". I did a test in Halifax, and, very often, I was surprised by the fact that people spoke very little French.
Mr. Fraser: In general, the next sentence is: "Any liquids or gels?"
Senator Comeau: That’s it. But at that point, I answer: "Bonjour, comment ça va?" and, very often, they will reply: "Ça va bien". If I go a little further, very often I find that people can speak a little French. Sometimes it is the French they learned in high school; sometimes they are francophones, but they are not comfortable speaking French because they have been told in the past that their French is not very good — just as I am often told that my French is not Parisian, and I acknowledge that. However, I manage to make myself understood and it does not really bother me all that much if I don’t have a Parisian accent. But a lot of people are bothered by this and feel uncomfortable.
Mr. Fraser: Yes, quite so.
Senator Comeau: You said, I think, that aside from the 3,500 people who are designated bilingual, there are probably a large number of others who are bilingual, but do not self-identify as bilingual people. How can we encourage these people to come forward even if their French is not perfect?
Mr. Fraser: That is a very good question and it applies not only to the Olympic Games, but to federal institutions that deal with the travelling public in general.
Just like you, I have had the experience of being greeted by someone who says "Hello, bonjour" and I have answered "Bonjour" and somewhat to my surprise discovered that the person answered me in French and could sustain a conversation.
I think that one of the factors that comes into play with regard to this fear people have of using their French are the formal requirements concerning language obligations. There is a certain apprehension with regard to these obligations and people feel that they don’t have the required level, level A or level B.
But if you think in terms of providing service to Canadians and not in terms of obligations, I think that this is one way of providing service to people. I have seen situations where people on board Via Rail trains or Air Canada planes had to deal with a passenger who spoke neither French nor English but spoke Spanish. And all of a sudden, with the greatest good spirit, people got together to use what Spanish they knew to serve that passenger. All of a sudden it wasn’t a matter of obligations, of tests or training; it was a human gesture that impressed me a great deal. It made me think that if we had that same attitude toward the Canadian language issue, we could make some headway.
We have observed in Parks Canada offices where people worked with folks from British Columbia — where these obligations do not exist — that people were a little surprised, but not shocked. And so they tried to respond on a human level.
In short, I think that if we consider the matter of linguistic duality as a value rather than an obligation, that is a good thing. Often, I say that hierarchical systems — and any bureaucracy is of necessity a hierarchical system — have a way of transforming values into burdens. And when linguistic duality is considered a burden, it is more difficult to perceive it as a value.
As for COVAN, for volunteers and also for certain federal services, they now print some phrases on small cards that can be put in your pocket, and so it is easy to get them out to read some simple sentences, some basic expressions to provide some key information to people. It will not allow you to get into a long conversation, but at least it is a gesture on the part of people who want to help other people.
Senator Comeau: You have taught me something tonight. I did not realize that we had about 600,000 people in the Canadian West who speak both languages.
Mr. Fraser: Yes.
Senator Comeau: I am surprised by that number. I did not realize that. I thought that there were fewer of them. How can we connect with those people? Six hundred thousand, that is a lot.
Mr. Fraser: Every year, 30,000 British Columbia students are in French immersion. That is a higher ratio than the province’s share of the Canadian population. The best immersion system in Canada is in Edmonton, Alberta.
Senator Comeau: Aside from the Université Sainte-Anne, you mean.
Mr. Fraser: I am talking about primary and secondary education. There is an excellent language training system at the primary and secondary levels in Edmonton. When you calculate the number of young people who were in these immersion programs, you are going back quite far. Even if you lose some of it during high school, the fact of having been in French immersion leaves some deep marks and gives people the capacity of expressing themselves with a certain level of comfort in the other language, even if they have not gone on to postsecondary studies.
Senator Comeau: I have one last question. You referred to the Grand Témoin of the previous Olympic Games, Mr. Raffarin, the former French prime minister. Do we have one this time for British Columbia?
Mr. Fraser: Yes, and that is Mr. Pascal Couchepin, who is a former president of the Swiss Confederation, and who visited Canada. I had a meeting with him in the spring and afterwards he went to Vancouver for his first visit. He will be continuing until the month of November, I believe, to exercise ministerial responsibilities in Switzerland. After that, he will be devoting himself to his task as the Grand Témoin.
Senator Comeau: But as the Grand Témoin, his mandate is not to solve the problems as they arise, but mostly to report after the fact, is it not?
Mr. Fraser: That is correct. The institution of the Grand Témoin was first of all created by France and afterwards France passed on this responsibility or this opportunity to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. First there was Ms. Lise Bissonnette who was the Grand Témoin for the Turin Games; afterwards, the former prime minister, Mr. Raffarin, was Grand Témoin for the Peking Games; and now Mr. Couchepin will be the Grand Témoin for Vancouver.
On the basis of my conversations with Mr. Couchepin, I understand that he is looking to the future. They want Canada to set the standard for the next games, the London Games in 2012, or for subsequent games which will be held in another city, a city which will be chosen in the coming weeks, the choice being between Rio and three other cities.
Our main challenge is that the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie takes it for granted that we will be setting the gold standard. This is an incentive for us to meet any challenges head on because there is an assumption on the part of the international Francophone community that Canada will be up to the task and that they will be able to use the same system to convey to the English speaking community that this indeed possible. The next Winter Games will be held in Russia. Officials will then be able to say: "This is the standard that we expect you to meet in future".
Senator Nolin: Have you shared this information with Privy Council officials?
Mr. Fraser: Yes.
Senator Nolin: How did they react?
Mr. Fraser: They seemed to be quite interested. I think governments in general are increasingly mindful of this fact.
Senator Nolin: If, through its actions, Canada sets the bar for others to match, then it is taking on an enormous responsibility.
Mr. Fraser: Yes, absolutely.
Senator Nolin: It is not merely a matter of staging bilingual games. It is also a question of setting the bar at a level that we would like future games to match. It is an enormous responsibility, a very serious responsibility.
Senator Losier-Cool: It is perhaps because of the high esteem in which Mr. Diouf holds Canada. For that reason, it is important, if we accept...
Senator Nolin: From what I understand, the IOC will use this report to say that while the situation is not perfect — we agree that perfection is impossible — here is how we would like the linguistic aspects of the Games to be handled. We have to understand that we have a tremendous responsibility and that it must be shared. There should be nothing secretive about any of this.
As we all know, here in Canada, we are very good about keeping big secrets that only come to light later.
Mr. Fraser: Personally, I have not tried to be secretive about this.
Senator Nolin: Good for you!
Mr. Fraser: I met with Mr. Couchepin. We wanted to stand united on this issue, to avoid confrontation during our discussions.
Senator Nolin: As I see it, this adds an element to Chapter 7. Is that possible? I am not that familiar with this issue...
The Chair: Before we go to the second round, I have a question for you, Commissioner. What is happening with the broadcasting of the Games in French? How would you evaluate the work that has been done thus far by the consortium? Will it reach its objective, as described to us when officials appeared before the committee? Have the agreements been negotiated and signed? Can you give us a status report on the broadcasting of the Games in French?
Mr. Fraser: I do not have a lot of new information to report to you. I do know that when the consortium board of directors held some meetings this past August, a board member raised this issue and was given assurances that things were moving forward on this front.
As I understand it, the challenge for them was to negotiate with small cable companies. There are about 200 small companies, in addition to the larger carriers. The approach they adopted was to negotiate an agreement on the channel commonly used to provide free access to certain future programming, to free up this channel for broadcasting of the Games.
I believe the negotiations are continuing. I know that you have recommended to the consortium that it pursue its discussions with the CBC. I think you have identified the hurdles that have yet to be cleared.
I also know that the Chair of the CRTC has sent a clearly worded message to the consortium and to the CBC asking them to resolve this problem. Unfortunately, I have not received any additional information. I do believe, however, that you have pinpointed the real hurdles.
The Chair: To the best of your knowledge, as an agreement been finalized between the consortium and the CBC?
Mr. Fraser: To my knowledge, no.
Senator Nolin: This is one of the famous secrets that should or needs to be shared. In order for everyone to take up the challenge — not just parliamentarians and yourself — and by everyone I mean broadcasters as well, it is important to know that someone is evaluating our actions.
Senator Losier-Cool: But I thought the consortium had already spoken with VANOC and the CBC. Is that not correct? Have discussions not already taken place?
Mr. Fraser: The problem from VANOC’s perspective is that the agreement was negotiated between the consortium and the IOC. VANOC was not a party to these discussions. I think Mr. Furlong was rather frustrated to have been targeted by certain critics, given the status of this file two years ago. A tremendous amount of progress has since been made. However, VANOC was not involved in these talks.
The Chair: A representative of the consortium testified before our committee and spoke of the agreement they wanted to negotiate with the CBC . The terms proposed were unreasonable. Given the way things were, I cannot imagine that an agreement was reached. We strongly urged the responsible officials to be reasonable and to negotiate an agreement that would see the Games broadcast in French across Canada.
The situation is cause for some concern. I tried to find out if an agreement of some kind had been reached, but I was unsuccessful. I hope talks will continue with a view to ensuring that Games coverage is provided in French across Canada.
Are English-speaking Canadians dealing with the same problems in terms of coverage in English of the Games, or is this only an issue for francophones outside Quebec?
Mr. Fraser: As I understand it, Quebec’s Anglophones can tune in to CFCF Montreal, CTV’s affiliate, which is carried by most, if not all, cable companies. Some communities may not have access to that channel, but they are in the minority.
Senator Nolin: You seem to have a positive outlook on the situation.
Ms. Tremblay: But at the same time, 9,000 households in regions outside Quebec do not have access to cable or satellite television. That may also be the case for a handful of minority Anglophone communities in Quebec.
Senator Nolin: Even though an agreement has yet to be hammered out, I understand that the situation has improved. We are seeing some positive developments.
Mr. Fraser: Yes, we are.
Senator Nolin: At least we can draw some satisfaction from the small gains we have seen.
Mr. Fraser: Throughout this whole process, I have been unwilling to get into a discussion over what percentage would be considered acceptable.
Senator Nolin: Especially in light of the commercial side of things.
Mr. Fraser: I maintain that every Canadian is entitled to have access to the Games. However, one has to be realistic. With changing technology, fewer people are relying on rabbit ear antenna to pick up their television signal. This is especially true of real sport enthusiasts. Generally speaking, people who watch sports on television invest in new technology.
The situation of isolated communities that do not have access to cable was also discussed. Some companies are thinking about providing satellite coverage on a big screen in a community centre. However, I cannot say how far along the consortium is with their plans.
Senator Losier-Cool: Briefly, can you tell us where discussions stand with the municipality of Richmond on the issue of the Olympic oval? Have arrangements been finalized?
Mr. Fraser: A total of $1.5 million of the overall $7.7 million budget has been specifically earmarked for permanent bilingual signage. I have heard that one of the venues singled out is the Richmond oval.
Not having seen the venue, I was concerned that the name would be cast in cement, but that was not the case. I saw a photo of the venue that showed a unilingual English sign. Apparently, this sign cannot be reproduced in French. To my mind, this is indicative of a serious lack of communication at the beginning of the planning process. Again, there was some communication with the IOC, but the message was not clearly conveyed to the municipality.
To my knowledge, the municipality did not put up any fundamental objections. The fact that the government has clearly earmarked $1.5 million of the $7.7 million budget shows willingness on its part, in my opinion, to correct these oversights.
Senator Tardif: I also have a question about signage. According to some reports, the English signage for the Olympic oval in Richmond uses large lettering, while small lettering appears on the French signage. Furthermore, it seems that bilingual signage will not be posted prior to the Games, but only for the duration of the 10-day event. Is that in fact the case, or will an influx of cash from the federal government prompt organizers to maintain the signage permanently?
Is this merely a rumour or is there in fact any truth to this report?
Mr. Fraser: There are two aspects to your questions. Over the summer, we saw a draft of the signage. We indicated at the time that the design was unacceptable, since the English version had large letters, while the French signage was in italics. This gave people the impression that the original message was in English, with the sub-titles in French.
We made our opinion known to VANOC officials. They responded fairly quickly and came back with a new design which we found to be acceptable. Moreover, we mentioned in the report that we were reassured by the changes that were made.
A system is in place to provide signage for all Olympic venues, and the objective is part of the overall typographical planning process.
Regarding the Richmond oval and signage at other venues that will become part of the legacy of the Olympic Games, we have noted a willingness on the government’s part, as evidence by the funding announcement, to try and correct oversights, and not merely put up small flags or fly banners in French for two weeks.
Senator Tardif: Further to some of your recommendations, an advisory committee on official languages was struck within VANOC. Is this committee active and does it have a role to play in resolving some of these issues?
Mr. Fraser: It would appear so. Premier Raffarin, as well as Deputy Heritage Minister Judith Larocque, serve on this committee.
The committee is one way of ensuring a direct line of communication on language issues.
Senator Tardif: I agree with you, Commissioner. There appear to be a number of signs that this committee is more or less active and on the ball.
Mr. Fraser: I have no proof of that per se, but I think we have already seen some progress. We are all in the same situation. We press the button and hope that the elevator will arrive. We will never know which finger was the one responsible for the elevator’s arrival. The fact is that both your report and our report, Mr. Couchepin’s arrival and Mr. Raffarin’s presence on the advisory committee have had an impact. These actions help to convey to everyone involved the importance of what is at stake here.
Senator Tardif: A coordinated effort is needed. People must work together to meet the goal, because truthfully, there is very little time left.
Mr. Fraser: I totally agree with you.
The Chair: Senator Tardif alluded to certain developments. As you must surely know, a Vancouver firm is currently recruiting young people in Ottawa to work at the Vancouver Games. They are looking for young, bilingual workers to fill hospitality and security positions. They have set up a temporary recruiting centre at the University of Ottawa. They started taking applications last Thursday and according to what I have read, there was no sign whatsoever of any French being used during the recruiting process at the University of Ottawa.
When questioned about the English only recruiting process, a spokesperson for the Vancouver firm replied that first and foremost, employees needed to speak and read English in order to do their job.
I wanted to mention this incident because it is very important. These types of situations arise and I have to wonder, Commissioner, who hired this firm to recruit employees and who instructed it to recruit potential employees at the University of Ottawa and to disregard the fact that knowledge of French is just as important when recruiting bilingual workers for hospitality and security positions?
Mr. Fraser: I have both good news, and bad news, for the committee. We have received a complaint and consequently, we are investigating this incident. We will try to answer all of these questions. However, I cannot comment at this time.
The Chair: I understand.
Mr. Fraser: We are aware of the situation and we are investigating the incident. Do you have anything further to add, Ghislaine?
Ms. Charlebois: To answer your question as to who was responsible for retaining this firm, I can tell you that the RCMP is responsible for coordinating security at the Olympic Games. We are currently conducting an investigation which will provide answers to the questions that you raised.
The Chair: If there are no further questions for the Commissioner, I would like to thank him for joining us today. You can rest assured that this will not be the last invitation you receive from us.
Mr. Fraser: Thank you.
The Chair: Honourable colleagues, we will suspend the proceedings and reconvene momentarily in camera to discuss the future business of the committee.
(The meeting continued in camera.)