Mr. Graham Fraser (Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'm very pleased to be meeting with you today. My first year as Commissioner of Official Languages has been an intense learning experience for me. It's been an opportunity for me to develop a greater understanding of the vitality of official language communities across the country and to experience first-hand their energy and determination to make their pressing needs known to all levels of government. Furthermore, I visited a number of these communities across the country to see this for myself.
Since I became commissioner, I've appeared before various parliamentary committees to explain my first annual report as well as my perspective on such issues as the 2010 Olympic Games, the relocation of head offices, the regulations of the Official Languages Act, the Air Canada Public Participation Act, the mandate of the CBC, the functional approach adopted by the Canadian Forces, and the suggested modifications to the Criminal Code to guarantee the language rights of the accused. I've also had the opportunity to share my vision of linguistic duality through, among other things, many interviews and speeches that I've given over the course of the year.
Over the past year I've realized the importance of parliamentary committee work on official languages. I'm thinking in particular of the work of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages on community vitality, which is providing invaluable information and guidance to the Government of Canada.
Moreover, the government can also draw on the results of the office of the commissioner's study on community vitality as it develops the second phase of the action plan for official languages.
Immediately upon taking office I was faced with a considerable challenge: the major task of examining the many complaints that were filed after the budget cuts made by the federal government in September 2006. For the office of the commissioner, this involved a preliminary examination based on an analysis of the application of part VII of the Official Languages Act since it was amended in November 2005.
As you know, I completed my final report on this subject last October 9. I took into account the comments made by the government and the complaints in response to my preliminary report. I concluded that the 2006 expenditure review was not consistent with the Government of Canada's commitment as it is expressed in part VII of the Official Languages Act or of the obligations of the federal institutions involved, which must take positive measures to implement this commitment.
Last week, I decided to intervene in the court proceedings initiated by the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA) to oppose the government's decision to abolish the Court Challenges Program. I requested intervener status because the questions brought before the court are of national interest. This legal recourse will allow the courts to clarify, for the first time, the scope of the language obligations set forth in part VII of the Official Languages Act, which was amended in 2005. The recourse and its aftermath will have a major impact on all federal institutions and official language communities.
In response to the request made in your October 2003 report, I carried out an audit of the health services offered to certain groups, such as veterans, Aboriginals, inmates and RCMP cadets. Clearly, the general shortage of available health care workers makes it difficult to hire bilingual staff, but the fact remains that these groups are entitled to receive services in the official language of their choice. I therefore recommend that the government act as quickly as possible to ensure the act is fully respected.
The Office of the Commissioner also carried out several research projects. In particular, we published three studies on community vitality in Halifax, Sudbury and Winnipeg, a follow-up study on international relations and a study on the perceptions of the Saskatchewan public of French culture and learning French as a second language.
The development of official language minority communities depends increasingly on provincial and territorial measures, in education, health and immigration. I was pleased to hear the declaration made by Francophone Affairs ministers last September stating their strong support for the renewal of the Action Plan for Official Languages. Provincial government representatives are anxiously awaiting a response.
Most recently, in its Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada informed Canadians that it will develop a second phase to follow up on the Action Plan, which comes to an end in March 2008. This is a much anticipated initiative that demonstrates the government's leadership in linguistic duality.
I will be following this file closely.
After a year as commissioner, I have a much better understanding of the mechanics of the official language policies of the federal government. I can confidently say today that official languages cannot advance within the Canadian public service without strong leadership from its managers. Without strong leadership, the values associated with linguistic duality become a burden for federal public servants.
I've also come to the conclusion that linguistic duality is in fact an essential leadership skill for public service managers. How can you be a leader if you do not understand those you are leading? How can you respect members of the public if you're not aware of their language rights and culture? How can you really understand a country like Canada if you do not speak the two main languages of communication?
I am convinced more than ever that English and French are Canadian languages that belong to all of the citizens of this country. Education is therefore paramount, and I will continue my efforts to ensure post-secondary institutions recognize the value of educating bilingual students. Nationally, bilingualism is essential in several areas of activities for those who must demonstrate dealership. These sectors include, among others, the public service, which is the largest employer in the country. To guide me in my efforts, I will be conducting a study in cooperation with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada on second-language learning opportunities in Canadian universities.
As you know, my mandate is based on two separate but complementary functions: promotion and protection.
The events that marked the first year of my mandate have led me to reflect on my role as ombudsman and how it can contribute to the fundamental need to advance the culture of federal institutions and promote the added value that a strong language policy brings to the federal government.
Investigations, audits, and performance report cards remain important tools; however, we would like to expand our field of activity and are therefore considering other options.
My role as language ombudsman involves ensuring that the government and federal public service abide in a proactive way by the Official Languages Act. In the spirit of supporting federal institutions in the implementation of their obligations, and in order to ensure that the language rights of citizens, employees, and communities are fully respected, I'm reviewing other methods that could be added to the investigations, audits, and report cards that we already use.
I plan on expanding this role through intervention mechanisms that are based on a more effective dispute resolution process and the prevention of problems that can cause these disputes.
It is In the spirit of cooperation and prevention that I am monitoring the planning for the 2010 Olympic Games. This will be an exciting time for Canada, a time when the entire world will be watching. We are proud to live in a country that recognizes the importance of its linguistic duality. That is why Canada's bilingual image must be unequivocal, whether at international entry points like the Vancouver and Toronto airports, on VIA Rail or at U.S. border crossings. There is still time for us to prepare, and together with different partners (including the francophone community), we must get to work. This is why we are studying the preparatory work of the Organizing Committee from the point of view of linguistic duality. A report will be published in the fall of 2008, which will allow time for adjustments, if necessary. I do not want to have to criticize, after the fact, something that should be a national showcase and a great source of pride for all Canadians.
Also in 2008, the Office of the Commissioner will review all of the training offered by the Canadian Forces to its personnel to determine the extent this training is offered in both official languages. Obviously, we are working closely with the ombudsman at National Defence, Yves Côté, to ensure our processes are complementary.
We will continue reviewing official language community vitality in order to recommend tools that will help them focus their efforts with federal institutions to implement part VII of the Act as effectively as possible. As such, it is an opportunity to reaffirm the role federal institutions must play in implementing part VII.
I will also continue communicating to members of the public service my vision of leadership in terms of official languages. At present, a less thorough, even minimalist, application of the Official Languages Act appears to be taking place within the Public Service. Without sustained leadership from managers, backsliding is imminent. The Clerk of the Privy Council launched an initiative to renew the public service; clearly, linguistic duality must find its place in all parts of this reform. This is another issue I am monitoring closely.
On this same topic, the data I presented in my annual report on service to the public and language of work continues to be of concern. I'm worried that these shortcomings will only grow if the public service senses a lack of commitment to official languages by the federal government. While Canadian society may consist of many cultural identities, English and French remain its official languages of communication. Our official language and multiculturalism policies should work together to promote respect and equality of opportunity.
I began to explore the relationship between linguistic duality and cultural diversity, in particular, through a forum in Toronto last month. I intend to continue my work in this area in order to better understand how Canadians of diverse origins view their relationship with the two official languages and take this into account in our work and in our recommendations to government.
I have shared some of my priorities with you for the second year of my mandate. Obviously, in addition to my work as Commissioner, the government has an important role to play in Canada's linguistic duality. As such, I expect to see results from the government over the course of the next year in three specific areas.
First, the government must absolutely move to action and develop and implement the next phase of the Action Plan for Official Languages. Second, it must show strong leadership in order to improve the active offer of service to the Canadian public. Finally, it must consider official languages as a leadership skill during the renewal process for the public service.
I hope that you as well, members of the committee, will consider these issues, which I consider to be among the most pressing.
Thank you for your attention, and I'd be happy to answer any questions.
Hon. Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Fraser, for your testimony.
First, I have two broad comments.
As a Toronto region MP, I'd like to offer the commissioner my thoughts regarding the intersection of linguistic duality and cultural diversity. I'm glad you're exploring this area, because I can tell you that the country's largest city region is changing rapidly, and more rapidly than most people in this town are aware of. It's something that one academic referred to as the galloping heterogeneity of the new Canada.
It's a region that has, as you know, almost 5.5 million people. It's going to 9 million people in just over 20 years. I don't think most Canadians are aware of how rapidly this region is growing. The fastest growing municipalities in the country are not in the west, in Alberta; they're actually in the Toronto region.
All this growth will be from immigration. If the region is properly represented in the House of Commons, this region, what the province is now calling the GTA, or the greater golden horseshoe, will have more seats than any other province, including the rest of Ontario.
So I think one of the big challenges for the Government of Canada in the coming years will be to balance this diversity with some of our nation's most cherished ideals. In other words, how do you accommodate this diversity while protecting and fostering some of the fundamentals on which this country was based? I think this study is going to be very important, and I'm glad to see you're undertaking it. I'd like to offer you my thoughts on it.
As the son of immigrants to this country.... I think most new Canadians wholeheartedly embrace the ideals of bilingualism, and do so in a way that maybe native-born Canadians won't because they understand the need to speak another language. Most of them are coming from countries where English is not the mother tongue, and they are very open to learning a second or third language. So I think they will wholeheartedly embrace bilingualism, but only if bilingualism is not associated with ethnicity. The minute bilingualism or linguistic duality is in any way, shape, or form associated with ethnicity, you're going to get absolutely no uptake, no buy-in from these new Canadians. From my perspective, that is a very important part of how we can proceed with encouraging greater bilingualism and greater linguistic duality throughout this country.
The second broad comment I want to make is regarding the study you're undertaking with the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada. As a graduate of the public education system in Ontario, I think I got a very good education, with one exception, and that is the fact that I was never properly encouraged to learn French. I did take high school French, but it was never the focus of the public education system the way it should have been. When the country's largest employer and its public institutions are bilingual, and you come to a town like this and suddenly realize the disconnect between our public education system and the need to speak French in federal institutions....
This is something that needs to be examined further. I guess one way to do it is through the poll method, where you encourage universities to strengthen their entrance requirements to include French as one of the requirements for entrants. The other way is to examine ways that provinces could require French as a requirement for graduation.
I live near Waterloo. If the University of Waterloo or Microsoft was not getting the graduates from high school it needed for engineering positions at Microsoft or for engineering positions at Research in Motion, there would be a hue and cry about it, but when the country's largest employer isn't getting the graduates it needs, there doesn't seem to be any action on it, with respect to universities or high schools and other pre-secondary institutions.
I encourage you to look at that because I think that is a big gap in public policy in this country.
My mother was European, and in Europe after the Second World War there wasn't a person who could speak a language other than their own native tongue. Within 15 or 20 years, most western European countries had adopted a policy of trilingualism. Today it's almost impossible not to speak French or English in your own native tongue in any country in western Europe, because the minute they detect any sort of accent in your use of their language, they flip to your language. There is no reason we couldn't achieve that type of policy here as well.
I don't know if you have any comments on those things.
Mr. Pierre Lemieux (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, CPC):
Thank you very much for being here today.
I would like to talk about the notion of positive measures. In your last report, you said that for a measure to be considered positive, it would have to involve concrete action.
It is one that is designed to yield positive results. That's a good definition. I understand that.
I think some of the interpretation comes into what's a positive result. I'll give you an example. If a program is funding certain organizations and the expectation is they will provide results A, B, C, and D, that's the expectation. Instead, they're only delivering results A. They are not realizing their full potential or they're not delivering the full results. This can come down to money. The government would like to see $10 worth of results for their investment and they're getting $2 worth of results for their investment, for the investment of taxpayers. If you talk to the organizations that were receiving that money, they will complain because they just lost funding. They will say they were achieving result A. They will forget the fact that A, B, C, and D were what was anticipated.
The question of positive results has a macro and a micro view, I think. On the micro view, as I said, the organization or organizations will complain they've lost funding and that even that modest result of A is now going to go away because they don't have funding any more. However, from the macro point of view, if the program is not managed well or if it's inefficient or it's not delivering the full results package for the money that's being invested, that money could be better used to serve, for example, official language communities with programs that are delivering a full suite of results, ones that are meeting expectations.
As the commissioner, how do you incorporate that into your understanding of positive measures, the micro versus the macro in terms of results? How would you respond to that?
Mr. Graham Fraser:
The problem in Quebec is that there are some very specific issues concerning services such as, for example, medical services. The survival of English-language schools is also a problem. Indeed, particularly in the regions, the issue is somewhat paradoxical. The concentration of the English-speaking population means that the problem is less evident in Montreal. Let me explain the paradox that is affecting schools in Estrie, Quebec and Trois-Rivières. English-speaking parents often send their children to French-language school to allow them to learn French and become fully bilingual. This undermines the vitality of a key institution for the English-language community, that is to say their school.
Furthermore, a lot of exogamous families who speak French in the home but who have the right to send their children to English-language school avail themselves of this right. In the communities such as Granby, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières, there is a shortage of anglophone children who speak English at home in English-language schools because their parents want them to learn French. However, on top of that, these English-language schools also have to provide additional support to children who come to school with no English but who are entitled to go to school in English. It is a little bit like what is happening in French-language schools outside Quebec.
There is also a problem with regard to health services. I would like to underscore the importance of the Quebec government having signed an agreement to participate in the Official Languages Action Plan. Thanks to this agreement, 4,000 Quebec healthcare workers have undergone specialist English training so that they can provide healthcare services to Quebec's anglophones.
However, an English speaker from a small town in Estrie explained to me that there is a world of difference between learning English to help a child who presents with a broken arm and helping somebody with a problem such as the onset symptoms of Alzheimer. A higher level of linguistic ability is needed to meet the needs of an aging community.
Generally speaking, the English-language community is nowadays far more bilingual than the French-language minority community, there is no disputing that. The linguistic capacity of Quebec's English-speaking community has changed, but we cannot forget that one demographic group, those aged over 65, grew up and worked in Quebec at a time when people did not need to speak French in order to have a successful career. These people have now retired. They need social services and healthcare services, and it is a lot harder for them to function in the Quebec of today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
The English-language community in Quebec experiences real difficulty in having its right to receive health services in English upheld. The education system is also vulnerable. I am not saying that it is all doom and gloom. The Quebec government offers significant cooperation, but the problems are real.
Mr. Daniel Petit (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, CPC):
Thank you very much. Good morning, Mr. Fraser. I am pleased to see you again.
I would like you to speak to a potentially sensitive issue. There is one thing I would like to know, given that you have tabled a report. I am relatively new to this committee. I have been a member for longer than Mr. Gravel, but no longer than a year, at most.
When I first came to the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the first thing I learned from Mr. Godin—who is, for all intents and purposes, an official languages institution—was that the committee had never before travelled to meet francophone communities outside Quebec. This was the first time since 1969. All of us, including Mr. Godin, were quite surprised. Given that this was my first time, I wasn't as surprised as he was. He was completely taken aback, and he spoke about it on three or four occasions.
We visited all provinces and heard from their francophone communities in order to see how things were going on the ground. Naturally, we tabled a report, entitled Communities speak out: hear our voice. The vitality of official language minority communities. I can tell you that I learned a lot of things, and in little time! I was with Mr. D'Amours when we visited a centre in New Brunswick where Quebec physicians go to work because it is more financially advantageous to them. They speak French with the nurses who are trained there. It is a very nice centre. It all appears to have been developed over the past four or five years. That is a good example of vitality.
I also visited Newfoundland. That province has a very small group of francophones, some 3,800, but it is quite powerful. It is an extremely wealthy and well-structured community. I am not referring to the fishers of Port aux Basques, I am talking about those I was able to meet.
From the start, let me say that I have not read your report from beginning to end. You have two reports, the 2005 annual report on official languages and, specially, the report I've taken good note of, the second volume.