Mr. Graham Fraser (Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
Good morning, Mr. Chairman.
Parliamentarians and members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, good morning.
To present the findings of my third annual report, I am accompanied by Johane Tremblay, acting assistant commissioner, policy and communications; Ghislaine Charlebois, assistant commissioner, compliance assurance; Pascale Giguère, attorney and acting director of legal affairs; and Lise Cloutier, assistant commissioner, corporate services.
The Official Languages Act is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Clearly, the parliamentarians who worked on its development, culminating in its Royal Assent in 1969, were visionaries.
This legislative framework was absolutely necessary for the future of the country. The language guarantees contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provided a valuable basis that supported the review of the Official Languages Act. Many benefits arose from the charter in terms of human rights, culture, work force mobility and the economy. They benefit all Canadians, regardless of their mother tongue.
Nonetheless, the time has come to eliminate the road blocks and contradictions related to the implementation of Canada's language policy and to attain a certain level of coherence between the various government policies, programs and initiatives.
This year my report aims to measure the distance between the road that's been travelled and how far we have left to go with regard to three components: the learning of the official languages; the quality of services provided by federal institutions; and the organization of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Despite the significant investment it represents for our country's future, access to official languages learning opportunities remains limited. By enabling young Canadians to acquire skills that will benefit them professionally, personally, and culturally, we are contributing to their professional mobility. In the current economic climate I find it unfortunate that governments and post-secondary institutions are not focusing enough on second-language learning programs.
Although students are encouraged to take the bilingual path throughout their academic careers, post-secondary institutions seldom provide them with opportunities to continue studying in their second language. After 40 years of language policy, it is high time we removed the last roadblocks on this path. The federal government should bring together the various players in order to create a true second-language learning continuum.
According to our observations of institutions, government services are offered in the minority language, when there is significant demand, 75% of the time. Very often, federal institutions do not actively offer their services in the language of the minority, and citizens hesitate to ask for these services in their language.
Moreover, we are too quick to settle on providing the linguistic minority with a translated version of the services provided to the majority. However, in an important judgment rendered on February 5, 2009, in the Desrochers case, the Supreme Court declared that federal institutions must consider both the nature of services and the specific needs of official language communities.
In other words, the obligation to provide services “of equal quality” in both official languages does not necessarily mean “identical” services.
Finally, the organization of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games clearly illustrates some obstacles to incorporating linguistic duality into our Canadian reality. I continue to be concerned our country finds it difficult to meet the challenges related to official languages at the Games in an exemplary manner—especially considering its 26 million anglophone and 9 million francophone inhabitants.
As indicated by the study I released in December and by the results of the awareness campaign subsequently conducted among federal institutions, the organizing committee and federal institutions must do more to ensure that the Canadian public and visitors have access to services in both of our country's official languages.
I'm still hoping that the games will reflect linguistic duality before, during, and after the athletes' arrival. There's little time left to solve the most pressing problems, namely those pertaining to translation, interpretation, and signage. Federal institutions that have a specific role to play must realize that the arrival of thousands of additional visitors will lead to an increased demand for bilingual services. This is especially important in terms of services provided at the games' venues, and services provided to the travelling public, mainly in the Vancouver and Toronto airports.
The Olympic Games are proof of the need to better integrate official languages into federal institutions, not only in terms of services, but also in terms of support for official language communities and the promotion of linguistic duality.
In 2010, it will be five years since Parliament strengthened part VII of the Official Languages Act. I am not very impressed with how the government has managed the implementation of the provisions in this part of the Act. The response has been slow and minimal. My staff and I will therefore be paying special attention to this issue in 2009-2010.
To foster linguistic duality in Canadian society, I call upon your stakeholders to get involved. As I will explain in a forthcoming presentation, I encourage postsecondary institutions to forge close ties between the second-language programs offered and the need for bilingual staff from employers such as the federal public service. I also encourage young people to continue improving their second language by taking advantage of opportunities offered by the other language community. Finally, I encourage public sector leaders and managers of public services to show leadership and commitment to make linguistic duality a value in federal institutions.
Public service renewal should facilitate the training of future leaders who are committed to promoting linguistic duality as a value through both their day-to-day actions and the implementation and management of language programs and policies. Naturally, all of this must be supported by sustained leadership on the part of the federal administration, based on a dynamic vision of linguistic duality that's characterized by respect, dialogue, and partnership. For this to happen, the federal government's ongoing commitment is necessary.
In June 2008, the government released its “Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality”. I'm still concerned about the delay in the implementation of this initiative, the lack of information on certain projects, and the uncertainty that stems from the elimination of programs in some areas targeted by the “Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013”.
The lack of specific objectives pertaining to the government “Roadmap” does little to assure us that it will be implemented effectively. Community organizations, the education community, and provincial governments are concerned because they do not have a clear vision of the federal government's actions. While the investments allocated to various programs are certainly welcome, the government would do well to outline an overall vision and specific objectives that it intends to achieve.
The parliamentarians' vision in 1969 was bold, ambitious and above all crucial to the future of this country. Forty years later, other challenges lie ahead. At the time, this vision was a way to bring Canadians together and to ensure that the state could serve them in the official language of their choice; now, it is a way to help them to reach their full potential.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.
Mrs. Lise Zarac (LaSalle—Émard, Lib.):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Fraser, thank you for being with us here today.
After having read your report, I have the impression that you are uncomfortable and concerned given the government's inaction in the area of its responsibilities under the Official Languages Act.
When you last appeared before the committee, you shared your concerns with us regarding the transfer of responsibilities to Treasury Board. The committee therefore felt it would relevant to invite the president of Treasury Board to meet with us. Mr. Toews appeared before the committee on the 5th of May. In his statement, he mentioned the restructuring, but he had not changed his responsibilities. He spoke to us of his responsibilities under parts IV, V, VI and VII of the Official Languages Act. However, in your second recommendation, which is addressed to the president of Treasury Board, you recommend among other things that he fully assume his responsibilities under part VIII of the Official Languages Act towards all federal institutions, including separate employers. Mr. Toews never mentioned his responsibilities under that part of the act. Since you mention it in your second recommendation, I believe it must be very important.
Do you believe he is aware of his responsibilities under that part of the act? Could you explain what those responsibilities under part VIII would be?
Mr. Richard Nadeau (Gatineau, BQ):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, I'd like to welcome Mr. Fraser and his colleagues.
I read your report, Mr. Fraser. I noted twelve points, but I know that in five minutes we could not touch on them all.
I worked at the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, and the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française. I worked hard for the right to manage our schools in Saskatchewan, and have taught in minority communities. I'm from a minority community. I am for an independent Quebec, but that's something we'll talk about again later, although it's a good topic.
I noticed that the word "assimilation" was never used. In fact, saying, "never" may be a bit strong; let's say it is rarely used. The survival of French in Canada, and in North America as a whole, is what I really believe in and am prepared to fight for. Canada has not done what it needed to do. Among other things, it has allowed the provinces to do dreadful things. That's why we need an independent Quebec.
In your conclusion, you state that we're much closer to having the languages on an even footing. But I feel we're still very far from it; in fact, we're getting further and further away from guaranteeing the survival of French. French is losing a great deal of ground. As I said in an article in the daily newspaper Le Droit, after your report, bilingualism in Canada exists in theory, not in practice. That's what hurts.
Regarding the issue of assimilation, on page IX of your report, you state: “ [...] pressure for assimilation in official language communities remains strong”. On page 55, you add: “ Members of Francophone communities outside Quebec are among the most bilingual Canadians in the country (84% speak English and French)”. I would prefer you to say “Acadians” or “French-Canadians”, rather than “members of Francophone communities outside Quebec”. For them, it's more a question of moving towards assimilation rather than ensuring the survival of French, in my view. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being bilingual. I'm bilingual myself.
I'd like to know why no one talks about French disappearing because of assimilation among people whose primary language from a very early age has been French. Why don't you mention this in your report? Would you like to tackle the issue at some future date? You could at least set aside two or three pages for it, to show that the danger's real.
Mr. Yvon Godin (Acadie—Bathurst, NDP):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fraser, I would first like to thank you and your team for the support you have given to my bill, Bill C-232, an act to amend the Supreme Court Act. You said that it was a very strong message sent from Parliament, that it gave leadership to the country. In Canada, which is supposedly bilingual, two official languages were adopted. We are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act this year.
In your report you say that things are not evolving fast enough: either we are regressing or things are not going as they should. In response to a question asked in the House of Commons, James Moore, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, claimed that Canada had achieved much progress since the Official Languages Act was adopted. Let me quote this: "Mr. Moore has defended his government by quoting positive passages in Graham Fraser's report, which states that 'the future of official language communities is very promising'."
I see a contradiction there. Throughout your report you say that you are not pleased with the situation, but there you say that the future is promising. I find that problematic.
Yesterday evening, the House voted on my bill, which deals with Supreme Court justices. Not a single Conservative MP voted for the bill, not even the minister responsible for the francophonie. Not a single member of the Official Languages Committee, including the chair, stood up to support it, whereas this was a private members' bill, and MPs can vote without having to toe the party line in such cases.
Would you not agree that this is how the current government is telling us that it is not willing to accept the fact that there are two official languages? How can it be that, in a country with 33 million inhabitants, we could not find nine bilingual judges?
By the way, I want to clear one thing up: I really do not care whether a Supreme Court justice is a francophone or an anglophone, so long as he or she is capable of reading our laws in Canada's two official languages. As you yourself have said, the law is not translated: it is written concomitantly in French and in English. The court was established for Canadians. The appointment of justices should not be used as a way of granting favours.
If we cannot find nine people who are able to speak the two official languages, out of a population of 33 million Canadians and Quebeckers, then we have a serious problem. I would like to hear your comments on that.
Mr. Graham Fraser:
Mr. Chair, I wish to congratulate the member on his bill. He defends very eloquently the principles that I myself defend, namely, that it is important that Supreme Court justices understand pleas, documents and Canadian laws. As the member said, these laws are not translated: they are drafted in English and in French.
The day before yesterday, during my press conference, I was asked about this, and I said that one thing struck me. I will open the parentheses here and answer the member's question by discussing various interpretations of my report.
The language situation in Canada is complex. There are success stories and failures. The very nature of the political debate means that some people tend to point out the failures, the challenges and the problems, rather than the success stories. I accept all that in my report, and when I present it, my objective is to indicate future challenges.
In my opinion, when we see these kinds of situations, we quite clearly call them inconsistencies. We have a system that allows a citizen to be heard. In the current government framework, this system was even improved this year so as to guarantee that the accused has the right to a trial in the language of his choice. However, we make one important exception to this: the Supreme Court. I find that inconsistent.
Mrs. Shelly Glover (Saint Boniface, CPC):
Once again, I wish to welcome all our witnesses. When I read your report, I was really pleased to see that you also focused on the successes. That interests me a great deal, because there is a saying in English and in French that says that success never comes before work, except in the dictionary.
We are continuing our work, and we hope to hear about many more successes. As you mentioned in your report, there have already been successes. I would like to remind you that our committee held a meeting this week. I want to come back to what Ms. Zarac said. Members of our committee are not necessarily always aware of what is happening in the field of official languages. I listened patiently while questions were put to our witness, the ombudsman. Certain questions on promotions within National Defence were repeated several times. Even our members did not know that on January 5, 2009, a general indicated in a letter that it was necessary to be bilingual in order to obtain a promotion. It was said that Mr. Toews was not very familiar with his department, but I would remind you that you do not always know everything either. On behalf of Mr. Toews, I wish to repeat that Part VIII refers to Parts IV, V and VI. It is not that Mr. Toews did not know that, it is that Part VIII does not exist without Parts IV, V and VI.
I would like to bet back to the success stories. I would like to quote a few words from your report: "[...] in the past year, Canadian Heritage has launched a number of initiatives to strengthen its interdepartmental coordination role for Part VII [...]"
We are aware that Canadian Heritage is now offering briefings to analysts from the Privy Council Office and the Treasury Board Secretariat in order to raise their awareness of the importance of Part VII in the way it should be taken into account during the examination of submissions and memoranda to cabinet.
Part VII is still mentioned, because there have been successes. Mr. Toews is aware of these successes, which have affected his department. That is how Part VII affects his department.
Canadian Heritage is currently putting the final touches on a tool for Part VII in order to help departments preparing memoranda to cabinet so that they can include a good analysis of the possible repercussions of their policy and program proposals on official language minority communities and on linguistic duality. These are examples of successes within Canadian Heritage, and there are others.
There is one thing I would like to know. If you were the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, what would you do differently?
Mr. Jean-Claude D'Amours (Madawaska—Restigouche, Lib.):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Commissioner, thank you for being here together with your staff. I have the flu this morning. I may not be in great shape, but I will do my best.
I would like to get back to what Mrs. Glover said. Commissioner, you mentioned that you were told that this was a typo. That is quite the typo. I am convinced that you took the time to read the committee transcript for the meeting in which he participated. He was not even able to distinguish in Parts IV, V and VI who was responsible for what in such and such a section. I do not think this was simply a typo. The minister probably just forgot. However, instead of letting Mrs. Glover answer instead, I think that we will ask the minister to come back before the committee. He will thus have a chance to explain for himself if there are things he does not know about in his department, especially when it comes to his responsibilities for official languages. After that, we will see whether he is truly willing to ensure that he respects people and his responsibilities.
I would like to get back to page 3 of your presentation. It says this: "In 2010, it will be five years since [...]". We are talking about Part VII, Commissioner. I will give you a concrete example, and you tell me if this is acceptable for official language communities and groups.
Certain groups submitted funding applications to the Conservative government in November. This is a typical example, but we could produce tonnes of them. So they filed an application for operating funds and another for project funding in November 2008. The agreements expired March 31, 2009. This is May 28. We are talking about two months after the expiry of the agreements. These organizations were forgotten, and they are wondering if they will receive their funding or if they will have to lock the door and walk away because the money is not available. They are wondering when they can carry out these projects—I am talking about education—in various colleges and universities. Do you think it is acceptable that organizations have to survive on the personal funds of managers or members of the board of directors—volunteers—and that two months later, they do not even know whether they will be able to implement projects throughout the year that would improve education and the official languages situation in minority communities, be they French or English?
Ms. Monique Guay (Rivière-du-Nord, BQ):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fraser, I am pleased to see you again. I will not ask you whether you would do a better job if you were minister, because I am certain that you would do a better job than what is being done now.
I have before me an article from yesterday's paper, which reads as follows:
||Unilingual customs officers from Ottawa will not have to learn French.
||Unilingual anglophone customs officers will be able to continue to welcome visitors at the Ottawa International Airport as long as they call upon bilingual colleagues to provide service in French to travellers who request it.
This, Mr. Fraser, is unacceptable today, especially in Ottawa. We are supposed to be a bilingual country. However, that is completely false. You just have to go on Sparks Street to see that you cannot get served in French. I find that completely unacceptable. This is something that certainly has to be examined closely.
In another article, it says that when it comes to bilingualism, airports perform poorly. The Vancouver Olympics are fast approaching. We know that there is a problem and that we will not be able to obtain service in both official languages. We have 9 million francophones and 26 million anglophones. We should be able to provide these services. And yet it will not happen. I am telling you, we are going to have a big surprise during the 2010 Olympics, and it will not be very flattering for Canada.
I would like to hear your views on this. The fact that customs officers are not forced to learn French is truly unacceptable. A complaint should be filed. Something has to be done to change that.
Mr. Pierre Lemieux (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, CPC):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for being here today.
Mr. Godin made some comments about Supreme Court judges. I would also like to make some. Obviously, as far as I can see, bilingualism is very important when the government chooses Supreme Court judges. This standard is so important that eight out of the nine Supreme Court judges sitting today are bilingual. This is a great achievement, not only by our government, but also by former governments.
But there are other important criteria as well, of course, when it comes to Supreme Court judges. For example, it's important to have judges from across the country to represent the different regions. I don't think any Canadian would be comfortable with having all Supreme Court judges come from only one region of Canada, but it's not mandated in law. For example, it's also important to have men and women as Supreme Court judges, but it's not mandated in law. It's important to have bilingual judges as well, but it's not mandated in law. If the government starts mandating everything—percentage of women, exactly which regions Supreme Court judges must come from, all these different criteria—you can image this would make quite a difficult situation.
However, in my opinion, the greatest concern is that if Mr. Godin's bill is passed, we are not promoting both official languages, because a crucial element of the Official Languages Act states that Canadians have the right to be unilingual, francophone or anglophone, or to be bilingual. This is a choice that every Canadian can make. According to Mr. Godin, if the best candidate is well qualified, an expert in legal matters and very competent, but he is a unilingual francophone, he is not acceptable.
And it's the same for anglophones. If you have a unilingual anglophone judge who is truly the best qualified candidate—he has the best legal experience—this law would say he need not apply. He's not acceptable to Monsieur Godin if this law passes. That's my concern, Commissioner. You're the Commissioner of Official Languages. I'd like to know what you would say to unilingual francophone judge candidates
... unilingual francophones who want to become judges—
and what you would say to unilingual anglophone judge candidates who are no longer acceptable to the government if his law applies.
Mr. Yvon Godin:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I don't want to lose all my time on this. The bill was passed last night. But just for the record, the information I got from the last time they looked at judges for the Supreme Court is that there were four candidates who were totally capable of doing the job, and the four of them were bilingual. The next appointment will be five years from now.
The representative from the University of Toronto who was here a week or two ago said it would be a good signal to send to the university, so they could start to train their people. The only reason they're not giving the training is because they don't need to do it. The minute they get the message that they need to do it, they will be happy to do it.
I don't think what Mr. Lemieux is bringing up is a problem. I think it's the principle of whether the court is made for the judge and the appointment or made for the citizens. Is it for the justice of the citizen, or is it to have a judge be appointed? We have judges in the smaller courts, provincial courts, or the Federal Court. You're not going to tell me that at that point they won't start to be qualified to be a Supreme Court judge. We have many judges in our country, and I trust our system on that.
My question is about Air Canada. Is Air Canada violating the Official Languages Act? I want to discuss the current prevailing situation at the Ottawa airport. In your report, you specifically referred to it, and you even emphasized it. Is it only because you are not satisfied with their way of doing things, or do you feel that the law has been violated? I know that journalists have asked why other airlines are not targeted by this legislation. However, let us remember that Air Canada is a company that was previously owned by the government; it was a public company. And when the current owners purchased it, they also purchased the obligation to respect the Official Languages Act. Therefore, they have an obligation in this respect.
I would like to hear your comments on this because I think that it is an important matter. This is a persistent problem that did not just arise last year.
Mr. Daniel Petit (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, CPC):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, Mr. Fraser.
I simply want to make one comment. I come from the province of Quebec. The Official Languages Act was created by the Liberals in 1969, that is, 40 years ago. Since then, what has happened? First, there was the passing of Bill 101. Second, there was the creation of a separatist party that opposes the other parties in Canada because it is difficult to have our language recognized by the other provinces. Third, the Montreal area went from being Canada's metropolis to a regional metropolis, as they call it. Fourth, we currently have one of the lowest immigration rates of all the provinces, even when the immigrants come from French-speaking countries. Fifth, the French language is used in business settings, but people speak another language at home in the evenings, because the culture of the non-francophones in question is not an old-stock culture, as it is called. That is what I want you to understand.
I do not want to be hard on you, but I want to understand. Earlier, you mentioned something that caught my attention. When answering a question and when making your own opening remarks, you stated that assimilation is a sure thing. That means two things. Look at your notes, you said that when you answered a question—I apologize, it was not in your opening remarks. If assimilation is a sure thing, then isn't Mr. Nadeau's theory valid realistically, that is, that we should separate from the rest of Canada?
Mr. Graham Fraser:
I will have to look at the transcript. I don't believe that I said assimilation was certain, meaning inevitable. What I may have said is that assimilation is a phenomenon that exists. I can't refute the numbers.
Considering the ground covered over the past 40 years, I believe we are in a better position now than we were 40 years ago in terms of the vitality of minority communities. French schools and French television and radio stations are accessible throughout the country today. Moreover, francophones are able to receive services 75% of the time throughout the country when service positions are designated as bilingual.
The situation is not perfect, and the level is not as high as I would like it to be. A student with a mark of 75% will not receive a scholarship. We are not winning any awards with a mark of 75%, but it is not a failure.
If we consider the ground covered, we must also bear in mind that during the 1960s, shortly after the act was enacted, people in Quebec tended to treat minority communities outside Quebec as dead ducks, as René Lévesque used to say. I am sorry, but that is not the case. When I traveled across the country from sea to sea, I was struck by the energy and vitality and imagination of these minority communities.
I must also say that it is difficult and at times complicated to choose to live in a minority situation, both for anglophones in Quebec and for francophones in a province other than Quebec. We are living in a changing world where there are language pressures, throughout the world. However, I don't believe that minority communities are doomed to disappear.
Mr. Richard Nadeau:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fraser, I would like to go back to what Mr. Lemieux was talking about earlier. I clearly do not agree with him. One of the Supreme Court judges is a unilingual anglophone, and that is one too many. That is what must be understood. All nine judges should be bilingual. It is not complicated. They provide services to citizens. Bilingualism is not just for someone who goes to the Supreme Court. I will reiterate: It is service provided to citizens. That is very important.
On page 77, you talk about collaboration agreements. In the previous Parliament, this committee tabled a report addressing recourse to funding mechanisms. You are right. Having lived through it, I know that both the Liberals and the Conservatives have asked small organizations, which are small in size but large in terms of their activities, to do everything on a very specific timeline, otherwise they are punished. Then, the government sends the money seven months later. That continues to happen, and it is unacceptable. The report is well-known; you mention it in your document. I find that difficult for the communities.
I want to advise you of something affecting my riding. I tip my hat to Marie Lemay and others at the NCC. However, I would like to draw your attention to the case of Russell Mills, who is the chairman of the board. They chose him promising us he would become bilingual. But he is not. That tarnishes the French fact in the region, both in Gatineau and among Franco-Ontarians.
Minister Lawrence Cannon should continue to be responsible for the NCC file. I do not know if he was the one who appointed Mr. Mills, but he was the one who introduced him. At any rate, that is unacceptable, especially given that the organization has too much authority over municipalities in the region. For a member of a board made up of people from all over Canada to come and tell Gatineau or Ottawa what to do... They say it is a partnership, but in fact, they are the ones with the money and they are the ones holding the big end of the stick. In my humble opinion, that should be pointed out. Russell Mills, I am talking to you.
You talked about the Ottawa Airport and the issue of third parties. I also want to talk about the Canadian Tulip Festival, which takes place in Ottawa. The people in charge of the festival told us they are not obliged to provide services in French. However, they are an NCC third party. I am not blaming the NCC for providing tulip beds, but I am singling them out. That was an important file. It is of the outmost importance to tell these organizations that it is unacceptable for the people in charge of the Canadian Tulip Festival not to feel compelled to provide services in French, that it is good enough to take pity and provide services in French, because we are part of the landscape.
I am going to conclude by mentioning the official languages situation in the airports of Vancouver and Toronto, as regards the Olympic Games in Vancouver. Commissioner, that is an international event. Vancouver will be hosting francophones from around the world and people from different regions of Canada. If the official languages situation is unacceptable during the games, you can imagine what it is like for francophones normally. These conditions are all unacceptable.
Mr. Graham Fraser:
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to present the preliminary results of our study on second-language learning opportunities in Canada's universities. This issue has long held great interest for me, and I believe that it is an important question for Canadians.
I am accompanied today by Carsten Quell, Director, Policy and Research; Mylène Thériault, Team Leader, Policy and Research, and Mark Goldenberg, the consultant who is working closely with members of my office on this study.
While we have extensive knowledge and information about second-language learning at the elementary and secondary levels, I believe this additional piece is essential in order for Canadians to have a complete continuum in second-language learning. In fact, one of the recommendations included in my annual report is that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages quickly implement the commitments announced in the “Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality” to support second-language learning by bringing together all partners involved in this issue.
Knowledge of our two official languages is important for our young people's development, especially considering increased international competition and the global knowledge economy. Knowledge of both English and French by more Canadians is also important as part of Canada's commitment to linguistic duality and for the effective functioning of our country in many different sectors. And in the context of the renewal of the public service, it's important for a national government to have access to a larger pool of bilingual recruits.
Today, I have provided you with the preliminary findings of this major study that we are undertaking. As part of our study, an extensive survey was conducted of second-language programs and courses currently offered at Canada's universities.
Access to second-language courses at universities is generally good. However, opportunities for students to study in their second language are quite limited.
We found that there is generally good access to "regular" programs and courses for students to learn their second language, but that there are relatively few opportunities to do so more intensively, such as taking academic subjects taught in the second language. Only a very limited number of courses and a very narrow range of subjects are being offered in the second language.
Very few universities have any second-language policies or requirements. Those that exist are rather minimal and usually apply to only a few courses in a language other than French in Quebec and other than English throughout the rest of Canada.
There is little formal collaboration between English- and French-language institutions in Canada that would give students greater second-language exposure. While many Canadian universities offer or facilitate exchange opportunities with other countries, exchange opportunities between institutions within Canada are quite limited.
One finding that might interest you is that only a handful of public administration programs in Canada offer courses in the other language, have language requirements, or offer exchange-type activities.
What works? How can we improve second-language learning in university?
Students said that the professor is the most important factor and that smaller classes provide for greater interaction in the second language. They find that content-rich second-language courses—including more cultural and targeted subject-matter content—makes the experience more stimulating. They believe that they would benefit from taking a least some subject-matter courses in the second language to deepen their knowledge of it.
Language-learning experts agree on the effectiveness of content-based learning, and that a range of learning supports has to be available and tailored to the particular situations and needs of institutions and students. They told us that recognition and accreditation are important motivators for students, and that language-learning opportunities should be provided early at the university level.
Professors and university administrators involved in second-language programs say that leadership and commitment from the top are critical and that the university has to signal that it values second-language learning. This requires planning, coordinating, organizing, and negotiating with other faculties and institutions. It also means additional costs to universities and faculties, costs that are not adequately recognized by the usual per capita funding formula. And students, professors, administrators, experts, and government officials all agree that real-life opportunities to use and practise the second language, exchanges, and other opportunities for interaction with people who speak the other language are vital. You cannot fully learn another language simply by taking a course.
Finally, we know of some interesting initiatives and good practices out there, as well as possible models and approaches that are effective and that can point the way. These include the expertise and experience of bilingual institutions like the University of Ottawa, and York's Glendon College; the efforts by Campus Saint-Jean and the Collège universitaire Saint-Boniface to attract English-language students and offer an immersion-type learning experience; initiatives to offer second-language courses tailored to specific disciplines such as business English at the Université de Montréal and French for business or law at the University of Western Ontario; Simon Fraser University's Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs; Memorial University's one-semester immersion program in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon; and others.
So where do we go from here?
We know that more and better second-language learning opportunities at university are important—for young people and for Canada. We know that opportunities for intensive exposure to the second language are limited. We know that there's a growing need and demand. And we know what works to make students more proficient.
Our study points to a number of potential broad directions for intervention: we need to offer more intensive second-language learning opportunities; we need to make better use of the potential of institutions that teach in the other official language, through collaboration and partnerships and the use of technology; we need to offer students more exchanges and real life opportunities to use their second language in Canada; and we need to look again at second-language policies and requirements and how they can be used to improve second-language learning at university.
The final report, including recommendations, will be available in the fall. Moving forward in these and other areas will require the commitment and collaboration of all interested parties--universities, educational organizations, government, and others.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Jean-Claude D'Amours:
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Commissioner.
You stated in your opening remarks that, and I quote:
||Professors and university administrators involved in second-language programs say that leadership and commitment from the top are critical...
"Leadership" is the key word. This applies to both universities and post-secondary learning institutions. Furthermore, I feel that the federal government should also set the tone. Universities can't be the only leader, the federal government has to be a leader as well. If the federal government sets the tone through its public service programs, for example, there will automatically be movement in the universities.
You stated that additional costs could be involved but this could also be a business opportunity for these universities. If there were some measure of obligation or if the federal government were to assume clear leadership by stating that bilingualism is the order of the day... Some universities or post-secondary learning institutions have already gone ahead and are already offering training in a second language.
If these institutions are already in that position, they will certainly see increasing opportunities, business opportunities, that is, the ability to attract more students. That being said, it is a good thing to state that leadership from the top in colleges and universities is important. If the federal government were to take leadership in this area, do you not think that this would provide a good part of the leadership required to provide the tools, or some degree of motivation that the universities need to offer more proactive learning in a second language?
Mr. Richard Nadeau:
Mr. Fraser, I'd like to discuss three subjects with you.
First of all, would you agree to say that learning a second language should be encouraged at the elementary and secondary levels first and foremost? With regard to the question before us right now, that is requiring bilingualism in the public service, as soon as people are hired, shouldn't we be offering more substantial training than the forced core French program?
We know that this comes under provincial and school board jurisdiction. The latter are abolishing programs and creating others. Sometimes, provincial authorities let them be. I'm speaking primarily of anglophone provinces.
Now let me throw out a question to you here. Would you agree when I say that students who have English as a first language should register for programs offered in French as a first language through universities in primarily francophone milieux, in order to learn French, improve and work in that language?
Finally, if perfect bilingualism were a criterion for employment in the federal public service, wouldn't that be an incentive for universities? They could require that students who want to work in the public service follow English and French programs in order to be able to function in this system.
You have the floor.
Mr. Yvon Godin:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We are doing a study on bilingualism at the post-secondary level. The comment that we hear from representatives of universities is that for all intents and purposes, it is already too late when students reach that level. Unless I misunderstood them—and we will see when the report is drafted—my impression is that second language learning has to start earlier. We are not prepared to say to someone that he has to be bilingual overnight otherwise he will not get a job, because we have to give people a chance to learn. You talked about encouragement.
Secondly, could the government not offer to pay part of university tuition in return for a student learning another language? That would be an incentive.
Secondly, if students do take a university language course, they would have to obtain credits. If the credits count toward their degree, it would be a plus for them to register for a language course, but if the language course is not credited, it is not worth it.
Thirdly, the government should promote bilingualism and tell people who intend to work for the public service that that is the way to go and that is the way things work.
I was very disappointed in a decision by the New Brunswick government. You may say that this is provincial jurisdiction, but you took the trouble to include this in your report, so it stands to reason that you are interested in this. This is the first time that I saw such a reaction in my province or elsewhere in the country. Three hundred and fifty anglophones demonstrated in front of the legislature in Fredericton to say that their rights were violated and that they wanted their children to learn a second language. There are countries where people learn up to six languages, where this is not an obstacle at all. Learning three or four languages is something beautiful, it is a benefit, a gift. I am happy to speak two languages even though I don't speak either one perfectly, Commissioner, but that does not bother me because I am able to communicate with people.
So the New Brunswick government took a big step backward. I am completely against this decision—I have said so publicly—to eliminate early immersion and offer it starting in grade 6 only. I think that the government does not understand the importance of bilingualism among the largest employers in the country. And I think that people should not be learning a second language on the job; they should be learning it in school. We have schools and universities where we should be learning. That is where learning takes place, not after you have gotten a job.
Hon. Michael Chong:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for your preliminary report, Mr. Fraser.
Thank you very much for this. I have a suggestion and then a question.
My suggestion is that one of the things you might include in your final report is a greater elucidation of the need for the Government of Canada to have bilingual graduates from Canadian universities. It's not something that I see in this report. You have a section titled “Need and Demand”, so it might be a good area in which to slot the fact that we have a huge need for bilingual graduates from Canadian universities. It's not just a stick issue; it's also a carrot issue.
We are the largest employer in the country. We directly employ 260,000 public servants, and if you include the armed forces and crown corporations and federal agencies, that number is well into the 400,000 range. We are the largest hirer. We hire 10,000 people into the public service alone, every year, the equivalent of a General Motors every single year. In fact, we hire more than the payroll of all the employees of General Motors every year. In fact, in the next decade we are going to likely hire close to 100,000 new public servants. These are great jobs. They're well-paying jobs that provide the stability that only a government can, and they include defined benefit pensions, which obviously is a big issue right now. Yet we're not getting the university graduates we need from Canadian universities. So I think this is certainly an area that needs to be really emphasized in the final report because I think it will highlight to universities and to younger Canadians that there is this employer that needs them to come out of university with the knowledge of both official languages.
That's my comment.
My question is at this stage--I know you haven't finished your report--can you tell us the top one or two things that our government could do to get universities in Canada, get colleges, to produce a greater number of bilingual graduates? What are the number one or two things that we as a government can do to encourage that?