Mr. Graham Fraser (Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
Thank you for your invitation to discuss the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality.
The road map initiative is of central importance to the vitality of official language minority communities, and to the promotion of linguistic duality in Canada. We've discussed the road map on numerous occasions over the past few years. I'm pleased to appear before you again to reiterate my interest in seeing this initiative renewed.
Here with me today are Lise Cloutier, Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management; Ghislaine Charlebois, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance; Johane Tremblay, General Counsel; and Sylvain Giguère, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications.
First let me clarify my recommendations on the future of the roadmap. I have said it before and I will say it again: I strongly encourage the government to renew the roadmap and implement a fresh five-year plan. We must protect our assets and the initiatives that are already under way in the 2008-2013 roadmap.
What have been the results of the road map? It's not my place to provide you with a full accounting today; that will be up to Canadian Heritage and other participating departments. Like you, I will be reading their reports closely once they are available.
That said, I can tell you about some of my initial observations and suggest some ideas for moving forward.
My many visits to the communities, along with the regular analyses my office conducts, allow me to report some fine success stories. Most often, these successes depend on the ability to tailor programs and initiatives to the realities of a particular community. This flexibility is essential and must be based on good cooperation between the federal and provincial governments, and community organizations.
I've previously spoken about the special challenge the road map poses for the English-speaking communities of Quebec. I know you're aware of this issue. In some cases, road map initiatives have been launched in response to the specific realities of French-speaking minority communities. The government and the departments then tried, as best they could, to adapt these initiatives to the needs of anglophone communities, something with which they do not necessarily have much experience. It's important that, right from the outset, initiatives reflect the specific realities of a community and meet real needs. There must then be a sustained dialogue as the initiative is implemented, and if necessary, tailored to their circumstances.
If the government is to continue to protect Canada's linguistic duality, it needs to keep certain things in mind. The social objectives that form the base of the roadmap call for long-term investments. Like the communities, I think the government needs to take steps that will strongly entrench linguistic duality as a Canadian value. For example, it should place more emphasis on ways of giving citizens opportunities to improve their second language skills, like exchange programs and language training programs in both languages for newcomers and their children.
The latest data from the 2011 census show that immigration is an evermore important factor in Canada's demographic growth. It's playing an increasing role in the preservation of our official language communities. If linguistic duality is to remain an important aspect of Canadian society, then French-speaking immigrants who settle here will have to decide to stay. To achieve this goal, it's essential that their integration into these communities be properly planned. The road map provides an unrivalled tool for doing that.
Furthermore, as I mentioned in our study of second language learning in Canadian universities, I recommend that the Government of Canada provide financial assistance to universities so that they can develop and carry out new initiatives to improve students' second-language learning opportunities. There needs to be a continuum of second-language learning from elementary school to the post-secondary level and then into the workplace. This recommendation must be taken into account in the next roadmap.
I also recommend making permanent the Canada School of Public Service's pilot project to provide its learning products to Canadian universities. This project has been very successful, and it deserves a central place in the new road map for 2013 to 2018. Let's not forget that second-language education is one of the important elements that contributes to the promotion of linguistic duality.
If I may make a brief aside here, I'd like to say something about public consultations on the renewal of the roadmap. On February 16, representatives of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages came here to tell you about the role of the work of your committee in this exercise.
Following these public statements, my office received numerous complaints, which we will examine with our usual thoroughness. I cannot say any more on this subject for the time being.
The government has made the roadmap the cornerstone of its work to support the development of official language communities and promote linguistic duality in Canada. It has reason to be proud of the roadmap.
But let's not forget that only 14 federal institutions are involved in the roadmap, while part VII of the act applies to all federal institutions. We absolutely must expand the scope of the roadmap and get everyone participating. It is also important, for the present and future success of the five-year plan, that departments work together for the benefit of communities and citizens.
If we were to coordinate the initiatives of institutions that are already making laudable efforts in the area of linguistic duality, the positive effects of their work could be multiplied. I therefore reiterate the recommendation I made in my 2010-11 annual report that institutions must commit to implementing part VII.
Now I would like to speak briefly about two other matters that I feel are important.
First, I don't expect official languages programs to be sheltered from the forthcoming budget cuts. However, the government needs to ensure that these programs do not suffer disproportionately. The spending cuts in 1995 had a major impact on the development of official language communities, to the point where twice the effort was required to recover from them after 2003.
In addition, to comply with their obligations under part VII of the Official Languages Act, the federal institutions will have to make sure they analyze the impact of the cuts they intend to make to their programs and services. As a result of the negative consequences for the vitality of the communities, they will have to find and take measures that can minimize those consequences.
Some official language communities are so fragile that major cuts in certain programs could seriously compromise their vitality. I would remind the members that education funding, which is an essential part of the road map, is critical to the vitality of our official language communities.
I would like to say a word about visibility.
I am always astonished at the number of supposedly well-informed people who know nothing whatsoever about the road map, even though it's a $1.1 billion program lasting five years. Being transparent does not mean the government has to become invisible and silent with regard to the road map. In fact, it is vital that the government promote the road map and do so effectively, just as it did with the economic action plan, for example.
If the government wishes to achieve the objectives of the Official Languages Act, it needs to renew the commitments in the 2008-2013 roadmap. If it fails to do so, there could be disastrous consequences for our official language communities. People would also come to doubt the ability or even the willingness of the government to protect Canadian values.
Thank you very much for your attention.
I am now happy to answer any questions you may have.
Hon. Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, commissioner. I would also like to welcome your entire team.
Since you raised the issue of Canadian Heritage, I'm going to go back to it. In fact, I'm going to admit to you that, when the three representatives of that department appeared before us, there was a very strong reaction, which I thought was entirely warranted. However, I am disappointed that I forgot to ask them a question—in fact, we all forgot to do it—to ask them who at the department made that decision. However, perhaps Mr. Gourde could enlighten us on that point. If the minister made the decision, that's an entirely different matter. I hope you'll be able to answer that question in the course of your investigation. I believe it would have been very important to ask it. If those people appear before us, I will definitely put it to them.
You don't want to offer any comments, Commissioner, but you made one this morning, as may be seen from your brief:
||What have been the results of the roadmap? It is not my place to provide you with a full accounting today. That will be up to Canadian Heritage and other participating departments. Like you, I'll be reading their reports closely once they're available.
I too hope to read those reports, particularly that of Canadian Heritage. However, when they appeared before us, the people from that department told us that they were not preparing one and that they were relying on us. You will be able to determine from the way the questions are asked that the people from that department displayed a flagrant lack of professionalism and transparency. I am anxious to read your report.
This morning, I especially want to focus on one question that is fundamentally important not only for the roadmap, but also for the country: education. When Mr. Corbeil, from Statistics Canada, came to meet with us, he provided us with some disturbing statistics from the last census. A number of parts concerned education. You mentioned early childhood, which has also been cut by the new government. Whatever the case may be, two major components were part of the action plan and appear in the roadmap. The first is first-language education in official language minority communities. I believe that $280 million was allocated to that. There is also second-language learning, thus the learning of French as a second language. Unless I'm mistaken, there was also a significant amount of funding for that.
Mr. Corbeil told us that, within a certain age group, the number of anglophones taking courses in immersion programs had fallen from 16% to 13% in the past five years, a 30% drop. And yet the target of the roadmap and the action plan was to double the number of young people learning the other language. In other words, we are not moving forward, we are falling behind. This situation very much concerns me.
In addition, you will remember that, when you last appeared, I believe, I asked about your ability to verify whether the funding transferred to the provinces was being properly used. You gave the following answer, which I will read so that my colleagues can hear it:
|| Mr. Chairman, I raised the matter of following the money sent to the provinces by Ottawa with the clerk. It was explained to me then that the nature of current federalism and the principle of provincial accountability mean the provinces have full responsibility for the money they receive, including from the federal government.
|| Money is sent by Ottawa with an explanatory letter stating that the money must be used for minority language education or second language education. However, it is very difficult for me to know exactly how that money is spent, since I do not have the authority to investigate what is being done by a provincial ministry or a province. A provincial minister of education personally admitted to me that when a cheque would arrive from Ottawa, he tended to spend it for whatever he felt was a priority.
|| So, I can't give you a clear answer to that question. What I can say, though, is that the way the money is spent is often a mystery.
Do you remember that?
Mr. Jacques Gourde (Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to the witnesses for being here, especially Mr. Fraser.
Mr. Fraser, I'm going to draw on your vast experience and your vision of Canada's linguistic duality. Some events in the history of our country have marked the history of linguistic duality. I am thinking of Expo 67, the Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver Olympics, as well as Canada Day, July 1st of every year, when Canadian Heritage organizes major celebrations promoting linguistic duality.
Mr. Fraser, in five years, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Canadian Heritage is currently conducting a study to see how those celebrations could be organized.
Do you think this committee could also conduct a study to determine how to include linguistic duality in that event? How could we include ourselves in those festivities? The celebrations for Canada's 150th anniversary could be a springboard. They will no doubt become a global showcase. How could we be a part of it?
Mr. Graham Fraser:
I believe that 2017 will be a very important year for the country. Like the member, I have always thought this kind of celebration could be a very important way for the Canadian population to understand its past and present and to trace out its future.
I visited Expo 67 and I often thought that the very positive experience of linguistic duality at that event created an atmosphere that was conducive to the introduction and passage of the Official Languages Act, with the support of all political parties. We saw official bilingualism in action, if you will, at all the Canadian facilities on Île Sainte-Hélène during Expo 67.
I therefore think it is very important for linguistic duality to be part of the conception, planning and implementation of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary in 2017.
By comparison, the studies on preparations for the Olympics started roughly five years before I even arrived in 2006. Our engagement was quite significant, and we have learned some lessons from that. We have produced a guide for major sporting events. That guide is being used by the organizers of the 2015 Pan-American Games, as well as the Canada Games in Sherbrooke.
I believe it is possible to ensure that linguistic duality is central, in the same way, to planning for the 2017 celebrations.
Mr. Robert Aubin (Trois-Rivières, NDP):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, Mr. Fraser. Good morning to your entire team, and thank you for being here. Thank you in advance for your clarifications on the evaluation of the roadmap. That moreover will be the topic of my first question.
We have heard from representatives of various organizations in recent months, and I have tried on numerous occasions to get a clear idea of the methodology for evaluating the roadmap to determine whether it should be extended. As you mentioned in your presentation, you very much want to see the roadmap extended.
However, there does not appear to be any common evaluation methodology at any of the institutions concerned by the roadmap. It's a bit Kafkaesque to say the least. A number of observations have emerged from all the interviews I've listened to. I will mention a few of them, and I would like to hear your reaction to that.
Among other things, it seems to me it would be necessary to put in place a clearly established consultation process that is common to all departments concerned.
In addition, representatives seemed to consider it appropriate for the evaluation to be conducted on an ongoing basis. They didn't want us to wait until the end to request a success story or an example of a failure or to conduct the evaluation at that time. They also wanted the consultations to be better coordinated.
Do you have any comments or criticisms on those recommendations, which I feel have emerged from our consultations?
Mr. Graham Fraser:
It really depends. I've been to every province and every territory, at this point, and there are some communities, some provinces, that I've visited more often than others. I meet with the minority community organization, and often talk about the problems they've identified or the successes they've had.
When I'm travelling across the country, I also try to meet with universities and university presidents. One of the reports we did, and that I tried to make as relevant as possible, was the study on second language learning in Canada's universities.
For example, most recently I was in Winnipeg for the Festival du Voyageur. I met people from the federal council. I met people from the Société franco-manitobaine. I met with the presidents of the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg. I was at the banquet of the Festival du Voyageur and gave to them the commissioner's prize for the promotion of linguistic duality.
I then went to Regina and Saskatoon, and went to Duck Lake for the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Association communautaire fransaskoise.
I then went to Windsor and met people at the community association there. I met people at the University of Windsor. I met people at Collège Boréal. I met people at Border Services who have developed a partnership with Collège Boréal.
Those are only some of the activities I've engaged with. Usually I try to combine meetings with community organizations, meetings with federal institutions that are dealing with those organizations, and with universities as well.
Mr. Graham Fraser:
Well, you would if you listened to Radio-Canada, which plays an extremely important role. And 250 people showed up at this celebration in Duck Lake.
We did a vitality study in Saskatchewan, and there's no question that one of the real challenges of the francophone community in Saskatchewan is that it is dispersed. As people from those communities move to the cities, they don't have a concentrated neighbourhood to be in.
So they do have a challenge of visibility, but they are active. They are vital. They have a school system. They have school boards. There's the Association des juristes d'expression française de la Saskatchewan, which is very active.
I agree that you don't necessarily hear French spoken on the streets. What adds to the challenge, if you like, of the visibility is that members of the community are so bilingual that occasionally two members of the francophone community will encounter each other and not be aware that they are francophones just because their English is so accent-free.
That, I think, speaks to the importance of establishing French language spaces in which people can meet. It speaks to the critical importance of Radio-Canada and community radio stations, and to the importance of the schools and schools boards that have been created over the last 25 years.
Mr. John Weston:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
If there is a clash on a darkling plain between two adversaries that keeps coming up in this review, whether they're real adversaries or only illusory ones, it's between the need to lower government expenditures on the one hand, and the need to make our cultural and linguistic duality flourish on the other.
My colleague, John Williamson,
has done a lot of good work to reduce waste in government funding. However, we've only talked about waste.
We have to also make difficult decisions to reduce government costs, as Mr. Williamson would say, even where it's not waste. Costs still have to be reduced in order to get money into the hands of Canadians as opposed to the hands of bureaucrats, one would say.
So can you help us? Can you point us to areas where the two are not in conflict? Can you help us by suggesting how the young gentleman who is here in the corner, the little fellow, will grow up in a country where there is a flourishing linguistic duality at the same time as we reduce our government costs?
Can you say, for instance, that the growth of immersion schools in British Columbia, which is motivated as much by the private sector and the individual desire to know both languages as it is by government investment, where the two are not in conflict, where they in fact enforce one another...?
Mr. Jacques Gourde:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to go back to part of what Mr. Godin and Mr. Bélanger said about the cash transfers to the provinces for education under the roadmap.
As you said, that's supported; that's for certain. In my opinion, the roadmap should supplement the services already provided by the various departments at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. In certain cases, the municipalities are also putting money into the promotion of linguistic duality.
When money is sent to the provinces to provide certain services, a letter outlining priorities is also sent. We do not necessarily receive another letter explaining how the money was used, why certain activities were selected and how they relate to priorities. You seem to be saying you haven't seen any such letters. Historically, I believe we have never seen any either.
Would it be possible that services have not become complementary? Have certain provinces withdrawn from the basic services they were to offer, using federal government money to provide the same services that they would have offered in any case? Is it possible that what the roadmap could also have given to those communities and schools, by encouraging initiatives that would have been desirable, was forgotten?
Hon. Mauril Bélanger:
That's fair enough.
Mr. Chair, if you would encourage Mr. Boughen—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Mauril Bélanger: —to visit a few more communities in Saskatchewan, such as Bellevue or Hoey or Domremy or Zenon Park or even Prince Albert, he would find fairly large francophone communities. In Prince Albert, he might even find a school or two, and un centre scolaire communautaire, un centre culturel.
I just thought I'd throw that in there.
I'm going to act a little like Mr. Gourde, who wants to use the commissioner to support his motion that we devote a year or two perhaps to preparing for the 2017 festivities. He's going to introduce it to us at some point.
There has always been a good partnership between the committee and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Commissioner, if the committee adopted a motion asking you to investigate the appropriate use of funding paid to the provinces for education, would that be of use to you for the purpose of your work?
Mrs. Stella Ambler (Mississauga South, CPC):
Mr. Fraser, thank you for coming to speak to us today.
I have a bit of a personal question, I guess you could say, and I'd like your personal opinion and views as an answer.
My daughter, who is now 17 years old, has attended exclusively English-speaking schools. When she was going into kindergarten, I wanted to put her in a French school. We have in the Greater Toronto Area, where I live, both French schools and French-immersion schools, and either one would have been fine, but there was a French-immersion school close by. We were not allowed to send her there, because neither my husband nor I fluently speak French.
Do you believe that this requirement should be changed? I know I do, because I think that many parents like my husband and me would have loved having our children be bilingual. But because I don't speak French, my children were not allowed to attend that school.
This is just a personal question.