[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, November 26, 1996
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): I see we have quorum. I will now call the meeting to order. Good afternoon.
We have heard from Mr. Beaudry, Public Works, and Ms Copps, and today our witnesses are from the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada and from the Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario. Welcome.
For years, those groups have been fighting to defend their rights, and we are eager to hear what advice they have for us. I would like to welcome all of you to our committee meeting. We will start by hearing the two presentations, and then we will move to the questions. I believe you are going to begin, Mr. Samson. Would you please introduce your colleagues?
Mr. Yvon Samson (Director General, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada): Thank you, Madam Chair. I would like to introduce Ms Sophie Galarneau, a communications officer with the Federation, Ms Manon Henry, a liaison officer andMs Diane Desaulniers, the President of the Ottawa-Carleton regional office of ACFO.
Madam Chair, committee members, on behalf of the President of the FCFA, I would like to start by thanking the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages for giving us an opportunity today to comment on the issue of signs and services in French in the National Capital Region.
Jacques Michaud, the President of the Federation, asked me to apologize to you for his absence. Unfortunately, he had a conflict with another professional event, and was unable to change his schedule to be here. Normally, the President speaks for the Federation when it appears before your committee.
As you probably know the FCFA of Canada organized a campaign last August to encourage some of the major businesses located in the national capital to post signs in French.
Signs and services in French should be a common practice for all businesses in the national capital. All aspects of life in Ottawa should reflect the most fundamental value of our Canadian identity, namely our linguistic duality.
Obviously, the whole issue makes good business sense as well. Offering services in French and posting signs in both official languages are practices that can contribute directly to offering proper service to 35% of the people living in this region.
I would like to say loud and clear at the outset that it is possible to live in French in Ottawa, contrary to what some people have said on many occasions. In a number of cases, service in French is available, and signs are bilingual. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere, and that is the fact we deplore and would like to correct. That is also the reason we are appearing here before you today. We have to look at this problem together and try to determine what concrete steps can be taken to improve the situation with respect to signs and services in French in our nation's capital.
It is important to emphasize that the objectives of improving services and signs in French are fundamentally indissociable. It is true that our campaign focused chiefly on the issue of signs. However, it is logical that merchants who want to ensure the full satisfaction of their customers would provide service in the language of their choice. After all, it would make no sense to have bilingual signs in a business without having services available in either of Canada's official languages as well.
That said, we think that the federal government, at least as the owner of certain buildings, has an essential, even fundamental role to play in making merchants aware of the importance of offering service to their customers in the language of their choice. Where should it start? First, by actively encouraging merchants who rent space in federal government buildings to serve their French-speaking customers in their own language. This role obviously falls to the National Capital Commission, the NCC and to the Department of Public Works, which own many of the buildings in the region.
The federal government's responsibility does not stop there, however. Section 43(1)(f) of the Official Languages Act allows the government to take measures with the business community to promote its use of the country's two official languages.
We might therefore expect that the government would broaden its efforts with respect to service in French as part of its overall approach.
We do not want the government to pass legislation to force merchants to post signs and offer service in French. Our experience has shown that in most cases, this was not necessary.
Rather, we ask that the government use the resources available to it to make merchants aware of the situation and to encourage them to provide better service to their French-speaking customers in their own language.
We certainly think it is unfortunate that the Regroupement des gens d'affaires and the Ottawa-Carleton Board of Trade both refuse to appear before the committee. Their members are certainly the key players in this issue.
We hope the committee will repeat its invitation to them and that this time both groups will agree to appear before you. They should certainly not see the public hearings as a threat to them, but rather as an opportunity to get involved in the issue. It is also a way for them to help the government find ways of encouraging their members to provide better service to their French-speaking customers.
As you may have guessed, we were not satisfied with the arguments put forward byMr. Beaudry and Mr. Nurse when they appeared before the committee last week. These senior officials came before you to justify their lack of action. They never managed to prove that they were committed to linguistic duality, because they refused to recognize that the issue being studied by the committee is the real problem. They did not suggest any concrete measures that would help overcome the problems we have at the moment in the area of official languages.
Does the FCFA have to remind people again about the Cabinet decision to implement Part VII of the Official Languages Act, and that all federal institutions are responsible for acting on this decision? Madam Chair, the attitude of these senior officials is a perfect reflection of the problems faced by our communities respecting the implementation of this part of the Act. I am referring to a clear lack of will and a certain bureaucratic arrogance.
These witnesses rhymed off a list of excuses as to why they could do nothing. Obviously, the question is being looked at the wrong way around. As servants of the government, when one of its fundamental values is linguistic duality, shouldn't their approach be rather to talk about things that could be done to improve the situation? In his presentation, Mr. Nurse said that over-regulation could mean that he would lose tenants.
Is this naivete, a total lack of understanding or a lack of business sense?
Let us take the example of Sparks Street Mall. I am sure you will all agree that this is a most attractive location for a business. Is there another place in the national capital that is more centrally located? That is hard to imagine. No one can convince us that a business that has been informed about the importance of posting signs in both official languages and of hiring bilingual staff will decide to move elsewhere. If a business were to decide to leave the mall for this reason, this would simply mean that it should not have been located in a federal building.
For his part, Mr. Beaudry tells us that it is legally impossible to enforce the clause in the NCC's leases that mentions encouraging businesses located in NCC buildings to offer services in both languages. This statement is far from satisfactory in our view. In fact, it raises a number of questions we would like to ask.
Do the people of Canada have to put up with unilingualism in their national capital because of Mr. Beaudry's inaction? Must people resign themselves to unilingualism because this individual, who has the power to change things, does not think it is advisable to insist on signs in both of Canada's official languages in buildings owned by the federal government?
How should we react to the fact that his justification is a legal opinion to the effect that since a lease was not challenged in the past, there would be a tacit agreement that would be binding in future? No, Mr. Beaudry, we cannot agree to your dodging the issue in this way.
The Honourable Sheila Copps mentioned this herself when she appeared before the committee last week. In answering a question asked by one of the committee members, she simply said: ``a contract is a contract".
Even given the legal analysis Mr. Beaudry gave you, what is stopping him from asking his officials to meet with merchants to make them aware of the importance of offering service to their clients in the language of their choice? Nothing is stopping him from doing that, except perhaps the lack of will to do so.
Mr. Beaudry also mentioned the few complaints received by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Apparently there have only been four complaints about a lack of service in French from merchants located in federal buildings. He also told us that these problems had been solved very quickly.
In addition, we should not find it surprising that the Commissioner has not received many complaints on this matter. The people of Canada don't know that the federal government owns these buildings.
We also cannot discount the fact that polls have shown that people generally are not very familiar with the Commissioner of Official Languages or his role.
Moreover, we cannot imagine that tourists passing through the National Capital would know where to go to express their discontent. They will do so elsewhere, with their friends, the people around them, who will immediately get the impression that Canada is a unilingual English-speaking country.
Furthermore, if the four complaints were settled so quickly, why should Messrs. Nurse and Beaudry not use a proactive approach to get signs and services in French just as easily in the other businesses? We saw what happened during our campaign. Most of the merchants we contacted said that they would be pleased to do something about the situation if they were given the tools they required or if someone explained why these steps should be taken.
Particularly, why must we always have to complain in order to correct something that should already be a given? Why must we prove by making a complaint that we are keenly interested in our language playing an active role within Canadian society? Do we have to take to the street every time we want to move one step forward?
Why is it that the federal government, which has made many commitments toward linguistic duality and the development of minority communities, allows its institutions to serve up these excuses? Why is it that these government institutions cannot take advantage of the interest that was generated in this issue and take some steps to improve bilingual services in the national capital.
What these two institutions chose to do should not depend on the public hearings held by this committee. The Department of Public Works and the NCC should have taken the opportunity to put forward an action plan because of the public attention focused on the issue. Obviously, that is asking too much.
These institutions are covered by section 41 of the Official Languages Act and they are familiar with the resulting obligations. This section states clearly:
41. The Government of Canada is committed to enhancing the vitality of the... French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and fostering the full recognition and use of... French in Canadian society.
The intention of the Act is specifically to extend the responsibility for promoting French to all government departments and agencies. In addition, section 43(1) of the Act mentions that the Secretary of State, who has become the Minister of Canadian heritage:
of French, obviously, and English in the case of an English language minority.
...and co-operate with them for that purpose.
Are shopkeepers still legally obliged to serve their clients in French in Ottawa? The answer is no. Is the Department legally bound to ask businesses located in its buildings to serve their clients in the language of their choice? Not to our knowledge.
That leads us to another question. Should you always enforce the minimum required by law? Since the government made a number of commitments to promote linguistic duality, should it not show a minimum of initiative and be proactive to ensure communities reach their full potential?
We are not asking for the moon, far from it. People were very receptive to our campaign, which gave us a great deal of encouragement. Ottawa residents, be they francophone or anglophone, think bilingual signs in the national capital are totally justified. The Ottawa Sun, which is not generally pro-French, strongly supported bilingual signage. In fact, all the media in the region supported it. Why is it then that there is a constant struggle to get the NCC and the Department of Public Works to push their tenants to put up French signs?
Here are the measures we think the NCC and the Department of Public Works should take:
- First, the Department of Public Works and the NCC should ensure that any future leases contain a clause on bilingual posting similar to the one already found in NCC leases, which would encourage their tenants to provide services in both languages, and the department and the NCC should actively enforce that clause.
Bear in mind that waiting for that clause to be implemented does not preclude the implementation of the next recommendations.
- Secondly, the NCC and the Department of Public Work should draw up an action plan as quickly as possible to encourage their tenants to post signs in both of Canada's official languages and to provide services in French within the next two years.
These institutions' action plans should contain measures such as meetings with business owners and managers to tell them what they should do to provide better service to their francophone clients without incurring exorbitant costs. They would be given a list of measures to be taken to achieve that goal. They would be told how important it is and they would learn about the obvious advantages of pursuing that goal. The NCC could use the booklet it published in 1992 entitled Satisfied Customers are Good for Business!
- Thirdly, the NCC and the Department of Public Works should immediately send a letter to all of their tenants. The letter would state that bilingual signs and services are definite assets for any business wanting to treat its clients with respect and consideration. The letter would also say that those two institutions are very concerned about this and want to settle the matter, because they have an obligation under the Official Languages Act, but mostly because they believe in what they are doing. It would go on to say that there is no point getting too upset because businesses will have two years to adjust and the NCC and the Department of Public Works plan to work with their tenants to help them with bilingual postings.
- Fourth, the NCC and the Department of Public Works should offer free translation services for one month.
- Fifth, the NCC and the Department of Public Works should provide their tenants with names of distributors of bilingual advertising material, such as signs indicating that the service is offered in both languages.
- Sixth, the NCC and the Department of Public Works should subsidize the said distributors so that tenants are encouraged to purchase French material.
- Seventh, these measures should be enforced in any federal government building, anywhere in Canada where there is a francophone or Acadian community.
- Eights, the government should use every means available to actively encourage Canada's retailers to put signs up in both languages, without necessarily passing legislation to make French signs and services mandatory.
- As an example, the Department of Canadian Heritage could establish a program to heighten awareness and encourage businesses to better serve their Francophone clients.
You have received a list of expectations. It describes a number of services a business should offer to better serve its French clients. The NCC and the Department of Public Works ought to have it with them when they discuss this with their tenants.
The FCFA has a great deal of confidence in this committee. You tabled a report in the House last spring on Part VII of the Act in which you asked the government to hand over the responsibility for implementation to a central agency or organization so that it could set up an accountability system. That clearly shows you uphold the principle of linguistic duality.
We are also convinced that your efforts are worthwhile. Thanks to your involvement, Cabinet's response to our report is a clear reflection of the FCFA's demands and those of the communities it represents. By broadening the role of Treasury Board under section 41, we overcame a major obstacle that hindered its implementation. That is why we are asking you, Madam Chair, members of Parliament and senators, to submit strong recommendations and, more importantly, to not let yourself be influenced by the arguments presented by directors of federal institutions.
The national capital, as well as all federal buildings, should clearly reflect the sound values on which this country was built.
We hope our recommendations will lead to some progress. I would like to thank you once again for your attention and I will be pleased to answer your questions after Ms Desaulniers has made her presentation.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Thank you. I see you wrote in your brief that you have confidence in our committee. I am sure we will do a good job.
Mr. Samson: Thank you.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Ms Desaulniers, please.
Ms Diane Desaulniers (President, Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario) (Ottawa-Carleton): Madam Chair, my colleague provided you with some background on bilingual signage. During the press conference in September, the ACFO wanted to tell the media that this was a regional matter and affected the entire Ottawa-Carleton region.
Since the beginning of the campaign, ACFO has adopted the position that this is an economic issue. The purpose of the campaign is to highlight the economic power of francophones who live, work and visit the national capital in order to encourage Ottawa-Carleton retailers to use sound management practices, good business practices by respecting their clients and serving them in the official language of their choice. The ACFO encourages economic input, that is, that francophones and francophiles use their purchasing power to encourage businesses who have both French signs and services, because signs alone without the service are, to all intents and purposes, misleading advertising.
I must stress the economic dimension of this. The last thing our regional ACFO association wants to see happen is for this to become a political matter, where political interests would prevail over the interests of francophones and where we could once again easily become hostages to constitutional issues.
That said, when we looked at the campaign results so far, we noticed two things.
First of all, we noticed an open-mindedness and co-operation from businesses, and especially from the Regroupement des gens d'affaires and the Ottawa-Carleton Board of Trade, who have a committee working on giving the national capital a more Canadian appearance. I do not have quite the same position as my colleague does on these organizations.
Common business sense explains that the Ottawa-Carleton Branch of the ACFO gets support from those organizations and their members. Business people have generally understood the message: "If you want our dollars, speak to us in our language."
Secondly, the Ottawa-Carleton Branch of the ACFO has noticed that francophones from this region are more aware, proud and determined to ask to be served in French. It represents potential profits for retailers. Francophones are willing to go elsewhere if they do not get quality service in French. I take this opportunity to remind them they must try extra-hard and do their Christmas shopping in stores that are truly interested in doing business with us in our language.
The solution for business signs is perhaps as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, can cost very little or can cost a lot. The Ottawa-Carleton Branch of the ACFO is working with store owners so that everyone gets the biggest bang for their buck. We want to publicly recognize the store owners, retailers and businesses that provide services in French and who post signs in French.
I realize that under the Official Languages Act, Parliament only has jurisdiction in federal institutions, which excludes, de facto, commercial signs of private businesses.
However, the Act does state that the government can demand that third parties providing services on behalf of the government and organizations that receive public funds to organize national events be obliged to provide services in French and English.
Furthermore, under the Act, federal institutions must put up signs and advertise their services in both official languages. The client, in this case the federal government, is in a better position to dictate the conditions, the parameters of an agreement when it's his money, when he provides the funds. It becomes a little bit more difficult when it is incumbent upon the recipient to do so.
The Ottawa-Carleton Branch of the ACFO wants the National Capital to look more bilingual and reflect Canada's linguistic duality. The regional ACFO thinks the Canadian Parliament can take specific positive action without legislating, which could take months, if not years, when very often, an appropriate, well-targeted policy can produce immediate results. All that is required, at the end of the day, is a political willingness to get results.
For example, by asking retailers who lease space in Ottawa-Carleton's federal government buildings to post signs in French and provide services in that language, the federal government would be sending out a clear signal that it supports the French fact and feels it is important to have both official languages in its buildings. In exchange, the retailer can sell his products to a huge number of clients, I was about to say a captive audience.
Any measure that would help the francophone community and the French language flourish is a step in the right direction, but since French signage in Ottawa-Carleton is a regional issuer, the ACFO would have liked to have been consulted to assess the impact of third party intervention, because we do not have the human or financial resources nor the time to repair the damage caused by others, since our priority is to focus on our own concerns.
Now, this is the point I wanted to make. Store owners had to be convinced that even if the committee held public hearings, this nonetheless remained an economic issue. So let me make a few suggestions that could be followed now with minimum fuss and which are still consistent with Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
First, Treasury Board could change its acquisition policy so that the federal government use its own purchasing power to encourage the merchants, shopkeepers and entrepreneurs to post their services and offer services in French.
Second, Treasury Board could change its rental policy to have a clause in the lease obliging lessees to post and give services in both official languages.
Third, the federal government could take steps to ensure fair economic repercussions for Franco-Ontarians in the Ottawa-Carleton region whether in the area of contributions, job creation or contracting out of services. In exchange, I can assure you that the federal government will be able to count on Ottawa-Carleton's regional ACFO to continue encouraging its members and French speakers in the area to demand and use those services provided in French.
Madam Chair, we are at your disposal.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Thank you. We will start with a ten-minute round. I'll be rather strict today.
Mr. Marchand (Québec-Est): You're going to be strict because Senator Riel is here?
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): We will stick to ten minutes today.
Mr. Marchand: Thank you for your presentations, Mr. Samson and Ms Desaulniers. First, I'd like to put a question to both of you concerning the city of Ottawa.
Mr. Beaudry, the Chairman of the National Capital Commission came before us last week and told us the city of Ottawa is bilingual. In your opinion, is Ottawa a bilingual city?
Ms Desaulniers: One could ask: Is Ottawa as bilingual as it could be? The answer is no. Is Ottawa a unilingual city? I don't want to answer yes to that because that means we would be abdicating. Despite the open-mindedness and support from the cities of Ottawa and Vanier, and although businesses are ready to do more and people are asking for more, there is progress to be made.
Mr. Marchand: Is it possible to function in French? Mr. Samson, on page 1 of your presentation, you say it's possible to live in French in Ottawa.
Mr. Samson: I live in the Vanier neighbourhood as does Ms Desaulniers. I manage quite well in French, in Vanier. I can shop in French at the Rideau Centre. It's a matter of personal choice. I don't have to go to an anglophone store that doesn't provide service in French. In Ottawa, and in some communities, I can do all my buying in French if I so wish.
Is the city of Ottawa officially bilingual? It has an official policy on official languages. Does it apply it correctly? It's a matter of perception. I can say that it applies it and others might say the contrary. It all depends on the importance this takes on for each individual.
From my perspective, I can live in French in Ottawa. There's no difference there.
Mr. Marchand: Maybe it's possible in Vanier, but in Ottawa... I often walk along Sparks Street and I don't see much French. When I go into the stores, I have to hide my French under a bushel. I suppose it's possible to function that way. In any case, you yourself held a demonstration this summer concerning the lack of French signage in Ottawa.
In that respect, Ms Desaulniers and Mr. Samson, you say it's an economic matter. I stand to be corrected, but the Regroupement des gens d'affaires as well as the Ottawa-Carleton Board of Trade have both indicated they have no interest or will in doing anything about bilingual signage.
Ms Desaulniers: I don't agree with you. I know full well that the Regroupement des gens d'affaires and the Board of Trade have set up a committee. The next step is to poll the businesses and to find out which of their members already have a policy concerning signs and services in French. So the business community is deeply involved in this matter.
Mr. Marchand: Agreed. I may have made a mistake because they refuse to come before us as witnesses or to speak about it. At least, they led us to understand...
Ms Desaulniers: The Regroupement des gens d'affaires and the Board of Trade declined the invitation because, in their minds, this is an economic matter while this committee actually engages in politics. I have already told you that as long as this remains an economic matter, we will have the co-operation of the main stakeholders.
Mr. Marchand: Mr. Samson, could you now give us a follow-up on the results of last summer's demonstration on Sparks Street?
Mr. Samson: Yes. Of course, we're still writing to the big national chains to make sure they will be posting signs and offering services in French in their establishments. We would like to know the details of their official policy on client services.
Zellers have extended their policy beyond the borders of the national capital which means that their policies will also apply in Cornwall. So they've decided to change their policy and show respect for the francophones of that region.
In its turn, Rogers Video as of December 1 will show respect for consumers in the National Capital Region by offering its services in both official languages.
During our campaign, eight companies said they would set something up. Four targeted companies were recalcitrant and we shall continue encouraging them to take the necessary steps.
We should never forget what Ms Desaulniers said before. This is a regional matter to a certain point except for the question of federal leases and those affecting you as parliamentarians, concerning respect for linguistic duality and the federal government's obligations in this respect.
Mr. Marchand: We are examining the bilingual character of Ottawa in the matter of signs and services.
You also doubtless know, Mr. Samson and Ms Desaulniers, that in 1995, the Commissioner of Official Languages undertook a study on the use of language in the public service in Ottawa.
You also know that the federal government takes up a lot of room here, in Ottawa, with its employees and its buildings. As the public service, according to the report, works mostly in English - roughly 80% - in your opinion, does this also have an impact on the lack of French services in Ottawa?
Ms Desaulniers: We're talking about two totally different things. You're not necessarily able to chose whom you will be working with. On the other hand, you do have a choice when it comes to shopping and you can do that wherever you want.
Mr. Samson: In my case, I do my shopping in the market area. On Sparks Street, there are stores that show no respect for my rights; so I don't shop there. I don't have to do business in English.
It's an individual matter, but it is true that there is a problem. The Commissioner however did point out quite correctly in his report that there is a problem within the public service where meetings are mainly held in English. Perhaps the committee should look at that question and see what can be done to encourage more participation in English and in French during those internal meetings.
Mr. Marchand: That's all for the time being. Thank you.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Mr. Serré.
Mr. Serré (Timiskaming - French River): First, I would like to thank you and congratulate you both for your excellent presentations. My greetings to Mr. Michaud and Mr. Lalonde.
I listened to both your presentations with interest. Before making any comments or putting any questions, I'd like to set the facts straight concerning the parameters of our study. Since the beginning, we've almost only heard about services in French in the Ottawa region whereas the parameters of our study are services in both officials languages in the whole area of the National Capital Region on both sides of the river. What is being said concerning the francophone minority on this side of the river applies just as much to the anglophone minority on the other side. I wanted to set this straight because some seemed to think that our examination bears only on French services in Ottawa.
I listened with interest to the presentation of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada and from the start I was rather disappointed in the very negative tone of the brief but you made a very good job of your recommendations at the end. I fully agree with your comments on the President of the National Capital Commission. He is coming up with very simplistic pretexts to avoid taking his responsibilities and I cannot accept his arguments. I have no problem with most of the recommendations of the two organizations. The Federation is asking the government to do a number of things.
On the other hand, I consider Ms Desaulniers' presentation to be far more positive since she does not pass the buck to us and claim that we should be doing various things to settle the problem. She tells us: this is how we can work together. The government may have some responsibilities but the association and the minority groups also have responsibilities. In my opinion, the presentation is far more positive and augurs well for the future.
Ms Desaulniers, you make an interesting point on page 5 of your brief, and I'd like to have you elaborate on it. You say:
Ms Desaulniers: The third party in this particular instance is your august committee. Last summer when it was announced that the Joint Committee on Official Languages would be examining the matter of signage, the business community was rather taken aback because in a national or government forum, the committee can do or say what it wants.
On the other hand, one to one contact, commitment and work are taking place at the local level. As long as we emphasize the economic side of the issue and the fact that it is an elementary principle of marketing, merchants are willing to go along with the practice. People are willing to admit that it is reasonable. Francophones who claim to be bilingual stand to gain because the fact of providing French-language services makes knowing the two languages an asset.
Mr. Serré: What you are telling me in kind and diplomatic terms is that the rash statements made both by the member from the Opposition and the committee chairman at the time did not aid the cause of the French-speaking minority in the Ottawa-Carleton region.
Ms Desaulniers: We had some making up to do.
Mr. Serré: Thank you. My next question...
An honourable member: I think he wanted to make a comment.
Mr. Serré: Go ahead.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): We'll give him a chance to answer before, please.
Mr. Samson: I am glad that you did find our brief a moderate one. It was fair. The business community is rather worried because parliamentarians are starting to look at things. But the reaction hasn't been the same from citizens, from ordinary people and consumers. We have received letters and calls encouraging us to continue in this direction. People are sensitive to the fact that the National Capital is a quasi-federal district. This is the perception. So this element does come into play when we are dealing with the National Capital area which, as you rightly pointed out, includes Hull and Ottawa-Carleton.
Mr. Serré: Thank you. Do I still have a few minutes left?
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Would you like to share your time with Senator Robichaud? He wanted to ask a question.
Senator Robichaud (L'Acadie): Do I take it that you had some making up to do because of a statement made by your organization to the effect that you would be starting a campaign for planning your signage?
Ms Desaulniers: No. Technically it was damage control because of the interpretation given by people to statements made by politicians. The thing that annoys people, both the man and woman in the street and the business community, is to see political capital being made at the expense of the francophone community.
Mr. Serré: I think you're giving a partial answer to the question I was going to ask you. On page 3 of your presentation you emphasize the economic side of this issue. I agree with you. You say:
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Mr. Serré, that's your last question. Your time is up.
Mr. Serré: I don't really understand the meaning of your recommendation number 3:
For example, with the devolution of job training from the federal government to the provincial government, assuming a 30 per cent francophone population in Ottawa-Carleton, proportionate funds should be devoted to this item. As far as job creation is concerned, and official languages and equitable sharing between the levels, things are working fairly well, except at the senior management level.
As far as the awarding of contracts goes, there are many public servants who are starting up small businesses and the government could use its purchasing power to ensure that the economics spinoffs are equitable when it comes to awarding contracts, everything else being equal.
Mr. Serré: Thank you.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Senator Rivest.
Senator Rivest (Stadacona): Of course, as a Quebecker, I am going to have to be careful when talking about signage because as you know we are not without sin in this area in Quebec.
Now that Bill 86 has restored business signage rights for Quebec anglophones and even our sovereignist friends in Quebec were converted to Bill 86 over the week-end, that is bilingual signage, I'd like to congratulate them and thank them.
Some honourable members: Oh! Oh!
Mr. Marchand: I'd like to remind you that I am a member of the Bloc québécois.
Senator Rivest: So from now on we have some latitude in supporting the demands of Quebeckers or French-Canadians in the National Capital Region.
I must say that, unfortunately, I was not present at the meeting you speak of. I was very surprised by the comments of the President of the National Capital Commission and I agree with your analysis. I am surprised that he was unwilling or unable to assume the leadership expected of him and which, in my view, reflects the very nature of the National Capital Commission.
The Prime Minister of Canada answers in French when a reporter asks his questions in French or in English when they are in English, as a matter of conviction, because he believes in the linguistic duality of Canada. He is under no legal obligation to do so. I think it's the same situation, it's simply part of the way things are, the nature of this country. Linguistic duality is a fundamental characteristic of the country. The National Capital Commission should understand this instead of hiding behind legal arguments, which are far-fetched to say the least.
I generally agree with your recommendations and I wholeheartedly support your idea that the in the National Capital Region incentives should be provided, somewhat in keeping with the steps or initiatives undertaken by the ACFO. What surprises me, however, is the support you receive from the government of Canada in this particular matter.
Ms Desaulniers: I am in favour of a self-sufficient ACFO, you understand. We work on regional issues and come to the conclusion which we express in our recommendation that in order to provide real help in this area, the federal government should use its own purchasing power, on the order of several million dollars, to encourage merchants to announce their services and provide them in French.
Senator Rivest: Do you think that that's the only initiative it should take? For example, the Minister of Canadian Heritage could write a letter in support of your undertaking, without doing the work for you, to all the stakeholders, whether it be chambers of commerce or others, to make clear that in spite of the lack of legal obligation, she would like to see all commercial and government activities in the National Capital Region reflect the linguistic duality of the country as we see it.
She could also mention that she supports the efforts of the associations representing francophone groups in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, noting that they have valid concerns and asking for an open-minded approach to the question.
Do you think the government of Canada has the political will to support your efforts, both present and future?
Ms Desaulniers: To my mind, heaven helps those who help themselves. There are different ways of applying this principle. I would take a dim view of your committee and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, for example, taking measures if you were not first of all convinced that the community itself was willing to assert itself. As I said, any measure that may contribute to advancing this issue is welcome and in this particular case, whatever you might do to help this is appreciated.
There are different ways of acting. At the regional level, for example, Ms Holzman, mayor of Ottawa, is willing to communicate with all the merchants. This type of contact is much closer to the daily activities of the Ottawa-Carleton community. These are interesting options and if you yourselves want to indicate your profound commitment by encouraging merchants to advertise...
Senator Rivest: Very well, you seem to be quite anxious to keep your independence. I'll ask you a more specific question.
Mr. Samson: Could I add something about the commitment?
Senator Rivest: Yes.
Mr. Samson: We must remember that during the campaign, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien himself said that when he was in Ottawa, he wanted to be served in French. So I think that this does show a commitment at the highest levels of his government.
Senator Rivest: Once again this is for Ms Desaulniers. I've been struck by one thing, a detail that I do not wish to be taken as a criticism against you. You say that your interest is in looking after your people. When I drive from Montreal to Ottawa on highway 417 and I stop in a village whose population is probably 95% Franco-Ontarian, I see that about 60% of the signs are in English only. Are you working on that side as well?
Ms Desaulniers: This is an important issue where various factors come into play. Up until now the business community and the different levels of government seemed to be under the impression that the ACFO, the FCFA spend all their time begging for things. We also have the responsibility to make people aware. For example, when the Commissioner's investigated the complaint against the Department of Human Resources Development, we mentioned that in a number of places services were offered but there were no takers.
We do have the responsibility to ensure that people take up the offer, that people are made aware of the importance of using such services and that explains my concluding remark that we are willing to do what is necessary in Ottawa-Carleton so that when services are offered, the offer is taken up.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Thank you. Mr. McTeague.
Mr. McTeague (Ontario): Generally speaking, I am in full agreement with the comments made by Senator Rivest. I am quite pleased with your recommendations as a whole. However I would like to know what you mean by the government's purchasing power. You said that you wanted the government to encourage retailers to put up signs in both languages. What exactly do you think the federal government could do, either in Ontario or New Brunswick, to encourage this practice? Could you elaborate a bit on this?
Ms Desaulniers: Yes. I could almost make a parallel between procurement policy and employment equity policy whereby contracts of a certain value require the employer to implement an employment equity program and at the same time report on its implementation.
What would prevent the government, with its considerable purchasing power, giving preference to businesses that respect linguistic duality by providing signs and service in French?
Mr. McTeague: If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the best thing the federal government could do would be to attach to the cheque we receive every two weeks a note telling public servants where to buy their sweaters.
Ms Desaulniers: Or to stipulate that preference would be given in bids, everything else being equal, to businesses whose policy it is to provide signs and services in French.
Mr. McTeague: In my opinion, a part of the problem is due to the fact that small retailers do not have sufficient business volume to justify such a practice. Although I appreciate your position, that is encouraging the use of both languages in signs and service, I don't think it's always possible to have measures that would ensure these principles are respected in practice throughout the National Capital Region.
This leads me to a question I'd like to put to Mr. Samson. In your opinion, do your recommendations have any link with what was done in the province of New Brunswick? Did the provincial government take any steps to ensure that signs were in both languages?
Mr. Samson: To the best of my knowledge, and Senator Robichaud can certainly add to what I have to say, there were government policies relating to highway signs or this type of thing which set the process into motion.
As Ms Desaulniers mentioned, there is greater community involvement and the popular slogan was something to the effect that ``it's a matter of service at the end of the line'' or ``c'est une question en français''. This is a slogan used in southeastern New Brunswick at the present time to encourage people not only to put up signs in French but also to ensure the quality of the French language service in their businesses.
As far as I know, and Mr. Robichaud can certainly confirm this, there is no government policy that sets out a specific procedure.
Mr. McTeague: [Inaudible - Editor] ...legislate?
Mr. Samson: No.
Mr. McTeague: I see. Thank you, Madam Chair.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Thank you. Mr. Marchand, you have 10 minutes.
Mr. Marchand: Madam Chair, I find the recommendations made by the FCFA very impressive. These are completely legitimate recommendations. In my view, their application would give French a much greater visibility in Ottawa, and we would also have far more services available in French.
I have one particular concern, particularly in Ottawa. There is no indication that the federal government plans to take action, at least to date. It is not even showing some willingness to take action.
Last summer, the ACFO held a demonstration. Neither Mr. Beaudry - last week - norMs Copps have so far taken any measures on behalf of the federal government to acknowledge that the lack of French or French-language services in Ottawa could be causing problems. It's as if no one wants to acknowledge that there even is a problem. That's what worries me.
I don't know if there is any way we could encourage the government to act. In your document, you pointed out - as you have every right to do - that you recognized Treasury Board's role in applying Part VII. But you know that, because of the way Part VII is formulated, there is no clear indication of what Treasury Board will do, when it will take action, or if it will take action at all. We know Treasury Board will play some role, but we do not know what that role will be, or if it will start playing that role in 1997 or in 2097.
The same thing applies to all recommendations you make, regardless of the debate on Ottawa as a bilingual city. I am personally convinced that there is a serious problem with bilingualism in Ottawa, but the government is not prepared to do anything about it; the government is not even prepared to acknowledge the problem exists. To date, the government has shown no indication of any willingness to acknowledge the problem, and that's unfortunate since it is the government who should be taking the blame. After all, Ottawa is its national capital.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Mr. Marchand, is there a question in there somewhere?
Mr. Marchand: Here is my question: how can we encourage the government to act, particularly when its members include a francophone MP from Ontario who's more worried about bilingual signs in Hull than by French signs or French-language services in Ottawa? Do you see the problem? In your view, how can we encourage the government to take action? What do we have to do to wake them up?
Mr. Serré: I stayed in Ontario to defend francophone rights. I stayed here to continue the struggle.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Mr. Samson, do you have any comments? We don't want to embarrass our witness.
Mr. Samson: I don't quite see how Treasury Board plans to implement all of Part VII. But I'd like to wait and see. It is a step in the right direction, but let's not forget that you - the committee - are here to discuss the issue of signs. Your role is to make recommendations. I think we have put forward some positive suggestions. You are the government...
Senator Rivest: [Inaudible - Editor] ...keep its independence.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Thank you. That was a very good answer.
Senator Beaudoin (Rigaud): I would like to come back to Part VII of the Official Languages Act, since we certainly did not exhaust the topic last week. I would tend to believe that Parliament does not just mouth words for nothing; at least, it's not supposed to. These provisions are in place, and, as far as I'm concerned, they do mean something.
We had a discussion with Mr. Beaudry. He said he had a legal opinion on the issue of leases, but - if I understood correctly - he conceded that it was only a verbal opinion.
Have your associations studied this issue? Could leases be a factor, and could Part VII of the Act be valuable in this instance? I would believe that Part VII should at least have some meaning, since it is after all part of the statutes. As far as I am concerned, when the government commits itself to do something, well, it has an obligation to follow through with that commitment. We are talking about an imperative, not an incentive.
A court might say that if the government has made an express commitment in the legislation, it is obliged to follow through. Have you studied the issue?
Mr. Samson: Officially, we have not received a legal opinion. But if the political will is there - as we said in our brief - to encourage compliance with lease provisions... If I rented an apartment, and my lease didn't allow cats - and I brought a cat home and kept it for five or ten years - do you think the building's owner would let me keep the cat if he found out about it? I feel the least we can do is take some measures to encourage compliance.
As for Part VII, you are quite right. It does promote equality. But it's really the least we could have. We should build on it so that the federal government and federal government institutions implement what we call equality of official languages everywhere. That includes signs within their buildings.
Senator Beaudoin: Personally, I would be inclined to found my demands on Part VII, which is part of a statute. Those are the words of Parliament. As for the leases, however, extending the application of an Act on a contract basis is quite a different thing. I don't know how far we could go with that. It is worth a try, of course, since we would lose nothing, but I'm not sure it would work.
But with Part VII of the Official Languages Act, you are on solid ground. The Official Languages Act is an Act of Parliament. In my view, it carries more weight than mere encouragement.
Mr. Samson: We could perhaps ask the Commissioner - who after all deals with legal issues - to give you his opinion on the issue and tell you whether that obligation exists.
Senator Beaudoin: The Commissioner of Official Languages?
Mr. Samson: Yes.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Thank you. Mr. Serré.
Mr. Serré: I have no questions.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Senator.
Senator Robichaud: At last! I see that another committee member had two turns, while I was still waiting for my first.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Two turns? Really?
Senator Robichaud: Perhaps you don't see some of the people on the other side.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Perhaps you were too retiring, Senator.
Senator Robichaud: Five minutes should be enough. I don't generally speak for too long.
We are talking about the institution of government - an institution which is bilingual, which must be bilingual and which in fact is bilingual. We have been here since 3:30 p.m., and the only English word I heard anybody say was ``marketing''. But since the word ``marketing'' has become part of the French language, we could say that we have spoken nothing but French since the meeting started.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): That's wonderful.
Senator Robichaud: I'm not complaining, but I just wanted to point out that today we have spoken in French throughout the meeting, when people are saying that generally there are no French-language services in the national capital.
I find it quite difficult to consider obliging the federal government, Public Works and the National Capital Commission to force their tenants to post signs in both languages. But I do agree with Ms Desaulniers who stated that, all things being equal, the federal government should give leases to parties who would post bilingual signs.
But it's not easy to impose bilingualism on tenants. This is about marketing and customer service. If you don't provide customer service, your business suffers.
I would also hesitate to require federal institutions to deny leases to any parties that do not post signs in both languages. However, I do believe we should cancel the lease of any tenant who insists on posting signs in only one language, since he would be delivering poor service in the other language - be it French or English - and failing to comply with the Official Languages Act. Are tenants failing to comply with the Act to save money? It's quite difficult to comply with every provision of the Act.
For example, think about the owner of a Home Hardware store. If the owner is a francophone, how is he supposed to translate ``Home Hardware'', the name of a company with stores across Canada? ``Home Hardware'' is the official company name. How is he supposed to change that?
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): This will be your last question.
Ms Desaulniers: It's not very difficult. He could just put up a sign that says ``Quincaillerie Home Hardware''. In August, when the signage campaign was launched, major companies told us that their costs would be prohibitive. But if they had tried to be practical, they could have just telephoned their colleagues in Gatineau, got together on the bridge, and exchanged signs. They would have gone home without spending a penny.
I'd like to come back to the thrust of your comment. The NCC said it did not have the funds to impose all conditions in its leases. But what are these leases - are they fictitious documents signed by tenants and owners? There is something here I don't quite understand.
On the other hand, if tenants are choosing a specific location, it must be because there is some added value involved. I was an official for 20 years, and I know that signs in many government buildings are very advantageous for the tenant, for the business. All kinds of potential customers walk by every day, and they are almost a captive clientele, since they don't have to go out when the weather is bad. So from a strictly economic standpoint, these locations provide a commercial advantage. So the tenant should invest the funds required to attract and deserve these francophone customers.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Thank you. Unfortunately, we do not have any more time. I found your presentation extremely informative and productive. I don't know whether you are aware of this, but I myself was adopted by Acadians from Prince Edward Island. I would like to thank you - you have given us a great deal of food for thought.
Mr. Marchand: I would have liked to ask one last question. I don't know whether I...
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): You have already had two rounds.
Mr. Marchand: That's true.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): You are the only person to have had two turns of questions as a representative of the Official Opposition.
Mr. Marchand: But I used only six of my ten minutes.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): No, I added the missing minutes to your second turn. Is your question short or long?
Mr. Marchand: It's a very short question; some things have already been said.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): We'll let you ask it then. But before you do, I would just like to ask members to remain behind for a few minutes. We have a few things to discuss regarding our meeting scheduled for next week. Please don't leave.
A member: Senators too?
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Yes, we need all committee members.
Mr. Marchand, could you put your short question without a preamble?
Mr. Marchand: Yes, I will ask a question without making a speech. Certain things were said by Senator Beaudoin, among other things about the application of Part VII. Of course all the powers exist, but when the government can't seem to enforce a lease which states clearly, in coercive language, that services and signage must be provided in both languages, when the government itself is not respecting its own laws, how can we motivate the government to take action?
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): I think that Mr. Marchand cannot resist the temptation to make a speech. I don't know if you wish to answer the question.
Mr. Samson: Listen, I've been saying for a long time now that the government should act quickly. It's up to you to make the recommendations necessary so that they can act. You did it with Part VII with regard to the action plan.
You suggested methods and ways to achieve this to Parliament. In my opinion, that's what must be done.
From our standpoint, we will support the committee because the things that you've done in the past did lead to some action. That's important, and you should be congratulated for that.
The Joint Chair (Ms Guarnieri): Thank you. We will close on that note.
[The meeting continued in-camera]