Mr. Chair, honourable committee members, good morning.
It is a pleasure to appear before you today to present the main estimates of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has a budget of $20.8 million to carry out its mandate during the 2014-2015 fiscal year. This amount includes $13 million in salaries, or 62.8% of the main estimates. Our workforce consists of 170 full-time equivalents.
Our operations are divided into three program activities: protection of Canadians language rights, promotion of linguistic duality and internal services.
Before we examine these activities in detail, a word about our recent move is in order.
On March 17 we relocated all of our employees in the national capital region to new offices, at 30 Victoria Street, in Gatineau.
The decision to move from our downtown Ottawa location was made about a year ago, for the following reasons: first, to foster cooperation and share common services with other agents of Parliament already located at 30 Victoria Street, notably the Chief Electoral Officer, Privacy Commissioner, and Information Commissioner; to embrace the new work environment, known in the public service as workplace 2.0, which is more conducive to collaboration between employees; and to take advantage of lower rental costs resulting from a smaller office footprint, which in total represents about $800,000 in annual savings for my office for the taxpayer. An advance against future appropriations was provided to fund the costs associated with the Office of the Commissioner's move in 2013-14.
To protect the language rights of Canadians, the Office of the Commissioner investigates and resolves complaints, conducts audits, evaluates the performance of federal institutions and intervenes before the courts, when appropriate. The expenditures planned for this activity in 2014-2015 are $6.8 million, which amounts to 32.8% of the total budget.
Over the current fiscal year, my office will carry out audits of the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Air Transport Authority, Elections Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat. In addition, we will begin an audit of the Canada School of Public Service, we will publish follow-ups to our audits of Air Canada and Industry Canada, and we will begin a follow-up to our audit of Parks Canada.
I will continue to intervene before the courts on behalf of Canadians. For example, we are currently awaiting a Supreme Court ruling in the Thibodeau v. Air Canada case, and the case against CBC/Radio-Canada is still active.
In total, more than 400 admissible complaints are filed with my office every year. We will continue our ongoing efforts to reduce the length of our investigations. Recent efforts to improve our investigation process have included the launch of a web complaint form and a client satisfaction survey.
Expenditures linked to the promotion of linguistic duality account for $6.5 million—a sum that represents 31.5% of the total budget. To promote Canadian linguistic duality, the Office of the Commissioner communicates regularly with parliamentarians, official language minority communities, federal institutions and the Canadian public.
Our research, our studies, our distribution of information products, and our exchanges with many key stakeholders and community representatives contribute to the promotion of linguistic duality among Canadians. That is an integral part of my mandate.
As part of our many planning activities, we will continue to work with federal institutions and organizing committees to help them integrate linguistic duality into the various activities leading up to the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. Canada's official languages are an important part of the country's history and a key component of its future.
We want to take a closer look at immigration in official language minority communities, as well as early childhood issues. In both cases, we will collaborate with governmental and community organizations already at work in these domains.
We will intervene with federal institutions to follow up on the recommendation of our August 2013 study concerning the bilingual capacity of the superior court judiciary. On a related note, we are organizing a conference on access to justice with the Bar of Montreal.
Our third program activity, internal services, allows the office of the commissioner to assemble resources that support the organization as a whole, including asset management, finance, and human resources management. This activity has been allocated a budget of $7.4 million, which constitutes 35.7% of our total budget. These services, essential to any organization, ensure that taxpayers' dollars are used efficiently and transparently.
In addition to completing the logistical and administrative arrangements associated with the recent move to Gatineau, we will explore opportunities for further collaboration with other agents of Parliament on the delivery of the Office of the Commissioner's internal services, while upholding our mandate and maintaining our independence.
We will also migrate to the Government of Canada's PeopleSoft human resources information system, harmonize our employee performance management program with the Treasury Board Secretariat's new directives on performance management, and implement the shared case management solution for small departments and agencies. Lastly, we will develop additional technological tools to improve efficiency and employee workflow.
Mr. Chair and honourable committee members, thank you for your attention. I'd be pleased to discuss any aspect of our operations in more detail.
Commissioner, I encourage you to have a look at what transpired in the House yesterday evening on CPAC. I asked Minister Raitt questions about VIA Rail. I had to repeat my first question three times because she couldn't understand the translation. So I said “welcome to the Supreme Court of Canada”. I urge every Canadian to have a look at that. It gives you an idea of what the French-speaking community has to put up with.
We are talking about the highest court in the land, and yet our Prime Minister refuses to appoint judges who are bilingual. There's all this talk about language equality, but exactly where does that equality stop? The Official Languages Act has been around for 45 years. Those appearing before the Federal Court or the Federal Court of Appeal can be heard and understood in their first language, but not those going before the Supreme Court.
I am disappointed, and the tremendous value I place on both of our official languages is probably why I get so upset. Anglophones would never be in this boat, in other words, they would never have to appear before a Supreme Court judge who didn't understand them. But francophones do.
My next question is an important one. It concerns something that really bothered me at the time and still does, even though I will try not to let my emotions get the better of me.
You mentioned your office move, Mr. Fraser. You now share office space with those who work for the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the people at Elections Canada, among others. That leads me to wonder about partisanship. I'm not sure whether I'm explaining myself clearly, but I wonder whether there's a risk to agents of Parliament sharing office space. I imagine you would say no, since you agreed to the move. Nevertheless, the fact that all of you are working together does worry me somewhat, in that you might have to investigate the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner one day, or vice versa.
Sharing office space may very well save you $800,000, but does it not jeopardize the non-partisanship of agents of Parliament?
I don't believe so. Had I felt there was a risk, I would not have agreed to the move.
As agents of Parliament, we always discuss certain matters. We stand united on certain issues. For instance, a few years back, the President of the Treasury Board gathered us all to discuss something. We got together and signed a joint letter regarding Bill .
There are certain issues that affect all of us, as agents of Parliament, but that in no way prevents one of us from investigating a fellow agent of Parliament. The Auditor General does yearly audits on each of our offices. The Auditor General doesn't spend any less time or effort or exert any less rigour in auditing our books just because we are agents of Parliament. And the exact same principle applies when we are called upon to investigate a matter involving another agent of Parliament.
All agents of Parliament are now required by law to be bilingual at the time of their appointment. And I find that reassuring when it comes to the leadership of our organizations. This ensures that, right from the moment they are appointed, agents of Parliament have a clear understanding of what linguistic duality entails.
It's a shame it doesn't work that way at the Supreme Court, but it will come. I have no doubt that it will happen eventually.
You brought up Bill , and I'm sure some of my colleagues are going to ask you about it. It's a very important bill dealing with the non-partisanship of agents of Parliament.
As for me, I'd like to come back to the cuts at CBC/Radio-Canada. Last week, Hubert Lacroix appeared before the committee. We are struggling to understand how the federal government could have cut the broadcaster's budget by $115 million. The minister in charge told us that the government wasn't to blame this time. But the elimination of wage indexing and spending cuts at CBC/Radio-Canada represent millions of dollars.
Isn't CBC/Radio-Canada, the nation's public broadcaster, at risk of not adequately fulfilling its mandate in official language minority communities? In Moncton, for instance, cutting one of the two journalist positions at RDI would mean half the budget gone. How can that not affect the broadcaster's obligations towards official language minority communities?
I'd like to hear your views on that, commissioner.
Thank you, Mr. Fraser, Ms. Saikaley and Ms. Lagacé.
Mr. Fraser, you've always been a proponent of people from different communities in the country taking part in exchanges, in other words, leaving their region to have a different language experience in another region.
Right now, the temporary foreign worker program is causing some problems. It is a fact that some regions of the country are experiencing a labour shortage, which is leading Canadian companies to spend considerable time and energy recruiting workers from other countries to fill those temporary jobs. That's a frequent occurrence in the summer. Wouldn't it be more beneficial to channel that same energy into hiring young Canadians, 18 to 25 year olds from out east, to fill those temporary jobs for 3 or 4 months and provide them with accommodations? At the same time, they could live that very language experience you are supportive of.
I am convinced that, across Quebec and the Maritimes, we could find 100,000 young people who were ready and willing to work. With the same supervision provided to foreign workers who come here, young Canadians might be inclined to have that experience, which could last three months, once or twice in their lives. It would benefit bilingualism in Canada.
Yes, and by the way, that is the underlying reason for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism being set up in the 1960s. The Official Languages Act is somewhat the main recommendation made by the commission. In addition, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly established language rights, and in a series of rulings, the Supreme Court made the need to repair the damage done by a century's worth of harmful legislation perfectly clear.
The act, charter and Supreme Court decisions all reflect a desire to repair the damage. After French was dropped as a language of instruction in schools, policies, the charter and Supreme Court decisions paved the way for the return of French-language schools to each province, as well as school boards.
Personally, I am convinced that, since 1982, the creation of important institutions like schools and school boards has had an undeniable effect on the vitality of the communities. And federal support for programs has contributed to the emergence of other community institutions, such as French-speaking jurist associations in nearly every province. Some provinces, like Prince Edward Island, unfortunately don't have one. Nevertheless, all of those things attest to the recognition that correcting the detrimental effects of history is imperative.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all of our witnesses, and a special welcome to Madame Lagacé.
This is her first time appearing before the committee, I believe.
at least while I've been here.
I have some very specific questions, just because I want to understand how these documents work. Thanks to our wonderful analyst Lucie Lecomte, we have great little tables that have been provided to us with the three key pillars: linguistic rights protection, linguistic duality promotion, and then, of course, internal services.
I'm just referencing your report on plans and priorities, and I see in the back—maybe you can help me with this—the analysis of the full-time equivalents relative to each of those three pillars. It occurs to me you're in the business of providing a very important professional service not only to Parliament but to Canada. Professional services are always human-intensive, and you have the 63, 59, and 48 full-time equivalents in that order. You have the highest cost for internal services with the lowest number of FTEs, and that doesn't usually make sense, because you guys are always in the business of providing professional services. I'd just like to understand that if I could. What accounts for that difference?
Now for my second question.
On this one, I don't understand why this would be the case. In the analysis that we have from Lucie Lecomte from the Library of Parliament—it's pulled from the main estimates, and it's pulled from your documentation, Commissioner—it shows the full-time equivalents by fiscal year, and it's quite precise. It starts in 2008 and goes to 2012-13, and it has 159 full-time equivalents. Yet in the report on plans and priorities, if you add them up, it actually works out to 170. In fact, you have it summarized that if you add them up in the part II, the analysis of programs by strategic outcome, it's 170, and you also have that summarized further on page 9, actually, of the report on plans and priorities.
So I'm just curious; you're reporting there are 11 full-time...now obviously maybe you're not filling everything, but that's again a material difference. What does that relate to?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Fraser, Ms. Saikaley, and Ms. Lagacé, for being here. Thank you very much for your presentation.
I want to start with a very small question. In your presentation you explained that the office of the commissioner has a budget of $20.8 million to carry out its mandate. This amount includes $13 million in salary, or 62% of your budget.
So now when we are speaking about the activities, that is, protection of linguistic rights, promotion of linguistic duality, and internal services, when I'm doing the addition, taking out the services, I don't understand those numbers. Are you including the salaries, for example, in the protection of linguistic duality? What is the percentage of the salaries that are part of each of the three main programs that you are developing? On one side is this one of 62%, they are all salaries, and you have some programs to develop. How are you doing it? If you are adding the numbers, it's not matching somehow.
Our questioning of the commissioner has ended.
The chair will now call vote 1.
OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF OFFICIAL LANGUAGES
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$18,623,744
(Vote 1 agreed to)
The Chair: Shall the chair report this back to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: The chair shall report it back to the House.
Thank you very much for your questions and comments.
Now, is it the wish of the committee to continue to the second part of the orders of the day, which is the study on the economic vitality of linguistic minority communities, or do you wish to suspend for five minutes for a health break?
Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you about this important issue of economic development in official language minority communities.
This is a complex and diverse topic, yet one that's been studied very little. As the community representatives who appeared before you have mentioned, the lack of research and data is a serious hindrance to understanding the issue and developing effective solutions. I'm therefore pleased that the committee is studying the matter, and I hope others will follow suit.
As some have said in recent weeks, there are economic development opportunities on the horizon for official language minority communities, whether in international trade, economic immigration, or other areas for entrepreneurs, and small and medium-sized businesses. During my meetings around the country, I've noted considerable potential within official language communities, in many regions, in terms of entrepreneurship, economic development, and creativity. To develop this potential and seize the opportunities, English- and French-speaking minority communities must nonetheless have the right tools and resources.
At the start of my mandate, I launched a series of studies on the vitality of official language minority communities in several regions of the country. The studies involved various partners and found that, despite similarities, each community faces a different reality. Beyond their challenges, communities each have their own aspirations that motivate them to grow.
While the economic situation of minority anglophones and francophones in different parts of the country is now comparable to that of the majority, the situation varies greatly from one region to another, and minority communities continue to face major challenges. The people who have appeared before your committee expressed it well: each region and each community is unique, and while best practices can be found in many communities, there is no single recipe for success.
In the west, for example, the economy is strong, the demand for labour is high, and workers are therefore pouring in from other regions of Canada and abroad. French-speaking communities in this part of the country therefore require more resources to meet an increasing demand in services and community support.
In some regions of the Maritimes and north and southwestern Ontario, on the other hand, a challenging economy sees young people leaving for large urban centres, which threatens their communities' future and entrepreneurship.
In Quebec, young English speakers have difficulty accessing the job market and are underemployed. They are leaving the province to settle elsewhere, which is undermining community vitality and renewal.
Federal institutions must therefore remain attentive and take these differences into account when creating programs and policies to support economic development and labour market integration. The institutions must also be flexible.
In the minority context, the implementation of positive measures does not always involve wide-reaching action. Sometimes small steps make a big difference to a community's growth and development.
We must remember that employment, education and immigration are jurisdictions that are shared with provincial and territorial governments. In transferring its programs and funds to the provinces and the territories, the federal government must ensure that the provincial and territorial government are aware of the needs of official language communities and the requirement to consult these communities to fully understand their unique challenges. In that sense, bilateral agreements must contain solid language clauses and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the needs of these communities are taken into account.
A healthy economy, job opportunities, the presence of employers and entrepreneurs, and opportunities for growth can all have a positive impact on a community's ability to stay dynamic, encourage its young people to remain, and attract new workers and new members. When a community organizes a tourism project, posts an event, creates a cultural product or develops a cooperative, its appeal goes well beyond the community itself.
Over the years, francophone and Acadian communities have targeted immigration as a solution for the future, a means of ensuring their growth. In recent years, the federal government has been working to modernize the Canadian immigration system with a focus on the economy, faster workforce integration, and the recruitment of immigrants with skills needed in Canada.
The new system gives priority to the economy and the role of employers. In this context, French-speaking minority communities should be promoted as privileged partners and a significant asset in attracting and retaining newcomers.
Whether for the French-language services and resources they have to offer, the infrastructure available to them, or their expertise, these communities are well placed to support employers, immigrants, and their families.
It is therefore essential that they have the tools required to build bridges with anglophone and francophone employers and with the provinces in order to make the most of the new immigration system.
Both directly and indirectly, many sectors have an impact on economic development, such as arts and culture, education and immigration. Cooperation among the various sectors and stakeholders and promotion of everyone's areas of expertise are key to the accomplishment and success of many community projects. Representatives from various sectors and federal institutions must work together toward community growth, each bringing their own skills.
On that note, I will conclude, Mr. Chair, by thanking you and the members of the committee for your work in carrying out this study, which I will read with interest.
They need to know that government rules are clear and they need to understand them, so that they can do long-term planning.
Moreover, their funding has to arrive on time. In certain cases in the past, the funding for projects would arrive in the fall, whereas the money had to be spent before March 31 of the following year. This was harmful in two respects. First of all, there was famine from March to October, and even until November or December. Then they had to act very quickly. Often they had to hire staff and it was very difficult to find people with the necessary skills in the community. They had to go to the large cities, large centres, in order to find people with the required expertise, which also undermined the economic vitality of the community. Rather than being able to use those funds to support people from the community, they had to find expertise in large urban centres.
Since that time, there has been improvement. I think that 25% of the funding now arrives at the signing. The situation has improved, but I continue to hear that there are delays in the case of certain programs that affect certain institutions.
We have heard the same thing from other witnesses, talking about road map programs not receiving the funding on time. It really does hamper the abilities of these organizations that provide the services and also the security of the organization itself.
I would like to go on to the question of the arts and culture sector and its importance to both minority language communities. We see cuts to CBC lately in English Canada. Linden MacIntyre, for instance, has just resigned in order to save the positions of younger employees at CBC. I heard Linden speak at Storyfest in Hudson, in my riding, on his book The Bishop's Man. We are losing really amazing people in the arts and culture sector and in the CBC due to the lack of vision of the government currently, cutting off the funding for CBC and Radio-Canada.
We are starting to hear from French services from Radio-Canada. The people providing the service are actually speaking up, and I am mentioning it to you because it has been mentioned that the English services and people working there are reticent about speaking up and making this a political issue.
But I can testify, as an anglo Quebecer, that all the services that are produced in English Canada are consumed in Quebec on English CBC. The same is true for French Canada. Minority communities in French Canada consume the services that are produced in Quebec for them.
So these cuts are being made: do you think this will make it more difficult to get a quality service in minority communities?
I think there are two elements to keep in mind.
One is the challenge that families living in a minority situation have in continuing to keep that language alive for themselves and for their children. If you are living in Toronto or Montreal, you may have 150 channels in your language. If you are living in Baie Comeau or Saskatoon, you are very dependent on CBC or Radio-Canada, so it is very important that the service that is available is a service of quality.
The other element is the degree to which it will be possible for CBC and Radio-Canada to maintain the network of services that now exists in those minority communities. I am thinking of the English community network of CBC Radio that serves all of the communities off the Island of Montreal, which is really one of the few ways in which those communities can hear themselves reflected on the radio.
If you go to Saint Boniface, Regina, or other centres, it becomes clear that those local programs are a critical forum for the community to learn about itself and to communicate with other members of the community. They are absolutely critical. You can't take that amount of money out of the system without having an impact on what is going to be produced.
I think that's a fair comment in terms of the impact the hockey is having. I concede, actually, that CBC/Radio-Canada does a good job transmitting news and ideas from one part of the country to the other, particularly Radio-Canada as it relates to news in other parts of the country into Quebec. And if my colleagues on the other side ever want to propose that the CBC or Radio-Canada, instead of cutting jobs in the regions, start with the national capital in Ottawa, I'd be happy to support that.
For example, when the Liberals cut program spending in the mid-1990s, they cut the regions before they cut Ottawa. Mr. Godin's not here today, but if it meant moving the job from Ottawa to Moncton, for example, I'd support him on that.
But I actually want to come back to an issue you have talked to me about before, and others. I know it's one you are interested in, perhaps even passionate about. It's something Monsieur Godin brought up earlier, and that is the question of bilingual Supreme Court judges, which I know you support. I do not, but let's not get into a discussion on the issue.
But I'm curious to know; in light of the recent Supreme Court decision on the Senate and amending the Senate and making change to the Senate, whereby the Supreme Court ruled that the federal Parliament could not make a unilateral change to the makeup of the Senate, would you concede that, with reference to the Senate, to make a change to the bilingual Supreme Court judges, as a federal institution, would require the consent of the provinces? We don't need to get into it—seven of 10 or a unanimous number of provinces—but that provincial consent would be required to change the makeup of the courts so judges had to be bilingual in order to be appointed.
I have not had a legal opinion on the impact of the government's reference on the Senate case, but I think, and my sense from the coverage in La Presse
this morning is that, there is a substantial legal debate under way as to whether this would represent a significant change to the nomination process. Looking at the fundamental principles—and let me stress that I am not a lawyer, so I would await clearer legal decisions or legal advice on this before making a....
But if you look at the Official Languages Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the clear statement that French and English have equal status in this country, and you look at the degree to which various Supreme Court decisions have been made to repair damage done in the past so as to ensure equal status, I think you could make the argument that there is an obligation to ensure that there is equal status. And certainly we have heard and you have heard a series of complaints that equality is not now the case before the Supreme Court. I've given a number of examples in the past of how that equality....
Now when the Official Languages Act was being amended in 1988, the Minister of Justice at the time, Ramon Hnatyshyn, was asked about the fact that there was a specific exemption for the Supreme Court. He said he didn't think there was at that point a sufficient pool of judges to allow that exemption to be removed, but this would be something that could be examined in the future, which, to my mind, if you were looking at the intention of the legislator, at the point that the Official Languages Act was amended, certainly did not exclude the idea that this requirement could be introduced in the future.
Parliament has voted last night on one approach, but I think there are other approaches that could be examined that would not necessarily involve a constitutional amendment.