Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, good afternoon.
I am accompanied today by Ghislaine Saikaley, assistant commissioner of compliance assurance; Mary Donaghy, assistant commissioner of policy and communications; and Johane Tremblay, general counsel.
I am pleased to appear before you today to present my 2014-15 annual report, which focuses mainly on immigration in official language communities.
The report also describes complaints that we received and audits that we conducted over the past fiscal year, as well as court cases in which I was involved as official languages ombudsman. Because of the election timetable, I am tabling this report just seven months after the one I released last October, which is why it is shorter and more focused.
Despite the commitments made by the federal government, by communities, and by certain provinces, only 2% of immigrants who settle in provinces other than Quebec speak French as their first official language. That figure is too low to ensure the vitality of French-speaking communities outside Quebec. I acknowledge the commitment of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to promote the development of official language minority communities, but I also expect to see tangible results.
The new express entry system, which aims to speed up the permanent residence process for economic immigrants, was launched last January. However, there are currently no incentives that encourage employers to recruit French-speaking immigrants. Government agencies must focus their efforts on using francophone organizations to receive, train and provide integration support for immigrants.
So that all of Canada's French-speaking communities can become host communities, I've recommended in my annual report that long-term tools and incentives be developed for Canadian employers to assist in the recruitment and selection of French-speaking and bilingual workers outside of Quebec; that the federal government, in concert with provinces and territories, develop a substantive action plan that includes a timetable and targets for Francophone immigration; and that the federal government rely principally on francophone organizations to help French-speaking newcomers settle into their host communities.
My annual report also addresses the issue of anglophone immigration in Quebec. Some communities, especially those outside urban areas, are having difficulty attracting a sufficient number of English-speaking immigrants to revitalize their institutions over the long term. English-speaking immigrants who choose to settle in the province's English-speaking communities need support to be able to integrate successfully into Quebec society. This is why the federal government must work with the Quebec government to provide enough resources for that purpose.
ln 2014-15, my office received 550 complaints that were deemed admissible. This is an increase of 74 complaints, or 16%, compared with 2013-14. We also followed up on two audits involving Air Canada and lndustry Canada that were conducted in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
ln 2014-15, in Thibodeau v. Air Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the quasi-constitutional status of the Official Languages Act, which provides for a court remedy.
With respect to CBC/Radio-Canada's budget cuts at CBEF Windsor, the Federal Court determined that part VIl of the act is a categorical, non-negotiable imperative. That decision is currently under appeal.
Again this year, we have seen that when it comes to respecting official languages, successful institutions plan their actions. However, a few institutions have shown by their actions that they still do not understand the concept of official languages being equal.
The very foundation of the act is the equality of our two official languages—not that one of the two languages is an accommodation. That equality must be reflected in every government announcement, on every communications platform. Success requires planning and planning requires leadership.
ln addition to honouring the principle of equality of English and French, federal institutions have a duty to protect the vitality of official language communities and not to hinder them. If these two principles were better understood, respected and applied, the issues surrounding the vitality of official language communities would be less critical.
My 2014-15 annual report is available on our website.
Thank you for your attention.
I'd now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you have.
I did notice one thing. The current government has renewed the previous government's action plan to produce a roadmap that was again renewed. this program is now more focused on education, immigration and support for communities. This represents a significant commitment on the part of the government.
With regard to the departments and their commitment to the delivery of services, language of work or positive measures, that depends on the department. I have found that when the leaders show a desire to succeed, results follow.
Often, a deputy minister arrives in a department and discovers that our assessment of that department is negative. He then decides that that has to change. He comes up with an action plan to make changes and we see the results. If the deputy minister, the minister or both convey to employees that this is an important value for the department, there is an immediate change.
This also works the other way. If the message conveyed is that this is not very important, it is not a priority and that there are other things that are more important, then there is an almost immediate disengagement.
Thank you, Commissioner, for being here with your team. It's always good to see you here, obviously to put you in the hot seat a little bit.
In your report, you mention that only 2% of immigrants coming to settle in provinces other than Quebec speak French as their official language. You go on to say that this is too low to ensure the vitality of French-speaking communities outside of Quebec. I would fully agree with you on that.
One of the things that concerns me, as an immigrant myself, and one the reasons that I and many other immigrants have come here is jobs, prosperity, and moving things forward. In many of these communities, they don't have the businesses to be able to do that. In fact, we've had witnesses here who have told us that many of the younger French-speaking people have to leave for education and that they don't generally come back, because there aren't jobs there.
Can you comment and tell me your feelings on that and how that impacts the immigration status of getting more people in?
I think it depends very definitely on the region that you're talking about. If you're talking about Saskatchewan and Alberta where employment is booming, or has been booming—we don't know what the latest employment results are going to be—that's one thing. If you're talking about immigration to the Acadian peninsula, that's something different. It is a continuing challenge to attract immigrants to certain provinces. Immigrants usually do a certain amount of due diligence on the economic health of the regions they chose to move to.
I think one of the things that we have observed, which is reflected in our recommendations, is that it's much easier for immigrants who come from francophone countries and who do not necessarily have French as their mother tongue but speak it as their first official language. I'm thinking of people who come from Senegal and their mother tongue would be Wolof or people who come from the Maghreb and their mother tongue would be Arabic.
Unless the organizations that are welcoming those people have been made aware of the institutions that exist in the French-language communities that can welcome those people and help their adaptation to the community, they're going to be directed to English-language institutions.
I visited a community centre in Hamilton and people in the francophone community centre said that they run into immigrants quite regularly who have been here for a couple of years and say, if we'd only known that there was a French-language school, if we had only known that your clinic offers services in French, we would have joined but our kids have now been in school for two years, they like their teachers, we like our doctor. Unless those people are informed before their departure, and accompanied better when they arrive, and supported by minority language communities, then they and the community lose out.
There are certainly some communities, francophone and anglophone, in which the challenge is one of exodus. But you'd be surprised at the number of highly creative immigrants to Canada who are doing artistic and creative and imaginative and innovative work in communities where you would not thing there were immigrants at all.
When I was in Métis-sur-Mer, just down river from Rimouski, I had a conversation with a group of artists, a significant number of whom were immigrants and had chosen to move to this beautiful part of Quebec and were being supported by English-language artistic community organizations that helped their integration into Quebec society as a whole.
If I go into an anglo community in the province of Quebec, I will not be able to exercise my profession until I've passed the French examination.
It's the same thing, but in a much different way in the Province of Ontario, where the language is not so important. Of course, you need to be able to converse in English, but the level of conversation in French is a much higher requirement in the Province of Quebec than English in the Province of Ontario.
That is also true around the country.
Speaking about interprovincial barriers that affect the minority linguistic community in this way, if you are looking at not only engineering but also at other trades and professions that are regulated provincially, I think they are not just looking at Immigration Canada and how they can increase the 2% of services. I say this because these are professions. If you are not able to exercise your profession, then you will go to where you will be able to work in your profession. If it is difficult to exercise your profession in any of the provinces, even in one in which you would like to establish yourself, like the Province of Ontario, or Quebec if you are a francophone, you will have a problem with that.
I think that speaking with a professional association, in health or in nursing, it is important to contribute to the vitality of the minority languages. I don't know if you have ever thought about that.
: Merci, monsieur le président
Thank you, witnesses.
My questions are directed at Mr. Fraser. One of the tasks of parliamentarians or government is to ensure that we maintain our global competitiveness into the 21st century and that we also position Canada in the best possible position to be competitive in the 21st century. For most immigrants who come to Canada for that, we would look at things like whether Canada offers the best educational institutions, especially in light of the past where the Jesuit institutions were some of the best.
We also look at whether Canada offers that economic prosperity that, probably a generation ago, the province of Quebec supplied, from the mining industry, the forestry industry, and also from manufacturing. But in today's world, we're looking globally and we need to be competitive. Can you comment on how maintaining that fluent, bilingual environment in Canada allows us the opportunity to address our competitiveness, especially in light of the fact that we also need to be addressing languages in Asia—Chinese, Japanese, Korean—and in Latin America, Spanish, and perhaps in Africa, where there are more than a few official languages.
Perhaps you can share your comments and thoughts with us on that.
I recently read two studies on the economic advantages for Canada and New Brunswick in terms of bilingual nature, in terms of increased trade with francophone countries, and for New Brunswick in terms of the degree to which its ability to offer services in both languages has resulted in major economic advances measured not in millions but in billions. Not only for those who are bilingual, but also for those who are unilingual, it has become a service centre for call centres. That is because they have a bilingual workforce in which they have a sufficient number of bilingual employees who can do service calls in French, but also they hire unilingual English employees who serve the English clientele.
In terms of knowledge of other languages, other than Canada's two official languages, one of the things that I have observed is that knowledge of the other official language is often a stepping stone to learning third languages. Speaking anecdotally, giving examples of the friends of my children and the children of my friends, I can literally name for you young people who have gone to China and learned Chinese, who have worked on water projects in Vietnam and learned Vietnamese, who've taught English in Japan and learned Japanese, who've worked on development projects in Central America and learned Spanish, and expatriate musicians who are living in Berlin and have learned German. They all learned the other official language first.
Learning French is not a barrier for anglophones. Learning English for francophones is not a barrier to the rest of the world. It is a bridge to the rest of the world. There is one amazing thing I've learned from all those young people I have met over the years who have, in many cases, gone through immersion, or in the case of francophone Quebeckers have learned English often outside the classroom. It's that learning a second language at a young age demystifies language learning. It becomes, for a young person, fairly natural that if you find yourself in an environment where people are speaking another language, you set to work to learn how to communicate with the people around you. In terms of multinational corporations that have jobs and offices around the world, I have read that one of the values that Canadians bring to those positions is often language skill, and with that, a greater cultural sensitivity than is often true for the unilingual person.
I would first like to welcome all of the witnesses.
Mr. Fraser, I know that you have been bombarded with some very interesting questions for the past few minutes. I will try not to be too abrupt or aggressive in asking my questions, but we do have a number of things to clarify.
If a person is an engineer and is going to go work in Germany, it's best if that person speaks German, even if he or she speaks a second language. The situation in Quebec is completely different from that in Canada. In Quebec, the anglophone minority represents between 13.5% and 14% of the population, while francophone minorities in Canada represent 6% of the population.
Moreover, 42% of francophones in Quebec speak English. The rate of bilingualism is close to 50%. Canada-wide, bilingualism is at just 6%. Some 87% of francophones outside Quebec are bilingual. I feel that we're comparing apples and oranges. The two situations are not on equal footing.
Is there a comparative study of the treatment of linguistic minorities outside Quebec and those in Quebec? Did you base the recommendations you made on a rigorous study?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and honourable committee members.
Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to appear before you today to present the main estimates for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
In addition to Madam Saikaley and Madam Donaghy, I am accompanied at this hearing by Mario Séguin, interim assistant commissioner in the corporate management branch, and Colette Lagacé, director of finance. I am expecting that they will answer all the hard questions.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Graham Fraser: My office has a budget of $20.8 million to carry out its mandate during the 2015-16 fiscal year. This amount includes $13.556 million in salaries. Our workforce consists of 160 full-time equivalents.
In 2015-16, I will continue to encourage key decision makers to make linguistic duality an integral part of Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations in 2017. I will also take on a leadership role with other language ombudsmen to increase the promotion of linguistic duality in Canada.
For some time now, my office has recognized certain recurring issues of compliance with the Official Languages Act. ln 2015-16 my office will address this by investing in identifying solutions to these systemic problems. We will develop a strategy to address active offer and services of equal quality to the public in English and French. We will also prepare a report that will cover my office's accomplishments to improve compliance with the act, including our interventions before the courts, over the 10 years that I will have been Commissioner of Official Languages.
My office will continue its work to support the vitality of official language minority communities. Specifically, we will intervene with federal departments and other partners to follow up on the recommendations made in our report on francophone immigration and in my 2014-15 annual report.
We will monitor the implementation of the recommendations made in the study on the bilingual capacity of the superior court judiciary, and intervene as necessary. We will also work with key partners to develop an intervention strategy for early childhood development.
Finally, we will continue to manage change as we optimize our business processes while ensuring that employees in my office can continue to work productively in a safe and healthy environment. During the last year of my second mandate, my office will start preparing for a positive transition to my successor in 2016.
Our operations are divided into three program activities: protection of Canadians' language rights, promotion of linguistic duality, and internal services.
To protect the language rights of Canadians, my office 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 2015-16 are $6.9 million.
We will focus on the following initiatives in response to our organizational priorities: continue to investigate all admissible complaints in the most efficient way possible with the resources that are available and reduce the number of complaints in our inventory. Internal restructuring will result in more efficient workload management and better follow-up of recommendations issued during investigations.
We will examine the provision of active offer and the delivery of services of equal quality to the public in English and French, and develop a strategy to address these issues in the long term.
I will report on my accomplishments as Commissioner of Official Languages and on the challenges and opportunities for the future. The report will include an assessment of 33 federal institutions that have received report cards over the past 10 years. The institutions' most recent report cards will be published in May 2016.
I will also appear before the Federal Court of Appeal in Canada (Commissioner of Official Languages) v. CBC/Radio-Canada to defend my concurrent jurisdiction in terms of applying part VII of the act to CBC/Radio-Canada's programming activities.
To promote Canadian linguistic duality, my office communicates regularly with parliamentarians, official language minority communities, federal institutions and the Canadian public. Expenditures linked to the promotion of linguistic duality account for $6.9 million.
My office will continue to focus on the following initiatives in response to our organizational priorities, while delivering on our expected results. We will work with key partners and decision makers to ensure that celebrations linked to the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the major sporting events that take place on our soil reflect Canada's linguistic duality.
Partners include Canadian Heritage, Sport Canada, the Toronto 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games Organizing Committee and the National Organizing Committee for the FIFA Women's World Cup.
We will continue to work with other language ombudsmen in Canada and host the second conference of the International Association of Language Commissioners in Ottawa.
We will also identify official languages issues related to early childhood development and intervene with federal departments and other partners to follow up on the recommendations in our report on francophone immigration, our 2014-15 annual report, our study on the bilingual capacity of the superior court judiciary, and our study on English-speaking seniors in Quebec.
We will deliver presentations at schools across the country to continue promoting linguistic duality as a Canadian value. We will also launch my office's new YouTube channel to raise awareness of Canadians' bilingualism and of their use of our two official languages.
Our third program activity allows my office to assemble resources that support the organization as a whole. Internal services include asset management, finance and human resources management. Essential to any organization, these services ensure that taxpayers' dollars are used efficiently and transparently. This activity has been allocated a budget of $6.9 million.
Internal services will focus on the following initiatives in 2015-16: explore opportunities to further streamline business processes, with possible areas of process review including staff arrival and departure, budget management, information management, and management and oversight; continue the transition from the Human Resource Information System to PeopleSoft; integrate government-approved case management software into our enterprise information management platform and introduce technology tools to help employees work more effectively as our needs evolve; and begin preparing briefing materials to support the transition to a new commissioner in 2016 and plan for the internal communications effort to inform staff of the upcoming change of leadership.
Like other federal organizations, we have been asked to streamline our operations while absorbing increasing costs. As our budget gets tighter and as our staff gets smaller through attrition, it will become even harder to continue meeting our performance standards and maintaining the public's confidence in our ability to fulfill our mandate.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.
I'm glad to hear that you will be commemorating the arrival of the Irish in your region. That's exactly the kind of thing we want to see.
There are two elements to consider here. The first is what I would call content. You mentioned important elements, such as the arrival of the Irish, the colonization of western Canada by francophones, the role that francophones and anglophones have played together and the history of linguistic accommodation in Canada. People tend to see the negative aspects of that history, but there are positive aspects too. Both aspects should be addressed in terms of the content.
There is also the element of presentation. We have already developed a manual for organizers of major sporting events. It explains how to organize an event keeping in mind respect for both official languages. We need to plan and collaborate with communities and in many cases with schools. We adapted the manual for organizers of community celebrations that will take place in 2017.
By planning and investing time and effort, it is possible to ensure that francophones and anglophones travelling across the country will be able to fully participate in these celebrations that give both official languages their rightful place.
For example, I would like to talk about what was done in Prince George for the Canada Games. A fairly remote community in the middle of British Columbia made a major effort to ensure that the games provided a welcoming atmosphere for francophone and anglophone athletes and their families. There were signs, manuals, announcements and documentation in both official languages. It was a huge success. Their best practices can be used by other communities planning celebrations for 2017.
Mr. Fraser, it is philosophically stimulating to listen to you. Everyone agrees with you; however, let's come back to the budget.
There is a big event to prepare for, and yet your budget has been reduced from $24 million to just a little over $20 million in the past two years. Overall, this amounts to less than $1 per Canadian. In other words, every Canadian pays less than $1 to promote linguistic duality. That is why I find the situation a little disheartening, but that is the reality and what is being asked of you.
I have two questions. They both have to do with the budget, and not on my comments.
Does your budget allow you to reach all stakeholders in all regions that have minority-language communities? If not, are you able to do so only in large urban centres and in larger municipalities?
In addition, you said that about 15% of your budget is spent on legal proceedings. You talked about $1 million and $6.9 million for staff.
Do you think that is sufficient?
I'm sorry, yes, we also have an office in Montreal.
In Moncton and Montreal, all staff are located in those offices. In western Canada, there is the Winnipeg office, but we also have a satellite office in Regina. There is the Toronto office and a satellite office in Sudbury. Similarly, there is an office in Edmonton and a satellite office in Vancouver.
We have changed the purpose of those regional offices somewhat, in part because my predecessor realized that, since the people who work in the regions also live in those communities, if they have to investigate complaints filed in the region, they ran the risk of an appearance of conflict of interest.
We restructured and decided that all investigators would be based here, in the national capital region, and that the people in the regions would be mandated to do promotion.
Is it sufficient? We make decisions regarding legal action on a case-by-case basis. It has never occurred that we weren't able to pursue legal action because we didn't have enough resources.
There are other elements and other aspects about which we need to make difficult decisions, but so far, these are also strategic decisions, because we don't necessarily get involved at every stage.
As for CBC/Radio-Canada, we were managing the files in that regard. However, when a case has to go through all the stages before getting to the Supreme Court, we often get involved at the Supreme Court level, as was the case with the Rose-des-vents elementary school and the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon. There was also a case in Northwest Territories. We went there to take part in the proceedings, but that was several years ago.
We are able to make strategic decisions to determine where, when and at what level we need to get involved, and to see how we can use our resources as efficiently as possible.
Thank you, Ms. St-Denis and Mr. Fraser.
We'll end our questioning of the Commissioner of Official Languages on the estimates.
We have a vote on the estimates, and the committee can either adopt, reject, or reduce the estimates. I'll call the question.
OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF OFFICIAL LANGUAGES
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$18,556,100
(Vote 1 agreed to)
The Chair: Shall the chair report the estimates and the vote back to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your cooperation.
Thank you to the Commissioner and the public servants who appeared with him for their support.
We'll suspend for five minutes.