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LANG Committee Report

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The Honourable Michael Chong, P.C., M.P.
Chair
Standing Committee on Official Languages
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Chong:

            I am pleased to present this letter as the Government of Canada’s official response to the report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, entitled Study on the Economic Situation of Canada’s Minority Linguistic Communities: Building Sustainable and Growing Economies.

            I would like to acknowledge the work accomplished by the Standing Committee on Official Languages in producing this report, which highlights the Federal Government’s key initiatives contributing to the economic development of official-language minority communities (the communities).  The report underlines the evolution in the situation of Francophones outside Quebec and of Anglophones in Quebec over the past 50 years, highlighting the decrease in socio-economic inequalities between language minority and majority groups in the country.  The Committee points out, however, some gaps that still exist between the communities and the Canadian population as a whole and among the communities themselves, as well as some development opportunities that could be seized.

            Economic development is a priority of the Government of Canada.  The recent Budgets reinforced and clarified the Government’s commitment to sustainable prosperity.  In this regard, official languages policies and programs are also concerned with economic development. 

            Our Government is committed to promoting Canada’s official languages and the vitality of communities, including through their economic development.  The Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages, 2013–2018 , represents an unprecedented 1.1 billion investment to support Canada’s official languages and provides our Government with the means to take concrete action in fields considered important by Canadians.  It recognizes the contribution of communities from all provinces and territories to the growth of the Canadian economy.  In this regard, economic development and Francophone immigration initiatives are essential to create job opportunities and improve the ability of the communities to attract and retain members of communities and enable them to participate in the economic prosperity of their regions.  In addition, the Government of Canada has strengthened its reception and settlement infrastructure for Francophone immigrants, thus enhancing the ability of Francophone minority communities to accommodate these new arrivals.

            Several federal institutions support directly or indirectly community economic development through their regular programs. For example, the cultural programs of Canadian Heritage have provisions specifically targeting official language communities; Industry Canada works with stakeholders in the economic development field to develop tourism strategies that promote communities as tourist destinations; Citizenship and Immigration Canada facilitates the integration of immigrants, notably by supporting language training in English and French; and Industry Canada (IC) and the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) directly support community economic development through programs and initiatives such as the Community Futures Program, and the Francophone Economic Development Organizations.

            In its report, the Committee recommends, in particular, the implementation of flexible programs tailored to the diverse needs of the communities; the promotion of bilingualism as a tool for economic development; and the establishment of partnerships between governments, postsecondary institutions, employers and communities.  The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of these recommendations and draws from them the principles it uses for the economic development of the communities.

            The Federal Government’s primary objective, in terms of the economic development of the communities, is the economic integration of their members, which contributes to the prosperity of these communities.  All federal institutions involved coordinate their actions based on four key principles: action targeted to the needs of the regions; the promotion of the economic advantages of bilingualism; citizen participation; and partnerships with the provinces and territories, the private sector and postsecondary institutions.

            As Suzanne Bossé (Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes) has noted, « The economic potential offered by linguistic duality is clearly present. It is recognized by the government in the Speech from the Throne.»

Actions targeted to the needs of the regions

            Overall, socio-economic indicators (i.e. labour market participation, average income, education level) country-wide suggest that the economic situation in official language minority communities has improved and the gap between the communities and the majority population has narrowed over the past 50 years.  However, this is not the case for all communities.

            The economic situation of the communities differs from one province or territory to another, and also from region to region-urban, peri-urban or rural.  There is also variation among economic sectors, depending on whether they are in eastern or western Canada.  In fact, many challenges remain and the needs of localities are becoming more complex and varied.  The result is that the vitality of the communities is closely linked to the regional economic situation, global demographic trends, industrialization and sector restructuring, and that not all communities are well equipped to deal with these issues.  An intersectoral approach is desirable to allow for the development of policies that result in concrete, targeted actions.

            The economic development initiatives of the Roadmap total an investment of approximately $110 million over five years. Federal Government programs in support of economic development are varied and already provide the flexibility required to adjust actions and respond to the specific needs of the communities they serve.  For example, the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) Enabling Fund for Official Language Minority Communities allows organizations to design and implement a wide range of activities and services in various fields.  These fields include employability and support for workers in communities; services for the business community; citizen participation to facilitate partnerships and multidisciplinary approaches; and labour market development, notably in promising sectors. 

Mr. Jean Léger, (Réseau de développement économique et d’employabilité), noted that «Thanks to the Enabling Fund for Official Language Minority Communities, our network has invested 100 million dollar in the Canadian economy over the last three years. »

            In addition, the Economic Development Initiative, delivered by Industry Canada and the Regional Development Agencies, has also established flexible programs tailored to community needs and regional disparities. 

            RDAs across Canada help to address key economic challenges by providing regionally-tailored programs, services, knowledge and expertise that: build on regional and local economic assets and strengths; support business growth, productivity and innovation; help small- and medium-sized businesses effectively compete in the global marketplace; and support communities.

            Projects funded by the RDAs in official language minority communities are numerous and varied: support for youth starting businesses; development of tourism potential in regions and municipalities (strategies, marketing, promotional tools, etc.); support for the development of training targeted on local needs (e.g. ship building in the Atlantic region); support to entrepreneurship (creation of micro-credit fund, internship programs, consulting services); support for innovation and the use of new technologies in businesses; or implementation of green initiatives for rural diversification.

            ESDC, IC, RDAs, and other federal institutions will continue to work together to identify local and regional development opportunities and provide support to specific community needs.

The promotion of the economic advantages of bilingualism

            Under the 2006 Economic Action Plan (2006), the Government of Canada encourages the establishment of conditions and the creation of opportunities favouring international trade and investment.  The 2015 Federal Budget reports that, since 2006, the Government of Canada has entered into free-trade agreements with 38 countries, bringing Canada’s total to 43 countries.  The past year has been profitable, with the conclusion of trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union and the coming into effect of the Canada-Korea Free-Trade Agreement and the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.

            The Government of Canada considers bilingualism a strategic asset for both the local and regional economies and international trade.  Sharing a language promotes, indeed, the understanding and cements collaborations, which are powerful economic levers.  In this regard, Canada’s two official languages are recognized as a unique competitive advantage for the country and for local economies. 

            Bilingualism provides economic advantages for individuals, businesses and society as a whole.  It promotes access to employment, businesses, trade diversification and, consequently, the prosperity of individuals and communities.  For example, people who speak the two official languages in Quebec have average annual incomes approximately 37 percent higher than those who speak only one official language.  Similarly, in the rest of Canada, the average annual income of individuals who speak both official languages is approximately 15 percent higher than that of persons who do not speak both official languages (Source: National Household Survey, Statistics Canada, 2011).

            In 2011, exports to Francophone countries from the provinces where the rate of bilingualism is highest (Quebec and New Brunswick) were twice the expected rate.  Knowledge of French enables the most bilingual provinces to increase their trade with other French-speaking countries by about $3.4 billion, 65 percent higher than trade with other countries where French is not spoken (Source: Canada, Bilingualism and Trade , Conference Board of Canada, 2013).

            The promotion of French and English is an integral part of Canada’s branding.  The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development wants to showcase this advantage when it communicates with businesses abroad. Canada’s bilingualism is well recognized as an added value for Canada’s international development because it makes it easier for Canada’s and businesses and scientific innovators to forge ties with their foreign counterparts.

            The Government of Canada will continue to promote bilingualism as an economic development tool for communities and to standardize the use of French as a language of business for Canada.

Citizen participation

            The implementation of customized programs which meet the specific needs of communities is part of a close collaboration and an ongoing, constructive dialogue between the various actors in the field of economic development (community economic groups, sectoral groups, provinces and territories). In addition, as part of the implementation of their programs, the federal institutions involved in community economic development consult the communities on a regular basis to discuss issues, needs and solutions. However, citizen participation is also necessary and desirable.

            Canadians participate in debates, consultations and the implementation of Canada’s official languages policy, including community economic development. In expectation of the renewal of the Roadmap and during the year of 2012, my department led Canada-wide consultations, to better identify the priorities of Canadians and stakeholders.  Thus, we held 22 roundtables in small and large communities across the country and provided an on-line questionnaire open to all Canadian citizens.  Nearly 2,600 Canadians participated.

            Through this process, the Government of Canada collected useful information on needs, issues and priorities related to official languages.  Specific recommendations with regard to economic development emerged from the consultations: take advantage of the economic advantages of bilingualism and the communities and make this economic value-added better known; support entrepreneurship and job creation in the communities and promote them as an essential component of community vitality; and encourage employers to invest in second-language training.

            Citizen participation is important and consultations help to build a shared understanding of the communities’ situations and objectives.  Data and information are a good starting point for fuelling discussion with citizens and official languages stakeholders.  These discussions promote a shared understanding of issues, opportunities and the decisions the communities need to make.  The sharing of information and sound data supports the identification of priorities, encourages co-operation and promotes joint efforts.

            Our government funds over 350 official language community groups in every province and territory who advocate for citizen participation. They help build stronger communities, thus narrowing the gap between these communities and the majority population. Immigration is also a way to improve economic situation of communities. In this regard, Citizenship and Immigration Canada facilitates the integration and participation of immigrants, notably by supporting language training in English and French.

            Democratizing Government action by providing increased access to open data to encourage citizen participation is useful. To this end, in March 2014, Industry Canada signed an agreement with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to receive the Community Information Database (CID), a tool created by the Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat in 2006.  The CID is a free on-line resource which provides citizens, communities, researchers and governments with consistent and reliable socio-economic and demographic data and other information on Canadian communities as a whole. The CID provides access to over 500 data variables (e.g., population, level of education, labour market participation) so that citizens and communities can carry out the analyses required to identify priorities and actions to be taken.  Projects are currently under way as a result of collaboration between ESDC and Industry Canada to update the CID using data from the 2011 Census.

            Involving citizens directly in identifying needs and solutions through real collaboration and technological tools results in innovative, cost-effective methods of developing new ideas for the creation of economic development public policies tailored to the day-to-day needs and issues of the communities. The quality, relevance and effectiveness of our programs have much to gain from these new approaches to collaboration with Canadians.

Partnerships with the provinces and territories, the private sector and postsecondary institutions

            A number of factors, including business development, education and training, technology, services, and policy at every level of government, must be taken into consideration in supporting community economic development.  This a dynamic issue that requires intersectoral, intergovernmental and interorganizational collaboration.  Consequently, strengthening partnerships with the provinces and territories, the private sector and postsecondary institutions is a priority for the Government of Canada.

            The Government of Canada aims to consolidate gains in official languages and support the economic development of the communities by working with all partners involved to ensure that Canadians who belong to the communities have access to relevant education and training programs which foster their economic prosperity and that of their communities. 

            The Government of Canada will continue to work with provincial and territorial governments to improve employment opportunities for Canadians, training and labor mobility. With tools like the Canada Job Fund, our Labour Market Development Agreements and the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program, we are making real progress on improving labour market information, harmonizing apprenticeship programs, helping new Canadians toward getting their credentials recognized and getting better bang for the taxpayers’ buck in job training programs. These advances benefit all Canadians, including those in official language minority communities.

            Progress in education in minority communities and Federal Government investment in this field, over the last 40 years, have helped to reduce socio-economic discrepancies between the communities and the Canadian population as a whole.  In terms of the quality of education, Canada ranks high among developed countries.  The current challenge lies more in terms of the relevance of education and training, that is, the link between labour market needs and what is being provided by postsecondary institutions in the communities. 

            Postsecondary institutions have an essential role to play in providing the skills and qualifications which open the door to better labour market results and better incomes for members of the communities.  The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of partnerships with postsecondary institutions, business and the private sector to meet the key challenges in terms of skills development and local economic development.  The Government of Canada seeks to work with postsecondary institutions to obtain more information on the sectors and occupational skills that are in demand and to better inform the choices Canadians make in terms of jobs and careers.

            The Government of Canada provides information on the analysis, advancement and dissemination of knowledge.  The sharing of this data allows for a response to the learning and knowledge needs of a flexible, sustainable knowledge-based economy, so as to promote the use of knowledge for the benefit of the economy and society.

            Supporting access to, and the development of, postsecondary education in official language minority communities promotes the full participation of young people in the economic life of their communities.  A Protocol for Agreement for Minority Language Education and Second-Language Instruction, 2013–2014 to 2017–2018 between the Government of Canada and the Council of Ministers of Education, which represents the provincial and territorial governments, invests $259.5 million annually.  Of this amount, about $34 million is intended to support access to postsecondary education and the development of postsecondary education in minority communities, including through complementary projects.  It is important to continue encouraging the development of postsecondary education and training in minority communities and to build on partnerships with key stakeholders.

            A further $106.5 million over 5 years has been earmarked by Health Canada to support postsecondary training in French outside Quebec in 94 distinct health programs offered by 11 universities and colleges. This investment also supports the training of bilingual health professionals within Quebec in collaboration with the Ministère de la santé et des services sociaux. The goal of this funding is to address health labour market needs in official language minority communities across Canada.

            Health Canada is complementing this training with over $5.5 million in targeted initiatives over the same period to integrate bilingual health professionals into francophone communities in minority setting by recruiting French-speaking medical graduates from English language institutions, supporting the integration of Francophone health professionals, providing directories of French language health services, and supporting health internship programs.

            As part of the 2009 Economic Action Plan, the Knowledge Infrastructure Program provided funding to support deferred maintenance, repair and expansion projects in universities and colleges and improve campus infrastructure nationwide. The investments made through this program not only generate economic spin-off and foster job creation, but they also enhance research capacity. For example, the University of St. Boniface received $3 million for the construction of the Health Sciences Pavilion, to train francophone nurses and health professionals. These investments help to attract new students and to offer a better educational experience to tomorrow’s highly skilled workers. Industry Canada was able to allocate nearly $70 million to French-language institutions outside of Quebec and more than $86 million to English-language institutions within Quebec.

            Other initiatives, such as Canada Summer Jobs, that provide funding to private sector organizations to create summer job opportunities for youth, give preference to projects that target members of an official language minority community and contribute to its vitality.

            I would like to conclude by thanking you and the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages for the work you have accomplished.  I am always available for further discussion with you on federal action in support of the economic development of the communities.

Please accept my best wishes.

Sincerely,

 

The Honourable Shelly Glover, P.C., M.P.