May I invite you to take your seats.
I will begin with an update. We have just finished an in camera meeting during which all of the committee members made decisions, which I will share with you.
Firstly, in all of the meetings we have left from now until Christmas, we are going to focus on the crisis the francophonie is currently experiencing in Ontario.
Secondly, we will invite the Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities to testify on the Ontario francophone university project.
Third, we examined a list of potential witnesses, some of whom will be asked to come and speak to us about this crisis.
Fourth, next Thursday, November 29, we will host two commissioners, the New Brunswick commissioner and the Ontario one. The meeting will be televised.
So that is where we are at. That is the update I wished to give you, first off.
We are continuing our study on the modernization of the Official Languages Act, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3).
This morning we are pleased to welcome Mr. Jean Johnson and Mr. Alain Dupuis.
Gentlemen, you have about 10 minutes for your statements. This will be followed by a discussion with the members of the committee.
Mr. Johnson, you have the floor.
Ladies and gentlemen members of Parliament, I first want to thank you for your invitation to testify before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Mr. Paradis just introduced Mr. Dupuis, Director General of the FCFA, who is with me to provide support in this representation.
Before broaching the topic that brings us here today, I must say a few words about the situation in Ontario. At 11:00 o'clock this morning, the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario, the AFO, will be launching a resistance movement in response to the budget cuts made by the provincial government last week. I must tell you that the FCFA, from one end of the country to the other, resolutely supports the AFO. That which sets back the Ontario francophonie sets back the francophonie as a whole.
Moreover, I am sure you know that the new government of New Brunswick remains in power thanks to the support of a party that also advocates the elimination of any linguistic gains made by Acadians and francophones.
When a fundamental value like linguistic duality is called into question, it affects more than just francophones, it affects the entire country. That is why I am calling on your support, not only as parliamentarians, but also as Canadian men and women. I urge you to continue to show your support for Ontario's francophonie, to encourage your party leaders to make public statements to that effect, and especially, to speak out with one voice. Linguistic duality is not a Liberal, Conservative or New Democratic value; it is a fundamental Canadian value.
In addition, we recommend that the federal government contribute 50% of the start-up costs for the Franco-Ontarian university. And that is in fact the position of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario, on whose behalf we express that opinion here.
I would now like to remind us of the words of Rahm Emanuel, spoken when he was President Obama's chief of staff. He stated that we should never waste a crisis, since it provides an opportunity to achieve things we never thought we could accomplish. The events of the past weeks have placed linguistic duality on the radar of Canadian men and women. In the current context, as we discuss the modernization of the Official Languages Act, this may hold some positive aspects. Let's hope that this will encourage a national discussion on ways to consolidate our linguistic duality in order to ensure Canada is well positioned to participate in a world in which the number of francophones is expected to explode by the next quarter century.
Even as we speak, the representatives of francophone and Acadian organizations from all over the country are in Parliament for a day of meetings to present the broad principles of a piece of framework legislation to which we are adding the final strokes. This is our contribution to what we hope will be a broad and constructive debate on ways to strengthen Canada's linguistic duality and impart fresh momentum to it.
There are four broad themes to the proposals in this bill.
First of all, we must designate a central agency whose responsibility it will be to coordinate the implementation of the Official Languages Act in the whole of the federal apparatus, one which will have the necessary powers to discharge that role. We believe that that responsibility should be entrusted to Treasury Board, supported in that by a Minister of State responsible for official languages, and a secretariat. The Privy Council Office would play a complementary political role, by ensuring notably that federal ministerial mandate letters include strategic direction on official languages, and that an overarching plan for the development of our communities be adopted.
Secondly, even if the 1988 act introduced a commitment by the federal government to support the development of official language minority communities, it remains silent as to the participation of the communities themselves in the achievement of that objective. The FCFA believes that a modernized act should define the communities' right to participate. More precisely, the objective would be to establish how federal institutions would consult the communities, and how they must take the results of those consultations into account. An advisory council of official language minority communities should also be created. That council would be the nexus where government and recognized community representatives would collaborate on the planning and implementation of official language policies.
Thirdly, the monitoring and accountability mechanisms in the 1988 act are particularly weak. The creation of an administrative tribunal entrusted with hearing complaints on the act's enforcement, one which would be able to impose sanctions on federal institutions, would strengthen this legislation. This would also make it possible to refocus the role of the Official Languages Commissioner as the citizen's protector and the promoter of official languages.
The objective of modernizing the Official Languages Act is to give new momentum to Canada's linguistic duality, after years of stagnation. That is why the last of the four broad avenues of change we are proposing has to do with the very scope of the rights and principles contained in that law.
We propose that these rights and principles be broadened, notably by including binding language provisions in federal-provincial-territorial agreements, by eliminating the bilingualism exemption for Supreme Court judges, and by officially enshrining the Court Challenges Program in the act.
The next act could also enshrine a major principle the government has just recognized in its proposed new Official Languages Regulations, which is that the calculation of what constitutes significant demand for bilingual federal services must be based not only on numbers, but also on vitality criteria such as the presence of francophone schools.
In order to position our two official languages well in this century wherein Canadian society is becoming increasingly diverse, it is also crucial that for the first time, the new Official Languages Act set out federal government obligations regarding the adoption of immigration policies that will bolster linguistic duality.
And finally, the new act should include an obligation that Statistics Canada enumerate all of the rights holders entitled to French-language education under section 23 of the charter.
Those are the key components of the final version of the framework legislation we intend to release publicly when Parliament returns from its holiday recess at the end of January.
As regards the role of this committee in the modernization of the Official Languages Act, I will be so bold as to make one recommendation. I recommend that your committee comprehensively study the important components of the framework bill: the designation of a central agency responsible for the coordination and implementation of the act; the participation of communities in the implementation of the act; monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms; as well as the addition of binding linguistic provisions in all federal -provincial-territorial agreements, or the addition of a definition of the positive measures referred to in part VII of the act.
I thank you for your invitation and for the time you have given us.
As for whether part VII should have its own regulations, one thing is certain. Justice Gascon made it clear that something had to be done and that a positive measure had to be defined. That's something the committee could examine as part of its study on the modernization of the Official Languages Act.
What constitutes a positive measure? How it is understood and what it means depend on the person interpreting it. A federal institution may define a positive measure as anything that is not negative. Communities, however, interpret it as an obligation on all federal institutions to adopt policies, funding and programs tailored to the specific needs of minority communities. That's what part VII means to us: an obligation to consider all government initiatives from a francophone standpoint. Right now, that's not what's happening, quite the opposite.
From time to time, federal institutions reach out to the FCFA, via meetings or telephone calls, in order to document the activity as a positive measure towards the implementation of part VII. That's unacceptable.
Instead, they need to be taking account of the francophone perspective, genuinely consulting communities on all federal initiatives and policies, not just with respect to the action plan. For example, the federal government has been investing billions in infrastructure for the past few years. What share of that investment has gone to francophone communities? Federal officials refer us to our provincial governments to make sure their infrastructure priorities include our projects. In other words, those agreements do not help us, so we need dedicated funding under all federal initiatives.
We also need all federal-provincial-territorial agreements to have binding language clauses, and I'm not just talking about clauses requiring the consultation of minority communities. I am talking about clauses that specifically lay out the obligations to be met and the proportion of funding to be spent.
That's what positive measures mean to official language minority communities.
Are regulations governing the implementation of part VII necessary? As everyone knows, regulations are easy to change, so at the very least, part VII should establish fundamental principles that are clearly defined.
Thank you both for being here today.
The QCGN held its event on the Hill this week, and you're holding yours today, meeting with many MPs. I have no doubt that, as FCFA members, you'll be bringing up the language crisis going on in Ontario. As I said earlier, when the committee was in camera—I can repeat it since it doesn't reveal any confidential information or decisions—whether you call it cost-cutting or a language crisis, the reality is that the Ontario government is turning back the clock at least 30 years by doing away with the watchdog that is the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.
What's more, it's turning back the clock at least a decade on the plan to build a French-language university in Toronto, considering all the time, experience and consultations that have gone into the project, among other things. It would've been Ontario's first French-language university. Despite being home to the country's second largest francophone population, Ontario still does not have one. Yes, other provinces have francophone colleges, and that's wonderful. Quebec, for its part, has English-language universities. When we look at federal transfers and investments targeting infrastructure, it's clear that the federal government provides millions of dollars in funding every single year to English-language universities and colleges in Quebec, including McGill University, as well as French-language colleges in other provinces. Since the federal government already provides funding support to other institutions, investing in a French-language university in Toronto is a no-brainer, as far as I'm concerned. It would not be a first, as you mentioned.
How did you decide that the federal government should provide half the funding? Don't get me wrong; it's a good thing. I'm just wondering. Where does the threshold come from? I was under the impression that the Liberal government had already announced funding for the project, but from what I see, that hasn't happened yet.
In concrete terms, what would you like from the Liberal government?
I would add that the federal government has levers such as the education component of the official languages funding program. It already funds schools and post-secondary institutions at a rate of 50%.
The federal government also provides infrastructure funding. When Collège Boréal was built in Sudbury, my neck of the woods, the federal government provided funding for the infrastructure. It did the same for La Cité collégiale, in the early 1990s. Those are levers available to the federal government, and I believe it is incumbent upon the federal government to use them.
Post-secondary institutions are desperately needed across all provinces, and meeting that need is essential. You'll recall the Yukon student who condemned the fact that she couldn't study in her language up north and had to move thousands of kilometres away from home just so she could. That's happening all over the country. Post-secondary education is not protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable to just sit back or that the federal government has no obligation to improve access to minority-run post-secondary institutions.
Franco-Ontarians had finally made a gain in that area. It was the first time francophones were getting an institution run by and for them. We would finally have control over French-language education from early childhood all the way up to the post-secondary level.
As you know, linguistic minorities have no government or state to protect their rights. Our institutions are the only spaces we have to decide our future, influence our communities, educate our youth and shape the way forward. I encourage you, then, to care about that.
Quickly, I'd like to make a second comment, if I may. I think it's clear, as we can see, that the modernization of the Official Languages Act affords the opportunity to have a much broader discussion involving all the provincial governments. Linguistic minorities are consistently at the mercy of the provinces, be it for health care, education or social services. Now, half a century after the Official Languages Act came into force, it's time for the provinces to fully embrace linguistic duality. The days of the federal government being the only defender of our rights are over. It's time for the provinces to follow suit.
We've spoken with a number of times about francophone immigration strategies, and we put forward concrete measures.
The main thing we talked about was a distinct request for proposals process tailored to francophones, as opposed to a general process. Under the current system, when the government seeks a service provider to deliver settlement and integration services, our organizations have to compete with those in the anglophone community. We are up against organizations with $25-million budgets that can afford to hire people to put together programs and proposals. That's way beyond our means.
We also asked for staff to help our small organizations prepare their bids. They have to do a tremendous amount of work with meagre resources.
We asked for a central body to coordinate francophone immigration. We want to keep francophone newcomers off the fast track to assimilation by forcing them to rely on an English-language service provider that supposedly provides bilingual service. Many a group offer French-language services in the beginning, only to advise immigrants that, going forward, the rest of the services will be provided in English. That's totally unacceptable. It can't be allowed to happen.
Those are some of the recommendations we've made.
We even suggested that francophone immigration had to be coordinated centrally in order to genuinely support community building, increase the number of rights holders and maintain the demographic weight of linguistic minorities. We recommended that the people working on the ground for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in each of the provinces and territories report to the central body rather than regional offices.
Although very well-intentioned, these people are heavily influenced by the big agencies. Out west, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers come to mind. Our small communities simply can't compete with big players like those.
Those are recommendations we've made because we believe they will help our communities get ahead. I can tell you our proposals were certainly met with interest.
Mr. Chair, when you circulated the sheet to write our names on to get a chance to speak, it was six minutes. We're now at three minutes. I know my colleagues well, and we are going to follow up.
I have 50,000 things to discuss, but I won't be able to today. I would like to raise two points before I start, even though I can already see my time running out.
Every challenge creates an opportunity. Although it's unfortunate, what's happening in Ontario is crucial because everyone is talking about it today. When leaders, no matter which party they're from, use economic conditions to justify budget cuts that violate rights, this shows a weakness in their leadership. I can't say enough about that. I have an important analogy to offer: when there is less water in the lake, the animals around the lake look at each other differently. That's exactly what's going on today.
I don't have much time, but I have to say that the example of immigration you gave is, in my opinion, an almost perfect illustration of how things should be done in the real world. Our committee has played a very important role in what is happening for three years. As you suggested, it is a Canadian and francophone organization that recruits immigrants and prepares them for their arrival. The cost of tests will now be comparable to that paid by anglophones. So it will be more accessible. After they have been prepared, as soon as they land in Canada, these immigrants will be welcomed by a francophone organization that will sort them out. Once they are in their host community, a francophone organization will once again provide them with language training. There is no more perfect example of the concept of services offered by and for francophones.
I'll leave you some time to make comments, if you like.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Honourable members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, thank you for welcoming me here this morning to share the results of the work done by the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages on the modernization of the Official Languages Act.
First of all, I would like to congratulate you for the work accomplished within this committee, but also for the work each of you does to advance the status of both official languages in Canada. More than ever, I believe we need to reaffirm the importance of both official languages, to discuss the vitality of our minority language communities, and to promote and celebrate the richness of bilingualism and linguistic duality as the foundation of our Canadian federation.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the responsibility we as parliamentarians all share to encourage and bring about a positive dialogue surrounding the importance of our official languages as a founding principle of our federation.
For the work and the actions you have taken as a committee in that direction, I thank you sincerely.
I would also like to acknowledge the quality of the recent reports you have published. I'm thinking, for instance, of your report on community media or your report on access to justice.
My intervention today will be in two parts. First, I would like to briefly present our study in order for you to better understand what we have done and what we have left to do. Then I will elaborate on some key recommendations we have heard.
In April 2017, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages was mandated to study the perspective of Canadians on the modernization of the Official Languages Act. Five segments of the population were targeted in this study: young people, official language communities, experts familiar with the evolution of the act, the justice sector, and federal institutions.
Since the beginning of our study, we have had the privilege of travelling and meeting with official language communities across Canada. During our hearings, we have so far heard from 170 witnesses and have received 42 briefs, and we still have a few months left before we complete this very important study.
To date, we have published two interim reports, which I will present briefly.
In February 2018, in St. Boniface, Manitoba, we released our first report on the youth perspective. This first report presents the proposals made by young people aged 14 to 25 to modernize the act. I must say, hon. colleagues, that the members of our committee were impressed by the commitment shown by these young people to official languages. In this report, as you will see, the things they call for include a more active promotion of both official languages and bilingualism, recognition of the role of the arts and culture in the transmission of language, measures to ensure better dialogue between official language communities, greater support for initiatives by official language communities and, finally, the potential of digital technology to achieve these objectives.
The second interim report, released on October 26 during our most recent fact-finding mission in Moncton, New Brunswick, focuses on the perspective of official language communities. We heard and received practical proposals from all sectors of society. Many of these proposals included a straightforward articulation of certain sections of the act, for all parts of the act, from the preamble to the mechanism for its implementation. I can't list them all in the time allotted to me, but I invite you to read this second report, if you haven't already, to round out my remarks.
What seems obvious to us and what thrills us in this report is that there is consistency and a great consensus between the country's English-speaking and French-speaking communities on the issues identified and the solutions proposed to ensure the modernization of the act, this quasi-constitutional piece of legislation.
In brief, here are some of the proposals we have received that have consensus: review the mechanisms for horizontal coordination and implementation of the act; appoint to the highest echelons one or more officials responsible for the act; give the act much more teeth by strengthening its oversight and accountability mechanisms; clarify certain terms and concepts used in the act; and ensure better participation of official language communities in the implementation of the act, particularly by establishing consultation mechanisms.
I will more specifically speak to four key propositions we have heard expressed on multiple occasions in a variety of different ways. There is an impressive consensus around the issues and directions that should be taken by the government in the modernization of this act.
One of the recommendations we often heard at our committee had to do with responsibility for implementing the act. The current model of responsibility shared between the Treasury Board and the Department of Canadian Heritage is in question.
The witnesses proposed that responsibility for the act be centralized within a central agency that would have the power to impose policies and statements regarding the implementation of the act government-wide. Some witnesses suggested that the Treasury Board should be responsible for implementation, as it already has the administrative tools, funding and authority to issue directives, as well as the ability to conduct internal audits. Others suggested that this responsibility be assigned to the Privy Council Office, which plays an important political role and could become a true leader in official languages. Finally, some simply want Canadian Heritage's responsibilities to be strengthened.
We also heard from many witnesses about the importance of including in modernized legislation a whole series of new provisions related to federal-provincial-territorial agreements. Many witnesses want certain obligations to be respected when negotiating, drafting and signing these agreements. For example, they would like to see the main community actors in the field concerned, such as education, participate in the development of these agreements. They also want language clauses to be included in the agreements to ensure that the funds will be used for the projects for which they are intended. Finally, they want to see effective and measurable accountability mechanisms included to ensure that the money transferred to the provinces will actually be used for the intended purpose.
The new act should also include new provisions to recognize, for example, the educational continuum and the importance of francophone immigration for the vitality of communities. We have even received proposals for amendments that should be made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, for example, to recognize these elements. Some witnesses also suggested that these two issues should be addressed in a new part of the Official Languages Act.
We also heard the need to include the action plan on official languages within the act to ensure that this important tool will always be available to the communities no matter the government in place. Many new clauses were proposed to include programs of this nature, such as the newly announced court challenges program, to make sure they are protected by the act.
We have also heard the necessity to better include the official language communities in the decision-making processes. Two major proposals were made in support. First, the idea was raised that an advisory board on official languages should be created and that the government should be mandated to meet with this board on a list of important issues.
Second, it was proposed that the obligation to take into account what is said during consultations be added to the act, as exists in other legislation in Canada.
Lastly, it was proposed that the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages be reviewed, requiring him to initiate legal proceedings if certain criteria are met during an investigation, or exempting him from the requirement to obtain the complainant's approval before he can initiate a prosecution.
Many witnesses would like the Commissioner to have punitive powers. Some former commissioners we heard from don't think it's a good idea. They don't want the Commissioner to be both judge and jury. However, several other stakeholders suggested another solution: the creation in the act of an administrative tribunal responsible for official language issues.
In conclusion, our study continues until June 2019, when we will table our final report. In the meantime, we will release our last three interim reports: one on the experts familiar with the evolution of the act, one on the justice sector, and one on federal institutions. We have almost completed our work on the first two of these topics. All that remains is for us to hear from witnesses from federal institutions, the people who are primarily responsible for providing services in both official languages.
Thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to answer your questions.
Here are some suggestions.
There are aspects of federal-provincial-territorial transfers that could be further explored.
There is the definition of the terms “positive measure” and “active offer”.
You could study part V of the act, which deals with language of work, and go back to the Mendelsohn-Borbey report.
You could study the Official Languages Regulations that deal with part IV, which have just been amended.
There is the requirement to consult.
You could look at the principle of services offered by and for official language communities and determine what is meant by that.
You could consider the question of the administrative tribunal, actually. You may wish to continue the study of part III of the act.
In terms of the central agency, as you can see, there is no unanimity on who should act as the central agency. There are a number of possibilities, and this certainly deserves to be explored further.
Finally, there is the issue of francophone immigration, which, like the education continuum, is considered a strategic sector. These important areas of activity should be explored further to see how they can be included in the act.
First, thank you for being here today, Mr. Cormier.
I think the fact that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages and the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages are working together sets a precedent. I think that's a good thing. We should do this more regularly. We conduct studies at the same time and sometimes there is overlap in the work. To avoid that, it would be a good thing to work more regularly together and for the chairs of those two committees to meet to get to know each other's realities.
The reality of our committee is that we will also have to submit a report in June. By the time you finish writing your report in June, we will probably have already submitted ours. I'm not sure whether you could move up the deadline for filing your report.
Before I let you answer, I would like to add something briefly. Thank you for telling us what to work on to further explore everything. Among other things, we wanted to look more closely at the Gascon decision, of course. There is also the Treasury Board issue.
What I take away from all this is that a meeting would be useful. I know that these are two independent committees. That is normal and it's fine. However, some coordination could benefit our official language communities, both the anglophones in Quebec and the francophones in the rest of Canada.