Thank you Mr. Chair and respected members of Parliament.
You said this was a historic moment, and that is true for me, too. I have not been in this room in nearly 12 years, and I previously appeared here a number of times. There is no doubt that this committee is one of my favourites, along with its Senate counterpart, of course. I don't want to make anyone jealous.
Thank you for inviting me to discuss the situation of Canada's francophonie. Obviously, I will consider it from the perspective of a fairly hot topic right now, the Université de l'Ontario français.
I am really happy to talk about this, but I don't plan on making a long speech. I have followed your work, and you have been very active in this area; the interest is there. I feel that you want to engage in dialogue, ask questions and get clarifications.
I have been leading this file for over two years. We first had a year of planning, which brought the previous Ontario government to decide to create a homogenous French-language university, the first of its kind in Ontario. Afterwards, we had a year for implementation.
Today, I would like us to explore solutions to break the impasse after the university's funding was withdrawn. That said, before I begin, I would like to come back to a message I have often repeated here, when I was Commissioner of Official Languages. The federal government must show clear and proactive leadership in Canadian linguistic duality, especially when it comes to the growth and development of official language minority communities.
When I was commissioner, I had the privilege of working closely with parliamentarians to strengthen part VII of the Official Languages Act. I think that is the last, if not the only, amendment to have been made to the act. It happened in 2005 or 2006.
Some parliamentarians, including the Honourable Mr. Paradis, will probably remember that it was thanks to the leadership of Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier and Mauril Bélanger, two Franco-Ontarians, that part VII of the act could be amended. The amendment aimed to provide more teeth to that part and clarify the federal government's responsibilities toward official language minority communities.
That amendment was made 12 years ago, and I have not followed closely how the government proceeded to implement that section of the act fully. At the time, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages had conducted a study to help the government further define what was meant by “positive measures” and “obligation to act”, and aim for concrete results in the growth and support for the development of official language minority communities. I have with me provisions that talk about commitment and obligations.
Positive measures mean an obligation to act. That is what you are currently doing. You are trying to find ways of doing things that will help Ontario's francophonie acquire a tool necessary to its full development and growth.
The Franco-Ontarian community is at a crossroads. For the first time in its history, our community had cleared the last hurdle in the control and management of its homogenous French-language educational institutions.
We have our elementary and secondary schools, our homogenous francophone colleges, our school boards and, finally, a university charter, our provincial university. Its first campus is planned in Toronto, in the region with the most significant growth of francophone minorities in the country. We anticipate that more than 50% of the Ontario's francophone population will reside there in the next decade. The growth is very rapid. The university should not be built in 10 years, but now.
A single sentence in an economic statement is robbing the largest French minority community in the country of a tool necessary to its full intellectual, social, economic and cultural development. The shockwave created by that decision and, of course, by the scrapping of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, has strongly affected the province and the country as a whole. In my opinion, that reflects the fact that linguistic duality and the protection of minorities are at the heart of the Canadian identity. The situation has really captured the imagination of all Canadians.
Not everyone could take the time to create a petition, but I will leave you a copy of a petition initiated by a citizen, Clayre Bertrand. In a few weeks, she managed to collect more than 5,000 signatures to support the cause of the Université de l'Ontario français. In addition, a petition launched by the AFO has collected dozens of thousands of signatures from Canadians across the country. We are not just talking about French Ontario. Your file on Canada's francophonie is very relevant. In fact, if Ontario's francophonie stops evolving and is not healthy, the entire Canadian francophonie will lose out.
I think it is time for our government to adjust and exercise strong and remedial leadership. I am here talking about leadership and obligations, under the Canadian Constitution, aimed at progressing toward the equal status of French and English in Canadian society. I am also talking about the obligation, under the Official Languages Act, a quasi-institutional piece of legislation, to take the necessary steps—I would say all the necessary steps—to support the development and growth of the Franco-Ontarian Community.
The federal government has a number of institutions, a number of jurisdictions. A university is a place of innovation, an economic development tool, a place of creation, research and knowledge, a place of synergy and community development, and a place of intersection and partnerships between the private and the public. The federal government operates in all those spheres and in many others.
The project of the Université de l'Ontario français has the following vision: we are in Toronto, in a sea of anglophones, but we are numerous. The university is a project of a francophone hub of knowledge and innovation. Our objective is for the university to be at the heart of that hub. We have more than 14 francophone partners.
Among others, I am talking about TFO, the Théâtre français de Toronto, Collège Boréal, Canadian Parents for French and school boards.
Fourteen francophone organizations that are already partners will be housed at the same address, in the heart of Toronto. That will really become a place of meetings, exchanges and creation, in French, and a place to create, evolve, develop projects, take action and, of course, educate the young people who are waiting to attend the institution.
This is a 21st century university, an innovative university. A slew of reports published by the federal government and other sources are saying that universities do not always meet the expectations of modern and contemporary society. They have trouble keeping up to date because, in my opinion, it is difficult to change long-standing practices.
The advantage of a small university that is starting up in the 21st century is that it can align even more with the needs of contemporary society and can become a benchmark for other university institutions in Canada.
Thank you for being here, Ms. Adam.
I am happy to see recognition for the work of Jean-Robert Gauthier and Mauril Bélanger, who preceded me in my riding, and whose exemplary work I am continuing with a great deal of pride. When you are a francophone in a minority community and believe in that cause, be it in Ottawa—Vanier or anywhere else in the province, you push and you advocate.
I am also very happy to hear that we continue to want not only to protect our francophonie, but to advance it. We all agree that a French-language university is a development tool. That is clear.
The Government of Canada, through minister , has said that it was prepared to have a dialogue with the province. It is now waiting for the province to reach out, so that the dialogue can take place. Let's hope that will be the case. The message has been sent several times, and the federal government is ready to take action.
I would like us to talk about immigration because that is one of the mechanisms that could help our francophonie advance. Ms. Adam, could you share your point of view on the role immigration could play in relation to the university?
Thank you for being here with us.
As I have said repeatedly, I really believe in university education. University level training is back at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean. Universities are extraordinary places of learning and knowledge. You spoke about this. They are incubators that bring together the business environment and the cultural one. In your case, you are mostly concerned with the francophone minority.
I have two questions for you, and I am going to give you time to answer.
First, regarding the Ontario government, may we hope to see a resolution by January 15, or is this really an impasse?
Secondly, you said that there are ways, and that we have to be innovative, and universities certainly are. You must have thought about potential solutions with your board of governors that could bear fruit by January 15. You talked about provisional funding, but are there specific measures the federal government could take? You can tell us, since you have this podium now. We could exert some pressure on our government.
I must say that I am not an expert on all of the federal programs that exist to support economic development or infrastructure projects.
You know, you have everything to hand here at the government, such as competent people in all of those fields of activity. Based on my experience with elected representatives when I was here in Ottawa, I can say that that when they want to solve a problem, there is a whole infrastructure that allows them to do so.
I will go back to the question you asked about the provincial government. Is this a flat refusal on their part? I really don't know. My premise is this: the provincial government made a very unfortunate decision, one which is deplorable for Ontario's francophonie.
It's a new government. Perhaps it did not have all of the information in hand, and it may not have taken the time to obtain proper advice.
As we said earlier, sometimes elected officials make mistakes. That's normal, they are human beings. What is more important is that these mistakes be corrected. In that sense, I believe that everyone may suggest corrections, or find solutions with the federal government.
Furthermore, should the federal government wait for the province to act? Personally, I don't like to wait around. In life, if you want to move forward, I think it's preferable to find solutions. I like a proactive attitude. In my opinion, waiting is not a positive measure, but finding solutions is. They may be temporary, provisional and even a bit hobbled, but if they allow you to reach your objectives, in that case, it's all to the good.
I think there are means that can be used on the federal side. I can't go into details, but I know that people are already working on them at this time, by the way, among others at Canadian Heritage. However, we still need to act.
We can pick on him, he's not here.
Ms. Adam, thank you for being here this morning.
Earlier you referred to an association of francophone universities.
You said that you weren't the type to just wait around. I think we are going to get along well, because I'm not either. In other words, we have to take whatever means are necessary when we want to achieve a goal.
Could the federal government, which has probably already subsidized this university association for different projects, quickly allocate an ad hoc subsidy of a few million dollars to give you a chance to breathe and buy you the time to convince the government to change its decision? I don't know what you think of that idea.
I agree with you. In fact, I was the mayor of a town. I won't say that I did dishonest things in my life, but as you said earlier, sometimes there are other roads to be taken that aren't necessarily as direct as people think. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to take a few detours to arrive at the same destination, while respecting all laws, of course. Sometimes, this shortens the time we have to achieve goals.
What do you think of the idea of using that association of francophone universities?
Ms. Adam, former commissioner, thank you. Your presentation fills us with hope. It's the Christmas season, and we need hope.
You started your presentation by saying that this was a historic moment. It's true. We're turning a page in the history of Parliament, since this is our last meeting here in the Railway Room. I was here, not far from where you are now, when a shooter was on just the other side of the door on October 22, 2014. I'll have mixed memories of this particular room. I'll also remember this morning's meeting, Ms. Adam.
When I was elected as a member of Parliament in 2006, Chantier Davie Canada was bankrupt. On the website, its assets were being liquidated, and a handful of former employees who were receiving employment insurance were bidding on projects. In 2015, when I finished my term in the government, there were 1,500 employees and the Asterix ship, which is now the pride of the Royal Canadian Navy.
I'll use an English phrase to summarize your message for us this morning:
Where there's a will, there's a way.
This morning, we're seeing your commitment and we know that the project will continue. You can count on our committee to move forward in a creative way.
This morning, you proposed temporary funding as a solution. It would be a funding bridge to provide oxygen and to ensure that this project, which is already on track, remains on track. We're in the Railway Room, after all.
I don't know whether you have anything to add, but I want to thank you. We'll continue to support you. If you give us the number of your foundation, I'm sure that all the members here will be happy to put something for your foundation in their Christmas stocking.