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Coat of Arms

Standing Committee on Official Languages


NUMBER 127 
l
1st SESSION 
l
42nd PARLIAMENT 

EVIDENCE

Thursday, December 13, 2018

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

  (0855)  

[Translation]

    Good morning. Welcome to this meeting. I want to point out to all of those watching us that this meeting is very special because it is the last time a committee will be meeting in this room for another 10 or 15 years. I hope that you all realize how great it is to be the last people to sit in this room on Parliament Hill before we move and the building undergoes renovations.
    I thank Ms. Holke for making arrangements so that this morning's meeting could be held here, in Centre Block, and be televised.
    We will move on to the agenda right away.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 108, we are continuing our study on Canada's francophonie. We are pleased to hear from Dyane Adam, former Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and the Chair of the Board of Governors of the Université de l'Ontario français.
    Ms. Adam, welcome. You have a few minutes to make a presentation, after which, as usual, we will go around the table for questions, answers and comments.
    Go ahead Ms. Adam.
    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    Today, I would like us to explore solutions to break the impasse after the university's funding was withdrawn.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.

  (0900)  

    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.

  (0905)  

    Thank you very much.
    Ms. Adam, if that's okay with you, we will immediately go to questions and comments.
    I just want to let my colleagues know that the first round will be about four minutes, and the second will be three minutes.
    I will try to manage everything as best I can, so that everyone can speak.
    I now give the floor to Alupa Clarke.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    I am very honoured to be with you this morning for the last committee meeting in Parliament Hill's Centre Block.
    Ms. Adam, your comments are very enlightening. I thank you for agreeing to come meet with us this morning on such short notice. You talked about very important concepts and terms: “obligation to act”, “strong leadership”. You also repeated that all necessary measures should be taken.
    I feel that this is a golden opportunity for a federal government, regardless of the party in power, to materialize, define and turn into reality the meaning of “positive measure”.
    I cannot believe that I have before me someone who participated in the implementation of part VII of the Official Languages Act.
    Yes, I was born, as it was in 2005. I was travelling around Europe at the time.
    I did not have long hair. I cut it when I was 17 years old.
    Some hon. members: Ha, ha!
    Ms. Adam, could you tell us what stage you are at, practically speaking? We are hearing about a date, such as January 15, and about the $1.5 million you have left.
    So what stage are you at from a practical perspective?
    For the time being, I have still not received any formal communication from the government. Like all of you, I have heard the political statement.
    Our funding is based on the activities underway, which will end around January 15. I am telling you that the situation is urgent. Our team is reduced, but it is doing amazing work. Our governance board is made up of volunteers, and it is also doing a tremendous job. That is why I believe we need urgent action, and we need a decision to be made and a position to be taken.
    The federal government could help us temporarily, until all the decision-makers have had a chance to rethink the project, to potentially get to a more permanent agreement.
    When you talk about urgent measures, you are of course thinking of money.
    Of course. We don't want to fire our employees, and we don't want to lose our momentum.
    We know that this decision was made by a new government. In that regard, a bit more time may be needed to remedy the situation. What is important for us is to keep the file alive and to have the time to find solutions.
    By when do you need the money?
    Well, by tomorrow.
    Some hon. members: Ha, ha!
    I did not understand what January 15 is related to? What exactly does that date mean?
    The reason why I said January 15—I also said “tomorrow”—is that it is still urgent.
    We have financial burdens, employees to pay, and we have to cover the university's operating costs. We were still expecting the provincial government to give us what had already been approved for the year underway.
    As we were informed that there would be no more funding, we are exhausting the funding we were previously allocated. So the members of the governance board and I, as its chair, have to make sure not to accumulate debts and to manage to close files.
    Thank you, Mr. Clarke.
    I give the floor to Ms. Fortier.
    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 Mélanie Joly, 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?

  (0910)  

    With your permission, I will tell you how the francophone immigration dossier came to be on the radar screen of minority francophone communities.
    Before I became Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, I was Principal of Glendon College in Toronto. At the time, I was struck by the diversity of that environment, where all communities were represented. The anglophone population of Toronto was increasing exponentially as the majority welcomed many immigrants. On the francophone side, however, we had very few, and we had no infrastructure yet to receive francophones. Once I became commissioner, I carried out two studies on francophone immigration because I felt we absolutely had to get the federal government involved in that. Today, we are much better equipped to receive immigrants than we were 15 or 20 years ago.
    Today, Toronto's francophonie is rich with diversity. Some immigrants even have trouble integrating because they do not speak English. It's important that the francophone communities have a nexus, a place where they can gather. Francophone immigrants also must be told that wherever they are in the world, their francophone identity has a place in Toronto and that they can preserve it because it enriches Canada. Moreover, they will be able to study and live in French. We will even help them to become bilingual, because that's necessary in Toronto. Immigration is in full expansion and its momentum should continue. Moreover, there is a demographic mobility in Canada that brings many francophones to Toronto from Quebec and elsewhere, and this will not change. And so we must be ready.
    Ms. Fortier, did you want to add something?
    I would simply like to quickly say that the solution announced by Minister Hussen, that the Centre francophone de Toronto would be responsible for settlement services for francophone immigrants arriving at Pearson Airport, could be one of the tools that will help the university to become known.
    I'm not worried, because the university is already well known. We can count on incredible support in Toronto from English language universities, the anglophone community and francophone ethnocultural communities. To get back to settlement, I would like to remind you that the executive director of the Centre francophone de Toronto is a member of the Université de l'Ontario français board of governors.
    Thank you, Ms. Fortier.
    I now yield the floor to Mr. Choquette.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    For the university to become known, first it would have to continue to exist.
    You are quite right.
    Right now the building is on fire and we have to put the fire out. That is the first thing we need to do.
    Ms. Adam, I really like what you said. January 15 is a very important date. You just said as chair of the board of governors that we could not allow ourselves to accumulate debts and deficits and that at a certain point difficult decisions have to be made. for instance the decision to lay off workers, close offices and so on. It is therefore urgent that you receive some funding to keep your employees and keep the offices open so that this project may continue.
    What we hear is that the current Liberal government does not want to fund the university because it a needs to receive an official, formal request from the Ford government, which it will never receive. We have to stop dreaming in technicolour. The government will not receive that request, and certainly not by January 15.
    You spoke about other federal government means or obligations that are interesting; but to get there, would we not need to temporarily change the function or mission of the people who work there? We could for example, set up a six-month francophone knowledge and innovation hub. The federal government could fund that.

  (0915)  

    The federal government could fund a lot of things. The francophone hub is one projet and already partners have come forward. We also plan to create a Franco-Ontarian university network with affiliated universities that already exist.
    The Université de l'Ontario français is in close contact with the private sector. Our students work with the private sector, either the economic, cultural or other sectors. Indeed, certain things could be done. We could talk about this in more detail, but I know that we don't have time today. There are ways of presenting the project from different angles.
    Ms. Adam, we have all the time we need because we must find a solution. The Standing Committee on Official Languages has really made this its priority. There is a crisis in Ontario and we have to save the Université de l'Ontario français. To do so, we are going to take all the time we need. If necessary, we will even come back on January 3, which happens to be my birthday.
    Very well.
    We are going to do everything we need to do to save the Université. If we have to take detours to save it, we will take detours. As we say back home, if by doing the same thing you always fail, you have to try something else.
    We are asking the Government of Ontario to make an offer regarding the Université, but it is not making one. Consequently, the federal government cannot subsidize it or make an offer. It's a deadlock.
    What are the other possibilities? If we don't have time to discuss this in detail today, I would like you to send us the board of governors' proposals, the proposals from the people around you and the thinkers. What else can we do to save the Université? What short-term mission can we give the people who work for you so that we can reactivate the Université de l'Ontario français project later? At this time, people are preparing a knowledge and innovation hub in Toronto. There isn't really any proper nexus or space for francophones. We have to save this.
    Thank you very much, Mr. Choquette.
    Thank you very much.
    I am going to consider Mr. Choquette's intervention as a comment because we are trying to go faster so that we can respect our schedule.
    I now give the floor to Mr. Lefebvre.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    Ms. Adam, thank you for being here. You have links with Sudbury. I'm very happy to welcome you this morning.
    I find it interesting to hear someone from Quebec say that they are encouraging the federal level to encroach on a provincial jurisdiction. That said, in this country, official languages are an important issue. This is also true for me and for northern Ontario.
    My colleague, Mr. Choquette, spoke about the francophone hub that is currently in Toronto and about the important role it plays. Since January 15 is arriving very quickly and since the province is not responding to the calls, what solutions can you suggest to maintain the momentum and continue activities?
    I am asking the federal government to consider provisional funding. Various approaches could be used. The federal government has several mechanists at its disposal to support the development of communities. Your colleague's suggestion is very intelligent. The francophone hub also has private partners, a fact which my team and I have brought to the attention of the provincial government.
    However, this requires a cost-benefit analysis. We could examine that. It would certainly delay the opening the university, which was planned for 2020. We want to receive young people who are now in grade 11. We don't want to lose them. So we are conflicted, but at this time we're not aiming for an ideal situation. I'm ready to make all kinds of compromises. I like to achieve my goals. That said, the road is not always as straight as we would like it to be.

  (0920)  

    Are there any precedents in the educational field? Can you give us any concrete examples of cases where the province backed out and the federal government took over the reigns?
    Yes, there are some. In some cases, the federal government has created institutions outright, notably the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities in Moncton. I'm also thinking of the Monfort Hospital. I no longer remember all of the details, but I do remember that in that battle we won because of certain legal developments; the federal level gave us a good hand up. If I remember correctly, it transferred veterans' health services to the Monfort Hospital. It really had an important impact at that time. This indirectly strengthened that institution, which serves the francophone minority. There are ways of doing this; we just have to think of them. Where there's a will there's a way. I really believe that.
    Universities are often asked to be innovative. I am asking the federal government to be innovative.
    I now yield the floor to Mr. Rioux.
    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.

  (0925)  

    Thank you very much, Mr. Rioux.
    Mr. Généreux, you have three minutes, which will also include Ms. Adam's replies.
    Why?
    Are you telling me that I am pulling a Samson?
    Some hon. members: Hah, hah!
    He isn't here.
    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?
    Perhaps I did not express myself well with regard to that association. I was talking about the fact that we want to create a network of affiliated, federated universities in Ontario.
    At this time, we are receiving offers from everywhere. We are receiving some from Quebec universities and from all over the place, as well as offers of assistance from the private sector. We also received offers to launch a funding campaign for the university. We have, in fact, already talked about this.
    But let's understand that this is not a private university.
    That is correct.
    So, we need government support. It's not a university that will cater to elites and cost students $35,000 a year.
    Ms. Adam, we all agree with this.
    I want to add that Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière is private and Cégep de La Pocatière is public, and that they both hold fundraising campaigns every four or five years.
    All universities hold fundraising campaigns.
    They look to raise $2 million or $3 million every five years. In fact, we already had the opportunity to talk about it.
    Journalist Benjamin Vachet, who is here, wrote an article on the topic. While preparing the article, he interviewed the executive director of the university, who told him that, normally—it's true, he's right—the universities seek money to fund programs and scholarships, but not operations. What he said is completely true.
    Under these circumstances, I consider that there could be different forms of funding. As I told you, there are firms that handle this. There could be funding for operations.
     I'll say it again and I'll say it publicly. If Mr. Desmarais and Mr. Desmarais, the sons of a proud Franco-Ontarian, are watching us, they may end up giving money as part of a fundraising campaign for operations.
    Thank you.
     You're absolutely right. I would add that there's often a requirement for equivalent funding from the government, which amounts to 50%. I totally agree. In fact, it's one of the projects on the table in connection with the former fundraising campaign. We've even received offers from universities or foundations that are ready to support us since we don't yet have a charitable registration number.
    Okay, thank you.
    We'll now hear from Mr. Fergus and Ms. Lambropoulos, who each have one minute.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    Thank you for being here, Ms. Adam. As a representative of a Quebec constituency in the Outaouais area, and as an Anglo-Quebecer and francophile, I can assure that our community is 100% behind the university and the Franco-Ontarian community. We attended the demonstrations, and we'll continue to support you.
    We're looking at what's happening across the Ottawa River and we're stunned by what Doug Ford's Conservative government is doing. In fact, he isn't doing anything. Did I hear correctly that you're ready to meet with his team to propose funding solutions, such as involving the federal government, the private sector and other community groups and organizations? Yet, you're being rejected by the other side.

  (0930)  

    Until now, we haven't been able to meet with Minister Mulroney or Minister Fullerton. However, this hasn't prevented us from having conversations with their team, sending them documents and proposing solutions. These solutions include fundraising, a “carrefour francophone”, public-private partnerships and, of course, the federal-provincial solution.
    I can assure you that I don't give up easily.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
    Have you not even received a phone call from Ms. Mulroney?
    We received a call before this whole situation occurred, to warn us that more conditions would need to be met before the board is recognized and that more time would be needed to think about the project. This wasn't surprising, since the government had just taken office. In July, I received the call, but I didn't really have any quality time to explain the project. It's somewhat deplorable. If we had had some time, we may have been able to convey the full significance of the issue.
    This isn't about adding another campus to an existing university, as is the case at Ryerson University, a wonderful institution that I love and that I consider a “mentor university” for the Université de l'Ontario français. Ryerson University and two or three other English-language universities have a new campus a few hundred kilometres from their base. However, in our case, we aren't talking about a satellite campus 100 or 200 kilometres from the main campus. We're talking about a brand new university.
     We can't expect young people and people from central-southwestern Ontario to study in French 500 kilometres from home, in Sudbury, a place that I love and where I worked, or in Ottawa, even though I worked at the University of Ottawa. Without a francophone university in Toronto, most of these people will attend an English-language university, where they will stay and become assimilated.
    Thank you, Ms. Adam.
    Thank you, Mr. Fergus.
    Thank you, Ms. Lambropoulos for giving your speaking time to Mr. Fergus.
    We'll finish with Mr. Blaney, who has three minutes.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    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:

[English]

Where there's a will, there's a way.

[Translation]

    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.

  (0935)  

    I hope that Santa Claus will be very generous. Thank you.
    Mr. Blaney has already written his cheque.
    Yes, it will be our first.
    This concludes your appearance, Ms. Adam. On behalf of all the committee members, I want to thank you for your presentation, comments and answers to questions. Don't give up.
    Thank you.
     We want to leave you with that message. Don't give up.
    We'll take a break for a few minutes in order to go in camera to discuss the committee's work.
    Thank you.
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