Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3), we are continuing our study on the state of Canada’s francophonie.
This morning, we are pleased to have with us, from the Government of Ontario, Marie-Lison Fougère, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility, and Associate Deputy Minister for Francophone Affairs, and George Zegarac, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Welcome, Ms. Fougère and Mr. Zegarac. You are joined by Mr. McPherson, who is not here to testify but to assist you. I just wanted to let the committee members know about that.
As you already know, witnesses appearing before our committee enjoy parliamentary privilege and are therefore protected.
We are continuing our study on the state of official languages in the country and we have to report to the House of Commons. Before completing the study, with a specific emphasis on the language crisis in Ontario, as we describe it here, we wanted to have this dialogue with you. We want it to be as cordial as possible in order to find out how we can improve the report that we have to table in the House of Commons shortly.
We have two hours together, during which time we will be able to discuss the subject. The comments and questions are intended to move forward the whole area of language issues all over Canada.
As is our practice here, you will each have 10 minutes to give a presentation and then we will move to a question and answer period with the members of the committee.
Let us start with you, Mr. Zegarac.
I thank the chair and the members for the opportunity to make my opening remarks.
My name is George Zegarac. I was appointed the deputy minister of training, colleges and universities on June 29, 2018. Before I provide some context to the issue, I'd like to share a bit of my background with regard to my experience in the Ontario public service, where I've worked for over 32 years.
Over the last 10 years, in addition to my current portfolio, I've served as the deputy minister for these ministries: infrastructure; education; children and youth services; and agriculture, food and rural affairs. In my lengthy public service career, I've served all the political parties and have overseen files of vital importance to Ontarians, including programs and services that directly benefit Ontario's francophone community.
I will share with you a bit about my current ministry, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. The ministry is responsible for Ontario's post-secondary education and employment and training systems. The ministry provides operating and capital funding to publicly assisted colleges and universities, establishes provincial objectives for the use of those public funds and designs frameworks for achieving these objectives.
The ministry also ensures that high-quality post-secondary education is accessible to all qualified candidates through tuition regulation, student assistance, targeted funding and accountability mechanisms. In particular, the French-language services division within the ministry ensures high-quality post-secondary education for Ontario's francophone students.
In the area of workforce development, the ministry develops policy directions for adult education and labour market training. The ministry also manages and funds provincial employment training programs and services, including adult literacy and basic skills, and undertakes labour market research and planning.
I've been privileged to work on the entire continuum of education from day care through to post-secondary education. In the Ministry of Education, initially as the assistant deputy minister and then as the deputy minister, I supported the creation of an independent Télévision française de l'Ontario, or TFO. This included developing a collaborative and mutually respectful relationship with TFO over a period of several years.
During my time at the Ministry of Education, and together with the community, we have overseen the creation of a number of French-language schools across the province and have worked with staff to tailor programs and services to francophone students. This includes various programs such as specialist high skills majors and dual credit recognition, for example. These programs have changed the experience of students in schools across the province and have helped them with their transition to post-secondary education or to the labour market. I was also the deputy minister at a time when French as a second language programs expanded substantially to meet the needs of students and parents who were increasingly interested in French-language instruction.
Through base funding investments and collaboration with the francophone community, Ontario now has almost 500 French-language schools and close to 110,000 francophone students. French immersion has grown to more than 200,000 students, and French-language funding has grown to $1 billion. These funding investments continue to support and serve the francophone community today.
In my current role as deputy minister of training, colleges and universities, we are guided by Ontario's 620,000 francophones, with over 200,000 francophones living in central and southwestern Ontario. The Ontario government continues to work with the francophone community to make it easier for French-speaking Ontarians to access high-quality post-secondary education. More than 22,000 students attend post-secondary institutions, with close to 17,000 attending university and more than 5,500 attending two French-language colleges, La Cité and Collège Boréal.
This history of collaboration has resulted in 10 post-secondary institutions that provide over 300 French-language or bilingual programs in Ontario colleges and universities, including the University of Ottawa, Laurentian University, Collège Boréal, La Cité, York University's Collège universitaire Glendon, and L'Université de Hearst and its four associated affiliates.
Examples of Ontario's rich and diverse French-language post-secondary programs include bachelor's degrees in nursing, civil law and criminal law, nutritional science, social work, environmental studies, business administration, economics, mathematics and international studies, to name just a few.
In addition, Ontario post-secondary institutions also offer diplomas in domains such as digital and information technology, public relations, civil engineering, electrical engineering, architecture, forestry, mining and agriculture.
The government also committed recently to investing in post-secondary francophone education in Ontario by providing $15 million to Collège Boréal for its Toronto campus. The ministry continues to support models of post-secondary education that meet the needs of francophone students and the francophone community, as well as Ontario's business community in the evolving job market.
I'd like to now provide an overview of the actions the Ontario government has taken over the years to advance the French-language university in Ontario. In April of 2011, the ministry established an expert panel to provide advice on the most efficient models to build French-language post-secondary capacity in the central and southwest regions. One of the expert panel's recommendations was for government to support the establishment of post-secondary institutions designated under the French Language Services Act.
In 2014, the ministry proceeded to develop and implement an action plan to address the expert panel's and the commissioner's recommendations. The government plan included establishing an advisory committee on French-language post-secondary education; issuing a request for proposals to expand French-language university and college programming; and providing support to Glendon College—part of York University—to explore enhanced governance for and by francophones at York University, located in Toronto's north end.
The French-language advisory committee was established in February of 2014. In March of 2016, a report by the advisory committee on French-language post-secondary education in central-southwest Ontario recommended the creation of a university governed by and for francophones. In response to this, a planning board was created in June of 2016, comprising a chair and six board members. A student interest and market demand study was commissioned, and in May of 2017, the ministry received the study, by R.A. Malatest and Associates Ltd., which supported the creation of a French-language university.
The planning board's report was finalized in July of 2017. The planning board recommended that a French-language university begin classes in September 2020. The Université de l'Ontario français Act, 2017, came into force on April 9, 2018. The first board of governors of the Université de l'Ontario français was also appointed on April 9, 2018, via a minister's regulation.
On November 15, 2018, the government announced in the “2018 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review” that, due to fiscal concerns, funding for the Université de l'Ontario français would not proceed at this time. The government has also indicated that the French-language university could be reconsidered once the fiscal position of the province has improved. The board of governors is able to access private and public funding from other entities while the project is on pause.
At this time, the Université de l'Ontario français Act, 2017, remains in force; the board of governors remains in place, as specified in the regulation; and the interim president's appointment continues. The government has no plans at this time to revoke or amend legislation under the Université de l'Ontario français Act, 2017. The government has indicated it is committed to high-quality French-language post-secondary education, with many French-language programs available at universities and colleges in Ontario to provide francophones with the educational opportunities they need to succeed.
The government has indicated that it will continue to support post-secondary French-language colleges and bilingual universities that are efficient and cost-effective and also benefit francophone students.
Thank you for the opportunity to share with you the opening remarks. With the chair's permission, I will pass the floor to my colleague.
Good morning, distinguished members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages.
I am grateful for this invitation and opportunity to talk to you about the mandate of the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, and about how French-language services are organized in the Ontario public service.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Marie-Lison Fougère and I am the Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility and, since June 2018, Associate Deputy Minister for Francophone Affairs.
Allow me to give a very brief overview of my career.
First, I must mention that French is my mother tongue. I grew up in a unilingual francophone environment in the Rimouski region in eastern Quebec. As those of you who know the Rimouski region can well imagine—although the situation has evolved a lot since that time—I had to learn English as a second language.
I have more than 25 years' experience in the Ontario public service. I have had the opportunity to support various governments and to work very closely with them.
My experience comes in the form of a number of management and senior management positions in various ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, and, of course, the Ministry of Francophone Affairs.
Like my colleague, I have worked very closely with a range of areas, including education at elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels, and labour market training in both English and French.
A number of the areas I have been called upon to handle during my professional career are horizontal in scope. The field of francophone affairs, including French-language services, is one of those areas.
In its legislation, Ontario recognizes the obligation to provide services in French to the province’s francophone community. The right to services in French was enshrined in the French Language Services Act, which was passed in 1986 and came into effect in November 1989. The act was intended to cover many areas, as it still does, and to provide a legal basis for French in the province. By virtue of the act, Francophones in the province are provided with government services in French in designated regions of Ontario.
The French Language Services Act recognizes and emphasizes that the French language is a historic and honoured language in Ontario and that the Constitution of Canada recognizes it as an official language. It also emphasizes that, in Ontario, the French language is recognized as an official language in the courts and in education, and that the Legislature recognizes the contribution of the cultural heritage of the French-speaking population and wishes to preserve it for future generations.
The French Language Services Act is the main legislative instrument governing the provision of French-language services in the province. As such, I would like to very briefly describe the major features of the mandate of the Ministry of Francophone Affairs in the public service of Ontario.
The Ministry of Francophone Affairs oversees the implementation of the French Language Services Act. Very importantly, it works in very close partnership with ministries and agencies so that services in French are provided to the public, particularly in the designated regions of the province. We make recommendations for designating new regions and new agencies. As an example, I should mention Markham, the most recent designated region, where French-language services began to be implemented last summer, in 2018.
We also lead the planning and implementation of French-language services, once a region has been newly designated. Once again, we work very closely with the ministries on the ground to provide services. We collaborate with government ministries and agencies to ensure that the needs and interests of the Franco-Ontarian community are accommodated. In addition, we represent the Government of Ontario in francophone matters.
I would also like to highlight the fact that the ministry supports the provincial advisory committee on francophone affairs. The committee is responsible for providing the Ministry of Francophone Affairs with advice on a range of matters and issues affecting the Francophonie in Ontario. I would also like to point out that Ms. Fortier was a member of the committee a few years ago.
Currently, Ontario has 26 designated regions under the French Language Services Act. This represents about 80% of the Francophones living in Ontario. The province also has more than 200 designated organizations, grouped into various sectors of activity.
However, it is extremely important to emphasize that providing services in French, or, more specifically, the responsibility to provide services in French, is in the hands of the ministries. As a result, the staff of the Ministry of Francophone Affairs works in close collaboration with a team of French-language services coordinators, who work in the ministries.
To make the horizontal management of matters and issues easier, these coordinators are situated in five groups of ministries.
First, we have the health group, which includes the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
Then, the justice group includes the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
The third group, education and community services, includes the Ministry of Children, Social and Community Services, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
The fourth group deals with the economy and with central organizations. It is made up of the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, and the Ministry of Labour.
Last but not least is the group for lands and resources. It includes the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines.
I have taken a few minutes to introduce all those groups to you, because it shows the complexity and scope of the tasks before us and the issues in which we are involved.
The French-language services coordinators play an extremely important role because they are responsible for the planning, development and implementation of services in French. They also ensure that their ministries consider the needs and interests of the Franco-Ontarian population. They therefore work in concert with ourselves in the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, to enhance access to services on the ground.
I would like to emphasize that the Ministry of Francophone Affairs works in constant and very close collaboration with various ministries, including the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
In conclusion, as you know, the Franco-Ontarian community has many faces and is constantly evolving. It is dynamic and creative thanks to a strong drive to come together, and a network of organizations with activities in a variety of fields, such as health, justice, education, economics and communications, to name but a few.
The Ministry of Francophone Affairs intends to continue working in collaboration with all its partners in order to support the vitality of the Franco-Ontarian community.
Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to answer your questions to the best of my ability.
Good morning, colleagues. Ms. Fougère, Mr. Zegarac, Mr. McPherson, welcome to Ottawa.
Greetings also to everyone listening to us.
I would like to tell you that inviting you to appear is not the most joyous occasion for us. I understand that this is a difficult moment for you, but our goal is absolutely not to make you uncomfortable or to back you into a corner. Our committee has a responsibility to Parliament to ensure that the language rights of official language communities all over the country are guaranteed and protected. That is the context in which we invited you and I thank you for joining us this morning.
I would like to talk to you about Part VII of the Official Languages Act, which deals with positive measures.
As you said, Ms. Fougère, language matters in Canada are evolving very quickly. Communities are establishing themselves everywhere. There are said to be 700 francophone schools in the country. New high schools continue to appear, as is the case in Whitehorse, where construction work began this week, I believe.
Language matters are evolving very quickly at federal level too. In 2005, under the Paul Martin government, Conservatives and Liberals voted almost unanimously in favour of including positive measures in Part VII of the act. That created a new paradigm for official languages in Canada, because those measures complicate the division of powers between the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments. As Conservatives, honouring areas of jurisdiction is fundamental. As the future government in a few months, we must be responsible and participate in the work of this committee that is designed to protect the constitutional primacy of the country’s two official languages.
However, the positive measures in Part VII of the act could allow the federal level to grant funds on an exceptional basis. That has never really been done before, except a few weeks ago when Ms. Joly unlocked $2 million to establish the Université de l’Ontario français project. That is a start.
However, the idea of granting $40 million to fund the first four years of that same university’s existence is not a good one, because we still do not know the real costs.
Mr. Zegarac, your professional career is exceptional. You have been working in your ministry for 35 years, if I understand correctly, or at least on behalf of the official languages and the Francophonie in Ontario. Can you give us all the figures for the new Université de l’Ontario français in Toronto this morning? Aside from the $80 million in start-up costs, what will be the operational costs for the next eight years, especially if we go from 300 registered students to 3,000? We need to know what those total costs will be, because we cannot embark on a financial adventure in the name of the positive measures in Part VII of the act if we do not know what they are.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I, too, would like to thank the witnesses for being here today to answer our questions.
As you know, the federal government has a responsibility toward minority francophones and anglophones across Canada. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act. There is no doubt that improvements to this legislation is needed, which the government has clearly recognized. I'm sorry for saying this, but the kind of decision the Ontario government has made has shown the weakness of the act.
I always question leadership because, in my opinion, it's a matter of leadership. Leaders must make decisions for their people, but to do that, they need to know their people.
Mr. Zegarac, I'm going to ask you some questions about certain answers you have given us, and I would appreciate it if you could be brief.
You said that numbers of projects were postponed because of the fiscal situation. Did anybody think that maybe when you make cuts, leadership is about making cuts, where cuts are able to be made, that don't disadvantage one group?
It has been clearly shown that budget cuts made at the expense of a francophone minority do much more harm than cuts in other areas because it takes several years to catch up. That's the difference.
In the Montfort Hospital case, the Ontario Court of Appeal judge recognized the importance of francophone institutions for Ontario's francophone minority in terms of language, culture and education. In other words, if we lose these institutions, it might be forever. It will take a very long time for the damage to be repaired.
There is another very important aspect. Quebec protects its institutions, and in a minority situation, institutions protect minorities. You can't make these cuts under the sole pretext that you are cutting funding by only 10%. Do you agree that cuts can cause more harm to one group than another?
Good afternoon. I want to welcome both of you. I'm very happy that you're here today. I'm actually not entirely happy, because we may be putting you in a somewhat special situation. However, the members on our side and all the committee members really want to understand what happened in Ontario.
My name is Sylvie Boucher, and I'm the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. Unfortunately, the whole saga surrounding the Université de l'Ontario français has created a language crisis, not only in Ontario, but across the country.
Did you warn your ministers about the repercussions of the announcements resulting from this type of decision? Did you help them understand the sensitivity of the French language issue? Although we aren't a minority in Quebec and this issue is more directly related to my friend on the other side, it affects all francophones, wherever they live in Canada. Were you aware that the issue could lead to a crisis of this nature?
Did you contact the interim president or the UOF's board of governors prior to the public announcement of the project's cancellation? Did anyone in the office call the board or the minister? Did you contact the departments or the board of governors?
When the issue concerns language, in any part of the country, it's a little dangerous.
My question is for the two witnesses.
If I may, in the context of the Agreement on French-Language Services, Ontario invested twice as much as the federal government.
I know that part VII of the Official Languages Act refers to measures to ensure the vitality of minority communities. It is extremely important to recognize the vital need to support French-language services. Quite often, in the various communities, especially in remote locations, it is not easy to access services. I know that the federal government has the same type of responsibility in its own areas of jurisdiction. French-language services are very important.
I'd like to add that the federal government, through Canadian Heritage, was asked to take a closer look at the scope of investments in French-language services. That request was also made by the ministers responsible for French-language services in the different provinces.
Let's go back a bit. The 2018 Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie communiqué, which was recent, stated that the provincial ministers responsible for French services or the francophonie found it regrettable that the federal government had not increased its contribution under the Agreement on French-Language Services. I'm referring to that agreement alone. That request was not made by Ontario.
In light of the large population and extremely complex and diverse geography of Ontario, the government invests large sums through its various departments to support French-language services. I worked on this file for several years and I always believed—and said so on many occasions—that French-language services play an essential role in the vitality of communities.
There are a lot of things that contribute to the vitality of francophone minorities, notably institutions and organizations, but access to services in French is extremely important. It is important here, and I imagine that it is very important elsewhere as well.