Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, first I want to thank you for having invited us to appear today, at an important moment for us.
A month has gone by since the FCFA unveiled a bill to modernize the Official Languages Act. We spent this month clarifying specific points in the document; meeting with parliamentarians and government representatives to speak to them about our proposal; discussing the changes we were putting forward; and following the conversations and debates created by our action.
We are proud of our work. It is the result of an effort that involved not only the FCFA and its member organizations, but also a variety of partner institutions, citizens and thinkers within our communities. Contributions came from everywhere. This includes the many comments gathered by your colleagues at the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, from young people and researchers, as well as those made to your committee. We also relied on the 45 years of existence of the FCFA, years during which we witnessed ups and downs in the respect afforded the Official Languages Act.
Some of the things we propose are, in fact, not new. The idea of creating an official language minority communities advisory committee already existed in 1980. That year, our organization signed an agreement with the Clark government to set up a joint committee. As for the idea of creating an official languages tribunal, the federation put that forward in 1988.
The FCFA is not the only one behind this bill. It truly is the result of the thinking done by the vital forces of the francophonie on this matter. It is the proposal put forward by our communities to modernize the act.
I want to thank you for the serious attention with which you received and studied this draft bill. I note that two suggestions, in particular—the designation of a central agency and the creation of an official languages tribunal—were thought about and debated at the meetings of this committee.
I will thus use the time I have today to discuss a topic that has not been debated as much, and that is Part VII and the obligation to take positive measures.
You are no doubt aware of the saga of the Alliance nationale de l'industrie musicale, one of our community's organizations, following a complaint tabled with the Official Languages Commissioner in 2013.
This complaint involved a breach of the CRTC's duty to inform our communities of the way they could be impacted by a decision involving the commission and SiriusXM. Five years later—an unreasonable delay —the commissioner found in favour of the Alliance and ruled that the CRTC had not respected the obligations set out in Part VII.
One year later, there was a dramatic twist. The Commissioner of Official Languages annulled his decision in a new report, and deemed the Alliance's complaint to be unfounded.
What happened between the two reports? A Federal Court ruling called into question a decade and a half of the interpretation of federal institutions' obligations to take positive measures to support the development of our communities.
Following this decision, the commissioner decided to change the way he investigated complaints on Part VII. This change means that it is now very difficult to have a complaint recognized as legitimate. No matter what we think of the commissioner's decision to change the way he investigates those complaints, the result remains the same. The Federal Court decision opened a giant gap in Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
Our draft bill fills the gap. The Federal Court ruled that the wording of section 41 did not specify the type of positive measures federal institutions should take. Our draft clarifies this wording by spelling out the obligation to take the necessary positive measures to enhance the vitality of our communities and support their development.
Section 43 of our draft bill suggests further structure for the duty some federal institutions have to take positive measures. These are, more specifically, departments that are more closely related to the development of our communities, like Canadian Heritage, Employment and Social Development Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and Statistics Canada.
The new Part Vll we are proposing also codifies the obligation, for federal institutions, to consult official language minority communities. It defines what effective consultations should look like. It describes how they should differ from the simple information sessions to which federal institutions invite us too often. Finally, it creates the official languages minority communities advisory council.
This particular provision merits that I focus on it briefly. The Official Languages Act, 1988, recognizes that the government has the responsibility to act to support the development of official languages minority communities, but the act is silent on how the communities are to participate in that commitment, since it is their development that is at stake. Until now, the law has not formally recognized an official government partner at the community level.
The creation of an advisory council would allow the communities to have their word to say in the implementation of federal institutions' language obligations. It would allow them to take part in the development of a five-year official languages plan and in the ten-year review of the act we are proposing. This council, made up of representatives of the various organizations that speak for the communities, but also of other citizens, would bring the act into the 21st century. In fact, it would include some very current approaches to the relations between the government and minorities.
My last point regarding the new Part Vll we are proposing concerns federal-provincial-territorial funds transfer agreements. The Federal Court decision I mentioned earlier involved a case where the Government of British Columbia had received federal funds for employment assistance and had used them in a way that was prejudicial to the francophone community.
This issue underscored the weakness of the language clauses in these funds transfer agreements. That is why our proposal suggests the inclusion, in any agreement of that type, of a binding language clause that will require two things from the provinces and territories: first, the allocation of funds specific to the needs of official language minority communities, and also consultations with those communities. Finally, those provisions would also require that responsibilities with respect to accountability be outlined.
I'd like to emphasize that these proposals echo what you have heard from various witnesses. Language clauses, clearly setting out the obligations of certain key departments, the duty to consult, the creation of an advisory council, have all been brought up previously before this committee.
Since we unveiled our draft bill, not a week goes by without events providing further proof of the crying need to modernize this law. The need is timely and there is a broad consensus on the issues. It's time to act.
You have before you the first comprehensive proposal in three decades for a complete, in-depth modernization of the Official Languages Act. As I said in the beginning of my presentation, this is not just a simple brief. It is a project that issues from all of our communities. It distills the thoughts of hundreds of groups, citizens, and researchers.
We respectfully recommend that this committee append this proposal in its entirety to the final report it will submit to Parliament.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you, members of the committee. It is a pleasure to see you all here together.
Thank you for inviting me here today to talk, first, about the provisional budget 2019-20 and, second, the proposal to hold a federal-provincial-territorial summit on official languages as part of the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act.
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the important work that you colleagues have been doing as a committee. Your efforts to modernize the Official Languages Act and optimize the action plan on official languages inform our thinking, and I'm very grateful for that.
With me today is my deputy minister Guylaine Roy, as well as Andrew Francis, who is the chief financial officer at the Department of Canadian Heritage, and Denis Racine, who is the director general for the official languages branch.
Mr. Chair, I know that you're closely looking at and following the implementation of “Action Plan for Official Languages 2018-2023: Investing in Our Future”.
We are finally at the point where the action plan for official languages is now one year old.
It's a clear indicator of our government's commitment toward official language minority communities.
It proposes a clear vision and specific measures to promote bilingualism and strengthen official language minority communities.
Most importantly, it proposes a historic investment in official languages. Specifically, this represents $2.7 billion over five years for programs that promote official languages, including nearly $500 million in new funding.
Through these investments, we reaffirmed our commitment to support the two million Canadians in a minority language situation, allowing them to live in their language on a daily basis and to reduce the risks of linguistic assimilation.
This requires strong communities and organizations that can provide programs and spaces to ensure their own vitality.
The implementation of the action plan is progressing as planned. At my last appearance, I mentioned that three important announcements about the implementation had already been made. First, there was confirmation of a 20% increase in core funding for community organizations; second, funding for community media; third, an investment in the community cultural action fund to offer more cultural activities for students in official language minority communities.
I also had an opportunity to make three major announcements about education infrastructure for francophone communities outside Quebec, in Rogersville, New Brunswick, at the Université de Saint Boniface, Manitoba, and in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
On January 8, I was in Rogersville announcing $3.2 million in funding over two years for the construction of a 329-seat school cafeteria/theatre. On February 15, at Université de Saint-Boniface in Manitoba, I announced an investment of close to $2.1 million for the construction of a learning and child care centre on campus. On March 14, in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, I announced an investment of $3 million over three years to expand and renovate the shared and community spaces of the Centre Belle-Alliance.
On March 14, I also took advantage of this opportunity to announce funding of close to $500,000 for seven Acadian and francophone organizations in Prince Edward Island.
In all those cases, those announcements were extremely well received.
Rogersville has been fighting for 25 years to have this cafeteria and theatre project. The entire community gathered for the announcement. We can say that this will really change the lives of people living in this region of northern New Brunswick.
The same is true in Saint-Boniface. Almost all universities in Manitoba have child care centres. The Université de Saint-Boniface, the only francophone university not only in Manitoba but also to the west of Quebec, was the only one that did not have a child care centre. So, the entire community gathered to celebrate this announcement.
On March 14, when I went to the Centre Belle-Alliance, the women who had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court to get their children to a primary school were present. In short, we announced that high school would now be available for the linguistic minority in Summerside.
So, in all three cases, we can see that these announcements really have a concrete impact on the community.
Of course, these substantial investments are reflected in the financial authorities.
Given that you asked me to talk about it, I will go into the financial details.
The total budgets for the Official Languages Support Programs for 2019-2020 fiscal year will be $435.4 million. This figure includes an increase of $69.9 million directly from the action plan for official languages.
If we add the funding for the other programs and departments participating in the action plan, we're looking at close to $500 million in new funding over five years. In fact, it's a little over $500 million over five years, and I'll explain why later.
These increases are permanent. They will continue well beyond the five-year term of the action plan, at a rate of more than $100 million per year. This is an extremely positive financial outlook for our communities and for the promotion of official languages.
We know that in minority situations, educational institutions are pillars for communities.
Before I go on to education, I would like to acknowledge the passing of a very important individual for the English community in Quebec, James Shea. As a former leader of the Quebec Community Groups Network, QCGN, he was instrumental in obtaining federal support and getting the provincial government to create a secretariat to improve relations with the anglophone communities. Of course, I would like to share the government's support to his legacy and obviously to the entire community.
It goes without saying that francophones in Ontario have the right to receive an education in their language. That's why our government announced funding of $1.9 million to support the creation of the Université de l'Ontario français in Toronto. The start-up team will now be able to continue their efforts until January 2020.
We will always stand by our communities to protect their language rights.
That is also why budget 2019 provides additional support to education in the minority language. This support is conditional on the conclusion of a new protocol or new bilateral agreements in education with the provincial and territorial governments.
I would also like to highlight that the House adopted a significant change to the Divorce Act that guarantees, for the first time, the right to divorce in one's own language. Budget 2019 also allows additional funding of $21.6 million for the implementation of this new legal component.
If we take into account the additional money for education, as well as for provinces, territories and organizations in divorce proceedings in the official language of one's choice, we see that the new investments are well over $500 million.
Last October, we also amended part IV of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations for the first time since it was passed in 1991, to ensure better coverage of bilingual federal services for Canadians in a minority situation. This particularly affects francophone communities outside Quebec.
Among the changes made, we adopted a new and more inclusive calculation method to increase the official language minority population and to ensure that the regulations continue to apply even if the population has decreased.
In our criteria, we added a community vitality criterion to ensure that our offices offer a bilingual service when a school is located within an office's service area.
We designated more than 600 new bilingual offices across the country. This will also change the lives of many people who live in minority language communities.
We also designated as bilingual airports and train stations that are subject to the Official Languages Act and are located in provincial and territorial capitals.
As you know, this year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act. As our government is committed to the promotion of official language communities, it is clear to us that we must go beyond investments and review the linguistic framework as a whole to ensure that it enables communities to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
In the summer of 2018, the gave me the mandate to review the act with a view to modernizing it, and I believe there's a very broad consensus on undertaking such an approach. We want to strengthen the act and extend its scope.
That is why I initiated a national dialogue on the subject. We are meeting with Canadians through five forums and 12 round tables. So far, our exchanges have been very productive. We've already had two of the five forums: one in Moncton and the other in Ottawa.
Before submitting recommendations to the , I want to hear from Canadians, including you, of course; the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages; and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
The provinces and territories are welcome to join this significant national dialogue. It will culminate in a national symposium on May 27-28, 2019, which will bring together representatives from communities, civil society, the federal government, and the provincial and territorial governments. At the symposium, we will review the progress made over the last few years and discuss the issues and challenges we may face over the next 50 years.
This symposium is a rare opportunity to undertake a comprehensive review of Canada's language policy.
I will have the opportunity to continue the discussion at an upcoming federal-provincial- territorial meeting, the Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie, which will be held on June 27 and 28, 2019.
In fact, I am pleased to give you a scoop and tell you that we have listened to the FCFA. The federation will attend the conference since all the ministers of the Canadian francophonie and, of course, the federal government have invited them to take part in our discussions. This request from the FCFA is historic and we have decided to respond positively.
We are also reaffirming our commitment to a “by and for” approach for official language minority communities.
We are all firmly convinced of the importance of engaging in a major dialogue on official languages on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the act. The national symposium and the ministerial conference will be the high points of this dialogue. There are still three forums left before the national symposium. All Canadians are invited to share their views in writing or to participate directly in this reflection.
Thank you. I am now ready to take your questions.