Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee.
The Quebec Community Groups Network, or QCGN, is a not-for-profit representative organization that acts as a centre of evidence-based expertise and collective action on the strategic issues affecting the development and vitality of Canada's English linguistic minority communities, which we collectively refer to as the English-speaking community of Quebec. The QCGN's 48 members are also not-for-profit community groups, most of whom provide direct services to members of our community.
Some QCGN members work regionally, providing broad-based services. Some work across Quebec in specific sectors such as health or and arts and culture.
English-speaking Quebec is Canada's largest official language minority community at just over one million citizens whose first official language spoken is English. Although 84% of our community lives within the Montreal census metropolitan area, more than 210,000 community members live in other Quebec regions.
Bilingualism rates are high in our community compared to other English-speaking Canadian cohorts, with an average rate of 66% reporting knowledge of French and English during the 2011 census. That percentage increases among English-speaking youth to more than 80%, reflecting the investment our community has made to ensure our children can live and work in French in Quebec.
The English-speaking community of Quebec has not equitably benefited from the Government of Canada's official languages strategy, nor does our community have an equal voice in the national official languages discussion.
There are three reasons for this.
First, English is not a threatened language. A key purpose of Canada's official languages approach is to advance the equality of status and the use of English and French languages within Canadian society to have French and English from sea to sea to sea. We achieve this in large measure by supporting the development of English and French linguistic minority communities, but policy-makers and leaders often make the assumption that because the English language is safe, English linguistic minority communities need less attention.
Presumptions unsupported by evidence are made about the English-speaking community's vitality. The significant difference within our diverse community of communities is not externally well understood. Our linguistic minority community is not fighting to preserve a language, but it is working hard to maintain a presence in Quebec and preserve our culture and identity, which is unique and distinct from Canada's English majority. English and French linguistic minority communities ensure Canadians have an opportunity to live, work, and play in either or both official languages across our country.
Second, the degree to which English and French linguistic minority communities benefit from Canada's official language strategies depends on the co-operation and engagement of a community's home province or territory. Most areas of public interest that affect our community's vitality are provincial in nature. They include health, administration of justice, and education, to name a few. Federal institutions carrying out their duties to ensure that positive measures are taken to enhance official language minority communities do so while respecting the jurisdiction and powers of the province.
Quebec does not recognize Canada's English linguistic minority communities, and as a result it is the only province or territory without a strategic, legislative, regulatory, or policy framework within which to communicate with and support its official language minority community. Thankfully, this seems to be changing at the political level. The QCGN is grateful for the support and outreach of individual MNAs and ministers.
We have reason to be optimistic that the Government of Quebec will eventually recognize and work with its English-speaking community in Quebec's relationship with the Government of Canada.
The third point is this. The histories of Canada's English and French linguistic minority communities are very different, and unsurprisingly we are dissimilar in structure and capacity. English linguistic minority communities are all located within one province, and our community sector organizations are local or provincial in nature and scope, as are most sector umbrella organizations. Very few have the capacity to engage at the national level, and only one, the QCGN, is funded to do so. As a result, even when a community is present at the national table, it often lacks the policy background and support to effectively engage.
Canada's official languages strategies since the 2003 action plan have increasingly attempted to address the needs of English-speaking Quebec. Awareness of our community and the obligation of all federal institutions to take positive measures that enhance our vitality is growing. The levels of support we receive from individuals in the Government of Canada are, on the whole, outstanding. We know there is a sincere wish to help us in most federal institutions.
However, some programs remain inaccessible to our community for the reasons outlined by our president. This inaccessibility precludes English-speaking Quebec from receiving equitable federal support and benefit from Canada's official language strategies.
To be clear, the QCGN is not advocating for a bigger share of the current pie for English-speaking Quebec. What we are saying is that because the needs of English-speaking Quebec have not been equally considered by the Government of Canada, the pie is too small. Supporting Canada's English and French linguistic minority communities is not a zero-sum game; the vitality and interests of each are symbiotic, and they should never be placed in competition.
How do we think the committee might help English-speaking Quebec?
First, study how federal institutions can meaningfully consult with Canada's official language minority communities. Talking is not consultation. We expect tangible results that bring real benefits to members of our community and contribute in a meaningful way to our community's vitality.
Second, explore new ways to financially support our community. For the past five years, the QCGN has been actively advocating for and supporting Employment and Social Development Canada's social financing initiative, which we were pleased to see included in the current road map.
While we are still waiting for these funds to be made available to our community three years after the initiative was announced, we welcome ways to work in partnership with the Government of Canada and new stakeholders such as the private sector. We would also like to explore the establishment of community-managed development foundations seeded and sustained by the Government of Canada, an approach that depoliticizes the current grants and contribution system and makes predictable and organic funding available to the community sector.
Third, find ways to make support for Canada's English and French linguistic minority communities flexible and responsive to the unique needs of each community. One size does not fit all. In the words of Senators Maria Chaput and Andrée Champagne:
...the government needs to recognize that since the realities and challenges experienced by the English-speaking and French-speaking minorities are sometimes similar but sometimes different, each minority must be treated in a way that takes its specific needs into account.
Finally, we would encourage the committee to reach out to the Government of Quebec, and not just on matters related to la Francophonie. This committee can play a leadership role in highlighting the benefits to all Canadians in general, and to Quebecers in particular, of the Governments of Canada and Quebec working together to support the vitality of English-speaking Quebec.
One major difference lies in our trajectory as a community.
We have been in Quebec for hundreds of years and the English-speaking community has built its own institutions. The institutions have been there for many years, built by the community, not the Quebec clergy at the time. Our ways of funding ourselves, funding our institutions, working with our youth come from a different place, because there was no help from government.
In the French-language communities
outside Quebec, there were clearly no institutions. In the rest of Canada, English-speaking communities found a different way to survive.
You can't compare what happened in Quebec to the English-speaking community to what happened to the francophones in the rest of Canada. That's important in policy-making and program support, because you don't have the same kinds of programs when a community has diminished in size or its institutions have diminished as a result of legislation and what has happened in the province.
A well-known Franco-Ontarian once said to me that in Ontario, for example, francophones are not seen as a threat but perhaps sometimes as a nuisance. I don't even believe that, because I think that in Ontario now, francophones are seen as being a very important contribution to the province.
In Quebec we are still, unfortunately, seen as a threat. It goes to Mr. Lamoureux's point about the fact that we speak English, and that is a threat. People forget that we have communities. I think, Mr. Généreux, that would be the most important difference. What are we protecting? We're not protecting a language. We're protecting a historic community and protecting people from other provinces and immigrants who want to come and join that community, not just the historic anglophones.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to speak to the major issues facing francophone and Acadian communities, as well as their priorities. We are very pleased to be here this afternoon.
Two weeks ago, the FCFA was invited to appear before your colleagues on the Standing Committee on Finance. I shared two pieces of good news with them, and now I'd like to share them with you.
The first piece of good news is that there have never been so many people wanting to live in French in Canada, so the demand for French-language activities and services in our communities continues to grow.
The second piece of good news is that, across the country, we have a network of community builders who have taken things into their own hands to build the infrastructure we need to live in French. Led by the FCFA, the network is constantly on the lookout for innovative solutions to better serve 2.6 million French-speaking Canadians across nine provinces and three territories, and meet their needs more effectively.
I deliver my remarks to you today against the backdrop of next year's milestone, the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. The celebrations in 2017 are a perfect opportunity to showcase everything that makes us unique, as a people, and to clearly assert our core values, which attest to the importance of Canada's linguistic duality.
The very existence of French-speaking communities in every region of the country means that we can talk about genuine linguistic duality in Canada. The celebrations in 2017 are an ideal opportunity for the government to take historic steps to reiterate the importance of the country's linguistic duality by supporting the vitality of our communities and the ability of Canadians to live in French.
I would like to point out that, upon reading the transcript of last week's committee appearance by Canadian heritage officials, the FCFA was surprised to learn that there appeared to be no plan to showcase Canada's linguistic duality or francophonie during the celebrations in 2017. We are depending on the department to demonstrate leadership on that front.
I'd like to discuss three key priorities with you today.
The first is strengthening community capacity, especially with respect to infrastructure, services, and agencies and institutions committed to promoting French. There is no longer any doubt about the added value of our community and cultural centres, schools, settlement and employment assistance services, community media, and local francophone agencies. However, those organizations have now done everything they possibly can with the resources they have.
Many of our agencies receive funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage, through official languages programs, but that funding has neither increased nor been indexed for 11 years. Taking into account the increase in the cost of living, that corresponds to a 30% to 35% decrease in agency resources. Other organizations are also in trouble because some funds under Canada's roadmap for official languages have yet to be released three years into the plan.
Another matter of serious concern to us is the erosion of our community media, as I told your colleagues on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage yesterday. It won't come as news to you that the Radio-Canada cuts have significantly crippled regional stations serving our communities.
With respect to community media, last year, Ottawa's L'Express newspaper ceased publication and Saskatchewan's L'Eau vive newspaper suspended publication for a number of months. Our newspaper and radio organizations have experienced a significant decline in revenue. At a time when the entire media industry is struggling to transition to a digital-based business model, our community media services are in need of support to make that transition.
In short, strengthening the capacity of our communities is paramount if they are to continue fostering life in French by providing places where people can go about their lives in French. Our communities need better, more modern infrastructure in order to face the growing demand for services. Our media groups need to be able to make the digital transition. Our agencies and institutions need to be able to meet emerging needs, especially as regards francophone immigration.
That brings me to the second priority I wanted to discuss with you today, population growth.
Last week, in honour of the day of reflection on francophone immigration, we met with , informing him of the key issues facing us. He clearly understood that, from our standpoint, francophone immigration was a matter of not just delivering services to individuals, but also strengthening the capacity of our communities. He recognized that it is a collective effort driving us.
Making that effort a success means overcoming numerous obstacles. The government hasn't really given our communities the resources to succeed when it comes to francophone immigration.
In 2012, we lost the ability to participate in Destination Canada, the only showcase we had to promote our communities as welcoming places for potential French-speaking immigrants to settle and live. In 2014, the government eliminated the francophone significant benefit program, the only measure that gave employers a genuine incentive to hire French-speaking workers from abroad.
What's more, our French-language settlement services definitely lack the resources they need to do the work of helping francophone newcomers settle and integrate into our communities. We would therefore expect the government to put tangible measures in place soon.
Our third key priority will hardly surprise anyone. I'm talking about full compliance with the Official Languages Act. In recent years, the implementation of the act has been significantly eroded. In the absence of a single authority mandated to ensure consistent government-wide application of the act, a number of institutions have been content to do the bare minimum, and sometimes even less than that. As a result of budget cuts, some institutions no longer have the capacity to fulfill their language obligations as they should.
As was highlighted in the Commissioner of Official Languages' recent report, Treasury Board had absolutely no qualms about letting federal institutions off the hook when it came to their contribution to the 2012 deficit reduction exercise and its impact on their official languages obligations and official language minority communities. That speaks to a broader and, I would even say, endemic, problem across the federal government—institutions' compliance with their official languages obligations under part VII of the act.
Specifically, I am referring to federal institutions' duty to take positive measures to enhance the vitality of linguistic minority communities, and support and assist their development. On that front, as well, federal institutions often do the bare minimum. Many make decisions without any regard for the impact on our communities or even community consultation. Many federal institutions see their duty to official language minority communities as beginning and ending with the initiatives in the roadmap for official languages. We are a long way off from the 2003 Dion plan, which was meant to hold federal institutions accountable for supporting communities.
It's now been 10 years since part VII of the Official Languages Act was amended, on the initiative of Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, whose goal was to replace the legislation's lapdog status with watchdog clout, as he used to say. The FCFA's first recommendation is that the committee undertake an in-depth study on the manner in which federal institutions' obligations under part VII of the act have or have not been incorporated into the institutional culture. The study would lay the groundwork for a more effective official languages plan the next time around. As part of that study, I would also encourage the committee to examine how the Department of Canadian Heritage performs its coordination function under part VII of the act.
When department officials appeared two weeks ago, they talked about providing motivation and inspiration, but not about ensuring leadership or accountability. If compliance with part VII depends on the goodwill of each federal institution, we are no further ahead than we were in 2005. The need to designate an orchestra conductor, if you will, who can compel every institution to produce results has not changed.
The FCFA's second recommendation is that the committee put pressure on the federal government to take measures to actively promote Canada's linguistic duality and francophonie during the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Confederation of Canada. The government must, at the very least, send a clear message reiterating the importance of linguistic duality as one of Canada's core values.
Honourable members, even though the challenges are many, we at the FCFA, as well as our network partners, remain optimistic. As I said earlier, community building is an integral part of who we are. We appear before you today committed to being part of the solution. We intend to contribute to every step of the evaluation and consultation process to make sure the new plan truly meets our communities' development needs. Please know that you have our full co-operation in that regard. Our vision is to pass on a modern, diverse, and engaged francophonie to the next generation and the generation after that, as well as to all those who are “franco-curious”, as MP Randy Boissonnault so cleverly put it. We know that, with good faith, hard work and co-operation, we can turn that vision into a reality.
We'll forgive you, but I don't want to spend too much time on the subject and waste my time.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Darrell Samson: I'd like to welcome my two colleagues, Suzanne and Sylviane.
We've known each other a long time through education circles and francophone and Acadian communities. I had a quick look at the work you've done and the presentations you've given over the past few years, and I must say it's quite impressive. Kudos to you on the job you've been doing. You've raised important issues such as funding for agencies, francophone immigration—which is vital—judicial appointments, and services to the public. All of them are crucial issues, and I commend you for addressing them.
Before I get to my question, I would like to assure you that, when it comes to the 150th anniversary of Confederation next year, the government will respect Canada's linguistic duality for the duration of the event or, I should say, celebration, because that's exactly what it is. The celebration will last all year long, just like at Disney World.
I'm going to fire off five questions and give you 45 seconds to answer each one. I know you're more than capable given how knowledgeable you are about the issues.
As regards the current roadmap, in 45 seconds, could you describe what isn't working so well and what you are the least satisfied with?
Since we are meeting this week and you are here today, I'd like to take this opportunity, with the permission of committee members, of course, to put forward a bit of an unusual motion. I'm not sure what the protocol is, but perhaps the clerk could enlighten me.
I'd like to take advantage of your being here today to put forward a motion to acknowledge all the work Mauril Bélanger has done over the years in support of the francophonie and official language minority communities.
I'm not sure how to go about it, but I'd like to know whether it's possible for the committee to put forward a joint motion with your organization and the QCGN—in short, all of the advocates for official language minority communities across the country. I'm not sure if anything like that has been done before, but I think we should all recognize Mauril's hard work.
I jotted down some text for a motion on the edge of my paper. I'll read it to you, but there's surely room for improvement. It reads as follows: “That the committee recognize the tireless work, dedication, and passion of the Honourable Mauril Bélanger in support of official language minority communities throughout his entire career as a member of Parliament”.
I'm not sure whether we should add the title “minister”, seeing as he used to be one. The motion goes on to read: “That, together with the organizations representing francophone and anglophone minority communities, the committee publicly acknowledge his dedication.”
We could probably tinker with the motion a bit. Perhaps Mr. Boissonnault could help us with that. I don't imagine it would be too difficult to get the committee's unanimous consent for the motion. While you're with us today, I'd like to get your support. I don't imagine that will be too difficult either. It's important to acknowledge the work that people like Mauril do.