Mr. Chair and committee members, I am very pleased to be appearing today. I am joined by Doug Murphy, one of the department's senior officials. He will make sure to provide you with the right answers to the excellent questions I'm sure you will want to ask in a little while.
This is my first appearance before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. I have been looking forward to this invitation for a long time. I know that the standards for an invitation are very high, so I have been working very hard over the past few months to meet them. I am very pleased that I have finally been given the opportunity to join you today to discuss the very important issue of early learning and child care in the country.
As Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, this cause is particularly close to my heart. I am happy to see such a nice alliance when it comes to all the important work you have been doing for several weeks.
Early learning and child care are at the heart of the government's commitment to working on ensuring a prosperous and just future for all our children. This is mainly why, in our last two budgets—those for 2016 and 2017—we jointly proposed to invest $7.5 billion over 11 years beginning in 2017-2018 to help our children get the best possible start in life.
We believe that, by creating and supporting affordable, high-quality child care services across the country, especially for the families that need it most, we are investing in our most precious resource—our children.
In June, for the first time in Canada's history, the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for early learning and child care reached an agreement on a multilateral early learning and child care framework.
This framework sets the foundation for governments to work toward a shared long-term vision where all children across Canada can experience quality, inclusive, simple and affordable early learning and child care.
The framework also supports the development of early learning and child care systems that respect our great country's different languages and cultures, and in particular, recognize the needs of English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada.
Child literacy and learning have a major effect on the development and survival of our official language communities, especially those in minority situations.
The importance of official languages is enshrined in the multilateral framework signed in June.
The framework also provides the flexibility required to enable us to take into account the specific needs of each province and territory with which we have a bilateral agreement or are about to conclude one.
These agreements set out the specific early learning and child care needs to be addressed, as well as the allocation of funds for each province and territory.
Under these bilateral agreements, which are being signed or have already been signed, the government of Canada will allocate $1.2 billion to the provinces and territories over the next three years.
So far, bilateral agreements have been signed with Ontario, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nunavut, and we are in active negotiations with the remaining provinces and territories.
In addition, an indigenous early learning and child care framework is being co-developed in collaboration with our indigenous partners, with full respect for them, to address the needs and priorities of Inuit, Métis and first nations children and families.
A number of key themes have emerged from this engagement with our indigenous peoples, including the critical importance of indigenous cultures and languages in the design and content of early childhood programs.
Strengthened early learning and child care opportunities also support self-determination, reconciliation and cultural revitalization for our indigenous peoples.
So I look forward to finalizing the framework with our indigenous partners in the coming months.
Our official languages approach is also consistent with the overall vision of our government; it is unifying and engaging.
Our government has promised to develop a brand new multi-year action plan on official languages, spanning five years, starting from 2018 and lasting until 2023. That plan will be a renewed vision for official languages, aimed at supporting official language minority communities across our vast country.
To develop this plan in an informed and thoughtful way, we held consultations across the country from June through December of 2016. These consultations took place not only with numerous official languages stakeholders and experts, but also with many Canadians, with the aim of launching the plan by the end of 2017-2018. We wanted to broaden our perspective to better establish our priorities and to invest wisely in our new action plan.
Dear colleagues, know that our government fully intends to propose this new action plan to Canadians by the end of 2017-2018.
At the same time, our government recognizes the importance of providing Canadians with employment training and support programs, in both official languages. The labour market development agreements we are signing with the provinces and territories also help employment insurance claimants and Canadians looking for work access employment training and support in the official language of their choice.
In closing, I would like to remind you that by working hand-in-hand with all our partners—provinces, territories, municipalities and our indigenous peoples—we will be able to find and implement solutions to improve an important part of our wealth—our linguistic duality—and make our greater diversity a source of strength and pride.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my presentation. I will gladly answer any questions or hear any comments you may have.
Mr. Duclos, thank you very much for being here. I also want to thank you, Mr. Murphy.
Mr. Duclos, I think you will find some pretty clear consensus around this table on the importance of taking an interest in early childhood in the context of official language learning in the country, especially in official language minority communities. Everyone undoubtedly agrees that investments must be made in this area.
We have listened carefully to all the testimony before the committee and have analyzed the situation. We have met with a number of witnesses, particularly from community groups, who have repeatedly told us that learning a language from a very young age was a determining factor in the continued learning of the language in a minority situation. That is an important element.
That said, we have previously seen agreements signed with the provinces and municipalities—multi-party, bilateral or trilateral agreements—where accountability was an issue. Witnesses have been fairly clear on that, as well. Despite agreements signed with those various jurisdictions, the government was sending the provinces money that was not necessarily being spent where it should have been.
Do the agreements you have signed or those that are being negotiated contain any requirements for lighter or reduced accountability mechanisms? I am not talking about accountability as such, but about an accountability mechanism. More importantly, can it be ensured that the money given to a province will really go to communities or areas where it is supposed to be spent, as per the agreements that have been signed?
Thank you for your excellent question, Mr. Généreux.
As you said so well, we all agree that everything starts in early childhood for minority language families and communities. Many intellectual, social and emotional developments happen early in our children's lives. People's attachment to their community and the ability to participate in its development also begin at a young age, in early childhood. That is the first fact that should be emphasized, as you have done so well.
Here is the second fact. Since the provinces and territories have the primary responsibility for providing educational child care services, it is important for the relationship with them to be transparent and responsible, as you pointed out.
I will quickly explain how bilateral agreements work. There is a detailed action plan. You can look at the plans that have been developed with the provinces that have already signed bilateral agreements. Those action plans clearly set out how investments in educational child care services will be made over the next three years. In addition, the component of support for minority language families and communities is very well defined. Not only do we know it in advance, but it is also developed in advance with partners and stakeholders, who are often very happy to work with us to let us know how they think the investments should be made. Then, of course, over the next three years and until the end of the agreement, accountability is provided based on common indicators, but also indicators that are specific to provinces and territories.
Thank you very much, Minister and Mr. Murphy.
Minister, I must say that you are very good at recognizing the work of people on the ground and congratulating them. We are pleased to hear from you.
I would like to highlight the work you are doing. You did extraordinary work in the consultations you held on poverty reduction. The national housing strategy is also extremely important. The topic we are focusing on here, early childhood, is a very special issue.
I would like to mention that, about 12 years ago, Nova Scotia started a program in French for four-year-old children, so that they could enrol in francophone schools. That was an extremely successful initiative. Statistics show that, over the past 10 years, the student population in the province's francophone schools has increased by 25%. That's tremendous. It clearly shows the need to have day care and programs in French for children under the age of five.
This agreement will change the world, if I may put it that way. It's extraordinary. I would like to draw the committee's attention to an extremely important point stemming from a crucial principle of the multilateral framework: we have to recognize the specific needs of francophone and anglophone minorities. This is the first time in its history that Canada has had a bilateral agreement with the provinces that stresses the importance of ensuring that francophone and anglophone minorities are taken into consideration. It's incredible. Thank you so much for your leadership, as it will help the provinces move forward on this crucial issue.
I would like you to tell us how you managed to get this approved by the cabinet and the provinces. Four provinces have already signed the agreement. Nova Scotia was supposed to sign on Monday, but no agreement could be reached. That said, they will figure it out.
Mr. Samson, what you just said gives us the first part of the answer. How did we manage? We managed through the energy, enthusiasm and vision of people like you. You tipped your hat to me, and now I tip mine to you.
As you know, I had an opportunity to spend some time with you in Nova Scotia, and I could see the preparation work you had done within Nova Scotia's Acadian community. That community is modest in size compared with the one in New Brunswick, but it is very proud, very strong and very willing to work on this issue. I also congratulate you on everything you have done.
Do you remember how touched we were, when we visited your daughter's school, by the vigour and pride the children showed in having lived in French from early childhood? There is the answer to your important question: this energy comes from the vigour of minority language communities.
In my opinion, that has two result. The first result translates into action. This is the first time we have had multilateral and bilateral agreements with the provinces on educational child care services. That is a major element. In addition, as you said, there is also the fact that the objectives of supporting our francophone and anglophone minority families and communities are explicitly stated in those agreements, which is a major victory.
However, it is not just a matter of actions, but also of education. I am talking about all the work of openness, listening and encouragement that goes along with those results. It carries a lot of value, as it strengthens communities' ability to then work with the provinces and territories to achieve such important results.
Minister, thank you for being with us today.
Early childhood education is beyond important. It is essential to the survival, vitality and development of our minority communities. If we fail to squarely address early childhood issues, we are heading for certain assimilation.
In his 2016 study on early childhood, the former Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser mentioned that several francophone communities, particularly in New Brunswick and Ontario, were resorting to bilingual immersion programs because of the shortage of access to French-language early childhood services, which has very serious consequences. Recently, the newspaper Le Droit published an article entitled “Services à la petite enfance en français: faire face à la pénurie sans précédent”. It discussed access to early childhood services in French.
What work have you done with , through the action plan, to solve this problem? The action plan does not mention early childhood.
Minister Duclos, thank you, and welcome to our committee.
Like my colleague Mr. Samson, I am very happy and very proud of the work you and your department have done.
In fact, we knew that early childhood would be a part of the action plan. As you know, last year in its report to Parliament, the committee noted that early childhood needed to be made a government priority, and your statement has confirmed that this is indeed the case.
I will speak about my personal experience. When my family and I moved to Sudbury, we had to register our daughter in advance on a waiting list in order to obtain a spot in a French-language day care. We had to do this one year in advance or we would not have had a space. I can also give you the example of my sister-in-law and my nephew, who was unfortunately unable to obtain a day care spot. Even though my sister-in-law made the request six months ahead of time, she did not obtain a space in a day care in her area. Of course, no one wants to drive 45 minutes to go to the day care before driving to work. So we can conclude that there is a shortage of day care spaces in Sudbury, even though this is a very important location for the francophonie.
You spoke about the agreements you concluded. My colleague Mr. Samson is anxious to see Nova Scotia follow the path taken by Ontario. As we know, it is often Ontario that leads the way. That said, I commend my colleagues from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
First of all, Mr. Lefebvre, I congratulate you for being a part of this very enthusiastic group. I am happy to see that people want to do as well as Nova Scotia and that Nova Scotia wants to do as well as Ontario. If this continues, all of the provinces will do very well. This is very good news.
The agreement with Ontario was signed in June. If you read it attentively—we will make sure that everyone has a copy—you will see that it recognizes the importance of investing in educational day care services, for the reasons Mr. Lefebvre clearly explained. In a minority francophone environment like Sudbury, it is difficult not only to have access to services that are sufficient, but also to quality services. The issue is not only to have access to day care; it has to be high-quality day care.
That is why the Ontario plan, for instance, contains a provision to support educators— there are some men, but they are mostly women—so that they feel they have everything they need to do their work well. They have been asking for this for a long time. Things are going well in Ontario, and there is good support from the province. So, the Ontario plan supports the availability, affordability and quality of day care services.
That is another very good question.
There are two things.
First, the community and the associations that represent the community groups are consulted before we agree, and before we sign the action plans. We conduct a broad consultation exercise in each of the provinces and territories to ensure that the organizations that represent minority francophone or anglophone communities are involved in the preparation of these action plans.
Second, in every case I can remember, a large part of the work is done through these community organizations, which are sometimes national in scale. That is the case in Ontario, since it is a vast province. Things are somewhat more concentrated, however, in Nova Scotia. So, we we work with the associations that represent francophone educational day care services in Ontario. Afterwards, most of the time francophone school boards do the work to ensure that early childhood services are well integrated into the educational services that follow early childhood. It depends on the circumstances, but that is often where the best work is done, that is to say when early childhood education services are integrated into the educational services that oversee them, and when this goes through existing structures. As we were saying earlier, this allows us to avoid situations where children in minority communities are sent to bilingual or immersion day cares. These services do not offer the quality we are seeking. It is preferable that things be done another way.
Minister, thank you very much for your presence here today.
First of all, I want to thank you again for your visit to the riding of Saint-Boniface—Saint-Vital this summer on the occasion of the Habitat for Humanity project. It was very good to see you in the field.
The issue of day cares is extremely important for Manitoba. I know that there is a 13,000-person waiting list, that includes francophones and anglophones. Not one week goes without calls or visits to my office from community groups or individuals telling me that they are looking for a spot in a francophone day care.
We know that in Manitoba, only 17% of the population has the right to access French-language day cares, whereas the national average is 33%, I believe. Too often, in the riding of Saint-Boniface—Saint-Vital, parents have to register their children in anglophone day cares.
In the provinces where bilateral agreements have already been signed, the spaces are guaranteed. However, the Province of Manitoba does not seem to be in a hurry to sign such an agreement on day cares, just as it does not seem to be in a hurry to do so on other issues, such as the environment, health, or cannabis.
In negotiating these agreements, how can we ensure that day care spaces will be created for children? What should I say to the parents I represent to reassure them that there will be day care spaces?
I'm very pleased to be here today as possibly the one and only around the table who is English-speaking only. French was taught in my school when I was in junior high, but there was nowhere to practise the language. I'm from Saskatchewan, and at the time.... I can tell you that I can still say “je suis dans la salle de classe” and “fermez la bouche”.
However, I am hoping to learn.
Learning when you are very young is very important. I appreciate that this is about protection of official language minority communities, not necessarily in thinking to broaden those who can speak both languages. Believe me, being on the Hill now, I appreciate this as something that is very important.
I would like to say at least that in Saskatchewan we have a very strong immersion program. As well, my daughter's four children, who are taught at home, are learning Latin, Hebrew, and French. Again, it's that young age that makes such a difference.
I have two very brief questions. The first is around the $1.2 billion over three years to the provinces. Is it around $400 million per year? Anyway, I just wonder how this is determined when you see that there are one, two, three, four already in bilateral agreements. Are they already receiving this funding, or is this new funding that's going to be sent out?
Then when you look at $1.2 billion and the number of provinces—of course, Saskatchewan and Quebec are not part of this either—how are you determining how much money is going to be protected to go where?
That's a good question.
Unfortunately, I wouldn't be very good in Hebrew or Latin or any of the languages your family is learning. However, I'm better at numbers.
When it comes to numbers, it's $1.2 billion over three years, as you correctly stated. That starts in 2017-18, and that's why we are working so hard with all the remaining provinces and territories to make sure these agreements are signed.
There are carry-over provisions, which means that not all the dollars need to be 100% spent over each of the three years. The first year can be below 100%. That's why we have a little flexibility. It means that for Saskatchewan, Quebec, Manitoba, and all the other provinces and territories, we need to proceed at a quick pace.
In addition to the $1.2 billion, there is $300 million for indigenous early learning and child care funding and the framework. We are also working with the Métis, first nations, and Inuit to have indigenous early learning and child care arrangements with them so they can use these resources to develop those services for their families and communities.
However, something you said is not exactly right. The waiting lists in Quebec used to be quite long a few years ago, but with the maturation, the development of its system, the waiting lists are now considerably shorter. In some cases, there are no more waiting lists. It's accessible and still affordable, although the rates have changed slightly, and there's a considerable investment in quality early learning and child care.
Because of this considerable asymmetry between Quebec and the other provinces and territories when it comes to early learning and child care services, Quebec will have its own bilateral agreement, as with all the other provinces and territories, which gives Quebec more flexibility. Resources will have to be targeted for direct services to children and families, but not necessarily to early learning and child care, at least not in the way in which it's understood in other provinces and territories.
I have one question, and then I will give the rest of my time to our early childhood and education expert from Nova Scotia, Darrell Samson.
First of all, thank you for being here, Mr. Minister and Mr. Murphy. Congratulations on your initiatives.
I have a really practical question about the negotiation of those bilateral agreements. I do not want to know any state secrets, if there are any. However, we have heard a lot of testimony, here and in other contexts, from organizations representing minority communities. They have often talked about services run by and for the people involved. In other words, the money from the federal government must truly be used to meet the real needs, and must truly be managed by the stakeholders, the people who really need it.
I know that we are talking about agreements between the provinces and territories and the federal government, so we are talking about the ministries of education, early childhood and the family. In your negotiations with the provinces, do you feel that organizations representing minority communities have been able to share their side of the story with their provincial or territorial governments as part of those negotiations?
Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Arseneault.
It is actually a joint responsibility. On the federal government's side, we have made sure to listen to organizations with experience on the ground. Those organizations are well versed in how educational child care services can support minority language communities. This consultation and listening exercise has been conducted very carefully and will continue over the next few years because the agreements are for three years. Everyone knows that we will be back at the bargaining table in three years. We can then see how things went and, if they could have gone better, we will correct the situation. It's an ongoing commitment, because we know full well that things improve over time.
Furthermore, the provinces and territories have all acted in good faith. We ensured that the symmetrical exercise was done and that the provinces and territories were also listening to their minority communities. Most of the time, it had already been done. In some cases, we had to do a little better than what has been done before, given the tripartite nature of those agreements, which require the participation of the federal government, the provinces and all those on the ground. I would say that it went well. That said, it's just starting as an exercise. This is the first time in Canadian history that the Canadian government has committed to supporting this work with the provinces and territories, and I think it will continue to improve in the coming years.
I would like to point out how crucial the start is in the education system. Like me, you have worked in education, so you know that, in this area, the sooner the better. Learning is easier when it starts early. It's really crucial. It can help curb the assimilation we have been facing for a long time. I know that a lot of people, at the beginning, were not comfortable with the idea of children attending French school at the age of five, because that was the official curriculum and they were afraid that the children would fall behind because they had to learn the language. The fact that we introduced a program for 4-year-olds helped to better prepare children before they started school and to gain the parents' trust. The sooner this can be done, the better.
I remember that, in 2004, Ken Dryden, who was the minister at the time, promised to invest $5 billion over five years in early childhood. I'm sorry to say it, but we then lost 10 years with the party that came to power. It is unfortunate that we made no progress during that time. That said, we must start from where we are at today. I think this will slow down assimilation and truly make francophone schools more successful.
With respect to agreements, four provinces and territories have signed one to date. Can you tell me, without disclosing confidential information, how the negotiations are going? In your opinion, do the provinces seem interested in signing agreements like that soon?
Thank you for the question, Mr. Samson.
I think what you said was very good. You said that an early start was a better start. The sooner we start, the more likely we are to be in a better position in the end. Yes, this is the reality in our communities.
The provinces and territories are also happy with what is happening. I do not want to be partisan, but for the sake of transparency, I will say it anyway. The first federal, provincial and territorial meeting on social services, the culmination of the discussions on educational child care, took place in January 2016. I entered the room, I did not have time to say a single word and the officials of the provinces and territories all stood up and applauded me. I told them that I had not done or said anything yet. They told me that it had been 10 years since they had seen a federal minister responsible for social services and that they were so happy to see one again, because they would now be able to look toward the future and intelligently discuss an issue they consider important.
It is important because the provinces and territories also need political support. I am not talking about partisan support, but about political support. We do not want to be partisan. It is about providing political support so that the provinces and territories can tell their people that it is important for them to invest in early childhood and that they have the support of the Canadian government to help them do so. All the provinces and territories welcome the fact that the Canadian government is a partner. We get along well, we work together and it is well regarded. Canadians want to see that governments are able to work together.
Of course, officials have some work to do to get things right, but surprisingly—in any case, I was personally surprised in January 2016—the fact that the Canadian government is back is in itself very good news.
I would like to come back to the FCFA, which I started quoting earlier because I would like to honour them. Let me read the article:
For many organizations and institutions in our communities, it is the eleventh hour. If we want to give fresh impetus to the francophonie in minority settings, stop the decline in population and slow down assimilation, we need $575 million in additional investments for our communities in the next action plan for official languages...
That's what the FCFA said. Further on, the article states:
Francophone organizations and institutions received only $0.25 from each dollar invested in the Roadmap, and $0.07 from transfer payments...
Earlier, we talked about transfer payments under early childhood agreements, for example. This is an extremely serious situation.
My colleagues mentioned that your agreements do not have percentages, which is concerning to us. They also mentioned the importance of services managed by and for the people involved. In fact, it is important that the money be given to the organizations so that they invest it in the communities, rather than wasting money on administration. The organizations only received $0.25 and $0.07 from each dollar. It makes no sense.
What are you going to do to ensure that the money goes to agencies and institutions that directly provide early childhood services in the official language of the minority?