Good afternoon, members of the committee, media representatives in attendance, Minister and senior officials of the Department of Canadian Heritage. Thank you for being here.
I will ask for your cooperation today. Our agenda is very full, and we will have two meetings back to back.
I first want to emphasize the fact that the minister is honouring us with her visit today.
Thank you very much. We have been waiting for your visit for a while, Minister.
We will suspend the meeting after an hour and resume it five or ten minutes later in order to conclude our meeting with the candidate for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, Mr. Théberge. We will likely vote yes or no on his appointment at the end of the meeting.
Pursuant to Standing Order 32(5), we will consider the Annual Report on Official Languages 2015-2016, referred to the committee on Wednesday, August 16, 2017. We are hearing from the Honourable Minister of Canadian Heritage, as well as two witnesses from the Department of Canadian Heritage: Hubert Lussier, Assistant Deputy Minister of Citizenship, Heritage and Regions, and Jean-Pierre C. Gauthier, Director General of the Official Languages Branch, Citizenship, Heritage and Regions.
Minister, go ahead.
Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for having me again.
As the chair pointed out, I am accompanied by Hubert Lussier, assistant deputy minister for Citizenship, Heritage and Regions, and Jean-Pierre C. Gauthier, director general of official languages.
First, I would like to thank this committee for its work on issues that are important to Canadians and to our government.
You have invited me here today to talk about the Annual Report on Official Languages 2015-2016.
This report presents Canadian Heritage's achievements through its official language support programs.
As you know, Canadian Heritage administers two major official language support programs. One is designed to support the development of official language minority communities. Among other things, this program helps us support the provinces and territories providing government services to official language minority communities in areas such as education, culture, justice, and health. The other focuses on promoting the use of English and French in Canadian society.
The report includes the efforts made by 72 federal institutions to support the development of official-language minority communities and promote both languages in Canadian society.
It also evaluates the third year of implementation of the roadmap for Canada's official languages, which expires on March 31, 2018. At the time the report was submitted, 96% of the expenses forecast for 2015-2016 had been disbursed.
The next annual report on official languages, for 2016-2017, is in production. It will include all the work accomplished during the consultations held in 2016. For me, this work was crucial. It was the first step toward developing a new action plan for official languages.
I will say more about the action plan in a moment, but I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the latest Statistics Canada data on official languages.
The data released in August show an up-to-date portrait of our two official languages. It is clear that they remain an important tool for unity and inclusion in an increasingly diversified society.
Even so, we can do better. We must continue our efforts. The data highlighted how important it is for our government to continue to promote official languages and official language minority communities.
Let's take a look at what is happening in the communities.
The absolute number of francophones living in French-speaking minority communities has increased. Francophone communities are growing especially rapidly in the three territories. What that means is that more and more Canadians whose mother tongue is French are living in minority communities—Canadians who contribute daily to our country's development, diversity and excellence.
Overall, however, the relative proportion of francophones is declining: it has dwindled from 4% in 2011 to 3.8% in 2016. In light of this, the government's support is crucial.
What about linguistic duality? As you know, never before has Canada had so many bilingual citizens: 6.2 million people. However, the situation varies widely from region to region. Francophones are highly bilingual, at 89% outside Quebec and 41.5% within Quebec. Anglophones in Quebec are also highly bilingual, at 66%. However, only 6.6% of anglophones outside Quebec are bilingual.
There is potential for major progress here. Immersion classes are gaining in popularity across the country, and Canadians have frequently told us how attached they are to their two official languages.
Our government has taken note of these data and intends to fulfill its official-languages obligations.
In fact, we have already taken action on several files. One of the examples is the new bilingualism criterion in the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court. Another example is the new multilateral early learning and child care framework. There was also the announcement that our government will review the Official Languages Regulations. We should also mention the reinstatement and modernization of the court challenges program. Another example is the establishment of the Mobilité francophone component of the international mobility program and the expansion of the express entry system. Of course, that has to do with immigration. I would also like to remind you of the funding under Budget 2017 that included: additional funding of $2.24 million for the young Canada works in both official languages program; $80 million over 10 years for the construction of community educational infrastructure in official-language minority communities; $7.5 million per year ongoing to improve parliamentary translation services; and $2 million over two years to improve the ability of federal courts to make decisions available in French and in English. Those are all files on which we have taken action, and the list goes on.
The current roadmap will end on March 31. We will be ready to continue the initiative with a new action plan.
I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to make an important point. The investments linked to the roadmap are now permanent. That is, the project presented in the roadmap will extend beyond March 31, 2018. The new action plan, which will be in place on April 1, 2018, will build on investments made over the last 15 years. I look forward to announcing that, once the plan is ready. In the meantime, I can assure you that we are working very hard to meet Canadians' expectations.
Thank you for your attention.
I would now be happy to answer your questions.
Minister, thank you very much for being here today.
I will later ask you questions about the potential roadmap and the new action plan. Right now, I would like to take advantage of your presence to ask about the process that led to the possible appointment of Mr. Théberge. In fact, his appointment should be approved soon.
Last spring was an absolute mess. Actually, the reason Mr. Théberge is here is the fact that process went so badly in the spring.
Minister, what is the difference between the process that led to Mr. Théberge's appointment and the one that resulted in last spring's appointment?
Minister, thank you for being here. I also want to thank your colleagues, Mr. Lussier and Mr. Gauthier, whom I have known for a long time.
I would like to come back to a few points you raised. You talked about the government's successes, and it is very important to point them out. They are no doubt numerous, but I would like to talk about two of them. I would ask you to provide us with some information on them.
Historically, an agreement has never existed between the federal government and the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones under the official languages in education program. The signing of a first agreement led to a major change: priorities are well defined, and that will guarantee, to an extent, good negotiations with the provinces and territories.
There are also daycare centres, which provide a service that is essential to second language learning. Thanks to your leadership, of course, and to Mr. Duclos' leadership, part of the federal funding for early childhood is set aside for official language communities.
Those are really two major successes.
Could you tell us how that could help minority communities?
Thank you, Mr. Samson. I know that you are an amazing champion of linguistic minorities, especially in Nova Scotia, and that education is important to you, since you are a former school board trustee.
This issue is important to us, as well. We have noted a willingness among francophone school boards across the country to ensure greater transparency, greater provincial accountability in the context of roadmap negotiations. So, we have decided to stand up for francophone school boards and, of course, to include them in our negotiations with the provinces and territories. The goal is to ensure that, when it's time for the federal government to invest in education, school boards can benefit. Ultimately, the provinces and territories must show transparency and be accountable.
As you know, we are the first government to invest as much money in early childhood. In the context of our consultations on official languages, we have heard all over the country about the importance of early childhood. Although we just invested in early childhood and are developing a new action plan for official languages, it goes without saying that we want to ensure that our communities' needs are properly identified and that they can benefit from our investments.
I had an opportunity to meet with a number of Nova Scotia's Acadian organizations. They actually all attended the meeting that was held in a francophone school in the city of Dartmouth, next to Halifax. You were there, as was the member for
We had some good discussions. Essentially, I told those people that, in the extensive consultations we have held across the country, we have targeted issues that were of serious concern to our communities, including the importance of francophone immigration, of early childhood, of support for print media and for community radio stations in minority situations and of increasing community groups' operating budgets. Those are the issues we will address in the official languages action plan. Those are fundamental issues for the future of our communities, basically when it comes to ensuring their vitality.
I know the minister's talent for taking up time. Our speaking time here is very limited. I don't know if she is trying to use up my speaking time, but I will continue asking questions.
We learned the day before yesterday about the proposed appointment of someone as Commissioner of Official Languages who does not understand the urgent need to ensure that francophone litigants can make their case in French and be understood by the Supreme Court. We are very concerned about this.
Although the minister defends the importance of the official languages, on October 25, 2017, she voted against a bill that would require all future Supreme Court appointees to speak both official languages. In reply to a question asked by the official opposition earlier, the minister stalled. She refused to answer.
Let me repeat the question: if the government seriously believes that requiring knowledge of both official languages is necessary in order to achieve legal equality on the Supreme Court, what it is waiting for to put forward another bill, since the minister defeated the one introduced on October 25?
On another topic, I would like to talk about the bilingualism statistics you mentioned earlier. All the studies conducted clearly show that all linguistic minorities have a high rate of bilingualism, both anglophones in Quebec, 66% of whom are bilingual, and francophones outside Quebec, 89% of whom are bilingual.
I consider it a strength that more and more Canadians are bilingual. Moreover, a lot of witnesses told us that they need bilingual staff, whether it is Air Canada or others. I think we have to encourage higher rates of bilingualism, both among francophones outside Quebec and among anglophones in Quebec.
Will that be addressed in the modernization of the Official Languages Act? In my opinion, increasing the rate of bilingualism is very important.
Let me say first of all that I have heard the alarm sounded by various communities across the country. The 10-year freeze on operating budgets is of great concern to the communities. We intend to address that.
We are also very concerned that funding to support the promotion and defence of language rights was frozen or cut.
That is why we have modernized the court challenges program, and that is why we are examining ways to re-establish the structures to support and defend language rights. Organizations across the country must continue to champion and support efforts related to the vitality of language communities.
I referred earlier to our action plan on official languages. We will be working from the bottom up, or in other words, we will make the same investments as those set out in the roadmap that expires on March 31, and we will be adding new investments. We will also have a governance plan to ensure that the funding is properly redistributed and to make the government accountable.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Madam Minister, before I get to my question, I have to tell you that a few seconds ago, representatives of the QCGN wrote on Twitter that they had indeed been consulted during the nomination process for the commissioner of official languages, contrary to what our colleague suggested.
After the holidays, we will be conducting a study that will include the topic of early childhood across the country. Our committee will also be travelling out west.
In your consultations in the field, what have you heard about how we can improve conditions for official language minority communities?
As I said earlier, we have good allies on the official languages around the table, whether they are from the NDP, the Conservatives or the Liberals. We review all of your reports. Right now, we are reviewing your report on Air Canada, and we will be providing the government's response on that.
The committee's work helps me exercise horizontal leadership, in the same way as our government does.
As Minister of Canadian Heritage, I work constantly with my colleagues—and sometimes I push them a bit—to make significant investments in the official languages. Regardless of the subject, whether it is immigration, early childhood or even the reality of community organizations across the country that do their utmost to support the vitality of our linguistic communities, we have to examine the situation. I look forward to reading your work.
In short, the next generation is strong. In 2019, the Official Languages Act will be 50 years old. That means three generations of children who have grown up under the act. I have seen some continuity across the country, but it is fragile. I hope you will be able to meet a lot of young people working in this field.
As I mentioned, the agreement with Netflix isn't ideal, and I am aware of the sector's concerns.
However, in terms of support for francophone production, we have just invested millions of dollars in the Canada Media Fund, which supports all of the country's television production. Do you know how much the fund allocates to francophone production? Even though francophones make up 22% or 23% of the population, 30% of the fund goes to francophone production.
We were extremely mindful of the importance of French television production, so we reinvested in the Canada Media Fund, knowing that the revenues of the country's cable companies were dropping, thus reducing those companies' contributions to the fund. We heard the concerns of francophone television stakeholders and we made the necessary reinvestment.
I would like to thank you, as well, Mr. Théberge. Please accept our apologies for making you appear before the committee twice. Unfortunately, people had an opportunity to react to what you said the first time you were here. We hope to move along expeditiously.
I'm going to pick up on the question I asked you on Tuesday, before the meeting came to an end. It had to do with four federal institutions: Public Services and Procurement Canada, the Privy Council, the Treasury Board, and the Department of Canadian Heritage. The , who was here up to mere moments ago, told us that government institutions no longer operated in isolation and that a whole-of-government approach was now in place. The fact of the matter is that the number of complaints in those organizations went up.
Against the backdrop of this new style of governance, how will you make sure your recommendations are heard and addressed?
Yes, but I think one of my fellow members is going to want to come back to his question.
Mr. Théberge, I, too, would like to thank you for being here today. It is clear that your experience with minority communities is extensive, whether in Manitoba, Ontario or, of course, New Brunswick. There is no doubt that you have the experience and education necessary to fight for official languages.
That said, as Mr. Généreux mentioned, a bit of time has elapsed since you were first here. You may know that the committee recommended to the House of Commons that steps be taken to ensure that Supreme Court justices are bilingual. You made a comment about that at Tuesday's meeting. I can't recall your exact words, but, essentially, you said that, despite being a worthy objective, it would not be easy to achieve. I was, of course, a bit taken aback to hear the nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages say that. You are the top dog, the champion, the leading advocate.
I found your remarks somewhat troubling, so I'd like to give you an opportunity to elaborate or better explain what you meant.
I do, indeed, recall what I said. There were two parts to my answer. The first was right, but the second was less so.
In the first part of my answer, I said that the principle of Supreme Court bilingualism was essential, of course. Not only is it essential—which is indisputable—but it is also part of our linguistic duality. The Supreme Court has to be able to respect that duality.
If we look at how Supreme Court justices are selected, we see that the process is based on conventions and practices. One convention holds that the justices on the bench should reflect a certain geographic distribution. The practice in the Supreme Court is to rotate between judges from the civil law tradition and those from the common law tradition. Another convention exists around language. What I was trying to say, but rather unsuccessfully, was that the selection process is now coming under some pressure. The last time around, it was repeatedly said that it may be time to appoint an indigenous justice.
The argument for bilingualism, however, was raised. As I see it, the process should rely on more than just convention. In other words, in order to ensure that Supreme Court justices are bilingual going forward, it will be necessary to codify the requirement, that is, enshrine it in law. I know the New Democratic Party had introduced a bill to that effect. Was it the right one? I don't know. I do know, though, that, if we want to guarantee the bilingualism of Supreme Court justices, as Canada continues to evolve, we need a much more robust mechanism than simple convention.
In the years ahead, I think we will first have to focus on the modernization of the Official Languages Act, more specifically, part VII. Work is already under way on part IV, which deals with service delivery, among other things.
Part VII holds tremendous possibilities. It addresses the vitality of minority communities. What constitutes a positive measure is, however, not defined.
If we go by the writings of such people as Michel Doucet, Érik Labelle, and Pierre Foucher, part VII of the act does not define vitality, development, or positive measures. We therefore have to improve part VII of the act.
What's more, the upcoming action plan is already more or less complete. Giving part VII a more meaningful impact will mean redefining the relationship between the government and minority communities in the next action plan.
On the one hand, we will have to find a way, over the next seven years, to slow the gradual and historical erosion of francophone communities outside Quebec and the anglophone community within Quebec. To do that, the act has to set out the obligations and necessary actions in a much more clearly defined way.
On the other hand, we need to tackle the language of work issue in the federal government. A recent report noted how difficult it was for employees to use French in the federal public service. How is it that, half a century later, we are still dealing with the same challenges?
The study laid out some recommendations. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages met with the Public Service Commission to explore options for progress. Five issues were identified in relation to leadership, culture, and training.
Very good. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Théberge, it's nice to see you again.
Here is my first question.
I'm a big fan of Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute. He has 25 principles, which conservatives tend to follow. One of my favourites is “personnel is policy”; that is to say, the people whom you employ will certainly act out your will.
My question is, how do you intend to organize your office, and in particular your senior personnel? The previous two assistant official language commissioners were both French. Do you intend to include anglophones among your senior personnel? Historically, of course, political parties have had the pattern that when you have an anglophone leader, you have a francophone deputy, and when you have a francophone leader, you have an anglophone deputy. I'm curious as to how you will construct your senior personnel in regard to linguistic capabilities.
That sounds very reasonable to me.
Paul asked one of my favourite questions, which was on your first issue to focus on, so I'll go to another question that I thought was very interesting.
The Commissioner of Official Languages has more than one role: ombudsman, auditor, promoter, watchdog, educator, intervenor before the courts, rapporteur, etc.
Which do you believe is the most important? I ask that because I've only been on this committee for maybe six months, and it seems we are very much focused on the watchdog, but when I hear some of the statistics as quoted by the , I wonder if we should be working more on promotion. Which aspect, which role, is the most important to you and why?
I know, Mr. Théberge; I just wanted to hear you say it.
I am very familiar with that chapter in time, since I was there right from the Supreme Court's decision in Forest. I was fortunate enough to see it unfold up-close, being responsible, at the time, for the drafting and revision of the French versions of Manitoba's statutes. The experience you shared with us bodes well for the future.
Nevertheless, we believe the nomination process is flawed. I don't want you to think that comment is aimed at you. The did not follow the law. Just as the Supreme Court Act requires that three justices be from Quebec, the law requires that the opposition parties be consulted. I wanted to tell you that.
The Minister never consulted us, so we have a problem with that.
Mr. Théberge, now, I'm going to come back to my earlier question.
It was about the tools that the government could give the Commissioner of Official Languages to enforce the act and, even, bring certain offenders to justice, or at least fine them. Those offenders might include formerly public organizations that were privatized. We know a few of those. Air Canada, for instance, is subject to the act, as are government departments. There are a number of organizations, for that matter—many, indeed.
If I'm not mistaken, on Tuesday, you said you thought it was important that the commissioner have tools. In fact, the former commissioner, Mr. Fraser, repeatedly complained about the fact that he lacked tools with teeth, ones that would truly allow him to ensure the act was implemented.
Air Canada is an oft-cited case. Do you think it's a good idea to impose fines or some sort of penalty on companies subject to the act? Everyone agrees on that, even Air Canada. The company is actually making great strides. The appearance of Air Canada's president before the committee last year received major media coverage. Since then, Air Canada has embarked upon a path of ongoing improvement, and that process continues within the company. Even before last year, those efforts had gotten under way.
Nevertheless, do you think the commissioner should have those powers?
Your mandate includes three important objectives: the equality of French and English in Parliament, in the Government of Canada, in federal institutions, and so on; the equality of French and English in Canadian society; and, in my opinion, an extremely important objective, the task of maintaining and supporting the development of minority official language communities. So it's a matter of enrichment.
Your mandate states that not only must you ensure follow-up of complaints, investigations and reports, but you must play that role while launching investigations on your own initiative.
I know that you are not yet in the position, but do you have any investigations in mind that you would undertake on your own initiative?
Let me speak to you about two other important points I believe in.
The first one is this: the government owns some real estate, lands that are not being used. So it decides to sell them. I will give you the example of British Columbia where the government sold federal lands to other parties. Francophones are entitled to French-language schools and have been waiting for land to be acquired for 10 years. Under the Official Languages Act, francophones in minority situations should have access to those lands.
The second point concerns agreements between the federal government and the province. We are always told that these agreements are a matter of provincial responsibility, but subsection 16(3) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads as follows:
||16(3) Nothing in this Charter limits the authority of Parliament or a legislature to advance the equality [...]
This is something for you to think about.
I am going to ask you some brief questions, and I would like your answers to be brief, because I only have three and a half minutes left.
I'd like to go back to the point that I was discussing earlier with Mr. Théberge, so that he understands that our opposition is based on the way in which the government made its choice.
We are one of the recognized parties in the House of Commons. We have 44 members, although you only need 12. The law requires that there be a consultation. Like my friend and colleague Guy Caron said the context of a response to the Prime Minister, for a consultation to occur, you have to ask for the opinion of the person being consulted. For that to happen, the government would have had to submit its choices and proposals and justify them, and so on. Based on the jurisprudence, we believe that a government that claims to consult a party by presenting the person it has chosen has not consulted the party; it has informed it. That is clear to us.
And so I wanted to say that we are going to maintain our position, because we think that the work that must be done by the Commissioner of Official Languages is too important to be tainted by procedural defects in the nomination process. We are not changing our minds on that. Nothing in the non-responses of the minister has changed our point of view in this regard.
Before Mr. Caron drafted his comments, I had written a very similar letter. The minister replied that we had asked that francophones outside Quebec and anglophone Quebeckers be consulted and that an Acadian candidate be considered. She forgot one thing, which is that the primary purpose of my letter was to point out to her that she had never consulted our party, the NDP. And yet it was clearly stated in the letter. I wanted to clarify that point. It is part of our work as parliamentarians to see to it that laws and the rule of law be respected. We live in a society governed by the rule of law. This position is crucial, in our opinion.
That being said, I want to go back to the current provisions of the Official Languages Act. I know that Mr. Théberge knows them very well. Aside from the issue of what happens to the recommendations, there is the concrete case of Air Canada, a company which is in a way, the dunce of the class when it comes to official languages. The previous commissioner, Graham Fraser, said so on many occasions and produced a thick report substantiating his analysis.
I would like to know what tools the Commissioner of Official Languages should have, in your opinion, to obtain compliance from a delinquent like Air Canada, which obstinately refuses to comply with the Official Languages Act.
Mr. Théberge, I know that some people are questioning the process, but the process does not concern you. You went through all of the steps successfully to be nominated.
You appeared before the committee on Tuesday for an hour, but unfortunately the meeting had to be adjourned because of technical problems. So you are with us for a second hour today.
I come from Acadia and I am a graduate of the University of Moncton, but I never met you there because you arrived some time after me.
There have been some excellent official language commissioners from Quebec and Ontario. I am pleasantly surprised. From your CV, I see that you have also worked in Ontario. You left Manitoba and you went to McGill University. And so you understand the reality of anglophone minorities in Quebec. You also spent time in Acadia.
I think this gives you a host of advantages. You are aware of the challenges this vast country of Canada faces with regard to minority official language communities. I am really impressed and I only have good comments to make, but I am going to stop here.
Mr. Chair, I would like to move the motion I sent you. It can be distributed. We were supposed to do this last Tuesday but it was not possible because of the technical problems.
I nominate of Mr. Théberge as candidate to the position of Commissioner of Official Languages. The motion reads as follows:
||That the committee report the following to the House:
||Your committee has considered the Certificate of Nomination of Raymond Théberge, the nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada referred to the committee on Thursday, November 30, 2017, pursuant to Standing Order 111.1(1).
||Your committee has considered the proposed appointment of Raymond Théberge as Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and reports its recommendation that he be confirmed by the House of Commons as Canada's Commissioner of Official Languages.
I see that no one else wants to speak.
Mr. Théberge, thank you for appearing before the committee. I wish you good luck and continued courage for the events that you may encounter after this vote.
As for the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges and the coercive power this committee would like to grant you, remember that it is not up to you to determine whether this is practical, that is our job. However, if ever you have this power, what we ask is that you use it.
We will now vote. My colleagues will be voting, but I do not have the right to vote, unfortunately.
(Motion agreed to.)