Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are continuing our study on the issues related to the enumeration of rights-holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Joining us today from Statistics Canada, we have Jane Badets, assistant chief statistician, Social, Health and Labour Statistics, and Jean-Pierre Corbeil, assistant director, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.
Ms. Badets and Mr. Corbeil, we will listen to you for about ten minutes. I don’t know if you want to share your speaking time or how you would like to proceed. Then we will have questions and comments from around the table.
Ms. Badets, go ahead.
Good afternoon. I will make my presentation in French and English.
I would first like to thank you for inviting Statistics Canada to appear today to talk about the progress in our work on the enumeration of rights-holders.
As we said at our meeting on October 3, 2017, Statistics Canada is fully committed to applying all its science and expertise to adequately and quickly respond to the need to enumerate the children of rights-holder parents under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Consequently, Statistics Canada specifically created an advisory committee on language statistics. The list of members of this new committee was sent to you in December.
Given the many issues surrounding language statistics in Canada, the mandate of Statistics Canada's new advisory committee on language statistics is much broader than the enumeration of rights holders. However, since this issue is a priority, most of the committee's first meeting held at Statistics Canada's offices for the entire day of January 25 was dedicated to it.
In addition to the permanent committee members who were selected based on very specific skills and expertise, Statistics Canada invited three other experts as guests, who shared their expertise and knowledge of the issue to ensure that all needs regarding the enumeration of rights holders are considered.
That first meeting of the advisory committee on language statistics, which was also attended by several Statistics Canada employees, was very productive and extremely useful for our agency and all participants. A number of suggestions, comments and proposals were discussed and debated. The presentations and discussions focused most notably on the processes and timelines for the 2021 census content consultation and touched on considerations of a technical, scientific and methodological nature regarding any changes to the content and wording of questions in the census. Each of the potential questions that aim to enumerate rights-holders was then discussed and debated amongst the various experts, not only in terms of their legal and methodological implications, but also with regards to the collection strategy.
As a follow-up to that advisory committee meeting, Statistics Canada analyzed and took account of the comments and suggestions provided by the committee members in order to act quickly and work on questions to test in the 2021 census qualitative tests, which will be conducted in the spring of 2018.
As agreed and in reference to the October 3, 2017, motion by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, a draft of the questions to be used in qualitative tests will be sent to you before March 31.
Moreover, Statistics Canada methodologists have been consulted on the enumeration of rights-holders as part of the 2021 census. A working group made up of experienced analysts and methodologists has recently been set up to ensure that the best statistical methods are used to enumerate this population in the 2021 census or, in the long term, through alternative means.
As you can see, Statistics Canada has been very proactive in this important issue, and it will continue to take its role and responsibilities very seriously. Thank you very much for your attention.
Jean-Pierre Corbeil and I will be pleased to answer your questions on the topic.
Right. I thought we had an influence. I wanted to pat myself on the back, but it doesn't matter.
Some hon. members: Ha, ha!
Mr. Bernard Généreux: The expert committee that was set up has surely found potential pitfalls. I imagine that these experts have made assumptions to arrive at the right questions.
Are there minutes of the expert committee meeting? If so, could the committee know what was said? If not, could you tell us what potential pitfalls you might encounter?
I think everyone means well and has good intentions. We want to recognize as many rights-holders as possible, but for that, we must ask the right questions. There were some potential pitfalls, but we shouldn't all fall into the same trap. I imagine the experts have made suggestions to that effect.
You gave us a table of the content determination process. First, there is the consultation with users of census data. This has already been done. Then, you are planning a test. So you are going to give us the questions and then do a qualitative test. After that, in the summer of 2019, there will be a test of the content. Finally, there will be a presentation to cabinet in the fall of 2019 and the winter of 2020. That's a bit late.
I imagine you know that there will be elections in October 2019. So this can't wait until 2019.
I'm simply saying that the schedule you're giving us today doesn't work. It's clear. You have to arrange it so that, before the session, meaning one year from now, we know exactly where we are going.
I have the floor, but I have the impression that we all agree on this. It is imperative that we have the questions next year, in the spring of 2019. I'm really sorry, but despite the good job you've done, this doesn't work. It must move faster than that.
The next census is in 2021. You can't push back the deadline. We were already talking about it in 1990. We can't push it back for the rights-holders, whether it's the francophones or the anglophones I represent. We all experience challenges and complexity.
Could you tell me how you will arrive at a solution next year, and not in the fall of 2019?
Welcome once again to Mr. Corbeil and Ms. Badets. I will not ask you to repeat what you said, but I feel reassured today, Mr. Corbeil. Perhaps I got the wrong impression, but each time you have appeared before the committee—this is not your first time here—, I have asked you the same question, three times on one occasion.
Do you think it will be ready in time for 2021? You have never been able to confirm that. Perhaps I am dreaming. Today you are saying that there is no problem for the next census, that we will be ready as regards enumeration, of course.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the witnesses for being here today.
I am usually accused of giving long preambles and not asking enough questions. This time I will ask some questions, but I would like the answers to be brief.
I have to say that I was expecting to get the questions today, but you said they will be available on March 31. I was not here the first time you appeared before the committee.
When I did my master's, in 1984, I examined the whole issue of Acadian schools. Everyone clearly agreed that the number of rights holders is the justification for creating francophone classes and schools. Yet we have never taken the necessary steps to determine the real number of rights holders, and that really upset me.
I have three very specific questions.
The deadline for obtaining the questions that will be included in the census can be met, unless there is a catastrophe, such as a world war, that prevents you from getting the work done.
From a financial point of view, there is no problem since you have enough money to do it. Is money a problem or not?
Hello, Mr. Corbeil and Ms. Badets.
For my part, I have to say that I would have liked to hear more. In particular, I do not want to sugarcoat things. For as long as the Standing Committee on Official Languages has been preparing reports on linguistic minorities, I cannot believe that, in 2018, you still do not understand.
That being said, as someone who hates statistics, I am anxious for Statistics Canada to start speaking in human terms. We are more than just numbers. Rights holders are more than just numbers. They are French-Canadians right across the country and they have rights.
I am really tired of hearing about figures only. Rights holders are human beings who have suffered from the lack of schools. You just have to look around—the committee has just returned from a trip—to see that people are struggling every day. It is not possible that, in 2018, you have not had the time to consider the situation.
Statistics Canada wears a lot of other hats. There a lot of other subjects, but they are not all as important as the two founding peoples. In 2018, we should not even be having this conversation. That is what makes me angry, Mr. Corbeil.
In your view, we are just figures—and I have nothing against that. Behind those figures, however, are human beings, human beings who have the right to simple questions. Show us those questions and we will see if we understand them. There are people here who come from minority communities. For my part, I am from Quebec. We are more than just numbers, we are human beings, and I want you to treat us and treat rights holders as human beings.
The Standing Committee on Official Languages has been producing annual reports for years. In the past, I was part of the government, a parliamentary secretary. We issued a number of reports. If you do not read them, that is a problem. We put our heart and soul into our work here.
What I am asking you today is to provide the questions on March 31. We will understand them and we will try to help you. We are here to help you. We are here to defend linguistic minorities. Please stop treating us as numbers. When you talk to us that way, I do not feel involved. I am working on issues other than rights holders. The black hole in my riding can still be traced to statistics.
I don't know how things work at Statistics Canada. Behind the numbers, are there human beings who understand the problems we have had for much more than two or three years? I have been in federal politics for 10 years and we have been talking about this the whole time. In the past 10 years, surely you have come up with some numbers somewhere. This is not the first time we have asked you this. You said you did a study of rights holders in 2006. So you do have something to work from.
Why is it so complicated today to talk about issues that are so essential to people in remote regions and minority communities? With all the time we have spent talking about this, I do not want to wait until 2020. It startled me earlier when I saw that because this is not the first time we have talked about this. If it had been the first time, I would not have said anything, but we have been talking about it for 10 years. You must have some figures.
I hear you and I completely agree with you. I was not arguing that point.
In terms of the method, I can just tell you that it's our job and it's not just a matter of figures. People who know me know that, in 2010 and 2012, Statistics Canada released more than 800 pages of analysis, which provides a provincial and territorial snapshot of official language minorities. Our goal was to start a discussion on figures.
I am a sociologist by training and not a statistician. We are getting people talking about figures, so that they can understand that human beings are behind those figures. Our work, at Statistics Canada, consists in informing the public debate through statistics. So statistics are necessary.
During this second hour, we will continue our work, pursuant to Standing Order 108, on the review of support programs for official language minority community media.
It is our pleasure to be hearing from François Côté, Director General of the Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada; Francis Sonier, President of the Association de la presse francophone; and Richard Tardif, Executive Director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.
Good afternoon, everyone.
As we mentioned earlier, we are expecting to be called in for a vote. So we will try to limit the length of statements. I will be pretty strict when it comes to the length of presentations. We will also reduce the discussion time with members because we will most likely have 15 minutes less than anticipated.
We are listening to you.
Ladies and gentlemen members of the committee and Mr. Chair, thank you for having us.
We are here before you this afternoon as members of the consortium for official language community media serving anglophone and francophone minority populations. The three members of this consortium are l'Association de la presse francophone, or APF; l'Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada, or ARC du Canada; and the Quebec Community Newspapers Association, the QCNA. Since the summer of 2016 we have pooled our expertise, our experience, and the strength of our respective networks. All three organizations in this consortium speak with one voice.
The simple definition of the term “the media” is that it is a singular collective noun referring to an “intervening agency, means, or instrument”. Years ago this instrument was the simple printing press, a newspaper, a radio station, and later a TV outlet in each city, in each community, with local issues discussed between neighbours over the backyard fence—short-distance communications. The role players were owners: press owners, radio and television owners, distinct and identifiable. Today Facebook, Google News, Twitter, YouTube, and other media termed “social” play a role almost without distinction, but it has become long-distance communications, where neighbours are discussing the larger issues across a digital fence.
Traditional media today are publishing also on these platforms. Everyone has a role, and that's good. They may be discussing global issues across a digital fence, but local residents are still in their backyards, and they still want to know what's happening in their local communities.
Recent years have witnessed changing forces in media. Media staffs have been cut by a third since 2000. Major media company stock has fallen over the same period. No one is denying this. The root cause, according to many, is that the Internet has reduced the return that news outlets can earn by selling the attention of their consumers to advertisers.
In the last 18 years, one thing does remain. We are still supporters of Canada's official language communities in a unique way—through traditional media, along with a digital presence. What a delivery system. At your fingertips, we're still there. We've always been there. We were there in October 2016, more than two years ago, as part of the 2016 pan-Canadian consultation on official languages, when we—the QCNA, APF, and ARC du Canada—collaborated on a brief delivered to . Our brief outlined a series of possible solutions and positive measures that will enable Canadian Heritage and targeted government departments and agencies to work closely with the consortium.
Unfortunately, we feel that we are no further ahead today.
You may be wondering why minority community media should be treated differently from other media.
The role minority community media play is protected by part VII of the Official Languages Act, as it is an essential service and very often the only source of information for the official language community it serves. It is the voice and a reflection of communities that are often isolated, in remote regions or even in urban settings. It is a symbol of attachment to a community, of a development tool of community cohesion and of identity-building that contributes to communities' growth and sustainability. It is a key platform for Canadians to express themselves freely. It is an indicator of the vitality of official language minority communities used by government authorities.
The negative effects of the advent of social media at the expense of traditional media escalated to an emergency a few years ago for many media. You are surely aware that the federal government's decision to invest in advertising on foreign digital platforms to the detriment of domestic traditional and digital media has been devastating. What is even more worrisome for us is that those platforms are not state imposed. By making that decision, the government certainly did not take into account its direct and indirect impact on our economy. For small official language minority media, which are primarily isolated in remote regions or in an urban minority language setting, the impact of the government's decisions can easily be multiplied by 10.
In June 2017, our consortium was relieved to see the report of the acting commissioner of official languages. In her report, she agreed with the organizations that submitted complaints in 2015, according to which Public Services and Procurement Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Privy Council Office and the Treasury Board Secretariat did not take into account their obligations under part VII of the act in their decision to cut community media advertising.
It should certainly not be forgotten that, until complaints were filed with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in 2015, government advertising revenues for official language minority community media had been melting before our eyes from year to year.
As of fall 2017, bolstered by the final investigation report and the acting commissioner's recommendations, and more importantly convinced that the affected departments would want to work with our consortium to implement win-win solutions, we have begun a series of meetings with a number of government representatives to move the file forward.
We wanted to propose an aligned action plan that would engage a number of affected departments through an interdepartmental approach. We have noted some openness at the Department of Canadian Heritage and have begun working with them. As for Public Services and Procurement Canada, we ran into a brick wall. Those in charge would accept no responsibility and sent the ball back into the court of the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Privy Council Office.
In December 2017, Public Services and Procurement Canada even published a bogus study on minority language Canadians' media habits, which was ordered immediately after the acting commissioner's preliminary report was submitted, in September 2016, without consulting the community or the members of our consortium, as required by the Official Languages Act. This study has been criticized by many official language minority communities, both francophone or anglophone, owing to questionable methodology and worthless or invalid data, which will have cost Canadian taxpayers $200,000.
We were told about this study in September 2017, and we ordered the department officials not to publish it and to comply with the Official Languages Act by redoing the study—this time also consulting the members of our consortium. Yet those officials did not see it fit to accommodate our request and made their study public, as planned, in December 2017.
You are probably also aware of the recommendations made by your colleagues from the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. They carried out a study entitled “Reaching Canadians with Effective Government Advertising”, the report on which was submitted in December 2017.
In that report, the committee identified a number of anomalies in the way Public Services and Procurement Canada had managed the government advertising file. So it issued a series of 10 evidence-based recommendations, including this one:
The Government of Canada increase advertising purchasing for weekly, multicultural and community newspapers and other local media, so that the government meets the directive that communications are responsive to the diverse information needs of the public.
From December 2017 to January 2018, we tried to conduct a national awareness-raising campaign with the ministers and deputy ministers in charge, but with no success.
The decisions over the past 10 years have resulted in the slow death of official language minority community media.
As you can see, since the acting commissioner of official languages submitted her final investigation report, in June 2017, ARC du Canada, the QCNA and the APF have been facing major challenges in engaging all the affected government authorities in the implementation of the aligned action plan that would meet the recommendations of the report and the urgent needs of official language community media.
On December 22, 2017, we asked the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages to do something it had never done before: facilitate a meeting between various government bodies likely to contribute to the development and implementation of an aligned action plan with emergency measures and short, medium and long-term measures, not only to ensure the survival of official language community media, but also their continuing development.
We saw this meeting of all key stakeholders as an opportunity to create a co-operative space and take concrete measures to ensure a sustainable future for official language minority media.
We need not add that, since some of our community media have already ended or reduced their operations and others are closing their doors, this meeting should be held urgently. Yesterday, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages told us that its mandate did not require it to facilitate such a meeting and that, in any case, some departments were reluctant to participate. It preferred to refer us to the Department of Canadian Heritage to facilitate that meeting.
It is clear that some of the affected departments do not share our sense of urgency, which is real. As a result, within three months, we will need firm commitment from the government on implementing emergency measures—a minimum advertising investment of $1,850,000 for next year, in addition to emergency fees, including coordination and distribution, will all be under the responsibility of the APF, the QCNA and ARC du Canada. In addition, we need a clear directive on immediate investments for national campaigns, such as a campaign on the legalization of marijuana.
Under the desired aligned action plan, official language minority community media need the government's and its departments' support to ensure their survival and their development in an increasingly digital world.
It is good to specify that ARC du Canada, the QCNA and the APF understand and accept the trend toward a digital presence and that this shift is an integral part of the aligned action plan we are proposing.
Official language minority communities' realities cannot be compared to those of other communities. It is unthinkable that, in the coming years, community media would generate enough revenue through a digital platform to be able to continue their operations and serving their communities.
A transition period adapted to the pace of each official language minority community is essential for official language minority community media to be able to prosper, continue to fulfill their mandate and grow with their communities.
So our objective is to develop an aligned action plan that will help official language minority community media continue to inform Canadians in the language of their choice, pursuant to the Official Languages Act.
To achieve the desired results, this action plan must include the necessary resources. In addition to emergency measures, short, medium and long-term measures must be set out to help our media continue to serve our communities. We must also ensure a digital presence of community media by respecting our communities' pace. Finally, a joint accountability framework should be developed that would include continuing investment by the government as part of an agreement between Canada, the communities and community media.
We believe that the following departments have a duty to contribute to the development and creation of this action plan: the Department of Canadian Heritage; Public Services and Procurement Canada; the Privy Council Office; the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat; Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada; and Employment and Social Development Canada.
Beyond the emergency measures already set out, here are the short-term measures, over the next 12 months, we advocate in this plan: an envelope dedicated to official language minority community media included in the $50 million announced in the latest federal budget to support local journalism in poorly served regions; an assistance program for editors; support for employment and internships; support for a digital presence; special projects; a support program for official languages, involving an increase in contributions to the consortium's three member organizations. Over the medium and the long term, between 10 and 36 months, we recommend a permanent program for official language community media with a budget envelope of $10 million a year, whose parameters could draw inspiration from the community media operating assistance program from Quebec's department of culture and communications.
There would also have to be support for digital presence and for developing business plans and related marketing. We also suggest that a recurrent envelope be dedicated to advertising in minority community media, for each of the official language organizations that receive program funding, or funding for projects under the official languages funding programs.
As you can see, we are proposing measures that are for the most part easy to integrate into the existing budgets envelopes of the federal departments concerned.
You have already heard a series of witnesses who have confirmed that there is an urgent need for action. We hope you will also hear witnesses from the four departments targeted by the complaint filed in 2015.
The members of the consortium are at your disposal if you need any further information.
Very well. Thank you very much.
Mr. Côté, what you said is bold, and it piqued my interest. I don't know if a justice of the Supreme Court, let's say, would agree with you. In your opinion, the decline in government publicity is unconstitutional, in light of the act and the obligations of those three departments. You say that by cutting that advertising, it is as though the departments had removed one of the positive rights of the minority communities. However, I would point out that in the Constitution, housing, for instance, is not a right.
All Canadians must be reached; that is what the act says.
Are all Canadians being reached if you use Facebook? No, because in certain regions of Canada, 56Kbps dial-up access is still being used. Do you think that those people really use digital services? No.
In any case, we see the impact these community media have in small communities. This is how people stay informed. It's not on the Internet. We are the first source of information for those people. If you do not go through us, you are depriving yourself from reaching a lot of people. I will give you an example to illustrate precisely what I have just said.
During the census, all of the media were used, including traditional media, and the response rate was never higher.
I think that this proves what we have been saying for many years, which is that by going through traditional media and some of the digital media, you will reach all Canadians. However, you must not target a single platform.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all of you for being here.
Thank you very much for being here today.
I'll begin with the acting commissioner's June 2017 report. It's been less than a year, mind you. There were two very clear recommendations in it, recommendations 2 and 3. I think they are really important. They were addressed, among others, to Public Services and Procurement Canada. The problem may lie there. When the minister came to meet with us, she had no idea of the situation you are in. From what I understand, that was your impression as well.
One of those recommendations was that an analysis be done of the impact of advertising on minority official language community media. The department carried out that bogus study you referred to. Why did the department not listen to you, and why does it intend to release it? It does not reflect in any way the real effects of the displacement of advertising.
I don't have any answer to that question, honourable member Monsieur Choquette.
It was a big surprise to us last October when we arrived for our committee consultative meeting. One of the things we were not pleased with was that we were not consulted, nor were we made aware that this was a study to be presented to us.
I want to point out that we were shocked that they did not contact the communities of our respective associations. For example, for Westmount in Quebec, it's well known as 80% plus anglophone, give or take, over the years, but they reduced that to 40% to make their data work. We don't have 40%. We have more. We were not represented. This situation occurred in New Brunswick as well.
I have no way to answer that, other than to explain what they did.
Thank you very much for being here. I appreciate it.
We are talking about loyalty to paper, and we have heard other witnesses before you. It is really from that angle that we want to help minority official language communities. Concretely, what recommendations should we make to help the media maintain their vitality?
I believe I understood that the situation is different for radio, because you seem to attract a greater number of listeners through the Internet. However, the media and the written press are losing some of their clientele. The transition to digital will happen, as you said, but it seems that that is the issue.
You said that you supported the digital shift—and that is where we are headed—but there is an emergency, since you are here. The first recommendation is about advertising, and we heard it clearly.
The situation is so urgent that I have been in Ottawa for three days. My colleagues are the directors of organizations, and I am a newspaper director. We have had to make decisions this year. Everyone is expecting feedback from meetings I have been to over the past three days, but I have absolutely nothing to report to them. What can I say to my shareholders? What should I say to the employees whose pension fund I had to cut in January? What should I say to them?
Your decisions and your responsibilities hold a promise of hope. I respect your mandate, but I am asking you to go far beyond your mandate. Your study is a good thing, but when you leave the room today, call or send an email to make an appointment with the ministers. It is urgent.
What is happening is really dangerous. If the newspapers, whatever newspapers they may be, are having trouble, we won't make it, I tell you. We have been fighting for 10 years. We have done everything possible, everything imaginable; we went to see all of the departments but we obtained no results. We filed a complaint in 2015, and almost three years later, we still have no results. There are departments that refuse to commit. There are no results.
My apologies to the witnesses, but I have to put forward a motion immediately, so they may not have a chance to speak again. Fortunately, I have a good grasp of the problem and your needs.
Mr. Chair, I am proposing the following motion:
That the Committee recommend that Canadian Heritage establish a $2 million emergency fund for official language minority media to be administered by an ad hoc committee composed of the Association de la presse francophone, the Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada and the Quebec Community Newspaper Association.
The word “recommend” is used since we, unfortunately, do not have the authority to make the department do it. I suggest we debate the motion so that we can put it to a vote as soon as possible.