LANG Committee Report
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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON OFFICIAL LANGUAGES
The Honourable Denis Paradis
Dear Chair of the Committee,
We are pleased to submit this letter as the Government of Canada’s (the Government) official response to the Report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages entitled Toward a New Action Plan for Official Languages and Building New Momentum for Immigration in Francophone Minority Communities. The Government would like to thank the Committee for its work and express its appreciation to all who appeared before the Committee to share their views.
As you know, the Government has put in place a number of measures which already have a positive impact on official languages and minority communities in Canada: reinstating the long-form Census; increasing funding to CBC/Radio-Canada; reinvesting in the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board of Canada; modernizing the Court Challenges Program; implementing measures to ensure the appointment of bilingual judges to the Supreme Court; launching the review of the Regulations that govern the designation of bilingual points of service; and reopening the Francophone component of the Royal Military College Saint-Jean, to name but a few examples. The Government will have many further opportunities in the coming months to highlight and promote official languages in Canada.
This letter is composed of two parts. First, it responds to the recommendations of the Committee dealing with Francophone immigration. It then deals with the development of the new Action Plan on Official Languages (the new Action Plan). The Government reports on measures under way that respond directly to several concerns raised by the Committee and wishes to reassure them that its report will enrich the development of the new Action Plan.
1. NEW MOMENTUM FOR IMMIGRATION
The Government of Canada welcomes the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Official Languages regarding Francophone immigration. The public consultations that PCH held in recent months on the priorities of the new Action Plan underscored the importance of Francophone immigration that contributes to the vitality of Francophone minority communities and helped to ensure that Francophone or bilingual immigrants settle in and integrate into these communities.
The Government is determined to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities (OLMCs) and recognizes the importance of implementing immigration strategies to increase Francophone immigration, further promote Francophone minority communities and improve settlement services. The creation of the Official Languages Secretariat within the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has contributed significantly to a proactive approach not only to implement the Official Languages Act (OLA) and the objectives of Part VII, but also for the development of additional policies and programs for the benefit of OLMCs.The Government has already taken steps that are in line with the Committee’s concerns.
1.1 Selection and promotion
In recent years, the Government has implemented several initiatives to increase Francophone immigration outside Quebec. For example, in June 2016, the new component of the International Mobility Program, Mobilité francophone program was launched to attract skilled Francophone workers and encourage them to settle in Francophone communities outside Quebec.
Also, the Government recently introduced changes to the Express Entry system that are expected to benefit Francophone candidates and increase their chance of being invited to apply. These changes include awarding points to certain former international students that completed studies in Canada, and rebalancing the system by reducing the points for a valid job offer and introducing some exemptions from the required labour market impact study to support a job offer, including for temporary candidates coming to Canada through the Mobilité francophone program. According to projections, these changes will benefit French-speaking immigration candidates, who will be well ranked in the Entry Express pool. Furthermore, the Canadian government is studying other options to increase the number of Francophone immigrants outside Quebec, including the awarding of additional points to Express Entry candidates who are fluent in French.
IRCC is also involved in a number of promotional activities in Canada and abroad, including promotion aimed at Francophone populations to foster the ongoing vibrancy of minority communities. These activities include providing information sessions on immigration programs and opportunities for living in French in Canada, as well as organizing numerous job fairs. Also, every year Canada’s mission in Paris organizes Destination Canada, which seeks to connect employers with potential skilled Francophone immigrants. In this way, the Government has committed to continuing its efforts to promote Francophone immigration and OLMCs. It will also continue to provide support to communities, employers, provinces and territories by setting up fora for engaging potential candidates.
It should also be noted that the Government is working closely with provincial and territorial governments on the issue of Francophone immigration. The promotion of Francophone immigration outside Quebec is one of the priorities of the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Vision 2016-19 approved by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of immigration in October 2016. In addition, in May 2015, federal, provincial and territorial immigration ministers identified Francophone immigration as a priority for future changes to the Express Entry system. Furthermore, the Ministers of immigration were invited by their counterparts from the Francophonie canadienne to participate in the first Francophone Immigration Forum held on March 31, 2017 in Moncton, New Brunswick. At this forum, ministers from different jurisdictions had the opportunity to share best practices and challenges related to Francophone immigration across the country.
1.2 Settlement Program
As part of a broader commitment to OLMCs, the Government is ensuring that settlement services are tailored to the specific needs and situations of immigrants who settle in Francophone communities outside Quebec. The Government continually examines ways to improve Francophone communities’ ability to welcome Francophone immigrants and refugees. This includes seeking innovative solutions to fill gaps in “par et pour” services to create a series of settlement services that connect Francophone newcomers with the communities.
As part of the Settlement Program, a new service called Arrimages francophone will be piloted. It will facilitate the creation of lasting ties between Francophone immigrants and the local and regional Francophone community by providing an initial point of contact, a needs assessment and an ongoing link throughout the integration process between immigrants and the services offered in French. Other IRCC-funded initiatives include language training that supports the acquisition of language skills needed for social and economic integration, activities that support the ties with Francophone minority communities, and support for relationships between Francophone service providers and the settlement system. IRCC will continue to work with communities to foster better community collaboration, achieve savings in the delivery of settlement services at the local level, improve the communities’ involvement in community planning and development, identify service gaps and find solutions.
1.3 Stakeholder engagement
Improving intergovernmental and community coordination continues to be a government priority, since it increases the efficiency of the Francophone immigration process, reduces duplication, and aligns policies and programs to improve the promotion, selection and integration of Francophone immigrants. IRCC will continue to work with the provinces, territories, communities and other government departments to discuss the issues of Francophone immigration and its role in maintaining and enhancing the vitality of Francophone minority communities.
1.4 French test for prospective immigrants
Over the past year, IRCC has stepped up its efforts to proactively implement concrete measures that could lead to similar testing fees for French and English exams that are recognized for federal economic immigration purposes. Specifically, the department has been working with independent designated language testing agencies to explore what action could be taken to reduce French testing fees. At the same time, the department is seeking to increase the amount of French tests available for prospective immigrants. In addition, the department also intends to increase the visibility of the language selection process in the language testing community in order to improve the likelihood that more Francophone organizations will try to obtain the designation for their test, including Canadian organizations.
IRCC is taking these steps in the hope that increasing the number of independent French testing agencies will result in more options, increase the number of available test locations and provide options for reducing testing fees.
2. TOWARD A NEW ACTION PLAN FOR OFFICIAL LANGUAGES
The Committee devoted a significant part of its report to examining other issues of interest to minority communities by making several recommendations to guide the development of the new Action Plan. The Committee’s report has arrived at an auspicious time.
The new Action Plan is currently being developed, based in part on the results of a broad series of nationwide public consultations conducted in 2016. Twenty-two roundtables were held across the country from June to November 2016, attended by more than 350 participants. An online questionnaire enabled 6,375 Canadians to present their perspective on official languages. More than 100 submissions from interested organizations and individuals were also received. The first findings of these consultations were presented on December 8, 2016, to more than 100 representatives of networks of spokesperson organizations working in minority communities and the promotion of linguistic duality.
The Committee’s recommendations tackle many of the important issues for the vitality of minority communities raised during these consultations. The new Action Plan will echo what was heard during the consultations and will take into account the Committee’s concerns regarding governance of official languages, funding, community infrastructure, literacy and skills development, health, minority-language education, early childhood, and immigration.
The Government intends to capitalize on upcoming federal, provincial and territorial negotiations in education to address some of the Committee’s concerns and those of the stakeholders encountered. In preparation for the renewal of the multilateral Protocol and agreements for 2018–23, consultations have been held with the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones, among others, and with representatives from minority school boards in each province and territory. The Government will continue to work closely with community and minority school boards representatives so that the next agreements reflect their needs and priorities and contain transparent accountability measures.
Lastly, the Committee’s work and the public consultations have demonstrated, once again, that official languages issues are multi-faceted and involve all federal institutions. The Government recognizes the importance of a pan-governmental approach to official languages and will look at ways to strengthen the coordination of its overall work in this area.
On behalf of the Government, we would like to thank the Committee for its work and express our appreciation to all who appeared before the Committee to share their views. We would like to assure the Committee that the issues raised in its report will inform the process for developing a new Action Plan for Official Languages, which will be announced soon.