Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I will begin by extending a very warm welcome to our witnesses who have travelled to come meet with the committee members this afternoon. I thank them for that. By the way, this is our first meeting with witnesses since the beginning of this Parliament. That is very important for us.
Before I give you the floor, I am going to remind the committee members that the chief statistician will appear before us next Thursday.
Moreover, I sent you a letter, which you have all received. In that letter, the head of the library tells us how amazing Ms. Lecomte, our committee's analyst, is. I want to take this opportunity to officially announce that, as of today, our second analyst is Laura Blackmore. She will be working with us here.
Without further ado, we will go to our guests.
I assume that a number of you, if not all of you, are used to appearing before the committee. You each have 10 minutes to make your presentation. That will be followed by a round of questions.
I want to let you know that our experts will ensure that the microphone lights up as soon as you start talking. So you don't have to worry about that.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(f), we are conducting a study on the enumeration of rights holders. Our witnesses are: Sheila Risbud, from the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta; Marie-Pierre Lavoie, president of the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique; Denis Chartrand and Valérie Morand, from the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones; and Geoffrey Chambers and Sylvis Martin-Laforge, from the Quebec Community Groups Network.
Ladies and gentlemen, we will begin.
I invite Ms. Risbud to go ahead with her presentation.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, my name is Sheila Risbud and I am the president of the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta, the ACFA.
Thank you for the invitation to testify before you today. Your work is tremendously important for the future of French in Alberta and elsewhere.
What is the ACFA? Founded in 1926, the ACFA defends the rights of Alberta's francophone community, advances its rights and enhances its vitality. The ACFA represents more than 250,000 French-speaking Albertans, a population that grew by over 50% between 1991 and 2016.
It is astonishing that I am speaking in French today, as there was no French-language school in Edmonton throughout nearly my entire education. My parents had no choice but to use French immersion programs managed by the anglophone majority. I am relieved that, thanks to section 23 of the charter, my three children are receiving an education in French and not immersion in Calgary.
At home, in Calgary, the French-language schools are overflowing. The problem is the same across Alberta. Why? The census considerably underestimates the number of children of rights holders under section 23 of the charter. That should change immediately. The failure to enumerate all the children of rights holders in Alberta harms the vitality and sustainability of French. How many French-language schools are we entitled to in Calgary? It is impossible to answer that, as most of the eligible children are not enumerated.
Let me be as clear as possible. It remains impossible to determine with any accuracy the request justifying education in French in Alberta. Why? Because Statistics Canada counts only one of the three categories of children eligible for education in French. That problem is not new. It has persisted since 1982, when section 23 of the charter came into force. Since 1982, Statistics Canada has carried out seven censuses. In reality, those have been seven missed opportunities.
The ACFA is proud to have produced and disseminated, with the Fédération des conseils scolaires francophones de l'Alberta, the very first major study on the necessary changes to the census. We are especially proud that the study helped your committee make this recommendation:
That the Government of Canada require Statistics Canada to include questions in the 2021 Census that would allow for the enumeration of all rights-holders under the broadest interpretation of paragraphs 23(1)(a) and (b) and subsection 23(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That said, the ACFA is surprised that Statistics Canada continues to hesistate to implement your committee's recommendation. Alberta's francophone community is struggling to accept the fact that the federal government has still not confirmed the addition of questions necessary for the enumeration of all children of rights holders to the short form census questionnaire. The brief you received before my presentation today clearly explains that the long form questionnaire does not make it possible to address this shortcoming. Only questions in the short form questionnaire will satisfy the Albertan francophonie.
The ACFA refuses to believe that the future of French outside Quebec may rest between the hands of Statistics Canada. The ACFA's expectations from the members of cabinet are high. In fact, under the Statistics Act, the government, and not Statistics Canada, is in charge of laying out the questions of the short form census.
The ACFA thanks Statistics Canada for collaborating by testing the questions the francophonie needs. I invite you to look at the brief our association submitted. On page 8, under tab 2, are provided the questions Statistics Canada tested in 2019. You will see that the conclusion is encouraging. The analysis work is finished. The required questions exist, and they work.
There you will see the questions Statistics Canada tested in 2019, and you will see that the conclusion is encouraging. The analysis work is finished. The required questions exist, and they work.
Everyone knows what the next and last stage is. The federal government must prescribe the questions to enumerate the children of all right holders in the census short form questionnaire and not only in the long form questionnaire.
The ACFA is counting on the members of this committee to intercede with the members of cabinet to ensure that the only right decision is made soon. At this stage of the file, only one political action will help guarantee the sustainability of our minority francophone communities.
Thank you for your attention.
Honourable members, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I sincerely thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on behalf of the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, the CSFCB.
Your committee is all too familiar with the shortcomings of the census and the issues its data causes to the CSFCB and to the francophone and Acadian school boards in minority settings.
The sociodemographic reality of minority language communities is simple and well-known: as a result of immigration and exogamy, fewer and fewer children eligible to attend French-language schools have French as their only first language learned.
On the other hand, more and more of them learn French at school rather than at home. So the number and proportion of parents who meet the criteria of paragraph 23(1)(a) of the charter are falling significantly, while the number and proportion of parents who meet the criteria of paragraph 23(1)(b) and subsection 23(2) are rising very rapidly. These categories are not enumerated by the census.
Effectively, the CSFBC and the province cannot adequately plan the required investments because they do not have access to reliable and relevant data on the number of potential students in French-language schools. It is not enough to know how many eligible students live in each municipality; we must also know where students live in every catchment area.
That is why your committee recommended the following in 2017:
That the Government of Canada require Statistics Canada to include questions in the 2021 Census that would allow for the enumeration of all rights-holders under the broadest interpretation of paragraphs 23(1)(a) and (b) and subsection 23(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, despite your recommendation, Statistics Canada has systematically avoided guaranteeing that the questions will be asked in the short form census.
It is indisputable that the short form census of Canadians is the only way to enumerate all the children with at least one parent with rights under section 23 of the charter. Therefore, the CSFBC is using its invitation to testify to ask the committee to plead with the federal government to require that the questions intended to enumerate the children with at least one parent with rights under section 23 of the charter be added to the short form census questionnaire.
This question is very important for the CSFBC, which has directly suffered the consequences of the undercounting of right holders through the census. In fact, the CSFBC spent weeks—and I do mean weeks—during its trial before the Supreme Court of British Columbia trying to estimate the number of right holders under paragraph 23(1)(b) and subsection 23(2) of the charter because Statistics Canada had never done it. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful.
Despite all the efforts of expert witnesses and the invested resources, the trial judge concluded that it was impossible to estimate the number of children who were not counted. The judge relied only on Statistics Canada data, which is substantially incomplete. Therefore, the Supreme Court of British Columbia concluded on several occasions that the number does not justify certain buildings or building expansions.
I want to be very clear. The “where numbers warrant” criterion set out in section 23 of the charter depends on the enumeration of all children of right holders. That is what the Supreme Court of Canada has been telling us since the Mahe case, in 1990. That case will be 30 years old at the end of next week.
Therefore, the implementation of section 23 requires the enumeration of the children of each local community to then determine what is “justified” in a given community. To do that, we must determine the number of children residing within a very specific geographic area and not simply estimate their number and guess their geographic location.
Here is an example. You could now refer to tab 5 of our brief. I am talking about the Pemberton example. The 2016 Census enumerated 46 children of right holders under paragraph 23(1)(a) of the charter. So we are talking about 46 children in 2016. However, in 2016, 59 children with at least one parent with rights under section 23 of the charter were enrolled in our school.
Owing to the incomplete data of the census, the judge concluded that the community was entitled to one school that could accommodate only 55 students. Today, 79 students are attending the elementary school La Vallée de Pemberton. We have no more space in Pemberton. If you look at tab 4, you will see a photo of our school. As you can see, it consists of two portable classrooms. Imagine 79 students in two portable classrooms.
To avoid the Pemberton issue and a number of others, the francophone and Acadian school boards and provincial and territorial governments need to know the absolute number of the children of rights holders under section 23 of the charter for each of the existing and proposed school catchment areas. That is how they—and the courts, as needed, as we have seen—determine what a community is entitled to under section 23. To do so, new census questions must be put to 100% of households using the short form questionnaire.
Although Statistics Canada is the government entity charged with developing and administrating the census, it is the cabinet—the Governor in Council—that is ultimately responsible for determining the content of the census. Therefore, the CSFBC expects the federal government to act accordingly.
We are very appreciative of the hard work your committee is doing with respect to the rights of the Franco-Columbian community. This study and the resulting recommendations will help ensure the flourishing of current and future students of our schools, but also of Francophone minority communities in Canada.
Thank you very much for listening to me.
My name is Denis Chartrand, and I am one of the three vice-presidents of the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones du Canada. I am joined by Valérie Morand, our executive director.
Our federation represents more than 265 school trustees servicing the 28 French-language school boards operating in minority settings across the country. Those school boards are located in nine provinces and three territories—in other words, across Canada, with the exception of Quebec. They provide educational services in French as a first language to more than 170,000 students in over 700 schools.
We are testifying before you today on this important issue of collecting reliable, fair and accurate data through the census for the vitality and sustainability of francophone and Acadian communities.
We've submitted to you an 18-page brief, which details our position in regard to the urgency to add questions to the short-form census to better quantify the number of rights holders.
Since 2017, three years ago, the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones has been urging Statistics Canada to modify the short-form Canadian census questionnaire to help school boards quantify the number of eligible children in French-language schools in the various cities, towns and townships in Canada.
The government must require that Statistics Canada add questions to the short-form census questionnaire, not only to the long questionnaire. This is the only way to adequately quantify all rights holders pursuant to section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Three categories of Canadians have the right to have their children educated in French under section 23 of the charter: first, parents whose first language is French; second, parents who have received a significant part of their primary school instruction in French; and third, parents of whom any child is attending or has attended a French-language school.
However, Statistics Canada persists in counting only one of the three categories of rights holders—the first one. As a result, the census underestimates the number of children who can enrol in our schools. The data will not be useful for French-language school boards and provincial and territorial education ministries unless they help determine, and not estimate, the actual number of children in the catchment area they live in.
The short form census questionnaire is the only way to enumerate all rights holders, as it is the only way to determine the number within a specific geographic sector. Conversely, the long form questionnaire estimates a national average, which is useless in a specific community.
It is impossible to demonstrate that “the numbers justify” for a specific community based on a national average. That can only be done using actual data.
Provincial and territorial governments and French school boards must know where to invest in school infrastructure in order to fulfill their obligations pursuant to section 23 of the charter, and thus protect minority language rights and their francophone communities. At this time, because of the lack of precise data, the estimated number of children likely to be enrolled in French-language schools is constantly underestimating the needs in Canadian provinces and territories. Such shortcomings in the current census have adverse effects on the vitality of French-language communities wherever French is the language of the minority.
What's more, the francophonie is changing. The francophonie has changed, and an increasing number of adults speak more than one language. French is often not the mother tongue of recently immigrated francophones. However, since they and their children were educated in French, they fall under paragraph 23(1)(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This new reality must be reflected in the short-form census questionnaire's data collection.
Using only French as a mother tongue does not provide an accurate picture of Canada's francophone population in minority settings, thereby excluding an increasingly significant number of rights holders. This creates headaches for school administrators who struggle to meet the growing demand for French first-language education.
Schools are overflowing.
The lack of evidence during new school infrastructure planning very often results in schools that are too small to meet the demand. Only just built, schools must install portables to respond to an underestimated demand. I'd like to share with you the top priority of my school board, Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario, when it comes to school facilities. Built to accommodate 314 students, École Maurice-Lapointe has a student population of 718. That's an occupancy rate of 268%, and yet, there are no francophones in Kanata, they say. The school has 23 portables—I repeat, 23 portables. It actually has more portables than regular classrooms.
Now I'll turn to our recommendations.
Since 2017 the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones has taken some 40 initiatives to make the federal government aware of the importance of modifying the short-form census questionnaire to better quantify French-language school rights. Consequently, what follows are the FNCSF's key recommendations.
First, we recommend that, in the the immediate term, the short-form census questionnaire be modified to include questions that better enumerate rights holders and properly reflect Canada's francophone community. Second, we recommend that, in the medium term, the Official Languages Act be amended to expressly require Statistics Canada to enumerate rights holders under section 23 of the charter.
Comprehensive data on children eligible to attend French-language schools are essential for French-language school boards in order to battle assimilation. These data will allow school boards to better plan their infrastructure needs and to better advocate for capital project priorities before provincial and territorial ministries of education.
Currently, census data provide a very incomplete picture of rights holders under section 23 of the charter. In failing to provide the data necessary to correctly demonstrate that the number so warrants, the census hinders the implementation of section 23 of the charter.
Simply put, the short-form census questionnaire must be modified by the addition of questions to better quantify rights holders, because the vitality and sustainability of francophone and Acadian communities in minority settings in Canada are at stake.
Time is of the essence. The modification of the short-form census questionnaire must happen now, in time for the next census in 2021, in order for the federal government to meet its obligations pertaining to linguistic duality.
The census underestimates the number of rights holders under paragraph 23(1)(a) of the charter, as it discourages respondents from identifying several mother tongues. The socio-demographic reality of minority language communities is simple and well known. As a result of immigration and exogamy, fewer and fewer children eligible to attend French-language schools have French as their only first language learned. Thus, the number and proportion of parents who meet the criteria of paragraph 23(1)(a) of the charter—the only category recognized by the census—is falling significantly.
The number and proportion of parents who meet the criteria of paragraph 23(1)(b) and subsection 23(2) is rising very rapidly, but these categories are not enumerated by the census. There is no doubt that the vitality of francophone communities depends on education. Communities can thrive only if their schools are plentiful and thriving.
The survival of minority francophone communities is threatened by the systematic under-counting of children who have a parent with education rights. It makes it very difficult—and in some cases, impossible—for French-language school boards to justify their applications to provincial or territorial authorities for additional schools, because they do not have the evidence that the numbers warrant them.
The short-form census questionnaire of Canada's population is sent out to 100% of the population. It is the only format possible for enumerating education rights holders properly.
Thank you for your attention. I will answer any questions you may have.
My name is Geoffrey Chambers, and I am the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network. With me today is Sylvia Martin-Laforge, our director general. Both of us will be delivering the presentation.
Good afternoon, Mr. Dubourg, Mr. d'Entremont, Mr. Beaulieu and all the other committee members.
It's very good to be back. We are pleased with the level of official language expertise and experience represented on this committee and with the geographical balance the parties have achieved in ensuring representation from Canada's English and French linguistic minority communities, which has not in the past always been the case.
Congratulations for coming together with such a formidable group.
For those new to the committee, please indulge me as I make some introductory remarks and a presentation of our background. Founded in 1995, the Quebec Community Groups Network, QCGN, is a not-for-profit organization linking more than 50 organizations across Quebec. As a centre of evidence-based expertise and collective action, the QCGN identifies, explores and addresses strategic issues affecting the development and vitality of the English-speaking community of Quebec, and it encourages dialogue and collaboration amongst its member organizations, individuals and community groups, institutions and leaders.
Canada's English linguistic minority communities exist entirely within Quebec, the only province with a francophone majority. In 2016, the official languages minority in Quebec numbered a little more than 1.1 million citizens, making up 13.7% of the province's population. For reasons that we can get into during questions, if you like, the size of our community is based on the number of citizens in Quebec whose first official language spoken, or FOLS, is English. These numbers are calculated and published by Statistics Canada.
The collective term we use to refer to our community is the English-speaking community of Quebec. We refer to individual members of our community as English-speaking Quebeckers. The term “anglophone” has a specific connotation in Quebec. It refers to individuals whose mother tongue is English and excludes allophones, people whose mother tongue is other than English or French, but whose first official language spoken might be English. As a result, we avoid using the term “anglophone” because it excludes or fails to include a very significant portion of our community.
Thank you for your indulgence. I'll now continue with our comments on the matter at hand.
You are aware that schools are the heart of community. This is especially true in minority communities, for which the school is often the only visible and shared community institution. Schools are more than buildings delivering educational services. They are meeting places that bind the community and places where we reinforce our identity with our children. We will have a lot more to say about the importance of our schools during the committee's upcoming study on education. I would like to thank Madame Lambropoulos for making this proposal.
Given the importance of schools to the vitality of linguistic minority communities, it should come as no surprise that the Quebec Community Groups Network fully endorses the enumeration of children of all section 23 rights holders and not just one of the three categories of rights holders. A consensus has emerged amongst minority language school boards, not only in Quebec but throughout Canada, that this data should be collected by Statistics Canada on the short-form census.
More than three years have already passed since I last appeared before this committee giving evidence about the need to enumerate children of all rights holders. The Quebec Community Groups Network was delighted with the leadership demonstrated by the committee in the May 2017 report and in particular with its landmark unanimous recommendations. We understand that the implementation of this committee's recommendations may pose technical challenges for Statistics Canada, as has been explained before this committee and before the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages in the last Parliament.
The Quebec Community Groups Network expects Statistics Canada and this government to rise to the challenge and see to it that the short-form census is used to enumerate children of all rights holders, for it is the only way to collect objective, credible and accurate data that will satisfy the courts' “where numbers warrant” legal test.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being here today and kicking things off. As Mr. Chartrand pointed out, we've gathered a group of high-calibre witnesses today to start our work in this 43rd Parliament.
The representatives from all four of the organizations here today have highlighted the problem surrounding data, which are vital to schools and provide the basis governments need to make appropriate investments in second-language learning infrastructure.
My first question is for you, Ms. Risbud. You indicated in your presentation that you had spoken out on this matter seven times, but to no avail.
I'm new to the committee. Being from Quebec, I'm very sensitive to issues affecting the French language and francophones. We are a minority in Canada, so it's important that people in the other provinces have access to education in their second language.
How do you remain so determined in the hope that things will eventually get better?
It is true that we invited the cream of the crop to our first formal meeting. The bar has been set very high. You couldn't have been any clearer. I prepared some questions, but your presentations were so informative that I'm going to ask other questions.
First, when it comes to the enumeration of rights holders under section 23, you pointed out that, for 38 years, we've been neglecting the two-thirds of children who could have potentially attended French-language elementary, intermediate, secondary and post-secondary schools all over the country where services were available. We've ignored them, turned our backs on them. That's the message you conveyed to us.
Second, let's consider the short-form census versus the long-form census. We all understand quite well now the absolute importance of knocking on every single door and getting the form to every community member in Canada so we can ascertain where they are, geographically speaking. I believe that was your message. Not only is it important to know how many francophones there are in Canada—or anglophones in Quebec—but it is also important to know where they live, because that's what will show whether the numbers warrant services or not.
Can you speak in more detail about the shift in Canada's francophone community? There's been a lot of movement since I was young. The community isn't necessarily where you'd expect to find it today. When I was young, there were typical well-established French-speaking households, but now I'm seeing that some francophone households have moved. Figuring out francophones' geographic location is important.
In what way is that important to you? How does all that tie in to the short form census?
I'd like to add something to what Mr. Chartrand said.
For example, École secondaire Gabriel-Dumont in Toronto has 293 spots, but 399 actual students—106 more than it should—not to mention 10 portables. Within five years, it's expected to have 526 students, another 126. That will put it at 180% capacity. Just imagine the headache that creates for administrators at the Conseil scolaire Viamonde.
Our system is burgeoning, which is not at all the case for the English-speaking majority, whose schools are losing numbers. For the past eight years, our schools have experienced an average growth of 13.5%, and even that is an underestimate because it's a national average. In regions like the one where Mr. Chartrand's board is located, the growth is substantially higher. If all rights holders were identified, the numbers would increase, as you can imagine.
These are very conservative estimates, and we can't continue to restrict the community's growth or the rights of its members to send their children to French-language schools. French is, after all, one of the country's two official languages.
Thank you to the witnesses for the good discussions.
I'm very frustrated with the topic at hand. It's clear that section 23 of the charter is about minority language education rights. The need is clear, and I do not understand the government's refusal to address this concern.
Year after year, this issue keeps being discussed, and all members of the committee support your claims. The government needs to put in place the changes required to support your school systems.
I will now change hats. I represent the Timmins—James Bay area, which is largely francophone.
Prior to my career in politics, I was a trustee in the anglophone Catholic school system. I realized that it was very complicated. When I was young, the francophone school system was for francophone Catholics, the anglophone Catholic system for anglophone Catholics, and the public system for the rest.
When I was a school trustee, it was not during the baby boom. There was a lot of competition between boards to accommodate students. We invited people of other faiths to choose the English Catholic system, and the French system invited anglophones to send their children to its schools. The francophone public system invited the Catholic francophones to choose the new francophone public system.
My question is simple. Because of the complexity of the regions, particularly in northern and northeastern Ontario or in the Ottawa area, is the francophone school system able to invite students to join?
Thank you for being here today. We are here today with stakeholders from various organizations from across the country. We are very fortunate.
I was able to understand the distinction you made earlier between anglophones and Anglo-Quebeckers. I personally am an Anglo-Quebecker, since I was born to immigrant parents who, at the time, chose my language of instruction. So here I am. My parents chose an anglophone school for me. Afterwards, my children were given the opportunity to attend an anglophone school. In Quebec, in order for that to happen, you have to get a certificate of eligibility.
My questions will be for the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN).
In Quebec, the issue of rights holders is also fundamental for the anglophone minority community. Perhaps we should explain the purpose of this study and explain why we have not found a solution today. I agree with you, Ms. Lavoie, when you say that there has been an evolution. We are the children of immigrants, and our children are the ones who have taken over. We made that choice. The choice of language is widespread. How can these rights be preserved?
In the case of our anglophone community in Quebec, having this information is really essential. It is important for Statistics Canada to realize that, in the province of Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, there has been an evolution, that the population has grown and that it wants to maintain its rights.
My question is for Mr. Chambers from the QCGN.
As I understand it, you addressed this issue in your presentation here in February 2017. Having said that, I'm going to focus on the certificate of eligibility for English-language education.
Could you explain to my colleagues how that works in Quebec?
First, would access to probative data on rights holders have an impact on the process for obtaining this certificate?
In order for the English-speaking population to be aware of their rights, there must be figures to show that a certain proportion of the population is entitled to the certificate of eligibility. Especially in rural areas, sometimes people are not aware that they have the right to follow the same path as their parents. This is because their friends usually attend a French-language school.
The right to having access to schools is not always used and, as Monsieur Beaulieu pointed out, under normal circumstances it is grandfathered, but people are not necessarily aware of that. If there isn't a good statistical basis for them to be encouraged to understand that, very serious erosion is possible.
Also having the data collected would enumerate the number of potential candidates for an English school who are excluded by the current rules in Quebec, which, as we know, are a temporary provision that is not only in violation of the Canadian Constitution, but the Quebec charter of rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a transitional provision to protect the French language in Quebec while it's at risk. We would contend that is not a permanent condition and that at some point the conventional civil rights of the society that ought to exist everywhere be returned.
Enumerating the quantity of the population that would affect would be quite useful to that debate, particularly if that population isn't that large so it doesn't look like a great demographic shift that's going to wreck or put at risk the future of the French language in Quebec.
The data could be very useful to us in getting the population to understand its rights and in the constructive debate about what the rules should be going forward.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here. I apologize for being late.
I would like to curse and swear, but I'm going to refrain. I have been a member of this committee for the last four years. We have met with you a few times, and we're still talking about the same thing today.
This Thursday, we are meeting with the chief statistician of Canada, so sharpen your pencils. Basically, the issue is political. It's not about math, and you don't have to convince anybody of the relevance of what you have been demanding for years.
One of the excuses we have been given in previous studies we have conducted is that there was no room on the form. Eventually, the choice to include one question rather than another becomes a political choice. That's it, plain and simple.
I am a printer and I know paper. I know that you can put a lot of information on a sheet of paper, as long as you want to.
Mr. Arseneault, you have a big job ahead of you.
We all agree on the enumeration. There is absolutely no reason to be partisan on this issue. It's crystal clear. This issue must be settled once and for all.
I hope we will have some insightful answers on Thursday. I say this because I know the chief statistician will be listening to what is being said today. I hope he's ready. I would not want him to tell us that he does not have room on his paper, because I will show him some paper. At some point, enough of this nonsense.
I hear you and, sincerely, I have tremendous admiration for all that you do and all that you have done over the last 50 years to have the rights of rights holders recognized. I believe that we must make your work easier.
Accountability is one of the things that has always struck a chord with me. Even today, money is still being sent to the provinces, and the provinces do whatever they want with it. We can't figure out what they do with that money. We talked about early childhood. Mr. Arseneault, how many studies have we done on that? Each time, we came up against the issue of accountability.
Do you have any comments on that? With regard to the chief statistician who will be appearing before us on Thursday, go for it.
Yes. Right now, really, the census gathers only information about people who aren't eligible for English-speaking education in Quebec. We would like to have a series.... I think there was a study or a test survey done by Statistics Canada last summer that reduced the package of inquiry down to five simple questions that not every person filling out the census would have to answer.
Essentially, the first question is an eliminating question, so 80% or 90% of the people would just be answering one more question than they're currently answering. If they were to fall into the 10% of the population, roughly speaking, who might have qualifications under this second or third method of qualifying, they would have a cascading set of questions. What we would get to is numbers for students who would qualify on all three bases, one of which would be eliminated in Quebec for the time being, but would still be good to know. The other two would actually define what our total potential population is, which is a matter that's very much in doubt.
As you know, our school population has declined from about a quarter of a million people in the 1970s to about 80,000 now, which creates a great deal of strain and stress on the system. In a situation where our best estimates suggest that the actual eligible population might be 20,000 or 30,000 more, not having to sit in front of you saying that it's our best estimate like we're counting on our fingers, but rather that Statistics Canada has proven this, would be a huge advantage.
The questions that should actually be added to the census are the ones that were tested last summer and have this descending effect, so the complaint that the addition of the questions would wreck the short-form census by making it much longer wouldn't really be valid. It would add only one question to most people's responses. That's what we're hoping the government will see its way clear to doing—and expecting, which is better than hoping.
Since you have all received my motion already, I will give you the background. Last week, I met with the director general of the Cégep de Rivière-du-Loup, who alerted me to a problem that affects not only the Cégep de Rivière-du-Loup, but all CEGEPs and French-language universities in Canada. They belong to the same association and this issue affects them. Some students, particularly those from African countries, are turned down almost systematically. That is not right. The refusal rate can be as high as 80% for students from certain countries. We need to address this serious issue.
As you know, students start CECEPs and universities in the fall, but it's a long process to gather everything they need to apply. I do not think we will have this issue resolved by the fall, but at the very least, we should look into it. We could have many witnesses here, by videoconference or in person, to talk to us about it. I am sure the Association of Canadian Colleges would have something to say about this.
Why is it that, when CEGEPs and universities welcome students from everywhere else but Africa, there is no problem? It's not just a question of the students' personal wealth. I am sure you know that they are asked to have $10,000 in a bank account and to prove that they will use those funds to return to their country.
What are the conditions? What evaluation grid do officials use to decide whether or not to grant study permits in Canada?
Next, why is there a rejection rate of up to 80% for young people from African countries who want to come and study in Quebec, but also in Canada—it has to be said, because in French-language universities... Furthermore, Mr. Arseneault, correct me if I am wrong, but we have heard comments on this in the past. I think Ms. Lecomte could attest to that.
You can propose amendments. I am very open to debate. In fact, I could share a CEGEP professor's arguments with you. This issue has been dragging on for a number of years, and apparently African students now feel discouraged when they apply, because they are almost always rejected.
So, what are the real reasons for this? It's important that we get an answer.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.