Good afternoon, everyone. I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 15 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format. Members are attending in person or using the Zoom application.
Given the ongoing pandemic situation and in light of the recommendations from health authorities to remain healthy and safe, all those attending the meeting in person should follow the directives of the Board of Internal Economy.
I thank members in advance for their cooperation.
When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly, as I am doing.
For those participating by videoconference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute your mike. When not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
As regards interpretation, those of you who are on Zoom have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either Floor, English or French.
Those in the room may use your headset and select the desired channel.
Should any technical challenges arise, please advise me, and please note that in the case of technical challenges, we may need to suspend for a few minutes, as we need to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(f) and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, January 31, 2022, the committee is resuming its study on francophone immigration to Canada and Quebec.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses.
I apologize for my throaty Gerry Boulet-like voice. I'll try not to sneeze or sniffle near the microphone. I wanted to chair the meeting all the same.
In the first hour, we have Charles Castonguay, retired professor of mathematics and statistics.
We also have Alexandre Cédric Doucet, president of the Acadian Society of New Brunswick, and Ali Chaisson, its executive Director.
Liane Roy, president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, and Alain Dupuis, its executive director, are also present.
Lastly, from the Société nationale de l'Acadie, we have Martin Théberge, president, and Véronique Mallet, executive director.
Each of the organizations will have five minutes for opening remarks, after which we will proceed with a period of questions from the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. I will signal to you when you have about one minute left.
And with that, I give the floor to Mr. Castonguay for five minutes.
I would like to share with you some thoughts on how immigration could help stabilize Canada's linguistic duality most effectively.
Low fertility undermines both official language populations in Canada. The fact that francophone and non-official-language minorities are being assimilated into the English community offsets the low fertility of the anglophone majority. However, assimilation into English weakens Canada's francophone minority, and its inability to assimilate its fair share of non-official-language immigrants even more so, including in Quebec.
As a result, the weight of the French-language minority is constantly declining overall across Canada, outside and even in Quebec, since the turn of the century. All these trends are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Consequently, it's high time we changed the linguistic ground rules in Canada.
Using immigration to reinforce Canada's francophone minority might be a partial solution. The best way to do that would be, first, to increase the percentages of French-mother-tongue immigrants and francotrope non-official-language immigrants who are likely to be assimilated to French rather than English. Second, those groups should be directed to regions of Canada where the francophone minority is still strong enough to integrate them successfully. The most appropriate regions for that purpose are, in descending order of effectiveness, Quebec, New Brunswick and eastern and northern Ontario.
It clearly isn't enough merely to promote francotrope and French-mother-tongue immigration to regions outside Quebec. According to the most recent census, 2.5 million non-official-language immigrants outside Quebec had assimilated to English. Those 2.5 million immigrants included several hundreds of thousands of francotropes. By contrast, a minuscule 14,000 immigrants assimilated to French. Censuses have even revealed that, outside Quebec, New Brunswick and eastern and northern Ontario, most French-mother-tongue immigrants assimilate to English starting in the first generation.
Canada's francophone minority now represents no more than 20% of the total population. To help stabilize that number, at least 20% of immigration to Canada should consist of either francotropes or French-mother-tongue speakers. Furthermore, as Quebec comprises 90% of the country's francophone population, Canada should encourage 90% of its francotrope and French-mother-tongue immigrants to settle in Quebec. That's the only way immigration has any chance of effectively helping to stabilize Canada's linguistic duality.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
My name is Alexandre Cédric Doucet, and I am president of the Acadian Society of New Brunswick, the organization that represents the Acadians and francophones of the province of New Brunswick. I am accompanied today by Ali Chaisson, executive director of SANB.
Thank you very much for inviting SANB to appear before your committee as part of its study on francophone immigration to Canada and Quebec.
Immigration is an especially important area of intervention for the Acadian nation. In New Brunswick, in particular, where French is the mother tongue of some one-third of the population, immigration policies and programs have an essential role to play in maintaining the demographic weight of the francophone community, one that is protected by section 16.1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I should also point out that the governments of Canada and New Brunswick are therefore required under the charter to ensure that their immigration policies and programs do not assist one community at the expense of the other and, at the very least, that they maintain the demographic weight of the minority community.
Unfortunately, what the Acadian nation of New Brunswick has witnessed in the province is a very disturbing reality. New Brunswick's francophone community has not benefited from immigration to the same degree as the anglophone community. This is an area where the federal government has undermined the Acadian nation by treating it in the same way as the rest of Canada.
It goes without saying that federal immigration policies can enhance the vitality of the francophone minorities without taking into consideration the specific linguistic composition of those provinces. With a francophone population of approximately 32%, New Brunswick requires permanent, customized federal government immigration support to help it maintain and develop that population. This is because New Brunswick's unique linguistic balance is disturbed every time the percentage of francophone newcomers falls below the percentage of francophones living in the province.
For example, the federal government's target of 4.4% of francophone immigration outside Quebec does not reflect New Brunswick's specificity. If applied to New Brunswick, the 4.4% francophone immigration rate is in fact an assimilation rate. Moreover, in its 2014 New Brunswick francophone immigration action plan, the provincial government gave itself until 2020 for the number of francophone immigrants settling in the province to reflect its linguistic makeup. However, after failing to meet that 2020 target, the government pushed it back to 2023.
Bearing that in mind, we strongly encourage the Standing Committee on Official Languages to recommend that the Government of Canada negotiate an agreement with New Brunswick that reflects the linguistic and constitutional specificity of the only officially bilingual province in the country. More specifically, it should consult the New Brunswick government and concerned representatives of both official language communities and negotiate and adopt a five-year agreement on support for the distinct educational and cultural institutions of both communities to ensure their protection and promotion. That five-year agreement should focus on primary and secondary education, early childhood, post-secondary education, health and, of course, immigration.
According to projections derived from a baseline scenario, by 2036, the francophone population of New Brunswick will have fallen closer to one-quarter of the total population, rather than one-third, as is currently the case. An annual 10% of francophone immigration to Canada outside Quebec would help to slow the decline in New Brunswick and to reach a francophone population percentage of 30% in 2036.
To do that, the province must be granted a federal quota of at least 15% of the francophone immigration target over the next few years in order to maintain growth in its Acadian and francophone population and thus avoid decline. Engineering that increase will be no easy task: raising the number of francophone immigrants means expanding funding for institutions and integration services and reinforcing the francophone support system. Greater financial and human resources will have to be introduced to support efforts to meet the target so we can inform the New Brunswick population and increase its awareness of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism.
In short, increasing the number of francophone immigrants in the province would help maintain or expand the francophone population. However, our hosting capacity must be taken into consideration in this process because it will have a significant impact on our retention rate. Initiatives will also have to be funded to respond to those social challenges and to help us learn to live together.
I appeal to your courage and sense of responsibility as statesmen and stateswomen. A bright future lies ahead for Canada and Acadie. We are at a veritable crossroads. It is up to you to decide the direction of this major Canadian project and its distinct implementation within our language minority communities.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I am speaking to you today from Moncton, New Brunswick, which is part of the traditional land of the Micmac people. I am accompanied by the executive director of the FCFA, Alain Dupuis, who is joining us from Ottawa.
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the progressive new francophone immigration target that the FCFA du Canada introduced on Monday.
Members of the committee, the clerk has distributed to you some tables that will accompany my remarks and help you to follow my presentation and the figures they contain.
As you know, in 2003, the federal government established a target of 4.4% of French-speaking immigrants to be admitted outside Quebec every year. That target was to be met in 2008, but the deadline has been pushed back to 2023.
In the past 18 years, we have seen very little progress in meeting that target. Annual results have rarely exceeded 2%. In 2021, the rate was 1.95%. During that time, the demographic weight of the francophone and Acadian communities fell from 4.4% in 2001 to 3.8 % in 2016. If this trend continues, it will be 3.1% in 2036.
As I said when we revealed our restorative target, a major change is needed. We can no longer continue on the same path. The situation is now so harmful that remedies are called for. Which is why we have requested that the government mobilize the resources to achieve a target of 12% by 2024, rising to 20% in 2036.
We didn't pull these numbers out of a hat. They come from a serious demographic study conducted for the FCFA by the Sociopol corporation. Based on a Statistics Canada model and data, it shows what we will need to restore the demographic weight of our communities to 4.4% by 2036. That goal was incidentally set by the government itself and announced twice, first in the action plan for official languages 2018‑23 and then in the official languages reform document released in February 2021. To meet it, we will have to do francophone immigration in a completely different way using all resources at our disposal. For years, the government has relied on general immigration programs such as express entry to meet its target. That hasn't worked.
We need a francophone immigration policy that includes specific programs and measures designed to address specific realities. Those measures must include a distinct francophone economic immigration program that meets the needs of Canadian francophone communities and employers. They will have to provide specific francophone components for family class sponsorship, refugees and provincial nominee programs. Lastly, the communities will have to play a leading role in selecting francophone immigrants. They will also have to facilitate entry by international francophone students by lowering the barriers preventing them from obtaining visas and study permits. We also recommend that the pathway from temporary to permanent residence introduced for a limited time last year be made permanent for francophone candidates.
Above all, additional support must be provided to the francophone and Acadian communities so they can engage fully in all immigration phases, whether it be international promotion, improved French-language reception and settlement services, mobilizing employers for recruitment purposes or developing welcoming and inclusive communities to ensure success for those who settle there.
The francophone and Acadian communities have been working hard to meet the immigration challenge for the past 20 years. We have proven that we have the necessary expertise and know-how to create the francophonie of the future, a diversified and pluralist francophonie. However, that francophonie will exist only if the government adopts this restorative target and genuinely provides the means to achieve it.
Thank you. I am now ready to answer your questions.
Good afternoon, everyone.
The Société nationale de l'Acadie, or SNA, of which I am president, is a non-profit organization that is the voice of francophone representative associations and francophone youth associations in the Atlantic provinces. The Comité atlantique sur l'immigration francophone, or CAIF, is a regional consultation mechanism that SNA created to encourage all stakeholders to work together and to speak with one voice. It is in that capacity that I am before you today.
My name is Martin Théberge, and I am accompanied by my colleague Véronique Mallet, who is our executive director.
Francophone immigration is essential if we are to thrive. The declining birth rate, outmigration, an aging population and, especially, linguistic assimilation are factors that we can fight only if the francophone population increases, and it must necessarily do so through immigration. On these issues, SNA supports and congratulates the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, or FCFA, for its recent recommendations.
Despite the urgent nature of the situation, the contribution that immigration has made in our community is still below the level of our needs. According to the report released by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in November 2021, francophone immigrants represent approximately 7% of all immigrants to the Atlantic region, 15% in New Brunswick and less than 4% in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. These rates reflect neither the demographic weight of the francophone population of New Brunswick, which is 32%, nor that of the other three Atlantic provinces as a whole, which is 11.9%.
Our four provincial governments are aware of the importance of francophone immigration. Each one has its own plan and wishes to work with us through our provincial nominee program. Yet no province has reached its targets to date.
As the Commissioner of Official Languages noted in the statistical analysis study he recently submitted to you:
The 4.4% target for French-speaking minority immigration was adopted in 2003 to stem the decline in the demographic weight of the French-speaking minority population, which was 4.4% in the 2001 census.
Nearly 20 years later, our demographic weight has constantly fallen, while efforts to reach the 4.4% target, which has been pushed back to 2023, have never exceeded 2%.
In Acadie, we both attract and retain immigrants, and we have made progress on several fronts since the mid‑2000s.
Why then isn't francophone immigration increasing. Certain administrative and governmental realities have had a negative impact on francophone immigration rates. I would like to highlight a few.
International students are a class of trained and skilled immigrants to Canada. In the Atlantic region, we estimate they represent approximately one-third of francophone immigrants. There would be many more of them if their study permit applications weren't frequently denied. And while some lucky ones are actually granted permits, their permanent residence applications are often refused as well.
Consequently, we would like the federal government to examine immediately the reasons why the applications of foreign francophone students are denied and to rectify the situation by seeing that more applications are accepted. Nearly all immigration classes are in the same boat. We therefore urge the federal government to find ways to facilitate permanent residence for francophone minority immigrants.
There is also the credential recognition problem, one of the main impediments to economic integration. More than a third of immigrants questioned in the Atlantic region said they weren't really working in their areas of expertise, or indeed at all.
Since this issue is one of the points the committee is examining, I'd like to mention that CAIF is working on a feasibility study for the creation of a credential recognition centre, especially for teachers of French, a field where the need is acute. We therefore ask that the federal government take immediate action by working with professional associations to facilitate credential recognition for foreign immigrants.
In the Atlantic region, it is impossible to integrate fully without an excellent command of the English language. However, after fewer than five years of permanent residence, more than a quarter of francophone immigrants landed between 2011 and 2016 do not know enough English to conduct a conversation. Allow me to point out as well that studies show that becoming bilingual does not undermine the use of French by those immigrants.
We therefore hope that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, will help its community partners make English classes available for francophone immigrants.
Lastly, IRCC cannot be the only organization that takes measures to promote francophone immigration.
In 2003, the public diplomacy program, which made it possible for SNA to conduct international promotion, was shut down. No comparable program has since been introduced to take its place.
Through its diplomatic relations, Acadie has managed, for example, to maintain a French consulate general in the Atlantic provinces, an essential instrument in attracting European immigrants. SNA has also been involved in other similar measures and promotions.
We therefore implore the federal government to view the francophone immigration issue in a broader, international relations perspective and immediately commit to developing a francophone diplomacy strategy—
I'd like to take this opportunity to express my disappointment. The House of Commons is currently proceeding with speeches on Bill , while the Standing Committee on Official Languages is sitting. I find that awkward on the government's part, and I wanted to say so here in committee.
Thanks to the witnesses for being here today. I believe that the representatives of the four organizations can agree on one point: there's a serious problem with francophone immigration.
You've all shown that it's time to act.
Mr. Castonguay, my first question is for you. You talk about raising the targets. As a parliamentarian, I think that's an easy solution. However, I need to draw on your knowledge to determine how we can reach our targets. I agree with you that they must be raised, but it's easy to raise a number. Would you please give us some specific recommendations on how we can meet them?
That question is also for the representatives of the other three organizations. Would you please give us some specific recommendations on this?
I invite the witnesses to suggest two or three recommendations in quick succession to assist us in drafting a report that's effective and provides Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada with the necessary tools.
Mr. Castonguay, you may begin.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all the witnesses here this afternoon.
I also want to applaud the questions that my colleague Mr. Godin asked. I know we agree with each other on the international francophonie, although we may disagree on the local francophonie. He may take issue with the fact that the Standing Committee on Official Languages is sitting while Bill C-13 is being debated in the House, but I personally feel this is a great opportunity for members other than those of the Standing Committee on Official Languages to speak on behalf of their communities. I think we should emphasize that because the official languages belong to us all, not just the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
On that issue, Ms. Roy, I don't know if you knew you were going to appear before the Standing Committee on Official Languages this week. However, I did hear your statement about the targets the federal government has to meet. As you well know, we haven't met our 4.4% targets for decades.
Is the FCFA establishing ties with the international francophone communities in order to attract francophones to Canada?
Thank you very much, Ms. Roy.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to introduce my motion, which I circulated to all committee members on April 1x.
I don't know whether the members of the committee would like me to read it, but it's simply related to Bill . Parliament will be in recess for two weeks, and I think it's important that we have an opportunity to submit our witness lists. The motion mentions April 25, but, since we'll be returning from the parliamentary recess in the week of April 25, that doesn't allow committee members much time to think about the people they'd like to invite. With that in mind, Mr. Chair, I don't think any speaker in the room would oppose the idea of starting the pre-study of Bill C-13 as soon as possible.
I propose to invite the and the —I know we've had many questions about the role of the Treasury Board and centralization. I ask the committee members to vote for this motion, and, as a matter of form, I will read it to refresh everyone's memory.
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(f):
1. the Committee begin a subject matter study on the Government’s modernization of the Official Languages Act, comparing Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts; to Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, from the 43rdx Parliament, and English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada;
2. the Committee invite the Minister of Official Languages and the President of the Treasury Board to discuss the changes between Bill C-13 and previous legislation, and to respond to questions on the current bill before the House;
3. members of the Committee submit their prioritized witness lists for the study to the clerk of the committee no later than 12:00 p.m. on Friday, April 25, 2022, and that the compiled list be distributed to members that same day;
4. if Bill C-13 is referred to the committee by the House during the subject matter study, all evidence and documentation received by the Committee during the study related to Bill C-13 be taken into consideration by the Committee during its legislative study of Bill C-13;
5. the clerk of the Committee notifies immediately each Member of Parliament who is not a member of a caucus represented on the Committee, to inform them of the beginning of the subject matter study in order to invite them to start working on their proposed amendments to the Bill, which would be considered during the clause-by-clause study of the Bill C-13; and
6. the Committee begin this subject matter study no later than Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
I think there's a problem impairing communication between the Canadian and Quebec governments, and I don't know what it is. There's a duplication of responsibility for immigration, as a result of which many immigrants from France, for example, who are frustrated with the endless delays in regularizing their status and acquiring permanent residence. It's scandalous.
In addition, large numbers of francophone African students who want to come and study in Quebec are being refused.
It isn't surprising that, according to new immigration data, the immigrants Quebec is receiving aren't 80% or 90% francophone or francotrope, even though that would be normal. I repeat, this isn't a problem that solely affects francophone minorities outside Quebec. The majority in Quebec is desperate. According to the most recent census in Quebec, French is the mother tongue of only 78% of Quebeckers. That's unheard of in the history of Canadian censuses since 1871.
One of the major problems is immigration: the recruitment and selection of an appropriate number of immigrants to maintain an 80% francophone majority in Quebec. The percentage is declining with each census. We'll see what it is in the new data in August, when the percentage will be below 78%. It's inevitable. It's mathematical, if you will pardon the term.
Here's an example. Students who apply for temporary study permits are first accepted by a CEGEP or French-language university. The data are virtually the same for Quebec and regions outside Quebec. In Quebec, students receive an acceptance certificate from the Quebec government, and, in some cases, 80% are refused by the Canadian government.
That's why I think the Quebec government should have the last say in the matter, and a mechanism should ultimately be found for students outside Quebec.
A chancellor of a francophone university outside Quebec told us he was travelling abroad to recruit francophone immigrants but that the vast majority of temporary students recruited were refused by the Canadian government. This is incomprehensible. Students from the francophone pools are essentially the ones with the highest refusal rates.
I don't know whether you or the other speakers have any suggestions for us.
When refusal rates in the francophone African countries such as Algeria, for example, are 80% or 90%, it seems to me there should be a way for the immigration department to issue an instruction prohibiting refusal rates over 50%, or something like that.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to the witnesses for being with us today for this very important matter.
My first question will concern the international component and is for Mr. Théberge or Ms. Mallet or both.
Immigration is obviously an international phenomenon, and we need to promote our francophonie here at home using our diplomatic tools. We need visa offices, which are really lacking in the present government's consular services network, but we also need cultural, economic and diplomatic relations.
How should the francophone immigration policy be coordinated with other departments, such as Global Affairs Canada, for example, to ensure it focuses on Acadie, not on ivory tower discussions with IRCC?
Thank you for your question.
We alluded to that earlier. We're saying the central issue is that we can't handle immigration as a single entity. We can't deal with immigration in isolation.
Earlier my FCFA colleagues referred to the previous program. A diplomacy program has an impact on immigration, but also on many other sectors of society. It enables a people, such as the Acadian people, to recruit internationally, establish cooperative arrangements, promote its artists and promote Acadie and Canada as places that are good to live in. It has an impact on immigration and on other sectors as well.
That kind of program would be combined with immigration as long as Global Affairs Canada, for example, agreed to recognize the ability to conduct international initiatives as sources of vitality and development of a people. That would also help give the Acadian people the power to attract and integrate more immigrants to and in their community. You can't discuss immigration by discussing immigration alone.
Thank you, Mr. Théberge.
My next question is for Ms. Roy or Mr. Dupuis.
Everyone agrees that there's a large potential francophone immigration pool in Africa. The Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa are undergoing significant demographic growth. It was noted earlier that there are systemic barriers or biases in the programs in which the applications of very large percentages of students from Africa are denied.
Do you care to comment on that? I think it's a major concern for the future.
Ms. Roy, you mentioned new targets, 12% in 2024 and 20% in 2036. How did you arrive at 12% in 2024 and 20% in 2036?
I obviously understand that the 4.4% targets are completely ridiculous. That's been a sad failure for 20 years. Why those specific figures? I'm curious.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to all the witnesses.
I could take a picture of all these people today. You obviously aren't all the same people, either witnesses or committee members. I was here in 2009, nearly 12 years ago, and we were considering exactly the same issues.
After the billions of dollars the federal government has invested in the past seven years—we waited seven years to propose a reform of the act—here we are today with sharply declining francophone immigration in the minority communities, and in Quebec as well, as Mr. Dupuis said.
Ms. Roy, you relied on the study that you commissioned in determining that the new target should be raised from 4.4% to 12% and then potentially to 20%. Personally, I agree with the idea. The problem is that the current government doesn't have the will to do it despite the huge sums of money it distributes hither, thither and yon in all sectors in Canada.
Do you sincerely think it wants to increase francophone immigration?
Following the discussions we had with Minister Fraser's office and the parliamentary secretary, and those that Mr. Dupuis and his team had with various officials, I think there's a willingness to listen, dialogue and cooperate with us on those targets and the policy.
We know we'll never meet those targets, and we realize this is an ambitious project, but we have to do things differently, as I said in my remarks. We have to do francophone immigration differently. You don't do immigration in minority communities the same way as in majority communities.
Consequently, it's important that francophone immigration policy be developed by and for francophones. We have to have a say in that policy. When we held our press conference on Monday, we introduced a series of measures and programs that should be included in that policy. We referred to them earlier, and we touched on the issues of international students, family sponsorship and refugee resettlement.
So we'd like to have programs designed through a francophone lens to ensure we can meet these targets. That's what will be needed to restore our demographic weight.
Ms. Roy, we've been talking about "by and for" francophones for many years.
To a certain extent, I see a form of hypocrisy here. As Mr. Beaulieu and Mr. Boulerice said earlier, regarding francophone immigrants from African countries and the Maghreb, there's a certain form of discrimination right now, and the blame is laid on the algorithms of a piece of software, as a result of which some applicants aren't accepted because they don't have enough money or for I don't know what reason.
What's necessary is a political will that we're not seeing right now. You talk about the policies you'd like to see put in place with the government's assistance and "by and for" francophones. The government will listen to you and give you money hoping you'll stay quiet for a few more years.
In reality, policies have to change from within the federal government. Mr. Castonguay discussed this earlier: what we're experiencing right now is an absolute aberration compared to what we would like to have. These are two completely different worlds.
Mr. Dupuis, I don't know whether you can respond to what I just said, but it's as though all of us had our heads in the sand. We're going backwards and don't realize that the problem is in the political environment, which prevents the emergence of specific measures that will produce results.
I'd like to begin with a comment. It's very easy to criticize what the government of the day is doing or has done over the past six years. What did the previous government do over a ten-year period? Not only did you do nothing, but you blocked funds. So rather than criticizing, I think we should expend our energy on finding solutions, particularly when we have witnesses. It's not just a matter of criticizing the government of the day, but looking in the mirror before commenting on others.
My question is for Mr. Chaisson or Mr. Doucet. With a view to attracting more francophones, the Permanent Resident Program and the Express Entry process, for example, assign them more points.
What other initiatives should IRCC introduce to increase francophone immigration to Canada?
How successful will it be over the long term?
Thank you for your question, Mr. Iacono.
My colleague, Mr. Chaisson, can finish answering this question. Without repeating myself on matters pertaining to fields of jurisdiction and the decentralization of immigration in the province of New Brunswick, I think that we also need to look outside the box. At SANB, we are trying to rely as much as possible on the IRCC targets. We are attempting to put forward other concepts that could be introduced, including constitutional concepts. If my reading of the Constitution is correct, official languages is not a field of jurisdiction. Usually, when a subject is not mentioned in the fields of jurisdiction, the federal government is responsible for it. If you are willing, I'd like to refer to former Senator Jean-Maurice Simard, who argued that because official languages are not a field of jurisdiction as such, it's up to the federal government to deal with it. It could therefore sign agreements directly with institutions.
What institutions could do a better job of recruiting and retaining than the postsecondary institutions which are already doing so on an everyday basis, but lack financial resources from the federal government? I believe it would be easy to implement certain concrete ideas, but there is a lack of creativity on the part of the federal state at the moment.
I'll give the floor to Mr. Chaisson, if he has anything to add.
I would just say that the problem lies with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. I don't agree that it's the fault of Canada's Parliament or governments of any stripe. It's the department's problem. It sets peculiar objectives.
Unfortunately, apart from my respect for the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I must say that we have rarely been called upon by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. And yet, that committee is responsible for criticizing and studying what the IRCC does. The Standing Committee on Official Languages ought not to be a catch-all. As soon as a problem arises, it shouldn't always end up with this committee. At some point, part of the burden will have to be shared.
In dealing with this specific issue, a particular conclusion will inevitably be reached, which is that IRCC put all its eggs in one basket—the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver regions—and to hell with the rest! IRCC regional funding is directly determined by the number of immigrants a province receives. If one province is at the low end at the outset, then that's where it will stay. At a certain point, as President Doucet was saying, it would perhaps be a good idea to try something else. We need to be a little bit more creative.
With respect to francophone immigration, when Quebec signed an agreement with the federal government, the IRCC officials breathed a side of relief because they would no longer have to deal with French. x
But a few years later, francophones came back and said they said to themselves that they were still burdened with the problem of French. People at the department still have not adjusted to the fact that they need to serve the francophonie outside Quebec.
That, members, is the problem.
Although I have a lot of respect for Mr. Chaisson, I don't agree with him at all.
It's all very well to blame public servants and IRCC, but there have to be people higher up giving orders. It's as if we were saying that governments, no matter at what level, are all doing the same things and have no power over their department. Whether it's one level of government or the other, it's the all the same, and neither is it very constructive.
I'm very skeptical, and I think there's going to have to be a major effort to get results. We're being told that things will be okay because there have been discussions with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. But Bill C-13 is asking for a blank cheque. It doesn't have anything concrete, and nothing but good intentions.
I believe there is a very simple method that could be used. The refusal rate, which is at 80%, needs to be reduced, and the approval rate raised to 50%. It's that simple. It seems to me that it can be dealt with.
What do you think about this, Mr. Théberge?
We have a very courageous committee chair today, who's working despite having COVID-19.
Mr. Doucet, I very much liked your intervention on one-size-fits-all federal policies, in which attempts are made to apply the same thing to New Brunswick as to Newfoundland and Labrador, not to mention Nova Scotia.
For New Brunswick. When your population is 30% francophone, it makes no sense to apply a 4.4% target.
I wanted to give you the opportunity to comment again on the specific federal-provincial agreement you were talking about. You provided a long list of issues, like education and health, in which changing things could lead to a different approach for New Brunswick francophones.
I'm going to give you the opportunity to talk to us about this.
Thank you very much for your question.
I believe that the one thing we've been requesting for a number of years now is an alignment between the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the federal Official Languages Act. We would therefore like New Brunswick's linguistic specificity to be included in the act.
Fortunately, with the work done by the Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick and several other New Brunswick organizations, we've already succeeded in getting that into Bill , tabled on March 1. xMore specifically, there's a new section 45.1, which talks about federal recognition of New Brunswick's linguistic specificity in terms of the equal status of both languages and both official language communities.
Including that in the Official Languages Act can compensate for earlier damage. So when immigration is added on, even given the five-year agreement and the various jurisdictions, when I see this compensation, I see dollar signs.
When I see that in the federal-provincial negotiations, with New Brunswick, in this instance, I believe it gives the province of New Brunswick and the federal government the equipment they need to negotiate something together. And the burden is not only on New Brunswick, but also on the federal government.
That's what we'd like to see in the official languages plan that could stem from Bill C-13, tabledx on March 1.
We will now be hearing from witnesses who have never appeared before our committee in our six years.
We have Mr. Mohamadou Sarr, Assistant to the Assistant Dean for Research and Graduate Studies. We also welcome, from my region, Mr. Cyriaque Kiti, the Chief Executive Officer of Afremac Consulting Inc., and Alain Laberge, Director General of the Franco-Manitoban School Division.
You will each have five minutes to present the matters that you would like to tell us about today. When there is approximately one minute left, and again when there are only 15 seconds left, I'll indicate it on a piece of paper.
On that note, in order to save time, I'll ask you to go first Mr. Sarr.
Mr. Sarr, you have the floor for five minutes.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members.
I'd like to thank you for having invited me to talk about my experience as an immigrant, first of all, and also as someone who spends a lot of time working with immigrants.
In my comments, I want to place an emphasis on students, because they represent a clientele of interest to Canada, and in fact of interest to many countries. According to an article that appeared in the magazine Les Affaires, tuition fees are now between $20,000 and $70,000 a year, or even more.
In its 2018-2019 budget report, the University of Toronto pointed out that tuition fees from foreign students accounted for 30% of its revenue, which is more than the provincial grants that account for an estimated 25%. A net decline in the number of foreign students would place some universities at risk, as occurred recently with Laurentian University. Canadian universities are adopting a variety of strategies to attract international students, particularly at the postgraduate level.
In 2017, Quebec received 12% of the international students in Canada, compared to 48% in Ontario and 24% in British Columbia. It's clear that there is a discrepancy for francophones to make up. A more comprehensive strategy is required rather than simply looking at things from one angle.
I am talking about international students because generally speaking, international students attend elementary school in their own country. They will have also have gone to high school there, and perhaps even for some of their university studies. They often come precisely when they can be productive to society. When it's for graduate studies, there is an element of wealth creation. So I want to stress that a global strategy is needed.
Statistics show that over two-thirds of students remain after graduating. Once someone has graduated, it's often much easier for them to find a job, and to integrate and adapt. Less of an investment is required from that standpoint.
I would suggest trying to attract as many francophone students as possible. I'm sure you'll all remember that a few years ago, during an election campaign, a government promised to exempt international francophone students. For example, if Quebec were to sign an agreement with France, French people would be attracted and it would be much easier. But really, the most francophones are in Africa.
Because France is a developed country, it's much more difficult to attract experts from there.
Why doesn't it work? There's a feeling that there may be a quota. Perhaps we don't want a lot of Africans. That's something people feel. However, there is a genuine possibility of going there and finding highly qualified people who would contribute to wealth creation, and who would be acting as ambassadors. Africa has changed a lot. I'm talking about Africa and the Maghreb. I could say more about it during the round of questions, because I wouldn't want to go past my allotted time.
Globally, it's much easier to attract students, particularly for institutions in the other provinces, in Acadia for example.
Good afternoon to all the committee members.
I feel very honoured to be here today.
As Mr. Arseneault mentioned, I am the chief executive officer of a company that specializes in business and human resources development. I'd like to take this opportunity to add that I'm also here as Benin's Honorary Consul to New Brunswick. Benin decided to step up its economic relations with the province of New Brunswick, and accordingly established its honorary consulate two years ago. This genuinely gives me a good opportunity to work with you.
On immigration, I'd like to quote Albert Camus: "Yes, I have a country—the French language." French is a language that blends and binds. Canada is a strong, brilliant country that is respected around the world for its bilingualism. Its attraction is its quality of life. It's known for its strong economy, its political stability and its cultural and linguistic diversity. Most Canadians speak two, if not more, languages. It's therefore important to preserve this linguistic asset, and even more important to strengthen it by allowing all Canadian citizens to have access and proximity to their second language.
By the way, when I hear my children switching back and forth between English and French, I'm impressed.
The Canadian authorities, particularly those who handle immigration and official languages, should continue to strive to make cohabitation between anglophones and francophones possible. Francophones also need to acknowledge that the language of Molière is full of rules and complexities. They can therefore be indulgent by supporting and encouraging efforts made by politicians to speak it. It's pleasant to hear an anglophone who does not understand French make an effort to say a few words in that language. We francophones are not shy about trying to express ourselves in English. Basically, it's possible to learn how to live together and perhaps change an entire country.
Consequently, I'm very honoured to be telling you that the 4.4% francophone immigration target, which according to everyone who spoke before me, is difficult to meet, has a built-in paradox. What I mean is I don't understand why we can't meet this target, which is certainly very reasonable from my standpoint. To get there, I have a few suggestions we can talk about.
First, it would be very important to better inform and better educate the host communities. This means that the people who are responsible for organizing the immigration process need to be better informed about what immigration is and what it gives to Canada. As you know, some perceive immigration as a threat, while people in business see it as an opportunity.
Second, what's required is a combined effort by the federal and provincial governments, and business organizations around the world, more specifically the chambers of commerce and educational institutions. Direct involvement by the new communities themselves and the new immigrants is also essential.
Third, we need to identify the heavily francophone countries full of dynamic young people capable of integrating readily and quickly.
Fourth, it's important to identify the Canadian organizations that could play an important role in easing the procedural and recruitment burden for businesses.
And then I would say that it's also very important for governments to invest in preparing newcomers.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon to all the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
I'd like to acknowledge that I'm currently living in Lorette, a small village in southeastern Manitoba covered by Treaty No. 1, x the traditional territory of the Anishinabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene, and in particular the ancestral land of the Métis Nation.
I'd like to thank you for inviting me to testify on behalf of the Franco-Manitoban School Division, the only school division that covers all of Manitoba, on the francophone side, of course, with 24 schools and about 6,000 students who share a common language, French, and that provides a cultural and social picture of our magnificent francophone minority community.
You will no doubt have guessed that my comments today will be directly related to education. I know that education is not a federal jurisdiction, but rather a provincial one. However, as some of the people who spoke earlier mentioned, immigration cannot be examined in isolation.
I can't speak about the importance of francophone immigration to minority communities without mentioning the importance of inclusion as opposed to integration. I don't want to get into the semantic details of these two words, which are often used in different ways, but which we don't always understand. What is crucial to understand is that despite all the targets we would like to meet, successful immigration needs an inclusive and welcoming society. Without a form of social inclusion in which students and parents are stakeholders and contributors to the community, immigration will remain an attempt to integrate newcomers who have to adapt and who create ghettos. That's the worst thing that could possibly happen to our francophone communities.
In the document containing the statistical analysis of the 4.4% target, Raymond Théberge said, in 2003, that the primary objective of the strategic framework took a special interest in studying that 4.4% target. The goal was to increase the number of French-speaking immigrants to bolster the demographic weight in francophone minority-language communities.
The figures from the last census in 2019 showed that Canada had acquired 340,000 new residents. Of these, Manitoba had welcomed approximately 19,000, only 300 of whom spoke French, for a percentage of 1.5%. To this could be added those who speak both languages, but honestly, in the French-language education system, families that identify as speaking two languages rarely attend francophone schools, often owing to unfamiliarity with them—about which I will speak a little later—or simply because they are disillusioned about the fact that we have a province and a country that claims to be bilingual, but that is not.
So the target was 4.4%. In my view, that should be a starting point rather than an end in itself. It has not been reached since 2003, there's a further decline every year, and the gap continues to grow, meaning that our communities are stumbling along like a wagon with a broken wheel.
Without francophones, it's hard to create an educational community or a community school, a term we use in New Brunswick, which is very dear to us. It's also health, the economy, the arts, culture, sports, etc.
Unlike the majority-language schools, the minority schools are simply not required to provide education and programming that would be called "educational". There's a whole component made up of people's values, culture, heritage and identity that is very important and that there wouldn't be in a first-language school.
It's important to point to the Canadian Charter of Rights that now allows for rights holders in our schools, and to the parents who protested 25 years ago in front of the school division to ensure that we could have the "by and for".
So although it's a provincial jurisdiction, why should education and immigration go hand-in-hand? Immigration plays a key role in expanding the minority community school network. Most of the time, it's the place where the francophone community can get together, the key meeting point. The school is where a future generation can prosper in a spirit of equity and social justice.
I'll finish up with a small anecdote. I meet many parents who come to our schools. The first thing they ask is why they can't work in French in Manitoba? Why can't there be a French-language clinic in Manitoba? Why can't they be served in French? There is a feeling of disillusionment that leads them to withdraw their children from francophone schools to place them in anglophone schools because they want to make sure that they will be able to find a job when they grow up.
Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for their contributions to this committee meeting.
My first question is for Mr. Mohamadou Sarr.
You mentioned that two-thirds of the students remain in Canada after they graduate. I think that's a development tool. I am not using the expression in the pejorative sense, quite the contrary. The capacity to attract students strengthens immigration, because these are people who will stay here after graduation. If we are going to target one group in particular, we might as well focus on people who are going to stay here.
How can we attract more students? Can you make a few suggestions for us? The fact remains the same. I was saying to the first group of witnesses that we all know that francophone immigration has been a major problem for several years now. What we want right now is to find solutions and prepare a report.
Can you, Mr. Sarr, give us one or two recommendations on how to be more effective at attracting more students?
You're absolutely right. I fully agree with you. Many of the problems lie with the red tape. There are many applications and many institutions that admit students from abroad, but in the paperwork, many permits are refused because there is no evidence that the student will leave after graduating.
The concrete solution I can suggest already exists in Quebec. It involves doing what is done for students from France and Belgium, with exemptions for lump sums, by which I mean tuition fees, particularly in areas where there is a large gap that needs closing. I'm talking about Quebec but there is also Université Saint-Anne in Nova Scotia, and postsecondary institutions in New Brunswick that are having problems. We could make it easier for students to come here, particularly, as I was saying earlier, Canada did not have to pay for their elementary and secondary schooling. Having these foreign students come here would be beneficial.
What's happening right now in Benin, if not in Africa generally, is that people are poorly informed about Canada's requirements. Even among ourselves, translating from English to French or French to English sometimes causes us problems. After a quarter of a century of living in Canada, I sometimes want to fill out documents that I don't understand online because there are several questions that look identical or very similar. People therefore need to be better informed about Canadian procedures.
The second thing that happens in Africa, including Benin, is that many applications are sent to Accra, Ghana, which is where the Benin applications are generally processed. As it happens, many are refused. Sometimes it's for minor reasons, such as financial requirements. We know of parents who are very rich and who have the means to pay for their children's education. But the visas are rejected simply because the parents don't want to reveal how much money they have. Couldn't there be a way of sorting that out?
Before starting, I'd like to thank the three witnesses for having spent their time with us this afternoon.
I'd like to ask Mr. Kiti a thing or two.
I share your opinion, Mr. Kiti, when you say that being bilingual can only contribute to our country and to Canadians and that you like how we can live together in diversity. I agree with you.
To return to the question, you made some suggestions. I'd like to hear your comments about your fourth idea, about investing in preparing newcomers.
Could you tell us more about this?
On the one hand, I like the suggestion of exempting students from tuition fees or at least a portion of the fees. I think that in Quebec, there is a program that allows francophone students to pay the same tuition fees as Quebec students, which are lower.
On the other hand, we have a big problem with the rejection rate. For example, only 15% of applicants from Algeria are accepted. For Benin, in 2020, I think it was 17%. The same is the case for most of the francophone African countries, including Algeria, and it's also the case for Haiti. However, for India and some other countries, the acceptance rate is 50% or more. These rates are much higher. It's hard to understand. In my riding there are many applicants for temporary permits who are waiting for an answer and not getting it. They're being told that they have not convinced the authorities they would not remain in Quebec or Canada. And yet, at the same time, we claim to be are in favour of having foreign students stay here permanently.
Among all the people you know, you must surely know some African students who applied for study permits. What reasons were given for these rejections? What do you think can explain these high rejection rates?
These people have been accepted by a Quebec university education institution, but then refused by the federal government. Based on your experience, can you tell us why?
Usually, it's because of the financial evidence they need to supply. Normally, for the first study permit application, it's often the consulate that does the checking. Quebec often accepts the application, but then finds itself in the black box. If we were at least told that it was a money problem, then we would know that the financial evidence was inadequate.
Just recently, a few weeks ago, I saw a student who had his year of tuition fees paid by the Student Direct Stream, which deposited the amount he requested in trust at the Desjardins Caisse Populaire, and allowed a month for the application to be processed. He too was refused, even though the funds were already here. That's the crazy sort of stuff we're encountering.
But it's still possible to acquire more interns, if only to decrease the risks. A relatively interesting measure was introduced not long ago, allowing universities to have interns for up to 120 days. That doesn't require a work permit. It's a helpful measure that gives universities and companies an opportunity to test people to see if they might be useful, with a view to hiring them or conducting a research project with them.
Basically, the problem is always this black box. We think that it's because of the money. And yet as shown in the last case we mentioned, with the person who had sent everything required, he received the same response to the effect that there was nothing to prove he would leave after graduating.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank all the witnesses.
My first question is for Mr. Laberge.
I'm replacing my colleague, Ms. Ashton, who couldn't be with us today. She had to be in the House to present her bill. You all know her and realize that this is very important to her.
She wanted to ask a question—based on her own experience—about the problems she encountered when she wanted to register her twins for day care services in French. As is the case it for many francophone day care centres, there is a shortage of early childhood educators in Thompson, a shortage that has been aggravated by the pandemic. Attempts to recruit early childhood educators from outside Canada have proved very difficult.
Mr. Laberge, do you think the federal government should have a francophone immigration policy that would include early childhood educators, something that would help francophone and francophile communities begin to teach their children French from a very young age by enrolling them in French-language services?
It's true that it's a major challenge, and even more so in the regions.
In Thompson, we opened a francophone school three years ago and there is a day care service, but for about 14 months, it proved impossible to fill vacant positions. Parents are waiting to enroll their children. When children begin to attend a francophone school in a minority community, they're going to stay. But if there is are no places in a francophone day care centre, they're going to have to attend an English-language day care. I know that there are shortages there too, but I think the situation is even more desperate and difficult for us.
So, in response to your question about whether we should have a policy, I may not be a born politician, but I do have an administrative bent. So as an administrator I would say that once our day care centres are full, our schools are full, our children are speaking French and we have created an educational community that is much broader than the school itself, then of course.
It's not so dire in Winnipeg because we have a somewhat higher concentration of francophones, which means that we can have larger secondary schools, and sports teams, but if you're a high school student in a rural school where, from grade 9 to grade 12, there is a total of perhaps 50 students, then you're obviously not going to have a hockey team or a football team. It's impossible. xx
So what this means is that there are students who would like to remain in a French school, but our schools are not always appealing. In several provinces, the schools that were turned over to the francophone school boards were the relics the anglophones no longer wanted. I'm not saying that to be nasty. So imagine a brand new school with a gymnasium right beside a francophone school built 60 years ago that doesn't have a gym. That's what we have in two of our regions. As a parent, it's all very well to be a hardcore francophone and love the French language, but you're going to opt for the English school.
Thank you to all the witnesses here today.
Mr. Kiti, you're a consultant. There has been a lengthy discussion on students, but you also raised the matter of workers who might be interested in coming. I just heard Mr. Sarr mention that there were some problems with fraud, because there are far too many consultants.
What kind of controls could be introduced?
It's important to work together. It's understandable that there might be abuse, and it does nothing to improve the system.
Do you have anything in mind that you could suggest to us?