I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to the 33rd meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages.
Pursuant to the Standing Order of Monday, May 30, 2022, the committee is resuming its study of Bill .
Today's meeting is in hybrid format, pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on June 23, 2022. Members may take part in person or through Zoom.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules for the witnesses and members.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are on the videoconference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. Please mute your mic when you are not speaking.
For interpretation, those participating through Zoom have the choice, at the bottom of their screen, between three channels: floor, English or French. Members attending in person in the room can use their headset after selecting the channel desired.
A reminder that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair. Members in the room who wish to speak need only raise their hands. Members participating via the Zoom application must use the “Raise Hand” function. The clerk of the committee and I will do our best to follow the order. Thank you for your patience and understanding in this regard.
Pursuant to our routine motion, I wish to inform the committee that all witnesses have completed the required login tests prior to the meeting.
I would now like to welcome the witnesses in the first panel, who represent the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
We have with us Raymond Théberge, Commissioner of Official Languages, whom I welcome to the committee. We also have Isabelle Gervais, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch; Pierre Leduc, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch; and Pascale Giguère, General Counsel, Legal Affairs Branch.
Mr. Théberge, you have a maximum of five minutes for your opening statement. The floor is yours.
Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, good morning.
First, I would like to acknowledge that the land on which we are gathered is part of the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people, an Indigenous people of the Ottawa Valley.
I'm very pleased to be with you today to present the results of my in-depth analysis of the government's proposed measures in Bill . In my brief, entitled “Seizing a Historic Opportunity: for a Complete Modernization of the OLA”, I explain my position and make a series of recommendations to strengthen Bill C‑13.
If passed, this bill has the potential to transform Canada's language policy in order to advance our official languages and to better defend the language rights of Canadians. The time to modernize the act is long past due. The most recent language data from the 2021 Census clearly shows that the decline in the demographic weight of Francophones relative to that of English speakers is a major concern. The time to act is now.
Although Bill is very promising, there are some measures in it that could be improved and clarified. There are also other measures that are not included in the bill that I think should be added.
Here are a few examples.
Bill does not include any measures to modernize the core components of the act: communications with and services to the public and language of work. As I point out in my brief, this omission is one of the weak points in the bill.
I believe that federal institutions' obligations and terms of language of work and communications with the public also need to be better aligned. Let's take the example of a federal public servant who holds a bilingual position in a unilingual work area. Currently, he or she must serve the public in both official languages but does not have access to work tools and supervision in the language of his or her choice. The act must ensure that work tools in both official languages are available so employees can provide quality service to the public.
I also think that Bill should enshrine in the act a duty for federal institutions to draft all federal-provincial-territorial agreements in both official languages and to include enforceable language clauses in those agreements.
However, although the bill proposes to strengthen federal institutions' responsibilities to take positive measures, these obligations are still discretionary and do not fully reflect the Federal Court of Appeal's recent decision in the Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique case.
Another aspect of the bill that could benefit from some fine tuning are the measures to improve governance, meaning the way the federal government ensures that the act is implemented effectively. I strongly believe that the act would be greatly improved if responsibility for its governance were assigned to a central agency that had the authority and legitimacy to strengthen accountability mechanisms and to ensure federal institutions' compliance.
In my opinion, the Treasury Board of Canada is in the best position to assume this important responsibility. There is considerable overlap in Bill between the Treasury Board's responsibilities and those of Canadian Heritage. This results in two separate entities being responsible for the implementation of the act, which is problematic when trying to determine who has the final say.
I am, however, very pleased that the government is giving more teeth to the act by granting me a variety of more binding compliance mechanisms, such as the power to impose monetary penalties, enter into compliance agreements and make orders. The addition of the power to impose administrative and monetary penalties on Crown corporations and other entities operating in the transportation sector that do not meet their language obligations is a step in the right direction. However, the scope of this provision is too narrow, which greatly diminishes the potential to change behaviours elsewhere within the government.
I am therefore recommending that the power to impose administrative monetary penalties be expanded to apply to all federal institutions with obligations related to language of work and services to the public. At the very least, these penalties should apply to businesses that are subject to the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act.
Adding new powers to my toolbox will undoubtedly help me to better ensure compliance with the act. However, it will require the allocation of additional financial and human resources to my office.
The volume of complaints we receive has risen significantly over the past few years. This makes for a sometimes difficult work environment for my team of investigators, which adds a certain amount of pressure on them. It is therefore crucial that our resources be adapted to this new reality and to our new powers so that we can continue to protect Canadians' language rights effectively.
Your committee's consideration of Bill brings us one step closer to the finish line. However, there are still a number of stages to go before it is passed. The ball is now in your court, and I urge you to seize the historic opportunity before you today to make this bill a success for Canada's official languages.
Thank you for your attention. I will be very happy to answer your questions in the official language of your choice.
All right, you don't want to answer, but, reading between the lines, I see what you mean. Thank you very much.
As you can understand, we have limited time at our disposal, which is why I'm asking my questions in quick succession.
Will the rollout of Bill , amended in accordance with your recommendations, put an immediate stop to the decline of French in Quebec and across Canada? We're relying on the results of the last census, but we didn't need that to know French was declining. We knew it long before the census, and the decline's accelerating.
The Commissioner of Official Languages would be granted new powers under the bill. I think we should give you more powers, and I entirely agree with what you're suggesting.
However, consider this example. If the Regina airport tries to hire bilingual employees but can't find any and then reports the situation to the parties concerned, your office, the Treasury Board, Canadian Heritage or the , do we shut the airport down?
Mr. Théberge, thank you for being here today. As a Franco-Ontarian, I want to thank you for the work that you do for the francophonie and that you have done for the Manitoban francophonie.
Earlier my colleague agreed with you that Bill should be passed as soon as possible. So we should proceed with the clause-by-clause review of the bill taking your recommendations into consideration. Michel Bastarache, Linda Cardinal, Michel Doucet, Rémi Léger, Benoît Pelletier, Martin Normand and Alexandre Cédric Doucet also say the time to act is now.
As you said, consultations have been conducted on the earlier legislation, Bill , the present Bill and the government's action plan for official languages. Should we continue discussing the importance of passing Bill C‑13 and enriching and supporting the action plan?
In our brief, we discuss how important it is to have a whole‑of‑government action plan to support the development of official language minority communities. It's important to know how to develop that plan and who will be responsible for implementing it.
Canadian Heritage is doing extraordinary work with the communities. What we're proposing takes nothing away from its consultation efforts.
According to Michel Doucet, who was one of the people you previously mentioned, the Official Languages Act is the legislation least complied with in the history of Canada. My office has received 60,000 complaints since it was created.
It's important for us to establish the best possible structure to ensure proper implementation of the act from the outset. Since we've never had that structure in the past, I think we have to create it. It's all well and good to have the best legislation in the world, but we won't achieve the results we want if we fail to implement it.
Good morning, Mr. Théberge. I'd like to thank you and your colleagues for being here.
Two years ago, the federal government took a historic change in direction. It recognized that Quebeckers are part of the francophone minority in Canada and America, and that it was responsible for defending the French language in Quebec as well.
Bill addresses the issue of federally regulated private businesses, but the proposed measures would, I feel, be a step backward rather than forward. Apart from these measures, what is there in the bill that will help counteract the decline of French in Quebec?
As for the "by and for francophones" principle, the Government of Quebec has submitted a set of requests, including a very specific amendment to Bill C‑13, but none of this has made its way into the current version of the bill.
And yet, 90% of the francophone minority is in Quebec. The decline of French is accelerating, including among francophones themselves, and for whom a language transfer from French to English is in evidence. In spite of this, you feel that the bill should be adopted as quickly as possible.
How, in your opinion, will Quebec react if we proceed in this fashion?
In the 2017 multilateral early learning and child care framework, the agreements included language clauses. On the other hand, in the 2021 agreement on $10 a day child care, they did not.
We need to try to determine the impact of having omitted these clauses from these agreements on funds for francophone communities and the number of spaces set aside for them. I think that this omission will have long-term repercussions on these communities.
In the past, challenges with respect to agreements on education had to be overcome. We have received complaints about this at the Commissioner's office. People wanted to know whether the funds in the agreements related to the official languages in education program, the OLEP, did in fact go to the minority language schools.
There are many examples of how the omission of language clauses in agreements signed in the past led to some discretion, probably too much, left to the provinces and territories with respect to the use of these funds. What people wanted to know was whether the funds really went to where they were supposed to go.
In your brief, you ask that your power to impose things like administrative monetary penalties be expanded to apply to other federal services.
For airlines, we know that Air Canada is subject to the Official Languages Act, whereas the others are not.
Do you think that the act should also apply to the other companies?
If so, how could this issue be addressed in the bill?
In your brief, you put forward two dozen amendments. We want to move forward quickly. We all agree that the Official Languages Act needs to be amended. It's a historic moment. The act hasn't been amended for 50 years, and so time is of the essence.
Returning to what my colleague Mr. Godin said earlier, we want to proceed quickly, but we also want to do the work properly. I have sat on the Standing Committee on Official Languages for many years. We have seen all kinds of reports and proposals on amending the act. The main recommendation,among the many that have been made to us concerning the current act, is to give the Treasury Board power of enforcement to implement the act. Everyone appears to agree on this, but there seems to be some reluctance from the government.
What do you think of this idea of having a captain at the helm, in this instance the Treasury Board, whose role would be to enforce the act?
Thank you, Commissioner.
Thank you for coming and giving very forceful testimony on behalf of Bill , and more specifically on the need for us to make rapid progress.
My question will deal with some comments that were made to the effect that we should wait. I understand that the exercise we are currently engaged in consists of holding consultations and determining how the bill introduced by the government could be improved to address the needs of francophones across Canada.
What's your view on the possibility of doing both of these things at the same time? We can do something about stopping the decline that has been observed in francophone communities in Canada, while continuing to improve the act and making sure that the amendments resulting from the work of all participants, including people like you, will enable us to move ahead.
Earlier, you said that the work had to proceed quickly. I would therefore like to hear what you think about this, particularly given its importance for francophone minority communities.
When I talk about speed, it's relative. Prior to taking up my position in 2018, we were already talking about modernizing the act. We are now in 2022, it will soon be 2023, and we're still talking about it.
As I mentioned earlier, there have been several consultations, and many witnesses have appeared before parliamentary committees. I think that we have reached the point where your role is precisely to take all of this information and try to determine how the proposed bill could be improved.
All the witnesses will no doubt agree that it's now time to take action. We will nevertheless give ourselves the opportunity to review the bill in five or 10 years, but not 50 years. That would enable us to make any required adjustments as time goes by.
If we wait until the act is perfect, we'll never get there.
At present, the only real power the Commissioner has is to make recommendations. Bill proposes that the Commissioner be given a graduated scale of powers. For example, he will be able to make orders, impose very limited monetary penalties, sign enforceable agreements, and offer mediation. The tools proposed in the bill will make it possible to resolve certain problems quickly, instead of it always being necessary to conduct an investigation and wait for recommendations, provide for monitoring, and so on.
At present, the Commissioner has a toolbox, but there is not very much in it. Regarding AMPs, in particular, I think it is important to see how we could apply them more broadly. That does not mean using them all the time, but they are part of the toolbox.
For example, take a measure as simple as raising awareness on the part of federal organizations through enforceable agreements, orders, imposing AMPs, and so on.
In fact, what is proposed in Bill gives the Commissioner a well equipped toolbox for the coming years.
Regarding Bill , it is not that it isn't perfect, it is that it doesn't contain the bare minimum to help improve the status of French in Quebec.
First, Quebec being in charge of its language planning should be there, but it is not. Nothing requested by the Government of Quebec is in the bill.
I know what your answer to this is, so I will not make you repeat it.
A study conducted by Radio-Canada showed that 68% of federal public service positions in Quebec required knowledge of English, while barely 13% of the positions outside Quebec called for knowledge of French.
Do you think that is right?
It seems to me that it is essentially in Quebec that bilingualism is required.
I will give you another example.
Take government agencies. I have been informed of concrete cases, but I will not tell you what agencies I am talking about, because the people are afraid of reprisals.
There are agencies that no longer want to operate with the option, on the phone, to select the language in which the person wants to be served. For example, you can select "1" or "2" to be served in English.
Those agencies no longer want to operate that way and require that all their employees be bilingual, and that means that a lot of unilingual French employees are going to lose their jobs.
What do you think about that?
I would first like to make a comment.
I find it quite bizarre, and we have now heard this several times from the Liberals, that even if we consider the decline in French to be a serious problem and it is our role, as committee members, to examine a bill, we have to disregard the recommendations made by key witnesses and keep moving on.
Personally, I think we have a responsibility to do our work as MPs efficiently, as we are doing, but also to show respect to the many witnesses who are telling us clearly that the bill has to be improved.
Commissioner, given the situation we are in, and knowing that French is in decline and that the figures we observe from one end of the country to the other are quite shocking, do you think needs to be improved?
Do you think we will do a better job of slowing the decline of French with enforceable language clauses, for example, or with more focused objectives regarding immigration in the act?
Those are all important elements in the bill that may have an impact on the decline of French.
Immigration is certainly a prerequisite. Without an increase in the targets for francophone immigration outside Quebec, the decline will obviously continue.
We also have to make sure, first, that minority language education systems are put in place, from early childhood to the postsecondary level. Second, there have to be high quality French second language programs all across Canada.
I think it is extremely important, when it comes to federal-provincial agreements and programs managed by the provinces that affect the communities, to make sure the communities and their needs are respected.
As I said earlier, there is also the whole question of the continuum in education, as well as the question of rights holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In addition, Part VII of the act, once it is codified and once...
My worst nightmare would be that the bill was not passed and we were left with what we have now. I think a bill that is a success is a bill that contains the key elements.
First, there must be governance to ensure horizontal coordination across the federal government to implement the act.
Second, there has to be a Part VII that is well written and codified, because that is the part that affects the communities the most.
I would also like to see whether it is possible to examine the question of language of work in a work world that is changing rapidly.
I think those are all important elements.
A bill that did not even come up to the level of Bill would not be satisfactory.
In my opinion, there are improvements to be made, particularly in terms of governance and Part VII, but I think the elements are in place for achieving a good bill.
I am going to let the parliamentarians decide that question.
We have to understand that we have to wait two or three years for the parts of the act to be implemented. How is it possible to assess the impacts of the act in five years?
However, we need to ensure that the implementation of the act is monitored. For example, regarding immigration, we have to see whether targets have been set, whether they have been met, and whether provision has been made for an accounting mechanism in that regard.
There are precise elements that we could monitor throughout the implementation of the act. However, I think that after a decade, we would be in a better position to see the impacts of the act and what needs to be done to refocus our efforts.
Thank you very much for taking the time to come and see us, Commissioner. I believe your work is important, not just for the francophone community I represent, but also for the francophone communities everywhere in Canada.
I am lucky to represent a number of government employees. I was struck by the question of francophone individuals who hold bilingual positions in a completely anglophone environment, and I think you alluded to that question with Mr. Gourde.
How do you think we should legislate on that question, and how could we ultimately enforce that law, in practice?
I was just getting to the offer of services in French by the machinery of government.
Twenty, 30 or 40 years ago, a majority of francophones in Ottawa lived in the eastern part of the city. Today, they are everywhere in the city. We know the situation is a lot easier in Ottawa. However, in regions where the number of francophones warrants the offer of services in French, but the population is scattered, how is it possible to meet those needs?
We often hear someone ask why services are offered in French when there are only 100 francophones in a small region. In the context of Bill , how do you think we can continue combining these elements and making sure that these services continue to be offered, knowing that this presents geographic challenges?
I would like to make two comments to the witnesses in the second panel.
Wait for me to call your name before speaking. Given that you are participating in the meeting by videoconference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mic, or to go on mute when you are not speaking.
Regarding interpretation, for people who are participating by Zoom, you can choose floor, English or French in the channels at the bottom of your screen. For people who are in the room, you can use the headphones and choose the channel you want.
I would remind you that all comments by members and by witnesses must be addressed to the chair.
The witnesses will have five minutes, which will be split in some cases, to give their presentations. They will then be asked questions.
I would now like to welcome the second panel of witnesses.
We have Houston Rifai, a public policy and public administration student and a member of the Youth Advisory Committee, Bishop's Forum. We also have Arielle Warten, a sociology student and also a member of that advisory committee, and Guillaume Rousseau, a full professor in the Faculty of Law, Université de Sherbrooke.
We will begin with Mr. Rifai and Ms. Warten, who will be splitting five minutes' speaking time.
Good morning, Monsieur Arseneault and members of the committee.
I am Arielle Warten, an English-speaking Quebecker currently attending Concordia University in my third year of sociology. Attending with me today is fellow English-speaking Quebecker Houston Rifai, who will introduce himself shortly.
We represent a group of young English-speaking leaders who attended the Bishop's Forum. The Bishop's Forum is an initiative supported by the Government of Quebec's Secrétariat aux relations avec les Québécois d'expression anglaise.
We are here today to share our perspectives on Bill , which will have profound effects on young English speakers living in Quebec. We are people who have grown up as members of a linguistic minority, and who plan on continuing to build our lives in Quebec. We are bilingual and bicultural, and want an opportunity to contribute to Canadian and Quebec society.
Our group would like to make a few points regarding Bill .
Over the past five years, public discourse surrounding our official languages has gone from a collaborative, positive discussion to a divisive exercise pitting English and French against each other. Official language rights are now being played in a zero-sum environment, which is ignoring the very real changes faced by English-speaking Quebeckers.
Bill proposes to include specific mention of the Charter of the French Language within Canada's Official Languages Act. We remind you that as amended by Bill-96, the Charter of the French Language operates notwithstanding the fundamental rights and freedoms of Quebeckers.
Bill proposes to create new language rights for francophones only with respect to their communications with federally regulated businesses, effectively creating special rights for a majority population instead of a minority population. As young English-speaking Quebeckers, we feel abandoned by the federal government in this proposal.
We are concerned that Bill 's emphasis on the protection and promotion of French threatens the duty of federal institutions to take positive measures to enhance the vitality of the English-speaking community of Quebec.
Thank you. We will now hear from Houston Rifai.
My name is Houston Rifai. I am active both in social movements and as a student and worker in Quebec. I'm here to share my concerns and the concerns of many young English-speaking Quebeckers about Bill . I do so while fully supporting the elements of the legislation aimed at bolstering minority language communities across Canada but seemingly not here in Quebec.
Everyone here agrees that there is a need to protect and promote the French language in Canada as a whole, particularly where it is in decline. However, French can be promoted and protected in a positive way, without having to suppress the use of other minority languages to achieve this objective.
Quebec’s English-speaking community is not a threat to French in Quebec. More people speak French inside Quebec than ever before, and more young anglophones are bilingual than any community other than francophones outside of Quebec. As English-speaking Quebeckers, we have put in the work to live and learn in French, and our language communities therefore constitute a population that is distinct from the rest of Canada, just as francophones do in Ontario and New Brunswick.
The notion that French is threatened in Quebec often relies on mother tongue indicators and the languages that people speak in the privacy of their own homes and with their families. This exclusionary framing is part of a wider fear-based narrative, which has been reflected in the legislation and in rhetoric from our political leadership.
In just these past few weeks, we've heard from members of our government in Quebec words of contempt towards minority communities and fearmongering against minorities as if they are a threat to the majority. The sentiments of exclusion were echoed by a member of the House of Commons, who stated that the idea of protecting English in Quebec obviously makes absolutely no sense, which the current version of Bill appears to take to heart.
We propose that protecting the rights of minority languages and minority communities is always good sense, and we ask that you consider protecting the rights of English-speaking Quebeckers as a minority within their own context, just as we ask that the rights of Franco-Ontarians and Acadians be respected and upheld in this legislation. We ask that our government take an active stance against the reduction of rights as seen in anti-charter legislation such as Bill 96 and Bill 21. We implore that you do not make reference to the Charter of the French Language in the Official Languages Act, as we feel that this will allow for more exclusionary and pernicious elements within our political culture to hold sway over federal language policy.
Thank you. We look forward to your questions.
Good afternoon, and thank you for this invitation to come and speak to you about Bill .
I would particularly like to thank and say hello to Mr. Beaulieu, whom I have been fortunate to meet. I would also like to say hello to my member of Parliament, the MP for Sherbrooke, .
I will start with a review of a fundamental principle in law and in language policy. There are two major models: the model based on territoriality, where there is one language within a territory, and the model based on personality, where there are multiple official languages and each person chooses the language in which they want to receive services from the state.
I have found in my work that the studies are extremely clear, not to say unanimous: only the territorial approach, based on the idea of one official language per territory, can save a vulnerable language. It is therefore extremely important that there be one official language in Quebec, as set out in the Charter of the French Language. The federal government must align its policy with that Quebec policy based on territoriality insofar as possible.
I will illustrate this with a very concrete example. In Switzerland, where the territoriality-based model was adopted, the percentage of francophones rose from 18.4 to 22.9 per cent between 1970 and 2017: the francophone population of Switzerland increased by 4.5 per cent. In Canada, on the other hand, the francophone population fell from 25 to 20 per cent in the same years, a decline of 5 per cent. Obviously, other factors are in play, but it appears plain that the language policy model is the determining factor.
These are the considerations in light of which I study Bill . In my opinion, the bill must do more to reflect territoriality, in order to provide more protection for French in Quebec, which does not prevent application of the model based on personality in the other provinces. The model based on territoriality is essential for a vulnerable language, and more must absolutely be done for French in Quebec.
However, when the majority language is not vulnerable, like English in the other provinces, and to a lesser extent in Quebec, the personality-based approach, such as when services in French are offered in the other provinces, is not a problem, because English does not need the territorial approach.
The other major principle we must understand is asymmetry. We have to stop putting the situation of francophones in the other provinces on equal footing with the situation of anglophones in Quebec. After the last census, we saw the point to which French had declined everywhere in Canada, including in Quebec, with no equivalent decline in English. We must therefore consider asymmetry. The bill contains passages that support asymmetry and other passages that support symmetry. Bill therefore needs to be much better realigned toward asymmetry. An asymmetric approach is needed in order to do more for French in Quebec, but also in the other provinces.
For example, in the new section 41(6)(c) proposed by Bill , it talks about the importance to linguistic minorities of having strong postsecondary institutions. That provision puts the situation of English Canadians and French Canadians on equal footing, when the reality is quite different.
Anglophone postsecondary institutions and research in English in Quebec are overfunded, while research in French is accordingly underfunded, and this affects me considerably as an academic. When I read that in the bill, I said to myself that the federal government is going to continue overfunding research in English and underfunding research in French. That is something that Bill C‑14 should correct. Asymmetry and the territorial model really need to be given precedence.
It is worth noting that Bill enacts the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act. That is a step toward territoriality, because the intention is to protect the right to work in French and obtain services in French in Quebec and in majority francophone regions, which are essentially located in the areas surrounding Quebec. That is a very attractive territorial approach that holds up, scientifically, and could even make it possible to save French.
However, what is less desirable in this bill is that the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act proposes weaker protection of French than is offered by the Charter of the French Language. If the idea is to substitute that federal law for Bill 101, it is a step backward for French in Quebec. However, if that federal law is applied outside Quebec, it is more attractive.
We must also not forget that in Quebec, expertise in respect of support for private enterprises in language matters is the responsibility of the Office québécois de la langue française. We should therefore allow the Office to continue to play its role in Quebec. In the other regions, it could allow federal agencies to take its place.
Thank you for participating in this exercise, Mr. Rousseau.
I also want to thank our two students, Arielle Warten and Houston Rifai. It is nice to see young people getting involved to defend their convictions. I can tell you that this is very much appreciated. These young people will always be welcome in the political arena.
In your presentation, Mr. Rousseau, you made a comment concerning the overfunding of anglophone postsecondary institutions in Quebec in connection with Bill . Could you explain what overfunding means, in concrete terms?
Thank you for your question, Mr. Godin. When you welcome involvement by young people, I count myself in, too.
It is the new section 41(6)(c), as proposed by the bill, that deals with this aspect. This is the problem with the bill, which puts the anglophone minority in Quebec on equal footing with the francophone minorities in the other provinces. However, the federal government obviously must do much more for francophones in the other provinces. The principle of symmetry being applied is therefore problematic.
In concrete terms, when it comes to funding research, different criteria can be used. If we compare the demographic weight of our anglophone fellow Canadians in Quebec to the weight of the anglophone universities in that province, the postsecondary funding there is very much greater than what we might expect. That is an initial indicator of this overfunding.
Another indicator is research funding. When we compare the number of students in anglophone and francophone universities, we see that the major granting agencies like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant much more money to the anglophone universities McGill, Concordia and, to a lesser extent, Bishop's, and this is unusual.
Research influences the language of work in universities, which train the elites and researchers of tomorrow. We already know the extent to which science is being developed much more in English and the extent to which English is increasingly demanded everywhere on the planet. If governments do not make efforts to have science done in other languages as well, this will be a step backward for French. Even when it comes to diversity of approaches in science, it is important to have more than one scientific language. At present, the federal government tends to give more funding to research in English in Quebec, and that is not ideal.
In fact, I think we should, above all, increase research funding in French in Quebec.
I want to come back to the territorial approach. Certainly, we can fund research in French in the other provinces, and in fact Acfas is doing extraordinary work to promote research in French. However, studies show that what works is to help the language in the place where it is in the majority, where there is a big enough pool of students to organize conferences and invite colleagues from various institutions. There has to be a critical mass to fund research and there has to be a territorial approach to provide more funding for research in French in Quebec.
In the other provinces, the personality-based approach, which would let each researcher choose their language, can be used. Researchers who speak French or another language who want to do research in French in the other provinces would have to have that opportunity.
The studies are clear: the priority is to defend French in Quebec, and this calls for increasing research funding. If research funding is increased in Quebec without affecting the funding provided for research in English, the balance will be restored since, all proportions remaining the same, there will be less overfunding for research in English and more funding for research in French.
Thank you, Mr. President.
I first want to thank the witnesses for being with us today.
I'd like to begin by congratulating both Ms. Warten and Mr. Rifai for delivering their opening speech not only in English, but in French. I want to congratulate you on your bilingualism, as I believe that being bilingual in the province of Quebec, which is where I'm from, and in this country is an atout, as they say. It's a strength. Welcome.
I'm going to address my questions to both of you. Feel free to jump in, either one or both at the same time.
Members of this committee—and I can vouch for myself—are very concerned with the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and the role our government can play in enhancing their vitality. For each of you, what are the challenges faced by the English-speaking community in Quebec?
First, let me say that we understand the importance of protecting and promoting French, and we also deeply care about our land's indigenous languages, many of which, unlike French, are in danger of extinction. However, community vitality as a concept is about more than language. It is about the health of a community and what it needs to survive.
English-speaking Quebeckers live in the only province where the use of language is restricted by provincial law. This has consequences, and we don't feel welcome in our own province.
Unemployment and economic security are major concerns for English-speaking Quebeckers. There are so many opportunities for bilingual people outside of Quebec, but we ask the federal government to provide programs that help English speakers, bilingual or not, find meaningful careers in Quebec, because we would like to work in the province we call home.
I would also like to mention that we know our language is not threatened. The vitality of our community, however, is dwindling because of the focus Ottawa places on language preservation as the principal marker of vitality.
I'm sorry. Thank you for letting me know.
I would also like to mention that we know our language is not threatened. The vitality of our community, however, is dwindling because of the focus Ottawa places on language preservation as the principal marker of vitality.
To live in Quebec as an English speaker is to experience a political environment where we are told our existence is a threat to society. No matter what we do and no matter how bilingual or bicultural we are, we always feel like we are the “other”. We are the Anglos.
That being said, I would like to invite Houston to answer, if he has anything else to add.
I would like to thank all the witnesses for their participation in our work.
Mr. Rousseau, you said the territoriality-based model is the only way to secure the future of minority languages. In Canada, French is the minority language.
On the subject of the situation in Quebec, there is a 1993 decision of the United Nations regarding public signage, which said the following:
[Translation] A group may be the majority in a province but still comprise a minority in the state, and accordingly be protected by Article 27 [of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights]. Anglophone Canadian Citizens cannot be considered to be a linguistic minority.
The Official Languages Act is based on the premise that anglophones are a minority in Quebec. As a result, all of the funding and measures taken serve to strengthen English in Quebec.
Is the act not contrary to international law?
Yes, you are entirely correct.
I think you are talking about the case brought by Ballantyne and Davidson. In its decision, the United Nations Human Rights Committee clearly said that the relevant entity in international law is the sovereign country, that is, Canada.
Anglophones everywhere in Canada, including in Quebec, form a majority and are therefore not considered to be a minority that enjoys special rights as such.
By considering English Quebeckers as a minority in need of special protection when, in fact, they are part of the Canada-wide linguistic majority, yes, we are in conflict with international law.
In addition, we must never forget that if French is doing well in Quebec, that will have an effect outside the province. Plays and films created in Quebec become cultural products to which francophones in the other provinces also have access. As well, for francophone artists in the other provinces who want to sell their music, for example, the Quebec market will be important, as long as it has a sufficient number of francophones.
So from the sociodemographic point of view, we have the same interests. They really must not be pitted against each other. That is why we have to end this symmetrical approach, the effect of which is that if French gains ground in the other provinces it necessarily loses ground in Quebec. We really have to put an end to that. It is damaging in political terms, since it pits francophones in the other provinces against francophones in Quebec.
That approach is also harmful in another way. I will give you an example. Recently, someone told me about a federal government initiative, the creation of Women and Gender Equality Canada. The government funds community groups and tells them that one of the things it can fund is the creation of bilingual tools.
Since the approach is symmetrical, that applies in Quebec and in the other provinces. Since people in community groups are bilingual, we produce bilingual tools in Quebec, while that is much less often the case in the other provinces.
As a result, a measure that is the same everywhere ultimately contributes a lot to the promotion of English in Quebec but very little to the promotion of French in the other provinces.
To achieve substantive equality, more must really be done for French in the other provinces and also in Quebec.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Once again, I'd also like to thank the witnesses for being with us today.
I also want to thank Ms. Warten and Mr. Rifai for their testimony and for making points that are important for all of us as MPs to hear. I appreciate you being with us here today.
Mr. Rousseau, earlier this year you appeared before this committee to take part in our study on what measures should be taken to protect French in Canada and Quebec. You compared the approach based on the territoriality principle with the one based on the personality principle.
Bill has a territorial component whereby the government will adopt by regulation certain measures permitted under the act and apply them to regions with a greater francophone presence.
In your view, how effective will it be to adapt certain measures by regulation rather than amend the law?
Thank you for the question.
Generally speaking, I'm pretty much in favour of having more things in the act, because it allows for broader democratic debate, consultation and so forth.
I see the flexibility that comes with passing regulations, but Bill clearly places some aspects under regulatory authority when they are going to be governed by law instead, like the Charter of the French Language.
For example, when it comes to the makeup of the committee that will ensure private businesses respect language rights, if I'm not mistaken, the bill provides that the threshold at which businesses will have to have their own committee and language requirements will be established by regulation, but that's a fundamental element.
If the regulation establishes that only businesses with 200 or more employees will have language requirements, the committee will have little effect. On the other hand, if this bill does the same thing as Bill 101, which sets the new threshold at 25 employees as of 2025 under Quebec's Bill 96, many more businesses will be affected.
I really find that a few too many fundamental public policy issues are entrusted to regulatory powers in Bill . Language laws always have provisions that leave room for regulatory authority, but I feel that too much room is being given to regulations in the current version of this bill.
With respect to immigration, there are two things, actually. The more elements we have in the law and the clearer the requirements are in the law, the more likely it is that the goals will be achieved, particularly in terms of Parliament's role.
Francophone immigration is certainly part of the solution. I will use an image to illustrate that. If we turn on the francophone immigration faucet in the bathtub, that's a good thing, we will have more francophones. However, if we don't put the plug in the bathtub, that is, if we don't prevent francophones from being anglicized, we won't make much headway with French.
If our francophones who have been there since the 17th century are being anglicized, francophones arriving here from Senegal will be too. We have to face the facts. Therefore, we need to foster francophone immigration and take steps to promote French in several areas, including education. For French, it's a question of vitality, but it's even more than that.
Take, for example, the applied international law and politics program that I oversee at Université de Sherbrooke's faculty of law. If I may, I'll do a little advertising here, but it's related to the subject at hand. We have a limited pool of students in the Eastern Townships. Therefore, we recruit all over the French-speaking world, especially in France and French Africa.
When we recruit students from French Africa and they're unable to get their visas, that's a problem for us. We have graduate programs where every student counts, as it helps to secure a good portion of our funding. Universities in the regions particularly need these international students so they can offer programs where research and instruction are done in French. The federal government must therefore let our students get their visas quickly. Sometimes it's a question of time. If a student enrols in May, I would say good luck getting their visa in time to start classes in September.
So you've touched on an extremely important issue, especially for students and immigrants from French Africa. This is a crucial aspect, especially for Quebec and its regions.
First of all, it's a question of transparency and near-participatory democracy, because although there are some consultations, regulatory power is much more limited.
The parliamentary process is much more open in terms of consultations. We're seeing that today: we have experts, young people defending the rights of anglophone Quebecers, bilingualism and so on. This makes for a much greater variety of views in consultations compared to the regulatory process, where consultations are more limited.
Then we have the issue of flexibility. You lose flexibility when you put everything in an act rather than a regulation. This could be reconciled by putting more in the act for the reasons I just mentioned, but also providing for a review of the law at shorter intervals.
There was reference earlier to a review every five or ten years, but I would tend to plan for a review every five years, because the census happens every five years and it's so important in terms of language policy.
We must never lose sight of the fact that the federal Official Languages Act regime is based more on the personality principle, which doesn't ensure the survival of a vulnerable language like French. In contrast, the Quebec regime is based more on the territoriality principle.
The more the federal government does, insofar as it follows the personality principle, and the less room it makes for the Quebec regime that's based on the territoriality principle, the more French will necessarily be undermined. Therefore, as much as possible, the federal approach must be based on the territoriality principle.
Steps are being taken to do that with the passing of the Use of French in the Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act. At the same time, it would be a good idea to make as much room as possible for the Quebec government, which has the expertise in this area, particularly within the Office québécois de la langue française, and has a consistent policy. Everything must be consistent.
In terms of language planning, we need a policy on immigration and a continuum of measures to promote French from daycare to post-doctorate, both in research and on the labour market.
If the federal government takes different steps, it won't work. We are seeing the federal government align itself somewhat with Bill 101 through its use of French legislation, but not quite fully, especially given Bill 96, which has further protected French since it was passed.
When I hear people talking about regulatory power, it's music to my ears. It involves limited consultation. It's never as strong as legislation. However, this week the witness told us that it's possible to address the issue using regulations.
With respect to reviewing the act every five years, I just want to remind you of the wording of proposed section 93.1(1): “On the 10th anniversary of the day on which this section comes into force and every 10 years after that anniversary, the Minister of Canadian Heritage shall undertake a review of the provisions and operation of this Act.”
Reviewing isn't the same thing as revising, is it? Okay, thank you very much.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to introduce a motion on the topic we are currently discussing. After hearing the Commissioner's and Mr. Rousseau's testimony, and in light of the issues raised in the Commissioner's brief, I move that, as part of the study of Bill , the , the and the Secretary of the Treasury Board be called to appear as soon as possible, as of October 18, 2022, for two hours per department.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank all the witnesses here with us. It's nice to see people in person. I also want to thank the witnesses joining us by videoconference.
Since we have not had the opportunity to ask many questions to the witnesses joining us by videoconference, I'm going to go ahead and ask them some. I am a francophone, but I will ask them in English. I think that's important in a country like Canada, where you can learn both official languages.
Mr. Houston, with Bill , what is the most important aspect of this that you want to see?
Now I'm going to turn to Mr. Rousseau, who is here with us in person.
This isn't your first time appearing before the committee, Mr. Rousseau. You've often brought up the principle of territoriality, and that's what I'd like to talk about.
Many Quebeckers choose to move to other provinces, but they don't necessarily settle in French-speaking communities. That's also true for many people from French-speaking communities outside Quebec. In other words, they disperse.
I'm going to use my earlier example. Forty years ago, all the French speakers in Ottawa lived in the east end of the city. You couldn't find a French speaker in the west end. It's an altogether different story today.
Bearing that in mind, how do we go about applying the principle of territoriality? How can we strengthen Bill so that it serves the interests of francophone communities, whose members are now scattered all over the place?
Here's something else to consider. Nowadays, most young people don't feel connected toa specific geographic area. They use their cellphones to build their identities. They spend their time on their cellphones.
Without these geographical boundaries, how do we ensure that the legislation supports francophone content and the consumption of that content by young people?
I'm glad you mentioned that I've appeared before the committee before. The questions I was asked by the committee previously prompted me to provide more clarity on where I stand—or at least, I tried to. I really see this as a meaningful and productive exercise.
The last time I was before the committee, I did indeed discuss the approach based on territoriality. I did so because that is the model that universally stands out in the scientific literature. Questions like the one you just asked made me ponder the matter further and consider the so-called blind spots of the approach. I may have only implied this the last time, but I want to be clear now. As far as the protection of French is concerned, the preferred approach should, whenever possible, be the one based on the principle of territoriality, both in Quebec and in regions with a significant francophone population. Basically, that means the areas around Quebec, so northern New Brunswick, eastern Ontario and the Ottawa area. In the other provinces, the approach should be based on the principle of personality, in other words, the promotion of both official languages. That has its limits, however. In an environment where one language is more dominant than the other, when people have the freedom to choose which language they are going to use, more people will inevitably choose the dominant language, meaning English. Nevertheless, it is possible to do certain things.
The model based on the principle of personality, which is the one underlying the Official Languages Act, cannot be expected to work miracles or save a language. It is, however, perfectly legitimate and reasonable to apply the principle of personality in all areas outside Quebec or near the Quebec border that are home to tiny and often isolated French-speaking communities. You're right. Since those communities do not represent the majority, the principle of territoriality cannot, by definition, be applied, except at a micro level. That's the first thing I would say.
For that reason, I would say I respectfully disagree with the witnesses who appeared before me. Personally, I think it is essential that the Official Languages Act refer specifically to the Charter of the French Language. What's more, the notwithstanding clause does not suspend rights; it suspends the requirement to pass constitutional muster, transferring the responsibility of protecting rights to the legislature in question, and the Quebec legislature does a very good job of that.
You certainly raise an interesting point.
It's always important to be clear when discussing the right to self-determination. On one hand is the right to external self-determination, which is basically akin to secession. On the other is the right to internal self-determination, the exercise of governance, say, by a people in control of a federated state.
In this case, we are talking about internal self-determination. I agree that having a Canadian constitution that has been adopted by the other provinces and by the federal government, without Quebec's consent, is a violation of the principle underlying the right to internal self-determination. That's problematic for federalists and sovereignists alike, especially because the Constitution results in a loss of protection of the French language in Quebec. That's where the use of parliamentary sovereignty, in other words, the notwithstanding clause, comes into play.
Since Quebec's Charter of the French Language was passed in 1977, particularly after the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed in 1982, judges have had considerable influence over Quebec's language policy. That has systematically led to declining protection for the French language in Quebec, and census data now illustrate the impact of that decline.
Under the current model, authority is delegated, and the final say often goes to judges, not lawmakers. Judges, especially those who sit on the Supreme Court, wield tremendous power. If that model worked well, striking the right balance between the protection of francophones' rights, the protection of anglophones' rights, the protection of individual rights and the protection of French as a common good, the census data would show as much. We would know it. That model isn't working, though, so it's time for a rethink. Quebec lawmakers should have more power, and judges should have a little less because the system isn't working.
In theory, a neutral arbitrator to protect fundamental rights is a good idea. In theory, it's great. When that idea is put into practice, however, the outcome is revealed by the latest census data, a disastrous situation for French.
You're right that francophone immigration plays an extremely important role. In fact, the Quebec government is aiming to increase the percentage of francophone immigrants.
At the same time, it ties in with what I said earlier. I may have been referring to the other provinces when I said it, but it also holds true for Quebec, albeit to a lesser extent. When you have francophones being anglicized at a certain rate, no matter how many francophone immigrants you bring in, it won't fix the problem. I realize that Quebec has a lower rate of anglicization than the other provinces, but it's still something that happens in Quebec.
Francophone immigration is really part of the solution, not all of it. It won't help to put all our eggs in that basket, because of the anglicization of francophones. Whether they arrived yesterday from French-speaking Africa, Lebanon or elsewhere or whether they've been here since the 17th century—when the anglicization of francophones began—the problem remains, and immigration alone won't fix it.
That's why it's so important to fight on both fronts, but yes, francophone immigration is one of those fronts.
Thank you, Mr. Rousseau.
Thank you to the witnesses who appeared by video conference, Mr. Rifai and Ms. Warten.
If you think of anything else that you should have mentioned, please provide the extra information to us via our clerk. She will provide it to all members of this committee.
The same goes for you, Mr. Rousseau. I know there's a lot more we could talk about. You seem to be just as passionate as our young witnesses. If you think of anything else the committee should know, please feel free to send the information in writing to the clerk. She will make sure the committee members get it.
My infinite thanks to the committee members for being so disciplined and sticking to their allotted time.
We are ending late, so I apologize to all the technicians.
The meeting is adjourned.