Thank you very much, Mr. Paradis.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, first, we thank you for inviting the Association franco-yukonnaise today to talk to you about the roadmap and about francophone immigration.
I will start by talking about our organization. The Association franco-yukonnaise, or AFY, is the official voice of francophones in the Yukon and a pillar in the development of the Franco-Yukon community. Our mandate is to improve the quality of life in French for French-speaking Yukoners. We provide services in a number of areas, including arts and culture, health, education, economic development and, of course, immigration. Our association has been in existence since 1982. During the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, we will be celebrating our 35th birthday.
In order for you to get to know us better, one other point may interest you. Given the size of our community and the fact that it is geographically concentrated in Whitehorse, we preferred to bring most of the services under the same roof instead of creating a number of organizations. So we have adopted a one-stop model that allows for better integration and greater efficiency in our services as well as giving us the benefit of the economies of scale.
All the AFY’s services use the same resources in accounting, information technology, communications and reception. We have therefore made best use of the money that we invest in projects that are useful for our community.
Clearly, this approach also works to the advantage of the clients who come to our offices. For example, most immigrants take advantage of our job search services. With this model, those immigrants also receive settlement services and employment assistance services from the same person under the same roof. They can therefore use all our services without having to leave the building.
Let me now turn to another point. I do not know if you are aware, but the French-speaking Yukon is expanding, both in numbers and in size. The francophone school and daycare are short on space. The French immersion schools cannot meet the demand. Furthermore, the Yukon is ranked third among provinces and territories in terms of bilingualism. With a bilingualism rate of 13%, we are third after Quebec and New Brunswick, which is no small achievement.
The AFY is also a member of a number of national organizations, such as the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, whose representatives you met yesterday, I believe, and the Réseau de développement économique et d’employabilité, or RDÉE Canada. Through those national networks, we can provide our community with access to a number of programs and initiatives.
Let me now move directly to the roadmap. I call it “the roadmap” but I am actually going to be talking about an official languages action plan. It is clear that the roadmap that will end in 2018 responds but poorly to the needs of francophone minority communities like the franco-Yukon community. That is why we are insisting on the importance of the future official languages plan.
It must give priority to supporting the development and the vitality of francophone minority communities. This is essential. Our communities’ needs in terms of health and education must be recognized. For us, when we talk about education, we mean lifelong education. It starts in early childhood and goes through adulthood to the old age. For us, it means literacy, skills, community economic development, culture and identity, and the media. It must include services to French-speaking seniors, young people and immigrants.
For several years, we have been advocating for a new service for seniors. This population is growing. So it is important not to neglect this aspect of our francophone minority communities.
The government can find support in the recent consultations that were held right across Canada, but also in some reports from the Commissioner of Official Languages, specifically one of the most recent about early childhood. This report insists on how crucially important it is for our communities in order to ensure linguistic continuity; it adds that we must have access to daycare and preschool services in French in our communities. First, we are talking about services of a quality equal to those available to the majority. Early childhood is where our survival begins.
One single approach is not possible if we wish to reach genuine equality. We cannot look at a wall-to-wall approach and say that the situation is the same in Prince Edward Island as it is in the Yukon. It is very different. As you know, Ontario has the largest critical mass of francophones but that does not mean that Ontario solutions can be applied to the Yukon. Even with francophones representing 4.8% of the community, the figures are very small. Sometimes criteria are imposed that are extremely difficult for us to meet.
There is one other thing that we feel is extremely important. All federal departments must be included in the plan and all must fulfill their obligations in terms of official languages. We must keep in mind that Canadian Heritage is not the only department responsible for implementing official languages measures. Who is to ensure that the money identified for OLMCs is spent for and by OLMCs? How do we avoid the roadmap’s errors in that respect?
Should we identify a federal body to coordinate a new plan with genuine, effective accountability mechanisms, not only for the communities but also for all of the departments involved? The action plan must be one of the mechanisms that support the full implementation of the Official Languages Act, not a little Band-Aid to put on little boo-boos. We must avoid having to start again in two years, only to find that we are at the same level.
It goes without saying that a substantial increase in budgets is required. If we really want to work towards a strong and bilingual Canada, we must make corresponding investments in our communities. Project financing has its interest, but it is insufficient for developing OLMCs. Multi-year funding is required and it must include a basic core amount in order to allow organizations like the AFY to hire qualified and committed people so that we are able to aim for long-term results.
We would also like to stress the importance of not confusing bilingualism with the constitutional right to live in the official language of one’s choice. We must distinguish between the importance of preserving all the languages in Canada—the importance of one’s personal choice to speak one, two or three languages—and the federal responsibility for linguistic duality, which implies that Canadians have the right to be unilingual anglophone or unilingual francophone all across Canada and to have access to services in the language of their choice.
To bring this matter to a close, I also invite you to consult a bilingual position statement developed by the AFY in September 2016, entitled Taking action for a vibrant and dynamic Yukon Francophone Community. Can you see it on the screen? The document describes the concrete actions that each level of government must take to support our community. In the document that we sent you, we put the address of our website so that you can access and download this document.
That is what I had to say about the roadmap. I believe that I kept to the time I was given.