Mr. Chair and committee members, I want to thank you for inviting the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada to make this double presentation to you today.
Founded in 1975, the FCFA is the key representative organization of the 2.6 million francophones living in nine provinces and three territories across the country. The FCFA has 20 members: 12 provincial and territorial francophone representative associations and 8 national organizations representing various sectors of activity and clients. It also coordinates the Forum des leaders, an assembly of 42 organizations that are engaged in the development of francophone and Acadian communities.
In this first part, my remarks will focus on the next action plan for official languages. In the second part, following your questions, I will address the issue of francophone immigration.
Late this past summer, Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, announced some excellent news. The results of a Nielsen poll revealed that an unprecedented 84% of Canadian across the country support bilingualism. Nearly the same percentage, 82%, feel that the 150th anniversary of confederation in 2017 should be an opportunity to promote the official languages in Canada.
It appears from these results that the official languages issue is resolved in the minds of most Canadians; it is a fait accompli. A few months ago, the Hon. Mélanie Joly (Minister of Canadian Heritage) echoed that observation by declaring that the Official Languages Act was part of a social contract established many years ago.
However, we also know that, while there is a broad consensus in society on linguistic duality, in reality, that does not always translate into adequate services or full compliance with the Official Languages Act, particularly in the area of support for francophone minority communities.
Former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said, "A country, after all, is not something you build as the pharaohs built the pyramids, and then leave standing there to defy eternity. A country is something that is built every day out of certain basic shared values." Those eloquent words, quoted by President Barack Obama during his visit to Parliament last June, aptly apply to Canada's linguistic duality. Like our country, like our collective identity, we must cultivate linguistic duality as the living tree it is.
In the throne speech and in the federal budget last March, the government reiterated its commitment to protecting our two official languages. That is a positive sign. However, when you consider linguistic duality as a living tree, decisive action, specific acts, and a bold plan are needed to promote French and make it flourish in all regions of the country.
Support for our two official languages must mean more than the mere delivery of bilingual services and communications by federal institutions. The advancement of linguistic duality must go beyond simply learning a second language. We can say there is genuine linguistic duality in Canada because there are communities living in French in every province and territory, and it is on that vitality that we must build.
It is because of that vitality that Canadians who learn French as a second language have opportunities to speak that language in a variety of situations in everyday life. It is because of our communities that francophone military personnel posted to places like Comox and Kingston enjoy social and cultural activities in their language and their children have access to French-language schools. Creators in our communities, the Gabrielle Roys, Damien Robitailles, Lisa LeBlancs, and Joseph Edgars, are helping to shape this unique Canadian identity that we will be celebrating next year. The entrepreneurs, organizations, and institutions in our communities are creating jobs in French and contributing to the economic development of their region and the country as a whole.
The francophone and Acadian communities are an anchor point for linguistic duality from sea to sea to sea. In recent years, however, they have often been forgotten in government and social discourse and action on linguistic duality and official languages.
Promoting the development of prosperous, inclusive francophone communities that are able to fend for themselves and to contribute fully to the development of their region and country: that is the issue that should be central to the next government plan for official languages.
The Government of Canada can effect a considerable change for our communities by investing in three key priorities: first, francophone immigration, early childhood, and mobility; second, the offer of services and activities for francophones in all areas of their everyday lives; and, third, capacity-building for organizations and institutions involved in the economic, cultural, and social development of our communities. That is the most important message that we are sending you today.
Consider the first priority. As the report published by the Commissioner of Official Languages two weeks ago shows, every time parents feel they have to register their children at an English-language day care centre, not by choice but because of a lack of space elsewhere, that decision has a devastating impact on the family, the children, and the community. Conversely, the availability of those services in French helps guarantee that our children will be francophone and that our families will be able to live in French. It guarantees the vitality of our communities.
As regards the second priority, the francophonie is strong when it is expressed through activities, events, and services that reach francophones and the population as a whole in everyday life. However, there are deficiencies in many areas—education, culture, access to justice, the media, and health—and French-language services and activities are too often offered using makeshift resources in inadequate facilities. However, there is a direct relationship between the quality of life in French and the choice of francophone migrants or immigrants, or even old-stock francophones, to associate with and contribute to the francophone community.
The third priority is the development of prosperous communities that are good places to live. In the francophone minority communities, institutions and organizations created by and for the community ensure that development. Those organizations and institutions operate on financial resources that, in the vast majority of cases, have not increased in more than a decade. Over the years, they have found innovative solutions that have helped them manage at lower cost. However, with purchasing power declining every year as the cost of living increases, they now have no financial leeway.
It is essential that we increase the capacity of organizations in our communities if we want them to continue to champion the advancement of French as they currently do. We must be able to modernize or improve our infrastructure to meet the growing demand. Our media must be able to make the digital shift. Our organizations and institutions must be able to meet emerging needs.
None of what I have just said means that the next action plan for official languages must be the alpha and omega of the Canadian government's commitment to the development of our communities. In fact, full compliance with the Official Languages Act instead requires that the government use different support levers through various federal institutions, in addition to that plan. Consider, for example, the major investments in infrastructure, early childhood, and youth employment announced in the 2016 budget. The government would be taking tangible action in favour of the francophone community if it set aside a portion of those investments to respond directly and expressly to the needs of our communities for social, educational, and cultural infrastructure, day care centres, and jobs for youth in our communities. We hope your committee will adopt that recommendation as its own.
So there you have a ready-made plan to make francophone communities, as living expressions of Canada's linguistic duality, the central focus of government support measures for our two official languages. The action that should be taken is clear and obvious. The challenges were eloquently underscored during the consultations held across the country this past summer. The urgent need for action is now apparent.
Thank you. I am prepared to answer your questions.