Yes, of course. Thank you for reminding me.
The centres offer services at all levels—federal, provincial, municipal, and even community—under the same roof.
More importantly, it creates places where the language at work is French and where francophone clients can, without a doubt, receive services in their own language.
That kind of formula could certainly facilitate active offer of French-language services in areas where the French-speaking population is concentrated, but it could also, and most importantly, improve relations between the various levels of government.
Speaking of collaboration, I would like to draw your attention to the many agreements we have worked on during my term in office, with people like my federal counterpart, Commissioner Graham Fraser. We have collaborated on several occasions, through numerous reports on a number of subjects, and in particular on immigration, the Pan Am games, and access to justice in French.
In June we released a special report on active offer. Mr. Fraser, who very recently addressed the same issue at the federal level, did the same.
These two reports showed that regardless of the level of government, the rules governing official languages are still flawed today. It has therefore become essential that we improve our tools and our practices to enable the various government departments, organizations, and third parties to put in place active, high-quality offers of French-language services.
I would like to remind you that if there is no active offer, this can, in the long term, not only have adverse effects on the quality of the services offered but also have serious consequences for vulnerable individuals, especially in the health care and justice systems. That is why it is important that the federal government make provisions in its action plan to implement a strategy to promote the active offer of French language services.
Another sensitive area is access to justice in both official languages, which is central to many issues relating to federal, provincial, and territorial legislation.
In 2013, we collaborated with the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick on the publication of a report.
Following one of my recommendations, the Attorney General of Ontario mandated a French Language Services Bench and Bar Advisory Committee, which, in turn, released two other reports, in 2012 and 2015. Essentially, the reports show that it costs more money and taxes and takes more time to proceed in French in Ontario courts.
Those reports also highlighted the many instances of progress made: for example, the formation of regional legal committees. The mandate of the committees is not only to highlight problems, but also to identify and implement concrete and durable solutions. Those committees represent a very remarkable achievement for French-language services.
However, those studies also indicated that the existing process does not guarantee an adequate number of judges with language skills in both official languages.
The addition of the new process for selecting Supreme Court judges is a significant advance. However, it leads to doubt as to the level of bilingualism of the judges who will be appointed to the court.
It is time to act and to set an example by calling for a genuinely bilingual Supreme Court. By that, I mean that the judges should be capable of understanding and conversing in both French and English without the help of an interpreter.
I would add, however, that this week's announcement would seem to confirm that the current process works because the new judge, if appointed by the House of Commons, Senate, and the Office of the Prime Minister, appears to be perfectly bilingual. That would be excellent news.
I would like to conclude my presentation by talking about education and, more specifically, about the Agreement on Minority-Language Education and Second Official-Language Instruction. That agreement is essential for components intended for education in French.
As you know, that agreement expires in 2018. It seems to me that this is the right time to explore new avenues to facilitate the continuum of learning in French and, more specifically, for early childhood development programs and post-secondary education.
Early childhood programs that are funded by the provincial government play a crucial role in maintaining young children's identity and French language, particularly among children of exogamous couples.
While federal funding for early childhood programs in minority communities is laudable, it should be included in the official languages in education agreement to be consistent with provincial programs. In fact, that would allow for greater weight to be placed on the early childhood component in negotiating the next agreement.
I therefore join with the Commissioner of Official Languages, who asked the federal government in his recent report at the beginning of October to make provision in its next five-year plan on official languages for sufficient funds for early childhood initiatives in minority communities.
At the post-secondary level, education in French protects, transmits, and most importantly preserves the French language and culture. This makes a major contribution to ensuring the continued growth of the Franco-Ontarian community.
Colleges and universities are an integral part of the education continuum and play an essential role in training future bilingual and francophone professionals. In doing so, they contribute in the longer term to the welfare of the province, and on a broader scale to the competitiveness of the Canadian economy.
In Ontario, and particularly in southwestern Ontario, we have observed inadequate access to quality post-secondary French programs.
On that point, I am pleased to report the recent announcement by the Ontario Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, Marie-France Lalonde, of the appointment of Dr. Dyane Adam, to chair the planning board of a French-language university in Ontario.
This is a great step forward, but we must not stop there. We must continue to increase the number of early childhood and post-secondary French-language programs, in areas where the francophone population is growing rapidly and where the programs available are sometimes limited.
In conclusion, I believe our governments have made considerable progress in recent years. The fact remains that this progress has been achieved at a glacial pace when it comes to French-language services. It is time for our governments to mobilize their efforts and collaborate at all levels—federal, provincial, municipal, and, why not, community—to remedy this imbalance.
Thank you all for your attention.
I will now be pleased, Mr. Chair, to answer questions from yourself and your colleagues.