Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's an honour to address the committee this afternoon.
First, allow me to tell you about the professional experience that has led me here.
I began my professional career with the Government of Canada working on official languages programs in education. I also served as chief of staff to the Minister responsible for Francophone Affairs in Ontario when the first French Language Services Act was passed. I was director of accountability planning for the ministry responsible for immigration in Quebec. I also served as director of research and evaluation at the Office québécois de la langue française.
I will focus on the second and third objectives of the meeting today, which are about the Government of Canada's language framework and possible amendments to the Official Languages Act to better protect French.
Efficiency implies results commensurate with the resources invested. Outside Quebec, it can be said that the results are very mixed. Inside Quebec, the question does not even arise because, to date, the Government of Canada's language framework has included no measures to protect or promote French in Quebec. It has done so only for English.
With respect to the framework's impact on provincial measures to protect French, outside Quebec, the situation of French would likely be even more tenuous without the language provisions of the Canadian Constitution and the support the federal government provides to the provinces for French-language education at all levels and to certain French advocacy groups. In Quebec, the opposite is true. The Government of Canada's language framework is paradoxically designed to protect the country's majority language. Let's be clear, only one official language is at risk in Canada, and that is French.
Here are some of the consequences in Quebec of the federal government's language framework on the provinces' efforts to protect French, as well as on social cohesion in Quebec.
The Canadian Constitution contains several sections that have been used to repeal large portions of the original version of the Charter of the French Language. This has limited the Quebec government's ability to legislate in favour of French, for example, with respect to the language of speeches in the National Assembly, translation of laws, bilingualism in the courts, commercial signage, and access to English-language schools.
The application of Canada's bilingual framework also has a significant effect on the linguistic fabric in Quebec. It is impossible for the Quebec government to impose French-only commercial signage. Everything under federal jurisdiction projects an image of bilingualism in Quebec, putting English on an equal footing with French in federal buildings, on bridges, at ports, in parks, in all federal advertising, and even in any advertising for federally funded events.
Federal public administration is not subject to the Charter of the French Language, which prioritizes services and the right to work in French. In the portion of the nation's capital located in the territory of Quebec, bilingualism is quite simply imposed .
The Canadian language framework also puts up hurdles for Quebec to defend French outside Quebec. It creates a false symmetry between French outside Quebec and English inside Quebec, even in areas of exclusively provincial jurisdiction, such as health care and education. What is good for French outside Quebec is also good for English in Quebec. If Quebec criticizes the closing of a French hospital in another province, it undermines its own leeway in managing its health care system. The same thing goes for education.
This false symmetry also impedes social cohesion in Quebec. If it had been recognized from the beginning of the debate in the 1960s that French needs protection across Canada, the foundations would have been laid for consensus on the measures needed to achieve that goal. Now we find ourselves with legislation that has underlying funding to protect English in Quebec and for groups that defend English.
Finally, let's talk about integrating immigrants to Quebec into the French language. The Canada-Quebec Accord relating to Immigration is the only document I know of where the federal government deviates even slightly from the principle of linguistic symmetry. In fact, it recognizes the importance of ensuring the “integration of immigrants in Québec in a manner that respects the distinct identity of Québec”. The transfer is calculated based on the number of non-francophones admitted to Quebec, and it is stated that language integration courses will be in French. The rest of the immigration process is managed by the federal government. So everything is bilingual.
Someone arriving in Quebec from abroad can choose either official language for work or study permits, for permanent residence and for access to citizenship. Every step of the way, the message is clear: in Quebec, English is an official language of their new country. They are allowed to choose English, and it's even fine if they do. This is the exact opposite of the message that Quebec is trying to convey, and it forms the basis for the Accord, namely the assertion that French is an inclusive, participatory language.
Now, what to do? Could the Official Languages Act be amended to remove those encroachments on the Quebec government's ability to act in favour of French in Quebec, and even outside Quebec?
Unlike Dean Leckey, I am not a lawyer, but as I mentioned, I was privileged to play a role in the passage of the first French Language Services Act in Ontario. The government, at the time a Liberal minority government, determined that it really needed to ensure that public services were available in French. Public services in English were a given. The Act only deals with public services. It doesn't address programs to support groups that defend French. It doesn't mention any minorities. Public services are available in French in the regions and offices defined by the Act. Period.
It's impossible to amend most of the Official Languages Act because, in general, it defines how to apply sections of the Canadian Constitution, which is sacrosanct.
The most problematic sections of the Act, however, do not derive from the Constitution. They are those that create the concept of an English-speaking minority in Canada and propose measures to enhance the vitality and development of that “minority” and to foster the “full recognition and use of English... in Canadian society”. It's impossible to imagine how this could be done “while respecting the jurisdiction and powers” of the Quebec government, which is promised in subsection 41(2).
I conclude with the following recommendation. Amendments to the Official Languages Act should focus on the sections underlying the idea that English is a minority language in Canada, that an English-speaking minority therefore exists, and that both are in jeopardy. The message may be hard to hear, but in my opinion, the federal government cannot possibly protect French in Quebec by promoting English there.
I thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to answer any questions committee members may have.