Notes for an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages
Evaluation of the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008–2013: Acting for the Future
Ottawa, March 15, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the Standing Committee,
Thank you for your invitation to discuss the Roadmap, an initiative which is of central importance to the vitality of official language minority communities and to the promotion of linguistic duality in Canada. We have discussed the Roadmap on numerous occasions over the past few years and I am pleased to appear before you again to reiterate my interest in seeing this initiative renewed.
Here with me today are Lise Cloutier, Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management; Ghislaine Charlebois, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance; Johane Tremblay, General Counsel; and Sylvain Giguère, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications.
First let me clarify my recommendations on the future of the Roadmap. I have said it before and I will say it again: I strongly encourage the government to renew the Roadmap and implement a fresh five-year plan. We must protect our assets and the initiatives that are already underway in the 2008–2013 Roadmap.
What have been the results of the Roadmap? It is not my place provide you with a full accounting today. That will be up to Canadian Heritage and other participating departments. Like you, I’ll be reading their reports closely once they’re available. That said, I can tell you some of my initial observations and suggest some ideas for moving forward.
My many visits to the communities, along with the regular analyses my office conducts, allow me to report some fine success stories. Most often, these successes depend on the ability to tailor programs and initiatives to the realities of a particular community. This flexibility is essential and must be based on good cooperation between the federal and provincial governments, and community organizations.
I have previously spoken about the special challenge the Roadmap poses for the English–speaking communities of Quebec, and I know you are aware of this issue. In some cases, Roadmap initiatives have been launched in response to the specific realities of French–speaking minority communities. The government and the departments then tried as best they could to adapt these initiatives to the needs of Anglophone communities, something with which they do not necessarily have much experience. It is important that, right from the outset, initiatives reflect the specific realities of a community and meet real needs. There must then be a sustained dialogue as the initiative is implemented and, if necessary, tailored to their circumstances.
If the government is to continue to protect Canada’s linguistic duality, it needs to keep certain things in mind.
The social objectives that form the base of the Roadmap call for long–term investments. Like the communities, I think the government needs to take steps that will strongly entrench linguistic duality as a Canadian value. For example, it should place more emphasis on ways of giving citizens opportunities to improve their second language skills, like exchange programs and language training programs in both languages for newcomers and their children.
The latest data from the 2011 Census show that immigration is an ever more important factor in Canada’s demographic growth and that it is playing an increasing role in the preservation of our official language communities. If linguistic duality is to remain an important aspect of Canadian society, then French–speaking immigrants who settle here will have to decide to stay. To achieve this goal, it is essential that their integration into these communities be properly planned, and the Roadmap provides an unrivalled tool for doing that.
Furthermore, as I mentioned in our study of second–language learning in Canadian universities, I recommend that the Government of Canada provide financial assistance to universities so that they can develop and carry out new initiatives to improve students’ second–language learning opportunities. There needs to be a continuum of second–language learning from elementary school to the post-secondary level and then into the workplace. This recommendation must be taken into account in the next Roadmap.
I also recommend making permanent the Canada School of Public Service’s pilot project to provide its learning products to Canadian universities. This project has been very successful and it deserves a central place in the new Roadmap for 2013–2018. Let’s not forget that second–language education is one of the important elements that contribute to the promotion of linguistic duality.
If I may make a brief aside here, I’d like to say something about public consultations on the renewal of the Roadmap. On February 16, representatives of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages came here to tell you about the role of the work of your committee in this exercise.
Following these public statements, my office received numerous complaints, which we will examine with our usual thoroughness. I cannot say any more on this subject for the time being.
The government has made the Roadmap the cornerstone of its work to support the development of official language communities and promote linguistic duality in Canada. It has reason to be proud of the Roadmap. But let’s not forget that only 14 federal institutions are involved in the Roadmap, while Part VII of the Act applies to all federal institutions. We absolutely must expand the scope of the Roadmap and get everyone participating. In addition, in order to meet their obligations under Part VII of the Act, federal institutions will have to ensure that they evaluate the impact of the proposed cuts to their programs and services. If there are any potential negative effects on the vitality of official language communities, they will need to be identified and the federal institution will need to take measures to minimize them. It is also important, for the present and future success of the five–year plan, that departments work together for the benefit of communities and citizens.
If we were to coordinate the initiatives of institutions that are already making laudable efforts in the area of linguistic duality, the positive effects of their work could be multiplied. I therefore reiterate the recommendation I made in my 2010–2011 annual report: that institutions must commit to implementing Part VII.
Now, I would like to speak briefly about two other matters that I feel are important.
First, I don’t expect official languages programs to be sheltered from the forthcoming budget cuts. However, the government needs to ensure that these programs do not suffer disproportionately. The spending cuts in 1995 had a major impact on the development of official language communities, to the point where twice the effort was required to recover from them after 2003. Some official language communities are so fragile that major cuts in certain programs could seriously compromise their vitality. I would remind the members that education funding, which is an essential part of the Roadmap, is critical to the vitality of our official language communities.
I would like to say a word about visibility.
I am always astonished at the number of supposedly well–informed people who know nothing whatsoever about the Roadmap, even though it’s a $1.1 billion program lasting five years. Being transparent does not mean the government has to become invisible and silent with regard to the Roadmap. In fact, it is vital that the government promote the Roadmap, and do so effectively, just as it did with the Economic Action Plan, for example.
If the government wishes to achieve the objectives of the Official Languages Act, it needs to renew the commitments in the 2008–2013 Roadmap. If it fails to do so, there could be disastrous consequences for our official language communities. People would also come to doubt the ability or even the willingness of the government to protect Canadian values.
Thank you for your attention. I am now happy to answer any questions you may have.
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