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Winnipeg, September 13, 2007

Notes for an address at the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface

The Franco-Manitoban Community:

The Challenge of Vitality


Graham Fraser – Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Senator Maria Chaput, Rector Raymonde Gagné, Ibrahima Diallo, Chairman of the Société franco-manitobaine, Daniel Boucher, President of the Société franco-manitobaine, ladies and gentlemen, community leaders and Collège de Saint-Boniface officials and students.

I am very happy to be with you here. One year ago, today, my nomination for this position was announced. So this is an anniversary for me. Since taking office as Commissioner of Official Languages, I have been travelling across the country to listen to the views of community members and associations. I have already learned a lot and I look forward to learning more today.


The Franco-Manitoban community: innovators and builders

Your community has a long and rich history, dating back nearly 200 years. Its roots run deep, but you have also had your share of difficult and very trying times.

I am happy to see that your community is thriving today. The place of French in Manitoba seems increasingly secure. This is in large part because you are innovators.

French is more visible than ever in Manitoba. For example, the province is now advertised as a tourist destination in both English and French. Manitoba’s trademark is bilingual, proving that the French fact is increasingly recognized and accepted in the province. In the 2001 census, over 100,000 Manitobans, or nearly 10% of the population, said they know French.

You, the members of the Franco-Manitoban community, have shown initiative in recent years by developing innovative projects to maintain and increase the presence of French in your community.

A good example is the province’s bilingual service centres, which I visited two weeks ago. What a great idea to create single-wicket centres that consolidate the French-language services of federal, provincial, municipal and community organizations! And, the specific needs of each region are served by its own regional centre. Travelling courts are another unique Franco-Manitoban solution to a problem that is common among Canada’s French-speaking communities.

There are of course challenges that remain. Some setbacks in French-language service delivery have been experienced at the different levels of government. It is still difficult to obtain health care in French, at least in some areas. And, the number of Francophones in Manitoba has decreased in recent years.

As I have mentioned in interviews, a community’s vitality is not measured by its numbers, but by what the community has to say and what it does. You are showing us day after day that you have a lot to say. You have also accomplished a lot.

Those accomplishments extend well beyond Manitoba. In addition to the exemplary scope of your services in French, artists such as Daniel Lavoie, professionals such as architect Étienne Gaboury, and cultural events such as the Festival du Voyageur are renowned across Canada.

Here in Manitoba I feel positive energy, which is typical of Western Canada. You come from a pioneer tradition, and you have a strong belief that anything can be built; that anything is possible. You are not only innovators, you are also builders.

The Société franco-manitobaine is achieving its goal of building community vitality.


Vitality and the Francophone community of tomorrow

The terms “development” and “vitality” have replaced “survival” in current language. The notion of survival is outdated.

In 2006, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages began an effort with you here in Winnipeg to develop vitality indicators. A number of leaders and experts in community development set up work groups to identify vitality objectives and indicators to measure progress. Four sectors were targeted: community leadership, health care, immigration and access to government services.

This exercise identified your community’s strengths and helped determine how you would go about achieving the desired level of vitality. As indicated in your strategy, you want to “expand the Francophone space.”

Discussions within the community governance work group revealed that one of your priorities is youth. I agree that we need to make sure young people contribute to community vitality. They must be given the chance to participate in the community and have a hand in shaping it.

I also believe that one of your community’s greatest strengths is the solidarity among organizations, which was identified as an exemplary practice in our study. Under the aegis of the Société franco-manitobaine, your sector associations support each other and take action when one is vulnerable.

We look forward to releasing the results of our study in your beautiful city on October 16. I encourage you all to attend.

Role of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

The study is one of the Office of the Commissioner’s many initiatives to promote and protect official languages, specifically French here in this area. We are working with communities and governments to foster the overall development of Francophone communities.

The federal government must fulfill its responsibilities in this area. The Prime Minister’s behaviour is exemplary in terms of the importance he gives to French, but I am yet hoping that his government will turn its words into actions.

I believe that respect is the most important guiding value of Canada’s language policy: respect for both official languages, respect for the unilingual population, respect for official language minority communities, and respect for everything the term “language” encompasses.

This value must be translated into concrete action. I am very concerned with the current status of French in the organization of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. I am also interested in development of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first national museum in Winnipeg. I will be monitoring these organizations very closely.

In my Annual Report, I recommended that the federal government work with communities, provinces and territories to develop an initiative to succeed the Action Plan for Official Languages. We need to build on the progress made over the last five years. This is very important for the Franco-Manitoban community as well as the rest of Canada.

The education sector has a key role to play in community development. Your community’s overall development plan includes clear objectives for education. Franco-Manitobans have long understood the importance of education.

In 1890, when the provincial legislature voted to eliminate French as an official language in Manitoba, there were 74 Catholic schools with a total of 3677 students. Since then, your community fought to re-establish French instruction, and to regain control of your schools. After a dark century, we are enjoying a renaissance. Today, the school system is strong and young Francophones and Francophiles have access to a high-quality institution where they can continue post-secondary education in French.


Openness to diversity

There is also significant progress in terms of openness to diversity. French-language universities in Canada are aware of the important contribution made by international students and Canadian graduates of immersion schools. The latest action plan of the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne, or AUFC, includes initiatives to attract more students and increase the diversity of the student body.

Another example of your community’s visibility and success is Raymonde Gagné’s leadership of the AUFC.

At Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface, diversity is already part of day-to-day life. In fact, the student body reflects the Franco-Manitoban community of today and tomorrow, with one quarter of your students being Anglophone Manitobans who are bilingual enough to study in French. Another 15% of students come from abroad. Congratulations! This is a great accomplishment.

You have also been successful in terms of integration. Just to give one of many examples, I would like to mention the contribution of Professor Ibrahima Diallo, who is here with us today. Professor Diallo is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Business Administration and the Faculty of Science. Professor Diallo was born in Senegal and has a PhD in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Dakar. He did his post-doctorate in France before settling in Winnipeg in 1984.

Dr. Diallo very quickly got involved in the Franco-Manitoban community, so much so that he became chair of the Société franco-manitobaine last year.

I encourage the students with us here today to draw inspiration from Dr. Diallo’s example, and to participate actively in your community. It is up to you to take on the challenge of becoming Manitoba’s future leaders. And you don’t have to be a dean to be a leader. Small actions can make a big difference. Participating in your French-language community can mean requesting service in French or buying a book by a Francophone author. It can also mean volunteering at the Festival du Voyageur or starting a French-language business. You need to find the role that is right for you.


CUSB’s contribution

Your decision to study here has already put you on the right track. Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface is not only one of the oldest universities in Canada, but also a dynamic place focused on excellence. It has much reason to be proud: the study body has nearly doubled in the last decade. In addition to being a major institution in the Franco-Manitoban community, your school is helping to increase community visibility.

French-language universities like the CUSB have a role to play in creating a Francophone space, where young Canadians coming out of immersion programs can live and study in French. Many Anglophone students tell me they have the impression of losing their French in university. The Francophone environment you offer here helps keep the French language alive, and allows young Anglophones to appreciate and learn about minority Francophone communities.

CUSB deserves its high reputation in areas such as translation and the Bachelor of Education program. You are proof that you don’t have to be big to create a centre of excellence and contribute to community vitality. CUSB graduates are highly qualified in specialties directly related to French-language community development.

I commend your school for its energy. You are a university and a technical and professional school, but you are also a major institution in Francophone Manitoba’s social and cultural life and a key member of the Canadian Francophonie. You are playing a lead role in building the Manitoba of tomorrow.


Conclusion

Tomorrow is never far away. For the students of Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface, tomorrow is that day when you graduate and begin your working life.

I would like all of you—students, professors and all Franco-Manitobans—to know that I am here to support you in your initiatives. I share your hope that your community will remain vibrant and grow.

I like to use an ecology metaphor to illustrate my thinking on language-community growth. Just as ecosystems need water, light and heat, linguistic groups need education, health care and cultural and economic resources.

For a minority community to develop and thrive, its ecosystem needs to be balanced. The elements required for substantive equality among members of a society must come together in a sustainable way to ensure a community’s development.

Minority communities can scarcely afford weak links in those elements. You are destined for excellence. And here in Manitoba, you have proven many times how you are capable of achieving it.

Thank you.