Evidence of meeting #17 for Official Languages in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was universities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Ghislaine Pilon  President, Commission nationale des parents francophones
  • Colette Arsenault  President, Réseau pour le développement de l'alphabétisme et des compétences
  • Kenneth McRoberts  President, Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne
  • Normand Lévesque  Director General, Réseau pour le développement de l'alphabétisme et des compétences
  • Adèle David  Director, Commission nationale des parents francophones
  • Jocelyne Lalonde  Director General, Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Welcome to the 17th meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages on this December 1, 2011.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108, our current study concerns the evaluation of the Roadmap with a view to improving programs and service delivery.

This morning we have three groups with us: first, Ms. Pilon and Ms. David, from the Commission nationale des parents francophones; second, Ms. Arsenault and Mr. Lévesque, from the Réseau pour le développement de l'alphabétisme et des compétences; and third, Mr. McRoberts and Ms. Lalonde, from the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne.

First we will hear from the representatives of the Commission nationale des parents francophones.

8:45 a.m.

Ghislaine Pilon President, Commission nationale des parents francophones

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen.

My name is Ghislaine Pilon, and I am president of the Commission nationale des parents francophones, the CNPF. I am here with our acting executive director, Adèle David.

First we want to thank you for granting us this hearing.

The CNPF works to improve the living conditions of minority francophone parents. Your committee occupies the front-row seats that enable you to change things. For that reason, we are pleased to have this opportunity to present CNPF's mandate to you. As a result of the role it plays, the CNPF is making its contribution and having a direct impact on our francophone communities, in addition to helping build our country's identity.

As the mouthpiece of francophone minority parents, CNPF shares a common interest, children's rights, with the World Health Organization, UNESCO, Health Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the Société Santé en français and Canadian Heritage, among others. As may be seen from its website, the policies and programs of Canadian Heritage "promote Canadian content; foster cultural participation, active citizenship and participation in Canada's civic life; and strengthen connections among Canadians."

From Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador, passing through all the provinces and territories where francophones form the minority, the CNPF represents 12 member organizations that defend the interests of francophone parents.

Let's not forget that parents are the first persons responsible for their children. They contribute to the full development of their children and families in their language, culture and community.

CNPF's mandate clearly illustrates that commitment. Its main objective is to develop French-language services of quality equal to that of the services enjoyed by the majority for francophone minority parents, who in some instances live in isolated conditions, and to ensure that they have access to those services. Those services include schools, health care, community media, cultural activities and other services in the minority language.

CNPF's two main activities are taking in and assisting parents and early childhood development. Those two components are closely linked because we are able to maximize the effect of our actions in the first years of children's lives, when people are experiencing their new situation as parents. CNPF operates on the basis of research that shows that healthy and harmonious development in early childhood is a determinant of health and well-being. Investments in early childhood increase public health and the economic vitality of the communities. Public investment in education generates a long-term return of $3 for every dollar invested and $8—I said $8—when that dollar is invested during pregnancy.

That leads us to the positive impact on parents and their children. Through its intersectoral approach to early childhood development, CNPF has an influence in three areas at the national level: on language, since the choice of language spoken in the home, at school and in the community is made in the initial months following birth, or even earlier; on identity, since early childhood experiences in the family, in early childhood services and in the community prepare children for admission to French-language schools and to enter the francophone community; and on services, since it is essential to have access to health, education, recreation, justice and cultural services, to name only a few, which are integrated, ongoing and in French.

Now I will discuss the impact on francophone parents. The central position of parents throughout the strategic parent intake and assistance strategy is a guiding principle for the CNPF. The idea is to give parents a central position in the orientation, design, implementation, management and evaluation of programs and services intended for them. Parents support the approach and acknowledge the importance of their active participation. They have also made numerous suggestions to CNPF regarding aspects that should be considered in the next stages of the parent intake and assistance strategy.

Parents' participation in cultural and community life is possible only if they are comfortable with their cultural identity in relation to their social environment. In a minority setting, parents can feel isolated, hence the importance of associating with a network through assistance and support programs. Like other citizens, they can feel Canadian only if they identify with their country as a whole. Francophone minority parents cannot feel like full-fledged citizens if they cannot identify with the community to which they belong. Children, adults of tomorrow, are consequently affected by their parents' sense of belonging and identity, hence the importance of including children in the concept of the francophone minority parent, supported by integrated programs in French. Through the leadership that it exercises with its member organizations, CNPF is able to share the objectives of the various national and international bodies referred to earlier.

This mandate calls for investments that must provide the necessary support for the networks, organizations and institutions of the francophone minority communities, which are very important for parents.

How does CNPF act in concrete terms? Parent rights holders must make informed choices. They need to be taken in, to receive ongoing, informed assistance and to participate more fully in more programs and services in every province and territory. Like the late Dr. Mustard, we believe in broader services than babysitting services to assist francophone minority parents. We propose that there be service structures with multidimensional mandates capable of intervening starting at the pregnancy stage and enabling children to live in Canada's plural society.

To sum up, CNPF wishes to continue its partnership with the Government of Canada as part of its mandate to promote section 23 of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Its initiatives, particularly in the area of parent intake and assistance, afford it the means to intervene with parents from the moment francophone minority children are born.

Through its actions in various areas, CNPF plays a major role in promoting the French language and culture in Canada. This has now enabled parents to participate in cultural and community life, as Canadian Heritage has stated on its website. The result will be reflected in a solid identity in the children of today. The community, province and territory, like the country as a whole will emerge as winners today and in future. If the Commission nationale des parents francophones did not exist, it would have to be created.

Thank you for listening. I will be pleased to answer your questions.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you.

Now we'll hear from the representatives of the Réseau pour le développement de l'alphabétisme et des compétences.

8:55 a.m.

Colette Arsenault President, Réseau pour le développement de l'alphabétisme et des compétences

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and committee members.

My name is Colette Arsenault and I am president of the Réseau pour le développement de l'alphabétisme et des compétences, now known as RESDAC. I'm here with Normand Lévesque, who is the director general of that organization.

Thank you for inviting us to appear before the Standing Committee on Official Languages to present our views on the evaluation of the Roadmap with a view to improving programs and service delivery.

In the past 20 years, the Réseau pour le développement de l'alphabétisme et des compétences, formerly known as the Fédération canadienne pour l'alphabétisation en français, has rallied strategic partners for a social change designed to improve the literacy and skills of adult francophones in Canada. Francophones will then be able to participate fully in the civic, economic, social and cultural lives of their communities and thus contribute to their growth and vitality.

Generally speaking, most of us believe that the majority of Canadians can read and write. Over the past 10 years or more, however, research has shown that the reality is much more complicated. In Canada, two adults in five have difficulty understanding and using the information they read. It is clear those adults do not have the necessary skills to cope with life in Canadian society today. This means that 42% of Canada's population aged 16 to 65 have difficulty understanding and using the information contained in written material. That 42% figure has not changed since 1994.

What results will be achieved by the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, in which Canada is now a participant with 26 other countries, which are to be released in 2013. Most experts expect no significant change in results.

We know that people with low reading skill levels post lower employment rates; hold jobs that are at risk, with more difficult working conditions; participate less in training and development activities; have lower incomes; say their health is not as good; participate less in volunteer activities in the community; and are less able to assist their children in learning development.

What about francophone adults? In Canada, 55% of francophone adults from the age of 16 to 65 have reading skills that prevent them from functioning in modern society and from meeting the needs of the labour market.

A breakdown of the French-speaking population by province for levels 1 and 2 gives the following results: New Brunswick, 66%; Quebec, 55%; Ontario, 55%; and Manitoba, 53%. These data tell us that special attention should be paid to language groups in our efforts to change the situation. Francophone adults should acquire literacy in their own language.

In the context of the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013, more than nine projects are currently underway in six provinces, two territories and at the national level.

The innovative Canada-wide approach to implementation of the initiative makes it possible to develop areas of expertise specific to provinces and territories that can then be replicated elsewhere in Canada.

The strength of our network is its ability to ensure greater cohesion and relevance in these initiatives and especially to avoid funding duplications.

However, we are concerned. Some strategic choices leave us confused and lead us to question the long-term impact of those choices on development of the literacy and skills of francophone adults with low literacy levels in the coming years.

We believe that current federal funding arrangements do not enable francophone agencies to transition to the service delivery stage and that devolution to the provinces and territories threatens existing services, with respect to job assistance services, and prevents the development of programs and services designed for francophone adults.

The next Roadmap, and all federal government activities undertaken alone or in partnership with the provinces and territories, in literacy and essential skills development, employability, community, families and capabilities for adults will have to provide francophone adults with genuinely equal quality in French in order to improve their social and economic integration.

Thank you for your interest.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you.

Now we'll hear from the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne.

9 a.m.

Kenneth McRoberts President, Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, committee members and partners here present.

First I will introduce myself. My name is Kenneth McRoberts, and I am principal of Glendon College in Toronto, but I am here today as chair of the board of the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne.

It is a pleasure to be here with Jocelyne Lalonde, who has just taken up her duties as the association's director general. Some of you will recognize her as Ms. Lalonde has for a number of years directed brilliantly, and I believe I could also say very successfully, the Consortium national de formation en santé and will continue to do so while managing the secretariat of the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne.

On behalf of the association's board of directors and myself, I want to thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today about the achievements of the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne in the context of the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013. With your permission, I will take this opportunity to briefly introduce the association and its contribution to the influence of the Canadian francophonie. I will also share with you the association's programming and major projects that will give it momentum at the dawn of the next Roadmap.

Like Canada, the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne is characterized by its diversity. It comprises 13 francophone or bilingual universities of all sizes, from east to west, although all are outside Quebec. Whether it be the University of Ottawa or the University of Hearst, all our members are the economic development, social and cultural drivers of their francophone minority communities. They make a major contribution to the influence of the French language in Canada and to the advancement of linguistic duality. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the unique character of our members. Established in regions where English predominates, they offer young talents from here and there a wonderful opportunity to pursue university studies in French, plus the chance to develop their English.

Although they are, first of all, key intellectual centres of postsecondary teaching in French outside Quebec, our universities also play a prominent role in the advancement of linguistic duality in Canada. It is this twofold role, this dichotomy, that distinguishes us from Quebec's francophone universities and makes us a unique brand. Moreover, your committee acknowledged this in its 2009 report on the role of postsecondary institutions in promoting Canada's linguistic duality. I will quote a passage from that report:[...] the vitality of French in Canada depends on the vitality of francophone communities, and francophone postsecondary institutions in a minority situation play a crucial supporting role in this regard. Their mission of serving minority francophone communities is strengthened by their ability to offer quality instruction in French to Anglophones, especially immersion program graduates.

Now I'll move on to today's topic, the evaluation of the Roadmap 2008-2013. I can only observe that the objectives of the current Roadmap and those of the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne are similar, since they concern the participation of all Canadians in linguistic duality and support for official language minority communities. The current Roadmap's financial contribution to the influence of the association and its members has been modest, but I cannot say enough about the positive effect it has had.

The association received Roadmap funding for a project in 2009-2010 which enabled it to grant support bursaries for field research on minority francophones in Canada. Worth $7,500 each, the bursaries funded by Canadian Heritage have enabled eight students whose master's or doctoral theses concerned francophone minority communities to conduct research directly in those communities. The bursary recipients came from the Université de Moncton, the University of Ottawa and the Campus Saint-Jean of the University of Alberta, and their projects were in varied disciplines ranging from education to political science, sociology, history and literature. The association was pleased at the time with the high rate of participation in the competition and the diversity of applications received, which revealed a genuine interest by its member institutions not only in research on minority francophones, but also in research in general.

You will allow me to believe, as a good political scientist, that you are looking at the past in order to better prepare for the future. I would like to talk about the association's new momentum. The Roadmap has gone beyond the mid-term stage and the time has come to think about its future. Consequently, with your permission, I will speak to you briefly about the programming of the large projects that the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne is considering at the dawn of the next Roadmap. Believe me, these new orientations have not been selected at random. The association and its members want to ensure they have every chance of achieving more success under the next Roadmap. Nothing will stop this new momentum. The association has contributed too much to the influence of the Canadian francophonie and to the promotion of linguistic duality to watch the game from the sidelines.

The association's programming is largely funded by Canadian Heritage outside the current Roadmap, that is to say under the Minority Language Education component of the Official Language Communities Development Program. Over the years, the association has also been able to rely on ad hoc funding by Canadian Heritage, for example for a research coordinator position from 2006 to 2009, the annual conferences of the Réseau de la recherche sur la francophonie canadienne, as part of the conferences of the Association francophone pour le savoir, the ACFAS, and the 2011 competition for young researchers on the Canadian francophonie.

In the coming months, the association's new management will attempt to step up its members' collaboration and commitment by revitalizing its programming. One of the central factors in this new programming will be promoting the association to raise its profile among Canadian and international students, francophone minority communities, government bodies and other outside stakeholders. The other major programming components will make it possible to establish partnerships conducive to increased distance training and synergies among researchers at the association's universities.

In view of your committee's mandate, I will now tell you about the association's three major projects, which concern respectively national student mobility, recruitment of the top secondary immersion school graduates and international education. These projects are still in their early design phase but have progressed in recent months to the point where they can be considered highly promising.

The first project, on national student mobility, will consist of student exchanges between association member universities and francophone universities in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. Its main objective will be to promote Canadian identity and unity, but it will also promote second-language learning by Quebec students, the discovery of a new socio-cultural context and greater understanding of the francophone minority communities among all participants.

We have already submitted a funding application to the Quebec government's Canadian intergovernmental affairs secretariat to continue the conceptual phase of this project. It is therefore too early to discuss its parameters, but let's say that, at the outset, we are considering exchanges of one or two semesters for students in undergraduate, master's and doctoral programs.

The association's second innovative project involves offering awards for excellence to secondary immersion school graduates. It would be a Canada-wide program because there are immersion graduates all across Canada. It would be a modest, one-year project, granting only 50 $5,000 awards, but it would have a positive effect on linguistic duality in Canada.

In his 2009 report, Two Languages, a World of Opportunities: Second-Language Learning in Canada's Universities, the Commissioner of Official Languages clearly stated that the French-language or bilingual postsecondary institutions outside Quebec had great potential for offering young Canadians intensive second-language learning opportunities and that that potential should be exploited.

It goes without saying that the association's project would promote second-language learning and French immersion. Its purpose would be to promote secondary immersion schools, the anglophone communities where they are located and the francophone minority host communities. The result would be closer ties between those communities and greater recognition of linguistic duality by all Canadians. We have just submitted a funding application to Canadian Heritage to implement our immersion project starting in April 2012.

The third project is international in character and based on the essential role that the association and its members must play in the recruitment of international students and their intake and integration in the francophone minority communities. Given the demographic decline of the francophone community in Canada, it is Canada's francophone universities that will ensure the continued existence of those communities by welcoming students and researchers from around the world. In the wake of this project, the promotion of the Canadian francophonie and linguistic duality on the international stage will make Canada a preferred destination for studying, conducting research and taking up residence for educational purposes.

With regard to recruitment, we propose to add a "Canadian francophone universities" component to the current scholarship program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in order to attract and support 100 international students and researchers for the duration of their studies. Annual funding of $15,000 per student would come in equal parts from the Government of Canada, the province concerned and the participating university.

While it is true that the activities of the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne have been limited under the current Roadmap, they nevertheless suggest that there will be greater participation under the next Roadmap. The association is now gathering new momentum that will enable it to carry out major projects in the areas of national student mobility, immersion and international education. These projects are ambitious but essential to the impact of the Canadian francophone community, the vitality of the francophone minority communities and the strengthening of linguistic duality in Canada. They constitute the contribution of the association and its members to the promotion of a national identity that is the pride of Canadians and the object of admiration by the entire world.

Thank you for inviting us here today. We would be pleased to answer your questions.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you for your presentations.

Now we'll go on to the period of questions and comments.

Mr. Godin, you have the floor.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First of all, I would like to welcome our witnesses.

Before asking my questions, Mr. Chairman, I would like to note that, on February 7, 2011, we went to Yukon and to Whitehorse. However, the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon No 23, whose representatives appeared before this committee, has sent us a list to which we must respond.

That letter states that the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon asks that the report on the work done as part of that study be made public and that diligent efforts be made to table the report in the House of Commons as soon as possible. This is of major importance to those communities.

Has the committee scheduled a date to answer that letter?

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

We will answer it in the next two weeks. We are currently working on a letter to respond to the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Do we intend to discuss the letter in committee and to determine whether we will move forward with the report? Since we held a meeting, it would be insulting to the francophones there who came to meet with us not to submit a report to Parliament.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

I intend to implement the decision the committee reached two months ago. The committee decided not to submit that report to Parliament.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

When was that decision made?

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I don't want to raise a point of order on the subject so that I don't waste my time. However, I believe we should seriously reconsider this, Mr. Chairman. In any case, that's what I am suggesting to the committee. I don't think this is right.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Okay, I'll set aside 15 minutes at the end of the next meeting to discuss a response to this letter, but I got my instructions from the committee as to what our course of action will be over the next four months. We've decided to study the roadmap, but if the committee wishes to change that decision, I will be the servant of the committee and follow that direction.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

It's not that I wanted to waste your time. However, I wouldn't want you to waste your time by coming here without the report then being tabled. It's not very interesting for witnesses who come before the committee. If we're going to conduct a study, we might as well report to Parliament. In that way, the government can respond to that study. Taxpayers' money is worth more than that.

With regard to early childhood, we conducted a national tour, from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia. I was really impressed by the fact that the money invested in child care centres and schools led parents to send their very young children to child care centres attached to francophone schools. Wherever we went, people said it was working very well.

Don't you think the government should invest more in that, rather than hand out $100 per child, an amount it has decided to allocate? Don't you think that that $100 amount would be more useful if invested in the communities, to provide people with tools?

I view the child care centres virtually as tools in that those children should be sent to francophone rather than anglophone centres. Otherwise, we see that those children later become anglophones and go to anglophone schools. This would give them a chance to get closer to the francophone schools.