Evidence of meeting #32 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 roadmap.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Graham Fraser  Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
  • Sylvain Giguère  Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
  • Lise Cloutier  Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

9:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

No examples immediately come to mind. I can say that, in education, I was struck by the testimony of people from British Columbia who talked about the growth of immersion programs. Second-language learning programs are often the result of a contribution by the official languages support programs.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Can you help us a little and tell us which programs you think should be extended and which options you anticipate after the current version of the roadmap expires?

9:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Mr. Chair, I am reluctant to sort programs in that way. If I review the entire range of programs in an attempt to evaluate the major successes—as I would do to find programs that have been less successful—and I find three, four or half a dozen, I could give the impression that others did not work as well, whereas I have no intimate knowledge of how they worked. All those programs were carefully developed and all have an important role to play.

I would add one thing. I noted that certain programs are vulnerable, or could be vulnerable, because they are part of a five-year plan. We could say that they should be permanent and not renewable every five years. I am thinking, for example, of PWGSC's Termium Plus program and the Treasury Board's centres of excellence, which I think should be permanent and part of the permanent governance of the departments. In a way, certain programs that are part of the roadmap are vulnerable because they are renewable every five years, whereas they should be permanent instead.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Can you tell us which programs did the most for the vitality of linguistic duality?

9:10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I would go so far as to say that certain elements are very important. Everyone talks about the known successes of the health networks and the importance of certain education programs, such as the early childhood programs. I want to point out that, if I fail to mention other programs, that does not mean that they were not successful.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Weston and Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Bélanger, it's your turn.

March 15th, 2012 / 9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, commissioner. I would also like to welcome your entire team.

Since you raised the issue of Canadian Heritage, I'm going to go back to it. In fact, I'm going to admit to you that, when the three representatives of that department appeared before us, there was a very strong reaction, which I thought was entirely warranted. However, I am disappointed that I forgot to ask them a question—in fact, we all forgot to do it—to ask them who at the department made that decision. However, perhaps Mr. Gourde could enlighten us on that point. If the minister made the decision, that's an entirely different matter. I hope you'll be able to answer that question in the course of your investigation. I believe it would have been very important to ask it. If those people appear before us, I will definitely put it to them.

You don't want to offer any comments, Commissioner, but you made one this morning, as may be seen from your brief:

What have been the results of the roadmap? It is not my place to 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.

I too hope to read those reports, particularly that of Canadian Heritage. However, when they appeared before us, the people from that department told us that they were not preparing one and that they were relying on us. You will be able to determine from the way the questions are asked that the people from that department displayed a flagrant lack of professionalism and transparency. I am anxious to read your report.

This morning, I especially want to focus on one question that is fundamentally important not only for the roadmap, but also for the country: education. When Mr. Corbeil, from Statistics Canada, came to meet with us, he provided us with some disturbing statistics from the last census. A number of parts concerned education. You mentioned early childhood, which has also been cut by the new government. Whatever the case may be, two major components were part of the action plan and appear in the roadmap. The first is first-language education in official language minority communities. I believe that $280 million was allocated to that. There is also second-language learning, thus the learning of French as a second language. Unless I'm mistaken, there was also a significant amount of funding for that.

Mr. Corbeil told us that, within a certain age group, the number of anglophones taking courses in immersion programs had fallen from 16% to 13% in the past five years, a 30% drop. And yet the target of the roadmap and the action plan was to double the number of young people learning the other language. In other words, we are not moving forward, we are falling behind. This situation very much concerns me.

In addition, you will remember that, when you last appeared, I believe, I asked about your ability to verify whether the funding transferred to the provinces was being properly used. You gave the following answer, which I will read so that my colleagues can hear it:

Mr. Chairman, I raised the matter of following the money sent to the provinces by Ottawa with the clerk. It was explained to me then that the nature of current federalism and the principle of provincial accountability mean the provinces have full responsibility for the money they receive, including from the federal government. Money is sent by Ottawa with an explanatory letter stating that the money must be used for minority language education or second language education. However, it is very difficult for me to know exactly how that money is spent, since I do not have the authority to investigate what is being done by a provincial ministry or a province. A provincial minister of education personally admitted to me that when a cheque would arrive from Ottawa, he tended to spend it for whatever he felt was a priority. So, I can't give you a clear answer to that question. What I can say, though, is that the way the money is spent is often a mystery.

Do you remember that?

9:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Very well, and I still have no reason to correct what I said in that statement.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

I'm not asking you to correct yourself. However, I believe you have the obligation and authority under the Official Languages Act to investigate federal institutions.

As a federal member of Parliament, I have a responsibility to ensure that there is accountability for expenditures made involving Canadian taxpayers' money. However, you're telling me you aren't able to verify that. So who can do that, if not you? How is the money being spent? Our role as members, regardless of party, is to ensure that the money is spent on the items that have been authorized. If not you, who can report to us on that?

9:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

That's a very good question. I can't answer you off the top of my head. We have received one complaint on that point, and we will try to do what we can to investigate the matter.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

I'm pleased you didn't tell me it was the Auditor General.

9:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

However, I get the feeling that may be where the authority lies.

9:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I should add that there are agreements between the federal and provincial governments and that the Canadian Heritage people say the provinces should be transparent.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

That's already been said. However, people from a delegation from the Saskatchewan francophone community clearly told us that there was no transparency and that they were not even being consulted. So, if they are not being consulted and there is no transparency, if the Canadian Heritage people, when they were here, were unable to tell us the percentage of rights holders—we're still waiting for the answers—if no one has any information to give us, how can we, as members of Parliament, do our job, commissioner? We don't have the information, and no one seems to have the authority to give us any assurance that the money has actually been spent on what was authorized by Parliament. We are talking about a fundamental principle of democracy. I am no longer even talking about official languages, but about a fundamental principle of democracy.

I believe that you, as an officer of Parliament, may have the authority to investigate, at least among the federal institutions. Come back and tell us whether you are satisfied with the job that Canadian Heritage is doing to verify whether the money is being properly spent or not. If not, there may be some reason to correct the situation. Otherwise, we are all somewhat feeling around in the dark, and we will never be able to determine whether the hundreds of millions of dollars of Canadian taxpayers' money that we, as parliamentarians, authorized to be spent are being properly used in accordance with the will of the Parliament of Canada.