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

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

I sensed that you wanted to say yes. Am I mistaken?

10:30 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I always handle the committee's requests with the greatest respect. Would it be an audit, a study? That would be a very interesting topic of discussion for us.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Perhaps I'll give it another try and submit a resolution to the committee. I haven't had a great deal of success to date. We should ask the Saskatchewan people to come and talk to us about education, an issue of considerable concern to me.

As regards the roadmap, I wonder whether we shouldn't simply stop the study. I'm going to read you a statement that a government minister made and that was cited in the St. John's Telegram today. I quote Bernard Valcourt:

For more than 20 years, I have observed incredible progress in every province, the most recent, in my opinion, being that the number of francophiles in our country is constantly increasing. The next Roadmap for Official Languages must make it possible to continue this evolution of the French language in our country, despite difficult economic circumstances and a budget that unfortunately will be shrinking.

The minister has just announced that there will be another roadmap but that it will have less funding than we currently have. In view of all that, I wonder whether it's really worth the trouble to continue the business we started last fall and that will drag on endlessly because we have another 30 witnesses or so to hear from.

That was my comment to give you some food for thought on this question.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Since the committee has asked to continue its work on this study; we will therefore continue.

Mr. Bélanger, do you have a question?

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Yes, it will be brief.

I would like to go back to my very first question. You didn't get a chance to comment on it. I was talking about the 30% decline in the number of young anglophones learning French. Is that a concern for you. Do you intend to take a closer look at that? Will that not distort the entire roadmap?

10:35 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I believe there is a learning phenomenon that we must take not of: there is a kind of split. Across the country, we are seeing an increase in the number of immersion students, even though they represent only a small percentage of all students. At the same time, we are observing a decline in core French courses. This is causing a significant gap at the end of high school between immersion graduates, who are among the most bilingual graduates we have ever seen in Canada, and the vast majority of students who aren't bilingual at all.

I very much appreciate immersion programs. However, there are some unforseen harmful effects. They drain off the best teachers from the core French courses. There is the feeling that core French is for poor students. In short, there are some serious problems in the second-language learning system, even though there is an improvement in the results of a small minority.

We often see that guidance counsellors suggest that students drop French because, in their opinion, the universities only look at marks. I know some young people who are reluctant to take French courses because they're afraid that universities will neglect the fact that they've taken a tougher path, which explains why they have lower marks. They are also reluctant to take part in a linguistic exchange in Quebec or France because that can alter their marks. Universities and high schools have this kind of obsession with numerical marks but do not take a more comprehensive view of students' experience. I believe that's harmful for second-language learning.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Gourde, you have the floor.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Commissioner, on the last page of your brief, you say that the "spending cuts in 1995 had a major impact on the development of the official language communities." Unless I'm mistaken, that had to be under Jean Chrétien's Liberal government, my colleague's party.

What were the consequences of those cuts in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000? Where did that really hurt the official language minority communities?

10:35 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

The most striking example was the closing of the Royal Military College Saint-Jean. That was done in a spirit of fairness because Royal Roads Military College had been closed. So it was thought that the same thing should be done with the Royal Military College Saint-Jean.

The long-term effect was harmful to Canadian Forces recruitment, the linguistic capacity of the Canadian Forces and language learning by officers. It caused serious difficulties for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces in the ensuing years and until the present.

That's the most striking example, when you consider the unexpected results following a cut. That's the example I always cite when I say that, when you make cuts, you have to be very careful to analyze potential consequences.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

I'm going to give my colleague the rest of my speaking time because she said she wanted to ask you a brief question.

March 15th, 2012 / 10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Fraser, thank you for coming to speak to us today.

I have a bit of a personal question, I guess you could say, and I'd like your personal opinion and views as an answer.

My daughter, who is now 17 years old, has attended exclusively English-speaking schools. When she was going into kindergarten, I wanted to put her in a French school. We have in the Greater Toronto Area, where I live, both French schools and French-immersion schools, and either one would have been fine, but there was a French-immersion school close by. We were not allowed to send her there, because neither my husband nor I fluently speak French.

Do you believe that this requirement should be changed? I know I do, because I think that many parents like my husband and me would have loved having our children be bilingual. But because I don't speak French, my children were not allowed to attend that school.

This is just a personal question.

10:40 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Let me clarify. Did you want your child to go to the French school, as opposed to the French immersion school?

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Either would have been acceptable. I wasn't allowed to send her to either.

10:40 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time I've heard of an immersion school blocking the admission of a child because parents did not speak French. For the French-language schools it is a different situation, because admission to the minority-language schools, whether it's English schools in Quebec or French schools outside Quebec, is governed by section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is a right that is defined and limited to those who were educated in that language in Canada.

Mr. Chairman, I don't have the time to go through the whole history of section 23, but I'm astonished to hear that your child was not allowed to go to an immersion school.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

That makes sense. I can understand that a fully French school would not want parents who didn't understand the materials that come home and so on. I have a feeling that the school boards in Ontario don't operate, or don't seem to operate in practice, according to the law. They seem to have subtleties in policy based on the region.