Evidence of meeting #40 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 official.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Hubert Lussier  Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship and Heritage Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage
  • Daniel Jean  Deputy Minister, Department of Canadian Heritage

8:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Welcome to the 40th meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages on Thursday, May 3, 2012. We are here pursuant to Standing Order 108 for a study on the evaluation of the Roadmap: Improving Programs and Service Delivery.

This morning, we have appearing before us the Hon. James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.

Welcome, Minister, you have the floor.

May 3rd, 2012 / 8:30 a.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you colleagues.

This morning I am accompanied by my Deputy Minister, Daniel Jean, and Hubert Lussier, Assistant Deputy Minister for Citizenship and Heritage, responsible for official languages files at Canadian Heritage.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to appear before you this morning.

I would like to acknowledge the work this committee has accomplished since last fall in the course of your study on the Roadmap. It is in this context that I would like to talk about what we have achieved, and are achieving, with the Roadmap, and how we are taking steps to prepare for the future.

I know that there have been some questions raised at this committee in some of your consultations by some of the witnesses who have been before your committee about how I and our government plan to consult on the current road map to plan for the path ahead. At the outset, I'd like to address those questions.

This summer I plan to lead a comprehensive, pan-Canadian set of consultations on official languages. I and other members of our government and officials from my department will hear from Canadians in each and every province and territory on the next steps in the road map for linguistic duality. This summer my colleagues and I will hear from Canadians in communities across the country: Victoria, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Sudbury, Quebec, Montreal, Fredericton, Moncton, Halifax, Charlottetown, St. John's, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, and Iqaluit. We won't visit just Canada's largest cities, but suburban and rural communities as well.

We will also create an online forum for Canadians unable to attend our consultations to share their views online. This is an approach we took back in the previous Parliament, when we were doing consultations for our copyright legislation. We found that the number of Canadians who wished to have participation in these kinds of consultations on large-scope public policy issues was much larger than we often appreciate. So we're going to be doing that, as well, when it comes to consultation on official languages.

As a point of comparison, when former New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord was asked by our government to do consultations in 2007, prior to the current road map, he visited seven communities. This is much more comprehensive and much more broad based and pan-Canadian. It will involve me, as the minister, as well as my parliamentary secretary and other members of our government, as well as, as I said, an online presence.

In comparison to those previous consultations, this will be much broader and will be open to far more Canadians. We look forward to listening to new ideas on how we move forward on official languages policy. Of course, to supplement this, the great work this committee has done on consultation will feed into this process as well.

The question is why we are doing this. We're doing this because both of Canada's official languages define who we are as Canadians. They are the languages of our national dialogue and the languages that enable Canadians who come to our country to participate more fully in our society in every way. Our official languages allow us to build a united, prosperous Canada together. For these reasons, our government is proud to support our official languages.

The road map for Canada's linguistic duality has been the vehicle that allows us to do just that. Canada's investment in the road map is, to put it bluntly, a lot of taxpayers' money. There's a commitment of $1.1 billion over five years. In fact, it is the largest and most comprehensive investment in Canada's official languages Canada has ever seen. The road map includes 32 separate initiatives implemented by 15 agencies and departments of the Government of Canada. It allows us to act in priority areas: skills training, education, immigration, economic development, and the arts.

With the road map, our government is committed to promoting and protecting Canada's official languages, and today I can say that we have kept our word. We have kept our promises and have delivered on this commitment. As a matter of fact, in budget 2012, tabled not that long ago, of course, it says, and I will quote:

Canada’s two official languages are an integral part of Canada's history and identity....Economic Action Plan 2012 will continue support for official languages by maintaining funding to protect, celebrate and enhance Canada’s linguistic duality.

To put it another way, with budget 2012 we have kept our promise to support Canada's official languages.

On transfers to the provinces, our budget protects funding in the Roadmap for official language education and programs.

On support for culture, our budget protects funding in the Roadmap for official languages on cultural engagement and expression in the arts.

On support for second language education, our budget protects funding in the Roadmap for official languages for Canadians of all ages hoping to better understand English and French. On front-line training for health care workers, our budget protects funding for health services in English and French.

I will quote again from the budget. On all of these things, we maintained funding to protect, celebrate and enhance our linguistic duality. We kept our word, and because of this minority language communities are stronger than ever.

On April 5, shortly after Budget 2012 was tabled, I presented our mid-term report of the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality.

It outlines in detail how the government is delivering on those promises that I just outlined. The report confirms the implementation of the 32 initiatives contained in the road map and how they are proceeding, as we had hoped they would. They are being managed carefully, transparently, and effectively by all the departments and agencies involved. I invite those of you who have yet to see the mid-term report to take a look at it and to send me your comments and suggestions.

Broadly speaking, I am pleased by our progress and will share with you some of the concrete examples of our success.

In total, 2.4 million young Canadians are learning French or English as a second language. Close to 245,000 young Canadians from minority communities are studying their language of choice in more than 900 schools across the country.

Since 2008, support through the road map has made it possible to open five new school community centres and 14 new community learning centres in Quebec, as well as 33 new child care services in francophone communities.

Since 2008, more than 2,000 people from minority communities have enrolled in French-language health training programs.

Since 2008, more than 140 welcome centres and integration networks have been established to provide new services for immigrants in both official languages.

Since 2008, more than 100 new projects in the arts and culture originating in the minority communities have been supported.

We added, as I'll remind you, this fifth component to our road map because we recognize the importance of arts and culture and expression in the protection and celebration and health of minority languages in communities all across the country.

All these projects were launched and implemented under the leadership of our government.

As I said, I am preparing to lead a round of consultations in all regions of Canada this summer. These consultations will be more extensive than those held in 2007. They will also allow us to see if our funding is effective, and if our programs offer a good return for taxpayers, and an understanding of what changes might better serve Canadians going forward.

Finally, I'll close where I began, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to again thank this committee for your work, for inviting witnesses—inviting Canadians—to come to your committee to contribute to these consultations and the upcoming report on the road map. It too will help guide our deliberations on the way ahead.

Thank you very much for attention. If you have any questions, I'd be pleased to answer them.

8:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you, Minister.

I would like to welcome Mr. Dion and Mr. Cannan. We have 50 minutes for questions and comments.

Mr. Godin, please.

8:40 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Given the importance that the minister has given to this committee and given the importance of a minister responsible for official languages, it is unfortunate that he will only be giving us one hour of his time today. We have been working on the Roadmap since September. We finally get to hear from the minister, but we will not be able to ask him the questions that need to be asked. I would like to point this out publicly.

In the House of Commons, I stated that funding to the Association de la presse francophone had been reduced and the minister denied this. He said that this was false. And yet I have here a letter from the APF, which was sent to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. The association would like to appear before the committee. The letter reads as follows:

Despite these gains, the funding formula means that overall, APF newspapers received $27,000 less in 2011-2012 than they did the previous year. Worse still, four newspapers that serve francophones in Alberta, Manitoba, greater Sudbury and Nova Scotia will have to absorb annual losses.

Were we lied to on Monday, Mr. Chair, or was the minister mistaken in his answer?

I will continue with my questions, Mr. Chair, so that the minister can answer them.

Before the previous election, the Conservative government asked this committee to conduct a study on immigration. The study was completed and presented to Parliament. We are asking that the government respond to the study since it was tabled. This is the same government. This was the same Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages and the same Minister of Immigration. These same individuals were reappointed to their positions as ministers of these departments.

Is the minister against the government responding to this study? Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to do this study. The minister said that this committee does good work. We did do a good study. It was presented to Parliament. I believe that Canadians are entitled to have a government response.

Moreover, we also did another study. The committee travelled to the North and prepared a study on the subject. The draft report was done during the previous parliament. The committee had the same clerk and the same analyst. The draft was prepared and ready to be tabled in the House. And yet, this committee, which takes the government's side, refuses to complete the study. It is the same government that is presenting bills and does not want to examine them in the House of Commons. The Conservatives are claiming that these issues have often been debated since 2006 and that they should not be debated further since we have already spent enough money on these issues.

Should we not complete this study? Should we not be fair to the people living in the North, in Yellowknife, in Whitehorse? They should be able to publicly express their opinions on the way they see things.

Finally, Mr. Chair, there has been a 40% cutback and layoffs in Canadian Heritage. In addition, you said that Citizenship and Immigration Canada was doing a good job. And yet this department is going to close the office in Moncton, a region where there are francophone minorities. The department is going to shut down all of its Atlantic offices.

So I would like to ask all of these questions, Mr. Chair. I would like answers from the minister.

8:40 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.

8:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Go ahead, Mr. Williamson.

8:40 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

It's not the same government as pre-2011. It is not the same government as Mr. Godin just said, despite the party colour being the same. Several members of the committee were not part of the previous government.

8:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you for that intervention, Mr. Williamson.

I'm going to rule his questions in order. They're tangentially related to the study of the road map and the situation of official language minority communities, so I'm going to allow the minister to respond to those questions.

Go ahead.

8:40 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

On that point of order, I just want to say that it's the same Prime Minister, it's the same minister, and you're not going to hide behind the facts.

Thank you.

8:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you.

Minister, you have the floor to answer questions.

8:40 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

That's Monsieur Godin, kicking and screaming since 1997; it's what he does best.

First of all, with respect to my attendance today, I would like to point out that I attend committee meetings each time I am asked to do so and that I always respond quickly when I am invited. I believe the committee chair will be able to confirm that. I will be brief this morning because I have a meeting following my appearance before you that I cannot miss.

You raised a number of points but when it comes to consultations, clearly we want to involve communities throughout the country. In my province, British Columbia, as you know French is the eighth most commonly spoken language in Vancouver. Over the coming years, it could be ninth, tenth or eleventh.

It is essential to leave Ottawa and for me to be personally involved in touring the country and understanding what has been done over the last four years, understanding what can be done with the Roadmap over the coming year and what will be done in the future to continue to protect the French fact in all regions of the country as well as in anglophone communities in Quebec and in other regions. We will be continuing our work in this regard. That is a personal commitment I have taken on.

You referred to the Canada Periodical Fund. It is a crucial fund. I would also like to point out that in the past the government had a timeline for it, but we changed that. The government now has an ongoing commitment to the fund. It is a clear and firm commitment to protect periodicals throughout the regions of Canada when it comes to official languages. As you know, the goal is to ensure Canadians have access to magazines and newspapers which are not dailies, and this includes official language minority community publications.

I'm pleased to see that these issues are of interest but it should be said that the changes referred to were announced almost three years ago. These are not changes for the future. There is nothing new here. If it raises concerns, we could look into the regulations for our programming and if these concerns are justified, we could address them.

I also understand the concern you expressed either this week or last week in the House of Commons regarding this issue. However, we do not expect any changes for the moment. However, if changes are required to protect communities, for instance, if the periodical readership is not large enough to fit within our funding formula, we may consider the situation.

You also mentioned budget cutbacks in the department and not in services or investments in the area of culture and official languages. You mentioned the savings for the department. I would now invite my deputy minister to describe the way in which we will achieve these savings without affecting the Roadmap, official languages or our obligations under the Official Languages Act.

8:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Chairman, could that be sent to the committee and could I get a response to my other questions on immigration and the North?

Time is limited and we know that you are a very busy minister.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

With respect, you can't ask me to come to the committee, do a five-minute rant, and say can you then just write us the answer? No. I'm here.

You asked me questions and I will answer them in a responsible manner.

8:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Chairman, perhaps we could ask for unanimous consent to have the minister respond to all my questions.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

I am trying to Mr. Godin, but I will proceed as a minister does when appearing before a committee. My officials are with me to answer questions as well. I am pleased to be here with you and will certainly reappear before the committee. If you wish, we can also send you written information, and if you wish me to answer each of your dozen questions, I shall do so.