Evidence of meeting #42 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.

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Graham Fraser  Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
  • Ghislaine Charlebois  Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
  • Lise Cloutier  Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle Rivière-du-Nord, QC

There's the whole digital question too.

10:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Yes, when I use the word "audiovisual", I mean all dissemination methods. I am not limiting myself to broadcasting; I also include digital.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle Rivière-du-Nord, QC

I would like to hear you comment on one aspect of the cost-cutting process. Under subsection 43(2) of part VII of the Official Languages Act, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages must, in principle, conduct consultations when he redirects or amends programs to determine what impact that will have on the official language communities.

Do you think those consultations were conducted in advance, before the cuts were imposed on Radio-Canada? What do you know about that?

10:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

That's hard to know. The budget process is not a process involving the same kind of consultation. Some budgetary consultations are conducted, but many issues are concealed by budget secrecy. I try to keep telling the federal institutions that the statutory obligations have not changed, that every federal institution has obligations under part VII of the Official Languages Act and that it must ensure it conducts consultations, but it must also take measures to reduce the harmful impact of program changes, funding reductions or cuts. So I am not in a position to tell you about the nature of the consultations. I know that some institutions are conducting them. I am afraid that others are not thinking about it. Some institutions still believe that part VII of the Official Languages Act does not apply to them. This is a message I am still sending them.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Dionne Labelle.

Mr. Williamson, it's your turn.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Now I'm ready.

You spoke a little about the Royal Military College of Canada. That didn't just have an impact for a few months or years; it lasted a long time. Can you tell us about that? I would like to know this story a little better. Here I have a chance to hear you talk about this issue. It has been about 17 years now. I remember the news in the paper, but perhaps you can tell us more about it.

10:10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

It happened following the 1995 budget, when substantial cuts were made. In a spirit of fairness, the government decided to shut down the Royal Roads Military College and the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean.

However, the closing of the Collège militaire has had a long-term impact because the college played a special role. First of all, the student officers at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston often spent a year or a semester in Saint-Jean taking French courses. Closing down Saint-Jean had an effect on the francophone recruitment effort and on the long-term linguistic capacity of the Canadian Forces, since the officers emerging from Kingston did not have the same learning opportunities as the senior officers.

In the early 1990s, a number of books claimed that the Canadian Forces had really turned a corner on bilingualism, that there had been some achievements and that they were on the right track. The closing of the college was a setback. It was harder for the Canadian Forces. Several generations of officers have not had the same learning opportunities as those who received their entire training at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean or who spent a year or a semester there.

That wasn't intentional. There was no intention to reduce the linguistic capacity of the Canadian Forces. The decision was made in good faith, in a spirit of fairness. In fact, if cuts were made in Victoria, they should also be made in Saint-Jean. However, there has been a considerable long-term effect and we still see it today.

When Mr. O'Connor was minister of National Defence, he decided to restore the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, but to make it a CEGEP. They intended to restore Saint-Jean and make it a university, but they haven't reached that point yet.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Do you believe that the two official languages are well served in the Canadian Forces?

10:10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I have a great deal of esteem for the approach of General Natynczyk, the current Chief of Defence Staff. He has been very clear about senior officers' obligation to be bilingual. However, we are still receiving complaints. We audited the training of military personnel across the country, particularly in the trades, and there are still major challenges.

I just received quite a moving letter from the father of an officer. One of the members of his unit died in Afghanistan. The soldiers wrote a piece in memory of that soldier. According to tradition, a chaplain reads that kind of text. The chaplain was a unilingual anglophone. Consequently, rather than a tribute to the soldier, they were treated to quite an embarrassing event.

That said, I must say that we have received no official complaints from francophone members who have served in Afghanistan. That is partly due to the fact that the infrastructure of the Royal 22nd Regiment based in Valcartier is shipping out to Afghanistan. These people were in Afghanistan to support them.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Godin, go ahead, please.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

That must have been a chaplain who was entitled to be unilingual. That's still the Conservative government's philosophy.

Commissioner, I want to go back to the $6.4 million allocated over the next four years. How do you intend to find the money you need, since your funding has not been increased, but rather frozen? Can you send the committee a breakdown of the $6.4 million by the end of the parliamentary session? That will show us how those funds will be spent.

10:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Yes. I won't ask my colleagues to give you all the details here on how we intend to manage that, but we will be able to send them to you in writing.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

All right.

Commissioner, I want to thank you for starting a study on transfers to the provinces. I am simply a bit concerned about certain parts of the letter you sent me, at my request. You mentioned that certain ministers in the provinces had told you they had decided to forward the transfers made to the provinces elsewhere once they received them. However, part VII of the Official Languages Act—I believe it's sections 41, 42 and 43—is very clear on that point.

You say in your letter: "I am confident you will understand that this audit will be conducted in accordance with my responsibilities and the resources at my disposal." The first part of the sentence does not trouble me, but I would like to understand what you mean by "resources at my disposal". Is that related to the budget? Does that mean you won't have enough money? What resources are you talking about? What is the problem?

10:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I don't see any problem.

The topic is so broad. That's the reason why we are conducting a horizontal audit. It isn't a financial audit. In any case, that kind of audit is not within our authority. That was one way of saying it was not an unlimited audit. Some audits almost seem like criminal investigations, and we hear—

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

What is criminal is that this money should go to the minorities. It's as simple as that, and it is your responsibility, as Commissioner of Official Languages, to see to it.