Mr. Chair, thank you for leading this session that Ms. Fry, the chair, usually does.
Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, thank you for asking me to appear before your committee.
I am joined by Mr. Graham Flack, Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage, and Mr. Andrew Francis, the department's Chief Financial Officer.
The work that you do is very important, and your studies in areas like the impact of digital technology on media consumption, the state of Canadian museums and the future of the CBC, directly relate to some of the portfolio initiatives that I will speak to today.
As committee members know, our government places a high priority on Canada's arts and culture. In budget 2016 we made a historic investment in the arts and culture sector: $1.9 billion over five years. This was the largest investment in the sector in three decades, and we're still the only G7 country having invested so much in the field.
Communities large and small continue to reap the benefits of programs, infrastructure, and initiatives that are helping to build a strong economy and a diverse and inclusive society. This has never been so important, particularly this year, Canada 150.
Since I last met with you in November, we have launched our year-long celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The activities continue all year, giving Canadians a chance to come together, to reflect on our past, and to envision a future full of possibilities.
Over the past year it has been my great privilege to travel to all communities big and small across our country, to hear Canadians talk about their vision and ideas for the future of Canadian culture and content in our digital world, and about the importance of strengthening services in official language minority communities. I take my responsibility to each of them and to our government very seriously.
The digital shift has transformed our world; the lines between content creator, broadcaster and consumer are blurring. Canadians access content through different channels. We can no longer ignore it.
New international actors such as the big digital platforms have become prominent figures in the digital landscape. This is a unique opportunity for our creators to conquer new international markets. I look forward to presenting the first Canadian cultural export strategy that will help them to do so.
I also look forward to presenting my vision for our new cultural policy tool kit this year.
As for today, I will share a few examples of what we have accomplished so far, and what the 2017-18 main estimates will help us accomplish in the coming year. Our department is seeking $1.4 billion, an increase of $150.2 million, or 11.6%, from the previous fiscal year. Included in this amount are $1.2 billion in grants and contributions, $208.8 million in operating expenditures, and $25.8 million in statutory authorities. Let me highlight some specific initiatives that we have planned for this fiscal year to support our mandate.
The most significant increase in the main estimates is an allocation of $84.1 million to the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund. This funding is vital to help support Canadian creators and the expression of their creativity within our communities, in appropriate infrastructures. By providing this support, we will also strengthen the prosperity of our society and our economy.
Indigenous languages are an integral part of our Canadian identity. As such, the 2017-18 main estimates include $17.6 million to increase French and indigenous language services in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut.
Our government is also an ardent advocate for Canada's official languages. I have listened to minority official language communities since I arrived in this position in November 2015. We organized 22 round tables, and more than 7,000 Canadians took part in this consultation process.
The priorities of these communities are not only my own, but also those of our government. We are currently working on the action plan that will set out our government's vision and our strategy to ensure the vitality of our two official languages, and increase the level of bilingualism in the country. In this regard, we have had several successes in the official languages area that you are already familiar with.
A few weeks ago, our Prime Minister had the pleasure of proposing the candidacy of Madeleine Meilleur for the position of Commissionner of Official Languages. Our government is proud of the rigorous merit-based process that led to the selection of this candidate for this officer of Parliament position, a nomination that must be validated by the elected representatives of the House of Commons and the members of the Senate.
I want to remind you that the nomination process for the position of Commissionner of Official Languages was open to all Canadians. Right from the outset, the position was posted on the website of the Governor in Council, and was accessible to everyone.
The candidate had to meet very strict criteria regarding education and work experience, and had to demonstrate that he or she had the knowledge, skills and capacities necessary to staunchly defend our two official languages.
A third party, the Boyden Executive Search firm, assessed the 72 candidacies received, using the criteria set out in the position description.
The selection committee, made up of a majority of public servants, did an in-depth analysis of the files and chose 12 candidates who would move on to the next step, that of the interviews.
I want to specify that the selection committee worked on a consensus basis and that the opinions of all of its members were given equal weight.
In light of the interviews conducted by the selection committee, fewer than 10 candidates were chosen to move on to the next step, that of psychometric evaluations and reference checks.
Following these evaluations, the committee submitted its short list of candidates from the final selection to me.
As Minister of Canadian Heritage and minister responsible for official languages, I conducted interviews with each of the short-listed finalists. While it is not required, I thought it was important at this stage to take the extra step of consulting with my opposition critics, Madam Boucher from the Conservative Party, and Monsieur Choquette from the NDP, on the preferred candidate. Madam Meilleur's superior qualifications, expertise, and experience were acknowledged. Following these discussions, a formal letter of consultation from the Prime Minister was sent to the leaders of the opposition parties in the House of Commons and the Senate.
Ms. Meilleur's candidacy clearly stood out from the rest, because of her career and track record in defending and promoting the language rights of the Franco-Ontarian community. Her unique and specific expertise regarding official languages placed her at the top of the list of candidates following this process. I can mention her experience on the Ottawa municipal council, where Ms. Meilleur worked with her colleagues to create a bilingualism policy for the city.
This commitment to encouraging the inclusion of the francophone community of Ottawa in municipal life was also evident in Ms. Meilleur's intensive participation in the campaign to prevent the closure of the Monfort Hospital, the Franco-Ontarian hospital of Ottawa.
May I also point out that during her mandate as Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs in Ontario, Ms. Meilleur supervised the creation of the position of French Language Services Commissionner of Ontario, and ensured the independence of that office.
Our priority was to recruit the most competent person to head the Office of the Commissioner, and to ensure the respect of the Official Languages Act. Ms. Meilleur is obviously that person, and her track record speaks for itself. I am proud to propose a candidate who will fight for official languages with the same strength and the same rigour as she has done all through her career.
Budget 2017 includes funding for initiatives that foster indigenous languages and cultures. I would like to point out three key initiatives: $69 million over three years to enhance aboriginal language initiatives to support community-based projects and activities focused on preserving and revitalizing indigenous languages; $14.9 million for Library and Archives for its ongoing work to digitize existing indigenous language and cultural materials; and $6 million for the National Research Council Canada, which is working with indigenous stakeholders as it develops information technology to help preserve oral histories.
Of course, we will seek additional funding through the supplementary estimates for budget 2017 initiatives once these funds are approved.
I am happy to answer any questions you may have.