Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Sarah Parisio. I am the coordinator of the Réseau immigration francophone de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador, under the umbrella of the Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador, or FFTNL. First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to appear in order to share the views of our francophone community on immigration and on the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.
As you may know, the FFTNL is working to help advance, develop and showcase the francophone and Acadian communities of Newfoundland and Labrador. Francophone immigration is a key issue for the FFTNL, which has been working on it since 2007, together with your government.
Francophone immigration is actually one of our community's priorities, as noted in the Comprehensive Development Plan—Francophone Community of Newfoundland and Labrador 2014-2019.
Our small community has been around for more than 500 years and it is mainly distributed in three very remote regions. The distance between them ranges from 800 to 2,100 kilometres. I don't think I need to stress that the geographical remoteness is a major handicap for us.
According to the 2011 census, the francophone community represents 0.6% of the province's population, and 25,000 people are bilingual. Given the small size of our community, its survival depends on ensuring that immigration programs and trends are not additional factors that reduce its demographic weight, but rather that support its development.
The multi-year funding of francophone immigration networks in the provinces and territories by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) was an important step in the development of our communities through immigration. That is how we were able to build long-term partnerships with stakeholders, whether employers, chambers of commerce or anglophone organizations working in the field.
Recently, we also celebrated some of your government's initiatives to facilitate the recruitment of temporary skilled workers by restoring the Mobilité francophone program. To facilitate the recruitment of francophone permanent residents, there have been changes to the express entry program, to the benefit of candidates with a good knowledge of French. Finally, with the inception of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, Newfoundland and Labrador could welcome up to 440 immigrants starting in 2017.
Last spring, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador launched the provincial immigration action plan. We were delighted to see that this government had made a clear commitment to increase francophone immigration and retention in the province by, among other things, a target for the provincial nominee program that is in line with your government's program, that is to say 5%.
Until 2015, francophone nominations through the provincial nominee program remained below 2.7%, or 15 people a year, since the nominee program accounted for almost 50% of the province's overall immigration.
Despite those advances and initiatives, we still have to face many challenges, which we must tackle on a daily basis. The major challenges are: direct and indirect French-language services for newcomers to Newfoundland and Labrador, and international recruitment. In terms of French-language services in Newfoundland and Labrador, this is the first year that the annual funding for the provincial francophone immigration network has been significantly reduced.
Since April 2017, the francophone immigration networks in the four Atlantic provinces have been receiving the same funding, which is an inexplicable and harmful change. Earlier, I referred to the remoteness of our communities. As we well know, cuts always have disproportionate impacts on areas remote from major centres.
Mr. Chair, you must understand that distances in Newfoundland and Labrador are nothing like in Prince Edward Island or the other Atlantic provinces. In addition, since April, we have only had one direct French-language service provider for newcomers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
A mentoring service for francophone permanent residents is now available in St. John's to job seekers. Again, the remote areas are without service. The extended absence of direct services in French has placed our community at a disadvantage compared to other Canadian provinces, including the Atlantic provinces, which easily welcome francophones to their official language minority communities.
Among the many concrete examples of this inequality, we find that the provision of direct information about community services and referral services is funded by your government in all the other Atlantic provinces, but not in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In addition, language assessment and French-language courses for newcomers are non-existent in our province. As a result, we see that francophone newcomers go to the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, to a foreign country, to take the French test required to obtain Canadian citizenship. In addition to the lack of direct services in the province, we no longer receive funding to promote our province, the Atlantic region and the francophone and Acadian communities abroad. It was scrapped in 2012.
If I may, I will give the example of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which is unique to Newfoundland and Labrador. Our province is 25 kilometres away from France, meaning the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Unfortunately, our current agreement does not allow us to promote our province there because it is not a Canadian territory. We are losing a great recruitment opportunity because the residents of St. Pierre and Miquelon often have many ties of friendship and family with our province. This is a significant retention factor, not to mention that they are used to the climate and are already great hockey fans.