Good morning. I hope the fact that we are talking over the phone and not able to see one another is not a bad sign for the future of Franco-Ontarian community organizations. I hope that I am not speaking to you from beyond the grave, because we learned yesterday that the Superior North regional ACFO, in Sault Ste. Marie, closed its doors owing to a lack of funding.
Community organizations are in crisis, that is obvious. I will talk especially about the ACFOs and the Alliance de la francophonie de Timmins, given that we have changed our name and our make up to better reflect our community and better ensure our survival and effectiveness.
There is no doubt that we are in crisis, and that crisis is essentially of a financial nature. Mr. Potié alluded earlier to the lack of funding for francophone and Acadian organizations. That is a fact.
The other problem is that many more organizations are receiving funding. Grassroots organizations, those that work in the communities, saw their funding decrease in the 1990s. Evidently, their funding did not keep up with inflation, so much so that the Alliance de la francophonie de Timmins, which serves 19,000 francophones in Timmins alone, cannot even hire full-time staff: neither a secretary, nor a director general, nor a development officer. We have part-time staff and volunteers. This is volunteer work that I have already termed, on Radio-Canada, extreme volunteer work, because people have to work in the evenings and on weekends; it is extremely difficult.
I would like to briefly remind you of the importance of local organizations, grassroots organizations like the Alliance de la francophonie, the Kirkland Lake ACFO, Cochrane-Iroquois Falls ACFO, Temiskaming Shores ACFO, etc. It is thanks to the work done by such organizations that we were able to obtain French-language high schools in the 1960s, community health centres, francophone day care centres, literacy centres and, in some communities, cultural centres.
In Timmins, we fought to have a newspaper and now we have francophone newspapers. We also fought to have French-language colleges. I do not have to tell you how important the ACFOs and other such organizations are in developing communities and ensuring the vitality of francophone minority communities in Ontario.
The crisis is due to a lack of means, especially financial, which provide us with the administrative support to carry out our work. You know that we experienced enormous budget cutbacks in the 1990s. For example, our budget in 1985 was $50,000; it bottomed out at $31,000 in 1997-98.
In 2006, we received a mind-boggling $37,600, to be exact. Obviously, that does not take into account inflation, because if we used the Bank of Canada's inflation calculator, $50,000, in 1985, would come out to $86,000, in 2006.
Such a level of funding would allow us to have at least two full-time staff members. We would have the means to do our work and develop priority issues. For example, Timmins needs a community health centre. We have been working on this for years, but we always come up against new governments and changing political priorities. Timmins, with its 19,000 francophones, does not have a community health centre. I do not have to explain to you the problems we have recruiting francophone doctors. That is a priority issue.
The Alliance de la francophonie de Timmins developed the francophone component of the city's strategic plan. We are fighting to obtain a new campus at the Collège Boréal, which would be a trade school serving the entire region from Hearst to New Liskeard, where Timmins is the natural socio-economic development centre. That is another of our priorities.
Realistically, we would need $86,000. Last week we asked the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage for realistic funding of approximately $60,000, with a new funding formula.
If the money does not go directly to grassroots organizations fighting to provide quality services to the francophone population, fighting against the assimilation of our communities and working together with other organizations, of which the Association de la presse francophone is obviously a very important agency, we will not have the means to do our work and we will simply have to close our doors. Currently, we are at the end of our rope.
For over 10 years now we have been working in close collaboration with the community to get the money to compensate for this lack of funding. We are working extremely hard to develop projects, and to be able to pay for more or less full-time staff to run our organizations.
We are at the end of our rope now. The communities are no longer what they were. There have been significant economic changes. Quite often, francophone entrepreneurs have sold their companies to American anglophone multinational companies. These people do not have the same sensitivity with regard to the community. It is difficult to get them to help us. So this is an avenue that we have explored but that has not provided the hoped-for results. This cannot compensate for the lack of federal funding.
Obviously, we are in the midst of a crisis. The Cochrane-Iroquois Falls ACFO is experiencing a financial crisis because it received a huge envelope of $18,000 last year. The Kirkland Lake ACFO and the Rive-Nord ACFO, in Elliot Lake, are experiencing the same problem. There has been a major crisis for 10 years now, but things have come to a head. If we are unable to obtain better funding to allow us to operate, we will have to close our doors.
The challenges are enormous because the forestry industry is experiencing a very arduous crisis that is affecting our communities. There is a crisis with regard to access to American markets, and restructuring is underway. This is not helping us in our attempt to obtain funding so we can do our job. We could play an important role in helping to resolve this crisis, but we lack the means to do our job adequately because we do not have full-time staff.