Mr. Chairman, Mr. Gourde, committee members, good morning to you all.
On behalf of the ACFA and the francophone community of Alberta, I am pleased to accept the invitation of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages to share the views of the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta as part of the committee's study on improving programs and service delivery under the Roadmap for Canada's linguistic duality.
In our presentation, we will briefly describe the ACFA, how linguistic duality has manifested itself in Alberta, our community's priorities and our assessment of the investments made in Alberta under the Roadmap, as well as considerations for improving the Roadmap.
Before continuing, I request your permission to submit a fuller brief at a later date. In the time we were allotted, we were able to prepare this address to introduce ourselves for the purpose of answering your questions, but a brief would provide a much more comprehensive picture.
The ACFA, which was founded in 1926 and has been governed by a statute of the Alberta legislative assembly since 1964, represents the interests and coordinates the overall development of the francophone community of Alberta. That same statute conferred authority on the ACFA enabling it to incorporate 13 regional agencies and two affiliated agencies across the province. In addition, last year, the ACFA placed 12 school and community coordinators in the remote and emerging francophone communities of the province.
In addition to those roles, the ACFA offers services directly to Albertans. For example, we operate a bilingual information centre, accessible by the Internet and by telephone, on more than 1,000 private and non-governmental services available in French in Alberta.
We manage the ACCENT directory, which promotes the extracurricular services available in French at the 34 French-language schools and 204 French immersion schools in Alberta.
We distribute information through various channels of communication on topics related to employment, immigration, the francophone community, community activities, language rights, Franco-Albertan history and more, attracting thousands of visitors, clicks, comments, tweets and retweets every month.
We also offer a range of training, awareness and group benefits services for employees in the francophone association community, as well as promotional and other activities.
The minority French-language population of the province of Alberta is the third largest in Canada. Today, 68,000 Albertans define themselves as francophones, but we estimate the number of persons who can speak, live and work in French in Alberta at more than 225,000. This means that twice as many Albertans choose French as there are people whose mother tongue is French. The future vitality of the francophone community therefore depends on a symbiosis between those who are francophone by birth and those who are francophone by choice, for the development, offer and uptake of French-language services in Alberta.
However, the Albertan francophone community is facing other challenges. Among other things, it has a demographic deficit of nearly 9,000 children. As a result, even though 2.2% of Alberta's population speak French as their first language, only 0.7% of children up to 4 years of age have French as their first language. The predominant factor is the low rate of language transfer in households where parents do not speak French. Of those children who have at least one francophone parent, 82% live in inter-linguistic households, and only 15% of those children will learn French.
The mobility of the francophone population is another important factor in Alberta. Between 2001 and 2006, more than half of Alberta's francophones moved; 31% came from elsewhere, including 16% from another province or territory; and 5% came from another country. Only British Columbia experienced similar mobility. That figure among the population of Albertan anglophones is 22%.
We therefore need innovative models, adapted to our situation, in order to meet the needs of these dispersed masses of francophones.
To seize the opportunities that are strategically important for francophone vitality in Alberta and to minimize the threats facing the French fact, the Albertan francophone community has adopted a long-term development strategy entitled Stratégie 2030.
That strategy is based on three major axes to ensure the vitality of the Albertan francophone community.
The first axis is cultural autonomy and identity development among francophones. For 80% of the community, the rate of language transmission is 15%. Consequently, how can the language and culture be transmitted to future generations. Hence the importance, among other things, of acknowledgement and advocacy of francophones' language rights, homogenous French-language education, cultural development, early childhood, family literacy and preservation and influence of francophone heritage.
The second axis is the settlement with dignity of francophone newcomers. Approximately 69% of our francophone population was not born in Alberta. How then do we ensure that francophones who come and settle in Alberta can grow and develop? Hence the importance, among other things, of intake and settlement services, employment services, the economic sector, occupational and technical training and recognition of credentials from other provinces and countries.
The third axis is promotion of the French language to the Alberta majority, to those who speak the language and to anglophones. More than 50% of Albertans support Canada's linguistic duality, and twice as many Albertans choose French as those who were born with French as their mother tongue. Consequently, how do we increase the prestige of the French language? Hence the importance, among other things, of French immersion in public schools and postsecondary institutions, communications, the promotion and development of bilingualism and linguistic duality as citizen values in Canada.
Like those of the Roadmap, the ACFA's objectives are to involve the population in linguistic duality and to support the community's development in a diverse range of key sectors for the development of the francophone community.
Here we have chosen to note two successes of the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality.
In Alberta, the initiatives funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada through the Roadmap have made it possible to support a francophone immigration development network linking community players in order to meet the needs of francophone immigrants in the community; projects to promote tolerance and combat discrimination experienced by francophones who have immigrated to Alberta; cultural awareness activities organized by francophone welcome centres in Alberta in order to bring communities closer together; and the creation of tools to facilitate the integration of French-speaking immigrants, such as the website www.destinationalberta.ca and the directory of services for francophone newcomers to Alberta. These are thus investments that directly affect the French-speaking citizens of Alberta.
In addition, in November 2009, the francophone community of Alberta learned that, through the Société Santé en français, Health Canada was investing $1 million of Roadmap investment money over three years. From the start, we knew where the funding was coming from, what amount had been allocated and what the timetable was.
At the invitation of the Réseau santé albertain, the community attended a round table meeting to determine needs and priorities. Three major community projects were selected and are currently being implemented. The officers responsible for the projects are being assisted in the process and must report on a regular basis.
The community is therefore responsible to the government. In our minds, this is a concrete example of a winning model in which a community and the government can work together to achieve their respective objectives.
To conclude, we would like to offer four recommendations.
First, we recommend that the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality be renewed. This federal government initiative has been and still is of capital importance for the vitality and linguistic duality of Alberta.
Second, if we want all Canadians to take part in linguistic duality, we must invest in its visibility and promotion. That will have the effect of reaching target clienteles and of ensuring that all Canadians sense a positive presence of both official languages.
Third, there must also be investment in the federal-provincial agreements. The Official Languages Act provides that the provincial jurisdictions must be respected. However, the provinces and municipalities are at the forefront in ensuring delivery of a number of direct programs and services to citizens. It is therefore imperative that there be a federal-provincial dialogue to ensure that Canadian citizens are well served in the official language of their choice and that programs and services be developed in both official languages.
Currently, $22 million has been allocated to this envelope at the national level. Of that amount, $650,000 is going to the Government of Alberta, which represents barely 3% of the agreement. This is utterly inadequate for the purpose of providing good service to Alberta's francophone population in the fields that are to be developed.
Lastly, if we sincerely want to support the official language minority communities and contribute to the development of direct programs and services for citizens, there must be a massive investment in the central point of the Roadmap, which is support for official-language minority communities. We have French-language schools, welcome and settlement centres, employment agencies and other services in French in Alberta because francophone community agencies detected the needs and subsequently mobilized the resources, raised awareness and marketed those services.
Consequently, we recommend that support for official-language minority communities, which currently represents only 2% of the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality, be increased.