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Evidence of meeting #32 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 roadmap.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Graham Fraser  Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Sylvain Giguère  Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Lise Cloutier  Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

That's a somewhat awkward way of operating, but if it's the only way to get information to determine whether the decisions of the Parliament of Canada are actually being complied with, we'll do it.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Bélanger.

Mr. Williamson, it's your turn.

March 15th, 2012 / 9:20 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, Mr. Fraser. We have not yet had the opportunity to speak outside this room, but I believe we will be able to do so within two weeks. I can't wait.

9:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Yes, we both have quite heavy schedules.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Yes, that sometimes happens in Ottawa.

To begin with, I am grateful to you for being aware of the budgetary situation here in Ottawa. I believe that the requests you have submitted are quite reasonable. Thank you for that.

In committee, here and elsewhere, witnesses often tell us that we must not touch their programs. I believe you are aware that changes are taking place. I would like to ask you a few questions. I will keep going until the chair cuts me off.

Are there any programs for which you think resources have not been properly used or spent, and what changes would you make to those programs? I'm talking about the roadmap.

9:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

In fact, I heard about situations where it was determined that amounts were not spent by reading the transcript of remarks by witnesses who appeared here—but whom I cannot name. I can't repeat those remarks. However, all the elements of the roadmap that we are considering were established for good reasons, but it is becoming quite difficult to evaluate the results.

Our staff has gone over the reports on plans and priorities and the departmental performance reports. All we can say is that funding has indeed been determined. In some cases, there is no mention, while in others there is information to the effect that such and such an amount has been spent. Whatever the case may be, this is not a sufficiently specific instrument to conduct the evaluation you are requesting.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you.

Are there any aspects of the present roadmap that you would like to see allocated or done differently after 2013?

9:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

As I emphasized earlier, I believe that some elements should not be subject to renewal every five years, but should instead be included permanently in departmental budgets. The questions arising about the relevance of emphasizing certain programs, like the evaluation you are conducting here today, may be somewhat existential in nature, but that nevertheless adds a certain amount of instability, uncertainty. I believe that cancelling a number of roadmap programs would be disastrous. In this kind of evaluation, we could determine whether those programs should be permanent, whether they should be included in the permanent budgets of a department.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Very well.

Mr. Chair, how much time do I have left?

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

You have three minutes left.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

I would like to compare the period from 2003 to 2008 with that from 2008 to 2013, which has been the subject of some changes. Have those changes been positive? Should some aspects of the previous program that were not included in the present program be part of that program?

9:25 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I believe that adding the cultural component to the roadmap was very important. That component was not part of the 2003-2008 action plan. That is more or less the reason why the $750-million action plan was transformed into a $1.1-billion roadmap.

However, the target established in 2003 of doubling the number of bilingual high school graduates was dropped. Some specific objectives concerning increases in the number of rights holders attending French-language schools or, in the case of Quebec, English-language schools, were also abandoned, I believe.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Would you say that the target of doubling the number of bilingual graduates was abandoned because it was too hard to achieve?

9:25 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I wouldn't be able to tell you the reasons why it was dropped. Like you, I can speculate about those reasons. That target was not reached in the first five years. However, I can't tell you exactly why it was abandoned.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

You mentioned that it's important to give Canadians information, somewhat as is done for the economic action plan. If we have a fixed budget for the roadmap and official languages, it seems to me it makes more sense to direct it to the communities and programs rather than to signage, radio and television.

Do you agree with me on that point?

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Williamson.

Mr. Fraser, you may answer briefly.

9:25 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I've made that comparison partly because I'm very much aware of the lack of visibility of federal funding allocated to education programs. Some members of Parliament often don't know that federal funding is allocated to schools in their ridings.

On the one hand, it is very difficult for me to know exactly how funding has been spent. On the other hand, every time a federal dollar was spent under an economic program, you couldn't drive two blocks without knowing that money was being spent. So there is a contrast between the invisible nature of education spending and the high profile of economic spending.

I'm not necessarily saying that the one is good and the other bad. However, when you talk about invisibility and transparency, I believe there is a happy medium where people are more aware of how federal funding is spent.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Gourde now has the floor.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to the witnesses for being here, especially Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Fraser, I'm going to draw on your vast experience and your vision of Canada's linguistic duality. Some events in the history of our country have marked the history of linguistic duality. I am thinking of Expo 67, the Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver Olympics, as well as Canada Day, July 1st of every year, when Canadian Heritage organizes major celebrations promoting linguistic duality.

Mr. Fraser, in five years, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Canadian Heritage is currently conducting a study to see how those celebrations could be organized.

Do you think this committee could also conduct a study to determine how to include linguistic duality in that event? How could we include ourselves in those festivities? The celebrations for Canada's 150th anniversary could be a springboard. They will no doubt become a global showcase. How could we be a part of it?

9:30 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I believe that 2017 will be a very important year for the country. Like the member, I have always thought this kind of celebration could be a very important way for the Canadian population to understand its past and present and to trace out its future.

I visited Expo 67 and I often thought that the very positive experience of linguistic duality at that event created an atmosphere that was conducive to the introduction and passage of the Official Languages Act, with the support of all political parties. We saw official bilingualism in action, if you will, at all the Canadian facilities on Île Sainte-Hélène during Expo 67.

I therefore think it is very important for linguistic duality to be part of the conception, planning and implementation of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary in 2017.

By comparison, the studies on preparations for the Olympics started roughly five years before I even arrived in 2006. Our engagement was quite significant, and we have learned some lessons from that. We have produced a guide for major sporting events. That guide is being used by the organizers of the 2015 Pan-American Games, as well as the Canada Games in Sherbrooke.

I believe it is possible to ensure that linguistic duality is central, in the same way, to planning for the 2017 celebrations.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

I believe we've played a trick on you, Mr. Fraser, by virtually betraying your age, since you may be one of the only ones here who attended Expo 67.

If our committee decided to conduct a study to support or supplement other studies on linguistic duality, what top organizations should we include or which people should we invite whose experience might help us?

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Gourde.

You may answer, Mr. Fraser.

9:35 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Canada has acquired considerable experience at international exhibitions. Canadian Heritage has often spearheaded those exhibitions and appointed commissioners general for the occasion. I believe we have practical experience and the necessary expertise to present the face of Canada internationally.

The people who organized the millennium celebrations also acquired experience. So it is very important to go after people at the City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission because I believe Ottawa should play a prominent role in the celebrations.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Gourde and Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Aubin, it's your turn.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, Mr. Fraser. Good morning to your entire team, and thank you for being here. Thank you in advance for your clarifications on the evaluation of the roadmap. That moreover will be the topic of my first question.

We have heard from representatives of various organizations in recent months, and I have tried on numerous occasions to get a clear idea of the methodology for evaluating the roadmap to determine whether it should be extended. As you mentioned in your presentation, you very much want to see the roadmap extended.

However, there does not appear to be any common evaluation methodology at any of the institutions concerned by the roadmap. It's a bit Kafkaesque to say the least. A number of observations have emerged from all the interviews I've listened to. I will mention a few of them, and I would like to hear your reaction to that.

Among other things, it seems to me it would be necessary to put in place a clearly established consultation process that is common to all departments concerned.

In addition, representatives seemed to consider it appropriate for the evaluation to be conducted on an ongoing basis. They didn't want us to wait until the end to request a success story or an example of a failure or to conduct the evaluation at that time. They also wanted the consultations to be better coordinated.

Do you have any comments or criticisms on those recommendations, which I feel have emerged from our consultations?