This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Commissioner, I suggest that you not wait in this situation of austerity and that you be as proactive as possible in order to secure the funding necessary for what you need to do since what you do is very important.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

All right, thank you.

Mr. Weston, it's your turn.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

If there is a clash on a darkling plain between two adversaries that keeps coming up in this review, whether they're real adversaries or only illusory ones, it's between the need to lower government expenditures on the one hand, and the need to make our cultural and linguistic duality flourish on the other.

My colleague, John Williamson,

has done a lot of good work to reduce waste in government funding. However, we've only talked about waste.

We have to also make difficult decisions to reduce government costs, as Mr. Williamson would say, even where it's not waste. Costs still have to be reduced in order to get money into the hands of Canadians as opposed to the hands of bureaucrats, one would say.

So can you help us? Can you point us to areas where the two are not in conflict? Can you help us by suggesting how the young gentleman who is here in the corner, the little fellow, will grow up in a country where there is a flourishing linguistic duality at the same time as we reduce our government costs?

Can you say, for instance, that the growth of immersion schools in British Columbia, which is motivated as much by the private sector and the individual desire to know both languages as it is by government investment, where the two are not in conflict, where they in fact enforce one another...?

10:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Let me identify one area where I think there is money being spent that is not achieving the objectives for which those funds were originally intended. That is the bilingualism bonus for public servants in bilingual positions. This was introduced 35 years ago, in the early 1970s, and at that point it was a fairly substantial amount of money, an $800 bonus to act as an incentive for public servants to get their language levels and move to bilingual positions. There is a general recognition and agreement with successive commissioners of official languages, who have said that this was not an effective way of encouraging the use of both languages and that it was discriminatory because it was not given to many bilingual public servants because they were not in jobs designated as bilingual positions.

There has been an implicit recognition that this is not an effective program because the bonus has not been increased since the early 1970s and $800 in 2012 is not an incentive the way it was in 1972 or 1974 when this was introduced. The program costs a total now of some $60 million. If that $60 million were redirected to language training or to various other programs, it would be a much more effective promotion of linguistic duality.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

That's a really helpful response.

Can we see any other examples in the private sector in which individuals want to learn a second language, with or without government support, and in which the government's contribution is reduced whereas linguistic duality is increasing in vitality?

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Weston.

Mr. Fraser, you may answer briefly.

10:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

One of the chapters in the annual report, which is scheduled for release in October, will address the experience of certain private businesses. There we will talk about what has been done about linguistic duality in specific businesses.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Godin, it's your turn.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Fraser, earlier there was talk about funding for your office. I would like to know when you made your submission to the Treasury Board.

10:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I believe it was three years ago. I'll put the question to Ms. Cloutier, who, in a way, is in charge of this.

March 15th, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.

Lise Cloutier Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

We've had a signed submission since July 2011. We are waiting for a decision on the matter.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

You made a submission in July 2011, but you have received no response regarding the funding you need to discharge your official language responsibilities. Is that correct?

10:15 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

As I said—

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Fraser, I don't want a political answer. In July 2011, you submitted to the Conservative government a request that is important for the country's minority communities. You said at the outset that you understood budget cuts would be made in the current circumstances, but can we afford more cuts within the minority communities that are subject to violations? You receive complaints concerning violations virtually every day.

We are talking about conducting a study on the 150th anniversary in 2017. However, since the 2002 election, the roadmap has been all we talk about. Despite that, our communities are subject to numerous violations. To top it all off, the Conservative government has not yet told you what is happening with your funding. Your computer system is obsolete. You say you understand that there may be more cuts. I don't want to be nasty with you, Mr. Fraser, but where else do you want cuts to be made?

10:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I have previously designated a sector where I think funding is not allocated effectively. I'm talking about bilingualism bonuses. Like my predecessors, I believe they do not achieve the desired objective.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Fraser, section 43 in part VII of the Official Languages Act states:

(d) encourage and assist provincial governments to support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities generally and, in particular, to offer provincial and municipal services in both English and French and to provide opportunities for members of English or French linguistic minority communities to be educated in their own language;

The government is responsible for transferring funding to the provinces. You say that it is not part of your mandate to verify whether the money goes to the right place. You also said that officials and ministers had said they used that funding for other purposes.

What are our commissioner's powers? If you are unable to investigate in the province, you could at least do so in the departments in order to see whether there is any accountability.

10:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I'm trying to follow that as closely as possible. I'm conducting investigations and audits in the federal institutions to determine how they are discharging their obligations under the Official Languages Act.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Fraser, even the Office of the Auditor General has had cuts and been unable to conduct certain investigations. Now it's difficult even for your office to do it. Is that true?

10:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

It has to be said that we are experiencing an annual negative growth because we absorb a number of costs. For example, wage increases negotiated by the government are absorbed by each institution. So we are undergoing cuts on an annual basis.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Fraser, if there are further budget cuts, you won't be able to discharge your responsibilities as an officer of Parliament.

10:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

And that's why we made that submission to the Treasury Board. We want to modernize, update and protect the integrity of our technological system.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I believe you favour one group of individuals. Do you favour one? Are you asking the Treasury Board president to put an end to that, with the Speaker of the House? Are you asking to have the control group put in place so that you can speak out?

10:20 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Absolutely.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Do you think there is an urgent need for that to be done?