Mr. Chair, members, my name is Jules Custodio, and I am President of the Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador. With me is Gaël Corbineau, Director General. First we would like to thank you for your invitation to appear and thus for giving our community the chance to speak about the roadmap.
Since 1973, the Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador has worked for the advancement, vitality and recognition of the francophone and Acadian communities of our province. The federation now has six members; three represent the main francophone regions of the province and the other three are provincial organizations operating in early childhood development, youth and the economy.
Our communities, which have been in existence for more than 500 years, are now mainly scattered across three regions, separated from one another by distances of 800 kilometres to 2,100 kilometres. As you will guess, geographic isolation is a major obstacle for us.
According to the 2006 census, our community represents 0.4% of the provincial population. Another 25,000 people or so are able to speak French. In 2009, with the support of Canadian Heritage, we established an overall development plan for 2009-2014, which sets out the priority areas for action and objectives for our community corresponding to the areas outlined in the roadmap 2008-2013.
Now let's consider the impact of the 2008-2013 roadmap on our communities. The interdepartmental approach of the current roadmap has facilitated our development in all priority areas by emphasizing the responsibility of all federal departments in the development of our communities. Since 2008, the roadmap has had numerous positive effects on the everyday lives of our communities.
First, there are early childhood services. By supporting continuity of offer, the roadmap has promoted sharp growth in this area, to the point where the challenge for us is now to respond to the demand and thus to limit the assimilation of our youngest children. For example, the francophone child care centre in St. John's has space for 14 children, but has an average of 30 on its waiting list. All these children are at great risk of being assimilated because they cannot be accommodated in a francophone environment.
Second, we have community infrastructure. In recent years, our community has benefited from extensive new infrastructure that is important for our development, including a new building for the Boréale French-language school in Goose Bay, the creation of community websites to facilitate communication about activities and services in the community, and the establishment of our provincial community radio station. These investments are essential to maintaining and developing our communities and make it possible to offer citizens even more activities.
We have also created a francophone immigration network. As we carry little demographic weight, and the community wishes to maintain and even increase it, we have established a francophone immigration network. Our results are improving from year to year. We assist newcomers, the community and employers whose demands are growing in proportion to our province's positive economic situation.
There is also funding for a French-language services office. Through the roadmap, our provincial government is funding the Bureau des services en français, which provides invaluable assistance to our organizations by guiding them through the processes of the provincial government. We regret that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has yet to implement a policy on French-language services. We nevertheless see that the awareness work done by the Bureau des services en français with provincial officials has been productive, given the regular increase in the offer of services and the supply of information in French.
Now I'm going to present our findings and recommendations by addressing the lack of transparency regarding funding allocated under the roadmap. We have unfortunately observed that it is very difficult to determine with any accuracy the amount of funding that is being spent in our province under the roadmap and how it is being used. Furthermore, uncertainty prevails with regard to the way in which funding that goes through the provincial government is used.
We believe it would be beneficial for the federal government and the minority language communities for a policy of complete transparency to be adopted with regard to the monitoring of funding under the roadmap. This would make federal government action much clearer for citizens by providing information on amounts actually spent in their communities rather than on significant national amounts that very often are unclear in people's minds.
With regard to the cultural sector and program funding, of all the fields on which the communities are working, the cultural sector is suffering terribly from a lack of funding, whereas it is a priority under our overall development plan. Since culture is essential to the preservation of our cultural identity, the need in such a small community as ours is proportionately more glaring. Although we have done everything to increase and diversify our network's revenues in recent years, we unfortunately see that it will be impossible for it to be financially self-sufficient if it has to rely solely on project funding. Consequently, we would like future roadmaps to provide for operating budgets for the cultural networks so that they can meet these challenges and provide our citizens with the service they are entitled to expect.
With regard to the multi-year nature of contribution agreements, we are delighted that multi-year contribution agreements are increasingly being signed, but that is not always the case. This is a factor in the instability and vulnerability of our organizations, particularly because it is difficult to retain our staff in these kinds of situations. We therefore hope that a three-year term becomes the general rule for all contribution agreements signed between the community organizations and the federal departments and that a commitment is made to ensure that the process for renewing those agreements is completed no later than three months before they expire.
As for early childhood development, Mr. Chair, we believe that it is fundamentally important that it remain an urgent priority of the future roadmap and that efforts be increased to reduce assimilation by promoting the retention of children in the French-language system.
In conclusion, in these times of budgetary restrictions, we note the disastrous effects that cutbacks to the already tight budgets of the community organizations would have, and we unreservedly recommend that the roadmap be renewed and improved, as that is essential to the vitality and dynamism of our communities and to Canada's bilingualism.
Mr. Chair, members, on behalf of all the francophones of Newfoundland and Labrador, we thank you for your attention.
I feel as though this is a race against the clock.