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Evidence of meeting #40 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 consultations.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Hubert Lussier  Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship and Heritage Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage
Daniel Jean  Deputy Minister, Department of Canadian Heritage

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Valcourt said it would probably be lower.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

We have not made a decision yet. That is why we are consulting.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Minister, communities do not have much leeway. They are unable to achieve economies of scale specifically because they are minorities. So we really must try to protect them. Requests for funding would be higher rather than lower, and that is understandable. Let me remind you of the difficulties they face. For you to announce to them ahead of time that the funding will probably be lower, is a staggering blow for them.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Things are not that simple. One does not necessarily obtain better results by spending more money.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

I agree with you. That is not what I am saying. If you already announced, even before you completed your evaluations, that the budget envelope will be smaller, that's not the best way to engage communities.

You've said that there haven't been any cutbacks so far. However, on May 1, Ms. Kenny told us that this initiative, Destination Canada, and I quote, “which allows us to recruit people and promote francophone communities“, was cut. It was an initiative contained in the Roadmap, and $600,000 was cut from this initiative.”

Under this program, for example, people would go to Paris to take part in a fair with the purpose of potentially attracting French-speaking immigrants to Saskatchewan and to Manitoba, and not only to Quebec. So this program is very important for communities.

Was $600,000 really cut from a program which was not very expensive to begin with, and which was essential to recruit new immigrants to Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, as well as elsewhere in Canada outside Quebec?

9 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

As far as I understand, it was eliminated. It did not affect services or commitments to new Canadians, but it was funding for those fora.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

You are confirming that it was eliminated.

9 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Yes, it was $600,000 for that type of event. It did not affect services for new Canadians, nor commitments made to them. In our view, our commitments are essential. As you know, Mr. Dion, as far as obstacles for new Canadians are concerned, we often talk about this issue in Canada.

As you know, when we first came into government, we talked a lot about—your government talked a lot about it, and our government also talked a lot about it, but invested—the idea that new Canadians can't have their credentials fully recognized, that new Canadians have barriers to entrance into the workforce, and that new Canadians are not able to fully realize their potential in Canadian society. There are barriers to that.

The greatest barrier for new Canadians to having full integration and full participation in Canadian society—by far the biggest barrier—is language. That's why we've invested more money than ever before in immigration services in both official languages

so that new Canadians are able to fully integrate into Canadian society. That's why we did it.

In fact, we cut $600,000 out of a total of $1.1 billion. This cut affects fairs and not services. The amount of money we have reinvested to protect the rights of new Canadians is unprecedented.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

I appreciate the fact that something else is being done. However, it is unfortunate that the francophone community of Saint-Boniface in Manitoba, for instance, will lose the opportunity to become more well-known at that fair, which ultimately did not cost the government much money, but which nevertheless played an important role for that community. Especially since I've been told that the program yielded good results. The fair attracted immigrants who otherwise would not have come and who otherwise would have chosen to settle in Quebec. These immigrants discovered that they could work in a francophone community outside Quebec because it is what they learned at one of those fairs. In the interest of saving $600,000, people are being deprived of that tool. I agree that we have to fight the deficit, but it could have been done otherwise.

Have you conducted any evaluations? You should ask your colleague at Immigration whether there have been evaluations showing that the program was really not warranted.

9 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

I would like to point out two things in that regard. First, if you have any questions, you know that each minister is responsible for their portfolio. So if you want the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to appear before the committee to speak to these internal evaluations, and why they were undertaken, I am sure that Mr. Kenney would be available to do so.

Second, if what you are saying about what is happening on the ground is indeed true, then I am sure that...

9 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Go speak with him, if you like. You are the minister responsible for official languages. Speak to your colleague.

9 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Stéphane, I didn't interrupt you. I'm just making my point.

If this is true, we will hear about it at the consultations you did not hold when you were minister.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Dion.

Mr. Trottier, you have the floor.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Thank you Chair.

Thank you Minister, for being with us this morning. I thank you for being available and especially for your commitment on this file.

As you were saying earlier, $1.1 billion over five years is a lot of money. I should add that this is funding that has been added to funds that the government has already spent.

In your comments, you mentioned that we had to ensure that programs were performing well. How would you describe their performance? How can we ensure that these investments are having an impact on linguistic communities in the country?

9 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

The current evaluations are a bit complex. For example, to evaluate an improvement in service points for the communities, we evaluate whether or not Canadians are satisfied with them.

Elsewhere, it is however much more subjective than that. For example, in arts and culture, we have committed $14 million over five years. Over and above this funding, there are also commitments from museums in the country, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canada Media Fund, for which we have allocated money for creation in official languages.

In that respect, we have invested in culture, but is it succeeding? That is a complex issue. As the minister responsible for culture, let me tell you that it is no simple thing to establish the value of things. Furthermore, I can certainly tell you that committing to and investing in culture is a key element for culture and languages to be protected in Canada's various regions.

Let me turn to Mr. Lussier. He may be able to tell us how we arrived at these numbers and how we plan to continue forward over the next few stages. He may also be able to comment on how we determined what has worked well and what was a little more challenging.

9:05 a.m.

Hubert Lussier Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship and Heritage Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

As the minister said, the fundamental reason for which we invest in the future is that it has been demonstrated that particularly among youth, and we have singled out youth, contact and cultural practices in French are a determining factor for one's commitment to one's community, learning French and the ease with which one learns and remains in school. Fourteen million dollars means approximately $3.5 million per year over the last four years. That has allowed for many, many wonderful projects. We hope to be able to measure whether that had any more effect than fireworks on the ground. This is something an evaluation should be able to provide as a result.

We may be able to do certain things better. There are durable effects we can measure and use to plan the future. However, there may also be some projects that were less successful simply because they were a bit tentative and more short-term.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Thank you.

Given these rather subjective measures, how do you plan to improve programs and service delivery to better support official language communities?

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

The next evaluations on what we have done up until now will guide us when we want to make improvements. Before I ask Hubert to go into greater detail, I would like to point out that what is important is that we have figures. Not only do these evaluations help us decide on the next steps and improve things, but they also are important to taxpayers so that they realize that these investments have value.

In addition, these are tools that will enable you to debate the issue. For example, I know that the Fraser Institute has produced a report. I used to work for the Fraser Institute, but when it comes to official languages, they have everything wrong. Their statements are not accurate. These details and evaluations are essential tools that enable us to have such a debate. We want to have the facts for the next five years so that we can continue promoting official languages. Hubert, do you wish to add anything?

9:05 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship and Heritage Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

Hubert Lussier

I would only add one thing, Minister. We did want to underscore something else through the cultural programs. I am referring to youth and potential contact between this group and young people who are learning French as a second language or who are learning English in Quebec. For a very long time, we focused exclusively on francophone culture and anglophone culture in the communities. We now know, however, that many groups are prepared to open up and enable those learning the second language to have access to these cultural products as well. This is something that we would like to be able to measure.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Thank you.

We are thinking about the next version of the Roadmap. We are wondering what criteria are required to establish these priorities. This is very important for a government as it must really set priorities. In your opinion, what criteria should we be using for all of these investments and official language community activities? What is important?

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

We have added a fifth component to the Roadmap. As a result of our consultations, Mr. Lord's report and the participation of members of Parliament, we feel that it is essential that we invest in arts and culture for the French language in the regions. This explains why we have added a fifth component. After reading the analyses, becoming aware of your participation, and after hearing from the public on the matter, it is possible to take various approaches, but we need to hold consultations so that we can listen to the needs on the ground, because things change and needs may differ, the next time, from what they were in 2008 when we established the current Roadmap.

This is very important, but we certainly want to invest more in services so that we can obtain some tangible successes in the area of frontline services for the communities.

As for new Canadians, our government feels that it is very important that they be able to be more engaged in our society on all fronts. We underscored this issue in the Speech from the Throne. This was a large part of our 2012 budget. The purpose of these measures is to help immigrants have better access to our society in every case. This is really essential for our future.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

All right, thank you.

Mr. Williamson, the floor is yours.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I always think that you are going to give the floor to someone on the other side, but I am always the one who follows Mr. Trottier.

Good morning, Minister.

Could you talk a bit about the consultations that will take place this summer? What are you looking for? Could you explain how they will be different from previous consultations that were undertaken either by your government or by another?

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Canada is the second-largest country in the world, but in population terms we're the 36th-largest country in the world. In order to actually get a proper scope and scale of the frustrations, needs, and hopes of official language communities across the country, you have to get out of Ottawa. You have to travel the country and you have to get around. There is a reason why members of Parliament have been afforded so many travel points for us to visit around the country. It's not just to shuttle to and from our districts, but it's also, in times like these when we have a summer break coming up, for ministers to travel the country and visit and find out from Canadians how things are going.

The benchmark timeframe of a year before the end of our road map is a perfect opportunity for me and others in our government to go around and to meet with people within the context and through the filter of official languages.

The previous road map was not entirely, but in good measure, based on the report that was given to our government and made public by Bernard Lord, former Premier of New Brunswick, and his consultation was in seven places in the country. What we're looking at here are at least 17 different places.

You'll notice as well in the list of cities mentioned in my opening statement that we'll be visiting all of Canada's provincial and territorial capitals, in large part because of the question that was asked earlier about education. Because we have these agreements with the provinces where we have transfer of funds agreements with all the provinces, the provinces are an essential component of the success of the road map, especially on the education side. So we'll be visiting there and we'll be visiting these communities.

As I found on the heritage side, the culture side of my portfolio, when you get out of the biggest cities of the country and you actually visit small suburban and rural communities and villages, you start to get a very different dynamic of the understanding of the pressures and needs and hopes and aspirations of official language minority communities.

The largest francophone community west of the Red River is Maillardville, which is in my community of Coquitlam, British Columbia, and they have very specific hopes. They've gone through incredible changes there, but their hope is that, for example, the Government of British Columbia continues to invest in Maillardville junior secondary as a francophone junior high school, and that they still have the same levels of investment and they can protect that francophone factor in Maillardville, which is really important.

That's very different from some of the concerns the QCGN has talked about, the concerns and frustrations and hopes that the anglophone minority communities have in the province of Quebec.

But you're not going to hear that if you just go to and from your riding, and stay in Ottawa. You have to go to those communities, listen to them, talk to them, and feel it in a first-person sense, because that absolutely contributes to one's better understanding of the way to go in the future.

May 3rd, 2012 / 9:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

I think it's good you're going on this consultation, and I understand the steps you had to take, both budgetary and because one thing has to follow another. It's also something that the opposition has cited time and again as more fearmongering to the witnesses who have appeared here. It's been said time and again that despite the news, no decision had yet been taken.

I come from a bilingual province, New Brunswick. I understand the importance, as you said, of targeting and ensuring we have programs that help where it's needed. In my neck of the woods in New Brunswick southwest there are very few francophones, but that doesn't mean it's not important. In the north obviously there are many more. In fact I hardly think of the francophone fact in New Brunswick as a minority. Having said that, there are still things we can do.

How do you think bilingualism generally is in this country? How has it progressed over the last number of years and decades? Are we on the right track, do you think? Where do you think we should be looking to go from here?