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Evidence of meeting #42 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 languages.

A recording is available from Parliament.

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Graham Fraser  Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Ghislaine Charlebois  Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Lise Cloutier  Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

May 10th, 2012 / 9:45 a.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Taking that a step further, the NDP just recently tabled a bill that would require at least the senior agents of appointees of the government to be proficient in both official languages. I'm new to this committee, but it seems to me there is a sense of separating again that culture from the actual practice of official languages. Although an individual—a unilingual anglophone or francophone—might be proficient in their tasks, when you bring in the cultural aspect, the sense of representation of both cultures in the leadership of any department is something that is lacking when a person is effectively unilingual francophone or anglophone. What would you say about that aspect of the importance of having a bilingual Auditor General?

9:45 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

There are two things. One is that our interpretation of article 24 (3) the Official Languages Act, which lists the offices of the agents of Parliament, is that the titular head of that organization is so much a personal representation of that role that the obligations apply to the individual. That's a rather technical answer.

One of the things we have done during my mandate is to spend quite a bit of time looking at and promoting language skill as a leadership competency. That, I think, speaks to the culture of the workplace, if I could say so. Public servants have language obligations on the one hand to serve the public, but on the other hand to manage people who have a right to work in the language of their choice. It is very difficult to feel that your work is valued or that it is being properly considered or that you have a true voice in an organization if your manager doesn't understand you.

In fact, that element of leadership is inherent in the way the Public Service Commission does language evaluations. To get your C level in oral interaction, I was told, they are looking for somebody who can explain something in detail, persuade colleagues, a minister, or employees of something, and give advice. Those actually aren't language criteria; they are leadership criteria. So it is difficult, you would say, to separate language and culture. I would say in the context of the workplace it is difficult to separate language mastery and leadership skill, which I think speaks to the same point but in a different environment.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you very much, Mr. Fraser.

We will take a brief health break.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

We'll resume the 42nd meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

Mr. Gourde, you have the floor for five minutes.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to go back to the question from my colleague opposite concerning the skills of officers of the House of Commons at the time of their appointment. Could a longer or better planned appointment process solve certain problems? In the case of an auditor general, for example, the position requires specific skills that are acquired over the years through training and work experience. Sooner or later, we wind up with a limited number of Canadians who can take up those positions.

In the case of positions with 10-year terms, if the person were appointed 1 year before actually taking up the position, that person would have the time to acquire the necessary language skills or to improve his or her skills. We know that four months of immersion considerably improves people's language skills, when they can devote all their time to it. In the recruitment process, could we allow for a longer period of time between the moment a person is appointed and when that person actually takes on the new role? That might let the individual get organized, relocate and acquire those skills.

9:55 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

That's a very interesting idea. I'm thinking of another possibility. Over the long term, the universities and professional associations should view proficiency in both official languages as an important skill. Judges have had access to a very sophisticated language training system for quite some time now. Some judges have taken advantage of it. A few members of the Supreme Court have taken those courses during their career to become bilingual.

It is important to realize that the learning of both official languages should be valued in Canadian society. When people attend university or start their professional lives, they must have access to language training tailored to their careers.

However, I must say your idea is also an interesting one to explore.

10 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you.

I'll hand the floor over to my colleague.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Mr. Williamson, you have the floor.

10 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

I'd ask you to come back to me, Mr. Chair.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Mr. Trottier, would you have any questions?

10 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Yes. I would like to go back to the roadmap question because it has been a concern of ours for a very long time. I would like to address the issue from the standpoint of the return on our investments in official languages. You may not be in a position to give your opinion on this, but you might be able to help us all the same.

It's always a matter of priorities when it comes to determining fields in which we can invest, whether it be early childhood, primary education, post-secondary education, health or economic development. In your opinion, what should the future roadmap priorities be for supporting official languages in Canada?

10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

As I had started to tell you, the government's analytical criteria should be the vitality and visibility of the communities, as well as the learning opportunities of the members of the majority communities. That would make it easier to evaluate priorities, to determine whether the investment will increase a community's vitality or profile, access to learning and opportunities for members of the majority to get to know the other community, the other official language. If we undertake the evaluation bearing these principles in mind, it may be possible to better establish a list of priorities.

I don't have the means or the skills to say whether something works or not. We can do it in a limited way. We have previously tried to determine, for accountability purposes, what evaluation resources the federal institutions have at their disposal when they send money to the provinces or other institutions. These are major principles that should be used to assess priorities properly.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Dionne Labelle, you have the floor.

10 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Good morning to you, Mr. Fraser, and to your entire team. Thank you for being here.

We haven't heard you comment on the budget, particularly the cutbacks in the various institutions that are of major importance to the linguistic communities. I'm thinking, in particular, of Radio-Canada, where 650 positions will be cut over three years, 256 on the anglophone side and 243 on the francophone side. We feel, on this side in any case, that the number of francophones is quite high given their demographic weight.

I am also thinking of the budget cuts at the NFB, which has historically helped extend the outreach of the francophone community, of the French fact, in Canada and around the world. There are also cuts at Destination Canada, which is an essential tool to encourage immigrants from various countries to settle in official language minority communities. Aren't you concerned by those cuts?

10:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Let me answer this way. I have always been concerned by CBC/Radio-Canada's role in the minority communities and by the harmful impact that service cuts can have on the communities. I take that so seriously that I am taking CBC/Radio-Canada back to court over the way it has cut service in the Windsor area. I acknowledge that it will be a hollow victory if we win in court. CBC/Radio-Canada's budget has been cut so deeply that it is unable to maintain adequate service for the official language minority communities or the majority communities. Am I concerned? Yes, I am.

I have another, more general concern. I see there have been cuts in the audiovisual field, which I believe is a future-oriented field. Those institutions are being transformed. Change is necessary for any business in the audiovisual industry, but—

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

There's the whole digital question too.

10:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Yes, when I use the word "audiovisual", I mean all dissemination methods. I am not limiting myself to broadcasting; I also include digital.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

I would like to hear you comment on one aspect of the cost-cutting process. Under subsection 43(2) of part VII of the Official Languages Act, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages must, in principle, conduct consultations when he redirects or amends programs to determine what impact that will have on the official language communities.

Do you think those consultations were conducted in advance, before the cuts were imposed on Radio-Canada? What do you know about that?

10:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

That's hard to know. The budget process is not a process involving the same kind of consultation. Some budgetary consultations are conducted, but many issues are concealed by budget secrecy. I try to keep telling the federal institutions that the statutory obligations have not changed, that every federal institution has obligations under part VII of the Official Languages Act and that it must ensure it conducts consultations, but it must also take measures to reduce the harmful impact of program changes, funding reductions or cuts. So I am not in a position to tell you about the nature of the consultations. I know that some institutions are conducting them. I am afraid that others are not thinking about it. Some institutions still believe that part VII of the Official Languages Act does not apply to them. This is a message I am still sending them.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Dionne Labelle.

Mr. Williamson, it's your turn.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Now I'm ready.

You spoke a little about the Royal Military College of Canada. That didn't just have an impact for a few months or years; it lasted a long time. Can you tell us about that? I would like to know this story a little better. Here I have a chance to hear you talk about this issue. It has been about 17 years now. I remember the news in the paper, but perhaps you can tell us more about it.

10:10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

It happened following the 1995 budget, when substantial cuts were made. In a spirit of fairness, the government decided to shut down the Royal Roads Military College and the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean.

However, the closing of the Collège militaire has had a long-term impact because the college played a special role. First of all, the student officers at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston often spent a year or a semester in Saint-Jean taking French courses. Closing down Saint-Jean had an effect on the francophone recruitment effort and on the long-term linguistic capacity of the Canadian Forces, since the officers emerging from Kingston did not have the same learning opportunities as the senior officers.

In the early 1990s, a number of books claimed that the Canadian Forces had really turned a corner on bilingualism, that there had been some achievements and that they were on the right track. The closing of the college was a setback. It was harder for the Canadian Forces. Several generations of officers have not had the same learning opportunities as those who received their entire training at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean or who spent a year or a semester there.

That wasn't intentional. There was no intention to reduce the linguistic capacity of the Canadian Forces. The decision was made in good faith, in a spirit of fairness. In fact, if cuts were made in Victoria, they should also be made in Saint-Jean. However, there has been a considerable long-term effect and we still see it today.

When Mr. O'Connor was minister of National Defence, he decided to restore the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, but to make it a CEGEP. They intended to restore Saint-Jean and make it a university, but they haven't reached that point yet.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Do you believe that the two official languages are well served in the Canadian Forces?

10:10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I have a great deal of esteem for the approach of General Natynczyk, the current Chief of Defence Staff. He has been very clear about senior officers' obligation to be bilingual. However, we are still receiving complaints. We audited the training of military personnel across the country, particularly in the trades, and there are still major challenges.

I just received quite a moving letter from the father of an officer. One of the members of his unit died in Afghanistan. The soldiers wrote a piece in memory of that soldier. According to tradition, a chaplain reads that kind of text. The chaplain was a unilingual anglophone. Consequently, rather than a tribute to the soldier, they were treated to quite an embarrassing event.

That said, I must say that we have received no official complaints from francophone members who have served in Afghanistan. That is partly due to the fact that the infrastructure of the Royal 22nd Regiment based in Valcartier is shipping out to Afghanistan. These people were in Afghanistan to support them.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Godin, go ahead, please.