Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Dear colleagues, it's a real pleasure to be here today.
I'd like to introduce my team. I'm accompanied by Hubert Lussier, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Citizenship, Heritage and the Regions; and Jean-Pierre Gauthier, the Director-General for Official Languages.
First of all, I'd like to thank you for your invitation. This is our first meeting, and I'd like to commend you, Mr. Chair, on your leadership and your work here.
This committee carries out tasks and studies of great importance, not only to our life as a democracy, but also to the lives of Canadians who contribute every day, in English and in French, to our society.
Some of you may know that last Monday, I appeared before the Senate Committee on Official Languages, and I concluded my presentation by emphasizing the importance of collaboration. This is, in fact, a major element in the mandate letters that the Prime Minister sent to all the ministers, and that are, as you know, accessible to all Canadians.
I am therefore very happy to establish a collaborative working relationship with you. At the beginning of my mandate, I had the opportunity to quickly give access to all of my briefing books. I hope that the committee members had the opportunity to take a look at them. They are available online, on the Heritage Canada website.
As Minister, I want to contribute to the development of both French and English in all provinces and territories. I can count on my parliamentary secretary, Randy Boissonnault, a proud franco-Albertan, to support me in this area.
Since I took on this role, I've had some very interesting conversations with francophones and Acadians from Nova Scotia, Yukon, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario during my travels. I had the opportunity to meet with them during my visits to Whitehorse, Vancouver, Halifax, Calgary, and Toronto. I discovered talented and passionate people who are committed to the vitality of their community. They inspired me quite a bit.
Today, I would like to explain how I intend to fulfill my responsibilities in regard to our official languages.
I will ensure that the English and French languages are promoted in the activities and programs within my department that are dedicated to linguistic duality and to the development of official language minority communities.
Now, let's talk about the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
In March, I presented to Canadians the Government of Canada's vision for the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Naturally, this is a very important anniversary for our country. It will be a time to celebrate in our communities everything that makes our country rich and strong: our languages, our culture, our diversity, our openness, and our desire to build a bright future together.
We will be focusing these celebrations on four themes: youth, reconciliation with our aboriginal peoples, the environment, and, I wish to emphasize this, our diversity. The diversity that our Canadian society is known for, and which is based on, among other things, our two official languages.
My department is already ensuring that the celebrations will respect, and promote, our official languages. We want to see the contributions of official language minority communities presented in Canada 150 projects and celebrations.
We also want to see linguistic duality reflected in the activities related to the 150th anniversary, and I assure you that it will be. Therefore, our contribution agreements contain linguistic provisions that set out the requirements related to our official languages.
We will also send recipients of the Canada 150 Fund some useful information and a guide to holding a successful bilingual event. These documents have been produced by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages especially for promoters of Canada 150 projects. By sharing this information with them, we hope to equip them with appropriate skills, so that they will think of the two official languages when organizing and implementing their projects.
These projects include SESQUI, an interactive multimedia experience using digital technology, which will tour communities across the country. There is also Experiences Canada's "Canada 150 and Me" project, which will offer young Canadians inspiring cultural exchanges.
In 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation will be the ideal moment to promote and celebrate the linguistic duality of Canada.
Now, let us talk about my mandate letter.
The Prime Minister gave me several specific responsibilities in regard to our official languages, which are set out in my mandate letter. In particular, I will concentrate on developing a new multi-year official languages plan by 2018.
I'd like to focus on this last statement, since I like to talk about an action plan, a real game plan, instead of simply a roadmap. I intend to consult with Canadians on this subject very soon. It is important to always remember that official languages are a concern for more than just one department. It is a responsibility that is important to me and all of my fellow ministers.
The issues related to official languages touch all the federal institutions. To treat them seriously, we need to mobilize a great many federal departments and organizations, as such a plan allows us to do.
As we work towards a new plan, I will consult with Canadians on the best ways, in today's world, to develop promote the development of official languages in minority settings. During these consultations, I will have the opportunity to discuss key issues connected with the vitality of minority communities, such as immigration.
Minister John McCallum and I recently announced a new international mobility program stream, called the francophone significant benefit, which favours the settlement of francophone newcomers outside Quebec.
As set out in my mandate letter, I'll also supervise the establishment of a free online service for learning and maintaining proficiency in English and French as second languages. To make sure I'm well assisted in that task, I will have the opportunity of working in close collaboration with my parliamentary secretary on that project. Canadians from coast to coast to coast will benefit from this service.
With my colleague Scott Brison, the President of the Treasury Board, I will ensure that all federal services are delivered in full compliance with the Official Languages Act.
I'll also work with Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to provide new funding to first nations. Our goal will be to promote, preserve, and protect first nations' languages and cultures, which hold a central place in our heritage.
Finally, our government committed in budget 2016 to reinstate the court challenges program. I am working with Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould to update this program.
These goals are ambitious, and I'm enthusiastic about the idea of working with my colleagues to achieve them.
Before I conclude, I'd like to mention that the 2014-15 Canadian Heritage Annual Report on Official Languages is being prepared. I will be happy to discuss it with you soon.
However, I would like to highlight right now the accomplishments resulting from our support for official languages. For example, there are French-language schools everywhere in the country. Enrolment in immersion schools has increased by 39% in 10 years. Our partnerships with the provinces and territories have enabled us, over more than 40 years, to support education in minority situations, learning of a second language, and service delivery in the minority language.
Our agreements with minority communities have made us efficient partners.
We can count on national institutions such as the Canada Council for the Arts, the National Arts Centre, the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada and CBC/Radio-Canada to promote Canadian anglophone and francophone artists, artisans, and creators.
We support the creation and distribution of works produced in minority settings through our funding programs for arts and culture. We also provide grant programs, language assistant programs, and linguistic exchange programs to help our young people speak both official languages.
Finally, we co-operate with the non-governmental sector to promote the use of our two official languages everywhere in Canada.
In conclusion, I want to remind you that our government is sincerely committed to promoting the vitality of minority language communities. I'm an ally and a staunch defender of official languages and the vitality of minority language communities.
We recognize that official languages present challenges. To meet them, collaboration will be essential. I intend to fulfill my mandate and to work with you in this spirit of collaboration.
Thank you for your invitation. I'm now ready to answer your questions.