Evidence of meeting #109 for Official Languages in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was action.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David Pajot  Associate Director, Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs, Simon Fraser University
Suzana Straus  Acting President, Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique
Marie-France Lapierre  Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique
Marc-André Ouellette  Vice-Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique
Yann Lacoste  President, Conseil jeunesse francophone de la Colombie-Britannique
Jean-François Packwood  Executive Director, Conseil culturel et artistique francophone de la Colombie-Britannique
Marie-Andrée Asselin  Executive Director, Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique
Jean Rioux  Saint-Jean, Lib.
Donald Cyr  Executive Director, Société de développement économique de la Colombie-Britannique
Glyn Lewis  Executive Director, Canadian Parents for French - British Columbia, & Yukon
Yvon Laberge  President, Educacentre College
Robert Rothon  Executive Director, Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique
Brian Conway  President and Medical Doctor, RésoSanté Colombie-Britannique

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

When the federal government wants to dispose of a piece of land that it owns, steps must be followed. First, provinces have to be asked if they want it. If a province says that it does not, they then have to ask the City of Vancouver if they want it. There is a pecking order than must be followed.

Are you suggesting that francophone communities should have priority for those lands? Do you believe that the francophone communities should be consulted first?

9:35 a.m.

Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

Marie-France Lapierre

Yes, exactly. Francophone school boards should be consulted. When the Official Languages Act of 1988 was passed, there were practically no francophone school boards compared to now. Our school board was founded in 1995; we did not even exist in 1988. We are not consulted. I can think of at least four pieces of federal land for which we were not considered. We would have saved millions of dollars if they had been offered to us.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

So, in your view, this is a basic priority in terms of modernizing the act.

9:35 a.m.

Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Do you have any other priorities, before we move on?

9:35 a.m.

Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

Marie-France Lapierre

Yes, we do.

There is the matter of the census. It is important for all our young people to be enumerated in the census. This is related to the issue of early childhood. Actually, there is now talk about subsidies for teachers in proportion to the number of francophone families. The reality is that most of our families are not francophone, they are exogamous. If you just count families in which both families are francophone, the number is much lower. So it is important to include all our rights holders in the census in order to help the fields of early childhood and education. It would allow finances to be better organized, whether for not-for-profit organizations or for us.

I also sit on the board of directors of the CCAFCB and we have to account for the money we receive to the penny. I find it inconceivable that the province is not required to do the same thing.

With the OLEP, we are required to specify what amount comes from the province, while the province provides us only with the base amount, with nothing additional, including for early childhood. We are told that the Ministry of Education provided an equivalent amount, but that is not the case. There must be additional investments. There has to be a framework, an accountability mechanism so that we can see how the funds are distributed. My colleagues raised this issue too. We have to know how the funds are going to be allocated.

Clearly, I support culture in the schools, but it is important for the school boards to be involved. It cannot just be the community organizations that come into the schools at SOGI time or something of the kind. It has to be part of the school board's vision.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Ms. Lapierre.

I am trying to manage the time in order to give each member six minutes for questions and answers together.

So now we move immediately to Darrell Samson.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you.

I am sure that others will have the opportunity to speak during the session.

I would first like to talk to the representatives of the Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique.

You raise an important point and I would like you to tell us more about it. Can you confirm to us whether Canadian Heritage has stopped its support for research and data collection, or is it continuing? All the witnesses today, representing francophone minority organizations, need precise data in order to lay out their arguments and enhance their rights. Can you give us some details on that?

9:40 a.m.

Executive Director, Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique

Marie-Andrée Asselin

Thank you for the opportunity to do so.

You are right, Canadian Heritage has no longer been funding statistical research on francophone communities for a number of years. The 2011 census was the last study for which it was done.

In the past, Canadian Heritage provided some funding to the Commission nationale des parents francophones. Using information provided by Statistics Canada and broken down by region and by sector, this was in order to study all the data on early childhood and rights holders. It helped us a lot, because it gave us numbers, albeit incomplete ones. Of course, we want all our rights holders to be enumerated. At least it previously gave us a good statistical picture of our communities. It provided us with arguments to present to the province when we were asking for a school in such and such a place, or a pre-school, or some activities and some health care services, for example.

September 26th, 2018 / 9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you. Yes, there seems to have been a change in priorities. We will have to look at that again, because that data is essential. Everyone around the table agrees on that.

Let me now turn to the representatives of the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique.

Of course, I’m very pleased to see you again. As you well know, I spent 11 years as a school board executive in Nova Scotia and I was able to experience some of the challenges with you from afar.

I want to start by congratulating you, because I think you are the most successful in Canada in moving this issue forward, ensuring that our rights are upheld and that we receive what we are entitled to, to a certain extent.

Some have pointed to the need for a language clause. I know we talked a little bit about early childhood. That being said, I think this language clause will be essential to the success of our discussions with each department to get what is rightfully ours.

Your other point about real estate is really unique. For 10 or 15 years, you've been looking for land in Vancouver for French-language schools, but there seems to be none. However, there is land for all kinds of other uses. In our report, we will have to insist on that point.

As Mr. Clarke mentioned earlier, when the federal government is about to sell some of its land, consultations should automatically be held on the distribution of the land and the francophone minority should be taken into account in the negotiations to ensure that it gets its fair share. It is inconceivable that you would not be consulted when those lands are being sold. After all, if the province or municipality does not give its fair share to the francophone minority, it is up to the federal government to do so, since its role is to ensure the development and vitality of the communities and school boards.

Thank you very much for your significant efforts, which will allow the committee to write its report.

You also raised the issue of the data from Statistics Canada and the enumeration of rights holders under paragraph 23(1)(b) and subsection 23(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Can you elaborate on that?

9:40 a.m.

Vice-Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

Marc-André Ouellette

Thank you very much, Mr. Samson.

You know that the disposal of federal government lands is very important to us. As you said, in Vancouver, we've been looking for land for 15 years, without success. However, it was not for lack of trying. We have been asking the federal government for land since the 2000s. Everyone knows exactly what we need.

For example, when the federal government disposed of the Jericho lands, it ignored the request made by the francophone community through our school board. The same is true for the Heather Street lands. Negotiations are under way, but it has not been easy to get the government's attention.

This is ongoing, as Ms. Lapierre said earlier. I am thinking here of Royal Roads University in Victoria, where we are talking about 500 acres of land. It's not a small lot; it's huge. In 2016, the Department of National Defence announced that it was beginning the disposal process. Our hands went up right away, but we were not able to meet with departmental officials until August 28, 2018, almost two years later. Even then, it was not a formal consultation, but rather an opportunity to make contact and express our interest.

To answer Mr. Clarke's question, here is the process. The federal government will offer its real property first to other federal departments, then to First Nations, before turning to provincial governments followed by municipal governments. School boards and the francophone community are therefore completely ignored.

There is actually a Treasury Board directive that asks federal departments to consider the needs of the francophone community. It's a fine intent, but it never happens. Mandatory measures are needed. This directive must be included in the Official Languages Act so that it becomes mandatory. That's very important to us.

9:45 a.m.

Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

Marie-France Lapierre

Despite the fact that everyone and every department received a reminder, we learned about the Royal Roads University land disposal project when Mr. Ouellette read it in the newspaper, not because people came to us to say that the school board had been forgotten.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much.

We'll now go to Mr. Choquette.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you all very much for being here today. We are pleased to be back in Vancouver to meet with you again, this time on the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018-2023: Investing in Our Future.

We finally made it to Whitehorse, Yukon. We are very happy because we learned a lot there. In terms of the review of the Official Languages Act, the witnesses also talked about the importance of having language provisions. This issue seems to be recurrent, very important and very urgent.

The other theme that the witnesses in the Yukon discussed was that good old action plan. We seem very happy to be able to say that there is finally an action plan and that we had a close call. Instead, Yukoners are wondering why this five-year action plan is not incorporated into the act. They say that, instead of rejoicing, we should be concerned about the fact that we have to pander to partisanship and political debate with each renewal, when the process should be ongoing.

How do you respond to this concern expressed by Yukon's francophone communities? Do you also think it is important to include the obligation to implement a five-year plan in the Official Languages Act?

9:45 a.m.

Executive Director, Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique

Marie-Andrée Asselin

Yes, it is very important.

That permanent entrenchment in the act will prevent us from always starting over and having to fight for an action plan.

We want the new wording to be very specific, and to mention the major issues facing francophone communities, such as the arts, education and early childhood. This would help us avoid what happened in the previous action plan for official languages, from which the early childhood issue had been completely removed.

We really want a permanent framework that will ensure that an action plan exists and that it is improved. The needs of francophone communities will actually continue to grow from one plan to the next.

Some very important issues such as early childhood will have to be included in the act if they are to be effectively addressed. It should not be possible for a government to simply eliminate the issues that are important for francophone communities.

9:50 a.m.

Executive Director, Conseil culturel et artistique francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

Jean-François Packwood

I will answer this question with a quick and simple analogy. The Department of Canadian Heritage is asking francophone communities—and I believe anglophone communities too—from across the country to prepare an action plan, a comprehensive development plan, in accordance with the Canada-community agreements. In my opinion, it would be useful if the action plan included the same request, that developing an action plan be mandatory for the advancement of communities. Thank you.

9:50 a.m.

Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

Marie-France Lapierre

We fully agree that it should be included.

At the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, we are fortunate to be eligible for funding from the provincial government. However, many organizations have to survive on credit while waiting to receive their grants. This should therefore be taken into account. We give many examples in our brief. I will not go into details, but I invite you to consult paragraphs 38 and 46.

Negotiations would have to start more than a year in advance so that everything could be completed and ready in time for the next go-round. Our Official Languages in Education Program, or OLEP, ended last year, but we will have to hire teachers and people to implement our project. The government has told us to continue with the resources we have now, but we will not be able to prepare the next OLEP until we know how much money will be allocated to us and how much money will be needed.

I suspect all the organizations here have the same problem. It is difficult to make plans without knowing. It is not like a collective agreement, where we can move forward knowing that we will need employees. In this case, we are talking about the lives of people at all levels, in all organizations, including the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique. We can't plan because we don't have the information in advance. So if we truly believe in the survival of both official languages, we must enshrine this obligation in the act and we must do it in advance so that people can plan.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Clearly, the funding must be predictable and stable.

On September 14, 2018, just a few weeks ago, an article entitled “Les organismes francophones attendent encore le financement promis” was published in #ONfr, mentioning that: “core funding for community organizations has been delayed... But six months later, the 20% increase promised in May for this year has still not materialized in their bank accounts.”

From that statement, I understand that you have been waiting for the money since May. It is probably difficult for you to hire people or undertake new projects. If funding does not arrive immediately, unfortunately, your activities this year will probably be in jeopardy.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Mr. Choquette.

Mr. Arseneault, you have the floor.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you all for coming and sharing your knowledge and experience in the field. It will certainly help us a lot.

I'm not going to go back to Mr. Clarke's question. It was an excellent question that will help us prepare our recommendations for amendments to the Official Languages Act. I will read the brief carefully on my flight this evening or tomorrow.

I have a question for the representatives of the other organizations. If you have received legal opinions after consulting with lawyers on how the Official Languages Act could be amended to emancipate or promote the culture of official language minority communities, feel free to send them to the clerk of our committee, who will ensure that they are forwarded to us. It doesn't have to be today, it may be in a few months. This is important. The Official Languages Act will be amended in the near future or as soon as possible. Send us anything you think might be useful to us.

Ms. Lapierre or Mr. Ouellette, the last time we met on this committee, I understood from your comments that British Columbia was the only province with no service in any department to provide a little help to francophone minorities. I don't know whether I understood you correctly.

9:50 a.m.

Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

Marie-France Lapierre

We actually haven't reached an agreement, but there is the OLEP. We still have a minister responsible for francophone affairs. I wrote him a letter asking him whether he could help us with the OLEP. I was told that I should contact the Ministry of Education.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Here's the crux of the problem. There's the geographic situation. In Vancouver, the land is expensive. You want us to change the order of priority in the donation or sale of land by the federal government. Right now, the lands go first to federal departments, indigenous people and then to the provinces. The Ministry of Education falls under provincial jurisdiction. We are not talking about a school board per se. That's why I'm asking you about your relationship with the province. We know that school boards fall under provincial jurisdiction.

9:55 a.m.

Vice-Chair, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

Marc-André Ouellette

I would like to clarify one point. There is a francophone affairs office at the Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat. The people who work there seem to be mainly involved in providing translations and some services in French. It's still quite limited. That being said, I admire those people very much. I was a public servant for 30 years in the government and I know that, as a francophone, the battle is difficult. They do a good job, but the range is still limited.

At the Ministry of Education, there is a French education branch, which includes everyone who speaks French, that is, core French, here at home, at the Conseil scolaire francophone, and in the various immersion programs that may be offered, but that is all.

To set the record straight, I would like to repeat what we said last time. British Columbia is the only province where there is no service agreement such as the one recently reached in Alberta. I think it was reached about two years ago. Under this agreement, someone in each department can be identified to provide the department's services in the official language of choice. We do not have such an agreement, absolutely not.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mrs. Asselin, pardon my ignorance. Earlier, you said that the distribution of funds is predetermined by the federal government, that is, 33% of the funds are allocated to entrepreneurship and 66% to communities. I didn't quite understand. Could you quickly elaborate and explain what you meant?

9:55 a.m.

Executive Director, Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique

Marie-Andrée Asselin

In the action plan, there are funds earmarked for early childhood education. This includes an additional $20 million to support professional development opportunities and training for early childhood educators, as well as to help entrepreneurs open more child care centres and provide more child care services.

For us, entrepreneurs are not the ones who start child care services. It's the parents' associations, non-profit organizations.