I like that, “Madam Minister Mélanie”. Thank you, Mr. Chairman Denis, I appreciate your kind words.
I am pleased to be here with you today, and to see familiar faces. I want to emphasize the presence of my parliamentary secretary, Ms. Alaina Lockhart, and I want to thank her for her work.
I wanted to thank the committee for all of the good work it does above and beyond the different political parties that make up the committee; I appreciate your work. We are always looking for official language allies from all parties. It's important.
I also want to thank all of the people who contribute to the work of the committee.
Let me introduce my team: Guylaine Roy, Deputy-Minister in charge of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie; Denis Racine, Director General, Official Languages Branch, and Yvan Déry, Senior Director, Policy and Research, Official Languages Branch.
I am pleased to be able to share with you today the achievements of our government in the area of official languages.
This is also an opportunity for me to talk to you about the action plan for official languages 2018-2023, “Investing in Our Future”, which I unveiled in the spring.
The Prime Minister has given me a strong mandate for official languages, which allows me to continue to meet our government's commitment, while supporting the Francophonie nationally and internationally.
The Prime Minister has also asked me to continue to implement the Action Plan for Official Languages, which proposes historic investments of $2.7 billion over five years, including $500 million in new funding. It's a clear indication of our government's commitment to our communities and our official languages.
Last March, together with the Prime Minister and several of my colleagues, I was honoured to unveil the action plan at Mauril-Bélanger School, the school that, as we know, bears the name of a passionate advocate for bilingualism and official language minority communities across the country. The school is in the riding of our colleague, Mona Fortier, here with us today. Mauril Bélanger, unfortunately, left us far too soon.
Our plan proposes a clear and ambitious vision, new funding, and specific measures to meet the needs of official language minority communities, while ensuring their vitality and promoting English and French across the country.
What is our vision? We believe in Canada's linguistic duality. We believe that it is one of the pillars of the social contract that unites us as a country. Our linguistic duality can be preserved only if it is rooted in the vitality of dynamic communities, only if it is embraced and expressed by millions of people across the country.
We believe that we are in a watershed moment for our communities. Indeed, after 10 years of inaction on the part of Harper Conservatives, even as linguistic communities faced important demographic challenges, it was time to act to protect them.
Canada cannot claim to be a bilingual country if its communities cannot live every day in the official language of their choice. In short, our population's bilingualism and the strength of our linguistic duality depend on the vitality and sustainability of our official language minority communities, and that is what we want to defend and promote.
Bilingualism is a crucial factor in protecting our official languages and supporting those who defend them across the country.
Let's be clear. Our communities are dynamic. I've seen this first-hand on many occasions, whether on National Acadian Day, at the opening of Place des Arts in Sudbury, or during my visits to the Yukon and British Columbia.
I have also seen the challenges these communities face. The 2016 census indicates that our country's overall population is growing faster than the number of francophones across the country, and that among the English-speaking majority outside Quebec, bilingualism is stagnating. So we must take action, and that is why the action plan sets ambitious targets.
Our goal is to restore the relative proportion of francophones outside Quebec, and increase the bilingualism of English-speakers outside Quebec. We want a strong Canadian francophonie and a Canada where citizens' efforts to learn their second official language yield results.
We want to support the unique needs of the English-speaking communities in Quebec, particularly those in rural areas. To help achieve this, we have announced new funding. The new investments provided for in budgets 2017 and 2018 add up to almost $500 million over five years. This amount is in addition to our current and permanent investments, which will be maintained.
In total, we are talking about almost $2.7 billion over the next five years—the biggest investment in official languages in our history.
We are devoting more resources to measures with a proven track record—for instance in the areas of early childhood and education. We always listen to our communities, and that is why we have also begun to implement new measures based on our observations during the consultations. For example, there were heartfelt pleas from community organizations when they told us about their lack of resources. We heard them. That is why we have increased their core funding by 20%. They are major partners, and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure that the action plan brings concrete results to communities.
Indeed, we believe the action plan must be implemented by, for, and with our official language minority communities and organizations. That is certainly something you've heard too. It's a winning approach that allows us to better tailor programs to the needs of communities. We've also taken into account the particular situation of English-speaking communities in Quebec, which face different challenges, from limited access regarding employment opportunities to a shortage of services in English.
The plan also includes some important new measures to guarantee the vitality of our two official languages. Indeed, this will include strong support from early childhood, so that our youngsters may be educated afterwards in the language of the minority, and develop a strong sense of belonging from a young age, which will contribute to the building of their identity. This will also involve the recruitment, settling and integration of francophone immigrants in official language minority communities, in order to maintain their demographic weight and ensure their long-term survival.
I recently had the pleasure of further outlining two initiatives that are particularly important to me. The first affects our young people: we believe that all children should be able to flourish, grow and have fun in their first language. It's a matter of community identity, vitality and sustainability. On September 25, I announced that we were doubling the Community Cultural Action Fund, bringing the total funding envelope to more than $21 million. By 2019, 1,000 official language minority schools will be able to offer more cultural activities to their students. Thanks to this investment, more than 4,000 cultural activities could take place over the next four years. And hundreds of thousands of children will be able to benefit.
Across the country, citizens have also told me how important it is to read community news and stories in your own language, and to hear your own accent on the radio. It is a matter of linguistic security, and of a confidence in your way of seeing the world, and approaching one's environment with the regional colour that informs each of our minority official language communities, whether they are on Isle Madame, in Nova Scotia, or in Whitehorse, in the Yukon.