Evidence of meeting #122 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 language.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michel Doucet  As an Individual
Mona Fortier  Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.
Emmanuella Lambropoulos  Saint-Laurent, Lib.
Geoffrey Chambers  President, Quebec Community Groups Network
Stephen Thompson  Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network
Jean Rioux  Saint-Jean, Lib.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

So being served in your language and preserving your institutions are two of your major priorities.

November 27th, 2018 / 10:10 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

That's it for me, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Mr. Blaney.

Ms. Lambropoulos, you have the floor.

10:10 a.m.

Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos

Thank you very much for being here with us today.

You mentioned that there's chronic underemployment of anglophone Quebeckers in the federal civil service. Why do you think the federal civil service is not meeting its obligations towards anglophone Quebeckers, and what could be done about this?

10:10 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

To take the edge off that a little bit, overall, yes, we are under-represented in Quebec. There are institutions that are doing quite well, but there are institutions that are doing quite poorly, obviously.

Corrections Canada in Quebec employs about 3,700 folks, and about 150 are anglophones. The effects of that are obvious if you are an English-speaking prisoner at the federal training centre in Laval or you're in Donnacona.

I don't think this was done deliberately. I don't think there's any mischief being done here. It's just that they just don't know.

For example, English-speaking Quebeckers are overrepresented in the Canada Border Services. The English-speaking communities tend to be along the border, and those jobs tend to need bilingual people. So if you know an uncle or have a father or sister or know somebody else who works there.... Those are the connections, as we all know, that get you the job.

If you are in places such as Corrections Canada, ESDC, National Defence or some of these other institutions where you don't have those connections to the community, there's no attraction or realization for young people, and they have a hard time getting the jobs.

That being said, we met with the Clerk of the Privy Council last year. Mr. Wernick was very interested in this. We are right now working with the Quebec Federal Council and the Public Service Commission to find ways to increase the numbers of English-speaking Quebeckers working in the federal civil service in Quebec.

10:10 a.m.

Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos

Do you see any other ways of ensuring that this issue gets solved?

10:10 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

It's about connections. This is linked to the under-representation of English-speaking Quebeckers in provincial government service in Quebec. Young people in Quebec just don't see themselves working for government. It's a matter of education in the schools. It's about inspiring young people to seek jobs in the public sector provincially and federally, and making sure there are welcoming ways for them to do so.

10:10 a.m.

Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos

You also mentioned that you sit on the Statistics Canada advisory board on language statistics. What exactly do you do on this board? Is it something that's specifically for minority languages, or is it for languages in general?

10:10 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

Statistics Canada has a number of advisory boards. One of them is on language statistics. You're appointed to the board by the chief statistician for a period of time. You're appointed as an individual. The board meets a couple of times a year.

It's not specific to official languages; it's about language statistics in general. I would encourage the committee to ask Statistics Canada. I think they are coming later this month, and I would encourage you to ask Statistics Canada about the committee.

10:10 a.m.

Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos

I have one last question. Do you find there's adequate representation of all Canadians, with regard to language statistics in general?

10:10 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

It would be hard for me to comment on that, as a member of the committee. There are two English-speaking Quebeckers on the committee of 12.

10:10 a.m.

Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos

Is there any indigenous representation?

10:10 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

There is a representative of the Government of Nunavut on the committee.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Ms. Lambropoulos.

It's your turn, Mr. Choquette.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chambers and Mr. Thompson, for being here today. It was very interesting to see that everybody is motivated, everybody is showing solidarity with the Franco-Ontarians. It's very interesting to see that. Even the QCGN is there to say that we need to protect communities across Canada, the English community of course, and the French community also. Thank you for your support. It's very important. There's also support from everyone in Quebec, and that's very interesting to see.

You talked about part VI with regard to the workforce in Quebec. You talked about the program with the Correctional Service of Canada, and the fact that parts IV and part V—if my memory is good—are separated but maybe should be more inclusive and not seen as silos. Can you talk about that a little?

10:15 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

Let me go back to the Correctional Service of Canada example. Because of the nature of the service they provide, they have an obligation to provide services to prisoners in both official languages.

However, if they're not employing enough anglophones under part VI, then they're less likely to have folks who can talk to the prisoners. The day I went to the federal training centre, for example, I was assured there was a capacity for all the guards, all the time, to speak both English and French to the prisoners. They took us into a unit where all the prisoners were English, and it just so happened that neither of the two guards on duty could speak English. This is obviously a safety problem, and there are all kinds of other problems associated with that.

That's part VI and that's part IV. Let me bring in part V. Because there are so few services available—because there are so few English-speaking guards and the capacity isn't there to provide part IV in terms of the language of work—we were told by Correctional Services that bilingual francophone guards purposely fail their language tests in order not to have to deal with English prisoners. This undermines part V.

The educational institutions that are providing college and high school-level educational services to English prisoners in the prison are the local French CEGEP and the local French school board. That's part VII, because there are local English institutions that aren't being supported by the federal institution.

The examples in our brief are a microcosm of how all parts of the act should be linked and what happens when they're not.

10:15 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

Beyond linking—obviously, that's the first stage—we need to have an active device to look at these service patterns and figure out how to get a good solution, and it will be quite different in different settings. But while nobody's responsible for that, the administrators of these programs have a lot of other responsibilities, and they're doing the best job they can with their other obligations, and if they fail in regard to official languages, there's no downside, no correction.

I'm not necessarily looking for a punitive approach, but there's no result at all, and that creates no incentive for fixing things.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you.

The other thing I wanted to talk about with you is the extension of the Official Languages Act to all federally regulated businesses. This is huge; it's new; it's interesting; but how can you see that happening? What are the obstacles we may face, and how can we go through this without too many obstacles?

10:15 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

Most federally regulated businesses have national profiles and already have service profiles that provide good connection with their public in both official languages, so the telecoms, I think, would have no trouble with it.

The large transportation industries would have a slightly more complicated situation. We think that one of the reasons that Air Canada is constantly in dispute with the official language regime is that they feel imposed upon to a higher level of cost and service profile, which their competitors don't have to provide. Well, it's not as a result of Air Canada formerly having been a Crown corporation that somebody deciding to take a flight from Montreal to Toronto or from Montreal to Vancouver, who would expect to be served in French, will decide to go on Air Canada because WestJet doesn't have an official obligation. They should have the same degree of commitment to our national priorities. There might be some push-back there, but I think it's a regulatory matter and the government should stand up and say it's a requirement for operating in Canada.

In most of the other settings—and I'll eventually pass this over to Stephen who's more of an expert at this—in the studies we've suggested, companies probably wouldn't experience much additional cost or regulatory intrusion.

10:20 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

There was a report done by Industry Canada, which I think I shared with your analyst, and if I haven't, I will. It was done a few years ago. You will remember that the NDP advanced a bill that would have extended the Charte de la langue française to federal undertakings in Quebec, and at the time Industry Canada did a very good study on the impacts, and looked at what was happening then.

As Geoffrey just mentioned, what Industry Canada found was that there really wouldn't be much of an impact on the banking industry. The Royal Bank of Canada has awards from the Office québecois de la langue française. So the chartered banks operate right now in Quebec voluntarily in accordance with the Charte.

How big a deal would this be to federally regulated businesses? It probably would not be much, but the idea that there would be huge economic benefits afforded to these businesses, I think, is the message. You asked how we would do this. It would be a political decision, but I would suggest that we do this not by saying, “You will conform to the Official Languages Act”, but rather by using the message that they should look at the benefits to their businesses and look at the experience of their customers if they operate in Canada's two official languages.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you.

We'll go now to Mona Fortier.

10:20 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

Good morning.

Thank you very much.

I want to start by acknowledging that your support for the francophone community in Ontario was so well received, and honestly, the fact that you acted so quickly in supporting the community is something that I, as a Franco-Ontarian, really appreciate, and I know the community also really appreciated it. So thank you for that collaboration and the fact that you were so quick on the button, as we say.

Also, I want to recognize the fact that, as a Franco-Ontarian, I understand that it's not a one-size-fits-all approach when you're trying to examine the law, to make sure that if on one side for francophones it's one thing, it should be the same for the anglophones. I understand the differences in reality.

Mr. Blaney was asking about challenges, and I think for me it's always a learning opportunity to better understand not only the challenges but the solutions that you want to propose, so we can support those in making sure we recognize in the next law the support for the anglophone community in Quebec.

I understand the realities for the health services. There has to be better alignment with the transfers and with how we ensure there are some linguistic clauses with Quebec. I'm not sure how to do it, though, or how to frame it. You mentioned a couple of ideas. Do you want to maybe continue by telling us what exactly we should change in this law to support your needs?

10:20 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

If I may, I would like to start with your first point. The organized French-speaking population of Ontario is a model in terms of its capacity to make representation and provide effective leadership on its issues for the English-speaking community in Quebec.

If you go back 50 years, you might say that the English-speaking community in Quebec was better situated in regard to institutions and to its socio-economic circumstances, but as we know, English-speaking Quebeckers are less well off economically than any other linguistic group in the country now, so that's a change in the model.

Also, we're situated in a relationship with our provincial government wherein our institutions are being eroded. It may be that we had a full range of hospitals that were all built by the community 50 years ago, but now they're all bilingual hospitals that service everybody. They are good hospitals, and they are for the most part able to give good service in our language, but I say “for the most part” because there are examples where that's been eroded out of existence. The Sherbrooke Hospital, which Mr. Blaney will remember from his youth, was eliminated. It was eliminated based on a promise that the obligation to provide service in English would be transferred to the CHUS, and it wasn't. They changed the rules in the middle, and it went away.

We need to have a set of devices to address those questions. The Franco-Ontarians have developed those very devices. Their commissioner—who we are very concerned is being eliminated—is an example of a device. We would like to have somebody in Quebec who would intervene if there's a failure of service. We have no such office in Quebec.

There are many other examples I could mention, but it would take too long. I've referred mostly to provincial structures, but we would like to see the federal government take an active role in supporting those kinds of things.

To pick up on one of your other points, the federal government does provide active support, much of which is diverted and ultimately unavailable to the communities because of the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability in the transfer system now. I know the federal government is taking that position that they want to improve the way those funds flow. I know there's push-back. We would like you to know—

10:25 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

Is it push-back by the province or push-back—