Evidence of meeting #134 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 quebec.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Rachel Hunting  Executive Director, Townshippers' Association
Geoffrey Chambers  President, Quebec Community Groups Network
Sylvia Martin-Laforge  Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network
Emmanuella Lambropoulos  Saint-Laurent, Lib.
Mona Fortier  Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Okay, thank you.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

I will now give the floor to Ms. Lambropoulos.

February 26th, 2019 / 11:25 a.m.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Thank you, guys, for being here with us today.

I guess I'm going to start with Geoffrey. You also came out and spoke in the past, when this happened, about the removal of English signs in the hospital.

Can you go into a little more detail? Obviously, we are the federal government and we don't have much of a say over what happens at the provincial level. What do you expect our government and our committee to do with regard to this removal of the rights of anglophone Quebeckers?

11:25 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

The act that was done by the hospital administration— which, as you have probably read, was condemned by the local mayors and quite a few other members of the majority population—reversed a practice that had been in place for 50 years and, more interestingly, for 40 years under the provisions of Bill 101. Several previous governments had reviewed the situation and found that the practice was entirely in compliance with Bill 101, so arguing, as this government did, that they were just enforcing the law is just not how we see it.

We actually have quite a lot of expertise in regard to the internal structure of the obligations under the law. In our sense—and this is concurred in by the people running the hospital and many other hospitals around the province—the signs that were up were justified under the health and safety exemption. Basically, when you arrive at the hospital, there aren't that many unilingual anglophones who couldn't read urgence for emergency, but if there's one who is going to die in the parking lot, that's a very bad result. The same example would apply to all the internal signs, which were taken down as well. It's not as good an image for the TV spots, but the signs taken down internally make a real difference for the safe functioning of this institution.

For the benefit and with the understanding and complete buy-in of the community, nobody is talking about the French character of the institution being compromised in any way, but that there should be an English sign as well—lower down, to the right and in smaller letters—as has been tolerated, and as has been permitted under the law and as a matter of social consensus. It's a really big disappointment if we're going to move in this direction of effacing the language for no local social reason; there wasn't conflict; there wasn't....

Anyway, I'm going on here.

11:25 a.m.

Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos

What can we do in these circumstances?

11:25 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

Well, speak up. You've been very effective and diplomatic, but have spoken from a position of moral authority in regard to some matters in Ontario, some matters in New Brunswick. When you look at what happened with the ambulances in New Brunswick—incidentally, in a situation in which there is no guarantee for language services in an ambulance in Quebec—this isn't to say there isn't quite a civilized practice in regard to how ambulances function. I'm just riffing off the issue on which you, I think, have been very constructive in regard to New Brunswick.

If somebody were to intervene with Urgences-santé and say to stop providing service in English as a matter of courtesy and as a matter of practice, because it's not required under the law—and it isn't required under the law—we would have a real issue with that. There is social peace in regard to these matters, and where somebody is intervening to change things away from a good solution, if you speak up, you have a great deal of authority. You have a great platform here, and we'd love to hear you weigh in.

11:30 a.m.

Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos

Sylvia, I'm going to ask you a question. You mentioned strengthening the frameworks with federal, provincial and territorial agreements. Can you give us some recommendations on what you believe would strengthen these frameworks?

11:30 a.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

Sylvia Martin-Laforge

In the linguistic clauses, or in your negotiations with the Province of Quebec, as with other provinces.... The federal government has this issue with all of the provinces that when you are giving money to a province, you're not always quite sure where all of the money goes. Certainly in Quebec, that's a huge issue. I venture to guess that in some respects it might be a bigger issue in Quebec.

We need that money coming to our communities. You asked, “How can we help you?” That is one of the ways you can help us to better understand or better focus on what that funding could do in our province to help us do the work we need to do with the institutions.

Mr. Généreux talked about the education piece. You talked about the health and social services piece. These are fundamental institutions to any minority language community. When we get a school taken away or when a sign gets taken away, that's happened in the rest of Canada. It's happening in Quebec. We hope it will not become more frequent, but in the first four months, we are seeing many examples of how the vitality of our community is being impacted by direct or indirect actions.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Ms. Lambropoulos.

I must announce that vice-chair François Choquette will chair the second part of the meeting.

We must now go to the House to vote. We will therefore suspend the meeting and be back right after the vote.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

We're resuming the meeting.

Today, it is my understanding that you have already spoken your opening remarks, so you may continue.

I think the next speaker is Mr. Choquette.

Mr. Choquette, you have the floor.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you very much for your presence here today.

My first question will be for both your groups. You talked about positive measures and vitality and assisting the development that needs to be defined under part VII of the act. Have you started a reflection on those definitions? I know you said that it was very important that we hadn't consulted on this and that we needed to hear about this. Have you started a discussion on that?

12:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

At the townshippers' level in our region, the discussion turns around demographic weight and those kinds of measures when making investments in the official language minority communities in Quebec, especially in a rural context. The further we get away from the large urban centres, the smaller the pockets of anglophone communities tend to be. They can sometimes get left out completely in terms of opportunities and investments, as well as service delivery. If you only deliver services based on the number of people who are accessing them or have the potential to access them, then it can be highly problematic.

I think it's really important to have a concrete and specific definition of what is meant by the vitality of an official language minority community. We get asked a lot by partners and other stakeholders what we mean by “vitality”. I explain it in my communities and in our region as if a community were a person and had vital signs. How is the health of that person? If you think about your community in that way, is it overweight? Is it aging? Is it ill? What's going on health-wise for your community?

Having those kinds of clarifications makes it easier for organizations like mine to effectively impact those issues and indicators.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thanks.

12:10 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

Sylvia Martin-Laforge

Mr. Choquette, along the lines of what my colleague Rachel is saying, different departments will have to also determine special measures that can work for them. For example, over the years, there have been many giveaways by the federal government to the province in terms of jurisdiction. Two examples are labour market or employment, as well as immigration.

As the federal government makes investments in official language plans, they sometimes just exacerbate where there are gaps in our communities. For example, special measures around immigration are needed. We have been talking about what IRCC can do in the English-speaking communities of Quebec. For years we have asked. We have come to committee. We have said we'll help you figure it out and we understand that there's a Cullen-Couture agreement, but what is your responsibility around the vitality of the English-speaking community with regard to immigration? Part VII is there for you as well.

The community can have ideas, but in the problematic areas where we've gone further in terms of off-loading into a jurisdiction, the departments have to come up with some very innovative ideas.

I'll give an example of what has happened. I use this example often, but I think it's a good one, so I'll use it again. Air Canada doesn't know what they can really do for the English-speaking community. A few years ago we were in negotiations with them, and now they fund our big community awards in the fall. Maybe there's more they can do, but they were innovative enough to find a way to sponsor an event that is important for our community. They did it, and they continue to do it. I think they're now a gold sponsor every year, and they're paying attention to us. We don't have the same issues as les francophones hors Québec in terms of Air Canada, but they know they have a responsibility as a pan-Canadian organization to do something for the English-speaking community of Quebec, and they have.

For part VII, the community can come up with some ideas, but I think the responsibility is with departments to come up with some good ideas as well. They have hundreds of people working there and there are seven of us—10 on a good day.

12:15 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Regarding the Prime Minister's summit, it's really important with all that's going on in Ontario and in New Brunswick, but also in Quebec. You talked a little about it. I think you met with the Premier of Quebec last week, or something such as that.

Have you met recently with Prime Minister Trudeau or his team? What is going on with this meeting, if it happened? Has it been a long while since you met with Prime Minister Trudeau?

12:15 p.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

We met with the Prime Minister just prior to the morning of the announcement of the new action plan, so it was in March of last year.

This is talking a bit out of school, but we made a request to the Prime Minister's Office this morning, prior to coming here, for a meeting in the next couple of weeks to discuss the evolving situation. We got a reasonably encouraging answer, so we're hoping to be able to ventilate those questions.

We have regular contact with the minister, Madame Joly, who is responsive to our concerns, and with other ministers as and when necessary—not as many, but we have contacts. The government has not been difficult to reach.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

Thank you for your remarks.

We'll now go to Mr. Arseneault for six minutes.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Martin-Laforge, Mr. Chambers, Ms. Hunting, good afternoon.

It's always a pleasure to have you here.

Ms. Hunting, I think it's the first time I've seen you here.

It's always a charm to receive all of you from your communities. I can never tell you often enough how your association or your group, or other people you're representing, represent a pure, perfect mirror of where I'm from and all the battles we have in Acadie.

I will be very technical.

I'll jump into part VII of the act. We're now taking important notes and we want you to participate in the modification of this act.

Under part VII, in order of importance, what would your positive measures be? What would be your dream here, measured as a, b or c, or 1, 2, 3 or 4 in terms of importance?

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

Sylvia Martin-Laforge

The most important measure is the policy lens brought to each of the policies or programs considered. That means, for the English-speaking community, that has to be taken into account. That would mean the gaps we have had in the past would start to be considered.

I know Canadian Heritage has been taking about a policy lens for many years. I understand that. However, there has to be more to it. Many years ago, I used to work at Canadian Heritage, so I know what a policy lens is, but there has to be some way of attributing perhaps weight, some weighted lens or checkmarks to what is meant for policy.

That policy lens has to be examined, explored, identified and implementable. Right now, the policy lens is an abstract type of thing. I don't think it has been considered strongly enough in the implementation.

The other piece around part VII is where Rachel talks about where numbers warrant, or where numbers are. For us, the question of how many there are in a community and what you should offer to a community just because the weight of the community has diminished has to be understood better and make specific accommodation for where there are fewer of us but we're still very important; our numbers are important.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

It's quite delicate to identify certain regions where the numbers are not the same as on the Island of Montreal. As I've always said, I never hide behind that.

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

For me, the endangered English language in Quebec is more outside the Island of Montreal than in Montreal.

How would you see that?

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

Sylvia Martin-Laforge

Well, certainly around the institutions, Mr. Généreux, who doesn't seem to be here right now—

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

He is always at the food table.

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!