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.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

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

I would also like to talk about accountability. Mr. Chambers, you said earlier that you were receiving $70 million, but that, in the end, they were taking $40 million of that to do something else, so that you were ultimately given $25 million. However, we do not know how the $40 million is being spent; clearly, we can only hope that it is being spent honestly and correctly by the government. However, the community does not know where that money is going.

Personally, I have a problem with the federal government taking a sum of money in this way. As you said, this is not just happening in Quebec, but across Canada. We have had the opportunity, when we have travelled to various parts of the country, to see that it is the same everywhere. The accountability is incomplete, it is deficient, at very least. It does not allow us to get to the bottom of things to really know whether the money spent is achieving all the expected results.

Would you suggest that the act should impose a definition or, at the very least, a direct link with the provinces to find out where they spent that money? In the western Canadian provinces, we were told that there was money for francophone minority communities, but that they never saw any of it.

12:35 p.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

There's nothing to stop the federal government from setting conditions before it transfers funds.

Right now, Madam Joly is trying to negotiate a set of ententes that have principles in them, but why couldn't there be a requirement in the law or a mains libre that she doesn't give money when she doesn't know where it's going? I'm sure she would feel that that would empower her.

Right now she gives money and the provincial government is able to say that it concerns education: “It's nothing to do with you, and we'll decide”. They have some rights to do that, but they don't have rights to require you to transfer the money. You have some leverage in this negotiation to say, “You don't get the money unless we're happy”.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

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

Especially when the money is supposed to go to one specific thing and it doesn't go there.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Généreux.

Now we're going to go to our anglophone member of this great committee, Madam Emmanuella.

12:35 p.m.

Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos

You both stressed the importance of promoting bilingualism within the act in general. You said that we should be valuing it and recognizing the role it plays and that we should be bringing anglophones and francophones together rather than allowing them to be divided.

What ways would recommend to the committee to help bring together these two communities and help promote bilingualism?

12:40 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

Sylvia Martin-Laforge

The work that is done in English-speaking Quebec with the French majority, the youth, is done by itself.

They are out there together. They're having a beer together; they're out there.

I believe that one of the great things about living in Quebec is that va-et-vient between young people, if we're talking about young people.

I think that the federal government should pay more attention to helping young English-speaking Quebeckers understand the value of their minority in Quebec.

There are quite a few very successful interchanges between

francophones in Quebec, to go outside Quebec.

They are very successful.

Francophones from outside Quebec come to Quebec and meet francophones there.

I think we have to pay more attention to our generation of young English-speaking Quebeckers who, in a certain sense, might be isolated in English-speaking Quebec because they're talking to young francophones.

What we see happening in the rest of Canada around the identity of the young francophone outside Quebec with the FESFO and the FJCF.... We don't have that in Quebec.

I think the federal government has an obligation to our young people in Quebec to invest in them to understand their relevance in the national conversation about being an official language minority community. It's okay.

12:40 p.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

I'd like to take an example from that question, because you were there for this.

We met briefly with the Premier of Quebec. He came into the room and said, “I want to talk about three things: education, health and employment”. We said, “Oh, we want to talk about three things: education, health and employment”, so we started with an agreement.

We got to employment. One of the things we laid out is that we have a high degree of bilingualism among our youth, but often they don't have job skills in their second language. There's a little bridge, but it's often a bridge that causes them to say, “What about a job in Alberta? I can get it right away" and we lose some. His first reaction was, “We're trying to do exactly that for our immigrants. Why wouldn't we do it for you?” He's making all of the right sounds, and then he turns to the guy next to him, who's his parliamentary secretary, and asks, “Can we get federal money for that?”

I think we're very close to an opportunity where everybody would be pleased. You could have quite strong criteria that money will be spent correctly. They would feel good about it and our community would feel very good about it.

Rachel has some programs in her region that are already functioning a little bit like this, but we need to have it more generally and much more well funded and organized.

12:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

Whatever takes place needs to take into account that the English-speaking community of Quebec is not consuming English-speaking community Quebec culture in our home province. We have access to English, yes, and we probably have more access to our minority language than our francophone counterparts in other parts of the country have to French. But the culture that I'm consuming is not my English-speaking Québécois culture. I think that's tremendously important, and it goes back to the identity-building.

The roots and sense of belonging of our young people encourage them to stay in Quebec and feel at home. I am from a ninth generation of Quebecers. I have to feel comfortable, welcomed and involved in my home in Sherbrooke.

I think that any kind of legislation that comes out of the federal government that speaks to official languages in Canada needs to really highlight that, because that's what happens to our community. We get called

the most coddled minority in the world.

It's hard for me to hear that and know that I can't go to the hospital and read a sign. That's just a very basic, simple example.

12:45 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

Sylvia Martin-Laforge

Because Rachel was touching on it, Emploi-Québec was devolved. Manpower—it was called Manpower then—was devolved. One of the first places was in Quebec. It had no linguistic clauses. In other provinces, they were somewhat better at it. In Ontario I know they were a lot better at it.

Emploi-Québec is a major, major issue for the English-speaking...and we tell you that employment is an issue...? Manpower was devolved, and now sometimes we hear terrible rumblings that Young Canada Works or some youth programs will be devolved to Quebec. Please, please don't—

12:45 p.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

Or don't, without conditions.

12:45 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

Sylvia Martin-Laforge

—or don't without conditions.

The federal government has a very large role to play in the money that you put in a province, but we're telling you—Rachel and all of us—that employment is a big deal. We are less than 1% of the provincial civil service in Quebec.

12:45 p.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

We're 13% of the population.

12:45 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

Sylvia Martin-Laforge

We're 13% of the population, almost 13.7%, I think.

We are not even at our percentage in the federal government representation.

12:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

If you were to bring the levels of unemployment for the French-speaking and English-speaking communities in Quebec together just so they'd be at the same percentage, you would have to employ between 18,000 and 20,000 anglophones tomorrow, and we're talking about bringing in manpower from outside....

There is a pool of people who could be employed.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Did you say 13% or 30%?

12:45 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

Mr. Gourde, you have the floor for five minutes, please.

February 26th, 2019 / 12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to the witnesses for being here.

I would like to come back to the amounts allocated to the initiative that has been set up.

I have been in politics for 13 years. There were problems then, there were problems seven years ago and there are still problems today. I think we'll have the same problems again in 5, 10 or 15 years.

Money from the roadmap is being transferred to initiatives in education, health and other areas. When we move from one institution to another, it is unfortunate, but we do not see the effects of those investments.

It is impossible to ask federal officials to reach an agreement with Quebec officials. Never. The lawyers get involved and find a constitutional reason to say that it's provincial jurisdiction, that it must not be touched and that precedents will be set. That will not change, but money is still being invested in those initiatives. The money disappears and goes into the consolidated fund.

Would it be possible to have initiatives that would help organizations or individuals directly and would have a significant impact? In other words, can the money be given to individuals or non-profit organizations to maximize the benefits? The federal government can give money to non-profit organizations to provide services to the public, but it cannot give money to a school board or a municipality. That is the way it is and it will not change unless the Constitution is reopened, which no one in Canada wants to do right now.

If, in an ideal world, you were offered $1 billion over the next five years, how would you like to receive that money so that you can use it as best as possible?

12:45 p.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

That's a very important idea, and I absolutely agree that we need to work on it.

I think that with a little creativity the transfers you're talking about are possible. It's quite correct that the direct granting of federal money to a school board would end up with a problem, but the school boards have an umbrella association that is not constrained by the same limitations. It doesn't have constitutional status. There is a larger coalition inside Quebec to deal with the support of our school systems, with the participation of the teachers' unions, the parent associations, ourselves and regional associations. It's quite a broad coalition. It could be supported.

Just in the example of the education space, there are two very respectable, very well organized...that are already receiving some grant support indirectly. If they were enabled by some long-term contractual undertakings from the federal government, there would be nothing unconstitutional about it.

There is a similar set of opportunities in the health care system, so all of our health care institutions have become state institutions. There is still some residual community involvement, but the corporations own the buildings, and there is a foundation structure that raises money privately and has an NGO-quality association with these ventures. It is not constrained by the constitutional rules that would prevent you from giving directly to a hospital.

In regard to municipalities, it might be a bit more complicated, but if there were the will on the federal side, we would find a solution that would be similar to those two examples. As a partnership opportunity, I think it's a brilliant and timely suggestion.

12:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

I think the official languages community is better positioned to let you know how to effectively impact their communities and invest those monies.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

You have two minutes left, Mr. Gourde.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

There is another great injustice in Canada that perpetuates the two solitudes, in my opinion. It is possible for an anglophone family in Ontario or Alberta to send their children to a French-language school. However, it was impossible for me—because I was a francophone and so was my wife—to send our children to an English-language school when they were young.

My neighbour, whose last name is Blaney, sent all his children to the English school in Thetford Mines. He was able to enrol his children, from an early age, in an English-language school board in Quebec because they were descendants of anglophones. However, since my wife and I are native Quebecers, we did not have that right. Constitutionally, this situation bothers me because it is still up to the parents to choose the school their children will attend. I could choose to send my children to any French-language school in Quebec, but not to an English-language school. That's not how it is in the other provinces.

Can you comment on that?

12:50 p.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

Yes, that's an important observation.

This is a challenge for us. For our high school graduates to be fully capable of participating in the Quebec economy, we must reach a level, a quality in training.

We have high-school graduates from a francophone board or an English board and you can't tell the difference between their language skills because they've been properly supported. That's a standard that's achieved in Israel, the Netherlands, Iceland. Nobody gets out of high school without having a second language, which is really at a level where you can get a job. We've achieved that, and I think the crazy old rules can go.

In the middle term, if we suggest the erosion of the French-language protection that's represented by the school rules now, I think the negotiation would be complex. As much as I think we have to get there, the first move is on our part to get the standard of our education up. We're not far away from that. Ten years ago I would have said, I don't know, but I can tell you now that I think we're close.

12:50 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

Sylvia Martin-Laforge

There's another issue, Monsieur Gourde, that I would like to play out for you. Having worked in French-language education in another province, the critical mass in a school determines what happens and what you feel in a school. In Ontario, for example, it's very important to have a good critical mass and not to be considering French as a service. The feeling of French in the school is

a linguistic arrangement.

It's about everything. There's a tension, as well, in the schools if you have too many people, des ayants droit, or you let any young people in the school. It upsets the promotion of language and culture in a school.

It's a complex issue, but I know, having lived in other provinces, that they also struggle with that issue about the character of the French school. We in Quebec have to consider the character of the English school, as well.

That's just a bit of insight into your question.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

Thank you, madam. Now it's the turn of Mr. Choquette for three minutes.