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.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Pursuant to Standing Order 108, we are continuing our study of the modernization of the Official Languages Act.

It is our pleasure to have with us this morning, from the Townshippers' Association, Rachel Hunting, Executive Director; and from the Quebec Community Groups Network, Geoffrey Chambers, President, and Sylvia Martin-Laforge, Director General. Welcome.

We will have some problems this morning because of the votes, as you might be aware. We will try to hear your presentations for the next 20 minutes to half an hour. After that, we will have to go for a vote. We'll come back after that for the members to ask questions or to offer comments and things like that.

You'll have around 10 minutes each for a presentation.

We'll start with Rachel.

Go ahead. Thank you.

11:05 a.m.

Rachel Hunting Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Good morning, Mr. Paradis, Mr. Clarke, Mr. Choquette and members of the House Standing Committee on Official Languages.

My name is Rachel Hunting. I am the Executive Director of the Townshippers' Association, a non-profit organization that works in the areas of heritage, culture, community development, access to health and social services and support for seniors and youth retention in Quebec's historical Eastern Townships.

Our region is home to just over 40,000 individuals who identify their first official language as English. Youth retention continues to challenge the renewal and vitality of our communities. The proportion of English speakers aged 45 and up outweighs the proportion of those aged 0 to 44 in our communities. Outmigration, while having somewhat stabilized in recent years, has still left many of our rural communities vulnerable, with high levels of unemployment and low levels of income, even for those with higher levels of education.

In 2016, just over half of English speakers in the historical townships held a high-school certificate or less, and their tendency to have a low income was elevated when compared to their French-speaking counterparts. Low income is higher among English speakers in our region.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Can I ask you to not speak too fast because of the translators?

11:05 a.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

Sure.

Before I begin, Townshippers' would like to offer its support and agreement with the concepts put forward in the modernization briefs submitted to this committee by the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada and the Quebec Community Groups Network.

We feel particularly strongly that the Official Languages Act must highlight the principle of the equality of the status of English and French. There can be no separate status or approach for each language. Further, the act must categorically guarantee this equality of status in all institutions subject to the act across Canada.

These are more than just words to us. It must be demonstrated by national official languages' leaders like yourselves who must make a concerted effort to understand and address the concerns of Canada’s French and English linguistic minority communities.

Communities like ours must see demonstrable signs that a modernized act is applied in a way that adapts to the specific context and needs of different communities—the concept of substantive equality. This flexibility and customization comes through consultation, which must be robust, mandatory and properly resourced at all levels.

I have a few thoughts on consultation. The best consultations we participate in at Townshippers are discussions with institutions we know that have a clear aim and are properly prepared. It's about joint problem-solving and tackling problems together. This type of relationship takes time, energy and resources to build. These consultations invariably take place between public institutions and community sector organizations with the resources and capacity to engage. There are many community organizations that do not have this ability or those resources, and whose supported communities are muted, and needs go unmet.

In practical terms, we would like to see much more clarity in a modernized act. This means giving definitions to terms like “positive measure”, “enhancing the vitality of”, and “assisting in the development of” official language minority communities. These terms must be defined by the communities that they affect and cannot be externally imposed.

Groups like mine do most of our work with provincial governments that have jurisdiction over areas that are critical to our community, like education, health and social services, and employment. We are naturally curious about federal transfers and the wording related to federal transfers for federal-provincial agreements. We firmly believe that federal official language obligations are attached to federal money, and this means clear and enforceable language clauses that are consistent across the country.

We’ve been asked to comment on the establishment of an administrative tribunal to give more force to a modernized act. Let me just say that English-speaking communities like ours do not see themselves reflected in many federal official languages' structures—the parliamentary committees, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the court challenges program, to name a few. It goes back to the principle of equality within the act. If an administrative tribunal is established, its composition must be legislated to contain equal representation from Canada’s English and French linguistic minority communities, and the diversity contained therein.

Finally, the current act does not go far enough in bringing English and French Canadians together. This is a shame. In our experience as Townshippers, English and French Canadians can work together in an atmosphere of trust and common purpose. We do it all the time and it's a wonderful thing. We have great success in our region with peer mentorship initiatives, artist networking evenings, community forums and projects dedicated to building the confidence of our French-speaking partners. They need to feel comfortable offering services to members of our community. We would like to see programs that promote the value of bilingualism. And please don't focus your efforts solely on convincing English Canadians to speak French. Where I come from there is a great appetite to learn English, and I hope we’re all past thinking of those kinds of aspirations as a threat to the French language.

Thank you very much for inviting me here today. I look forward to your questions.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Rachel.

We'll now hear Geoffrey.

11:10 a.m.

Geoffrey Chambers President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Thank you very much.

Good morning, Monsieur Paradis, Monsieur Choquette and members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages. It is our pleasure to be with you again as we all continue to contemplate the modernization of the Official Languages Act.

We are reminded, in the year of the act's 50th anniversary, that, sadly, we are a long way from realizing the dream of ensuring respect for English and French as official languages across Canada. We are also reminded of the inherent limitations of a federal act to make this goal a reality in a federal system, where the provinces have jurisdiction over so many areas critical to the vitality of our official language minority communities. We, Canada's English and French minority communities, continue to face provincial governments who do not always respect their constitutional language rights obligations and who make decisions, within the bounds of their own legislative powers, that negatively impact the ability of French and English Canadians to receive critical services in their official language.

The QCGN has stood and will continue to stand in support of the French minority communities in their fight to acquire and protect their language rights, institutions and public services in French. We commend the members of this committee for their proactive public statements and interest, particularly in support of our Franco-Ontarian cousins and our Acadian cousins in New Brunswick. We also hope that this committee and other leaders in the national official languages structure will speak up to denounce and take to task the Government of Quebec for their unilateral decision to transfer one of our minority schools to a majority board. We would also welcome comment, in this anniversary year of the Official Languages Act, on the pictures of “emergency room” being crudely taped over at the Lachute hospital and a number of other signs being removed.

We remind the committee of the Official Languages Act's purpose of ensuring respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada and the equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use and status. This includes the conscious and demonstrated leadership of parliamentarians to equally concern themselves with the challenges faced by English and French linguistic minorities where they exist across the country.

February 26th, 2019 / 11:10 a.m.

Sylvia Martin-Laforge Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network

The QCGN appreciates the opportunity to share its recommendations with this committee in the following areas: the advancement of English and French under part VII of the Official Languages Act, the creation of stronger mechanisms to oversee compliance with the Official Languages Act, and the role of the Official Languages Act in bringing English and French speakers together.

We refer this committee to the brief that QCGN submitted in November of last year. The brief includes the QCGN's full proposals on the modernization of the Official Languages Act.

The modernization is an opportunity to make the act equally relevant to English and French minority groups in Canada. It is an opportunity to strengthen the idea that there is a sizable English minority in Quebec and to emphasize the benefits of linguistic duality. It is time to truly give effect to the equality of status of English and French.

With this mind, the QCGN proposes a set of recommendations in three areas of particular interest to the committee today.

On the advancement of English and French under part VII of the Official Languages Act, first, Parliament should clarify the obligations under part VII, partly by including clear definitions of the terms used, such as “positive measure”, “enhancing the vitality of”, and assisting in “the development of” official language minority communities. Parliament must also provide clearer lines of accountability for the obligations set out in this part.

Second, Parliament must strengthen the framework for federal-provincial/territorial agreements. This means several things. Parliament should place strict transparency mechanisms in the OLA to account for official languages investments. It should also ensure that official languages obligations are attached to all activities funded by federal resources. These language clauses must ensure equality of status of English and French, and equal treatment of English- and French-speaking minority communities in Canada. They must not allow, for example, different thresholds for acceptable quality of services depending on whether English or French is the minority language at issue. Finally, Parliament should require that all federal-provincial-territorial agreements be made in both official languages and be equally authoritative.

Third, Parliament should create a federal obligation under part VII to encourage and assist provincial governments to ensure access to the entire justice system in both official languages. We note that the Barreau du Québec has made a similar call in its brief to the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

With respect to the creation of stronger mechanisms to oversee compliance with the Official Languages Act, Parliament should create an administrative tribunal with the power to sanction and order compliance. The tribunal should have the power to hear evidence, make findings, adjudicate claims, order remedies and sanction non-compliance.

The QCGN submits that Parliament does not necessarily need to start from scratch in designing such a tribunal. It could, for instance, create a new division within the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which would be specifically designed to hear language rights violations.

Whether Parliament creates a new division within the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal or a new administrative tribunal altogether, it is essential that the members of the new administrative body properly represent Quebec's English-speaking community. Indeed, the relevance of this oversight body across Canada and its capacity to bring English and French speakers together will depend, in part, on a design that affords equal treatment to English and French minority communities.

With respect to the role of the Official Languages Act in bringing English and French speakers together, in addition to ensuring that the equal status of English and French is a guiding principle in the creation and composition of a new administrative tribunal, there are several ways Parliament can modernize the architecture of the Official Languages Act to bring English and French speakers together.

First, the value of bilingualism and the role it plays as an identity marker for a growing number of Canadians should be explicitly recognized in the preamble and the purpose clause of the Official Languages Act.

Parliament should also clarify in part VI of the OLA that bilingualism is a relevant factor in the selection of personnel according to merit.

Under part VII of the act, Parliament should explicitly require that federal institutions involved in the immigration process foster linguistic duality and the growth and development of English and French official language minority communities.

Finally, Parliament should strengthen part VI of the act. Proper representation of language minority communities in the federal public service on a provincial level and beyond the national capital is key to bringing English and French speakers together and incentivizing linguistic duality in the workplace.

11:15 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

The QCGN would also like to lend its support to the motion adopted by the committee last week that a meeting be convened with the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie and us, the English-speaking community of Quebec, to discuss a federal-provincial-territorial summit on official languages as part of the fiftieth anniversary of the Official Languages Act.

This is a constructive motion that you adopted, and we'd like to put our full support behind it.

We'd like to thank you for inviting us to be here today.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much.

As you can hear the bell calling us to a vote, I need the unanimous consent of the members of the committee so that we can continue for a few minutes.

Do I have your consent?

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Perfect. We'll continue for a few minutes.

Thank you very much for your presentations, all three of you.

We'll start a period of questions with Bernard Généreux.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It is a pleasure to be back at the committee after being away for a few weeks.

My sincere thanks to the witnesses for being here today.

I have sort of lost touch with the news, but I have nevertheless taken some notes about your requests for a review of the act.

Ms. Hunting, you mentioned that there are currently 40,000 anglophones in the Eastern Townships. Is that correct?

11:20 a.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

The Eastern Townships, which include administrative region 05, the Estrie, as well as part of the Montérégie region and a small part of the Chaudière-Appalaches, Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec regions.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

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

Do you know how many anglophones there were 10, 20 or 30 years ago?

11:20 a.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

There were a lot more of us.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

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

Has the number decreased by half? Is it a significant decrease?

11:20 a.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

The number has decreased by more than half.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

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

Okay.

Do you think that the Official Languages Act has a direct link to the non-recognition or the benefits that could have been granted to anglophones in that particular region?

11:20 a.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

I think it's related to the shortcomings of the act in terms of strengthening judgments and going one step further than recommendations. This has a lot to do with the programs and investments made based on the demographic weight of the minority language community. It affects us.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

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

So, the more the linguistic community decreases, the fewer services there are.

11:20 a.m.

Executive Director, Townshippers' Association

Rachel Hunting

Yes, there are fewer points of service.

On the cultural side, we can take the recent example of the grants available for Canada's 150th anniversary. In Cowansville, the application of a group of women was rejected because the project did not reach enough people. In the community of Cowansville, this still represents a large portion of the minority language population.

It's sort of because of those shortcomings.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

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

Okay.

I now turn to Mr. Chambers.

In terms of the anglophone school board, you said that the transfer from English to French school affected you—it may not be the exact term you used. Is it mainly because of the way the Government of Quebec does things, rather than the real result of the transfer of three classrooms?

I read that three classrooms in that school had the opportunity to take many more. That is why the Government of Quebec did the transfer. I also understood that you may not have been notified or even consulted.

11:20 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

In this case, it was a school big enough for 800 students, but with 458 students. The empty spaces available could be used, based on an agreement between the school boards, by the Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

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

Is that the francophone school board?

11:20 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

Yes, that's right.

It was already there to serve the francophone population, which did not have enough resources. There was already an agreement.

To transfer a school, the legislation governing education in Quebec requires a very well-defined process, which takes about 18 months. There are 6 months of consultation and one year of planning. In so doing, parents, students and communities in general have the opportunity to provide input on the issue and have a planning period.

That was simply set aside because the minister decided to use a power that has existed for 20 years but has only been used once.

We were more shocked by the process than the outcome. It is important to emphasize that this was not a question of empty classrooms not being used to meet needs. There was already an agreement between the school boards. It was an unexpected intervention and it was very difficult for the community.