Evidence of meeting #136 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 commissioner.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Hoi Kong  Holder of The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., Professorship in Constitutional Law, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia, As an Individual
Éric Forgues  Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities
Mona Fortier  Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.
Emmanuella Lambropoulos  Saint-Laurent, Lib.
Meri Huws  Commissioner, Welsh Language Commissioner
Jean Rioux  Saint-Jean, Lib.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Indeed, your time is almost up.

11:55 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

In a nutshell, you're saying that studies, research and investigations by federal institutions should always take account of the language variable. Is that correct?

11:55 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities

Éric Forgues

Yes, that is our message to you.

11:55 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

That is what I wanted to hear. Thank you.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Ms. Fortier.

Ms. Lambropoulos, go ahead.

11:55 a.m.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Saint-Laurent, Lib.

I will ask my questions in English.

Thank you both for being here with us today through video conference.

My questions are going to go mostly to Mr. Forgues.

First of all, you mentioned before that while there were consultations between the minister and the minority communities, there wasn't much outside of the organizations. The feedback I heard from the anglophone community in Quebec was that, yes, for the first time they felt they had been consulted. Of course, I did only speak to the QCGN with regard to this, so that might be why. In what ways would we benefit from hearing from more groups? Why is it that you think they're not necessarily fully representative of the linguistic minorities they represent?

11:55 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities

Éric Forgues

As far as consultations go, I was in Moncton—I have mentioned this three times now—and I remember a speaker who said hello to everyone, introduced himself and specified that he was not the leader or president of any organization. That made the people in the room laugh because everyone we had heard from so far was a director or a president of an organization.

I think it is important to hear that voice, as well, to consult those people, to take the pulse of a population that is not necessarily part of organizations that defend very sectoral, very specific interests, but that does provide a different perspective. To my mind, diversity of viewpoints is essential in consultations. When organizations are consulted exclusively or primarily, there is a risk of maintaining the status quo in terms of intervention models in communities.

It must be possible to question certain practices. I'm not saying that is not the case, but health organizations will say it is important to take action in health. In early childhood, people will say it is important to take action in early childhood. The same goes for the economy, arts and culture, and so on. Interests are very defined within the organization. If consultations were limited to that, the status quo would be ensured, with the focus always on enhancement, in the sense that more is always being requested. That is normal; it's the nature of those types of consultations.

That is why it is important to change up the consultations, so as to also include in them citizens and independent researchers whose perspectives can also be critical in terms of the collective reflection we are engaging in on official languages.

11:55 a.m.

Saint-Laurent, Lib.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos

Because a lot of our focus is on francophone communities outside of Quebec, I'd like to hear a little bit of your take on the anglophone community within Quebec. Considering that you are the executive director of the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities, is there anything in particular that sticks out as being different for the anglophone minority in Quebec, some 1.1 million Canadians, than it is for the 1.1 million Canadians who are francophone minorities?

11:55 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities

Éric Forgues

When the institute was created, our mandate was to focus both on francophone communities outside Quebec and on English speakers in Quebec. However, we quickly realized that, from the research point of view, we were dealing with two very different realities. Anglophones in Quebec do not really see themselves as a minority. So research problems will not be defined in the same way as for the francophonie outside Quebec.

Not only is the way to problematize the issue or to pose inquiry questions different, but we also realized that research capacities had to be developed and research interest on anglophones in Quebec had to be simulated. The issue was different.

We decided to work with people on the ground, such as Lorraine O'Donnell, coordinator of the Quebec English-speaking Communities Research Network.

So the differences are fairly significant. I am not an expert on anglophone communities in Quebec, but I have noted some really different dynamics. Problematization is different, as are the issues involved.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much.

Ms. Boucher, go ahead for five minutes.

Noon

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Good afternoon, gentlemen.

I am speaking to our two guests.

I have often heard Mr. Forgues say that the Standing Committee on Official Languages was frequently meeting with the same individuals. I have been a member of the committee for a very long time, and we are in fact always meeting with the same organizations.

Now that we are heading toward the modernization of the Official Languages Act, do you think it would be important to include the linguistic majority in the debate? Would it not be a good thing to look beyond our bubble in order to move forward, toward the future, and include others?

Instead of considering ourselves, the linguistic minorities, as enemies, we should become allies in our fight for the modernization of official languages. Would that be a good idea?

Noon

Holder of The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., Professorship in Constitutional Law, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

Hoi Kong

Mr. Forgues, I will let you answer.

Noon

Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities

Éric Forgues

Thank you.

I do think that would be a good idea if we want to have engagement of the anglophone community outside Quebec, for example, or of the francophone community in Quebec. If we want people to participate in the debate and feel involved in the whole issue of official languages and be engaged in it, we also have to hear from them. They should be invited to discussions and asked to participate in the current collective reflection.

In my opinion, it is very important to hear from them, establish a dialogue and maintain it.

Noon

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Thank you.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Mr. Kong, do you want to add anything?

Noon

Holder of The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., Professorship in Constitutional Law, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

Hoi Kong

I agree. I also think that well structured consultations should be created, so that consultations would not only be an opportunity to express frustrations.

I think that, to create a good partnership, consultations that lead to that objective must be held.

March 19th, 2019 / noon

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

We are talking about the modernization of the act. We are all politicians around the table and, frankly, we all know that language sometimes becomes a political issue.

However, I do not feel that way. I think that our language is what belongs to us the most and what defines us as human beings. So we have to rise above partisanship.

I really liked what was said earlier. Yet, when we talk about the federal government, especially public servants and the machinery of government, that is one thing. But how can we make us as politicians understand, across party lines, that linguistic duality is important, that the modernization of the act involves everyone and that we have to rise above partisanship because our language is what defines us?

To move forward, we have to build on something. How can we ensure that the modernization of the act becomes apolitical and is the true reflection of what is happening in minority language communities?

The question is for both witnesses.

12:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities

Éric Forgues

Go ahead, Mr. Kong.

12:05 p.m.

Holder of The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., Professorship in Constitutional Law, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

Hoi Kong

I think we must emphasize the importance of linguistic duality in Canada. That is the cornerstone of our identity. I think that's what is important. If that was emphasized, we could see the emergence of a less partisan process.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you.

Mr. Forgues, you have time for a very quick answer.

12:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities

Éric Forgues

That is actually in the Constitution Act of 1982, which is above any kind of a political game. I think that linguistic duality defines Canada's fundamental identity and cannot be challenged.

Perhaps we need to promote it better with certain groups. I don't know how the issue of leadership can be included in the act, but that is crucial. Perhaps something is escaping us in terms of the way to improve leadership in official languages, but that is very important.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Mr. Forgues and Mr. Kong, for briefing the committee members.

We will suspend proceedings for five minutes. After that, we will speak by videoconference with another stakeholder, who is located in the United Kingdom.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

We are continuing our discussions.

We have the pleasure of welcoming Meri Huws, who is Welsh Language Commissioner, in Wales.

Ms. Huws, welcome to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Thank you for joining us. We would have liked to have you with us in person, in Ottawa, but we will do what we can over videoconference.

We will first listen to you for about 10 minutes. Committee members will then make comments and put questions to you.

Go ahead.

12:10 p.m.

Meri Huws Commissioner, Welsh Language Commissioner

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you very much.

I would have loved to have been in Ottawa as well, but it couldn't be arranged this afternoon. I apologize for that.

Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to your discussion. What you're doing is really interesting. You're reviewing a piece of legislation that you've had since 1969, and I'm working with a piece of legislation that we've had in Wales for the past seven years.

I'd like to start with giving you a brief overview of our position in Wales, and some of the issues that I think may be of interest to you as a committee and some of the issues I've encountered as a commissioner.

I've been commissioner now for seven years. It's a statutory period of seven years, which comes to an end at the end of next week, so I'm really reflecting on seven years in the role. I cannot be reappointed, so at the end of next week, I will walk into the sunset and another person will take over as commissioner.

In terms of my position in Wales, I was appointed as a consequence of the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, a piece of legislation that built on previous legislation. We had Welsh language legislation in 1942 and 1967. I will just note that those pieces of legislation were introduced specifically to give people rights to use the language in the judicial system, the court system. In Wales, our first rights to use the language within a public context were granted in terms of giving evidence in court or appearing in court.

In 1993, Westminster legislation gave the Welsh language parity with the English language in Wales. It did not give it official status. We had to wait for that until the 2011 legislation, which did three specific things. It gave the Welsh language official status in Wales for the first time since 1536. It established my role as a language commissioner, and I'll talk a little about my role in a minute, because it is a hybrid role. It also established a very comprehensive regime of imposing standards on public sector organizations in Wales. We have a series of very specific legal duties that are placed on public sector bodies, and I'll talk a little about that.

First of all, in relation to standards, we have in Wales sets of standards that are imposed on various sectors within the public sector. It sounds complicated, but essentially we've gone through an exercise of imposing, in the first instance, standards on government, local authorities and our national parks. We have also imposed standards now on police forces; post-16 education, which includes universities; the health sector in Wales; and also our large national organizations, like our national museum, our environmental bodies. In the past seven years, we've gone through a series of exercises that have placed legal duties on those organizations.

The schedule of standards placed on an organization can be divided into five families of standards. We have standards in relation to service delivery, engagement with the public. We have standards in relation to internal operation of organizations, how they deal with their workforce, the rights that are given to workers within the organization. We have standards in relation to policy-making by the organization. We have standards in relation to promotion of the language by organization. We have standards that require organizations to collect evidence as to how they are operating within the standards.

A normal organization, such as the Welsh government, would have a schedule of approximately 100 standards that they are required to comply with, divided into those five families. It's part of my role as commissioner to be a statutory regulator of those standards.

Complaints of non-compliance and investigation of complaints as to non-compliance are referred to me. If I become aware, because of our monitoring activity, that an organization is not complying, I can intervene and require compliance. I have extremely robust enforcement and compliance powers.

I also have powers to establish investigations without complaints being referred to me. It's more than an ombudsman role. If I'm aware or I suspect that there are problems, I can conduct investigations. Those investigations can lead to legal steps, which can, in the worst case, include imposing fines or referring the organization to a higher court. I have very robust processes as a regulator.

Also, along with my regulatory role I have a promotional role. It's a hybrid role, the role of the commissioner—and very clearly a hybrid role. There are very definitely two sides to this coin, as regulator and as promoter of the language.

Promotion of the language entails a whole host of activities, from raising awareness to information campaigns. Also, an activity that I consider to be important and influential in the way I have worked is to conduct investigations or research into certain policy areas where I consider that steps need to be taken to improve the quality of service or the quality of experience for the service user, and to advise government on those policy areas.

Within our legislation, if I recommend to government or to a national body that they should take steps in terms of policy development, they are required to consider and respond to that in an official context. They don't have to take on board my recommendations, but certainly they need to respond to those recommendations.

I've found that promotional policy influencing role very useful, particularly in areas of health, social care and education. We've also undertaken work on the experiences of prisoners within the prison system and their capacity to use the Welsh language whilst they are interred or imprisoned. We've also worked very closely with mental health organizations in looking at services in terms of mental health. We've used those powers, as well, in terms of town and country planning.

That has been, as I said, very useful set side by side with my regulatory role. They're two sides of the same coin; I find them very useful to sit together.

There are big challenges for us moving forward. I would see our policy-making role continuing, but certainly new forms of communication and technology are proving to be both a challenge and an opportunity to ensure that we are engaging with the requirements of developing bilingual media and doing that in an effective way. We have noticed that certain organizations have.... In particular, the banking sector has lost ground as it's moved from face-to-face banking services to digital banking services. We've been working very hard with that sector as well.

I suppose that's the last note from me. Banks do not fall into my legislation but, because of my promotional role, I can engage with those organizations as well.

During the past seven years, I've welcomed having that duality of role, and I see that as working very well together.

The very last thing I should say is this. As a regulator, I have a language tribunal that sits by my side that essentially can intervene if there are complaints that I am behaving in a manner that is not legal, not reasonable or not proportional. We have a language tribunal, but it's the last point of challenge on my activity. I think that's proved useful. It's not been particularly active, thank goodness. There have not been many complaints about the way I've undertaken my duties, but it sits there as a tribunal overseeing my activity.

I hope that gives you a flavour of our position in Wales, and there may be lessons. We have a very recent piece of legislation, and there may be some lessons there that are of use to you as you consider your agent and legislation at this point.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Meri, for your presentation.

I will go to my colleagues for questions.

I will start with Alupa Clarke.