Evidence of meeting #138 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 communities.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jean Johnson  President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada (FCFA)
Alain Dupuis  Director General, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada (FCFA)

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Okay, that's great.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

He has committed to respecting them. It is unacceptable that the Canada Infrastructure Bank does not comply with the Official Languages Act.

Second, I have talked to my colleague, of course, but I cannot report on discussions in cabinet or the Treasury Board. However, I can tell you that I am following up on the matter and that the Canada Infrastructure Bank must comply with the Official Languages Act, of course.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Okay.

Thank you.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Mr. Clarke.

We'll now move to our friend Mr. Samson.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair. You have reached Nova Scotia. You have had quite a trip today.

Madam Minister, thank you for your presentation. My thanks also to your colleagues for being here. I found that your presentation was good in going over the situation we have known about for a year.

I have three major questions. The first is simple but important.

Your title is now Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie. That means the francophonie in Canada and the international francophonie. Tell me about the importance that the government has attached to the role, both at home and abroad.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

Thank you.

This is the first time that a minister of official languages has also been responsible for the francophonie. That means the francophonie in Canada, of course, but mostly the international francophonie. It enables us to highlight the importance of the French fact once again, and to ensure that it is protected and promoted both in Canada and around the world.

This is also reflected in the various themes we want to address in major forums. At the next one, which will be held in Sherbrooke on April 15, we will be holding a discussion on the official languages and Canada's place in the world. We will be determining how we can reaffirm the importance of the Minister of the Francophonie and of Canada's role in the international francophonie. We will also be determining how we can ensure that the importance of bilingualism and the protection of the French fact is given a place in the mandate of our Canadian diplomacy. That is why I am so attracted to the portfolio.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you very much. It is important to emphasize that.

As I have a number of years' experience as the former director general of the francophone schools in Nova Scotia and a former national president of the directors general of the francophone school boards outside Quebec, I am well aware of the importance of education for the vitality of official language minority communities. I find it extraordinary that vitality has been added as a criterion to the official languages regulations and that the presence of schools has been recognized. That strengthens not only community vitality but language education, which is an essential element.

You have also done extraordinary things in this respect. Could you tell us about them, because it is extremely important, and people are interested. I am specifically thinking about the strategic agreement you have signed with francophone school boards. I am also thinking about the funding the government has just announced for francophone school boards all over the country.

April 4th, 2019 / 12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

Thank you, my dear colleague. You bring up a number of points.

For a long time, school boards—principally francophone school boards, but also the anglophone school boards in Quebec—have told us that they are concerned by the lack of transparency in a number of provinces and territories in the way in which federal funds allocated to minority school systems are spent. For francophones, I am talking about teaching in French as a first language, not a second language. Basically, the provinces consult the school boards very little in order to establish their budgets and their funding. That has direct consequences on the attractiveness of francophone schools in minority situations and on the decision of families to send their children to them or not.

So we decided to take a strong position and require provinces and territories to be transparent with their francophone school boards and to consult them. In addition, the recent budget provides more money for minority school boards, which is good news. This is the first time that the federal government has provided money in such clear terms for francophone school boards outside Quebec and anglophone school boards in Quebec. The increased funding will make minority schools more attractive, as they are often in competition with immersion schools. In fact, it is recognized that linguistic assimilation is greater when a rights holder, a child of a francophone family, for example, goes to an anglophone majority school, even in an immersion program.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Do I have any time left, Mr. Chair?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

You have one minute.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Excellent.

I would now like to talk about the changes made to the official languages regulations, more specifically the bilingual designation of 600 federal service offices. If a moratorium had not been ordered, a year and a half or two years ago, we would have lost 187 bilingual offices, including 7 or 8 in Nova Scotia. Today, we are adding more than 600. Can you tell us more about this very important matter?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

As you well know, because you follow the matter closely, the biggest issue in official languages is the assimilation of francophones in minority situations, particularly against the background of the demographic growth Canada is experiencing.

The calculation method was a problem, in that any given region had to have a sufficient number of people speaking the minority language in order for bilingual services to be provided. Our objective therefore was to find some kind of accommodation, not only to preserve acquired rights but also to increase bilingualism. As we know, Service Canada offices providing services in French and English also represent employment possibilities for francophones in minority situations. This was a very important matter for us, and I must acknowledge the work of my former colleague Scott Brison, who was an important ally when he was President of the Treasury Board.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you again for your leadership, Madam Minister.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Mr. Samson.

The floor now goes to Mr. Choquette.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for being here, Madam Minister.

First, let me congratulate you for granting the Université de l’Ontario français the funding that will allow its board of governors to continue their work. That is very good news.

On the same subject of that university, how long ago was your last meeting or telephone call with the Government of Ontario?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

We sent two letters to the Government of Ontario. Members of my team communicated with Ms. Mulroney’s office on several occasions. I also had the opportunity to speak with Dyane Adam’s team; she is heading the project.

One thing is clear: the Conservative Government of Ontario does not want to fund the Université de l’Ontario français project. So the federal government decided, first, to allocate $1.9 million to pay the salaries of the various people working on the project. In addition, the action plan for official languages allocates certain amounts specifically for educational infrastructure, which will allow us to provide the university with more funding.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

So no serious negotiations are going on at the moment. Nothing is moving.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

At the moment, there is sufficient financing to support the project. I have had discussions on many occasions with members of the community with a view to finding solutions and exerting pressure on Doug Ford’s Ontario government to make a decision on the matter. I have been able to discuss it on a number of occasions with a good number of former first ministers.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

On the matter of Part IV and the official languages regulations, I wanted to congratulate you and the Treasury Board once more for the moratorium that has been imposed. That was as a result of a lawsuit that the Société franco-manitobaine brought against the federal government.

But there is one thing I do not understand. Why are you not doing the same thing with the FFCB lawsuit? Against the background of Justice Gascon’s decision, an article entitled “A call for coherence on official languages” was recently published by Darius Bossé, Jennifer Klinck, Mark Power, Padminee Chundunsing and Perri Ravon. It reads:

While the federal government has pledged to review and modernize the Official Languages Act, it’s been defending a decision in court that will wreak havoc on minority language communities.

Basically, they are saying that, on the one hand, you publicly state that you want institutions, including the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, to embrace a broad, liberal definition of Part VII, while, on the other hand, you are taking the completely opposite position in court.

In this matter, why are you not doing the same as you are doing with Part IV and the official languages regulations?

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

I cannot tell you about the discussions that are currently going on with the Department of Justice. It goes without saying that, in the government‘s vision, positive measures must be interpreted broadly. That is why I sent a letter to all my colleagues to make sure that all departments adopt that broad interpretation of the Official Languages Act, particularly in terms of the positive measures in Part VII.

In the meantime, knowing that a lot needs to be done to modernize the act, I have launched a discussion on the modernization by saying directly that I would like to hear what Canadians think about the positive measures. In addition, on April 23, there will be a forum in Edmonton where it can be talked about some more.

I also wrote you a letter encouraging you to study the issue of positive measures even more in the context of the modernization of the Official Languages Act. Our government feels that it is important…

12:40 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Madam Minister, I have let you provide something of an answer, but my time is very limited.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

I had finished answering your question. Thank you.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you.

At the moment, the problem is that the commissioner’s office is refusing all the complaints it receives about Part VII. Recently, the Alliance nationale de l'industrie musicale, which had filed a complaint against the CRTC and SiriusXM Canada, was told that nothing more could be done. The complaint was first accepted, then turned down. It is the same with the Netflix case. I am one of the complainants in that matter, as you know full well. Once again, the complaint has been refused.

Meanwhile, official languages are under severe attack. That is why I am asking you to think about the issue, to talk to your government, and to withdraw your version of this court case.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

We are one of the interveners in the case, but I have to say that the decision was made by the former Harper government.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

The fact remains that you are in power now.