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)

Noon

President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada (FCFA)

Jean Johnson

Thank you, everyone.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

We will suspend the meeting for a few minutes, then we will hear Minister Joly's remarks.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Pursuant to Standing Order 108, we are continuing our study on Vote 1 under Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in the Interim Estimates 2019-20.

It is a pleasure to have with us today the Hon. Mélanie Joly, our Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie.

Ms. Joly, I imagine you'll introduce the people with you.

As usual, you have about 10 minutes for your opening remarks. Then, we will go around the table for questions and comments from our colleagues.

Madam Minister, the floor is yours.

12:10 p.m.

Ahuntsic-Cartierville Québec

Liberal

Mélanie Joly LiberalMinister of Tourism

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, members of the committee. It is a pleasure to see you all here together.

Thank you for inviting me here today to talk, first, about the provisional budget 2019-20 and, second, the proposal to hold a federal-provincial-territorial summit on official languages as part of the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the important work that you colleagues have been doing as a committee. Your efforts to modernize the Official Languages Act and optimize the action plan on official languages inform our thinking, and I'm very grateful for that.

With me today is my deputy minister Guylaine Roy, as well as Andrew Francis, who is the chief financial officer at the Department of Canadian Heritage, and Denis Racine, who is the director general for the official languages branch.

Mr. Chair, I know that you're closely looking at and following the implementation of “Action Plan for Official Languages 2018-2023: Investing in Our Future”.

We are finally at the point where the action plan for official languages is now one year old.

It's a clear indicator of our government's commitment toward official language minority communities.

It proposes a clear vision and specific measures to promote bilingualism and strengthen official language minority communities.

Most importantly, it proposes a historic investment in official languages. Specifically, this represents $2.7 billion over five years for programs that promote official languages, including nearly $500 million in new funding.

Through these investments, we reaffirmed our commitment to support the two million Canadians in a minority language situation, allowing them to live in their language on a daily basis and to reduce the risks of linguistic assimilation.

This requires strong communities and organizations that can provide programs and spaces to ensure their own vitality.

The implementation of the action plan is progressing as planned. At my last appearance, I mentioned that three important announcements about the implementation had already been made. First, there was confirmation of a 20% increase in core funding for community organizations; second, funding for community media; third, an investment in the community cultural action fund to offer more cultural activities for students in official language minority communities.

I also had an opportunity to make three major announcements about education infrastructure for francophone communities outside Quebec, in Rogersville, New Brunswick, at the Université de Saint Boniface, Manitoba, and in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.

On January 8, I was in Rogersville announcing $3.2 million in funding over two years for the construction of a 329-seat school cafeteria/theatre. On February 15, at Université de Saint-Boniface in Manitoba, I announced an investment of close to $2.1 million for the construction of a learning and child care centre on campus. On March 14, in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, I announced an investment of $3 million over three years to expand and renovate the shared and community spaces of the Centre Belle-Alliance.

On March 14, I also took advantage of this opportunity to announce funding of close to $500,000 for seven Acadian and francophone organizations in Prince Edward Island.

In all those cases, those announcements were extremely well received.

Rogersville has been fighting for 25 years to have this cafeteria and theatre project. The entire community gathered for the announcement. We can say that this will really change the lives of people living in this region of northern New Brunswick.

The same is true in Saint-Boniface. Almost all universities in Manitoba have child care centres. The Université de Saint-Boniface, the only francophone university not only in Manitoba but also to the west of Quebec, was the only one that did not have a child care centre. So, the entire community gathered to celebrate this announcement.

On March 14, when I went to the Centre Belle-Alliance, the women who had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court to get their children to a primary school were present. In short, we announced that high school would now be available for the linguistic minority in Summerside.

So, in all three cases, we can see that these announcements really have a concrete impact on the community.

Of course, these substantial investments are reflected in the financial authorities.

Given that you asked me to talk about it, I will go into the financial details.

The total budgets for the Official Languages Support Programs for 2019-2020 fiscal year will be $435.4 million. This figure includes an increase of $69.9 million directly from the action plan for official languages.

If we add the funding for the other programs and departments participating in the action plan, we're looking at close to $500 million in new funding over five years. In fact, it's a little over $500 million over five years, and I'll explain why later.

These increases are permanent. They will continue well beyond the five-year term of the action plan, at a rate of more than $100 million per year. This is an extremely positive financial outlook for our communities and for the promotion of official languages.

We know that in minority situations, educational institutions are pillars for communities.

Before I go on to education, I would like to acknowledge the passing of a very important individual for the English community in Quebec, James Shea. As a former leader of the Quebec Community Groups Network, QCGN, he was instrumental in obtaining federal support and getting the provincial government to create a secretariat to improve relations with the anglophone communities. Of course, I would like to share the government's support to his legacy and obviously to the entire community.

It goes without saying that francophones in Ontario have the right to receive an education in their language. That's why our government announced funding of $1.9 million to support the creation of the Université de l'Ontario français in Toronto. The start-up team will now be able to continue their efforts until January 2020.

We will always stand by our communities to protect their language rights.

That is also why budget 2019 provides additional support to education in the minority language. This support is conditional on the conclusion of a new protocol or new bilateral agreements in education with the provincial and territorial governments.

I would also like to highlight that the House adopted a significant change to the Divorce Act that guarantees, for the first time, the right to divorce in one's own language. Budget 2019 also allows additional funding of $21.6 million for the implementation of this new legal component.

If we take into account the additional money for education, as well as for provinces, territories and organizations in divorce proceedings in the official language of one's choice, we see that the new investments are well over $500 million.

Last October, we also amended part IV of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations for the first time since it was passed in 1991, to ensure better coverage of bilingual federal services for Canadians in a minority situation. This particularly affects francophone communities outside Quebec.

Among the changes made, we adopted a new and more inclusive calculation method to increase the official language minority population and to ensure that the regulations continue to apply even if the population has decreased.

In our criteria, we added a community vitality criterion to ensure that our offices offer a bilingual service when a school is located within an office's service area.

We designated more than 600 new bilingual offices across the country. This will also change the lives of many people who live in minority language communities.

We also designated as bilingual airports and train stations that are subject to the Official Languages Act and are located in provincial and territorial capitals.

As you know, this year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act. As our government is committed to the promotion of official language communities, it is clear to us that we must go beyond investments and review the linguistic framework as a whole to ensure that it enables communities to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

In the summer of 2018, the Prime Minister gave me the mandate to review the act with a view to modernizing it, and I believe there's a very broad consensus on undertaking such an approach. We want to strengthen the act and extend its scope.

That is why I initiated a national dialogue on the subject. We are meeting with Canadians through five forums and 12 round tables. So far, our exchanges have been very productive. We've already had two of the five forums: one in Moncton and the other in Ottawa.

Before submitting recommendations to the Prime Minister, I want to hear from Canadians, including you, of course; the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages; and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The provinces and territories are welcome to join this significant national dialogue. It will culminate in a national symposium on May 27-28, 2019, which will bring together representatives from communities, civil society, the federal government, and the provincial and territorial governments. At the symposium, we will review the progress made over the last few years and discuss the issues and challenges we may face over the next 50 years.

This symposium is a rare opportunity to undertake a comprehensive review of Canada's language policy.

I will have the opportunity to continue the discussion at an upcoming federal-provincial- territorial meeting, the Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie, which will be held on June 27 and 28, 2019.

In fact, I am pleased to give you a scoop and tell you that we have listened to the FCFA. The federation will attend the conference since all the ministers of the Canadian francophonie and, of course, the federal government have invited them to take part in our discussions. This request from the FCFA is historic and we have decided to respond positively.

We are also reaffirming our commitment to a “by and for” approach for official language minority communities.

We are all firmly convinced of the importance of engaging in a major dialogue on official languages on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the act. The national symposium and the ministerial conference will be the high points of this dialogue. There are still three forums left before the national symposium. All Canadians are invited to share their views in writing or to participate directly in this reflection.

Thank you. I am now ready to take your questions.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Minister.

Mr. Clarke, you can start.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon to you, Minister, and to your colleagues who are here to support you. I am very pleased to see you before the committee today.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

Thank you.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

I would like to ask you a quick question first. In your presentation, you mentioned the 20% increase in core funding for community organizations. We are fully aware that this is very important for linguistic communities. Would you be able to provide the committee with budget figures confirming that, in the past year, each community has in fact received more funding?

Communities used to receive 7¢ of each dollar. I think that's the number. According to the enhancement, that amount of 7¢ should have been increased. Is it possible for you to provide this information to the committee, in order to confirm that the communities are benefiting from the increase?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

I would be happy to provide you with more data. These amounts were approved by the Treasury Board and have been distributed. However, I must provide the data in compliance with privacy laws.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

No problem with that here.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

If those data can be made public, I will be happy to provide them to you.

Furthermore, other budget increases are expected. At the moment, we are in extensive talks with the various organizations. In the past, the same organizations were often the ones that received the money.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

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

Yes.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

We were told that some organizations that had never received funding would like to receive it. We are in the process of discussing both with these organizations and with those that have traditionally received funding from the department, to see how we can further increase funding in due course.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Thank you very much.

You also mentioned funding for community media, which brings me to one thing I have noticed recently.

According to the preliminary budget you sent us, $302 million will be allocated to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which is very good. However, I read in L'Acadie nouvelle that there had been a 10% reduction in jobs at the Radio-Canada station in Moncton. I was a little troubled.

I would like to understand how it is possible to increase funding for the CBC, which I think is commendable, while also cutting funding for its station in Moncton, where there is a francophone minority language community?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

There are two things.

Since the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's activities are the responsibility of the Corporation itself and since, in order to respect its independence, the government is not involved in its activities, I would invite you to ask the CEO of the CBC to explain this decision.

However, I can tell you that we have increased the CBC's budget by an unprecedented amount of $675 million.

That being said, I would ask you to put pressure on your leader to ensure that in the future, there will be no cuts. As we know, in his own election platform, he had planned budget cuts for the CBC.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Ms. Joly, I think Canadians expect you, as minister, to question the CBC, not a member of the opposition. I have every confidence in your good intentions, but I would still invite you to ask the CEO why those cuts were made. They fly in the face of your intentions with respect to official languages.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

I am not the minister responsible for the Broadcasting Act or the CBC.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

You are responsible for the vitality of linguistic communities, Minister.

April 4th, 2019 / 12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

If you also want to invite my colleague, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, I would be pleased to share your intention with him.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

In cabinet, isn't it your responsibility to ask your colleague why, in this case, action is being taken to the detriment of the vitality of linguistic communities?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

In terms of how we follow up with official language minority communities, I have already mentioned that we give them money directly. That's part of my responsibility and that is why we have provided a new amount of $500 million over five years.

As for the CBC, I would just like to remind you of the obligations of the government and parliamentarians: we must always respect the independence of the CBC.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

As you know, we have finally begun a study on the modernization of the Official Languages Act. You have followed suit and I am very happy about that.

To date, however, two presentations have sort of confused me.

First, there was the one on February 18, 2019. It was not before our committee, but before the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. Senator Rose-May Poirier asked Pierre Lavallée, the CEO of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, whether he had spoken with you or people in your office about his official languages duties. As we know, the Canada Infrastructure Bank has had some problems with this. To everyone's surprise, Mr. Lavallée replied that your office had never contacted him or the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

You seem to be saying that, in the case of Radio-Canada, another minister is responsible. In this case, clearly, you did not contact the Infrastructure Bank yourself. Have you at least discussed this issue with Mr. Champagne in cabinet?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

First, I must say that I had the opportunity to meet with Pierre Lavallée to remind him of his organization's obligations under the Official Languages Act.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Was that recently?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mélanie Joly Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC

It was last month.