Evidence of meeting #30 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 languages.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Hubert Lussier  Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship, Heritage and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage
Jean-Pierre Gauthier  Director General, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

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

Then we will continue.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

We will continue the period of questions. We will begin with John Nater.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks as well to our witnesses.

I am going back to the question that Mr. Généreux put to the minister about education and immersion programs.

My riding is a heavily anglophone riding, very much English, very little francophone population, but we've seen a very high demand for French immersion. In many cases the demand far exceeds the spaces available. We've seen one school board in my riding try to put caps on French language immersion enrolment.

I've spoken to some parents over the last week or so about this issue, and their concern very much rests with the fact that there is funding provided by the federal government but that the funding doesn't necessarily make its way to French language and French immersion programming.

We have seen the Minister of Health suggest that there should be certain rules placed on health care funding. One of my constituents brought up this particular issue: why are there are not similar strings attached to funding for French language programming in places such as Ontario, whereby we can justify and hold accountable the funds that are being provided in communities across the region to make sure they actually go to French language programming?

October 27th, 2016 / 9:55 a.m.

Hubert Lussier Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship, Heritage and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage

There's a lot in that question. I'll try to address some of the points.

First of all, in terms of the number of requests and the capacity of the school system to offer immersion, one of the biggest issues, I'm sure you're aware, is the number of competent teachers available, which creates a bottleneck.

Another thing that is worth noting is that the federal support for second language education, be it French or English, will in the case of French in large part go toward immersion, but there are also other methods of teaching French that are not immersion based and that do not necessarily work as well as immersion. There is intensive French, and there's basic French. You can't discount these two types, which sometimes also benefit from the federal funding.

With respect to the French minority school systems—you've heard a lot about them—we also have heard and keep talking with our partners from the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones and have heard from individual members around the tables at the consultations that the minister and Mr. Boissonnault held. It has been a very frequent topic of discussion.

We'd like to have discussions, in the course of renewing our partnership with the provinces, whereby these issues will be addressed both from the point of view of better integrating the conseils scolaires in the discussions we're having with the provinces and from the point of view of the clarity and the quantity of the reporting that is done. This is definitely on our table de travail.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

I want to go back to the question of francophone immigration. We know that we're not meeting the 4.4% target. I think it's a laudable target and frankly that an even higher one would be better. We heard from immigration officials that 4% was basically maintaining the status quo, not increasing it.

From your perspective, from the perspective of official languages, what types of steps ought we to be taking, beyond the programs that were mentioned by the minister, to get to that 4% target, and what timeline do you think would be realistic to get to that 4% target? Can we do it within a calendar year? We haven't gotten to it yet. That's why I'm asking what the timeline would look like, from that perspective, to get to the 4.4% target.

9:55 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship, Heritage and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage

Hubert Lussier

I think it would be presumptuous for us and a bit outside of our duty to express opinions on how to go about it, but I will say that these issues, at the level both of recruitment and of integration, are the object of constant discussions between ourselves and our colleagues in Immigration.

Madame Joly made reference to, I think, the significant progress that was made in the discussions with the provinces, which are essential partners in this. Not only was there discussion of francophone immigration at the last ministers of immigration meeting a couple of weeks ago, but there is also a forum which is planned for the spring—

9:55 a.m.

Jean-Pierre Gauthier Director General, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

It's in March.

9:55 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship, Heritage and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage

Hubert Lussier

Maybe Jean-Pierre can add to that.

It is going to be focused specifically on that very issue, with federal and provincial officials around the table.

9:55 a.m.

Director General, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

Jean-Pierre Gauthier

I can add a few comments on this. It is well understood by all parties concerned that there are big challenges to be resolved. Nobody has a magic solution. That's one thing to say, for starters. It's going to be a challenge, and this is known by everybody—departmental, community organizations, and everybody else.

There are consultations, actually. They were set up probably two weeks ago by the immigration department with the communities, trying to go over all the challenges and come up with solutions, and we are waiting to get feedback from our colleagues from Immigration as to what they are going to be putting forward for the next action plan.

Indeed, there is a forum being developed, to be put in place at the end of March, where all the ministers from the FPT table on immigration will meet with ministers from the francophonie table, trying to come up with more solutions and ideas as to how to move forward on this. As you know, in the summer, the Council of the Federation made a joint declaration that they are aiming for 5% francophone immigration, so there is a will to make it happen. The how is going to be complicated, but the fact of the matter is there is discussion going on, trying to come up with specific ideas and initiatives.

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you.

René Arseneault, go ahead.

10 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Gauthier, I am asking you the following question because I had no time to put it to the minister. She said there would be discussions on access to justice in French in the near future. Is anything already on the drawing board in that regard? If so, what is its purpose?

10 a.m.

Director General, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

Jean-Pierre Gauthier

As regards access to justice, the work is being done by our colleagues at the Department of Justice. In the context of the next action plan, we have already begun to ask our colleagues from all departments, including Justice, to think about what could be done with existing funding. Available money is already allocated to that under the current roadmap. The Department of Justice is already receiving $93 million over five years for the Contraventions Act and access-to-justice issues. We also want them to give us some innovative ideas for moving forward.

There is one access-to-justice issue, and that is the appointment of bilingual judges. I am not talking about Supreme Court judges here, but rather those on the superior court and appeal court benches. The Canadian Judicial Council is examining the issue of language skills. Courses supported by the Department of Justice are offered to judges at the time of appointment. There is a well-known course in New Brunswick that judges can take to practise their second language, French, in simulation settings.

Initiatives are in place, but we must do a little more. However, the administration of justice is a provincial jurisdiction. The Government of Ontario, for example, has conducted a pilot project at the Ottawa Courthouse to explore ways to improve the experience of litigants who enter the courthouse. That includes reception in the building, bailiffs, clerks, and all the staff involved in the judicial process. In that case, offering this kind of interface in the minority language is much more a provincial jurisdiction.

10 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

It is always difficult, or I should say a challenge, to balance the powers of the various provincial and federal bodies in the justice field. There is no constitutional obligation to have bilingual judges at all. The government that has just been elected undertook to appoint one bilingual judge to the Supreme Court, which will be bilingual in 2016.

I have a legal background and was a practising lawyer in my previous life. It was time we imposed this obligation on the highest court, whose role is to ensure that everyone's rights are respected. But how do we do that? I am pleased to hear the various departments are cooperating because this is the responsibility of several departments. In addition, there are all the various jurisdictions.

Is there any hope that bilingualism will be mandatory for judges of the Superior Court and the Court of Queen's Bench, right up to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court?

10 a.m.

Director General, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

Jean-Pierre Gauthier

That is a decision for the government's cabinet to make.

10 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

My question was poorly worded. Is it on the drawing board?

10 a.m.

Director General, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

Jean-Pierre Gauthier

We are focusing more on putting access-to-justice measures in place to improve the experience of the judiciary and the entire interface with the judicial system, including providing information to the public.

We are currently focusing on those aspects, but we are aware of this issue. It is part of the discussion. The minister mentioned the discussions that were held with the ministers of the francophonie in Newfoundland and Labrador last June. They discussed access-to-justice issues, including judicial appointments.

10 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

With respect to access to justice, litigants are responsible for requesting services in their language. There is also the issue of service delivery, ensuring that the judicial system can respond in the minority language. These two bodies must come together and form a single service.

10 a.m.

Director General, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

Jean-Pierre Gauthier

Absolutely, we must work simultaneously on several aspects.

10 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

All right, thank you.

I want to share my remaining speaking time with a colleague, if anyone has a question he or she wants to ask.

With regard to access to justice, I am thinking of the court challenges program. This is a separate program that we know about. How important is it in this discussion on access to justice? Is it part of the puzzle or solution? Is it a program exclusive to minorities, including linguistic minorities?

10:05 a.m.

Director General, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

Jean-Pierre Gauthier

We are examining the court challenges program with a view to completely restoring it. It included a language rights component, and so the idea is to restore it to something closer to its original mandate.

Work is progressing on this issue. Announcements will be made by the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Canadian Heritage at the appropriate time. That will definitely facilitate the development of case law, which is the aim of the program. With its funding, the program also facilitates a form of access by addressing the costs of litigation. It now remains to be seen whether the program's objective is to facilitate access to a large number of people or organizations or to promote the development of case law for test cases that advance the state of the law. This is the kind of thinking that is under way; it is these kinds of ideas that we received when we conducted consultations to prepare opinions and advice on the subject, and it is these kinds of issues that will eventually be considered. An announcement will be made soon.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Thank you very much.

10:05 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship, Heritage and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage

Hubert Lussier

Mr. Chair, I would like some clarification.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

All right.

10:05 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship, Heritage and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage

Hubert Lussier

This file is the responsibility of the Department of Heritage, not the Department of Justice. However, we are working very closely with our friends at the Department of Justice in order to offer the program.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you.

Mr. Choquette, you have the floor.