Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone. I hope you are all well; I am, myself. I will be pleased to answer all your questions.
First, before beginning my speech, I would like to introduce the two officials who are with me and who work with me. They are experts in the field. They will also be able to answer your questions afterward. They are Hubert Lussier, Assistant Deputy Minister for Citizenship, Heritage and Regions, and Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Director General of Official Languages.
I am going to start my testimony by reiterating my deep and sincere appreciation for the work this committee has done, and your continued proven commitment to strengthening and defending Canada's official languages.
I follow with great interest your conversations and discussions, generally speaking, about the famous roadmap and immigration in francophone minority communities. I am proud to be able to work closely with colleagues who share the same passion for Canada's official languages. I look forward to our ongoing conversation on these and other important issues.
English and French are at the heart of what we are and who we are. I am a proud Canadian, a proud Montrealer, and a proud francophone who grew up with both official languages. They are a part of my everyday life.
I am a champion for official languages in Canadian society. You can count on me to support the vitality of official language minority communities, because our official languages are a strength and an asset for our future, and have played a central role in our history.
Our country's foundations were built on English and French.
It is in these languages that we have welcomed people from all backgrounds.
Today, as Canadians, we participate in the political, democratic and social life of our nation in English and French. We are engaged internationally in those two languages, in the context of culture and business.
For all these reasons, I am proud to promote our two official languages, with the support of my parliamentary secretary, Randy Boissonnault.
I would like to talk to you about our official languages consultations, which will form the basis of the 2018-2023 Action Plan on Official Languages. First, however, I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the Annual Report on Official Languages 2014-15, which was tabled in July.
The report gives an overview of what my department, but also other federal institutions, is doing to promote official languages and the development of minority English- and French-speaking communities.
It provides information on subjects such as the support of francophone immigration in places where francophones are the minority, and support for artists in minority situations.
As the report shows, some work has been done, but more work remains.
I am proud to be a part of a government whose members, from coast to coast to coast, value our official languages. I have been working closely with my cabinet colleagues on a variety of issues, as we work towards strengthening our official languages.
For example, we know that immigration to minority language areas is critical to the future of these communities.
This is why I'm proud to work with my colleague, Minister McCallum, to launch
the Mobilité francophone program.
I look forward to seeing your committee's report on immigration and to working with you on this important issue.
I was also pleased to work with my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, Minister Sajjan, to reinstitute training in French at the Royal Military College at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, near Montreal.
Most recently, our government honoured our commitment to appointing bilingual judges to the Supreme Court by nominating Justice Malcolm Rowe of Newfoundland and Labrador. It should be a great source of pride for us all to have heard Minister Wilson-Raybould and former prime minister Kim Campbell discuss the increasing interest being shown in the legal community to learn both official languages and the high level of official language competency shown by many Supreme Court applicants.
Under our leadership, we have ensured that the importance of Canada's official languages is placed at the heart of our most important institutions, and we are very proud of it.
This is a prime example of both the vision and action for official languages demonstrated by our government. I will continue to play an important leadership role alongside my colleagues.
We know there are still a number of challenges; for example, in the areas of community infrastructure, early childhood education and postsecondary training.
This brings me to the Cross-Canada Official Languages Consultations 2016. They generated a lot of interest and I am very happy about that. We received 5,000 responses online. By the time the consultations are over, we will have met with almost 350 people in 22 Canadian cities in the most open and transparent roundtable discussions ever.
Why do I stress the fact that our consultations have been so open and so transparent? You know that under the Official Languages Act, we are required to hold public consultations. However, in this case, we decided not to hold them by invitation only, and also to invite journalists and people from the general public, and to conduct a number of consultations online. That is what makes them so open and transparent.
To date, 21 of the 22 cities on our agenda have been visited. Several consultations have been broadcast on the Internet. Interested journalists attended the discussions and I am very satisfied that there has been good media coverage in several regions of Canada.
We are also going to have three meetings here in the greater national capital region, with various national representative organizations.
We wanted to have an open, frank and useful discussion, and that is what we did.
I personally led six round tables from coast to coast to coast, including one in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, while I was there for the Conférence ministérielle sur la francophonie canadienne, as well as others in Victoria, B.C., and Iqaluit, Nunavut. My parliamentary secretary Randy Boissonnault and I were proud to be joined by various cabinet colleagues across the country, including ministers Bibeau, Goodale, Brison, Chagger, Hehr, and LeBlanc.
The participants identified important matters of interest, such as the vitality of official languages communities, increasing the rates of bilingualism among Canadians of all ages, and bringing anglophones and francophones close together. Let me quote some participants.
The director of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network told us, “The language of Canada is French; the language of Canada is English. Both of them. And I like to think that I can go to Vancouver and meet Francophones there that I can speak French with, and vice versa, across Canada, and speak English here.”
The Co-Chair of Dialogue New Brunswick said:
We forget we have many things in common. We share a history. We have accomplished things together. How can we get to know each other in such a way that we are not afraid, so that we are able to converse and discuss...?
The questions generated a lot of exchange of ideas, and the input that will guide us in developing the action plan for official languages was very useful.
As you know, the current roadmap will end on March 31, 2018. Our action plan will be in effect the following day. The support of minority communities and our two official languages will continue to guide our actions, in keeping with our values.
Our official languages are a strength, and I hope that all Canadians, whether they are francophones in Quebec or Anglophones elsewhere in Canada, whether they are Acadians, Fransaskois, Metis or people from other linguistic groups, will take an interest in our official languages. Together, I would like us to encourage all Canadians to become agents of change, citizens engaged in our great social contract, at the heart of which the two official languages are reflected.
I want to continue to work with you, the committee, and all our government's partners to promote English and French across Canada.
Thank you. I am prepared to answer all your questions.