Evidence of meeting #52 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 french.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Pierre Parent  Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons
Nina Maimone  Chief, Official Languages, Language Training and Assessment Centre, House of Commons

11:30 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

Yes, we have seen an increase.

I'll speak about my personal experience. Although I was gone for eight years, I was employed by the House the first time from 1993 to 2005. I don't quite have 30 years experience with this program, but not far from it.

Indeed, from election to election we see that there is renewed interest in the second official language and that it is considered important. Our administration is one example: we open bilingual imperative positions. You have to be bilingual before you can occupy those positions. This is a big incentive to learn the second official language.

We see that ministers, parliamentary secretaries and members of shadow cabinets have a renewed interest in having bilingual people. Interest is generated from election to election. It's an incentive for people to invest in their training. Moreover, the figures we have at this time are representative of the situation. More than one-third of members are currently taking language training.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Mr. Parent.

Mr. Samson, you have the floor.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

I have a question on shadow cabinets. What are they?

11:35 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

Shadow cabinets are formed by the opposition parties. Members of a party are made the opposition spokespeople for a given area, for instance finance.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

That isn't a very good translation.

11:35 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

No, but it's the usual term.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

I think Mr. Choquette is much livelier than a phantom.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Mr. Samson.

You also mentioned parliamentary secretaries who take language classes. We have one among us; Mr. Sean Casey takes French courses. He could probably say a few words about his experience with bilingualism.

Mr. Casey, you have the floor.

March 21st, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Thank you.

I don't have a question. It is true that over the past five years I have probably been one of your best clients.

As you know, when I arrived in Ottawa after being elected in 2011, I did not speak French. I took advantage of the French immersion program that was offered every summer in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and also of the language training offered on Parliament Hill. Today I have a French lesson at 1 p.m., immediately after our committee meeting. In addition, I see a French teacher on Prince Edward Island twice a week during all of the House constituency weeks.

Here is what I can tell you. The immersion program at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu gave you the opportunity of staying with a host family. I did that and it was certainly key to my progress. After the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu school was closed, I went to Logibec-ILAQ in Quebec a few times. However, I found that I did not progress as well there as at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, because at 5 o'clock at the end of the day I went to a hotel and so it was not at all the same thing.

I mentioned the lack of flexibility of teachers here on the Hill. At this time on the Hill I have an excellent French teacher, Mario, but he has fixed hours for his lessons. For instance, today will again be a short lesson because the committee hearing will end at 1 p.m., and oral question period will follow at 2 p.m. So we reserved a one-hour slot, but the lesson will probably last 40 minutes, and that is not an exception by any means. It's normal because of the House schedule. It was impossible to change the hour for the class.

As you can see, my experience has been really positive. As I said, I began in 2011 and now I am comfortable in French without needing the help of an interpreter. In addition, your document indicates that you offer three categories of language training. I am in all three. I am one of the 119 members registered for language training in Ottawa, one of the 25 registered for language training in the ridings, and one of the 60 members registered for French immersion courses outside of the national capital region. That's my experience.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Mr. Casey.

Ms. Boucher and Mr. Généreux will be sharing their speaking time.

Ms. Boucher, you have the floor.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

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

Good morning.

Thank you very much for being here.

I had the opportunity to take English classes from 2006 to 2009. Then I decided to stop taking classes and go to immersion. I went to immersion several times. I made an agreement with my anglophone colleagues; I speak to them in English and they answer me in French. We try to make these types of agreements.

What surprises me are the figures. One hundred and nineteen people are taking French classes and 19 are taking English classes. I find this figure of 19 people very low, because a lot of francophones do not speak English, or speak it very little. At the Standing Committee on Official Languages we fight ardently for the French language in minority communities. I come from Quebec. There are a lot of francophone members who do not take English classes. It's egregious and a little disappointing to see that only 19 people are taking English classes. I find it disappointing that we ask our anglophone friends to understand French, but that it does not seem mandatory for the francophones to understand English. I'm a bit disturbed by this duality.

What was the situation like in the past? Was the number of those taking English classes that low?

11:40 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

I can answer that question.

I have seen the same figures, basically, since 1993. Indeed I see that the number of people who take English classes has always been lower. In a previous job I managed a language school and it was the same thing.

Here we always start from the premise that the francophones are more bilingual and that consequently they need less second-language training. As I said earlier, we do not give the members tests. Consequently, we don't know what the members' level of bilingualism is, and which ones need training. That data does not exist and we start with that premise.

Given the historical data not only here, but also elsewhere, perhaps the issue of bilingualism is a factor. I do not have a conclusive answer.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

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

In any case, it's revealing to see that francophones are not taking English classes. Someone might say he is bilingual when he only knows ''yes, no'' and ''toaster''.

11:40 a.m.

Chief, Official Languages, Language Training and Assessment Centre, House of Commons

Nina Maimone

We offer the same service to everyone.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

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

I know that you offer it. The worst thing is that it is not because the service is not offered that that figure is that low.

I yield the floor to my colleague.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Mr. Généreux, you have the floor.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I also thank the witnesses.

The committee asked you to appear this morning to help us see how we can be ambassadors of bilingualism with the parliamentarians.

Aside from the fact that teachers contact the members, what promotion does your office conduct with all of the members and employees? Do you suggest directly to employees that they take classes? Are there any promotion efforts, aside from the fact that teachers get in touch with members?

11:40 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

Are you talking about members' employees?

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

In fact I am referring to all of those who are eligible for the program.

11:40 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

Let's say that it is easier to do that with the population our services are intended for. Most of our positions are designated bilingual imperative. There is a profile for the position and an individual profile. If the linguistic profile of the position is BBB, for understanding written material, writing proficiency and oral competence, the person has to reach those levels. This is what encourages people to come to us. Normally when positions are designated bilingual imperative, we hire people who are already bilingual. As to the members and members' employees, that population is a little harder for us to reach.

We send them a lot of messages. Last week I had a chat with a member. Unfortunately, I found out that our messages are not really read. We have trouble reaching the members and their employees to inform them about our services. Everything is on our website. All of the information can be found in the Members' Allowances and Services Manual. Members are a population that is quite difficult to reach, because they are in Ottawa for a fairly limited time, and they have other things to do.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

I'd like to get back to Ms. Boucher's comment. Are francophones in fact more bilingual than anglophones? The Lefebvres, Arsenaults and Vandals of this world are people who are already bilingual, born outside Quebec, but the Quebec members should normally be those who learn English. However, Canadian francophone or francophile members are reputed to already be bilingual in several cases, and perhaps that is why fewer of them take classes.

11:45 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

That is a generalization.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Is it a fact rather than a generalization? Is it a fact that francophones are more bilingual?

11:45 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

It is a fact in this region. I have been in this area since 1990, and so in the region...

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

You are talking about the national capital region?