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

March 21st, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Hello.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3), we will begin our study on language training for members of Parliament.

We are pleased to welcome Mr. Pierre Parent and Ms. Nina Maimone this morning, both from the House of Commons. Their presentation will be about ten minutes long. We will then have time for questions and comments from committee members.

I assume you will be giving the presentation, Mr. Parent. Please go ahead.

11:05 a.m.

Pierre Parent Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It is a rare privilege for a member of the administration to be invited to a committee meeting of this kind.

Hello.

As chief human resources officer for the House of Commons, I am responsible for the language training centre. The centre's mandate is to improve the ability of members of Parliament, their spouses, and employees to work and offer services in Canada's two official languages. The centre also offers its services to employees of the administration of the House and to other parliamentary institutions.

The centre typically offers three types of training.

First, the centre offers language training in the national capital region. Ms. Maimone indicated that many of you are already taking that training. These courses are offered by our teachers, at our offices at 131 Queen Street, and also at your Hill offices in Ottawa.

Second, language courses can be offered in your ridings. In that case, we use external suppliers to meet your needs in your ridings.

Third, we can offer language training outside the national capital, as intensive immersion, with the option of homestay accommodations. Those of you who have been here for a long time are familiar with the program that was offered until recently at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

In terms of assessing your needs, at the initial meeting, the teacher works with the member to determine their proficiency in the other official language. The training is then tailored to the member's competency level, their specific needs, and their learning style.

Members can choose a combination of the options available through the centre. Some have opted for individual courses in Ottawa, as well as immersion and individual training in their constituency. The centre works with members to help them meet their learning objectives.

In the information note that we provided to you in the past few days, you will find additional details regarding the services offered, as well as some information regarding our ongoing process to establish agreements with English- and French-language schools across Canada.

Finally, we also included some information regarding the number of members who receive language training.

With me today is Ms. Nina Maimone, the manager of our language training centre. We will be pleased to answer any questions from the committee about our program.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Is that everything?

11:05 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

Yes, thank you.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Perfect. Let us proceed right away to a first round then.

We will begin with Mr. John Nater.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I thank our witnesses for their presentation this morning.

I want to start with a couple of general questions. I will ask in English, but feel free to answer in either language.

Do you have a breakdown of the linguistic profile of Parliament as a whole? Generally you probably know which MPs speak English and which speak French, but do we have any indication of how many are bilingual, and what level of bilingualism there is in general?

11:05 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

We don't maintain that information because it's not necessarily a requirement. Basically, there's no requirement to become an MP, as you are aware, so there's no testing. We have that information for our employees because our employees do require linguistic profiles. We don't maintain that information, unfortunately. We have to guess by regional representation. Sometimes we figure out by the types of names that we get that there's a possibility of offering certain services to that population.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I'm curious, what is it on the administration side of things? What's the profile like among House of Commons staff?

11:05 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

The House of Commons staff is pretty high, I would say it's above 95%. We serve a population that requires services in both languages, so it makes sense for us to provide that service in both official languages.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

It makes sense.

I'd be curious to know, from past experience and past Parliaments, what the continuation rate is among parliamentarians who undertake French training. Does it go for the full length of Parliament? Do most MPs stick with it? What's the drop-off rate among MPs?

11:10 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

We know that in each Parliament the number of students goes up because there's a renewed interest in our services. I don't know if Nina has more information.

11:10 a.m.

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

At point of contact, we pair you up with a teacher, and the teachers reach out to all of the MPs whether it's previous or new MPs. We have a high rate of MPs who continue their training because the teachers will reach out to them and say, “We're back, are you ready, did you want to continue your training?” Often, they will continue their training.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

From past experience, for an MP who starts at the beginning of a term with very minimal language skills, what's the general achievement rate at the end of a four-year term?

11:10 a.m.

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

Nina Maimone

It depends on the rate and frequency of training, and the number of hours per week. It depends on their objectives, and what they're focusing on. In general, depending on the objective, if it's an oral objective, then yes, if you're there.... Right now, we offer three to four hours a week of training to all MPs. As Pierre mentioned, we also offer training that you can continue in your riding. You can do immersion across Canada. There are multiple options where there does not need to be a break in training. You can continue throughout the year.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

What you put into it, you get out of it; if you put the effort in, like anything.

11:10 a.m.

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

Nina Maimone

Absolutely.

11:10 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, House of Commons

Pierre Parent

That's the message we give to members or students in general. It's a personal investment. Basically, we can provide training sessions as much as we can, but there's a personal investment that's required by any student. We give examples like watching TV and reading in the second language. That needs to happen outside the classroom in order for the student to progress. Those who invest more outside the classroom will have better success, of course.

11:10 a.m.

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

Nina Maimone

We also have MPs who are currently using Skype with their teachers here in Ottawa. Some of them prefer to continue with their teachers, because they're more comfortable, and the teachers know where they're at, so they do continue with Skype.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

What types of technology do you use in language training? Like Skype, for example, are there other technologies that are being employed?

11:10 a.m.

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

Nina Maimone

At the moment, we're using Skype. We are looking into self-learning programs. We're in the process of seeing which ones work and which ones don't. We're in the process of researching right now for an online version. Right now, it's mainly Skype and face-to-face.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

With respect to regional breakdown, do you find there's a pattern in terms of what region of the country MPs are from, or is it across the board?

11:10 a.m.

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

Nina Maimone

It's across the board.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, John.

I will now give the floor to Mr. Paul Lefebvre and Mr. Dan Vandal, who will share their speaking time.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank the witnesses for being here.

A report from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages was tabled this morning. We have had a look at it. Since the interim commissioner will be appearing before the committee in April, I would like to discuss this during the second hour. I would like to make sure that we leave enough time to discuss this report and that we can welcome the commissioner as soon as possible.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Mr. Lefebvre.

As soon as we have finished hearing from the witnesses here today, we will proceed right away to the item you just mentioned.