Evidence of meeting #62 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 ontario.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Madeleine Meilleur  Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Mr. Mulcair.

We'll move on to Mr. Samson.

May 18th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Meilleur, it's a great pleasure to have you here.

I'll go back to what you said last. You say you can't wipe out 13 years of political life. Please don't erase the effectiveness: the work you did to defend the French minority in Ontario was exceptional.

I was so touched by your application. I see that your work in defence of the Francophonie in Ontario will now extend to the whole country. How lucky to have someone who has worked so hard, who has defended the francophone and Acadian cause in Canada, and who will now be able to continue this work, but across the country. This is an exceptional thing, and I am extremely pleased that you have applied. It was a very transparent, open process, and if you had not done it, it would have been a loss to us, in my view.

There is something else I'd like to raise. I always say that the quality of a leader is not measured by political stripes. The quality of a leader is measured by the state of the situation that person is leaving and not by the situation as it was when the person arrived. That's why I'm so happy. I think that for five or seven years—I believe the mandate is seven years—if you are the successful candidate, the influence you will have on the Francophonie and in a minority setting in Canada can be very interesting.

I have two questions for you. First, what priorities do you think a Commissioner of Official Languages should have at the national level? Second, I would like to touch on education. I spent 30 years in that environment, including the past 11 years as executive director of the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial de la Nouvelle-Écosse. These are schools that have emerged from the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and continue to try to improve their service offerings. How can minority education systems continue to progress with our help, even if they fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces? How important is our government to education? Could you provide a few comments on that?

11:35 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

Thank you very much.

I am a great admirer of the Acadians. I always say that it is easier to speak French in Kiamika, a small village of about 250 people near Mont-Laurier, in the Laurentians, than in Acadia. If you're not familiar with Kiamika, know that no one spoke English there when I was born there or in all the years I was growing up and studying there. I came to Ontario only to study nursing and learn English, because my father thought that bilingualism was important. Because he only spoke French, it was difficult for him to conduct his activities in the business world.

That being said, the act clearly sets out the commissioner's role. However, I want to talk to you today about a very important issue: education. Minorities, both anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the rest of the country, must have a strong and accessible education system because it's the only way for them to slow down assimilation and to be able to continue speaking their language, which justifies all the investment and work that the office can do, in collaboration of course with the federal government and the Department of Canadian Heritage, both of which have a great role to play in helping minority communities.

The role of the Commissioner of Official Languages is to promote access to education and encourage the development of a good education system for all, even for minority communities where the challenges are much higher than anywhere else. This can be achieved by targeting francophone immigration, for instance, which is why Ontario has set itself a target of 5%.

When I was a minister in Ontario, I always worked very closely with the government and with the Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure not only the survival of the minority language and the promotion of linguistic duality, but also the increase in the number of francophones. There are more than 600,000 francophones, and there are different ways to increase this number.

Take, for instance, newcomers to Canada whose mother tongue is neither English nor French, but who speak French at home. We were frustrated that they weren't counted in the census. We have changed the definition of "francophone" in Ontario. The number of francophones in Ontario then rose to 50,000 because these newcomers wanted to be part of the francophone community. They did not want to be excluded because their mother tongue was not French.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Mr. Samson.

Go ahead, Ms. Lapointe.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Good morning, Ms. Meilleur, and welcome. We are pleased to have you here today.

You said earlier that you're from Kiamika, in the Upper Laurentians. I proudly represent the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, in the Lower Laurentians, which includes Deux-Montagnes, Saint-Eustache, Boisbriand and Rosemère. I would point out that Deux-Montagnes and Rosemère both have a minority anglophone community.

I have a question for you that has more to do with anglophones. I understand very well that there is a lot of talk about francophones, but in Quebec, there is a mirror effect when it comes to the anglophone community, which represents 14% of the population, or about a million anglophones in Quebec.

I talked about my riding, and my colleague Mr. Samson talked a lot about francophones. Based on your experience in Ontario with respect to the challenges of francophone minorities—I'm thinking in particular of the health issues you have identified with respect to the Montfort Hospital—would there be practices in Ontario that could be applied in Quebec In terms of health care or access to justice? What is your view on this for the English-speaking minority in Quebec, given that there are still differences in Quebec?

11:35 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

I'll start with the last ministry where I worked. Access to justice in both languages was a priority for me. When I was the Attorney General, I appointed bilingual judges because I wanted to fill that gap in Ontario.

Indeed, justice delayed is justice denied.

I tried to get this process started.

I also appointed, for the first time, a Franco-Ontarian woman chief justice of the busiest court in Canada, the Ontario Court of Justice.

First of all, I want to tell you that I know the English-speaking community of Quebec, but I would like to know it better. We have a house in Gaspésie, and I know the anglophones in that region. Nevertheless, I will book my first visit to Quebec anglophones because I know they want to meet the new commissioner

Furthermore, I was invited to a gala where we presented the Goldbloom award. I was told that people wanted to see Ontario adopt a 5% immigration goal. People would like to see the same thing in Quebec. The decline in the demographic weight of anglophones in Quebec is of concern to them.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Indeed, that's one of the problems. I would invite you to meet with the citizens of my riding, Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

11:40 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

It would be my pleasure.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

It is different from urban centres. Outside the urban centre of Montreal, the reality of the anglophone minority is different.

You talked about access to health and justice. As soon as you get out of urban centres, there are different challenges, including what you said earlier, but still in the context where Quebec is still different from other provinces.

I would like to hear you speak a little more about that.

11:40 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

Yes.

Health is a challenge in Ontario, as well. I'm not claiming that we've established a magic formula because recruiting French-speaking health care professionals isn't easy. That's why we designated Montfort Hospital a teaching hospital; it will help fill this gap.

Of course, people are being recruited in other provinces. There's also a good population of immigrants who are very qualified when they arrive. That's why we have adopted measures so that their qualifications can be recognized as quickly as possible, and they can practise and offer their services. It's a challenge we must meet. It's the provincial government's responsibility, but we worked at length with the Commissioner of Official Languages when we set the 5% francophone immigration target.

I don't intend to work in isolation, but rather to work together to promote language and services in both official languages, and to meet the needs of Canadians in official language minority communities.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Thank you.

My colleague has a question for you.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Thank you, Ms. Lapointe.

Welcome, Ms. Meilleur. Congratulations on your background, which I had little knowledge of.

I'm an Acadian from New Brunswick, and I live as a minority, if you like, in a majority environment. I had the opportunity to do my studies, from kindergarten to law school, in my maternal language, the language of Antonine Maillet, thanks to dedicated people like you in New Brunswick, who, in the past, had understood that education was the first thing that enabled official language minority communities to be vibrant and promote themselves.

I'm not asking a trick question, but let's look at the Official Languages Act that you had to study. As you say, you met with the previous commissioner to see how it worked, what the framework was. I'm sure you've looked at all the parameters of the position, even though your duties have yet to be confirmed.

Section 52 of the act allows you to surround yourself with experts. Darrell Samson often refers to education. Since the francophone immigration objectives are pitiful and since minority communities in majority environments should be more vibrant, do you think a change could be initiated? I know you haven't yet taken office, but is there a role you could play as a new commissioner? Could you go and listen to experts who come from elsewhere, perhaps more than those who have been traditionally consulted?

11:45 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

I'm not the commissioner yet, so I'm trying to read as much as possible and equip myself as much as I can before I do, if I have the privilege of holding it. I'll do it by consulting the recommendations, by reading reviews.

The commissioner has some flexibility. I can assure you that I will do everything possible to collaborate and contribute to the development of education services. It is through education that we can avoid assimilation and the community can continue to speak its language and not become anglicized.

There is already a challenge in the form of exogamous families. That's quite a challenge. We always say that French is the mother tongue, so we have to look at how it can be valued in our schools. Practises exist in Ontario. There are, for example, courses that take place in the summer to prepare the children from exogamous environments so that they can enter school ready to learn. There are different methods, and I will inquire about all the measures I can take to support the Acadians.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Mr. Arseneault.

Thank you very much, Ms. Lapointe.

We'll go now to John Nater.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Madame Meilleur.

My first question is to clarify some information you provided to Mr. Mulcair. You mentioned that someone informed you that you wouldn't be appropriate as a senator, and you mentioned the chair of the committee. Could you confirm who that was and what committee you were referring to?

11:45 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

It was the chair of the.... Madame Labelle was responsible for selections and appointments to the Senate.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Is it common for prospective senators to meet privately with an independent chair of an independent commission to appoint independent senators?

11:45 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

Mind you, I had invited her before I resigned as a member of the provincial parliament. I had invited her to come to a presentation on la Journée internationale de la femme, and she was there, and we asked that question. However, I went forward and applied anyway.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

So you were actively considering alternative employment before leaving as an MPP?

11:45 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

Yes, it was because I was resigning as an MPP, but not from public life, so I wanted to continue to work in public life.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Who informed you that you would be nominated as the official languages commissioner?

11:45 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

Who informed me?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Who informed you that you would be the successful nominee?

11:45 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Madeleine Meilleur

I got a telephone call that my name was going to be put forward to the Prime Minister.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Who called you?