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 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Welcome, everyone, to this session of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Pursuant to Standing Order 111.1(1), we are studying the certificate of nomination of Madeleine Meilleur to the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, referred to the committee on Monday, May 15, 2017.

We welcome the nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages.

Welcome, Ms. Meilleur.

Here is how we will proceed. Ms. Meilleur, I understand that you are going to talk to us for 20 minutes or so. Thereafter, as is our custom, we will move to a round of questions, answers and comments from committee members.

Ms. Meilleur, please go ahead.

11 a.m.

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

Mr. Chair, distinguished members of the Standing Commons Committee on Official Languages, thank you for giving me this opportunity to meet with you and to introduce myself.

I first want to express how appreciative I am for being selected as a candidate for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada. It is a sign of confidence that touches me greatly, because, throughout my public life, the country's linguistic duality has been a source of inspiration and commitment for me.

I applied for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada with a great deal of interest and enthusiasm. I believe I have the recognized relevant knowledge, professional qualifications and personal skills to fulfil this role competently and effectively.

My professional career has enabled me to evolve and succeed in three different fields of competency: first as a nurse, then as a lawyer, and more recently as a provincial member of Parliament and minister. At the beginning of my career, I worked as a nurse in a hospital environment, in various specialized services, and I performed clinical teaching duties. After going back to school, I practised as a lawyer specializing in labour and employment law. I worked with both the union and employer communities, thus acquiring experience in mediation and conciliation. During my legal career, I also served as a municipal councillor for the City of Ottawa.

I served as a provincial member of Parliament and Ontario government minister for a period of 12 years. Throughout that period, I served as the minister responsible for francophone affairs. In that capacity I spearheaded important initiatives to ensure the development of the Franco-Ontarian community. Those initiatives included the establishment of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, the adoption of a more inclusive definition of francophones, the adoption of regulations on the delivery of French-language services by third parties on behalf of governmental organizations, the autonomy of the TFO television channel, and more recently, the setting of a 5% target for francophone immigration.

I can assure you that all the work I carried out in that capacity went beyond party politics and was always dedicated to the needs and interests of Ontario's francophone community.

During this time period, I also held a variety of other ministerial mandates. I served successively as the Minister of Culture, Minister of Community and Social Services, Minister of Safety and Correctional Services, and finally as Attorney General of Ontario. I served on the Treasury Board and the management board of the Government of Ontario for a number of years. I promoted a rigorous approach to fiscal control. Coming from a small business family, I treated public expenditure files with the same sense of prudence and foresight that I learned from my parents, recognizing first and foremost that these were financial resources entrusted to us by all Ontarians.

I also fulfilled ministerial duties that required a high degree of professional responsibility and public accountability. At the ministries of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Community and Social Services, and the Attorney General, I dealt with highly confidential and sensitive complex files.

As the Attorney General of Ontario, it was my responsibility to ensure that all bills and all legal decisions by the government complied with the letter and spirit of the Canadian Constitution. In that capacity, I also ensured that the rule of law was upheld in the exercise of authority. In my role as the legal advisor to cabinet, I always had to act in an objective and non-partisan manner.

In terms of official languages in Canada, I believe I offer unique expertise. Over my 12 years as Ontario's Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, I created and maintained collaborative relationships throughout Canada's francophone community, and I developed close relations with my colleagues from other provinces. Nationally, from 2003 to 2015, I participated in every single federal, provincial, and territorial Francophonie conference. Internationally, I attended three Francophonie summits. As part of the Canadian delegation, I contributed to the discussions and to the consensus that was reached by bringing to the table the unique and positive experience of Ontario, which is home to more than 600,000 francophones, an official language minority community that is increasingly diverse and dynamic. I am originally from Quebec, so I am also familiar with Quebec's English-speaking community, its challenges, and its aspirations.

Throughout my career I have made integrity and transparency the core values of my commitment to public life. My actions and decisions have been analyzed and scrutinized by the media, the public, and various political stakeholders. At all times, I have been able to publicly demonstrate my integrity. In my 25 years of public life, I have always adhered to the strictest rules of ethics and accountability associated with the positions I have held.

In closing, if I have the privilege of holding the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, my priorities will include: making Canadians aware of the Commissioner's role, their rights and privileges under the Official Languages Act and of the remedies available them to them to ensure their rights are respected; promoting and protecting the objective nature of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages; and promoting the active offer of services to Canadians in both languages.

Official languages minority communities grow through immigration. The federal government has set some goals related to the recruitment of French-speaking immigrants in provinces and territories other than Quebec, including their reception, their integration, their training, and their retention. The Office of the Commissioner will monitor how this file evolves to ensure that the department meets the objectives that it has set for itself.

This year, Canada is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation. While the celebrations are expected to reflect both official languages and the history of our country's two founding peoples, the Office of the Commissioner must ensure that departments and agencies take their language obligations fully into account in the activities and services they offer to the public.

The Official Languages Act will turn 50 soon, in 2019. It will be very important for the office of the commissioner to collaborate fully with the President of the Treasury Board and with the Minister of Canadian Heritage to modernize the act and use new technologies to extend government services to a broader public in both official languages.

Access to justice in both official languages, early childhood development, and bilingualism in the public service will be other subjects that will command the attention of the office of the commissioner.

I have just discussed the key areas of focus that lie ahead for the office of the commissioner and that will require leadership, experience, openness and impartiality. Therefore, it is with confidence, fully aware of the challenges but resolutely focused on the future, that I am prepared to assume the role of commissioner of official languages.

Thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to answer your questions.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much for your presentation, Ms. Meilleur.

Let us immediately move to the period for questions, answers and comments.

You have the floor, Mr. Généreux.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, Ms. Meilleur. Thank you for joining us this morning.

With your long experience as a politician and a lawyer, you certainly have the skills necessary to hold this position. But that is not the question on everyone's lips at the moment; it is rather about the process that led to your appointment.

You must be aware that the contributions you made to the Liberal Party of Canada, in the past, during the party's leadership race, and in the election that Mr. Trudeau won, are publicly known. The amounts you have contributed to the Liberal Party have somewhat cast a shadow on your application, in the sense that they can be seen to be partisan.

In your remarks, you said the following:

In my 25 years of public life, I have always adhered to the strictest rules of ethics and accountability associated with the positions I have held.

Do you consider that the accountability and the ethics associated with the voluntary political contributions you have made are acceptable?

11:10 a.m.

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

Madeleine Meilleur

Those financial contributions were made when I was a member of the legislature and a minister. In my new position, if I become commissioner, it goes without saying that I will be non-partisan.

I would prefer people to evaluate me on what I will do. I cannot erase my 13 years of politics, of partisan politics, as a minister. That said, I feel that it is been very clearly demonstrated that my objective and my passion, as Minister of Francophone Affairs, has always been to stand up for francophones.

Since that was the objective that was always foremost in my mind, it never was about being partisan. Moreover, I was the only francophone in cabinet and I stood up for the rights of francophones. I never let my affiliation to a political party blind me to the reason for my presence in cabinet. I spoke for francophones.

I understand that this issue bothers some people, but, as I told you, I am passionate about the official languages. For 25 years, I have worked for the advancement of the francophonie, in Ontario, in the city of Ottawa, and later, inside the Government of Ontario. That is what I commit to do. I certainly recognize that the position demands the utmost integrity, I commit myself to never be partisan. I am perfectly comfortable with that.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

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

Ms. Meilleur, in your speech, you spoke of “the recognized professional qualifications and personal skills to fulfil this role competently and effectively.” I might have expected you to add independence. It would have been useful to include that in your speech.

In an interview with TFO this week, in response to opposition critics who found your appointment too partisan for an officer of Parliament you said: “I understand the reservations, but I am not the first politician to occupy a position like that.”

Do you know of other politicians who were appointed to position of this nature?

We are talking about an appointment as an officer of Parliament, of course.

11:15 a.m.

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

Madeleine Meilleur

I believe that former minister Victor Goldbloom was once appointed to the position.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

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

You left provincial politics about a year ago, I think.

11:15 a.m.

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

Madeleine Meilleur

It will be one year at the end of June.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

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

So you gave up your seat. It certainly seems like you had your eye on other things.

In the same interview, you told Benjamin Vachet of TFO: “I am passionate about the area of official languages. I thought I might be able to contribute to it as a senator, but the Prime Minister has been clear that he does not want politicians in the upper chamber.” You did well to wait, because, in a way, you have just doubled your salary overnight.

The Prime Minister does not want politicians in the upper chamber, you believe—I assume that you did not invent that—but he does want politicians as officers of Parliament. Do you see a contradiction there?

11:15 a.m.

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

Madeleine Meilleur

I left politics after 25 years. I was very clear, I was leaving political life, but not public life. I wanted to continue to serve Canadians and give them the benefit of my experience, my energy, and my commitment to official languages. Yes, I was interested in the Senate, but I very quickly found out that no one wants to appoint politicians who have just left their positions.

Anyway, Frances Larkin was appointed; she is a former New Democrat and was in the Government of Ontario, but she left politics a long time ago.

So I accepted the situation. At that time, I did not know that the commissioner's position was open. When I found out…

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

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

Are you quite sure that you did not know that the position was open?

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

I am sorry, Mr. Généreux, but your time is up.

11:15 a.m.

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

Madeleine Meilleur

When I found out that the position was open, I asked to meet the commissioner—he was meeting those who were interested—so that he could answer my questions on the position and on his legacy. I wanted to discuss that with him. Then I thought about it. In November, when the position came open, I applied.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Mr. Généreux,

We now move to Paul Lefebvre.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Ms. Meilleur. I am very happy to welcome you. As a Franco-Ontarian, I have seen your career and the important role you have played for the francophonie in Ontario.

I reread some articles that appeared when you resigned a year ago. Let me tell you about some of the comments that were made.

On June 12, 2016, Gilles LeVasseur wrote in Le Droit:

However, we have had an excellent representative of francophone reality in the Government of Ontario and a channel for francophones and francophiles.

In an article that appeared in Le Droit on June 10, 2016, François Pierre Dufault wrote about Madeleine Meilleur's legacy. He wrote:

Today, francophones have a French language services commissioner who has complete political independence and can advocate for their causes in the provincial legislature. They have a public broadcaster, TFO, that is completely independent from its English-language sister station TVO.

I have been on the TFO board. The broadcaster has the wind in its sails, precisely as a result of that decision about its independence.

11:20 a.m.

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

May 18th, 2017 / 11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

I would like to ask you for your comments afterwards.

On another topic, an article by Huguette Young appeared in Le Droit on June 11, 2016. In it, we read:

Madeleine Meilleur’s political opponents agree that the minister’s departure leaves a gap that will be hard to fill. Kind words came from France Gélinas, the New Democrat MLA for Nickel Belt, for whom the announcement came as a surprise. She had spoken to the minister every day this week, the last time at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday. Ms. Meilleur did not breathe a word to her. “Madeleine was a francophone first, then a Liberal”, she said. “She was an ally in francophone matters. She would come to see me and say: “France, it would be good if you could ask me a question about this. It would help me.” That was because it was sometimes difficult to sell an idea benefitting francophones to the Liberal caucus and to the government.”

I have another quotation. In an article written by Benjamin Vachet in L’Express d’Orléans in 2012—this goes back a while—we read: “As the minister for francophone affairs since 2003, Ms. Meilleur considers the creation of the position of French language services commissioner to be one of the greatest accomplishments of her career.”

He also quotes you: “The creation of the position is a source of great pride for me because it marks a new stage in Franco-Ontarian rights.”

Can you make a few comments on these accomplishments? I refer to the importance of the independence of TFO, and of services to the Franco-Ontarian community. Also can you say a few words about the independence of the French language services commissioner?

11:20 a.m.

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

Madeleine Meilleur

Thank you very much.

I am really very proud of everything we have accomplished in Ontario in the area of francophone affairs. But I want this to be very clear; I did not do this alone. I did it with Franco-Ontarians, with members of the opposition, and with my community. I was alone in cabinet, but I felt the presence of 600,000 Franco-Ontarian men and women behind me. That gave me the strength.

You mentioned France Gélinas, with whom I have always worked in close cooperation. She is also a great defender of francophone rights in Ontario and she chairs the Ontario section of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie. Recently, I received the Order of la Pléiade. She sent me a lovely card that I wish I had brought for you today. I want to publicly thank her for the work she has done.

When I began work as a minister of francophone affairs, of course, I did not have a whole list of tasks to accomplish. Even though I had been active in the area of francophone affairs, I was new to government. It was the people who helped me to accomplish what was on my agenda, the things I wanted to get done.

The creation of the position of French language services commissioner was the biggest step forward in ensuring the permanence of services in French. It was established in two stages. Recently, I gave a speech about the creation of the position. Not everyone is in favour of the appointment of an independent and unelected officer of Parliament.

There were objections; they did not just come from the opposition but from a good number of my colleagues as well. So we set about reassuring them. In the first stage, the position was not independent. It reported to me. I was not very happy with that. I actually wanted it to be independent from the start. But a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say. Although he reported to me, Commissioner Boileau always had all the independence he needed. He said so regularly in his addresses. The second stage consisted in handing over that independence to the commissioner.

TFO is a superb achievement, whose impact is felt not only in Canada, but also in the United States and elsewhere in the world. At the moment, the CEO of TFO is in South Africa to promote the channel. It is a model not only in Ontario but also for the world.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

Thank you very much.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Mr. Lefebvre.

As I understand it, Mr. Choquette is giving up his time for Mr. Mulcair.

Mr. Mulcair, please go ahead.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, Ms. Meilleur.

I am going back to the remarks that my colleague, Mr. Généreux quoted. You say that you thought you might be able to make a contribution as a senator, but the Prime Minister clearly said that he did not want politicians in the upper chamber.

I would like to know who told you that the Prime Minister did not want politicians in the upper chamber.

11:25 a.m.

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

Madeleine Meilleur

The chair of the committee warned me about it. The people involved in recruiting senators subsequently confirmed it.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Have you met Mathieu Bouchard?

11:25 a.m.

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

Madeleine Meilleur

Yes, I met with him at his request. He wanted to talk about bilingualism in the city of Ottawa.