Evidence of meeting #73 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 questions.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Yvan Déry  Senior Director, Policy and Research, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage
Johanne Denis  Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada
Jean-Pierre Corbeil  Assistant Director, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada
Pierre Foucher  Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Hello everyone.

We will begin quite quickly because there is a vote in the House at 5:45 p.m. We will see how we can divide up the speaking time, since we have two groups today and also have to discuss a few things amongst ourselves.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3), we are continuing our study of the issues related to the enumeration of rights-holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The committee is pleased to welcome today Mr. Yvan Déry, senior director, official languages branch at the Department of Canadian Heritage. We also welcome Ms. Johanne Denis, director general, social and demographic statistics, and Mr. Jean-Pierre Corbeil, from the social and aboriginal statistics division, both from Statistics Canada.

Welcome to you all.

I believe each of you has a brief presentation. Then, as usual, we will have time for questions and comments from committee members.

We will begin with Mr. Déry.

3:30 p.m.

Yvan Déry Senior Director, Policy and Research, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I will be brief, since I do not really have a presentation.

Thank you very much for inviting us to appear before the committee.

The government has responded very favourably to your report on the enumeration of rights holders. In our opinion, and this is nothing new, education is crucial to the vitality of official language minority communities across Canada. So we believe that anything that furthers the right to education is also important. We welcomed your report.

In our reply, we noted your desire to help provincial governments and school boards better enumerate rights holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We then asked Statistics Canada to determine the best way of fully enumerating rights holders. That is also in the government's response.

We also undertook to work with Statistics Canada and other partners to obtain better data on official language minority communities, in particular by using a post-censal survey or other means to be determined during preparations for the 2021 Census.

I can answer your questions once my colleagues have finished their presentations.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Mr. Déry.

I now give the floor to Ms. Denis.

3:30 p.m.

Johanne Denis Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada

Hello.

I have a short presentation to read out.

First, I would like to thank the committee for inviting us to appear today.

As indicated in the government's response to the Report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages on the Enumeration of Rights-Holders, Jean-Pierre Corbeil and I wish today to reiterate Statistics Canada's full commitment to finding better ways to collect quality data on rights holders. We are firmly committed to using all of our knowledge and expertise to appropriately respond to this important issue. We are fully committed to working diligently on this.

That being said, as the national statistics agency, we take our role and professional responsibility very seriously. These involve fully understanding the needs for statistical information and expressing them in a scientific and neutral way and, secondly, balancing these needs with quality imperatives and issues related to the time to complete the form. Statistics Canada has a long and rich tradition as well as an enviable international reputation for using methodological approaches and innovative tools to meet the many information needs of those who use our data.

In September 2017, we launched a public consultation of all Canadians on the content of the 2021 Census in order to better understand their needs for statistical information. This consultation is accessible online and will continue until December 8, 2017.

As part of this process, we sent a personal invitation to complete the online consultation to the various stakeholders and associations who had sent a letter to Minister Navdeep Bains regarding the importance of collecting sound evidence in order to assess the needs related to official language minority education. We also work with staff from Statistics Canada's regional offices, and with provincial and territorial statistics coordinators in order to achieve the most accurate representation possible of the needs and use of census information.

We have also planned a working meeting on this subject between Statistics Canada and the Fédération des communautés francohpones et acadienne du Canada, which will be held on October 11, 2017. The objective is to ensure full transparency and to discuss the best ways of sharing information about developments with community representatives from the provinces and territories.

Following the public consultation and the needs assessment based on the framework for determining census content, any proposed change to the content of the population census will be subject to rigorous evaluation, including qualitative and quantitative tests, based on Statistics Canada's high standards.

At this point, no one can predict the results of the census test questionnaire. I would very much like to tell you today that the results will be positive, but we will not know until a rigorous analysis of these results has been completed.

You will no doubt recall that the process for approving the census population questions is established by statute, specifically the Statistics Act. In our previous appearance, we referred to section 21 of the act, which provides that “The Governor in Council shall, by order, prescribe the questions to be asked in any census taken by Statistics Canada”. To inform Canadians of this decision, the act also requires the questions to be published in the Canada Gazette, no later than 30 days after the order is issued.

Based on the public consultations and the results of a rigorous process of testing and evaluations, Statistics Canada will make its recommendations about census content to the minister responsible for Statistics Canada, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. The recommendations about census content will be reviewed by cabinet in the fall of 2019 and winter of 2020, so the questions can be published in the Canada Gazette in the spring of 2020 at the latest. This schedule of activities is necessary to ensure that all the systems and process are appropriately updated, tested and completed in time for data collection beginning in mid-2021.

At the same time as the census process, we are working closely with our colleagues at the Department of Canadian Heritage to examine the options for collecting additional data on official language minority communities, including a new post-censal questionnaire. The issue of rights holders does of course involve eligibility, but it also involves the intention of rights holder parents to educate their children in the minority official language. So it is also important to gather information about those intentions, motives and obstacles, which would provide the basis for a post-censal questionnaire.

On November 10, 2017, we will also be meeting with the strategic management committee of the Canadian Education Statistics Council to consider the potential use of their administrative data on school enrolment for the enumeration of rights holders in Canada.

Moreover, as recommended in the report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, Statistics Canada is in the process of creating an advisory committee whose mandate will be not only to examine and provide expert advice to Statistics Canada on the best ways of collecting reliable data about rights holders, but also to provide outside advice on language-related statistics in general. This working group should include recognized university experts on language-related statistics, language rights and policies, as well as key representatives from associations. Since this is an advisory committee for Statistics Canada, the members will be approved by the Chief Statistician of Canada. The first meeting of this advisory committee is scheduled for November 2017.

As you can see, Statistics Canada is committed to being proactive on this important issue and takes its role and responsibilities very seriously.

Thank you.

Mr. Jean-Pierre Corbeil and I will be pleased to answer your questions.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Ms. Denis.

We will begin immediately with the first round of questions and comments.

I would ask my colleagues to indicate who their questions or comments are for.

Mr. Généreux, please go ahead.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I would like to thank the three witnesses for being here today.

It is interesting to hear Statistics Canada's response to the concerns raised by all the witnesses we have heard during our meetings.

Mr. Corbeil, you have met with us before and I recall our conversation. We discussed the limited number of questions that could be in the census. We cannot add questions to the census at will. If we change the census questionnaire by adding questions about rights holders, they could take the place of supplementary questions about other sectors of activity and even about the francophonie.

Without knowing the results of your upcoming consultations in advance, as Ms. Denis indicated, can you tell us whether we will be able to add questions to the census?

Ms. Denis, you said you do not know whether the consultation will be positive or negative, but I am quite confident that it will be positive. I would be very surprised if that were not the case, based on what we have heard during the consultations.

If questions about rights holders are added, does that mean that certain other questions about other sectors will have to be removed from the questionnaire?

3:40 p.m.

Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada

Johanne Denis

Phrasing census questions concisely so they are accepted by the population is an art. As to the time required to complete it, you are quite right.

We have reviewed all the information gathered during our consultations. We have a framework for deciding on the content. This framework allows us to determine whether a given question is necessary in terms of legislation, programs or policies. Then we balance it all out. We do this continually. If additional questions are needed, we will add them to the questionnaire, but we will have to make a compromise.

This year in particular, we are trying to replace certain questions in the questionnaire with administrative data. You might know that we used tax data this time to replace a whole series of questions about income that used to be in the questionnaire. This allowed us to shorten it. By making greater use of administrative data when we can, we can be much more concise and open to adding new questions.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

I remember that, during the consultations, people mentioned a lot of items to be added. The witnesses who appeared had preconceived ideas of what they expected to be included in the questionnaire.

You said that an expert committee will be created. I assume this committee will review the testimony together. You also said you have already begun the process to invite all those people again to meet all the experts. I am thinking, for example, of the French language services commissioner of Ontario...

3:40 p.m.

Jean-Pierre Corbeil Assistant Director, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada

Mr. François Boileau.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Boileau made some quite direct remarks as to his expectations about possibly adding new questions. There could be repercussions, depending on how the question is asked and the number of questions. If you ask one question, you can get multiple answers. The questions have to be a specific as possible in order to take action on the basis of the information collected. Asking a question is one thing, but being able to interpret the answer and then make decisions accordingly is another.

3:40 p.m.

Assistant Director, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada

Jean-Pierre Corbeil

I would simply say that Statistics Canada is probably the best placed agency or organization in Canada to decide on the questions, given our experience and reputation. We test questions all day long. What you have to understand is that the purpose of Statistics Canada's qualitative and quantitative tests, for any new survey or any new question, is to ascertain precisely which questions are effective and which ones are not. Contrary to popular belief, a significant part of the population sometimes finds it difficult to understand questions that are often simple.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Yes.

3:45 p.m.

Assistant Director, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada

Jean-Pierre Corbeil

Some people told us that two questions are enough. I can guarantee that those two questions would not accurately enumerate the rights holders. It is much more complicated than that, and that is why Statistics Canada has to conduct these tests to ensure the questions have the most effective wording possible.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

That is an important point because, when people answer a question, they do have to answer it correctly according to the question they were asked. You cannot control that, but asking simple questions can make a difference. I have confidence in you. I have no doubt in that regard.

Various witnesses who appeared at the hearings last fall and last winter mentioned the percentage of rights holders they had calculated. Organizations said they had not enumerated even 50% of rights holders. We asked them how they could say that 50% of people are rights holders and do not know it. Using the census, can we enumerate 100% or about 100% of the people who meet the criteria?

3:45 p.m.

Assistant Director, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada

Jean-Pierre Corbeil

That is our objective. You have to understand, as my colleague Ms. Denis clearly stated, that we really have to strike a balance in terms of the time it takes Canadians to complete the form. Let me give you a very simple example. In the case of a question about possible attendance at minority language schools in order to enumerate rights holders, should we ask persons aged 75 and over who have no knowledge of French and have not had children at home for a very long time?

The answer is simple, but if we do not do that, we have to find an alternative to make sure we do not leave anyone out. We really have to balance out the questions with the time it takes to complete the form, and determine who should be asked those questions in order to better balance the target population in question with the time required to complete the form.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Mr. Corbeil.

Mr. Samson has the floor.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and I also thank the witnesses very much for their presence here today.

I will begin with my friend Mr. Déry. It's not that the others are not my friends, but Mr. Déry and I have known each other for a long time.

I want to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate Heritage Canada for having played a key role in the conclusion of a strategic agreement with school boards in minority environments, which our committee had recommended. That is certainly a tool that will help enormously to move French-language education in minority environments forward. Thank you.

You say that the government will do everything it can to ensure the progress of rights-holders and their rights.

Can you give me an example? You have already done certain things. Can you give me an example of other measures you intend to take to ensure that the rights of rights-holders are recognized?

October 3rd, 2017 / 3:45 p.m.

Senior Director, Policy and Research, Official Languages Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

Yvan Déry

Thank you, Mr. Samson.

As you know, federal-provincial agreements we sign in the area of education come with envelopes that can be used to recruit students. A lot of school boards use those funds that are given to them by the provinces to carry out promotion campaigns and all types of recruitment activities. Some provinces have also funded provincial campaigns. So, federal funds are already used for that purpose.

As recognized in the government response, there might be a way of coordinating that work better. There is a mechanism that allows school boards, provincial governments and Heritage Canada to work together. That is the tripartite committee we have already discussed. We discussed promotion at the national level. That is quite complex. Indeed, even if section 23 of the charter is the same for everyone, the vast majority of provinces give some people who do not qualify under this provision the right to attend the minority school. There are admission committees in most provinces. For instance, in the Atlantic provinces, if the mother tongue of the parents is English, they will consider the mother tongue of a grandparent. In addition, they automatically accept the children of French-speaking immigrants, even if they are not Canadian citizens.

We are talking about national promotion, but on the local scale people have often said that they would like things to take place somewhat differently there. We have to come to an agreement with school boards and provinces and territories, and determine where we could act in the context of a national campaign.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Déry.

I would like to have enough time to put questions to my Statistics Canada colleagues. Some matters have disturbed me for a long time and I am increasingly uncomfortable.

We are talking about a full commitment, and I am very happy to hear it. However, I am worried about the fact that we are talking about doing things differently with regard to the collection and communication of data. Thirty years have gone by during which we have not been able to obtain the questions that would allow us to ensure that we receive, under the terms of paragraph 23(1)(b), information from the parents who send their children to French school, or under subsection 23(2), information on the children whose parents studied in French. We missed the boat.

How can I be sure that this will be done?

This frightens me a lot. We are talking about consultation regarding needs. And yet, the needs have been well defined. In your reply, you talk about setting up a working group.

3:50 p.m.

Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

I would like to know who the members will be and whether the discussions will be public?

3:50 p.m.

Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada

Johanne Denis

We will send the name of the members once the Chief Statistician has approved them. We have to submit our list to him and discuss it. We will convey that information to the committee as soon as we have it. That should be over the next two weeks.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you.

However, I want to raise the following point. Is the issue of enumeration directly related to minority official language school boards?

Are the teachers and those organizations directly related to this?

The Alberta courts clearly stated that it was up to the school boards to designate the students on the basis of the enumeration.

Do you agree with that?

3:50 p.m.

Assistant Director, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada

Jean-Pierre Corbeil

In fact, there are a lot of users.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

The first users must be the school boards, since the number of students comes from them, does it not?