Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair and committee members, I am very pleased to be appearing today. I am joined by Doug Murphy, one of the department's senior officials. He will make sure to provide you with the right answers to the excellent questions I'm sure you will want to ask in a little while.
This is my first appearance before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. I have been looking forward to this invitation for a long time. I know that the standards for an invitation are very high, so I have been working very hard over the past few months to meet them. I am very pleased that I have finally been given the opportunity to join you today to discuss the very important issue of early learning and child care in the country.
As Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, this cause is particularly close to my heart. I am happy to see such a nice alliance when it comes to all the important work you have been doing for several weeks.
Early learning and child care are at the heart of the government's commitment to working on ensuring a prosperous and just future for all our children. This is mainly why, in our last two budgets—those for 2016 and 2017—we jointly proposed to invest $7.5 billion over 11 years beginning in 2017-2018 to help our children get the best possible start in life.
We believe that, by creating and supporting affordable, high-quality child care services across the country, especially for the families that need it most, we are investing in our most precious resource—our children.
In June, for the first time in Canada's history, the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for early learning and child care reached an agreement on a multilateral early learning and child care framework.
This framework sets the foundation for governments to work toward a shared long-term vision where all children across Canada can experience quality, inclusive, simple and affordable early learning and child care.
The framework also supports the development of early learning and child care systems that respect our great country's different languages and cultures, and in particular, recognize the needs of English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada.
Child literacy and learning have a major effect on the development and survival of our official language communities, especially those in minority situations.
The importance of official languages is enshrined in the multilateral framework signed in June.
The framework also provides the flexibility required to enable us to take into account the specific needs of each province and territory with which we have a bilateral agreement or are about to conclude one.
These agreements set out the specific early learning and child care needs to be addressed, as well as the allocation of funds for each province and territory.
Under these bilateral agreements, which are being signed or have already been signed, the government of Canada will allocate $1.2 billion to the provinces and territories over the next three years.
So far, bilateral agreements have been signed with Ontario, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nunavut, and we are in active negotiations with the remaining provinces and territories.
In addition, an indigenous early learning and child care framework is being co-developed in collaboration with our indigenous partners, with full respect for them, to address the needs and priorities of Inuit, Métis and first nations children and families.
A number of key themes have emerged from this engagement with our indigenous peoples, including the critical importance of indigenous cultures and languages in the design and content of early childhood programs.
Strengthened early learning and child care opportunities also support self-determination, reconciliation and cultural revitalization for our indigenous peoples.
So I look forward to finalizing the framework with our indigenous partners in the coming months.
Our official languages approach is also consistent with the overall vision of our government; it is unifying and engaging.
Our government has promised to develop a brand new multi-year action plan on official languages, spanning five years, starting from 2018 and lasting until 2023. That plan will be a renewed vision for official languages, aimed at supporting official language minority communities across our vast country.
To develop this plan in an informed and thoughtful way, we held consultations across the country from June through December of 2016. These consultations took place not only with numerous official languages stakeholders and experts, but also with many Canadians, with the aim of launching the plan by the end of 2017-2018. We wanted to broaden our perspective to better establish our priorities and to invest wisely in our new action plan.
Dear colleagues, know that our government fully intends to propose this new action plan to Canadians by the end of 2017-2018.
At the same time, our government recognizes the importance of providing Canadians with employment training and support programs, in both official languages. The labour market development agreements we are signing with the provinces and territories also help employment insurance claimants and Canadians looking for work access employment training and support in the official language of their choice.
In closing, I would like to remind you that by working hand-in-hand with all our partners—provinces, territories, municipalities and our indigenous peoples—we will be able to find and implement solutions to improve an important part of our wealth—our linguistic duality—and make our greater diversity a source of strength and pride.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my presentation. I will gladly answer any questions or hear any comments you may have.