Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to begin by thanking the committee members for inviting Statistics Canada to appear before you today to provide an update on its efforts regarding the enumeration of rights holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As you mentioned, Mr. Chair, with me today are my colleagues Lynn Barr-Telford and Stéphane Dufour, who will assist me in answering your questions. The fact that I am here with assistant chief statisticians attests to how important we consider the issue to be and gives them an opportunity to hear from you directly. Ms. Barr-Telford and Mr. Dufour are responsible for census content and operations, respectively.
Statistics Canada is committed to providing high-quality up-to-date data and analysis to policy-makers. To that end, we have formed strong relationships with our partners, developed world-class expertise, established robust methodologies, pursued constant innovation and explored new ways to meet the data needs of Canadians.
We use sample surveys, administrative and new emerging data sources, and the census, conducted once every five years, to build, maintain and further strengthen our data infrastructure in Canada. This infrastructure reflects a support of our values, our laws and societal needs with good facts and evidence. This evidence and need for unbiased data—not influenced by factors other than statistical rigour and independence—was made explicit through changes to the Statistics Act in 2017, subsequent to the return of the mandatory long-form census in 2016.
Canadians, 88% in fact, say they trust Statistics Canada. The 2016 census achieved the highest-ever response rate, which lends further support for a strong and credible statistical system in Canada.
Meeting the data needs of our bilingual society, where English and French have had official language status for the past 50 years, is something we take very seriously at Statistics Canada. We are unaware of any other statistical agency in the world that has acquired expertise equivalent to ours or built such an extensive wealth of knowledge around a society with two official languages as dynamic as the one we have here in Canada.
We are also committed to meeting the specific needs of language rights holders, a commitment I care deeply about. I'd like to take a few moments to show you that by sharing some of the tangible measures we have taken at Statistics Canada in the past few years.
First, we secured stable funding for a language statistics program at the department, as provided for in the 2019 budget. Through a leading-edge centre of expertise for statistical production and analysis for Canada's official languages, we can support related government initiatives. Our efforts support the official languages action plan and give official language communities, as well as all Canadians, access to high-quality information.
In 2017, we assembled Canada's leading experts through a formal advisory committee on language statistics to help guide our commitment to further strengthen our capacity to serve Canadians with the best information possible, the measure of right holders being an important focus.
Given the specific requirements that define minority language rights holders both within and outside Quebec, we developed, through robust qualitative testing, a module of comprehensible questions in both languages to ensure that we could obtain a highly reliable count of right holders.
To ensure that the questions designed through qualitative testing would work to yield high quality and reliable results, we conducted a large-scale quantitative test with 135,000 households in 2019.
Over the past many years, Statistics Canada has also strengthened its ability to obtain and maintain administrative data on school enrollments from other jurisdictions, including enrollments in minority language schools across this country.
In addition, together with the Department of Canadian Heritage, we built the capacity to produce geographic databases that make it possible to overlay the location of rights holders' children and the exact location of every minority language education facility in Canada. This will enable Statistics Canada to determine the distance between where rights holders live and where the education facility is located geographically.
We are also working with the Department of Canadian Heritage, as well as other federal partners, to develop a new post-census survey on official language minorities in Canada. The survey should provide relevant contextual information on rights holders' intentions when it comes to sending their children to a minority language education facility. The survey should also highlight the challenges official language minority communities face, including access to education in their official language.
The census is a signature data collection vehicle that dates back to 1666 in Canada, and one that obviously has evolved since in content and methodology. It serves our nation's needs for high-quality data at low levels of geography for very small populations. It provides a statistical basis upon which numerous legal, statutory and policy programs are assessed, and subsequent decisions are made to increase their effectiveness, including the Employment Equity Act, the Official Languages Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the Employment Insurance Act and Canada Pensions Plan, just to name a few.
However, the census is a specific snapshot in time and, on its own, cannot provide all the information rights holders are seeking. It is therefore important to build an ecosystem of data that will shed light on this important issue. To that end, Statistics Canada is exploring various data sources that will help paint an accurate picture of rights holders. This includes provincial and territorial data on annual school enrolment and a follow-up survey of rights holders to produce estimates of the number of parents who intend to send their children to a minority language education facility.
Indeed, existing questions on mother tongue and language spoken at home on the census, along with annual administrative data on school enrolments and the possible addition of a module of five questions on rights holders and a post-censal survey, would immensely strengthen the information on this vital aspect of our bilingual society.
We are eager to continue working with our partners to enrich this important ecosystem of data.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.