Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll take less than 10 minutes because I'm going to shorten my speech a bit to leave more time for discussion and questions. I'll also try to speak slowly even if it's not really my tendency.
First of all, I'd like to thank the members of the committee for their invitation. This is an opportunity for me and for us to talk about the importance of official languages, an important issue for our government, and one that is close to my heart as the member of Parliament for Quebec City, the riding that is essentially the capital of French North America, but also as a francophone, a proud Quebecker and a proud Canadian.
As you said, I am fortunate to be accompanied by Tolga Yalkin, Carsten Quell and Roger Ermuth, whom you have already introduced and who will be able to provide any clarification you may require.
As you know, bilingualism is at the heart of both the history and the identity of our great and beautiful country. In fact, it's thanks to the union of the two founding peoples, French and English, that Canada came into being a long time ago, in association with the indigenous peoples and with respect—which we want to increase, of course—for them.
Very early on in the history of this Confederation, Montreal patron of the arts David Stewart recognized this equality in a quotation that presents us with the advantages that this dual identity, this bilingualism, grants to Canadians: “Canada is the heir to the two great traditional civilizations of Western Europe. It is its responsibility to develop them, and it should be proud of it.”
Indeed, we have reason to be proud of it. In fact, more than 50 years ago, with the adoption of the Official Languages Act, we took another step forward in affirming, protecting and promoting the bilingual character of Canada. Today, millions of Canadians across the country can flourish and contribute to our collective success in the language of their choice. Canadians understand that official bilingualism is an asset for them and for us in many ways.
For example, in addition to being at the heart of our culture, our history and our collective identity, the French language and the presence of millions of francophones and francophiles from coast to coast to coast are an undeniable added value for our country on the international scene. This richness allows us to participate actively in the debates and the mission of the International Organisation of La Francophonie and to maintain privileged relations with all French-speaking countries around the world.
In 2021, we also understand that, in an increasingly globalized society, bilingualism is an important competitive advantage for Canada. In fact, Jean Johnson, president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, clearly emphasized this in a recent article in the Toronto Star. According to Mr. Johnson, at a time when intolerance is unfortunately on the rise, it is important to reaffirm that our two official languages, our commitment to reconciliation with indigenous peoples and our diversity are part of what has made us successful over the years.
Strengthening our official languages, which fosters openness but also respect for differences, is as much a matter of the past as it is of the present and future of Canada. That is why the government is committed to modernizing the Official Languages Regulations under Part IV of the Official Languages Act. These regulations are very important because they cover the language obligations of more than 10,000 federal points of service across the country, and were last updated almost 30 years ago.
Last year, the government also marked the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act and made significant changes to the Official Languages Regulations. As a result of these changes, Canadians now have better access to federal services in both official languages than ever before.
Allow me to give you a few examples. These amendments allow for the designation of some 700 points of service across the country as bilingual points of service. Close to 145,000 Canadians living outside major urban centres will now have access to a Service Canada office in the official language of their choice. More than 60,000 others will have access to RCMP public safety services in the official language of their choice. In addition, services will now be provided in English and French at airports and train stations in all provincial capitals.
As this committee is aware, official language minority communities were very concerned that the previous method of calculating demand for services did not include enough people who spoke the minority official language, including members of bilingual families or immigrants. Our new, more inclusive method of calculation takes into account all of these people, and the next census will therefore be more representative of the realities experienced by francophones outside Quebec and anglophones in Quebec.
I would like to re-emphasize that respect for official languages is both a priority and an obligation for the Government of Canada. Every day, federal public servants provide services to Canadians and communicate with them in the official language of their choice. When it comes to creating an environment conducive to the use of both official languages, such as holding bilingual meetings today, the Public Service Employee Survey shows that most employees feel that their managers are succeeding in doing so. That said, we know very well that it is not a perfect system. We can and must always do better. The same survey also shows that there is still a lot of work to be done.
For an organization the size of the public service, making changes and improvements can obviously be complex and difficult, especially in the midst of a pandemic. For example, at the onset of the current health crisis, hundreds of thousands of public servants moved from their desks to makeshift desks in their living rooms, bedrooms or kitchens in a matter of days.
It was a massive shift. I'm sure many of my honourable colleagues will sympathize, given our own experiences and our own challenges that we faced with virtual House sittings and committee hearings.
As these public servants managed to adapt to work remotely during a time of great uncertainty, they also rolled out critical and complex programs and services to Canadians in record time.
We recognize there may have been times when managers did not address employees in their preferred language during a video meeting or other communications.
This is an unfortunate situation and should simply be corrected, and no excuses should be made. As soon as this situation was brought to our attention, we reminded all departments and agencies of their official languages obligations through the Human Resources Branch.
I have also made it my personal duty to remind all my colleagues in the council of ministers of these same obligations. I can also assure you that we are working closely with the Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure that the rights and needs of all Canadians, including those of public service employees, are respected, even in this time of pandemic.
Finally, I would like to reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that the work environment in federal departments, agencies and organizations is not only favourable, but also conducive to bilingualism so that all government employees, wherever they are, can work in the official language of their choice.
We are committed to a Canada where everyone should—