Evidence of meeting #13 for Official Languages in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was pandemic.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jean Johnson  President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada
Alain Dupuis  Director General, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Yves Duclos Liberal Québec, QC

That's a very good question. I will work with my team to make sure I give you the most helpful and accurate answer possible. You need a good answer, because you do important work on the committee.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

Thank you very much. That's all the time we have.

As I said at the beginning, we only had one round of questions. We even went a few minutes over the time the minister said he could give us.

It is time for me to thank you, Mr. Minister, for appearing before our committee.

I would also like to thank Roger Ermuth, Carsten Quell and Tolga Yalkin.

We are going to take a break for a few minutes.

The session is suspended.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

We now resume the session.

Before I introduce the witnesses, I would like to make some comments.

Colleagues, it is already 4:53 p.m. A number of us have other obligations, including myself. Other meetings will be starting immediately after ours. So I am going to have to adjust the time accordingly.

There will be interpretation. Our guests are used to appearing before the committee. In order to fully benefit from their presence, let us begin immediately.

First, I would like to welcome Jean Johnson, the President of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, and Alain Dupuis, its Director General.

Mr. Johnson, I will give you a signal when you are approaching the end of your ten minutes.

The floor is yours. Once again, welcome

4:50 p.m.

Jean Johnson President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Mr. Chair, members of the committee, may I thank you for inviting the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, the FCFA, to appear today. We have much to tell you about the subject you are studying. The COVID-19 crisis is having a major impact on francophone and Acadian communities. It is shaking our Francophonie to its very foundations and it will be felt for years. I will address two aspects of the impact in the time I have been given.

First of all, let us talk about the effect on the Francophonie's networking and affiliation. Last fall, the FCFA conducted a survey in which 247 francophone organizations and institutions across the country participated. After that survey, we conducted 25 interviews with respondents. Let me quickly provide you with some preliminary data that emerged from the study.

First, only 57% of the responding organizations have been able to maintain their services to the public. In fact, 78% of them have lost some or all of their volunteers. While 60% have lost some income, one organization in three has lost between 11% and 30% of its income. Actually, local organizations providing direct services to energize the Francophonie have seen the greatest losses. The result has been that 18% of them have had to lay off staff.

So what access do those organizations now have to government assistance? The encouraging news is that, of the 53% that applied, 91% have received support. However, not all the organizations received assistance that met their needs. More specifically, small organizations with few employees or little in the way of operational expenses have had to cancel their activities and plans and were unable to receive assistance.

So what are their prospects for recovery? Ten per cent of the responding organizations stated that their future is uncertain or that they face imminent closure. That number is particularly high in New Brunswick, Alberta and British Columbia, and among youth and media organizations and ethnocultural groups.

So what, specifically, are the needs of those organizations? Let me give you three. First, they need support in order to get through the crisis and to make up for their losses in income. Then they need support for transformation because things will no longer be as they were before. This means managing the change, facilities, new equipment and training for staff and volunteers. Finally, they need flexibility from funding agencies so that amounts can be reallocated and the approach to accountability can be tailored.

Those are the measurable effects, but the crisis has a consequence whose extent is only just beginning to be sensed: the loss of vitality of the French language and the francophone presence across the country.

Our kids spent months out of school in the spring of 2020 and, at this very moment, a number of them are once more attending school remotely. Extracurricular activities have almost all been cancelled. Festivals and gatherings where the young and the not-so-young can jointly experience life in French, no longer take place.

We just have to think about the Jeux de la francophonie canadienne, or about the myriad of other activities in the youth network. Those activities play a fundamental role in building the identity of young francophones and in training the leaders of the Francophonie. I cannot stress enough the potentially disastrous consequences of the lack of opportunity for our kids to come together in French.

The closing of cultural and community centres because of the pandemic means that communities no longer have any space to come together in French. As I told you earlier, the centres and organizations that stimulate life in French in our communities have lost their volunteers and their customers. They are going to need all kinds of time to repair that loss of relationships, that loss of vitality.

The phenomenon is yet to be studied, but we are already hearing accounts from worried parents. They are actually telling us that, for six months, their children have been using English more often at home or in their online dealings with their friends. The FCFA is in the process of working with partner organizations to try to better define this problem, which we see as a major one.

Mr. Chair, members of the committee, the Francophonie is being shaken. Like other aspects of Canadian society, we will need years to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Let me conclude by providing you with some recommendations that stem from the observations we have just described to you. First, it is essential to maintain access to emergency funding until the pandemic ends. It has allowed groups in our communities to maintain activities and staff as well as to compensate for fundraising campaigns that the organizations have not been able to undertake. The conditions that make that emergency funding necessary will remain the same for as long as the pandemic lasts.

Second, it is important for federal institutions that support our community organizations to tailor their program criteria and their expected outcomes. Because of the circumstances, our organizations and institutions do not have the capacity to meet the same requirements as before the pandemic, or at least, certainly not in the same way.

Finally, although emergency funds are essential, they only let us keep the lights on. More will be needed in order for us to reestablish our core. The financial losses incurred by our organizations bring with them alarming damage, such as the collapse of our pool of volunteers that drive our communities forward, and the severing of the direct ties to the community that had been cultivated with patience and determination.

The vitality of the French language and presence at local level will require significant catch-up. That is why the government should establish an assistance fund for the recovery of the Francophonie. The funding would be flexible, so that specific needs can be addressed. We mentioned several of them previously: tailoring our services and activities, training volunteers and staff, and buying equipment so that services can be provided in a different form.

Thank you. I look forward to answering your questions.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

Thank you very much for your remarks, Mr. Johnson.

You have left us a little time, which is very good.

Once again, I want to advise committee members that will have just one six-minute round of questions per party represented on the committee.

The floor is yours, Mr. Williamson, for six minutes.

5 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you very much.

I would like to share my time with Mr. Dalton, please.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

Of course.

5 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you very much to the witnesses who have identified these problems and made suggestions.

My province is New Brunswick. Mr. Johnson, can you talk a little about how our bilingual province has responded in terms of the links with our federal system, which is also bilingual?

Has that worked a little better or do you see the same weaknesses?

January 28th, 2021 / 5 p.m.

President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Jean Johnson

We see the same weaknesses all over the country. In addition, at the moment, the relationship between our association, which represents Acadians, and the provincial government is in disarray.

We have to find a way to assist them in order to convince their government that New Brunswick's bilingual status should not be called into question. It must be understood, that, like everyone, we are going through a crisis at the moment. Why provoke another one for our Acadian brothers and sisters?

5 p.m.

Alain Dupuis Director General, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

I'd like to add something.

5 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Of course.

5 p.m.

Director General, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Alain Dupuis

Our study shows that 60% of the organizations consulted have suffered revenue losses as a result of the pandemic. However, in New Brunswick, this percentage rises to 70%.

Compared to the national average, organizations in your province are more affected by revenue losses.

5 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Absolutely. It's very serious.

In terms of solutions, do you have any suggestions for how the two levels of government can work together? Do you think that the issues are really specific to each level of government?

Can they work together? If so, how can they work together?

5 p.m.

President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Jean Johnson

In terms of relationships, in this type of situation, I believe that the two levels of government must find a way to work together for the benefit of their official language minority communities.

We also see the need for a fund that would be available to our community groups across Canada, where they can access additional funding.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Would this fund be like a safety net in the event of communication and program issues? How would it work, and what purpose would it serve?

5:05 p.m.

President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Jean Johnson

On an operational level, in our communities, there are no longer any activities involving registration fees. Think of plays, for example, or other arts and culture activities, or events for young people.

So a group of organizations have put their activities on hold. How will we keep these organizations running if we can't find other ways to meet their needs? Of course, there could be online programming, but who would pay for that? The organizations would pay for it. Since they can't afford it, they're cutting back on their services.

Our concern is the investment that communities will need to make in human resources in order to move forward, restore services, engage volunteers and change the habits of our community members so that they'll once again participate in our activities and events.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you.

It's now Mr. Dalton's turn.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

Mr. Dalton, you have less than a minute and a half for the question and answer.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you for your presentation.

I'm a member of Parliament from British Columbia. During the pandemic, the situation was very frustrating. It was the province that showed leadership, even though British Columbia isn't an officially bilingual province. The federal government seems to be asleep at the switch.

Have you noticed this as well in your area?

5:05 p.m.

President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Jean Johnson

I'm your neighbour. I live in Alberta. I think that the three provinces that have been hit the hardest are British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Okay.

Let's talk about Service Canada. There are many immigrants in the Vancouver area, especially in the suburbs. They didn't have services in their language. This caused many issues.

Maybe the number of immigrants isn't the same in your area, but have there been issues with Service Canada as well?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

Please take a few seconds to answer.

5:05 p.m.

President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Jean Johnson

I'd say that services in all sectors have been affected and that access to services and the ability to deliver them have declined.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you.