Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone. I know several of you, to whom I've spoken. I'm pleased to have the chance to reiterate the message of the Société nationale de l'Acadie.
The Société nationale de l'Acadie was founded in 1881 to advocate for the interests of Acadians, in particular the interests of ancient and contemporary Acadia. We represent the four associations that advocate for Acadians in the four Atlantic provinces, along with the youth associations in these four provinces and many members from around the world, including Quebec, Ontario, Louisiana, the United States and France. Thank you for having me here today.
I want to address four points.
I'll start with an anecdote. It's now an anecdote, but it wasn't an anecdote when it happened. You'll recall that, at the start of the pandemic, the Canadian government agreed to allow drugs or products that weren't labelled in both official languages on the market. We were told that this was the result of an emergency. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
For years, the francophones in this country have been saying that the Official Languages Act isn't being complied with and implemented, or isn't always being implemented, and that, as a result, we aren't prepared to deal with emergencies. Mr. Silas and Ms. Fortin made similar points.
For the past two or three years, if not more, francophones across the country have been calling for an update of the act. They want the act to be modernized, to have more teeth, and to include penalties for people, businesses, and especially government services that don't comply with it. We've already heard this afternoon about many instances where the act wasn't complied with or enforced.
First, the pandemic resulted in the delay of the bill, and we had been waiting for this bill for a long time.
Fortunately, in February, Minister Mélanie Joly announced her overhaul plan. I must say that most of the communities that I represent were satisfied that the overhaul plan took into account the considerations that we proposed, whether these considerations concerned compliance with the act, the enhancement of certain standards, incentives, or the recognition of the language regimes of each province, particularly New Brunswick. The first impact of the pandemic on the Official Languages Act was a major delay with regard to the bill that we had all been awaiting for a long time. That said, I'm not sure whether the pandemic was responsible for this delay. It may have been a good excuse.
Second, the impact of the pandemic meant that all the development efforts abroad of the Société nationale de l'Acadie and Acadia in general were put on hold. Relationships that had been established with France, Belgium and Louisiana couldn't be maintained. Of course, the pandemic is partly responsible for this. However, we must also consider the fact that we didn't have the tools to continue these relationships. With the exception of Quebeckers, there aren't many francophones. Our ability to take action must be based on international recognition.
Third, I want to talk about the strategy for the promotion of Acadian artists on the international stage, or SPAASI. The Acadian artistic community is abundant, but the audience isn't very large. For the past 20 years or so, we've been working on promoting the artistic ability of our artists, meaning their artistic products, at the international level. This isn't only a key part of their development. It's also an economic issue. Since the markets are small, when our artists have the chance to perform on the international stage, it can triple the investments. An artist who goes on tour in France, Belgium or elsewhere will increase their very minimal income fivefold. For each dollar invested, there's a significant return.
This isn't the same as funding or subsidizing organizations such as Cirque du Soleil, where millions of dollars are generated. However, for individuals and groups, these benefits are significant. Since Canada has put a dollar sign on these foreign investments, they must generate benefits. However, we must take into consideration the fact that these benefits can vary depending on whether you're a solo artist, a small theatre company, an exhibit or a large ensemble such as the ones that we have in Canada.
Fourth, I want to draw your attention to the issue of francophone immigration. The Canadian government committed to expanding immigration opportunities and to ensuring that francophone immigration for the country as a whole reaches at least 4.4%, and an even higher rate in some provinces, such as New Brunswick. However, these targets have never been met and certainly won't be met this year either, because of the pandemic.
If you want to renew this commitment and ensure the survival of French, you must invest resources in this area. Given what has happened, you must focus on francophone immigration in the coming years. You must give it a boost so that the pandemic doesn't have a negative impact and the proportion of francophones in the country doesn't decrease any further.
These are the four points that I wanted to address. Obviously, I'm more than willing to discuss these matters further with the committee members.