Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House today to provide information to my hon. colleagues on a subject we all care about, and that is the opportunities the Department of National Defence will provide young Canadians to receive officer training in the Canadian forces, in a fully bilingual Canadian military college.
I promised the hon. member for Roberval some weeks ago, when there was topical questioning as a result of the budget and the closing of the Collège militaire in St. Jean, Quebec, that within a number of weeks I would make a progress report to the House to let members know what the Department of National Defence is doing to ensure the bilingual nature of the military college system once there is consolidation at Kingston.
Tomorrow I shall be appearing before the Senate finance committee. I understand the prime focus for the questioning on that date has to do with the collège militaire and its closing. I felt it was only courteous to members of the House that I make a statement in my own Chamber to let the House know how our thinking has evolved before I went to the Senate committee.
The amalgamation of our three military colleges into a single institution has been dictated by both budgetary constraints and the operational requirements of the Canadian forces. Since 1989 the strength of the officer corps of the regular force has been declining. As a result of the 1994 budget the number of officers will continue to decrease until 1998. Thus the number of cadets in military colleges will obviously be reduced from the current level of about 1,600 to about 900. A single college will therefore be sufficient to meet our needs.
Once we have one military college it will have to be fully bilingual for two reasons. First, our college must accommodate young Canadians from all regions of Canada, whatever their first official language. Not only must these young Canadians know they are welcome in their military college; they must feel at home there. Second, the principle of equality of the status of the official languages as well as the spirit of the Official Languages Act require us to ensure that the training of officers is carried out in both official languages.
Bilingual training is also important because our officer corps must be able to command personnel from both linguistic groups. It was therefore recently decided that beginning in academic year 1996-97 all graduates of the Canadian military college must be functionally bilingual. I shall return to this point in a few moments.
The establishment of a fully bilingual military college is typical of the challenges we face in Canada. Among our goals is to promote relationships based on respect for differences as well as harmony and co-operation in the name of a common cause: to serve and protect Canada. The Department of National Defence has taken on this challenge willingly. My department has developed both a transition plan for the period from 1994 to 1997 and a plan to make the Royal Military College in Kingston fully bilingual.
As part of the transition plan measures will be put in place to ensure the replacement of the programs currently offered by the three military colleges by the end of the 1996-97 academic year. We are also considering several options to replace, starting in 1995-96, the qualifying year offered by the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, in Quebec.
At the same time, the Department of National Defence is developing a plan to make the Royal Military College fully bilingual. Here is an outline of this plan. The Royal Military College is already partially bilingual, the science and engineering curriculum having been taught in both official languages for
many years. Both French and English have also been used for a long time in daily activities, alternating from week to week.
The plan national defence officials are presently working on is geared toward making the Royal Military College fully bilingual and creating an environment where young francophones and anglophones will be motivated to study to become bilingual officers of the Canadian Armed Forces.
This plan will have an impact on the four pillars of the Canadian military college system, namely academic training, the military training plan, sports and physical fitness, as well as second language skills. It will apply to the directing staff and the officer cadets and affect administrative support and all aspects of the daily operations of the college.
As part of the rationalization of our military college system all academic programs that are retained will be offered to new entrants in both official languages. To meet this objective college commandants and principals are currently assessing francophone and anglophone staffing requirements, both military and civilian.
Because the level of bilingualism demanded of the Royal Military College graduates has been raised, increased emphasis will be placed on the day to day use of both French and English at the college. Cadets who need to upgrade their second language skills will take summer language training in an appropriate linguistic setting.
The bilingual nature of the college will be enhanced by the simple fact that the cadet population at RMC will soon be 30 per cent francophone and 70 per cent anglophone, as compared to the current breakdown of 17 per cent and 83 per cent respectively.
As for the military staff, the commandant is already working with personnel staff in Ottawa to ensure that the staff composition of the college reflects its requirements.
It must be pointed out that in July Brigadier General Charles Émond, who is the current commanding officer of the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, will be taking on his new duties as commanding officer of our new centralized military college.
In other words the commandant at the Collège militaire de Saint-Jean, Québec, Brigadier General Charles Émond, will move to the Royal Military College in Kingston to ensure the smooth transition to one college system and that the bilingual presence will be maintained.
I draw this to the attention of members on the other side of the House, especially my friends in the Bloc Quebecois because they were most concerned about the consolidation into one college at Kingston. I have great confidence that General Émond, the commandant now at CMR, will be able to realize our goals in making the Royal Military College in Kingston a truly proud bilingual institution all of us will admire.
Brigadier General Émond graduated from the Collège militaire royal and received a diploma from the RMC. We are counting on him to make our new college continue to reflect the National Defence vision of bilingualism among Canadian Forces officers.
I will now outline in greater detail the bilingual officer corps concept within the Canadian forces. This concept was adopted by the Armed Forces Council on June 28, 1988. It met the senior officers' need to lead their subordinates in both official languages.
This concept is now being studied by a special joint task force made up of representatives of National Defence and of the Commissioner of Official Languages. We intend to refine this concept and resolve the issues raised by the Commissioner during our consultations.
Our goal is to establish the following policy: effective January 1, 1998, all officers promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel will normally have to be bilingual. I already mentioned this fact during oral question period in this House.
The steps taken to offer second-language training to francophone and anglophone officers are part of the Official Languages Program of the Department of National Defence. This program is based in part on the 1988 Official Languages Act and contains the following elements: language of work, equitable participation, communications with the public, service delivery and language training.
First, with regard to language of work, we have adopted a special model that takes into account our unique environment and the organizational arrangements needed to achieve bilingualism within the Department of National Defence and Canadian forces. The second element is equitable participation.
In 1992 a detailed review of the linguistic designation of every unit and every position revealed that much still has to be done to increase the number of bilingual anglophones in the military.
To examine the participation rate of francophones within the Canadian Forces, we undertook a comprehensive analysis of
recruitment, enrolment, promotion and attrition rates of officers and non-commissioned members in the last 15 to 20 years.
This review of all ranks and military occupations ended in December 1992. It found that, by and large, the goal of equitable participation was reached except in three out of 135 military occupations.
The third element of the Official Languages Program deals with communications with and service to the public. Our personnel co-operate on a continuing basis with Treasury Board Secretariat officials to ensure that the Department of National Defence honours the spirit of official languages regulations.
At present, second language training is provided in house. In an effort to rationalize the program, senior staff of my department together with representatives of the Public Service Commission and Treasury Board are looking at the feasibility of transferring our second language training to the Public Service Commission.
As for the more general criticisms directed at us by the Commissioner of Official Languages, rest assured that my department will continue to improve its performance. Let me underscore three areas I have just covered, namely our blueprint for a fully bilingual military college, the concept of an effective bilingual officer corps and the study aimed at improving the efficiency of our second language training.
These three initiatives are striking examples of just how seriously the Department of National Defence considers the question of official languages. We will continue to work within the framework of the Official Languages Act and its associated policies. We will continue to work closely with the Commissioner of Official Languages.
I hope I have convinced my colleagues that we are striving to make the Canadian armed forces as a whole better reflect the Canadian reality. I also hope to have assured them that the doors of the new Canadian military college, one of the main paths to a career as an officer in the Canadian Forces, are wide open to all qualified candidates, be they anglophones or francophones.
As Minister of National Defence I am proud to be part of the creation of this bilingual military college. Indeed we can all take pride in this initiative, for our military college will be a unique institution, one that mirrors the linguistic duality of our country. It will welcome young Canadians, our leaders of tomorrow, regardless of their province or their territory of origin.
Before I sit down I would like to apologize to the critics opposite. I am not sure they received sufficient notice of my statement. I think they got an hour or two, but they were most gracious in letting me go forward with the statement today.
I would like to mention for the member for Charlesbourg who arrived just as I was beginning that one of the reasons for making the statement today is that I felt it was only courteous to give these comments to the House of Commons. Tomorrow I will be appearing before the Senate committee on finance where I understand I will be questioned most rigorously on the closing of the military college and the future of our military colleges.