Madam Speaker, our francophone communities in Canada have, over the past 25 years, acquired a maturity and an assurance that our colleagues in the opposition do not seem to suspect. They want and they can take into their hands their own future and, to do that, they have a new tool, the Canada-communities agreements, which are proof of continued direct support by the Canadian government.
The needs of official language minority communities, like those of any other groups of Canadians, are increasing, whereas the resources of the Department of Canadian Heritage, like those of every other department, are decreasing. The challenge is to fill the gap between needs and resources.
In 1994-95, the Department of Canadian Heritage dealt head on with this challenge, which was all the bigger because the department could not have disregarded 25 years of close co-operation to impose some procedures to communities.
As it realized that it could not and should not stop its action, the department undertook to redefine its direct support to official language communities while trying to find with them new ways to operate in order to be more efficient than ever.
The exercise was launched with the release, in May 1994, of a discussion paper dealing with a redefinition of the relations between the department and its client groups to enhance confidence in the future. This was essentially meant to redefine the relations between the department and the official language communities on a basis that reflects the maturity acquired over the years. The department established a new partnership that would preserve the major contributions of the past and would allow the communities to continue to grow. All that in spite of the fact that the public funding could not keep increasing as it did in the past.
Keeping in mind its constitutional and legislative commitments and its obligations in other such areas as, for example, interdepartmental joint action, the department proposed to the communities various possible solutions that could lead to new co-operation and funding mechanisms taking into account the ever decreasing resources.
Consultations were held with communities in all the provinces and territories and with national French language organizations. A lot of people took part in these consultations, including many community organizations.
Some points in particular were raised. For instance, organizations recognized the need to act very soon considering the new budget realities; communities said they were ready to explore a new partnership with the Department of Canadian Heritage as well as to consult more and set real priorities; they expressed consider-
able interest for mechanisms based on an enhanced managing role for the communities; the organizations recognized that to apply the same budget cuts everywhere would not be efficient and that we needed a better approach; they thought this was a necessary and useful process only if we found mechanisms to meet the new development needs of the communities.
These francophone minorities have shown great maturity and a deep sense of responsibility. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, as my hon. colleagues opposite would have hoped for it seems, they worked with the Department of Canadian Heritage to develop the terms of a new co-operative approach, the Canada-community agreements.
These agreements help to better take into consideration the different needs of the official language minorities from various provinces and various areas. These differences do have an impact on the ways to ensure the development and growth of the communities.
Increased co-operation will help the communities to develop a vision based on their needs and to reach a consensus over their priorities in terms of development. The Department of Canadian Heritage subsidies will be allocated in accordance with this vision.
The department can thus ensure that its support goes towards issues viewed as priorities by the communities themselves, while at the same time involving the communities in the realization of projects and the attainment of results. By turning to those who have the greatest and most genuine stake in the matter, the department achieves better results.
There is no doubt that the results thus obtained, whether in the fields of culture, communications, the economy, education, or whatever, make it possible for our francophone communities outside Quebec not just to survive, but to affirm their vitality throughout the country. Thanks to their schools, their artists, their business people and their institutions, they are increasingly recognized as "value added" for their province or territory, where, furthermore, they are making quite a name for themselves.
Our government will therefore be supporting the francophone economic forum to be held in Beauce this fall, which will showcase their energy and desire to excel in the economic field, by creating exchanges and sharing their experiences with francophones throughout the country. Taking charge of their own destiny and taking it one step further are another sign of their vitality.
The Department of Canadian Heritage also recognizes that the consolidation of the communities' long term development requires that efforts be made to increase their independence from government funding by promoting the development of their capacity to themselves fund any measures they wish to take.
The efforts of the Department of Canadian Heritage will therefore not stop with the signing of the Canada-communities agreements. Our government remains strongly committed to providing to official language minority communities the support and the tools they need to continue to develop and flourish.
By devising a new way of managing their relationship, official language minority communities and the Department of Canadian Heritage have one more tool at their disposal to fill the gap between their respective expectations and resources.
Needless to say, the success of this initiative largely depends on the spirit of co-operation that has driven the two parties concerned for a quarter of a century now.
In my province of New Brunswick, the federal government's commitment has allowed the Acadian community to develop and flourish at exceptional levels. The federal government supports our cultural groups, our museums, our universities, our community associations, our school-community centres, and so on.
Therefore, it is very disappointing to see that members opposite continue to ignore such determination and such goodwill and to be blind to the increasingly vigorous presence of francophone communities outside Quebec.