Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to respond to the member for Verchères--Les-Patriotes and to his motion asking the Governor General to intercede with Her Majesty, the Queen of England, to present an official apology to the Acadian people for wrongs done in its name between 1755 and 1763.
Canada's history, like that of all countries, has skeletons in its closet of which we are not proud. These are events that took place sometimes hundreds of years ago, such as in the case of the Acadian deportation. History can sometimes be cruel, however, Canada's history does not include only injustices. It is a history which for the most part is one of progress and growth. Today we must look to the future.
Canada's Acadian community is not one but many communities spread throughout the Atlantic provinces. In New Brunswick, Acadians are concentrated in the southeast, the northeast and the northwest, with groups in Fredericton and Saint John.
In Nova Scotia there are dynamic communities in Baie-Sainte-Marie on the southwestern coast and in my own constituency of Bras d'Or--Cape Breton. Both Île-Madame and the Chéticamp region are beautiful communities, proud and progressive.
In Prince Edward Island Acadians are in the region of Évangéline. In Newfoundland they are found near Cape St. Georges and in Saint-Jean and in Labrador City. They are also situated at Îles-de-la-Madeleine in the Gaspé, in the Montreal region and in western Canada. All these communities, no matter how big or small, are testament to the vitality of Canada's people and our two official languages.
It takes extraordinary courage and strength to develop a community which lives in a minority situation. The members of the Acadian communities have founded schools, colleges and universities. They have established theatres, newspapers and publishing houses. They have made outstanding strides in culture, theatre, cinema, visual arts and music as well as in literature. They have blessed the world with writers, poets, artists, dancers, musicians and singers. They have established an impressive network of businesses and created jobs.
The Acadians of Canada are part of what makes Canada able to be successful and prosper. The Government of Canada recognizes this dynamic and vital contribution to Canadian society. They count among the seven million people in Canada who speak, sing, write, work and live in French. These francophones are proof of the vitality and extraordinary determination to grow and expand on a continent with an anglophone majority.
The English and French languages and the people who speak them have shaped Canada and helped define its identity. Canada's linguistic duality has its origins in the very nature of our country. It is hard to look at Canada today without seeing the importance of these two languages and their communities within Canadian society.
The official languages support programs of the Department of Canadian Heritage are designed to provide opportunities for Canadians to fully appreciate and profit from our rich linguistic heritage. The Government of Canada believes that the great majority of Canadians share these goals.
Few would doubt the importance of education to any community. Through the support for minority language education, the Department of Canadian Heritage works toward the full participation of both language groups in all aspects of Canadian life.
These programs not only further the vital cultural contribution of the English and French speaking minority communities, but also promote access to the economic mainstream. For instance, progress in the area of French language minority education has had a prominent role in lowering illiteracy and school dropout rates and increasing post-secondary attendance.
Thirty years ago the quality and availability of French language minority education was not only a national disgrace but also a significant barrier to the development and survival of francophone communities throughout Canada. We set out to change this. In the process, schools were built where none had existed. Community centres were built where none had existed. Colleges were built where none had existed.
We have worked with the provinces and with francophone and Acadian parents from one end of the country to the other. The economic value of quality public education in their language for the 1.6 million Canadians who are part of official language minority communities cannot be underestimated.
All Canadians have a stake in minority language education programs. In their absence, as the bilingualism and bicultural commission pointed out, these Canadians would not be able to make their potential contribution to society. The Department of Canadian Heritage, in particular the official languages support programs branch, has concluded a series of agreements which greatly benefit the Acadian and francophone populations of Canada.
Collaboration between both levels of government within the framework of the official languages and education program allows more than 150,000 young people from official minority language communities to study in their language in 700 elementary and secondary schools in all regions of the country, and 18.5% of these schools are situated in the Atlantic provinces.
The official languages and education program contributes to the financing of a network of 19 francophone colleges and universities outside Quebec, many of which are located in the Atlantic provinces and which serve the Acadian population. It is also through these programs that 2.7 million young Canadians are learning a second official language, including more than 318,000 in immersion classes, thus greatly increasing the number of Canadians with an appreciation for the French language and culture.
While I will not go into details about all the good work that is being done, I would like to outline some of the noteworthy accomplishments which have been achieved in minority education and which have directly benefited the Acadian communities over the past few years.
In Nova Scotia, major roles in French education are played by Collège de l'Acadie, to which I will speak in more detail, and Université Sainte-Anne, which has been funded for many years by the federal government.
Created in 1988, Collège de l'Acadie is now a key institution within the francophone and Acadian communities. Having two in my own constituency, I certainly can speak to the role they play.
The considerable distances that separate the different Acadian regions of the province could have posed problems with respect to the service delivery but, undiscouraged, the Acadians adjusted and established training centres attached to Collège de l'Acadie throughout the territory. There are now seven and there is no doubt that these training centres contribute directly to the economic expansion and development of the Acadian communities.
The college and its training centres have state of the art technological tools such as video conferencing and teleconferencing, offering superior distance education programs. On the eve of a new focus on knowledge and communications, a French language distance education capacity is certainly a sign of prosperity for francophones and Acadians in Canada.
Also in Nova Scotia, federal funds have supported the construction and expansion of the Carrefour du Grand Havre school and community centre in Dartmouth. The opening of the Étoile school and community centre in my neighbouring constituency of Sydney--Victoria was equally an occasion to celebrate a victory for the francophone population in the greater Sydney area. Along with offering quality education in French, it is a centre where the Acadian community can gather together as well as a place to promote the Acadian culture.
In New Brunswick, the federal government also has widely and consistently supported the development of well established institutions, such as the University of Moncton. It, like any other educational institution, plays an important role as an engine of social, economic and cultural development for the Acadian communities.
Created in 1963, the University of Moncton is the second largest university in New Brunswick and the biggest French language Canadian university outside of Quebec. It has three campuses: Moncton in the southeast, Edmundston in the northwest, and Shippagan in the northeast. There is no question that the University of Moncton contributes directly to the vitality and dynamism of the francophone and Acadian communities of Canada.
Also in New Brunswick, federal funds have helped in the construction of three school community centres at Fredericton, Miramichi and Saint John, as well as funding for four community colleges. In Prince Edward Island another community centre has been established. Newfoundland's Acadians can soon be celebrating the signing of an agreement with the federal government for francophone school management.
The federal government also supports the Acadian associations that bring Acadian institutions and organizations together.
These associations work hard for the Acadian cause and have over the years brought about many positive changes. There is no doubt the Acadian deportation is an event that ranks among the great tragedies of history in Canada.
That fact and the effects of it should never be forgotten or diminished in our memories. Historic and commemorative venues, such as Grand Pré, have been established so that Canadians will always remember this part of our history.