Archived - Notes for an appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages regarding terms of reference for two studies
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Ottawa, April 29, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
- Best Practices for Language Policies and Second-Language Learning in a Context of Linguistic Duality or Plurality: Canadian and International Perspectives
- The Impacts of Recent Changes to the Immigration System on Official Language Minority Communities
Beginning of dialog
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, honourable senators and members of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages.
I am accompanied today by Carsten Quell, Director, Policy and Research and Sylvain Giguère, Assistant Commissioner of Policy and Communications.
I would like to thank you for inviting me here today to discuss two important studies that your Committee is undertaking. Second-language learning and the impact of immigration on official language minority communities are issues that I have been examining since the beginning of my mandate.
Canada is world renowned for its linguistic duality. Our economy is becoming increasingly knowledge-based and, in a world where international competition is accelerating, language skills are more important than ever.
According to the 2011 Census, immigration is playing an increasingly important role in Canada’s demographic growth. This phenomenon makes it more difficult to increase our bilingualism rate, but it is also a great opportunity to enhance the vitality of our official language communities if they succeed in welcoming newcomers in their midst.
Our official language communities are stronger than they were 10 years ago, but their future is still uncertain. They often do not have enough resources to serve newcomers to Canada effectively. To better harmonize linguistic duality and cultural diversity, government institutions that encourage French-speaking newcomers to settle outside of Quebec have a responsibility not only to be very clear about the nature of our Francophone communities but also to coordinate with provincial jurisdictions.
Newcomers do not always understand the complexity of Canada’s linguistic reality, which is very different from the purely geographical approach used by other countries. Treating all communities in the same way does not work when it comes to our policies for welcoming immigrants into minority language communities. Indeed, I see many Francophone communities asking themselves whether the work they have already done has even been taken into consideration in relation to the government of Canada’s new approach to business immigration and labour market integration. Other changes have also affected the work these communities do every day, particularly in Manitoba, where the community has a close relationship with its provincial government.
Welcoming a chef from Brussels who wants to open a restaurant in St. Boniface is not even remotely similar to welcoming a family that has spent the past five years in a refugee camp on the Rwandan-Congolese border. The second example requires a variety of organizations, various types of reception structures, a different approach to the health and education systems, and a great deal of cooperation among everyone involved. People who have had traumatic experiences must be given the proper assistance and support to help them adjust to their new life. Above all, special attention must be paid to young people whose educational level does not match their age and experiences. Immigrant families are usually under a lot of stress, with both parents out of the house, working two jobs, often at minimum wage. This is what settlement organizations have to deal with.
With the inclusion of substantial new funding in the immigration component of the new roadmap for official languages, the government appears to recognize the importance of supporting official language communities in their work to welcome, integrate and retain newcomers to Canada. However, the lack of information about this funding implies that it will probably be earmarked to help newcomers learn one of the official languages—realistically, French in Quebec and English in the rest of the country—so that they can integrate more easily into the job market. This kind of approach is certainly useful, but has little to do with increasing English-French bilingualism or with promoting linguistic duality. I hope that, during the course of your study, you will be able to get some clarification on these issues from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. It is also difficult to see how this new funding will help official language communities fulfill their objectives in terms of attracting and recruiting newcomers.
The vitality of our official language communities depends on the involvement and commitment of the immigrants who live there. This is what my team has found over the past several years as we prepared a series of case studies on community vitality. Immigration was identified as an important factor in the development of every community we looked at: the Francophone communities of Sudbury, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary and British Columbia; rural communities in Saskatchewan; and various English-speaking communities in Quebec. In almost every case, there was a direct relationship between greater diversity and community vitality. These studies on community vitality are available on my office’s Web site.
Since the passing of the Official Languages Act, the Government of Canada has promoted English and French second-language learning through various initiatives. Meeting with people from across the country, I have seen that French-as-a-second-language programs have had only limited success, not because of a lack of enthusiasm on the part of young people or a lack of will on the part of their parents, but because of a lack of resources. English-speaking students who want to learn French are denied access to programs because there are not enough spaces, not enough funds or not enough qualified teachers.
The social objectives that form the foundation of our language policy call for long-term investments. To ensure that linguistic duality continues to be perceived as a Canadian value, the government needs to take measures that will have a sustainable impact.
We need to put more emphasis on ways of giving citizens opportunities to improve their second language skills. For example, we need to invest in exchange programs and language training programs in both languages for newcomers and their children.
Canada needs to provide a true continuum of second-language learning opportunities for all Canadians, from elementary school through to the labour market. It is a vital part of preparing our young people for their future—as productive citizens in their own country and as citizens of the world.
Second-language education is an important element in the promotion of linguistic duality as a Canadian value. One of the challenges is getting universities to provide more learning opportunities for students. The rate of bilingualism among English-speaking Canadians could be much higher.
I would like to reiterate some of the recommendations I made in my 2009 study, Two Languages, a World of Opportunities: Second-language learning in Canada’s universities, and several of my recent annual reports, including the one that was published last October.
Study, cultural and work exchanges or visits could help universities to work together. At the moment, most of the exchange opportunities in Canadian universities involve institutions in other countries. Exchanges within Canada are rather limited. The government could take the initiative to create a new program to promote opportunities for students to study intensively in their second official language at another Canadian institution. This program would be the Canadian equivalent of the highly successful Erasmus and Erasmus Mundus programs, which seek to foster cooperation among European universities, promote exchange and dialogue between cultures, and facilitate mobility of students and staff—all to prepare participants for life in a global, knowledge-based society.
In my 2011–2012 annual report, I recommended that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages work together with provincial and territorial governments as well as post-secondary institutions to increase the number of programs in which students can take courses in their second official language. I also recommended that the Prime Minister take the necessary measures to double the number of young Canadians who participate each year in language exchanges at the high-school and post-secondary levels.
I see that the government has not addressed these recommendations in the Roadmap for Official Languages. Giving young Canadians more opportunities to experience life in a community where the other official language is spoken is an excellent way to help Canada celebrate its shared heritage in 2017.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.