Commissioner of Official Languages—Madeleine Meilleur Received in Committee of the WholePublished on 5 June 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer:
Ms. Meilleur, welcome to your first appearance before the Senate. My name is Mobina Jaffer and I am a senator from British Columbia.
We have heard about the work you have done in the east and the different things you will do in the east. However, I come from the west.
My question to you, then, is what is your vision for improving bilingualism in Western Canada?
Ms. Meilleur: Thank you very much, senator. I have been to British Columbia a few times and I have met with the Francophonie ministers. It is a challenge, but I think the provincial government had introduced some measures. In addition, it was compelled by the court to open schools with a structure and curriculum of the same quality as English schools. That is why it is good to have judicial bodies, such as the Supreme Court, that call governments to order. I have always appreciated the fact that the Supreme Court often defends the interests of minorities. In British Columbia, as I said earlier, in order to increase the number of people who speak French, it is important to also work with the province.
This was done very successfully in Ontario with our immersion schools, which are incredible. Parents are asking for them more and more. They are asking for more than 50 per cent French. There is a real appetite for it. I am convinced that British Columbia is no different from that perspective.
I can assure you that I will work with British Columbia’s francophone communities and I will listen to them. They are the ones who have the answers, but they need someone to make the connection and get the message through. I have often heard people say that that is someone else’s responsibility. In Ontario, I was not responsible for education, health or immigration, but I was involved in those files and I worked with the ministers responsible to convince them that we should adopt a given practice or pass a particular piece of legislation.
I can tell you, senator, that I will visit British Columbia and I will work with the communities on the ground. I will also make recommendations to those who are in authority as to what they can do to increase the number of French speakers and stop assimilation. The danger that is facing anglophone communities in Quebec and francophone communities outside Quebec is assimilation because of exogamous marriages and other issues. These communities must be given the tools they need to deal with those issues, and I think that the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has a role to play, as it has in the past, in developing these tools.
Senator Jaffer: I commend you on your knowledge of my province. It has three concerns. The first has to do with Canada’s francophone community. I agree with you. There are many problems related to infrastructure. The second problem has to do with the immigrant francophone communities. When I spoke with people in my province, they said there was a big problem in that regard.
The problem is that people who come from countries of origin of France do not feel part of the Francophonie community, whether it’s the federal government or provincial government. For example, when the Syrian refugees who spoke French came to my province, they were introduced to English schools.
If you’re nominated, I look forward to work with you to make sure that those communities that were originally from the francophone communities are given the same resources as francophone communities that come from Canada are given so that we do grow the bilingual community.
The real problem I wanted to speak to you about is, I am a grandmother. I have two children. My 11-year-old is in French immersion, and he is absolutely amazing. I’m a proud grandmother. You can see that. However, my second grandchild cannot go to an immersion school because they have cut immersion schools in the city of Vancouver into half.
My frustration is that if we are going to grow bilingualism across the country, the federal government and you, if you are nominated, will have to play a very aggressive role in preserving places for Canadians who want to learn both languages. I want to know what your vision is regarding that.
Ms. Meilleur: First, congratulations to your two grandchildren. You are very proud of them, and rightly so.
I believe that the heritage department has a program to help official languages in minority situations to progress, to develop new programs to help the Ministry of Education of that province to promote and to help them to develop programs for francophones in B.C.
If I am the commissioner, I intend to work with these different ministries to help bring the message to the ministry about how we can work together and finance these programs and help linguistic duality, if we do that. We have to get to know each other and live happily together. We also need to know how to help the other community through immersion and have more immersion programs, because kids learn very easily. Sometimes it’s a summer program to get them ready to start an immersion program or immersion school. There are different tools and different ways that other provinces have done it. I will help them out.
Senator Jaffer: If you are nominated, Ms. Meilleur, the first homework I’m going to ask you to do is to look at the report of the Official Languages Committee that was done under the stewardship of Senator Tardif of the terrible situation that exists in British Columbia.
Ms. Meilleur: Yes, I will.