Commissioner of Official Languages—Madeleine Meilleur Received in Committee of the WholePublished on 5 June 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Claudette Tardif (retired)
Hon. Claudette Tardif:
Official language minority communities are a mosaic of diverse groups with shared concerns and, of course, their own unique concerns.
The new official languages commissioner must understand the realities of these communities and the issues they face. Ms. Meilleur, what do you see as the greatest challenges facing the Acadian community, Franco-Ontarians, francophones in Western Canada, and anglophones in Quebec?
Ms. Meilleur: One thing all of these communities, be they in Acadia, Ontario, or the West, have in common is the demographic decline of francophones. The number of anglophone communities is growing in all of the provinces but Quebec. Francophones’ demographic weight is declining, and in my view, the greatest challenge is figuring out how to ensure that francophones have access to services and can thrive and collaborate economically, culturally, and socially. That is a huge challenge.
There is also the challenge of legal representation and access to bilingual judges. When I was Attorney General of Ontario, I often saw cases that were postponed or people who decided to have their trial in English just to avoid any problems down the road.
When it comes to early childhood, in order to curb the assimilation process, we must be able to provide services to very young children and that starts in early childhood.
There is also the challenge of immigration. In a context where the demographic weight of francophones and anglophones depends on immigration, we have to figure out how to support the provinces in recruiting francophones so that they can maintain their demographic weight and so that the provinces continue to provide the necessary services.
Senator Tardif: In the preface of his last report, the outgoing commissioner, Graham Fraser, talked about the privilege of working towards achieving equality for Canada’s two official languages.
He added that Canada’s linguistic duality is a key aspect of our national identity and an asset rather than a burden. What does this mean to you and what do you plan to do to promote Canada’s linguistic duality?
Mme Meilleur: Thank you very much for your question, senator. Linguistic duality is illustrated by the two peoples living in harmony. In order to live in harmony they have to know one another. How do we promote this harmony between anglophones and francophones? How do we create opportunities for people to get to know the other language, the other community?
This can be done by promoting bilingualism, by learning another language, through student exchanges. It is important to work together with the provinces and the communities to promote this exchange and allow this harmony between anglophones and francophones to flourish.
Senator Tardif: Even within the federal government, this harmony remains elusive. In fact, many employees are unable to work in French. This is a problem right here in the public service. What will you do in this kind of situation to promote and improve bilingualism in Ottawa, within the public service?
Ms. Meilleur: CBC/Radio-Canada is reporting that many employees are very concerned about their inability to work in their first language here in Ottawa. It is important to first assess the situation with employees and work with senior management to make sure they acknowledge their obligations and responsibilities towards their employees.
In Ontario, to improve a similar situation, we gave deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers the responsibility to introduce measures to improve this. What did they do to ensure that people who speak the other language feel comfortable at work, with the help of technology, and above all, thanks to the approach taken?
It is up to the boss to ensure that employees feel comfortable working in their language. I think these examples are producing results, because in their performance evaluation grids, managers must specify any measures they have taken to ensure that their employees can work in their preferred official language, and that they feel free to do so.