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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Official Languages

Issue No. 6 - Evidence - Meeting of October 5, 2016 (Morning meeting)


VANCOUVER, Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day, at 8:02 a.m., to continue its study on the challenges associated with access to French-language schools in French immersion programs in British Columbia.

Senator Claudette Tardif (Chair) in the chair.

The Chair: Welcome to this public hearing of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. My name is Senator Claudette Tardif, from Alberta. I am honoured to chair the meeting this morning.

Before I open the floor to the witnesses, I invite the members of the committee to introduce themselves, starting on my left.

Senator Gagné: Good morning, my name is Senator Raymonde Gagné from Manitoba.

Senator Maltais: Good morning, I am Senator Ghislain Maltais from Quebec.

Senator McIntyre: Good morning, my name is Senator Paul McIntyre from New Brunswick.

Senator Jaffer: I am Senator Mobina Jaffer from British Columbia. Welcome.

The Chair: Welcome, everyone, once again. Today, we are hearing from witnesses from the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique. We had the opportunity to meet you unofficially when we visited the École Rose-des-vents and the École Jules-Verne. But this morning's meeting is an official one.

On a number of occasions, the committee has heard of the challenges associated with the lack of access in learning French as a minority language in British Columbia. This problem affects minority French schools. It raises questions about accountability and about the federal government funding in these two areas. The problem is not limited to this province, but the committee is of the opinion that British Columbia represents a typical case that deserves an in-depth examination. So we are happy to be here this morning to hear from you.

We are pleased to welcome Bertrand Dupain, Superintendent, Sylvain Allison, Secretary-Treasurer, Johanne Asselin, Director of the École Anne-Hébert, and Michel Tardif, President of the Regroupement des directions francophones and Principal of the La Passerelle School in Whistler and the La Vallée School in Pemberton. Welcome to you all.

You can start, Mr. Dupain. The senators will then ask you questions. Please be as brief and concise as possible in your presentation, while still giving us your message in its entirety, of course. Thank you.

Bertrand Dupain, Superintendent, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique: Thank you, Madam Chair, I will try to be brief and concise, as you request.

First, on behalf of the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, I would like to thank you for inviting us to appear before your committee. As I mentioned to you previously, we have sometimes been forgotten in some of these meetings, not with the Senate, but with other provincial and federal agencies. It is extremely important for us to be part of these meetings.

I will not introduce the school board staff, because you have already done that. However, I would like to briefly introduce myself. As you have doubtless seen as you looked through my bio, I am a product of immigration. I am originally from France; my wife is Japanese. We chose Canada because, for us, it represents a model society. We wanted our children to grow up in Canada, not in either of our own societies. This was as close to our hearts as bilingualism and tolerance, the Canadian values par excellence.

I have been a teacher since the age of 21. I was one of the first teachers hired by the school board, something I particularly cherish. I have served the school board as a teacher, an assistant principal, a principal, the assistant superintendent and, for two and a half years, the superintendent. I was also vice-president of the Syndicat des enseignants francophones for five years. That is why the school board is particularly important to me.

My two daughters also go to one of the board's schools. One day, I hope, they will be trilingual. It is a real gift to be able to bring up one's children in a majority anglophone province that provides access to a francophone program. I am very passionate about that program. This is why I would like to share my passion with you.

The Conseil scolaire francophone is now entering its 20th year. As I mentioned in my document, the board was founded as a result of school legislation. I have provided the references for you to consult. The board is recognized for a number of aspects.

In fact, I would like to draw your attention to two of those aspects. We are the only francophone school board in the province. This is a little different from Alberta or other provinces. And we are the only ones authorized to provide francophone programming in British Columbia as a whole. We have 38 educational institutions throughout the province. You will understand how that can sometimes present some challenges.

Admissions are governed by the ministry's section 23 and its policy P-30-301. Parents with students registered in the school board are our stakeholders. So we observe that section scrupulously.

It is also important to mention — and you will see that this will have an effect on my presentation — that the ministry recognizes our distinct character, that is, that our goal is different from immersion programs. It is extremely important for me to clarify that position so that you can understand that, as a school board, we are unique.

The school board was established in 1997. On page 3 of the document I sent you, you can see that enrolment has practically tripled in the last 20 years. It is increasing annually. Last year, we saw an increase of 4 per cent. According to the figures we received a few days ago, that number will increase another 4 per cent this year. Our school board is in extremely good health, much to the chagrin of those who believe that we are about to disappear. With one or two others, we are one of the few school boards in the province to have such a high growth rate. Our good health depends on a number of things. Please look at pages 4 and 5 of the document. First of all, we will start with the challenges we face and the solutions that we want to implement. This meeting is very important because the solutions we propose depend mainly on the federal government. In a word, we need your help.

First, why this keen interest in the Conseil scolaire francophone? I could have listed a lot of reasons, but I especially wanted to draw your attention to the quality of our programs. Our school board genuinely has a very high success rate. I wanted to present the results of the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program in 2013. As you can see on page 7 of the document, of all French-language school boards, including those in Quebec, British Columbia had the best results in the grade 8 science examination. This assessment is done in cycles. You can see that our grade 8 students obtained a score of 495 on the international PISA test in 2013, while Quebec scored 485. You can also see the other results. I feel that people recognize the quality of our programming, and it goes some way to explaining why our enrolment increases annually.

Where does that program quality come from? First, it comes from the quality of the Conseil scolaire francophone's staff. The Conseil scolaire francophone employs a staff of almost 900. They are devoted and passionate people. I would like to acknowledge Ms. Liechtele, the President of the Syndicat des enseignantes et enseignants du programme francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, whom you will meet soon, and her members. The teaching and administrative staff in our school is fabulous. Mr. Tardif is the President of the Regroupement des directions francophones. They are passionate about everything French. When people declared us to be close to death — I am sorry to go back to that, but I find those remarks extremely shocking — it fails to recognize our extremely competent and devoted staff and their passion for French. We also want to continue training that staff. Further on, I provide you with a few aspects of the training programs that we want to hold in collaboration with our unions. We attach a great deal of importance to the staff training program.

Another important aspect, which you will find on page 8, explains the quality and success of our program. It is the willingness to use scientific research and scientific data. We have created a partnership with two internationally known professors, Marie-France Morin, of the Université de Sherbrooke, and Denis Alamargot, of the Université de Créteil, in France. They are helping us to put rewarding strategies in place.

One of the major reasons for their participation and our partnership was digital tablets. We are trying to determine whether, as in some countries, we can move from written texts to tablets. Before we plunge into the system, we want to get expert advice. The project involves children from kindergarten to grade 1. Last year, we began a research project with 140 students. We want to continue the research in the coming years to make sure that we are heading in the right direction. That is really important for us.

Technologically speaking, we are also a step ahead. The school board has made a huge investment in computer technology. You understand where I want to go with this. We have a virtual school. Shortly, I will explain to you the problems that it poses.

Our teachers and our students have computers. That is critical because we want them to be connected with the Francophonie as a whole. We are in the most far-flung part of the Francophonie, as far west as you can get in Canada. Clearly, the new technologies help us to deal with that problem. As you know, coding is becoming more and more a factor in curriculum programs. It is something we want to develop with our students.

We have a number of challenges to meet, particularly in terms of education. Mr. Allison, our secretary-treasurer, will deal with the material aspects.

One of the major challenges we face is the amount of French spoken at home. You can see some examples on page 11. This data comes from 2013, but it shows the distribution of French spoken at home. As you see, 36.4 per cent of families — these are our own students, not those in British Columbia — say that French is the language spoken at home. I am a parent myself; my wife speaks Japanese with my daughters, I speak French. We speak English to each other. It is quite something to hear, quite the little Tower of Babel. As a parent, I see it as my duty. I am aware that other parents have neither the opportunity nor the time to do so, but it is a fact that we observe. Right from their childhood and right in their own homes, our students have less and less exposure to French.

Additionally, since 2009, we have been recording a decrease in the amount of French spoken at home. It is a major challenge. That is why our partnership with the parents' federation is so important. This is a challenge that we have to face.

The other problem is with retention at high school level. If you look at the table showing our enrolment, you will see that our high school students are fewer by comparison than all the students coming into kindergarten. The first thing to bear in mind is that we do not have high schools everywhere. I will let Mr. Allison deal with that matter. Our dream is to have high schools everywhere. We have about six schools we call "homogeneous'' and four or five heterogeneous schools, where classes are given in French in English-speaking schools. We only have six homogeneous schools. I am looking at Senator Maltais and I would like to spend more time with him talking about those six schools. Of our homogeneous schools, five are K-12. Personally, I think that is fantastic. Only one of the schools you visited is 7-12. But the other school next door is very close, as you now know. So we have five K-12 programs and, in my opinion, that is one of the strong points of the school board. You will have the opportunity to visit one tomorrow.

I would briefly like to go back to the high schools. In the diagram I sent you, you will see that, for some years, we have been significantly and demonstrably retaining our high school enrolment. That is likely due to the quality of our program.

Another problem we must face is that of the recognition of our program. The ministry here in British Columbia — and mainly I mean the Ministry of Education — has a hard time recognizing our program, even though there is a policy, even though it declares it to be a program that is truly distinct from immersion.

I mentioned the matter of the diploma previously. We fought for years to have the diploma indicate "programme francophone''. The diploma is the same for immersion students as it is for the francophones. Our students used to say: "Why would I stay here when, if I go into immersion, I end up with the same diploma?'' However, we won that battle, thanks to the efforts of our board of directors. But it gives you an idea of the kind of little details on which we have to insist.

We are in a conflict at the moment because of the virtual school. The ministry is demanding that our virtual school look like every other virtual school. There is a program called "Distributed Learning''. The problem is that our situation is different. It is something that puts us in opposition. Just today, we sent a letter to the ministry trying to explain our position to them.

Another major challenge, as I mentioned in my introduction, is about the distribution of our schools around the province and the different costs involved. Small groups of francophones are scattered all over the province, with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of kilometres separating them. You will see an example of the differences on page 13. We have schools with 750 students and others with only 13 or 15. Our per-student cost, as you can see, can vary from $6,512 to $25,000, because these are schools that must almost be self-sufficient. We must also be able to provide those 15 students, scattered all over the province, with as many services as in the large schools in the two major urban centres.

Despite all that, and it is here where federal assistance is extremely important for us, we have plans to try and complete, enhance and advance our progression. And we want to put forward solutions.

One of the solutions we implemented this year is basically four-year classes. That is something that does not exist in British Columbia. We are the first school board to implement this four-year program. We have four schools where the program has been implemented. At the moment, two are open: the schools in Mission and in Chilliwack. Clearly, we receive no provincial funding for it. But it is a response that we want to bring to French at home. We feel that, if we begin to put children into a francophone environment as soon as possible, their schooling will be easier.

The other thing that we want to implement and that we have had in place for some years, is the International Baccalaureate. It is also federally funded through OLEP, as are trades courses. We are looking for partners to help us with trades courses, with Éducacentre. It is clear to us that one of the major aspects of our problem in British Columbia is that we have very few economic outcomes for our students. There are few opportunities for French speakers, except for the federal government. I really liked one of the questions you asked at the École Jules-Verne, about the chamber of commerce. As they told you, the chamber of commerce is very limited in its scope in French. So we feel that it is important for our students to realize that there are economic opportunities in French. That is not clear for students born in British Columbia who see that everything is in English, or now even in other languages like Chinese, for example, in Richmond or Vancouver.

It is important to establish post-secondary relationships with universities. Yesterday, we were at SFU. We spoke about it a little. Clearly, we are the province's biggest employer of francophones, with 900 people. Unfortunately, none of our teachers, or almost none, were trained in British Columbia. They have to go off to Alberta or we have to go and look for them. We regret that; it could be a strength.

We also try to develop meetings with our students from various schools. We bring them together. That might seem simple when you live in the same spot, but when you have schools 1,000 km apart, meetings of that kind are quite the operation and need an enormous amount of money. So we use technological methods a great deal. But, from time to time, a physical presence is important, especially when we are talking about students in grades 8 and 9. They like to get together; they like to understand that their French is not limited to their own little area and that the francophonie is flourishing in Canada and around the world. That is one of the things for which we use federal funds. We also try to open our program to things that are new. At the moment, as you know, everything to do with the environment is extremely important. We want to show that climate problems and the like are happening in the French-speaking world too. Federal funds allow us to provide all that to our students.

In conclusion, I believe that we have a dynamic and vibrant school board supported by the francophone community. We do not operate on the margins or in our dreams. This year, the school board developed its strategic plan. Four thousand people responded, meaning that 4,000 people from the francophone community contributed to the strategic plan. Clearly, that does not take in the entire province, but 4,000 is still a lot of people. We were able to put a new strategic plan in place and I will present it to you tomorrow when you visit one of our schools.

We want to continue to carry this torch because for me — and I now go back briefly to the choice I made when I came to Canada — the francophonie is not just a language. It is about values that Canada promotes and stands for.

Thank you.

The Chair:Thank you for your presentation, Mr. Dupain.

Your turn, Mr. Allison.

Sylvain Allison, Secretary-Treasurer, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique: Thank you for this opportunity to make a presentation this morning.

I would like to add some specifics to the bios for Ms. Asselin and Mr. Tardif. Mr. Tardif is the principal of the La Vallée elementary school in Pemberton and La Passerelle elementary school in Whistler. He has been with us for 12 years. He was also the principal of the K-12 school in Comox for two years. Ms. Asselin has been the director of the École Anne-Hébert for three years. She was also vice-principal at the École Victor-Brodeur for six or seven years. Ms. Asselin has 29 years of educational experience in minority situations.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Sylvain Allison. I am the secretary-treasurer of the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique. As you have probably noticed, I am originally from Quebec. I moved to British Columbia in 1991 where I met my wife and started a family. My two children are bilingual, one here in British Columbia and the other in Ottawa. When they were very small, my two children went to daycare and junior kindergarten in French. They went to the homogeneous French-language elementary school in Prince George, one of the CSF's institutions. I have to acknowledge that, without those services, my children would probably not be bilingual today. They became bilingual because of those services. I am married to an anglophone. So it is even more difficult to communicate another language in an exogamous family.

I must point out that the CSF has benefitted from federal funds in the past. This was in the amount of $15 million, through the 2002-2008 agreement. A number of schools benefitted from those funds: the École Gabrielle-Roy was able to build space for a daycare and a multi-purpose room, expand its gymnasium and upgrade a theatre. Here in North Vancouver, the École André-Piolat built space for a theatre, a community centre, and an expanded gymnasium and library. The École Victor-Brodeur built daycare space and an arts centre. I almost forgot to mention that a daycare was also built at the École André-Piolat, also from the $15 million from the federal government through the 2002-2008 agreement.

Since then, we have obtained federal funds on two occasions to upgrade community spaces as a result of two completely separate requests. The École Mer-et-montagne in Campbell River renovated the current gymnasium. A brand-new school was built, but the old gymnasium was kept and simply renovated. Funding also allowed for an early childhood centre.

More recently, we received $3.6 million for the École des Pionniers-de-Maillardville, in Port Coquitlam, which is under construction at the moment, so that we can provide a program for four-year-olds. Once more, public spaces have been built to accommodate the community. We greatly appreciate those initiatives.

We also use federal funds for some programs, including the International Baccalaureate, which, as Mr. Dupain mentioned, is offered in a number of schools. We want to expand this four-year program.

We improve learning through access to technology. We have 4,000 laptop computers for our students from grade 4 to grade 12. Younger students can use more than 1,000 tablets. Funding for this comes in part from the federal government. We use funds for programs that provide integration into francophone culture for daily activities in our schools. We still make good use of that funding and we are very grateful for it.

However, some provisions of the OLEP agreement no longer meet our current needs. That is why the Conseil scolaire francophone wants to become part of the British Columbia-Canada agreement for the next OLEP funding.

For example, federal government funds should no longer be used to finance core education. French and literacy programs should be funded by the provincial government, as part of their basic funding. Federal funds should be used for innovation and teaching programs, or to establish new schools.

Since I started my position as secretary-treasurer in 2010, I have been able to implement two francophone programs in British Columbia, in Revelstoke and in Fernie, because of parents who were interested in and passionate about the francophonie and about educating their children in French. I established those two programs without provincial government assistance. They were initiatives of the Conseil scolaire francophone and funded by the Conseil scolaire francophone. When small programs are started in the regions, the costs are very high, especially for staff, since the schools have 8, 10 or 12 students. You need a teacher, preparation time, educational assistants, support staff. Given that the regions are remote, two schools are not possible. This is not the same situation as for Mr. Tardif, who has two schools very close to each other in Pemberton and Whistler and where two schools are possible. In Fernie and Revelstoke, by contrast, that is impossible. You need a principal on the spot. So these are programs that are extremely expensive to get started until such time as the critical number of students is reached. We hope to obtain federal funds to assist us in starting small programs of that kind as we receive requests.

We also need funds for innovative teaching programs, those specializing, for example, in sports or the arts, or in technical areas. We have some, but we need additional funding in order to increase the range of programs and extend them to all our students, not just those aiming for academic success but also those wanting a technical program. It is important for the federal government to help us in this area.

Providing a wide variety of elective courses is important in preventing drop-outs. We know very well that students are lost in high school. I often hear people say that they would like us to provide a greater variety of elective courses in order to keep our students in school. British Columbia's Ministry of Education does not fund courses of that kind. I feel that the federal government could definitely help us with that.

We are the only school board in British Columbia that does not offer adult education. It is important for us to start a program for French-speaking adults who did not finish high school.

It is important to establish a transportation fund in order to improve access to our schools. The province underfunds transportation. It is extremely important for us to receive federal funding to encourage families to send their children to a francophone school, should they wish. The distance discourages so many families at the moment. We are talking about trips of an hour and ten minutes, an hour and fifteen minutes, an hour and twenty minutes, morning and evening. You really have to be tough to enroll some children in our schools. This is extremely important for us.

We also need a fund for the construction of new schools. I would go so far as to say that the federal government could build entire schools, but, at least, there could be an agreement, like the one from 2002 to 2008, which would provide us with the funding we need to build community spaces. We could show the provincial government that the federal government is a partner in school construction. That might perhaps encourage the province to fund schools in regions where the need is great. An agreement like the one from 2002 to 2008 would be viewed very positively by the province.

Finally, I propose the creation of a fund to be used to provide programs that are much more sophisticated than at present at post-secondary institutions such as Simon Fraser or any other university. I do not like what I am about to say, but we are producing francophone children, francophone students up to grade 12. It would be good if they were able to stay in British Columbia. These are proud children. We must invest in their pride in speaking French, in living in French in British Columbia. I feel that if there had been funding for it, my son would perhaps be here in Vancouver for his post-secondary studies.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Allison.

We will now move to the question period. The first question will be from Senator McIntyre, followed by Senator Jaffer.

Senator McIntyre: Thank you for your presentations.

Mr. Dupain, Mr. Allison, I feel that you have summed up the situation very well. In your presentation, Mr. Dupain, you also drew our attention to the three main points: the great enthusiasm for the francophone program, the major challenges, and the initiatives under way.

Mr. Tardif, I understand that you are the principal of two elementary schools, the École La Passerelle in Whistler and the École La Vallée in Pemberton. Ms. Asselin, you are the director of the École Anne-Hébert.

With that said, I have two questions for the group. What extracurricular activities are provided to encourage the learning of French outside the classroom?

Perhaps Ms. Asselin or Mr. Tardif are in the best position to answer that question. Or Mr. Dupain.

Mr. Dupain: I will start and then hand the floor over to Mr. Tardif and Ms. Asselin.

There are many and I feel that the ingenuity of our administrative and teaching staff is going to surprise you. I do not want to say too much, but we certainly have extracurricular activities, like sports or drama. But, for some schools, for many of them, it is also about development. For example, we noticed that, in the school yard, the students — and I would say mainly students from K to 7 — are naturally going to revert to speaking English and they will lose the ability to master everyday French. We have children — and I will use my own daughters as an example — who say that they "kicke le ballon'' because basically, in the classroom, no one ever taught them the proper word. It will be simple things like that.

Some schools have started a system to encourage the students to speak French, but not by forcing them or punishing them. Quite the contrary, they are encouraged to speak French in a joyful setting in the schoolyard. Other schools organize activities of other kinds.

I would like to turn to Senator Maltais. At the École Victor-Brodeur tomorrow, you will see how the older ones look after the younger ones. At that point, the bigger ones are the spokespeople for the francophonie. If you put grade 11 and grade 12 kids by themselves, they will speak English. If you put them in charge of the very young ones, because they come from the same place, from kindergarten, they understand their responsibilities. And you will find that they are the biggest defenders of the French language.

A good number of initiatives have been put in place. I will let our two principals give you some examples. There really is a lot of imagination that each teacher and each school administrator wants to put in place. I hope to surprise you tomorrow, senator.

Johanne Asselin, Director, École Anne-Hébert, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique: I was at the École Victor-Brodeur for a number of years and the grade 11 students — it was mostly the grade-11s, and a few grade-12s — were the ones leading clubs during the lunch hour for the younger ones. It allowed the students to explore different areas. For some, it might be dramatic arts, for others, visual arts or sports. I find that beneficial for the young ones. The young ones saw the older ones as role models, as heroes. There was a lot of modelling. With the older ones, we saw that they were developing their leadership and had acquired skills as motivators and organizers for the young ones.

Still, I left that school three years ago. I am now at the École Anne-Hébert and, yes, we provide lunch-time activities, like circus arts or choir. But those have to be led by adults. So we often have to find funding in order to hire people from outside to come and do so because, unfortunately, we do not have older students available to lead those workshops for us. Or we can ask staff members to volunteer to entertain the young kids at lunch. When children are entertained, we have fewer conflicts in the school yard. That is a real advantage that K-12 schools have.

Michel Tardif, School District 93 Chapter President, Principal of La Passerelle (Whistler) and La Vallée (Pemberton) schools, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique: The La Vallée and La Passerelle schools, in Whistler and Pemberton, operate in a heterogeneous environment. As a community-school, our duty is to promote French-language learning and to develop the sense of belonging to the culture, not only the francophone culture, but also the culture of the students in those francophone schools in the Whistler and Pemberton areas.

We have identified a number of activities to promote this sense of belonging. We celebrate together. We organize large gatherings so that the two communities can meet during the week of celebrations and the Semaine de la Francophonie. That's a really big event during which a number of schools meet, and so do the students and parents. It's really an amazing opportunity for them to assert their identity as francophones.

We have also organized francophone nights. As a school, our duty is not just to promote learning for students, for the community-school and for parents. So we assist with this development by organizing themed evenings once a month, francophone nights or francophone meetings for both institutions. That allows families, not only French-language parents, but also those who are in exogamous relationships and speak a language other than French, to increase their engagement in the francophonie.

We sincerely believe that the mission of a school within the Conseil scolaire francophone goes beyond the objective of promoting students' learning. Our duty goes beyond that, extending to developing the sense of community. We recognize that this duty could reverse the effect of assimilation, which is at around 70 per cent. As people from eastern Canada, we have been conditioned for generations to try to reverse assimilation. As principal, it is my duty to tell this beautiful province that I see myself as a Franco-British Columbian.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you for your very interesting presentation.

Mr. Dupain, I agree with you that the francophonie is not just the language, but also a value that defines us as Canadians.

[English]

I absolutely agree that what you say; it is our value.

To start off, I did privately appreciate it with you, but I want to tell you that I will be using this brochure a lot in the community because, when I open it and see the children, it represents Vancouver; it represents British Columbia. It is who we are, and you truly have conveyed the children that are Francophonie, and I congratulate you because one of the challenges that we have is that people think of Francophonie — and in our province, it is not news to you — being just people from Quebec or maybe from France, and that is not true. We have a very diverse Francophonie community, and we need to convey the message. So one of the challenges I have — and I am a dreamer, which is why I am a politician — is that I want our children to speak both French and English. I think it should be a given. It happens in Europe; it happens all over the world. I don't know why we resist.

So people say to me — and to the four of you, this is no news — that, no, it should be Mandarin or it should be Punjabi, and I am saying, "No, you don't get it; this is our heritage.''

Teach me. Give us the skills as a federal committee on official languages. What do you say to people as to why — you did express it, Mr. Dupain, but perhaps you could elaborate — it is so important to further our bilingualism so that children in B.C. also speak French?

Mr. Dupain: Can I answer you in French, if you don't mind?

Senator Jaffer: Absolutely.

[Translation]

Mr. Dupain: I think you are absolutely right, senator. When we talk about francophone cultures, I would like to talk about francophone cultures with an "s''. The francophone world comes together in British Columbia. We have students from around the world and from countries that are not francophone at all, but they share the francophonie.

I lived in France when the francophonie was everywhere. At that time, we didn't feel threatened. Perhaps now it's a bit different since everything is in English in Europe, and so on. I discovered that there are francophone communities in Romania, in Bulgaria, which, despite the Iron Curtain, maintained. . .

There are clearly francophones in Africa. And when I say Africa, it is important to understand the multiplicity, the diversity and the richness of those cultures. Yes, there are some in Asia, there are some in Oceania. The francophonie is everywhere, promoting its values. We are fortunate to embrace them, and our role is clearly to cherish all this diversity.

I'm pleased to see that white children are no longer the only ones playing in the school yard. We now have diversity of colours, which is enriching. That's something I wanted for my daughters. My answer will reflect more my feelings as a parent, because this is truly something on an emotional level. I want my daughters to understand that the world is diverse. I want my daughters to understand that diversity is an asset that must be respected. And with its two official languages, Canada has adhered to the principle of a mosaic, which I have not found in our neighbour to the south. Everyone can speak in both its official languages.

The Chair: Mr. Dupain, I would ask you to be brief because other senators would like to ask you questions.

Mr. Dupain: I'm sorry, I'm passionate about this. But I'll have the opportunity to get back to you.

The Chair: Senator Maltais, you have the floor.

Senator Maltais: We have been hanging out together for a few days and we have become good colleagues, and I think we'll be friends by the end of the week.

I'm always amazed to see your burning passion when you talk about your life as a francophone. French is not just an academic language, it's a lifestyle, a way of thinking, a daily way of life, a way of communicating and of speaking.

As an aside, I must humbly tell you, as our chair has said before, that I am one of the committee members who insisted on coming to British Columbia. I have visited almost all the francophone communities in Canada, with the exception of British Columbia. Thanks to the Unis channel, now, and to Ontario's French-language television, which gives you good visibility, with many TFO reports, I have come to know the francophone community of British Columbia.

I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the classes. We told the chair that we wanted to see not only administrators but also children. We saw children in daycare, this tall, all the way to university, this tall. I noticed that the grade 4, 5, 6 and 7 students have a certain vision of the francophonie, whereas the grade 8 to 12 students have a different vision. The vision that concerns me is the one of university students.

I think the vast majority of young people who take French courses do so to have better job prospects. They have not yet adopted the francophone lifestyle. I think they adopt it more in your school system than at university. That is an observation. I could be wrong. I don't claim to know the truth, but that is what I noticed. All the questions that the kids asked us after the meeting were related to employment prospects. That was striking to me.

This morning I read in the British Columbia papers that your Ministry of Education is facing serious problems such as dilapidated schools. Schools are sort of falling apart. I would like to discuss the federal government's accountability with you. I got the idea from the President of the Treasury Board, Scott Brison, when he appeared before our committee. I asked him whether he had a way to ensure accountability of funding so that the federal government invests funds in the francophonie. He had just been sworn in a few months before that. He said: "Unfortunately, senator, I have no way of doing that. But I'll find one, because this is not normal.''

The federal government — the senators, the MPs — requests funds for the francophonie from the Minister responsible for la Francophonie, but she distributes funds according to government standards. And she has no choice but to send it to the major governments. And that's where the power is cut off. I'm sure this is not all the funding that the Government of Canada sends to British Columbia for the francophonie.

The Chair: Mr. Allison, would you like to address the senator's comments?

Mr. Allison: Yes, I agree. I think accountability is certainly required. Also, much more control is required. We in the school board are the ones familiar with the needs. I don't think being told what to do is appropriate. It would be up to us to take charge then and make proposals, and it would also be up to us to be accountable to a certain degree. I think we're ready to do so. We already do so with the money from the OLEP. We need additional funding to continue growing.

Senator Maltais: Let me raise one final point that was discussed yesterday around the table. There's not a lot of focus on skills training within the francophonie. It must be because of the lack of funding. Not everyone can go to university. Let's not kid ourselves. There will always be a need for electricians, plumbers, carpenters, welders, and mechanics. We will always need those people. Skills training is very important for the francophonie. I know there is a dearth of money, but, in the next few years, do you plan to invest some money, not necessarily large amounts of money, but to at least give young people an opportunity to receive proper skills training in French?

Mr. Dupain: You are absolutely right. That's actually one of the major problems facing British Columbia. Today, and you will see it tomorrow, three programs have been announced, community kitchens in which our students can participate. You will have the opportunity to see one tomorrow in Victoria. We have some success with a cohort of 10 students a year. About two or three who attend an anglophone college at the time will go into the food service industry. It's a big problem. It's certainly our problem right now.

Yes, you are absolutely right. Thank you.

Senator Gagné: Research shows that ensuring the development, the growth, of a community means ensuring an institutional continuum. When we look at the big picture, we must ensure that there are francophone daycares, schools, universities, colleges, a health care system able to provide services, and so on. I think when we develop a vision for a community, we have to make sure that there is actually infrastructure, strong and well-funded infrastructure. I fully understand the challenges of the francophone community.

To go back to the negotiations about the envelope, we hope that the outcome will be much more generous than in the last 10 years, as there has been no increase. In terms of the Official Languages in Education Program (OLEP), we know that there have been no changes in 10 years, which means there has been a decline in resources, given the cost of living.

You are asking for a place at the table to negotiate a tripartite agreement at the federal level with CMEC and Canadian Heritage, and then here for bilateral negotiations. Has this idea or request been put forward to British Columbia?

Mr. Allison: I know that has been put forward to the feds, the CSF, and as part of the negotiations here, in British Columbia. Perhaps Mr. Dupain can elaborate on this? I think there are direct relationships with representatives from the provinces to find out the status.

Mr. Dupain: We've asked for that. When the OLEP was launched, which is ending in 2018, we were told: "You have $4.3 million, period.'' We have never found out why we had to have $4.3 million instead of $4.5 million, and so on, but that was already established in advance.

Let me give you a very simple example. We have asked for language monitors for all our schools. We have 38. We were told: "No, you will have 20.'' Initially, we had 12, and the province had 52 or 54, I can't remember. The others are for immersion, but we were entitled to have up to 20.

As you can see, there are really no negotiations. At the end of the day, in the case of the eight language monitors working outside the classroom, as the senator said earlier, we had to pay them with federal funds from the Odyssey program. It was clear that we would not have more than 20. We received 20.

The Chair: Is that up to the province?

Mr. Dupain: It is up to the province.

Mr. Allison: May I add a comment?

We are also asked to plan the next four or five years. Our needs will certainly change over the years. But we are asked to develop a fixed plan for those five years. We try to make changes and it's a challenge every time. We have to refocus, and so on. I think it's a little sad that we have to be restricted in that way.

As I said, we can be accountable; we would direct funding to where there is a need. The needs change over five years.

Senator Gagné: I have a supplementary question about whether we can compare your school board to other similar school boards in British Columbia.

Is there another school board serving schools across the province that would be for the majority?

Mr. Allison: I know school boards that cover large areas, but not as large as that of the CSF, which covers the province. Having previously lived in Prince George for 16 years, I know that the school board included small communities up to about 200 kilometres away from Prince George. They are small communities. There may be seven or eight schools in total, in communities 50 to 200 kilometres away from Prince George. That's the one I know. There may be others, but not as big.

Senator Gagné: Do you know their financial situation? Do they have access to more funding than you?

Mr. Allison: Part of the funding formula depends on the geography of British Columbia. When a school is more than so many kilometres away from the head office, something clicks in. They give additional funding, whether for us or for the anglophone school boards. The farther away the schools are from the head office, the more money comes in; that applies to both francophones and anglophones. Also, in terms of the distances between two francophone or anglophone schools from the same school board, once again, the geography determines the money.

Of course, given our situation, we receive more money than the others. However, there is a huge cost to having schools across the province. For training, everyone has to travel and to be replaced in their schools. There are huge costs, and we can't cover them.

Let me finish by saying that my predecessor had previously asked for an increase in funding of 25 per cent. Finally, we received 15 per cent, but we really needed 25 per cent.

Senator McIntyre: My question is about equivalence in education. I would like to draw your attention to the B.C. Supreme Court decision in the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique v. British Columbia (Education) case. As you know, the decision was rendered on September 26. This ruling is 1,600 pages long and it has been received with mixed feelings. Stakeholder feedback is a mix of joy and disappointment. We could talk about it all morning, especially in terms of the infrastructure, and so on. My question is this: Have you received the co-operation of the Language Rights Support Program?

Mr. Allison: Yes. Over the past few years, we have made a number of requests for funding to help us with that. But as you know, I think it covers a small portion of the funding required for the court proceedings.

The Chair: How much have you received?

Mr. Allison: In recent years, it was . . . Then, I think our lawyers, Mr. Roy is here. . . I think the maximum we could receive was $125,000 for the court case. But then there were other small requests for legal actions, and small requests that we were making on the side.

Senator McIntyre: Do you think this case will be appealed?

Mr. Allison: I would rather not comment on the legal action now. I have sort of left it in the hands of our elected officials. For me, as you have rightly said, it is a split decision. And I am also waiting for the analysis to be completed by our lawyers and to be taken to the board of the parents federation and the school board.

Senator McIntyre: What strikes me is that the court does not recognize the obligation under section 23 of the Charter to provide early childhood services in French.

Mr. Allison: Actually, many things are disappointing. And I think the most disappointing is the fact that the judge seems to be saying that the next generations of communities will be assimilated. I think that's where things come to a stop for the other communities in the rest of the ruling.

Senator McIntyre: Let me finish by saying that the same goes for the entire issue of infrastructure, that is to say, the court rules that some infrastructure can be repaired and some cannot.

Mr. Allison: If the infrastructure can be repaired, funding is needed anyway. It is expensive to repair old schools, and sometimes there are seismic conditions. Under those circumstances, it is often cheaper to build a new school than to repair those schools.

So yes, schools can be repaired. And I think we do a good job with the little money we have. We receive annual grants for infrastructure, like all the other school boards; that's money for renovations in our schools. But we cannot add spaces. It is not just about the condition of the school; it is also about the extra spaces that we need to add. And even if we receive $1.2 or $1.3 billion per year for renovations, those amounts are not sufficient to build schools. One of the smallest schools, for example, with a capacity of 100 students, can cost up to $8 million to build, and that does not include the land.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: In preparing for these meetings, I did some research. One of the things I found — and I want your input before I get the committee to look at it more carefully — is that there are monies available for infrastructure, for housing, for anything to improve the social conditions of the community. The government provides infrastructure. Have you thought about asking the federal government to provide help with infrastructure, especially maintaining the schools, as part of harmony and the promotion of bilingualism in our country? There is quite a promotion by our federal government to provide monies for infrastructure. Have you looked at that aspect?

[Translation]

Mr. Allison: No. I have not looked at that, but I definitely will.

Let me give you an example. During a meeting with a federal elected representative, it was crystal clear that, when we were asking for help from the federal government, we were told that education is under provincial jurisdiction and that it was up to the province to meet those demands.

But I will definitely look to see whether those funds could be available now. Thank you.

The Chair: You have provided us with a lot of information this morning and in our informal meetings. What recommendations would you like our committee to propose?

Mr. Allison: I talked about this a bit and perhaps I can make a clarification. An important measure would be an incentive for the provincial government to build schools. I think if there were a federal fund to build community spaces — an amount of money that could be shown to the provincial government in advance — that would be a tremendous help for addressing the space issues.

Another problem is that, given how scattered our students are across the province, we need funding to improve transportation to make our schools accessible for the students. Access can be achieved in a number of ways, but the two main ways is to have more schools in some areas, including in Abbotsford where there are no schools. Children have to go to elementary school in Mission, and to secondary school in Surrey. We are talking about 45 minutes to one hour away by car. It is much longer by bus. So there are those two components, which are extremely important to me.

And there are others perhaps in the longer term. For example, post-secondary education in French is extremely important to me. I think we want to keep our francophones in British Columbia. We need to maintain the vitality of the francophone community. And we can help do so through our young students who finish grade 12.

There are other ways, but I think it would be in our interest to hire our students who finished high school and who would graduate from university here in British Columbia. They could be hired as teachers or administrators on the school board and so on. I think this would be a huge help in developing the community.

The Chair: Mr. Dupain, do you want to add anything?

Mr. Dupain: I will not go back to the money matters, and let Mr. Allison deal with that. Like many of you, I think we are dreamers. Just share one thing with Ontario: tell them the francophonie in British Columbia is doing well, we have many children who dream to be part of our programs, who are in our programs, and so on. It's unfortunate that we are restricted because we have no more space.

I'm looking at Ms. Asselin, who has 10 portables on her land where children cannot even play in French anymore. So we have a vibrant francophone community. Perhaps people say that we are dying; I repeat it because it shocked me a great deal. We are not dying. We have a living program. Just that in itself is something important. Of course, from time to time, money is needed too, but that would be the message I would like you to communicate, if you agree.

The Chair: Ms. Asselin, Mr. Tardif, do you want to add something?

Ms. Asselin: What I would like to add is precisely that we must not limit our activities to our classrooms, to our schools, despite the space constraints. We personally feel the constraints. We feel that our teachers cannot develop leadership because we often have to tell them no, because of the lack of space. We have often closed our gym and our library. I even said no to activities that students wanted to do because of not having enough space. So I think it's a shame to curtail initiatives in our schools because of a lack of space.

Mr. Tardif: Of course, the scandal in my schools is that we do not have facilities equivalent to those in anglophone schools. We are not able to create a sense of belonging to the school, though it is our duty to do so. We have two sites with portable classrooms and one location in the community centre. So, for us, it would be having equivalent facilities in our region and the budget necessary to provide other activities. For example, we could provide exogamous families with after-class activities, in order to create that French-speaking vitality in all the CSF's school communities.

Mr. Allison: I would like to add, and I feel that this is very important, that the federal government in Ottawa can help us acquire land. As we mentioned during our meetings at the École Rose-des-vents and the École Jules-Verne, we need assistance there, especially when the land belongs to the federal government. We should absolutely have priority. Our francophone community should have priority because of our minority status. That is something that I would like you to take back to Ottawa.

The Chair: That is an important point to add, I feel. It is something that we will keep in mind.

Mr. Allison: Thank you.

The Chair: The senators have no further questions and our time is up.

On behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, I would like to thank you very sincerely for your presentation today. We feel your passion and your commitment to your schools and your community. Thank you very much.

I would like to welcome the teachers' representatives. The committee is continuing its special study on the challenges associated with access to French-language schools and French immersion programs in British Columbia.

This morning, we are pleased to welcome Sophie Bergeron, President of the Association provinciale des professeurs d'immersion et du programme francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, Sylvie Liechtele, President of the BC Francophone Teachers' Union (Local 93), Teri Mooring, First Vice-President of the BC Teachers' Federation, and Trish Kolber, French Teacher Representative, BC Association of Teachers of Modern Languages. Welcome to you all. It is a pleasure to have you here.

We have heard about the challenges that you have to overcome in your profession. Yesterday, we dealt in depth with the entire question of language competency. I don't know whether that is the focus of your presentation, but we are really looking forward to hearing from you.

We will start with Ms. Bergeron. Please limit yourselves to five minutes. There are four of you, and the senators will certainly have questions for you.

Ms. Bergeron, the floor is yours.

Sophie Bergeron, President, Association provinciale des professeurs d'immersion et du programme francophone de la Colombie-Britannique: Madam Chair, honourable senators, good morning. On behalf of the Association provinciale des professeurs d'immersion et du programme francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (APPIPC), I would like to thank you for this invitation to share our comments with you as you study the status of French-language education in British Columbia.

First of all I would like to tell you a little about our association. The APPIPC is one of 32 specialized associations of the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF). It brings together most immersion and French-language teachers in British Columbia's public schools, from kindergarten to grade 12. It also includes some teachers from the independent schools with French-language education programs.

One of the APPIPC's goals is to foster a sense of community among immersion and French-language programs in British Columbia by offering professional development opportunities in French and by facilitating the sharing of ideas and resources. That is why we organize an annual congress at which our members can meet and recharge their batteries.

This year, the conference will be held on October 20 and 21, and the theme will be academic success in French. The association also has a mandate to advocate for teachers on French-language education issues. So I'm here today to tell you about some of the issues facing our teachers.

One of those issues is access to professional development in French. Although APPIPC organizes an annual conference with about 300 participants, opportunities for teachers to meet and interact are few and far between. In addition, the costs to participate in such activities are often higher for teachers in French-language programs, because they usually require travel expenses, since they are held in major centres, even sometimes outside the province.

As we know, the budgets for professional development have been static, if not downright shrinking, for at least 10 years. This therefore makes access difficult, especially for our French-speaking colleagues who live in remote areas and who already feel isolated.

Along the same lines, I would like to talk about the educational support for French immersion teachers, which is becoming increasingly limited in school boards. The positions of school counsellors, such as the one I have in Coquitlam, have almost all disappeared when the needs in French-language educational support are more and more pressing.

You probably know that, this year, B.C.'s Ministry of Education has begun a transformation of all the kindergarten to grade 12 curricula. This major project, which affects all teachers, has even greater implications for immersion teachers who have trouble finding educational resources tailored to the French as a second language education and to the British Columbian context. Under those circumstances, our immersion teachers need the educational support even more to help them cope with the new curriculum.

Another issue facing the immersion programs is the fact that many of our teachers have not necessarily been trained to teach French as a second language. This reality creates needs for ongoing training once the teachers are on the job. The lack of training in second-language teaching methodology leaves a number of our teachers unprepared and frustrated. It is not uncommon to see those teachers leave the immersion programs after just a few years to head to the English-language program, because it is easier for them.

While it is encouraging to see former immersion students turn to teaching and we can see it as a measure of our programs' success, the fact remains that not all of them actually have the language and cultural skills they need to be good French immersion teachers.

This point brings me to another major issue, the shortage of human resources. We are in a crisis. We do not have enough qualified teachers to meet the demand. Although in some places, school boards have the space to create new classes, the shortage of teachers who speak French well enough to teach it prevents them from expanding their workforce.

I teach in Coquitlam, and we consider ourselves lucky to be able to fill all our positions for the start of the year in September. However, we already know that we have four maternity leave positions to be filled by January, and we don't know whether we will be able to do so. It goes without saying that it is virtually impossible to have substitute teachers who speak French when a teacher has to be absent for medical or other reasons. This has a direct impact on the quality of education, especially for students and teachers who see their workload increase after the leave.

Although universities such as Simon Fraser and UBC offer very good teacher-training programs, they are unable to meet the demand. In addition, the current economic situation in B.C. makes out-of-province recruiting more difficult. Our salaries are not competitive when compared to the cost of living in greater Vancouver.

In addition to the shortage of qualified teachers, the lack of space limits access to immersion programs. Many school boards fail to meet the demand in terms of early immersion. Again this year, in Coquitlam, we had to reject about 30 students who wanted to enroll in kindergarten. This lack of space is partly due to the underfunding of the B.C. education system. This situation requires school boards to increase the number of students per school and use all the space, which limits the opportunities for expanding the programs of choice, such as immersion. This infrastructure issue restricts access to education in both official languages, a desire expressed by a growing number of students.

Speaking of students, changes in our student population is another challenge faced by teachers. The make-up of our classes is no longer what it was 10 years ago, let alone 40 years ago. A large percentage of our students speak a language other than English or French at home, and more and more of them are identified as having learning disabilities or behavioural disorders.

We are pleased that more and more parents and students are choosing French immersion, because they believe in the benefits of bilingual education. However, the democratization of our programs is not seamless. The educational support needed to meet the growing needs of this population is inadequate or non-existent. There is a lack of fairness between access to special education services in French for our students and access to those services in the regular English program. Administratively speaking, it is often easier to transfer a student to the English program instead of providing them with remedial support in French. Once again, the lack of human and financial resources plays a role.

I would like to conclude on a positive note by saying that I am proud to represent a group of teachers who believe in the value of French and who wish to share their passion for this language and culture with their students. I hope that my comments will help you paint a picture of the French-language teaching situation in British Columbia, and that they can be used to improve support for our students and teachers in order to better promote the French language in this province.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Sylvie Liechtele, President, BC Francophone Teachers' Union (Local 93): The SEPF is pleased to respond to the invitation extended to it to participate in this consultation on the key challenges for teachers in French-language schools and French immersion programs in British Columbia.

At the outset, we want to let you know that we appreciate your efforts to better understand the challenges that lie at the heart of the official languages issue in general, since francophone teachers in minority communities are a fundamental component of the values of a country defined by bilingualism.

Furthermore, just for the record, today is World Teachers' Day. I am Sylvie Liechtele, President of the SEPF, and this will be my fifth year in this position. I am happy to be the spokesperson of teachers from francophone schools across the province. It is an honour and a privilege.

I would like to begin by highlighting the research done by the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF) on those challenges. You will find the research carried out in 2014 under the title Teachers in a Francophone Minority Setting: Exploring Themes at the following link: http://www.ctffce.ca/en/Pages/Francophones/Research.aspx.

That document accurately reflects the reality here in British Columbia. It consists of two parts. Part 1, Teaching in French 2014, is an update of the key elements of the 2004 survey (Teachers and the Challenge of Teaching in Francophone Minority Settings). This questionnaire was approved by CTF's Advisory Committee on French as a First Language — of which I am a member — and administered by SavoirNet, which then analyzed the responses. The findings are described in the initial section.

The findings indicate that the main challenges francophone teachers in minority communities are facing are essentially the same as those that were covered in the 2004 study. Those challenges are summarized as follows: teaching, with little in the way of resources, groups of students with various backgrounds and many different needs; promoting and teaching the French language in a predominantly anglophone environment; and transmitting curriculum subject matter with limited French-language teaching materials.

These themes also appear to have become more complex because of an increase in the number of exogamous families and growing cultural diversity in minority settings. Moreover, the arrival of technology in the classroom in recent years, which has admittedly improved access to resources, has also given teachers an additional challenge to which they need to adapt.

Part 2, A Comparison of French-Language Schools and English-Language Schools (including immersion schools), provides an analysis of a survey conducted by researchers working in the CTF's Research and Information department in the spring of 2014. A total of 7,950 people, for all languages of instruction combined, responded to the survey, 1,448 of whom worked at French-language schools. Among French-language school teachers, we consistently note a significant difference in the perception of issues related to the work-life balance, conditions of professional practice including relations with the administration, the curriculum, testing, and so on. In the vast majority of cases, analysis shows that teachers at French-language schools feel at a disadvantage relative to their anglophone counterparts. That is very concerning.

At the strictly provincial level, I would like to share my concerns about the Plan d'appui aux Langues Officielles en Éducation (PLOÉ) — federal funding provided to the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF) through the British Columbia Ministry of Education. The approximate amount of $4.5 million a year granted to the Conseil scolaire francophone is administered by the superintendent with the support of the board of directors. However, the union, a key partner, is not involved in the distribution of funds. Of course, the decisions are announced to us at monthly meetings of the Comité Conseil Éducation, but we have no decision-making authority.

Here are some examples of situations where the money could be allocated more appropriately. For instance, the international baccalaureate (enrolment, exam corrections, resources, specific teacher training) is funded through the PLOÉ public funds (nearly $600,000 a year) and it basically benefits very few students. It should also be noted that most of the Pearson company's textbooks are available only in English for our teachers. As far as we are concerned, that significant funding could be used for other purposes to serve French-language public education in minority settings. That way, we could focus on training teachers in Pédagogie à l'école de langue française, developed by the FCE or invest in UNESCO schools that share the values of social justice and human rights, as that would benefit all our teachers.

Another example is that the Conseil scolaire francophone has removed all teacher-librarians from our schools. You would think that PLOÉ could have provided funding for those librarians, as teaching literacy and understanding francophone literature, for example, is a critical need in a minority community.

Another area that is in need of the federal funding is the organization of the only provincial day that brings together all of the province's francophone teachers. The SEPF contributes $20,000 and the CSF contributes the same amount toward that cause, even though the CSF's budget is 300 times that of the SEPF.

In addition, we are facing a shortage of francophone teachers in specialized areas such as counselling and remedial instruction. PLOÉ could also provide incentives for expanding and diversifying the training of current francophone teachers.

Finally, given the heavier workload than in majority schools — more courses to teach in a variety of subjects, bringing francophone culture to life — the fact that many positions are part-time — which is problematic owing to the cost of life in areas such as Metro Vancouver — and the fact that francophone teachers are often uprooted and lack a peer support network, the turnover rate is higher than in majority language schools.

The teaching staff in British Columbia's French-language schools is facing considerable challenges. As a union, we believe in the importance of improved teaching conditions for our teachers in minority settings, so as to help provide an optimal learning environment for all students.

The SEPF would like to thank the standing Senate committee for giving us an opportunity to share our concerns, and we submit the following recommendations.

That the memorandum of understanding for the distribution of federal funding provided through the official languages program be covered by a quadripartite agreement (federal, provincial, francophone school board, francophone union) instead of a bipartite agreement (federal, provincial);

That guidelines be established, so that the allocated funds would be used primarily for literacy (including the hiring of librarians), culture and professional development for teachers; and

That basic training for teachers include courses on teaching French in minority settings (PELF, for example).

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Liechtele.

Ms. Mooring, you have the floor.

[English]

Teri Mooring, First Vice-President, BC Teachers' Federation: My thanks to the Senate committee for inviting the representatives from the BC Teachers' Federation to present to your committee and discuss the issues regarding access to francophone and French As A Second Language programs.

I would like to start with the lack of trained teachers. At the moment, only three universities in B.C. offer training in francophone and French immersion teaching candidates or teacher candidates. All universities offer some training in core French but none in intensive French. Currently, the number graduating in francophone and French immersion teacher candidates will never meet the teacher demand, and this has a huge impact on the ability for the programs to be able to expand.

Intermediate teachers in the English track often have a very basic knowledge of the language, and they are expected to teach core French with little or no training, so the lack of training for teachers teaching core French is the real issue, and this is particularly problematic as we move to more rural settings.

Most francophone teachers are trained outside of B.C., and although they have had to complete a one-year practicum, very few have any idea of what it means to teach French as a first language in a minority context, having not lived in that environment.

Teachers often leave this program for a variety of reasons; one is lack of resources and especially now, as you have heard, the B.C. government has changed the curriculum in all grades. One significant change has been the introduction of aboriginal perspectives into all subject areas at all grade levels, and there is a distinct lack of resources to be able to do this for all teachers, but this problem is even greater for teachers teaching French.

Another issue is that all three FSL programs deal with enrolment issues, so what happens over time is that student cohorts inevitably have an attrition of students over time. By the time students get to high school, the cohorts can be quite small, which means that teachers are teaching multiple grades in one course, and this has a significant impact on teacher workload, as you can imagine, and student experience. This is even more difficult outside the lower mainland, in rural settings, where you have also, perhaps, one French immersion teacher in the secondary school.

Another issue is that both francophone and FSL programs receive federal funding, but unfortunately, that funding doesn't always make its way into the classroom and to individual teachers, and there are a number of reasons for that.

I am primarily now going to speak about the FSL funding. One issue is that teachers often don't realize that they are able to access federal funding for professional development. That is one issue. Another issue is that there is lack of understanding, often at the school level or from district administration, about how the money should be spent, so sometimes it is spent on items that would perhaps benefit the entire school as opposed to the distinct programs.

Also, funding is meant to cover the difference between the English version and French version of textbooks, but oftentimes this responsibility is downloaded to schools. What happens is that there ends up being a lack of resources for teachers, lack of textbooks and resources for teachers and for students that are left, sometimes, with no textbooks or older textbooks.

There are also other reasons why qualified teachers leave the program. B.C. has one of the lowest salaries and highest costs of living in the country. There is an example of two teachers from Mission, B.C., who couldn't find affordable housing for their families, so they couldn't stay in the region. Also, having the highest poverty rate in the country has a direct negative impact on students and teachers.

There is also the lack of specialist teacher support, as you have already heard. Oftentimes, if there are teacher librarians, counsellors or helping teachers, that support for students is not available in French. And despite, as you have heard also, the myth that French immersion teachers are highly functioning, teachers are finding that in these programs as well as the two other FSL programs, they are dealing with more and more students with special needs, mental health issues and poverty issues. These students receive little or no support for their learning difficulties, and this obviously has a direct impact on teaching and learning.

In core French, a student with special needs is often pulled out of French class to access the support that they need because it is viewed as not as important a course for them as other subjects they might be taking, and even when students are successful and they have a special learning need, parents are often counselled to take them out of the program because of a lack of understanding about their ability to be successful.

Studies have shown that students with special needs can learn an additional language, and in many cases it puts them on an even playing field with other students in their class because they are all struggling to learn a second language, so it can be very beneficial for students to take the second language even if they have a special learning need.

The other issue is that extra support that is available at the elementary school level is often not available at the secondary level when students do proceed through their learning. Teachers often — there is often also a feeling of lack of support for the French immersion program. The teachers often feel that way, that their program isn't particularly supported, so that can lead to teachers not wanting to stay in the system.

Also, many teachers move here from another province, and they often find themselves in another country and quite isolated because of the language barriers and being away from family and friends. There is also a lack of access for services in French, and it is much more challenging to find those services in French outside the urban areas, as you can imagine.

French immersion programs are also considered programs of choice and not a neighbourhood school program, so they are placed wherever there happens to be space in a school district, which means that the way that impacts students is that they often have to travel long distances to go to the school, and if they do have busing available, parents are charged for that busing because those students are not going to their neighbourhood school. That has been a big problem in British Columbia with all the downloading and lack of support for public education.

Programs are also sometimes simply cancelled, and that was the case in Haida Gwaii, where they decided to cancel the French immersion program with no consultation even though students and teachers were protesting that cancellation.

B.C., we have just a few recommendations then. One is that there needs to be more oversight about how federal funding is spent to ensure that funding is effectively used to benefit francophone and FSL teachers and students.

New funding is also needed to allow school districts to administer the DELF exam based on the common European framework of references, so the students in FSL programs across Canada and at the international level are able to assess and validate language competencies for FSL graduates.

More money for learning resources and learning resource teachers, I should say, and learning assistant teachers; that support needs to be provided to students in French. Also, given the new B.C. curriculum, more funding is needed for resources to be created, translated and adapted for all programs, especially in light of the mandate to integrate aboriginal ways of knowing and learning across all subject areas.

There also needs to be more work done around attracting and retaining qualified teachers and specialists. Having all universities offer training for all the FSL programs would help, especially the elementary core French. That would help to fill the demand at local districts, and you have also heard about the teaching salaries that are not competitive across Canada and British Columbia.

Training for intensive French also needs to be available in B.C., and it is currently only available, currently, in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. This would bring specialist language teachers back into elementary schools and better support core French teachers by relieving the anxiety of intermediate teachers who do not speak French but have to teach that subject area.

The school districts receive necessary funding to assess — school districts also need to receive necessary funding in order to ensure programs are available commensurate with parental demand across British Columbia.

Those are the recommendations that we have for the committee. Thank you so much for your time.

The Chair: Thank you so much.

Ms. Kolber?

Trish Kolber, French Teacher Representative, BC Association of Teachers of Modern Languages: Thank you for inviting me here today. I am representing the British Columbia Association of Teachers of Modern Language, a 45-year-old provincial specialist association of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation. We work to promote, support and advance the teaching and learning of second languages and cultures in B.C.

The public French education is delivered in three main ways in British Columbia: Firstly, French public schools, which offer French to francophone students; secondly, French immersion programs, which offer instruction completely in French to non-French speaking students; and, thirdly, classes known as French As A Second Language or core French, and it is the teachers of these classes who I represent here today.

In B.C., this program does not begin until Grade 5. However, schools are not required to teach French. They may opt to offer a second language such as Mandarin or Punjabi, depending on the desires of the local community. Elementary students can study as little as 40 minutes or as much as 120 minutes of French per week as there are no prescribed minutes of instruction.

In some districts, French is offered by a specialist teacher, but in nearly all districts, regular English-speaking teachers teach this class. Usually, but not always, a qualified specialist core French teacher delivers middle school and secondary level French courses.

In 2007, the BCTML and the BCTF conducted a comprehensive provincial survey of 800 French as a Second Language teachers regarding French instruction in B.C. The resulting report, written by Dr. Wendy Carr and titled "Teaching Core French in British Columbia: Teachers' Perspectives,'' remains the only comprehensive, wide-scale study of core French programs in B.C.

The results of this survey were shocking. Seventy-eight per cent of elementary teachers currently teaching French reported they did not feel comfortable conversing in French. Pause for a moment to consider this. Three-quarters of elementary French teachers said they did not feel comfortable speaking French.

What would have happened if these were math teachers admitting they did not feel comfortable solving equations or English teachers who did not feel comfortable reading and writing in English? This speaks volumes to the efficiency of core French and, hence, bilingualism for the vast majority of students learning French in British Columbia.

Our teachers, most notably at the elementary school level and in rural contexts, must rise to the challenge of achieving provincial learning outcomes despite low levels of proficiency, confidence and methodological background.

Taking this into account, our first recommendation would be to require that all teachers take a French methodology course before being certified to teach French. Secondly, establish a more rigorous screening process to ensure that new hires have a minimum fluency level. And, three, provide ongoing professional development opportunities for French teachers to maintain fluency and a connection to the culture of francophone society, and this in line with the brand new curriculum in British Columbia.

The French federal funding is crucial to the development of bilingual Canadian citizens. However, we believe adjustments in the management and disbursement of those funds needs to be made. Some of our recommendations include requiring better scrutiny and accountability by school districts to the Ministry of Education, explaining how the French federal funds were used and allocated. Secondly, providing more teacher autonomy and control over the use of federal funds in the classroom, and, thirdly, increasing funding for cultural activities to occur in and out of the classroom for students and teachers alike.

Several Canadian jurisdictions have implemented programs based on the common European framework of reference for languages, the CEFR, which can lead to a diploma called the DELF — "Diplôme d'études en langue française.'' This official language diploma awarded by France's Ministry of National Education is recognized around the world. BCATML teachers have observed that earning a DELF certificate can be a motivating factor for students in British Columbia, as it provides a tangible goal and, therefore, a sense of accomplishment and achievement in students.

If French federal funds could pay for DELF examinations for senior French students, this may encourage them to consider studying French to the end of secondary school, on to the post-secondary level and possibly into the workforce. Additionally, BCATML recommends that government promote and fund DELF examination training for B.C. teachers. Not only would teachers' understanding and proficiency in French improve, there would be the added benefit of standardizing competency levels across British Columbia and, potentially, Canada in the five areas of language acquisition.

In conclusion: Core French in B.C. requires a large injection of fluent speakers, training in the newest language-learning methodology, along with corresponding professional development and, finally, easier access to the federal funds allotted to their programs in order to realize the full potential of B.C. students in their quest for bilingualism.

[Translation]

The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Kolber.

On this World Teachers' Day, I would like to publicly acknowledge the important work you do in your profession, for your students and your community. I, myself, was a teacher for many years, so I can recognize the dedication it takes to be a teacher, especially in our society, which is becoming increasingly complex. So thank you for being here this morning.

Our committee published a report in 2014 entitled Aiming Higher: Increasing bilingualism of our Canadian Youth that basically puts forward the importance of professional training, support for cultural activities and development of a common Canadian framework of reference for languages, similar to the European framework. It is an important report, and I encourage you to read it if you haven't already.

Senator Gagné will ask the first question.

Senator Gagné: Thank you, everyone, for your excellent presentations. We appreciate them very much.

I, too, come from a family of teachers. I started my career in the classroom. I have a son who is a teacher; I have brothers and sisters, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, and nieces and nephews who are too. So I'm surrounded by them.

However, I note that things are different than they were when I started out in the classroom at age 21. Imagine, that was many years ago. As Senator Tardif mentioned, the world is much more complex than it was 40 years ago, when I started.

You also described the issues related to teaching in French and the lack of funding very well. We have heard it everywhere we have been, as well as in the hearings yesterday.

I would like to spend some time talking about the action that should be taken to ensure the quality of the programs, especially in terms of recruiting qualified teachers. You mentioned challenges in this area, and the difficulties in obtaining teaching material in French, instead of taking the material in English to translate and adapt it. I can understand that it takes time and resources to do this. And often the adaptation doesn't necessarily fully meet the needs or respond to the specific nature of the students in our communities.

I will let you decide who will answer my question.

[English]

Ms. Mooring: Thank you. Yes, I mean the lack of training, the lack of availability, I would say, of university programming for teachers is a big issue, so that there need to be more universities offering more training for teachers in order for that demand to be satisfied, and there needs to be much more support for the English-speaking teachers in terms of core French as well.

Myself, I am a teacher from a northern community in British Columbia. As a Grade 7 teacher, we teach all subjects, and so I was one of the teachers responsible for teaching French to my students. I would always ask the prep teacher, the teacher that would provide me preparation time, to teach French because oftentimes that person would be someone who was comfortable speaking French. It is a huge issue, so I would say more availability of university training.

I would also say more availability for professional development access to teachers, and that often comes down to funding. Unfortunately, much of what we are talking about often comes down to investment and prioritizing, so in order for teachers to feel more comfortable teaching the French, core French especially, there needs to be much more training available for them.

[Translation]

Ms. Liechtele: I think it is also important that there be people who were trained here, in British Columbia. What happens is that a lot of our teachers arrive in our schools, and they come from majority settings. They are surprised when they arrive in their classroom. It is not their lack of willingness; it is that they do not understand what is going on. That is why I mentioned in my remarks that it would be important that teacher training include courses on teaching in minority settings. People might say that it is something that goes without saying when they arrive. It should be part of all training, especially training related to French as a second language, but in this case, it would be French for francophones in a minority community.

There is a tool that was developed by the Canadian Teachers' Federation called Pédagogie à l'école de langue française, or PELF. It was funded by the federal government, and received and praised by several departments, the 13 ministries of education in Canada, I think, including Quebec. There is not this aspect. Now, it would be helpful to know what it is like to forge one's identity, develop an identity, preserve it and transform it, and to include the other diverse francophonies that are in our schools. This is really something that would be beneficial.

Ms. Bergeron: Along those same lines, 25 years ago, when I started in education, many teachers came to us from Manitoba and Quebec, and the funding came in large part from the department to create institutes. At the end of August, they were given an update on the situation in British Columbia, on how immersion and francophone programs work, and on the reality of living in a minority situation. And it worked well. Now all that is gone. If we could reinstate these institutes, it would already be a starting point to acclimatize francophones who come to us from somewhere else.

As for teachers for whom French is not their first language and who teach in our immersion programs or even in the core French program, there is also the idea of having a kind of mandatory language evaluation. It is left up to the school board. We do it for our immersion teachers. We have them undergo an interview in French, we ask them for a written sample, but it is nothing scientific and it is done in our province and in a few school boards, but that's where it ends. We do not do it for core French teachers because the numbers do not support it. If it was something that was instituted, an obligation that would go along with certification, it would certainly help in many cases.

[English]

Senator McIntyre: As it was already pointed out today, it is World Teachers' Day, therefore a great day to celebrate the work of teachers.

[Translation]

Ladies, thank you for bringing our attention to the following factors, including the training needs of teachers, the action that should be taken to ensure the quality of programs offered throughout the province, the lack of qualified professionals to meet the growing demand for second-language programs, the lack of access to teaching materials, and I could go on.

That said, do you have any specific recommendations for the committee that we could consider in preparing our next report?

For example, Ms. Kolber was very specific in her recommendations. So, Ms. Kolber, you have already answered my question. But for the preparation of our report, I would like to know what specific recommendations the others would make. Ms. Liechtele?

Ms. Liechtele: I would say that one of the specific recommendations is that we know that there is money proposed by the federal government. We know that this money is transferred to the province. It is very hard to track what happens. Yes, the school boards should be at the table, and so should the unions. They are quite familiar with the needs of their teachers. So if we want to make this transparent and have there be a table with many participants, I think the union should be at that table, because it represents the teachers.

Ms. Bergeron: I would like to add something. I am lucky in my school board. I receive money directly as part of the agreement with the federal government and, with my colleagues, we decide how to use it. But we know very well that, under the agreement, currently an amount equivalent to only 0.4 per cent of a teacher's salary may be set aside for salaries. So only a small portion of the envelope we receive can be set aside for salaries. And that is only for on coordinator position. This year, and for the next three years, they said that we could use 1 per cent for a coordinator position to implement new programs of study. But aside from that, that's all. So when we talk about specialized needs, like remedial instruction, we cannot use the money for that kind of service.

To give you another example, a school board with over 100 students in immersion does not receive any money for specialized needs. I think perhaps the agreement criteria should be reviewed.

The Chair: It is the federal government that —

Ms. Bergeron: I do not know whether these criteria are imposed by the federal government or the provincial government. That is why it would be important to make sure to see, in the agreement, what criteria the ministry of education imposes for the payment of these amounts.

The Chair: Has the union seen the agreement negotiated between the province and the government?

Ms. Liechtele: I have not seen it, no.

The Chair: Do you have access to that information?

Ms. Bergeron: The general terms and the amount that is paid to the various school boards are on the ministry of education site. I'm talking about French as a second language. I have not seen the information relating to the amounts that go to the francophone school board.

[English]

Senator McIntyre: Well, Ms. Mooring, I believe in your pages 14, 15 and 16, you have addressed those recommendations. However, if you wish to add, please go ahead.

Ms. Mooring: I just want to touch on a couple of things.

First, I would echo the need for the accountability and oversight of how the federal funding is spent, but I also wanted to mention the issue around tracking and retaining qualified teachers for the programs, and as Sylvie pointed out, it is important that B.C.-trained teachers be trained. That way we can probably retain them a little bit better. That would perhaps help with that.

I also wanted to touch on the fact that when we are competing with other provinces for teachers that are trained in, say, perhaps Quebec or Ontario, our low salaries in B.C. and our extremely high cost of living is a definite deterrent for people coming here, so it puts B.C. at a distinct disadvantage. Those are some of the key recommendations.

Also, because we have such a rural-urban diversity in B.C., there is a real — all the issues that we are talking about are even more accentuated in the rural areas where, in Fort St. John, for example, it is almost impossible to attract. They have a French immersion opening right now, and they can't hire anyone, and we are partway through the school year. We are in October, and they still don't have a French immersion teacher there.

All of the issues, you can imagine if they are issues in the urban areas of British Columbia, you can imagine how difficult it is in the rural areas. I am from Quesnel, as I stated earlier, a northern community, and we have luck attracting teachers from Quebec and Ontario, but they only stay a couple of years. It is very isolating in a small community especially, so there are a number of issues that should be looked at and addressed.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Madam Chair, since I have never been a teacher, I will ask my questions in succession to avoid being challenged. You will take the questions, and anyone who wishes to respond may.

Ms. Liechtele, you are the president of the union. Is your union affiliated with the provincial union of all teachers in British Columbia?

Ms. Liechtele: Yes. We are one of the locals in the BCTF, local 93.

Senator Maltais: Does your union help you with professional development for the teachers?

Ms. Liechtele: Yes. And that is why I mentioned what we are currently doing for all teachers. Professional funds that teachers receive are set out in our collective agreement, and they have not increased in years. But there is a provincial gathering called the "Rond-Point'' and, in my opinion, it is entirely underfunded. There was a restriction recently because it was perhaps funded. . . In any case, there were problems with the accounts. But what is happening is that, today, it receives very little funding. We give $20,000; that is a lot for a small union of 450 teachers. Yet, the school board contributes the same amount, which makes no sense.

Senator Maltais: Visiting the schools, I noticed the student-teacher connection. I noticed this at the secondary school level, in particular, because you come from Quebec, and the teachers at a secondary school in Quebec merely pass through. Three-quarters of students do not remember their names at the end of the day.

So I congratulate you because although your role is as an educator, I would say you are also a confidant for the students, who appreciate it immensely. It is extremely important.

Is there still a tutor in a school who is responsible for the class?

Ms. Liechtele: No.

Senator Maltais: Do you teach history in school? And if so, what history do you teach?

Ms. Liechtele: Yes. History is taught. If you mean at the secondary level, in francophone schools, you know that all francophone schools offer the international baccalaureate program, so the history program comes from that program.

Senator Maltais: Do you teach the history of British Columbia?

Ms. Liechtele: I am not a history teacher. I know that it is taught at the elementary level, but —

[English]

Ms. Mooring: History is taught in both elementary school and in high school, but I just wanted to say one of the shifts that just happened recently is the inclusion of aboriginal content in all areas. The change has been the challenge of teaching the history of aboriginal peoples in British Columbia, and while that does happen in many classrooms, now it will be mandated in all classrooms.

This poses a huge challenge in terms of being able to find the resources available because we have 198 distinct aboriginal peoples in British Columbia, and we need to be able to teach about that history in the area where the students live. That is very, very challenging. It is one of the largest challenges that we will have, and you can imagine that having those resources available in French poses an even greater challenge.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Ms. Liechtele, you spoke about a quadripartite agreement for sharing budgets. It would be ideal for you, but it would be a disaster in other provinces. Based on Quebec's experience, I do not see the union — and I could be wrong; I do not claim to know everything — distributing money in schools. Would this not be somewhat ironic?

Could you explain that to me, please?

Ms. Liechtele: First of all, the union relationship in Quebec is very different from here. I am not asking for the authority to distribute money, but for the opportunity to be at the table to influence how the money is distributed so that, for instance, the money from the federal government is set aside for training and the training day, or for the librarians that were eliminated from francophone schools. I do not want to manage the money, but I want to have an influence on the aspects that teachers share with me and on what goes on in the schools. That is the goal of having the union at the table.

Senator Maltais: I understand it very well now. I was surprised initially, but I understand better now. Thank you.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: Thanks to all of you and happy Teachers' Day.

As you know, I come from British Columbia. You all have covered so much territory. It sort of leaves me very pessimistic, but I think my colleagues should know some of the challenges all teachers are facing here.

I will start with you, Ms. Mooring. Teachers are in conflict at the moment. You are still in court, and it would be useful to show that there are some huge challenges for all teachers which leads to poisoning the environment. I have four teachers in my home, and I know how poisoned they are from being very dedicated teachers to now — I hope there is nobody — they just don't feel valued, and why that is important is for my colleagues to know that there is, according to me — maybe I am exaggerating — that there is a real poison environment. That's number one.

Number two, I have three young nieces who have just become teachers and cannot get jobs. They are substitute teachers. Why I am saying that is not to put my family's case, but I am aware of the challenges teachers are generally facing which takes you away from when I was growing and teachers were so respected. So the environment has changed. I would like you, Ms. Mooring, and others, to first address that, and then I have other specific questions.

Ms. Mooring: Thank you so much for bringing that up, Senator Jaffer, because it is a really important component.

In British Columbia, the relationship between teachers and provincial government is very difficult. What happened in 2002 is the provincial government gutted our collective agreement. They went into our collective agreement, which was fairly negotiated, and they took out provisions. The provisions that they took out had to do with working and learning conditions. What that resulted in is the loss of 3,000 teaching positions. So when we talk about lack of resource teachers, lack of teacher librarians, we have lost thousands of specialist teachers over the last 14 years, and we have also had increases in class sizes and composition levels. There is no longer any sort of protection around how difficult a class might be or how large a class might be. It is very limited, and that has been a significant change.

We have been in court with the provincial government for the last 14 years. On November 10, we are back in court at the Supreme Court of Canada. We won twice in the provincial court. It was deemed unconstitutional, the stripping of our collective agreement. It was reversed in the appeal court, so now we are going to the Supreme Court of Canada.

We are very confident in our position there, and what we are hoping is that that language will be reinstated into our collective agreement, and we will be able to hire more teachers.

Another thing that has just happened — it was actually just announced yesterday — was the government announced $1 million to private schools for funding special needs students. Now, private schools already get full funding for special needs students. This is a million dollars on top of that to provide a six to one ratio, six students to one teacher. I can tell you that if public schools had any ratio even close to that, it would be quite incredible what we could do for our students.

I am glad also that you talked about the lack of ability to go into full-time jobs. We have some real issues in British Columbia where we have parts of the province where we can't attract teachers, where unqualified teachers are filling in for qualified teachers, where teachers are teaching outside of their training area because they just cannot attract to some lower mainland districts where they have closed their teachers teaching on-call list, so you can't even go onto that list. There is huge diversity.

What needs to happen is there needs to be more incentives for teachers to come out of the lower mainland where there aren't jobs and go into areas where there are jobs, and that is something — when I talked about the need for more attention to retaining and attracting teachers, it is also within B.C. itself. There needs to be more work done there.

So, absolutely, if we are looking at provinces that have a much more respectful relationship between government and teachers, if you have a choice, you are coming from Quebec or Ontario, you are going to look at where you are going to teach in Canada. B.C. has definitely been very troubled, so thank you so much for asking that question.

Senator Jaffer: I am just going to add so that my colleagues get an idea of the challenges teachers are facing generally: First is if you are a substitute teacher, you get a call at six in the morning whether you are going to work there. You don't have any — and then, and it goes on for years and years and years. That is number one.

Number two is that special needs children — and you mentioned that — and teachers' aides. You were saying somebody helping you prepare. I don't think my sister has had somebody help her prepare for years, and she has kindergarten and Grade 1. I am just saying that those are also special — you know, not there as much now.

But my question to you, Ms. Kolber, is after listening to all four of you, I actually feel very pessimistic, just generally, about French training. My first question to you is for other languages — not French — Mandarin, Punjabi, Korean, I imagine the teacher — because the need is not as great; I don't know that. But I imagine that the teachers are very specialized and very proficient in teaching that language. Am I wrong, or what can you tell me about that?

Ms. Kolber: As far as I know, all the teachers of other languages in British Columbia are native or first generation Canadian speakers of those languages. I know of very few cases where people did not learn that language in an authentic context rather than an immersion-style context.

Senator Jaffer: I go a lot to high schools, and when I do, I always ask about French training and I always get: "Oh, no, we don't like French.'' They do Mandarin, or they do one, and I have also wondered why.

We have all been students. If the teacher was great, we loved the subject. So I am coming away thinking it is not anything — of course, nothing to do with the language; it is the teaching of the language, and it is not the teacher's fault. I am not saying that, but obviously that is causing an issue.

The other issue is — which I would like my colleagues to know — we have this phenomenon of weekend schools. It may exist in other provinces, I don't know. We have weekend Mandarin schools; we have weekend German schools; we have weekend Korean schools. There is such an emphasis, and then on the Lower Mainland, for people who don't — parents whom I know, many parents who do not appreciate the kind of French training that is going in school. There is a lot of growth of Alliance Française and others, but that is sort of an elitist way. Alliance Française is a very expensive place to send your children, so it means that again there is an issue of accessibility, that not all children get good French training. I would like your comments on that.

Ms. Kolber: I think that what we believe in Canada is that all students in Canada have the right to learn their second language, and in British Columbia we believe that all students should have that right. When we talk about the Saturday schools, that is definitely out of the reach of the majority of students learning French in British Columbia.

What we want to see is a quality French program inside of schools, and you touched on a big point there about the methodology. There has been some discouragement in the past, especially with the teachers that I represent, the teachers that teach their classes just two to three hours a week, their French classes. The methodology hasn't necessarily kept up with the style of learning of our kids, and what has happened now is we have got a brand new curriculum, and the learning methodology closely aligns with the way that teenagers really appreciate learning, which is through culture, dance, music and bringing the language to life as a tool of communication and no longer as a list of content to acquire, but it has really become a living language.

I think that possibly some of the other languages that our organization represents, maybe those teachers have managed to bring in some cultural elements that are exotic and exciting, that have captured the interest of students, and that is our challenge here in British Columbia is to bring that exact same desire to know about La Francophonie, the foods and the traditions and the richness that is the Francophonie throughout our world. I am hoping that with our new curriculum that can really come to life.

Ms. Bergeron: In answer to your questions, the competency of the teacher in the language is a key issue. I think there is an assumption that because you are Canadian, you know French, and if you are an intermediate teacher, you can teach French, which we all know is not true. I wish, but it is not true, and that is a big thing.

In Grade 9 when we start Spanish, Punjabi, they have teachers that can speak the language, so then they say, "Oh, I spent four years with a teacher that could barely speak, and now I have a real class,'' and, hence, they move over. So we really to equip our teachers to be better —

Senator Jaffer: I have been saying this week about having a comprehensive approach to teaching, and when all four of you have spoken, one of the other parts about this is bringing additional resources, the teacher would have to pay herself. There is no money here. Teachers have to supplement resources here in B.C. I don't know about other provinces.

Ms. Mooring: We have done some research into how much teachers spend on their classrooms. B.C. has one of the highest rates of teachers spending money out of their own pockets in order to supplement resources and classrooms but also food. B.C. has the highest child poverty, second highest, in the nation, but it is the only province with no poverty reduction plan.

What we find is that teachers and particularly vulnerable schools, you know, their students come without the resources they need, so teachers tend to spend a lot of money out of pocket. The other thing is that there is a reliance on teachers fundraising for necessities, unfortunately, and parents fundraising for necessities. Oftentimes you are going into very vulnerable communities. And you are asking for additional money for schools that should be publicly funded.

The underfunding of the system manifests itself in many ways. It manifests itself in lack of resources and the ability to attract teachers because of salaries. The chronic underfunding is quite destructive to the entire system, and when you look at the French language programs, obviously it is going to have even greater impact there.

The idea that somehow French students aren't as vulnerable as other students is not true. We are seeing all our student population become more vulnerable, and that is across the board, so it is a huge problem.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Ms. Liechtele, so that I understand what you are asking, in Quebec, teachers sit on the school council that works to distribute resources from the school's budget. Is that what you are requesting?

Ms. Liechtele: No. That is what we call the school planning council here, and it was removed from the legislation. Bill 11 was passed in British Columbia, and there is no school planning council anymore. It no longer exists in British Columbia.

What I am asking is for there to be an agreement because the school board decides how the money is distributed, and it is not obligated to request the union's opinion, if only to submit it to the union. This is where the problem lies. How can you explain that no money is allocated to librarians in the francophone minority setting? I think that is an outrage.

Senator Maltais: I understand better. I am sorry if I had some difficulty in understanding.

Ms. Liechtele: That is okay. You can contact me any time.

The Chair: Ms. Liechtele, have you expressed what you want to the school board?

Ms. Liechtele: As I said in my remarks, a board of education committee meets every month. It brings together all the partners, and they discuss the PLOÉ's money, how it is spent and so on. Yes, this is a presentation, but we do not have any real influence. In addition, it is not just today that I am asking for librarians; I have been requesting them for two years now.

[English]

Ms. Mooring: I was going to say that the concern of lack of consultation has been brought forward to the school district as a problem and, for a long time and there just hasn't been the cooperation around ensuring that teachers have a voice.

The concern is that teachers, through their union, know best what they need in classrooms, and if that voice is not heard at the table about how funding is spent, it is very different to be in on the ground-floor conversations about how money is spent as opposed to just being told how money is spent without talking to the people that know best what they need in classrooms and what students need in classrooms. There is a huge voice that is missing there.

Senator Maltais: I understand.

The Chair: Thank you very much. Unfortunately, our time has elapsed.

I do want to thank you most sincerely for being here today and to tell you, of course, that any recommendations we put forward in a report have to be recommendations that would impact the federal government. On provincial matters, we cannot — education is provincial jurisdiction, so we have to tread lightly, but we are certainly concerned about the role that the federal government can play in providing incentives and in promoting official languages through the funding that it provides to the different provinces.

[Translation]

A big thank you to both of you. Thank you for your involvement and dedication.

We are continuing with the third part of our public meetings. We are pleased to have with us today from the BC Francophone Parents Federation, Marie-Pierre Lavoie, President, and Marie-Andrée Asselin, Executive Director. Welcome to you both.

From Canadian Parents for French, we have Cendra Beaton, President of the Sooke District Chapter, and Mary-Em Waddington, President of the Surrey Chapter. Welcome, everyone.

As you know we are continuing our study on the challenges associated with access to French-language schools and French immersion programs in British Columbia.

If I understand correctly, Ms. Lavoie will start, followed by Ms. Beaton and Ms. Waddington.

The floor is yours, Ms. Lavoie.

Marie-Pierre Lavoie, President, BC Francophone Parents Federation: Madam Chair, honourable senators, thank you for having us here today. I will start by briefly introducing myself. I am a mother of two children aged 14 and 16. You will meet them tomorrow when you visit École Victor-Brodeur in Victoria. I have been involved in the parents' movement since they were very small, since they started preschool in Edmonton, Alberta. I was president of the kindergarten at Notre-Dame school, then of the school's parents committee. I moved to Vancouver, and I have continued to be involved in the movement since then. I see that it has a big impact on the school life of my children. That is why I am doing it, to defend all the children, but also, of course, my own.

It is a real pleasure for me to be with you today, and I want to thank you for inviting me to speak on a subject that I care deeply about: accessibility to education in French as a first language in British Columbia.

The BC Francophone Parents Association has worked on education issues since its inception in 1979. It represents parents of some 20,000 children in British Columbia who are entitled to receive their elementary and secondary education in French.

Our organization brings together 45 parents' associations: 30 parents' associations in Conseil scolaire francophone schools and 15 parents' associations that manage a preschool centre, either a daycare or preschool, that offers their program in French.

The mission of the federation is to bring together, represent, support and equip parents in their role as primary educators, and promote their commitment and participation in the creation of a living and exemplary francophone community. The federation supports this mission by helping parents and informing them of the choices that are available to them and the behaviours necessary to optimally develop French language and francophone identity. It also supports parents' groups who volunteer in francophone schools, or who are starting and managing preschool centres, providing information and follow-up with their efforts.

We are an active player in the development of francophone education in the province and an important partner of the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, the CSF. Our organization is currently a co-plaintiff, along with the CSF and parents, in a legal case against the Government of BC.

Since its creation, the federation has demanded and participated in the establishment of a quality francophone education system accessible throughout British Columbia, particularly regarding legal issues. In 1996, this lengthy work led to the establishment of the CSF, responsible for governing and managing the francophone education system from kindergarten to grade 12 in BC.

Since then, enrolment in our schools continues to grow, year after year. We are particularly proud of the 5,700 students currently enrolled in the CSF. This is thanks to the concerted efforts of parents, the francophone community, and school administrators, and thanks also to preschool centres that are becoming more and more numerous, the centres being located directly in francophone schools.

For more than 20 years, the early childhood component has become an important part of francophone education. So when we talk about access to francophone education in British Columbia, we refer of course to the schools that provide an education in French as a first language to children entitled under Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But we also talk about an education, in the broad sense of the term, which begins in early childhood, with daycare and preschool, and goes right to post-secondary school.

In the analysis of education in French as a first language in British Columbia, it's unthinkable not to include early childhood. Research clearly shows that we must work with a child from birth to give them the best possible chance to develop to their full potential and to be well prepared to enter school. Scientific research has also demonstrated that up to age four is the optimal period for the development of the brain with respect to language. This shows us the importance of early childhood in francophone communities in a minority situation.

Francophone daycare centres and preschools, with their educational programs focused on the development of French oral skills, are an excellent way to make our children even more French, and prepare them as well to enter into a francophone school. It influences the degree of belonging to the francophone community, and even builds their identity.

Therefore, working from early childhood, francophone communities will be able to increase the rate of transmitting French language to children that have at least one francophone parent. According to data from the 2011 census in British Columbia, this transmission rate was 24 per cent for children aged zero to four years, one of the lowest rates in the country! That is to say that in families in which one parent is francophone, assimilation continues to take three out of four children before entry into kindergarten.

To reverse this trend, we must invest heavily in early childhood. Early childhood is the direct gateway to kindergarten. Preschool and daycare services are therefore essential in francophone communities because they are a powerful recruitment tool for francophone schools. For francophone parents, everything hinges on choosing a daycare or preschool for our children.

For several years in British Columbia, statistics compiled by the federation have shown that enrolment in preschool centres is the best way to ensure francophone kindergarten enrolment. It is therefore essential that we develop the network of preschool centres to ensure a place in daycare for all francophones.

The federal government has an important role to play with respect to the accessibility of early childhood services in francophone communities, by investing even more heavily in infrastructure through, among other things, the Canadian Heritage program, which funds community infrastructure and directly funds new school construction projects. In British Columbia, for example, almost all of the preschool centres — 17 out of 19 — are housed in a francophone school. Of these centres, five occupy — or will soon occupy — so-called "community'' spaces built with the financial support of Canadian Heritage.

However, francophone schools have now reached and even exceeded their capacity in terms of available space in several regions. This means that we have therefore reached the limit in terms of capacity in daycare centres and preschools that can currently be accommodated in CSF schools. Yet, the demand continues to grow!

The Fédération des parents is proud of what it has accomplished, with the help of its network of parents, in terms of starting new services in the last 10 years. Yet, the current services for early childhood are far from sufficient. According to Statistics Canada, British Columbia has about 4,000 francophone children younger than four years old. But we have just 450 places in francophone daycare centres and preschools. In comparison, this year, there are nearly 650 students who attend kindergarten in a CSF school. In addition, the majority of preschool centres offer services only for three- and four-year-olds, despite the fact that families have need of these services as soon as a child reaches the age of one year.

To meet the demand and ensure accessibility to early childhood services for all francophone children and to counteract assimilation, we must heavily increase the number of places in francophone preschool services. To achieve this, the support of the federal government is essential.

The role of the federal government does not stop only at infrastructure. With the upcoming renewal, in 2018, of the action plan for official languages, currently referred to as the roadmap, the time is right to reflect on the role of francophone and early childhood education in the 2018-2023 plan for official languages.

If it seems that early childhood was almost pushed aside in the roadmap for 2013-2018, it is essential that it occupy a prominent place in the new plan. In that sense, because of the importance of early childhood services to the survival of francophone communities, we suggest that the federal government make early childhood an important focus and theme in its next action plan for official languages, to the same extent as education, health or immigration.

Different stakeholders in early childhood areas, including the Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique, must have access to the resources needed to continue to build on strong foundations. The choice of the language spoken at home, in the community and at school is made in the first few months after birth, and even before. Well-informed parents who fully understand their rights and the impact of their decisions on the child in terms of language, identity, culture and sense of belonging will make wise choices. This is particularly true in British Columbia, where parents of children attending francophone schools are from mixed, or exogamous, couples in a proportion of 87 per cent.

Therefore, the contribution of organizations like our parents federation is essential to raise awareness among parents and guide them. We need to ensure that the action plan for official languages contains an adequate, stable and sustained investment in early childhood development that satisfies the needs of francophone communities.

Grassroots action is required in order to ensure the development and growth of the francophone community in British Columbia. It is not enough to continue to recruit and prepare young children entering francophone schools; children and their families must be provided with a range of services, from pregnancy to the post-secondary level. A good way for the federal government to do this would be to create a national strategy for early childhood and to implement it in partnership with groups of francophone parents, who are recognized as leaders in the area of francophone early childhood in Canada.

Senators, the challenges regarding the accessibility of francophone education in British Columbia are numerous. For francophone parents, the fact that they live west of the Rockies should not lead to the linguistic assimilation of their children. The linguistic duality of Canada must extend and be lived every day from coast to coast, from birth onwards.

Now more than ever, on the eve of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, the federal government must play an important role to reaffirm the importance of linguistic duality by supporting the vitality of our communities and the ability of Canadians to live in French, so as to ensure that francophone families can enjoy an educational, family and community environment that provides for their complete development in French.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Lavoie.

Ms. Beaton, go ahead.

[English]

Cendra Beaton, President, Sooke District Chapter, Canadian Parents for French: Thank you for hearing me today.

My name is Cendra Beaton. I was born and raised in Val-d'Or, Quebec, as a native francophone. At nine years old, I moved to Ontario where I was then put into the French immersion program as a native French speaker, which is where, within three months, I was able to learn to read, write and speak in English and became officially bilingual in both of our official languages.

I graduated and received my double Dogwood, which has proven to be a useful tool in the workforce. I quickly noticed a distinction for wages and opportunities compared to unilinguals, even those that were bilingual from the street versus a bilingual education like myself. Later on, as an adult, I went on an adventure to Alberta searching for new opportunities, which were very fruitful as a bilingual.

It is also there that I met my husband, an infanteer in our Canadian forces. We were married and had two children, a girl and a boy. Soon after his return from Afghanistan, he changed trades into our navy, where I now live in Colwood, which is part of the Sooke School District.

I have been a stay-at-home mom since my first-born due to the nature of my husband's career, and during this time I became an avid volunteer. I want to make a difference wherever I can, so I volunteered with Project Heroes on parent advisory committees. I prepared fresh food boxes for those in need and more.

My daughter soon began kindergarten, and there was no question to me or my husband that she was to be educated bilingually with her brother to follow. I January 2013, we had to line up outside and cross our fingers that we would be accepted into French immersion.

At school, I became involved as a volunteer of our local chapter of Canadian Parents for French. I participate in most school district board meetings, where my presence has been welcomed, and help to keep in mind the effects of the French programming during decision-making.

I am actively advocating for French programming. Many positive changes have been implemented, and a strong collaboration has been formed with my district. Proficiency in our language educators was increased with the test de français international.

We have begun equalizing learning support with the French reading recovery program, but there is still work to be done as I continue to hear about children being counselled out of the program for reasons such as anxiety or ADHD, which, if the support was equally offered, there would be no reason to not be successful.

In Grade 2, my daughter developed severe anxiety, the aftermath of being bullied. We were told that not many supports were in place due to funding. We were offered to put her in a program called Choices which would help her gain the emotion skills. This program sounded perfect except it was only offered in English.

The elementary years are 100 per cent French instruction to build a strong base of the second language. We were not going to jeopardize her bilingual future. Luckily, we had a second French immersion school within driving distance, and this transfer was the best decision we could have made for our daughter. It was clear that she needed a change of environment to regain what was taken from her.

What if there wasn't this other school nearby? I have received reports too often from parents with children in French immersion who have learning challenges and learning disabilities. They too feel pressured and made to feel like there is no other option. They feel so cornered that they give up on this path for their child even though they are striving with a French tutor. I hear of students with ADHD, isolated in a separate classroom while their classmates go on field trips or during class time as there is not enough support.

Does the language of communication fail to provide you basic needs? Why should it be any different than in English? Could this be a matter of educating school staff to be equally accepting and supportive in both of our public school programs or a cry for more French funding?

With more French support funding and further education on the acceptance of all learning levels of students in French immersion, we would see major difference not only for our students but also for our staff, who would feel better surrounded with the tools that they need.

Transportation has also proven to be limiting. Not all of our schools have equitable transportation, and parents must often choose between programs depending on the access to school buses to a local school or driving to a French immersion school themselves. Transportation is costly, and we have a cap on how many students they can take in our district. There is no additional funding for French immersion transportation, currently, to encourage our districts.

If more schools were to offer French immersion, not only would it be equally accessible and provide options for kids, but it would reduce the transportation costs or also known as the operating costs.

Our district currently welcomes all inter-French immersion, and we hope to have their continued support going forward. The funding formula for the French funding guide has proven its challenges. Our district has more than doubled in French immersion population over the last six years, yet we have a fixed lump sum which does not change despite the growth in enrolment. A per-pupil formula that is adjusted yearly may help to generate the necessary funds to provide the resources and supports to meet the needs of our communities and encourage our district support.

In British Columbia, we are as far as possible from Quebec, so resources cost more to ship here. Our single track French immersion school has only 12 per cent of its books in French in the library. Our high schools have less than half a shelf each, and this goes on.

My chapter has been doing everything we can to provide additional French resources for our libraries, but it is a challenging task due to the volume needed.

When I was a student at French immersion myself, I remember the division amongst parents during the Quebec referendum. My fellow classmates and I were puzzled. Why was language dividing adults when we clearly saw no difference in a human that spoke either language? Thanks to this type of program, we are creating a more culturally open-minded society. Being educated bilingually should not be a choice program. It should be a right for my children and yours as Canadians. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms.

Ms. Waddington, please.

Mary-Em Waddington, President, Surrey Chapter, Canadian Parents for French: Good morning. My name is Mary Waddington, and I am the mother of two French immersion students and President of the Canadian Parents for French, Surrey Chapter. I am also an executive director with the Computers for Schools Program here in B.C., and I am here today to speak to you about the effects of program capping within the Surrey School District on French immersion.

As a back story, when my daughter was two, she used to do her puzzles, her 24-piece puzzles row by row by row, row by row by row, and then when that became too easy for her, she turned them upside down and did them cardboard side up. I was very worried about what elementary school would bring to her and that she would be bored in class and thought that French immersion might be a great way of frustrating her just a little bit with language. Clearly, that proved to be premature thinking because she sucked up French within three months and was very easily able to converse with a shopkeeper in a store by Christmas.

When it came time to register her for kindergarten in 2004, I did not have the experience that Cendra had. I did not need to cross my fingers and hope for the best. I was very fortunate to go to my school of choice, wait with another mom, fill in some paperwork, and she was accepted into that school. There was not much of a wait list, but that is not the current reality that many families are facing in Surrey right now.

The Surrey school French immersion program is very popular, and in the past five years, Surrey has seen a wait list that exceeds 200 children each year for kindergarten. That is approximately 1,000 students that have not been able to access early French immersion learning over the past five years.

There is a cap on early entry, and it requires a lottery system, and, thus, French immersion lottery winners. When CPF Surrey meets with the district to advocate for more French immersion space, they respond that they would love to add more space but are frustrated by lack of resources, including space and finding qualified French teachers.

For the purposes of my conversation here, I am going to be speaking about space as this is a foundational reason behind the French program capping in Surrey. Surrey is, geographically speaking, a large city. It is 316 kilometres, and we could fit 17 Surreys into the whole of Prince Edward Island. People are flocking to the city, and it is estimated that there are 1,000 people moving to the city each month. This has been going on for over ten years. The city is undergoing massive growth and development to accommodate all these new people, largely in the form of townhouses, which are more affordable to young families who bring children.

The Surrey School District is bearing the brunt of all of this growth as 1,000 new students enter the Surrey school public system each year. The unsurprising result is that we do not have enough schools in Surrey. If we were to take all 7,000 students that are currently learning in 243 portables across the district, they would equal the 24th largest district based on student population.

The real rub behind learning in portables is that the Ministry of Education has designated portables as "operations funding.'' That is the same pot of money that supplies teacher salary, education assistance, classroom supplies, resources, field trips and more. Portables do not come from capital funding.

In January 2015, the district engaged in public consultation on the issue of choice programming, and the re-sounding result from parents was that they did want access to increased choice programming, particularly French. By the spring, when Kindergarten registration was complete, there were again 230 students on the wait list for French and 213 students on the wait list for the other three choice programs combined.

Since April 2016, CPF Surrey has been involved in numerous public consultations looking at how the district is going to accommodate the massive growth of the student population and how that is affecting choice programming as it relate to French.

We have seen one public consultation that has resulted in removing French immersion from a school and placing it into another school. Unfortunately, there are only 14 students starting at that new school. It remains in jeopardy. There is another high school where we are looking at either pulling out the Inter A program or French immersion because the original school is too crowded, and the last high school, where we are fortunate a new school has been built, but how are we going to populate the new one? It is likely going to come at the cost of relocating French.

In fact, this last school is so overcrowded that there are over 2,000 students in it, which would render it the 13th largest district in this province if a school could be a district.

The Surrey School District has policies to address students, schools and boundaries. Policy 9200 notes that choice programming will only we accommodated where space permits. This is a fair and reasonable policy to have except when schools become so overcrowded there is little to no space to accommodate choice programming, let alone the neighbourhood children.

For those families and children who do win the lottery, you enter into a program that is uprooted and relocated at the needs of the district in compliance with Policy 9200. We often lose French teachers to the English stream as the teachers don't want to reduce their chances of being relocated.

The unintended consequences of relocation are that it increases the usual attrition rates as families are disrupted when school locations change. In Surrey, we do not have busing. There is no transportation. If you choose to put your children in choice program, you choose to drive.

Let me go back to how big our city is. We know that there are approximately 25 per cent of families that live in catchment of their child's school, and they may not be able to accommodate the commute or have other family considerations. The result is often a decision to drop French. This is a huge loss.

Right now, we are waiting for the November Trustees Meeting to hear the results of an in-service that is looking at how choice programming is going to be affected given the growth and high student population in the district, especially at École Kwantlen Park, École Lord Tweedsmuir and Woodward Hill.

This is not reasonable access to our country's other official language. I personally don't speak French. I didn't respect learning French in high school, and my very English father did not understand why it was important or why learning Mandarin or Spanish wasn't more useful given our position in the globe, but as an adult, I cannot express how much I regret this.

In my introduction, I mentioned my day job, Computers for Schools, which is a national Government of Canada program. This means I have colleagues that I cannot speak directly to. I have also had to hire an executive director for which one of the key criteria was being bilingual. I truly now understand why it is important to have access to French immersion from a young age.

As a teenager, I couldn't predict where I have ended up now and how having some competency in French would serve me much better, so for all the talk and recognition of increased opportunity for travel, for better employment, for better neuro-synapse function and all the rest, the fact remains we are a bilingual country. Speaking both official languages speaks to our nationhood so that we can in fact speak to each other, but in Surrey we need access to classrooms and school space for French students if we are going to effectively address French immersion and capping issues. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Waddington.

All of your presentations were very much appreciated and very powerful.

The first questioner will be Senator Gagné, followed by Senator Jaffer.

Senator Gagné: Thank you very much for your presentations.

[Translation]

My first question is for the Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique. I would like to come back to the issue of strategy in early childhood development. I would like to gain a better understanding of the province's investment policy in terms of early childhood, and of how the province's priorities in early childhood are being coordinated compared with what you are asking for at the federal level. Will you be able to coordinate the needs, on both sides?

Marie-Andrée Asselin, Executive Director, Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique: Good morning. To answer the question, here, in British Columbia, the Ministry of Children and Family Development is in charge of early childhood, and no consideration is really given to francophone matters. For instance, if new Strong Start programs are launched, we blend in with anglophones, and the best project receives funding. The project from the francophone community does not really receive any special treatment.

The situation is the same with early childhood centre funding. We submitted a request in the second year, but there have only been those two rounds of calls for projects. In the first year, we were not accepted, and in the second year, one of the projects of the early childhood centre was approved. But again, the assessment is done on a case-by-case basis, with all the other anglophone projects. So there is nothing in the provincial policies specifically for francophones in terms of early childhood.

Senator Gagné: You have received funding from the federal government in the past to open kindergartens. Can you tell me what agreement that was under? Was it the Canada-community agreement? Was it part of the OLEP agreement?

Ms. Asselin: That funding was provided as support for opening kindergartens. So groups of parents are supported in the regions to start new services. That is done under federal-provincial agreements for official languages in education, so under OLEP.

As for early childhood support services, we receive some funding through OLEP, and we have received funding from the province for other services, such as opening our early childhood centre.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you very much for being here today. I have understood what you said.

I would like to begin with Ms. Waddington.

[English]

I really admire your zeal, and that is the kind of thing we need in our province. We can only talk about our province — you and I are from the same province — on how we can increase bilingualism in our country.

You come from Surrey, and my colleagues are going to get fed up with this question; I keep asking it. But I am very preoccupied with the concept of bilingualism does not exist. I am not saying it is Surrey, but it is just generally because I believe that the federal government is not playing its leadership role from the prime minister onwards in the sense that, yes, he is talking about French is important, but what more? You just can't talk about it. You have got to put campaigns in place. You have to emphasize it, and, most importantly, you have to put resources in place.

This morning, we heard from the teachers, and it has left me very pessimistic that, you know, if you don't provide good programs in French, you are not going to increase our bilingualism.

The question to you is: In Surrey, there is a very large South Asian community, and as somebody that has been involved so much in promoting French, how do we get people to understand that we are a bilingual country?

Ms. Waddington: Thank you for that question. I think it really comes down to getting out of our own little bubbles as it were, and we need to explore other cultures. So, yes, in Surrey we do have a very large South Asian community. We also have a very large Korean community and a Chinese community as well. It is a very, very diverse city. French is a very small minority in Surrey. There is a pocket in Coquitlam, Maillardville, but other than that it doesn't really exist south of the Fraser.

I think having access to more community events and just raising the profile of the language, but getting out, and, honestly, as Canadians, seeing our country. You know, if it was cheaper to fly to Quebec than it was to fly to Vegas, maybe more people would go there for a real experience rather than the show we currently get when we go to Vegas.

But it is hard for our trustees right now in Surrey, and they are grappling with this issue about what do we do with the Punjabi community that is advocating quite strongly for classroom space within the Surrey school district, and they are getting it. They are starting a program going up to Grade 5 in some of the local elementary schools in Surrey, and I do kind of shake my head at that.

I fully respect that we are a multi-diverse country, but French is our official language, and I don't know how to speak German either, but we have Saturday school for other languages, and it is my belief that while we do respect diversity, we have to support and protect French, especially in B.C. because we are so removed from Quebec.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you.

I have a question for all of you: As communities increase — and you have talked about Surrey, and I am very much aware, and that is why I keep asking this question about communities pushing for their languages to be within the school system. I am not against that, but I think that our first priority has to be our heritage in the sense that French should be a given; everyone should learn it, you know, and it is not even talking about a perfect world. Either we say we are bilingual or we give up on that, but we don't want to. I don't want to.

To all of you, how do we as parents promote bilingualism in our province?

[Translation]

Ms. Lavoie: We have to provide services. We have to begin, as we advocate at the federation, with early childhood and go all the way to post-secondary education. We have to be able to provide a continuum of services, a continuum of activities. When I say services, I am talking about health, immigration and early childhood services, but also about services for young people to promote the francophone identity, so that they can have fun in their first language, if they are francophones, and in their second language, if they are bilingual — so in both official languages. Parents have to be able to provide those benefits and rights to children because, as you say, our country is bilingual. It either is or is not. Those are rights, and we have to be able to give them to the children. So it is a matter of a continuum from birth, when parents choose in what language they will educate their children. In an exogamous family — I was lucky, and there was no discussion. My husband is an anglophone, I am a francophone, and we are educating our children in French. We have to be able to provide them with opportunities, and that is why your committee's study on the accessibility of education in French is very important.

[English]

Ms. Beaton: For me, really, I see it as we need to make it more accessible. We need to provide more resources. We need to better inform society. For French immersion, I feel very much like there is a lack of understanding as to what the program really is and what it offers. I often even hear some administrators or parents say: "Oh, that's simply French. I want my kids to learn it as a second language, not primary.'' And I am like: "But that is the point to French immersion.'' There is a misunderstanding to what the program is, often, in society, that this is a bilingual program; you graduate with a bilingual certificate. It is unique for that reason.

If we had society better informed, we had equal access to either public school program, I think it would make a huge, valuable difference in our country. I think it would offer more opportunities. If you look, currently, how many jobs require bilingualism, imagine 20 years from now.

We need to provide these opportunities to meet the needs of tomorrow, and if we don't, what are we going to do?

Senator McIntyre: I echo the comments made by Senator Jaffer, and I agree with her that there is definitely a lack of leadership, not only in this province but across the country, on the issue of promoting official bilingualism, no question about that.

[Translation]

Ms. Lavoie and Ms. Asselin, I see that, for years, your federation has been waging different court battles alongside the CSF to obtain services for students of French schools that would be comparable to those provided to anglophone students. You no doubt know about the recent decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in the case involving the province's francophone school board. The ruling consists of 1,600 pages, and I do not intend to go into its details. Naturally, the stakeholders' reaction is a mix of happiness and disappointment.

The disappointment clearly has to do with the fact that the court does not recognize the obligation, under section 23 of the charter, to provide early childhood services in French. Ms. Lavoie, I am bringing this up because, in your oral and written presentations, you talked about early childhood a lot, and I agree with you.

That said, can you briefly tell us about the legal battles you have been engaged in over the past few years, without going into the details of the Supreme Court of British Columbia's decision? Do the battles you have waged with the CSF seem to be yielding results? Are things progressing at a snail's pace in British Columbia, yet progressing nevertheless?

Ms. Lavoie: We have definitely made some progress, since we now have a school board in British Columbia. Things are difficult in the area of early childhood, as you say, because the provincial government does not seem to recognize the uniqueness of the francophone community. We are fighting to say that it all begins there. If we want to be able to continue to grow the school system and to educate our children in French, we have to start by giving them the options from the beginning. If our children cannot have kindergarten and pre-kindergarten services in French, they will simply turn to English schools and, eventually, they will be assimilated.

As I said, 4,000 children have the right to preschool services in French, but there is space for only 450 of them. We need spaces.

Senator McIntyre: But to be more specific, here is my question: do you think that it is important to continue engaging in legal battles to move forward?

Ms. Lavoie: Oh! Absolutely!

Senator McIntyre: Because, without that, you will never make progress.

Ms. Lavoie: Absolutely! You are completely right.

Senator McIntyre: There is no political will. It is as simple as that.

Ms. Lavoie: Absolutely. That is the discouraging part. We always have to fight for something we are entitled to. It is unfortunate, but you are completely right. We have to continue to fight and not give up.

As you said, the reaction to the 1,600-page decision is mixed. We have not finished reading and analyzing the ruling. But we have to continue. We cannot really stop.

Marie-Andrée, do you want to add anything?

Ms. Asselin: The system — with its funding formulas and the project allocation system — is one of the cornerstones of our legal recourse. If the system met francophones' needs, or if there was a completely different system for funding, we would not be having these problems.

For example, I will talk about the Strong Start programs. In anglophone communities, school enrolment is dropping off. So there are plenty of spaces available for the community. The Ministry of Education decided to create the Strong Start programs for young children.

In our communities, the numbers are growing extremely quickly, and there is no more space in our schools. So even with that nice project, francophones' needs are not met, as there is no more space. In the school board's 37 or 38 schools, we have only six Strong Start programs. Why? We need that everywhere, but there is no space in the schools. So the system is not made to accommodate francophones' needs.

Senator McIntyre: In fact, the court's decision focuses not only on early childhood, but also on the francophone school infrastructure.

For instance, I note that the court compels the province to take action to improve some of the francophone school infrastructure, especially in elementary schools of the Pacific — the Entre-lacs school, in Penticton, in Sechelt, the Deux-Rives school, in Abbotsford, and the Rose-des-vents school, in Vancouver. However, I note that the court recognizes that section 23 of the charter has been violated, but it does not compel the province to fund the improvement of infrastructure or the construction of new schools, since it had not acted unreasonably. That is the case in Victoria, among other places.

Here is my point. This is a matter not only of early childhood, but also of francophone school infrastructure. So unless I am mistaken, you will have to go back before the courts.

Ms. Lavoie: Yes, possibly. No decision has yet been made concerning boards of directors. In fact, the school board, the parents federation and the co-claimants are going up against the provincial government in that case. We have to come together and finish analyzing the situation to decide what the next steps will be. Yes, we will always have to fight.

It would be ideal if we had a national system for early childhood, or a national system for francophone education that would include early childhood. If we start with the foundation, the provinces and territories will have to comply with this national policy. Everything could be standardized to a certain degree, so that provincial and territorial governments would not have any choice but to respect the rules.

This has to be taken to a national level. And that is exactly what you heard last week from the Commission nationale des parents francophones. We are members of that commission, and that is what we would like to see in terms of early childhood to avoid always having to fight.

Senator McIntyre: Have you had an opportunity to meet with your provincial and federal representatives?

Ms. Lavoie: No. We are trying, but we do not always get the responses we would like to get when it comes to meeting with them.

We actually organized an event, on Monday, where we welcomed Mr. Lorieau, the representative of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for western Canada, who came all the way to Vancouver. We launched our Strong Start program, at the Anne-Hébert school, and it was very well received. That is exactly what the commissioner said. There is not enough access to early childhood services to ensure the long-term sustainability of the francophone community.

Senator Maltais: Welcome, ladies. We have probably met some of your children in the schools we have visited.

I want to go back to the subject of early childhood. It's a topsy-turvy world. This morning, Radio-Canada announced that there are too many daycare spots in Quebec. If we weren't so far, we could take in a few of your children. However, just because Radio-Canada announced it doesn't mean it's true.

Since I sat in a different Parliament in another life, I followed many debates in Quebec on the creation of public and private daycares. There are two schools of thought. You spoke of one that is very good, but there is another that may be considered pedagogical and philosophical, the idea of letting a child be. Childhood happens only once. As the song goes, we aren't 20 every day, it happens only once.

I'm a grandfather and I have many grandchildren whose ages range from a few months old to 16 years old. They all went through the system. This summer, since I was convalescing, I had the opportunity to look after a number of my grandchildren. I observed them while they played. I found they lacked personal initiative. They had games they learned in nursery school, and I didn't see them be inventive. You know, a cardboard box can entertain a child with the simple addition of windows and a small door. You give them a cardboard box and they wait for someone to tell them to make a window. In my day, the first thing we did with a cardboard box was cut it. The window was probably crooked, but we knew there needed to be a window. Nobody told us.

I think for both anglophones and francophones, this principle should apply to every child on earth. In your case, you're a minority, but should the role of parents be more important, given the situation? I think your federation of francophone parents should have closer ties to families. People should share childcare, not in the monetary sense, obviously, but by arranging get-togethers on a slightly more regular basis for the children to spend time among themselves without being guided. You'll notice one thing. Unlike adults, children have no language or colour barriers. It's an extraordinary development opportunity for the child and it doesn't cost much. When they attend nursery school, they already have a sense of sociability. They don't need to be taught it since they learned it in their family and in their family groups during the get-togethers. They learned to be sociable. Of course, the teachers will develop this sense of sociability, but above all, it's the family unit.

Do you have any comments?

Ms. Asselin: That's a very good question. We can't overlook it. We need many services. I think in 69 per cent of Canadian families, both parents work. The only option is to have nursery schools or daycares to accommodate the parents. In Vancouver especially, given the price of houses, working is the only option. Certainly we need good daycares that allow children to play among themselves and that do not always have guided games.

We need a range of services to break the isolation of families because here, in a minority community, when we want to get together to create a francophone environment for our child, we need to find other francophones. For a mother or father of a young baby, it's not easy. Many activities and play groups are needed. The Franc départ program is a good example. The parent and child spend the morning playing at the Franc départ centre. The centre is not a nursery school as such. An educator is on site. Some of the games are guided, and part of the program is guided. However, the rest of the program gives free rein for parents and children to bond. That's the type of service that needs to be developed.

We have Petits Matins at the Maison de la Francophonie. Two mornings a week, an educator is on site to welcome parents. They can drop in to socialize and chat. A small snack is served. It's very informal. Francophone parents, especially parents of young children, need this type of thing during their paternity or maternity leave to feel properly supported. Our families are often far away. We need to create a francophone community around the family, and not only provide services for the child such as daycare and nursery school. These are family services, and they must be part of the full range of services families may need.

Senator Maltais: Given all we experienced in Quebec, and what you're experiencing here, I think the structure shouldn't leave the child out since the structure is there for the child. The foundation of all the structures you have here is for the little girl or boy who is six to eight months old or one to three years old.

What you explained, Ms. Asselin, is universal. Both parents need to work today. Since the cost of living is so high, there's no other option. Quality daycares are required, and the quality must be equal. It's included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If early childhood services of equal quality are not provided here in British Columbia, the province — or the people in charge, I don't know who — is violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms isn't flexible. We can't put it away on Monday and bring it out on Friday. It's there all week, seven days a week and 24 hours a day. I firmly believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in particular when it affects children or children's rights. It's unacceptable that your political organizations fail to apply the Charter in your case.

Madam Chair, I think we'll have the opportunity to meet with many people this year. Rest assured the message will be passed on. I can't guarantee the result. You know, there's nothing worse than speaking to those who refuse to listen. However, we'll shout very loud, because this is unacceptable. It's not the structure, but the child, a Canadian, who needs protection.

Ms. Lavoie: Senator Maltais, you're absolutely right. We've been saying that for a long time. We want equality, and we want to be able to give our children, who are the centre of the community and the future of the country, the services to which they're entitled under the Charter.

Thank you. If you hear us, then we're very happy.

Ms. Asselin: Canadian Heritage must also commit to funding early childhood services. We know that, in the past five to 10 years, Canadian Heritage, with the Roadmap, has invested very little in early childhood services. This has strongly contributed to assimilation and to the community's disconnection from early childhood services.

When we speak of equal quality, for example, we need educators who are well trained and who have access to ongoing training so they can meet the needs of children today. The educator training plans submitted to Canadian Heritage have all been rejected in recent years. That's unacceptable.

This morning, you're speaking with people from the field of education, with teachers. They also need training, but the educators do as well. Who is responsible for providing the training? The parents' federations often take charge of the training. However, to provide the training, especially in a province such as ours with a dispersed population, educators need to be brought in. This costs money. We must be able to ensure that Canadian Heritage, under the Canada-communities agreements, can fund early childhood services and projects that will result in services of equal quality.

Senator Gagné: I have one last question. You said the early childhood sector is an important component of francophone education across the country. I completely agree. The fact remains that the interpretation of section 23 is currently limited to the kindergarten to grade 12 system.

To address this, you mentioned the idea of creating a national early childhood strategy that would be part of an action plan. I think we could go further. We need to think in terms of a government policy statement on early childhood that makes it clear that early childhood is a key part of the development and growth of our communities.

I wondered whether this could be — I'm making the suggestion — a way to take action. Usually, a government policy would likely carry more weight. It would give us hope that, one day, section 23 will be interpreted much more liberally and will incorporate early childhood.

Ms. Lavoie: That's an excellent suggestion. If we hammer home the message from all sides, we might obtain something that could help us a great deal. Thank you for your suggestion. We'll take note of it.

Ms. Asselin: It should also be recognized that we need agreements with the provinces and federal government on early childhood services, for example, like there were in the early 2000s. There needs to be recognition of the distinctiveness of francophones, so that a part of the funds are allocated to the francophone community. If not, we'll be overlooked.

Senator Gagné: When I refer to a government statement, it's for minority communities.

Ms. Lavoie: I want to add to what Ms. Asselin said. Since money is designated for the First Nations, money needs to be designated for francophones minority communities, as you suggested.

[English]

The Chair: It may be a last question, but I would like to ask to the representatives of Canadian Parents For French: I understand that the policy in British Columbia is for a second language to be compulsory between Grades 5 and 8, but French is one of the options amongst many languages that a school board may choose to offer. What do you think of that particular policy?

Ms. Beaton: Personally, although I really love and appreciate all languages around the world, being bilingual myself, I am very open-minded to other cultures, but I do feel we need to preserve our official languages prior to other languages. It is great that other languages are being offered, but they should be secondary to French or English.

The Chair: What about the fact that they start in grades —

Ms. Beaton: In my district, core French starts in Grade 4, and I believe by the time they are in Grade 10 it is pretty much dissipated, so we need more. For core French, they are learning just the base, like, in French it is (inaudible). They are not learning full conversational, and I think part of that may be due to teachers not having the qualifications to teach the class, or there not being, again, enough resources or maybe not enough exchange between the different French programs.

If there is a way that we can better supply these classes, it would retain much better the language for these students. We need to make it a little bit more for the — it is Canada. Honestly, it should be starting from the day they enter school. It shouldn't be starting later on. You know, for people moving into our country, they come in with an expectation that everybody is learning both languages, and that is not a reality when you finally look into how it works, and it is kind of a disappointment as a Canadian citizen.

The Chair: Ms. Waddington, do you have the same point of view?

Ms. Waddington: No, I would definitely echo Ms. Beaton's comments that there is a fundamental lack of resources in B.C., and that is right across from classroom space to books, and the Teachers' Union spoke earlier this morning about 78 per cent of teachers not having the competency to converse fluently in French, and that is obviously going to impact how they are delivering that instruction in their classroom.

We are seeing now with French immersion it is a 40-year old program, I believe, across Canada, and in B.C. we are really in a deficit where we don't have the basis of people, the large enough population speaking French, really, truly advocating for it, and it is seen as a very small minority issue. It shouldn't be that way because we are Canadian, and we are a bilingual country, and that needs to be reinforced within our education system.

Ms. Beaton: Just to add, one thing I have noticed too, the difference in the belief of the administration, like the belief of bilingualism, the belief of integrating French in each local district is very different. Each school district seems to run differently, so, for instance, in my district, I have been really integrated in the decision-making process as a president of my chapter, and they really listen to me. I will bring up facts, you know — "We need to do better. What can we do to support?'' — and it is listened to, and they do their best to apply it, whereas in Ms. Waddington's district, it is very different.

If there was a way to provide direction, like, "Here is how it needs to be done'' versus "Here is the money. You figure it out it'' it would be very different. We need to be more uniform across the province.

Senator Jaffer: Chair, I have one clarification. I let it go earlier on, but I am very uncomfortable because I don't think anybody is meaning this, but I don't want us to set up in my province "Oh, Aboriginals get this, and we don't get this.'' I don't think you were saying that, but I just want to clear it for the record: Aboriginal people have huge issues, and we are not competing. Both programs should be properly resourced.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Jaffer, for underlining that point.

[Translation]

Our time is up for the morning. On behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, I want to thank you for the quality of your presentations. Your presentations show you care about this issue. The information you provided will be very useful and your recommendations are very relevant. As Senator Maltais said, rest assured that we'll follow up on what we heard today.

(The committee adjourned.)