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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Official Languages

Issue 2 - Evidence


OTTAWA, Monday, November 1, 2004

The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 5:05 p.m., to study the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Official Languages 2003-04, tabled in the Senate on October 19, 2004.

The Honourable Eymard G. Corbin (Chairman) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: With your permission, before we hear from Ms. Adam, I would like to draw some matters to your attention.

The steering committee met October 28, 2004. Subsequent to that meeting, it agreed upon the following. First, with respect to our schedule of meetings, we will be meeting every second Monday. If urgent matters must be dealt with, for instance, with respect to legislation, they must be given priority in all circumstances.

It is possible, that from time to time, certain witnesses be unable to appear before us on a date which suits us. In that case, we may hear their evidence outside of our regularly scheduled meetings.

With the committee's approval, I intend to table a notice of motion before the Senate tomorrow. You have before you the text of this notice of motion. The point of this notice is to ask for an order of reference allowing this committee to study the various reports from departments and institutions. It is routine procedure.

I would ask that the committee be authorized to study the briefs received and the evidence heard over the second and third sessions of the 37th Parliament. This will be particularly significant given the study the committee intends to continue on minority language education. On my recommendation, the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure suggested that we resume this study as of the beginning of the new fiscal year.

This fall, we have many things to look into. I do not believe the committee is interested in going to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island during the winter, when we could be sidelined by a storm at any time. We will travel there when the weather warms up, before the end of the school year, when school management, school boards and students are in full operation.

The Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure invites you to submit any issue or study matter which you feel strongly about. Senator Chaput and Senator Léger have already sent us their favourite subjects. I would invite the other members of the committee to do the same.

Furthermore, we also agreed to invite the Minister responsible for Official Languages, Mr. Mauril Bélanger, to appear before our committee on November 15. We are still awaiting his response. I hope we will receive it before this Wednesday. If he's unable to come at this point, the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure will undertake to find other witnesses. We are not short of reports.

You must have received a document entitled: ``Teachers and the Challenge of Teaching in Minority Settings: Final Research Report.'' This document is available in both official languages. The committee will look into this report when it carries out its study on education-related problems.

Senator Comeau: Who published the report?

The Chair: It is a report prepared by the Interdisciplinary Research Centre on Citizenship and Minorities of the University of Ottawa and Rodrigue Landry, from the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities, for the Canadian Teachers' Federation.

I would like to indicate that last week the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages tabled before the Senate its performance report for the period ending March 31, 2004.

This document would normally be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on National Finance. But if senators wish to study it, we could do so.

I thank Senator Losier-Cool for agreeing to attend this meeting, as well as Senator Chaput, a former chair, and a member of our committee. It's a great pleasure for us to have you here.

I would like to take this opportunity, Ms. Adam, to welcome you as well as your dedicated staff. I said earlier that I hoped you were not going to repeat everything you said before the House of Commons committee when you appeared there last week, but you are free to speak to us regarding any aspect of your report.

I would like to say that our committee does not intend to work in the same way as the House of Commons. We want to carry out our own studies, follow whichever direction the committee decides upon, but we will not necessarily go back upon everything that is done in the House of Commons. You have the floor.

Ms. Dyane Adam, Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Thank you Mr. Chairman, it is always a pleasure for myself and my team to meet with you and discuss the success stories in the field of official languages, but also, sometimes the challenges faced by our federal institutions in complying with the act.

I would like to introduce to you the members of my team. To my far right, near the senators' table, is Ms. Louise Guertin, director general, Corporate Services Branch; to my right, is Ms. Johanne Tremblay, director of Legal Services; to my immediate left is Mr. Michel Robichaud, director general of the investigations branch; and to my far left, Mr. Gérard Finn, special adviser and person responsible for parliamentary relations.

As you know, I appear before you to give you the highlights of my 5th annual report which I tabled on October 19. As additional information to my presentation, you were given a copy of the 11 recommendations found in my report.

Before getting to the heart of the matter, I would like to welcome the new members of this committee, but tonight, I recognize all the faces around the table. The new members are not attending, apart from the chair who did not sit on the Standing Committee on Official Languages last year.

The Chair: You will recall that I was in attendance.

Ms. Adam: We certainly noticed it, by the way.

I also take advantage of this opportunity to point out the departure of two senators, Senator Beaudoin, and of course, Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who has left the Senate. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and to wish both Senator Gauthier and Senator Beaudoin the best.

Our two official languages, English and French, are the embodiment of an invaluable Canadian principle that we as Canadians are justly proud of. There is no need for me to demonstrate to this committee the importance of this principle nor the fact that it is at the heart of our collective identity and well-being.

My annual report examines this fundamental Canadian value and provides a year in review for official languages from the perspective of ordinary citizens — their rights and expectations.

Before dealing with the year that just ended, this annual report covers the year ending in March 2004, it is important to indicate that the Government of Canada's commitment to linguistic duality in the last Speech from the Throne was very encouraging. But during the previous year which is covered by this annual report, we experienced a year of government transition that overall, slowed progress in this area and raised many questions for Canadians, including myself.

[English]

The Official Languages Act turned 35 this fall and, while it has had its share of success, its full implementation remains a work-in-progress. The Government of Canada still cannot say that it is a mission completed and pat itself on the back. More than ever, firm and resolute leadership is required to ensure that the objectives of the act are fully realized. This is not the time to let our guard down.

This leads me to one of my main concerns. In the current context of expenditure review, I am disturbed by a sense of déjà vu. As they say: Once bitten, twice shy.

[Translation]

You could say: ``Once burned, twice shy.''

[English]

You may recall that the budget cutbacks and government transformations in the 1990s brought about a significant erosion of linguistic rights in this country. At the time, I called for a recovery plan and, in March 2003, the Government of Canada responded with the adoption of its Action Plan for Official Languages, which was the acknowledgment by the government that there had been a significant setback. It also represents the Government of Canada's commitment to rectify the situation. The action plan has received new investments — about $750 million over five years. However, we must remember that this is in addition to the existing federal allocation for official languages. The government made a clear commitment in the throne speech to fully implement the action plan. However, it was silent with respect to the other investments for official languages, overall, by the federal apparatus. Although the action plan is certainly essential, we must remember that it is not a panacea and that the focus on the cure should not be made at the expense of the patient's overall state of health. It is not only the funding provided in the action plan that is at stake, but also the resources devoted to the entire official languages program. This government must learn from its past, and parliamentarians should continue to be vigilant to build a solid foundation that must remain solid.

That is why I recommend that the government maintain intact a level of funding for the official languages program as a whole in the context of current expenditure review. The linguistic and constitutional rights of Canadians are not negotiable; only progress is acceptable. This message must be clearly heard throughout the federal government, especially in the context of expenditures.

[Translation]

My report also provides the review of this first year. The action plan is indeed one year old. I would like to start by mentioning some important initiatives.

There was the adoption of a new Treasury Board policy on the staffing of bilingual positions and increased access to language training for public servants.

Another positive step of course was the creation of a new Canada School of the Public Service, progress in the areas of health and immigration, and a firm commitment to implementing the action plan. This commitment comes out of the latest Throne Speech.

Parliamentarians played a key role in achieving this progress. You are involved in every step of the process, whether it be the adoption of bills, or following up on the work done by those responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the act.

Previous committees were constantly vigilant by calling on those responsible for the implementation of the action plan, as well as those responsible for the official languages program to report on progress made in the application of the act, and this is very important.

We are pleased to hear you say, Mr. Chairman, that you will ensure that the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages will not necessarily study the same matters as the House of Commons committee, as this will allow us to work collectively to better follow up on these issues.

We have noted that progress has slowed down when we wish it would be accelerated. There are delays on many levels: the piecemeal way in which funds are allocated, the few tangible achievements to date, stagnating negotiations on federal-provincial agreements on education, and an accountability framework that is still in the works.

We know that an accountability framework is one thing, but last year, we had raised the issue of having better accountability through performance indicators and progress reports on achieving our objectives — and that is what we mean by accountability — and this is still a work in progress for the institutions involved. The government will need to quickly get back on track to make up for lost time and deliver on its commitments to Canadians.

In this most recent annual report, you will notice that many of my recommendations touch on the issue of accountability. Increasingly, Canadians expect their government to be accountable and to show results. This principle applies to official languages as well.

To guide the actions of all departments along these lines, I recommend that the Government of Canada reinforce its management accountability framework by ensuring that official languages are front and centre when providing services to the public. What this implies is the establishment of explicit performance criteria, and above all, ensuring that results are attained and assessed. Management accountability is actually an instrument Treasury Board asks all directors of federal institutions to use in reporting on their activities to Parliament. In this context, there is still work to be done to ensure that official languages are an integral part of the process.

[English]

When it comes to the vitality of official languages in communities, the Government of Canada must take the lead in its dealings with other levels of government by adopting an approach tailored to the needs of communities. Agreements on immigration represent a fine example. These could be used as a model for education, health and early childhood development. Canadians recognize the advantages of bilingualism and want to give their children a chance to learn the second official language.

A recent survey by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada showed that 77 per cent of Canadians believe it is important to keep English and French as official languages. Moreover, 8 out of 10 anglophones believe it is important for their children to learn a second language, and three-quarters of them think that the language should be French. The demand exists but the investments have not kept pace. Given that one-half of the action plan funds cover education in minority communities and second language learning, it is important that Canadian Heritage in its negotiation with the provinces and territories ensures that investments target these specific objectives and that governments show concrete results.

In the area of health care, recent talks have opened the door to one of the recommendations of the Romanow commission: to adapt the Government of Canada's agreements with the provinces and territories to the needs of official language minority communities. Given the importance of this issue for communities, I repeated this recommendation in my annual report.

Other recommendations also touch on the areas of air transportation, an area in which any setback to the rights of the travelling public and staff members in the context of the Air Canada reorganization must be avoided.

There is also the issue of equitable access to justice in both official languages, which is not always possible, in large part because of the shortage of bilingual judges. For this reason, just as your committee did in its report on the study of environmental access to justice in both official languages, I recommended that the process for appointing Superior and Federal Court judges be reviewed to ensure that the court system has an adequate bilingual capacity. Those subject to court jurisdiction should be able to be heard and understood in the official language of their choice. Although this recommendation is addressed to the Office of the Privy Council, it can also be implemented with the cooperation of the Minister of Justice, who is responsible for appointing judges to the Superior Court.

As you are aware, Minister Cotler recently announced that he intends to review the process for appointing judges. He has been made aware of the problems caused by the shortage of bilingual judges, and I urge him to take this issue into account.

[Translation]

At the end of the day, for the government to truly promote the vitality of official language minority communities, as it has committed to do in the latest Speech from the Throne, it is essential that the federal system receive unequivocal instructions and feels compelled to act.

The message must be clear: with regard to Part VII, every federal institution has a duty to take the necessary measures to enhance the vitality of official language communities and to promote English and French in Canadian society.

According to the government's interpretation, section 41 merely states a political commitment and does not bind federal institutions in any way. Minority communities have had to take on the costs of court cases to have the mandatory, enforceable nature of this government commitment clarified. The Forum des maires de la péninsule acadienne has asked the Supreme Court to look into this issue. And while legal experts discuss what legislators intended the federal institutions are at a loss as to what is expected of them.

The ambivalence created by this lack of clarity paralyses the action of federal institutions for minority communities and undermines citizens' trust in a state that proclaims its commitment but shuns from action.

Minority communities are entitled to a legal commitment from the government, not just a political one.

Indeed, I believe that the government's action plan will not be fully implemented without a clarification of the scope of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. Rather than having recourse to the courts, parliamentarians can shut light on this issue for us. In my annual report, I recommend that the scope of Part VII be clarified to legislative or regulatory measures. Furthermore, I fully support Senator Gauthier's bill and I congratulate you for having adopted it.

The passage of this bill will in my opinion help official language communities respond to many challenges, and contribute to strengthening their means to develop.

[English]

The coming year will surely be full of challenges, but I am convinced that the government and parliamentarians will make the most of opportunities to make progress for official languages. For the government, this means transforming the commitments already contained in the Speech from the Throne into concrete, specific and measurable actions for all Canadians.

I would like to thank you again for your commitment and I want to assure you of my full cooperation.

[Translation]

What I mean by cooperation is collaboration between all members of the commissioner's team. I am now pleased to answer your questions.

The Chair: Thank you for your presentation. In fact I had asked members of the committee to read your report before today's meeting. I believe we will have some interesting and perhaps controversial questions to ask you.

Ms. Adam, before moving on, I would like to introduce you to the Deputy Chair of this committee, Senator Buchanan.

[English]

Due to air travel problems, Senator Buchanan has arrived a little late, but he is here. That is the important thing.

Senator Buchanan: Mr. Chairman, I would like to conform what you have just said but, being a Nova Scotian who always tells the truth, I must admit that my secretary told me that this meeting was to start at 5:30 p.m., and that is the reason for my tardiness. Nonetheless, I am pleased to be here to meet you, Ms. Adam.

Ms. Adam: Likewise.

[Translation]

Senator Comeau: Ms. Adam, firstly, allow me to welcome you. As an officer of Parliament, I would like to see you at each one of this committee's meeting, not only as a witness, but as a full-fledged member. Perhaps this suggestion could be the subject of future discussion. If we cannot count on your presence at each meeting, can we count on one of your representatives being here?

Upon reading your excellent report, there's several reasons to be both pessimistic and optimistic. Overall, your report seems very balanced.

Without going into detail, one section in particular caught my attention, where you talk about the economy. A case involving the commissioner's office held my interest. The case dealt with a community weakened by the fishing crisis in the area of the lower North Shore Quebec. There is a similarity between this problem and the challenge faced in certain Acadian regions of the Atlantic Coast.

Without going over the entire story, we will recall that Acadians, following their deportation, were sent to less productive regions. Nobody wanted them. They were scattered in order to be assimilated. A few years ago, for one reason or another, the economy of these began to flourish remarquably. This rapid development owing to lobster and ground fish fishing was particularly marked in the Acadian regions. Coincidentally, following this occurrence, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in which it ordered that the resources of these regions be redistributed to Aboriginals.

Without calling into question the merit of the Supreme Court's ruling, it remains nonetheless that redistribution of resources is now underway and will probably continue.

Last Thursday, at the meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, we talked about transfers made within the framework of government budgets, which amounted to more than $161 million for 2003-2004, and approximately $97 million for 2004-2005. In the span of two years, this translates into one quarter of $1 billion worth of resources redistribution in coastal communities, regions, once the most impoverished.

For each pound of fish transferred from one group to another, there is a winner and a looser. For several years I have being trying to figure out whether or not the government had analyzed the impact of these transfers on communities. From what I have understood, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans answered in the negative. I asked this question to the Treasury Board last week, and they too answered in the negative. I consider this to be a big deal because it affects a large area of the Acadian region. What is going to happen to these Acadians? I am talking about crew men who rely on delivering fish, factory workers, et cetera. What is going to happen to these people? No impact has been determined.

I am now coming to the study you have undertaken, which his very similar. Perhaps somewhere within the vast federal bureaucracy, someone has studied the impact of these decisions, but I do not believe so. I was not able to find out.

However, I learned that a few years ago in Nova Scotia, for example, the provincial government, the federal government and the Aboriginals were to study the impact of the final decision that resulted in all of that. At the time, I asked the province whether or not it had considered meeting with the communities to discuss the matter. They did not even answer my question.

Ms. Adam, as Commissioner, does the situation I am describing right now is of interest to you?

Ms. Adam: There are several ways to answer your question. Firstly, I will try to address the parallel you have drawn between the two situations. The reason why the Commissioner's Office looked into the situation in the region of the Power North Shore of Quebec is because there were complaints. You will recall that these complaints were investigated under Part VII of the Act — the famous Part VII we spoke of earlier. It is important that institutions clarify their obligations.

The investigation revealed that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other departments were not acting in bad faith, but that they had not consulted the minority community. They did not feel compelled to do so, necessarily. The investigative process provided an opportunity to make them aware of their own obligations, their commitments, and to a certain extent, of how to consider the interest of the community.

Would the decision have been any different? I do not know. However in the decision process, before declaring a moratorium, there still should have been consultation. As you know, the Forum des maires brought the issue of the Food Inspection Agency before the courts and the judge confirmed the obligation to at least consult communities.

Although we find ourselves in a situation where the debate on the binding character versus the declaratory character of this section, is still ongoing, there is mounting consensus on the obligation to consult when decisions made by the federal government may have an impact.

Without a doubt, if the same logic were applied to the case you have just described, federal institutions should feel compelled by their obligations towards the minority or Acadian community. We know that to be a minority is to be in a more vulnerable situation.

Senator Comeau: Especially since the Supreme Court's ruling was very clear, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans based itself on this case in particular for actions taken, namely that communities must be taken into consideration. It was in the second ruling.

I am saying this with all due respect for Aboriginals who need special attention from the government. I'm not saying this to adversely affect the gains made by Aboriginals. However, there must be consistency. When the government takes away from one to give to another, there must be some consideration for the party who is being deprived of something.

Up until now, the answer given is that licence holders have been very well compensated. But the case involves more than licence holders; it involves the community. From cover to cover of your report, it is said many times that there must be education, which is sometimes lacking; some are still not aware of the value of Part VII of the Act and do not understand why we have to make it binding.

Ms. Adam: That would hold their attention longer.

Senator Léger: Your report is a model in the sense that you almost never used the word ``minority.'' The spirit of your report still reflects linguistic equality.

Very often, we are forced to use the word ``minority'' yet official languages still reflect equality. I believe that your document is equal in keeping with this principle. If this model were reflected in the media, we could slowly start changing mentalities! You are now starting phase two. I often say that we are no longer at the same point we were 35 years ago. Your performance reflects this and I congratulate you. I hope that this committee will be able to do the same. I do not know if we will.

We talked about the second phase of the action plan. Could we state that language knows no borders. I would like to get back to the concept of ``where numbers warrant.'' I cannot really accept that because when we talk about numbers, according to statistics, minorities that do not reach a certain number will continue to decrease.

Families living in a minority community no longer have 12 or 16 children. The number of children is expected to fall, but the population in cities is expected to rise.

In my opinion, language knows no borders. Today, where everyone moves, the media follows. What led me to raise this point is the case which occurred in Amherst where the police stopped an individual and was not able to communicate with this individual in French. Public servants must be able to speak French because there no longer exists linguistic borders. This requirement goes beyond the principle of where numbers warrant.

As my calling is cultural, I will ask you the following question. To what extent do the issues of culture, arts and quality of life fall under the purview of the official languages committee?

In the Speech from the Throne, it is said that communities hold creativity, dynamism, and quality of cultural life dear. The first phase in becoming bilingual is tied to using a dictionary even though computers are now equipped to highlight spelling mistakes.

In my opinion, we have now reached a phase that must involve our mind. On this point, I find it interesting that you have used drawings, diagrams and illustrations. A picture is worth a thousand words. That is what I had to say.

Ms. Adam: On behalf of the team, I would like to thank you for your congratulatory words. We appreciate these words of encouragement which, unfortunately, are far too rare.

Your first question touched on the definition of ``where numbers warrant.'' You are certainly aware that Senator Gauthier chose to vote against the constitutional amendment because of this famous little sentence which qualifies and quantifies the rights of official language communities. Therefore, this can be found in the Canadian Constitution.

However, when we talk about numbers, to what or to whom are we referring? There is a change amongst people who express themselves in French and in English in Canada. Increasingly, these people were not born either francophone or anglophone, but came to Canada speaking another mother tongue. So how do we define francophones and anglophones in Canada today, how do we define French speakers in comparison with people who are born francophones?

In the context of a society changing in its culture and language, through its immigrants, this definition must prevail.

A francophone can be defined as a speaker of the French language, the broadest of definitions. A person whose mother tongue is not French can choose to be served in French, and has this entitlement.

We are studying this issue right now. In my opinion, the government must take a position on this subject.

Senator Léger: Are you able to influence those who ask these questions?

Ms. Adam: Yes, and we did so. In fact, this committee played a very important role to that effect. You will recall, in the CRTC issue on radio and television broadcasting in bilingual regions, we requested that the bilingual market not be defined by the number of francophones or anglophones living in the region but by the number of French speakers. A bilingual person can listen to the radio and watch television in either language. This request was accepted. As such, at the CRTC, the bilingual market is increasingly defined by the spoken language rather than the maternal language. We therefore were able to bear influence on this file.

With respect to culture, as you know, the re-launching or action plan is non existent. We even reviewed our archives to see if there were not any studies or research done on culture; it takes back quite a while.

More and more, we must come to realize that there are two major linguistic communities, which respectively make different cultural contributions. For example, French culture bears the prints of Moroccan culture, African culture, Acadian culture, French-Canadian culture and Quebec culture. But in terms of culture, there is increased cultural diversity of the English language and French language in the country.

In my opinion, this aspect needs to be further studied. The Senate is a quite appropriate forum to look into this issue.

Senator Losier-Cool: It is a pleasure to see you again. I will be brief. Time only allows me to make two specific points.

On page 5 of your speech, you say that 77 per cent of Canadians want to learn French. On the following page, you say that the action plan must include investments that target these specific objectives.

I am the first to promote and encourage the action plan. However, I do not want to see the funds set aside for the action plan, to be entirely allocated to immersion programs. In an article that appeared in The Globe and Mail this morning, it says that in some regions, particularly in British Columbia, children are lining up to be admitted into immersion programs. This is not entirely because of the love of the French language.

My second point touches on an issue that I am following very closely, as I am sure you are. I am talking about the federal plan for daycare. Minister Dryden, in his presentation last week before the women's caucus, did not seem to understand the magnitude of a federal daycare plan. Such a plan would not pose a problem in New Brunswick. However, the problem could occur in francophone daycare in Saskatchewan.

I would like to draw your attention, as well as the attention of the chair of this committee, to this issue. This issue must be followed very closely and warrants your support.

Ms. Adam: Firstly, I am also very pleased to see you again. With respect to investments or resources dedicated to teaching French as a second language or English as a second language, the action plan specifically sets out amounts which will be handed over for each one. This issue should therefore not spark a new debate. The announcement was made. It is obvious that the accountability framework will ensure departments concerned will be accountable for investments made to achieve goals with respect to education in a minority language, mother tongue or second language.

In fact, it is wonderful to witness such a demand for immersion programs in British Columbia. We have not seen such obvious interest for a long time. The federal government and provincial governments are being called upon.

The action plan has a lifespan of five years. Year one has already lapsed, we are now in year two. We are aware of challenges in education for minority language groups and challenges with respect to the mother tongue; they are important challenges. We have to start thinking about future plans.

With respect to the federal plan for daycare, you are asking us to be vigilant and to really follow this file. Without a doubt we will be doing so. I have already requested a meeting with Minister Dryden. We know very well that the Commission nationale des parents francophones has focused on early childhood development. All school boards and teachers agree. We have to focus, and more so, on this first phase of children's lives. It is often the period during which young francophones can be ``re-infused'' with the French language or to ensure that they can maintain their level of French before entering the school system. It is an important stage.

Senator Losier-Cool: If it is a federal plan, daycare must be subject to the Official Languages Act. When agreements to create jobs were assigned, they were returned to the provinces. If it is up to the provinces alone, I have concerns.

Ms. Adam: I understand very well.

Senator Losier-Cool: I have another point. I would like to quote The Globe and Mail article which talks about the reaction of unilingual Anglophone teachers who may be sidelined because they will not get teaching positions. In a province such as British Columbia, the demand is there. This is what struck me in reading the article this morning.

Ms. Adam: Your question is broad.

Senator Losier-Cool: They are just thoughts.

Ms. Adam: This is important in situations where we are facing a social change. If there is increased demand in one sector, then perhaps there is less demand in another. This is how change is managed. Local administrations are responsible for managing. In this case it is the provincial governments.

I do not really have an answer for you, other than to say that it is very important that it be well managed, that there be no looser or winner, as mentioned earlier. This demand is positive.

Senator Losier-Cool: These comments are positive, with a capital ``P,'' I agree with you.

Ms. Adam: There will always be costs, there is always a transition; this is how things are managed on the ground. When there are slip-ups, it is because they were not foreseen.

Senator Chaput: Ms. Adam, it is always a pleasure to see you again, you and your team. I too really liked your report. I have to say that the chair sent us a note telling us that we had to read the report before tonight's meeting. So we buckled down and we read it. I also read your recommendations as well as your press release. I have thought a lot about all of this.

The first point I would like to make is with respect to the Department of Canadian Heritage. We all know that the Department of Canadian Heritage has specific responsibilities, as outlined in sections 41 and 42 of Part VII, when it comes to interdepartmental partnerships. The Department of Canadian Heritage must encourage other departments to meet their obligations.

We all know that this means there are departments on the list, about 30, I believe. Obviously, the Department of Canadian Heritage has difficulty doing the work, and I do not think it is because it does not believe in it.

I think that if we had a binding piece of legislation, that would give the Department of Canadian Heritage the hammer to say to other departments: Your plan does not comply with your obligations, your record of achievement is not what it should be. Change it or start all over again.

Do you agree in saying that they also need a hammer and if Part VII were binding, the legislation could help the Department of Canadian Heritage do its work properly?

Ms. Adam: There is no doubt that that would strengthen their authority, which is essentially that of a coordinating body. Interdepartmental relations are very difficult in all areas. Some tools would strengthen the department's authority, such as clearer provisions with respect to the obligations and responsibilities of all institutions. Often regulations are also helpful in governing the way in which departments behave, what people can expect from a particular department, the broad outline of the performance expected. And that is always profitable. As was said earlier, if departments can interpret a political commitment as they see fit, the results are very mixed. Some individuals will be more respectful of this commitment than others.

I am reminded that 30 institutions are targeted by Part VII. At the Office of the Commissioner we have always reminded institutions that there were not just 30 institutions subject to the act and to this part of the act, but that all of the federal government was subject to it. However, only 30 institutions are required to report to the Department of Canadian Heritage. The federal government has not always understood this or act on it.

Senator Chaput: Thank you. May I keep my other question for another round?

[English]

The Chairman: We will go to Senator Buchanan.

Senator Buchanan: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. May I also express my pleasure that you have come to the committee. I wish I could say this in French but, unfortunately, I cannot. However, you never know what will happen in the next number of months. I should tell you that people like Senator Comeau have tried, unsuccessfully, over the years to ensure that I would become fluent in French, but that has not worked.

May I also say how I pleased I am to have been selected to be a member of this committee and, in particular, to have been appointed deputy chairman.

In looking through your report, I noted your comments on the number of complaints. It is interesting to note that over 50 per cent of the complaints made two years ago regarding Air Canada have been eliminated. In your report, you recommend there be certain changes in legislation, clarifications in legislation, or maybe even new legislation with respect to the obligations of Air Canada.

First, could you explain that a bit?

Second, as one who has watched Air Canada over the last number of years, and watched it move down and then into the bankruptcy court and then out of the bankruptcy court, how will the clarifications you are asking for, new legislation, affect Air Canada vis-à-vis companies like CanJet, WestJet, Jetsgo and all of the other charter airlines in Canada who, at present, are not under the same obligations as is Air Canada?

Ms. Adam: First, I will start by answering the question about the number of complaints and why we have fewer complaints this year against Air Canada. Basically, it is because they were under protection. The tribunal asked us and other oversight agencies to refrain and allow them sort out their financial state before dealing with this issue.

We investigated some of the easiest complaints. We are now reactivating all complaints. They were coming in, but not to the normal degree because citizens understood that this was a particularly tough time for them.

With respect to the new legislation, we are focusing on matters that pertain to services being made available to the Canadian public, particularly in areas which fall under federal jurisdiction. We are trying to ascertain that no regression happens in terms of linguistic rights. There should be no setbacks. This is our target.

In the context of the restructuring of Air Canada, they were subjected entirely to the Official Languages Act. The idea is to sustain the same level of rights for the travelling public and the employees as there was prior to the reorganization. I have met the minister and the government is exactly on the same wavelength.

With respect to other airlines and other carriers, how can Air Canada compete? That question is being asked and answered in different ways, depending on which side you stand or from which angle you look at it.

All the airlines that you mentioned, senator, for safety purposes, are subjected to some bilingual requirements in offering their services.

How do they compete? What we know from the past is that the burden on an air transportation carrier is to serve the public. We are not saying that everyone needs to be bilingual. It is a question of offering best services for the public. One Canadian in four is francophone and people are travelling across Canada.

We now see other airlines offering bilingual service. They are recruiting in both official languages; and, in some cases, in other languages.

In response to your question, senator, I would ask you a question. Should the government's legislation apply equally to other airlines? If that were so, then English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians could travel everywhere in Canada and get consistent service.

To me, that is the question that must be asked. It is one I asked the Minister of Transport. However, this is certainly not the time to do that, but there must be legislation concerning Air Canada.

Your second question should be directed to the Minister, once Air Canada's situation has been more or less decided.

Senator Buchanan: There is another problem. I know that the companies I mentioned have a certain obligation under the Official Languages Act, although it is not as stringent as the obligation on Air Canada.

This country is moving further into open skies. We are allowing more international airlines to come into Canada. For instance, at present, there are four airlines coming into Halifax from the U.S. and back from Canada to the U.S.

What do you propose there, if anything?

Ms. Adam: You have to sustain a minimum requirement for safety purposes. After all, the safety of passengers is paramount. Some Canadians do not understand English. At times, we think everyone does because it is a language that is spoken across the world. However, that is not always the case in Canada.

I know there are talks about opening the skies, but I gather that no decisions have been made yet. I would like the whole question of official languages to be considered before decisions are made. It is important that committees like this consider those issues before we legislate and change the conditions under which airlines may fly over and land in Canada.

We should be asking the following questions: What will be the impact on official languages? What will be the impact on the citizens of the two official languages group? What services do we want to have in place?

[Translation]

The Chairman: I am going to give myself permission to ask a few questions, and then we will move to the second round.

Last week, Ms. Adam, I was present at what was called the departmental consultation with the official language minority communities. This involved spokespersons from throughout the country — both anglophones from Quebec and francophones from almost all regions of Canada.

The Minister of Justice, Mr. Cotler, made a statement that I found rather astonishing. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get a transcript of his remarks, but in essence he said: ``Yes, the official languages are important, but I would like us to study the old problem or the challenges of the official languages in Canada in the broader context of human rights''. My antenna went up right away, and I really do not understand what he meant by this. However I will ask you the question: should the Official Languages Act of Canada be seen in the broader, general and universal context of human rights, or should all the efforts made so far and all the money spent so far not stand on their own merits? Do you not see a danger in this desire to see the Official Languages Act merely within the context of human rights?

Ms. Adam: You will appreciate, Mr. Chairman, that I was not present, and that it is therefore difficult for me to judge his intentions. Is that what you are getting at in your question?

The Chairman: Of course, but let us talk a little about philosophy.

Ms. Adam: Obviously, if you have a question, you should definitely ask the minister.

Language rights are often referred to as a type of human rights. They are in the human rights category. However, if I understand correctly, I think your question goes further and asks whether there is any danger in including language rights with human rights? Should this set off alarm bells as regards the Canadian situation?

I confess that I had no opinion on this, because this is a question I cannot answer without knowing more. For example, why would the government want to reconsider the issue of official languages and its role within human rights in Canada? I think the context is very important. What is the nature of this questioning? That is the type of questions I would ask and here I am thinking out loud. I will even consult my colleagues. However, I would encourage you to explore this matter with the minister and we will pick up the ball if it lands in our court. We could look into this matter.

The Chairman: I wanted to draw your attention to this comment. I do not think that this is government policy. I think it is a personal project of the minister, who has done a great deal of work in the area of human rights here and elsewhere.

I come now to a question that is also a comment.

On page 25 of your report, you talked about the reduced bilingualism in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Moncton, Dieppe and other regions.

I read your comments about outlets, contracts in airports and other places and service contracts for security at airports. As you know, the RCMP in New Brunswick is responsible for issues other than those that come under strictly federal jurisdiction. That is why they have a contract with New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province in the country. We have to repeat that!

Have you had an opportunity to discuss this type of behaviour with the Premier or provincial ministers? The province pays for the RCMP services. I think they should be the first ones to realize that in some parts of New Brunswick, if not in all of New Brunswick, it is essential to provide bilingual services.

Ms. Adam: As the Commissioner of Official Languages, I come under federal jurisdiction. Our understanding and our view is that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is fully subject to the Official Languages Act, even if it is working for another entity. When we receive complaints or conduct investigations, we ensure that the RCMP complies with the federal Official Languages Act, even if it is working for a municipal or provincial government.

The Chairman: Regardless of the jurisdiction, the RCMP is subject to the Official Languages Act?

Ms. Adam: You asked me a question about the province, namely whether we were going to meet with the Premier or provincial ministers. We have a regional office whose mandate includes establishing links with provincial institutions. I have not met with the minister, but the new commissioner of official languages of New Brunswick has been informed of this matter and we are reviewing the issue of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The Chairman: To whom are you referring when you talk about the new commissioner?

Ms. Adam: To the new commissioner of official languages of New Brunswick.

Senator Comeau: Your report referred to the issue of federal buildings in Canada that are rented, Ms. Adam. Some tenants make more efforts than others as regards bilingualism. Many federal buildings will probably no longer be in this situation if they are sold.

Have you thought about the sale of federal buildings in Canada and the impact this could have on all tenants of these buildings, who will probably no longer be subject to federal regulation?

Ms. Adam: Your question is very relevant and timely. Once again, this is something we have seen before. When the federal government sold the airports, it did not include a language clause and did not ensure that people's rights were respected. As a result, some airports, such as Sudbury, were sold and within ten years, people no longer have any guarantee of service in French. This despite the fact that more than 30 per cent of the population is francophone.

If the same thing happens again — and we hope it does not — you will be right to be on the alert, because such decisions always involve consequences. We have seen it before. For example, in the case of decentralization to other levels of government or the private sector, in the past, there has always been a real danger of loss an erosion. Can that be changed?

Senator Comeau: Canada Post is an example.

Ms. Adam: Yes. We have seen clearly that the outlets are not performing at all. However, Canada Post still comes under the Official Languages Act. But when a third party is involved, the performance is not as good. We have also seen decentralization — where head offices were transferred to various parts of the country.

For example, if one part of a department leaves the National Capital, their employees are entitled to work in their own language, will these employees enjoy the same right in a non-bilingual region? Those are questions that must be examined to determine whether certain acquired rights could be lost.

Senator Comeau: This committee could try to find out what the minister intends to do and the thinking behind his plan. Are official languages considerations part of his plan?

I would now like to talk about the Public Service School. I have asked the ministers responsible why a special school was established so that public servants could learn and improve their skills in their second language, given that we already have schools perfectly able to do this and already established in this country.

So far, I have not had a reply from the ministers involved in the creation of this school. This is quite a unique situation for public servants. People in the private sector and Canadians generally study in schools with a very professional approach, such as the Université Sainte-Anne. Would you care to comment on this?

Ms. Adam: There are two points. I would like to clarify your question. There is the Public Service School, which is responsible for on-going professional training and development, and there is the language training component, which is now part of the Canada's School of Public Service.

As far as the school goes, I think there is a reality unique to the Federal Public Service, and it is good that almost all employers today offer professional training for their employees. It is very advisable to turn to other schools or other professionals, but often, particularly in the case of major employers, training is provided in-house.

As regards language training, the Federal Government has had his own school for some time now. Much more employer-provided language training was provided in the past than it is today. Apparently much more use is made of instructors from the private sector or from our institutions. Why did we establish this school ourselves? I cannot answer that question. Perhaps some of my colleagues could, but I am not familiar with the background.

Mr. Gérard Finn, Advisor to the Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: I could provide some more information. There is no doubt that initially there may not have been as much training capacity in the private sector as there is at the moment. In any case, there was a great deal less. The same is true of translation, for example. The Translation Bureau was established, because at the time there were not enough translators and the Federal Government had to train translators, and so on.

Has the situation changed? Possibly. At the moment, the public service offers only part of the training, the mandatory or imperative part. Very often, career development programs are offered by the private sector, through contacts or training in language schools.

Senator Comeau: You said that Part VII of the act should be strengthened, Ms. Adam. In your report, you refer to the act or to the regulations. I was somewhat confused about this, because I did not think regulations could be made under Part VII, which is seen as declaratory in nature. If Bill S-3 were not passed, could we actually make regulations, as you propose in your report?

Ms. Adam: We receive advice from lawyers and legal experts in this domain. There is no doubt that if we could choose, it would be best to make changes to the legislation.

Section 93 of the act states, and I quote:

The Governor in Council may make regulations it considers necessary to effect compliance with this Act in the conduct of the affairs of federal institutions other than the Senate, the House of Commons or the Library of Parliament. It can also prescribe anything that is by this Act to be prescribed by regulations.

This section of the act would allow the government, without changing the legislation, to enact a regulation that would clarify the obligations of federal institutions affected by Part VII. Changing the regulations is a rather complicated procedure that involves Parliament.

Senator Comeau: If Bill S-3 were to receive Royal Assent, what would be the ideal regulations? I don't think many regulations would be required, but there would be at least one. Which one?

Ms. Adam: I will let Ms. Tremblay answer your question.

Ms. Johanne Tremblay, Director, Legal Services, Officer of the Commissioner of Official Languages: One example would be to regulate the decision-making process of federal institutions. One example would be the accountability framework that indeed requires federal institutions to consult communities when they set up or revise a new program. They must take into account the impact of the new program on that community. In certain cases, they must report on the steps they have taken. This is an example of the three commitments in the accountability framework which, if they were found in regulations would probably have more impact or carry more weight. The institutions would have to be more careful to take them into account than if they were simply part of the accountability framework. That is one example. There could be other provisions which would frame the decision-making process and encourage institutions to takes steps to promote community development.

Senator Comeau: Even if the bill is not passed, for one reason or another, would we still have the opportunity, with Section 93 of the act, to put in regulations?

Ms. Tremblay: That is correct. We feel this could justify or underpin government authority in passing regulations. However, Bill S-3 has the advantage of making provision for this power very clearly and explicitly. There's nothing to discuss on that point. Section 93 is very broad. This is why we feel that the amendment proposed in the bill would have the benefit of clarifying the government's regulatory authority.

Senator Comeau: That sends a very clear message to the public service that such is the wish of parliamentarians.

In your report, you talk about bilingual judges. I got to the impression that the issue of judges being bilingual is really of minor importance at the time of hiring new judges. Is that what I read?

Ms. Adam: I believe that the committee studied this issue during the last session. You summoned witnesses. Like you, we found that with the current judicial appointment process, the issue of language skills is not a determining factor. At least, that the impression we got, whereby the importance of making a formal recommendation in the event this process might be revised. This is the way things work. We have to seize the opportunity when it presents itself. We must be sure to strengthen that criterion.

Senator Chaput: In terms of recommendations, there is a lot of work to be done and things move slowly. We find ourselves in a situation when we are taking in more and more immigrants. Last summer I had the opportunity to go to New Brunswick, to Nova Scotia and out West. I spoke to immigrants right across the country. They all told me that when they arrive in Canada and wanted to learn to speak French, access to training was very difficult and often they gave up because they did not have the support mechanisms in place that could help them to learn the language. This is not at all the case when they want to learn English.

The Chair: Are you talking about adults in particular?

Senator Chaput: Yes, adults. Children are in school and they naturally learn French, but parents want to learn it as well.

Ms. Adam: When I held consultations at the beginning of my mandate five years ago, that situation was raised in several provinces. Not only is it difficult for them, but it is often not accessible and they get no financial support. It is a real problem. Support services for immigrants often — not always — come under provincial jurisdiction, and if there is no agreement between the provinces and the federal government to provide support for both official languages, this problem arises.

Senator Losier-Cool: I am a bit reluctant to ask my question because it will reveal my ignorance. Are Canada's embassies abroad subject to the Official Languages Act?

Ms. Adam: Completely. If you visit them, be alert to that.

Senator Losier-Cool: As parliamentarians in the francophonie, this is something that we want to follow closely.

I will be publishing a study shortly on this very issue of linguistic duality in our international relations. For the purposes of that study, some of our visits were to Canadian missions abroad, embassies and consulates. This is an important issue and it will need to be monitored.

The Chair: I recently had an opportunity to hear Mr. Dassault, of the French firm Dassault Aviation, who visited China with Prime Minister Chirac. He was asked to list the challenges he faced in selling his product. This is what he said:

The product must look good, perform well and be reasonably priced. You need someone competent to oversee production. Then you need trust, cooperation and credibility.

His answer immediately made me think of the Official Languages Act. My concern is at the production level and the need for a competent overseer. I find it somewhat frustrating that every time we change government we have to start back at square one. New ministers, who are often uninterested in the Official Languages Act, are suddenly immersed in the issue and have to perform. What price do we pay because of this lack of continuity? It is the inevitable price of democracy, I suppose.

In the discussions of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, we sometimes hear the argument that official languages cost too much. But some costs are not quantifiable. When it comes to the overseer role, the costs are high. I would appreciate your comments on this.

Ms. Adam: The diagnosis was made five years ago: Official languages in this country had suffered a setback and even some ground was lost. At that time, the ingredients were identified that would enable the federal government to work with the provinces to promote full equality of French and English in Canadian society. That commitment is enshrined in our Charter and our Constitution. Nothing prevents us from moving toward equality.

Although the two languages are recognized as having equal status, there is an acknowledgment that real equality has not yet been achieved. That is the vision we should have for Canadian society.

We identified a need for concerted, consistent and integrated leadership. All those involved need to share this common vision and be aware of their role as stakeholders. For example, the Department of Transport must realize that it has a role to play, just like Canadian Heritage or Indian Affairs. Without this kind of concerted effort, progress cannot be made. That was our major finding.

We are talking about the political aspect, elected representatives and Parliament, but also the government departments. We see the same problem at the administrative level when there is a change of ministers or government. Deputy ministers move on after three or four years, and the institutional and organizational memory is not always intact. As a result, I have to meet with new players in these roles. The communities have said over and over again that they are continually required to tell their whole story and lay out their issues again. This is inefficient and a waste of time.

In my opinion, it should be one of the priorities for official languages and probably for any horizontal issue involving a lot of different players.

The Chair: Thank you for that comment. If we give you adequate notice, I hope that you will agree to come back before the committee to answer any additional questions on your annual report?

I would like to thank you for being with us here tonight. We will probably invite you back before Christmas.

Ms. Adam: It will be a pleasure. If I may, picking up on what Senator Comeau said, I feel it is my duty to take part in the meetings of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, and my office is always at your disposal.

If witnesses raise questions that you would like us to try to answer, we will be pleased to do so. If the questions require further research, we will let you know. Otherwise, we will answer them to the best of our knowledge.

The Chair: Thank you once again for appearing before our committee.

The committee adjourned.