Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Official Languages

Issue 4 - Evidence - Meeting of May 10, 2010

OTTAWA, Monday, May 10, 2010

The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 4:04 p.m. to study the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations and directives made under it. Topic: Study on Part VII and other issues.

Senator Andrée Champagne (Deputy Chair) in the chair.


The Deputy Chair: Honourable senators, I would like to welcome you to the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. I am Andrée Champagne, deputy chair of the committee.

The committee is currently studying the implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act in various federal institutions. In recent months, the committee has had an opportunity to hear from various organizations whose role it is to defend and promote the rights and interests of francophones in different parts of Canada. The committee has not yet had a chance to hear from the governing entity which represents the francophone community in Saskatchewan as regards the implementation of Part VII. It is therefore our pleasure to welcome Michel Dubé, President of the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise to the committee today.

Mr. Dubé, the committee would like to thank you for accepting our invitation to appear. I invite you to make your opening comments, and senators will have questions for you immediately after that.

Michel Dubé, President, Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise: Thank you, Madam Deputy Chair, for this opportunity to appear before the committee. It is an honour to be here. It is great to see a number of familiar faces, including Senator Losier-Cool.

I appear before you today on behalf of the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise, of which I have been president for four years. The ACF represents some 50,000 French speakers in Saskatchewan, including people whose mother tongue is French, who speak French as a second language or for whom it is a language among several others that they speak. I am thinking, in particular, of immigrants, of which there are increasing numbers.

In 1999, the Franco-Saskatchewanian community restructured its system of governance. We established at that time that anyone who could understand the French language and who supported the goals of the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise could participate in the democratic process in their community. That participation includes electing representatives at the local level as well as the president of the community; attending meetings and official communication with assembly members at regular meetings. Our structure is still quite recent, but it provides for full representation of francophones in Saskatchewan.

I would like to briefly describe that structure, because a little later, I will be addressing the issue of community governance and how important it is in our communication with various federal departments.

The topic of the committee's study — Part VII — is important for francophone communities across the country, such as ours, because strengthening all facets of the Official Languages Act is an ongoing concern, even now, 40 years after its inception.

Part VII of the Official Languages Act is important, because it sanctions the federal government's commitment to developing both francophone and anglophone minority communities across the country. Part VII emphasizes recognition of both languages within Canadian society. It is through it that the federal government supports initiatives that allow the Franco-Saskatchewanian community, and others, to continue to develop and provide opportunities to the population.

Progress, adaptation and change are unavoidable for anyone wanting to survive in today's quickly evolving society. The changes that are occurring are huge and the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise, as a governing entity, must keep up with the pace of change and adapt. Our actions are intended to ensure the development and sustainability of the Franco-Saskatchewanian community. Consequently, the issues we are currently working on are all focused on our ability to adjust to change and remain a relevant force for our members.

My comments on some major issues and the need for ``positive measures'' are as follows. You may have heard of the Caron case, and if you have not, you will be hearing about it in future. As we see it, the Caron case is a way of securing greater recognition for the historical legitimacy of the French language in Western Canada. Mr. Caron's defence — and we are intervening in the case — rests on the constitutionality of the French language in the West. The Caron case should be heard very soon by the Alberta Court of Appeal. A victory for Mr. Gilles Caron would call into question language laws currently in effect in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Constitutional recognition of the status of French west of Manitoba will involve the provinces and have a significant impact on the overall development of our community — hence the importance of federal assistance in this critical legal case.

I have referred to assistance, and the Language Rights Support Program is considered to be a ``positive measure.'' In our discussions and in the process of accessing the Language Rights Support Program, we have realized that there are many pitfalls. We are having a lot of trouble understanding the program and taking advantage of it because of bureaucratic issues within the structure responsible for managing it.

Another major issue that we are heavily involved in is rural development. We are currently trying to create an environment in which regional and rural development can be fostered through the ``terroir.'' Using models that have been successful in France and in Charlevoix, Quebec, we are working with the municipalities, provincial and federal governments to foster the emergence in Saskatchewan of a new economy based on the concept of the ``terroir''. The role of federal departments and agencies is an important one in relation to that project.

I would like to come back now to community governance and the application of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. The act requires that federal institutions take ``positive measures'' to fulfill the federal government's commitment to enhance the vitality and support and assist the development of the official language communities. Although Canadian Heritage retains its coordinating role in this area, all federal institutions are responsible for taking actions to enhance the vitality of both the francophone and anglophone communities.

How can that goal be met? First of all, through consultation. As a governing entity, we are asking that consultations, whatever the federal institution involved, be carried out on a proactive basis. When we raise this issue, there is always a certain amount of confusion as to what consulting us really means. As far as we are concerned, consultation means an ongoing dialogue and a trusting relationship between the organization that speaks for the community and federal institutions. That relationship of trust makes it possible to better identify opportunities which require broader consultations in some cases, or the involvement of other community organizations.

At the national level in recent years, certain shared governance mechanisms have been successfully created. I would just like to name a few: the establishment of an advisory committee by Health Canada, as well as a steering committee by Citizenship and Immigration Canada for minority official language communities. The implementation of the new Part VII should make it possible to strengthen shared governance mechanisms which are already in place and particularly to create new ones with other federal institutions. One recent example involving Saskatchewan is the creation of a joint Royal Canadian Mounted Police-community committee. The mandate of that joint committee is to find ways to make the RCMP's services far more visible in our communities and far more relevant for Franco- Saskatchewanians, while at the same time ensuring that new RCMP recruits or trainees in Regina have a better understanding of the fact that the francophone communities do exist, and of the boundaries of those areas that have designated bilingual by the RCMP and other federal institutions, with a view to avoiding conflict, legal action and tensions such as occurred two years ago with young Justin Bell, who simply asked for service in French in a so-called bilingual area, only to be arrested by a member of the RCMP.

If we were asked to review all our current issues through the filter of Part VII and Bill S-3 in particular, we would have to say that Bill S-3 has changed nothing in the way institutions operate or deal with us, apart from the few exceptions I have just mentioned. It is clear to us that there is not adequate leadership across the federal administration, nor is there evidence of a clear desire to work with the minority community. Based on our experience, some officials are willing to comply with the spirit of Part VII, but it depends on the individual who has the position. When that person leaves, what has already been accomplished is called into question or everything has to be started again from scratch.

A relevant example that comes to mind is Service Canada. We worked with Service Canada for almost two years on the delivery of federal services in French, by creating Service Canada counters in some of our francophone community centres. With the help of one manager, we were able to get that project off the ground, only to see it called into question subsequently by his successor. So, there is no guarantee of continuity.

Yet leadership is often the key to success when it comes to implementing Part VII. There needs to be greater sensitivity shown to the specific characteristics of the minority communities. Our experience has been that there is, and was, resistance shown at several levels. Another example is the departments' administrative or territorial structure. When the boundaries of a specific area do not jibe with those of the community, it is often — indeed, always — the community that has to bend and comply with their requirements. That doubles, and can even triple, the amount of work involved. The fact that minority groups are dealt with according to the standards in place for the majority does nothing to enable us to receive support for our initiatives, because the needs of the minority are different, and those differences are completely ignored in the implementation of federal programs.

In order to be treated equally, the minority communities should not be subject to the one-size-fits-all approach.

We are currently dealing with the Department of Human Resources, which has two areas in Saskatchewan, the north and the south. That means a much greater effort — double the effort — is needed to administer the Labour Market Integration Centre, in order that the program can be offered in both areas. The same applies to other departments, such as Immigration Canada. We have a newcomer reception office in Saskatoon, and another one in Regina, the two largest urban centres that take in 80 per cent of newcomers to the area; so, unfortunately, we have to prepare and administer two applications, as well as two assessments, in order to receive the necessary financial support to open the two offices.

Saskatchewan covers a large area; some 700 kilometres separate the southernmost and northernmost francophone communities in the province. Within that area, there are also several other francophone, either homogeneous or bilingual, communities which are part of the Franco-Saskatchewanian community and which receive services not only from the community, but from the federal government and, in some cases, the provincial government, when it comes to official languages. Depending on the department or agency we are dealing with, that same area is divided into many different so- called bilingual districts, based on relatively loose criteria — such as 5 per cent of the population or 500 residents whose mother tongue is French — but there is not a single approach taken by these agencies or the department in terms of these bilingual areas.

If you are travelling between North Battleford in the northwest and Bellegarde in the southwest — a distance of 700 kilometres — you will cross several bilingual areas, but you never know where they begin and where they end. I said to the Official Languages Commissioner in February that one recommendation I would make would be that all cars and trucks belonging to francophones be equipped with GPS, so that they know in what specific places they are entitled to receive services; otherwise, we never know. Even federal agencies and departments are unable to tell us. How are we expected to know where, when and which federal services we are entitled to receive?

It is a little like a child's game of tag where the kids can tag each other or not be tagged in an area deemed to be safe. When that safe area changes or is different from one place to the next, either you stop playing the game or you end up in a dispute about whether or not you are in a safe area. That is one, perhaps very simplistic, way of describing the current situation in terms of the service quality and the current application of the Official Languages Act in our province.

Franco-Saskatchewanians do not know where, when and at what level they are entitled to services. If I had to recommend one change with respect to the current application of the Act, as it relatives to the boundaries of so-called bilingual areas, it would be that they be completely removed from the province and replaced by a series of areas which would consider, not such criteria as 5 per cent of the population or 500 French speakers in that area, but rather the simplicity of the school zone system, which is well understood by users — namely where there are Franco- Saskatchewanian schools or French-language cultural centres. There we know exactly where the boundaries are and whom we are dealing with in terms of federal services in French.

I come back to Service Canada again. We had set up counters in two or three of our communities, yet one or two years later, Service Canada wanted to shut them down. Why? Because there was insufficient demand. But we stopped playing that game a long time ago. The game of tag just does not work. We have to find more practical solutions when it comes to the application of the Official Languages Act.

I would like to come back to the fact that there are more and more newcomers coming into our communities. For several years now, immigrants have represented 18 per cent of the student population in urban Franco- Saskatchewanian schools. According to projections, that number is going to double and triple in the coming years. These immigrants are even less aware than we are, as native Franco-Saskatchewanians, of the location of service areas and what their rights are in terms of access to services from the federal government. So, it is important to simplify the way the province is divided up into specific areas — areas that do not reflect the reality of our jurisdiction.

At the federal level, there is no national policy on francophone immigration to minority-language communities. There is a strategy, but not a national policy. Once again, we are always in quick sand, because there is no solid foundation on which to determine how to receive services. If these fundamental issues can be clarified once and for all, the government will see that the demand for services will continue to increase and that what Canadian taxpayers have paid for — in other words, services across the country where there is a francophone community, or an anglophone one in Quebec — is justified.

More money should be invested in applying Bill S-3. The legal solution is available when the communities have the means to defend themselves before a court of law. But that is a long-term solution which places us in a position of opposition. We are always in the position of opposing the people who are supposed to serve us, rather than working in partnership with them.

The spirit of Bill S-3 was to ensure that the federal administration would take proactive steps to develop the minority communities. What is needed are incentives that would change the culture and operation of the federal departments.

In closing, the ACF believes that the duty of federal institutions to promote the full recognition and use of both French and English in Canadian society is extremely important. Consequently, the federal institutions themselves must begin by acknowledging their own responsibilities.

For the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise, Bill S-3 means that the government has an obligation to again show leadership in supporting the development of official language minorities and promoting the use of French and English across Canada. We are still waiting to see that leadership.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Dubé. As I understand it, anyone wanting to be part of your association must be able to understand and speak French. It says ``where numbers warrant''. You talked about cultural centres and schools. I think that is a great idea. However, based on what we have seen in this committee in recent months, there is a major problem with the questions that Statistics Canada asks to determine the existence, or otherwise, of a francophone community. If you are asked which language you most often speak at home, the answer may be a language other than one of our official languages, or there may be people in the home that speak another language, whatever it may be, but want to send their children to French school or use French in the workplace.

Would that be a way of determining whether a community is sufficiently francophone to be entitled to French services from the federal government?

Mr. Dubé: That is a good question. We look at these issues in terms of services for our own community. Over the years, there have been improvements in the census questions developed by Statistics Canada when it comes to ascertaining whether or not there is sufficient demand.

Indeed, over the years, the question was whether French was the first language learned and still understood; after that, it was the language most often spoken at home. The fact is that people increasingly, and especially young people — even French speakers from francophone families or those who have French as a first language — do not always answer the way older people, such as I, are tempted to answer; we say we are bilingual and speak both official languages. We do not necessarily accord more importance to one language or the other in terms of the way we use them in our daily lives.

The problem — and this is what brings me back to the issue of districts that include a service area around schools or cultural centres — is that, in the school setting, they do use French, but when they go back home, they use several languages. Eighty-five per cent of families in Franco-Saskatchewanian schools — and I am not talking about immersion schools — involve intermarriage. That is a partial answer to the question and shows you the scope of the challenge.

The Deputy Chair: And in terms of accepting people into your community, or otherwise, I gather you ask them whether they understand French and are able to express themselves in French. I guess that would be the right question to ask.

Mr. Dubé: Every two years, we hold governance elections and we ask that question.

The Deputy Chair: So, that is the way you operate in your area. I was about to say that this is perhaps the question that Statistics Canada should be asking.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: I think the new approach should be as follows: where services are needed and where francophones are located, and not only if a request is made for services. It is not enough for a request to be made. Offices that are designated bilingual have an obligation to provide active service and, in many cases, that is not being done. You have seen this for yourselves. I will not read the press release that you sent out at one point. I believe you touched on this earlier, when you said that, as regards the zones, they should all be eliminated in order to start from scratch with completely bilingual offices. Do you have any further comments to make in that regard?

Mr. Dubé: To add to what I said earlier about the new zones that could possibly meet the challenges we are facing, if we take the map of Saskatchewan and superimpose the map of francophone school zones, we will cover the entire province. That is what it says in the Saskatchewan Education Act with respect to francophones. So, the entire province is divided up into school zones that are served by the Franco-Saskatchewanian French Language School Board.

Why can the federal government, given its size, not meet the expectations and needs of francophones in these specific zones? In our province, a small French-language school board with 2,000 students is able to do it and can reach people in all these different zones, whatever the distance to the service centre. So, why could we not take a similar approach, without increasing the financial burden of all the taxpayers in Canada and Saskatchewan — which already exists in our schools and community centres — and serve the francophone population by grouping federal services?

That is what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned our Service Canada counters. A year or two after several counters were put in place — something that took two years of negotiations — Service Canada unilaterally threatened this past winter to shut them down, because of an apparent lack of demand. But, when you look at that in terms of the active offer of service and the obligations set out in the Act, the fact is that there was no advertising done to let people know that at such and such a location in Saskatoon, there would now be a federal government service counter. No one knew about it. The responsibility to promote the centre fell squarely on the shoulders of the community. I do not know whether I answered your question.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: So, there is something lacking.

Mr. Dubé: Yes, there is a lack of commitment and leadership.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: The Minister of Canadian Heritage, James Moore, appeared last October before the Standing Committee of Official Languages of the House of Commons. On that occasion, he admitted that payment delays for francophone organizations that receive funding from the federal government were completely unacceptable. And the purpose of the minister's appearance before this committee was specifically to rectify the problems associated with funding delays.

I understand that organisations that serve the Franco-Saskatchewanian community are facing considerable delays in having Canadian Heritage funding approved and distributed, but the same applies to other federal institutions. Can you tell us whether you have seen any improvement in that area since the minister appeared in October of 2009?

Mr. Dubé: I do not know that I have. I am not sure whether the ACF has, simply because it was a recent announcement. In terms of receiving contributions — for example, from Canadian Heritage or other federal departments — the community system had already kicked in last October for the fiscal year that began in April. Of course, we did hear about it and applauded the intention to speed up the payment process. However, I have not, myself, seen an improvement yet. I am an elected representative, but I do not deal with budgets. I do hope that will improve things.

Within the Franco-Saskatchewanian community, we have a different vision of how we should be working with the federal government in terms of its contributions to support francophone organizations. Last year, we tried something new with Canadian Heritage, when we suggested that a single cheque be issued. Across the province, there are 40 francophone provincial organizations, if not more, in Saskatchewan alone. There are also 30 odd so-called ``local'' organizations in small communities which have a cultural centre here and there. There are 80 organizations that receive cheques from Canadian Heritage or other federal departments. You can just imagine the paperwork involved in meeting criteria, making applications, doing assessments, preparing reports and going through the whole process again if there is an error or omission in terms of accountability. We are suggesting a single cheque because that would greatly lessen the administrative burden for what we call our community executives or management who only have one employee in fifty percent of cases. That employee's job is to help the community develop — not handle paperwork and fill out grant forms.

At the same time, when the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise was founded 11 years ago, it accepted that responsibility. We have worked hand in hand with Canadian Heritage, with whom we have a good working relationship, to ensure that we are accountable. Rather than Canadian Heritage staff, we have taken on the responsibility of carrying out an annual analysis of our requirements and making a recommendation to Canadian Heritage with respect to how the money should be distributed. That has worked very well, except in two cases. In 2003, an issue arose when Canadian Heritage did not accept our recommendation. The final decision always rests with Minister Moore, in this case. That year, we had a nasty surprise, because our recommendation regarding one community in particular was not accepted by Canadian Heritage. The position taken by Canadian Heritage, as far as we are concerned — and we did the analysis — has weakened that particular community which was supposed to receive a contribution. That is kind of a roundabout way of answering your question, and I apologize for that. We proposed this to Canadian Heritage as a pilot project. Among senior management at Canadian Heritage, there was some openness to the idea.

We are the only French-Canadian community outside Quebec to have a governance structure that allows us to do this kind of work, as the governing entity. And Canadian Heritage told us at the time — last year — that we could launch a pilot project in Saskatchewan, and see whether the single cheque system would in fact lighten the administrative burden, thereby saving money.

So, to answer your question about delays, I can tell you that those delays are the direct result of the administrative burden placed on our employees in terms of meeting Canadian Heritage's expectations with respect to transparency.

If the ACF receives the cheque and distributes the money, again based on the analysis we are preparing at this time, only one organization will have to bear that administrative burden; the communities and community organizations will receive their contribution — there again, we are not asking for more money — without having to handle the administrative side of things, as they do now, and which prevents them from doing their real work.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: The minister will be appearing tomorrow, and we will ask him about this.

Mr. Dubé: I invite you to do so.

Senator Rivard: Mr. Dubé, at the beginning of your presentation, you referred to the Caron case. Has that case been heard, are you waiting for the decision, or will the case only be heard in the coming weeks or months?

Mr. Dubé: The Caron case has now moved up to the second level of the court system. The case is being heard in Alberta, but it has the same effects on Saskatchewan and Alberta, if you are familiar with the history going back to 1988 in the Mercure case.

So, to answer your question, we are about to file an application to intervene at the third level — the Alberta Court of Appeal. Our legal counsel have done their work and we should receive an answer regarding our participation.

Senator Rivard: As regards the three central agencies, Canadian Heritage, the Treasury Board and Justice Canada, do you think Justice Canada respects or — are you aware of their relationship? Between the francophone community and Justice Canada, is it an acceptable one, in your view?

Mr. Dubé: Yes. In my view, it is acceptable. It should be mentioned, however, that when we deal with Justice Canada, it is often through lawyers, and they know how to do their job.

Senator Rivard: Are francophones appearing before the courts able to be heard in the language of their choice?

Mr. Dubé: Yes, even in Saskatchewan.

Senator Rivard: Although this matter does not fall within the purview of this committee, you are surely aware that the House of Commons has passed legislation calling for future Supreme Court justices to be perfectly bilingual, with no need for translation services. Are you comfortable with that idea? Do you think it will be difficult in your province to find bilingual judges from either the francophone or anglophone community? Do you think it will be more difficult to apply the law, or are you fairly comfortable with the idea that this is something that should be done?

Mr. Dubé: First of all, the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise sent a letter at least a week or two ago voicing its support for Bill C-232.

So, in answer to your question, yes, we are comfortable with the idea, and yes, we believe it is perfectly feasible to have a fully bilingual Supreme Court. I think there are a number of francophone or anglophone legal scholars in Western Canada who would be qualified and even interested in occupying a position as critically important as that of Supreme Court justice.

Of course, we are closely following the debate in the media, which has caused a lot of ink to flow in our province, and not necessarily in favour of the idea, but I believe it is absolutely necessary that all judges be bilingual.

Senator Rivard: Since you are located between Alberta and Manitoba, would you say there is enough contact between francophone associations in the three provinces for you to be able to compare the application of Part VII of the Act? If so, would you say that the situation is comparable or is one province either ahead or behind? Do you think services in the three western provinces are comparable?

Mr. Dubé: It is a little difficult for me to provide an honest answer to that question. I can only tell you that Manitoba's constitutional foundation is quite different from our own, in terms of the province's obligation to provide services. As far as the federal government is concerned, I would say that Manitoba's advantage is the fact that the vast majority of francophones are located in one small area, compared to the situation in our province.

In Saskatchewan, unlike Alberta, the provincial government has a policy of supporting the francophone community, something that does not exist in Alberta, if I am not mistaken. So, I would say there is sort of an A-B-C configuration in terms of quality and access to services, with more and more of a decline as you move west.

Senator Losier-Cool: Thank you, Mr. Dubé, for agreeing to appear before this illustrious committee. I have a number of questions for you, but given that the committee is looking at Part VII of the Act, I must admit I was surprised to hear you say that Bill S-3 had changed nothing. Is that because there was no need for the legislation? Or is it because the institutions already take Part VII into account? Or do you think the government should pass regulations to enforce the application of Part VII?

Have you thought of the possibility of passing regulations to better enforce it? Do you think the school zone structure or the single cheque idea could be part of that?

Mr. Dubé: That is a good question, but I do not think I have the answer. What I mentioned is that goodwill depends on the individual. When the individuals you are dealing with demonstrate that goodwill, things happen, and we have examples of that. In fact, I could have given you even more.

On the other hand, as I also said, when that individual leaves, the service may be abandoned and the obligation is no longer met.

So, to answer your question, I do think that having a regulatory framework that would specifically apply to Bill S-3 and Part VII would be very positive for us, because it is not always pleasant to have to play watchdog. We put a great deal of energy into trying to move things along, and if progress is made, it is certainly not because our federal institutions are proactive and are complying with their obligations; rather, it is due to the fact that a lot of pressure has been put on the communities and we have even gone to court at times to secure that compliance.

Senator Losier-Cool: That is exactly what I had in mind when I asked you about regulations. Goodwill moves around sometimes. In the history of our minority, we have learned that you cannot always rely on people's goodwill. I remember Senator Jean-Maurice Simard, who was a great defender of the cause, saying it may take us 15 years to secure a right, but we can lose it in 15 minutes. That is why legislation was needed.

That brings me to my next question. How do you define ``positive measures''? You began your presentation talking about ``positive measures.'' What is a ``positive measure''?

Mr. Dubé: It is an initiative that enables you to move forward on an issue or in a culture or in a way of interacting with society, a community or an organization. The responsibility for implementing the ``positive measure'' is assigned to someone. Bringing about a positive attitudinal change in relation to an issue, a community or a piece of legislation is, in itself, a ``positive measure.''

It means being proactive and agreeing to work with the recipient of the ``positive measure'' — but in a win-win situation; in other words, not to the detriment of a department's ability to provide a program to someone else, for example.

We are often involved in win-win situations. To some extent, that is the reason why we acknowledge that progress has been made, even in our province, both in terms of our relationship with the federal government, because we are able to work with officials and politicians of both genders, to introduce ``positive measures'', and because we are able to agree on win-win situations. As soon as someone is perceived as being the loser, the relationship changes.

Senator Losier-Cool: Could your school zone example be defined as a ``positive measure''? This raises the issue of federal-provincial relations. School zones and education are a provincial responsibility. Have you consulted provincial authorities in this regard?

Mr. Dubé: No, we have not consulted school authorities at the provincial level. If they were here today, this would come as a surprise to them. However, we have been working on this with our francophone school authorities. In fact, just as you did in New Brunswick, we have created three community school centres which provide services across the school zone — not just educational services, but community services as well. In one case, we have even integrated federal government services.

Senator Tardif: I am from Alberta and I fully acknowledge the work that you and the province of Saskatchewan are doing. Congratulations on a job well done by you, Mr. Dubé, and francophones in Saskatchewan.

I would like to come back to a point you raised in your presentation, which was the Language Rights Support Program. You said that it could be seen as a ``positive measure'', but you also said that you are having trouble understanding the program and that it is difficult to access it. Could you elaborate on that further?

Mr. Dubé: Well, that comment was directly related to the Caron case, which also affects your province. As you probably know better than I, the Court Challenges Program was changed into the Language Rights Support Program. Going back to what I was saying earlier about the transition and this case in particular, we at the ACF were interveners in the case at the trial court level. We received financial support under the Court Challenges Program, because the case had begun before the cut-off date of September 15, several years ago. I do not have the details on that.

Since then, the LRSP has been put in place. Even when I discussed this in February, in Regina, with one of the administrators of the new LRSP, to find out whether the ACF, or the ACFA in Alberta, would be eligible for funding to pursue this intervention in the Caron case, she was unable to give me an answer. And, after instructing our lawyers handling our intervention in the Caron case to enquire about the possibility of receiving financial support, our lawyers came back and told us: ``We are not sure of our status.'' So, we will be filing an application both under the LRSP and the former Court Challenges Program, because it appears there is still some residual funding there that has not been spent.

We are very close to filing our application for intervener status before the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, and yet we still have no news. As you can see, this is a ``positive measure'' on paper, but for the time being, the burden continues to rest squarely on our shoulders. We do not even know if we can continue our legal intervention, because we do not have the funding. As a result, we are starting to implement Plan B. Plan B is to raise funds within our own community, if we can.

When I talked about ``positive measures'' in my comments earlier, there was a question in my own mind about the LRSP, because we already know that funding is limited to $35,000 per intervention. At the first level, the Provincial Court, or even at the Court of Queen's Bench, that may be enough, but when you have to prepare a case that is going before the Supreme Court, the funding is a little tight. Even Mr. Caron's lawyer, who is a Franco-Saskatchewanian, told me about two weeks ago that he is not sure he will be able to continue to handle the case. He certainly cannot do it pro bono. So this is a concern for all of us. This is a case of national importance.

Senator Tardif: You are right, it is a case of national importance with respect to language rights in Western Canada, and certainly in terms of recognizing the fact that Queen Victoria made certain promises to francophones in Alberta and Saskatchewan regarding services in French. We will be following developments, but this is a key example of the importance of this kind of program and of supporting the communities. We can only hope that it is not a ``positive measure'' on paper only.

I would like to come back to the question raised by my colleague, Senator Losier-Cool, with respect to the fact that Bill S-3 may not have changed much, in some departments, although there may be exceptions. As you see it, what are the obstacles to full implementation of that change to the Official Languages Act, Part VII, which now requires that governments take steps to enhance the vitality of official language communities?

Mr. Dubé: If I had the answer to that question, we would not be here today. There are many obstacles. There is a lack of awareness among officials in the departments and our provinces, which may be the ones furthest away from the centre of the country, of their obligations and of the historical and constitutional background which led to these measures.

There is also a lack of leadership. Departmental officials and service or division managers are reluctant to impose new measures to implement the Act on their colleagues, who are unilingual, for the most part.

The third part of my answer to your question, Senator Tardif, is that there are degrees of compliance — degrees of application. I noted that there is a tendency to do as little as possible in our province, but to say that you have done something — in other words, to believe that you are complying with the intent and spirit of that part of the Act and the changes brought in through Bill S-3, and to defend those changes. Because if we go back a few years, there has been progress, but is it the kind of progress that lawmakers and reformists had in mind when they passed Bill S-3? That is the question.

Senator Losier-Cool: Our committee has heard from various departmental officials, who have told us about their champions. We could put that question to the Minister, but is it not really the responsibility of the champions to ensure that everyone, especially minority communities, are aware of the obstacles to implementation of Part VII and Bill S-3?

Mr. Dubé: It is definitely the responsibility of the champions. In our province — we call it the leaders forum — federal departmental officials regularly get together to develop and exchange views on the application of the act, but what we are realizing is that many, if not the majority, of departments do not even attend the forum, and so are not in a position to enforce the act or understand how it should be enforced, with the result that it is left to a few champions — and we could name them in our province — to try and impose that goodwill, and the need to take action, on their absent colleagues.

Senator Losier-Cool: What I would like to know is whether there is any communication between the champions at the federal level — in the departments — and the ones you mentioned.

Mr. Dubé: I am not familiar enough with the situation to be able to say. I do know that, as regards the leaders forum involving the federal public service in our province of Saskatchewan, I am told that the operating budget — in other words, the possibility of having meetings and paying for lunch and coffee during the day — has been cut. That is not a very positive development in terms of working conditions and proactive action, unfortunately. But there are champions and it is the ACF that has ultimately assumed responsibility for coordinating work with the few remaining champions, so that this critical work can continue.

Senator Tardif: A number of departments have told us that they have been raising awareness among their employees, and holding consultations — because we have invited many departmental officials to appear — and they seem to be saying that the work is getting done. You are telling us that this is not enough and that there has to be much more in the way of real consultations with the communities. However, Canadian Heritage does have a responsibility for departmental coordination. As you see it, is Canadian Heritage doing an adequate job of coordination when it comes to Part VII of the Act and ``positive measures''?

Mr. Dubé: Do you mean in Saskatchewan? I presume you do, because I would not be in a position to answer with respect to anywhere else. I am tempted to say yes. The reason I hesitate is that I do not attend those meetings with them, and it is not my job to work with officials on these issues on a daily basis. But I do know that they play a role in organizing interdepartmental meetings. We have good relations with officials at Canadian Heritage, at the regional and local — in other words, provincial — levels when it comes to identifying interdepartmental deficiencies, if I can call them that. So, I am tempted to say that we have a positive view of their efforts to coordinate activities in Saskatchewan.

On the other hand, although I am telling you that their participation and efforts are positive, that may not be the case in terms of results. As regards participation in the leaders forum, which is a process for reflection, can Canadian Heritage force people to act? I would say it cannot — at least, that is my understanding. If they do have that power, they are definitely not exercising it enough.


Senator Seidman: Welcome, Mr. Dubé. You have expressed some disappointment with the way federal institutions are fulfilling their obligations under Part VII of the Official Languages Act. I would like to ask you about the consultation process and delve a bit more into the discussion you just had with Senator Tardif. I would like to focus on the consultation process itself. You said that it is a very important process, and I agree with you completely. It is a demonstration of positive measures. Might you elaborate specifically on the type of consultation process in which you take part? How frequently do you meet? With whom do you meet? Are you consulted about the process itself and how to best manage that process?

Mr. Dubé: One of the principal means of establishing that consultation process is through the forum of leaders, as I mentioned earlier. It allows us, as representatives of the community, to bring forth concerns and perhaps improvements to the types of services. It is very important for us to bring to the table new ways and means of ensuring the development of the francophone community in Saskatchewan. That process, in terms of the forum of leaders, is very important. From what I can gather, it occurs once or twice a year. The last one in which I participated was held in February, I believe. There are also working committees within that process. Specific, smaller groups within the leaders' forum have the mandate to consult or share information or whatever the need might be. That structure is in place, and it has worked and has been in existence for many years in Saskatchewan.

Are there ways of ensuring that the consultation process happens? It is done mostly through individual initiatives by various ministries or departments. For example, as I mentioned earlier, we established a joint RCMP community task force. We also have several committees that work with various federal institutions or departments on different initiatives. We have an ongoing dialogue with Heritage Canada service agents — I am not sure of the proper expression in English; in other words, their staff — both on a regional and provincial basis. We test ideas and obtain feedback as to the viability of certain initiatives that stem from our overall planning process.

I also mentioned the question of Canadian Heritage contributions to the development of the community. The process we have been working with as an assembly includes: first, consultations with the various officials from the Department of Canadian Heritage to ensure that the recommendations that l'Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise makes for the distribution of funds for the upcoming year fall within specific, recognized and acceptable departmental guidelines; and, second, negotiations between us and Canadian Heritage as to the use of the two envelopes, as I call them, the operational envelope and the project envelope. There has been some friction in that regard, but there has traditionally been agreement in most cases.

The immigration dossier is another example where there is ongoing consultation between the community and Citizenship and Immigration Canada with regard to specific projects or programs that meet our evolving needs in terms of being able to recruit and integrate, on a long-term basis, people from other countries. That has been a positive example of consultation, Senator Seidman.

Senator Seidman: There are clearly so many different means of consultation, as you describe. It sounds as if you are quite pleased with the process. It seems to function well. You are expressing that things tend to be going well. I'm trying to understand the source of the failures, as you express them. In these consultations, have you put forward the recommendations — and there have been two or three — that you have put forward to us?

Mr. Dubé: Some of them, yes, such as the one about the single cheque. In fact, as you probably know, we are in the process of negotiating a new contribution agreement with Canadian Heritage. One of our recommendations in the forthcoming agreement is to include the notion or principle of a single cheque, and it has been put aside.

Senator Seidman: You expressed that there was no national policy on immigration to francophone communities. You mentioned the concept of the school zones, the importance for the government to promote the recognition of French throughout the country, and the need to invest more in Bill S-3. You made a series of recommendations. My wonderment is whether you have put forward these recommendations in this process of consultation.

Mr. Dubé: Again, some of them we have and some of them are fairly recent in terms of our reflection on Bill S-3. Immigration has been discussed before with some of our federal counterparts. The whole method by which we have worked in terms of distributing Canadian Heritage contributions to our organization has been a source of frustration. I am a positive person, so I always try to paint a positive picture and be realistic about how fast things can move.

Senator Seidman: Have you ever filed a complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages?

Mr. Dubé: Yes.

Senator Seidman: You have?

Mr. Dubé: Yes.

Senator Seidman: When did you file a complaint?

Mr. Dubé: With respect to a particular minister, or overall?

Senator Seidman: Any complaint.

Mr. Dubé: Yes, we have filed complaints, and I have personally filed some with regard to the RCMP, Air Canada and Farm Credit Canada.

Senator Seidman: Recently?

Mr. Dubé: Recently being a couple of months, I think.

Senator Seidman: Are they still looking into them?

Mr. Dubé: Yes.

Senator Seidman: Have you filed complaints a year or two ago or three years ago that have not been dealt with?

Mr. Dubé: Personally, no, but as a community, I know that quite a few have been filed, not all of which have been responded to. Some of them have been responded to, not so much by the Commissioner of Official Languages, but in terms of implementing a recommendation. As an example, Farm Credit Canada removed its bilingual agent from my community of Prince Albert. Although Prince Albert is designated a bilingual zone, we are now being forced to obtain our services from Saskatoon, which is two hours away, in spite of the fact that there is sufficient demand for services. There are many agricultural producers in the Prince Albert area. Some of them have not been, in my opinion, satisfactorily responded to.

Senator Seidman: What do you do when there is not a satisfactory response?

Mr. Dubé: To be honest, sometimes we go right to the source and try to resolve the issue. I will give you the example of Farm Credit Canada. We went right to the regional manager and said: ``Listen, you are taking away this service. You have these obligations. We do not want to go to court on this. We do not want to be required to submit another complaint to the Commissioner of Official Languages. Can we not set up a situation where we can both be winners, and you guys meet your obligations and we get the service? Let us call it a win-win?'' We have done that in certain instances.

Senator Seidman: Did you get the service renewed?

Mr. Dubé: No, not in terms of Farm Credit Canada.

It is the same thing with respect to Air Canada and the airport in Saskatoon. There is zero service. You cannot get service in French at the airport in Saskatoon. It is an international airport.

Senator Seidman: Thank you very much.


The Deputy Chair: Mr. Dubé, I am sorry to hear that you are having a problem with Farm Credit Canada. They have very competent people working for them when it comes to translation; I know someone who works there. Franco- Saskatchewanians who are able to watch this committee's proceedings on television will be very proud of the way you represented them and expressed their desires and achievements.

Because we will be receiving the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages first thing tomorrow morning, your comments will still be very fresh in our minds. Thank you very much.

(The committee adjourned.)