Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 18 - Evidence - Meeting of April 15, 2013
OTTAWA, Monday, April 15, 2013
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 5
p.m. to conduct a study on best practices for language policies and
second-language learning in the context of linguistic duality or plurality.
Senator Maria Chaput (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate
Committee on Official Languages. I am Senator Maria Chaput, from Manitoba,
chair of the committee.
Before introducing the witnesses appearing today, I would invite the
members of the committee to introduce themselves, starting with the member
to my left.
Senator McIntyre: Good evening, I am Senator Paul McIntyre from
Senator McInnis: Senator Tom McInnis, Nova Scotia. I am here
substituting for Senator Poirier from New Brunswick.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: I am Senator Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis
from Quebec City.
Senator Mockler: Good evening, I am Senator Percy Mockler from New
Senator De Bané: Good evening, I am Senator Pierre De Bané from
Senator Robichaud: Good evening, I am Senator Fernand Robichaud
from Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.
Senator Tardif: Good evening, my name is Claudette Tardif, and I
am a senator from Alberta.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Today, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages begins its
study on the best practices for language policies and second-language
learning in the context of linguistic duality or plurality. The committee is
pleased to welcome representatives of Canadian Parents for French as our
first witnesses to speak about second-language learning in Canada.
On behalf of the committee members, I would like to thank the witnesses
for taking the time to give us their perspective and answer our questions.
The committee has asked the witnesses to make a presentation of about 10
minutes, and the senators will follow with questions. I now invite Ms.
Perkins to take the floor.
Lisa Marie Perkins, President, National Board, Canadian Parents for
French: On behalf of Canadian Parents for French, I would like to thank
the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages for having invited us to
speak, and to speak first, no less, I am hearing.
I am Lisa Marie Perkins.
I am from Red Deer, Alberta, and I am the president of Canadian Parents
for French, National Board.
With me today are my colleagues Rita Parikh, who resides in the beautiful
province of British Columbia, and our executive director, who keeps things
strong here at home, Mr. Robert Rothon.
As most of you already know, CPF is an organization of parents with over
22,000 members, nine provincial and territorial offices, and some 150 local
branches in communities across the country.
Your committee is focused on FSL and the success and limitations of
current programs, especially as they relate to our changing social
demographics and linguistic duality.
At CPF, we strongly believe that FSL education is an opportunity for
every child. It benefits our children, our communities and our country. Thus,
no child should be disenfranchised by not having access to the FSL program
of their choice. This is why our last two state-of-French-second-language
reports commissioned research on French second-language learning as it
relates to children whose first language is neither French nor English and
to students who are experiencing exceptional educational needs.
Recent statistics indicate that one in five Canadians is an immigrant,
that immigration is and will continue to be the primary source of population
growth in our country, and that currently 90 per cent of our immigration
stream is comprised of those who speak neither English nor French at home.
If you compare these demographic statistics with our enrolment statistics,
this is a population that is largely under-represented in our French-language
Why do we care about that? Of course, there is a fairness perspective. We
believe we have an obligation to ensure that every segment of our population
has an equal opportunity to learn and to be proficient in their second
official language, to be part of a workplace where bilingualism is demanded,
and to experience or gain entry to the richness of the francophile and
Beyond that, linguistic duality as rooted in our two official languages
is an essential element to our Canadian identity, and the continued
exclusion of this demographic group through policies and educational
programs will ultimately pose a fundamental challenge to the notion of
linguistic duality and thus to our very understanding of what it means to be
Rita Parikh, Member, National Board, Canadian Parents for French:
As you know, it is more often the case than not that it is the parents, not
the children, who are making educational choices for their kids. We know
from the research that parents do not enrol their children in French
immersion or French as a subject, in part because they feel English is more
of a priority or they feel their child might not succeed in French.
What is most disturbing here is that they are getting these cues directly
from the educators themselves. Studies indicate that teachers and principals
consistently counsel parents not to enrol their children in French
immersion, for instance, because it will interfere with their ability to
learn English, which they indicate is more practical, simply more useful for
They also tell parents bluntly that learning French will be tough for
those kids. In a study in Ontario, for instance, researchers found that
educators felt it would be a burden for ESL children to learn French.
However, the evidence is fairly clear that children whose mother tongue is
neither English nor French can attain marks or proficiency levels that meet
or exceed those of their anglophone counterparts in both core French and in
French immersion at the elementary and secondary level.
We found these findings were consistent even at the post-secondary level,
even in instances where anglophone students had had up to five years more
French-language instruction than the immigrant children. Moreover, there is
plenty of evidence to demonstrate that immigrant children will acquire
proficiency in English as long as they are in communities where English is a
At the same time, there are ministry-level policies that bolster
exclusionary attitudes. For instance, the policy B.C.'s Ministry of
Education states that all students must take a second language as part of
the curriculum between grades 5 and 8, except where those students are
identified as having special needs or are ESL students. Districts interpret
this policy in different ways. In Victoria, where I am from, the language
coordinator indicates that nearly every student taking ESL is exempt from
taking French and that they take ESL during their French course.
There are also ministry policies that encourage heritage language
learning. What we see here is that many parents and educators see French and
heritage languages as being in competition with each other and not as
complementary, as CPF views them to be.
As you discussed with our colleagues in 2012, B.C.'s education system
offers a wide range of heritage languages, including Mandarin, Japanese,
Punjabi and so on. Some parents and teachers feel these heritage languages
are as important or more important. What many fail to recognize, however, is
that speaking a heritage language generally strengthens one's ability to
become proficient in French. In fact, the research in one study shows that
the greater the frequency of heritage language use at home, the higher the
scores become in French proficiency. In short, they need not be in
competition with each other.
Beyond all of this, though, what we see time and again is that parents of
children who speak neither French nor English at home are often unaware of
French-language programs to begin with. We know that the promotion of French
programs varies from district to district, with some schools having day-long
orientation programs for parents, and some schools forbidding any
information about French-language programs to go home in schoolchildren's
backpacks. There is quite a range. What is consistent is that no school that
we encountered provides information about French-language programs
specifically to immigrant parents.
Our first set of recommendations in the briefs that you will receive
within the next few weeks focuses on outreach and promotion, not only to
parents but also to the real gatekeepers in this instance who, we feel, are
the educators and the principals.
The second set of recommendations, however, relates much more broadly to
access. As you know, we can open the gates, inform the parents and mobilize
thousands more Canadians to enrol and to sign their kids up for French, but
it is not going to do any good in most instances because there is simply
nowhere to place them. The recommendations you will see in our brief relate
to trying to address some of those fundamental barriers of access to French,
the removal of caps, enhancement of numbers of teachers, the transportation
to French programs, and enhancement of the number of programs, the number of
seats available to these students.
I will turn it back over to Ms. Perkins to speak about how you might be
able to support us in those efforts.
Ms. Perkins: Canadian Parents for French and the federal
government are long-standing allies in this struggle. We have the same
vision of Canada's linguistic duality. We have to work together to promote
this vision and eliminate the many obstacles faced by immigrant youth, as
well as many Canadian children across the country, no matter what their
We can do this by working together to build a comprehensive promotional
program that speaks directly to all Canadians, to our immigrant families, to
the educational community and to provincial ministerial staff more broadly.
We can collaborate with you and with our many francophone and research
partners to help identify the critical areas of research that need to be
conducted to support that awareness raising and our outreach efforts.
We would like to work with you to put some teeth into these OLEP
agreements that present real goals, ambitious but achievable targets around
increasing the number of children enrolled in French language and preferably
early immersion programs. We can strengthen existing efforts to select a
common proficiency standard to which all children of French second-language
studies may aspire.
Most of all, we can use your support, your funding, your policies, your
guidance and your encouragement to help us serve parents and communities all
over this great country who, after all, are the ones on the front lines.
They are demanding more immersion spaces, raising money for transportation
and textbooks, headhunting for teachers and supporting their children.
As National President for CPF, I thank you for your time. I am an FI
graduate with a son following in my footsteps, and I know that the gift of
French second-language education is one of the most profound and lasting
gifts given or received. No child should be denied this gift because there
is not enough room in a classroom, no qualified teacher or because they are
deemed ineligible. Our children deserve better and so does our country.
Thank you to each and every one of you for your time.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: First of all, I would like to say again
that I am very happy that you are appearing before the committee today. My
questions do not necessarily have to do with the difficulties you described
that immigrants and immigrant children face. Their situation is difficult.
They do not urge their children to learn, while they are sometimes required
to learn English first.
I have a statistic for you. Data compiled in 2011 indicate that close to
98 per cent of the Canadian population can hold a conversation in either
language. However, only 17.5 per cent of Canadians can do so in both
Given that you sometimes receive reports that come from all over Canada,
would you say that the current education system enables children to become
Ms. Perkins: First of all, thank you very much. I will address
your question about immigrants first.
One of the things I would say is our studies indicate that those children
and those families do want to have their children educated in French as a
second language. It is just not always an option given to them, which is why
we would say awareness.
With respect to what is going on across the country and whether our
school systems are equipped to give our children the opportunity to be
bilingual, immersion and FSL programs vary greatly across the country in the
number of subjects taught throughout the year. For example, in some places
in Alberta, grade 12 French immersion means you take no courses in French.
In the Calgary school system, students need to take five courses in
French, in subjects like the sciences, math, and French as a second
The ability of someone coming out of grade 12 FSL varies greatly, which
is why we would say that proficiency benchmarks, standardized across the
country, would be useful, not just for people outside knowing what
bilingualism means and to what standard.
In addition, young people need to be confident in their ability to
express themselves in their second language.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: To your knowledge, have you seen that
some territories or provinces perform better than others in second-language
Robert Rothon, Executive Director, National Office, Canadian Parents
for French: It is difficult to assess, given that standards vary so much
from one province to the next. An interesting indicator would be the
percentage of the student population enrolled in an immersion program, for
example. This is not the only French as a second language program. In that
regard, we can look to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The Maritime
Provinces have been very successful in this area. However, the numbers are
not enough, as we saw during the so-called reform of the French immersion
program in New Brunswick, which many parents saw as a fairly controversial
I am trying to be tactful.
Senator Mockler: But not the majority.
Mr. Rothon: No. Having said that, let us say that it was a
contentious issue, and we monitored the situation carefully. However, it is
but one indicator. We have already made the comment that more research needs
to be done to really assess the situation and answer this question, which is
an easy one. The way I see it, getting a complete answer would involve a
relatively long process with respect to analysis, assessment and other
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Mr. Rothon, my third question is for you.
Are you familiar with the practices in other countries where linguistic
duality is present to encourage second-language learning?
Mr. Rothon: I can tell you about Finland, for example, which
looked at the Canadian immersion model closely. Ms. Parikh can tell you
about India, where they teach three languages.
I think as of the primary years, do they not?
Ms. Parikh: Depending on the school and the class, but certainly
English and Hindi are the two languages of instruction at most schools.
Mr. Rothon: To which they would normally add a third state
Ms. Parikh: Yes.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: And were they successful?
Mr. Rothon: Yes. In the brief we plan to send you in the next few
weeks, we will certainly be able to add a small section, for reference at
least, about the success of these two programs, if you wish.
Senator De Bané: On page 7 of your submission you refer to a brief
that we had last year from British Columbia and Yukon. One of the requests
is recognition of the right to learn in French across the country as an
official language of Canada, rather than as foreign language instruction on
par with the right to minority language education, as recognized by section
23 of the Constitution. Can you explain that paragraph?
Ms. Parikh: If I understood your question correctly, B.C. has
indeed indicated that they will provide second- language education based on
the heritage and language that is demanded in the community. No ministerial
policy says that the second language on offer needs to be French. There has
to be a second language learned between grades 5 and 8, or 4 and 8,
depending on the district, but it does not specify which language that must
be. It is very much up to the parents and the decision makers in the
district to choose which language that will be. In many instances, schools
offer heritage languages plus French. Some districts choose not to offer
Ms. Perkins: Canadian Parents for French recognizes the rights of
francophones to receive their first-language education especially in
situations of language minority. I think when our colleagues at CPFBC came
and proposed that, it goes along with our idea in the brief, namely that no
child should be denied their opportunity to become proficient in both of
Canada's official languages. In fact, they are the official languages of all
Canadians, and what better place to start than in kindergarten, the entry-level
in the school system, whether we call it a right or we just make sure
everyone has an opportunity to make an informed choice.
Senator De Bané: How would you say second-language learning is
being promoted in our country?
Ms. Perkins: That depends enormously on the Canadian province or
territory. Our school system in Red Deer —
— is one of the great promoters of second-language learning. No child is
turned away and they open up a classroom at every opportunity to make sure
every child can access French second-language learning. You can go across
the country and parents are not made aware of that, especially in immigrant
Again, sometimes the reasons why a school district may not promote French
second-language options is because they do not have space or room, because
they do not have qualified teachers, because they do not have the resources
to offer the program successfully. Those are some of the reasons you will
not see it promoted as strongly.
It varies enormously across the country.
Ms. Parikh: I agree with that.
I will add that Canadian Parents for French is made up of chapters across
the country and those chapters are made up of parents. In some chapters
parents go out to day cares and preschools and present on the FSL
opportunities because they want all parents at these schools to know that
there are early immersion entry points for their children.
I come from a district that has the highest percentage of its population
enrolled in immersion in the country, I believe. That is also because we are
fortunate enough to have a language coordinator who pays for brochures to go
home in every kid's backpack. We also know that in some provinces CPF has
gone out to employers and talked to them about the benefits of hiring
children who are bilingual, and those employers then start to post ads for
bilingual children. Those are cues to schools and districts that they need
to promote these programs, in turn, to the kids in their districts. There
are many approaches to immersion and it is very ad hoc.
One other point, we also have a number of immigrant-specific programs. We
have brochures printed in Punjabi, Mandarin, and Japanese that speak
specifically about the French-language programs, and they are directed to
Senator Tardif: I would like to congratulate the members of
Canadian Parents for French. For a number of years, this organization has
promoted French learning and bilingualism, and is making a real contribution
to our Canadian society. I thank your organization for all the work it has
done. I have had the opportunity to work with CPF a number of times, and I
can assure you that it was always a pleasure to speak to the parents and
teachers, and to promote this cause with you.
Can you please tell us which Canadian provinces and territories have made
French instruction mandatory?
Mr. Rothon: Oddly enough, a mother telephoned me last week to ask
me that question. I will check what I said, but from memory, studying French
is not mandatory in Alberta, British Columbia or Manitoba. However, it is in
New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, but not in the
three territories. In Ontario, yes; in Quebec, yes, with a qualification. In
Quebec, it varies so much from one school board to the next that you could
hardly say that it is available across the province consistently. It is in
Prince Edward Island, not in Saskatchewan, but it is in the Yukon. Roughly
half the provinces require students to have instruction in French as a
second language at some point. It is often a basic French course, and very
rarely is it immersion.
Senator Tardif: Fine. For people who would like to fully
understand the terms, does a basic French course involve about 40 to 50
minutes a day, for example?
Mr. Rothon: Per day, that is already a lot. Yes.
Senator Tardif: Okay. In roughly half the Canadian provinces,
instruction in French, one of the country's official languages, is not
mandatory at any time?
Mr. Rothon: That is correct.
Senator Tardif: It is an appalling situation, be it at the grade
10, 11 or 12 level, at the elementary school level or at some other level.
Some organizations tell us that it is very difficult to follow the
accountability thread when it comes to provinces that receive some funding
under federal-provincial agreements. It is very difficult to know whether
the money sent by the federal government is actually invested in the school
Are you familiar with this situation? Do you receive complaints to this
Mr. Rothon: I would say so. Certainly one of the main concerns of
parents in the school boards is whether the funds are spent effectively and
efficiently. It is not always clear, because the ministry of education does
not always require school boards to be accountable and, if they are, the
reports are often not very detailed.
Take British Columbia for example. We could describe their methods as a
best practice and use it as a model. The school boards are required to send
a funds usage report, and those reports are posted on the ministry of
education's website, which the public has access to. Improvement could be
made in the detail provided for these expenses, which are presented in a way
that is so general and global that it is difficult to know whether the money
was really spent in an optimal way. Still, it is an excellent start. Other
provinces — and perhaps someone can correct me — such as Ontario do not make
public the school board expenses of their supplementary funds for French as
a second language.
Still, the largest province is not making its accounts public.
Ms. Parikh: CPF has sent a chapter-by-chapter,
district-by-district breakdown to parents telling them how much federal
money their community received and telling them to ask their school board
how they spent it. Some of the parents go to the individual schools and ask
how the money was spent, but the numbers to which Robert is referring are at
a much higher level. We have found, for instance, that a school will
purchase microphones with the money, and that is just the way it is.
Senator Tardif: The government just announced a new official
languages roadmap for 2013 to 2018. Does this new roadmap meet your
Ms. Perkins: We were at the launch of the official languages
roadmap with the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Canadian Parents for French
applauds the tone of this roadmap. Official bilingualism is something we
should be proud of, and we should be setting ambitious targets. The roadmap
has a tone of increasing French immersion, exchange programs and a lot about
educational opportunities. That speaks right to our heart and our mandate.
We are happy that the funding with respect to the OLEP agreements was not
decreased. As an organization that would like to see an increase in French
language education —
— be it is basic French, French immersion, or something else —
— more money will probably be necessary to ensure that type of promotion,
that classrooms, teachers and all of those things are in place. We will have
to be working on those pieces.
Mr. Rothon: Immigration is in the roadmap for the first time, to
the tune of $125 million, I believe. To us that is a significant development
in the roadmap because we have always felt that immigration and citizenship
have been missing these sorts of official language initiatives. You would
expect this ministry to play a major role, and it is only now that it seems
to be willing to play it in a significant way. We were thrilled to see it in
the roadmap now. Right now that money is only dedicated to French first-language
— which is very good for the francophone minority communities. We hope
that in the future — which is what we are suggesting — amounts of money
intended for immigrants to learn French as a second language will find its
way into a subsequent roadmap. If we come back to the figures that Ms.
Perkins mentioned at the start of the presentation
You cannot leave such a huge percentage of your population uninvolved in
official languages; you cannot put them aside from official languages.
If you do this, we already expect, I think, that by 2030, 30 per cent of
Canadians will be a visible minority, which is a very large number, and that
excludes other immigrant communities. What is the implication of that for
official languages, for the viability of official languages?
Where is the buy-in for official languages and linguistic duality in 30
to 40 per cent of the population in less than a couple of decades?
These are enormous issues for us. Therefore, we highly commend the
government for including this measure on immigration in the roadmap. For us,
though, we see it only as a start.
Senator McIntyre: Senator Tardif mentioned Canada's official
languages roadmap for 2013 to 2018. I would briefly like to address the
memorandum of agreement between the Council of Ministers of Education,
Canada, better known as CMEC, and the Government of Canada.
I understand that the memorandum of understanding expired on March 31,
2013. Do you expect a new one to be developed soon?
Ms. Perkins: Minister Moore indicated to us at that time that the
protocols are in the process of being developed and signed between the
Council of Ministers of Education Canada and their provincial counterparts,
Mr. Rothon: I remember, for example, that the last memorandum of
understanding was signed a year late, I believe. We had a one-year
extension. The issue is not whether the memoranda will be renewed, but when
and what they will contain.
Of course, we always hope to see a few changes.
The worst case scenario is that it is a status quo renewal. The best case
— would be that we see things that we would like to see. Better
accountability, for example, or stricter requirements on the accountability
of school boards and ministries of education.
Senator McIntyre: I was pleased to note that Canadian Parents for
French has been made up of volunteers across Canada dating back to 1977. It
is my understanding that you have between 150 and 200 chapters across
Canada. Am I right to draw the conclusion that recruiting volunteers is not
a problem at all?
Ms. Perkins: It is not a problem finding parents and families
across the country who want an opportunity for their young people to be
enrolled in French second-language learning or to celebrate that most
wonderful of accomplishments when they graduate from grade 12. As to finding
volunteers to do the leg work, we are like any other organization,
unfortunately. However, that means we are like everyone else.
Ms. Parikh: It is easy to find volunteers in a crisis situation.
When a program is threatened or when parents want to establish a new program
in their community, we have many volunteers. When a program is proceeding
very well, as they do in many places, such as in Victoria, there are no
volunteers. It very much depends. They rise to the occasion.
Senator McInnis: Of my colleagues in this room, I am the only one
encumbered by having only one language, that being English. I envy my
colleagues. When I was in grades 9 and 10, one had to stay after school in
order to be taught French and Latin. French immersion was fashionable when
my two boys went to school, but it ceased when they went into grade 7. It
was in place for grades 1 to 6.
You mentioned that it was mandatory in Nova Scotia. It certainly is not
mandatory throughout Nova Scotia. In fact, it is not available in most of
rural Nova Scotia, which is a shame.
Students who graduate today without the ability to communicate in both
official languages have a handicap. They are handicapped from the point of
view of employment. For example, it is very difficult to be employed in the
federal government if you are not bilingual. That is becoming the case in
the RCMP and in certain parts of the Canadian Forces.
I am intrigued by this, but I also understand there is a transfer from
the federal government to the provinces. I take it that it is to the
provinces and not directly to the school boards. Does anyone police this?
I can tell you this: There is no French immersion along the eastern shore
of Nova Scotia, where I come from. That may be predicated on the fact that
they are unable to get the teachers qualified to do it. That might be it. In
many parts of rural Nova Scotia, it is simply not available. I make that
comment because it is an extremely important element of education today. I
just wanted to impress that on you and the committee, since I am a visitor
Who polices it? Does anyone?
Ms. Perkins: As Mr. Rothon mentioned earlier, that is the OLEP
agreements. It varies widely across the country as to how much transparency
there is between the money coming from the federal government and how it is
applied to the school district, despite the best efforts of organizations
like Canadian Parents for French and our members on the ground who ask those
questions of their school districts. Where is the money? At the branch
level, at the provincial level, they are in constant dialogue with ministers
of education asking those same questions, because not knowing your second
official language is not an ideal situation. I often say that when you go
into a kindergarten classroom and see all the bright faces looking at you,
you do not know whether sitting among them is the next head of the
International Olympic Committee, a member of the RCMP, a civil servant in
the federal government, the president of Canadian Parents for French —
I am bilingual.
— a member of cabinet, a senator or the Prime Minister of Canada. Why
would we deny any child the opportunity to become that? Even more
importantly, what are we denying ourselves as a country? I just talk about
it very plainly from that specific space. Every child deserves their
Mr. Rothon: I would like to say on a more technical note that the
national office of Canadian Parents for French is also in dialogue with
Canadian Heritage, which negotiates these agreements on behalf of the
federal government with the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada,
which in turn negotiates on behalf of the provincial and territorial
ministries. We have also suggested to the Commissioner of Official Languages
that he take a look at these negotiations. Again, it was a question of
transparency and accountability, making sure that the federal government was
getting the most bang for their buck. It came down to how the money is spent
and how is it reported on. It makes it very interesting. Once the master
protocol has been negotiated between Canadian Heritage and the council of
ministers, the various provinces and territories then negotiate their
protocols, which reference the master protocol, and the provinces also
produces an action plan. British Columbia might get $10 million in
additional French-language funding one year, and it is up to the province to
determine how it is spent. Who gets it, what is it being spent on and what
are the reporting requirements? It is a fascinating and complex process. We
do what we can as a not-for-profit, parent-led group, but other actors have
a role to play. Again, we always encourage Canadian Heritage to push for
greater transparency and accountability when it negotiates with the council
Senator Champagne: First of all, I am sorry I was five minutes
late. I was working on another file. Being five minutes late is something we
Senator McInnis said a few minutes ago that where he was, learning a
second language meant you had to stay after school, or it was during recess
or before school. As a mother, I wanted to make sure my children would learn
music. It was either before school, during recess or after school. I can
guarantee you that my son did not study music very long. My daughter was a
little more patient, but if my son could go and play whatever sport outside,
music lost. He loves music, but he never wants to play it.
In our country, unfortunately, our languages always become a problem
between one side or the other. Quebec tried by saying to all new immigrants,
"You have to go to French school when you land in Quebec and become a
citizen here." Now, they have introduced with Bill 14, which says, for
example, that some French-speaking, born-in-Quebec people cannot go to an
English-speaking CEGEP or college, which is totally ridiculous. My son went
to school in French and then went to CEGEP in English. My daughter went to
university in English.
Either Ms. Parikh or Ms. Perkins said that when you are talking to
parents, especially if they come from elsewhere and the child already has a
language and is learning English, they feel that learning French is going to
be so difficult that they will not last. The one thing I would like to say
about that is when you have meetings with parents or with teachers, tell
those parents that if their child has already learned a second language,
which is English in most cases, learning another language is going to be
much easier than learning the first one. This should always be said and
repeated to parents and to teachers. People learn to speak a second, a third
and a fourth language. The second one is the tough one. Whatever it is, be
it French, English, German, Italian or Chinese, the second language is the
most difficult to learn. After that, it seems like it comes easier. Is that
something that is mentioned to your teachers or the parents when you meet
with them to encourage them to make sure their child learns the two
languages of Canada?
Ms. Parikh: That is a good question. In our experience from
talking to immigrant parents about learning French, it is an easy sell. They
get it. In general, they came to this country already speaking several
languages. They are not the ones who are thinking that learning French is
challenging. They get that message directly from the principals and the
teachers. Those are the people we encounter in terms of the gatekeepers and
the barrier. In some instances, we have focused our educational campaigns
directly at the teachers and the language coordinators and the school
districts that are talking with the parents and counselling them against
enrolling their children in French programs.
Senator Champagne: You mean they have not been fired yet?
Ms. Parikh: We would like to educate. We prefer education, but the
message needs to be broadly based. Certainly parents need to be aware that
these options are out there, but the school districts and the educators
themselves need to understand that it is a myth that learning a third or
fourth language is more challenging and will impede their ability to learn
English. We need to share those experiences. The immigrant parents get that
already. They really do.
Mr. Rothon: I would like to add that we also need ministry of
education policies that do not penalize young people who need to take second
language courses and, as is often the case, are prevented from taking
courses in French as a second language.
Senator Champagne: Either/or.
Mr. Rothon: Either/or.
It should be complementary, and that is what is a little difficult. For
example, there was one project in British Columbia, I believe.
We will have to start talking about another province again, soon. For
example, there is a question of integrating French with heritage languages
under the nomenclature of "additional languages."
The reference was English, but the project had a second component, a more
troubling one in my view. If a young person spoke a language other than
French or English, in other words, the language of their native country, the
province had proposed that the child be exempted from having to learn a
second language because he or she already knew one. Therefore, we, on our
side, proposed that the child's second language be French, making French his
or her third language but second language within the school system. The
ministry was not too interested in that proposal.
There are preconceived ideas and basic concepts that we need to reshape.
We must bring all of that up to date.
Senator Champagne: I do not think we can accept it being said that,
in Canada, French is a foreign language, as we have seen it announced. In
Quebec, I have fought and will never stop fighting to ensure that English is
not considered a foreign language in the province. It is one of our
I cannot commend you enough for what you are doing, and if there is
absolutely anything we can do to make things easier for you, believe me, we
will. Thank you.
Senator Robichaud: Thank you for being here. We appreciate your
presentation. In the 1980s and 1990s, I was the representative for a region
in New Brunswick, the south-east. The majority of the population was
francophone, but in the south, the majority of people were anglophone. I
must say I had some wonderful experiences, and I have the people working at
Canadian Parents for French to thank for those experiences. I would go to
schools located in completely English-speaking areas, and they would ask me
to give my presentation purely in French. The students spoke French well
and, in most cases, they were perfectly bilingual by the time they finished
school — at least, from what I saw.
The people working in that chapter of the Canadian Parents for French
organization were the most motivated individuals you could ever come across.
There was no question of brushing them aside; they would go to the mat. I
believe it was thanks to their hard work that governments in New Brunswick
began to appreciate the fact that they had to do a bit more regarding the
second language issue.
You mentioned teachers earlier, saying that some of them did not promote
that learning, that they would tell parents it was not worth the trouble or
that the students would have a hard time. But do you know whether school
boards had difficulty finding teachers who could truly teach the second
language, in other words, French in western Canada?
Ms. Parikh: I would say absolutely, and I smile because several
years back, I and a number of Canadian Parents for French put a whole bunch
of signs up on the lawn of a French immersion teacher who was moving from
B.C. to Ontario that said, "Stay in B.C.; B.C. needs you." We have an acute
shortage of teachers, particularly in rural areas. It is very hard to
attract them. It sounds facetious, but we find parents trying to find
husbands for teachers so they will stay in communities. It is like La
grande séduction. We talk about some of these challenges, and they are
At the same time, school districts are pursuing creative strategies. They
are engaging in teacher exchanges between provinces. For example, a cadre of
teachers is going from B.C. to Quebec to teach English in schools there.
They are bringing teachers over for one- or two-year secondments. We are
trying to be creative, but the shortage of teachers is acute, no doubt.
Ms. Perkins: As in any profession, teaching included, mobility
across the provinces continues to be a challenge in terms of recognizing
credentials across the country, so that would also help in ensuring that we
have French second- language instruction where we need it.
I noticed that jurisdictions have been looking at distance education.
With the advent of teleconferencing and web conferencing, students living in
rural or remote parts of Canada can participate virtually in a classroom by
themselves, but through the World Wide Web, to learn their French second
language wherever they may be. Distance or a shortage of teachers in one
area does not have to be a barrier to students learning the other official
In Canada, language is seen as a zero sum game. You learn one, and the
other one is at the detriment of the other. There was a tweet OCOL
attributed, I think, to Mr. Fraser, who said that learning French and
English is like learning to run and to ride a bike. Just because you learn
to ride a bike after you learn to run does not mean you forget running or
the reverse. You can do both. Sometimes one helps you get to the right
place, just in a different way.
If we change the way people think concerning the myths around learning
your other official language, we would have tons of interest because the
benefits are there. We have a huge demand for FSL, especially for immersion
across the country, and there are lineups now; we just need the spaces.
Senator Robichaud: You talked about distance education using new
technologies. Do the students engaged in that distance learning do so during
class time at school or on their own time at home, at their parents'
insistence because it is the only way for them to learn the language?
Mr. Rothon: That is a fascinating question you ask. I doubt very
much that the data you are inquiring about has been collected and analyzed.
We can, nevertheless, put the question to some of our partners, including
the Réseau des collègues et cégeps francophones du Canada. We can also check
with some school boards.
The problem is that the Canadian school system is very decentralized.
Even within a single province, practices can vary tremendously from one
school board to another. It might almost be necessary to set up a research
project to examine that aspect.
I can, however, share a little anecdote with you. As you may already
know, we put on a public speaking competition that draws nearly 100,000
young people from across the country every year. At last year's national
finals, a young man who lived in a very remote part of Newfoundland and had
learned French through distance education was the winner in his category.
So it is not impossible. That is just one example. The methodology might
be a little questionable, but it is still a promising sign.
Ms. Parikh: I would agree in terms of the diversity of programs
and options that are available. We know that the options are vast and we
know that it has not been studied.
I would like to give you two very personal examples. I have two kids; I
am here as a parent. One is a gifted child in grade 10 and the other has
some learning challenges. Both were streamed out of French because they
cannot provide for them. For my daughter, to ensure that she continues with
some French, the school board has provided a distance education program in
the form of one course. It is a planning course and she does it outside the
timetable. It is on personal health and that sort of thing. She will do that
this year. She continues to take French at school but cannot take the full
range of courses that one needs to remain and graduate with what they call
in B.C. a Double Dogwood.
For my son, he had to choose between continuing in French — he was at a
French-language school — and getting some help for his learning challenges.
Incidentally, the only subject in which he was excelling was French. We had
to stream him out of French. In order to provide him with French, we have
developed, as parents, an ad hoc approach to giving him some distance
education, which is not supported in any way by the school district.
It varies completely.
Senator Robichaud: You mentioned the myths surrounding the
official languages. Are you seeing a change in attitude in your regions to
suggest that people are getting the right information and are therefore
starting to understand?
Ms. Perkins: I will speak from my own experience as a
French-immersion student, largely in Calgary, in Alberta. When I was in
French immersion, it was for special students, "special" being smart
students only, so we were often considered very nerdy students, academically
In terms of the community in which I lived, we did not have much contact
with our francophone counterparts. I remember going to a Francophonie
Jeunesse meeting, and the francophone young people who were there told us
that we could not be there because we were not francophone; we were
francophile — okay. There were also some not-so-nice comments sometimes from
the community where I lived in terms of speaking French outside of the
I am proud to say that now, if you were to come to Calgary, I know that
when you go into those French-immersion classrooms, they are showing a very
promising, diverse group of children learning French as a second language.
There are athletes, musicians and visible minorities, maybe not as much as
we would like to see, as our studies indicate, but there is a diverse
In Alberta, our relationship with our francophone counterparts is
fantastic. I know in Red Deer, L'Association canadienne française de
l'Alberta régional de Red Deer does most of the cultural programming for
French immersion within Red Deer, because who knows better the culture than
those who have it? You are seeing that happen a lot more, which is heart-warming
from my perspective.
Again, within Alberta, speaking French, you are seeing many more
initiatives, such as Bonjour Alberta. You are seeing partnerships between
the francophone and francophile community in terms of showcasing that French
is a language spoken across our province. It is spoken proudly and by so
many people, maybe not always as well as we would like, but we are speaking
it and are very proud of it.
Mr. Rothon: Nationally, we are seeing people's perceptions change
as far as learning a second official language goes. I am a Montrealer, born
and bred. And if I think about the attitudes I came across 50 years ago, I
can say that things have improved dramatically. People are more tolerant,
enthusiastic, even, when it comes to learning a second language. There is
recognition that Canada is not an English-speaking country that tolerates a
French-speaking minority but, instead, a country made up of two large
language communities engaged in dialogue. That dialogue is not always easy —
it has its ups and downs — but it is ongoing. Overall, it can be said that
the situation has improved immensely. How else could you explain the fact
that a quarter of Prince Edward Island's young people are enrolled in French
immersion, for example?
That being said, it is important to understand that the process works a
bit like a health awareness campaign. It is necessary to always repeat the
same message for every generation and to make the point that bilingualism
will never be anything but an asset, that it will never disadvantage you,
for example. It bears repeating that learning a second language makes it
easier to learn a third and a fourth language. And doing that takes a
considerable amount of money, because it involves building awareness
nationwide and repeating the same message regularly. For an effort like that
to be successful, the support of all levels of government is necessary.
Ms. Parikh: I would just add to that by saying, from B.C.'s
perspective, we have come a long way from the days when one of our premiers,
Wacky Bennett, said "Over my dead body will we ever see French on cereal
boxes," to the point where I would say the majority of parents believe that
having their children educated in French is a right. I think most of the
parents we encounter believe it is a fundamental right.
I would also say that this is, to some extent, supported by the immigrant
population, who genuinely feel that this ability to speak both of Canada's
official languages is actually part of the new identity that they have
assumed when coming to Canada.
Senator Robichaud: You are reassuring me.
Senator Champagne: When I speak with young anglophones from
western Canada, those you are here representing, there is one thing I always
find fascinating. Very often, the French and English they speak is of a much
higher quality than that spoken in Quebec, where the French spoken by young
people is poor and the English a bit weird.
You said that teachers were lacking, that there was a shortage. I saw
something interesting on American television this weekend. They were saying
that, like the old phenomenon where young European girls would come to the
U.S. to work as au pairs, taking care of children, it is just as common
today in the U.S. to see grandmothers acting as au pairs, because
grandmothers are very busy. So, rather than pretty young girls in short
skirts taking care of kids, today it is 65- and 75-year-old women in good
health who are coming to play the role of grandmother to children who,
otherwise, would not have one.
Perhaps we could do the same thing with French teachers? They might not
be as young or as pretty, but the quality of their French would be superior.
That might be one advantage of overlooking a teacher's age to focus instead
on what that person can teach.
Would you support a sudden shift to language teachers who were older and
more mature? I would get involved and perhaps I could do the job.
Ms. Perkins: We would support it.
Senator Champagne: I will be retired in a year, so I will be
looking for work.
Ms. Perkins: Absolutely. It is up to our partners and our
colleagues in school districts and ministries of education to set the
qualifications for teachers, and maybe we need to be looking at that. I
think it is a wonderful point.
I also think it is interesting that at Canadian Parents for French we do
not just look at what goes on in the classroom.
Second language learning is not limited to the classroom. It is important
to have the chance to chat, outside school, to play games, to listen to
Having opportunities for people from our francophone community to be with
us while we are learning that second official language is sometimes just as
Senator Champagne: Nannies for French!
Ms. Perkins: Absolutely, Canadian nannies for French. I am
starting that when I go back to the office.
My son is 16, and when we come to Ottawa he says, "Mom, here in Ottawa
they speak French and English, just like me." It makes me cry a little bit
because I would like that to be in Red Deer. You know what, it is there, but
we just have to do a bit more digging to find it; that is, opportunities
where they hear French as a living language, a language of love, of eating,
of doing your housework. All of that is critical. Canadian Nannies for
French is a great idea. Thank you.
What a wonderful idea.
Senator Mockler: Like my colleagues, I would like to congratulate
you and your team on the leadership role you play and must continue to play
in official languages matters.
I was listening to you when you said that you always rise to the occasion
when we are threatened. I would like to say that I saw you in action in New
Brunswick in 2006 when the government of the day wanted to change immersion.
We saw it also when a certain MP — without giving the name, and it is not
"Wacky" — said that immersion was costly. I have his quotes here. I think
you have done it very well. I encourage you to continue doing that, because
I remember when it happened in New Brunswick; it was the first time in my
life, and since we have had official languages since 1969, that we saw not —
— Acadians protesting and standing up for French, but you, the
English-speaking community. I think that needs to continue, and I encourage
you to keep it up.
Picking up on the protocol mentioned by Senator Tardif and Senator
McIntyre, I think it is important to keep a very close eye on that,
especially in terms of accountability.
When I was a minister in New Brunswick, you gave us ideas on how to show
the merits of those investments.
At the end of the day, when you invest in education, you will reduce
poverty and you will reduce many things in our little communities.
How could we help you to help those governments —
— demonstrate transparency and accountability to make sure those
investments target specific areas in order to help both of our country's
My second question is this. Is the Canadian Youth for French organization
your partner on that file?
And for my third question. Does social media threaten the development of
our francophone and anglophone language communities?
Ms. Perkins: I will let Mr. Rothon answer the first question. I
will answer the questions about Canadian Youth for French and social media.
Mr. Rothon: It is an interesting question. I wish I could take
more time to think it over in order to give you as detailed and as
intelligent a response as I would like. As I mentioned about a half-hour
ago, the process is fairly complex.
Everything hinges on the negotiations, and the problem is that the
federal government has to take a common approach as far as the proper use of
that funding goes. We have often encouraged the Minister of Canadian
Heritage to show leadership, to not be afraid to compel or ask the
ministries of education across the country to be transparent about how they
use their funds. That comes down to what the federal government's objectives
are in these negotiations. What elements matter most to the federal
government during these discussions with the provinces, which span a
significant period of time, as you can imagine?
At CPF, we are on the ground; we are directly involved. We would welcome
the knowledge of how the money was spent at the school board level. The
bottom line is this. Frankly, it would almost be necessary to start there
and, to some extent, work upwards. In other words, what are the principles
of transparency and accountability the federal government is seeking?
If I understood your question correctly, you are also tying it in with
what I would call sectors, areas of development, the idea of directing those
investments to areas that are more specific than what we have now.
In that case, it may be necessary for the federal ministers responsible
for workforce development, for example, to talk and to agree that these
protocol agreements can indeed complement the objectives of another
department. I am not sure whether the ministers have those types of
discussions, but it would be a good idea.
I will stop making up my answer as I go along; these are just my first
thoughts. We can come back to the subject in a few weeks' time in our brief,
if you like.
Ms. Perkins: Canadian Youth for French is an organization that we
know and we speak to them. We also have strong partnerships with
organizations such as SEVEC, French for the Future, ACPI, CASLT. We have an
FSL partner network that meets here in Ottawa through the executive
directors, again to be looking at ways we all can be working together
collegially and collaboratively to ensure more and more Canadian youth are
given the opportunity to use French in school, but also after school, which
is an interesting piece. You are seeing Canadian Youth for French and French
for the Future saying, "I have done grade 12, so now what happens to me? How
is being bilingual an asset in terms of choosing a university career and
going to work?" It is something to be proud of.
On the matter of social media, we have a partnership with the French
embassy called "Allons en France."
Students win a trip to France as the prize. This year, the competition is
on social media, so it is quite interesting to watch students use their
second official language in social media.
It makes the language very real and applicable, and it is a language of
today. They are picking right up on that. It is something we would
encourage. Again, we are talking about education. It is important to learn
math, science and the humanities in French. It is equally important to learn
how to tweet, post on Facebook and ask a boy out in French.
You need the whole gamut.
That is what is needed to be proficient in both official languages.
Mr. Rothon: I think it is becoming clear that —
— Canadian youth are very connected. They are connected in a way that
reminds them they are plugged into the world as well.
You could argue on that basis that they are networked in a way that our
generation and older generations never were. I believe that social media
encourages the notion of plural-lingualism. It is a good support for it
because it reminds them every day that they are not alone in the world, that
they are not tucked away, even if they live in a small village.
Even in some remote corner of Gaspésie, they are still connected to the
world. They have friends all over the globe and the country. And that is
another language reality that is beginning to emerge on a daily basis.
Personally, I really do not see social media as a threat to official
languages learning, quite the opposite. I actually think it is an extremely
valuable tool whose potential should be fully developed and encouraged.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Mr. Rothon, since you brought it up
quite a few times, there is something I would like to tell you. During
previous studies, we held hearings in Quebec to see whether anglophones
there were treated as well as the francophones. No matter where we were in
Quebec, we always heard the same comment: anglophones were convinced that
the Quebec government was not giving them the funding earmarked for them by
the federal government. We heard that comment a lot. We heard it in Quebec
City, Sherbrooke and Montreal, and from a number of different groups. That
is what I wanted to say.
Senator Robichaud: You mentioned partnering with other groups. Are
you familiar with the Jeux de la francophonie canadienne, which invites
francophiles to participate? It is a wonderful experience for young people
to come together over sports and discussions of current issues.
Mr. Rothon: Commissioner Boileau of Ontario has often told a very
funny story about the integration of francophiles into the francophonie
games over the years. The first year that francophiles were allowed to take
part in the games, unlike the other delegations, which were organized by
their provincial or territorial attachment, francophiles, as a group, were
not attached to a specific province or territory; their group was labelled
"English People Speak French." Over the years, they were slowly integrated
into the provincial and territorial teams. Everyone speaks French; they may
have an accent, but they speak French.
I can tell you that a number of our provincial offices at Canadian
Parents for French work closely with francophone youth associations in their
respective provinces. In one or two cases, we were told that the majority of
participants in some activities were now young people who had come out of
immersion programs, and the results were outstanding. We cannot generalize
because, of course, the situation varies greatly, but yes, especially out
west, I think the francophone community is beginning to see francophiles and
anglophones for whom French is a second or third language as members of the
larger French-speaking family. It is quite a transformation. We are far from
being right in the heart of the family, but regardless.
Senator Robichaud: It is off to a great start.
Mr. Rothon: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: Thank you.
Senator Tardif: I am always surprised that 50 years after research
was carried out on the benefits of French immersion we still have to repeat
the message. You indicated that very strongly, Mr. Rothon. In the 1960s,
researchers like Dr. Wallace Lambert were putting forward the cognitive
benefits of bilingualism, and today here we are again having to repeat the
message. It is disappointing to hear that gatekeepers — people in positions
of authority like school principals, councilors, trustees, and perhaps even
teachers, as you have indicated — are counselling students out of French
second language and immersion programs.
I have two questions. Immersion has often been referred to as an elitist
program. Is that still the case today? Is that affecting interest in the
program? Is that one of the reasons that special needs children are being
counselled out of the programs?
To what extent do transportation costs come into play when parents are
making the decision about enrolling their children in immersion programs? I
am thinking of a situation in Calgary where a school board is no longer
paying the transportation costs for children attending French immersion
schools. The parents have to absorb that cost. To what extent do those two
factors come into play?
Ms. Parikh: I do not think any of us want to leave you with the
impression that the story of French language education in this country is
anything but a success. It has been an incredible success and it is one that
we need to celebrate. There are more children in French programs than ever
before, certainly more in French immersion than ever before. We talk about
being victims of our success in many ways because we just do not have enough
spaces to meet the demand. We have talked before about the numbers of people
on waiting lists. Therefore, while there are challenges, it is a great
Elitist? Absolutely and tragically, yes, the program is seen to be
elitist for many reasons, largely because of this continued streaming of
children with learning challenges out of the program, which relates directly
to the lack of special needs teachers capable of teaching in French in these
programs. We can all cite numerous examples of children who come to us as
CPFers, parents who come to us and say, "My grade 2 son is being told to go
into English because he cannot yet read." We can give them the many studies
that demonstrate that children with learning challenges do equally well in
French and English, or equally poorly, but at least they will emerge having
learned both languages.
There is resentment among parents who have chosen to put their kids in
English, for whatever reason, because they feel that their classes are
filled with children who have learning challenges, and they are right; they
are. We are working with a number of partners, including school boards and
teachers' organizations, to address that.
In terms of transportation costs, whether that is a barrier varies from
family to family and district to district. There are some interesting
examples of francophone schools that provide busing offering empty spaces on
their buses to children in immersion programs. Sometimes it is at a minimal
cost and sometimes it is free. It very much depends on the relationship that
exists in that community between the educators and the district decision
I would say that it is an issue. It is definitely a barrier for some
parents. I would not say it is necessarily the cost; it can also be the
distance. Many parents do not want to have their kids on a bus for an hour
at a time.
Mr. Rothon: To add to that, there is a school district in Canada,
which will remain nameless to save its honour, that one year, because of
financial pressures, essentially kicked all the French immersion students
off the school bus. This was in a semi-rural area. You suddenly had children
who were expected to walk along the highway at night in areas where there
had been cougar sightings. Needless to say, enrolment fell by about 60 per
cent the following year, and suddenly a strong program was made much more
fragile than it had been in years. There are impacts, quite frankly.
In other communities, Vancouver, for example, and I think it is the same
in Toronto, students go to school using the public transit system. If it is
a good one, it is not an issue. It is particularly important, however, for
small communities in rural areas because there you are talking about large
I can think of a couple of school districts across Canada where they
decided to consolidate their French immersion programs to dual-track
schools, which means both the English track and the French immersion
programs were offered in the same school. They created single-track schools,
which had many advantages, but students who only had a 10- minute transit
time suddenly had an hour and half in order to get to the district's
single-track school. Again, that has an impact on enrolment.
The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Official
Languages Committee, I want to sincerely thank you for being here and for
sharing your input.
I am always amazed at the work that Canadian Parents for French does. On
Sunday, I attended a French music festival in Manitoba put on by Canadian
Parents for French's Manitoba chapter. There were finalists who had chosen
French songs by Cœur de Pirate, as well as blues and jazz songs; they had
translated some English songs into French. It was extraordinary and very
special, and I would like to congratulate you once again. And I know the
committee members join me in thanking you for your contribution to Canada's
francophonie, helping make it what it is today. Best of luck in your future
endeavours. Thank you.
Honourable senators, we will now suspend the sitting for a few minutes.
(The committee continued in camera.)