THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON OFFICIAL
OTTAWA, Monday, November 28, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on Official
Languages met this day at 4:30 p.m. to examine the use of the Internet, new
media and social media and the respect for Canadians’ language rights.
Senator Andrée Champagne (Deputy
Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Honourable senators, I
call the meeting to order. I want to welcome everyone to the Standing Senate
Committee on Official Languages.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Senator Andrée
Champagne from Quebec, Deputy Chair of this committee. I will be moderating
our debates today in the absence of our Chair, Senator Maria Chaput from
Manitoba, to whom I take this opportunity, on our behalf, to offer our
Before introducing the witnesses appearing
today, I would first like to invite committee members to introduce
themselves. I will start on my left.
Senator Poirier: Senator Rose-May Poirier
from New Brunswick.
Senator Tardif: Claudette Tardif from
Senator Losier-Cool: Rose-Marie Losier-Cool
from New Brunswick.
The Deputy Chair: In the first part of this
meeting, the committee will hear from the Centre for the support of
organizational innovation through information technologies, CEFRIO, as part
of its examination of the use of the Internet, new media, social media and
the respect for Canadians’ language rights.
In the second part, the committee will hear
from representatives of Air Canada in the context of its study on Air
Canada’s obligations under the Official Languages Act.
CEFRIO is a centre that facilitates research
and innovation in organizations through information and communications
technologies. It carries out very interesting projects on topics such as the
use of Web 2.0 in organizations and developments in the use of the Internet.
It is our pleasure to welcome Jacqueline Dubé, President and CEO of CEFRIO,
and Réjean Roy, General Counsel.
Madam and sir, thank you for agreeing to appear
today. The committee members are anxious to hear what you have to say about
CEFRIO and its projects, and they will follow your presentation with
questions. Ms. Dubé.
Jacqueline Dubé, President and CEO, CEFRIO
(Centre for the support of organizational innovation (CEFRIO) through IT:
Honourable senators, it is a great pleasure for us to come and speak to you
about the role of information and communications technologies in the context
of the minority language communities. Having worked on this for more than
25 years, we are convinced of the very positive impact that IT can have in
reducing isolation, providing access to knowledge and shortening distances.
We often say that, thanks to technology, Rimouski and Sept-Îles are no
further away from Ouagadougou than Quebec City. That aspect is very
important for us. Our argument is that technology can help equip small
communities — both francophone communities outside Quebec and anglophone
communities in Quebec — by giving them access to knowledge, and enabling
them to work, develop the economies of their communities, and introduce
health and education projects in their mother tongue and the language of
For 25 years, CEFRIO has been a non-profit
organization that has received 35 per cent of its funding from the
Department of Economic Development, Innovation and Exports. This is the
innovation component that is our foster parent. The remaining 65 per cent
consists of projects that CEFRIO carries out with its 65 partner
researchers. Those researchers come from all the universities across Quebec.
Based on the projects put forward, researchers from the University of
British Columbia, for example, may join the team, along with researchers
from the University of Toronto and the Université de Strasbourg. This
expertise always depends on the project we are conducting. It concerns the
highest and newest technology skills in the sector where we want to work.
We have been in this business for 25 years. We
have questioned 1,000 Quebec citizens every month over the past 10 years to
measure their approval of technology. Our aim is to determine the level of
access to technology, but also how many hours a week people spend on the
Internet every day, how they use social media, how they use the Web in the
workplace and the problems they encounter. This information forms an
outstanding database that spreads back over 10 years and to which expert
firms in the field contribute every month.
We also do measurements on the e-commerce
index. We also measure uptake by technology businesses. We do that mainly
for the SMEs. This year, for the first time, the Business
Development Bank of Canada asked us to extend our NetPME measure to
Canada as a whole. For the first time, we were therefore able to compare the
Canada data to those of each of the provinces and Quebec to see the extent
to which technologies have been taken up by the SMEs. The survey is
conducted in French and English in Quebec and in English in the rest of
Canada. These are random surveys. Consequently, if a Quebec respondent
speaks English, the measurement will be done in English.
Our experimentation component is not as well
known. However, it represents a large part of our work. We conduct
experimentation based on the environment to determine the environment’s
For example, in Quebec 10 years ago, the
government chose to adopt what is now a well-established position, to "use
our land." As land use was a priority, it was impossible for the Department
of Education, Recreation and Sport to close the small schools in the
regions. These were very small schools, with very few children and teachers,
who wanted to leave the schools because there were not enough challenges.
CEFRIO was given a mandate to find a technology-based solution. We had
high-speed Internet installed in those small locations. With the help of
teachers and education researchers, we established a program to teach in
those small classes using technology. As a result, the teaching program is
based on the government program. However, it is being done with the aid of
both computers and what we today call "interactive whiteboards". Children
follow along on a computer screen in front of the class. These are groups in
which students from grades 1, 2, 3 and 4 are in the same classroom. I
experienced this situation as a student living in a remote region of Quebec.
However, we did not have the Internet at the time.
I would say that what is fascinating is that,
while a student takes a French course with his teacher who is in the class,
there may be three other children taking a mathematics or English course
with a teacher who is giving the course in another classroom. That is the
basic teaching method we use with the Internet, and which is called
knowledge co-construction. The children thus learn to conduct very advanced
research and, based on that, to use their knowledge.
I am going to make you smile at the naivete of
children by telling you a little story. Every year in grades 3 and 4,
students of roughly 10 and 11 years of age are given a theme to study,
water. They are on the banks of a river in Gaspé, the weather is beautiful,
and they wonder if their water is clean and how they can determine that.
Through the program established by CEFRIO and our researchers, they searched
for information on the Internet and discovered that they needed researchers
to analyze water quality. But since they wanted no one to influence them,
they looked for the university that was the farthest away from them and
found the university in Vancouver. Then they were sure there would be no
influence. The children practised their English and asked for the
researchers’ help. The researchers found them so charming that they sent
them all the pipettes and elements. The children did the research and showed
that the water quality had to be improved, and then ultimately submitted
their results to the regional county municipalities.
As a result, the research enabled children to
learn French, English, mathematics, geography and science, that is to say
what we here call cross-curricular competencies. That is what CEFRIO does.
We do it in the fields of health, information and economics. We conduct
research to ensure that technologies are used efficiently in businesses.
That is a general summary of my presentation.
We are available to speak with you and to answer all your questions humbly
and to the best of our knowledge.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Roy, do you want to add something?
Réjean Roy, General Counsel, Centre for the
Support of Organizational Innovation through IT: We have prepared a
nine-page document that we will submit tomorrow. Here we have a preliminary
version, but we are just going to take the time to improve it and then
submit it to you. Then it can provide you with some food for thought on the
contribution of technology in the language field.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much.
Ms. Dubé, when you said three or four classes
in the same room, that brought a smile to my lips. My mother, who was a
school teacher, had the first seven grades in her class, up to the Quebec
certificate, and she did that for I do not know how many years.
Senator Poirier: I would like to have a few
points clarified. I congratulate you on the work you have done for the past
25 years. I am certain that has produced results for the province of Quebec
in particular. If I understood correctly, most of your work is done in the
province of Quebec and for Quebeckers?
Ms. Dubé: Indeed.
When CEFRIO was created, it was called the
Centre francophone d’informatisation des organisations. The idea was to set
quality standards for the use of French in the technology sector. The
government gave us a mandate that limited us to Quebec.
For our next five-year project, which started
last April, the Department of Economic Development, Innovation and Exports
and our board of directors asked us to extend our services to wherever
products that had worked well could be useful to other communities.
Earlier I mentioned Ouagadougou. UNESCO asked
us to intervene in Sub-Saharan Africa with the École
éloignée en réseau project. There, however, the situation is
reversed: 60 children are in a classroom without paper or books, and we come
in with a computer to teach. It is a quite significant reversal.
The reason the Business Development
Bank of Canada asked us to expand our NetPME survey is that there are
other aspects for which Industry Canada wants us to start expanding through
SMEs. The École éloignée en réseau project is
very easily transferable to any community since the researchers are
supported by the Internet. It is ongoing, either synchronous or
asynchronous, but it is done via the Internet. With the Internet, distance
is therefore not important.
Senator Poirier: Are any other provinces in
Canada using your services, for SMEs or the school or hospital systems?
Ms. Dubé: We are currently working with
British Columbia on a construction and information technology project. As
you can see, we are involved in a lot of areas. We are working with
British Columbia and with the National Research Council of Canada. We are
starting to work with the other provinces and are available for that
purpose. My English is very limited, but my team is better than I am. I am
the weakest team member in English.
Senator Poirier: In New Brunswick, a lot of
programs were developed with Service New Brunswick and we became a model for
a number of others in the world that adopted that model.
You have a gem here, and other people could
perhaps benefit from it elsewhere in Canada. I therefore encourage you to
consider the possibility of offering your services across Canada.
If I correctly understood, you mentioned
earlier that, when you conduct a survey in Quebec, if the person answers in
English or in French, you are able to respond in his or her language. But
you say you do it in French only for the rest of Canada?
Ms. Dubé: In English only.
Senator Poirier: Why?
Ms. Dubé: Since it is an anglophone firm
that conducted the survey elsewhere in Canada, that is what happened. I know
that the questions were all asked in English. You should know that CEFRIO
has been known in Quebec for a long time. When a firm calls to say that they
are conducting a survey for CEFRIO, people agree to respond, but that has
been much harder for the rest of Canada because CEFRIO is not known there.
We had to make a lot of calls to get enough respondents for it to be
statistically consistent. However, if we continue — and the
Business Development Bank of Canada has told us yes — we will ensure
we have a bilingual firm to conduct the survey in the rest of Canada.
Senator Tardif: Welcome to the Standing
Senate Committee on Official Languages. I would like to make a brief comment
on what Senator Poirier said. There are also a lot of francophones outside
Quebec and I know perfectly well they would be very pleased to be able to
respond to surveys that would enable them to speak French. I hope you will
be able to find a bilingual firm that can offer the services in western and
central Canada as well as the Atlantic region.
Your organization has just published a white
paper on the use of Web 2.0, has it not?
Ms. Dubé: Yes, indeed.
Senator Tardif: Could you tell us what you
think are the main challenges the federal government will have to face
concerning the use of social media?
Ms. Dubé: I can try to answer your question
as the project was carried out with 12 different enterprises, including
departments and agencies of the Government of Quebec and private businesses.
Integration is slightly faster in private
business than in government. There is a major challenge in government
regarding the freedom of expression that social media entail. When you are a
government employee, you have a duty of restraint that is less consistent
with the notion of social media. The fact remains, however, that this aspect
is understood and accepted. Even if we use social media, we have obligations
and duties. A lot of work also has to be done to educate younger people.
Once you go beyond 34 or 35 years of age,
people know the rules about this aspect and the social networks are really
conducive to creativity and development.
So there is a step that has to be taken at the
government level. There has to be a certainty that staff are educated enough
to understand the role and impact of social media. That is one of the
factors. Another factor, considering the Government of Quebec, since we of
course have not worked with the federal government, but with the Government
of Quebec, is that a major challenge is involved in allowing social networks
on government computer systems, the concern being the impact that could have
on certain databases. The entire notion of the security of information and
personal information is behind this aspect. A lot of education has to be
done. We have to define what we want to do with social networks.
The researchers showed that we will have to
learn to properly measure what we called the return on investment in any
other type of project. That will now be completely linked to the return that
communication and sharing can generate. That aspect will have to be
developed in terms of a measurement theory in order to show that it has a
The other important issue to note is that the
young generation is coming. At CEFRIO, every two years we have measured what
we call generation C, those 12 to 24 years of age, who were born with
technology, with the Internet. For them, it is a way of being. When they
come to work in a business — and mainly in government — they are used to
co-developing. They are used to dealing with their network in order to find
a solution. That is not currently possible at the Government of Quebec, with
few exceptions, where there have been small experiments.
So it is in the very early stages in
government. This is an extraordinary tool for relating with citizens. It is
a communications tool where people can put forward a program, a policy, an
orientation through their comments, which are ultimately added to others. It
is an outstanding tool that the government cannot do without.
Mr. Roy: There is obviously a linguistic
challenge in the use of social media or social networks. If we consider the
federal government, one of the major challenges will of course be ensuring
that French is as much in evidence as it is elsewhere in other forums.
When we have a social network, the problem that
arises... Let’s consider the example of a wiki, GCPedia, for example. We
talk about that in the document we will be submitting later. GCPedia is a
wiki in which federal public servants can enter information, knowledge that
will be useful to their co-workers.
Let’s say I occupy position X and other
individuals occupy that same position across Canada. I have just developed a
best practice. I have one way of operating, of doing my work, and I want to
share what I know with my co-workers. The first question that arises is the
language I am going to use. Am I going to write down my contribution? Am I
going to codify my knowledge in French or am I going to use English to do
that? If I do it in French, there may be a risk that that knowledge will be
less useful to all of my colleagues who do not necessarily speak French. If
I do so in English, perhaps I may reach more people because francophones
tend to be more bilingual.
Consequently, there is a risk that a tool like
GCPedia will eventually become a very anglophone tool, and proactive
measures have to be taken to offset a risk like that. Users of a tool like
that have to be reminded that they can use the language of their choice.
Employees in designated bilingual regions can use the language of their
choice. They have to be reminded of that. They have to be encouraged to do
so. The entries that people make in GCPedia can be translated, but money is
necessary to do that. This takes a certain amount of will, the will to put
that money into this kind of operation.
Facilitators could be designated, individuals
whose role would be to intervene in French in a tool such as that. Lastly,
some creativity and inventiveness have to be shown. All that to say that
ensuring that French has a place in this kind of tool and in these kinds of
social media is a challenge that we must definitely make a vigorous attempt
to deal with.
Senator Tardif: Thank you for discussing
the linguistic challenge because, as we are the Standing Senate Committee on
Official Languages, the entire issue of linguistic challenges is obviously a
concern for us, as, of course, is the fact that you have not only identified
"the linguistic challenge", I believe you have absolutely touched a nerve or
provided certain recommendations.
In our report, we are obviously going to try to
make recommendations for the federal government. You have named two or
three. Is there anything else that the federal government could do to meet
its obligations under the Official Languages Act? And there I am obviously
talking about Part IV, service to the public, Part V, language of work and
Part VII, advancement of French and English and promotion of the vitality of
the minority communities.
Ms. Dubé: With your permission, I will let
my colleague answer your question since he is our official languages expert.
Mr. Roy: The document we have prepared is
divided into five major parts. We start by explaining that Internet
technologies are tools that the official language communities absolutely
need. In 2011, the Internet and technology are not a luxury; they are a
necessity. They are a necessity in the areas of culture, health and
education, and we can develop those aspects, but this is a necessity.
So if we want technology and the Internet to be
profitable for official language communities, a number of conditions must be
met. The first condition is that the official language communities must have
access to high-quality Internet service. This is not always the case.
Two years ago, the federal government put a program in place to ensure that
Canadians across Canada had access to Internet service at a rate of
1.5 megabits/second or better. That is very good. However,
1.5 megabits/second is probably already being exceeded when you look at what
is being done better internationally or even what is going on in the cities.
While we are trying to connect the Lower North Shore or certain regions of
the Eastern Townships at 1.5 megabits/second, back home I get
40 megabits/second, and in Hong Kong they have 1,000 megabits/second. So
that affords opportunities to which people in the official language
communities will not necessarily have access if those communities have
1.5 megabits/second platforms. Good access to high-speed Internet is
necessary. It is definitely one of the things the federal government can
ensure with its partners.
Here is a brief example that may be of interest
to you. In the document, I talk about social media. As you may know, nearly
one in two Canadians now uses Facebook. People who use Facebook — we have
seen the CEFRIO surveys — generally do so to contact their friends. It is
not necessarily to do extremely innovative things. It is to contact their
friends and to make new friends.
Lastly, they do with Facebook what they do in
real life. They go on Facebook to meet up with the people they are already
seeing for coffee or to go to school. So that means that to ensure that
networks like Facebook — and this is one of our concerns — works in French
in the francophone communities and that things happen in French on those
networks in the francophone communities, we have to ensure that all
francophones in the communities have access to Internet and can access
Facebook. When I go on Facebook, I have to be able to find my francophone
friends. So my friends have to be able to connect. The connection issue is
It is not just the connection issue, but also
the content issue. The federal government can intervene to ensure there is
French-language content on the Internet, high-quality content. When people
surf the Internet, they generally do so in their language. They prefer to do
it in their language. We have seen that in Quebec, on both the anglophone
and francophone sides. We have no statistics on the situation in English
Canada or in the francophone communities, but we can imagine that this is
also true even though minority francophones tend to be very bilingual. Even
though they may not always prefer to use French, it must be kept in mind
that people are generally more effective when they handle content in their
language, even when they are bilingual. The research that has been done
shows that, if I am francophone and I read a text in French, I have a better
chance of understanding it and remembering it. I am also more likely to be
persuaded by the text than if I read it in a second language. Consequently,
francophones need French-language content and anglophones need
If we look at the Web, we see that 5 per cent
of content on the Web is available in French and 45 per cent in English. The
Web is a universe in which English dominates.
As for newer factors, we see applications for
the iPad and iPhone. A recent study revealed that only 6 per cent of those
applications are accessible in French.
There are some 10,000 books in French in the
Amazon.com store and more than a million in English. So we see there is
quite a major imbalance.
You mentioned Part VII and the need to ensure
that linguistic duality is reflected in the digital age. We are clearly
facing an imbalance in that regard, and the federal government is definitely
one of the players in the best position to correct that imbalance.
So we are talking, first, about Internet access
and, second, about content in the language of Canadians. The third factor is
this: francophones and anglophones in the minority communities must have the
basic skills they need to use the Internet and information technologies.
However, the figures show that people do not always have those basic skills.
What is a basic skill? If I go onto the
Internet, I have to be able to read and understand the texts posted there.
However, not all Canadians have the knowledge to read and understand at
times complicated texts. As may be seen, the texts on federal government
sites are sometimes not written for those who have difficulty reading, but
rather for those who have strong reading skills. Web forms and pages are
written that way. Those skills must therefore be improved.
Technological capabilities have to be increased
as well. If I go onto the Internet, I have to know how to use a computer, an
iPad and a cellular telephone and to send e-mails. Fortunately, the language
skills can be acquired at school or through libraries because we encourage
young people to read. The same is true of technological capabilities. We
have noted that it is possible to change things with help from efforts by
community groups, for example. If we want to help members of the francophone
or anglophone communities acquire the skills they lack, we can do so by
relying in particular on groups and associations.
Fourth, it is important to have basic skills,
although you need special skills to do what you want in the digital world.
Consider the example of a small francophone community in Alberta or
British Columbia, such as Maillardville, which wants to offer electronic
government services to its population. In that case, you have to know more
than simply how to send e-mail; you have to acquire special skills, to know
what good e-services for citizens are, how to market them, what the
challenges are, how you start up an e-store. These issues are more complex.
Once again, it is not enough to have
technology; you have to use it to its full potential. To help businesses and
citizens use technology to its full potential, we have to support them. Once
again, organizations and players are able to support citizens and businesses
in their uptake of information technologies and the Internet. However,
resources are needed, in French for francophones and in English for
These four areas of intervention are important.
For further details, please consult the document. There is a lot to do in
Ms. Dubé: The level of language is a very
important factor. When we prepare a government document for citizens, we do
it with our level of training and skill. However, it does not necessarily
reflect the proficiency of the people who receive the document. For example,
we received a mandate from the Government of Quebec to measure seniors’
abilities and skills on the Web and Internet. We interviewed 4,000 seniors
and measured everything. We found the results of the usability test
particularly fascinating. The seniors went onto the computer and had to
enquire about the tax credit or services to which they were entitled. We
observed that 100 per cent of them failed the test, which consisted in
finding information, despite the fact that the information was in their
So we are talking about level of language. The
government has a responsibility to ensure that citizens obtain information
in their mother tongue, but also at a level of language that facilitates
access to government services.
Senator Tardif: Thank you for your
excellent answer. We will have a lot of food for thought.
Senator Losier-Cool: I would like to follow
up your remarks about seniors. This is almost alarming. I understand, and I
agree with you, that all these new ways of communicating and the technology
are extraordinary tools. However, you have to be afraid for certain groups.
We have just mentioned seniors, but there are also minority francophones. Is
it possible to solve the problem? We cannot legislate on learning for
seniors. Are you not afraid at times that technology may become a tool for
Ms. Dubé: I admit we are often somewhat
concerned about that. We wonder what to do to ensure that technology is
really useful and does not create another form of isolation or a group of
digitally illiterate people or people who do not have these reflexes.
One of our organization’s concerns is the
simplification of tools. We want to ensure that the environment is
intuitive. We are recognized well enough in the field, and the minister
responsible for seniors has asked us to provide a comprehensive program on
the types of programs that could be offered to seniors through digital
media. What can digital technology do to enable people to age at home, and
to age well at home? This is a multi-year project.
For example, it is complicated to shop for
groceries on-line. I know I can never find Le Sieur peas.
We think this is an important idea. Technology
must be at the service of citizens. We have to invest in an intuitive
environment rather than an IT architecture. That is what we are focusing all
our efforts on.
We are also aware of the anglophone communities
in the regions and in Montreal. We have wondered what we can do for those
groups with regard to education. We have adapted the École éloignée en réseau project I spoke to you about earlier,
considering the fact that we are no longer in a multi-age situation, but
with large classes and isolated teachers who have to deliver the same
teaching program with fewer tools. We have made sure to create the
communities of teaching practices necessary to make those supports
We always start from the premise that digital
technology must simplify, not complicate our lives.
Senator Losier-Cool: Absolutely.
Ms. Dubé: However, we are just a drop of
water in the sea of technology. And this problem is not bound to disappear.
It is a present and future reality. So we have that concern. The researchers
support us in our efforts and provide their expertise to ensure that this
technology is simple and intuitive. Those are two key qualities to which we
Children are like sponges. They do not know how
to read, but they absorb everything instantaneously. They use technology in
a highly intuitive manner with the type of programs we develop, and we are
just starting with seniors.
Senator Losier-Cool: Your answer has
triggered two other more specific questions.
You mentioned that the minister responsible for
seniors had asked you to conduct surveys or to provide a measures component;
you also mentioned education. Has the federal government approached you to
conduct certain studies or measures of government services?
Ms. Dubé: Not to date. As I told you, we
are not known in the rest of Canada. Today I met some officials from the
Treasury Board Secretariat to present various files. To date, however, the
federal government has not requested our services. We solicited Industry
Canada in a project we call the "index of measurement of the impact of
technology on innovation". Industry Canada is with us on that project and we
Senator Losier-Cool: Do you have any
specific cooperation programs with the entrepreneurial community schools?
Ms. Dubé: No, not for the moment.
Senator Losier-Cool: There is the
Versant-Nord school and, in New Brunswick, we are doing a lot to develop the
entrepreneurial community school. which is a model developed in Quebec.
Ms. Dubé: Thérèse Laferrière developed
that. So it was the same researcher.
Senator Mockler: What role should the CRTC
play based on your vision of social media?
Ms. Dubé: With regard to the vision of
social media or Internet access?
Senator Mockler: With regard to Internet
access and facilitating it for language communities across Canada.
Ms. Dubé: I am going to answer intuitively
because that is a factor that we have not studied in depth. The CRTC should
play a major role regarding access to high-speed Internet. I am talking
about access to high-speed Internet, of the quality required these days, not
just to exchange e-mail, but to be able to download and work together with a
number of people at the same time. The first role the CRTC should play with
regard to social media and the entire Web is to ensure access for all
Senator Mockler: What would you recommend
to the CRTC if they were in front of you?
Mr. Roy: What would be really good for all
the communities would be for the CRTC to say that all Canadians are entitled
to Internet service of X megabits/second or better and that they should have
that access by such and such a date.
The CRTC has just said that we should reach
5 megabits/second by 2015. That is good, but it would be even better if it
was higher. In Finland, for example, we are talking about
100 megabits/second by 2020 for most of the population. The bar is really
very high. I think the CRTC’s role is to raise the bar and to ensure that
all Canadians, wherever they live and whatever their first official
language, have high-speed Internet access that is as good and fast as
Senator Mockler: Based on your experience,
what is the bar?
Ms. Dubé: It is definitely not
Mr. Roy: I could say 10 megabits/second,
but distinctly faster speeds are already possible in the urban centres. One
thing is certain, and that is that speeds of 1.5 megabits/second, which is
the level certain regions of Canada must be satisfied with, is very low.
Moreover, I am putting on the table a problem
that already exists. I do not know whether you remember when DVDs arrived a
few years ago. It was really extraordinary because a disk came in one, two,
three or four languages and it replaced video cassettes. I have never lived
in western Canada, but if I had lived in Edmonton, for example, and had
entered a video store, the area set aside for French films would probably
have been relatively small at the time of video cassettes.
DVDs arrived and were automatically in English
and French. That was a big gain for the francophone communities in the west.
Now it is like a step backwards. If you use tools like iTunes or Netflix,
you will see that there are not a lot of titles in French and even films
dubbed in French at our video store are not available in French on
You will see the same thing if you go onto
iTunes to rent certain TV programs. You cannot get a version available in
both languages. In some cases, you have to choose the language version you
want: English or French, not necessarily both. And in some cases, only the
English version is available. You might think that companies like Netflix or
Apple could do better. In other words, when a French-language version of a
particular content exists, that version should be available at the store in
Could the CRTC intervene? I imagine so. I am
not a CRTC expert, but it would be definitely a good thing for it to
intervene in this area.
Ms. Dubé: The CRTC should ensure there are
no dead spots where there is no high-speed Internet. There is no need to go
to the Lower North Shore. Very near Lévis, next door to Quebec City, there
are places, dead spots, where there is no high-speed Internet because it is
not profitable for the companies to go there where there are very few
residents on the range roads.
I am going to show you how important it is for
high-speed Internet to be accessible for everyone. I am going to give you a
figure that will be coming out in January 2012. So this is a scoop that I am
revealing to you today.
This concerns people’s main source of
information for news and current affairs. In 2008, television was the main
source of information for 63 per cent of people. In 2011, it is still
television, at 41 per cent.
However, WebTV and the Internet were sources of
information for 13 per cent of people in 2008 and 30 per cent in 2011.
Growth has been so strong between 2010 and 2011 that, in six months, the
main source of information for news will be the Internet. It will no longer
be television. That shows you the importance of universal access.
Senator Losier-Cool: Is the same true for
Ms. Dubé: What is interesting about on-line
shopping — we measure this every month — is that $250 million leaves Quebec
every month to buy items in the United States since businesses in Quebec
have not really switched to on-line sales.
Senator Losier-Cool: A study recently came
Mr. Roy: Obviously, then you shop in
The Deputy Chair: It is odd that we should
be talking about that now, when today is Cyber Monday in the United States.
Ms. Dubé: Yes. I can guarantee you that
people on my team have gone to buy iPads.
Senator Mockler: I have heard various
things at book fairs. How could e-books be made more available for our
francophone communities across the country?
Mr. Roy: I am thinking as I speak, and that
does not always produce good results. If you go onto
www.amazon.ca, which will immediately
transfer you to www.amazon.com and look
for French-language books for Kindle, there are some, but not that many, and
they are not necessarily the latest titles. There are a number of reasons
for that. The French-language book industry is resisting, as it were, the
switch to digital because there are extremely important issues involved.
If we wanted that switch to occur, I have the
impression a number of things would have to be done. Publishers that are
already operating in a small market and whose financial situation is not
necessarily very solid would have to be reassured that what we have seen in
the United States will not necessarily happen here, that is to say that
profit margins will gradually collapse and that, at one point, the business
will no longer be viable. If you look at the prices of e-books in the
United States, you see that they are sometimes much lower than the price of
This raises the issue of the publisher in the
book chain. Publishers are concerned. To help them make the switch, they
will probably have to be given financial incentives, supported in a way.
Ms. Dubé: Currently in Quebec, e-books are
really a very marginal economy. In 2011, 7.8 per cent of adult Quebeckers
will read e-books. That is good growth relative to 2010 because that has
virtually doubled, but there is not really any content. If you try to find
e-books on an iPad, for example, there are no search engines in French. The
search engines are not very simple. It is easy to find books in English,
but, to find books in French, you may well know the author and be virtually
certain of the title, but you cannot find it because the volume currently is
not big enough for the system to be well organized. We are starting an
Our vice-president, Vincent Tanguay, is looking
at the potential evolution of the e-book and we have not really analyzed it
enough. We have been asking these questions for three months as we have been
laying down our groundwork. So we have no more information.
Mr. Roy: The day before yesterday, I was
reading something about the situation in Germany and one of the things that
was said is that the German government decided to intervene with respect to
the price of e-books to ensure that prices are not much lower than those of
paper books, which would have the effect of further encouraging publishers
to make the switch to the extent that they are less afraid that all that
will undermine the way the industry operates.
Senator Mockler: You are saying that is in
Mr. Roy: Yes, it seems to me I read
something about what is going on in Germany.
Senator Tardif: You have provided us with
statistics on the growing popularity of social media and the various on-line
entertainment platforms. Do you think Canadian laws are clear enough to
provide a framework for the use of social media and the various platforms in
order to meet the government’s linguistic obligations?
Ms. Dubé: As far as I know, social media
and the Internet have arrived more quickly than the laws have adapted. If
you look at what is going on in Quebec with regard to the French fact on the
Internet, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Office de la
langue française are the most specific entities, stipulating that, in the
case of a government employee, we must work with tools that are in French.
They request that the government buy only French versions of software. We
sense that they are encouraging improvement. This has been so fast and the
laws have not necessarily adapted, and we are still talking about policy.
That is what I know with regard to Quebec; for the rest of Canada, that is
something we have not looked at.
Senator Tardif: The Treasury Board
Secretariat is working on developing guidelines and I believe they have
published them. I have not yet had a chance to study them thoroughly. If you
had to make any recommendations to the Treasury Board Secretariat, what
would they be?
Mr. Roy: You are talking about the internal
use of technologies?
Senator Tardif: Internally, but also as
federal institutions offering tools and information to Canadian citizens.
Mr. Roy: I do not believe I have any
guidelines to suggest off the top of my head. When you have a discussion
like the one we are having now, it is important to take into consideration
the fact that the digital universe is a new universe, but, at the same time,
it is not like the planet Mars. The acts and regulations that apply in the
traditional world, in some cases, also apply in the digital world, where the
thinking that led to those acts and regulations can continue governing the
way things happen in the digital universe. It is not as though the advent of
the digital world called everything into question. There have been changes,
and we have to reflect on them, but it is reasonable to believe that
obligations that obtained under Part IV, Part V, Part VII and so on still
obtain in large part in the digital universe as they do in the traditional
universe. It is unnecessary to review everything in all cases. There are
cases where some revision is necessary. If we go back to the example of
GCPedia, the example I referred to earlier, if I am an employee and I have a
right to use the language of my choice, that applies for a memo and during a
meeting, and it also applies when I access GCPedia or any other type of
social media. There is no reason for that right to disappear. It may evolve
in some way, I imagine, but the reasons why that right was granted are still
valid in this case, as they are in other cases.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much. I
would nevertheless like to continue discussing e-books.
I get the impression people may not yet
instinctively go and see whether such and such a book that has just been
published is available in a digital version. We are lagging behind. I am
going to go back to 1985, 1986, when no artistic work that was on an
electronic medium was covered by the Copyright Act. Changes were made in
1986 and 1993. Perhaps people will find or will have the instinct to go and
see whether such and such a book that they want to read is available in an
electronic version. When I think of the number of books I had to put away at
home on the weekend, I no longer know where to put them. I take large bags
of them to a library that deals with people who are less well off so that
they have something new to offer.
One of the things that trouble me a great deal
is to see how our young people play with the Internet. I owned a computer at
the age of 50. I saw that my granddaughter, who was seven or eight years
old, already knew how to use it. With all the so-called social sites, a lot
of things are being done in English. Young francophones who learn a little
English at school go there.
Ms Dubé, earlier you discussed the level of
language. I would like to talk about the quality of language.
Instead of writing, Je
trouve ça très drôle, young people will write LOL, "laughing out
loud." I have obviously learned that. I was forced to learn what that meant,
but all that writing, that original writing that has become the fashionable
thing, scares me with regard to the quality of the French that our young
people speak and write. Am I wrong or right?
Ms. Dubé: You are right. It is a major
concern for the Department of Education in Quebec, which is developing
École 2.0 to ensure that an excellent level of
French is used. It is disturbing and, at the same time, it is all we can do
using technology correctly to support searches on good sites, the creation
of intelligence, the creation of new knowledge. It is also an opportunity.
It is true that the very shortened forms used on social media are
disturbing, but the fact remains that young people have always found a way
to speak to each other, a language of their own. When we go back to the
pedagogical aspect, that aspect is very closely monitored and it is a duty
when teaching both French and English not to tolerate this contraction of
words into symbols.
Mr. Roy: The level of language is not the
same on the Internet. When I write on an iPad, since I am in a hurry, I omit
accents or apostrophes, for example. I do a number of things on my iPad that
I would not do if I was writing a text intended for a Senate committee, for
example. I am aware of the fact that I do not write the same way on the
Internet as when I write a text intended for important people.
The same is true for young people. They know in
many cases that if they write "en t k" in an e-mail, they cannot do that in
an assignment that has to be submitted in class. The problem will arise on
the day when "en t k" winds up in school assignments and doctoral
The Deputy Chair: Perhaps the term will be
accepted by the Académie française.
Mr. Roy: In short, this is undoubtedly a
problem. However, perhaps we attach more importance to it than it deserves
if young people are aware that they have to change levels of language
depending on the forum.
The Deputy Chair: I believe there is
nevertheless reason to be concerned. Unfortunately, that is all the time we
Senator Poirier: This coded language that
people use on Twitter and in chatting is not just a problem among
francophones; it is a problem you see as much among anglophones as among
francophones. Anglophones use their own codes and new language. I wanted to
mention that to you.
The Deputy Chair: You are absolutely right.
Ms. Dubé, Mr. Roy, thank you. We have spent an extraordinary hour. We have
learned a lot of things. You have given us much food for thought for this
report. Thank you very much for that.
The committee is also studying Air Canada’s
obligations under the Official Languages Act. More specifically, it is
examining the audit report recently published by the Office of the
Commissioner of Official Languages on the provision of bilingual services to
Air Canada passengers. This appearance is also an opportunity for the
committee to follow up its report on the bilingualism of Air Canada
personnel tabled in June 2008.
It is our pleasure to welcome Priscille
Leblanc, Vice-President of Corporate Communications at Air Canada; Susan
Welscheid, Vice-President of Customer Service; Louise-Helen Senecal,
Assistant General Counsel; and Chantal Dugas, General Manager, Linguistic
Ladies, thank you for agreeing to appear today.
You now have the floor and the senators will follow with questions.
Priscille Leblanc, Vice-President, Corporate
Communications, Air Canada: Honourable senators, thank you for giving us
this opportunity to appear before you today. We will start by offering our
condolences to the chair of this committee, the Honourable Maria Chaput, on
the death of her father.
Let me start by saying that we are always
pleased to talk about our company’s initiatives and ongoing efforts to
ensure full compliance with our obligations under the Official Languages
Act. We are invited to appear today in relation to the recent audit by the
Commissioner of Official Languages on the delivery of services in French and
English to Air Canada passengers, the June 2008 committee report regarding
Air Canada’s bilingual staff as well as the linguistic action plan that we
Since we last appeared before this committee in
March 2008, Air Canada has experienced many internal changes and has had to
manage through various crises beyond its control, which have affected the
entire airline industry.
Despite its challenges, the company has always
maintained efforts to comply with its obligations under the Official
We have implemented several initiatives to make
employees more aware of Air Canada's official language obligations and
improve customer service. These include the Air Canada active offer of
service video called Hello! Bonjour!, which is shown to all new
front-line employees and available on the internal website; internal quality
audits performed monthly; the detailed communication of Air Canada's
official languages obligations to all new front-line employees; and the
creation of a language award.
In addition, in order to standardize its
bilingual service in Canada and in a number of foreign cities, whether there
is significant demand or not, Air Canada has implemented many automated
systems that offer consistent services in both official languages, such as
self-service kiosks at airports that enable customers to perform numerous
transactions, the mobile device application and the website. As technology
continues to evolve, we look for new opportunities to better our service
In 2010, as the official carrier of the Olympic
and Paralympic Winter Games, Air Canada rose to the challenge of offering
thousands of visitors, dignitaries, journalists and athletes service in both
official languages, something that very few believed possible. During the
event, Air Canada also supported official languages by sponsoring Place de
la Francophonie on Granville Island. Our performance during the Games, on
every front, including the availability of service in both official
languages for our customers, is a source of pride at Air Canada. Our overall
performance on linguistic duality was successful mainly as a result of its
complete integration into an intensive overall preparedness exercise for the
Games, demonstrated leadership and commitment from the executive team and
the Olympic preparedness project manager.
In retrospect, the resources allocated by the
company to ensure a successful performance during the Games actually
exceeded demand in Vancouver.
While Air Canada cannot afford to maintain this
level of support on an ongoing basis as many participants were volunteers,
best practices have been identified to improve on existing initiatives in
place in Vancouver and other Canadian airports according to needs and
As you know, the Office of the Commissioner of
Official Languages audited our service delivery in both official languages
in the fall of 2010. As part of this exercise, the audit team met with
employees from around the country, including airport and in-flight
personnel, managers and senior executives, to gather information about their
perceptions and understanding of the company's obligations regarding
official languages and the implementation of the linguistic policy itself.
We welcomed the report of the Commissioner of
Official Languages and are pleased that the audit identified the many tools
and initiatives put forward by Air Canada not only to meet its obligations
under Part IV of the Official Languages Act but, above all, to fulfil its
commitment to its customers and thereby provide them with quality service in
the official language of their choice.
It is also important to point out that unlike
government institutions subject to the Official Languages Act, Air Canada
receives no direct or indirect federal subsidies for language-related
training, testing or communications. Nonetheless, Air Canada has allocated
significant resources, financial and human, to maintain its language
programs even in the face of industry challenges and economic slowdown. In
fact, Linguistic Affairs is one of the few departments at Air Canada whose
budget and programs have not been subject to cutbacks over the years.
Our most recent Linguistic Action Plan
addresses the concerns raised by the Commissioner of Official Languages in
the audit and at the same time deals with issues raised in the June 2008
Senate committee report.
The plan also clarifies our linguistic policy,
roles and responsibilities and how to achieve our goals.
In accordance with the audit findings, Air
Canada recognizes that, despite the many tools already in use, greater
effort must be made to raise awareness of its language obligations and
responsibilities among its employees. Air Canada agrees that its new
official languages action plan will help standardize its language activities
and linguistic initiatives. We will convey a clear message to all of our
employees, and our managers will reinforce it on a more consistent basis, as
set out in our action plan.
The action plan is intended as a reference tool
for all Air Canada employees and consists of six sections: management's
commitment and leadership, recruitment, employee training and
communications, service standards, audits and performance, and communities.
As with any major corporate initiative,
commitment to promoting a culture of language duality must begin with senior
management. Recognizing that the unique nature of the company’s activities
requires the mobilization of all of its integrated resources to foster a
bilingual culture, management has implemented an accountability framework to
establish guidelines for managing official languages effectively. To do
this, we began by redefining the roles and responsibilities of the official
languages manager as well as those of the co-champions. We have also set
goals and performance indicators. Performance follow-up and regular meetings
with key staff will enable the company to more quickly identify areas where
gaps seem to exist and to bring about appropriate measures or changes.
We are committed to developing an official
languages publication that employees and managers can consult on a daily
basis, such as a guide. The publication will detail language procedures for
recruitment, displays, training, the active offer, language levels, language
training, document translation, the tuition fee reimbursement policy,
language requirements for specific positions, service standards, et cetera.
In order to fulfil its language obligations,
Air Canada must maintain a sufficient number of bilingual employees on
staff. Recruiting new bilingual employees, specifically from outside Quebec,
has always been and continues to be a significant challenge for the company.
This challenge is not unique to Air Canada
since all federal institutions must also serve the public in both official
languages. All federal institutions as well as private enterprises therefore
compete to hire resources from the same limited pool.
While recruiting, one of the problems we
noticed is the lack of opportunities for practising language skills. Many
candidates tell us they attended French immersion for the duration of their
elementary and secondary schooling, but have not had the opportunity to use
the language since, and even if they have been away from school for only a
couple of years, their language skills have started to decrease even to the
point where they can no longer hold simple conversations in the language.
Also, over the past 10 years, it has been
nearly impossible for us to increase our percentage of permanent bilingual
employees, particularly since much of our hiring has been for seasonal or
part-time positions. While Air Canada is generally considered an employer of
choice for anyone wanting a career in the aviation industry, the company
must advertise through targeted media and work with linguistic minority
communities in order to draw a sufficient number of bilingual candidates. We
are hopeful, however, that this situation will improve as our most recent
labour contract with our airport employees is favourable to permanent
Since our last appearance before this
committee, our work with the language minority communities, colleges and
universities helped us improve our recruitment of bilingual resources. As an
example, today, in 2011, 73 per cent of our new recruits at airports and
call centres were bilingual in comparison with 39 per cent in 2008.
Employees for whom French is a second or third
language who are not regularly called upon to use their French-language
skills have the same challenges as the candidates mentioned previously and
must be able to practise to help maintain their language skills. Even though
many of our employees have strong language qualifications or have previously
received language training at the time of hiring, many report that without
sufficient opportunity to practise French in the workplace, they notice a
decline in their language skills.
We recognize that we need to be creative in
developing new training models and encouraging employees to use them. Air
Canada already has many communication channels it can use to promote
awareness but a more organized and systematic approach is needed to improve
One of the initiatives currently in place
includes wearing the "J’apprends le français pin". We have already noticed a
positive impact from this initiative, which aims to instil the necessary
confidence in employees who are not qualified in French to promote the
active offer. Employees told us that customers are more understanding and
speak less quickly to someone seeing wearing the pin. This in turn
encourages employees who were previously intimidated to address customers in
French to do so more often.
By creating more opportunities to practise
their French, these employees have more opportunity to increase their level
of skill or at least maintain it while meeting customers’ expectations.
Air Canada offers a variety of language courses
to its employees and to Jazz employees, including beginner, intermediate and
advanced level courses, to meet their many needs. In addition to traditional
classroom training, employees will be able to make use of online support
over the next few years, which will provide greater flexibility to those
with variable schedules and those travelling around the world.
In order to provide consistent service in both
languages and effectively allocate our bilingual resources, it is essential
to develop, review and maintain service standards for all customer service
areas. These standards will be communicated appropriately to all employee
groups in order to ensure compliance.
To do so, a review of appropriate standards and
procedures based on the reality and requirements of the various positions
and location is underway.
Although an audit system is already in place,
we believe in an improved monitoring system, which will ensure that the
offer of service in both official languages is of equal quality on the
ground or in the air. This system will help identify areas for improvement
as well as those where we are successful that could serve as examples. The
same audit system could also be implemented to ensure compliance among other
carriers who operate under the banner Air Canada Express, like Jazz, which
offers services on behalf of Air Canada, as Air Canada has a duty to ensure
these carriers provide the services in both official languages where there
is significant demand.
In conclusion, please allow me to reiterate our
company’s firm commitment to complying with its language obligations under
the Official Languages Act. We do recognize that there is still work to be
done to better standardize our bilingual services throughout the country.
Rest assured that we take these obligations
very seriously. We will be sending a clear message to this effect to all our
employees and will call on our managers to consistently reinforce it. For
us, serving our clients in the official language of their choice simply
makes good business sense. Thank you for your attention. We welcome your
The Deputy Chair: Thank very much,
Ms. Leblanc. I believe that all those who used to think that the Official
Languages Act, the Canadian act, was very tough on the people of Air Canada,
among others, all those who were watching the PanAm series found themselves
in the mid-1950s, when speaking three languages was an essential employment
condition for a flight attendant, who was called a stewardess at the time.
Here it is not easy to have even two.
However, if you are on an international flight,
you will be told at times: "Today we have people on board who can answer
your questions in French, English, Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin." French is
still the language for which it will be hardest to find someone. Whatever
the case may be, I am sure that a lot of colleagues have questions to ask
Senator Mockler: First, I would like to
congratulate you on your little book, but I see it is from English to
French. Do you have the equivalent, but from French to English?
Chantal Dugas, General Manager, Linguistic
Affairs, Air Canada: Yes.
Senator Mockler: Congratulations a second
time. I would like to have a copy from French to English, please.
Ms. Dugas: Yes, of course.
Senator Mockler: I would like us to talk
about Bill C-17. What do you think about that bill?
Louise-Helen Senecal, Assistant General
Counsel, Air Canada: We believe that Bill C-17 is unnecessary since,
first, it concerns two types of entities. First, we can deal with Ace
Aviation, which was our main parent company at the time. Now that company
holds only a minority interest in Air Canada. I believe it holds less than a
20 per cent interest in Air Canada. It is not a company that provides air
services; it is a holding company under the provisions pertaining to Ace
With regard to the companies offering services
for Air Canada which are contemplated in the first part of the bill, we also
believe that is unnecessary. The Official Languages Act already contains, in
section 25 in particular, provisions requiring Air Canada to ensure that
companies that provide service on its behalf do so as though Air Canada were
providing the service. That is to say that, if there is significant demand
for Air Canada, there must be significant demand for that company. In our
contractual agreements with that company, we have included obligations to
meet our service standards, which include, among other things, service in
the official languages.
Consequently, we find it hard to understand why
this provision of the bill is necessary since the Jazz company provides on
our behalf the service we are required to provide under section 25. It is a
bit like wearing both suspenders and a belt.
Senator Mockler: I like your answer on
Bill C-17. We often hear it said — and I am going to talk about western
Canada and the Atlantic region — that you have difficulty recruiting
bilingual people. Could you state the comments that we hear on that subject
from time to time?
Susan Welscheid, Senior Vice-President,
Customer Service, Air Canada: I will answer your question since I am
responsible for hiring for airports, in-flight service and reservation
We are doing everything in our power to find
bilingual employees. We recruit across the country. The growth base is in
Toronto. People must therefore live in Toronto in order to work for Air
Canada. All growth comes from Toronto.
We recently hired nearly 800 flight attendants,
and all of them live in Toronto because that is where Air Canada’s growth
is; that is where the base is growing. We are having an enormous amount of
difficulty finding bilingual employees in the Toronto region. We often find
employees in Montreal who are prepared to move to Toronto or to commute
between Montreal and Toronto. We have enormous difficulty finding people who
speak English and French.
In western Canada, we find people who speak all
the Asian languages, but it is very difficult to find people who speak
English and French.
Senator Mockler: And in the Atlantic?
Ms. Welscheid: It is a little easier in the
Atlantic region. Once again, we have a base in Montreal for flight
attendants, in Toronto and Vancouver. For reservations, we have, in Atlantic
Canada, Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. I must admit that it is a major
challenge and we are doing everything we can to find bilingual people.
Unfortunately, there are very few. That, unfortunately, is the reality in
Senator Mockler: Do you ever hire
Ms. Welscheid: When we are really short of
Senator Mockler: Unilingual French?
Ms. Welscheid: Unilingual French? No, never
Senator Mockler: Never unilingual French?
Ms. Welscheid: No. Pardon me, I
misunderstood the question.
Senator Losier-Cool: To pursue
Senator Mockler’s question, has Air Canada ever considered a bilingualism
Ms. Welscheid: We have never considered a
Senator Tardif: I would like to continue on
the issue of bilingual staff recruitment. In the June 2008 report of the
Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, we recommended that Air
Canada work more with the official language minority communities to
facilitate the hiring of bilingual personnel. You say it is very difficult,
particularly in certain regions. I am from western Canada, more particularly
from Edmonton. If I understand correctly, it is very difficult to hire
bilingual staff in western Canada.
Have you contacted training institutions such
as the Campus Saint-Jean of the University of Alberta or Simon Fraser
University in Vancouver, which offer French-language training programs, the
Alliances françaises? They have the Access to Employment in French service
levels in the western provinces and in the Atlantic provinces. Have you
consulted those communities to see what the potential pool of bilingual
candidates would be?
Ms. Dugas: We have a number of contacts
depending on the region where we have to recruit. When we have to hire, we
contact those persons and describe to them the needs that have to be met.
Positions will then be posted on the Web or we will place advertisements in
the French-language newspapers in the region and on the campuses.
I can cite a few examples of recent hires. To
fill positions at Edmonton and Calgary airports, we contacted the Société
éducative de l’Alberta, the Association canadienne française de l’Alberta,
the Centre d’accueil et d’établissement d’Edmonton and the University of
Calgary. It is true that we are having a great deal of difficulty. However,
this year, we changed our approach slightly. We mentioned that we were
specifically doing seasonal hiring. However, when it came to finalizing the
hiring, we announced permanent positions for the first time and the results
are quite good. In Calgary, for example, our staff has increased from
10 per cent to 15 per cent in the space of only one month, and, in Edmonton,
we have gone from 6 per cent to 12 per cent. So this time this produced
results. So we are seeing a connection between permanent and seasonal
Senator Tardif: I consider the efforts you
are making in this area positive. I encourage you to continue your efforts
and to continue consulting the associations you cited. Colleges and
universities are places you should look to and where you should advertise. I
encourage you in that direction on behalf of my province of Alberta. I
believe there is a pool of candidates. You have to find a way to go and get
them. I do not know whether candidates are encouraged by the fact that
positions are part-time or permanent. It is so much easier to hire bilingual
people than to have them take language training.
You said in your presentation that your
candidates were very often graduates of French immersion programs who are
rusty because they have not had the opportunity to use French. However,
those skills come back quickly. My experience as a former educator has shown
me that French comes back quickly in adults who have been exposed to French
at a young age. Very few or perhaps a few language training sessions are
probably needed. Those people therefore form a good recruitment pool, not
only in western Canada, but in the Atlantic region as well.
The report of the Commissioner of Official
Languages states that it is important for you to consult the official
language minority communities more regarding Part VII of the Official
Languages Act. In your response to the commissioner, you said you did not
believe consultation was necessary. Is that still your position?
Ms. Senecal: We agree with regard to
recruitment, and we are still consulting the minority language organizations
everywhere about that. The recommendation comes from the judgment in
DesRochers v. Simcoe Corporation, in which it was determined that the
linguistic minorities had to be consulted to ensure that the programs were
designed to meet their individual needs by minority.
We do not offer à-la-carte services. We offer
passenger services which, under the Transportation Act, we have to offer in
the same, equal, non-discriminatory manner to all passengers everywhere. For
that reason, we cannot say we will provide a separate service for
francophones and another for anglophones. It is a service. We use the same
aircraft, the same schedule, the same customer loyalty programs. We told the
commissioner that consultation in this case would not have the effect he
desired and that, in our view, the judgment has no impact on the services we
provide because those services must, by law, be standard. They must be the
same, unlike in the case of CALDECH, the Simcoe Erie Corporation, in which
the Supreme Court held that there should be individualized community
development services. We do not offer consultation services. It is more a
product than a service.
Senator Tardif: Yes, but in accordance with
obligations under the Official Languages Act, those court decisions go back
to the fact that service quality must be equal. And that is why Air Canada
is criticized. A traveller’s experience in French is often not the same as
what one may experience in English. Consequently, with regard to Part IV of
the Official Languages Act, no services of equal quality are being offered
in both official languages in the country. Consequently, consultation could
help because you could gain a clearer idea of the communication needs of
those minority communities.
Ms. Senecal: We will take note of your
interpretation, and we had considered that there was no correlation between
consultation with the communities regarding quality of service and our
obligations under Part IV of the Official Languages Act.
We are very much aware that we have a problem,
that we are not perfect and that we still have a lot of work to do to
provide equal service under Part IV of the Official Languages Act. However,
the obligation to consult in order to cater and adjust the service to the
community would be contrary to our other obligations under other acts that
govern us. That is the point that we had raised, but we are still consulting
the communities. We recently met with the Prince Edward Island association
and we are still doing that regularly.
Senator Tardif: Those consultations could
help you achieve your objectives. They should not be seen as a burden, but
rather as something that can help you more effectively discharge your
obligations under Part IV and Part VII of the Official Languages Act. I
would say that the word "consultation" definitely does not mean "cater". We
do not want to favour one group over another. The idea is simply to consult
in order to provide service of equal quality.
The Deputy Chair: Earlier Ms. Senecal spoke
very negatively about Bill C-17. The commissioner emphasized in his audit
that he really had a problem with the fact that he could not investigate the
complaints he was receiving concerning Jazz. Bill C-17 includes provisions
regarding that to enable the commissioner to investigate when he receives
complaints. So that is one thing that is very positive.
Senator Poirier: You are facing challenges
in recruiting bilingual people in Canada. You said your biggest challenge
was in the Toronto region. Have you considered the possibility of having
positions that could be transferred elsewhere in Canada, as a number of
companies are doing with Internet technology and other means, where
bilingual manpower is more available? I know that a number of countries, in
the hotel sector, for example, employ people who work from their homes, in
an office with a computer. In that way, they are able to offer a lot more
bilingual service. Is that something Air Canada is doing?
Ms. Welscheid: That is in our plans and we
are currently trialing it in Calgary. It is a plan that was introduced
two weeks ago. We have a customer relations centre. If you have any
complaints, and I am sure you have received some, most of our staff is at
home. We agree that, with the bilingual pool we have in Canada, particularly
for call centres, there are definitely opportunities for establishing
virtual centres, but we have to have the union’s consent to do that, and we
are currently conducting a trial in Calgary.
Senator Poirier: I encourage you to
continue because it easier for you to do that than to ask people to move to
the major centres.
Ms. Welscheid: But we have no choice with
regard to flight attendants; they absolutely have to be based there.
Senator Poirier: Earlier my colleague asked
you whether you had any bilingual employees. You have unilingual anglophones
employees, but you have no unilingual francophone employees.
Why could you not have unilingual francophone
employees based in francophone majority regions of Canada? If that is
accepted practice for anglophones, why would you not accept it on the
Ms. Welscheid: Air Canada is a Canadian
company that serves the world. It is important for us to be able to serve
our clients in both official languages, English and French first of all. I
believe that only having French would limit us in the service we could
Senator Poirier: Do you have any unilingual
Ms. Welscheid: Yes, we have unilingual
anglophone employees as a result of the merger that took place with Canadian
Airlines in 2000 in which many employees from that company were, and still
are, unilingual anglophone. We are doing our best to encourage them to learn
French. We also have special courses for those employees who were with
Canadian Airlines and who are unilingual anglophone.
Senator Poirier: If it is okay to have an
English person who is encouraged to speak French to serve Canada as a
bilingual person, which is your goal across Canada, then why can that not be
reversed when hiring a francophone who is willing to learn English to serve
Canada? Why is there a difference? I am having a hard time understanding.
Ms. Welscheid: As far as I am concerned,
the anglophone, or unilingual, as I would call them, are the exception at
Air Canada. They would never have been hired as Air Canada employees because
we were always federally regulated. These are people who came from Canadian
Airlines. Our goal is to serve our customers in both official languages.
Senator Poirier: As of today, no positions
are available if the person is not bilingual?
Ms. Welscheid: Correct.
Senator Poirier: On the ground and in the
Ms. Welscheid: Yes, on the ground and in
the air, public service positions must be bilingual. There are certain back
office, headquarters positions where some people might be unilingual, might
Senator Poirier: Would there be some back
office employees that are only francophone?
Ms. Welscheid: I think we might have some,
Senator Tardif: As I go through the airport
in Edmonton, and as the people are ushering me through security, according
to what you are saying, they are in public service. Would they be bilingual
now if they were to be hired?
Ms. Welscheid: Are you talking about the
people at security?
Senator Tardif: Air Canada, yes. The Air
Canada agents, as we are moving through at the counters, baggage and
check-in. Does everyone have to be bilingual at this point?
Ms. Welscheid: We do our best to hire
bilingual individuals, but we do have a number of unilingual employees,
which is why we have a lot of tools available to them to help them through.
Ms. Dugas: Going forward, we are trying, as
I mentioned, now that we have permanent positions to offer. As we have new
openings, our intention is to fill these positions only with bilingual
Senator Tardif: And yet you say only
17 per cent have French as their first official language?
Ms. Dugas: They are employees who have been
with us for a number of years, and so as we have to replace them, we will be
able to do so with bilingual people. That does not mean that we cannot offer
equal service depending on the way staff are allocated. The people who
allocate employees ensure there are bilingual people at various service
points. If someone is unavailable, procedures are in place so that employees
can get help in order to offer service.
Senator Tardif: One of our colleagues,
Senator Fortin-Duplessis, who is a member of the Official Languages
Committee, said that on an Air Canada Jazz flight, she was given the option
of either waiting for a representative who would answer her in French or
missing her flight.
By the time someone was found to help her in
French, the aircraft would have taken off because she only had 20 minutes
The Deputy Chair: Regardless of who we are,
from the moment we travel, we eventually encounter a bad experience
somewhere. I remember in late August, early September, I was returning to
Montreal from Regina, with a stop in Winnipeg. In Winnipeg, the stop lasted
nearly an hour and, as I did not have to transfer baggage, I went to the
gate and realized that I still had 40 minutes before departure. So I went to
do some window shopping in the airport. When I returned to the gate, there
was no one in the waiting room.
I looked at someone who was there and he said
something to me. Ultimately, I said: "I do not understand." It is not that I
did not understand what he was telling me, but I had not heard the
announcement that there had been a gate change. And he answered me in
Well, he said, "If you do not speak English,
that is your problem."
I swear I said nothing. My husband would not
have recognized me I was so calm, but it is a bit insulting to be told that.
It is not that I did not understand the language, but with all the noise, I
had not heard that there had been a gate change. In the end, I went to see
one of the screens and saw the change, and I answered:
I said, "But, sir, I can read."
And I left and I was able to make my
connection. I am sure the gate change in Winnipeg that day was not announced
in French. It was done in English only. An announcement is surely made in
French in Winnipeg for a flight to Montreal. That was quite an unpleasant
Ms. Welscheid: We have procedures in place
so that does not occur. So I apologize for what happened.
The Deputy Chair: It was my problem; I did
not hear well.
Ms. Welscheid: As a result of the work we
have done with the commissioner’s office, we are putting procedures in place
to ensure that does not happen again.
The Deputy Chair: Bravo!
Senator Poirier: Today there is always at
least one person on the aircraft or on the ground, in the airport, in flight
services who can respond to customers in both official languages, for anyone
in Canada who takes any Air Canada flight in Canada?
Ms. Welscheid: Normally, there should
always be someone who can respond in both languages.
Senator Poirier: Regardless of the flight
you take with Air Canada.
Ms. Welscheid: For Air Canada.
Senator Poirier: But the situation has not
yet reached that point for Jazz, an affiliated company of Air Canada?
The Deputy Chair: No, that is why we have
Senator Losier-Cool: Ms. Leblanc, you say
on page 2 of your presentation that Air Canada receives no financial
assistance, that it has its own funding to implement the linguistic plan.
Have you previously made a request to the
federal government for assistance in implementing the linguistic part of the
Official Languages Act?
Ms. Leblanc: I am going to ask Ms. Senecal,
who has been here as long as I have, to see whether we have submitted a
formal request. We have definitely done it informally a number of times, I
am sure of that, and we have never been encouraged to continue the
Ms. Senecal: That is correct. Requests and
discussions have taken place on a number of occasions, but there is no
mechanism for us as a private company to make a formal request for
subsidies. That is not part of the government program. We are not part of
the government, as a result of which we are somewhat separate. We are
moreover the only ones under the Official Languages Act that are completely
privatized and there are no mechanisms to help us, and we have indeed been
encouraged not to do that again.
Senator Losier-Cool: So we have to rely on
the good faith of Air Canada’s senior management, which, as each of you has
clearly said, is engaged in promoting an equitable service as far as
possible in both official languages.
Ms. Leblanc: It is the law, not just good
faith. These are legal obligations.
Senator Losier-Cool: To maintain the level
of resources, funding.
Ms. Senecal: Yes. Moreover, as we
emphasized, despite the economic storms we have experienced, the official
languages budget was not affected, whereas cuts were made everywhere else in
the company; so that is a sign of encouragement and acknowledgment of the
obligation we have not to affect it.
The Deputy Chair: We are encouraged to do
business with Air Canada via the Internet, but if a problem arises, it is
not always easy to speak to someone in French, or to write about the
problem; the person who reads it on the other end cannot read French. That
person answers us in English about something that has nothing to do with
what I was talking about. I also experienced that last spring.
Ms. Dugas: Once again, that is
unacceptable; that is not at all the standard.
The Deputy Chair: Don’t they like me, or
Ms. Dugas: For a written letter, normally
if you write in French, we should have responded in to you French. We have
different English and French lines at the call centre. I know there are long
waiting lines because we are short-staffed in both languages, but we are
about to hire some 100 persons in Montreal, just to meet the shortage. I
would like you to show me the letter because responding to you in English is
definitely not consistent with our standards.
Senator Losier-Cool: Are you hiring at Air
Canada? Do you need staff?
Ms. Dugas: Yes, now we are in Montreal and
we have no problems.
Senator Losier-Cool: Are you hiring pilots
Ms. Dugas: I am not sure about pilots, but
we are currently hiring at the call centre.
Senator Losier-Cool: I have a grandson who
is a pilot and would like to be a pilot with Air Canada.
The Deputy Chair: Honourable senators, are
there any other questions?
Senator Tardif: I would like to go back to
one point. We talked a lot about communication with the public and
recruitment, but there is also the entire language of work issue. And the
commissioner’s report this year tells us that nine out of 10 complaints
concerned language of work for 2010-2011. Why? What is Air Canada doing to
correct that situation?
Ms. Senecal: This year marked a step.
Following the restructuring of Air Canada — it was planned for 2004 and only
recently completed — Air Canada’s technical maintenance service activities
were transferred to a company by the name of AVEOS Fleet Performance Inc.
Those employees remained Air Canada employees
and were seconded to AVEOS until July of this year. And in July, they were
officially transferred from Air Canada to AVEOS. Many of them are no longer
Air Canada employees.
That incident generated an enormous number of
complaints filed by those employees, who objected to their transfer and have
instituted legal proceedings at other levels. It was in that context that
this number of complaints was filed. It is not indicative of a decline or
change in language of work at Air Canada. It was a reason and it was part of
a process. And it is unique to this year.
Senator Tardif: Is AVEOS still providing
services for Air Canada?
Ms. Senecal: They offer maintenance
services. These are not air services. They are mechanical maintenance
services, that is parts, components, engines and aircraft. And Air Canada is
indeed one of that company’s clients, but that company is not an Air Canada
subsidiary or an Ace subsidiary. It is a single, independent company.
Senator Losier-Cool: A bit like Aeroplan?
Ms. Senecal: Aeroplan, indeed.
Senator Tardif: They do not have the same
relationship with Air Canada as Jazz, for example?
Ms. Senecal: They have a contractual
relationship. The relationship that Air Canada has with Jazz is a
contractual relationship, but for different services. Jazz is no longer an
Air Canada subsidiary, but the services Jazz provides are provided on behalf
of Air Canada, as though Air Canada was providing them.
Furthermore, when you look at the name of a
flight, it consists of the letters AC followed by four figures. So that is
an Air Canada flight, but operated by Jazz.
Senator Tardif: What other third parties
operate on behalf of Air Canada?
Ms. Senecal: You have Air Georgian, which
operates Beechcraft aircraft and currently operates under the name Air
Alliance. You also have Exployed Valley Aviation, which provides services in
the Maritime provinces and near Labrador. You also have Sky Regional, which
operates flights between Montreal and Toronto Island.
Senator Tardif: It is as though Air Canada
was offering those services?
Ms. Senecal: In those cases, they are all
AC flights followed by four figures.
Senator Tardif: Are employees subject to
the regulations of the Official Languages Act?
Ms. Senecal: Not regarding language of
work. Bill C-17 will not change that. If you look at the proposals contained
in the bill, it is Parts IV, IX and X of the act that are concerned by the
proposed amendments, not Part V, which, if I am not mistaken, concerns
language of work.
However, where demand is strong, Air Georgian,
Exployed Valley Aviation and Sky Regional are required to offer service in
the official language of the passenger’s choice. Sky Regional has moreover
hired bilingual staff for the Montreal-Toronto route.
Senator Losier-Cool: And Air Georgian as
Ms. Senecal: Air Georgian has no flight
attendants. It is the pilots who make the announcement only.
Senator Tardif: Even though it is not
mandatory, is that a policy that you would like to promote among employees
who work for those companies?
Ms. Senecal: Jazz is a combination of a
number of companies such as Air BC, Air Ontario, Air Nova and Canadian
Regional. When they became full-fledged Air Canada subsidiaries, they
already had longstanding employees.
We cannot impose other management on those
employees. What we can require contractually, and that is what we are doing,
is that they offer our clientele services in compliance with our obligations
under Part IV and, in particular, section 25 of the Official Languages Act.
Senator Tardif: But if employees cannot
speak French amongst themselves, how can they maintain a high enough level
of proficiency to offer services in French?
Ms. Senecal: That is a challenge. We
encourage skill maintenance in our language teaching programs. You have
lunchtime conferences given in both languages.
Senator Tardif: It appears there is an
absence of any policies that would promote the opportunity for people to
work in the official language of their choice; that is far from adequate.
Ms. Senecal: However, with all due respect,
that is not the problem if the person is francophone. Francophones will not
lose their French because they cannot speak their language of choice. The
problem is a person who has a certain level of bilingualism, a more
precarious level, who does not have the opportunity to practise his French.
That person’s mother tongue is English. So his preferred language of work
will be English; it will not be French. The challenge we are facing is to
maintain the proficiency of bilingual persons.
Senator Tardif: But they nevertheless have
to offer services in French under Part IV of the Official Languages Act.
Ms. Senecal: Indeed, but the language of
work will change nothing. The purpose of the Official Languages Act is not
to impose a language on someone; its purpose is to enable that person to
work in his language of choice. Since the mother tongue of anglophones who
also speak French is English, they will also want their language of work to
Ms. Leblanc: I believe we should cancel the
contracts for some of those operators. I do not believe that would be
possible for some of them, such as EVAS Air and Air Georgian. If the act
required that to be the case, I believe the contracts should be cancelled.
That is my opinion. Perhaps I am wrong, but that would be a considerable
cost to them. They are not located in bilingual regions. Management is
unilingual anglophone in most cases. That would be an enormous challenge for
some of those companies.
Senator Tardif: I could continue, but I see
our time is up.
The Deputy Chair: Our time is coming to an
end. Mesdames, thank you very much for agreeing to come and speak with us
I will therefore bring this meeting to an end.
Colleagues, I would like you to stay and we will go in camera for
five minutes, no more.