THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON OFFICIAL LANGUAGES

EVIDENCE


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.

[Translation]

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 sincerest condolences.

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 Alberta.

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 their choice.

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 technology needs.

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 genuine impact.

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 very important.

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 English-language content.

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 anglophones.

These four areas of intervention are important. For further details, please consult the document. There is a lot to do in this regard.

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 mother tongue.

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 assimilation?

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 available.

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 aspire.

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 solicited them.

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 Canadian citizens.

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 possible.

Senator Mockler: Based on your experience, what is the bar?

Ms. Dubé: It is definitely not 5 megabits/second.

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 www.netflix.ca.

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 question.

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 on-line shopping?

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 out.

Mr. Roy: Obviously, then you shop in English.

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 paper versions.

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 analysis.

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 Germany?

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 dissertations.

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 have.

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 Affairs.

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 brought forward.

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 Languages Act.

[English]

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 delivery.

[Translation]

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 capacity.

[English]

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.

[Translation]

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.

[English]

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.

[Translation]

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.

[English]

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.

[Translation]

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.

[English]

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 hiring.

[Translation]

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 consistency.

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.

[English]

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.

[Translation]

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.

[English]

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.

[Translation]

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 questions.

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 you.

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 Aviation.

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 service.

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 Canada today.

Senator Mockler: Do you ever hire unilingual francophones?

Ms. Welscheid: When we are really short of employees...

Senator Mockler: Unilingual French?

Ms. Welscheid: Unilingual French? No, never unilingual French.

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 bonus?

Ms. Welscheid: We have never considered a bilingualism bonus.

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 positions.

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 francophone side?

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 provide.

Senator Poirier: Do you have any unilingual anglophone employees?

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.

[English]

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 air?

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 be anglophone.

Senator Poirier: Would there be some back office employees that are only francophone?

Ms. Welscheid: I think we might have some, yes, absolutely.

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 candidates.

[Translation]

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 before departure.

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 English.

[English]

Well, he said, "If you do not speak English, that is your problem."

[Translation]

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:

[English]

I said, "But, sir, I can read."

[Translation]

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 experience.

Ms. Welscheid: We have procedures in place so that does not occur. So I apologize for what happened.

[English]

The Deputy Chair: It was my problem; I did not hear well.

[Translation]

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 Bill C-17.

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 initiative.

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 what?

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 as well?

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 well?

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 be English.

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 today.

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.

(The committee continued in camera.)