We have joined our voices to spark an open, honest and respectful dialogue on the place of bilingualism and linguistic duality in Canada. A recent series of events in our provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba reflects a worrisome trend for the future of French and our official language communities.
The place of bilingualism, linguistic duality and official language minority communities is being challenged once again — this raises serious questions about the health of our democracy.
In its economic statement of November 15, the Ontario government announced that it is eliminating the position of French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario and withdrawing funding for a French-language university in the province.
Far from being an unnecessary expense, Ontario’s Office of the French Language Services Commissioner plays a crucial role in advancing key issues such as access to French-language health services, justice and francophone immigration.
The Ontario commissioner has also co-signed insightful reports with Canada’s Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, and has developed expertise in the active offer of services in both official languages.
Withdrawing funding for a French-language university in Ontario also marks a significant setback for Canada’s francophone communities and the country as a whole. This initiative would have invested in Ontario's economic development by creating jobs and training highly skilled bilingual workers.
It also would have responded to the pressing needs of francophones in the Toronto area, where only 27% of students pursue post-secondary studies in French given the limited number of university programs in that language. When the legislation creating this university was passed in December 2017, francophones across Canada rejoiced.
Language rights are being eroded in other parts of the country as well. For example, since the recent election in New Brunswick, the economy has been used to justify the possible elimination of key institutions that promote bilingualism and linguistic duality, including the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick.
In Manitoba, the position of assistant deputy minister of the Department of Education and Training was eliminated for economic reasons as well, weakening francophones' access to education in their language.
Language rights in Canada are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Equality of the two official languages is provided for in federal legislation and in several provincial laws. Linguistic duality and bilingualism are the very foundations of our country and together we have made them an intrinsic part of our common history.
The Government of Canada is committed to modernizing the Official Languages Act and will be responsible for its implementation and promotion in all provinces and territories.
We join the 84% of Canadians who supported bilingualism and the official languages in the 2016 survey sponsored by Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages. Canada’s bilingualism, linguistic duality and official language communities are valuable assets for our country.
We invite all of you to participate in this dialogue and to embrace with strength and conviction these fundamental values that shape our collective future.
Senator Josée Forest-Niesing represents Ontario.
This article was published November 22, 2018 on the Francopresse website (in French only).