Archived - Notes for an address at the release of the vitality indicators study for rural Francophone communities in Saskatchewan
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Regina, February 18, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
I am very happy to join you here today to present the results of an initiative that my office has worked on very closely with rural Francophone communities in Saskatchewan. It is the third in a series of studies on vitality indicators in official language minority communities. Each of these studies is unique, adapted to the specific situation of the region studied.
These vitality indicator studies are born of two trends that have developed in recent years.
On the one hand, federal institutions have informed me that they need tools to help them enhance the vitality and support the development of official language communities, as well as to promote linguistic duality. They know that they have this obligation under the Official Languages Act, but they still do not have the information and know-how that are necessary for having a positive influence on the vitality of the communities and for measuring their success in doing so.
On the other hand, Anglophone communities in Quebec and Francophone communities elsewhere in the country have duly noted the evolution of Canadian society and the progress made in recent decades. The lessons of the past have helped build a new momentum, but traditional development models have to be re-evaluated. The Fransaskois community is no exception. It is meeting the challenge with insight and energy.
The purpose of the vitality studies is therefore to help the communities and their partners. The goal of these studies is not to target communities in a better situation than others, but rather, to find concrete vitality indicators in specific areas of activity.
These vitality indicator studies have three objectives:
- Identify, within each community, keys to success and best practices related to vitality;
- Prepare logic models indicating, for each community, the activities and objectives related to certain sectors;
- Identify vitality indicators based on the priorities that the communities set for themselves.
This last point is very important, especially for the community studied in Saskatchewan. The Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise and the Institut français, in cooperation with several entrepreneurs in the region, have already undertaken an initiative to promote terroir products as part of their development strategy. This initiative has become an important part of our study.
The Projet du Terroir is more than an economic development strategy. By focusing on products and services already identified as belonging to the Fransaskois community, this project also strengthens cultural vitality and heritage. This approach is not exclusive to Saskatchewan, but it is particularly appropriate for rural communities with distinctive cultural traits. Through twinning with the Charlevoix region in Quebec and ties with France and Louisiana, this project can reach far beyond provincial borders. It would be beneficial for the provincial government to showcase this project internationally. The provincial government could also follow the example of Manitoba, where Francophone entrepreneurs have a strong presence in economic missions abroad. I believe that the French fact still has a lot to contribute to the development of the province, and our study supports this conclusion.
Community leaders and government institutions must ensure that individual actions lead to positive results for the entire community. The study proposes paths to explore and ways to measure the progress made. It also makes an excellent tool for dialogue between the Fransaskois community and its federal and provincial partners. I am sure that your efforts will produce more success stories. In a few years, when I visit rural Francophone communities elsewhere in the country, I will be able to say to them, “Go see what they’ve done in Saskatchewan!”
The Fransaskois community is relatively small in terms of numbers, but it is well-rooted in the Prairies and extremely vibrant. The community is also interested in sharing its heritage. This inclination is nothing new; Francophone communities across the country are generally very open to intercultural dialogue. In Saskatchewan in particular, we see the will of Francophones to reach out and invite their fellow citizens to benefit from the Francophone universe at their doorstep. The “marketing and persuasion” approach and, in particular, the Bonjour Saskatchewan campaign illustrate the type of relationships that Fransaskois entrepreneurs and leaders are looking to strengthen.
Relations that have been strained throughout history are resuming today on the basis of dialogue and shared heritage. This having been said, I would like to congratulate the Institut français for establishing the travelling roundtable for Francophone and Métis communities, now in its third edition. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some participants, who found the experience very positive.
The Fransaskois community has entered a new phase in its history. There is no shortage of positive signs. School enrolment has been on the rise for two years. The Rendez-vous fransaskois are a great success. Francofièvre has attracted nearly 2000 young people to celebrate life in French in Saskatchewan. The province’s Anglophone population has responded to these displays of vitality with interest and, often, curiosity.
Although the community is more urban than it used to be, traditional rural communities still have an important role to play. Of course, it’s about more than just believing. Our study has identified significant challenges: an aging population, education, migration towards major centres, and a dwindling number of small agricultural producers. Overcoming these obstacles will take hard work and innovation. This also means that the institutions mandated to support the communities have to demonstrate the same sense of innovation. Official language communities are undergoing transformation; organizations that assist their development will need to keep up. For communities to take charge of their own development means that they are the ones making decisions about the region’s social and economic development; however, the communities should not be left to fend for themselves. These rural communities must be able to benefit from the support of the entire Fransaskois community, as well as help from the provincial and federal governments. Governments, especially federal institutions, must remain open to the priorities established by the communities, in order to meet their needs and contribute to their development. It is in this spirit that my office has contributed this study.
These local initiatives benefit from the leadership of the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise and its community network. When I became Commissioner, I was told that the Fransaskois community had the only democratic governance structure of its kind in the country. It wasn’t until later that I had the opportunity to see how well this method mobilizes so many members of the community while fostering coordination, even in small local communities. The result is a dynamic leadership that is perfectly adapted to the reality of its community.
A lot of work has already been accomplished and new momentum has been given to the Fransaskois community. I am proud to add my office’s contribution to this effort.