Archived - Notes for an appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages about the English-speaking community of Quebec
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Ottawa, October 4, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, honourable senators and members of the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages.
I am accompanied today by Sylvain Giguère, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications, and Eva Ludvig, Commissioner’s Representative for the Quebec Region.
It is a pleasure to meet with you today as you study the English-speaking community of Quebec. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you on the challenges and opportunities that the English-speaking communities of Quebec face as you continue your hearings.
I can tell you that I share your interest in Quebec’s English-speaking communities. I lived in Quebec for ten years and learned first-hand about the vitality of its communities. Since becoming Commissioner, almost exactly four years ago, I have visited Quebec 29 times, and have met with representatives of the Committee for Anglophone Social Action in Gaspé, the Coasters in the Lower North Shore, the Voice of English-speaking Quebec in Québec City, the Townshippers Association in the Eastern Townships, the Regional Association of West Quebeckers—and the umbrella group, the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN). I have also met with representatives of all three universities—McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s.
I applaud the Committee’s initiative to carry out a specific study of Quebec’s English-speaking community. I also applaud the fact that public meetings were held in Québec City, Sherbrooke and Montréal. On this first tour of Quebec, the Committee got to hear first-hand some of the issues that are important to Quebec’s English-speaking community. It is one thing for me to speak about such issues based on my own visits throughout the province; it is quite another to hear directly from community representatives about their realities, as you have.
The English-speaking communities of Quebec – not a monolithic block
There are myths surrounding English-speaking communities in Quebec that still exist. In her presentation before you on September 13, 2010, Linda Leith spoke of “stubbornly persistent stereotypes that paint us as rich, white, pampered and coddled”. However, as a recent report from Statistics Canada found, things have changed. According to a recent article in The Montreal Gazette, “Quebec Anglophones earn less than Francophones with the same credentials, have higher rates of poverty and hold far fewer public sector jobs, says a Statistics Canada report on the province's official language minority. The 122-page report paints a comprehensive portrait of the nearly one million Quebecers—13.4% of the population—for whom English is the first official language spoken (FOLS).”
As you learned in your hearings, the English language itself is not in danger. The challenge lies in ensuring the continuity and vitality of the English-speaking community in Quebec and its institutions. The English-speaking community and its leadership spoke to the Committee about their continued desire to contribute to Quebec's society while maintaining its own culture and identity.
Like Canadian society at large, the English-speaking community of Quebec has evolved and changed over time. It has adapted to a changing political and linguistic landscape, and to an evolving legal framework. And, like Canadian society as a whole, it is not homogeneous or one monolithic block. It is quite diverse both in its make-up and in its realities.
There are, however, significant differences among Quebec's English-speaking communities. The reality of English-speaking communities in Montréal is quite different than that of communities outside its metropolitan region. That was one factor we took into consideration when we conducted our studies on the vitality of three English-speaking communities—Québec City, the Eastern Townships and the Lower North Shore in 2008. Our intention with these studies was to shed light on the vitality of English-speaking communities outside the Montréal region, given their unique circumstances. As our studies indicated and as the Committee heard, there is often a sense of isolation, especially in remote communities.
Over time, there has been a dramatic transformation in outlook within these communities, and considerable emphasis placed on personal initiative and flexibility. A distinguishing feature of English-speaking communities is that their members tend to look to their families, to individuals and networks rather than the government for services, even when the government provides them.
Over the years, these changes have had an impact on the way communities organize and perceive themselves—there is a reluctance in many communities to claim services that are available to them and to identify themselves as “Anglophones.” As you also heard, communities feel like they are invisible. They believe that their needs are not well understood by government and decision-makers. The fact that the English-speaking community of Quebec does not feel that it is included nor that its contribution to Quebec and Canadian society recognized, contributes to this sense of invisibility.
A diverse community
The English-speaking community of Quebec has always been inclusive and open to integrating newcomers. Its diversity and changing face have been shaped by immigration and also by out-migration to other parts of Canada. You heard about the phenomenon of the “missing middle”—the generation that left Quebec in the 1970s and 1980s and its impact on English-speaking communities. You also heard about the impact the arrival of many newcomers had. In fact, 20% of English-speaking Quebecers are now visible minorities. This diversity helps English-speaking communities share their rich history while looking to the future and building bridges within Quebec and across Canada.
While the community’s diversity is seen as an asset, especially by youth, these demographic and social changes have an impact on the community’s renewal. They also have an impact on the renewal of its institutions, especially in the context of an aging population.
Community renewal and availability of services
As our vitality studies showed, many factors lead youth to leave these regions in pursuit of better opportunities: lack of employment or development opportunities, and limited access to services, resources and activities are only a few. English-speaking youth want to stay in Quebec and contribute to their communities—they want to move away from past conflicts and the ”two solitudes.” They are also increasingly bilingual and highly educated—which is an advantage—but also a factor that can lead them to leave Quebec for better opportunities elsewhere. This may seem like a contradiction. However, this is a paradox that members of these communities are faced with.
But, as our studies pointed out, communities are mobilizing to stem the tide, by encouraging youth to get involved in their community and stay in the region. That said, there also has to be an economic incentive for youth—and the wider population—to stay in Quebec. Limited job opportunities, underemployment and unemployment—whether related to one’s level of education or to the economic reality of a particular region—are all factors that pose a challenge in retaining community members of all ages. This is but one example that speaks to the larger issue I mentioned in opening about the challenge of ensuring the continuation and vitality of English-speaking communities and their institutions.
You also heard about challenges the English-speaking community of Quebec has in accessing health and social services in their language, particularly in remote communities. Some of these issues came up in our vitality studies, too. The Community Health and Social Services Network (CHSSN), in collaboration with McGill University and with funding from the Roadmap for Linguistic Duality, has been doing much work in that regard. But challenges still remain in ensuring that communities’ needs are better understood by governments. As our studies found, the availability of services improves community members' quality of life as well as the community's vitality, and has an impact on whether people stay in or return to the region.
Another key challenge in ensuring communities’ vitality and renewal is the lack of cultural institutions and activities. Visibility and access to cultural institutions and networks are key factors that contribute to communities’ vitality. New and revitalized cultural organizations, such as the Morrin Centre in Québec City, play a central role in fostering a sense of identity, belonging and attachment within the English-speaking community. They also play an essential role in reaching out to the broader population. They can also be another incentive for community members to stay and get involved in their community organizations. Again, these examples are but a few that speak to the broader issue of the federal government’s role and how it supports and assists the English-speaking community of Quebec in its development.
It is my hope that the Committee’s work will help the federal government gain a better understanding of the English-speaking communities’ needs and priorities. Your committee's study is of vital importance to the English-speaking community of Quebec. My hope is that the federal government will see it as such and that it will take the committee’s findings seriously.
Equality is not one size fits all
While some of the English-speaking community’s challenges are sometimes similar to those faced by Francophone minority communities, the responses to them should not be the same. A “one size fits all” or “what works for Francophone minority communities works for the English-speaking community of Quebec” approach is not what we need. Government policies and programs should have the ability and the flexibility to respond to the English-speaking community’s specific needs and realities.
Key federal government initiatives, such as the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality, should keep in mind the specific challenges and needs of Quebec's English-speaking community because in many regards, they are different from those faced by Francophone minority communities. The English-speaking community has its own set of political, social, economic and cultural circumstances. It is my sense that there needs to be greater inter-departmental collaboration to respond to them effectively.
One must not forget that the English-speaking community of Quebec is an official language minority community—with the same constitutionally recognized linguistic rights as francophone minority communities. As such, the Quebec Community Groups Network represents at the national level one of Canada’s official language minority. In keeping with Part VII of the Official Languages Act, the federal government and its institutions have a responsibility to support and to assist the development of official language minority communities to enable these communities—including the English-speaking community of Quebec—to thrive. To do so, it must ensure it has an adequate understanding and knowledge of communities’ realities on the ground. As this committee highlighted in its report on Part VII of the Official Languages Act, the implementation of concrete actions that have a positive impact on official language minority communities still poses a challenge for many federal institutions.
My hope is, that studies such as the one this committee has undertaken, will help shed some light on the needs of English-speaking communities in Quebec. Your study helps open the door to such an understanding. I hope the federal government looks at it closely and that it will help it rethink and re-imagine its role towards the English-speaking community of Quebec.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.