Archived - Notes for an address at the release of the vitality indicators study for the Francophone community in Calgary and for InterAction Day
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Edmonton, October 15, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
I am very happy to be with you today as part of the 12th edition of InterAction. I would like to present to you the results of an initiative that my office has worked on in very close cooperation with the Francophone community in Alberta and, particularly, the one in Calgary, to get you thinking about Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
This is the third series of studies of this type on vitality indicators in official language communities. Each of these studies is unique and adapted to the specific situation of the region studied. Each study has also been carried out in collaboration with the communities.
These vitality indicator studies were born out of two trends that have developed in recent years.
On the one hand, federal institutions have informed me that they need the tools to help them enhance the vitality and support the development of official language communities and to promote linguistic duality. They know that they have this obligation under the Official Languages Act, which was strengthened in 2005, but they do not always have the necessary information and know-how needed to have a positive influence on the vitality of the communities and to measure their success in doing so.
On the other hand, English-speaking 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 new momentum, but traditional development models have to be re‑evaluated. The Francophone community in Calgary is representative of this progress.
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 logical 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. In the case of Calgary, Francophone leaders wanted to start this work as soon as possible. That is why the Francophone community in Calgary had already received the study last April during a working day organized by the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta and the Cercle de collaboration in Calgary. Representatives from Heritage Canada and the Francophone Secretariat of the Government of Alberta were in attendance. During that day, the results of an important study by professors Yvonne Hébert and Richard Wanner of the University of Calgary were also presented. This study, which deals with the redefinition of urban Francophonie in Calgary, and the study conducted by my office, both supported the work and the thinking of the Cercle de collaboration.
There were follow-up meetings of community representatives and the provincial government. The study is already useful to the community.
The picture that emerged from our study shows a community that is trying to meet the challenges of growth. Services are available to support the integration of newcomers to this urban Francophonie. French-language employment opportunities exist, and community infrastructures and programs are in place for any Francophone seeking training or entertainment in French. The Francophone community in Calgary has all the elements of a thriving community.
While the community is dynamic, some challenges remain. They relate to: the distribution of Francophones over a large geographical area; a lack of human, material and financial resources; a lack of viable gathering places; and little political recognition. Incidentally, the community has identified four priority sectors of activity in which it will concentrate its efforts: community governance, the community’s diversity and visibility, communications and government services.
This last item has been especially important since the revision of the Official Languages Act. Indeed, the Act was amended in 2005 at the initiative of a great parliamentarian, the late Franco-Ontarian senator Jean-Robert Gauthier. Under the amended Part VII, federal institutions now have greater obligations and must take positive measures to implement the government’s commitment to promoting linguistic duality, and the development and vitality of official language communities.
People working within the communities and government institutions must ensure that the actions undertaken lead to positive results for the community as a whole. The community must have the support of both the provincial and federal governments. The levels of government and, particularly, federal institutions, must be receptive to the priorities set by the communities to meet their needs and thus assist in their development. It is in that spirit that my office made its contribution by developing this study.
Everyone must contribute, both in work and in development of new approaches. In particular, federal institutions must demonstrate innovation in implementing the revised Part VII of the Act.
Implementing Part VII is not only a matter of obligations, but also one of values. Fully implementing Part VII depends on the willingness to act.
In light of their obligations, federal institutions cannot claim that they have no role to play in the development of communities or the strengthening of linguistic duality. If they do nothing, citizens who feel that their rights have been infringed can go to court, something that was not possible before 2005 under this part of the Act.
It must not be forgotten that the objective of Part VII is the true equality of official language communities. This can sometimes result in being treated differently from the majority. Government action must be adapted to needs. So, how does this translate into concrete, positive measures in the field?
My office has deliberately suggested a broad and open definition of positive measures. This has the advantage of allowing for innovation and creativity.
In my 2006-2007 annual report, I identified three leading principles for guiding the implementation of positive measures: a proactive and systematic approach, and targeted treatment (the Part VII reflex); active participation of Canadians; and a continuous process for improving the programs and policies related to Part VII. These principles are still applicable.
Each federal institution, whatever its field of activities, can, and must take action. However, it is these federal institutions, together with the full collaboration of the communities that must translate these positive measures into action. In other words, it is the effective collaboration between public servants and stakeholders that specifies and gives shape to positive measures. That is why the work that you are conducting within the framework of a day like this is useful and valuable; it allows for the identification and planning of courses of action.
However, the work should not stop there. It is all well and good to do the preparatory work and the thinking, but the good ideas and the courses of action must then be implemented. We strive for concrete results for official language communities. Ultimately, it is important that there be a positive and tangible outcome for the community and its vitality. To do so, federal institutions must take concrete steps in the field and listen to official language communities and to their needs. That is how studies such as this one, on the vitality of the Francophone community in Calgary, become meaningful.
As I mentioned earlier, this kind of study allows federal institutions to be better acquainted with the needs and challenges of official language communities. They allow federal institutions to make informed decisions based on reliable data that take into account the concrete and very real needs of the communities. They also allow federal institutions to take action and implement programs that are adapted to the needs of the communities and will have positive effects on them.
Although the revised Part VII provides for innovation and new ideas, a clear commitment and accountability of federal institutions and their senior management is a key ingredient for success. Canadian Heritage has the responsibility for coordination under Part VII, but all federal institutions must take action in terms of positive measures.
Moreover, it is important that Part IV of the Act—which deals with services to the public—is not confused with Part VII – which touches on the development of official language communities and the promotion of linguistic duality. Of course, these two parts of the Act interact and are linked, but a federal institution meeting its obligations in terms of service to the public cannot say that it has also met its obligations under Part VII. We must go beyond obligations related to services, which should always be fulfilled, every day of the year.
Even if the work sometimes seems burdensome, the community must persevere and continue its efforts in dealing with the federal and provincial governments. And I say to those of you who work in federal institutions that you, also, must persevere. You must continue to encourage, and even strengthen, the commitment and leadership towards the implementation of the Act and of Part VII within your institutions. The fact that Part VII provides opportunities for innovation and implementing programs and initiatives that will meet the needs of official language communities should be promoted. By amending the Act five years ago, parliamentarians sent an important message to official language communities, to federal institutions and to Canadian society as a whole.
Federal institutions will contribute to shaping what implementing Part VII means to them by taking advantage of the opportunities that come their way. Without this happening, in my opinion, we risk having another appointment with the courts. If federal institutions do not take advantage of the opportunities available, it will then be up to the courts to define the obligations provided for in this part of the Act.
In closing, the late senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, the author of the new Part VII, always answered the question, “What is a positive measure?” by saying, “It is not a negative measure!” That gives you an idea of the work that needs to be done in many cases. If each federal institution in Calgary were to take into consideration the existence of the Francophone community in the region when developing a new program or planning actions in the field, it would already be a step up from the status quo and better than a step backward.