Archived - Notes for a speech for the CEDEC Banquet and Awards Ceremony
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Grande-Entrée, September 13, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
It is a great pleasure to be with all of you this evening for the CEDEC Banquet and Awards Ceremony. I have had the privilege to meet some of you in the past, but this is the first time I am addressing your organization officially. I would like to thank you for inviting me to discuss linguistic duality and its importance for business people.
This is the first time that I have been to the Magdalen Islands as Commissioner—but it is not my first visit. I first came here almost 30 years ago, when the salt mine opened. When I mentioned this to people here in response to a question, some of them were surprised: in 1982, they hadn’t been born yet!
This is also not the first time I have seen John Buck. In fact, I think this is the fourth time I have seen him in the past month! Our most notable recent encounter was at a memorial event for David Rittenhouse, who was a friend and advisor to many people involved in CEDEC. A Shakespearean scholar and an actor, David made the transition to entrepreneur. In addition to founding Festival Lennoxville, he also helped establish the Dobson-Lagassé Entrepreneurship Centre.
David was a student and a scholar of risk. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that risk is a key part of CEDEC’s mission. For launching a business in a minority community—and keeping it running—means taking risks.
Such risks promise great rewards. As you say in your latest annual report, “Even if you just help one person, you’ve helped the whole community. It’s just like a ripple in a pond.” But I think you have been too modest. CEDEC helps a great many people.
So let me begin by congratulating you on all your hard work. CEDEC acts as a catalyst for positive change—through your partnerships, you help organize and motivate people to take ownership of their communities. CEDEC plays a crucial role in enhancing the vitality of Quebec's English-speaking communities.
As you may know, part of my mandate as Commissioner of Official Languages is to take all measures within my power to ensure the preservation and vitality of official language communities in Canada. I am therefore very interested in hearing about the tangible results of your many partnerships. I also believe that linguistic issues are economic issues, particularly here in the Magdalen Islands, where tourism and fisheries exports make up a large part of the economy.
Language lies at the very heart of business!
Whether it be sightseeing tours, menus in restaurants or service in local shops, you need to be able to address visitors in their own language. It’s a simple matter of being good hosts. It’s therefore highly desirable to have bilingual staff. Second-language learning and drawing on the language knowledge of the English-speaking community have real economic value.
To be successful in an increasingly competitive environment, businesses in Quebec need to be concerned not just with strategy, finances, marketing and human resources management, but also with language, because language skills are crucial to a company’s success and development.
In this regard, I should mention that the Québec City chamber of commerce, working with Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions and CEDEC Québec Chaudières-Appalaches,Footnote 1 has produced a guide to optimal language practices to help businesses identify their needs, improve their linguistic capabilities, and thereby increase their productivity and competitiveness. This valuable guide is available on‑line (at www.quebecmultilingue.ca/files/Guide_HR_en.pdf). It could be of real service to businesses here on the Islands as well as in other regions of Quebec.
At a time when Canada is confronting an economic and financial crisis that is affecting the entire planet, it’s important to emphasize that—contrary to what some may think—economic and linguistic issues are related.
To find out how language issues are becoming more important in industrialized countries, you need only look at the work done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Statistics Canada on the relationship between literacy and productivity, or the statistics which show that small and medium-sized businesses in Europe are losing 100 billion euros a year for lack of sufficient language skills.Footnote 2
A little closer to home, back in August, the city of Burlington, Vermont, recognized the relationship between language and the economy. The city council unanimously adopted a resolution to promote French in schools, in restaurants and on signage. The goal is to highlight the city’s French history and attract more Quebecers in order to stimulate the tourism industry. The relationship between language and economy is very clear here.
The Islands’ unique charm and heritage are what make them a “tourist product” that is sought after by both Canadians and foreigners. Also, your businesses will soon be welcoming even more tourists, and they will need resources to meet the demand. I recently learned that the Crystal Symphony cruise ship, which will travel between Montréal, Sept-Îles, the Magdalen Islands and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon beginning in September 2012, is at the top of the list of dream cruises in the prestigious European magazine Condé Nast Traveler, which has a circulation of 1.5 million.Footnote 3 Congratulations to Escale Îles de la Madeleine on its fine promotional efforts in this regard!
Official language communities require strong participation by their members to remain vital and vibrant. This can be difficult for communities that only make up a small percentage of the total population in their region, or for remote English-speaking communities like that of Entry Island. Having a place where everyone can meet up to learn, discover, exchange knowledge and share interests is a fabulous way for the community to remain vital.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of participating in the official opening of the new Grosse-Île Community Learning Centre, or CLC for short. The positive impacts of CLCs on students, families and the community are many: each of them benefits from the support of the other, thus making the school both a learning centre and also—pardon my maritime pun—an anchor point for the community. CEDEC is exactly that: the anchor point for the business community.
The success of CEDEC rests on the success of its partnerships. With the help of the Council for Anglophone Magdalen Islanders and the Municipality of Grosse-Île, the community of Grosse-Île has been thriving. Thanks to CEDEC, tourism organizations have benefited from French second-language training, ensuring they can serve French-speaking clientele from within the province as well as English-speaking tourists from beyond Quebec. CEDEC has also worked closely with the 120 or so residents of Entry Island to increase its tourism potential, with great success. Partnerships are key to achieving positive results and making progress in our communities, and I think CEDEC shows us how meaningful the expression “together, we are stronger” is for the English-speaking communities of the Magdalen Islands.
So from an economic point of view, it’s vital to create partnerships and to commit to promoting linguistic duality. Any delay or retreat in this regard could have a significant negative impact on the local economy and on the Canadian economy. And the main way to promote linguistic duality within the economy is through the labour force.
With the trend moving towards globalized, knowledge-based markets, linguistic duality is a key competitive advantage that can foster the country’s economic growth. With its two international official languages, Canada is a leader among societies with knowledge-based economies. As a result of this linguistic asset, Canadian businesses have enhanced access to markets and partnerships worldwide.
The language skills of Canada’s workforce, and in particular the skills of young workers, are a key asset for the economy. They make it possible for Canadians to establish solid economic relationships with international partners. That is why it is important to foster among our young people not just entrepreneurial skills but also linguistic duality: the strength of the economy depends on it.
The attitudes of Quebecers toward learning their second official language have never been as positive as they are now. According to a survey by La Presse‑Angus Reid in February 2011, the great majority of Quebecers (84%)—Francophones as well as Anglophones of all ages—think it’s important to speak both official languages fluently.Footnote 4
Community economic development helps people take charge of their own social, cultural and economic development. CEDEC partners are there to help them achieve their business goals. CEDEC makes communities stronger by having individuals join forces—what people can’t do on their own, communities can. And the English-speaking communities of the Magdalen Islands have certainly proven that they can mobilize to ensure their vitality.
In conclusion, I would like to congratulate the winners of the CEDEC Volunteer Award and the winner of the CEDEC Builder Award, and thank all CEDEC partners for enhancing the vitality of Quebec's English-speaking communities.
- Footnote 1
- Footnote 2
National Centre for Languages, ELAN: Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise, London, 2006, p. 5.
- Footnote 3
- Footnote 4