Archived - Notes for an address at the Discussion Forum on the Perspectives of Canadians of Diverse Backgrounds on Linguistic Duality – Session for French-speaking Canadians of Diverse Backgrounds on Linguistic Duality
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Halifax, November 8, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Thank you for being here today at the Office of the Commission of Official Languages’ third forum on linguistic duality and cultural diversity. You were invited to participate in this forum because you represent the diversity of the immigrants who have settled in the Atlantic provinces and have decided to live here in French.
Many of you may have a mother tongue other than English or French; nevertheless, you all hear these two languages every day. You therefore have a special and sometimes complicated relationship with Canada’s two official languages and the communities that speak them.
At today’s meeting, you will be able to discuss your perceptions of Canada’s linguistic duality and tell each other about your experiences as new Canadians who have decided to live in French in Atlantic Canada.
First, though, let me tell you a bit about the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and why we are holding this forum. My office’s mandate is to promote the Official Languages Act, ensure its implementation within federal institutions, protect the language rights of Canadians and foster linguistic duality and bilingualism in Canada. As Commissioner, I am an agent of Parliament, which means that I am independent of the government.
Canada’s Official Languages Act, which is now over 40 years old, has three objectives:
- to ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada, and to ensure equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all federal institutions;
- to support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities; and
- to advance the equality of status and use of the English and French languages within Canadian society.
For a number of years now, my office has been working to gain a better understanding of the perceptions that Canadians of diverse origins have about linguistic duality. To achieve this, we organized forums on linguistic duality and cultural diversity, first in Toronto in 2007, and then in Vancouver in 2008. Through these forums, we met with members of various cultural communities and learned a great deal.
In this third forum, we are continuing our examination by inviting participants from all four Atlantic provinces to Halifax. We have also added this session, which focuses on your experiences in Atlantic Canada’s Francophone and Acadian communities, so that we can get a more in-depth look at the challenges as well as the opportunities involved in integrating into a linguistic minority community.
Speakers at previous forums helped us to better understand the links that exist between linguistic duality and cultural diversity. Today we are counting on you to help us deepen that understanding and enhance our analysis. Canadians of diverse origins have different interpretations of linguistic duality and cultural diversity, which enriches the social fabric of our country. Your perceptions influence the way we think about linguistic duality and how it fits into the daily lives of Canadians. And although linguistic duality and cultural diversity may change as Canadian society changes, they will continue to be important values and symbols of Canada. They are central to our identity as Canadians and to the way we are seen throughout the world.
What you say today will also provide guidance for the recommendations my office makes to the federal government with regard to fostering the vitality of linguistic minority communities.
Official language minority communities generally consist of Francophones living outside Quebec and Anglophones living in Quebec. The percentage of the population for whom French is the first official language varies a great deal from province to province. In New Brunswick, French is the first official language of 32.7% of the population. Outside of Quebec, New Brunswick has the greatest proportion of Francophones. Newfoundland and Labrador, with 0.4%, Nova Scotia, with 3.6%, and Prince Edward Island, with 3.8%, are just under the Canadian average with respect to the proportion of residents who are French-speaking. But apart from the numbers, Atlantic Canada’s French-speaking communities consist mainly of men and women who are engaged, who are proud of their heritage and who are looking to the future.
Immigration is an increasingly important driver of demographic growth in Canada. It is also a key factor in our economic, social and cultural vitality. Few newcomers, however, decide to settle in French-speaking communities outside Quebec. In the past, immigration to Canada meant the arrival of English-speakers, and this contributed to the decline of the French-speaking proportion of the population. Since the early 2000s, people have been mobilizing to deal with this issue, and these efforts must continue. Unfortunately, the Atlantic region is not always seen as a desirable destination by French-speaking newcomers. And so part of the work that needs to be done includes making communities aware of the potential benefits immigration, and enhancing their ability to welcome and integrate newcomers, so that the French-speaking communities of Atlantic Canada become places where people can live and thrive in French.
Research shows that French-speaking newcomers would be warmly welcomed anywhere in Atlantic Canada. However, they would soon find themselves confronted with a lack of services in French or, at the very least, a lack of information about these kinds of services. And this would result in a lack of knowledge about French-language schools and other institutions, which in turn would make it difficult for newcomers to establish French social networks and integrate easily into the Francophone community.
Added to these challenges are those faced by most newcomers to Canada, namely the challenges of economic, social and cultural integration. Yet despite these problems, a growing number of French-speaking immigrants are settling outside of Quebec. By becoming members of minority communities, they—or rather, you—are contributing to the growth of Canadian linguistic duality and, at the same time, you are transforming the “traditional” Francophone and Acadian landscape.
You represent the promise of demographic, linguistic, economic and cultural vitality for French-speaking communities. You are the new face of linguistic duality and of French-speaking Canada.
Some people claim that linguistic duality and cultural diversity are opposites. I firmly believe that they are complementary and that they strengthen each other. They are the reflection of the changes that are happening in Canadian society as well as the driving force behind them.
Today, you will have an opportunity to think about the linguistic space that you live in and that you are a part of. I encourage you to share your experiences and perceptions in your own Francophone or Acadian community, and to discuss your role in relation to Canada’s linguistic duality. Feel free to make suggestions and develop action plans. Your point of view counts, and I would like to thank you in advance for sharing it with us.
Thank you for your attention, and enjoy the forum!