Archived - Notes for an address to CÉGEP Champlain – St-Lawrence students
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Québec City, February 12, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
It is always a pleasure for me to come back to Québec City. I would like to take the opportunity to thank your director, Jean Robert, for inviting me to discuss linguistic duality with you.
First, let me tell you a little about myself.
I lived in Quebec for a decade—three years in Montréal and seven years here in Québec City—and I’ve spent weekends and holidays in the province. Quebec's English-speaking community is the minority-language community that I know best; it was here that my interest in language developed and deepened.
I discovered Canada's linguistic reality when I was just a little younger than you. During my last year at high school, a friend invited me to a Gilles Vigneault concert at the University of Toronto. That concert turned out to be a major discovery for me and, ever since, my desire to learn more about French in Canada has never flagged.
A year after that concert, I got a summer job on an archaeology dig at Fort Lennox, on the Richelieu River, near Montréal. It was a real shock. There I was in my own country, but it was completely unfamiliar. I didn’t understand what the other students were saying. So I listened closely and I asked a lot of questions. In addition to learning French, I developed a strong interest in Quebec and a passion for it that has never left me.
It was precisely that curiosity and thirst for knowledge that triggered my career as a journalist working in both official languages. I worked as a journalist for a long time—in Toronto, Montréal, Québec City, Washington and Ottawa. Linguistic duality has always fascinated me, and seven years ago, I decided to leave journalism to apply for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages.
The Official Languages Act, which has been in effect since 1969, established the position of Commissioner of Official Languages and defined my responsibilities. My mandate is to ensure that the status of each of Canada’s official languages is respected, and that federal institutions comply with the Act.
I am an officer of Parliament—therefore, I report not to a minister but to the two houses of Parliament.
I also act as a language ombudsman. My office receives about a thousand complaints every year, most from people who failed to obtain services in the official language of their choice. We also look at complaints about failures to support the vitality of the official language communities. I investigate these complaints and recommend corrective action, if any is appropriate.
As Commissioner, I promote linguistic duality within the federal administration and also within Canadian society. This is an aspect of my work that’s very important to me, and it is why I am with you today.
But where does the concept of linguistic duality in Canada come from, and what does it actually mean? We are only now realizing the extent to which the language policy established in Canada 40 years ago has helped the country tackle the challenges of the 21st century.
You could say that our current language policy was shaped by the recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, whose 50th anniversary we are celebrating this year.
Let me give you a little background.
Having realized that Francophones were not occupying their rightful place in the federal government, Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968, established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963.
The B and B Commission recommended that English and French be formally declared the official languages of the Parliament of Canada, as well as the federal administration and federal courts. The objective was to give Canadians the possibility of communicating with their government in English or French, to offer them equal opportunities to access positions in the federal administration, to enable them to work in the official language of their choice and to strengthen the vitality of official language communities.
The B and B Commission’s vision of linguistic duality was based on the notion of the two founding peoples and on their being given equal status across the country.
While the B and B Commission was doing its work, Quebec society went through a profound transformation. A powerful, nationalist movement helped put a provincial government in power that fought for greater autonomy within Canada. The French language and French-speakers were claiming their rightful place in the province.
In the wake of the B and B Commission’s recommendations, and thanks to the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Parliament of Canada adopted the first Official Languages Act in July 1969, giving English and French the status of official languages of Canada. The Act called for the establishment of the position of Commissioner, whose role was defined by the B and B Commission as “the protector of the Canadian public and the critic of the federal government in matters respecting the official languages.” I am the sixth person to occupy this post.
Canada had a substantial number of bilingual citizens when the members of the Commission wrote their report. In 1961, more than 2.2 million Canadians, or 12% of the population, stated that they could speak both official languages. Today, according to the 2011 census, the figure has increased to 5.8 million, or 17.4% of the population.
However, at the time, the English and French mother-tongue communities were far from being equally bilingual. In 1961, Quebec’s Francophone majority and the Francophone communities outside Quebec accounted for 70% of the country’s bilingual population, even though they represented only 28% of the total population.
In light of these statistics, it is easy to conclude that, before the Official Languages Act came into force, the responsibility for bilingualism lay mainly with Francophones. Even in Quebec, the Francophone population often had to master English to be able to earn a living, communicate with storekeepers or deal with the federal government.
This situation has improved, and, over the years, linguistic duality has become a Canadian value. Today, the point of contact between English and French in Quebec is not the same. Fifty years ago, this point of contact was between the foreman and the manager. For the last 10 years, this point of contact has been coming back down the corporate ladder—not because bosses refuse to speak French, but because Quebec companies are growing: Jean Coutu now does business in the United States, and Rona and Desjardins now have locations in the Canadian provinces outside Quebec. So, employees and managers who haven’t needed to speak English for 20 years are now doing business with Boston, Toronto and Halifax. Knowing the other official language is becoming increasingly important—but for positive reasons.
These days, there are personal and professional advantages to knowing both of Canada’s official languages. Being bilingual helps you rise to many challenges.
The number of people who work in customer service, disseminate scientific information, produce analysis reports or have any other duties requiring proficient written or spoken language skills has considerably increased since the adoption of the Official Languages Act. In light of these phenomena, it has never been so important or so rewarding for Canadians to have a solid command of their first official language and to improve their knowledge of their second language. Don't forget that you are the ones who are building the future of Canadian linguistic duality, you have a key role to play in the future of Quebec, and the values you espouse today will affect the world of tomorrow. That is why Canada’s linguistic duality has to remain among those values.
You already know that being able to talk with others in both English and French gives you a big advantage; that is a given, because here at CÉGEP Champlain – St-Lawrence, French is the first language of 83% of the student body. The vast majority of you have chosen to study in your second language to give you more tools and to improve your chances of being admitted to the university of your choice or finding a stimulating and well-paying job. To do so, you need to practise your language skills in both official languages and build bridges between the two.
Social media are an excellent way of building bridges between linguistic communities. There are lots of youth networks, both in English and for official language communities outside Quebec. Reading articles on the Web and taking part in discussion forums are good ways to practise your second language and build relationships.
Since the time of the B and B Commission, the world has changed a great deal. Language barriers are increasingly open, and electronic communication is instantaneous. It’s hard to keep up, and understanding one language is no longer enough to deal with all the information coming at us from the four corners of the globe.
You know, there are many official language minority communities outside Quebec. There are Francophones in New Brunswick, in Ontario, in Manitoba and in Alberta. Canada has thousands of young people like you who treasure linguistic duality, want to keep it alive and want nothing more than to establish ties with other young people from such communities.
You will be happy to know that English-speaking Quebecers are “in” in 2013, according to a recent article published in the Huffington Post last month. The huge popularity of English-speaking chefs such as David MacMillan, Derek Dammann and Marc Cohen, and performers such as Adam and Leonard Cohen, the McGarrigle family, Arcade Fire and Sugar Sammy—I’m sure you know others as well—are helping make Anglophones from Quebec “cool.”
The value placed on knowledge of both official languages continues to grow. Outside Quebec, French immersion programs are very popular, and here in Quebec, a strong majority of the population, especially young people, agree that bilingualism is very important. To benefit fully from bilingualism, it needs to be a priority in your life. By choosing to study here at CÉGEP Champlain – St-Lawrence, an English-language institution in a French-speaking area, you have already shown your interest in living in both official languages. I encourage you to continue doing so.
Your generation is facing major challenges, but at the same time, thanks to information technology and social media, you have tools your parents did not have. Today, physical distance is nothing more than a practical matter. New technologies are opening up all kinds of doors for you. You can explore both French and English culture.
Knowing more than one language not only opens up a wide range of possibilities in terms of education and career prospects; it also lets you extend the influence of your culture as you go out into the wider world. Quebec culture exists in French and English. I encourage you to discover what is being done in both official languages, here in Québec City, throughout the province and across Canada! Establish ties with the local English-speaking community because you can’t separate a language from its culture.
If you haven’t seen the video, I encourage you to listen to the song, “Notre home” by David Hodges by going to Notre Home website. This Quebec hip-hop artist wrote a song to “become a rallying point for youth of all origins because of its unifying message while diminishing the gap between the various cultural and linguistic groups in Quebec.” David Hodges will soon be going on a tour across the province to promote Quebec’s English-speaking community.
I encourage you to continue making room for the two official languages in your university studies. The more tools you have, the more competitive, the more skilled, and therefore the more desirable you will be in the eyes of future employers—or the more prepared you will be to start your own business. Knowing both official languages, and other languages as well, will give you an unparalleled advantage. Many Canadian universities, in all parts of the country, offer their students the opportunity to study in their second official language.
To help you find universities that offer courses in both official languages, my office created an online map of Canada that lists the various second-language programs offered in nationwide.
This tool, which is on our website, gives you access to a wealth of information, such as second-language programs or programs available in both languages, courses taught in the second language, the support available to students, networking opportunities and exchange programs where you can study in your second language. I hope the map will inspire you to continue your studies in both official languages.
More and more, we are seeing that, in Quebec, young people from both of our language communities want to distance themselves from the idea of the “two solitudes,” and want to be bilingual, everywhere and all the time. Young Quebecers are in favour of bilingualism and cooperation: you seem ready to break down language and sociocultural barriers that have characterized the relationship between Francophones and Anglophones for many years. I believe that the future of linguistic duality is in good hands with the new generation.
Thank you. Now, I would be pleased to answer your questions and hear about your experiences with linguistic duality.