Notes for an address at the panel on Francophone immigration

Winnipeg, Manitoba, August 14, 2017
Ghislaine Saikaley - Interim Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Beginning of dialog

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

First, I would like to thank you for inviting me to this panel on Francophone immigration to Canada. It is an important topic, particularly in the field of education, because of the crucial role schools play in helping immigrants to integrate into the community.

I was asked to make this speech in French only, but I will be happy to answer your questions in the official language of your choice.

With its St. Boniface neighbourhood, Winnipeg is a bastion of Canada’s French-speaking communities and a haven for Francophone immigrants. That is why it is such an excellent location to discuss the issue of Francophone immigration.

To answer the question about whether reaching the national target for French-speaking immigrants is realistic or idealistic, I will start by saying that this target can realistically be achieved if our governments work together and take concrete action to correct the imbalance in Francophone immigration.

Immigration is a key factor in Canada’s population growth, as evidenced by the 2016 Census data released by Statistics Canada on August 2, 2017. This is doubly true for Francophone communities.

The trend is unlikely to change in the years to come. The United Nations’ population estimates showed that there will be over 700 million Francophones in the world by 2050, and that 85% of this population will come from Africa. The question is how many of those Francophones will Canada welcome in the coming years?

If the current rate of Francophones continues, I would say not very many or, in any case, not nearly enough. The recent changes that have been made to welcome more French-speaking immigrants should begin to show results, but other changes will also need to be made. I will get back to this in a few minutes.

Manitoba relies on immigrants from Africa to help mitigate the effects of the decline in its French-speaking population. You know, preparing for this discussion brought to mind a French-speaking African immigrant whom Canada welcomed with open arms: comedian and storyteller Boucar Diouf.

In his inimitable style, he once quoted his grandfather as saying that integrating into a new culture is like reading a book over and over.

The first reading is usually to become familiar with the characters. When you read it the second time, you’re more interested in the story. But the third time, you’re reading with passion, and that’s because the story has become yours, too, and the characters are members of your own family.

Of course, we all want more Boucar Dioufs to make Canada their home, whether we live in Edmonton, Windsor, Moncton or St. Boniface. This diversity strengthens our communities and our country, which is why it is closely linked to the efforts made by our governments, our cities, our communities and our schools to facilitate the immigration process.

Since 2003, federal targets for immigration to French-speaking communities have sought to achieve a Francophone immigration rate equivalent to the demographic weight of Francophones in official language minority communities.

The current target is an increase of 4% in the immigration rate of French-speaking economic immigrants by 2018. The current rate is 1.4%. And so we still have a long way to go, but we are on the right track.

First, immigration must help maintain or even increase the demographic weight of Francophone minority communities in Canada.

Second, federal, provincial and territorial immigration policies and programs must be designed and tailored to address Francophone immigrant recruitment, integration and retention needs specific to the different situations of Francophone minority communities across Canada.

Third, strong federal-provincial-territorial-community partnerships and long-term strategies are needed to ensure that immigration supports the development and vitality of Francophone minority communities.

Fourth, governments must develop an evaluation and accountability framework to measure progress and ensure that immigration targets are met in Francophone minority communities.

In recent years, the federal government has made good and bad decisions about Francophone immigration. Let’s start with the bad news.

In September 2014, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, now known as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, eliminated the Francophone Significant Benefit program. My office immediately received complaints that this decision would undermine the ability of Francophone minority communities to attract immigrants who would be likely to settle permanently in these communities. The investigation concluded that the complaints were founded.

The Department’s decision to eliminate the program was surprising, to say the least, given that it had established its Official Languages Secretariat in January 2014 in response to a recommendation made in one of our previous investigation report.

After investigating the elimination of the Francophone Significant Benefit program, my predecessor made four recommendations, all of which were implemented by the Department. A procedure was developed to ensure that consultations are held with official language minority communities to determine the potential impact of any decisions the Department intends to make. This procedure allows for the creation of appropriate tools and measures to increase Francophone immigration outside Quebec.

My point is that sometimes you need complaints to get things moving and produced results.

  • services and support provided to French-speaking immigrants by Francophone minority communities;
  • information and resources available to French-speaking newcomers;
  • federal-provincial-territorial cooperation in developing a concrete action plan, including targets and a timetable, for Francophone immigration; and
  • incentives for employers to recruit and select Francophone and bilingual workers.

Since then, we have seen some promising initiatives that align with these recommendations, including the International Mobility Program. This program was created by the federal government in June 2016 to streamline the process of hiring foreign Francophone workers outside Quebec by modifying the Express Entry system to facilitate the selection of Francophone applicants.

The Express Entry system was established in January 2015 as part of the reform of Canada’s immigration system and has attracted the most attention in terms of Francophone immigration to minority communities.

Briefly, it is a system for managing immigration applications for economic programs that ranks applicants according to various criteria, including language skills.

The objectives of this program are aligned with my office’s priorities, one of which prioritizes the achievement of targets related to immigration in the official language of the linguistic minority throughout the country.

From January 1, 2015, to May 29, 2016, 2.4% of applicants who received an invitation to apply submitted the results of their aptitude test in French as a first language. In September 2016, this figure had risen to 4.1%.

I would also like to highlight some provincial and territorial initiatives.

Starting right here in Manitoba, the provincial government recently passed the Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act, which features a more inclusive definition of Manitoba’s Francophone community and provides a more accurate picture of the community.

Another example of inter-governmental cooperation that must be encouraged is the first-ever federal-provincial-territorial forum on Francophone immigration, which was held in Moncton in March 2017.

At the end of the forum, the attending ministers agreed to work together to increase promotional efforts targeting French-speaking immigrants and to encourage their recruitment, selection and integration.

In my 2016–2017 annual report, I stressed the importance of reviewing federal language policy, given the many changes that have shaped Canadian society since 1988. These changes are likely to accelerate.

In fact, immigrants and first-generation Canadians could account for nearly halfFootnote 1 of Canada’s population by 2036.

The challenge is to attract these immigrants to all of the regions in Canada and promote their integration into Francophone minority communities. This is not a utopian dream: those that came before us have been doing it over the past 150 years.

Between 1885 and 1921, while Western Canada was welcoming a great number of English-speaking Ontarians, the Francophone population was also increasing steadily from about 17,000 in 1885 to 125,000 in 1921.

For example, large numbers of French, Belgian and Swiss immigrants settled in southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They played a leading role in several towns and villages, including St. Boniface, Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes and St. Claude in Manitoba and Bellegarde, St. Brieux and Bellevue in Saskatchewan.

But let’s be realistic. Francophone immigrants are sometimes disappointed when they arrive in Canada. They have dreams, expectations and preconceived notions before coming to settle here.

Some of them believe that they will be able to speak French all the time, from coast to coast to coast, but the reality is quite different. When they settle in predominantly English-speaking communities, they find that very few services are available in French.

This is why the federal provincial and territorial governments need to get to work and take action to ensure that the national Francophone immigrant target is met.

This is not utopian—it’s realistic. We just need to give ourselves the means to succeed.

I believe that success also hinges on French-language schools, which have a major role to play in integrating newcomers.

You can see it for yourself in your school networks: Francophone immigration changes the makeup of our schools and creates new needs that we could not have anticipated in our traditional communities. We have to adapt. This is Canada in the 21st century.

That said, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation this year, we still have a lot of good reasons to be proud of what we have accomplished.

Thank you for your attention. I hope that your discussions prove both stimulating and productive.


Footnote 1

According to Statistics Canada’s Immigration and Diversity: Population Projections for Canada and its Regions, 2011 to 2036, immigrants and second-generation individuals could represent between 44.2% and 49.7% of the Canadian population by 2036, up from 38.2% in 2011.

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