Notes for an address at the provincial forum for Ontario's Francophone Immigration Support Networks

Timmins, Ontario, November 8, 2017
Ghislaine Saikaley - Interim Commissioner of Official Languages

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Beginning of dialog

Ladies and gentlemen, Good evening.

I would like to start by expressing my sincere thanks for your kind invitation to participate in this provincial forum on the regionalization of Francophone immigration in Ontario. Of course, this subject is of great interest to me in my present role, but given that I also spent more than 5 years at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, where I was responsible for immigration hearings, it is doubly interesting to me.

To begin my talk, I’d like to ask the following question: What can we do to ensure that French-speaking immigrants settle throughout the province and integrate into Ontario society? To try to answer that,  let’s take a look at the current Francophone immigration situation in Canada and the measures that have been proposed by the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada.

First up is whether the province of Ontario is welcoming enough French-speaking immigrants.

When it passed the Ontario Immigration Act, 2014, the Government of Ontario reiterated its 2012 objective to achieve a Francophone immigration target of 5%. Unfortunately, the proportion of French-speaking newcomers settling in Ontario is still falling. In 2015, the proportion of French-speaking newcomers was 1.9%. Today it is at a bit more than 2%. Clearly, the province is far from reaching its goal.

Of course, the Government of Ontario must do more. The federal government also needs to do its part. Indeed, it is essential for both governments to work together to reach the 5% target.

Because there’s no escaping it. Immigration has become a determining factor in Canada’s population growth, as evidenced by the 2016 Census data released by Statistics Canada on August 2, 2017. This data highlights the importance of initiatives to increase Francophone immigration.

And 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 them will come from Africa. Let’s hope many of them will settle in Ontario. Whether here in the north, or in the east, or in the central southwest, French-speaking immigrants are, and will always be, welcome.

As Canada’s language ombudsman, I believe governments should follow four guiding principles when it comes to immigration. First, immigration must help maintain or even increase the demographic weight of Francophone minority communities in Canada.

Second, federal and provincial 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 September 2014, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada eliminated the Francophone Significant Benefit program. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages immediately received complaints that this decision would undermine the ability of Francophone minority communities to attract immigrants who would be likely to settle in these communities. The investigation concluded that the complaints were founded.

As a result of the investigation, my predecessor issued four recommendations, which were implemented by the Department. And I would like to emphasize the excellent work done by the Ministry in collaborating on this file. 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 plans to make. This procedure allows for the creation of appropriate tools and measures to increase Francophone immigration outside of Quebec.

Also in 2014, my predecessor and the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario made recommendations to address issues regarding the Francophone immigration continuum. These recommendations concerned:

  • 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 finally,
  • incentives for employers to recruit and select French-speaking and bilingual workers.

Since then, we have seen promising initiatives that align with these recommendations, including the Mobilité francophone program. This program was created by the federal government in June 2016 to streamline the process of hiring foreign French-speaking workers outside of Quebec by modifying the Express Entry system to facilitate the selection of Francophone candidates.

The Entry Express 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.

Since June 2017, applicants with strong French-language skills have been awarded additional points in the Express Entry system.

The objectives of this system are aligned with my office’s priorities, one of which focuses on achieving minority-language immigration targets across the country.

Francophone minority communities would be better able to develop, to help their members thrive and to contribute fully to the advancement of Canadian society if they could attract more French-speaking immigrants.

However, these communities need government support and policies and programs that are tailored to their needs in order to become truly welcoming communities.

Cooperation among different levels of government also needs to be encouraged, as we saw during the very first federal-provincial-territorial forum on Francophone immigration that was held in Moncton, New Brunswick, in March 2017.

The ministers who attended the forum agreed to work together afterward 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 the near future. For example, immigrants and first-generation Canadians could account for nearly half of Canada’s population by 2036Footnote 1.

The challenge is to attract these immigrants to regional Canada and promote their integration into Francophone minority communities.

Why not Timmins? This is a city where more than half of the population is bilingual. It could have a lot to offer a French-speaking immigrant looking to settle in Ontario.

Timmins is located in a designated area under the Ontario French Language Services Act, so Francophones in this region have access to a wide variety of government services in French.

Timmins also has a booming Francophone culture, evidenced by its French-language school boards, sports teams, media and performing arts companies. All of these assets are important for future French-speaking immigrants.

But we shouldn’t be naive. French-speaking immigrants are sometimes very disappointed when they get to Canada. Before their arrival, French-speaking immigrants have dreams, expectations and preconceptions. Some think that French is spoken regularly throughout the country. But this is far from the truth. When they settle in mostly English-speaking communities, they find out that there are still many obstacles for minority Francophones,

This is why the federal government and the Government of Ontario must increase their efforts and initiatives not only to reach immigration targets, but also to help immigrants integrate and live in French, and thus ensure that they stay in these communities.

On August 14, 2017, I took part in a Francophone immigration panel in Winnipeg organized by the Regroupement national des directions générales de l’éducation francophone.

During the meeting, participants raised a number of issues affecting Francophone immigration, including:

  • the fractured nature of federal services for refugee families;
  • the difficulty French-language schools have in reaching out to these families when they arrive in the country to tell them about the French-language education opportunities that are available to their children; and
  • the lack of appropriate resources to meet the specific needs of newcomers.

He and I share the same viewpoint on this situation. Last Friday I met with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to express my concerns about the integration of refugees in minority language schools. I also raised other issues relevant to the provinces, including Ontario.

At that meeting, I spoke to Minister Hussen about the importance of working with the other provincial and territorial governments to consider everything that can be done to ensure the smooth integration of newcomers into French language schools and minority language communities.

I also stressed the importance of working with his provincial counterparts to promote retention of immigrants in those communities. As I said, it is not enough just to attract them; once they have arrived, we must have mechanisms in place that encourage them to stay, make their life in the new community and thrive as Canadians.

I don’t think it is going too far to say that as an Ontarian, the Minister knows that this province has much to offer newcomers who want to live in French.

Because let’s be clear: in order to achieve the objectives they set, governments are going to have to invest time and money to ensure that newcomers integrate effectively and that they stay in our regions for the long term. I would add that communities will also have to be bold and take the initiative.

Remember that the future of Francophone minority communities in the regions depends a great deal on immigration, and that we need to adapt quickly to this reality.

Thank you for your attention. I hope you have a very productive forum.

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