Speech for the 12th annual Journée de réflexion sur l’immigration francophone “Regards vers l’avenir : soutenir une francophonie plurielle et inclusive” Panel

Calgary, Alberta -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

First, I would like to thank you for inviting me to participate in the “Regards vers l’avenir : soutenir une francophonie plurielle et inclusive” panel [“Looking ahead: supporting a diverse and inclusive Francophonie”]. I look forward to taking part in the discussions. I am sure they will lead to innovative ideas and success stories.

My presence here could not have come at a better time. As you know, I have just started my mandate as Commissioner of Official Languages.

When we begin working in a new position, the first thing we look at is what our predecessors have accomplished. Above all, we want to build on the work of others. Since we already have a strong foundation, we can turn to the future.

In 2014, then Commissioner Graham Fraser and François Boileau, French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, issued a series of recommendations regarding immigration based on four guiding principles. I want to go over those principles, since they are still relevant.

But first, it seems appropriate to provide some background on the constitutional and legislative framework. Immigration is a shared jurisdiction. In other words, it is the responsibility of both the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act clearly states that the government must promote the development of language minority communities in Canada.

Better yet, the Act is to be applied in a manner that:

  1. ensures that decisions made under this Act are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the principles of equality and freedom from discrimination and the equality of English and French as the official languages of Canada;
  2. supports the Government of Canada’s commitment to enhance the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada.

We can see that the Act is quite clear in terms of its obligations.

Now that the legislative context has been established, let’s look at the principles set out by Mr. Fraser and Mr. Boileau.

The first principle, which seems obvious, is that immigration must help maintain, and even increase, the demographic weight of Francophone minority communities in Canada.

The Chaleur region in New Brunswick is a good example of successful Francophone immigration. Like other regions in northern New Brunswick, this one has been facing significant demographic challenges. To meet these challenges, the region’s stakeholders decided to join forces to find solutions. Immigration quickly emerged as a key part of the region’s future, with 12 new Francophone families arriving each year and a retention rate of 98% (after three years). As a result of the partners’ efforts, all newcomers have found a job or established a business. The collaborative efforts involved in this project were no doubt a factor in its success. The region’s municipalities, the chamber of commerce, the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick, the banking and real estate sectors, and the multicultural association all play a key role in the various steps of welcoming and integrating newcomers.

The support system for newcomers is making the difference. Newcomers are supported not only upon arrival, but also every step of the way, until they are well integrated into their community.

Secondly, federal, provincial and territorial immigration policies and programs must be designed and tailored to meet the Francophone immigrant recruitment, integration and retention needs specific to the various contexts of Francophone minority communities across Canada.

It should be noted that this principle emphasizes the fact that Francophone minority communities face different situations and may have different needs or ways of doing things. There must be a balance between policies and programs and needs specific to Francophone immigration.

The Conseil économique et coopératif de la Saskatchewan is another example that comes to mind. The Conseil organizes a number of activities designed to match the skills of Francophone immigrants with the needs of employers. The Conseil’s successful activities include job fairs and mini-fairs. The personalized approach to these fairs helps establish connections between job seekers and employers.

In 2003, Manitoba’s Accueil francophone adopted an approach that incorporates several of these elements. The organization closely supports families, especially by helping with homework.

Thirdly, 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. This issue involves many stakeholders that must all work hand in hand. A largely horizontal or cross-cutting approach is required.

In recent years, we have seen a number of important advances at the federal level, including the introduction of the Mobilité Francophone program, the changes to the Express Entry system, the adoption of a new definition of “official language immigrant”, and various consultations with official language minority communities.

Lastly, governments must develop an evaluation and accountability framework to measure progress achieved and ensure attainment of immigration objectives in these communities.

That being said, the government announced in the fall that it planned on welcoming over 300,000 immigrants a year. It is therefore essential that the government achieve its objective of 4.4% Francophone immigration to maintain the demographic weight of Francophone minority communities. Unfortunately, up until now, the federal government’s efforts have not produced the expected results.

However, there is hope.

I commend the ministers from both levels of government, who met at a second forum a few weeks ago. Since immigration is a shared jurisdiction, these meetings are important. The discussions appear to have been successful, since the ministers announced an FPT action plan on Francophone immigration. I am pleased to see that this new action plan contains a series of measures coordinated with the other levels of government and aligns with one of the recommendations in our 2014 report on Francophone immigration in minority communities.

The governments must engage all stakeholders in the field, whether they are community and settlement agencies, other relevant departments, employers or organizations that provide services to immigrants. A collaborative approach is key to ensure the success of this new action plan.

As you probably know, Francophone immigration is one of the Office of the Commissioner’s top priorities. That is why I am looking forward to the announcement of the multi-year action plan for official languages. I am hoping that considerable funds will be dedicated to the implementation of the various measures set out in the action plan for increasing Francophone immigration.

Rest assured that I will continue speaking with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s Official Languages Secretariat and will closely monitor the implementation of the action plan. Although this is a step in the right direction, the federal government must make this a priority. The government is well placed to play a unifying role.

Partnerships with communities are essential in order to properly target needs and implement appropriate measures. Generally, when people in the field are involved in program or activity development and decision making, it leads to great success.

In conclusion, I see Canada as a large and welcoming home. For many of our ancestors and for some newcomers, Canada represents a new home. Since linguistic duality lies at the heart of the Canadian value of inclusion, it has helped to show that diversity and difference are strengths, and not weaknesses, on which we must build.

Thank you for your attention.