Officially 50! A Conference Marking 50 Years of Linguistic Duality and Education in Canada

Gatineau, Quebec -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Good morning, and thank you for being here today.

I’m very happy to be a part of the Officially 50 conference, which marks half a century of the Official Languages Act, the evolution of linguistic duality and the advancement of education in both of Canada’s official languages.

First of all, I’d like to thank the Association for Canadian Studies and Canadian Parents for French for their leadership in organizing this event. Over the next three days, along with researchers, educators, students and parents, you will be able to share how our two official languages have shaped your lives and understanding. As evidenced by the survey published by Mr. Jedwab, the issue continues to be part of public discussions across Canada.

Many of the gains in official languages learning in Canada have resulted from the efforts of parents who recognize the benefits of bilingualism. Canadian Parents for French has been instrumental in raising public awareness of the advantages and challenges associated with learning French as a second language in Canadian schools.

My Accessing Opportunity study, launched in February of this year, looks at challenges in French-as-a-second-language education teacher supply and demand in Canada. My office commissioned Canadian Parents for French to put together a group of seasoned experts to conduct the study. This study addresses the chronic FSL teacher shortage in Canada and recommends that a long-term national strategy be developed to build a sufficient supply of teachers.

I belong to the generation of Canadians who were present at the birth of the Official Languages Act, which embodied our hopes and dreams for our country. We have come a long way, but Canada is still evolving. This anniversary is an opportunity to embrace the vision that young Canadians have for their country . . . in 2069.

Tomorrow’s topics will reflect the realities of those young Canadians—including diversity, linguistic insecurity and multiple identities—and examine their place in an increasingly complex world.

One of my main responsibilities as the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada is to promote linguistic duality in Canadian society. I’m also working to raise Canadians’ awareness of the factors that affect the vitality of official language minority communities and linguistic duality in Canada.

We’ve come a long way in the past 50 years. In an increasingly diverse Canada, there are more people in the country today than ever before who speak English, French or both of our official languages.
Young Canadians have led the way in bilingualism, and the continuing demand across the country for education in French, either as a first or second language, says a lot about the vitality of this language.

Language is an important symbol of identity, and so it is perfectly legitimate for English- and French-speaking Canadians in all regions of the country to live in their own language and according to their own values, while understanding, appreciating and even learning the others’ language. These are the principles that inspired the Official Languages Act in 1969.

Half a century is a long time in the world of public policy. Canada and the world have changed a lot since then, and this a topic that we will cover extensively over the next three days.

I hope you have stimulating discussions and productive exchanges. I look forward to hearing you.

Thank you for your attention.