Speaking notes for the National Summit on Francophone Minority Economies
Ottawa, Ontario -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages
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I’m very pleased to be joining you today for the National Summit on Francophone Minority Economies.
Before I continue, I’d like to acknowledge that we are gathered today on part of the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people, an Indigenous people of the Ottawa Valley.
I’d also like to add that I think there needs to be more emphasis on the mutual reinforcement of Indigenous and official languages, both in the public service and in Canadian society as a whole.
And now, I want to take a few minutes to talk to you about the important issue of economic development in Francophone minority communities. As you know, enhancing the vitality of these communities has been one of my priorities since the beginning of my mandate in 2018.
It goes without saying that the economic growth of Francophone minority communities depends on their vitality, on their having all the tools they need to be able to be innovative and contribute to their own economic development.
In my meetings across the country, I’ve gained a better understanding of the enormous economic potential of the Canadian Francophonie. However, in order to tap into this potential and take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead, Francophone minority communities need the right tools and resources.
The funds provided through the Action Plan for Official Languages are part of the resources that enable them to truly contribute to the wealth of the country.
For example, during my monitoring of the 2018–2023 Action Plan, I noted the development of a new initiative to support the professional development of child care educators, create a significant number of new jobs in this sector, and increase the capacity of Francophone minority child care centres.
In addition to supporting early childhood entrepreneurs, this initiative will help the next generation take the first step in the continuum of education in their first language so that these children can eventually become agents of change in their communities.
I recently participated in the 2022 Cross-Canada Consultations on Official Languages, a process that will serve as the basis for the development of the next Action Plan. As I mentioned at the event, an effective action plan, along with a modernized Official Languages Act, is an essential mechanism to ensure a stable and dynamic future for official languages in Canada.
Not surprisingly, my office’s and my efforts are currently focused on the much-needed modernization of the Act. Our goal is to protect Canada’s linguistic minority communities and to ensure their growth and development in a strong bill that meets their needs. My office is there to be a staunch defender of all communities.
Bill C-13 to modernize the Official Languages Act demonstrates the Government of Canada’s sincere effort to be responsive to the needs of official language minority communities. I’m pleased to see that the federal government recognizes the importance of fostering their full development, in particular by committing to supporting key sectors such as education and immigration.
As you know, the recently released 2021 Census data on language has heightened the urgency of taking action on Francophone immigration. Although we have more French speakers in Canada today than ever before, the decline in their demographic weight relative to that of English speakers continues to be a major concern.
To ensure the vitality of Francophone minority communities across the country, we need to foster their demographic and economic growth. Immigration is one of the key factors on which the federal government can have a significant and direct influence to achieve this.
Last November, I published a study on the 4.4% target for immigration to Francophone minority communities. The data in the study shows that even if the target had been consistently met since the original 2008 target deadline, it would not have been enough to maintain the demographic weight of the French-speaking population outside Quebec, much less contribute to its growth.
It’s time to do more and do better. We need a new, clear objective and a more ambitious Francophone immigration target to help ensure a healthy future for these communities.
Immigration is a key contributor not only to Canada’s population growth, but also to its economic, cultural and social development. The country as a whole and its Francophone minority communities depend on immigration for their long-term survival.
In my opinion, it’s high time that all of our institutions recognize and take advantage of the positive effects of promoting both official languages within their organizations. By appointing bilingual senior executives, Canadian companies that operate on a national or international level can lead by example in terms of respecting and promoting official languages, both for their own employees and for the public.
Linguistic duality continues to be a fundamental value shared by all Canadians. According to a recent cross-Canada survey we conducted, 87% of Canadians support bilingualism—support that continues to be strong and consistent over time.
It’s important that all Canadians feel represented by the companies they do a lot of business with. Encouraging corporate bilingualism in both official languages is the right thing to do, both for the companies themselves and for the public they serve. It opens social, cultural and economic doors that benefit everyone.
The numbers speak for themselves: English is spoken by 1.45 billion people worldwide, and the French-speaking world comprises 321 million people and represents 16.5% of international trade.
Canadian companies that foster the promotion and use of both official languages within their organizations therefore come out on top.
Despite the fact that there’s still work to be done for Canada’s Francophonie, I continue to be optimistic about the future. We have to look at how far we’ve come since the Official Languages Act was passed more than half a century ago. We need to celebrate the successes, both big and small.
In closing, I’d like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the Réseau de développement économique et d'employabilité Canada, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Your leadership and commitment are instrumental in the growth of our Francophone communities.
I’d like to thank the organizers for inviting me to speak today, and I wish you all a very enjoyable and productive Summit!