Commissioner’s Speech at the 5th Metropolis Identities Summit

Winnipeg, Manitoba -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Hello everyone!

As Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and as co-chair of this conference, I’m immensely pleased to welcome you to my home province of Manitoba for the 5th Metropolis Identities Summit. My sincere thanks to President and CEO Jack Jedwab, the organizers of this key event, and you, the participants, for being here today.

We are meeting once again to talk about identity in an increasingly fast-paced world. And the timing couldn’t be better, given the current upheavals taking place both in Canada and abroad.

I’m confident that our discussions over the next three days will be successful and will help us to find solutions for our governments that promote dialogue, development and “le vivre-ensemble” (as we say in French) in Canadian society.

The importance of Indigenous Canada

I’d like to acknowledge that we are in Treaty 1 territory and that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene Peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation.

You can’t talk about identity without bringing up language, so I’m very pleased that Canada now has a Commissioner of Indigenous Languages, Ronald E. Ignace, who will be invaluable in reclaiming Indigenous culture and heritage.

Every day, Canadians are learning more and more about the history and struggles of Indigenous peoples. My office’s latest public opinion research shows that the overwhelming majority of Canadians think that Indigenous languages should be protected and promoted. And although there’s still a long road ahead to achieve meaningful reconciliation, it gives me hope to know that Canadians feel this way.

The 2021 Census

We’ve come together as researchers, community representatives, decision-makers and public policy experts. Many of us have been eagerly awaiting the release of the 2021 Census data to get a clear picture of the state of languages in Canada . . . and justifiably so!

The Census figures are revealing. Although there are more French speakers than ever before in the country and French remains by far the most widely spoken second language, the demographic weight of Francophones has declined. Although French continues to be resilient in Canada, its current relative decline is increasing its vulnerability and is therefore weakening Canada's diversity. In order to preserve it, we need to enhance the value we place on our two official languages so that they have a greater presence in our national conversation.

Diversity is a significant factor in both English and French Canada. In the past half century, we've seen the arrival of immigrants from across the international Francophonie: from Africa, Haiti, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe. Children of immigrants from all over the world attend French language schools across the country. In Quebec, one in ten Francophones is an immigrant. In the rest of Canada, the ratio is even higher—one in eight. In Ontario, nearly one in six Francophones is an immigrant, and in British Columbia, the number is one in four.

There are practical solutions to protect and promote our increasingly multicultural Francophone communities. Over the past few years, I’ve proposed a number of measures to the federal government, including the following.

First, the Census data highlights the need to modernize the Official Languages Act. The proposed changes to the current Act have the potential to transform it in a way that will help advance official languages in Canadian society and truly enhance the vitality of our official language minority communities. We can talk about this together over the next few days.

I’ve also suggested that the Government of Canada develop its policies and programs in such a way as to protect the vitality of official language minority communities across the country at all times.

In addition, I believe that the federal government should introduce strong measures to promote French in every province and territory in order to increase the level of bilingualism in both official languages in Canada.

Immigration is a key factor in ensuring the long-term survival of our Francophone minority communities. Canada therefore needs a clear and comprehensive Francophone immigration policy, as well as the necessary resources to support it. Otherwise, missed targets will result in a demographic erosion that will jeopardize front-line services in Francophone minority communities, as well as the very existence of these communities.

The new faces of Canadian immigration

There are so many identity upheavals in the world right now, and armed conflicts are the main catalyst.

Canada is welcoming Afghans, a new wave of Ukrainians and so many others whose lives have been turned upside down. Canadians have opened up their hearts and their homes to refugees and immigrants, and I am amazed at the generosity of everyday Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

These newcomers to Canada, whose presence is sorely needed as we face economic and demographic challenges, not only enrich our Canadian society, but our Canadian identity as well. My office’s national poll shows that Canadians from diverse backgrounds tend to become strong advocates of our two official languages.

I believe that all levels of government should make every effort for new Canadians to be able to learn both English and French. Imagine the benefits and connections to the rest of the world these multilingual Canadians could end up creating in the years to come . . .


As a Franco-Manitoban, I’m all too familiar with battles about language and identity. But they are worthwhile struggles to have, and to share. As we gather here at the thriving crossroads between Eastern, Western and Northern Canada, and between Indigenous, English-speaking and Francophone cultures, as well as the cultures of new Canadians, let us be inspired by the setting of this conference over the next three days.

Our languages and identities are at the heart of who we are. Yes, policymaking must be grounded in research and in facts, in a lucid analysis of the issues and of what is possible and practical. But it must also resonate with us. When speaking about research and policy, with an aim to foster diversity and “le vivre-ensemble” as we say in French, “the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart,” which is the closing line of a famous 1927 film that shares the name of this very conference.

Simply put, that’s what makes Canada Canada.

Although we all come from different places and go about our lives in our own ways, our individual and collective identities—which include both of our official languages—make our country richer. Let’s focus on how this binds us together as a society as we tackle the great challenges of our time: acknowledging our past, shaping our present and preparing for our future with courage and confidence.

Thank you.