Speech to the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities

Winnipeg, Manitoba -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Good evening.

I’m very pleased to be joining you for the 27th annual general meeting of the Association of Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities. I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to Ivan Normandeau and Justin Johnson for organizing this important event, and to you, the representatives of our municipalities, who are committed to our official languages.

We’re gathered in Treaty 1 territory, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Red River Métis. I strongly believe that Indigenous languages must be valued and protected as part of the reconciliation between nations in Manitoba, and that they are in every way complementary to English and French.

Municipal governments are often said to be the institutions closest to people on a daily basis. This is very true—and even more so since the pandemic. The environment in which we now find ourselves has helped to redefine the role of our municipalities and to reframe the frequency and intensity of our interactions with them.

Having grown up in Ste-Anne-des-Chênes, I know, as you do, that Manitoba’s linguistic and cultural vitality is experienced primarily on the streets of our municipalities. Being able to obtain services from our municipalities and to be represented and understood by them in very personal and committed relationships can ensure the survival and growth of a linguistic community. Conversely, the absence of such opportunities can cause rapid demographic erosion, undermining our cultural diversity, our services and, by extension, a whole range of economic vitality in our province.

There’s no denying that the major challenges of our time are being faced mainly at the municipal level: infrastructure renewal, environmental protection, housing supply, labour supply, welcoming immigrants and meeting the needs of the population through high-quality front-line services. Everything needs to be rethought, keeping our official languages in mind.

When I was Director General of the Société de la francophonie manitobaine in the 1980s, we worked tirelessly to lay the foundations for a new relationship between the province and its Francophone minority. Looking back, the progress that’s been made since then in the various associations and government bodies and in the general population in support of the French language and culture is absolutely remarkable. In fact, our latest national survey found that more than three out of four people support official languages in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Thirty-five years ago, the key to our success was to highlight the contribution of Manitoba’s Francophone community to the province’s economic growth and prosperity. This could not have been done without our municipalities, which have always been at the forefront of developing and promoting our Francophone communities.

The same argument can be made today, although with a few changes. At a time when labour shortages are becoming more widespread and when Francophone communities are losing ground across the country, we need a strong, targeted Francophone immigration plan and sound Francophone immigration policies. Significantly increasing Manitoba’s French-speaking population from other parts of Canada and from abroad, through municipalities that provide representation and services in French, will greatly help to attract and retain talent. And when it comes to languages in our municipalities, it’s important to highlight that the AMBM has shown great leadership on many fronts!

Many of the points in your new Strategy to Support Economic Immigration are in line with the White Paper on Francophone Immigration in Manitoba issued by the Société de la francophonie manitobaine, Accueil francophone and the Réseau en immigration francophone du Manitoba. Your language-inclusive approach to immigration is the way forward for municipalities across the country.

I was also very pleased to see that you’ve developed a maturity model for municipal service delivery in both official languages, inspired by a similar project developed by my office. This is a great example of synergy between government organizations that’s well worth repeating.

In closing, it’s important to remember that our cities and our official languages are natural partners. Municipalities are on the front lines of our grand venture of linguistic diversity and economic vitality.
I have every confidence in your leadership to help address the major challenges we’re facing and to build the Manitoban society of the future—in both official languages.

Thank you.