Notes for an appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages

Ottawa, Ontario -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Mr. Chairman, honourable members of the committee, good afternoon.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that the lands on which we’re gathered are part of the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people, an Indigenous people of the Ottawa Valley.

It’s a pleasure to be here with you today to discuss a bill that’s very important to me—Bill C‑13.

We’ve come a long way since this modernization project began, and it’s been my privilege to have contributed to the discussions that have gone into this overhaul of the Official Languages Act .

During the consultations my team held in 2018, official languages stakeholders raised questions and proposed solutions, which helped me make a series of recommendations to the federal government that could serve as a guide for modernizing the Official Languages Act.

When I appeared before this committee in June 2022 to discuss Bill C‑13, it was clear to me that this bill had the potential to fundamentally transform Canada’s language policy.

There have been many discussions since then, and I’d like to recognize the dedicated efforts of parliamentarians that has led to this bill. As a result of those efforts to date, we now have a bill that takes a significant step forward in protecting the language rights of Canadians and the vitality of our official language minority communities.

I’m especially pleased with some of the improvements made to the bill. A good example is the recognition of the importance of addressing the declining demographic weight of French linguistic minority communities and the crucial role Francophone immigration plays in achieving this objective.

The recent amendments have resulted in meaningful progress on the issue of legislative governance, combined with new powers for me that will give the current Act the teeth it lacks and help federal institutions better meet their language obligations to Canadians.

The linguistic turmoil of recent years has once again turned the spotlight onto the challenges our official language communities are facing. Each of these communities has its own unique challenges—from the troubling status of French in Quebec to the declining demographic weight of French-speaking minority communities to the concerns of English-speaking communities in Quebec about upholding their language rights.

These issues have formed the backdrop for Bill C‑13’s journey through Parliament and helped to define the changes required to improve and strengthen it.

I see this bill as a comprehensive proposal whose objective is to solve a number of systemic problems while maintaining the achievements communities have made. We can’t ignore the fact that the approach is raising concerns among English-speaking Quebecers about preserving their language rights, which is why we need to continue to listen to communities and closely monitor the implementation of Bill C‑13 so that we can understand how the Official Languages Act should evolve to better meet their needs.

The implementation of the Act will also have to be monitored closely using specific performance indicators to clearly identify any issues that may arise.

Given that Bill C‑13 requires the Act be reviewed every 10 years , I’m confident that the legislation will be able to be adjusted to keep it in step with the changes in our linguistic reality and in Canadian society.

As we approach the finish line in modernizing the Official Languages Act , I’d like to reiterate my ongoing commitment to all Canadians and especially to our official language minority communities. I hope to soon have more tools at my disposal to strengthen my role as defender of the language rights of both of Canada’s official language groups. I am—and will always be—here to listen to them and support them in their efforts to protect their rights and foster the growth and vitality of their communities.

We’ve reached an important historical turning point for official languages, and we’re on the cusp of achieving the important goal of modernizing the Official Languages Act . This modernization is essential for strengthening Canada’s official languages. It’s now within reach, and I’m confident that by passing Bill C‑13, we’re moving in the right direction.

Thank you for your attention. I’ll be happy to answer your questions in the official language of your choice.