Chapter 1 - State of affairs

Page 6 of 17

Part VII of the Official Languages Act stipulates that the Government of Canada and all federal institutions must help ensure the vitality of official language communities and encourage the use of both English and French. To meet these objectives, the government and federal institutions must recognize the nature of Canada’s linguistic landscape and contribute to building bridges between official language majority and minority communities.

Federal institutions must take into account the needs and individual characteristics of official language communities, as well as community priorities in terms of development. They must likewise consider the barriers to strengthening linguistic duality in Canadian society and work to overcome them. Only through this process can the positive measures required by the legislation be developed and implemented.

But what are these needs?
What are these barriers?

 1.1 Contributing to the vitality of official language communities

A few facts

Canada’s official language communities are home to approximately two million people. About half are French-speaking Canadians living in the country’s 12 predominantly English-speaking provinces and territories, and the other half are English-speaking Canadians living in the various municipalities and regions of Quebec.

The situations of official language communities vary widely from one location to another. Some are thriving, while others are experiencing significant difficulties on a demographic, economic, social or cultural level. Canada’s official language communities benefit from the support of the Government of Canada and its partners. In the following sections, community leaders give us a brief overview in their own words of the obstacles to overcome.

Photograph of Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director of hte Community Health and Social Services Network
Jennifer Johnson, Quebec

Responding to the growing health care needs of English-speaking Quebecers

"Quebec’s English communities are facing considerable difficulties in the field of health care,"1 said Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director of the Community Health and Social Services Network, an organization that provides support to English-speaking Quebecers so that they can receive health care and social services in their language.

First, several of these communities have a higher proportion of unemployed individuals and low-income earners than the average in Quebec. "This is a serious problem," noted Ms. Johnson, "because research shows that people who are economically disadvantaged tend to have more health problems. Federal institutions in the health care and economic sectors should take this reality into account and work together."

Second, some English-speaking communities in Quebec are so small that health care decision makers do not always give sufficient consideration to their needs. "In areas like the Saguenay, Québec City / Chaudière-Appalaches or the Lower Saint-Lawrence region, where English-speaking Quebecers represent less than 2% of the population, the specific needs of the English minority communities are not even on the radar of many service providers," said Ms. Johnson.

Finally, many members of these English-speaking communities are hesitant to request the services in English that they are entitled to for fear of being penalized. "They know how much pressure there is on the health care system, so they’re afraid to ask for services in English because then they may have to wait even longer," added Ms. Johnson.

English-speaking communities that do not have direct access to members of the Community Health and Social Services Network should establish partnerships with local decision makers in the Quebec health care system. "The communities have a key role to play in developing and implementing solutions that would allow them to receive health care services in English," concluded Ms. Johnson. "You have to have their participation to ensure that initiatives take their true needs into account and that, as a result, they get the maximum benefit."

Healthy living in French

"People in pain usually want to communicate in their mother tongue," said Claudine Côté, Executive Director of the Société Santé en français. "The problem is that the resources to properly meet the needs of French-speaking minority communities are often lacking or uncertain." The result? "Patients in crisis will sometimes call a suicide prevention hotline only to find that no one there can speak French to help them cope with the crisis they are going through."

"Although significant progress has been made, there are still communities that are not receiving adequate services in French," continued Ms. Côté. "This is where the federal government could take on a leadership role with provincial health authorities and territorial health care systems. [translation]"

Strengthening French-language schools

Education is one of the key links in the chain through which official language communities transfer their language and culture to their youth so that they too can one day pass them along. This is why French-language school boards are determined to protect their client base, which could expand the ranks of French-speaking communities and to ensure that they are properly integrated into the communities.2 The school boards also go to great lengths to convince parents to exercise their right to send their children to French-language schools. For example, Ontario’s Ministry of Education, in collaboration with Ontario school boards, has launched a campaign called "Choosing French-language education in Ontario opens up a world of possibilities!".

According to the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones, there are 627 French-language schools from kindergarten to grade 12 outside of Quebec.3 Nearly half of children with at least one French-speaking parent attend one of these schools.4 Many eligible children, however, are enrolled in English-language or immersion schools in their area, often because their parents are unaware of the benefits of attending French-language schools (see textbox).

French-language schools are looking to broaden the range of courses they offer and acquire more educational resources adapted to the reality of French-speaking students (especially newcomers); to recruit specialized personnel (for example, speech therapists), especially for schools located outside major city centres, as they often have greater need; and to make their schools a solid foundation for the vitality of French-speaking communities.

Photograph of Roger Paul, Executive Director of the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones
Roger Paul, Ontario

Roger Paul, Executive Director of the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones, cites the example of "L’Étoile du Nord school district in Campbellton, New Brunswick, [which] decided to make all of its schools ‘community schools,’ institutions where people involved in the community worked together with school staff on a regular basis, all for the good of the school and the community. It is because of these kinds of projects that the Canadian Francophonie will be able to meet the complex challenge of its long-term development. [translation]"

Maintaining enrolment in English-language schools in Quebec

English-language school boards in Quebec are concerned with the issue of recruitment because they face school closings in small communities. "English-speaking Quebecers, and the public school system that serves them, have made the mastery of French priority number one, and we have the successful results to prove it," said Debbie Horrocks, President of the Quebec English School Boards Association. "We are contributing to the francization of Quebec. In that context, it is enormously frustrating to be continually fighting ever-more restrictive amendments and administrative regulations on access to English schools. Our schools will always find the tools to serve their students and their communities well, but we must be given the necessary oxygen to do so."

Ensuring the vitality and development of Quebec’s English-language culture

"English-speaking American culture is omnipresent in Quebec, as it is elsewhere in Canada. This inexhaustible supply of imported product drowns out local English-speaking culture," explained Guy Rodgers, Executive Director of the English-Language Arts Network.

"To develop constructive working relationships with our Francophone colleagues in an environment where increased vitality of the English language is often seen as a threat to French, our artists in Quebec kept a very low profile for many years. The unintended consequence was to make ourselves doubly invisible," he added. "This is ironic because many English-speaking artists—from Arcade Fire to award-winning authors like Rawi Hage and Heather O’Neill—are well known as individuals. Our priority is to establish the ‘brand’ of English-language culture as a positive and creative force within Quebec. This is a major challenge!"

"To strengthen community vitality, we also need to improve access to English-language culture in Quebec," said Mr. Rodgers. "There is a shortage of performance space in Montréal, and English-speaking communities outside of Montréal have access to very few live performances. Infrastructure is necessary to connect the current renaissance of creative artists with their audience. Believe me, a flood of American product is not helping us build a stronger community!"

Photograph of Éric Dubeau, Executive Director of the Fédération culturelle canadienne-française
Éric Dubeau, Ontario

French-speaking artists face competition from two majority communities

"Artists and cultural workers from French-speaking communities face many challenges, and one of the biggest challenges is the fact that the communities are isolated. There is also the ongoing issue of audience development in order to generate interest in French-Canadian artistic and cultural products and works, which are often not as well known within our own communities because there is unfortunately no access to cultural events featuring local artists," said Éric Dubeau, Executive Director of the Fédération culturelle canadienne-française. The offerings from English Canada and French Quebec are very appealing, however. "Essentially, we’re facing competition from two majority communities," said Mr. Dubeau.

Creating a network that will effectively promote French-language culture is also a sizable undertaking. For example, for the past 10 years, French-speaking communities have had an organized circuit to present performing arts; however, according to Mr. Dubeau, "they still don’t have enough resources to sustain their cultural centres and theatres or to offer quality services to Francophones and francophiles on a daily basis. [translation]"

Developing the economy of official language communities

In 2009, after several years of preparation and with support from various governmental partners, the Coasters’ Association launched a project for the revitalization and diversification of the resources of the North and farming in the Lower North Shore region of Quebec. The initiative aims to develop an agri-food system involving the cultivation of berries and wild mushrooms, as well as the development of products for the agri-food and natural health sectors in the Lower North Shore region, an area populated mainly by English-speaking Quebecers. The project was designed to alleviate one of the problems faced by the Coasters’ community, much like many other English-speaking communities in Quebec are facing: the decline of the very industry that once sustained their community.

"We have to stop the exodus from our communities," asserted Anthony Dumas, President of the Coasters’ Association. "In 2003 the moratorium on cod fishing resulted in 50% of the population leaving the region for seasonal work. When I say ‘leaving the region,’ I mean leaving the province of Quebec because they can work everywhere else in Canada except in their own province. Many of the youth are leaving forever. Our quality of life, job opportunities and capacity to support our social economy and community rely on our economy."6

Economic development in Acadian New Brunswick

From an economic development standpoint, "we first need to encourage value-added activities in the Acadian Peninsula," stated Roger Doiron, Vice-President of the Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick. In particular, "we need to ensure that our fishing products are processed on site, in Acadian New Brunswick, rather than elsewhere," he added. Better recognition of diplomas held by French-speaking immigrants would help boost the community’s economy. "Many Francophones leave their communities to settle in southern New Brunswick or other places where there are more job opportunities," noted Mr. Doiron. "This exodus has a marked effect on the community because it results in school closings, which in turn makes young families leave, and so on. Governments will also have to show their determination and willingness to help the community reverse this trend. [translation]"

Integrating newcomers

Immigration is one of the key elements in the development of French-speaking communities because it has the potential to stop their demographic decline. French-speaking communities are thus becoming increasingly aware of the importance of immigration. Bolstered by the support of the federal government, the provinces and other partners, these communities are putting more effort into attracting immigrants from countries such as France, Morocco and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Photograph of Marc Arnal, Dean of the University of Alberta's Sain-Jean Campus
Marc Arnal, Alberta

According to Marc Arnal, Dean of the University of Alberta’s Saint-Jean Campus, French-speaking communities are in the process of "changing the definition of the word ‘Francophone’ from one based primarily on traditional interpretations of culture, to one based on the language a person uses and, particularly, on the willingness of that person to actively contribute to the advancement of French. [translation]"

Building bridges between majorities and official language communities

"To build the Canadian Francophonie," said Denis Desgagné, the Chief Executive Officer of the Centre de la francophonie des Amériques, "it is essential that Francophones and other Canadians learn to work together in a win-win relationship."

Mr. Desgagné developed this strong conviction when he headed up the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise. "One day, we realized that the majority didn’t know us very well. As for us, we ended up discovering that the Saskatchewan majority is actually made up of minority groups: alongside the Métis are people of German background, Ukrainian background, etc. It was time to tear down the walls and get to know each other better. [translation]"

Through communication, the Métis and Fransaskois began healing some deep wounds caused by 125 years of history. They also laid the groundwork for a new collaboration whose most recent initiative is a promising project to promote the Batoche area cottage industry and its products.

English-speaking Quebecers reach out to their French-speaking neighbours

English-speaking communities in Quebec demonstrate a firm resolve to develop and preserve their own identity, but leaders and members alike are firmly convinced that they will not be able to reach this objective unless they work together with the French-speaking majority. This is the reason behind events like Townshippers’ Day, created 30 years ago by the English-speaking community of the Eastern Townships, with a population of about 35,000. The event celebrates the community’s roots in the region and strengthens the bonds with the 400,000 French-speaking residents of the Eastern Townships. "[Inclusiveness is] part of the widespread Townships approach to working and living together as one community, English- and French-speaking . . . ."7

1.2 Promoting linguistic duality

Linguistic duality: A valuable asset

In Canada, more than five million people report being able to speak both official languages.8 Linguistic duality is a fundamental Canadian value and an important asset from every perspective.

Economically, the availability of a bilingual and well-educated workforce explains some of the reasons why, in the past two decades, New Brunswick has become an attractive location to set up major call centres.9 Furthermore, the fact that Montréal has the highest number of bilingual and trilingual residents in North America gives it a huge advantage in this age of globalization and explains in part why the Quebec metropolis continues to distinguish itself in the high-tech sector, despite the current economic crisis.10

From a political standpoint, linguistic duality is still undeniably a major cohesive factor in Canadian society. In fact, according to a recent Angus Reid public opinion poll, 62% of Canadians feel that they live in a bilingual country. In addition, 84% of Quebecers believe that it is important to be fluent in both official languages.11

Federal bilingualism is the reason Canada stood shoulder to shoulder with other French-speaking countries that sent peacekeeping troops to Haiti, troops whose exceptional contribution was praised by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.12

Canada’s double advantage

Although English is undoubtedly the lingua franca of the early 21st century, French remains one of the most widely taught and used languages in African, Arabic, European, Hispanic and Anglophone countries. "In fact, never in the history of French have so many people learned or spoken that language. [translation]"13

Canadians feel that linguistic duality is a major factor in cultural enrichment. Twenty-nine percent of French-speaking Quebecers report watching television shows equally in English and in French,14 and 20 to 26% of English-speaking Canadians say they have attended at least one French-language cultural event in the past year.15

Just as the various parts of the Official Languages Act form a coherent whole, promoting linguistic duality is both an objective in itself and a means of better serving the public, fostering increased use of English and French as languages of work in the federal government and strengthening the vitality of official language communities.

Not only do French-as-a-second-language programs open up new horizons for allophones and English-speaking Canadians, they also benefit French-speaking communities. For example, children and adults who learn French sometimes establish relationships with or even join French-speaking communities, by attending their institutions or becoming active members of the community.

It is important to remember that the responsibility for promoting linguistic duality rests first and foremost with the Government of Canada; however, federal institutions cannot fulfill this responsibility in a vacuum. They must form partnerships with other key players, such as provincial, territorial and municipal governments, post-secondary institutions, businesses and non-governmental organizations.

Progress is being made, but there is still room for improvement

We are still a long way from full compliance with the Official Languages Act and from the vision the Commissioner of Official Languages presented in his 2008–2009 annual report: one of a country that never misses an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and showcase its linguistic duality.

It could be seen in Vancouver, where the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games did not fully reflect Canadian linguistic duality.16 It can be seen every day as well, when the government fails to take sufficient measures to remind managers and employees of federal institutions that linguistic duality is an essential value in the public service. It is important to ensure that linguistic duality is not celebrated just once a year on the second Thursday of September, which marks Linguistic Duality Day.

Five provinces, five days of discussion

In 2010–2011, as a follow-up to the study Two Languages, a World of Opportunities: Second-Language Learning in Canada’s Universities,17 the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and Canadian Parents for French organized a series of five round tables on second-language education. Participants at these round tables, held in universities in Manitoba and Atlantic Canada, discussed the obstacles that need to be overcome to ensure that young Canadians become bilingual. The round tables enabled participants to share interesting practices that should be adopted by all key partners.18

There are many obstacles to overcome in order to increase the number of bilingual Canadians. In Quebec, there is a shortage of qualified English-as-a-second-language teachers to teach in elementary and high schools. Elsewhere in Canada, there are not enough post-secondary programs in French, and so students cannot take courses in their area of specialization in their language.

On the issue of second-language learning, one problem in particular stands out: young allophones from English-speaking provinces are still having too much difficulty enrolling in French immersion programs.

The Canadian Parents for French report entitled The State of French-Second-Language Education in Canada 2010 – Executive Summary19 addresses this issue. It states that, outside of Quebec, many allophone parents would like their children to be able to learn French. However, many of them do not receive information on French immersion programs offered in the school system. Furthermore, too many allophone students are discouraged or even prohibited from getting an education in French as a second language.

The federal government needs to encourage all of its partners in the field of education to take measures to ensure that allophone parents are fully aware of French immersion programs, and to assist and encourage them to enrol their children in these programs. It would also be helpful to increase awareness among school staff of the fact that allophones would benefit from learning French.

When encouragement is lacking

– Does your son study French?

– No.

– Was he given the choice to study French?

– But the teachers say that is too hard for them.

– Do you think so?

– No, I think children need to learn more. But they say no, no, he doesn’t need French, he only needs English . . . . I said to the teacher he needs French, and she said no, maybe French is too hard for him, maybe next year he take French, and my husband say no, no, French is very important here . . . . Yeah, they keep saying it is too hard for him . . . .

– Do you agree?

– No . . . . But for this year it’s okay. I listen to the teacher. But next year he takes French.

Allophone parent in North Bay20

1.3 These challenges call for changes

There is still progress to be made before official language communities reach their optimal level of vitality, before linguistic duality is recognized as a fundamental value in Canada and before all Canadians can learn the other official language if they want to.

To overcome the difficulties that are impeding vitality, both communities and key partners with a vested interest in the issue of linguistic duality need the support of the Canadian government and its institutions, support they already have in part. For example, the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008–2013: Acting for the Future made it possible to initiate or continue numerous projects aimed at promoting linguistic duality to all Canadians, fostering the economic development of official language communities and improving the situations of these communities, especially in the areas of health care, education, immigration and culture.

However, the government and its institutions must improve the quality of their initiatives in order for the communities to overcome the challenges they are facing. During the Dialogue Days that Canadian Heritage organized in May 2010 regarding the official languages program and the Roadmap 2008–2013, representatives of official language communities insisted on the need to improve relationships and cooperation among institutions and between institutions and communities, both nationally and regionally.

These representatives also said that a five-year action plan is needed to promote English and French in Canadian society. The federal government will also have to show more determination in implementing Part VII of the Official Languages Act; Canadian Heritage and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat will have to play a more active role in this implementation; and all federal institutions will have to fully meet their obligations under Part VII of the Official Languages Act.

On March 9, 2011, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages held a discussion forum entitled Implementing Part VII of the Official Languages Act: Knowledge, Dialogue, Action. This event, which brought together more than 100 participants representing federal institutions, official language communities and other organizations, was a success. Many participants said that the event not only enabled them to establish or continue discussions on implementing Part VII of the Act and taking positive measures, it also helped them to enhance their collective knowledge and understanding of the related issues and challenges.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations cited in this report were obtained by e-mail or during telephone interviews conducted between January 19 and March 20, 2011.

2 For example, see Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Language Rights 2007–2009 (Ottawa, 2009), p. 19, also available on-line (accessed March 31, 2011); and Maxence Jaillet, "CSFTNO c. P.G. TNO : Un soutien national," L’Aquilon, December 16, 2010, also available on-line - article External site (accessed March 31, 2011) [French only].

3 Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones, Annuaire de l’éducation en français au Canada 2010–2011, 11th edition (Ottawa, 2010). Also available on-lineExternal site (accessed March 31, 2011) [French only].

4 Statistics Canada, Minorities Speak Up: Results of the Survey on the Vitality of the Official-Language Minorities, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 91-548-X (Ottawa, 2007), p. 50. Also available on-lineGovernment site (accessed March 31, 2011).

5 Rodrigue Landry, Petite enfance et autonomie culturelle : Là où le nombre justifie...V (Moncton: Institut canadien de recherche sur les minorités linguistiques, 2010), pp.11-12. Also available on-lineExternal site (accessed March 31, 2010) [French only].

6 Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, Issue 7 (Ottawa, September 13, 2010), p. 44. Also available on-lineGovernment site (accessed March 31, 2011).

7 Scott Stevenson, "Escape to the Townships Community," Beyond Words, August 16, 2010, on-lineGovernment site version accessed March 31, 2011.

8 Statistics Canada, Knowledge of Official Languages (5), Number of Non-official Languages Known (5), Age Groups (17A) and Sex (3) for the Population of Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2006 Census – 20% Sample Data (table), Topic-based Tabulations: Knowledge of Official Languages, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 97-555-XCB2006009 (Ottawa, October 22, 2007).

9 Carol Power, "New Brunswick called best place for a call center," American Banker 65, 8 (January 12, 2000).

10 Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, "Greater Montreal market remains highly attractive to foreign investors," Media Resource Center (September 28, 2010), on-lineGovernment site version accessed March 31, 2011.

11 Vision Critical / Angus Reid La Presse public opinion poll, February 9-10, 2011, Large Majority of Quebecers Disagrees with Bernier on Bill 101on-lineExternal site version accessed March 31, 2011.

12 "La sécurité et la santé, principales préoccupations de Stephen Harper," Métropole Haïti, July 21, 2007, on-lineExternal site version accessed March 31, 2011 [French only].

13 Jacques Leclerc, "Le français," in L’aménagement linguistique dans le monde (Quebec City: Université Laval, 2010), on-lineExternal site version accessed March 31, 2011 [French only].

14 Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, La pratique culturelle au Québec en 2004 (Quebec City, 2005), p. 9, on-lineExternal site version accessed March 31, 2011 [French only].

15 Jack Jedwab, Francophonie and Cultural Consumption: Is Official Languages Act the Precursor for Multiculturalism Policies? (Montréal: Association of Canadian Studies, 2009), slide 15, on-lineExternal site version accessed March 31, 2011.

16 Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Final report on the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (Ottawa, 2010), p. 11. Also available on-line (accessed March 31, 2011).

17 Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Two Languages, a World of Opportunities: Second-Language Learning in Canada’s Universities (Ottawa, 2009). Also available on-line (accessed March 31, 2011).

18 Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Four Provinces, Four Days: Report on Atlantic Round Table Discussions on the Continuum of Second-Language Learning Opportunities (Ottawa, 2010). Also available on-line (accessed March 31, 2011).

19 Canadian Parents for French, The State of French-Second-Language Education in Canada 2010 – Executive Summary (Ottawa, 2010), p. 5. Also available on-lineExternal site (accessed March 31, 2011).

20 Callie Mady, Voices of Allophone Adults and Allophone University Students: Perspectives and Experiences with French as a Second Official Language in Canada (Ottawa: Canadian Parents for French, 2010), p. 28, on-lineExternal site version accessed March 31, 2011.

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