The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages has the mandate to study all matters relating to official languages generally. It examines questions pertaining to the Official Languages Act (OLA) and pays particular attention to the federal government’s role and its commitment to advancing English and French in Canadian society and to enhancing the vitality of the official language minority communities.
During this parliamentary session, the committee published one report and began a new study.
In the fall of 2016, as part of their study of the challenges surrounding access to francophone schools and French immersion programs in British Columbia, committee members conducted a fact-finding mission and held public hearings in Vancouver and Victoria. They met with teachers, parents and students, as well as numerous associations and organizations. In addition, they visited francophone and French immersion schools.
After hearing additional witnesses in Ottawa, the committee tabled its report, Horizon 2018: Toward Stronger Support of French-Language Learning in British Columbia, in May 2017.
In this report, the committee made 17 recommendations to the federal government to enable it to live up to its official languages commitments under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act.
With this report, the committee resoundingly reaffirmed its commitment to promoting Canada’s two official languages, which are at the heart of the Canadian identity.
Last fall, the federal government announced that it would be conducting a review of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations. However, the government chose to focus solely on the provision of services in both official languages, and will not be reviewing other important parts of the Act.
Considering that 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Official Languages Act, it is an opportune time for the Official Languages Committee to engage Canadians on ways to bring this legislation into the 21st century.
Accordingly, in the spring of 2017 the Senate Committee on Official Languages began an in-depth study on the modernization of the Official Languages Act. The Committee is conducting a five-part study and expects to present a series of interim reports on its progress. Senators intend to hear testimony from the following groups:
Committee members have begun engaging with the target group for the first part of the study: individuals aged 14 to 25, more specifically, high school students, post-secondary students and young people heading into the workforce. The committee would like to learn more about how the Act can help better promote and advance opportunities in both official languages.
“The Senate Committee on Official Languages feels strongly about consulting Canadians and fully understanding their views to ensure that the modernized Official Languages Act meets the needs of Canadians across the country, particularly young people.”
“Canada will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act in 2019, so now is the time to ensure this legislation addresses current realities in anglophone and francophone communities. Throughout our study, we will be consulting Canadians about important questions relating to the vitality of English and French across Canada.”
The Committee will continue its study when the Senate resumes its work in the fall. It also plans to undertake a fact-finding mission to Prince Edward Island, where it will hold public hearings and meet a number of stakeholders from the province as well as from Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on how to modernize the Official Languages Act. The Committee intends to publish its first interim report based on what it hears from youth late in the fall of 2017.
This article is part of a series showcasing Senate committees — a report back to Canadians about the work committee members have accomplished during the past sitting of Parliament.
Committees are at the core of the Senate's work. They are recognized for their major contributions to legislation and public policy. Senator Muriel McQueen Fergusson, the first female Speaker of the Senate, called committees "the heart and soul of the Senate.”
In the last four years alone, over 7,500 witnesses have appeared before Senate committees, leading to the crafting of 531 reports and improved legislation.
Through this work, senators speak up for their regions and give a powerful voice to underrepresented groups like women, people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and linguistic and visible minorities.