Having two official languages is at the heart of the Canadian identity, say students in Prince Edward Island, but some see French as just another subject they have to study while others know their options for going to college or university in French are limited.
The Senate Committee on Official languages is seeking input from young Canadians on how to update the Official Languages Act to reflect the realities of the 21st century. In late September, committee members spent three days in Prince Edward Island. They hosted public hearings and met with students many between the ages of 14 and 25 years.
Senator Claudette Tardif, the committee’s Chair, said members are looking at ways to modernize the Official Languages Act, the law that enshrines the equal status of French and English within federal institutions. It turns 50 years old in 2019.
“Fifty years have passed. Since that time, there’s social media, Twitter, Instagram. We have all kinds of activities and social media that were not available in 1969. That has changed. Communications have changed. The population has changed,” Senator Tardif explained.
Senators want to find ways to adapt the act to meet the realities of the 21st century, including the dominance of English in social media and the growing number of immigrants to Canada whose first language is neither English nor French.
Deputy chair Rose-May Poirier said more opportunities exist today to study in either language than when she was a student. She said she was raised in New Brunswick’s Miramichi region in a French family, but had to go to school in English.
“I was raised in a very francophone family where my mother didn’t speak English. From day one, when I went to school, I had to go in English. There were just no French schools,” Senator Poirier said.
Emily Woodside, a student at Athena Consolidated School in Summerside, told the Senate Committee on Official Languages that being able to speak French as a second language “helped out a lot” in her summer job at an ice cream parlour.
“They had a lot of tourists who were bilingual or who spoke solely French,” she said. “That could benefit me there in the future, too, with bigger jobs.”
Senators Claudette Tardif and Rose-May Poirier where joined by senators Ghislain Maltais, René Cormier, Raymonde Gagné, Marie-Françoise Mégie and Lucie Moncion.
The first phase of the committee’s study involves engaging young Canadians to hear their thoughts about modernizing the act. In the other phases of the five-part study, senators will hear from official-language minority communities, people who have witnessed the evolution of the act, legal experts and representatives of federal institutions.
Committee members are looking forward to gathering more input on how to modernize the act as their study progresses, Senator Tardif said.