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"We are here to serve," says retiring Senator Claudette Tardif
PEOPLE
"We are here to serve," says retiring Senator Claudette Tardif
February 2, 2018

Senator Claudette Tardif is recognized as one of Canada’s foremost advocates and defenders of minority linguistic rights and for her considerable contribution to both secondary and post-secondary education.

Senator Tardif has served in the Senate of Canada since March 2005. She was the deputy leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 2007 to 2013, and chair of the Senate Committee on Official Languages from 2013 to 2017.

Senator Claudette Tardif visits a French school in British Columbia with members of the Senate Committee on Official Languages in November 2016 as part of its study on access to French-lanugage education in that western province. She is joined here by senators Ghislain Maltais, Raymonde Gagné and Paul E. McIntyre.

What interested you in becoming a senator?

Like the vast majority of Canadians, I was not very familiar with what your average senator does. In my career, I had always worked in French-language education, at the post‑secondary and secondary levels, to encourage young francophones and young anglophones to pursue studies in French. To my mind, accepting a position in the Senate meant having a stronger voice to promote bilingualism in Canada and to show the importance of post‑secondary education.

What has it been like to be a Franco-Albertan senator in an institution created to protect minorities?

The Senate was established by the Fathers of Confederation specifically to represent regional and minority interests. The Supreme Court of Canada recently reaffirmed both roles. So I felt very comfortable promoting the interests, needs, concerns and hopes of official language minority communities.

The vitality of francophone communities, respect for linguistic duality and the promotion of bilingualism are values that are important to me and have been part of my life. I really wanted to represent not only Alberta’s francophone community, but Canada’s as well. I have done a lot of work with national organizations, and provincial and national associations precisely for these purposes.

Could you tell us a bit about the current study of the Standing Committee on Official Languages?

This committee was very important to me — I was a member since my appointment to the Senate in 2005 and also served as chair.

While I served as chair, the committee produced several very relevant reports that I’m quite proud of. They include:

This last report highlights all the challenges facing provinces that want to set up French-language schools or immersion programs. The committee made several recommendations to the government. Local associations and school boards often cited this report as one that really packed a punch.

Currently, the committee is studying how to modernize the Official Languages Act, because it will soon be 50 years old. The act needs to be revised. It no longer reflects our socio-demographic realities. The study will be done in five parts and will be based on consultations with Canadians from across the country.

We already started the youth part, which made me particularly happy because I worked with young people throughout my university career. Hearing their vision for the country and for official language policy is something that hits close to home for me. I am confident that the committee will do a good job on this study.

Members of the Senate Committee on Official Languages meet with students as part of the committee's November 2016 fact-finding mission to British Columbia.

What future do you foresee for Canada’s official languages?

I would like all Canadians who want an education in both official languages to be able to get one. That is simply not the case today.

Some provinces still have waiting lists for immersion programs, and there is a critical lack of infrastructure. I find it unfair that Canada has two official languages, but not everyone has equal access to education in either of these two languages. I find that very regrettable. I hope this situation can be resolved in the future.

There should also be greater promotion of official languages. They are part of our identity as Canadians. They are a fundamental value of our country. Young people tell us that they would like the use of French to become commonplace in Canada. Young people are very perceptive — they see that there is a problem, that there are unreasonable barriers. We must push for these changes. We must stop seeing bilingualism as a burden.

How did your experience as a former educator influence your work in the Senate?

I have always loved working with people. As an educator, I felt it was always important to communicate ideas clearly, encourage others to express their needs, draw on the full potential of the people we work with, and respect and listen to others. So that is what I try to bring to my role as a senator.

What advice would you give to new senators?

I would say use your voice to promote causes that are important to you in the interest of Canadians. We are here to serve. We speak for minorities or regions whose voices are not often heard on the Hill. We must give Canadians the chance to be heard.

Senator Tardif, joined by Senator Gagné, leads a press conference to launch the Senate Committee on Official Languages' report on French-language education in British Columbia in May 2017.

Could you talk about a few other highlights in your career as a senator?

I was deputy leader of the Opposition in the Senate for more than six years, appointed by the Honourable Stéphane Dion in 2007. I had the opportunity to work with three party leaders — Stéphane Dion, Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. We met once a week to discuss the legislative agenda. Seeing how the two chambers work together gave me a greater appreciation of the Senate’s role. There was also a lot of negotiation with my Conservative counterpart — while we did not always share the same opinion, we always worked with a sense of mutual respect.

I also really enjoyed my diplomatic role as chair of the Canada‑France Interparliamentary Association for seven years. I'm still vice-chair. We were able to develop ties with our French cousins by discussing issues and matters of importance to our countries. I will always have wonderful memories of this experience. I was also privileged to be made an Officer of the Legion of Honour of the French Republic for this work, and for serving the francophone community in Canada and abroad.

What will you do now?

I definitely intend to spend some time with my family and my grandchildren. I have been working for 50 years, including almost 13 in the Senate. I need a little rest! And of course, I will continue to follow issues that are important to me—the francophone community and post-secondary education—while spending more time in Alberta. 

Read statements from the Senate Chamber about Senator Tardif’s retirement.  

 

Senator Tardif speaks with students about language rights in Canada during a fact-finding mission to Prince Edward Island in September 2017. The trip was part of the Senate Committee on Official Languages' study on modernizing the Official Languages Act.

Senator Tardif is interviewed by Radio-Canada on how to bring the Official Languages Act into the 21st century.

Senator Tardif retires this month from the Senate of Canada after 13 years of service.