A ministerial forum on francophone immigration took place on Thursday and Friday in Moncton, New Brunswick. It was attended by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for the Canadian francophonie and immigration. The key discussions focused on developing actions to extend the reach of government efforts and implementing common strategies to achieve their objectives in relation to francophone immigration.
The invitation to the three language commissioners (federal, New Brunswick and Ontario) to participate at this event gave us the opportunity to engage in dialogue and share our recommendations about immigration and settlement throughout Canada.
Each year, the federal government decides how many newcomers may be admitted to Canada. Recent projections indicate that newcomers will account for between 24.5% and 30.0% of the population of Canada in 2036, as compared to 20.7% in 2011 (Statistics Canada, January 27, 2017).
We are already seeing a significant rise of newcomers, given that we have admitted a little over 320,000 in the last two years. Ontario has benefited considerably from this increase, it being considered to be the province that attracts the most people who come to Canada from another country.
Today, we are having to address demographic and economic issues that take the form of a notable decline in birth rates and an increasingly aging population. There can be no doubt that if we are to be able to counter this reality, we need higher levels of francophone immigration, which will contribute to preserving, developing, and enhancing the vitality of francophone communities outside Quebec.
The announcement of Ontario’s membership as an observer in the Organisation internationale de la francophonie (OIF) is particularly timely, since it will certainly have a positive impact on notably the recruitment strategy.
In 2012, the government produced its very first immigration strategy, with the aim of attracting more skilled workers. The strategy set a target for francophone immigration of 5%, and a number of things have already been done to meet that target.
Very recently, I learned that changes are going to be made to Express Entry in June 2017. These new measures will enable francophone applicants to score more points if they have strong French language skills. This is an excellent initiative, and one that I think will lead to the arrival of more francophone newcomers who previously did not have the opportunity to settle in Canada because they did not have enough points.
That is great news and a step in the right direction. We must still analyse the entire point system to make sure that those not conversing in the language of Shakespeare, but whom are comfortable in the language of Molière are not losing any points. In other words, to make sure that applications to come to Ontario are adequately scrutinized.
Also very recently, a group of experts on francophone immigration released a report proposing solutions to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for meeting the target by 2020.
In fact, I published a press release on this point, informing the Ministry that it was essential to put those recommendations into concrete form in an action plan with a timetable. We have only three years to do this and I would admit to being a little anxious about these concrete measures being put into action. We certainly see a net increase in the percentage of immigrants represented by francophones in Ontario between 2015, at 2%, and 2016, at 2.2%. However, those results also show the urgency of implementing an integrated interministerial strategy. Unless a concrete action plan is put in place to attract, recruit, admit, integrate, train, and retain francophone immigrants, both provincially and federally, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for us to meet that target.
It is also important that these government bodies communicate with the institutions that provide direct services to newcomers. Working with those organizations enables us to offer personalized services that are tailored to newcomers’ specific needs. That is the objective of my message. We can have the best complicities between the two levels of government, the fact remains that they are not the ones on the ground, delivering the programs and services. That being said, we must not only be strategic, but also efficient. Let’s be at Pearson Airport to have a tangible example. It is time that we think about the next level, beyond strategy, and focus on actions that will be effective, but will also, most importantly, be based on the lived experiences of francophone newcomers as they settle and integrate.
I would also hope, in light of my recommendations and the discussions that took place at the Forum, that we will be able to secure commitments from both levels of government, but also, to implement concrete, pragmatic actions to remedy the imbalance when it comes to francophone immigration.