Whitehorse Daily Star

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MUCH PROGRESS EVIDENT – Raymond Théberge, the country’s Commissioner of Official Languages, has found many changes in the advancement of the French lan- guage since he visited the Yukon 30 years ago. He is seen Wednesday in Whitehorse.

Conference brings commissioner to Yukon

The territory is well-poised to further support French-speaking rights in the coming years, thanks in part to a slowly growing population and supportive territorial government, says one expert.

By Palak Mangat on July 5, 2018

The territory is well-poised to further support French-speaking rights in the coming years, thanks in part to a slowly growing population and supportive territorial government, says one expert.

That’s according to Raymond Théberge, the country’s Commissioner of Official Languages.

He is in Whitehorse for a two-day trip that is seeing him meet with officials and the French-speaking community in the territory, including the Association franco-yukonnaise.

“To me, the Yukon is a good news story,” Théberge told the Star Wednesday. He pointed to the creation of a new French-language high school that is set to begin construction next year off of Lewes Boulevard.

The commissioner’s headquarters is in Quebec. But Théberge said the reach of French-speakers extends far beyond regions of Canada that have traditionally been designated as bilingual.

“Because of urbanization, everybody has moved to the city,” he said. That makes the office’s work in promoting and preserving French-speaking rights all the more important today, he said.

Some of those rights include equal access to education and government services in both official languages, along with more clarity around regulations that are designed to govern these rights.

The latter is part of his office’s ongoing work from last year to modernize the Official Languages Act – about which Théberge noted his team is also consulting with Yukoners during his time here.

Hosted by the Yukon government, the 23rd Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie is taking place today with a theme of “keeping in touch.”

It will feature Théberge, who is fairly new to the role, as he took over the reins in late January, succeeding Graham Fraser. He said the trip is an opportunity to meet with relevant ministers and the French-speaking community in the territory.

Hailing from Manitoba, Théberge has worked as an academic and author for more than three decades, and once served as the president of the Université de Moncton.

His experience with provincial levels of government in Manitoba and Ontario may come in handy as he promotes not just French language rights outside of Quebec, but supports the English-speaking community within the province too.

That’s also in line with his office’s work to modernize the act, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for in 2016.

Noting that it has not been revamped since its inception in 1969 – when Trudeau’s father, Pierre, was prime minister – Théberge said updating it has been a long-time coming.

Some amendments were made more than a decade ago in 2005 with a major review in 1988, but the commissioner acknowledged a lot has changed even within the last decade or so.

“It’s not up to us to decide what the law will be, but we can at least provide what it should be in terms of guiding principles,” Théberge said.

Some of those principles and ideas came out of the office’s annual report released in June.

It highlighted the need to promote linguistic duality in all sectors of public life, especially with national events set to take place over the next number of years.

The report shows that the office co-ordinated and hosted just under 100 workshops and presentations for federal institutions between April 2017 and March 2018.

After the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, the office saw a growing need to improve and showcase both languages at large international events.

“There’s now a playbook we offer to organizations to make sure their event is in both official languages and that they respect the law,” Théberge said.

“And they’re getting quite good at it actually,” he continued, adding that he hopes it will only get better for the 2019 Canada Winter Games scheduled to be hosted by Red Deer, Alta.

Théberge also said he was fortunate to have supportive governments like the Yukon’s and others which have designated departments set up to address the concerns of French-speaking communities.

“Yukon is moving forward,” he said.

He noted “it’s gone from having very little in terms of services to actually have an apparatus in place to ensure these services are being provided.”

He pointed to the Yukon being ranked as the third-largest bilingual jurisdiction, behind only New Brunswick and Quebec, according to the 2016 census.

That census also showed that 14 per cent of the population of Yukon can speak both official languages, with most living in and around Whitehorse.

Recalling one of his visits as having been the time Yukon College opened in 1988, Théberge said he was heartened to see the progress French education in particular has made throughout the years.

But he acknowledged that it came years after his visit, when he “was speaking to a handful of parents to encourage them to enroll their children in a French school.

“And now we’re building a secondary school that will start anytime soon,” he added.

Construction is expected to begin in mid-2019 on the old F.H. Collins Secondary School site. It’s expected to be completed by November 2020.

Théberge said he also planned to speak about immigration and how to attract more bilingual populations to the North, and making it a more formalized requirement for the Supreme Court to accept bilingual judges rather than the current convention that’s followed. He also intended to advocate for a periodic review of the act.

“It’s been a dramatic change since the ’80s, when I first started many years ago right across the country – and the territories are right up there,” he smiled.

The momentum for strengthening French-language rights in the Yukon began in earnest in the early 1980s. The francophone community – much smaller than today’s – lobbied for a local francophone school, which was initially resisted by the territory’s then-Conservative government.

A subsequent battle ensued when the late John Munro, then the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development under Pierre Trudeau, moved to radically expand the Yukon government’s French-language services.

Now, more than a generation later, the territory boasts many services available in French, École Émilie-Tremblay, the Centre de la Francophonie, and a vibrant French immersion program, among other accomplishments.

Comments (4)

Up 15 Down 2

Pierre on Jul 5, 2018 at 9:55 pm

The Yukon is going down the toilet! The entitlements with being french are beyond reasonable. In what other country would this ever be tolerated. What a waste of money period. Time for a vote!

Up 17 Down 2

My Opinion on Jul 5, 2018 at 9:40 pm

Most of the French that we have here now, have come to fill Government jobs that our kids do not qualify for as they are not bilingual enough. Self fulfilling prophesy I guess.

Why can we not just be equal?

Up 16 Down 2

My Opinion on Jul 5, 2018 at 9:37 pm

If the aim is to promote linguistic duality as it states then would it not make sense to have all the kids together and learning from each other rather that a separated ethnic based system? Makes absolutely no sense to me.

Up 21 Down 1

Thomas Brewer on Jul 5, 2018 at 6:43 pm

So how's the English speaking rights and signage proliferating in Quebec, hmmm? Oh right... they're not. One way support.

Utter BS

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