Whitehorse was the site of last week’s Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie.
The conference hosted several representatives from all across Canada last Thursday and Friday.
The meeting was chaired by Mélanie Joly, the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage, and John Streicker, the Yukon cabinet minister responsible for French-
Media were invited to a press conference early Friday afternoon where federal, provincial and territorial representatives spoke on the results of the conference.
Streicker said francophones are asking for access to family justice and health care in their language. They are also looking for bilingual government information both online and in hard copy form.
“The conference has yielded very positive results,” Streicker said.
He said the Yukon government has created new bilingual positions in both the Departments of Justice and Health.
Another major topic was francophone immigration. Joly said the goal is to attract more French speakers all across Canada.
The federal government is also looking to find more teachers to be able to teach the language for first and second language classes.
Streicker said all the ministers at the conference are happy that French language services are expanding in Canada. He said there is a demand for these services,
and the individual community needs are diverse.
Streicker said he believes the territory does collect data on the language requests. This is important, he added, as any government needs to know where the demand is.
Moving back to Health and Justice, he explained that while many francophones may be proficient enough in English to get by, they may need services in French in emergency situations.
During an emergency, it may be more helpful to speak the language you are most comfortable in, he pointed out.
As for Yukon-specific issues, Streicker said there is a growing demand for both French immersion and French schools, but there is a shortage of teachers.
Overall, he said, French services are both growing and getting better in the territory.
“We know these services are improving,” Streicker said. “We know that will encourage the French community to seek out those services.”
The provincial, territorial and federal governments are partnering on French languages services.
The federal government is looking to formulate a new action plan for the official languages.
Joly said this plan proposed $2.7 billion over five years, 2018-2023 to go toward bilingual services, eduction and modernizing the official languages.
Joly spoke about significant developments in French language services. She pointed out that Manitoba and Alberta have created their first-ever policies for French language services.
This demonstrates the political will to sustain the Francophonie, she added, and there is a lot less linguistic tension in Canada today.
Streicker elaborated on that point, noting that 20 to 30 years ago, people may have been self-conscious to speak French in public.
Now, this is not the case, as English and French speakers seem to enjoy speaking each other’s language, he said.
Streicker added that as the Yukon that embraces language diversity, which also includes the many First Nations languages, it will benefit the territory.
“I think it’s going to help us economically, it’s going to help us socially,” Streicker said.
The next Ministerial Conference of the Canadian Francophonie will take place in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on June 27-28, 2019.