In 2003 the federal government announced its first Action Plan for Official Languages, which aimed to provide momentum for Canada’s linguistic duality. In last month's federal budget, $400 million was budgeted for a new bilingual action plan. Photo: Ellen Spannagel, Centretown News.

Local advocates applaud $400M federal budget boost for bilingualism

By Ellen Spannagel

There may be a larger French-language presence in Ottawa and surrounding communities because of a $400-million provision in the federal budget for an “action plan” to promote bilingualism.

While no specific plans have been announced yet, the five-year Action Plan for Official Languages — expected to be outlined later this month — will include funding for community groups, cultural organizations and education providers to boost bilingual services.

According to Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, this could be a step towards an Ottawa that is more representative of its official language minority.

“It’s encouraging to see the interests of the French community being represented at the federal level. Hopefully French will become ever more present in Ottawa,” said Fleury.

To Raymond Théberge, the federal Commissioner of Official Languages, the additional money is an exciting step forward for a bilingual Canada.

He said he hopes the plan to be put in place will do the funding justice.

“I’m anxious to hear who will take the lead on this file, who will coordinate the plan and who will hold departments to account to ensure that the plan produces results for Canadians,” Théberge said.

Nicole Thibault, the national executive director of Canadian Parents for French, said that with the announced budget allocation, the funding for bilingualism has increased by almost four times since the 2013-2018 action plan was implemented.

Because of this, she said, more money will be transferred into the provincial Ministry of Education and then directly to school boards, which should allow for more resources in French immersion classrooms.

Thibault said education funding forms the basis of a cultural phenomenon allowing for an increase in bilingualism.

“More French programs means more students are bilingual, which means that it becomes more of an expectation and norm that services are also provided in French,” Thibault said.

She said the additional funding will primarily help in both recruiting and retaining teachers within French immersion schools.

Carol Jolin, executive director of Ottawa-based L’Assemblée de la Francophonie de l’Ontario, said the 2013-2018 action plan was hindered by limited funding. He said the budget was frozen, forcing many organizations to disband or reduce their staff and resources.

He said his organization is still looking to find out how much of the money will be directed towards francophones in Ontario.

Jolin also said that while the organization was happy to hear about the funding, it was hoping for more.

“We were asking for $575 million for francophones, so while we’re not reaching our goal, the increase is promising,” said Jolin.

He said he hopes the money is allotted directly to community groups.

“We want to make sure the money is going straight to organizations at a community level,” Jolin said.

The City of Ottawa was granted a bilingual designation last fall under provincial legislation, but that measure had no financial implications.

According to Sylvia Lépine, a media representative for the Commissioner of Public Languages, the official Action Plan should be announced before the end of March.