Tuesday, June 24, 2008

$1.1B for official languages - Breathing a sigh of relief

Back in December, I participated in the Department of Canadian Heritage's stakeholder consultations, facilitated by Bernard Lord, which were held in preparation for a renewal of the government's official languages strategy. The mood in the room was pessimistic, as we had only been asked to participate a few days prior, which gave the impression that the consultations were window dressing, rather than a serious commitment to consultation. There was also widespread concern among the groups present that it would be impossible for the government to hold consultations, write a report, and then develop a strategy in time for when the previous 5-year plan elapsed in March.

Sure enough, the former plan, and existing funding arrangements elapsed in March, and the government was criticized by Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser for its inaction on the dossier. Last week (three months later!) I was at a conference on official languages and bilingualism, and there were many sighs of relief at the government's (quiet) announcement that it would be launching another five year plan - a "Roadmap for Linguistic Duality" which committed the government to spending $1.1 billion over the next five years. This does represent an increase in absolute dollars over the previous 5 year plan. There was some criticism in a number of quarters about the fact that the government does not seem to have listened to recommendations that more needs to be done to strengthen official languages teaching and exchange programs in the universities. However, many core programs have been renewed, which is somewhat of a relief! We will have to see exactly how these funds end up being apportioned.

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