OTTAWA — Canada’s Liberal government plans to spend another $500 million over five years to reinforce an official bilingualism policy first unveiled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau.
The funding, announced Wednesday by Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, is in addition to $2.2 billion that the government has previously allocated toward enforcing the equality of English and French in all federal institutions.
Despite the billions that have already been spent to encourage Canadians to speak both official languages, the policy has largely failed. In its last comprehensive examination of the success of official bilingualism, federal agency Statistics Canada found that the percentage of Canadians who were fluently bilingual was actually declining: dropping from 17.7 percent in 2001 to 17.5 percent in 2011. In 1961, without any government money contributing to the bilingualism objective, 12.2 percent of Canadians were classified as bilingual.
Most of the new money to promote official bilingualism across Canada will go directly to groups that promote minority language rights. The new funding will also allow the federal government to conduct more investigations into alleged violations of the Official Languages Act, when government agencies or departments are suspected of not utilizing English and French equally.
The Trudeau government is also furnishing money to assist Canada’s capital of Ottawa to become an officially bilingual city. This new status will force the municipal government to make all documents and services available in French and English and would require most employees to be bilingual. The Ontario provincial government is also under increasing pressure to become officially bilingual.
“It’s not a secret that the French language outside Quebec has regressed over the past few years,” Trudeau said as he stood with Joly during the announcement. Trudeau later reiterated that statement in the House of Commons — suggesting that the previous Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper had not spent enough money on official bilingualism and that the program had suffered as a result.