Archived - Fraser braces for budget cuts, asks PM for more coherent official languages policy
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ottawa, October 18, 2011 – Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to amend part of the Official Languages Act to safeguard the vitality of English and French minority communities across Canada and support Canada’s linguistic duality in a context of financial constraint.
“More than five years since the amendment of Part VII of the Official Languages Act, the federal government needs to affirm—unequivocally—that the Act and the obligations and rights arising from it are a priority,” said Mr. Fraser. “I am now recommending that the legislation be modified to allow for a more coherent implementation of Part VII.”
The Commissioner’s recommendation is included in his Annual Report 2010–2011: Leadership, Action, Results. It involves modifying Part VIII of the Official Languages Act in order to give the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat the power and authority to establish policies for the application of Part VII of the Act.
“I am concerned that budget cuts made by federal institutions may have an undue impact on official language communities,” said Mr. Fraser. “It is important to make sure that there are no unintended consequences for Quebec’s English-speaking communities and for French-speaking communities in the rest of the country.”
Part VII of the Official Languages Act is the primary tool for enhancing the vitality of Canada’s official language communities and for fostering linguistic duality, which contributes to our economic, cultural and social development. This year’s annual report focuses on Part VII of the Act because of the inconsistent way it has been applied by federal institutions.
Mr. Fraser added that the legislative changes he is proposing might help prevent situations in which official language communities bear a disproportionate weight of cost-cutting exercises. He pointed out that, just last month, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research quietly announced the elimination of its only official languages support program. “If each department targets some of its official languages programs as part as their budget review, the total impact will be severe,” he said.
Examples of the government and federal institutions making decisions without consulting official language communities or evaluating the impact of the decisions on these communities include the elimination of the Court Challenges Program in 2006, the cuts to CBEF Windsor by CBC/Radio-Canada in 2009 and the replacement of the mandatory long-form census questionnaire with a voluntary survey in 2010.
As in previous years, the annual report describes investigations, reports cards and audits that were used to take a closer look at how a number of federal institutions complied with the Official Languages Act. It also reports on the number of complaints filed by members of the public and employees of the federal public service, which is an indication of compliance issues within federal institutions.
One investigation found that many federal institutions often make do by assigning the minimum linguistic profile to positions without conducting an objective assessment. This led to the Commissioner recommending that a sufficient level of language skills be established to supervise employees in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes.
“There is no miracle solution or universal panacea to ensure that all federal institutions meet their obligations under the Official Languages Act,” said Mr. Fraser. “Compliance with the Act requires new approaches and new ways of doing things. Federal institutions must take positive measures by undertaking concrete initiatives.”
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For more information or to schedule an interview with the Commissioner, please contact:
Manager, Media Relations
2010–2011 Annual Report Recommendations
- the Treasury Board and the Department of Canadian Heritage each have specific and complementary roles in the implementation of the Official Languages Act;
- the Treasury Board and the Department of Canadian Heritage do not currently have the power or authority to provide proper guidance to federal institutions in the implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act;
- the Treasury Board does not currently have the authority to develop policies to give effect to Part VII of the Official Languages Act;
Therefore, the Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Prime Minister of Canada amend Part VIII of the Official Languages Act in order to assign the following responsibilities to the Treasury Board: establish policies to give effect to Part VII; recommend regulations to the Governor in Council to give effect to Part VII; issue directives to give effect to Part VII; and provide information to the public and to federal institutions relating to the policies and programs that give effect to Part VII.
Whereas it is the position of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages that:
- the Government of Canada must clearly communicate its commitment to Part VII of the Official Languages Act, must send a loud and clear message that implementing Part VII of the Official Languages Act is important and a priority for federal institutions, and must make federal institutions more accountable for their actions;
- the Government of Canada must adopt and communicate a vision of Part VII of the Official Languages Act, and must define the results it expects from all federal institutions;
- the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008–2013: Acting for the Future must not be the only proof of the Government of Canada’s commitment to Part VII of the Official Languages Act, because this five-year plan targets only 15 institutions, whereas all federal institutions must take initiatives to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities and promote linguistic duality;
Therefore, the Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages clearly communicate their commitment to Part VII of the Official Languages Act, and confirm that it is important and a priority for all federal institutions to take positive measures to promote English and French and support the development of official language communities;
The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Clerk of the Privy Council take measures to make senior management of federal institutions more accountable for the way in which their organizations implement Part VII of the Official Languages Act, and ensure that they report the results obtained in this area to the Canadian public;
The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that senior management of federal institutions implement the Official Languages Act in its entirety, by including Part VII in their institutions’ decision-making processes.
The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that, by November 30, 2012, the President of the Treasury Board establish CBC/CBC as the minimum level of language skills required to supervise employees in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes.
The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that, by March 31, 2013, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities make the necessary legislative changes to clarify the language obligations of airport authorities and thus confirm the right of the general public to communicate with them and receive services in either official language, pursuant to Part IV of the Official Languages Act.