Notes for an address to the Canadian Club of Toronto

Vitality of French in Ontario: Success requires planning, and planning requires leadership

Toronto, Ontario, November 26, 2014
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Beginning of dialog

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to thank the organizers at the Canadian Club of Toronto for inviting me. I am pleased to be here today to talk to you about the vitality of Ontario’s French-speaking community, as well as my latest annual report and how important it is for linguistic duality to be visible at major events like the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, which will be taking place right here in Toronto next year.

After lunch, I would invite you to stay for the signing of a memorandum of understanding that will formalize the cooperation between my office, the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario and the Organizing Committee of the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games and Parapan American Games, thereby reaffirming our commitment to linguistic duality.

Language issues continue to be topical across the political landscape in Canada. Your new mayor, John Tory, began his victory speech in French—a fact that was widely commented on by the media and the public. That symbolic gesture augurs well for Toronto’s French-speaking community and leads us to believe that French will be more visible at the municipal level in Toronto. Mr. Tory joins the growing number of bilingual Canadians working at a national level in fields as diverse as politics, administration, business and sports. More and more, French is becoming the language of ambition.

Today, linguistic duality and cultural diversity are important values and symbols in Canadian society that play a role in defining how Canadians see themselves and are perceived around the world. We need to remember that the future of Canada’s linguistic duality depends on our ability to foster a unified linguistic environment where there is a place for both English and French in every region of the country.

While linguistic duality is not always apparent throughout the country, a significant majority of Canadians—more than 70%—support bilingualism on a national level. It needs to be more visible, especially during celebrations, historical anniversaries and large-scale events.

A number of major celebrations will be taking place in the next few years. The year 2015 will mark the 400th anniversary of Francophones in Ontario and the arrival of the Pan Am Games in Toronto. In 2017, the entire country will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation. These events give us an opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made in terms of language rights and to identify issues for further discussion. They are also an opportunity to take stock of how we got here, to look toward the future and to think about all that we can still achieve together.

You are part of a dynamic and vibrant community with a bright future—the largest French-speaking community in Canada outside Quebec. For nearly 400 years, Franco-Ontarians have been making a significant contribution to the cultural and historical heritage of Ontario and of Canada as a whole. The numerous festivals and cultural events that take place in French are all opportunities for the Francophone community to come together. Franco-Ontarians have succeeded in preserving their heritage, their culture and their language over the centuries. And now, the Franco-Ontarian community is becoming increasingly diverse, welcoming Francophones from around the world. That is wonderful news for the vitality of French-speaking communities in Ontario and in Canada.

Our official languages are a defining characteristic of our Canadian identity. English and French belong to all of us and are part of our national identity, even if we don’t speak both of them.

Nearly 30 years ago, the Government of Ontario officially recognized Franco-Ontarians’ contribution to the province’s economy, education and culture by passing the French Language Services Act, which guarantees the use of French in the institutions of the Legislature and the Government of Ontario. My counterpart François Boileau, Ontario’s French Language Services Commissioner, has been monitoring compliance with the Act since his office was established in 2007. The creation of that office marked a huge step forward to ensure that Franco-Ontarians have access to the services to which they are entitled.

In creating that ombudsman position, the Government of Ontario confirmed that linguistic duality is an important part of Ontario’s political legacy. It also underscored the importance of leadership in ensuring the vitality of our official language communities.

And now I would like to present an overview of my 2013–2014 annual report, which focuses on my role as Canada’s language rights ombudsman. The report describes some of the conclusions my office has drawn, using the tools at our disposal, in order to bring about changes in federal institutions. These tools include investigations and analyses of admissible complaints; audits, including one on accountability and official languages; report cards; and legal proceedings.

The annual report also describes some of the 23 complaints that were directly related to the government’s 2012 Deficit Reduction Action Plan. Most of these complaints were deemed founded.

Year in and year out, three out of every four complaints we receive are worthy of investigation. Federal institutions need to think, before they act, about the possible negative consequences of their actions on official language communities, on the service they provide to the public and on their employees’ ability to work in the official language of their choice in designated bilingual regions.

Filing a complaint often leads to concrete results that serve the public interest. My 2013–2014 annual report examines a number of complaints that have brought about tangible change in the government’s decision-making process.

Investigations can have a significant impact. The investigation that followed numerous complaints about the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games is a good example. It prompted my office to publish a practical guide for organizers of major sporting events to help them address official languages issues. The guide helped organizers of the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Quebec, deliver an exemplary event with respect to official languages. By taking English and French into consideration at every stage of the process, the Sherbrooke Games have become a model for other host communities. I hope the same will be true of the Pan Am Games here in Toronto, despite the difference in scale.

The guide also served as a template in the development of a similar publication, this time geared toward organizers of commemorative events and festivities, particularly those in connection with the 150th anniversary of Confederation. These events are opportunities for members of Canada’s two official language communities to discover and learn about one another. This new guide was designed to ensure that both English- and French-speaking Canadians feel welcomed and represented. By making everyone feel included and by seeking to tell a story of our past that everyone can appreciate, we can help to bring our great country closer together.

The new guide contains good practices to help event organizers in their work. I encourage you to browse through it on-line on our website.

When it comes to respecting official languages, success is no accident. Successful institutions plan their actions, consult with communities and evaluate their progress.

Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. I would also like to invite you to stay as Ontario French Language Services Commissioner François Boileau, Pan Am Games CEO Saad Rafi and I sign our memorandum of understanding.

Text for the memorandum of understanding signing ceremony

Thank you, everyone, for being here today to mark the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario and the Organizing Committee of the Toronto 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games.

It is with great enthusiasm and confidence that Mr. Boileau, Mr. Rafi and I sign this memorandum of understanding to signal our commitment to linguistic duality at the Toronto 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games. To ensure the success of this event, we are pledging to demonstrate leadership, to work together to make English and French truly equal and to continue to engage in productive dialogue.

In signing this memorandum of understanding, we agree to maintain the excellent cooperation between our offices, and we reaffirm our duty to Canadians in both of our country’s official language communities. This is a commitment—by the Government of Ontario, the Government of Canada and the Organizing Committee of the Pan American Games—to both official languages and a pledge to protect the vitality of official language communities throughout Ontario and Canada.

Of course, the work of our respective organizations does not end with the signing of an official document, but the agreement will enable us to work together more effectively on studies and promotional activities. It is also a symbol of our commitment to our shared values.

It is with much pride and optimism that I sign this document.

Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to answer your questions.

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