Archived - Notes for a second address at the symposium “Celebrating 40 Years of Linguistic Duality in New Brunswick”
This page has been archived on the Web.
Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.
Moncton, February 4, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
This morning, we talked about the past 40 years from a federal point of view as well as from a provincial point of view. We have clearly made a great deal of progress together at all levels, and our achievements with respect to official languages are numerous.
Here in New Brunswick, the Acadian community is well represented by a large number of community organizations. It is first and foremost through collective action that the community has achieved its victories. Over the next 40 years, community organizations that you represent will have a front-line role to play in bringing together all members of the community, regardless of their origins, in order to protect, promote and advance the rights that have already been acquired.
With gatherings such as the World Acadian Congress, you have demonstrated the importance of community solidarity. Anyone who participates in this large-scale event, as I did this past summer, will immediately understand that Acadia stands strong and beautiful.
Acadia continues to grow. When I was at the Congress this summer, I discussed the importance of carving out a space for the younger generation and for newcomers who decide to settle in New Brunswick and live here in French. In both cases, it is important to pursue efforts to limit the exodus to other regions and other provinces, as well as assimilation to the linguistic majority.
The French language is a unifying factor in your communities. However, the province and key players need to act on the Strategic Plan for Francophone Immigration in order to increase the number of French-speaking newcomers in New Brunswick and to ensure that they remain here. Community organizations and the Acadian public must also welcome these newcomers with open arms, and give them a recognized place and the tools they need to adapt to life in a Francophone minority community.
This challenge is not specific to New Brunswick or to Acadia. Innovative initiatives have been taken in various parts of the country. Successes should be shared and imitated. Everyone needs to learn from the pitfalls encountered in other regions.
This afternoon, a major theme will be the role of universities in official-language learning. This is an issue that I have been considering since I first became Commissioner. It is also the subject of our recent study entitled Two languages, a world of opportunities: Second-language learning in Canadian universities. The purpose of the study was to increase our knowledge of opportunities for students to improve their skills in their second official language while pursuing higher education and preparing for their careers.
As part of the study, we also prepared a tool for future students, guidance counsellors, organizations such as Canadian Parents for French and other key players in second-language education for youth. It’s a Web-based map that allows the user to see which universities provide opportunities for second-language learning, as well what type of support is available in these institutions.
The study led to certain conclusions, namely the fact that, generally speaking, access to “regular” second-language courses and programs was good, but there are few opportunities for students to study other subjects in their second language. In my opinion, this situation needs to be rectified quickly. For example, how can a program in public administration be offered in just one language when a large number of graduates will be going into the federal public service?
In New Brunswick, your young people have some excellent educational institutions available to them, but I think it’s important to create closer ties between the province’s French- and English-language universities so that all students can have a bilingual education if they so desire.
In the context of public service renewal, it is vital that young public servants just starting their careers enter with a solid base that they can keep building on. It is to the advantage of the public service to provide language training at the beginning of its employees’ careers, so that there will be a good number of future managers able to work in both official languages. Undergoing language training at the end of one’s career is much more difficult for both the employee and the institution, which must then defray the much higher cost of language training at this career stage.
I am hoping to see considerable progress in this regard in the public service over the next 40 years. In particular, there are still significant challenges in connection with language of work and service offer in French. I am already looking for greater leadership at all levels so that things move forward in these two areas.
As a new generation enters the public service, they will need support in their language-learning efforts and in second–language use in the workplace. I am somewhat reassured to see that opinions about bilingualism and linguistic duality are much more positive. It is my hope that these opinions will affect the culture of federal institutions and that we will see a public service develop where the use of both official languages is truly integrated into everyday work.
And we do need a change in culture. With regard to language of service and active offer, the government needs to act now. Following the decision in the DesRochers case, which I talked about this morning, the obligations of institutions under Part IV of the Act are now more clearly defined. This means that institutions will need to make an extra effort to take into account the needs of official language communities, not only when it comes to developing policies and programs, but also in terms of how service is delivered. It goes without saying that active offer will become all the more important in this regard.
In closing, a word about the language rights of Canadians when they travel, specifically those who must travel by air across this huge country. Coming here for this conference reminded me once again that there is still work to be done by federal institutions, by airports and by Air Canada. An audit of Halifax airport that was made public two weeks ago shows the extent to which greater leadership is needed, not only by the airport authorities, but also by the government.
The use of the official languages in the area of transportation is a complex matter, and the regulations are, in some cases, ambiguous. I agree with those who point out that if the obligations are not clear to carriers and airports, citizens will be confused.
The government needs to take responsibility for clarifying and enforcing these obligations. And members of the public should be better informed about the services to which they are entitled. Over the coming years, I plan to work on both of these aspects of the problem. In fact, in 2009, the Clerk of the Privy Council announced the creation of a linguistic duality day, which will now take place every year in September. I would particularly encourage the New Brunswick Federal Council to use this opportunity to educate federal officials about language of work.
As far as your organizations are concerned, I am taking a strong interest in the Committee on the Implementation of New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act and its work, which began last month. The Committee will be looking at customer service, language of work, promotion of official languages, and provincial public servants’ knowledge of the government’s official languages responsibilities. The committee’s findings will probably be of great interest to federal public servants as well. I have no doubt that similarities will come to light.
I cannot, unfortunately, predict the future, but one thing is certain: we are clearly better prepared than we were 40 years ago. It is now up to you to take advantage of the rights that previous generations have fought for, and to pressure the government to fulfill its obligations under the Act and enhance the important role of official language minority communities within Canadian society.