Archived - Notes for an address at the Round Table “40 years—Official Languages are Everyone’s Business,” organized by the Leaders’ Advisory Board on Official Languages of the Saskatchewan Federal Council
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Regina, February 18, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
I would first like to thank the Leaders’ Advisory Board on Official Languages of the Saskatchewan Federal Council for inviting me to speak to you today. The theme you have selected reflects my own outlook on linguistic duality in Canada. Official languages are everyone’s business; it’s not simply up to the community to act, nor up to the federal and provincial governments. There has to be a collective effort.
This morning, I launched my most recent study on indicators of community vitality. The study is about French-speaking communities in rural Saskatchewan. We knew that these communities were committed to their own development, but this study allowed us to understand to what extent. The study mainly looked at the terroir initiative already in place, a project emphasizing the role of local products in the development strategy of the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise and the Institut français.
This is our third set of studies on the vitality of official language communities. Each of these studies has been useful to the communities themselves as well as to the federal (and provincial) institutions that provide services to them.
For example, in Sudbury, the tools that grew out of the study on its French-speaking community enabled local organizations to mobilize a number of partners. Through the work they have done together, the community and its partners were able to hold the first États généraux de la francophonie du Grand Sudbury, which led to the adoption of a common vision and a commitment by participants to pursue further steps.
The Consortium national de formation en santé has also looked to the previous studies and their logical models of the various communities in order to orient its strategic priorities and performance measurement.
We hope that our vitality studies will continue to provide communities with tools and stimulate conversations within these communities.
In Saskatchewan, it is clear that the French-speaking community is taking initiative and making considerable progress in the areas of education and culture. Enrolments in your schools are up, and the liveliness of French culture can be felt during activities such as Francofièvre. These initiatives suggest that new generations will continue to feel a strong sense of belonging to the Francophone community.
The Fransaskois community is developing at an impressive rate. However, everyone must work together if this development is to continue. Some sectors have greater challenges than others. I am thinking in particular of small farming communities, which have deep roots but are witnessing rapid changes in their way of life.
For the federal government, active offer needs to become a reflex and a mark of respect toward the province’s French-speaking citizens. Of course, such a reflex could apply to all levels of government. Saying “Hello/Bonjour” may seem simple, but active offer in fact continues to be a problem.
The federal government also has an obligation to ensure that services provided in Saskatchewan are of equal quality in both languages. To achieve this goal, the government must see to it that services meet the specific needs of French-speaking communities. If the government moves in this direction, it will also be contributing to the vitality of these communities.
To this end, I encourage managers throughout the federal government to demonstrate leadership in the area of linguistic duality. While no part of Saskatchewan is designated bilingual for language-of-work purposes, there are in all likelihood Francophones and Francophiles in Saskatchewan federal offices.
The lack of officially bilingual spaces is sometimes a challenge when offering services. French is mostly only used when Francophone clients request service in their language. With this in mind, I would encourage managers to make sure that French language and culture are respected in the same way as English within the public service. When employees feel that both languages are valued in the workplace, active offer is much more likely to occur.
The presence of employees of both language groups provides an opportunity for people to learn or improve their second official language. I think that linguistic duality can become an integral part of our public service both in Ottawa and elsewhere in the country. This duality is a typically Canadian value and belongs to all of us.
Appreciating another culture also makes us more aware of issues facing the community. Here in Saskatchewan, there are many opportunities to become acquainted with French culture. My own first contact with French music took place in Toronto. At the time, I didn’t understand a word of what Gilles Vigneault was singing, but I was fascinated.
The community must continue to request services in French, even if it is often easier and faster to obtain them in English. In this way, the community affirms its commitment and its pride, and it shows the government that there is indeed a demand for service in French in the province.
There is still a great deal of work to be done. Challenges remain, but I think that together, you are on the right track.
The history of Canada’s linguistic duality extends to every part of the country, and Western Canada is an important part of this history. The Francophone and Métis communities have been taking part in the province’s economic and social development for generations.
That is why I think it is vital to support the development of these communities, to draw on their rich cultural resources and ensure that they remain vital in all spheres of life.
For those of you who are Francophone, I want to reiterate how important it is to persevere and to pass on your values, culture and language to your children.
After the round table discussion, I would be very interested in hearing your perceptions of the challenges you face as Francophones or as public servants, or as both!