Archived - Notes for an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages
This page has been archived on the Web.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.
Ottawa, April 20, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Chairman, members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, good morning.
I am accompanied today by Lise Cloutier, Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Services; Colette Lagacé, Chartered Accountant and Director of Finances; Sylvain Giguère, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications; Johane Tremblay, General Counsel; and Ghislaine Charlebois, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance.
It is a pleasure to meet with you today to discuss the main estimates for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and some of the activities planned for the next year. The timing is ideal, as last week marked the mid-point in my mandate. Ensuring that Canadians’ language rights are respected and protected requires appropriate resources. Members of Parliament and taxpayers need to know how these resources are being used, particularly in the current economic context.
Three program activities
The Office of the Commissioner’s total budget is $20.6 million. My organization primarily relies on the expertise of its employees. The Office of the Commissioner has 177.5 full-time equivalents, whose salaries make up the greatest percentage of the Office of the Commissioner’s expenses.
The Office of the Commissioner’s program is divided into three areas of activity: protection of language rights, promotion of linguistic duality and internal services. Although I will take the next few minutes to provide a brief overview of the main initiatives that I plan to undertake over the coming months, for further details, I invite you to consult the Office of the Commissioner’s 2010–2011 Report on Plans and Priorities, which was submitted to the House of Commons on March 25.
Protection of language rights includes compliance assurance activities: investigations, audits, performance evaluations of federal institutions, and legal interventions. The Office of the Commissioner also intervenes proactively to prevent situations where institutions may fail to comply with their linguistic obligations. As Commissioner, I may also intervene before the courts in cases of non-compliance with the Official Languages Act. A total of $6.9 million, or 33% of the budget, is allotted to these protection activities.
As usual, compliance assurance activities carried out over the past fiscal year will be described in my annual report. However, this year, this report will be released in two volumes. While the first volume will be published in May, the second volume, which will include this information, will be released in the fall. It will also include performance report cards for 16 federal institutions.
You may be interested to learn that our audit of the Canadian Forces training programs is almost complete. In June, we will publish the audit report, which includes an action plan submitted by the Canadian Forces. The goal of this audit was to evaluate the extent to which members of the Forces have access to work-related training in the official language of their choice, as is their right.
In addition, we are about to begin an audit into bilingual services provided by Air Canada. As always, this audit will include recommendations and an action plan for the institution to implement in response to these recommendations. The audit report should be released in 2011.
Two other audits are planned for the next few years. One will examine service provided to the public by Service Canada; the other audit targets the development programs managed by Industry Canada.
It goes without saying that my staff will continue to respond to the 800 or so complaints that we receive each year, while also encouraging various institutions to be more proactive in order to improve their application of the Official Languages Act.
Finally, we are currently examining ways to maximize the use and extent of my powers under Part X of the Act, which allow me to intervene before the courts when federal institutions fail to comply with the Act. Since the beginning of my mandate, I have intervened 10 times before the courts in legal remedies involving language rights guaranteed by the Official Languages Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am very pleased with the judgment rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada in the DesRochers case and with the Federal Court’s more recent judgment in the Via Rail case, in which I also intervened.
Promoting linguistic duality means building links between official language minority communities, federal institutions and the different levels of government so as to help them better understand the needs of official language communities, the importance of bilingualism and the value of respecting Canada’s linguistic duality. This endeavour also involves raising awareness among the general public and federal institutions in order to improve compliance. A total of $7.4 million, or 36% of the budget, is allotted to these activities.
As part of this program activity, we are currently performing a study on leadership and language of work in order to determine how federal institutions can create work environments that are more conducive to the use of both official languages. This study will be released next fall.
Furthermore, I will continue to promote dialogue between the federal government and post-secondary educational institutions so that these institutions provide students with more opportunities to improve their second-language skills. I view this as a key issue for Canadian society and for public service renewal.
In the wake of the Olympic Games, one of our priorities will be to continue to focus on the travelling public and federal institutions regarding their rights and obligations. We will also continue to stir discussion across the country on the issue of linguistic duality as a Canadian value.
Internal services are meant to support the other two program activities. They include management and monitoring activities, including financial, human resources and information management; information technology; property and materiel management; and procurement. Overall, these services are allocated $6.4 million, or 31% of the total budget.
Over the next three years, the Office of the Commissioner will establish a monitoring action plan for the delegation of powers related to human resources, financial administration and information management. We will also be reviewing delegation instruments in these areas.
Finally, we will be updating our human resources plan so that it takes into account the results of the Public Service Employee Survey, the employment equity plan and the internal audit results.
Administrative accountability is, in my opinion, of vital importance. Managers at the Office of the Commissioner ensure that the funds we are allocated are used in a way that is responsible, transparent, and mindful of the public interest.
I am proud to say that the Auditor General has given us an unqualified opinion on our financial statements, for the sixth year in a row.
Our budget has remained stable over the past few years. In 2007–2008, we were given an additional $957,000—of which $722,000 is on an ongoing basis—so that we could cover new obligations associated with access to information and internal audits as a result of the Federal Accountability Act. Special projects, such as those we undertook this past year to mark the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, are funded by monies from our regular budget.
April 1st of this year marked the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Office of the Commissioner and of the moment Keith Spicer and his team took office. Over the last 40 years, language rights have evolved in tandem with Canadian society. Challenges, public expectations and work tools have considerably changed. But the Office of the Commissioner has always learned to adapt and will continue to do so.
I have initiated an A-base review in order to ensure the optimal use of public resources that are entrusted to me. This type of examination will allow us to determine appropriate resources based on the scope and complexity of our activities, including the human resources that will allow us to reinforce our protection and promotion role. Through this exercise, we will see to it that resources are optimally allotted at the Office of the Commissioner.
There is an internal management issue which may, however, compromise the Office of the Commissioner’s ability to carry out its activities. An analysis of problem areas related to information management and information technology has indicated a significant gap between our system capacity and our operational requirements. Our current platform and hardware, as well as our current software, are out of date and run the risk of failure. Furthermore, this technology cannot be modified to cope with new demands and requirements related to our role. We have therefore entered discussions with the Treasury Board Secretariat so that we can present a request for additional funding to the Advisory Panel on the Funding and Oversight of Officers of Parliament. I hope that this action will allow us to begin upgrading our information technology systems in 2010–2011.
Thank you for your attention. My colleagues and I are available to answer your questions.