Archived - Statement to the media for the launch of volume II of the 2009–2010 annual report
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Ottawa, November 2, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for coming to the release of volume II of my 2009–2010 annual report.
This second volume of the annual report deals with federal institutions’ compliance with the Official Languages Act. Most notably, it analyzes the performance of 16 federal institutions, some of which were evaluated by my office for the first time, and it provides an overall account of the complaints received by my office.
Despite the understandable reflex of wanting to compare one year or one institution to the other, the criteria for the report card exercise evolve. This is due, in part, to the evolution of jurisprudence and to the different emphasis I want to put on a given part of the Act. We have also put a greater focus on results rather than processes. For example, we highlighted the importance of the obligations federal institutions have to take positive measures for official language minority communities and to promote both official languages. These obligations stem from changes made to Part VII of the Act five years ago.
The results for institutions that had never been evaluated before were poor. I hope the results will be a wake-up call.
As the three chapters of this volume demonstrate, many federal institutions still have a lot of difficulty taking into account what I consider to be five key leadership requirements for implementing the Act. I define these in the report.
The result is that far too many Canadians are still having problems obtaining federal services in the official language of their choice, either English or French; federal employees are often not able to work in their preferred official language; and official language communities are not receiving the support they need to reach their full potential.
Some institutions have put in place positive initiatives to ensure their employees understand what they have to do with regard to official languages—but then fall short in properly planning their activities in order to meet these obligations. Others carry out their policies effectively, but fail to properly evaluate their impact. There are also discrepancies within an institution, where the approach used is not always coherent, effective and comprehensive.
It is in the best interest of the Canadians, official language minority communities and public servants—as well as institutions themselves—to provide real leadership with regard to linguistic duality.
Serving the public
Canadians are generally tolerant and accommodating, but they do expect to be treated fairly and equitably. This includes receiving services of equal quality in either official language. The reality—for both English-speaking Quebecers and French-speaking Canadians in other provinces—is far too often the opposite; for instance, when airport authorities use contractors who do not have sufficient knowledge of their language obligations regarding service to the public; or when Canadian tourism officials insist that they can disregard official language communities or arbitrarily decide which language population will be targeted to promote our country’s tourist attractions; or even when travelers returning to Canada find it very challenging to be served in their preferred language by the Canada Border Services Agency.
The unfortunate active-offer scores given to the 16 institutions evaluated by my office are mostly the result of a lack of knowledge, leadership, planning, implementation and follow-up regarding their linguistic obligations. Needless to say, there is still a lot of work to be done to find long-term solutions.
Unfortunately, too many institutions wait until a complaint has been brought against them or until they receive a poor score on their report card before making any effort to better meet their language obligations. Such an approach diminishes Canadians’ trust in their federal institutions.
The solutions are out there, however. My report highlights many best practices implemented by institutions in terms of service to the public as well as inspiring examples of individuals who have made a difference within their institution.
An equitable workplace
Lack of leadership continues to be an issue within institutions. Many lack the vision to create a public service where English and French enjoy equal status as languages of work.
In many institutions, more than one fifth of employees belonging to official language minority communities in designated bilingual areas do not feel free to use the official language of their choice at work. For the Canadian Border Services Agency, Health Canada and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the satisfaction rate is even lower.
Among the public servants surveyed, many do not feel comfortable preparing written material or communicating with their immediate supervisor in their own language. They also find it difficult to obtain specialized training that is readily available to the linguistic majority.
In 2008, I recommended that deputy heads of all federal institutions take concrete steps to create a work environment that is more conducive to the use of both English and French by employees in designated regions.
This year, after analyzing the responses of 117 federal institutions to my recommendations, I found that 30 percent had not taken concrete measures to improve the situation. Those that neglected to do anything about the problem were often those that required the most measures. Institutions such as Air Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have shown little or no resolve to address language-of-work issues that have persisted for years.
Although several institutions have implemented promising measures to improve the language situation within their walls, they continue to encounter challenges in fostering bilingualism in the workplace.
Lack of understanding by managers may be partly to blame. Federal senior managers have not given nearly enough attention to the issue of fostering bilingualism in the workplace. In many cases, they simply don’t know what to do. It is only through their efforts in implementing specific and long-term official-languages-oriented measures that all federal employees can feel valued and respected.
Progress might be difficult to track, as the last government-wide Public Service Employee Survey dates back to 2008. With the propensity of large institutions to put efforts only where they can measure results, I fear that the absence of data will lead to an absence of improvement.
Reaching their full potential
Our data shows that federal institutions are also failing at the task of helping official language minority communities across the country to develop their full potential. They must provide them with the means to thrive rather than simply survive. Part VII of the Official Languages Act requires every federal institution to take positive measures to achieve this objective.
Federal institutions can support and assist in the development of official language communities by evaluating the impact their policies and programs have on them. What we have determined, however, is that current planning and evaluation practices are less than stellar. Again, they seem to lack a clear understanding of their obligations. Out of the 16 institutions reviewed this year, 10 received a mark of D or E on their report cards for Part VII, and only 4 received an A.
By any standards, grades like these represent a disturbing lack of basic understanding and effort, which extends to most of the public service. As with every report card exercise, there are always a few institutions that stand out from the others. Health Canada, for example, was one of the four institutions to receive an A for proper implementation of Part VII because of its willingness to actively consult official language communities. In 2009, in addition to holding annual regional consultation panels, Health Canada organized a conference that focused specifically on health issues within official language communities.
Despite some positive outcomes, measuring community vitality and tracking the progress of official languages throughout the country might prove more challenging in the future due to recent changes in the census process. A wide range of federal institutions depend on information provided by the long-form census questionnaire to measure the results of their initiatives. How many French-speaking immigrants come to Canada? Where do they choose to live and how are they doing economically? Are the English-speaking communities of Quebec’s Lower North Shore successful in moving beyond a troubled fisheries industry? The answer to these questions and many others will be more difficult to obtain if the newly established census format endures.
Even in initiatives that can be considered genuine success stories, promotion of Canada’s official languages is often lacking. At the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, federal institutions generally succeeded in communicating with the public in both official languages. However, the cultural component of the opening ceremony reminded me of how children were viewed in the Victorian era: it’s nice to have them around, as long as they’re seen, but not heard!
Undoubtedly, implementing Part VII of the Official Languages Act continues to be a slow process. However, I truly believe that strong leadership will enable federal institutions to address their shortcomings, to improve understanding of their obligations under the Act and to ensure proper planning of related activities.
So I will follow with great interest the federal government’s response to the report of Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages on the Implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act, released in June 2010. I plan to analyze the federal government’s reaction to the recommendations in the report. I also plan to focus my 2010–2011 annual report on the promotion of the use of English and French and on the development of official language communities.
In closing, I would like emphasize that what is being asked of federal institutions is realistic. Leaders who are determined to make a difference can have an enormous impact on their institutions. Fulfilling official language obligations requires knowledge and understanding of the Act; a willingness to enforce the Act; planning and coordination of programs and services; and effective follow-up. This is nothing new. It is simply the way to do business. It is in the best interest of the Canadian public, official language communities and public servants, as well as the institutions themselves to provide true leadership regarding linguistic duality. Above all, living up to official languages responsibilities is in the best interest of the country.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.