Archived - Notes for an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages – Presentation of volume II of the 2009–2010 annual report
This page has been archived on the Web.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, November 4, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
To present the findings of volume II of my fourth annual report, I am accompanied today by Sylvain Giguère, Assistant Commissioner of Policy and Communications; Ghislaine Charlebois, Assistant Commissioner of Compliance Assurance; Johane Tremblay, General Counsel; and Lise Cloutier, Assistant Commissioner of Corporate Services.
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. In particular, they take into account the evolution of jurisprudence and 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.
The results for institutions that had never been evaluated before were poor. I hope the results will be a wake-up call.
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 not obtaining federal services in the official language of their choice; 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 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 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 travelers returning to Canada are not served in their preferred language by the Canada Border Services Agency.
The poor 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. 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.
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.
Despite promising measures to improve the language-of-work situation within federal institutions, challenges persist 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.
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
Federal institutions are also failing to help official language minority communities across the country to develop their full potential. 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. 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 lack of basic understanding and effort. However, there are 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.
Despite some positive outcomes, measuring community vitality and tracking the progress of official languages throughout the country might prove more challenging 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 have come to Canada? Where do they choose to live and how are they doing economically? Have the English-speaking communities of Quebec’s Lower North Shore been 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 is kept.
Even in initiatives that can be considered genuine success stories, promotion of Canada’s official languages is often lacking. The Vancouver 2010 Winter Games are an example.
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 the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages on the implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act, released in June 2010. 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, 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; leadership; planning and coordination of programs and services; and effective follow-up and evaluation. This is nothing new. It is simply the way to do business. 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.