Archived - Notes for an Address to be Given at the Opening of the Discussion Forum Implementing Part VII: Understand, Talk, Act
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Ottawa, March 9, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I am pleased to welcome you to this discussion forum on implementing Part VII of the Act. Three words eloquently sum up both the day’s objectives and the challenges of Part VII: understanding, talking and action. During the forum, you will be able to talk about your experiences, discuss the challenges you face and the successes achieved, and propose new ideas for improving the implementation of Part VII.
Some of you are already well aware of the issues surrounding its implementation. Others may still have questions on the subject, asking “
How is this achieved in practice?” We all know that there are no easy answers to these questions. They require serious reflection and ongoing vigilance. We must never lose sight of the fact that each and every federal institution, no matter what its area of activity, can—and indeed must—take action to support the development of official language communities and contribute to the promotion of linguistic duality.
That said, today I respectfully ask that you put aside any preconceived notions you may have about Part VII of the Act and embark on an experiment: looking at things differently (a venture that I encourage you to take on with audacity!). And have no fear—there are no wrong answers today. It is often said that “
where there’s a will, there’s a way,” right? So I ask that you consider the ideas being put forward with an open mind. Banish the thought that it will never work in your organization! I encourage you to talk about your experiences and perceptions, and, especially, to learn from one another. In a nutshell, I’m asking you to regard this experience as a learning opportunity. You may even come away from here with potential solutions.
Many of you have considerable experience with regard to discussions between federal institutions and official language communities. This day is of particular interest to me because it is closely associated with my quest for a dialogue that has taken years to get off the ground. Before applying for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, I gave a great deal of thought to the role I would have to play. I envisaged that role as being a builder of bridges between communities and institutions—I anticipated open and positive dialogue. I hoped to raise the level of discussion so that we could achieve concrete results. I hoped to avoid confrontation, both in the media and in courts of law, because it is an impediment to dialogue and collaboration.
In November 2005, before I had even begun my term of office, the Parliament of Canada strengthened the Act. As you know, federal institutions are now required to take positive measures to meet the objectives of Part VII. It is a significant change that requires federal institutions to adapt to a new reality. Parliament told institutions, “Now you are legally obliged to do everything you can to promote the vitality of official language communities and recognize the equality of English and French in Canadian society.”
In other words, a legal turn of events occurred, preventing a dialogue that had not yet even had the time to begin. Five years later, fellow partners, we are finally coming together to begin this long-awaited dialogue. If you’re anything like me, then you’ve got a lot to say!
This is a remarkable opportunity for us to initiate this dialogue not only between communities and institutions, but also between official language communities and institutions. I encourage you to throw yourselves wholeheartedly into the debate with an open mind and no preconceptions. It’s not an easy thing to do, I’ll grant you that. Especially when the thought arises, as it often mistakenly does, that some part of the Act or another concerns organizations or communities other than our own. Discussion and openness will enable us to gain a better understanding of the realities and challenges encountered by each and every one of us.
The objective of a day like today is to avoid the adoption of a silo mentality and to pool our ideas and solutions to achieve our ends—we are partners, so we should support one other. Federal institutions serve organizations and communities, but they also need to support one other, just as organizations and communities should collaborate. If federal institutions want to enhance the vitality of English- and French-speaking minority communities and promote linguistic duality, don’t you think the first positive measure required is the creation of a climate conducive to dialogue and in which there is “
genuine equality,” right here, among partners? It all starts here, with us!
The Office of the Commissioner deliberately provided a broad and open definition of positive measures to be taken, providing the opportunity to encourage innovation and creativity. In concrete terms, that also means that federal institutions need to go well beyond simply delivering services in English and French and ensure that their programs enhance the vitality of official language minority communities. Many people have told me how hard it is to implement Part VII. It is precisely its breadth of interpretation that makes Part VII so important, because it is up to us—official languages partners and institutions—to put it into practice. Fortunately we will have the opportunity to fully discuss this issue today, and I truly hope the workshops will help you to better understand both your obligations and the “
nature of the beast.”
As I did for the Olympic Games, I am taking a proactive and preventive approach with you. As you know, the way of the courts is not the avenue I want to take. I much prefer dialogue. As I mentioned, my role as Commissioner is to build bridges, to encourage sharing between communities and institutions and most importantly, fellow partners, to convey, to the best of my abilities, all the enthusiasm I feel towards the discussions that are about to take place. I encourage you to take a moment now to drop the immediate constraints of your workplace and visualize today’s forum from a positive perspective. To help us identify our own “positive measures,” what could be more effective than a positive frame of mind? We have an opportunity to together reflect on potential courses of action that will put Part VII into practice. Let’s give ourselves a chance to achieve concrete results!
People often ask me about positive measures to take to promote official languages. “
Can you give me concrete examples of a positive measure?” “
What would not be a positive measure?” I know that Part VII raises complex issues—but it is not necessarily complicated in and of itself. To those of you in search of a simple solution, I have three key words that will provide the focus for our discussions today: UNDERSTAND, TALK and ACT. Understand your obligations and what Part VII means for your institution. Talk with people from official language communities and those who are committed to linguistic duality. And act in a proactive way by taking positive measures.
In a few months, the first volume of my annual report will be published. It will deal solely with Part VII. I hope it will provide answers when you have questions concerning Part VII. As you read it, you will gain a sense of the current situation insofar as Part VII is concerned. In the report, I will also recommend courses of action and make suggestions to the government and federal institutions for improving the implementation of Part VII. In keeping with one of the principles of Part VII, to adopt a proactive and systematic approach and a targeted treatment, I would like the time that we will be spending together today to be used to float ideas in a spirit of continuous improvement. I invite you once again to join in our discussions and to act. And I hope that your day is filled with productive discussions, and many learning opportunities.
Before continuing, I would like to mention that this forum would not have been possible without our partners’ support, and I would now like to give them the floor.
As I said this morning, Part VII is not easy to define and it is open to many interpretations. You have all demonstrated how committed and open you are by participating in the workshops today. What we heard during the plenary session gives us reason to be enthusiastic about the future. Allow me to remind you that it is up to the heads of federal institutions to demonstrate leadership and creativity in meeting their obligations, and up to the organizations to ensure their needs are heard. I am eager to determine what will emerge from your discussions in that regard. I hope you have generated many innovative ideas about ways to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities and to recognize the equality of English and French in Canadian society. I think that, collectively, we have succeeded in demystifying Part VII of the Official Languages Act. I would like to thank Canadian Heritage and the Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions, which made today possible through their financial support. I would also like to thank the people on the Advisory Committee who contributed to putting the program together and developing the themes for the day: Canadian Heritage, the Quebec Community Groups Network and the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne.
It is rare that representatives from English- and French-speaking minority communities find themselves under the same roof with their federal partners. You are the trailblazers of Part VII, you are the starting points. And let me stress the starting points because, when it comes to Part VII, a “one-size-fits-all” approach simply does not work. You are the ones who shape the obligations—there are many versions of them and they have many facets. It is thanks to each and every one of you, to the work you carry out in your respective fields, and to your exemplary collaboration, that Canadian linguistic duality is very much a firmly entrenched reality.