Archived - Notes for an address to the employees of Public Works and Government Services Canada on Linguistic Duality Day
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Ottawa, September 8, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning, bonjour.
First of all, I would like to welcome you all, and thank you for joining us. It is a pleasure for me to be here today at Public Works and Government Services Canada for your Linguistic Duality Day activities. I would also like to thank François Guimont and Gilbert Taylor for inviting me today and for their commitment to the promotion of linguistic duality at PWGSC.
Linguistic duality as a value
It’s important to me to be here visiting you on Linguistic Duality Day. Linguistic duality is an unchanging value in Canadian society—part of the country’s very nature. Canada’s identity was built with English and French as the languages of national dialogue. This national conversation still takes place in our two official languages. Linguistic duality is an important value for Canadian society, and particularly for the public service.
As PWGSC employees, you help other government departments and agencies to provide their programs and services to Canadians. Public Works and Government Services Canada plays an important role in the daily operations of the Government of Canada. Your responsibilities include being its principal linguistic authority, through the Translation Bureau, and an enabler of access to government services online.
Linguistic duality is at the heart of your everyday actions. You are the Government of Canada’s common service agency and you provide government institutions with support services for their programs. More than anyone, you are in a position to understand why it is essential to provide all of these services in both official languages.
You have an enormous responsibility when it comes to promoting linguistic duality as a Canadian value. You know how important it is, and you must never forget that.
There is a huge difference between value and burden when it comes to linguistic duality, and this difference is manifested in how we act upon it. Your attitude toward linguistic duality and, in particular, how you respect language of work—YOUR language of work—has a decisive influence on how managers, colleagues, other government institutions and all Canadians integrate linguistic duality in their lives.
It is a value that we share, but also one that we should believe in and cherish. And that starts here, in your day-to-day activities as public servants.
Canadian linguistic duality is complex. It is a paradox: a bilingual country where few people speak both official languages. This paradox is at the heart of official bilingualism; there are fewer bilingual people in officially bilingual countries than in unilingual countries, because official bilingualism means the state is required to operate in two languages, but the citizen is not. That duality—and duality does not necessarily mean bilingualism—is at the core of our identity. It is a distinctive trait of Canada’s personality.
Linguistic duality is a fundamental value of the public service and of Canada. It is at the heart of your Official Language Minority Communities Secretariat, which supports official language communities and promotes linguistic duality. You need to embody this value and put it into practice so that it is not an abstract concept, but rather becomes anchored in the reality of all public servants and all Canadians.
Language of work
What does linguistic duality mean for you, every day, as public servants at PWGSC?
Many of you are bilingual to some degree or another. But before linguistic duality became a value for you, it had to be an object of curiosity, of discovery. Learning a second language—or in some cases, a third or forth—is a labour of love, a thirst for knowledge, even a quest for identity. Everyone has a story about how they first learned their second language, or when they first understood how important linguistic duality is for Canadians. One of the great things about my job is getting to hear those stories.
Living in English and French gives you the opportunity to have more encounters, to make more discoveries. In our world of globalization and abundance of information, learning the other official language is a bridge to the rest of the world, not an obstacle.
Now, you may not be aware of this, but all of you play an absolutely critical role in keeping linguistic duality at the heart of Canadian values. Let me explain.
In the public service, the linguistic minority can shift many times over—especially here in the National Capital Region. It is not determined by provincial borders; it is determined by who is in charge!
Employees tend to use the language that their manager prefers. That’s understandable, but staff need to learn to overcome this reflex.
Of course, no one wants to make waves in their organization. But report after report and study after study indicate that Francophones are not comfortable using the language of THEIR choice at work. Why is that?
In some work environments, there can be invisible pressures not to use French. For example, an Anglophone manager might say, “Oh, thank you, you just made my life easier,” to a Francophone employee who speaks English or submits his report in English. We accept that documents, briefing notes and e-mails are not translated, or at best are hastily translated, because deadlines are often very tight.
This unspoken, unwritten behaviour has to change. You have the right to work in the official language of your choice, and to do this you have to use your right respectfully—but you also have to make yourself heard!
As public servants, you have rights regarding linguistic duality—but you also have responsibilities. As the Official Languages Act states:
- the public has the right to use English or French to communicate with the head offices of federal institutions that are subject to the Act, and
- federal public servants have the right to work in the official language of their choice in regions that are designated bilingual.
But there’s a condition: in return for this right, you have to dare to use your preferred language at work.
As you know, you have the right to work in the official language of your choice, and this right includes the right to participate in meetings using the official language of your choice. As well, your department’s central services, such as pay and benefits, must be bilingual.
There are ways of breaking the ice on these issues. You can say, “Si cela ne vous dérange pas, j’aimerais remettre ce rapport en français,” to your bilingual Anglophone manager, or “If it’s OK with you, I would like to write this report in English” to your bilingual Francophone manager.
This is your right, and your manager should encourage you to use the official language of your choice! But it is your responsibility to assert yourself.
We must also remember that the federal government is committed to enhancing the vitality of Anglophone and Francophone minority communities in Canada, assisting their development and promoting the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. Since 2005, federal institutions have had an obligation to take positive measures to implement this commitment.
Thanks to PWGSC’s Language Portal of Canada, the Canadian public now has free access to a range of language tools and resources. This includes TERMIUM Plus®, the government of Canada’s terminology and linguistic data bank. The Language Portal also provides links to Francophone and Anglophone minority communities. As well, your department has committed to facilitating cooperation between the Government of Canada and Quebec’s English-speaking communities, so more Canadian Anglophones can join the federal public service in areas of Quebec outside the National Capital Region.
You play a key role in achieving this objective. I therefore encourage you to participate in your department’s linguistic duality promotion activities, as you are doing here today. That will better equip you to understand the importance of official language communities to Canada’s identity as a bilingual country, as well as your responsibilities in promoting the full recognition and use of English and French in Canadian society.
Earlier this year, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages released a study entitled Beyond Bilingual Meetings: Leadership Behaviours for Managers. But leadership is not limited to managers, directors and deputy ministers—though of course we do expect it of our superiors.
How frustrating it is to be part of a team whose leader doesn’t show you the way? Sometimes, leaders need a nudge to get on the right track!
You can find the leadership study on our website. You can also find there a self-assessment tool for evaluating the actions you are already taking that benefit your workplace, and to help you choose what else to incorporate or encourage in your organization.
This is also a challenge for managers. An executive recently pointed out to me that you have to have a certain level of comfort in order to play a leadership role. He said that he did not feel comfortable enough in his second language to project the proper leadership, and asked for advice.
His question stayed with me. It is true that no one wants to appear less articulate or less confident when trying to inspire and engage colleagues and employees.
I was sympathetic: the summer I learned French, I remember being told by a very bilingual fellow student that I was quite different in French than I was in English. “Of course I’m different!” I replied. “I’m stupid, inarticulate and I have no sense of humour!”
I suggested developing relationships with colleagues, and practising questions and answers. But other ideas occurred to me later.
When I started this job, I was uneasy about my French. I had not taken any kind of formal instruction for almost 30 years, and that was a night course for adults. I had never even been tested.
Initially dismissive of my concerns, my chief of staff suggested that I hire a retired executive from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, who had returned to his first love: language teaching. But rather than focusing on language instruction, we spent our sessions studying the Official Language Act, clause by clause . . . in French.
Several years later, when I encountered a recurrent management problem, I hired a coach to help me resolve the issue. We had our sessions in French.
If, as I have argued for some time, second language proficiency is a critical leadership competency, then leadership skills should be studied in the second language. There are many ways to improve your language skills that do not involve a language teacher.
The goal is to promote the use of both official languages in the workplace. We also offer print copies of the study and the tool for those who want them.
Linguistic duality is not a burden that holds us back: on the contrary, it allows us to move forward, to face the future of the public service with optimism. It’s a globally recognized Canadian value, and we should all be proud of it and promote it!
Recently, I met some immigrants who came to Canada partly because of its language policy.
You all have to be official languages advocates, guided by the values of linguistic duality and respect. You must demonstrate behaviour that shows your commitment to linguistic duality in the public service.
It is important to keep linguistic duality at the heart of our social debates and our responsibilities as public servants—it helps us to define ourselves as a society and to serve the Canadian public.
The success of your department’s language policy depends on your behaviour, your actions, the messages you send, the heart you put into it.
Thank you. If we still have time, I would be happy to hear any comments you’d like to share or answer any questions you may have.