Archived - Notes for an address to deputy ministers at the Canada School of Public Service
This page has been archived on the Web.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.
Notes for an address to deputy ministers at the Canada School of Public Service
Ottawa, September 15, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Thank you, Mr. Ferrabee.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
I would like to thank Mr. Guy McKenzie for the invitation to come and speak to you today. It is a pleasure to be here during this luncheon presentation. This afternoon, we will try to better understand why the skills you need to excel as public service leaders cannot be dissociated from your official languages skills.
I suspect you must be preparing for the hard decisions and tight budgets ahead. Your staff will be looking to you for guidance and inspiration, now more than ever before. Your collaborators will benefit from that management wisdom that comes from a fruitful career. As long as they are given a clear sense of direction, they’ll be confident in their ability to do what needs to be done.
Under the circumstances, I would not be surprised if you felt that the last person you wanted to hear from was the Commissioner of Official Languages. As Morris Rosenberg once said, there are watchers and there are doers—and I am one of the watchers.
But I am particularly pleased to be able to speak to you, because I think you play an absolutely critical role in establishing whether or not the Official Languages Act is a success, or a failure. At the same time, I think that your attitude towards language—in particular, how you respect language of work as a value rather than an obligation—can determine whether you are a successful leader or not. For it is my contention that mastery of both official languages—and effective use and encouragement of the use of both—is a critical leadership competency.
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 more often than not by who is in charge. Just imagine—or remember, if this is a situation you have already gone through—how you can feel the winds of linguistic change when a Francophone minister is appointed to replace an Anglophone. All of a sudden, translation becomes a priority, and bilingual employees suddenly become popular. The same thing happens on a smaller scale when Anglophone managers are assigned to Francophone divisions.
At some point in your career, you might have found yourself in a situation where you spoke the language of the minority or majority, whether you are Francophone or Anglophone. The public service is its own world of linguistic divides. French is not always the minority language, and English is not always the majority language. The only constant is your own official language of choice.
We have just published a study on leadership and language of work, and I will be discussing it in some detail later—but first let me make it clear. This is not new. And this is not “Pierre Trudeau’s dream.”
In 1958—53 years ago—the Civil Service Commission recommended that a new provision be inserted into the Public Service Act, requiring that a public servant in charge of a unit composed of a significant number of both Francophone and Anglophone employees should be sufficiently bilingual to supervise the unit’s work. That was 53 years ago.
In 1966, Prime Minister Pearson stood up in the House of Commons and laid out the policy. He said that the government “hopes and expects that, within a reasonable period of time,” the federal public service would achieve a position in which:
- “it will be normal practice for oral or written communications within the service to be made in either official language at the option of the persons making them, in the knowledge that they will be understood by those directly concerned;
- communications with the public will normally be made in either official language having regard to the person being served;
- the linguistic and cultural values of both English-speaking and French‑speaking Canadians will be reflected through civil service recruitment and training; and
- a climate will be created in which public servants from both language groups will work together toward common goals, using their own language and applying their respective cultural values, but each fully appreciating and understanding those of the other.”
That was 45 years ago—and three years before the Official Languages Act.
It has been 41 years since the OLA, almost 30 years since the Charter, 23 years since language of work rights were included in the OLA—and 5 years since federal institutions were tasked with promoting the use of English and French, and with taking positive measures for the growth and development of minority-language communities.
And yet, the federal government has not yet achieved what Lester Pearson set as an objective: a climate where public servants from both linguistic groups work together using their own language and understanding the language of the other.
Report after report, study after study indicates that Francophones are reluctant to use French at work. There are pressures against the use of French: of all the things that determine the working day of the employee, language is the only one he or she can choose. This is a radical act. It’s not surprising people are reluctant.
What are the consequences of this situation? A loss of effectiveness; a diminishing in the linguistic capacity of employees, whether Francophone or Anglophone; not to mention a failure to respect the Act and the values it represents. In June 2007, I heard Jeffrey Gandz of the Ivey Executive Program and Ivey Leadership Program talk about leadership and the importance of knowing how to influence and persuade, in other words, encouraging, empowering and exhibiting values. “If leaders don’t exhibit values, the values don’t exist,” he said.
I asked Mr. Gandz how important it was for leaders to be able to communicate with the organization as a whole, as opposed to just their direct reports. That, he said, was the distinction between a leader and a manager. You manage within a system; you lead across systems. So, to be a leader in the public service, you must know how to influence, persuade, engage and empower all of your employees, in English and in French.
The key role you will play is to personify values: the values of your department, and of the public service. Values become burdens; we need to return linguistic duality to the category of values.
You and your managers will play a key role in making the public service a place of work where linguistic duality is a fundamental value and at the heart of its operations. You all have to be official languages defenders guided by the values of linguistic duality and respect. Not only must you have good language skills in both official languages, but you must also be willing to use and to place both languages on equal footing at work, and to demonstrate behaviour that shows your commitment to linguistic duality in the public service.
The focus on leadership by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is definitely not new. It has been an ongoing theme in the continuing review of linguistic duality in the Government of Canada.
In fact, I would argue that strong leadership is the key determinant of success, and its absence the key determinant of failure. Leadership in a federal institution that respects both official languages means much more than reading a speech in French, or conducting a bilingual meeting, or sending messages in both official languages.
Shortly after I became Commissioner, I had a meeting with senior executives over at second-language evaluations, and I brought up an issue that had interested me for some time. For years, I had heard complaints about how difficult it was to attain a C in oral interaction, and so I asked what was required.
To get a C in oral interaction, I was told, the candidate should be able to explain something in detail; should be able to persuade; and should be able to give advice to a junior colleague.
I thought about this, and I realized something. These are not language criteria at all. These are leadership criteria.
Our study Beyond Bilingual Meetings: Leadership Behaviours for Managers, published this past March, aims to inspire senior officials and managers to set the standard in terms of official languages in their organizations. The study includes a leadership competencies profile for official languages, which uses the same key competencies as the more general leadership competency profile developed by the Treasury Board, which you have gotten to know throughout your career: Values and Ethics, Strategic Thinking, Engagement and Management Excellence. For each value, we identified a series of intermediate competencies, as well as behaviours that flow from these competencies. Let me give you a series of quick behavioural examples you can implement to encourage linguistic duality at work.
You can start by finding out which official language each manager or employee prefers to use at work by asking them instead of assuming, and then you can speak to managers and employees in the official language of their choice—again, it’s a matter of respect, and it takes two seconds. You could also develop a series of best practices in cooperation with various working groups and outline specific expectations with respect to language of work; it is important that your leadership in linguistic duality shows, and that the tools are in place to implement it.
Demonstrating courage in taking corrective action to ensure that employees’ rights are respected is a particularly vital competency. Showing boldness, creativity and initiative in the action taken to ensure that official languages are respected at work, and being honest and transparent with managers and employees when they do not respect the Official Languages Act in terms of language at work, will gain you the respect of your subordinates.
The study is available on our website. You will also find on our website a self-assessment tool for managers that will allow you or your subordinates to evaluate the leadership behaviours promoting official languages at work that are already in place, and those that need to be introduced in your organization.
Knowledge of official languages is a critical leadership competency—Canada’s largest employer recognizes that—in theory. How does knowledge of both official languages affect your ability to be a senior official? Well, if you are in Ottawa, your managers and employees have the right to communicate with you, report to you and send you requested documents in English or in French. This is their right, and you are obligated to respect that. It’s the law. But as a senior official, shouldn’t you be entitled to expect others to comply with your official language of choice? This is the unsaid, unwritten behaviour that has to change—you have to make working in the official language of their choice a reality for your subordinates.
To do that, you have to show leadership by managing expectations and resources. If translation is needed, you have to allow sufficient time for this task to be completed. Let’s take the example of a bilingual Francophone employee who chooses to write in English a report requested by his Anglophone supervisor. In doing so, he might end up not writing a sufficiently convincing piece for his boss, and the proposal might be rejected. It’s too bad—it would have been so much easier to explain the intricate details in French, but time was an issue—the result of this was a failure to be clear and understood. But whose failure is it? Failure of the employee who didn’t insist on writing in his mother tongue, or failure of the supervisor who didn’t support his subordinate so that he could work in the language of his choice? Of course, this is just one example. But in the end, this lack of leadership in official languages becomes the failure of the public service and, ultimately, of the whole government, which claims to respect both official languages—on paper.
Showing leadership in official languages is not only respecting the idea of it—it’s not ticking boxes on a “to-do” list. You have to make it happen, and you have to get real, to manage expectations. To make working in the language of choice a real choice you have to respect the linguistic choice of managers and employees, use both official languages yourself, and not just say it—SHOW it. But in doing so, you also have to respect the time it takes to implement this change. Otherwise it’s just empty talk. It’s not real, and it’s not fair. And it’s never best practice to value expediency over justice.
Respect does not only mean respecting the official language itself and the people who speak it—it also means respecting the actual choice of the public servant, and respecting the process, the time and the energy it takes to give sufficient space for that choice to have a chance. So a conversation might take longer to unfold; so you might spend more precious minutes in explaining yourself, in listening to someone. So what? The respect you gain will be invaluable. Take the risk. Set an example by stepping out of your linguistic comfort zone. Give credit to those who have the courage to speak in their second language, and praise those who choose to work in the language of their choice; make this choice easy for them and, at the same time, for yourself. Give practical effect to the result—make the public service we see on paper—and online—become a reality.
Leadership is key. The success of the language policy in your department will depend on your behaviour, your actions, and the messages you send. Will you encourage and initiate change in the right direction, or will you tolerate it? Do not wait to be called to attention by your managers or employees when it comes to official languages at work. Be proactive; it’s a question of respect. And good leaders are always respectful.
Thank you. If we still have time, I’d like to answer any questions you may have, or hear about your own experiences with linguistic duality.