Archived - Informal discussion with the Deputy Minister of Public Safety Canada and his management team
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Informal discussion with the Deputy Minister of Public Safety Canada and his management team
Ottawa, October 26, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to thank Mr. Baker for inviting me to speak to you today. I am very pleased to be here with you this morning.
Last week, I tabled my fifth annual report entitled Leadership, Action, Results. The report focuses primarily on Part VII of the Official Languages Act, which aims to enhance the vitality of official language communities and to promote linguistic duality.
I recently learned that this year, as part of your 2011–2012 Report on Plans and Priorities, your department has publicly committed to fulfilling its duties and obligations under the Official Languages Act. This is great news, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your official languages leadership.
This fall, one concern is front and centre in the public service: the Strategic and Operating Review. Departments are being asked to find ways to reduce their expenditures by 5 or 10%, and some departments are making significant cuts outside of the strategic review.
Organizations and volunteers whose work is to promote linguistic duality throughout Canada are also concerned. The government’s financial restructuring could have repercussions on the real and perceived ability of institutions to fulfill their official languages obligations.
Each department must ensure that its decisions consider the potential consequences for official language communities. Departments must also mitigate the negative impact, because if each institution decides to make cuts to official languages programs, the cumulative effect will be much greater than 5 or 10%.
My annual report examines the support provided for the development of English-speaking communities in Quebec and French-speaking communities in the rest of Canada. Part VII of the Official Languages Act requires all federal institutions to support the development of these communities and to promote linguistic duality in Canadian society. I am pleased that your department has committed to submitting its first report on Part VII to Canadian Heritage.
At Public Safety Canada, your mandate is to keep Canadians safe. As your website says, “there is no more fundamental role for government than the protection of its citizens.” I cannot agree more.
As Commissioner of Official Languages, I know it can be challenging to find the common ground between my mandate and yours, but our two institutions do share certain issues.
For example, in the event of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, that would require the evacuation of citizens, you must be able to communicate with all Canadians. As a federal institution, it is your duty to ensure the safety and security of Canadians, and it is my duty to ensure that every Canadian can be served in the official language of his or her choice. In some cases, providing service in both official languages can become an issue of national security – and even a matter of life or death. This may seem dramatic, but when you think about it, you can see the logic in it.
I am sure that you are required to make difficult decisions on a daily basis and that meeting your official languages obligations is but one of your myriad responsibilities as leaders. However, I believe that proficiency in both official languages—which includes effectively using and promoting them—is an essential leadership skill.
You play an absolutely critical role in the implementation of the Official Languages Act. And your attitude towards language—in particular, how you respect it as a value rather than an obligation—has a strong impact on your success as a leader.
For linguistic duality to be perceived as a value in your department, your managers—at all levels—must be willing and able to show their commitment through concrete actions.
To be a leader in the public service, you need to know how to influence, persuade, engage and empower all of your employees—in English and in French. In my annual report, I recommend that, by November 30, 2012, the President of the Treasury Board establish CBC/CBC as the minimum level of language skills required to supervise employees in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes.
Shortly after I became Commissioner, I met with senior second-language evaluations staff and I asked them what was required to obtain a “C.”
I was told that to get a C in oral interaction, 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.
As Jeffrey Gandz of the Ivey Executive and Leadership programs said, “If leaders don’t exhibit values, the values don’t exist.”
According to Mr. Gandz, the fundamental distinction between a leader and a manager is the ability to communicate with the organization as a whole, as opposed to just their direct reports.
The most recent Public Service Employee Survey showed that 28% of Public Safety Canada employees reported not feeling comfortable communicating with their immediate supervisor in the official language of their choice.
Section 91 of the Official Languages Act states that federal institutions must objectively determine whether a position should be designated unilingual or bilingual. The linguistic designation of a position is determined by taking into account factors such as obligations relating to language of work and service to the public. Thus, a position will likely be designated bilingual if the incumbent must serve the public in both official languages, if the incumbent is located in a region designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes, or if the incumbent must supervise or advise public service employees who have language-of-work rights. Ninety percent of your positions are located in the National Capital Region. Your leaders’ ability to explain, persuade and advise in both official languages is an issue that must be addressed; it should not be ignored.
The second volume of my 2009–2010 annual report stated that Public Safety Canada intended to review the linguistic designation of EX minus 1 positions that have supervisory functions. Since then, you have raised the language profile for more than 65 EX minus 1 positions to “CBC,” and your department has committed to providing information sessions for managers to clarify their supervisory obligations, developing new programs and policies that take official languages obligations into consideration, and continuing to use official language community media to communicate with the public.
This shows leadership.
You seem to be taking a step in the right direction when it comes to perceiving linguistic duality as a value within your organization, but there is still work to be done. Last December, the Standing Committee on Official Languages said it was still awaiting the results from the first years of the three-year plan, and we are receiving complaints claiming that you are still posting jobs with language profiles that were not established objectively, given the degree of complexity of the tasks that the incumbents are required to carry out.
I will be monitoring the progress and results of your initiatives.
The focus on leadership by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is not new. It has been a recurring subject in the ongoing review of linguistic duality in the Government of Canada.
Leadership in a federal institution that respects both official languages means much more than giving a speech in French, or chairing a bilingual meeting, or sending messages in both official languages.
A 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.
As Commissioner of Official Languages, I cannot provide you with all the answers on what to do and how to proceed in order to implement the Official Languages Act in your agencies.
This is why you need to lead by example and continue to ensure that full implementation of the Official Languages Act and active promotion of linguistic duality are treated as values rather than obligations.
Leadership is key.
The success of language policy in your department will depend on your behaviour, your actions and the messages you send. Be proactive. It’s a question of respect, and good leaders are always respectful.
The 2010–2011 annual report is available on the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages’ website.
Thank you. If we still have time, I’d like to answer any questions you may have.