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Linguistic duality: A truly Canadian value Exemplary leadership in the public service
Ottawa, December 15, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,
I would first like to thank Patti Kuntz for inviting me to speak to you today. This is my first time speaking here and I’m very pleased to meet you.
As our country evolves, important issues will continue to arise, such as the role of diversity within our linguistic duality and Canada’s role in today’s knowledge-based economy. As senior departmental human resources officials, you need to stay abreast of current trends and needs to ensure that the public service keeps pace through innovation and renewal, and continues to accurately reflect an ever changing Canadian society.
The role of linguistic duality in Canadian society is quite simple: our two official languages, English and French, belong to Canadians, regardless of their background. They enable us to build bridges between communities across the country and to establish a national dialogue.
This dialogue is based on respect—respect for unilingual Canadians, respect for official language communities, respect for members of the public who receive services from the federal government and respect for the people who work for that government.
And yet, more than 40 years after the Official Languages Act was passed, there are still shortfalls in applying it. Although the government declared linguistic duality to be an essential value in its Speech from the Throne, (“
… we are a bilingual country … our Government will take steps to strengthen further Canada’s Francophone identity.”Footnote 1), it is still sending contradictory messages: the impact of budget cuts on official language communities is not always taken into account; a unilingual English judge is appointed to the Supreme Court; and a unilingual English auditor general is hired, despite the fact that bilingualism was an essential criterion for the position.
I am still optimistic, though. The controversy surrounding the appointments has shown that both English- and French-speaking Canadians have higher expectations. The bar has been raised. I sincerely believe that, by continuing to demonstrate strong and consistent leadership in the public service, we can foster a culture that promotes linguistic duality as a value rather than a burden.
Not all the signs are negative, however. For the first time, a majority of provincial premiers are bilingual, as are eight out of the nine NDP leadership candidates. The Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Clerk of the Privy Council, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism all come from Western Canada and are all bilingual.
Nevertheless, we need to be aware of the consequences that recent budget cuts could have on linguistic duality in the public service and on official language communities as a result of the rebound effect. My concern regarding the federal government’s budget cuts is twofold. First, if every department that handles issues affecting official language communities or language training makes cuts in this area, the cumulative effect will be much greater than 5 or 10%. Second, I am concerned that these cuts are being made without serious consideration of the possible repercussions. The cuts could have an adverse impact on a program or the operation of a department, and cause potentially permanent damage in the long term.
In order to better assess the official languages situation within the public service, my office will soon be conducting a study on language training, a component of linguistic duality that my team and I feel is very important. As in our previous studies, we will demonstrate due diligence and objectivity to continue to promote the use of both official languages so that the government meets its official languages commitments and obligations.
As members of the Human Resources Council, you play an absolutely vital role in determining the success or failure of the Official Languages Act within the public service, because mastering, using and promoting Canada’s two official languages are key leadership skills.
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. 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. He said, “
If leaders don’t exhibit values, the values don’t exist.”
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 analyse, explain, influence, persuade, engage and empower all of your employees, in English and in French.
Shortly after I became Commissioner, I met with senior second-language evaluations staff. For years, I had been hearing people complain about how hard it is to get a C in oral interaction, and so I asked what was required.
I was told that to get a C in oral interaction the candidate should be able to persuade, to explain something in detail and to give advice to a junior colleague.
I realized then that these are not just language skills—they are also essential leadership skills. As human resources managers, you must ensure that people who are joining or moving up in the public service have these skills. Notwithstanding the bilingual requirements of any position, linguistic duality must remain at the heart of the public service’s values, at all language levels and in all regions, regardless of bilingual designation.
Linguistic duality is one of the federal public service’s immutable values. When you choose to work for the public service and serve all Canadians, you also choose to accept linguistic duality as a value and to place both official languages on equal footing. Linguistic duality in the public service is not a choice, nor is it a political statement. It is a value that we all share, regardless of how many languages we speak!
Linguistic duality, like diversity, is key to a representative, diverse and skilled public service. Bilingualism in this context is a skill that creates a more effective public service. A study we published this year called Beyond Bilingual Meetings: Leadership Behaviours for Managers aims to inspire senior officials and managers to set the standard in terms of official languages in their organizations.
Designating supervisory positions as bilingual is essential. It is the only way that federal employees can work in the official language of their choice. Supervisors must be able to communicate orally and in writing in both official languages. They must also be able to understand and comment on documents in both official languages. If these conditions are not met, it is impossible for federal employees to work and be supervised in the official language of their choice.
At present, even though nearly 92% of supervisors in designated bilingual positions meet the language requirements of their positions, half of those positions require only a level B for oral language skills. I do not think that a B is sufficient to qualify someone as bilingual.
Furthermore, employees who have achieved the level of language proficiency required for their position may no longer use their second language at work, which means that they do not maintain that skill. And so even if employees meet the language requirements of their positions on paper, they do not all necessarily have the same language skills in their second official language. This is one of the challenges faced by the public service.
The public service needs to implement measures to help public servants maintain their second language. Managers just might have to get a little creative. I recently learned that in some departments, like Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Statistics Canada, executives set up weekly French-language lunch-and-learn sessions for their employees. The objective is to have discussions in French on non-work-related topics so that employees can practise what they learned in language training, or simply to bring colleagues together who would otherwise not speak French to each other. It is also an opportunity for employees to show their commitment to official languages in the public service and demonstrate their leadership. As Commissioner of Official Languages, I consider this initiative to be a best practice that should be followed, and even a positive measure under Part VII of the Act.
The Official Languages Act was adopted in 1969, but it wasn’t until 1988 that it was amended to include Part VII, which concerns the advancement of English and French and the vitality of Canada’s minority Anglophone and Francophone communities. Unfortunately, the Government of Canada has still not affirmed, loudly and clearly, that full and proactive compliance with this part of the Act is a priority.
Some federal institutions have a poor grasp of their Part VII obligations. I believe that the government should adopt and communicate a proactive vision of the Official Languages Act with regard to official language communities and the advancement of English and French, and must define the results that it expects from all federal institutions.
I have recommended that senior officials of federal institutions implement the Official Languages Act in its entirety by including Part VII in their institutions’ decision-making processes (for example, when developing policies or programs). This will also ensure the active participation of communities, while systematically evaluating the impact of actions taken, to develop a Part VII “reflex.”
It has been 42 years since the Official Languages Act was passed, 29 years since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted, 23 years since language-of-work rights were added to the Official Languages Act, and 5 years since federal institutions were given the obligation to promote the use of French and English, and to take positive measures to foster the growth and development of official language communities.
And yet, the federal government has still not achieved Lester Pearson’s objective: a climate where public servants from both official language groups work together using their own language and understanding the language of the other.
Report after report, study after study shows that Francophones are hesitant to use French at work. There are pressures against the use of French: of all the things that shape a federal employee’s average work day, language is the only one in which he or she has a choice. This is a radical act. It’s not surprising people are cautious.
The Beyond Bilingual Meetings study includes a leadership competencies profile for official languages that uses the same key competencies as the more general profile developed by the Treasury Board, which you have gotten to know throughout your careers: 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 some quick examples of behaviours you can adopt to encourage linguistic duality at work.
Demonstrating courage in taking corrective action to ensure that employees’ rights are respected is a key competency. You will gain the respect of your managers and employees by showing boldness, creativity and initiative in the action taken to ensure that official languages are respected at work, and by being honest and transparent with them when they do not respect the Official Languages Act in terms of language at work.
Beyond Bilingual Meetings is available on our website, where you will also find on a self-assessment tool for managers that allows you to evaluate the leadership behaviours already in place to promote official languages in the workplace, and those that have not yet been introduced.
Leadership is key. The success of language policy in your organization depends on your behaviour, on your actions and on the messages you send. Do you actively encourage or merely tolerate? Don’t wait for your managers or employees to bring up the subject of official languages in the workplace. 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.