Archived - Notes for an address during a visit to the Maurice Lamontagne Institute and the general meeting of Fisheries and Oceans Canada employees
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Mont-Joli, June 22, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. This is my first visit to your region as Commissioner, and I am very happy to be here at this research complex.
The Maurice Lamontagne Institute is one of the world’s major Francophone marine sciences centres. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that I believe that all researchers should be able to work in their own language and receive the support that they deserve. Facilities for research in French are crucial not only for the Canadian Francophonie, but also for the world.
Communication across the language communities is necessary if there is to be a good understanding of Canada’s social and political realities. Last year, the Canadian Journal of Political Science published a study entitled “Canadian Foreign Policy: A Linguistically Divided Field,” in which the authors show that work in the field of Canadian foreign policy by French-speaking political scientists suffers discrimination in the sense that it is not known. Earlier this year, Professor Charles Blattberg resigned from the jury for the C.B. Macpherson Prize, which recognizes the best work in political theory. He said: “I feel like it would be an insult to our francophone colleagues to produce another all-English shortlist and another English winner, particularly when there is only one French submission this year,” adding that, since 1994, no book in French has ever won the prize or even been short-listed, and this was the fourth year with no Francophone member on the jury.
As a country, we need to ask serious questions when the intellectuals of one of our language communities are ignored. For researchers working in foreign policy, being excluded from shaping the way their own field is represented is akin to not existing. The result is a one-sided picture of Canadian society and a certain “cultural imperialism.” University immersion does not simply improve students’ language skills; it shapes their thinking so that their beliefs are inclusive and non-discriminatory.
Your expertise is an important asset for Canada. Canadian scientific knowledge needs to be shared with the world in both official languages. The federal government needs to make the equality of Canada’s two official languages an integral part of its decision making. It also needs to promote English and French and foster their use in the workplace. Linguistic duality is an important value in both the public service and Canadian society as a whole; we must not lose sight of that.
You may not know this, but Maurice Lamontagne—who was born here in Mont-Joli—played an important role in establishing linguistic duality as a Canadian value. He promoted bilingualism and biculturalism throughout his political career, and in September 1962, when he was an advisor to Lester B. Pearson, he wrote a memo recommending to the Prime Minister that “all federal institutions . . . become bilingual and be the concrete demonstration of our bilingualism.”
Three months later, in December 1962, following Lamontagne’s advice, Mr. Pearson, then leader of the opposition, rose in the House of Commons and called for the creation of a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. Pearson later wrote that that was the speech of which he was proudest.
Four years later in 1966, when he was Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Pearson rose again in the House of Commons to announce a new policy for the public service:
- It will be normal practice for oral and 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.
- 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.
These points contained the objectives of what would become the Official Languages Act, which was enacted in 1969. Since then, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has also stipulated that English and French are the official languages of Canada.
As I said earlier, linguistic duality is a fundamental value of Canadian society that must be an integral part of the public service, whether in Mont-Joli or in Ottawa. The language rights of all Canadian citizens, including those who work in the public service, must be respected.
Like many other departments, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been hit hard by the cuts in the most recent federal budget.
One of the messages that I tried to convey to the government in the year leading up to this budget was to beware of the unforeseen consequences of some of its decisions—on linguistic duality as a Canadian value in the public service and on official language minority communities.
The government is responsible for being 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.
If these cuts are being made without serious consideration of the possible repercussions, they could have an adverse impact on a program or on a department’s operations, and cause potentially permanent damage in the long term.
For example, shutting down the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in 1995 did not just have a short-term impact on the people whose jobs were affected, it also had a long-term impact on the Canadian Forces’ ability to operate in both languages, on the language skills of the officers in training, and on the Canadian Forces’ ability to recruit. If the Maurice Lamontagne Institute were no longer able to operate as a French-language research unit, the same kind of impact could occur on recruitment and on science, and the ripples would spread far beyond the offices and work stations in Mont-Joli and Rimouski. This strikes at the very heart of why language rights exist.
I also learned that the Institute’s library will be closing as a result of budget cuts at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The library was created to meet the needs of Fisheries and Oceans Canada employees in the Quebec region, and so its closure could affect your ability to obtain services in the official language of your choice. I will be closely monitoring the impact of this decision on employee needs. The federal government has a duty to create and maintain a workplace that is conducive to the use of both official languages and that can operate in both English and French, as well.
Part V of the Official Languages Act exists specifically for that. This is why those rights are protected and why it is just as important for you to be able to work in French here in Mont-Joli as it is for the people at the Canadian Wheat Board to be able to work in English in Winnipeg. We have seen what has happened in the past, when offices were centralized. There were offices in Moncton that were centralized in Halifax, and moved from a bilingual region to a unilingual region, and this made it harder for the institution to deliver services. Then people no longer had the right to work in French, and Anglophones no longer had the presence of French in the workplace to maintain their French.
As Commissioner of Official Languages, one of my roles is to serve as language ombudsman. My office gets some 1,000 complaints per year, most coming from individuals who were not served in the official language of their choice, even though they were entitled to be. We also review complaints involving, for example, language of work and the obligation to support the vitality of official language communities. We investigate these complaints and then recommend corrective measures, as needed. If you think that a federal institution has not respected your rights under the Official Languages Act, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages can help.
But I have to be made aware of these issues. Please know that you can lodge a complaint with my office if your language-of-work rights are not respected. This is a part of my mandate that is very important—but if I don’t know about it, I can’t act to help protect those rights. Make yourself heard by communicating with my office. You can find all the information you need on our website.
As I have often repeated since the beginning of my mandate, to be a leader in the public service you have to have skills in both official languages and you have to promote linguistic duality. Leadership by example is essential. The message must come from above, especially when it comes to language of work.
Being a leader also means showing respect. Canada’s national dialogue takes place in both official languages and is based on respect: respect for unilingual Canadians, respect for official language communities, respect for those who receive federal government services, and respect for federal employees.
Canada is stronger, both economically and socially, when linguistic majorities and minorities support each other and contribute to the advancement of Canadian society. Investing in linguistic duality and the development of official language communities across the country is thus a lever for Canada’s economic growth. This is a message that I believe in unequivocally; a message that I am putting a lot of energy into.
And yet, more than 40 years after the Official Languages Act was passed, there are still shortfalls in applying it. 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.
The controversy surrounding the appointments has shown that both English- and French-speaking Canadians have higher expectations. The bar has been raised. But we are entitled to ask ourselves what these actions mean. It is vitally important that the government lead the way when it comes to protecting our language achievements, especially if we say that they are an intrinsically Canadian value. Actions speak louder than words.
To achieve the objectives of the Official Languages Act, the government needs to be constantly aware of the potential impact of the recent budget cuts on linguistic duality in the public service. If it fails to do so, there could be disastrous consequences for our official language communities. People would also come to doubt the ability or even the willingness of the government to protect Canadian values.
You can count on my support to protect your language rights.