Archived - Notes for an address at a luncheon for the Regroupement des gens d’affaires de la Capitale nationale (RGA)
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Ottawa, December 13, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
I would like to thank you for inviting me to talk about linguistic duality and its importance for businesses in the nation's capital. I am delighted and honoured to be here to speak with you today. The issue of language in Ottawa’s business community is of great interest to me, and was the topic of a chapter in our 2011–2012 annual report.
Ottawa is a city like no other in Canada. From the very beginning, its two founding language communities—Anglophone and Francophone—have always lived and worked side by side. This is the seat of our government, the crossroads of our identity and the source of our international influence.
Choosing to do business in a national capital inevitably means being associated with the symbolism of the city. Linguistic duality is a fundamental value of Canadian society that should be seen in all aspects of our capital, including retailers and businesses even though they are not subject to the Official Languages Act. Let me explain.
Business owners need to be aware of the importance of linguistic duality. English and French are key elements of the Canadian identity. Businesses in the area benefit from taking full advantage of the brand image of the capital—Ottawa is a G8 capital, it has a rich cultural heritage and it has many historic buildings and institutions.
Our linguistic duality is a tremendous asset. It attracts diverse people to our cities and helps us build communities that are inclusive and open to the world. According to the City of Ottawa, about 25% of the city’s residents were born in other countries, and more than 20% of residents are members of visible minorities. Businesses only stand to gain by including linguistic duality in their business plans in order to take advantage of a diverse workforce and clientele.
It is therefore important to plan for the future and ensure that new businesses, like existing businesses, adapt to this new reality. And they have to do so with a positive attitude and an open mind.
In the early 1970s, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism concluded that there was still more work to be done before English and French would have “full equality of status” in Ottawa. Four decades later, is linguistic duality truly a fundamental Canadian value in our national capital? Opinions are divided on this issue. Since….
In trying to answer this question, my office sought to learn whether it was possible to obtain service in French from businesses in the Byward Market, at the Rideau Centre and on the Sparks Street Mall.
In restaurants, we observed that most of the time, menus were only available in English—in fact, only 26% of restaurants had French or bilingual menus as well. Although there was limited availability of menus in both official languages, it was easier to get menus in English and French in restaurants that have a lease with the federal government, because of the language clauses in Public Works and Government Services Canada and National Capital Commission leases. Why not create a shared menu-translation service that the RGA could manage on a cost-recovery basis? Nous pourrions peut-être faire le lien avec le fait que le RGA est le coordonnateur du Programme d’appui aux entreprises qui vise à appuyer les entreprises de la région qui désirent améliorer leurs services dans les deux langues officielles (services de traduction à faible coût; ateliers de communication orale en français; appui au recrutement de personnel bilingue).
Our study also found that, in most private businesses, employees rarely greeted clients in both official languages. However, clients were able to get service in French about 7 times out of 10 in restaurants and stores in the Byward Market, at the Rideau Centre and on the Sparks Street Mall.
Our observations showed that, in some parts of Ottawa, it was relatively easy to obtain services in French from federal institutions that serve the public, but employees did not systematically make the in-person active offer—like “Hello! Bonjour!” or “Next! Suivant!”—to let visitors know that they can request service in the official language of their choice.
Creating a bilingual image of Canada’s capital city can only be achieved by raising awareness among the Ottawa business community about the importance of using both official languages. Being able to serve clients in the official language of their choice is good for business. Many local retailers genuinely want to improve their services in French, but do not have the necessary expertise or resources.
This is where your organization plays a key role in promoting linguistic duality among the Ottawa business community. I encourage you to continue your efforts in this area. Your support enables businesses in the region to get help translating their signs and documents, developing good language reflexes and finding bilingual personnel—for example, by serving as liaison with university career services.
It is important for federal institutions and their partners to continue to support Ottawa businesses in order to instil best practices that promote linguistic duality. In a few years, Ottawa will play a key role in the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. It is critical for the Government of Canada and its partners to continue to pave the way linguistically so that the capital can truly rise to the occasion. Ottawa is more than capable of serving as a bridge between English- and French-Canadians, and of realizing its potential to become a truly Canadian symbol. As business people, you have everything to gain by investing in linguistic duality. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson could tell you about what the City is doing to improve bilingual capacity, including $15 million in funding for a bus stop announcement system. The whole system is now bilingual, but there is no public fanfare or recognition. Since his election, Mayor Watson has demonstrated great leadership in terms of linguistic duality.
Tourism in Ottawa is becoming more diverse. American tourists are visiting less often, possibly because of the strong Canadian dollar, so it would be practical—and profitable—to attract people from Quebec by guaranteeing them service in French. Don’t forget that Montréal, the second-largest city in Canada, is less than a two-hour drive away.
The best way to ensure that linguistic duality continues to be promoted within the economy is through the labour force. The language skills of the Canadian workforce are a key asset for the economy, and you have the opportunity to benefit from a highly bilingual workforce here in Ottawa.
These skills will help you to establish solid economic relationships with national and international partners.
This is why it is important to foster not only entrepreneurial skills but also linguistic duality. The strength of the local and national economy depends on it.
And now I would like to hear from you.