Archived - Notes for an address at the Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions information session for new official languages champions
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The Importance of Leadership in Promoting Linguistic Duality in the Public Service
Ottawa, February 26, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me. I am very pleased to speak to you as new official languages champions.
My presence here today is of special importance, since as champions, you are the spokespeople for linguistic duality in the public service. Linguistic duality and cultural diversity are important values and symbols in Canadian society. They should therefore be integral to public service best practices.
This is the 50th anniversary of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism – and their place – bilingualism and biculturalism – has been replaced by linguistic duality and cultural diversity.
But what is linguistic duality? These two words form the basis for our constitution. They encompass the concepts of sharing and dialogue among Canadians who use English to participate in the country’s public life, and those who use French. These are values that must guide your work as public servants and shape the development of your skills.
We all recognize that the public service is going through a difficult time and a transformative period in many institutions. I know that it will be a challenge to maintain the same standard of excellence with fewer resources and fewer people. This is why we have to be particularly vigilant, especially when it comes to respecting our two official languages.
Your work consists in working closely with community leaders and with provincial and regional representatives of official language community organizations in order to better take into account the concerns of minority-language communities.
It is important that public servants assert their language rights and encourage managers to respect these rights. Hierarchies do exist and it should not be the employee who shoulders the burden of transforming a not-so-favourable institution, office or division into one that champions linguistic duality. To have a profound effect on the organizational culture of your department and encourage others to do the same, there is nothing better than leading by example. This principle is at the heart of your functions as champions.
By systematically using the official language chosen by your subordinates and urging them to do the same, you will promote the advancement of official languages in the public service. Likewise, creativity and innovation should also be encouraged.
I believe federal institutions and central agencies must not hesitate to design, test and adopt new, more promising methods when traditional approaches fail to produce the expected results.
Before applying for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, I gave a great deal of thought to the role I would have to play. I envisaged that role as being a builder of bridges between communities and institutions. I anticipated open and positive dialogue. I hoped to raise the level of discourse so that we could achieve concrete results. I wanted to avoid confrontation, both in the media and in courts of law, because it is an impediment to dialogue and collaboration.
I would like to share with you a few words on Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
In November 2005, before I had even begun my term of office, the Parliament of Canada strengthened the Act. As you know, federal institutions are now required to take positive measures to meet the objectives of Part VII. This significant change requires federal institutions to adapt to a new reality. Parliament told institutions, “Now you are legally obliged to do everything you can to promote the vitality of official language communities and recognize the equality of English and French in Canadian society.”
Federal institutions serve organizations and communities, but they are also responsible for supporting one other, just as organizations and communities must work with one another. If we want to enhance the vitality of English- and French-speaking minority communities and promote linguistic duality, the first positive measure required is to create a climate conducive to dialogue and in which there is “genuine equality” in our organizations. It’s up to federal institution leaders to embrace that role and be creative and resourceful in fulfilling their obligations.
I would also like to tell you about my mandate and role as Commissioner of Official Languages.
The Official Languages Act, which has been in effect for over 40 years, guarantees and protects linguistic duality. As Commissioner of Official Languages, my mandate is to take all measures within my power to ensure that the three objectives of the Act are met. Those objectives are:
- The equality of English and French in Parliament, the Government of Canada, the federal administration and the institutions subject to the Act;
- The development and vitality of official language minority communities in Canada;
- The equal status of English and French in Canadian society.
I am an agent of Parliament, which means that I report directly to Parliament and not to the government.
As you know, the Official Languages Act applies only to federal institutions, not to provincial, territorial or municipal governments. But some provinces and territories have adopted legislation and policies to protect English, French or Aboriginal languages within their jurisdiction. For example, New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island each have a French language services act.
Two conditions are necessary for linguistic duality to work in Canadian society.
- First, English and French are not foreign languages; they are Canadian languages. Our two official languages belong to all Canadians, regardless of their linguistic background or whether they are bilingual or unilingual.
- Second, linguistic duality is a value, not a burden, and should be an integral part of the public service.
Creating a public service that conveys genuine respect for linguistic duality is a major challenge that requires action at all levels of the federal government, starting at the most senior levels. I don’t think government leaders realize how much their attitude towards linguistic duality influences their organizational culture.
As an example, take two organizations that share the same vocation and the same location, but, out of consideration, shall remain nameless. One has recurring problems with linguistic duality, and the other has never had any issues. But they have very different organizational cultures. One looks at a situation and asks how it can be resolved while best serving the public. The other looks at the same situation and asks how it can be minimized while getting around the regulations. It all comes down to this: for one organization, linguistic duality is a value; for the other, it’s an obligation.
Have you ever asked yourself why you do what you chose to do? Why some people and organizations are more innovative, influential or productive than others? Why people are loyal to some leaders, but not others? Simon Sinek, author and professor at New York’s Columbia University, wrote an essay titled Start with Why. His thinking can be summed up as, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
All organizations can explain what they do, and some can even explain how they do it, but very few can clearly articulate why. The “why” is not the money or profits—those are the outcomes. It’s not the same thing.
Why does your organization exist? Why do people really buy from one company and not another, or obey a policy or behave in a certain way? The answer is quite simple: it’s because they believe in it. The same is true when I say that linguistic duality is a value, not an obligation. Behaviour will not change if linguistic duality is no more than an obligation. It is values that guide our behaviour and influence the path we choose.
Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and in politics. Those who start with “why” never manipulate others; they inspire them. And the people who follow them or buy into the message they are putting out don’t do so because they have to; they do so because they want to.
But to be a leader, whether in terms of organizational or personal leadership, you have to know how to inspire others. When it comes to linguistic duality, whether that applies to all of Canada or the public sector, as long as the “why” is “because it’s the law; because we have to,” people’s behaviour will not change, and neither will their perceptions. The answer to “why” has to be “because we believe in it.”
As managers and official languages champions and co-champions, you need to help people who are coming in to the public service or moving up in the ranks to influence, persuade, engage, energize and empower all their employees, both English- and French-speaking. 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 whether they are designated bilingual or not.
A couple of years ago, my office published a study called Beyond Bilingual Meetings: Leadership Behaviours for Managers. This study, which is available on our website, aims to help managers create workplaces that are conducive to the use of both official languages. Throughout the study, public servants claim they need leaders who lead by example. We have developed a self-assessment tool, also available on our website, that you can use to evaluate your leadership behaviours in a bilingual workplace, to see where your strengths lie and to identify the behaviours you need to adopt. The desired changes in an organization often happen by ripple effect. Every step in the right direction counts. As official languages leaders, you are catalysts for these changes.
Not only must federal institutions deal with budget constraints that could hinder their ability to meet their language obligations, but the ongoing transformation of government is creating a brave new world for Canada’s linguistic duality. New tools in federal government communications—blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds—present hurdles in how federal departments connect with Canadians while upholding their language obligations. However, it is possible to use these technologies and comply with the Act.
By the way, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is on Facebook and Twitter. Please feel free to follow us and join the conversation.
In my 2011–2012 annual report, I reiterated that, for linguistic duality to thrive as a fundamental Canadian value, the private sector, all levels of government and post-secondary institutions must be involved. Federal institutions need to play a leadership role and display model behaviour.
Let's not forget that the Parti Québécois was elected in Quebec last fall. Even as a minority government, their coming into power has a decisive impact on the Canadian political landscape and on how Canadians perceive their official languages. As a result, it is even more important that federal institutions fulfill their responsibilities under the Official Languages Act and that they prepare to manage a possible a backlash from Anglophones asking why we should offer services in French when Quebec is attempting to tighten the Charter of the French Language. We are re-entering a period of Canadian history in which language issues are highly political and sensitive. Federal institutions must take this into consideration and demonstrate exemplary leadership.
Our actions speak volumes.
As official language champions, you are expected exemplify public service values and reflect them in your work.
You are all helping to forge a diverse society that promotes linguistic duality and social inclusion through your department’s policies and programs. Without the leadership of all its public servants, the public service, and ultimately the whole of government, will be unable to guarantee respect for both official languages in the workplace.
Linguistic duality is a matter of respect. And good leaders are always respectful.