Archived - Notes for an address at a luncheon of the Chambre de commerce francophone de Saint-Boniface and CentrePort Canada
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Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, April 17, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
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Beginning of dialog
I am very pleased to be here with you today in Saint-Boniface. Thank you for inviting me to discuss linguistic duality and its importance to business people.
Many of you may think that the question of official languages is solely a concern for government. You might be wondering—what business is it of the Commissioner of Official Languages what language I use in my line of business?
The preamble to the Official Languages Act commits the Government of Canada to enhancing the bilingual character of the National Capital Region and to encouraging Canada's businesses, labour organizations and voluntary groups to recognize and use both English and French. The Act also gives the Commissioner a duty to take all actions and measures within his authority to ensure recognition of the status of each official language.
The parliamentarians who wrote the Act did this because they believed it was good for Canada to recognize the status of English and French, so our two languages would be common to all of Canadian society. But my message for you today is this: serving clients in the language of their choice can be an asset for business people.
I was extremely impressed by the efforts made by Rivers West and the Economic Development Council for Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities to promote the development of French-language tours of Manitoba by creating a list of hotels, restaurants and businesses where people can be served in French. Too often, Francophone businesses hide their linguistic identity; you should be proud and promote yourselves as Francophones.
In recent years, Americans have been travelling outside the United States less and less because of the economy, security or the requirement to have a passport. This means Canadian and European tourism is becoming increasingly important. Language skills are becoming an extremely valuable asset.
For Canadians, being proficient in English and French is a great advantage. Businesses operating in Canada also benefit from working effectively in both official languages. To succeed in an increasingly competitive environment, organizations must be concerned not just with strategy, finances, marketing and human resources management, but also with language, because language is crucial to all activities—especially in businesses that provide services to people.
Serving clients in both official languages can provide considerable economic spinoffs. CentrePort Canada is a gateway to the major multilingual markets of North America, Latin America, Asia and Europe.
To see how language issues are becoming more important in industrialized countries, look at the studies by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and by Statistics Canada on the relationship between literacy and productivity. Or look at the National Centre for Languages statistics that show that small and medium-sized businesses in Europe are losing 100 billion euros a year for lack of language skills.Footnote 1 The role of linguistic duality in Manitoba's economy must not be neglected.
The development and success of your businesses depend in part on your linguistic capabilities.
To show that bilingualism is an intrinsic part of your service principles, you have to make your “corporate bilingualism” visible. Speaking the other language is an act of hospitality. The bilingual motto “Friendly Manitoba – Bienvenue,” which is being used more and more often on your licence plates, is evidence of this hospitality. Speaking your clients' language is also good business sense. If you've got it, flaunt it!
Business owners: learning French as a second language and making sure your employees know enough French to serve your clients in their preferred language are certainly valuable practices.
Linguistic duality is a true Canadian value—linking it to your business's branding positions you as a truly Canadian business. Your commercial reach will widen. In this regard, I would like to congratulate you for your members' participation in the remarkable initiatives of Centrallia and the bilingual Winnipeg World Trade Centre.
The language skills of Canada's workforce, particularly those of its young workers, are a key asset for the economy. It is important to foster linguistic duality among our young people: the strength of the economy depends on it. Your youth community is so robust because of the sponsored participation of young people in your meetings and the youth entrepreneurship awards.
As business people, you are ambassadors for your region. You're the ones who make people want to come here and spend money, but also to invest. Each of you has a role to play!
The success of your businesses is inseparable from linguistic duality. You need both official languages to take advantage of business opportunities: local, national and international.
- Footnote 1
National Centre for Languages, ELAN: Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise, London, 2006, p. 18.