Notes for an address to the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario du grand Sudbury at the launch of their “J’affiche aussi en français” awareness campaign
Sudbury, Ontario, April 30, 2014
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
It is a pleasure to be back in the City of Greater Sudbury. Thank you to Joanne Gervais and everyone at the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario du grand Sudbury for your kind invitation and warm welcome.
I was last here in 2010 to attend the International Conference on Language and Territory at Laurentian University, where I joined a panel discussion alongside my language commissioner counterparts from four other Canadian jurisdictions. During that visit, I think we all deepened our appreciation of the strides the Francophone community of Greater Sudbury has made and your deep historical roots in this region. Two years later, in 2012, the official languages champions’ annual conference took place here, drawing 50 representatives from various departments who were very impressed with the vitality of Sudbury’s Francophone presence.
We can rightly proclaim that one of Canada’s most vibrant official language minority communities has been taking shape here ever since the arrival of the first Francophones to the city in 1883—the year of Sudbury’s founding. Two hundred and sixty-eight years earlier, explorers named Brûlé and Champlain paddled down a waterway just south of town that came to be known as the French River. While they may not have known it at the time, these early bearers of French language and culture opened up trade and commercial opportunities for many living along its banks and for many who followed in the wake of their canoes.
Today, the Greater Sudbury region is the seat of a thriving Franco-Ontarian community that is fiercely proud of its history, its culture, its French-language institutions and its contributions to the area’s social and economic life. I wholeheartedly commend ACFO and its partner organizations that are actively aiding the development and growth of Francophone institutions in the region and beyond. You have played a major part in making this city what it is today and what it will be in the future—and that is what brings us together today at Collège Boréal, one of your treasured institutions.
I have been asked to speak about “J’affiche aussi en français,” your brand new awareness campaign to encourage Sudbury’s private businesses and entrepreneurs to consider the benefits of communicating with Francophones in their language. First of all, congratulations to the Board of Directors and all members of ACFO for investing the time and energy to develop and launch this initiative. Grassroots organizations such as yours understand better than anyone the role the private sector plays in community vitality.
There is a certain competitive advantage that exists for businesses that make an effort to serve their clients in the official language of their choice. Businesses that want to succeed in the Canadian marketplace are more competitive when they use both official languages, as customers generally prefer to do business in their first language and feel more comfortable when they use it. This is true not just for unilingual Canadians, but also for people who are fluent in both official languages, as many people are in the Greater Sudbury area.
Language is much more than a simple communication tool. It is strongly connected to identity. In the words of the late Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” These are words that will always ring true.
Some Canadian businesses assume that, outside of Quebec, they can only afford to operate in English. However, it is worth mentioning that a study conducted in Quebec and Finland found that clients served in the language of their choice were prepared to pay more for a product.Footnote 1 Other researchers have found that when businesses provide documents in the language the consumer knows best, consumers process the information more effectively and remember it better.Footnote 2 Another study published in 1996 in the Journal of Advertising Research found that messages are more likely to be received favourably if they are in the client’s first language.Footnote 3 Meanwhile, international businesses located on the Acadian peninsula in northern New Brunswick have conducted market studies in Canada and learned that they benefit from advertising in both French and English.
Communicating with members of the official language minority in their own language is a sound business practice. Many business owners know this inherently and may be open to the idea, but the approach you take to deliver this message has to be effective. I understand you have been attempting to build a rapport with new businesses in the region, such as Target. Due to your positive outreach, the company has shown an openness to posting some signage in both languages, hiring bilingual employees and using the in-person active offer. I note also that your overtures to Milestones Grill and Bar have produced a willingness on their part to consider offering menus in both languages and hiring bilingual staff.
I can’t stress enough how businesses only stand to gain by including linguistic duality in their business plans. And yet, we see that many seem reluctant to move in this direction. Two years ago in Moncton, municipal councillors took matters into their own hands by adopting an education campaign aimed at local businesses to increase the number of bilingual signs downtown from 22% to 30% over five years. Even in an officially bilingual province, the rate of change can be slow.
Looking back, it was actually an American company operating in Canada—Kellogg’s—that was one of the first to see the advantages of marketing to Canadians in both official languages. In 1907, just one year after the company was founded, and some 60 years before the Official Languages Act was passed, Kellogg’s decided, despite popular belief and completely on its own, to print information in both English and French on its cereal boxes sold in Canada. Since then, many businesses have shown that they understand Canada is a bilingual country, and that this means there are certain obligations.
For the “J’affiche aussi en français” campaign, the most important resources you have at your disposal are ACFO members, Sudbury’s wider Francophone community as well as the many Francophiles in your city. In addition to the high-level work you are doing at an organizational level, the campaign must be reinforced at the grassroots level on an individual basis. This happens when members of the community make a targeted effort to ask businesses to use bilingual signs, hire bilingual staff and advertise in both official languages.
It’s a simple message: being able to serve clients and customers in the official language of their choice is good for business. And few things in business drive change more than the prospect of increasing revenues. Speaking the other official language is also an act of hospitality and respect. By and large, though, businesses in majority language situations will offer bilingual services only when citizens demand it, as you are doing.
To see how language issues are becoming more important in industrialized countries, we need only look at National Centre for Languages statistics, which show small and medium-sized businesses in Europe losing roughly $150 billion a year for lack of language skills. Meanwhile, here at home, a June 2013 Conference Board of Canada study on bilingualism and tradeFootnote 4 claimed that the use of both official languages provides a significant economic benefit for the entire country.
To succeed in an increasingly competitive and risk-filled business environment, businesses must be concerned with more than strategic considerations, finances, marketing plans and human resources. They must also consider language because it is crucial to all activities, especially for businesses that provide services to individuals.
For example, my office’s study of linguistic duality in our national capital revealed that many Ottawa retailers genuinely want to improve their services in French but lack the necessary expertise or resources. That is where your call for business owners to hire bilingual employees can help alleviate these types of concerns.
I see a number of similarities between Greater Sudbury and the capital. Like in Ottawa, Sudbury’s Francophone community punches well above its weight. Like Ottawa, Sudbury welcomes immigrants and we are seeing new Canadians from diverse communities wanting to send their children to school in French. Parents have told me that having their kids being able to speak both official languages makes them feel more Canadian. Like Ottawa, Sudbury is more than capable of serving as a bridge between English and French speakers, but there must be willingness on behalf of both communities to meet each other halfway.
One component of community vitality is visibility. Many public institutions across the province proudly show Franco-Ontarian symbols and signage in French. For instance, the City of Greater Sudbury raised the Franco-Ontarian flag atop City Hall in 2006. That visibility and the pride you feel seeing your symbols are not only expressions of community identity, they also signify that both official language communities can co exist for the benefit of all. In Canada and in Sudbury, English and French go hand in hand, they complement each other and they lend added value for public institutions and private business alike.
Millions of Canadians know from experience that there is an advantage to speaking French and English. It’s good for trade. It’s good for tourism. It’s good for the brain. It’s good for business. With continued support from your allies and supporters in the region, I am confident local businesses can be convinced of the many benefits of bilingualism. I would also encourage the City of Greater Sudbury to get behind ACFO’s campaign in any way it can, whether by calling on businesses to include bilingualism in their business plans or by calling on the Department of Canadian Heritage to expand its Business Assistance Program to a city like Greater Sudbury.
“J’affiche aussi en français” is a fantastic example of ACFO demonstrating leadership and working to secure a bright future for Francophones. I applaud the Board on its efforts so far and I congratulate all of you on more than 100 years of service promoting and strengthening the French fact in northern Ontario.
- Footnote 1
Jonas Holmqvist, “Consumer language preferences in service encounters: A cross-cultural perspective,” Managing Service Quality, vol. 21, No. 2, 2011, p.188.
- Footnote 2
Claudia Dolinsky and Richard A. Feinberg, “Linguistic barriers to consumer information processing: Information overload in the Hispanic population,” Psychology and Marketing, vol. 3, No. 4, 1986, pp. 261-271.
- Footnote 3
Peter Roslow and J.A.F. Nicholls, “Targeting the Hispanic Market: Comparative Persuasion of TV Commercials in Spanish and English,” Journal of Advertising Research, vol. 36, No. 3, May-June 1996, pp. 67-77.
- Footnote 4
CEDEC/RDÉE Canada, Conference Board of Canada Study reveals that the knowledge of both official languages is an asset to the Canadian Economy, June 19, 2013.