Statement to the media for the release of the 2013–2014 annual report
The Power of Complaints
Ottawa, Ontario, October 7, 2014
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for coming to the presentation of my 2013–2014 annual report. This is my eighth annual report.
This year, the report focuses on my role as language rights ombudsman. It describes some of the conclusions my office has drawn, using the tools at our disposal, in order to bring about changes in federal institutions. These tools include investigations and the analysis of admissible complaints; audits, including one that focused on accountability and official languages; report cards; and legal proceedings.
The annual report describes some of the 23 complaints that were directly related to the government’s 2012 Deficit Reduction Action Plan. Most of these complaints were deemed founded. While the issues involved were very different, I was able to reach a general conclusion: Success requires planning, and planning requires leadership. When we see failure in an institution, it is often due to a lack of planning—and that is frequently due to a lack of leadership.
I continue to use the example of the federal government’s decision to close the Marine Rescue Sub-Centre in Québec City, which was discussed in last year’s annual report. Following a thorough investigation, it became clear—to my office as well as to the Canadian Coast Guard and National Defence—that ships in distress on the St. Lawrence River and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence would not be able to obtain immediate service in French from search and rescue centres in Trenton and Halifax.
The closing was first delayed until emergency service could be guaranteed at all times. Then, in January 2014, the government announced that the Marine Rescue Sub-Centre would not be closed.
The findings of this investigation are representative of the lack of adequate planning that we often notice amongst the hundreds of complaints that we process each year. Year in and year out, three out of every four complaints we receive are worthy of investigation. Federal institutions need to think before they act about the possible negative consequences of their actions on official language communities, on the service they provide to the public and on their employees’ ability to work in the official language of their choice.
This annual report shows how our investigations often lead to positive results. After receiving our investigation reports, many institutions are willing to consider other solutions and sometimes even reverse their decisions. It is important for Canadians to see that filing a complaint often leads to concrete results that serve the public interest.
For example, this was the case with a complaint about the Canada Media Fund, whose programs were biased unfairly against Quebec’s English-speaking communities. A new program was put in place in response to my recommendation. My annual report gives other examples of complaints getting results.
Following an investigation, I recommended that the Public Health Agency of Canada put measures in place so that Nova Scotia’s Francophone community could receive services in French from organizations that provide services as part of the Community Action Program for Children.
In terms of language obligations, success is linked to planning. Investigations, audits and report cards are all important tools that encourage institutions to make changes and respect their official languages obligations.
Investigations can have a significant impact. The investigation that followed numerous complaints about the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games is a good example. It prompted my office to publish a practical guide for organizers of major sporting events in order to help them address official languages issues. The guide helped organizers of the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Quebec, deliver an exemplary event with respect to official languages. By taking English and French into consideration at every stage of the process, the Sherbrooke Games have become a model for other host communities.
The guide also served as a template in the development of a similar publication, this time geared toward organizers of events that will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. Using the new guide, organizers will be able to ensure that linguistic duality is an integral part of the 150th anniversary celebrations.
This year, one of my two recommendations concerns the preparations for the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The festivities in 2017 will provide a unique opportunity to show Canadians and the rest of the world that, a century and a half after Confederation, linguistic duality continues to be one of the pillars of Canada’s identity. I therefore recommend that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages provide leadership by encouraging federal institutions to take linguistic duality into account when planning their activities for Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
When it comes to respecting official languages, success is no accident. Successful institutions plan their actions, consult with communities and evaluate their progress. This is possible only if managers, new employees and human resources specialists fully understand their institution’s official languages obligations, particularly with respect to establishing the linguistic profiles of positions.
Official languages training would be more effective if it were routinely provided to all federal public servants early in their career. As soon as they enter the public service, federal employees need to be made aware of the importance of official languages for providing services to Canadians and for the internal functioning of the government.
My other recommendation is addressed to the President of Treasury Board. I recommend that he ensure that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and the Canada School of Public Service review and enhance any training on responsibilities related to official languages for new public servants and for new managers and the human resources specialists who advise them.
My job was created in order to have someone act as the government’s active conscience in matters of official languages. This means that my actions will not always enjoy unanimous support—this is the reality of agents of Parliament. The role of ombudsman is one in which the qualities of independence, fairness, impartiality and non-partisanship are essential.
In 2009, I created the Award of Excellence—Promotion of Linguistic Duality to recognize individuals or organizations that are not subject to the Official Languages Act but that promote linguistic duality in Canada or abroad.
This year’s recipient of the Award of Excellence is the Frye Festival, held in Moncton, New Brunswick. It is Canada’s only bilingual international literary festival and the largest literary event in Atlantic Canada. I congratulate the Frye Festival and invite all Canadians to head out to Moncton next spring to attend this wonderful event.
The 2013–2014 annual report is available on the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages’ website. I encourage everyone to join the on-line discussion through our Facebook page and our Twitter feed, in both official languages, of course!
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.