Notes for an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages regarding the 2015–2016 Main Estimates

Ottawa, Ontario, May 12, 2015
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Mr. Chair, honourable committee members, good afternoon.

It is a pleasure to appear before you today to present the main estimates for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

My office has a budget of $20.8 million to carry out its mandate during the 2015–2016 fiscal year. This amount includes $13.556 million in salaries. Our workforce consists of 160 full‑time equivalents.

In 2015–2016, I will continue to encourage key decision makers to make linguistic duality an integral part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2017. I will also take on a leadership role with other language ombudsmen to increase the promotion of linguistic duality in Canada.

For some time now, my office has recognized certain recurring issues of compliance with the Official Languages Act. In 2015–2016, my office will address this by investing in identifying solutions to these systemic problems. We will develop a strategy to address active offer and services of equal quality to the public in English and French. We will also prepare a report that will cover my office’s accomplishments to improve compliance with the Act, including our interventions before the courts, over the 10 years that I have been Commissioner of Official Languages.

My office will continue its work to support the vitality of official language minority communities. Specifically, we will intervene with federal departments and other partners to follow up on the recommendations made in our report on Francophone immigration and in my 2014–2015 annual report. We will monitor the implementation of the recommendations made in the study on the bilingual capacity of the superior court judiciary, and intervene as necessary. We will also work with key partners to develop an intervention strategy for early childhood development.

Finally, we will continue to manage change as we optimize our business processes while ensuring that employees in my office can continue to work productively in a safe and healthy environment. During the last year of my second mandate, my office will start preparing for a positive transition to my successor in 2016.

Our operations are divided into three program activities: protection of Canadians’ language rights, promotion of linguistic duality and internal services.

Protection of language rights

To protect the language rights of Canadians, my office investigates and resolves complaints, conducts audits, evaluates the performance of federal institutions and intervenes before the courts when appropriate. The expenditures planned for this activity in 2015–2016 are $6.9& million.

We will focus on the following initiatives in response to our organizational priorities:

  • Continue to investigate all admissible complaints in the most efficient way possible with the resources that are available;
  • Continue to reduce the number of complaints in our inventory. Internal restructuring will result in more efficient workload management and better follow‑up of recommendations issued during investigations;
  • Examine the provision of active offer and the delivery of services of equal quality to the public in English and French, and develop a strategy to address these issues in the long term;
  • Report on my accomplishments as Commissioner of Official Languages and on the challenges and opportunities for the future. The report will include an assessment of 33 federal institutions that have received report cards over the past 10 years. The institutions’ most recent report cards will be published in May 2016.
  • Appear before the Federal Court of Appeal in CBC/Radio-Canada v Canada (Commissioner of Official Languages) to defend my concurrent jurisdiction in terms of applying Part VII of the Act to CBC/Radio-Canada’s programming activities.

Promotion of linguistic duality

To promote Canadian linguistic duality, my office communicates regularly with parliamentarians, official language minority communities, federal institutions and the Canadian public. Expenditures linked to the promotion of linguistic duality account for $6.9 million.

We will continue to focus on the following initiatives in response to our organizational priorities, while delivering on our expected results:

  • Work with key partners and decision makers to ensure that celebrations linked to the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the major sporting events that take place on our soil reflect Canada’s linguistic duality. Partners include Canadian Heritage, Sport Canada, the Pan American and Parapan American Games Organizing Committee and the National Organising Committee for the FIFA Women’s World Cup;
  • Work with other language ombudsmen in Canada and host the second conference of the International Association of Language Commissioners in Ottawa;
  • Identify official languages issues related to early childhood development;
  • Intervene with federal departments and other partners to follow up on the recommendations in our report on Francophone immigration, in my 2014–2015 annual report, in our study on the bilingual capacity of the superior court judiciary and in our study on English-speaking seniors in Quebec;
  • Deliver presentations on our study on active offer in both official languages, and work with federal institutions to improve compliance with this aspect of Part IV of the Act;
  • Work with restructured regional federal councils to design and implement new official languages action plans;
  • Deliver presentations at schools across the country to continue promoting linguistic duality as a Canadian value;
  • Launch my office’s new YouTube channel to raise awareness of Canadians’ bilingualism and of their use of our two official languages.

Internal services

Our third program activity allows my office to assemble resources that support the organization as a whole. Internal services include asset management, finance and human resources management. Essential to any organization, these services ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are used efficiently and transparently. This activity has been allocated a budget of $6.9 million.

Internal services will focus on the following initiatives in 2015–2016:

  • Explore opportunities to further streamline business processes. Possible areas of process review include staff arrival and departure, budget management, information management, and management and oversight;
  • Continue the transition from the Human Resources Information System to PeopleSoft;
  • Integrate government-approved case management software into our enterprise information management platform, and introduce technology tools to help employees work more effectively as our needs evolve;
  • Begin preparing briefing materials to support the transition to a new commissioner in 2016, and plan for the internal communications effort to inform staff of the upcoming change of leadership.

Like other federal organizations, we have been asked to streamline our operations while absorbing increasing costs. As our budget gets tighter and as our staff gets smaller through attrition, it will become even harder to continue meeting our performance standards and maintaining the public’s confidence in our ability to fulfill our mandate.

Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.

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