Notes for an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages – Presentation of the 2017–2018 annual report

Ottawa, Ontario, October 18, 2018
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Mr. Chair, honourable members of the Committee, good morning.

It is with a strong sense of duty that I address you this morning. I’m accompanied today by my three assistant Commissioners—Ghislaine Saikaley, Éric Trépanier and Pierre Leduc—and by my General Counsel, Pascale Giguère. As you all know, I tabled my 2017–2018 annual report in Parliament on June 12, 2018.

The annual report highlights the many actions the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages took in fiscal year 2017–2018 to encourage federal institutions to give official languages the attention they deserve.

For example, the Office of the Commissioner’s efforts leading up to the 150th anniversary of Confederation included increasing federal institutions’ awareness of the importance of ensuring that the experiences of the myriad visitors from both Canada and abroad reflected the country’s linguistic duality

The Office of the Commissioner also continued its discussions with federal institutions to identify compliance issues and to ensure that leadership leads to tangible and timely measures. However, some institutions are still struggling to comply with their language obligations. In 2017–2018, my office received a total of 894 admissible complaints, of which more than half were about services to the public. Clearly, there’s still a great deal of work to be done with regard to respect for official languages.

In my opinion, federal institutions do not have the tools to properly assess themselves, particularly in relation to communications with and services to the public. This undermines the rights of Canadians, including members of official language minority communities.

The current tools used to measure federal institutions’ performance in terms of official languages do not give an accurate picture of the situation, nor do they help federal institutions measure their actual progress in terms of their compliance with the Official Languages Act.

That’s why I’ve recommended that Canadian Heritage and Treasury Board conduct a review of the tools they currently use to evaluate federal institutions and that they make any necessary changes. We must have a clear picture of official languages in the federal government.

During consultations conducted with federal institutions in the fall of 2016 about the Office of the Commissioner’s tools and activities, the institutions said they would like better support in terms of the process to follow to enhance their official languages performance. My office is currently developing a new tool—a maturity model—that we plan to start using in 2019.

What’s needed even more than tools, though, is leadership. And it’s imperative that this leadership come from both the government and the federal public service at all levels.

In my 2017–2018 annual report, I also focus on leadership in the federal public service and look at the Clerk of the Privy Council’s report on language of work entitled The next level: Normalizing a culture of inclusive linguistic duality in the Federal Public Service workplace.

Given that the Clerk of the Privy Council, as head of the federal public service, has made language of work a priority in the public service in his report, I’ve recommended that the Clerk establish an appropriate mechanism to ensure that, starting in September 2018, federal employees receive annual status updates on the work done by the committee responsible for implementing the recommendations contained in the report.

As you know, linguistic duality is one of Canada’s core values. It’s one of the cornerstones of our society’s identity and diversity. But there are challenges—which is why my office needs to remain vigilant and ensure that official languages continue to be a priority at a national level.

You have before you a document that summarizes my priorities as Commissioner of Official Languages, which I’ve also shared with my entire team. I’m pleased this morning to have the opportunity to talk to you about the three priorities that I will be focusing on in the coming years.

First, I’ll urge federal institutions to develop an in-depth understanding of the factors for success so that they can break down the barriers that are preventing the Act’s objectives from being met. As I’ve said before, it is important that this leadership be seen at all levels of government and the federal public service.

I want to see results and measurable progress for Canadians, including members of official language minority communities. This requires strong leadership in federal institutions to ensure that language obligations are fully understood at all levels, that there is proper planning and that results are effectively monitored.

My second priority will be to work with the federal government and its institutions to ensure they take the necessary measures to achieve the expected outcomes of the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future.

Federal institutions must stay attuned to the needs and concerns of official language minority communities—particularly in the areas of immigration, justice and early childhood—to ensure that their actions and decisions come after careful consideration of the language rights of Canadians and the vitality of those communities. That’s why I’ll be keeping a close watch on the implementation of the 2018–2023 Action Plan. As I’ve said before, roles and responsibilities still need to be clarified, and accountability measures need to be defined.

My final priority will be to urge the federal government to effect a true modernization of the Official Languages Act so that it reflects both the legacy and the future of official languages in Canada.

The Office of the Commissioner launched its review of the modernization of the Act in the summer of 2017 and has increased its efforts in recent months to ensure ongoing discussions with key stakeholders. In November 2017, it also held a national conference to gather a broad range of viewpoints on a shared vision for the future of linguistic duality in our constantly changing society.

When the Act turns 50 in 2019, I will continue my analysis on its modernization and then issue my official position. For now, however, I am of the opinion that the federal government, which has already committed to this project, must consider three principles when modernizing the Act: that the legislation be relevant, dynamic and strong.

I encourage this committee to take the lead in modernizing the Act. Official languages need to stay on the agenda so that linguistic duality in Canada can continue to grow.

Thank you for your attention. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the official language of your choice, and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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