Statement to the media for the release of the 2017–2018 annual report

Ottawa, Ontario -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

It is with a strong sense of duty that I address you this morning. As you know, today I released my 2017–2018 annual report.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people, an Indigenous people of the Ottawa Valley. For thousands of years, the Algonquin people lived, hunted, traded and travelled here.

This annual report marks the transition between the end of Interim Commissioner of Official Languages Ghislaine Saikaley’s tenure and my arrival in late January 2018. The past year was a time of many stimulating challenges and great opportunities for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The first chapter focuses on the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, which was a year-long national celebration that inspired Canadians to get involved in their communities and to pay tribute to our shared values, our achievements, our diversity and our country’s place in the world. There were a few complaints. However, the Office of the Commissioner’s efforts leading up to this important milestone had a positive impact in 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 took an active part in the celebrations by holding a national conference in six cities at the same time. The goal of the conference was to gather a broad range of viewpoints on a shared vision for the future of linguistic duality in our constantly changing society.

The first chapter goes on to talk about our involvement with organizers of the 2017 Canada Games held in Winnipeg last summer, the G7 Summit held last week in La Malbaie, and the 2019 Canada Games that will take place in Red Deer.

The second chapter describes new opportunities for official languages, such as the federal government’s prioritizing early childhood development and the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future. It also talks about modernizing the Official Languages Act and the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations.

The Office of the Commissioner launched its review of the modernization of the Act in the summer of 2017 and redoubled its efforts in early 2018 to ensure ongoing discussions with key stakeholders. When the Act turns 50 in 2019, I am confident that it will have been updated to reflect the changes that have occurred in Canadian society. I am making this issue one of my priorities, and I will be releasing my position at an appropriate time.

The final chapter is about leadership in the federal public service and includes a look at the Clerk of the Privy Council’s report on language of work.

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

I also decided to do something new for this annual report. Official languages champions in federal institutions were asked to submit examples of initiatives deserving of special mention in the report. Although all were worthy of mention, the Translation Bureau’s on-line language portal was chosen because of its focus on helping Canadians gain the full benefits of their two official languages.

It was obvious to me from my first day in office that, in the 13 months prior to my arrival, the Interim Commissioner and her team had carried out their work with consummate professionalism, dedication and integrity. These invaluable qualities ensure the future of the Office of the Commissioner.

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 is still a great deal of work to be done with regard to respect for official languages.

My office also conducted a series of observations of 10 federal institutions, which showed that service in person is not always up to par.

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.

Clearly, 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 the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the President of the 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 in 2017–2018, the Office of the Commissioner learned that federal institutions would like to receive better support regarding the process to follow to enhance their official languages performance. We are currently developing a new tool—a maturity model—that we plan to start using in 2019. What is needed even more than tools, though, is leadership. And it is imperative that this leadership come from both the government and the federal public service at all levels.

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.

I encourage parliamentarians and federal institutions to take their leadership role seriously and to turn words into action. Official languages need to stay on the agenda so that linguistic duality in Canada can continue to grow.

Federal institutions must stay attuned to the needs and concerns of official language 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 official language communities.

That’s why I’ll be keeping a close watch on the implementation of the 2018–2023 Action Plan. As I mention in my annual report, roles and responsibilities still need to be clarified, and accountability measures need to be defined.

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, The next level: Normalizing a culture of inclusive linguistic duality in the Federal Public Service workplace, I have 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.

Apart from the Clerk’s report, the government introduced a number of good initiatives in 2017–2018, such as the new five-year official languages action plan, the new plan for Francophone immigration outside of Quebec, the action plan for increasing the bilingualism of superior court judges and the modernization of the official languages regulations.

We will continue to monitor these files and to stress the fact that everyone who plays a key role needs to be held accountable in order to achieve concrete results.

In the end, it is the people of Canada who will benefit, because they can access their government in the official language of their choice.

Thank you for your attention. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them. Please feel free to speak in the official language of your choice.