Notes for an address at the 71st annual conference of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada

Winnipeg, Manitoba -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be a part of this panel and to discuss issues arising from the Official Languages Act, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Many questions remain on this subject. For example, what does this mean for respect for language rights across the country in 2019? Has the situation of Francophones in Canada improved since the Act was passed?

When we talk about modernizing the Act, what changes would we like to see? These are the questions I need to answer.

The Official Languages Act aims to ensure that the federal institutions are able to provide services and communications to English- and French-speaking Canadians in the official language of their choice.

This means that members of the public have the right to access the information and data made available by open government, and to participate and communicate with federal institutions, all in the official language of their choice.

I encourage every federal institution that participates in this initiative to set objectives that align with its language obligations so that it can communicate and serve the public in both English and French.

This afternoon, I’d like to take a look back on the past 50 years. I think it’s important to talk about how far we’ve come and about the successes and challenges we’ve faced since the Act was passed in 1969.

But what successes have we achieved? Our linguistic duality, for one, which I like to describe in the following terms. Linguistic duality is the recognition of two official languages, each of which is equal to the other in status and both of which belong to all Canadians, no matter what language they speak or where they come from. Linguistic duality is also a pledge for these languages, like their speakers, to have their own spaces where they can thrive throughout the country.

Canada has two official language communities, which means that it has two official language majorities—French-speaking in Quebec and English-speaking in the rest of Canada. Within those communities we find vibrant official language minority communities. Both the majority and minority linguistic populations give life to our linguistic duality, which is vital to the success of this political experiment we call Canada.

Therefore, we need a modernized Act and regulations that do not gauge the vitality of Canada’s linguistic minority communities in relation to the importance of the majority communities. We need a national language policy that is less vulnerable to constant fluctuations in population. In short, what we need is an Act that is relevant, dynamic and strong.

My team has been working tirelessly on a new tool to mark the 50th anniversary of the Act in 2019. The Official Languages Maturity Model will help federal institutions conduct organizational diagnostic assessments and make continuous improvement in terms of official languages. Designed especially for the federal public service, this is the very first maturity model that focuses on the ability of federal institutions to review the processes and systems in place.

However, as I mentioned in a recent speech, we can’t resolve everything through legislation and mechanisms. It’s a question of respect and recognition, but mostly it’s a question of excellence.

What will the future hold if we continue to do the same things over and over, make the same decisions, have the same reflexes?

Will there be visionaries and ambassadors in the federal government and in Canadian society to defend the cause and celebrate official languages for the next 50 years?

In order for linguistic duality to succeed as the glue that binds us, official languages must occupy a meaningful place across this country.

As you know, the Act is a federal statute. But the way Canadians live their lives in their own official language is very dependent on the provincial and private sectors—in school, after school, at work, at play or on-line. How, then, do we ensure that our two languages have their own place in these spaces, where the power of federal law is limited? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: official languages are everyone’s business.

Thank you for your attention. I’ll now hand the floor over to the other panellists.