Launch of the 2021–2022 annual report

Gatineau, Quebec -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Good morning, everyone.

Although this morning’s session is taking place virtually, I’d like to acknowledge that I am speaking to you from Treaty One territory, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji‑Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and the home of the Métis Nation.

Today, I’m very pleased to present my 2021–2022 annual report.

This past year, Canadians made it abundantly clear that they are deeply committed to linguistic duality. This commitment was made evident by the record 5,409 admissible complaints filed with my office—an increase of 189% compared with last year.

Nearly 75% of the complaints we received were filed following two events that triggered a strong reaction from Canadians: the speech given in English by Air Canada’s President and Chief Executive Officer to members of the Montréal business community and the federal government’s appointment of a Governor General who is not fluent in French.

By filing a record number of complaints with my office, Canadians have sent a clear message to the federal government that we need to do more to ensure that our two official languages are respected.

At the risk of repeating myself—again—being able to speak both official languages is an essential skill for any leader, especially leaders of institutions subject to the Official Languages Act. And this is true as much for leaders of federal departments and agencies as it is for the heads of federally regulated private businesses like Air Canada.

The bilingual nature of an organization depends in large part on the bilingualism of those occupying positions at the highest levels. Our leaders need to lead by example and must be able to represent all Canadians in both official languages.

This is why I’ve recommended in my report that one of the parliamentary committees on official languages study the language obligations related to the staffing of senior management positions in the federal public service and to Governor in Council appointments in order to determine whether knowledge of both official languages should be a requirement when hiring for these types of positions.

In a survey conducted by Environics for my office in the fall of 2021, Canadians also reiterated their commitment to official languages. A solid 87% of the Canadians we surveyed support the aims of the Official Languages Act.

Although I’m happy to see our survey results confirm Canadians’ ongoing support for official languages, we mustn’t take anything for granted. This public support for official languages needs to be backed by strong policies and initiatives in all parts of society so that both of Canada’s official languages can thrive across the country.

One area that clearly needs to take priority right now is Francophone immigration, which is so important for Francophone minority communities in Canada. Almost 20 years after the federal government’s first Francophone immigration target was set, it still hasn’t been met. A study released by my office in November 2021 showed that even if the 4.4% Francophone immigration target had been consistently met each year since the original 2008 deadline, it still wouldn’t have been enough to achieve the goal of even maintaining the demographic weight of the French-speaking population outside Quebec, much less contributing to its growth.

We’ve been seeing these deficits in Francophone immigration to minority communities for decades, and the impact is being felt not only demographically, but also in other areas of community vitality, including economic, social and cultural development.

It’s time to do more and do better.

I’m very pleased to see that Bill C‑13, which aims to modernize the Official Languages Act, requires the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to adopt a policy on Francophone immigration—including objectives, targets and indicators—to enhance the vitality of French linguistic minority communities in Canada. I will be studying the new obligations in the bill to make sure that they provide the best possible results for the communities.

The introduction of Bill C‑13 this past March marked a milestone in the reform of the Official Languages Act to make the legislation relevant, dynamic and strong.

I will therefore be keeping a close eye on the parliamentary debates regarding the bill. Some of its provisions will give me more tools to ensure federal institutions’ greater compliance with their official languages obligations. The proposed changes to the Official Languages Act will need to be examined in light of their long-term impact on the language rights of Canadians. It’s not every day that we get to modernize such a fundamental law.

As I enter the second half of my mandate, I sincerely hope that our leaders—those who wield such a strong influence in Canadian society and throughout the public service, those who need to lead by example—will understand the message that the Canadian public and I are sending them: Linguistic duality is a value that all Canadians share, and we need to do whatever we can to make it a real priority in Canada.

Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to answer your questions in the official language of your choice.