Notes for the launch of the 2022–2023 annual report
Ottawa, Ontario -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Good morning, everyone.
I’m very pleased to be with you today to present my 2022–2023 annual report.
Before I continue, I’d like to acknowledge that the lands on which we are gathered are part of the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people, an Indigenous people of the Ottawa Valley.
As an advocate for language rights, I fully support the protection of Indigenous languages. I believe that it is essential put more emphasis on the mutual reinforcement of Indigenous and official languages in order to ensure that all of Canadian society is truly inclusive.
After more than two years of the pandemic, Canadians have finally been able to return to a certain degree of normalcy and resume activities that were put on hold due to pandemic-related health restrictions. This normalcy has, however, highlighted official language issues that I’ve repeatedly raised in the past but that are still very much present.
Again this year, I received a significant number of complaints from the travelling public—497, to be exact. Although I’ve conducted numerous investigations and made hundreds of recommendations to improve compliance with the Official Languages Act by the major federal institutions that provide services to the travelling public, Canadians are still having problems receiving the full range of services in the official language of their choice.
All too often, federal institutions that serve the travelling public are still failing to meet their language obligations, whether through the lack of an active offer, of bilingual staff in place, or of English and French signage. In 2023, there are no more excuses for these institutions. It’s long past time for them to take strong measures to ensure that they provide high-quality services to all travellers in the official language of the latter’s choice.
I am therefore recommending in my annual report that the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Transport develop tools and guidelines related to the language obligations of airport authorities and share them with the airport authorities by March 31, 2024. I’m also recommending that the Minister of Transport require airport authorities to submit a plan by June 30, 2025, on how they will fulfill their language obligations to the public.
Another ongoing issue is the lack of respect for the language rights of federal public servants. As you know, our federal public service is undergoing a major transformation, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic, with the increased presence of technology and the implementation of hybrid work models.
Despite these changes, we can’t let the language rights of public servants fall by the wayside. I’m therefore urging the leaders of federal institutions to ensure that in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes, their work environments are conducive to the effective use of both official languages.
In my annual report, I’m recommending that by the end of June 2025, the President of the Treasury Board, the Minister of Official Languages and the Clerk of the Privy Council work together both to define concrete ways to highlight the role of official languages in the federal public service and to measure the actual capacity of federal public servants to work in the official language of their choice.
I’m also recommending that the President of the Treasury Board implement her three-year action plan by June 2025 to increase compliance with the requirement to objectively establish the language designations of positions in the federal public service.
The promotion of English and French in the federal public service should be a central concern of its leaders. As I’ve said repeatedly, their fluency in English and French and their leadership in terms of official languages are essential skills.
Once again, the past fiscal year has shown that the future of official languages across Canada's provinces and territories is not set in stone. Along with a modernized Official Languages Act , a strong and well-designed Action Plan for Official Languages is essential to ensure that our official language communities stay strong and vibrant.
I have been actively monitoring the implementation of the Action Plan over the past few years and have made recommendations to the federal government to improve the recently released new iteration of the Action Plan.
At first glance, I see that the federal government has taken some of my recommendations for the 2023–2028 Action Plan into account, particularly in relation to Francophone immigration. I am confident that the new five-year Action Plan will not only help protect our official language communities, but also enhance their vitality.
I’m also very happy to see the additional funding of more than $1 billion included in the plan. This funding is a welcome benefit for our communities; however, it is vital that the Action Plan funds are allocated efficiently and effectively. At the risk of repeating myself, our official language communities depend on the Action Plan to preserve and strengthen their vitality, and funding delays can impede their progress. My team and I will continue to closely monitor implementation of the Action Plan.
As efforts to modernize the Official Languages Act continue, it is crucial that we once again prioritize our official languages and give them the distinct importance they deserve on an ongoing basis. This is a duty that falls primarily to our leaders and is necessary to achieve the vision of a Canada where it is possible, wherever the Act applies, to travel, to obtain services, to work and to thrive in the official language of your choice.
Not surprisingly, I’m continuing to closely monitor the progress of Bill C-13, which aims to modernize the Official Languages Act , in the final stages of the legislative process. The lively discussions in the meetings of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages are testament to how important official languages are to parliamentarians.
A number of promising amendments have been adopted that strengthen the bill. For example, I’m very pleased with the amendment to ensure the bilingual capacity of deputy ministers in the federal public service, as it is in line with my recommendations.
I encourage parliamentarians to continue to work together to ensure that Canada finally has a modernized Act.
Canadians from coast to coast to coast deserve an Official Languages Act that truly defends their language rights and reflects the modern world in which they live. My organization has been preparing for some time now to help me undertake my new responsibilities as soon as possible after Bill C-13 is passed. I look forward to using my new powers to help ensure compliance with the Act across the country, just as I’m looking forward to beginning this new chapter in the history of official languages.
Thank you for your attention. I’m now ready to answer your questions, which you’re welcome to ask in the official language of your choice.