Notes for an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages

Ottawa, Ontario -
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

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

I’d like to begin by acknowledging 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.

I’m excited to be joining you today, right after Bill C-13 has passed third reading in the Senate. We’re about to begin a new chapter in the history of official languages, and I look forward to being part of it.

First, I’d like to present my 2022–2023 annual report, if I may. 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. In 2023, there are no more excuses for federal institutions that provide services to the travelling public. It’s long past time for them to take strong measures to ensure that they provide their services in both official languages.

I have therefore recommended 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, 024. I’ve also recommended 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. With the increased presence of technology and the implementation of hybrid work models, our federal public service is undergoing a major transformation; however, we can’t let the language rights of public servants fall by the wayside.

I’ve therefore urged 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’ve recommended 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’ve also recommended 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.

With a modernized Official Languages Act just around the corner, it is crucial that we once again prioritize our official languages and give them the distinct importance they deserve on an ongoing basis.

Let me now turn to the second reason I’m here before you today: Francophone immigration to Canada.

As you know, the federal government announced a few months ago that, for the first time in 20 years, it had reached its target of 4.4% Francophone immigration to French linguistic minority communities.

This is a step in the right direction, but we still need to aim for a more ambitious target. At the current rate, the demographic weight of French speakers will continue to decline outside of Quebec.

Our communities could benefit greatly from increased Francophone immigration at a time when many fields, such as healthcare and education, are suffering from labour shortages.

We need to ensure that as soon as they arrive in Canada, French-speaking newcomers are provided with the services they need to be able to integrate fully into our Francophone minority communities, as well as any other services they require. It’s one thing to welcome them to the country, but we also need to help them thrive in Canadian society. Francophone newcomers need to see that there’s a viable future in French for them in Canada.

I strongly believe that both of our official languages enrich the regions where they’re spoken and, in practical terms, offer new social, cultural and economic opportunities. This is why it’s so important to ensure effective integration services so that newcomers can contribute to the vitality and development of Francophone minority communities.

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