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, hello.

Before I begin, 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.

I’m pleased to be with you today to present my 2023–2024 annual report.

Since the modernization of the Official Languages Act last June, my team has been laying the foundations for exercising my new powers. We’re now ready for action according to the timeline I unveiled when I tabled my annual report.

We therefore plan to start gradually phasing in the use of these new tools with the funding we’ve been granted in the 2024 budget.

It’s hard to say at this point whether this amount will be enough, though, because we don’t yet have all the details on the new Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act or on my new power to impose administrative monetary penalties. We’ll know more once they come into force after an order in council is issued by the Governor in Council and regulations are adopted.

That said, let me be clear: my team and I are fully prepared to ensure greater respect for the public’s language rights.

As you probably noticed in my annual report, the 847 admissible complaints filed with my office in 2023–2024 are a bit of a contrast to the very high volumes of complaints we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. Is this a trend that will continue over time? Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball to help me answer these questions with any certainty. Only time will tell.

One thing is certain, though: this decrease doesn’t mean that we need to take our foot off the gas. Au contraire! We need to keep up the momentum and build on the progress we’ve made to effect concrete, lasting changes in order to secure the future of both of our official languages across the country. I’m counting on all federal institutions to step up their efforts to meet their language obligations, including the new ones in the modernized Act.

Despite the fact that regulations have yet to be made, federal institutions still have new obligations that they’re required to meet right now, including those under Part VII of the Act, which deals with advancing the equality of status and use of English and French.

In my annual report, I recommend that by May 31, 2025, all deputy ministers and deputy heads in the federal public service incorporate into their strategic plan a plan for ensuring full implementation of Part VII of the Act that draws from the roadmap I recently published to support federal institutions.

Among the changes introduced in the modernized Act is the requirement to review the Act every 10 years to ensure that it remains in step with Canadian society as it evolves.

However, in order for this to happen, indicators need to be developed as quickly as possible to monitor the application of the Act, track any changes in the issues at stake and propose solutions in a timely fashion.

In my annual report, I therefore recommend that by June 2026, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, with the support of the President of the Treasury Board, develop and publish indicators for reviewing the provisions and operation of the Act in preparation for the 10-year review in 2033.

As you’ll have noticed, this year I’m reporting on a period of change and transition in the world of official languages.

Although we still have a lot of work to do to ensure better respect for the language rights of the public and of federal public servants, I think that it’s achievable.

We need to ensure that the Act is fully implemented, and we need to make concrete, lasting changes to improve the state of our official languages, both in the federal public service and in Canadian society as a whole.

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.