Archived - Notes for an address on the 2010–2011 annual report at the meeting of national section 41 coordinators
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Ottawa, October 27, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to participate in your meeting and I would like to thank France Caissy for her invitation. I have come to present my fifth annual report, entitled, Leadership, Action, Results.
As national coordinators of section 41 of the Official Languages Act, you play a very important role in the vitality of our official language communities. You are not only the eyes and ears of your respective federal institutions, but also the voice of these communities to your colleagues and superiors. I would like to thank you for your dedication, and encourage you to make your voices heard at your institution with even more strength and conviction. Our official language communities must not be abandoned during the government budget restructuring currently underway.
Achieving the objectives of Part VII of the Act should be an integral part of the organizational culture of all federal institutions. Achieving these objectives helps consolidate Canadian identity and ensure that our two official languages are fully recognized in our society. As Minister Moore said in his annual report on official languages, “English and French are the languages of our national dialogue and the face we present to the world. They allow all citizens to take part in society, and they connect us to the world at large.” To that, I would add that we have to give our two official languages the respect that they deserve.
In November 2005, Parliament amended Part VII of the Act to require all federal institutions to take positive measures to support the vitality and development of official language communities, and promote the use of both English and French.
Today, many federal institutions are still uncertain about the meaning of the Act, and each institution interprets its obligations in its own way. Positive measures, as well as the promotion and achievement of Part VII objectives, are still ambiguous concepts for a number of institutions. It’s true that it’s difficult to measure imagination, create a checklist to evaluate innovation, or develop a regulatory framework to promote initiative. However, Part VII, by its very nature, encourages the public service to adopt a customized citizen-focused approach. It also requires managers and administrators to have greater tolerance for risk in a risk-averse environment.
It is important for federal institutions to understand that investing in linguistic duality and the development of official language communities across the country is more than a government commitment; it’s also a lever for Canada’s economic growth. The ability to do business in more than one language is now a necessity for many Canadian companies. Bilingualism is an investment that will always pay off, both for the public service and for Canadian society. You are the bearers of this message.
In the 2010–2011 annual report, we address several themes relating to obligations set out in Part VII. I hope you will find it useful as a work tool and that it will provide clarifications where necessary, as well as help federal employees and official language communities turn their ideas into concrete positive measures.
You probably know as well as I do that the government still has not affirmed, loudly and clearly, that compliance with Part VII of the Act is a priority. Rather, it has adopted a narrow interpretation of its responsibilities under Part VII. For example, the decision to eliminate the mandatory long-form census questionnaire was made without taking into account its impact on official language communities. However, this was not due to lack of will on the part of institutions, but rather to a government decision. Remember that all federal institutions, without exception, have the duty to promote English and French, and must do so in consultation with official language communities. Federal representatives set an example both by what they do and what they fail to do.
There is no doubt that federal institutions are wondering what to do so that their day-to-day activities will reach official language communities. This question is important, particularly in light of the strategic and operational review, which is seeing programs modified, streamlined or eliminated, and offices closed down.
The government must ensure the decisions that are made take into account the potential impact on official language communities, because financial restructuring may affect your institutions’ real and perceived ability to fulfill their official languages obligations. If each institution independently makes cuts to official languages programs, the cumulative effect could be much greater than that of the 5% or 10% cuts demanded of institutions. What appears to be a minor cut can have a detrimental long-term effect, especially when communities are already vulnerable.
The annual report addresses the need for leadership in the implementation of Part VII in all areas. In Chapter 3, we look at some of the initiatives that show how certain institutions are fulfilling their obligations. Health Canada has introduced effective processes, while Transport Canada formed an advisory committee with the aim of creating a three-year plan for the implementation of Part VII. To help the department meet its obligations, the plan was developed following a series of consultations held with official language communities and a comprehensive review of Transport Canada’s programs. These examples show the steps that federal institutions must take, from consultation to planning to evaluation.
As coordinators, you have to intervene on behalf of your institutions to promote the development of official language communities and foster the full recognition of English and French in Canadian society. It is true that responsibility for promoting linguistic duality falls first and foremost on the Government of Canada, but federal institutions cannot act alone.
It is essential for the federal and provincial governments to work closely together and for all federal representatives to show leadership.
Part VII was amended as the result of a private member’s bill that demonstrated the will of parliamentarians, not necessarily that of the government. But it is government’s responsibility to apply these amendments.
To better guide institutions, the federal government should increase the Treasury Board's responsibilities and reinforce Canadian Heritage's coordination role. In my annual report, I recommend a legislative amendment that would allow for a more consistent implementation of Part VII. I look forward to the government’s response to this proposal.
Part VII is not about trying to patch things up after the fact. The government and federal institutions must ensure that planning, consultation and coordination all take place before decisions are made, and that results are assessed.
The government and federal institutions must develop and implement a sustainable “Part VII reflex” rather than treating it as an after-thought.
In the last three chapters of the annual report, we take a closer look at the compliance of federal institutions with the Act using some of the tools at our disposal, such as investigations, report cards and audits. We also report on the number of complaints filed both by the public and federal employees, which gives an indication of the kinds of compliance issues institutions are experiencing.
For an institution to meet its language obligations to Canadians, planning and monitoring are required. Some investigations described in the report offer a look at how institutions are managing to resolve official languages issues.
Some federal institutions have done well. Others have not. The report cards are intended as tools to help institutions improve their performance. This year, we examined the compliance of 13 federal institutions with the Act; they were selected because of the large sums of money they provide through their funding programs, some of which benefit official language communities.
There is no secret recipe or universal panacea that will ensure all federal institutions meet their obligations under the Act. Section 41, unfortunately, is not a magic wand that we can wave to make positive measures appear. Compliance with the Act requires new approaches and new ways of doing things. Federal institutions must undertake concrete initiatives.
Fulfilling official languages obligations requires leadership from senior management, including a knowledge and understanding of the Act, and effective planning, coordination and monitoring of programs and services. Above all, managers must be sincere in their desire to apply the Act. This is nothing revolutionary. It is simply a question of putting words into action.
You have a lot of work to do as section 41 coordinators. But let me reassure you: what is being asked of federal institutions is realistic.
In the Part VII discussion forum held on March 9 last year, which some of you attended, I saw the will and commitment of public servants working on the front lines. These are valuable assets.
The 2010–2011 annual report is available on the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages website.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the time that is left to answer any questions you may have.