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This is the third annual report submitted by the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser. It presents the main activities of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages over the past 12 months.

The tabling of the Annual Report 2008–2009: Two Official Languages, One Common Space is a particularly important milestone, because the Official Languages Act is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. As the Commissioner states in his foreword, this event “gives us an opportunity to examine how far we have come and how far we still have to go to achieve the goals of the legislation.”

Six commissioners, four decades

As shown in Chapter 1 of this report, entitled “The 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act,” the six people who have taken the helm at the Office of the Commissioner have each contributed to strengthening the place of English and French in federal institutions and Canadian society. The progress that has been made is impressive on many levels.

However, the other chapters of the Annual Report show that, despite this progress, many major obstacles are still hindering the achievement of the substantive equality of English and French in Canada.

English and French in federal institutions

Chapter 2, entitled “Vision, Leadership and Commitment: Fundamentals of the Full Implementation of the Act,” explains that linguistic duality has plateaued in federal institutions since the 1990s. The Government of Canada will need to make a sustained effort to ensure that the following vision becomes a reality:

  • Members of the public feel comfortable communicating with federal institutions in the official language of their choice and receive services of equal quality in English and in French;

  • Federal employees are proud to work in an environment where the use of both official languages is valued and encouraged;

  • Official language minority communities and linguistic duality are recognized, supported and celebrated by Canadians.

A high proportion of the 15 separate employers that received a report card this year have seen their performance deteriorate in terms of active offer of service in person. Moreover, one out of four times, members of official language communities who do business with these institutions are still unable to obtain service in person in their language.

In this regard, Air Canada’s performance and the Commissioner’s observations at five major international airports across the country clearly show some of the negative effects of the transformation of federal institutions on the quality of the services offered in both official languages.

Chapter 2 also mentions that only 70% of Francophone federal employees in designated bilingual regions in Ontario, the National Capital Region and New Brunswick and 77% of Anglophone federal employees in designated bilingual regions in Quebec are generally satisfied with the existing language regime in their workplace. In the context of public service renewal, the message must be repeated loud and clear that English and French both have a place as languages of work in federal institutions and that bilingualism is an essential component of leadership.

The assessment of the 15 separate employers selected this year shows that these institutions have increased their support for official language communities. However, these communities should be consulted more often when new programs are developed and implemented. Canadian Heritage should also work more closely with other departments to help them apply Part VII of the Act.

Chapter 2 concludes with the observation that some of the recent changes made by the federal government have weakened the official languages governance structure. It is also unfortunate that the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008– 2013: Acting for the Future does not contain any measures to ensure that the Treasury Board Secretariat has the necessary resources to increase the extent to which English and French are taken into account in federal institutions.

Promoting the learning of the official languages

As the Commissioner notes in Chapter 3, entitled “Promoting the Learning of Our Two Official Languages: Seeking a True Language Continuum,” we do not always realize the true value of a resource such as knowledge of English and French that Canadians can use in all areas of activity, including the economy. For example, employees who know both of Canada’s official languages often have an advantage when looking for a job.

As a result, a Canadian vision of bilingualism should include the following objective:

  • All Canadians have access, in their community, to the necessary resources in order to effectively learn English or French as a second language.

However, various obstacles will have to be overcome to increase the number of Canadians who are able to use both official languages. More students will have to be given the opportunity to effectively learn the other official language, more second-language courses will have to be offered to post-secondary students, more opportunities will have to be given to young people to participate in language exchanges and Canadians will have to be given the opportunity to acquire the language skills they need outside of the education system.

The Government of Canada has a key role to play in improving the English and French second-language learning opportunities provided to Canadians. Therefore, it is unfortunate that a specific objective for second-language learning is not included in the Roadmap 2008–2013.

Canada, like other countries in the world, is in the grips of one of the worst economic crises of the past 100 years. The Commissioner nevertheless ends Chapter 3 by insisting on the fact that economic and language issues are interrelated and that the government should not lose sight of its obligations regarding the implementation of the Act.

Support for official language minority communities

In Chapter 4, entitled “Official Language Minority Communities: Thriving in the Public Space, From Coast to Coast to Coast,” the Commissioner mentions that the future of official language communities is very promising because of various factors: the willingness of official language communities to use their language in the public sphere; the increased recognition of the importance of language skills, of the ability to adapt and of the networking abilities of official language communities; the partial break-down of geographical borders because of information technologies; and the openness of official language communities towards immigration.

Unfortunately, the federal government Roadmap 2008–2013 does not support official language community development as much as was hoped. For example, the funding announced in June 2008 will not be enough to meet all of the challenges the communities will face between now and 2013. This plan does not set out specific targets to guide federal institutions in their interventions. Moreover, nearly one year after the launch, the communities are still waiting for all of the details on how the Roadmap 2008–2013 will be implemented.

The Government of Canada will need to adopt vigorous measures to turn into reality the vision communities have of their future in areas such as education, economic development, justice, arts and culture, health and demographic vitality. The federal government should make sure that it follows up on the desire expressed by the provincial and territorial ministers during the 13th Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie held in Québec City in September 2008 to “enhance their partnership with the [...] federal government with regard to the implementation of the Roadmap [2008–2013].”1

In short, only federal government leadership and an enhanced partnership with the other levels of government will ensure that the current economic crisis does not reverse the hard-won progress of official language communities.

The coherence of government actions and the Olympics

The Commissioner concludes the report by pointing out that the health of Canada’s language regime depends on the health of all its components. In other words, weaker leadership from the federal government in one area is all it takes for problems to surface in all areas. However, coherent action can strengthen linguistic duality overall.

Canada will hold a successful Olympic Games in 2010 only if the federal government, along with its partners, ensures that linguistic duality is promoted in all federal institutions (including the country’s international airports) and draws on the language skills of bilingual Canadians.

Recommendations

1. In order to stay the course on linguistic duality, the Commissioner recommends that the Prime Minister of Canada ensure the government, through its budget decisions and its economic stimulus investments, turns its commitment to linguistic duality and the development of offi cial language minority communities into action.

2. The Commissioner recommends that the President of the Treasury Board:

  • fully assume his responsibilities under Part VIII of the Official Languages Act towards all federal institutions, including separate employers;
  • report to Parliament on the implementation of the Treasury Board’s official languages programs.

3. With regard to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the Commissioner recommends:

  • that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the President of the Treasury Board exercise greater and coordinated leadership among federal institutions so that the responsibilities for linguistic obligations are clarified, all necessary human and financial resources are made available, and clear accountability mechanisms for bilingual service delivery are established;
  • that deputy heads of each federal institution involved in the Games clearly identify measures that their institutions are taking to ensure full compliance with all official languages obligations, and that they provide the Commissioner and parliamentary committees with regular progress updates.

4. The Commissioner recommends that the Minister of Transport table, as quickly as possible, a new bill to protect and uphold the language rights of the travelling public and Air Canada employees, regardless of the nature of the changes to the structure and organization of the air transport industry.

5. The Commissioner recommends that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages:

  • implement, as soon as possible, the commitments announced in the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008–2013: Acting for the Future to support second official language learning;
  • develop, by March 31, 2010, appropriate coordination mechanisms, bringing together all partners involved in English or French second-language learning in Canada;
  • report, by the end of fiscal year 2010–2011, on these measures and the results that they helped achieve.

6. The Commissioner recommends that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages continue to fully implement, as quickly as possible, the commitments to official language minority communities in the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008–2013: Acting for the Future.



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