ARCHIVED - Appendix A -Recommendations to Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) for each objective, AAFC’s action plan and our comments

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Generally speaking, AAFC’s action plan and the approach AAFC has taken or plans to take to implement the recommendations are satisfactory. In cases where the measures proposed by the institution appear to fall short, comments have been added to this effect. We will assess the implementation of the recommendations at the time of our audit follow-up. We would like to thank AAFC representatives for the constructive dialogue that took place with them throughout this audit.

We maintain that full implementation of the recommendations should allow AAFC to effectively meet its obligations when providing service to the public in both official languages.

OBJECTIVE 1: Ensure that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s senior management is committed to the official languages program to provide appropriate bilingual services to the public, in particular to Canadian producers and to citizens living in rural regions

 

Recommendation 1
The Commissioner recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada:

  • develop an accountability framework that addresses official languages roles and responsibilities, coordination mechanisms and how supervisors are held accountable in this regard, and distribute this framework to all staff;

  • revise its official languages action plan to include additional objectives for ensuring the full and effective implementation of Part IV of the Official Languages Act (communications with and services to the public).

Action plan and timeframes

AAFC developed an accountability framework that was submitted to the Corporate Services and Systems Board on April 24, 2008. The Department will return to the Board at the end of the summer or early in the fall to ensure it has quorum for final approval before presenting to the Executive Council. Once it has been approved, the framework will be distributed to all employees.

In addition, a task team was created within the Human Resources Branch with the mandate to review AAFC’s official language environment and to deliver official language tools for employees, managers and executives, to create an accountability framework for the use of official languages in the day-to-day work of the Department and to develop a communications strategy to inculcate official languages into the culture at AAFC.

AAFC will continue to review its action plan semi-annually and amend its elements (service to the public – Part IV) as circumstances and requirements dictate. On June 5, 2008, the Deputy Minister hosted an Official Languages/Employment Equity Action Plan Day where assistant deputy ministers (ADMs) identified concrete actions to embrace and demonstrate their accountability. Each branch head is to submit his or her commitments for 2008–2009 in writing prior to October 30, 2008 for follow-up. At the June 5 meeting, the Deputy Minister requested options for the provision of a non-financial award to the three branch heads who showed the best progress towards employment equity and official languages.

Growing Forward is Canada’s new policy framework for the agriculture and agri-food sector, based on a five-year agreement with the provinces and territories that replaces the Agricultural Policy Framework (APF). Continuity agreements have been signed to allow existing APF programming to continue into 2008–2009. During this transition year, the Department will develop substantially revised policy and program directions, including a new suite of business risk management programs as it continues to improve client service under the Service Transformation initiative. Since this transition requires re-negotiation of a wide range of service delivery agreements, it provides an opportunity to review compliance with the Official Languages Act. The new AAFC official languages accountability framework, due for presentation to Executive Council in October 2008, sets out responsibilities for ensuring compliance with the requirements of the Official Languages Act. Growing Forward was endorsed by Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture on July 11, 2008, for implementation on April 1, 2009.

AAFC’s official languages advisory committee is called the “Official Languages Governance Team.” Its 20 members meet quarterly and provide advice and recommendations concerning the implementation of the Department’s official languages action plan. This plan includes specific measures to ensure that service delivery fully complies with official languages obligations. These measures are:

1) A new official languages accountability framework. It defines the roles and responsibilities of managers and employees throughout the Department, and will be promulgated with messaging that includes a strong theme that “official languages at AAFC is everyone’s business.” The framework was presented for approval to Executive Council during the first quarter of 2007–2008.

2) A new policy on language of work. Official Languages will work with Internal Communications to finalize this new policy, which will clarify the rights of employees as well as accountabilities of managers for complying with the Department’s obligations in offices and facilities designated bilingual. Once this is complete, the information about the policy will be communicated to all AAFC employees through a forthcoming news@work story. To familiarize AAFC employees, the policy will be made into a PowerPoint presentation and included in the training package.

3) A branch-by-branch review of the linguistic profiles of all positions in the Department. The review encompasses all seven communications requirements included in PeopleSoft. AAFC will use this information to target its official languages initiatives more effectively and to improve the quality of reports to central agencies. This is scheduled for completion in the third or fourth quarter of 2008–2009. The review of Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) was carried out in March 2008, and the classification team is making corrections to position data inconsistencies. During a May meeting of the Human Resources Management Team, the classification and service delivery teams were assigned responsibility for reviewing the positions in the remaining branches.

4) An update of the Department’s listings in Burolis. Further to a meeting with officials from the Canada Public Service Agency on June 26, 2008, it has become clear that a thorough review of AAFC’s regional work sites is required. As part of this review, the official languages team will confirm the physical addresses and telephone numbers of the bilingual offices as well as the physical addresses of unilingual offices. The Official Languages Team will also need to re-assess the designation of certain work sites. Once the team has an up-to-date list of all the offices and facilities, along with their appropriate designations, it can then develop more rigorous processes for ensuring compliance with official language requirements. Since the June 26 meeting, the official languages team has compiled a master list of all AAFC offices and facilities with their appropriate coordinates. AAFC is now assessing the linguistic designation of all the offices in accordance with the policies and regulations of the Canada Public Service Agency. The objective is to have this completed before the end of November 2008.

Recommendation 2
The Commissioner recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada take the necessary steps to ensure that the quality of bilingual services to the public is a performance objective of managers responsible for offices that are required to offer services in both official languages.

Action plan and timeframes

AAFC will continue to review its action plan semi-annually and amend its elements (service to the public – Part IV) as circumstances and requirements dictate. On June 5, 2008, the Deputy Minister hosted an Official Languages/Employment Equity Action Plan Day where ADMs were asked to identify concrete actions to embrace and demonstrate their official languages accountability. Each branch head is to submit his or her commitments for 2008–2009 in writing prior to October 30, 2008 for follow-up.

The Official Languages Team is actively updating its office code data through a branch-by-branch review and verification of the entire listing. Working with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, AAFC is acting to ensure that offices are appropriately designated and that managers are aware of and comply with their serviceto- the-public obligations. At a meeting with officials from the Canada Public Service Agency on June 26, official languages officials took note of the appropriate processes to review and update the information about the Department’s offices and facilities in Burolis. However, the Canada Public Service Agency is launching a new database in 2009 tentatively identified (in French) as the Système de gestion des règlements (SGR). The updates that AAFC will be making to Burolis will comply with the requirements of the SGR.

Our comments

We are partially satisfied with the measures proposed by AAFC to implement this recommendation. We recognize the importance of ensuring that AAFC’s bilingual points of service are correctly identified in Burolis and appreciate the time involved in this exercise. However, we are of the view that more concrete measures must be taken by the Department in the short term to ensure that its managers of those offices or points of service correctly designated bilingual for service to the public have relevant performance objectives reflected in their performance agreements. We will assess the implementation of this recommendation at the time of our audit follow-up.

Recommendation 3
The Commissioner recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada develop a policy or guidelines to better manage communications with and services to the public in both official languages offered by departmental employees.

Action plan and timeframes

The Official Languages Team will work with Internal Communications to finalize the policy on communications with and services to the public. Once this is completed, information about the policy will be communicated to all AAFC employees through a forthcoming news@work communiqué. To help inform AAFC employees, the policy will be converted into a PowerPoint presentation and delivered jointly by line managers and Human Resources, beginning in December 2008.

OBJECTIVE 2: Ensure that designated bilingual offices actively offer and provide appropriate bilingual services to the public, in particular to Canadian producers and to citizens living in rural regions (in person, by telephone and in signage and publications)

 

Recommendation 4
The Commissioner recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada:

  • launch an efficient awareness-raising campaign for staff at offices designated to provide service in both official languages. The aim of this campaign would be to clearly explain language-of-service obligations and to equip staff members with the necessary tools to help them fulfill their language obligations;

  • ensure that all its managers of designated bilingual offices take mandatory awareness sessions on requirements regarding communications with and services to the public in both official languages.

Action plan and timeframes

In calendar year 2009, AAFC will be developing a presentation outlining the roles and obligations of its employees in offices providing services in both official languages. This presentation will be delivered in partnership with regional managers.

Canada Public Service Agency tools will be made available to employees in December 2008 via the corporate communications newsletter news@work.

The accountability framework’s description of roles and responsibilities and tool kits on roles and responsibilities as well as management tools have been prepared and will be distributed to all regional managers by December 2008.

Once these steps have been completed, AAFC will work with Internal Communications to promote and distribute these documents within the Department. In order to facilitate the dissemination of this information to all levels of the organization, a memo from the ADM, Human Resources Branch, to his colleagues (branch heads) enlisting their cooperation and support will be drafted. A memo from branch heads to their respective directors general and directors will also be prepared. To ensure consistency of the message and a comprehensive understanding, official languages obligations are now featured in all AAFC training packages, learning maps and orientation sessions.

Recommendation 5
The Commissioner recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada:

  • review the language designation of all positions providing service to the public, with priority given to offices of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration;

  • take measures to offer language training as soon as possible to incumbents of designated bilingual positions who do not meet the language requirements of their position;

  • implement the required administrative measures when incumbents of bilingual positions are unable to provide services in both official languages.

Action plan and timeframes

In March 2008, a review of PFRA’s linguistic profiles of all of its positions was completed. The review encompasses all seven communications requirements included in PeopleSoft. AAFC will use this information to target its official languages initiatives more effectively and to improve the quality of reports to central agencies. This exercise is scheduled for completion in the third or fourth quarter of 2008–2009. During a May meeting of the Human Resources Management Team, the classification and service delivery teams were assigned the responsibility for reviewing the positions in the remaining branches.

Follow-ups will be carried out with managers via a quarterly report to each branch head to confirm that employees appointed to a position on a non-imperative basis have a learning plan and respect the two-year timeframe to meet the language proficiency of their position. Officers of the official languages team have access to the staffing log where it indicates all appointments made on a nonimperative basis (verified daily). Following a non-imperative appointment, the letter of offer is also sent to the official languages representative (ongoing basis). The official languages representative also has access to the PeopleSoft reports (monthly).

Human resources advisors in the service delivery (staffing) team enter the details of every appointment, including the language profile, into the Department’s “Integrated Staffing Log” on a daily basis. The language training coordinator of the official languages team reviews this log daily and initiates the training process by contacting the employee to arrange for assessment by an external language trainer. The coordinator also ensures completion of the Consent to Language Training form, and reviews the letter of offer for every non-imperative bilingual position. The official languages team monitors the progress of employees in their training program and creates quarterly exception reports to inform managers about problem cases. The human resources planning team informs branch heads about non-imperative appointments during its quarterly briefings and through dashboards provided to every branch.

Upon the appointment of an employee on a nonimperative basis, managers are reminded of their duty to implement administrative measures to ensure that services for the specific work area are provided in both official languages.

OBJECTIVE 3: Ensure that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada consults representatives of Canadian producers and representatives of the official language minority communities in rural regions and takes into account the results of these consultations in the delivery of bilingual services

 

Recommendation 6
The Commissioner recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada consult the national and regional representatives of official language minority communities, in particular those representing Canadian producers and rural areas, to find out their specific needs as regards service to the public.

Action plan and timeframes

AAFC consults with official language minority communities regularly to contribute to community development (Part VII). In 2007–2008, AAFC will have disbursed $700,000 in official language community projects, in excess of $2 million in the last four years and an additional $1.4 million in the previous three years.

AAFC does not agree with the belief that “Part IV, interpreted based on the principle of substantive equality, requires in some circumstances that the specific characteristics and needs of official language minority communities be taken into account when developing services for both official language communities.”

Our comments

We recognize the efforts demonstrated by the institution to consult with official language minority communities, and encourage the Department to pursue any initiative aimed at fostering the development of these communities. As an example, we encourage AAFC to consult the representatives of official language minority communities and agricultural producers, in particular those representing Canadian producers and rural areas, to find out their needs in terms of education-related services (training). On the strength of the information gathered, the Department could exercise a stronger influence on provincial and territorial governments (while recognizing their jurisdiction in education matters) in order to meet those needs. This influence could then be reflected in its collateral agreements with the provinces and territories or in its contribution agreements with non-profit agencies.

The Office of the Commissioner recognizes that a difference of opinion between the federal government and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages existed with regard to the scope of the obligations flowing from Part IV of the Official Languages Act, as to whether the specific characteristics and needs of official language minority communities need be taken into account when developing services for these communities. This question has recently been settled by the Supreme Court of Canada, which indicated that linguistic equality in the provision of government services requires that the needs of official language minority communities be taken into account in the development of services when justified by the nature of the service.

We will assess the implementation of this recommendation at the time of our audit follow-up.

OBJECTIVE 4: Ensure that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada takes into account its responsibilities under Part IV of the Official Languages Act in its partnership and contribution agreements with other institutions

 

Recommendation 7
The Commissioner recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada include in its new partnership and contribution agreements language clauses that comply with the provisions of Parts IV and VII, if applicable, in order to fully comply with the Official Languages Act.

Action plan and timeframes

Jurisdiction over agriculture is shared between the federal and provincial governments. Agreements between AAFC and the provinces give consideration to the official languages policies of each jurisdiction, but AAFC’s position is that it cannot impose its obligations under the Official Languages Act on the provinces.

When third parties receive contributions or grants but do not deliver services to the public, AAFC’s policy is to respect the language preference of each recipient, and it does not impose any official languages obligations in the associated agreements.

When third parties enter into agreements to deliver programs on behalf of AAFC, they are bound by the Official Languages Act, and their responsibility for compliance is set out in official languages clauses in the relevant agreements. Officials who approve these agreements are responsible for inclusion of appropriate terms and conditions. Under the new AAFC official languages accountability framework, heads of branches that deliver services to the public are ultimately accountable for compliance. The framework includes an oversight component to ensure that branches or teams responsible for official languages functions are meeting their responsibilities.

Notwithstanding the above limitations in the reach of the Official Languages Act, where specific needs have been identified, officials responsible for negotiating contracts request third parties to provide services or communications in both official languages at federal expense.

AAFC recognizes its obligations under Part VII of the Act to take “positive measures” to promote and enhance linguistic minorities in Canada. The Department endeavours to engage third parties in this effort wherever possible, but it is not in a position to force them to do so, except when they are contracted to deliver services to the public.

Our comments

We are partially satisfied with the measures proposed by AAFC to implement this recommendation. Although we agree that the provinces and territories do not have obligations under the federal Official Languages Act, it is AAFC’s duty to ensure that where services are provided or made available on its behalf by another person or organization, including provinces and territories, these services are delivered in accordance with the requirements of Part IV of the Official Languages Act. Also, language clauses should be designed to ensure compliance with all of the duties set forth in Part IV of the Act, in terms of communications with the public as well as the provision of services.

Even in a shared area of jurisdiction between the federal government and the provinces, such as agriculture, it is the federal institution’s responsibility to impose the linguistic obligation on its provincial counterpart where the province is acting on its behalf. For instance, in a similar situation which arose in the case of Canada (Commissioner of Official Languages) v. Canada (Department of Justice), 2001 FCT 239, the Federal Court found that the Government of Ontario was acting on behalf of the federal government in the prosecution of federal offences, which is an area of federal jurisdiction. Therefore, Part IV of the Act was found to apply. We will assess the implementation of this recommendation at the time of our audit follow-up.

OBJECTIVE 5: Ensure that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada closely monitors its performance with regard to the provision of services in both official languages

 

Recommendation 8
The Commissioner recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada:

  • implement a formal monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance with its language obligations concerning the provision of bilingual services;

  • periodically measure, once the monitoring mechanism is in place, the quality of service provided in both official languages, and that it use this information to manage service quality and to report on results.

Action plan and timeframes

The accountability framework has an oversight component by which departmental official languages obligations will be monitored.

AAFC has created an action-register to ensure that managers are following through on their commitments. The template of this action-register states the responsibilities for the site manager, the appropriate branch ADM and the Human Resources Branch.

A component on service to the public was added on June 5, 2008, to the performance agreements of executives whose positions are designated bilingual for service to the public.

The Official Languages Team is creating the action-register to measure the demand for bilingual services in offices and facilities that are designated bilingual for services to the public. Beginning in the third quarter of 2008–2009, AAFC requires managers at each of these sites to direct employees to record the number of requests for services in English and French as well as the number of services that are delivered in each language. Managers are required to submit their register to the Official Languages Team regularly. The Team will analyze results and provide a quarterly report to the ADM, Human Resources, who will communicate the results to the Office of Audit and Evaluation where appropriate.

The oversight function will include periodic monitoring and measuring. On June 5, 2008, the Deputy Minister hosted an Official Languages/Employment Equity Action Plan Day where ADMs were asked to identify concrete actions to embrace and demonstrate their accountability. The ADM of the Human Resources Branch requested that each branch head submit his or her written commitments by October 30, 2008 for follow-up.

Official languages champions act as advocates and promoters of official languages in the Department, and are instrumental in reporting ongoing departmental progress.

Measurement of the quality of services provided in both official languages requires the proactive involvement of senior executives and managers responsible for service delivery. AAFC will therefore engage branch heads in the process of designing the quality-assessment process. They participated in an Official Languages/Employment Equity Action Plan meeting on June 5, 2008 to determine specific monitoring actions, including the activities and results to be measured, the means and frequency of collecting data, and the analytical procedures to be used. The branch heads also approved measures to systematically interpret this information and present it regularly to CSSB to drive actions leading to sustainable improvement.

The Official Languages Team will incorporate these decisions into a formal monitoring plan that will include, at a minimum, descriptions of each element of the monitoring initiative, definitions of roles and accountabilities, and details of a reporting and review process. This plan will be distributed to branch heads and implemented during the third quarter of 2008–2009.

The Official Languages Team will collaborate with the Human Resources Planning Team to incorporate quality assessments of bilingual services into the regular quarterly branch-level reviews that planners deliver in person to each ADM. Department-wide results will be systematically reported and provided to managers responsible for the departmental audit and evaluation program.

Our comments

We are partially satisfied with the measures proposed by AAFC to use the information provided by the action-register to manage service quality and report on results. Beyond measuring the demand for second-language services, the Department must demonstrate its commitment to ensuring that, where obligations exist, an active offer of bilingual services is made at all times, and that its services are available and of equal quality in both official languages. The absence of an active offer often results in a reduction of instances where the use of the minority language would occur. The action-register should therefore contain an element that would record that the active offer was made in every instance. In addition, when a request for service in the language of the minority is made, the register should track the manner in which the service was provided, including whether or not an administrative measure was required. We will assess the implementation of this recommendation at the time of our audit follow-up.



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