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Parks Canada Agency, which has reported to Parliament since 1998 through the Minister of Environment, protects and promotes significant representations of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage. Responsible for one of the world’s largest networks of heritage sites, it fosters public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of Canada’s cultural heritage in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations. Parks Canada provides meaningful recreational and educational experiences to millions of visitors. The Agency has a duty to ensure that the public can communicate with it in English or French at its headquarters as well as in all national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites in Canada. This requirement is set out in paragraphs 9 (a), (b) and (c) of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations under the Official Languages Act.

In 2011, Parks Canada celebrated its 100th anniversary. On May 19, 1911, the Government of Canada created the Dominion Parks Branch, which later became Parks Canada. Over the years, the Agency has been a part of Indian Affairs and Northern Affairs Canada and Canadian Heritage. Our audit was timely because there were many festivities planned across Canada to celebrate the Agency’s centennial.

Parks Canada, which has some 4,000 employees, manages 43 national parks, 167 national historic sites and 4 national marine conservation areas. In 2009–2010, the Agency welcomed close to 21 million visitors to its sites. It has a highly decentralized organizational structure, including 4 service centres and 33 field units across Canada, where a large number of employees hold seasonal positions, which brings its own challenges.

Our research revealed that the Agency has some difficulty when it comes to providing service to the public. Parks Canada needs to understand the changing recreational patterns of Canadians and visitors from abroad in order to provide meaningful experiences in innovative and interactive ways. It must also maintain or restore the ecological and commemorative integrity of the sites while offering its visitors educational programs and activities that cultivate understanding. Specifically, in 2005, the Minister of the Environment asked Parks Canada to invest in public education and the enhancement of visitor experiences in order to create a broader culture of conservation. Responding to this demand, the Agency underwent a major restructuring and created the External Relations and Visitor Experience Directorate in 2005. Activities carried out by the new directorate help the Agency to better understand and serve the interests of Canadians, to provide opportunities for relevant and educational experiences, and to coordinate outreach efforts more effectively to foster personal relationships between Canadians and their heritage sites. To meet these objectives, Parks Canada established service standards, detailed in Parks Canada Service – Quality Service Standards for You, which were communicated to all personnel. We were told that the restructuring had resulted in extensive work on job classification, including the development of generic work descriptions and a review of language requirements of positions.

The Agency delivers its mandate through a program activity architecture composed of six main activities. The program activity architecture is the structure used by the Agency to present its corporate plan and to report to Parliament and to Canadians. The Agency’s core programs work to establish heritage places, conserve heritage resources, promote public appreciation and understanding, and enhance visitor experience. The Agency and its partners provide opportunities for enhanced visitor experiences by setting the stage for visitors to enjoy meaningful, high-quality experiences through the provision of information, infrastructure and facilities, and through programs, services and personnel that respond to visitor needs and expectations.

The Agency indicated that its core programs are linked by many interconnected priorities and expected results. These programs form the platform on which Parks Canada defines its contribution to federal sustainable development goals.

Audit objectives and legislative framework

Although Parks Canada has a number of obligations under the Act, our audit focused mainly on Part IV, communications with and services to the public in both official languages in national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites. The purpose of the Act is to ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada, their equality of status, and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all federal institutions. The Act also guarantees the right of the public to have equal access to services of equal quality in both official languages. This obligation applies to the Agency’s headquarters as well as its entire network. Parks Canada is required to meet its obligations under the Act and under paragraphs 9 (a), (b) and (c) of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations, among others. To do this, Parks Canada must implement the policies and practices relevant to its mandate.

Parks Canada is also subject to section 25 of the Act, which concerns services provided by third parties on its behalf. This obligation means that the institution is required to verify that organizations or businesses that provide service to the public or that communicate with members of the public on behalf of Parks Canada do so while fully complying with the requirements of Part IV of the Act. Parks Canada must ensure that third parties, including cooperating associations,1 concession holders and organizations that manage national historic sites, communicate with the public and provide their services in both official languages as if they were the institution itself.


Our audit was carried out in compliance with the standards set forth in the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages’ external audit policy. The results are specific to this audit and do not preclude the possibility that other problems could exist within the institution.

Our audit involved an analysis of all the activities related to bilingual service delivery in order to verify the Agency’s compliance with Part IV of the Act. The objectives of the audit were to examine whether Parks Canada senior management was committed to implementing Part IV of the Act in order to provide visitors with services of equal quality in English and French; whether front-line personnel at all sites provided the active offer and services of equal quality in both official languages to the public in person, by telephone, in writing, via electronic systems (including the Internet and social media) and through videos; whether the Agency consulted representatives of official language minority communities in the various regions when developing its programs and activities and took the specific needs of these communities into account when planning for the provision of bilingual services; and whether the Agency effectively monitored the quality of its service delivery in both official languages in all national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites.

We began the audit at Parks Canada headquarters and then conducted on-site visits and made observations of service provided by telephone from June to October 2011. During our audit, we made scheduled visits to 13 national parks, 2 national marine conservation areas and 18 national historic sites in 10 provinces. We also visited seven sites that were not part of the scheduled visits. We made observations of service provided by telephone among the 40 sites visited. These sites are listed in Appendix B. It is our opinion that this audit allowed us to present an overall picture of bilingual service delivery for Parks Canada visitors.

Over the course of the audit, we conducted 120 interviews with Parks Canada staff, including the Official Languages Champion, the researcher and program analyst at the National Resourcing Programs Unit who is responsible for coordinating activities related to the Agency’s official languages program, senior executives, managers, team leaders, Visitor Services interpreters and attendants, and lock keepers who work in the national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites. We also interviewed Parks Canada’s official languages specialist at the Western and Northern Service Centre, as well as representatives of official language minority communities in the provinces.

We then examined documents obtained from the National Resourcing Programs Unit—which is responsible for coordinating, monitoring and supporting programs related to the Act—including a business plan, a draft official languages action plan, policies, guidelines, service standards and the Hello! Bonjour! tool kit. We also examined documents collected during on-site visits, including numerous publications, organizational charts, memoranda of understanding, generic work descriptions, interpretive programs, official languages work tools, follow-up reports on the Visitor Information Program survey, visitor experience training material, annual official languages reviews submitted to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, correspondence and performance agreements. We examined Parks Canada’s intranet, Web site, Facebook page, Twitter messages and YouTube videos.


1 Cooperating associations raise funds to promote a national park or national historic site.

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