ARCHIVED - Ottawa, May 29, 2008

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Media statement on the occasion of the tabling of the
2007–2008 Annual Report


Graham Fraser – Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

When I tabled my first annual report last year, I drew attention to the fact that the government’s actions did not reflect its words. More specifically, I questioned its genuine commitment to the new obligations that have been part of the Official Languages Act since 2005. I then asked the government to show strong political leadership and take concrete measures to reinforce the progress that had been made.

This year, I continued my reflection on leadership and official languages. I have concluded that anyone who wants to play a national leadership role in this country must be able to communicate with all Canadians in both official languages. Therefore, to be a leader in the public service, it is necessary to be able to inform, evaluate, explain, give advice and inspire in both English and French.

One year later, what can be said about the government’s leadership in official languages matters?

The tentativeness and lack of leadership that were suspected last year are now evident. The government continues to support Canada’s linguistic duality in principle; however, this support has not led to a global vision in terms of government policies and the public service.

This lack of leadership has resulted in a plateau being reached and, in some cases, a degredation in the application of the official languages policy.1 I have noted that, yet again this year, very little progress has been made in several areas of activity. In fact, the data in my report show that the language of work situation has even worsened in some institutions.

Ensuring the successor to the Honourable Mr. Justice Bastarache in the Supreme Court of Canada be bilingual is a perfect example of necessary leadership. Canada has adopted not only two official languages, but also a bijural system. As a result, its laws are not translated, but instead written in both official languages, and one version does not take precedence over the other. It is therefore paramount that judges in Canada’s highest court be bilingual and able to understand both versions of the laws as well as counsel and citizen alike, in the language of their choice, without the assistance of an interpreter. Beyond comprising judges of exceptional skill, the Supreme Court of Canada must reflect our values and our Canadian identity as a country that is bijural and bilingual. The government should acknowledge this reality.

The initiative that will replace the Action Plan for Official Languages is an example of a commitment that is slow in being honoured and an example of tentative and uncertain leadership. Despite these commitments, we are still waiting for results.

In the Speech from the Throne of October 16, 2007, the government reiterated its support for Canada’s linguistic duality by stating that it would propose a strategy to implement the next phase of the Action Plan, which came to an end last March 31.2 Yet it did not set aside any funding for this initiative in the February 26 budget.

The deadline of March 31, 2008, for the Action Plan has been known from the outset. Nevertheless, the government has not had the foresight to create a new initiative or a replacement initiative before this deadline.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages has had the report on the consultations undertaken on this subject for several months, but has still not announced any concrete measures.

In fact, the situation almost feels like a Samuel Beckett play, which could be called Waiting for the Action Plan. To be honest, I am not interested in spending another year watching a drama in suspended animation as the government marks time.

The government must establish a clear direction and implement initiatives that will lead to concrete results for all Canadians. The delays have already planted seeds of doubt among some of the partners involved, since they do not know what the objectives of the future initiative will be, or how much funding will be granted.

A clear and strong commitment from the Prime Minister remains an essential condition for good governance. I therefore make seven recommendations in my  report to encourage the government to show stronger leadership.

In particular, I recommend that the Prime Minister create an ad hoc committee of ministers to oversee the full implementation of the new action plan and language requirements in federal institutions.

Similarly, I recommend that Cabinet review official languages matters at least once a year. In order to translate political commitment into action at the administrative level, I recommend that the Official Languages Secretariat be given the authority it needs to fulfill a horizontal coordination role in order to implement the Official Languages Act in its entirety. The goal of these recommendations is to ensure more results are obtained on the ground for Canadians.

A better coordinated effort is required to more effectively intervene in and resolve the problems related to language of work that have plagued the federal government for 40 years. I recommend that deputy heads of all federal institutions report, by December 31, 2008, on the actions they have taken to create a work environment that makes it possible for employees in regions designated by the Act to use the official language of their choice. These regions are New Brunswick, the National Capital Region and several parts of Quebec and Ontario.3

Linguistic duality is a fundamental component of Canada’s public service. In an environment where Anglophones and Francophones work side by side, bilingualism is an essential part of leadership in a modern and efficient public service that reflects our country’s values.

Forty percent of positions are currently designated bilingual, a proportion that has not changed for several years. These positions include those that involve providing service to the public and, in some regions, supervisory positions.

Public service renewal must make it possible to better anchor Canada’s linguistic duality at the heart of the values and priorities of federal institutions. It is difficult to see how the public service can continue to serve all Canadians if the recruitment, training and upgrading of skills of the approximately 15,000 people who will be joining the public service every year are carried out without taking this factor into account.4 Canada’s linguistic duality must be a consideration in the recruitment, training and upgrading of skills of new recruits for the public service to be able to continue serving all Canadians.

Policies on service to the public and language of work cannot lead to satisfactory results if employees do not have access to quality language training from the beginning of their careers in the federal government.5 All too often we are content to send an employee on language training only once they have obtained a supervisor position. This way of doing things does not seem to me to be rational, or effective.

I therefore call on the government to show more coherence and put their good intentions into practice. In short, I ask the government to show leadership instead of simply managing the file.

Through stronger leadership and a more coherent way of doing things, the government will also have an influence on the changes that may affect Canada’s linguistic duality. Studies published over the last few months by Statistics Canada describe how vibrant the official language communities are, but also describe the many challenges that must be met in a changing social context.6

The objective of the Official Languages Act has never been to make all Canadians bilingual. However, opportunities to learn both of the country’s official languages are a source of enrichment for our society as a whole. In cooperation with all those involved, the federal government must take action so that Canadians who want to take advantage of the two languages and two cultures have access to stimulating and rewarding learning opportunities.

Before concluding, I would like to note that some federal institutions are making a concerted effort to ensure both official languages can be used in the workplace, provide services in both languages and implement positive measures to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities. I would also like to mention that I have observed significant support for linguistic duality, and I congratulate the public servants who have worked hard in this respect. Their work deserves to be recognized. I give several examples in my annual report, and I invite the heads of institutions to draw inspiration from them.

A clear vision and strong leadership are nevertheless necessary if federal institutions are to meet some of the challenges related to official languages. My  report is intended to provide an overview of these challenges, and my recommendations should be considered as ways for the government to meet them.

Federal institutions obtain better and longer lasting results for Canadians when the government, senior management and public servants show strong leadership by recognizing the rights and values related to official languages and linguistic duality and by ensuring these rights and values are respected. The 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, which will be celebrated in 2009, seems to me to be an ideal time to turn this vision into action.

Thank you for your attention. I would like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.

 


Notes

1 Overall findings of the government’s performance: Chapter I, part 1, p. 4–13.

2 Action Plan for Official Languages: Chapter I, part 2, p. 16–29.

3 Language of work: Chapter I, part 1, p. 5–6, and Chapter IV, part 3, p. 125–135.

4 Public service renewal: Chapter I, part 2, p. 36–43.

5 Language training: Chapter I, part 2, p. 42-43.

6 Changing demographics and community vitality: Chapter II, part 2, p. 80–94.