ARCHIVED - I Linguistic Duality in International Policy

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This report begins, and ends, with an examination of linguistic duality’s integration in Canada’s international policy. In this section, we consider the government policy in place at the time of our study, focussing first on the policy’s objectives and their relationship to Canada’s linguistic character. We then review the results of the government’s public consultation exercise, A Dialogue on Foreign Policy, which launched the policy review in early 2003. In the report’s conclusion, we look back at our observations to offer the government direction as it completes the review process.

The federal government’s previous foreign policy review resulted in the establishment of three central objectives, or “pillars,” that have guided Canada’s international relations. The 1995 Government of Canada statement, Canada and the World, describes the three pillars as follows:

  • promoting prosperity and employment by advancing Canada’s international trade and economic interests abroad, by maintaining market access for Canadian goods and services, by attracting foreign investment and by promoting tourism to Canada;
  • protecting our security within a stable global framework by using diplomacy to protect against military threats, international instability, environmental degradation, natural resource depletion, international crime, uncontrolled migration and the spread of pandemic diseases; and
  • projecting Canadian values and culture to the world by promoting universal respect for human rights, the development of participatory government and stable institutions, the rule of law, sustainable development, the celebration of Canadian culture and the promotion of Canadian cultural and educational industries abroad.

Canada’s linguistic duality, or “bilingualism” as it was more narrowly referred to at the time, is most closely associated with the cultural component of the third pillar. Bilingualism is identified as one of the distinguishing features of our culture, along with Canada’s multiculturalism and our Aboriginal roots.

Despite linguistic duality’s constitutional status, Canada’s international policy fails to recognize it as a national value in itself or its relevance to the other key objectives. One has to read linguistic duality into the policy’s recognition that cultural and economic objectives are interrelated and that security and global stability are reinforced by our values. Unmentioned are the linguistic character of many of our cultural industries, which contribute to our economic development, and the lessons to be drawn around the world from Canada’s experience in managing social differences.4

Discussions with DFAIT officials suggest that budgetary factors in the mid-1990s weakened linguistic duality’s status in Canada’s international policy. We were reminded that the policy arrived in the midst of the government’s Program Review exercise in the 1990s, which was directed at reducing the cost of government.

Officials recalled that budgetary reductions within DFAIT had major consequences for our foreign posts in particular. DFAIT reduced the number of Canadian-based staff and increased the use of locally engaged staff to promote Canada’s interests. DFAIT staff now represent less than 45% of personnel in our diplomatic missions. For several years, little effort was made to ensure that local employees were sensitized to the Canadian reality, despite their growing importance in representing and marketing Canada’s cultural and economic interests. In addition, the period saw the loss of headquarters support for second-language training for mission staff, which continues to be a problem at some locations.

The international policy’s failure to integrate linguistic duality was reconfirmed as recently as 2002 in DFAIT’s adoption of its three-year Strategic Planning and Priorities Framework. The Framework lays out a set of five strategic objectives and 12 priorities for the government in international affairs up to 2005. The objectives refer to promoting Canada, serving Canadians abroad, interpreting the world for Canadians, serving the government through our global network and forging an innovative organization. The priorities range from client services to Canada’s relations with the United States and with other countries in multilateral organizations. Among these objectives and priorities, the only reference related to linguistic duality concerns “official languages” in the context of human resources management.

Linguistic duality’s low status as a policy objective and priority is at odds with the growing recognition within the federal government of its pertinence and contribution to Canada’s international relations. In a speech delivered in November 2003, the Minister of Foreign Affairs remarked that, amid global tensions, Canada’s membership in La Francophonie provides it with a valuable forum for dialogue with moderate Muslim countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Albania.

As documented in the following chapters, the government has also begun to recognize linguistic duality as one of Canada’s most distinguishing features as it seeks a Canadian “brand” for marketing our products and services abroad. National branding has taken on greater importance in the face of increasing globalization and economic integration though trade liberalization.

DFAIT analysed thousands of comments submitted by individuals and organizations during the public consultation phase, referred to hereafter as Dialogue,5 of the international policy review. DFAIT reported widespread public support for an international presence that reflects the values and diverse character of our society.

As stated by one Dialogue participant, “Canadian values could be well received as a unique asset that Canada could offer in a world growing increasingly insecure due to religious, cultural, social and economic divisions.” Another cited “bilingualism” as well as multiculturalism among Canada’s domestic values. Others were reported to have suggested, “Our experience of democratic pluralism might be able to provide ways forward for multi-ethnic societies to overcome violent divisions.”

By these statements, the Dialogue results go further than our current international policy in recognizing linguistic duality’s relevance to Canada’s cultural diversity and the importance of both to our international relations. This relationship should be built into the new policy, reflecting the fact that our English-speaking and French-speaking communities each consist of a multicultural mix of peoples and backgrounds sharing a common language. The government should advertise its success in bridging differences between our two dominant linguistic communities as well as in building a society of various cultures.

According to DFAIT, the Dialogue results tend to support a rethinking of the government’s pillar approach to international policy. DFAIT reported that some participants believed the three pillars currently used to conceptualize international policy directions should be redefined, or “be re-conceptualized to highlight their integration.” DFAIT added that contributors “indicate an underlying desire for a more integrated foreign policy framework that clearly articulates Canadian values and interests.”

These and other statements in the Dialogue report reinforce the sense that the government has fallen short in ensuring that all components of its international policy pillars are “interrelated and mutually reinforcing,” as described in the current policy.

The public consultation phase of the policy review was important for confirming the need for an international policy that is solidly based on Canadian values, including linguistic duality. In 2003, a government task force on Canada’s international policy framework reiterated this need, calling for policy frameworks “founded on enduring Canadian interests and values.”6 More specifically, the task force stated that a strategic policy framework in international relations should include “a vision of Canada and its role in the world that is based on a sharper definition of our key national interests and is informed of our values.”

We return to this subject in the concluding section of the report after examining the implications of the international policy’s shortcomings for linguistic duality’s status in selected government programs, activities and services.


4. The important contribution of language management to regional if not global stability was exemplified most recently in Afghanistan’s new constitution, the adoption of which was reported to hinge in the final stages on the recognition of linguistic rights.

5. A Dialogue on Foreign Policy. Report to Canadians. Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada. June 2003.

6. Task Force on the International Policy Framework. Government of Canada. 2003.

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