ARCHIVED - V Internal Support for Linguistic Duality

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Our study of policies, programs, activities and services in Canada’s international relations leads us to consider measures for supporting linguistic duality’s integration, particularly within our embassies and consulates. Bilingual service requires a system of language requirements, testing and training. Staff can be sensitized to Canada’s linguistic duality through professional development, while a network of official languages champions offers a focal point for concerns and needs in the workplace. The audit and evaluation functions provide opportunities to ensure that everything is in place. We consider each of these support mechanisms below.

In preceding sections, we referred to the importance of bilingual capacity among cultural, commercial and consular officials in the diplomatic missions we visited. As is the case in other departments, minimum capacity levels in each sector and mission are the product of language requirements established during staffing actions.

Canada’s diplomatic missions differ from the rest of the federal public service because it distinguishes between Canada-based rotational staff and locally engaged employees. For several years DFAIT has required new foreign service officers to be bilingual at the level “C” before assigning them to their first posting. We understand that employees in the Administrative Services category must now meet the same requirement.

These initiatives speak well of DFAIT’s commitment to bilingual services abroad. Their impact is nonetheless limited, given that DFAIT’s Canada-based staff represents a minority of employees in most missions. Other employees include those from other government departments and agencies, such as Citizenship and Immigration, Agriculture and the Canadian International Development Agency, which may have different language requirements. A much larger group consists of employees hired from the local population. Canada has long hired members of the public in host countries to work in our embassies and consulates. However, the use of locally engaged staff has expanded since the mid-1990s to the point where they now outnumber Canada-based employees.

Missions establish language requirements for locally engaged employees. These requirements are not subject to the same standards set for public service employees. DFAIT’s official languages policy states that missions are encouraged to provide the necessary language training or to recruit local personnel who can speak both official languages. The policy accords priority for second-language training to locally engaged employees whose duties include direct contact with the Canadian public. However, the policy does not require testing the second-language skills of these employees.

Our study of the situation in 11 embassies and consulates found that the policy does not provide sufficient direction in this area and fails to ensure bilingual capacity where needed. A number of locally engaged employees dealing with Canadian clients informed us that, when they were hired, knowledge of one of our languages was an “asset,” rather than a requirement. In all cases, second-language skills were informally assessed during interviews. Some managers were concerned that linguistic capability is not professionally assessed, but they lacked guidance to address the problem. Other managers were concerned about the process becoming too bureaucratic.

We found a tremendous interest among locally engaged employees in second-language training to develop or maintain their skills. However, headquarters provides no funding for language training for these employees.21 This was not always the case. In 1996, following a previous study by this office, DFAIT noted that it had increased official languages training to locally engaged staff in contact with the public and stated that it would continue to provide such training.

It is currently up to each mission to offer such courses and to fund them out of its operational budget. The result is that most missions we visited do not offer language training to their local employees. Some used to do so, but had stopped due to the cost. Three of the missions nonetheless maintain on-site language-training programs for their locally engaged employees. The courses are considered by some officials to be important for staff development. It was also suggested to us that making language training available to these employees contributes to their sense of the importance attached to Canada’s linguistic duality.

The Commissioner therefore recommends that:

19. the Department of Foreign Affairs adopt, by December 31, 2004, a comprehensive program of support for ensuring adequate bilingual capacity among locally engaged employees at all diplomatic missions. This program should include appropriate guidelines, resources and direct assistance.

The Government of Canada responded that the Department of Foreign Affairs would review the current support program for locally engaged employees to identify appropriate improvements to guidelines, resources and direct assistance. It also pointed out that not all mission staff need to be bilingual.

In discussing the issue of language training with Canada-based staff, several expressed concern about their ability to maintain second-language skills. We were advised that acquired language skills become rusty during extended absences from Canada, especially during postings to countries requiring the learning and use of a third language.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages believes strongly in personal responsibility for retaining language skills acquired at government expense and that this responsibility applies to government employees posted abroad. The particular circumstances of these employees nonetheless merit consideration by their home departments.22 One official suggested that, following language training, rotational staff be posted to countries where their second language is commonly spoken.

The Commissioner therefore recommends that:

20. the Department of Foreign Affairs develop, by December 31, 2004, a strategy for assisting rotational staff in maintaining second-language skills.

In its response, the Government of Canada referred to measures already being taken by the Department of Foreign Affairs to help all staff maintain second-language skills. These include maintenance training at headquarters, distance programs for reading, writing and comprehensive skills and the reimbursement program referred to above. It is also committed to offering distance programs that target speaking skills “once technical issues are resolved.”

The Commissioner believes considerable potential lies in the proposed distance program for maintaining second-language speaking skills and notes that such a program will help to address concerns raised at several missions we visited.

Canada’s bilingual identity must extend to the very top of our representation abroad to include heads of missions. Canada’s ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general are appointed by order-in-council, with support from the Privy Council Office.23 To be effective representatives of our country, heads of mission should embody our national values in their dealings with foreign audiences and individuals. Among those values, linguistic duality can be conveyed in a meaningful manner by heads of mission only with appropriate levels of knowledge of our two official languages.

At the time of our study, six of 114 mission heads appointed by Governor-in-Council did not meet the language requirements (“CBC”) for senior executive positions in the federal administration. No information was available for another five appointees who had not previously been part of the federal public service. Our study also revealed that only half of the 28 senior officers appointed by DFAIT to head consulates and trade offices were confirmed to be bilingual. Eight were not bilingual, and information was not available for the remaining six. Linguistic duality’s integration in Canada’s foreign affairs will not be complete as long as such gaps in bilingual capacity persist at the top levels of our diplomatic and trade offices.

The Commissioner therefore recommends that:

21. the Privy Council Office and the departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade each take steps, within their respective areas of responsibility, to ensure that future appointments to Canada’s most senior representative positions abroad meet the “CBC” requirement, or a comparable level, for second-language skills.

In its response to the preliminary report, the Government of Canada said that, for the past three years, employees of the Department of Foreign Affairs considered for the positions of ambassador, high commissioner or consul general have been expected to meet the “CBC” requirement before taking up their assignments. More recently, this requirement has also been applied to public servants from other departments. Employees already posted abroad who do not meet the requirement must return to Ottawa for language training.

The Commissioner notes that the response is incomplete. It does not address appointments from outside the public service or appointments to heads of consulates and trade offices.

Most of DFAIT’s professional development program falls under the Canadian Foreign Service Institute (CFSI). CFSI’s curriculum is derived in part from DFAIT’s priorities, which in recent years have included increasing attention to the role of locally engaged employees in Canada’s missions. Four years ago, the Institute introduced an orientation program for these employees. The program aims to bring all locally engaged employees to Canada within a year of their appointment for two weeks of training that covers, among other things, Canadian culture. The Institute has now trained approximately half of all such employees. In addition, local employees have seen increased access to specialized training courses in their fields. This is particularly the case with trade officers who regularly come to Canada for courses.

DFAIT’s initiatives in this area offer excellent opportunities for sensitizing front-line staff about the Canadian context. An internal evaluation of CFSI’s professional development program for locally engaged staff found that it had a positive impact on their “cultural awareness,” among other things, and had enhanced their knowledge of Canada in general. However, our discussions with locally engaged employees suggest that the program’s contribution to awareness levels of Canada’s linguistic duality is not being fully realized. Few locally engaged employees could recall discussions of the linguistic dimension of our culture, society and economy in their courses, beyond the requirement to provide service in both languages.

The Commissioner therefore recommends that:

22. the Department of Foreign Affairs take steps, by December 31, 2004, to better incorporate understanding of Canada’s linguistic duality in professional training programs for locally engaged staff.

In the Government of Canada’s response, the Department of Foreign Affairs committed itself to trying harder “to mainstream linguistic duality in our course offerings by asking presenters to address this theme and its consequences to the work of our staff.” The Department added that one of the distance language learning courses for locally engaged employees “addresses the issue of linguistic duality through its review of La Francophonie as found in Canada and other countries.” It also stated that professional courses are designed to give locally engaged employees a “deeper understanding of the socio-economic Canadian context” to help them in their work. According to the Department, employees frequently get the chance in these courses to discuss how Canada’s linguistic duality expresses itself in work-related challenges.

DFAIT also offers opportunities for Canada-based staff to better appreciate our linguistic as well as cultural diversity. A five-year development program for new employees includes a cross-Canada tour. Each tour must cover a given number of provinces and territories, including regions with which the participant is not familiar. We understand the tours involve meetings with provincial officials as well as representatives of various economic sectors and cultural industries. We also note that different courses in the program are taught in either official language, thereby reinforcing second-language skills.

In January 2003, DFAIT announced that each head of mission had been asked to appoint an official languages champion. According to DFAIT, each mission’s champion would be a visible representation of its official languages program.

Our mission visits included discussions with several official languages champions. Some were well informed and active in this capacity. However, several others were unsure of their role and thus had taken few initiatives. These champions tended to be unfamiliar with obvious linguistic lapses and issues of concern to mission staff, although most demonstrated an immediate willingness to deal with such matters. Several champions did not know whether their mission had established official languages objectives.

The existence of an official languages champion can contribute to linguistic duality’s integration in each of our diplomatic missions. This will occur only if incumbents of these positions have a clear mandate that includes actively promoting all aspects of the official languages program and if other employees are informed of the position and its purpose. To help ensure these conditions are met, each mission should begin by establishing official languages objectives.

The Commissioner therefore recommends that:

23. the Department of Foreign Affairs review its network of official languages champions in diplomatic missions and establish, by December 31, 2004, means of enhancing their effectiveness in promoting linguistic duality, including the adoption of official languages objectives at each mission.

The Government of Canada responded: “Since the 1980s, each Head of Mission has been requested to name a champion to be responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Official Languages Program at the mission. The Head of Mission retains ultimate responsibility for program delivery at the mission. All employees at missions, as well as at headquarters, have access to the Official Languages Site of the Human Resources Branch on the Intranet. This site contains all salient information on the Official Languages Program and summarizes the directives applicable with respect to serving the public and questions concerning language of work.

“As a general rule, whenever the Official Languages Section of the two departments is apprised of the name of a newly appointed champion, an electronic information kit is sent to the individual. This kit summarizes the major responsibilities of the champion and provides links to all relevant official languages sites. To this end, the champion can acquire the necessary competencies to perform his or her tasks.”

The Commissioner reminds the Department of Foreign Affairs that our study revealed existing measures to be inadequate to ensure the effectiveness of its official languages champions’ network.

DFAIT’s internal audit and evaluation services are well placed to support linguistic duality’s integration in mission activities as well as headquarters programs. DFAIT audits, half of which are devoted to missions, focus on practices and procedures, whereas evaluations primarily consider the effectiveness and relevance of policies and programs.

We understand that official languages are reflected in DFAIT’s audit process and guide. Officials added that linguistic lapses are noted during an audit and corrective action is usually taken. However, taking a recent audit report on the Canadian embassy in Beijing as an example, we note it contained little information related to mission efforts to project Canada’s bilingual image, other than a reference to two consular service employees being trilingual. Audits, such as the forthcoming audit of the Public Diplomacy Program, are nonetheless excellent opportunities to address linguistic duality.

Officials expressed interest in incorporating linguistic duality in the branch’s evaluation process. A review of recent evaluations shows that some covered subjects and issues important for Canada’s bilingual image. One such evaluation was that of a major marketing campaign in 2001 by our embassy in Tokyo. The campaign, titled Think Canada, increased awareness of Canada in Japan while promoting a particular brand image of our country. Such endeavours lend themselves to projecting Canada’s linguistic duality. DFAIT’s evaluation report does not say whether Think Canada did so.

The Commissioner therefore recommends that:

24. the Department of Foreign Affairs revise, by December 31, 2004, its audit and
evaluation processes to include policy and program effectiveness in integrating linguistic duality at all levels of operations, including missions.

The Government of Canada noted: “For brevity purposes, mission audits are usually reported on an exception basis. This method of reporting is necessary due to the large number of policies and programs administered at missions abroad. Consequently, where linguistic requirements are fully satisfied the results are reported orally to management and the details are not included in the audit report. In the future, audit reports will be expanded to include pertinent comments regarding linguistic duality. Audits of policies and programs will include a review of the integration of linguistic duality as appropriate, that is, where programs and/or missions have been effectively mandated.

“Evaluation processes do integrate linguistic duality when such a component is present in the policy or program evaluated. In the future, evaluation reports will reflect any findings related to official languages.”


21. DFAIT does offer online language courses, and employees can be reimbursed for 75% of the cost of language training taken privately. However, we found limited awareness of these options among managers and staff in a number of missions. It was also pointed out that online courses are oriented to improving written and reading skills rather than developing oral interaction skills.

22. The federal government’s Directive on Language Training and Learning Retention, which came into effect on April 1, 2004, recognizes that responsibility for retaining acquired second-language skills is shared between the institution and the employee.

23. As documented in our previous report, A Senior Public Service that Reflects Canada’s Linguistic Duality (June 2002), the Privy Council Office advises on and supports the selection, appointment and performance review of persons appointed by order-in-council.

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