Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 8 - Evidence - Meeting of June 9, 2008
OTTAWA, June 9, 2008
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 5 p.m. to study and report from time to time on the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations and directives made under it, within those institutions subject to the Act.
Senator Maria Chaput (Chair) in the Chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. I am Senator Maria Chaput from Manitoba.
I would like to begin by introducing the members of the committee who are here with us today. To my left is Senator Andrée Champagne from Quebec. She is also the Deputy Chair of the committee. We also have Senator Gerald Comeau from Nova Scotia. To my right, is Senator Claudette Tardif from Alberta and Senator Rose-Marie Losier-Cool from New Brunswick.
We have with us today Mr. Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages. Appearing with him is Ms. Catherine Scott, Director General of the Policy and Research Branch, Ms. Dominique Lemieux, Director General of the Compliance Assurance Branch and Ms. Johane Tremblay, General Counsel of the Legal Affairs Branch.
Our last meeting with Mr. Fraser was on December 3, 2007, when he presented an assessment of his first year as commissioner. Mr. Fraser published his annual report on May 29, 2008. We are meeting with him this evening to hear him talk about his main findings and recommendations.
Mr. Fraser, the committee would like to thank you for having accepted its invitation to appear today. I would now invite you to take the floor.
Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. It is always a pleasure to appear before you, who are my allies on the issue of official languages.
I would like to start by thanking you for inviting me to present my annual report and comment on the governance of official languages.
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. I asked the government to show strong political leadership and take concrete measures to reinforce the progress that had been made.
In my evaluation this year, I have made a number of observations on the government's position on official languages. I have continued my reflection on leadership and official languages, and I reaffirm that 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.
This definition of leadership must encompass all federal institutions, including the Supreme Court. It seems clear to me that Canadians have the right to be heard and judged in the official language of their choice.
In my view, judges in Canada's highest court should understand both versions of the laws, arguments made in court and all discussions with their colleagues regardless of which official language is used.
The government reiterated its support for Canada's linguistic duality in its October 2007 Throne Speech. Yet, it did not set aside any funding for this area in the February 26 budget. The tentativeness and the lack of leadership are now evident. Despite the government's many statements in support of Canada's linguistic duality, there is no 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, deterioration in the application of the official languages policy. I have noted that, yet again this year, very little progress has been made in several areas of activity, and the situation has even worsened in some institutions. 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. The deadline of March 31, 2008, is set out in the action plan. Nevertheless, the government has not had the foresight to create a new initiative or a replacement initiative before this deadline, and Canadians are still waiting for new developments.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages has had the report on the latest consultations undertaken on this subject for several months but has still not announced any concrete measures. In fact, it almost feels like a Samuel Beckett play, which could be called "Waiting for the Action Plan.'' I sincerely hope that I will not have to spend another year watching a drama in suspended animation as the government bides its time.
However, I would also add that I was happy to hear Minister Verner say in the House that the new plan will be made public "very soon.''
The government must establish a clear direction and implement initiatives that will lead to concrete results. Some of the partners involved are concerned, since they do not know what the objectives of the future initiative will be or how much funding will be granted.
A little over a year ago, your committee asked for my advice on official languages governance. You asked me to examine horizontal coordination in official languages and to make appropriate recommendations. I devoted an entire section in my annual report specifically to horizontal governance in official languages, and I made three recommendations that I hope address your committee's concerns.
Part of my analysis is based on a report that Professor Donald Savoie prepared for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. I am pleased to provide you with copies of his report, which helped me analyze government and public service initiatives on horizontal governance.
As your committee has already pointed out, coordination of official languages does not receive the attention it deserves. Good governance requires first and foremost a clear, strong and sustained commitment from the political executive.
I therefore made three recommendations to the Prime Minister as to how he can demonstrate political leadership on horizontal management of official languages. First, I recommended that he create an ad hoc committee of ministers to oversee the full implementation of the new action plan and language requirements within all federal institutions.
Second, I recommended that he ensure cabinet reviews official languages matters at least once a year.
Third, I recommended that he ensure the Official Languages Secretariat is given the authority it needs to fulfill a horizontal coordination role across the public service.
Political and administrative leadership is part and parcel of good horizontal governance. This principle applies equally to official languages and to other major files within the federal administration.
I recommended that the Clerk of the Privy Council ensure deputy ministers' annual performance reviews include efforts to implement the Official Languages Act in its entirety, especially Part VII. To achieve tangible results, responsibility for such implementation must be recognized and valued at the highest levels of the federal administration.
Finally, I recommended that the Minister for Official Languages give the Official Languages Secretariat the mandate of reviewing the official languages accountability and reporting requirements to simplify the process and, above all, strengthen the focus on results. The reporting requirements should help the administration better fulfill its responsibilities, not create a burden.
We need a better coordinated effort to effectively resolve the language-of-work problems that have plagued the federal government for 40 years. I recommend that, by December 31, 2008, deputy heads of all federal institutions report 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.
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.
However, over the years, the number of positions designated bilingual has not changed. These positions include mainly those that involve providing service to the public, and in some cases, 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. As 15,000 people are expected to join the public service every year, Canada's linguistic duality must be a consideration in the recruitment, training and upgrading of skills. Successful implementation of policies on communications with and service to the public, language of work and human resources management hinges on employees having access to high-quality language training from the beginning of their careers in the federal government. We must stop the practice of sending an employee on language training only once they have been appointed to a supervisor position.
I call on the government to show greater coherence and put its good intentions into practice. In short, I ask the government to show leadership instead of simply managing the file.
Through stronger leadership, 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.
I want to underscore that some federal institutions are providing significant support for linguistic duality. They are also making a concerted effort to ensure that 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. Their work deserves to be recognized. I give several examples in my annual report, and I invite all deputy heads to draw inspiration from 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 fortieth 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.
In closing, like you, I am following with great interest the issue of bilingualism at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. My office has undertaken a study on the matter which is a preventive step which should help the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC) address potential shortcomings before the games.
Although study of this matter is still underway, we have already identified some key issues, particularly regarding resources allocated to official languages within VANOC, growing demand for translation and simultaneous interpretation, signage and volunteer recruitment. While our study does not examine the broadcasting of the games in both official languages, that is also an issue which I am following closely. I believe that the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games are a golden opportunity for the federal government to show leadership and to showcase Canada's linguistic duality to the world.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Commissioner. I would like to start off with a first question. Your annual report indicates that, among other things, few public servants are fully aware of their official language obligations. That is truly disappointing because I remember there being an initiative 7 to 10 years ago called "interdepartmental relations,'' which was intended to raise awareness among senior federal department officials. Then, there were what we called "official languages champions.'' When we met some of those officials individually, a number of them had seemed responsive and had changed their attitudes.
Now that we know that there will be a public service renewal, we would like to make sure that the public servants are fully aware of their obligations. We would really like to get off on the right foot. In your opinion, what would be the strategic priorities that will get us off to a good start so that the public servants are aware of their obligations, because this hasn't really worked with the system we currently have.
Mr. Fraser: First, let me say that there is some degree of variation. Just like you, I was impressed by the commitment of official language champions in the departments. In some departments, much progress was made; it has become a part of the culture and measures have been taken to ensure that the working language is respected. In other cases, this seems to have been neglected and there has even been some deterioration of the status of French — and of English in Quebec — in the working environment.
There are two specific elements that must be emphasized in the message. First, we should make sure that the active offer of service becomes a part of the culture when greeting the public as citizens step up to the wicket of various organizations — Parks Canada, Air Canada, Services Canada, Health Canada, Passports Canada. I am struck by the fact that although this is a commitment that is clearly required by law, it does not seem to play any role in the culture when it comes to dealing with the public. I have often met agency heads and even ministers who did not even understand what I was talking about when I spoke of the very weak results in the area of active offer. Several ministers or heads of agencies asked me: "What do you mean by active offer?'' This leads me to believe that it is not really a part of the culture, of the guidelines and of presumed obligations.
For this to get done, the message must come from above. One good example is the progress that was made in the Department of Public Works and Government Services when the minister became angry at the rather poor results in his department. He insisted that the results be changed to show some progress. Within three years, the marks that the department received in the report card progressed from weak to middling to good. This is evidence that if there is political will and a will to take leadership, it can be done.
As you remember, I raised this issue last year. During your deliberations, you raised the problem with moving the Canadian Tourism Commission. You studied the matter. At first, the institution had big problems with meeting its commitments after it moved from Ottawa to Vancouver, or from a bilingual region to a unilingual region. However, now they are among the four institutions that set an example with their performance. This was no accident, it happened because they were determined to make it happen, and despite the fact of being in Vancouver and of having lost bilingual employees upon leaving Ottawa, they succeeded in picking up the challenge.
Therefore, it is very important for the employees at the grassroots to understand the obligation. However, for them to understand it, the message must come from above.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Commissioner, I want to thank you for your annual report. You forcefully stated what had to be said, namely that there is a lack of leadership and that there has been an increasing tendency to do the strict minimum over the past few years in the enforcement of official languages. You attributed this fact to leadership and I think, in fact, that things either get done or do not get done, depending on the leadership and political will.
In 2006, when the government came into power, it decided to transfer the Official Languages Secretariat from the Privy Council Office to Heritage Canada. I can hardly see how a department can assume responsibility for coordination when it has no specific powers, and how it can manage its own activities. Do you think that this decision had an impact on the poor results and the lack of leadership that we see today?
Mr. Fraser: Last year, I personally expressed the same concern, just as you, as senators, did when you requested that the issue be studied. I think that I often repeated this sentence: "We pay more attention to directives from an office upstairs than from an office down the hall.'' Professor Savoie was asked to do this study and this study was tabled with you, in response to your request. Professor Savoie did a very interesting study on the horizontality issue which is an increasingly fashionable term in the public service, and I am also beginning to use it. According to Mr. Savoie, horizontality cannot compensate for the lack of political will. For horizontality to work there must be some change in the government apparatus as well as an overall view of all the issues. He raises this issue again and again.
This brings us to the second principle of the sound management of horizontal issues. In Mr. Savoie's opinion, there is no easy solution nor is there any model that can apply to all the issues in all circumstances and at all times. No solution can be complete or perfect. Consequently a solution must be adapted to each issue at each moment and for each situation so that horizontal management issues can move forward. In his opinion, we are making slow progress beyond the trial stage.
Finally, 32 interviews of senior officials were carried out which showed that they had various suggestions to make. However, they almost seemed to be repetitive in the way they all indicated first and foremost the need for the political executive to send out a clear message that the official languages policy is a priority.
This approach, which is used not only in Canada but also in England and in the United States, consists of working towards what the British call "joined up government,'' which was previously called "all of government approaches,'' which means horizontality. I was strongly influenced by an analysis done by Professor Donald Savoie which says that an official languages policy can be managed on a horizontal basis, so long as the political leadership is strong.
This conclusion really corroborated the analysis that we had already begun regarding the role of leadership.
Senator Tardif: Would your recommendation include the establishment of a special ministers' committee?
Mr. Fraser: Yes, based on this fairly detailed analysis by Professor Donald Savoie and on his recommendations, we conclude that this can work so long as cabinet members display their commitment to providing this leadership.
Senator Tardif: I think that in the past there was a committee of deputy ministers or ministers in charge of official languages which has now been disbanded. However, I do not know how many times a year it met.
Mr. Fraser: Yes. In fact, one of the things that Professor Donald Savoie noticed was that the committee was more or less functional and he identified some weak points. This is why, if I understand his study correctly — he did not stand up and say that this is how things should work, but he recognized that if there is no signal coming from the top of the government hierarchy and if it is left up to lower levels, problems can be expected.
Senator Champagne: Mr. Commissioner, good afternoon. You talk about a lack of leadership. I found it quite difficult when reading your report, and I read it intently, to find small instances — a few of which you call success stories — where an effort was made.
I am thinking of Bill C-13, thanks to which accused persons are better informed of their right to be heard in the official language of their choice. I agree with you: judges will nevertheless have to be able to hear them in either official language.
I am also thinking of Bill C-36, which ensures that language requirements continue to apply to Air Canada and its affiliates. I agree with you, there has been some success but there are still problems. All the same, actions have been taken.
You said earlier that you were very concerned — as am I — about the broadcasting of the Olympic Games. It is all very well to say that there needs to be leadership at the highest level, but the Prime Minister has no authority over Globemedia. He can offer them suggestions, but he is in no position to give orders. How is there a lack of leadership in such a case? I do not know. We face the same problem with CBC/Radio-Canada where neither the Prime Minister, with all the leadership in the world, nor the minister can tell the public broadcaster how to conduct its operations.
When the CBC decides to record the Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala, when they do the editing and broadcast it on their airwaves, and when all francophone singers have been left out, that is not, in my view, a lack of leadership on the part of the government.
Mr. Fraser: Madam Chair, regarding the broadcasting of the Olympic Games, I do not think that it can be said that I blamed the Prime Minister for not having played a part in that file.
It is indeed a rather complicated file in that a contract was awarded by the International Olympic Committee following a publicly-advertised tender call, which was won by CTV. A consortium was then created, and I think that it was in part because of your questions and concerns about the issue — which you raised in the file's early stages — that CTV has made considerable efforts to ensure that the consortium be as broad as possible.
I have met with CTV broadcasting officials, but at the same time, there are things that still need to be resolved. However, responsibility for that does not rest with the Prime Minister, and it was never my intention to suggest that between the lines.
Senator Champagne: You came very close to suggesting that when you said that there was this problem, and that more leadership was still needed. But what is there to say about the Prime Minister's leadership in an area where he cannot demand anything whatsoever?
Mr. Fraser: The Department of Canadian Heritage does nevertheless have a role to play. Meetings have taken place and have led to some pressure being applied. As well, there are ongoing discussions between the department and CTV.
But what also concerns me — and this has nothing to do with the Prime Minister — are the conditions under which the competitive bidding process was carried out. Some consortium members are on unstable ground, and if there are changes in the French-language broadcasting landscape, that could lead to changes —
Senator Champagne: I think the matter is now before the CRTC.
Mr. Fraser: Yes, and so I cannot go any further on the issue, except to say that at one point I raised the issue during my conversations with CTV and told them that they should at least start to think about a plan B. We had a very constructive conversation during a meeting that was held fairly recently. So there are some elements that make me feel a bit more optimistic than I was a few months ago.
Senator Champagne: It is you then who has shown leadership, and we thank you for it.
I would like to address another topic. In your performance report cards, the worst grade, which is a failing grade, was given to National Defence and the Canadian Forces.
Mr. Fraser: Yes.
Senator Champagne: When I saw the "E'' with the asterisks, the worst possible grade, I wondered if they could not have at least earned a ''D,'' especially now since young francophones from across Canada who wish to embark on a career in the armed forces can once again study in French thanks to the reopening of the Saint-Jean Military College, which our predecessors had deemed to be useless and without any importance.
Mr. Fraser: I applauded Minister O'Connor when he made that announcement last summer. I always thought that that terrible mess had to be fixed. A first step has been taken. When I met with officials at military headquarters, the Canadian Armed Forces executive committee and National Defence, I was given assurances that the reopening was but the first step in the redevelopment of French-language training within the Canadian Forces.
At the same time, there have been drawbacks. Last year, complaints received by my counterpart at the time, Yves Côté, helped identify very serious problems with the training at Borden. We are currently assessing the situation with the collaboration of the Canadian Forces.
In the annual report, we indicate that we are trying to develop our role as an ombudsman. We are putting the conditions in place to be able to intervene much more proactively. That is what we are currently doing with the Canadian Forces.
A year ago or so, the Canadian Forces renewed their approach. I made sure not to criticize them for that change by not telling them that that was an admission of failure. However, I have always said that I would not wait until 2012 to see the results of that new approach. We are closely monitoring what is done at National Defence. We pay them regular visits. Dominique Lemieux might have other things to add concerning the Canadian Forces.
Dominique Lemieux, Director General, Policy and Research Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: We are conducting a broad and in-depth assessment of training in the language of instruction, not language training. We are covering the marine, aviation and army sectors. This in-depth assessment will no doubt take us at least one year.
Mr. Fraser: I would like to add something that could reassure you. I have had very positive meetings with the minister and high-ranking officials. I have already visited several military bases, and the work is not yet done.
I understand that the Canadian Forces have experienced enormous challenges. General Hillier even spoke about a decade of darkness. During my meeting with him, I told him that the forces were now working in broad daylight. All Canadians are aware of the challenges that the Canadian Forces have to meet. As we speak, francophone soldiers are putting their lives on the line in a foreign country. That highlights their right to training in their own language.
Senator Murray: What keeps occurring to me in regard to the horizontal management of the issue is to know what value-added has been brought to the system by the creation of a minister for official languages and a separate Official Languages Secretariat. Frankly, I was always dubious about going in that direction. I opposed it in the committee and elsewhere years ago.
I think it was the Chrétien government that finally did it, and our friend from Ottawa-Vanier, Mauril Bélanger, was the first minister. There have been others since. I think Madam Verner was the minister responsible for official languages before she became Minister of Canadian Heritage. The position was junior to some other minister. I do not know whether it was to the Privy Council or Canadian Heritage.
I wonder whether it is producing anything and whether we should continue down that road. I have not read Professor Savoie's report. I know that during the 1970s and well into the 1980s, the implementation of the Official Languages Act and of the policy — language of service, language of work, equitable representation of the two language groups at all levels of the public service — was not only a political but an administrative challenge of humongous proportions, as they say. What ministers and officials face today is not nearly as complicated as the problems that their predecessors faced in the 1970s and 1980s.
You and apparently Professor Savoie speak of the need for political leadership. It was well known under the Trudeau and Mulroney governments that dragging your feet on these issues was a career-limiting move. I think it was also true of the Chrétien government, although I cannot speak with as much knowledge on that.
The leadership was coming from the centre. As a matter of principle, it looks like the issue has been hived off to this minister of state or the secretariat or whatever it is.
Put yourself in the position of a civil servant who has two telephone messages on his or her desk or two emails to answer. One is from the Privy Council Office and the other is from the Official Languages Secretariat. You know which one will be answered first: the one from the PCO.
I think it was a mistake to remove the function from there. It gave the appearance that it was being taken away from the immediate supervision of the Prime Minister.
I will read Professor Savoie's report and see what he has to say. However, I wonder whether someone should revisit the issue of whether a secretariat of that kind will produce the desired results. If you want to give a progress report on that secretariat, please go ahead. I would like to hear it.
Mr. Fraser: The secretariat has handled a range of issues, including the coordination of all of the elements of the action plan. If we do see the government come forward with the renewed action plan as it has promised, it will have come out of that secretariat.
Your example of the two pink phone slips was certainly my instinctive starting point in looking at this. However, in response to the request from the committee, we issued a tender for a study. Professor Donald Savoie, a world- recognized expert in governance, took on this issue on our behalf and delivered a nuanced, analytical study of the issue.
I was impressed by the analysis he gave and the provisos he had about making this work effectively. They not only informed but provided us with the recommendations that we made concerning the importance of ensuring that the secretariat has the authority necessary to ask the Prime Minister to set up a cabinet committee and to ensure that this cabinet committee review these issues. I did not think it would be appropriate for me, as commissioner, to say that I do not care what the study says and just put it back.
As I understand of the decision the clerk made in terms of streamlining the Privy Council Office, I certainly do not think official languages were the target of that. I think it was a function of his view of the role of Privy Council as a central agency and not wanting to duplicate. A similar thing happened for much of the foreign policy unit that existed in the Privy Council Office.
While I share some of your prejudices on this issue, I was impressed by a report that ran somewhat counter to my own prejudices, shall I say.
Senator Murray: The key line departments involved in official languages are Treasury Board, insofar as bilingualism in the public service is concerned; the Department of Justice; and the Department of Canadian Heritage, particularly with regard to the federal-provincial aspects, the agreements with the provinces and so on. These departments already have a reporting relationship, if you like, to the Privy Council Office.
Mr. Fraser: The Canada Public Service Agency is also playing an important role.
Senator Murray: Yes, certainly.
They already deal with Privy Council Office. It would have seemed to me that the horizontal role of Privy Council Office would be more effective if they had continued to exercise supervision over official languages policy in law.
Regardless, I will read Professor Savoie's report. I remain dubious about the whole exercise. There is only so much talent to go around in the public service, as you know. It comes down to the political leadership. Either the issue has priority or it does not. If it does have priority, people from top to bottom in the public service soon get the message: Herein, fail not; you have to move on and try to make it work.
I want to ask you about one other matter, something I have not read yet but have seen reported in the media. Public Policy Forum has produced something on the public service, and it appears that bilingualism received faint praise, at best. Indeed, there was some suggestion that the language requirements were causing problems in the recruitment and retention of other target groups in the public service, including visible minorities and handicapped persons.
That is not the evidence we heard in this committee and another committee, the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, where we had the Canada Public Service Agency and various other responsible people in. We did not hear evidence that language requirements were one of the problems.
Do you have any comment on what the Public Policy Forum had to say?
Mr. Fraser: Let me share with you what I said first to Ian Green, who wrote the initial report and worked on the report all the way through, and then subsequently to Jodi White, the president of the Public Policy Forum. I felt it was unfortunate that in their series of cross-country conversations with people that was the basis of some of the research for the initial report, francophones were strongly under-represented on those panels.
Much of the media attention that was given to the final report was based in large part on an editorial board session where Ms. White appeared. She raised the issue of the attempt of a department she did not name to look for somebody at the assistant deputy minister level in Vancouver who was fluent in Mandarin. She spoke about how the language requirements were an obstacle.
My response to her was that there are 16,061 federal jobs in British Columbia; 530 of those jobs are designated bilingual. That is about 3 per cent. Therefore, 97 per cent of the federal jobs in British Columbia are not designated bilingual.
There are some 60,000 francophones in British Columbia and there are 30,000 students in British Columbia who are in French immersion. If you look at those comparative numbers, look at the pool of people who are available to fill 530 jobs out of 16,000 and you add into the mix the fact that there is job training available for public servants who are preparing for promotion, I think it is an exaggeration to say that language requirements are a barrier to entry into the public service.
I think one of the problems is that cocktail-party chatter sometimes becomes erected into something as if it were public policy. I become quite indignant when I see people who are engaging in public policy analysis, whether as journalists or as people engaged in public debate, resort to anecdotal references. When I see that, my instinct is either to sit down and write a vigorous response to something that has appeared in the newspaper or to pick up the phone.
In the case of both Ian Green and Jodi White, I picked up the phone and I shared with them the points I just made.
Senator Murray: I sent them transcripts, particularly from the Finance Committee where we dealt in some detail with this question of target groups such as visible minorities and so on. The situation is complex. It is not clear to me why we are not doing better.
This is not a concern of this committee at the moment. However, the question that arises is where is the competition. Obviously, we are in competition for these people with the private sector and with provincial and municipal governments. I would like to know how well they are doing before we say it is bilingualism that is causing the problem or that there is some systemic resistance to hiring visible minorities.
Mr. Fraser: Sure. We also did a study last year with Statistics Canada looking at the age group from 18 to 48 years. That is the basic age group from which the public service is likely to be drawing when they are seeking employees. We wanted to see if there was a systematic difference in the level of bilingualism between members of visible minority communities and Canadian-born anglophones. We found that members of the visible minority community are more bilingual than anglophones are. They are not dramatically more bilingual, but more so than anglophones.
I am always a little suspicious of anglophones saying we should alter those requirements because they are unfair to visible minorities. I sometimes think this is a handy excuse for people who feel that they should not have to worry about these language requirements themselves.
There are only a few reasons why public servants should master both official languages: to serve the public; to manage people who have the right to use both official languages on the job; to be able to brief ministers who may insist on their right to be briefed in French, which is not inscribed in the Constitution or any regulation; and to have an understanding of the country as a whole.
There are many interesting important jobs in the public service where those criteria do not apply.
Senator Comeau: First, I want to congratulate Dr. Fraser again for recently being awarded an honorary PhD. from the University of Nova Scotia; he is now a doctor of political science. Commissioner or doctor, you made an excellent speech during your presentation.
Mr. Fraser: Thank you very much, I was honoured by the ceremony and the experience.
Senator Comeau: The community was extremely pleased to do this.
Commissioner, I want to come back to a comment you made in your speech. In reference to Statistics Canada, you said that the official language communities were vibrant, but that there were also many challenges to be faced in a changing social context.
I presume that you are referring here to communities that have long been francophone communities and which are on the verge of extinction. We can name, for example, the Baie Ste-Marie region which you recently visited. These are historic communities. People are leaving to go west, to Montreal or Ottawa. Is that what you are referring to?
Mr. Fraser: I was referring to two different things. Following the 2006 census, Statistics Canada conducted a specific study on community vitality, a study based on interviews, which demonstrated strengths and weaknesses. As you mentioned, the fragility of various rural communities was one of the things the study looked at.
I am going to let Catherine speak to give you more details.
Catherine Scott, Director General, Policy and Research Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Madam Chair, this study was conducted by Statistics Canada and published last December, and enabled us to better understand the different aspects of vitality, be it the perception of identity, access to government services or health care, and even the role of the media in minority communities. Consequently, this study will allow us to conduct other research and to dig deeper to better understand the various dimensions comprising identity.
We also conducted studies in partnership with the communities, including a study on the vitality of the francophone community in Halifax, to try to work with the community in order to better understand various issues, be it the youth drain or access to health care, and to help communities develop strategies and targets to strengthen their vitality.
Senator Comeau: I am pleased to hear you mention Halifax, because Halifax is not historically an Acadian community; more and more francophones are settling there. But there are some communities that are being abandoned at a terrible rate.
Perhaps there were reasons that you needed to go to Halifax, but would it not be more important to visit, at this time, the more isolated and rural communities? More and more people are recommending that the government abandon those remote regions, such as Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Baie Ste-Marie, Nova Scotia, Chéticamp and others and focus on Halifax. No doubt, you have already heard these comments previously.
Mr. Fraser: Yes. Clearly, the small rural communities are becoming increasingly fragile. However, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages should know that this problem is not unique to official language minority communities. Young anglophones are also leaving rural communities.
I think that it is quite difficult to develop public policy targeting only official language minority communities when there is a generalized problem facing the remote regions, where it is difficult to retain young francophones in Quebec and young anglophones as well.
Until quite recently, Saskatchewan had a serious problem with shrinking rural communities. The loss of the community becomes even more tragic when it involves a historic community, but it is always hard.
What is important about Halifax is that more and more young people are moving to Halifax and it is becoming an increasingly important centre.
Senator Comeau: Do you agree that — you seem almost to be suggesting this — it is too difficult to find solutions for small communities —
Mr. Fraser: No, I do not know.
Senator Comeau: — allow me to continue — such as Île Madame or Chéticamp, whose young people are going to Halifax? Are you suggesting that we should concentrate on Halifax instead of on those smaller communities? Is it difficult to develop a strategy? Is it a generalized problem from which all those small communities are suffering?
Mr. Fraser: I am not prepared to answer that because we did not look specifically at small communities.
What comes to mind in answer to your questions is that there are significant economic pressures in remote regions, which are reeling from the increase in the price of gas, the cost of transportation and so on.
What I would add, and here is where your question is quite relevant, is that the government and all its institutions have an obligation to undertake positive measures to ensure the development of minority communities, be they francophone communities in Nova Scotia or not.
Increasingly, it is through this lens that we should look at government decisions. Do those decisions represent or include positive measures for official language minority communities?
Senator Comeau: Perhaps this is where I would ask you to develop a strategy that could, through the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, make recommendations to the government as to how it might take action in those small communities in order to help them, be it in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, or a small francophone region in Newfoundland, with the exception of St. John's. The francophone population in those small communities is dropping. Perhaps the commissioner could assist the government to develop solutions by identifying the problem and making the government aware of it.
Several years ago, your predecessors had announced the hiring of a new employee in Atlantic Canada to meet the needs of official language minority communities. This person was based out of Moncton, a region where there is a high francophone population, meaning it had the magic number.
Johane Tremblay, General Counsel, Legal Affairs Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: We are talking about critical mass.
Senator Comeau: At the time, I had asked why the same thing was not being done in Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island? The answer was that they had received fewer complaints from those regions. Was there a specific reason for that? Is it because they do not know about you? People have not heard about the Commissioner of Official Languages because he is located somewhere else. On the previous page you were talking about New Brunswick, the National Capital Region and other regions in Quebec and Ontario as target regions. However, there are other regions. British Columbia is a perfect example. Francophone communities had been abandoned for years and, suddenly, when we needed them, we found them. Despite this, it took some time, because we gave money to a foundation — and I do not remember its name — before we turned to the francophone community in British Columbia.
We realized its importance in the end. There are perhaps others, in the other provinces, that we can make sure we do not forget.
Mr. Fraser: Indeed, we received 58 complaints from Nova Scotia and only 49 from New Brunswick. Therefore, I sometimes try to say that complaints are not the only tool. We cannot claim that service has improved because complaints have decreased, but we indeed received more complaints in Nova Scotia than in New Brunswick.
One of the components that contributed to the decision to keep the office in Moncton was that of the critical mass, not necessarily of francophones, but also the critical mass of the people in the office. Therefore, that supports my argument to a certain extent. And I can tell you that the people in the Moncton office often travel to Nova Scotia, and it is easy to travel around the Atlantic provinces. This is an office that covers four provinces. The new representative is in the process of moving from Prince Edward Island. Therefore, we have had impressive coverage of the four provinces.
Recently, I had a very useful, very cordial and productive meeting with the minister from Nova Scotia, Chris D'Entremont, who talked to me about his legislation and his cooperation with the Acadian community, as well as his pride in the very high level of community participation in the drafting and enforcement of this act. This would be a good example to follow as far as having a spirit of cooperation in this area is concerned.
Senator Losier-Cool: It is now my turn to congratulate you, doctor.
My questions will concern francophone culture. Over the last year, this committee has undertaken a study of francophone culture and its central issues in minority situations. We have heard from many witnesses.
In March 2008, you published a study entitled Federal government support for the arts and culture in Official Language Minority Communities. In this study, you talk about developing a new vision to acknowledge the key role the arts and culture play in the vitality of the community.
This committee travelled to New Brunswick and we recognized that vitality. What form could this new vision take?
Mr. Fraser: First of all, I believe it is very important that the government include arts and culture in the next action plan, and we cannot imagine a community without culture. Living within a community necessarily implies living within a culture, having access to culture. We cannot conceive of someone having received an education without having had access to culture.
In my opinion, culture, in its broadest sense, is an essential component of civilized life. I was furthermore very pleased to see that Mr. Lord recommended that the government include culture as one component of its new action plan.
The important thing is to make a connection between the government, communities and artists. Often, in the beginning, when the first action plan was being developed, I felt that there were certain artistic communities that were not quite ready to join in the strategic planning process, the collective management process that is truly a part of these kinds of relationships with the government.
We have made a great deal of progress in this area. We can now see that there are very significant cultural components in some provinces. For example, in Ontario, we organized artists' tours for schools in minority communities. In Quebec, the same thing exists for artists; there is a government fund for this. It is not well known, but it serves to fund artists' visits to schools.
If we think of the long-term vitality of minority language communities, we absolutely must ensure that these communities have access to culture. That means having access to books, theatre, movies and television. We have made enormous progress over the last 40 years in terms of developing access to television, for example. There are very few communities that do not have access to television, and the same thing is true for radio. I travelled across part of Saskatchewan in a rented car listening to Radio-Canada and I realized to what degree Radio-Canada plays an extremely important role in the vitality of these communities. It means that these people can hear themselves.
As I see it, we cannot imagine a community existing without access to culture.
Senator Losier-Cool: What you say is true. We have met with people who are offering educational programs in the schools and school boards in order to educate people to become consumers of culture.
On the principle of inclusion, you spoke of governments, of communities, of young people and of artists. As other witnesses also stated, do you believe it would be useful to have a national cultural policy for francophones?
Mr. Fraser: At first glance, it appears to be an interesting idea. I hesitate to commit to making it a formal recommendation off-the-cuff; I would like to know more about it. Our study talks about a new comprehensive vision, indeed, and that could be part of that context.
Senator Losier-Cool: You mentioned Radio-Canada. Some of our witnesses congratulated Radio-Canada, but they have also pointed out some of its shortcomings. Do you have any suggestions to offer the committee as to how Radio- Canada could even better play its role of reflecting the minority language communities across the country?
Mr. Fraser: I must admit that we currently have a bone to pick with Radio-Canada. We believe that CBC/Radio- Canada has an obligation described in part VII of the act, that is to say the obligation to take positive steps towards the development of minority language communities. Radio-Canada claims that, as far as programming is concerned, they are only accountable to the CRTC. I am hoping to meet with Mr. Lacroix to discuss this. We have received seven or eight complaints regarding CBC/Radio-Canada and we decided to tell the complainants that we are grappling with this dispute.
Sometimes, the issues raised are outside of the scope of the act, but could be of interest to the ombudsman. I try to send the message along to both the complainant and to the ombudsman who is concerned with awareness. Senator Champagne raised the issue of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala. This issue concerns me as well; it is precisely the kind of situation wherein CBC/Radio-Canada clearly states that it was a programming decision, that they are the masters of their own agenda and that they are accountable only to the CRTC.
Senator Champagne: It is an insult to francophones.
Mr. Fraser: Absolutely. That is why I am trying to see how else we can analyze the impact of CBC/Radio-Canada, outside of the traditional ways. We are carrying out a study on culture and Radio-Canada is at the very heart of our concerns.
Senator Losier-Cool: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. Commissioner, it is 6:15 and we would like to continue with a second round of questions. Could you stay until 6:30?
Mr. Fraser: I am at your disposal.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Commissioner, you have indicated that the concept of active offers has not penetrated the organizational culture of several departments and agencies at the federal level. Has the concept of positive measures been able to penetrate the organizational culture? Have you received any comments from the official language minority communities to this effect?
Mr. Fraser: I think that it varies a great deal. Some institutions have done interesting things in the way of positive action. We are still in the introductory phase; it will take a few years for this legislative amendment to become a part of our mentality.
I noticed — and you will probably notice it too if you take a look at our bulletins — that the institutions are better at management than at getting results. They create committees, discussions are held, champions are appointed, but often the concrete results are much less impressive.
I was often struck by the fact that the institutions that set good examples of positive action are the ones that come from the grassroots, in the regions, where there is a real contact with the community. I do not know whether I have already given this example, and if I have, please bear with me: an employee of Parks Canada in Jasper went to see Jasper's francophone community and offered them free premises from Parks Canada if, in exchange, they could organize conversational French classes for Parks Canada employees.
It was a brilliant idea, but it was not at all the kind of directive that could come from a deputy minister. It depended on the imagination and initiative of local persons.
Another example, at the other extreme, has to do with the CEO of VIA Rail for whom this was an important obligation. It was not clear with which minority community VIA Rail could establish special contacts. The executive of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes suggested that VIA Rail become a sponsor of the Sommet de la Francophonie held in spring last year, and VIA Rail accepted.
In both cases, the results were the fruit of collaboration. The Department of Public Works is offering communities the free use of its Termium technology, which is a terminological data bank in both official languages used for translation. Industry Canada developed a DVD showing social and economic profiles of minority communities. Some departments, such as Canada Post, have found a new approach. Canada Post is sponsoring La dictée PGL which is now in both official languages.
The institutions find imaginative initiatives to meet this obligation.
Senator Tardif: I am glad to see that there are positive examples in all this. However, you said that institutions often do not understand the definition of positive action, and that the government is overly cautious in implementing positive action. Has there been any progress, are we still at the status quo, or did you simply not make any comments about this in your report?
Mr. Fraser: At first, I thought that the analyses made by the Department of Justice were overly cautious. The discussion was held up by the fact that the first case that could define the scope of part VII of the act, the intervention of the FCFA regarding the abolition of the Court Challenges Program, is currently before the court. Therefore, we will have to wait for the decisions in this case. The analysis by Justice Canada was held up for this reason. However, I would say that there is progress, but there are still things to do.
The Chair: If there are no further questions, even very brief ones, from the senators, Mr. Commissioner, on behalf of the committee members, I would like to sincerely thank you and your staff for appearing and for the report that must have taken many hours of intensive hard work. This report will guide us in our future actions. I wish you every success!
Mr. Fraser: Thank you for the kind words about the report. I want to tell you how proud I am of our teamwork. The report is accurate and substantial, and I thank the team for it.
The Chair: Honourable senators, let us pause for a few minutes before resuming our work in camera.
The committee continued in camera.