Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 1 - Evidence - Meeting of March 2, 2009
OTTAWA, Monday, March 2, 2009
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages is meeting today at 5 p.m. in relation to its study 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: I see that we have quorum so I call the meeting to order. I would like to welcome you all to the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. My name is Senator Maria Chaput, from Manitoba, Chair of the committee.
First I want to introduce the committee members who are with us here today. Starting at my far left, Senator Andrée Champagne from Quebec who is also vice-chair of this committee; Senator Yoine Goldstein, also from Quebec. We also have a new senator on our committee, Senator Yonah Martin, from British Columbia.
Welcome to this committee.
Senator Martin: I am pleased to be here.
From Ontario, we have Senator Lowell Murray, as well as another new member on our committee, Senator Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis from Quebec. I want to welcome you, Madam Senator.
We are welcoming here today the Commissioner of Official Languages, Mr. Graham Fraser, who is a frequent visitor to our committee. We are always extremely happy to have him here. He's accompanied by a number of his colleagues whom he will introduce in a few moments.
The commissioner is appearing before our committee this evening to give his perspective on various issues related to the official languages, and to present his most recent studies and latest audit.
Mr. Fraser, the committee thanks you for having accepted our invitation to appear today. I now invite you to take the floor.
Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Madam Chair, thank you. It is always a pleasure to appear before you.
Ladies and gentlemen, honourable senators, good evening. First, I would like to introduce the individuals accompanying me because there have been some recent staff changes at my office since we last met.
Please welcome Johane Tremblay, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch; Pascale Giguère, Acting Director of Legal Affairs; Lise Cloutier, Assistant-commissioner, Corporate Services Branch; and Pierre Coulombe, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you at the beginning of this new parliamentary session, and I welcome the new senators joining your institution and this committee.
Your committee, along with the committee in the other house, is a vital link between my office and Parliament. Your report and interventions contribute a great deal to the advancement of language rights for Canadians.
This is an inspiring time for me to be here because 2009 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Official Languages Act. The right to use French in public institutions is one of the first language rights guaranteed to Canadians. As such, I thought this committee was an ideal place to undertake a balanced assessment of the official language successes, challenges and opportunities in Canada, 40 years after the act you adopted.
Significant advancements have been made in terms of official languages. They include the work accomplished by the language groups themselves, particularly within official language communities, Quebec's French-speaking population and the French-as-a-second-language movement. Other advancements are the direct result of the actions taken by parliamentarians. Lastly, court rulings have brought about changes — particularly those made by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In fact, the Supreme Court just handed down a very important ruling in the Desrochers case for which I served as a co-appellant. I am delighted with this ruling because it is a victory for official language communities.
This case helped clarify the scope of federal institutions' obligations to deliver bilingual services. More specifically, the court found it important and clearly established that a broad view must be adopted when looking at linguistic equality and that the government must ensure that the service is adapted to the community's needs.
I would like to give a few examples of the gains made over the past 40 years: the increase in the bilingual capacity of the public service, although it is still not perfect; the remarkable vitality of official language communities, which this committee has studied closely; and the slow but steady increase in the number of bilingual Canadians, both among anglophones and francophones.
These advancements have benefited the country as a whole, contributing not only to its prosperity in a variety of ways, but also to the well-being of its citizens.
One of the most important challenges now, and I know that during the last session, this committee was interested in this area, is the implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. Full implementation of this part of the act remains a key priority. Significant importance will be placed on implementation and the performance report cards of several federal institutions that will be published in my annual report in May.
While some federal institutions have taken positive measures to support the development of official language communities and to promote linguistic duality, others are still wondering about their obligations.
Federal institutions must take Part VII into account when delivering their programs, particularly in applying components of the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality, announced by the government in June 2008. Obviously, I am eagerly waiting for the government to share with the public the details of the investments announced, and the initiatives to follow.
In my view, the silence in the recent budget on this topic was a missed opportunity. If the government truly believes that linguistic equality is a Canadian value, it must be reflected in its actions. If commitments are not clearly established, or if there are delays in implementing them, setbacks are often the result. That is why the current delay concerns me.
For departments and their community partners, the new fiscal year starts in 29 days. I would think that fact should prompt the government to act quickly.
I also see that this committee continues to show an interest in how the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler will affect Canada's linguistic duality. I share your interest. This global event presents a unique opportunity to show the world that linguistic duality is one of Canada's fundamental values and to celebrate the cultural richness of its English- and French-speaking communities.
In a report I released on December 2 in Vancouver, I mentioned that the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games demonstrated some interest in bilingualism but that work remains to be done in various areas.
Special considerations should be given to communications with the general public, the media and athletes — three groups that have a key role in ensuring successful Games.
My report contains 18 recommendations on such things as simultaneous interpretation, bilingual volunteer recruitment, signage, sponsor participation, the role of the Games Secretariat, cultural events, and resources allocated to the organization's official languages unit.
The report was well received by VANOC. It seems to me that translation is one aspect that poses significant problems. In fact, the budget appears truly inadequate given the work to be done, and I am afraid that VANOC is waiting too long to correct the situation. Over the months leading up to the Games, we will continue to closely monitor the progress made and the implementation of our recommendations.
In addition to this study, we have undertaken an awareness campaign among the federal institutions whose contribution is vital to the success of the Games. This involves the 20 or so institutions working, for example, on security, transportation and direct service to the public. Our campaign targets senior managers and officials responsible for implementing Olympic programs and initiatives.
It is important that these institutions understand that people from Canada and abroad coming to the Games will expect to interact with Canadian officials in both French and English. The Canadian Olympic experience will begin as soon as visitors arrive in Canada.
We are not only targeting the Vancouver airport facilities, but also the facilities in Toronto. Lester B. Pearson International Airport will act as the gateway to nearly half of the travelers from abroad who will be going to Vancouver. We have been in regular contact with the airport administrators for the past several months and I realize the immensity of the challenge in offering bilingual services during an exceptionally busy period. Air Canada will have to take up a similar challenge. The airline's performance will be evaluated as part of its performance report card in my annual report as will the performance of some major Canadian airports.
I know this committee is also interested in francophone culture in Canada, and many of you are interested in the representation of the francophone and anglophone minority communities on the airwaves. I indicated in my study released on January 8 that federal institutions must re-double their efforts to ensure official language communities are better represented on television. The remoteness of decision-making centres, the underdevelopment of infrastructure and the lack of funds are among the challenges examined in the study. The report's 11 recommendations propose actions to be taken by Canadian Heritage, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The recommendations are to better support television production from official language communities. Implementing the proposed measures would allow federal institutions to comply with their obligations to take positive measures with respect to francophone and anglophone minority communities and to promote both official languages.
A major change has just been made to official languages governance. Some of the duties of the Canada Public Service Agency will now be assumed by the Treasury Board. We still do not know what place official languages will have in the future in this organization. I hope we will see changes that aim to improve the federal government's performance as regard to its language obligations as well as stronger leadership from Treasury Board in this area.
In conclusion, I will not hide the fact that during these difficult economic times, I fear governments will reduce investments in programs supporting the development of official language communities and language instruction. That reduction is what happened in the mid-1990s, and the setbacks caused by this decision have barely been overcome to this day.
In the context of global trade, linguistic duality is an important asset to preserve. The federal government has important responsibilities when it comes to official languages. There have always been setbacks during periods of unsteady leadership in Ottawa. Progress, on the other hand, has resulted from strong leadership. During this time of economic uncertainty, it is especially important to maintain a strong hand at the helm, and not jeopardize the gains made over the past 40 years.
We are ensuring that public funds used by my office are prudently managed. Our work with the various federal institutions subject to the Official Languages Act is undertaken with the same concern for efficiency and results. Over the last few months, we have established new ways of dealing with complaints from the public, and have been proactive in order to prevent and address situations that could lead to complaints.
Thank you for your attention. We will be happy to answer your questions and hear your comments.
The Chair: Commissioner, thank you.
Senator Goldstein: Thank you, Mr. Fraser, for an enlightening report. Although I speak for myself, I am sure everyone agrees it is a great pleasure to hear you. We welcome you and are proud of the splendid work you do and will continue doing.
During the last few months, you said you established new ways of dealing with complaints from the public. Can you enlighten us about that process? What did you do?
Mr. Fraser: One thing that both my predecessor and I observed is that there are limitations to what can be achieved simply by responding to complaints. The complaint process, necessary and key to the act and my responsibility, nevertheless has its limitations in changing the behaviour of institutions.
Shortly after I arrived in this job, over two years ago, I found it disheartening to see a whole series of complaints about the same institution of similar incidents in different parts of the country, for example, each with different explanations as to why a service was not delivered. This situation sparked a whole reflection in our office of how we could evolve our ombudsman's role in such a way to be more proactive, and how we could go beyond the complaint process to help institutions change their behaviour.
One example is the way we decided to respond to the challenge of the Olympics. I did not want to arrive after the fact, waving my finger saying: Here is what you should have done. To that end, we commissioned a study to look at the preparations for the Olympic Games, and we hoped that with enough time, the Olympic organizing committee could respond to our suggestions, as well as the various government agencies, and identify where we saw the weaknesses.
As I mentioned in my remarks, there are considerable challenges in terms of bringing together enough interpreters and translators for the two weeks of February 2010. Problems will also emerge in terms of offsite signage. It is not the direct responsibility of the organizing committee, but for visitors to the Games there should be signage in both languages along the highway to Whistler, for example.
Following up on our recommendations in the report, we have established a sensitivity campaign with federal departments to convey the message to various federal departments that the Olympic experience should start the moment people arrive in Canada, whether they are crossing a border or arriving at an airport. We have been talking to the Pearson International Airport authorities and various airport authorities across the country, and to border services. I am scheduled to meet with deputy ministers from all the various departments that will deal with the public in the context of the Olympic Games.
If you like, we can go into more detail later on. Mr. Coulombe can tell you more details.
Senator Goldstein: Perhaps my colleagues will want to ask questions. I am sure there are many.
Senator Champagne: As I read the numerous documents last weekend, two things came to mind. During a committee meeting, we had discussed the issue after meeting with VANOC and Globemedia representatives, whom you were to meet with. However, in a televised interview, your reaction was quite negative. We got the impression that the francophonie aspect of the Olympic Games in Vancouver would be a real disaster. According to you, problems were multiplying. In reading your document entitled ``A Golden Opportunity,'' I realized that you are still confused about some things, areas where work remains to be done. There is the issue of volunteers; we do not know exactly where to house them. There was more work to be done with regard to translation and interpretation. However, in reading the document, we realized that VANOC has done a great deal of work to ensure that French is as present as possible.
I must admit that, in light of this televised interview and in re-reading the documents, I have the following question: what should we expect now? After listening to your preliminary remarks it seems that some things are acceptable and others less so. What do we need to do to ensure a balance? Where are we in your opinion?
Mr. Fraser: I must admit that I cannot remember the television interview that you are referring to.
Senator Champagne: You were returning from Vancouver and were standing in front of a group of journalists.
Mr. Fraser: What I am trying to do is to give equal weight to the pros and cons. Since I myself was a journalist, I know that bad news travel faster than good news. I would say that, in fact, things are not black and white. In my report and in my presentation, I stressed that I was extremely impressed by the goodwill shown by the VANOC members, by Mr. Furlong's leadership and his determination to ensure that the Games are in both official languages. I fear however that there is a gap between the goals and resources. I believe that they may have underestimated the job of ensuring that all aspects of these Games be interpreted and translated. This gap is noted in the budget for translation and interpretation.
It would be unfortunate, after all that work, that spectators or even those accompanying their sons and daughters to the Games not be able to benefit from interpretation of whatever event it is. All our athletes and their families as well as francophones throughout Canada wanting to take part in the Games are entitled to interpretation for each event. Providing full translation and interpretation services is not an easy thing.
I do not want to criticize the organization's intentions and will, but there are still some shortfalls.
Senator Champagne: I am delighted to see that you feel somewhat optimistic.
Mr. Fraser: There is still a year to go. Based on the assessment of the preparations, a year can be a lot or very little time.
Senator Tardif: Commissioner, it is always a pleasure to have you here. I apologize for my late arrival.
In the conclusion to your report, you indicate that, currently, given the economic situation, you fear that official languages commitments will be cut in an effort to streamline things and cut costs. In your opinion, does the government take new Part VII sufficiently into consideration in making its decisions with regard to expenditures in all sectors? In its budgetary exercise, is it giving sufficient consideration to the new Part VII?
Mr. Fraser: I have concerns in this regard given the type of project that we are currently talking about, the silence regarding the Roadmap and the programs that directly impact minority communities. Obviously, the details of the Roadmap have not yet been announced, but the silence concerns me.
One of the things that I had hoped for, before the Roadmap was announced, was for an overall strategic approach. I was quite concerned a year ago, when the budget was announced and there were no figure attached to the Roadmap. In June, those amounts and budgetary envelopes were announced. We are still waiting for details. We are told that the funds will not be cut. I hope that this is true. However, I remember that in 1995, there were budget cuts and programs were abolished. For example, the Royal Military College was closed in Saint-Jean. Today, nearly 15 years later, a college-level program has been re-established, which is terrific. This is a first step. We are not at the same point we were when the military college was closed 15 years ago. When I think about the need to play catch-up, I am thinking about the military college.
Other funds were also cut. We can think, more recently, of the Innovation Fund. We know that these funds paid for language training for public servants in regions that were not designated bilingual once. Yet, public servants in regions that are not designated bilingual have asked for funding and for federal councils on language training. These people have been told that they do not need any since they are not in a region that has been designated bilingual. It is because they live in a region that is not a region designated bilingual that additional efforts need to be made.
In this regard, I fear various shortfalls with regard to the application of Part VII. However, it is too early to make a judgment since we are still waiting for official announcements to be made.
Senator Tardif: You talked about Part VII and its importance. Currently, what are the main elements we need to ensure the full implementation of Part VII? Why are things not moving forward more quickly? What is missing?
Mr. Fraser: I think we need to have a better analysis, an overall strategy. There are small successes, and the successes under Part VII, to date, depend on individually consulting the public service in the regions or individuals, CEOs who have established contact, for example, with the board of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne to talk about the things they could do.
The approach is, in my opinion, a little too minimalist. What is important, however, is to see to what extent the Supreme Court has stressed the importance, for the federal government working with the communities. The Desrochers case, which concerns Part VII, services to the public, clearly stated that it is essential for services developed for communities to be developed in collaboration with the communities, which requires distinct programs based on community needs.
So if we define the federal government's obligations as regards service to the public, which would make it clearer how important it is for the government to take open ``positive measures'' for the community, and in order to promote linguistic duality. We do not hear a great deal from the government about promoting linguistic duality.
Senator Martin: It is a pleasure to meet you today. It is my first time around the table, and I am not fluent in French. However, I can assure you that in B.C., French immersion and bilingualism are alive and well. I am a teacher of 22 years, and have taught in French immersion schools at both the high school and middle school level. There is a growing interest in the program by many parents because many people recognize the importance of official languages.
Also, the B.C. Minister of Canadian Heritage, James Moore, is a close neighbour, and I see him weekly at our B.C. caucus. I am taking diligent notes to take back to our B.C. caucus on Wednesday.
I wish to comment on the 2010 games. They are so important for Vancouver. I am a Vancouver resident. Everything you are talking about touches me personally and professionally. James Moore, someone I respect, also a French immersion student, is perfectly bilingual and has been working tirelessly since being assigned to the new ministry.
I also work closely with Johanne Dumas and Donald Cyr, members of the francophone community in British Columbia. I am curious about the translation and interpretation needs you described for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, VANOC. I am glad you have had a thorough consultation. Perhaps there are proactive measures we can take, or partnerships we can seek out. Johanne has mentioned how well networked the francophone community is across Canada, and that there is communication on a regular basis. I know that locally, in Maillardville, for instance, there are many community groups with plenty of resources. The schools would have bilingual individuals. In terms of the human resources, could we seek out partnerships with community groups if VANOC needs that kind of facilitation? I am sure that people like me in Vancouver, with everything invested in seeing the success of the Games, can play that role.
I am a huge proponent of the public-private partnership. When you talk about what certain things we need in place to improve the program delivery in communities, I feel that it is about connecting the pieces. We have an absolute will to support bilingualism. It is important for our Canadian identity, and our Prime Minister and cabinet meet weekly to discuss these needs.
What are your thoughts on some of these agreements or partnerships, if they are already in place, or whether these are some ideas we can implement today?
Mr. Fraser: In response to your initial comment, I have been impressed by the commitment to French immersion in British Columbia, the energy and vitality of the immersion community and also by the energy of the minority francophone community. One thing that struck me about the francophone community in British Columbia is that 90 per cent of the community comes from somewhere else. It is not a community that has historical grievances because people are there by choice. They, in many cases, hitchhiked out there 30 or 40 years ago and met someone and stayed. There is an entrepreneurial spirit. There are all kinds of interesting innovations, whether technological or otherwise, by the francophone-minority institutions — for example, schools that are connected by computers so that high school classes around the province can follow a physics class given from Victoria.
Éducacentre delivers post-secondary courses that are carefully designed for specific community needs. A great deal is taking place in that community and I have been impressed by it. I want to reinforce what you said about the interest in, and support for, linguistic duality.
In terms of your specific question about partnerships, there is the foundation for dialogue that was created and has been involved in bringing together French-language groups across the country. My sense is that there has been close consultation. The Olympic organizing committee consulted closely with minority communities in designing the route for the torch so that the torch route goes through a lot of minority communities as it makes its way. They did not draw a straight line to take the torch from one part of the country to the next, and I think they deserve credit for using that torch route to reach out to all kinds of communities, including minority francophone communities.
After Vancouver won the Olympic Games, one of the first things that happened was an agreement between Premier Campbell and Premier Charest. Despite all the goodwill that went into negotiating some of those agreements, whether it is with minority-language groups or other provinces, all the goodwill in the world will not necessarily bring together the pool of trained interpreters necessary to interpret a highly technical sport, in some cases, at a particular moment in time.
I do not have any magic solutions.
At one point, in some of my discussions with officials, I raised the possibility that, perhaps, Parliament could time its winter break so that the interpreters, who are busy interpreting this session, could volunteer or be transferred to work on the Olympic Games; that there be possibilities for people to have their expenses paid or whatever in order to contribute their skills. One response I received was that translating a parliamentary committee does not necessarily involve the same skill as interpreting a dance pairs competition. That is one example.
These problems are not easy to solve but I think they are important.
Senator Losier-Cool: Before I ask my question, I would like to say that I am comforted by what Senator Tardif mentioned earlier about the effective bilingualism. I was reading a report on a survey in The Globe and Mail this morning that I found quite shocking. The survey was about the importance of creating projects.
The last paragraph read as follows:
The survey found that 83 per cent of Quebecers said they ``greatly value'' both French and English as official languages. Only 35 per cent of the rest of the country felt the same.
What are we going to do about this? We can have the best programs in the world, but the question remains: how can we change or improve this attitude? We will only be able to make progress when we have people like Senator Martin, who are aware of the importance of the two official languages.
I come back to my question about culture. You said in your opening remarks that our committee had done a study on the culture of Francophones in minority communities. We did hear from a number of witnesses. And we went to New Brunswick as well.
In March 2008, you published a report on support for federal arts and culture institutions in official languages minority communities. Are there any measures in the Roadmap that follow up on recommendations you put forward in this March 2008 report?
Mr. Fraser: I was pleased to see that there is a component on culture in the Roadmap. I had pointed out that this was one of the flaws with the previous action plan — there was nothing on culture.
I am still waiting to see how this commitment will be reflected in a specific project. A number of announcements have been made, but if we have a scattering of announcements here and there, or if they are too targeted or invisible, there will never be an overall strategy to change the trend reported in this survey.
I would like to come back to the survey that was mentioned in the article in this morning's Globe and Mail. It runs counter to other studies I have seen. I would like to know more about the context of this survey, in order to look into it in greater depth.
The results of surveys often depend on the preceding question, the context of the question, and what I understood, was that this survey specifically compared long-time Canadians and second-generation Canadians.
One of the things that struck me in the newspaper article was that the person in charge of the survey was surprised to find that there was a feeling of cultural insecurity in Quebec. And I find it astounding that people are discovering in 2008 that there is a feeling of insecurity in Quebec. Insecurity has always been a factor, with ups and downs, depending on the context. We are also going through uncertain economic times, and this gives rise to other insecurities. That may change the priorities of the people who take part in the survey.
Senator Losier-Cool: I confess that my initial reaction was the same as yours, and I hope that someone will react to the survey, because I am personally convinced that it is not accurate. I am sure other surveys have produced different results.
Mr. Fraser: Absolutely.
Senator Losier-Cool: I would like to come back to culture now. Have you received any complaints from francophone minority groups about budget cutbacks? Were there any complaints from the minority communities about last year's budget cuts?
Mr. Fraser: Yes, we did receive some complaints. We are in the process of investigating them. I do not know what stage we are at. I will ask my colleague to answer that question.
Pierre Coulombe, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: This is still under investigation. We are still discussing this issue.
Senator Losier-Cool: You still do not have any results from the investigations?
Mr. Coulombe: Not yet. The investigations are confidential and the results of the investigations remain confidential unless the complainant gives his or her permission to make them public.
Senator Losier-Cool: Will you have anything that would support this committee's report on culture? I know that you cannot disclose your investigation.
Mr. Fraser: I would just say that this is an ongoing concern in our work. We can see what was done regarding television, for example. It is true that specific complaints about budget cuts are part of a particular process, but it is up to the complainant to decide whether it is in his or her interest to make the results of the investigation public. We have no control over that. Complainants have the final control over the results of a complaint. We have no authority to reveal the report on the investigation.
Senator Champagne: I do not understand how the budget cuts since the last two elections could have affected francophones more than anglophones — whether they are in the majority or the minority. I fail to see the connection, because the two programs that were affected, to my great dismay, I confess, had to do with travel abroad. Their purpose was to promote our artists abroad and to facilitate travel abroad for both anglophone and francophone artists. How could this issue end up in your office?
Mr. Fraser: This is similar to the complaints we received when the Court Challenges Program was eliminated. There have also been other budget cuts that we investigated. This is under Part VII of the act. So the question is whether or not the government took into account the needs of minority communities when it made this budget cut. I cannot reveal whether or not this was done, because the matter is under investigation. However, that is the issue on which the investigation is based. When the government made the decision, did it take the needs of minority language communities into account?
Senator Champagne: No one said that this program was going to be cancelled to prevent francophones from travelling abroad. In my humble opinion, this has nothing to do with language
Mr. Fraser: What we are investigating at the moment is whether or not the government considered the needs of the minority language communities when it made this decision. In the case of the Court Challenges Program and others, we concluded that, with one exception, there was no evidence that the government took the needs of these communities into account.
Let me give you a comparison. In some jurisdictions, an environmental assessment must be done before any decision on infrastructure is made. That does not mean that there can never be any money invested in an infrastructure program, but it does mean that an environmental assessment must be done first.
Now, under the amended act, there must be an assessment of the environmental impact done before any decision is made. You say you think there was no impact? We are investigating to determine whether there was any impact, and whether any assessment of this impact was done?
Senator Champagne: I will come back later, because I would like to talk about the Roadmap some more. My question nearly followed up on the one asked by Senator Loiser-Cool.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you. It is a great pleasure to meet you, Commissioner. I am a new member of this committee — I attended my first meeting last week. I am particularly interested in the issue of health care for minority communities such as francophones in the Toronto region. I am sure you have heard about this issue. As we know, health care comes under provincial jurisdiction. How can the federal government require the provincial governments to facilitate access to health care in the language of the minority community? An article was written about just how bad the situation is, and I found it very disturbing.
Mr. Fraser: One of the important issues that were part of the original action plan and appeared again in the Roadmap had to do with health care. I think some progress has been made.
You mentioned the situation in Ontario. The French Language Services Act in Ontario establishes some fairly significant requirements for health care. My colleague, François Boileau, who has been working at the Office of the Commissioner for some time, is now the Commissioner of French Services in Ontario. His role, like mine is that of an ombudsman: he receives complaints, conducts investigations and raises awareness with institutions often not aware of their responsibilities.
I think that in the case of health care, we can see that significant investments have been made to train healthcare professionals in French in our hospitals. There were programs to train nurses in French in New Brunswick. In addition, thanks to federal funding, Quebec introduced a training program designed by McGill University and offered to employees of the provincial Ministry of Health so that they could provide service in English to the anglophone minority.
There are some limitations on what can be done with training of this type. I asked a member of the Townshippers Association in Granby what he thought about the program. He said that it was very useful for primary care. When a 14-year old falls off his or her bicycle and breaks an arm, there is a nurse at the CLSC who can provide service in English for that child. But the person also added that the situation is different in the case of an older farmer with early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The type of therapy or support needed in such a case requires much greater proficiency in the language. So the fact that the program is considered as a success does not mean that it necessarily meets the needs of an aging population, which does have specific needs. There are always challenges, and always things to do, but it is clear that some progress has been made.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: But from memory — and I hope I am not mistaken — there were 37 extended care places in the Toronto region for care that could be provided in French. That is not right: there are more francophones than that in the Toronto area. The need for spaces is much greater than that.
M. Fraser: Exactly. And I think that underscores why it is important for the federal government to support the health care system and make the provincial government more aware of this reality. However, as you put it, direct responsibility for managing the system remains with the province, and the trend we have seen is that when the federal government transfers to the provinces, they are not required to account for the use of the funds. This is a battle that began quite a while ago. But I do think that there are informal ways of stressing the importance of this issue to provincial authorities.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: In the financial commitments of the Roadmap, I see that Canadian Heritage supports instruction in the language of the minority, then provides support for the teaching of the second language, and the third recipient of assistance is Health Canada for training and access to health services. The funding is quite substantial.
Mr. Fraser: That is what I call the health care system. Ms. Tremblay, would you like to elaborate?
Joanne Tremblay, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Indeed, the federal government does provide substantial funds for health care, but the challenge is enormous because we are talking about training health care personnel, and the needs are changing more and more. So the federal government has to provide support to the provinces, but the provinces themselves must make a commitment to providing funding for services provided to francophones or to anglophones living in Quebec as part of the language minority.
The Chair: I am going to allow myself another question, following up on Senator Tardif's questions about Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
Mr. Fraser, it seems quite clear that institutions are having difficulty grasping the concept of positive measures. It is not clear. Would the best way of ensuring a comprehensive strategic approach be to establish regulations for Part VII? Does Part VII of the Official Languages Act really require regulations in order to define these ``positive measures''?
Mr. Fraser: There already are a number of directives, reports that institutions must provide to Canadian Heritage. I admit that at the beginning of the process, I was somewhat hesitant to encourage the regulatory approach. Partly because I saw the advantages of not having regulations. The absence of regulations allows for greater innovation and collaboration. Regulations, almost by definition, create restrictions. And that creates limitations. Often I give two examples to encourage departments to adopt ``positive measures,'' these are very different things. Someone who worked for Parks Canada in Jasper approached someone from the francophone community in Jasper and suggested swapping free office accommodations for French conversation classes for employees. This kind of innovative measure usually does not come from a deputy minister's office. This arrangement was set up because someone took the initiative to go see people in the community. The person had to have a contact there. So the best examples of ``positive measures'' occur when people take the initiative and create a contact, and establish something in accordance with the needs and the relationship with the community. That is what I found interesting in the Desrochers ruling. It clearly stated that the federal government had an obligation to provide services in accordance with the community's needs, and that can mean very different programs, depending on the specific needs of the community. It is difficult to do that kind of thing by drafting a regulation. Nonetheless, we are at the first stage of a process, and often the first few stages are frustrating. Often the departments' reports to Canadian Heritage on Part VII only state that a committee has been struck or a message has been sent to all employees. The departments' efforts remain much focused on the process, and not yet very focused on a product. Perhaps the issue of regulations should be revisited. For the time being, I hope that there will be more innovative measures than with a regulatory approach.
The Chair: So for the time being, you favour an approach of departments adopting a spirit of initiative. Now if that approach is not sufficient or not fast enough, should we perhaps then consider regulations?
Mr. Fraser: Yes. At the present time, we have the investigation I mentioned on culture. It is a way of reminding the government that it has a legal obligation to evaluate these measures according to the needs of the minority language communities.
Senator Comeau: Mr. Fraser, please excuse me for arriving late. I believe the issue of the recent Supreme Court decision has already been raised.
Mr. Fraser: I mentioned the Desrochers ruling, but I will ask Ms. Giguère to tell you about it in greater detail.
Senator Comeau: In particular, I would like to hear about the implications for linguistic minority communities and the advantages and approaches we could suggest to the communities so that they can benefit from the ruling.
Mr. Fraser: I mentioned the ruling, but in laymen terms. Our legal advisor, Ms. Giguère, will explain the implications to you in greater detail.
Pascale Giguère, Acting Director of Legal Affairs, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Madam Chair, many things can be said about the importance of this ruling. I truly believe, and this is from the viewpoint of a lawyer, that the ruling is a turning point for us at the current time. One major point should be mentioned. The Supreme Court has said that when it comes to delivering government services, what counts is access to services that are of equal quality.
So the way in which the government goes about meeting this goal is of little importance. Each person can expect to receive service that is of equal quality. In this particular case, the community was in the Penetanguishene region, but it could have been any official language community living in a minority situation. Generally speaking, federal institutions provide a service in response to a certain need within the community, and the nature of this service matters little. There is an entire range of services, and their nature varies, as does the objective. But each time a service is provided, one must assess the needs of each community that receives the service, both the majority community and the minority community. Often, when a minority is small, it is overlooked.
In this particular case, the Supreme Court stressed the fact that the government canvassed the majority in order to determine that community's needs. The government was providing a community economic development service, and officials tried to provide a service that was responsive to the needs of the majority in the Lake Huron region, the Penetanguishene region. They should have done the same thing for the minority. They should have provided a service that responded in the same way to the needs of the minority in terms of community economic development. No matter what the nature of the service or its objective, the decision is much broader and it sends a message to the government. Each time the government offers a service to the people of Canada, if the service is intended for both official language communities, the result must be the same for both communities. Occasionally, when necessary, a service may have different content if that is what is necessary to reach linguistic equality in terms of service delivery.
Senator Comeau: So if fishermen are not satisfied with the service that they are getting from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, they can now ask for services of equal quality, pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling.
Ms. Giguère: The Supreme Court indicated that was a question of doing an analysis and comparing services. You look at what is being offered to the majority, and the minority is entitled to expect services of equal quality. If the services are poor —
When it comes to federal institutions offering services, both communities — that is to say, the majority and the minority — are entitled to expect services of equal quality. It is not just a matter of access to services in one's own language. The services and the content of the services must also be of equal quality.
Senator Comeau: Let us go back to the example of a fisherman from Île Madame who goes to a service outlet of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and asks to be served in French. He is told to come back the next day when a French-speaking public servant will be on site. Is that what we are talking about here? Do we have to wait until the next day to obtain services? I am trying to place this ruling in a practical framework.
Ms. Giguère: In practical terms, let us take the example of an anglophone who asks for the same service. Should he have to come back the next day to receive the service in his own language? If the answer is no, a member of the minority official language community should not have to come back the next day either.
Senator Comeau: That puts things in perspective. Mr. Fraser, I would like to congratulate you and your team on your work. I very much appreciate it.
Mr. Fraser: I would like to congratulate Ms. Giguère, who argued our case before the Supreme Court. This is her victory.
Some Hon. Senators: Bravo!
Senator Murray: I think I agree with the commissioner about the undesirability of trying to bring in regulations to define Part VII because these regulations could be limiting rather than broadening. However, I note that, when the courts might have been about to make some judgment on these matters, the government settled out of court in that case. Therefore, the issue of what «positive measures» means seems to be in limbo at the moment.
What do you make of the settlement out of court between the government and the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada? Is it be preferable to have regulations or to wait for another court case to bring a decision from the court on the matter?
Mr. Fraser: I think the out-of-court settlement was positive. Any out-of-court settlement in any dispute involves taking a chance. My understanding is that in this settlement the government committed to set up a program for the protection of language rights, which was the goal of the court case. The program had between three and four times the budget that the previous Court Challenges Program had for language rights. My evaluation is that this settlement was a positive thing.
I cannot give you a final evaluation of the program because it has not yet been created, but discussions about it are currently under way.
With regard to the courts establishing the scope of Part VII, at some point we must rendezvous with the courts on this matter. Over the last 40 years with the Official Languages Act, and over the last 26 years with the Charter, the nature of language rights has been established through continual conversation among the Canadian people, Parliament and the courts.
When the Charter was passed in 1982, it seemed simple and clear. It was all written and proclaimed. However, in the years that followed, it became clear that article 23 meant not only who had the right to send their kids to minority language schools, but also the right to have school boards, the right to have a school nearby, and the right to send their children to immersion schools and under what circumstances. Each definition of a right, each change to legislation, inevitably raises questions of definition of what these rights mean, and they are often a moving target.
The definition of the right to be heard in court changed significantly from the Société des Acadiens decision in 1986 to the Beaulac decision in 1999. New courts bring new eyes to the definition of rights. Inevitably, all key elements of the act and the Charter involving language rights go through this process of reappraisal. Inevitably, the scope of Part VII will be decided by the courts at some point; however, I do not know when or how.
Senator Murray: Over time, we need a series of best practices that will form a body of defining precedent and principle that Ms. Giguère can take to the court and point to, and it occurs to me, that is what the government is afraid of and why it appears to be reluctant to move far on this issue.
Mr. Fraser: It was my hope from the outset that the scope of the law could be established on the ground so that we would have the precedents of what various departments had done, and the interpretation of «delivery of services.» Surely you cannot narrow Part VII more narrowly than Part IV. Bit by bit, the yardsticks can be moved before that rendezvous occurs.
Senator Murray: I know that this committee has focused on this subject in the past. However, I thought perhaps the time is coming when you will want to bring the departments, ministers and senior public servants here to examine them on what they have been doing, or not doing, with respect to Part VII.
Ms. Tremblay: I want to add something about how the Department of Canadian Heritage has enacted guidelines.
Senator Murray: Who has?
Ms. Tremblay: The Department of Canadian Heritage: They enacted guidelines that guide federal institutions and identify questions they should consider; for example, deciding whether a particular program will be revised or cut.
Specific guidelines clarify the scope, and they direct federal institutions in their decision-making process.
Senator Murray: Thank you. I had not focused on that aspect.
The Chair: We are running out of time, and the commissioner must leave at 6:30 p.m. For the second round, I have the names of four senators on my list who have asked for an opportunity to ask questions. After these four senators speak, if we still have time, other honourable members will have a chance to ask supplementaries.
I will now hear from Senators Tardif, Goldstein, Champagne and Martin.
Senator Martin: My question is in regards to some of the different examples you mentioned.
First, I am impressed with the depth of your team, the consultations and the recommendations that you have made.
In terms of the will of the government, knowing James Moore and going back to what I have heard, I think in 2009 we all agree that linguistic duality is critical, and a core to our identity. We also agree that the community groups and partners are many. They are active, especially with the francophone community. It is well organized.
My question regards the delivery, which you mentioned; whether there are good delivery models. I am sure you have completed a study, but have delivery models been studied? I am new to this committee. What has worked in other places perhaps?
As a teacher, I think about the next generation. I have taught French as a Second language in my career, and I struggled with it because it was the third language for me. Having French monitors from Quebec come into my classroom made a world of difference. The monitor spoke French the entire time, and it engaged my students. I only wish she could have been with me more often.
If we were to pour more resources into education, I believe is so important to produce the next crop of translators, interpreters and capable individuals. I put my resounding support into supporting the education of this current generation as well as the next.
Mr. Fraser: I agree completely. I am glad to hear about your positive experience with the monitor program. The only problem I see with the monitor program is that it is so limited, and it should be vastly expanded.
I think there are a number of areas where we have been too timid and too restrained in the whole area of monitors, teacher exchanges or student exchanges, and making it possible for students to have the experience of studying in a different language environment.
You mentioned best practices. One thing we are doing in terms of post-secondary education is completing a study in collaboration with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada that will be a kind of compendium of what is done now. We hope that compendium can be built on.
In the work we have completed so far, I was surprised to discover how much is being done in different universities but how little known those programs are, and how few of the exchanges that are available in universities actually happen within the country. Many exchanges or placements, years abroad, are out of country. It is unfortunate that more is not done to make it easy, so that everyone would want to spend a semester or university year abroad and receive credit for it at their home degree-granting institution.
In terms of delivery of services, we try to identify success stories in our annual report. However, there is not as much done as I would like to see in terms of establishing best practices in other aspects of the policy. One thing we have embarked on is trying to look at best practices for leadership in terms of language of work in the public sector.
We can see where it works. We have all kinds of examples of where it does not work. All kinds of successes are tucked away, but we will try to identify them so people know what we are trying to achieve in creating a workplace where both languages are used and respected.
Senator Goldstein: Madam Chair, I find myself in exactly the same situation as Senator Martin. I too must attend another committee.
The Chair: Mr. Fraser, can you stay with us for another 10 minutes?
Mr. Fraser: Yes.
The Chair: Senator Tardif, could I ask you to allow Senator Goldstein to go ahead?
Senator Goldstein: Thank you, Madam Chair. There is one phrase in your written report that bothers me slightly. You mention renewal of the public service and changes in the agency. This one phrase is bothering me, and I quote: ``We still do not know what place official language issues will have in the future in this organization.'' I do hope that the changes being implemented are not being made without your knowledge. I hope that consultations are underway between you and the appropriate government authorities. If not, I certainly would like to know about it.
Mr. Fraser: I admit that we have heard all kinds of rumours about this particular change. People have been saying that the Public Service Agency would be transformed. But we have not had any consultations about the impact. This change has its advantages and drawbacks. It is entirely possible that the advantages will be greater than the drawbacks. In other words, on the one hand, any change to a bureaucracy, any change to an organization does tend to shake up the organization. People are not used to working within a new framework; the change in of itself can be destabilizing. So, there are drawbacks. But on the other hand, the advantage is that Treasury Board is a central agency. And if responsibility for official languages is transferred back to the central agency, that could be to our benefit.
But to go back to your concern about consultations, I do not work for the government directly. My role is to keep an eye on the outcomes. Yes, in our role as ombudsman, we try to provide advice to the government, and we try to help departments change their behaviours, but I am not the prime minister's advisor nor am I the clerk's advisor. I am an independent officer of Parliament, who remains at arm's length, so that I can analyze the outcomes and then report on how I perceive the outcomes to both the Senate and the House of Commons.
Senator Goldstein: I would like to focus my question on something else. Once the changes are implemented, you will find yourself facing a fait accompli. And I am wondering if consultations are currently underway or have been planned to ensure that negative changes do not affect the nature or the scope of your work.
Mr. Fraser: I can ensure you that we will try to monitor these changes closely to make sure that does not happen.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Fraser, in 2008 you recommended that a special committee made up of ministers be struck to oversee implementation of the Roadmap and to review the role of the Official Languages Secretariat. Has anyone acted on this recommendation?
Mr. Fraser: Not to my knowledge.
Senator Tardif: What led you to make that recommendation?
Mr. Fraser: In the past, there was a committee of deputy ministers that was responsible for official languages. Then the responsibility was transferred to a committee of assistant deputy ministers — at the same time, the responsibilities of the Secretariat within Privy Council were transferred to the Department of Canadian Heritage.
My analysis of how government operates, which may be a bit primitive, is as follows: when something goes down one level in the hierarchy, it becomes somewhat less important. So my recommendation was to bring up official languages to one higher level so as to underscore the importance of the issue. As far as I know, that recommendation has not yet been followed.
Senator Tardif: Do you think that would ensure better horizontal coordination amongst the departments and enhance the importance and legitimacy of official language issues?
Mr. Fraser: I continue to believe that would be the case. We devoted an entire chapter to this topic in our 2008 annual report. That chapter was based on an in-depth and much nuanced study by Professor Donald Savoie, who talked about horizontality. I still say that when a responsibility is located within a central agency such as the Privy Council, it has additional weight.
Senator Champagne: I believe that we are all very impatient and we want to see something happen by the end of the action plan. In June, we had the Roadmap, but with very few details, I believe that it was not even possible to obtain a piece of paper that would really tell us where we were going.
An election was called, new ministers arrived, and then Parliament prorogued. So we are just starting to receive a few details. The specific programs are yet to come. I do hope that we will receive them over the next few weeks.
Mr. Fraser: Me too.
Senator Champagne: And yet we do have the five points: health, justice, immigration, economic development, arts and culture. The project is very well structured. There is one point that fascinates me. When it comes to bilingualism, be it a question of interpretation or translation services, we must also look at organizations that recruit overseas. We were told that there is not enough staff for the Olympic Games. Should specific amounts be allocated so that we can go out and find staff elsewhere if we really need help, in cases such as the Olympic Games? I am certainly not saying that we should set our translators aside, quite the contrary. I am just wondering if there will be enough of them to do all the work.
Mr. Fraser: To the best of my knowledge, some translation contracts for the Olympic Games have been awarded to foreign companies. I am not familiar with the details of these contracts.
There is a shortage of qualified staff. In my opening remarks, I mentioned the concerns stemming from the economic context. In my opinion, difficult times also are moments for opportunity. When the economic situation is difficult, as is currently the case, some people decide to stay in school longer. As well, an entire generation will be leaving the public service. Despite the economic situation, the government will continue to hire 4,000 people per year, and this could rise to 15,000 people if you include temporary positions. Given this context, it is very important to invest in translator training at the post-secondary level.
There is a shortage of translators and interpreters. People who are thinking about their career choices should take note of this. It is very important for the government to highlight these careers, and to stress that mastering both official languages is an essential component of leadership within the public service. The government should be shouting this message from the rooftops, so to speak, of elementary schools, high schools and universities.
Senator Champagne: Indeed, people were saying that the School of public service should share its knowledge and learning products with our universities, which certainly appeared to be doing very well in this area.
Mr. Fraser: The Termium program is already available.
Senator Champagne: However, it is not yet offered free of charge. What is more, I recently received a request from them for a cheque. I have been using it for a very long time. I am looking forward to hearing more about the program to translate Canadian books into the other official language. This service will help our young publishers — we are still talking about cultural matters — as well as our writers so that they can have their works translated once they are completed.
Finally, I would like to thank you for giving us such a good briefing.
Senator Comeau: Earlier you said that in your experience, a committee made up of deputy ministers was far better than a committee of assistant deputy ministers.
Mr. Fraser: Indeed.
Senator Comeau: Actually, my experience in government taught me the exact opposite. I had to deal above all with the deputy minister. In other words, the specialist is the person who knows everyone in the department, and quite often the deputy minister was the visitor, the person who would move from one department to another.
In my experience — and perhaps I am mistaken — it would be best to have an assistant deputy minister on such a committee. Assistant deputy ministers are the key people who are in charge of the department, not the deputy minister. Am I mistaken?
Mr. Fraser: I do not know. That is an interesting point of view, and I will think about it. I do not want to contradict you, because my experience as an observer of the public service is rather recent. It depends on the individual, on the department. However, I have observed one thing; you must not forget the ministers either.
Senator Comeau: They are visitors too.
Mr. Fraser: But often they are visitors who can bring about real change. I am thinking of the Department of Public Works. A few years ago, we evaluated this department and the quality of its services, its performance, and we found that the department was doing poorly. Then when Michael Fortier arrived as the minister, he was shocked by the department's performance. He insisted that changes be made. The next year, the department's performance was average, but in the following year, the department's performance was described as good.
This is very anecdotal, but I have noticed that when a minister arrives, and looks at the situation, and says: ``I would like this to be done.'' When he comes back the following week to see how the follow-up is going, all of a sudden changes happen. There is nothing like the appointment of a francophone minister to a department who asks for our analysis to be done in French to ensure all kinds of changes happen in the production of information within a department. It is true that often in some fields the assistant deputy minister or even the director, in a specialized field of endeavour, may be the person who actually leads on an issue. However, if you really want to change behaviour within an institution, the higher the person is the more change occurs. However, in no way am I denying the importance of assistant deputy ministers or the importance of directors in specific areas.
Often, if a minister or a deputy minister is passive and does not make demands of his organization, the organization will continue along its merry way as if nothing were wrong. When it comes to bringing about real changes, I have noticed the difference that a deputy minister or a minister can make.
The Chair: Mr. Fraser, thank you so much, and I would also like to thank your team for appearing before our committee today. Thank you for making yourselves available and for being so generous. The time has just flown by, and we never seem to have enough time to cover all the questions that we would like to ask you. On behalf of all the committee members, thank you very much.
Honourable senators, I will now adjourn the public hearing. We will resume our meeting in camera after a short break and then we will discuss future business of the committee.
The committee is adjourned.