Mr. Graham Fraser:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Members of Parliament, and of the Standing Committee on Official Languages,
I would like to start by thanking you for inviting me to present my annual report, and to comment on the preparations for the 2010 Olympic Games, which I will do later.
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've made a number of observations on the government's position on official languages. I've continued my reflection on leadership and official languages, and I reaffirm that to be a leader in the public service it's 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. As I recently stated before this committee, 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, a deterioration in the application of the official languages policy.
I have noted, yet again this year, that 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. And yet, 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 I'll not have to spend another year watching a drama in suspended animation, as the government bides its time. However, I'd also like to add that I was very happy to hear Minister Verner say in the House that the new plan will be made public, and I quote, “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.
Over the past year I've closely examined official languages coordination. A clear, strong, and ongoing commitment from the Prime Minister remains an essential condition for good governance. I therefore make seven recommendations in my annual report to encourage the government to show stronger leadership. In particular, I recommend that the Prime Minister create an ad hoc committee of ministers to oversee the full implementation of the new action plan and language requirements in federal institutions. Similarly, I recommend that cabinet review official languages matters at least once a year.
In order to translate political commitment into action at the administrative level, I recommend that the Official Languages Secretariat be given the authority it needs to fulfill a horizontal coordination role in order to implement the Official Languages Act in its entirety. The goal of these recommendations is tangible results for Canadians. 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've 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 after they've been appointed to a supervisory 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 and are 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 those rights and values are respected.
The 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, which will be celebrated in 2009, seems to me to be an ideal time to turn this vision into action.
I'm going to close here, Mr. Chair, and continue my presentation on the Olympic Games later.
Mr. Graham Fraser:
Mr. Chair, I have always believed that the report provided both good and bad details, and one of the reasons I was careful to mention leadership and the importance of overall leadership is that sometimes we find things that are inconsistent. There are some departments where we are indeed careful to say there has been progress. What I have noted is that in the departments where leadership is clearly demonstrated, where the minister and deputy minister work together in saying that official languages are a priority and that they want the department to do better, we see results.
Take the Department of Public Works. Three years ago, we gave it a low rating. Last year, we gave it a medium rating. This year, we gave it a good rating. I congratulate the minister on that, because it is an indication of the minister's work and commitment.
In my remarks, I took care to say that I do see progress, and throughout the annual report there are examples of success. That is why I think the report provides details on the good and the bad, but the distinction—the difference—between some departments that have succeeded, others that are performing at the medium rating, and others that still get a poor rating is, in my opinion, due to leadership.
In making that observation, I call on the Prime Minister to take interest in the issue, and to ensure that leadership is demonstrated broadly throughout government. I completely agree, however, that we can see examples of progress and examples of leadership.
Take the Canadian Tourism Commission, for example. When the Canadian Tourism Commission moved from Ottawa to Vancouver, I expressed my fears in my annual report last year that it would be more difficult for the commission to serve Canadians in both official languages because it was transferring out of the National Capital Region, a bilingual region, to a region where employees do not have the right to work in French. In our analysis, however, we found that they have demonstrated exemplary performance, and that is due to the institution's determination and leadership. On the whole, we are seeing many institutions plateau, and in my view the successes prove that it is possible for the entire system to succeed, and to meet the obligations of the legislation, as long as the leadership that we are now seeing scattered in various departments is manifested at the highest level of government.
Mr. Pablo Rodriguez:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I see that Mr. Lemieux does not have enough to do, because he takes the time to put himself in the commissioner's place and have him say what he would like to see in his report, and even rewrite his press release. The commissioner and his team do excellent work, and I have great confidence in them. In fact, I will quote some excerpts from the first three pages of the commissioner's remarks:
|The tentativeness and the lack of leadership are now evident. [...] This lack of leadership has resulted in a plateau being reached and, in some cases, a deterioration in the application of the official languages policy. [...] tentative and uncertain leadership. [...] In short, I ask the government to show leadership [...]
It's very difficult. Leadership is absolutely essential in changing things. It seems as if the government is saying two things—it tells us to do what it says, not what it does. On one hand, it says that official languages and linguistic duality are important, yet on the other hand, it abolishes the Court Challenges Program. It intends to continue with consultations, when in fact the time has come to take action. And as the first phase of the action plan is coming to an end and the time has come to renew it, it does not renew it.
I have two questions on the report. You say that some areas are not affected. Areas like illiteracy, early childhood and access to justice are crucial to my mind. Take early childhood, for example. If you don't have access to day care in French and need to put your child into a facility where a different language is spoken, that is where assimilation begins, as far as I am concerned. That area should be among the highest priorities, because assimilation begins at that very early age.
My second question is on part VII of the Official Languages Act. Do you see any change since the implementation of Bill S-3? I put the question to communities, and they don't perceive any changes.
Mr. Luc Malo (Verchères—Les Patriotes, BQ):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Commissioner, I have five very short questions for you. You can then have the remainder of the time to answer them.
How do you explain the delay in tabling the Action Plan on Official Languages?
In your report, you state that the language of work situation has even declined in some institutions. What institutions might those be?
In your view, would the appointment of bilingual judges to the Supreme Court of Canada demonstrate the kind of leadership that you want to see from the government in terms of promoting linguistic duality?
We have noted that Air Canada has received a fairly large number of complaints again this year. What can Parliament do to ensure that Air Canada is no longer so high on the complainants' list?
Lastly, we note that most complaints come from Quebec and the National Capital Region. In your view, why is that so?
Mr. Graham Fraser:
I apologize, Mr. Chair, for having presumed to know the committee's role.
As I pointed out in my annual report, my office has undertaken a study on the bilingualism of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The study focuses on the readiness of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC) to meet the language requirements identified in Annex A of the multiparty agreement signed in November 2002. Our study does not examine the broadcasting of the games in both official languages. This study is a preventive step, because I do not want to go to the organizers after the games, with complaints in hand, telling them what they should have done. Our study, which was done with the cooperation of VANOC, should help it address potential shortcomings before the games.
I emphasize that VANOC clearly considers linguistic duality to be an important value and a key consideration in planning the games. VANOC is committed to exceeding its official languages responsibilities. 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. VANOC would be much better able to become a model of bilingualism for the next games and achieve the vision of a bilingual games were it to implement effective solutions to resolve these issues.
In terms of signage in the Vancouver-Whistler corridor, the federal government, along with VANOC, should provide leadership and work with its provincial and municipal counterparts to ensure that Canada's linguistic duality is apparent to everyone in any location where the games are featured.
Recruiting a sufficient number of qualified bilingual volunteers from across the country is essential to the provision of high-quality bilingual services at all sites to athletes, Olympic officials, the media and the public.
However, we cannot forget that not everything happens at the games site. Many federal institutions (border services, the RCMP, airport security, etc.) will play a key role in projecting Canada's image as a host country in both official languages. My office is already working with these institutions to ensure that this aspect of the games is also successful. I believe that the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Games are a golden opportunity to showcase Canada's linguistic duality to the world.
Thank you very much.
Hon. Denis Coderre:
Mr. Commissioner, based on your thoughts prior to your statement and the request by my friend Petit, I should perhaps ask you whether any future Supreme Court of Canada justice ought to be bilingual and attend bilingual Olympic Games. That way, you could talk to me about those two issues at the same time.
Following the blunder in Nagano, I had the Canadian Olympic Committee sign an agreement to ensure that everything would henceforth be bilingual. Today, the Canadian Olympic Committee makes sure that everything is bilingual, whether it be its dealings with the media or with people in general.
I am hearing a lot of “shoulds” in your statement, and that is of some concern. I know Messrs. Poole and Furlong of the organizing committee quite well, and I know that they are quite attuned to this issue.
Also, we should not simply depend on the system. Based on what you know, what has the government done? Have agreements already been signed with the Campbell government and the cities of Whistler and Vancouver to ensure that, first, the signage is being prepared, and second, the services will be bilingual? And coming back to what you have said about the interdepartmental committee, do all the ministers, including Mr. Emerson, the minister responsible for the Olympic Games, have an agreement to ensure that all services will be bilingual, and that bilingualism will be guaranteed, not only on the Games site, but in all other areas as well?
Furthermore, there is a key issue—and I think that everyone is aware of it—that is the broadcasting of the Olympic Games. Some francophones will not be able to watch the Olympic Games in their own language, unless they pay for the broadcast. There is a discrepancy between the French language network and CTV.
I therefore believe that all these questions require not only a response but also some follow up. So what has been done up until now? Between now and 2010, what can you do to ensure that all these issues are resolved, and how can we help you to ensure that the government no longer be reluctant to show some true leadership, as you indicate in your report?
Mr. Denis Lebel (Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Fraser, Ms. Scott and Ms. Tremblay, Mr. Dussault, thank you for being here this morning.
We have read what you have written and listened carefully to what you have told us this morning. We will continue as always to assume our responsibilities, to do our work, and show leadership, of which you would like to see even more. We will continue to do that. We will also continue to be very committed to the official languages of our country, to take our responsibility seriously as a government and to fulfil our promises like we always do.
I feel that there has been leadership shown up to this point on the issue of the Vancouver Olympic Games. Mr. Furlong and his organizing team made a presentation before us, and we were impressed by the efforts they are making. Mr. Emerson is also showing great leadership on this in terms of government representation. For preventive reasons, as you said earlier, it is quite reasonable, and I understand this very well, for us to carry out an analysis and make recommendations at this point.
I understand that the report will be presented in the fall, but from what you have seen so far regarding how things are developing from an official languages standpoint, what is your view of things?
Mr. Daniel Petit:
Mr. Chair, I am going to send you my questions in writing, and you will have the opportunity to respond. As I said, I have two subjects: justice and an answer for my colleague Mr. Chong.
With regard to the Olympics, in fact, you have seen that a number of questions relate to the same situation. When Mr. Furlong appeared, one of my questions for him was simple. At the very least, will people be greeted at the airport in French? It is a first step, for a French national from Paris who comes here. If that person is spoken to in English, they will get angry and it will snowball. I understood that the airport was collaborating with VANOC. It was a first, when I heard the announcement.
You were there and I imagine that you have to travel to this airport from time to time. The Olympic Games will take place very soon, in 2010. Do you see it gradually becoming more bilingual, or will this only be for the Olympic Games?
You said something that I find interesting. I don't know whether it is just for the Olympics. I would like, and we will need, a follow-up, because we are investing money in this. As an individual and as a commissioner, have you seen a change at the airport?