Mr. Graham Fraser (Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Bonjour.
To present the findings of volume II of my fourth annual report, I'm accompanied by Sylvain Giguère, assistant commissioner of policy and communications; Ghislaine Charlebois, assistant commissioner of compliance assurance; Johane Tremblay, general counsel; and Lise Cloutier, assistant commissioner of corporate services.
This second volume of the annual report deals with federal institutions' compliance with the Official Languages Act. Most notably, it analyzes the performance of 16 federal institutions, some of which were evaluated by my office for the first time, and it provides an overall account of the complaints received by my office.
Despite the understandable reflex of wanting to compare one year or one institution to the other, the criteria for the report card exercise evolved. In particular, they take into account the evolution of jurisprudence and the different emphasis I want to put on a given part of the act. We have also put a greater focus on results rather than processes.
The results for institutions that had never been evaluated before were poor. Many federal institutions still have a lot of difficulty taking into account what I consider to be five key leadership requirements for implementing the act. I define these in the report. The result is that far too many Canadians are not obtaining federal services in the official language of their choice; federal employees are often not able to work in their preferred official language; and official language communities are not receiving the support they need to reach their full potential.
Some institutions have put in place initiatives to ensure their employees understand what they have to do with regard to official languages—but then fall short in properly planning their activities in order to meet these obligations. Others carry out their policies effectively, but fail to properly evaluate their impact. There are also discrepancies within an institution, where the approach used is not always coherent, effective and comprehensive. It is in the best interest of Canadians, official language minority communities and public servants—as well as institutions themselves—to provide real leadership with regard to linguistic duality.
Canadians are generally tolerant and accommodating, but they do expect to be treated fairly and equitably. This includes receiving services of equal quality in either official language.
The reality is far too often the opposite--for instance, when airport authorities use contractors who do not have sufficient knowledge of their language obligations regarding service to the public, or when travellers returning to Canada are not served in their preferred language by the Canada Border Services Agency.
The poor active offer scores given to the 16 institutions evaluated by my office are mostly the result of a lack of knowledge, leadership, planning, implementation, and follow-up regarding their linguistic obligations. Unfortunately, too many institutions wait until a complaint has been brought against them or they receive a poor score on their report card before making any effort to better meet their language obligations.
The solutions are out there, however. My report highlights many practices implemented by institutions, in terms of many best practices implemented by institutions in service to the public, as well as inspiring examples of individuals who have made a difference within their institutions.
Lack of leadership continues to be an issue within institutions. Many lack the vision to create a public service where English and French enjoy equal status as languages of work. In many institutions, more than one-fifth of the employees belonging to official language minority communities and designated bilingual areas do not feel free to use the official language of their choice at work. For the Canada Border Services Agency, Health Canada, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the satisfaction rate is even lower.
Among the public servants surveyed, many do not feel comfortable preparing written material or communicating with their immediate supervisor in their own language. They also find it difficult to obtain specialized training that is readily available to the linguistic majority.
In 2008, I recommended that deputy heads of all federal institutions take concrete steps to create a work environment that is more conducive to the use of both English and French by employees in designated regions.
This year, after analyzing the responses of 117 federal institutions to my recommendations, I found that 30% had not taken concrete measures to improve the situation. Those that neglected to do anything about the problem were often those that required the most measures. Institutions such as Air Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have shown little or no resolve to address language of work issues that have persisted for years.
Despite promising measures to improve the language of work situation within federal institutions, challenges persist in fostering bilingualism in the workplace. Lack of understanding by managers may be partly to blame. Federal senior managers have not given nearly enough attention to the issue of fostering bilingualism in the workplace.
Progress might be difficult to track, as the last government-wide public service employee survey dates back to 2008. With the propensity of large institutions to put efforts only where they can measure results, I fear that the absence of data will lead to an absence of improvement.
Federal institutions are also failing to help official language minority communities across the country to develop their full potential. Part VII of the Official Languages Act requires every federal institution to take positive measures to achieve this objective. Federal institutions can support and assist in the development of official language communities by evaluating the impact their policies and programs have on them.
What we have determined, however, is that current planning and evaluation practices are less than stellar. Out of the 16 institutions reviewed this year, 10 received a mark of D or E on their report cards for part VII, and only four received an A. By any standards, grades like these represent a lack of basic understanding and effort.
However, there are a few institutions that stand out from the others. Health Canada, for example, was one of the four institutions to receive an A for proper implementation of part VII because of its willingness to actively consult official language communities.
Despite some positive outcomes, measuring community vitality and tracking the progress of official languages throughout the country might prove more challenging, owing to recent changes in the census process. A wide range of federal institutions depend on information provided by the long-form census questionnaire to measure the results of their initiatives. How many French-speaking immigrants have come to Canada? Where do they choose to live, and how are they doing economically? Have the English-speaking communities of Quebec's lower north shore been successful in moving beyond a troubled fisheries industry? The answers to these questions and many others will be more difficult to obtain if the newly established census format is kept.
Even on initiatives that can be considered genuine success stories, promotion of Canada's official languages is often lacking. The 2010 Vancouver winter games are an example.
Implementing Part VII of the Official Languages Act continues to be a slow process. However, I truly believe that strong leadership will enable federal institutions to address their shortcomings, to improve understanding of their obligations under the act and to ensure proper planning of related activities.
So I will follow with great interest the federal government's response to the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages on the implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act, released in June 2010.
I also plan to focus my 2010-2011 annual report on the promotion of the use of English and French and on the development of official language communities.
In closing, what is being asked of federal institutions is realistic. Leaders who are determined to make a difference can have an enormous impact on their institutions. Fulfilling official language obligations requires knowledge and understanding of the act, leadership, planning and coordination of programs and services, and effective follow-up and evaluation.
This is nothing new; it's simply the way to do business. Above all, living up to official language responsibilities is in the best interests of the country.
Thank you for your attention.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to add a few words before answering your questions.
The fact that we presented the annual report in two volumes was a pilot project. In the process of evaluating this pilot project, we sent a form to parliamentarians and to other respondents. I have to admit that the response rate of parliamentarians was fairly weak. I am convinced that if you received one you responded. However, I do not think that your colleagues responded in great numbers.
I would ask you to do your appraisal of volume II and to encourage your colleagues to do so as well so that we can do a proper assessment of whether this is an effective way to be spending our resources or whether there are more effective ways to promote the values of the Official Languages Act.
I will now be happy to answer your questions.
Hon. Mauril Bélanger:
If I may, I will come back to that point.
I agree with you as far as people who travel are concerned, but regarding your report, the results for the act's two main areas, that is, the provision of services and the ability to provide those services, and support for communities, amount to a failing grade.
On page 9, you say that 9 out of 16 institutions provide active offer less than 50% of the time, and that for all institutions, the number is 45%. This means that, as far as active offer is concerned, government in general does not make the grade.
In the workplace, it is 2 out of 9 and even 0 out of 16. It is easy to provide tools, but as for using them to write texts, the result is 0 out of 16 for people who say they are satisfied with their ability to do so. So more than half of the institutions do not pass muster.
These results are damning. You yourself have said that in 30% of cases, senior officials, that is, deputy ministers, did not even bother to react to your recommendations. I have to admit that I am very discouraged by this attitude.
The fact that there is no secretariat within the Privy Council anymore, and that there is no ad hoc cabinet committee, nor even an ad hoc committee comprised of deputy ministers, may have something to do with these feeble results. Another factor might be that there are only about a dozen people left within Treasury Board responsible for enforcing the act, whereas before there were about 50.
Mr. Richard Nadeau (Gatineau, BQ):
Good morning, Mr. Commissioner.
I would also like to welcome the team from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
I agree with Mr. Bélanger and the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada. You are not the one who is responsible for this. All you did was write a report. In fact, I would like to thank you for the quality of this report. I wish to emphasize this. You tell it like it is.
You said a little earlier that this was a slow process. However, as far as I can tell, it is more like a slow death. This might come sooner than expected. For Canada as a whole, especially for the anglophone majority, official languages is a pain in the neck. Proof of this lies in the fact that there is no leadership on the issue. The dream of official bilingualism, which many people who identified themselves as French-Canadians, such as Pierre Elliott Trudeau, shared, is but a dream. It is not reality. Here is more evidence of that.
This makes me the best ever advocate for independence, despite the fact that I am a Franco-Ontarian and that I worked to get French schools in Saskatchewan. There is no respect for the French fact. It eventually led me to conceive of a project. I told myself that one day there would be a French-speaking country in North America, that we would be a good neighbour to Canada, but that at least the French culture and language would be respected. I felt that this country should be located where there was a critical mass of francophones, namely in Quebec. That's where I stand today. If you come up with a better idea, please tell me. What I see before me supports the things I just said.
It was in 2009, when the ruling in the DesRochers case was handed down, that we began to emphasize everything the Official Languages Act should be. Institutions have to make sure that they can communicate with all Canadian citizens in the language of their choice. English and French also have to be of the same quality. This was in 2009, but the act was adopted in 1969. Has it taken us 40 years to understand this principle?
The DesRochers case is before the Supreme Court, is it not?
Mr. Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Lib.):
Like Mr. Godin, I am surprised by the number of complaints. It would seem that less is being done today than in the past in order to ensure equality and raise the level of bilingualism in both the public and private sectors.
I am quite active in Moncton with regard to bilingual signage in the private sector, although I do understand you have no jurisdiction over that.
There is another area that is of concern to me, Commissioner. I am a lawyer—I apologize for that, but it is a fact—and so I have concerns regarding the legal environment. In 2005, wording in part VII was changed, including the term "positive obligation." That was done well before the Supreme Court ruling in DesRochers v. Canada (Industry). On page 36, you state:
“...every federal institution”. You have three responses to moving from a declaration to a mandatory status for this positive obligation reflected in the change of paragraph 41, but you're working on what the Commissioner of Official Languages did in 2006 and 2007; he established these three principles. This was well before DesRochers. And you've been in the job for a while.
I'm a little cranky about the whole bilingual situation. I overlook and won't even mention that the photographs in the report show urban people in urban settings. The people of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan are in rural settings; that's fine, we have urban people in New Brunswick.
A bit of a commercial here: the ville de Dieppe is probably the fastest growing, most professional, youngest, and most vibrant francophone community outside of Quebec—I don't want to upset my Quebec friends—so we have urban people in Moncton. That's in brackets; I didn't say that.
But on the three points, I think they're a bit stale, Commissioner, the three duties: to create an organizational culture, to consult official languages communities, and to do a systematic evaluation. I think you could pick up your game in your next report, and in light of DesRochers, in light of your powers and your appreciation of things, your result of 2006-07 could be buttressed.
I think you're doing a very good job--this is the honey in the vinegar. I'll attack you mostly on consulting official languages communities, clearly, and on the systematic evaluation, which is what this report really is, but creating the organizational culture from which stems all the benchmarks. I think you—let's say “we”—could do a much better job.
Mr. Greg Rickford:
Commissioner, I would like to make a small comment on your analysis before asking my questions.
On page 4 of your foreword, you state that the government's responsibility is triangular and that it is shared by the Office of the Commissioner, parliamentarians and the general public. I agree. However, with all due respect, I was surprised upon reading your report that employees themselves seemed to play a crucial role in the successful delivery of bilingual services by the federal government and its departments. Once again, with all due respect, I saw that as a model, as a way forward.
I'm struck by that because, as I said earlier, you give several examples of best practices: CIC; the Canadian Forces; the action plan of the Communications Security Establishment Canada that integrates and solicits suggestions for language training; the National Film Board, for their monitoring mechanisms, on pages 33 and 34, versions anglaise et française; and Western Economic Diversification Canada's due diligence reports, which have real analysis on their stakeholders. There were several others that, in your own words, “showed definite progress”.
I have two residual questions, then. Beyond the superordinate goals, like leadership, which I acknowledge is an important determinant, it seems to me that employees can play an important role and that we have shining examples throughout our departments of things that really work.
So how, in your view, can we gather, organize, and/or streamline these practices to showcase them for the benefit of all departments? More pointedly, what, if any, nuances and specific challenges did or could you identify that may pose barriers to templating some of these successes that can be applied across departments?
Mr. Guy Lauzon:
Is it because of the position you hold?
On a more serious note, I have read your report and I commend you on it. It is a good report. However, unlike other members of the committee, I think your report has some shortcomings. Our process probably does as well, but we have also experienced some success. In my view, we must highlight both the successes and the shortcomings.
Being a francophone who has experienced assimilation for the greater part of my life, I have a very good understanding of the challenges faced by a country as vast as Canada when there are two official languages, bilingualism, throughout the country.
I think we have made progress. Forty years ago we tried to create a bilingual country, and when you poll people throughout the country, you realize that 70% of Canadians support bilingualism. Forty years ago, that percentage was probably far lower. That is progress.
Now, our hearts and minds are more open to bilingualism. Even in the city where I live, Cornwall, there has been a lot of progress. In our city there was only one bilingual position at city hall for a number of years. At this point, there are 19. That is progress and it is thanks to the promotion of bilingualism.
For instance, at one point, there were perhaps only 10 members of the Cornwall Cultural Centre. At this point, there are 180 members thanks to the fact that bilingualism and French have been promoted.
You mentioned some progress in your report. My colleagues do not gain much encouragement from the drop in the number of complaints, but I know that in 2004-2005, there were approximately 600 complaints whereas in 2008-2009, there had been a 40% drop in that number. That is a significant drop.
In 2009-2010, there was an increase. Do you think that might be related to the way in which you draw up your reports?
Mr. Graham Fraser:
Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for the question.
I'd like to say something in particular about the Canada School of Public Service. While there are some shortcomings in terms of what we discovered in terms of our observations, I am impressed with the initiative they are taking in terms of developing a pilot project with 11 post-secondary institutions. This is an approach that I think is extremely important for laying the groundwork so that universities provide language training for future public servants so that they arrive on the job with the language classification they need to progress in the public service.
The federal government is Canada's largest employer. I noted with some considerable interest, a week or 10 days ago, a Globe and Mail special supplement on universities. One of the sections asked students who their choice employer would be, and in every sector, whether it was medicine, whether it was law, whether it was arts, or whether it was science, their employer of choice was the federal government.
I think it is extremely important that training exist not just for new employees and not just for employees as part of their career planning, who intend to qualify themselves for the executive ranks or for supervisory ranks, where they would have language responsibilities. The federal government should send the message to universities that this is something that is very important for advancement in the ranks of the public service, since, quite clearly, students have sent the strong message that they see the federal government as an employer of choice.
Similarly, universities have to send the message to secondary schools that they will consider language an important criteria when they evaluate applications.
I think there's a cascading effect that needs to happen, from Canada's largest employer to the universities and from the universities to secondary schools and school boards.