Chapter 2: Vision, Leadership and Commitment: Fundamentals of the Full Implementation of the Act
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1.0 The situation is evolving, but too slowly
The idea that the federal public service should be able to serve Canadians in the official language of their choice and that federal employees should be able to choose to work in English or in French makes perfect sense in 2009. However, this has not always been the case.
It was not until 1966 that the Canadian government adopted the first general policy on bilingualism in the federal public service. In that year, Prime Minister Pearson put forward that within a “reasonable period […] communications with the public will normally be in either official language having regard to the person being served […] and […] a climate will be created in which public servants from both language groups will work together toward common goals, using their own language.”1
The adoption of the Official Languages Act in 1969 allowed federal institutions to make significant progress towards meeting the Canadian public’s linguistic expectations. The unanimous adoption, in 1973, of a resolution in Parliament that explicitly establishes the right of federal employees to work in the language of their choice2 contributed to the advancement of French in federal institutions.
However, the advances made in the past 40 years with respect to official languages have often been hard won, namely because they were the result of legal action. In addition, it must be recognized that advancement of linguistic duality in federal institutions has stalled since the 1990s.3
In fact, results of the assessment conducted by the Commissioner in 2008–2009 on the performance of 15 federal institutions with “separate employer”4 status too closely resemble the performance found in previous annual reports: while some federal institutions performed well this year and improved in certain areas, many are still slow to adequately fulfill all of their linguistic obligations.5
Three crucial elements are necessary to rectify this situation and ensure the full implementation of the Act: vision, leadership and commitment on the part of leaders and elected officials.
2.0 Update on the renewed approach of the Commissioner of Official Languages
In his first annual report (2006–2007), the Commissioner noted that implementation of the Act had reached a plateau and he foresaw the need to adopt other methods of intervention than those already at his disposal. In his 2007–2008 annual report, he presented the conclusions of an in-depth review on how to use his ombudsman role to accelerate implementation of the Act in the federal government. This year, this approach resulted in the adoption of a more proactive approach drawing on managers’ leadership and on their commitment to finding a lasting and more effective means of resolving complaints and preventing the problems that give rise to complaints.
Most notably, the Commissioner launched a campaign in January 2009, entitled Raising Our Game: Official Languages and the Vancouver 2010 Games. The purpose of this campaign was to raise awareness, among all federal stakeholders taking part in organ-izing the XXI Winter Games, of the importance of athletes, journalists and visitors being able to experience the Olympics in French as much as in English. As part of this initiative, representatives from the Office of the Commissioner visited some 20 federal institutions in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa.
Furthermore, the Commissioner is continuing the process initiated in 2007 with the Greater Toronto Airport Authority to better identify its linguistic challenges and to help it carry out activities that better reflect Canada’s bilingual nature. It is hoped that these concurrent initiatives will enhance visitors’ experience in Canada, as half of those visitors heading to the Vancouver Olympic Games will pass through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
The Commissioner has also improved investigation mechanisms by adding a facilitated resolution process (see Appendix A). With this method, the Commissioner aims to encourage institutions involved to quickly resolve the issue raised by the complainant, if necessary, without him having to determine whether the complaint is founded or not, while also ensuring that the public interest is respected. In cases where the facilitated resolution process does not produce results, or where the complainant or institution involved in a dispute is not in favour of this approach, the Commissioner conducts a formal investigation.
The Commissioner has also undertaken initiatives with a small number of federal institutions to convince them to work together with his office to pinpoint the recurrent, systemic language problems they face. The purpose of this initiative is to establish a memorandum of understanding through which the signatory institution commits to developing effective means of remedying the shortcomings identified and thus increasing respect for linguistic duality.
In addition, the Commissioner has adapted his audit and follow-up processes, as well as federal institution report cards, to his proactive approach focused on lasting results (see Appendix D). As a last resort, if all other options have been exhausted, he may, with the consent of the complainant, appeal to the Court.
The Commissioner believes that, in years to come, these improved tools and the use of proven methods will help eliminate the obstacles that prevent federal institutions from fully complying with the Act.
3.0 A dynamic vision of linguistic duality
It is by adopting a dynamic vision of linguistic duality, one based on respect, dialogue, partnership and equity, that the Government of Canada and federal institutions will achieve linguistic equality. Th is vision should inspire leadership in federal institutions’ senior leaders and engage them to work towards achieving the full potential that the Act has to offer.
Th is vision must include the following elements:
- Members of the public feel comfortable communicating with federal institutions in the official language of their choice and receive services of equal quality in English and in French;
- Federal employees are proud to work in an environment where the use of both official languages is valued and encouraged;
- Official language minority communities and linguistic duality are recognized, supported and celebrated by Canadians.
As the rest of this chapter shows, significant eff orts will be needed to turn this vision into a reality.
4.0 Communications with the public and delivery of services of equal quality
The Commissioner’s vision…
Members of the public feel comfortable communicating with federal institutions in the official language of their choice and receive services of equal quality in English and in French.
With respect to communications with the public and delivery of services by the federal government, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a very important decision on February 5, 2009, that clarifies the obligations of federal institutions, and thus indicated the path that the government must follow.
In Desrochers v. Canada (Industry),6 the case involving the Centre d’avancement de leadership et de développement économique communautaire de la Huronie (CALDECH) in which the Commissioner acted as co-appellant, the Supreme Court established that substantive equality with respect to delivery of services may require distinct content if this is necessary for meeting the needs of both offi cial language communities. As stated by Justice Charron, “[i]t is possible that substantive equality will not result from the development and implementation of identical services for each language community. Th e content of the principle of linguistic equality in government services is not necessarily uniform. It must be defi ned in light of the nature and purpose of the service in question.”7 What ultimately matters, according to the Supreme Court, “is that the services provided be of equal quality in both languages.”8 This statement marked a step forward in the interpretation and application of the principle of substantive equality in service delivery. This constitutes a victory for official language communities.
However, it must be acknowledged that federal institutions have generally not yet fulfi lled the vision of linguistic duality for communications and service delivery. For the 15 separate employers that received a report card this year, problems can still be seen in terms of active off er of services in both offi cial languages and the availability of service in English and French.
In 2008–2009, 382 admissible complaints submitted to the Commissioner concerned language of service (Part IV of the Act). (See Appendix B for a further breakdown of complaints.) Analysis of these complaints shows that the main problems dealt with in-person communications, written communications and ground services to the travelling public.
4.1 Active offer of service
In order to respect the rights of Canadians to receive service in the official language of their choice, offices with obligations in terms of bilingual service delivery and communications must make an active offer of their services in English and in French at all times. In other words, their staff must spontaneously and clearly indicate to the public that they can obtain the desired service in the official language of their choice, in writing (with a pictogram, for instance) or verbally (as with a bilingual greeting).
However, federal services are not, to say the least, always actively offered to Canadians in both official languages, des pite the requirement to do so at section 28 of the Act9.
The results of the Commissioner’s observations in 2008–2009 show that active offer is a wellestablished practice for telephone services provided by “separate employer” institutions. In fact, 14 of the 15 institutions surveyed this year received a perfect score in that respect. (See Table 4 of Appendix D for full observation results.)
However, in-person active offer continues to be neglected. On the one hand, for some institutions, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the CBC/Radio-Canada and VIA Rail, the use of signage and other visual tools to inform citizens that they can ask to be served in English or in French was less exemplary than it was last year.
... to the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, the Canadian Tourism Commission, the National Arts Centre and the National Film Board, which all received perfect ratings in the category of visual active offer.
On the other hand, despite the fact that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the National Arts Centre, VIA Rail and the National Film Board had improved their performance in terms of in-person active offer since 2007–2008, the overall results obtained on this matter this year are disappointing. In fact, the performance of customer service agents at 9 of the 15 federal institutions examined has deteriorated. These nine institutions will have to take serious steps to correct this situation, following the example of other federal institutions that corrected their shortcomings in terms of active offer.
Health Canada takes action on active offer
A review of the situation enabled Health Canada officials to understand that the few recorded improvements in this department with respect to active offer—especially during in-person contact—was less attributable to the staff ’s weak language skills than to their poor understanding of the issues. This finding led Health Canada to adopt a policy on service to the public, to create a list of greetings and to publish a document describing the services to offer in both official languages. Health Canada also conducted an awareness campaign to ensure that its employees understand the importance of active offer. Health Canada intends to conduct a follow-up to determine the effectiveness of these corrective measures.
Service Canada monitors progress at its New Brunswick Centres
In 2008, representatives from Service Canada’s regional office in New Brunswick visited Service Canada Centres to identify shortcomings in active offer and to take the necessary corrective measures. Targeted were those designated bilingual offices that did not actively offer bilingual services in 2007–2008, according to the report card produced by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
These visits were used to check whether front-line employees and officers were actively offering services in both official languages at first contact. Observations were also made to determine whether services in each official language were of equal quality and whether the timeframes, waiting periods and level of service were comparable.
The results of this exercise were shared, verbally and in writing, with the appropriate managers. The region has made active offer a priority and intends to put it into practice 100% of the time through constant monitoring.
In his 2006–2007 annual report, the Commissioner recommended that “deputy heads in federal institutions ensure that front-line employees and all agents who respond to client enquiries actively offer services in both official languages at first contact in order to enhance the use of the public’s official language of choice.”10 It is worth acknowledging that, except in the case of active offer by telephone, this recommendation did not have the expected impact on the majority of the 15 separate employers evaluated this year. However, the importance of all federal institutions implementing active offer in all their communications with the public cannot be overemphasized. Citizens should not have to wonder whether they are welcome to use English or French when dealing with these institutions. By developing the active offer reflex, federal institutions create an environment where members of the public feel completely comfortable using the official language of their choice.
4.2 Availability of services
As the Commissioner pointed out during Justice Canada’s 2008 Managers’ Forum, “every time a [Francophone] citizen has trouble getting service in the official language of his or her choice, or […] deals with a public servant who is obviously uncomfortable in his or her second language, the perception grows that French is an afterthought at the senior levels in Ottawa.”11 English-speaking Quebecers also face this kind of situation, but to a lesser degree.
Unfortunately, Anglophones and Francophones are both confronted with the unacceptable fact that the expected service is not always accessible in their language. In fact, according to the Commissioner’s observations, 2 of the 15 separate employers examined this year clearly had more difficulty than in 2007– 2008 in providing Canadians with telephone service in the language of their choice. Th ese employers were the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the National Film Board (which, as shown earlier, nonetheless stands out with respect to active offer in person).
Furthermore, according to the Commissioner’s observations this year, members of official language communities were unable to obtain service in person in their language one out of five times. Although five federal institutions received perfect ratings in this regard (see the “Congratulations…” textbox), others, such as the Business Development Bank of Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and, once again, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the National Film Board, need to increase their efforts to ensure service of equal quality in English and French.
Separate employers should also improve their performance in a new sector evaluated in federal institution report cards: e-mail services. Data collected in 2008–2009 shows that Anglophones and Francophones alike are able to receive services from federal institutions by e-mail in their language. However, since Francophones generally receive slower service than Anglophones through this medium, there is still work to be done in order to provide service of equal quality..
Effective control mechanisms for service to the public
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation hired a private firm to assess its services in both official languages. The exercise took into account both active offer and service delivery over the telephone and in person. This enabled the organization to exercise tighter control over its performance and helped it to identify and correct shortcomings, as well as to raise awareness among its staff of the importance of always offering and providing service of equal quality in English and in French. This good practice certainly contributed to the excellent results the institution obtained this year in its report card with respect to service to the public. Other institutions would do well to follow suit.
... to the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, the National Capital Commission, the Canadian Tourism Commission, the National Arts Centre and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which all received perfect ratings for their ability to provide services in person that are of equal quality in English and in French.
4.3 Institutional transformation: Will the past predict the future?
In 1998, Commissioner Goldbloom concluded, in a report entitled Government Transformations: The Impact on Canada’s Official Languages Program, that “[d]evolution, partnering, commercialization and restructuring of federal services and programs, in addition to changes in the relationship between central agencies and departments, have resulted in a cumulative weakening of language rights and of the federal government’s eff ectiveness with respect to official languages.”12 As reported by Commissioner Adam in 2001, these transformations led in particular to a 25% decline in the number of offices and points of service designated bilingual, a drop which has adversely affected the linguistic quality of services off ered to official language communities.13
In 2008–2009, the Commissioner is still concerned about the repercussions of government transformations on the recognition of Canadians’ right and desire to be informed and served in the language of their choice by federal institutions. The Commissioner is particularly concerned about federal institutions’ tendency to use third parties to fulfill their main responsibilities.
Section 25 of the Official Languages Act
Section 25 of the Act14 provides that third parties acting on behalf of a federal institution must comply with Part IV of the Act. This provision rarely creates major problems when federal institutions use third parties for specific projects of limited scope. However, problems complying with the Act often arise when institutions use third parties to fulfill, on their behalf, the main responsibilities deriving from their mandate.
In Desrochers v. Canada (Industry), the Federal Court of Appeal clarifi ed situations where a third party acts on behalf of a federal institution within the meaning of section 25: “[T]he issue is whether, given the facts and circumstances of the case, the third party is providing the services of a federal institution or a federal government program with the accreditation, agreement, confirmation, consent, acceptance or approval of the institution or the government. In the affirmative, it must be held that this third party is acting on behalf of a federal institution within the meaning of section 25 of the [Act]. And the third party is required to provide these services in both official languages if [...] the federal institution or federal government were themselves subject to this obligation.”15
In the current economic context, federal institutions will be increasingly tempted to use strategies that might reduce operating costs or simplify human resources management. However, the Commissioner believes that this approach involves risks where linguistic matters are concerned. Institutions that use third parties (such as Canada Post, Air Canada and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) are losing control over their service delivery mechanisms. It is often challenging for third parties to recruit bilingual staff . Finally, it is difficult for federal institutions to verify the language proficiency levels of these employees.
Unavoidable linguistic obligations
In Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick Inc. v. Canada,16 the Supreme Court of Canada clarified the linguistic obligations of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) when they act as provincial police on behalf of the Government of New Brunswick.
The Court clarified that the RCMP is required to comply with the linguistic obligations that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms imposes on the Government of New Brunswick. The Court specified that the RCMP retains its status as a federal institution in all provinces where it provides provincial police services, and therefore must also comply with the Official Languages Act at all times.
This decision is important, as it confirms that a government cannot, by way of an agreement, dispose of its linguistic obligations under the Charter. This principle also applies to federal institutions with linguistic obligations under section 20 of the Charter and Part IV of the Act.
Federal institutions must bear in mind that they cannot abandon their constitutional and legislative obligations to deliver bilingual services to the public. The Supreme Court of Canada recently reiterated this crucial principle in Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick Inc. v. Canada.17
4.4 Air Canada’s transformations and the erosion of its employees’ and customers’ rights
In 1988, the federal government privatized Air Canada, a Crown corporation created with public funds. Canada’s national carrier has since undergone restructuring a number of times, and this has led to the erosion of the language rights of the travelling public.
Following privatization, Air Canada created a network of regional carriers to provide the various routes for which it was responsible. In 2000, to resolve a disagreement on how the Act applied to its regional carriers, Parliament intervened by modifying the act governing Air Canada.
In 2003, gripped with financial difficulties, Air Canada underwent restructuring again, and then set up new legal entities (Jazz, Ground Handling Services, Technical Services and Cargo) intended to replace its former subsidiaries and divisions.
Since that time, the government has publicly committed to upholding the language rights of the travelling public and of Air Canada employees. To this end, since 2005, three bills have been tabled in Parliament, but all of them died on the order paper.
It is never too late to do the right thing, but time is running out…
The report cards of the major Canadian international airports (see Table 2 in Appendix C) clearly show that, unless drastic changes are made, Vancouver’s International Airport will be unable to properly welcome, in both official languages of Canada—and of the International Olympic Committee—the thousands of Canadian and foreign visitors and athletes who will be attending the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in less than a year from now.
The same holds true for Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, through which half of the visitors and athletes will travel on their way to Vancouver.
To prevent such an outcome, all institutions involved, including the Vancouver Airport Authority, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, Air Canada and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, must roll up their sleeves and work together, along with the Canada Border Services Agency, to showcase Canada’s linguistic duality to the world.
Air Canada subsequently was obliged to close its points of service in a number of cities, such as Moncton, Fredericton, St. John’s and Québec City. A large number of Air Canada employees now work for one of these legal entities and have consequently lost their right to work in the official language of their choice.
Air Canada’s organizational structure continues to evolve without clarifying, in Air Canada’s governing statute, the linguistic obligations of the entities resulting from its restructuring. It is high time for the government to correct this unfortunate situation, especially since Air Canada’s logo still features the maple leaf, a true symbol of the Canadian identity, which includes linguistic duality. Parliament should intervene once again to fill the legal void that remains with respect to the linguistic obligations of Air Canada’s various entities.
The Commissioner’s interest in the airports continues
In addition to studying the compliance of airports through report cards, the Commissioner conducted, in 2008, an audit of the overall management of the official languages program at Halifax’s Robert L. Stanfield International Airport. The main objective of the audit was to examine whether the Airport Authority effectively carries out its obligations, particularly in terms of communications with and service to the travelling public.
The Commissioner submitted his preliminary report to the Halifax International Airport Authority. In light of this audit’s results and the Commissioner’s observations while reviewing five major Canadian international airports, the Authority recognizes that there is work to be done to achieve the desired results. Airport Authority representatives will develop an action plan to implement the Commissioner’s recommendations. The Commissioner will comment on this plan and attach it to his final report, which will be published in 2009.
4.5 The situation in major airports
The Commissioner studied five major international airports for the first time this year: Montréal– Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport and Vancouver International Airport. Within these airports can be found three institutions that are not part of the public service but that must nevertheless comply with linguistic obligations. Air Canada and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority remain subject to the Act in its entirety, while the administration of each airport is subject to all parts of the Act except for Part VII.
The Commissioner’s observations reveal that travellers all too often have trouble being served in the official language of their choice. In fact, Appendix C shows that, of the five airports targeted in this exercise, only Montréal’s received high ratings. The other four airports had much less glowing results, except where visual active offer is concerned. The Commissioner hopes that this initial assessment will lead management of the institutions that are subject to the Act within the same airport to join forces in tackling the shared challenges they face with respect to official languages. The Commissioner also hopes that, across the country, managers of the same institution will readily share their solutions so that, regardless of location, travellers will have a pleasant travel experience as far as language is concerned.
5.0 Towards a workplace that respects both official languages
The Commissioner’s vision…
Federal employees are proud to work in an environment where the use of both official languages is valued and encouraged.
The language of interactive tools
A wiki, a Web-based application where anyone can easily create or modify pages, is especially useful for collectively writing a document, managing a project or leading discussions among communities of practice. The number of wikis within the federal public service has markedly increased and will continue to do so, especially since young federal employees are used to working with each other on-line and wish to keep doing so.
However, one fact to be taken into account is that there can be strong pressure to use a single language in knowledge management tools such as wikis. For instance, wiki participants may find it advantageous to use English, so that the information is understood by the highest number of people.
The Commissioner therefore believes that the government must study the linguistic ins and outs of the use of wikis and all other collaboration and networking tools. To this end, an official languages working group, led by the Treasury Board Secretariat, was created in the fall of 2008 and has been meeting regularly since January 2009 to discuss these issues. The working group includes representatives from the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
The Commissioner also believes that the government must ensure that the establishment and content of these forums respect linguistic duality.18
A vast majority of federal institutions have yet to create a workplace where their employees feel comfortable using either official language and are encouraged to do so. Although federal institutions employ a growing number of bilingual senior managers and the level of bilingualism for incumbents of bilingual positions has increased, the evidence shows that:19
- French is not used as much as it should be as a language of work in federal offices located in the National Capital Region and outside Quebec;
- French does not have its rightful place in communications between the federal government’s head offices and its regional offices in Quebec;
- English remains underused as a language of work in the Quebec offices of federal institutions.
In 2008–2009, the Commissioner examined 107 admissible complaints related to language of work (Part V of the Act), which is approximately the same number as last year. An analysis of these complaints shows that the main problems involve internal communications, training as well as central and personal services provided to federal employees.
5.1 Progress that is a long time coming
According to a survey of separate employers’ staff (see Appendix E), which involved the participation of Francophone employees in designated bilingual regions of Ontario,20 the National Capital Region and New Brunswick, as well as Anglophone employees in the designated bilingual regions of Quebec,21 only 69% of Francophones and 75% of Anglophones are generally satisfied with the language regime in their workplace. These results are more or less the same as last year’s.
As shown in Table 6 in Appendix E, Francophone employees primarily identify shortcomings relating to the use of French as a language of meetings, written material and training. In fact, only 62% to 69% of Francophones say that they are satisfied with the use of French in these three areas.
The situation is similar for Anglophones working in Quebec: they identify shortcomings related to the place of English as a language of training and meetings. Only 64% of Anglophone employees are satisfied with the training currently available in their language and only 72% feel that English is sufficiently used in the meetings they attend. It is worth noting that 66% of Francophones and 80% of Anglophones surveyed said they were currently satisfied with the use of their language in communications with supervisors.
In 2008–2009, some federal institutions have been taking positive steps to create a workplace where both official languages are on equal footing. To this end, in 2008, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation developed and implemented a major awareness campaign entitled “Two Languages Under the Same Roof.” Publicly supported by the President of the Corporation, this campaign focused on encouraging active off er as well as maintaining and improving the language skills of staff .
A clear message from the Chief of the defence staff
On January 5, 2009, as part of succession planning, Chief of the Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk sent a letter to all general and flag officers in the Canadian Forces (i.e. General, Lieutenant-General, Major General and Brigadier General in the Army and Air Force, and Admiral, Vice-Admiral, Rear-Admiral and Commodore in the Navy). This letter stipulated that proficiency in English or French as a second language would henceforth be considered a key leadership skill that would be taken into account for promotions to higher ranks. More specifi cally, he reminded general officers that they should not expect to be promoted if they are unable to reach the CBC22 level in their second language by the date specified in National Defence’s Official Languages Program.
For its part, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) office in the Atlantic region has undertaken a number of innovative projects supporting official languages and Francophone community development. For example, the CBSA has developed a strategy for improving its capacity to recruit bilingual employees, namely by promoting itself to the clients of Francophone school and community centres in south-western New Brunswick. Th e CBSA is also seeking to establish ties with Francophone organizations in the Halifax area, to give its non-Francophone employees an opportunity to work there for a given period and to increase their proficiency in French.
Federal public service renewal in Quebec
Thanks to public service renewal, the current climate in federal institutions seems especially conducive to major linguistic transformations. In particular, the time seems right for federal institutions with offices in Quebec to significantly increase the number of Anglophone employees.
5.2 Linguistic duality: A question of leadership
The Office of the Commissioner’s studies on language of work23 showed that federal institutions that have succeeded in establishing an organizational culture conducive to the use of both official languages are those where management, especially senior management, sets an example and shows leadership in terms of linguistic duality.
To be a good leader, as the Commissioner previously stated before the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages in June 2008, “it is necessary to be able to inform, evaluate, explain, give advice and inspire in both English and French.”24
All federal leaders should send the message loud and clear, in both words and actions, that English and French both have a place as languages of work in federal institutions and that bilingualism is an essential skill for any leader.
However, there are still too many shortcomings in this area. Some managers hinder the use of the minority language, either because they are not proficient enough in the language or because they hesitate to use it. Similarly, Francophones fearing that their professional contribution will not be fully recognized tend to work in English when their superiors do not use French daily and do not stress the importance of using it.
Public service renewal is a wonderful opportunity to correct these types of shortcomings and transform government culture. This would ensure that linguistic duality is perceived as an essential component of good government service, as a driving force of productivity and efficiency at work, and as a necessary tool for understanding Canada and Canadians, rather than as a burden.
Unfortunately, the Government of Canada has yet to fully seize this opportunity.
The Advisory Committee on the Public Service, appointed by the Prime Minister, has stressed the importance of staffing the public service with leaders who are able to adhere to certain important values and to fully integrate these values into their management policies and practices. However, all evidence suggests that the federal government has failed to adequately emphasize the fact that linguistic duality is one of the essential values that every leader should take into account.
Furthermore, while 12,000 to 15,000 people enter the public service each year, it is disappointing to see that the 2008–2009 Public Service Renewal Action Plan25 does not mention that the language issue should be taken into consideration at the human resources planning stage, nor does it deal with the importance of official languages in leadership development. This having been said, how can official languages be seriously addressed when the government’s definition of the word “leader” does not even seem to consider the importance of bilingualism in federal institutions?
However, considering the “linguistic duality” dimension at the planning stage of public service workforce renewal would allow the government to benefit from a portion of the significant investments it makes each year to increase bilingualism among young Canadians. In fact, few other measures would have a faster and more cost-effective impact on the language skills of tomorrow’s public service.
The Commissioner launches a study on leadership in a bilingual public service
In 2009, the Commissioner will conduct a study in which he will examine the behaviours that managers in the federal public service should adopt, and he will describe the practices these managers should implement in order to fulfill their leadership role and promote linguistic duality in the workplace.
Despite missed opportunities, it is encouraging to see that, in the fall of 2008, the Clerk of the Privy Council mandated Monique Collette, President of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, “to develop new and pragmatic approaches to improve diversity, and to foster full recognition and usage of Canada’s two offi cial languages in the workplace.”26 One of these areas was support for a bilingual public service across Canada. Although the Clerk’s decision is a first step towards fully recognizing linguistic duality as an essential component of the public service, the Commissioner would have liked to see this initiative receive more visibility and resources. He hopes that the Clerk’s prioritization of support for a bilingual public service will nonetheless translate into tangible measures and appropriate resources.
It is important to remember that linguistic duality has been one of Canada’s values for the past 40 years and that proficiency in both official languages is a condition for success in the federal administration, seeing as its employees are required to deal with clients and staff in the official language of their choice. It is therefore crucial that, from the time they enter the workforce, the new generation of federal employees are strongly encouraged to adopt this value and to promote it on a day-to-day basis. Within the federal government, good leaders must be bilingual in order to effectively communicate with its two language groups.
Language of training in the Canadian Forces
The availability of training in both official languages is a systemic problem in the Canadian Forces. This problem can have negative consequences on employment and advancement opportunities for military staff and on respect for their right to work in the official language of their choice. This issue, which has been a concern for all the commissioners, has resurfaced in recent years.
Therefore, in 2008, the Commissioner conducted an audit whose primary objective was to determine the extent to which the Canadian Forces’ current training and education system complies with the Act’s language of work requirements.
This large-scale project would not have been possible without the excellent cooperation of Canadian Forces representatives. From the outset, the officer responsible for official languages at National Defence and the Canadian Forces off ered his team’s assistance in choosing the 40 military schools, bases and units to visit and in facilitating the consultation of approximately 500 military members who participated in interviews or surveys. Furthermore, a letter from the Chief of the Defence Staff explaining the added value of the audit and the importance of cooperating was distributed to all targeted units. Th is project will allow the Commissioner to make recommendations that will help the Canadian Forces adopt an action plan to improve the situation, while also respecting the operational requirements of the Canadian Forces. Publication of this audit report is scheduled for 2009.
In his 2007–2008 annual report, the Commissioner recommended “that the deputy heads of all federal institutions take concrete steps, by December 31, 2008, to create a work environment that is more conducive to the use of both English and French by employees in designated regions.”27 In early 2009, the Commissioner asked the institutions to report on their progress; the results of this follow-up will be made public over the course of the next year.
5.3 Language training: A key to success
On April 1, 2007, the responsibility of providing public service employees with statutory language training, which some employees need in order to meet the language requirements of their position, was transferred from the Canada School of Public Service to the departments. To find service providers, the departments launch calls for tenders. As mentioned in the Commissioner’s 2007–2008 annual report, this new training model poses some problems in terms of the actual quality of training provided by certain external suppliers, especially when the focus is on finding the lowest price. Moreover, as the departments have not received additional financial resources for their new responsibilities, their employees’ language training needs may not be adequately fulfilled.
The Commissioner is also concerned that managers are losing sight of the fact that language training must be incorporated into their employees’ learning and development plans from the beginning of their careers. In fact, the government and senior management of federal institutions have a responsibility to send the message that federal employees must be able to take advantage of all available opportunities to learn English or French as a second language.
The government and senior managers must also ensure that federal employees outside the National Capital Region have access to the language training they need. Additional resources should be set aside for improving the language skills of employees in federal institutions’ regional offices, which is an important but neglected issue.
The Parks Canada Agency has created the Parks Canada Official Languages Trainingand Retention Guide to answer employees’frequently asked questions on official languages.This guide answers questions such as: “You havejust accepted to work in a bilingual position…what’s next?”, “How do I choose the rightlanguage-training program?”, “What trainingoptions and resources are available for secondlanguage training?” and “Who pays for languagetraining?” In addition, the Guide providesadvice for employees who would like to practisetheir second language and retain their skills. Italso includes information on official languageminority community organizations.
In this regard, the Commissioner notes that federal institutions should take advantage of the flexibility of the Canada School of Public Service’s on-line self-learning tools.28 Still, no matter how well they are designed, these tools are not a solution for all the language-training needs of public service employees.
Moreover, the Public Service Commission of Canada has begun to design and administer new tests to assess the second-language skills of federal public service applicants and employees. These tests are better adapted to the context of federal employees’ official languages use. However, the Commissioner insists that a test is only a snapshot of a situation at a given point in time. The government must continue its efforts to ensure long-term retention of language skills.
The Commissioner is pleased that the Commission has succeeded in considerably reducing wait times for language skill assessments. In the spring of 2007, it took 21 weeks to determine whether a person met the language requirements of a position at the time of his or her appointment, but a year later, the waiting period has been reduced to two weeks.29
However, for this trend to continue, the government will have to ensure that the Commission has the necessary resources in the coming years to accommodate the increase in language assessment requests. Th e number of requests will inevitably multiply due to public service renewal, especially when imperative staffing is applied.30
6.0 Promotion of English and French and development of official language communities
The Commissioner’s vision…
Official language minority communities and linguistic duality are recognized, supported and celebrated by Canadians.
In 2008–2009, the Office of the Commissioner received 29 complaints related to Part VII of the Act, as compared with 31 in the previous year. Nearly half of these complaints dealt with the development of official language communities; the others were related to the promotion of linguistic duality.
6.1 Increase promotion of English and French and support the development of official language communities
As it specifies that every federal institution has the legal duty to ensure that positive measures are taken to enhance the vitality of the Anglophone and Francophone minority communities in Canada, the amendment of Part VII of the Act enacted on November 25, 2005 addresses the official language communities’ growing desire to reach their full potential rather than to simply exist.
Unfortunately, while the Commissioner has set out principles to guide federal institutions in the implementation of Part VII, and while Canadian Heritage has defined the process for implementing the government’s commitments in its Guide for Federal Institutions, Part VII has not yet produced the results that the communities expected.
There are a variety of reasons for this. For one, federal institutions do not always quite know how to implement positive measures as outlined in the Act. Second, federal institutions need to consider more closely the specific needs of official language communities while planning their activities.
Implementation of Part VII is still progressing too slowly. In the coming years, only implementation that complies with the letter and spirit of Part VII will enable official language communities to develop further, increase their capacity for self-reliance and make the most of the various resources available for them to reach their full potential in all spheres of activity.
All institutions have obligations under Part VII. First, they must consider the extent to which their programs and interventions contribute to the development of the communities. Second, they must invest in Canada-wide promotion for linguistic duality. Without this twofold commitment by federal institutions, Part VII of the Act will remain little more than an empty gesture.
Alongside the measures taken by the institutions, Canadian Heritage must work more closely with other departments to help them effectively apply Part VII. Canadian Heritage must also increase its monitoring of measures adopted in the federal administration to implement Part VII of the Act.
In this regard, it is important to note that, in the past year, Canadian Heritage has launched a number of initiatives to strengthen its interdepartmental coordination role for Part VII, and thus have a structuring effect on the federal administration and its decision-making processes. For example, Canadian Heritage currently offers training sessions to analysts from the Privy Council Office and the Treasury Board Secretariat so that they are aware of the importance of Part VII and of how to take it into consideration when reviewing submissions and memoranda to Cabinet prepared by the departments and agencies.
Furthermore, Canadian Heritage is currently finalizing a work tool on Part VII to help departments preparing memoranda to Cabinet properly analyze the potential impact of their program and policy proposals on official language communities and linguistic duality.
Last year, the Commissioner’s annual report highlighted the importance for Canadian Heritage to strengthen its interdepartmental coordination role in the regions, so as to support federal offices across the country. In his 2007–2008 annual report, the Commissioner observed that coordination of the implementation of Part VII was suffering outside the National Capital Region and that leadership in the regions was not as clear as one might have hoped. The Commissioner therefore asked Canadian Heritage to fully embrace its role as national coordinator for Part VII.
Evaluating programs’ impact on official language communities: an essential part of governmental expenditure reviews
Following the 2006 governmental expenditure review, the Commissioner recommended, in his 2007–2008 annual report, that the Secretary of the Treasury Board take the necessary steps “to ensure expenditure and similar reviews within the federal government are designed and conducted in full compliance with the commitments, duties and roles prescribed in Part VII of the Official Languages Act.”31
In February 2009, as part of the follow-up to this recommendation, the Commissioner was informed that measures had been taken to ensure that the expenditure review process takes into account the impact of budget decisions on official language communities.
In referring to the strategic reviews designed to assess whether programs are achieving their intended results, are effectively managed and are aligned with the priorities of Canadians, the government pointed out that departments have been instructed to discuss the impact of their activities on official language communities and to define strategies to mitigate this impact when necessary. The Commissioner is pleased to see that this approach has been adopted, and he reiterates the importance to consult communities in order to fully measure the impact of these budget decisions on their development. He will examine the adopted measures more closely in the coming months.
Th ere are already interdepartmental networks of Part VII coordinators in nearly all regions of the country, and Canadian Heritage’s role is to support them. However, to date, this work has not always been considered a priority and departmental resources to support these networks have been very limited in the regions.
This year, Canadian Heritage met with its regional senior managers to raise their awareness of the importance of prioritizing Part VII, of making clear commitments in their regional business plans and of more actively supporting federal institutions in their region. The first positive sign: the hiring at Canadian Heritage’s Prairie and Northern office of an analyst whose sole role will be interdepartmental coordination. The Commissioner encourages Canadian Heritage to pursue such initiatives and to increase its support in all regions of the country.
Finally, the Commissioner welcomed Canadian Heritage’s decision to undertake an extensive study on Part VII over the next year. The aim of this project is to prepare a report on the status of the implementation of Part VII by federal institutions and to identify best practices and limitations to Part VII’s implementation; to assess the state of Part VII’s implementation in federal institutions; and to recommend to federal institutions optimal mechanisms for official languages frameworks, support and accountability.
In his 2006–2007 annual report, the Commissioner discussed the mechanisms created by Canadian Heritage to ensure that federal institutions are accountable for their implementation of Part VII. The Commissioner recommended “that the Minister for Official Languages ensure Canadian Heritage review its accountability mechanisms for the implementation of sections 41 and 42 of the Act in order to place more emphasis on results.”32
The Commissioner is impatiently awaiting the results of the study conducted by Canadian Heritage. He hopes that this study will give the government avenues for ensuring that all federal institutions concerned can be made fully accountable for the measures they have taken in supporting the development of official language communities, and for the effectiveness of these measures.
6.2 Report card results
This year, the Commissioner evaluated 15 federal institutions (see Appendix D) for compliance with Part VII of the Act. To do this, he examined the following: the institution’s action plan for Part VII; the permanent mechanisms that were implemented to take into account the impact of its decisions and programs on Part VII; the efforts made to consult with official language communities; and measures taken by the institution.33
The results of this year’s report cards are similar to last year’s, and are generally good. The institutions have continued their efforts. They have even made progress in terms of promoting linguistic duality, an area where, as the Commissioner reported in 2007–2008, they had to show greater leadership.
A good number of institutions have begun to prepare activities for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. Others have taken advantage of the Jeux de l’Acadie or the 400th anniversary of Québec City to promote linguistic duality. Some have begun to develop relationships with educational institutions in official language communities in order to recruit staff or develop projects.
The report cards show that non-designated institutions (i.e. institutions that are not required to submit an action plan to Canadian Heritage or to report on progress in the application of Part VII) often produced an action plan and implemented mechanisms to address Part VII.
However, these institutions could further consult communities to learn more about their needs. By becoming closer to official language communities, non-designated institutions would be better positioned to launch initiatives or projects that would promote the communities’ long-term development.
The majority of designated institutions are doing well in all areas evaluated in the report card. Certain institutions would benefit from further consultation with communities in order to better target their interventions and to design projects that are better adapted to community needs.
6.3 Examples of positive measures
The Commissioner is pleased to see that certain institutions have taken positive measures in 2008–2009 to comply with Part VII of the Act.
6.3.1 Farm Credit Canada
To ensure that Part VII is respected, Farm Credit Canada followed up on the review of its policies and programs by creating a new investment fund, the Expression Fund. Launched in the fall of 2008, this $20,000 fund aims to help official language communities set up community centres, daycares and art galleries, and to organize events such as plays or concerts. This program was so successful that Farm Credit Canada plans to inject more money into it next year.34
CBC Charlottetown has, for some time already, been looking for ways to better represent all cultures of Prince Edward Island, particularly the Acadian community. Management had the idea to take advantage of an intercultural project funding program set up by CBC/Radio-Canada to create a series on the 250th anniversary of the Acadian Deportation. Two features on the subject were broadcast from École Évangéline in Abrams Village on December 12, 2008, on the CBC program Island Morning and the Radio-Canada program Le Réveil. This experience helped CBC journalists realize the importance of the French presence, an issue that could appear again in the network’s future programming.35
6.3.3 Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
In 2008, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs’ eight-year collaboration with the Association franco-yukonnaise, the Fédération franco-ténoise, the Association des francophones du Nunavut and the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada culminated in three projects geared towards promoting the economic development of the Yukon Francophone community. In the absence of an economic development agency for the North, such as Western Economic Diversification Canada, the three communities launched a common strategy to urge Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to fulfill this role. These projects, the first of their kind in the Canadian North, include the launch of a public awareness campaign on the presence of a sizeable Francophone community in the Yukon, the implementation of a project to attract Francophone tourists to the Yukon, and a feasibility study on the creation of a training centre where Yukon workers could acquire the language skills needed to advance in their careers.
6.3.4 The Prince Edward Island Federal Council
The Prince Edward Island Federal Council, together with the Société Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin, is currently working on a strategy for government and community capacity building through the establishment of joint projects. One component of this strategy is a pilot project aiming at creating opportunities for experienced federal employees to do a work placement in the Acadian and Francophone community, in order to provide immediate expertise to the community.
This is how a Veterans Affairs employee accepted an assignment with the Société Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin. This exchange will contribute to the development of the Prince Edward Island Acadian and Francophone community network, ensure that the employee maintains her language skills and help raise the federal administration’s awareness of the community’s needs and characteristics.
Furthermore, federal employees will soon have access to a project that combines classroom language training and practical French-language learning experiences within the Acadian and Francophone community’s organizations. This project is currently at the exploratory stage, and is the next step in the strategy.
As these examples of positive measures show, some federal institutions take action to make the vision set out in Part VII of the Act a reality. However, leaders of federal institutions cannot do all of the work alone; they will also need help from central agencies.
7.0 Governance: Essential to supporting leadership
The leaders who are called upon to achieve the vision of linguistic duality described in section 3 of this chapter cannot do so unless they are supported by an appropriate governance framework. Specifically, they cannot truly fulfill their role unless the central agencies responsible for coordinating the implementation of linguistic duality in the public service, under the Act, fulfill their own role. It is unfortunate that a number of recent changes made by the federal government have led to ambiguity in the official languages governance structure, and therefore weakened it.
On February 6, 2009, the Prime Minister of Canada announced the creation of the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, which reports to the Treasury Board Secretariat. Since March 2, 2009, the Office has been responsible for the duties of the now-abolished Canada Public Service Agency. The Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer also carries out the Treasury Board Secretariat’s former compensation and human resources management responsibilities.
With these transformations, the government is aiming to simplify its organizational structures, reduce overlapping responsibilities and confirm the role of the deputy ministers as those having primary responsibility for human resources management in the federal administration. While the objectives of this restructuring seem laudable, the Commissioner is concerned about its possible impact on official languages governance.
In fact, these constant shifts create a great deal of instability in human resources management and, by extension, in official languages management and coordination. While it was worthwhile to give this responsibility to a central agency, this latest change increases confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the various actors in official languages, which can no doubt negatively affect the implement-ation of initiatives in this area. The government must implement a stable structure that promotes strong official languages coordination within the federal administration, as well as greater accountability to parliamentarians.
In this context, it is unfortunate that the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008–2013: Acting for the Future does not propose ways to ensure that the Treasury Board Secretariat has the necessary resources to ensure a proper coordination of official languages within federal institutions.
The government must correct this by reiterating loud and clear that bilingualism in the public service remains an absolute priority. The government must also remind central agencies that they are still responsible for supporting federal institutions in the implementation of the Act, and that these agencies must continue to demonstrate leadership in this area.
While the role of deputy ministers in terms of having primary responsibility for human resources management has been confirmed, central agencies must not abdicate their role in terms of managing and coordinating official languages promotion efforts in the federal public service. In fact, this role should be strengthened so that it takes the new governance structure into account.
8.0 Conclusion: We must stay on course for linguistic equality
While the implementation of the Act has seen progress since the 1960s, it stalled over a decade ago. According to the 2008–2009 results of 15 federal institutions with “separate employer” status, there are still shortcomings in terms of in-person active offer and service delivery of equal quality in English and in French. The creation of a workplace where both English-speaking and French-speaking employees are comfortable using the official language of their choice has yet to be achieved. And federal institutions are still slow to adopt positive measures through which official language communities can enhance their vitality.
It is hoped that, in the coming years, the Government of Canada will work to remove the roadblocks that prevent the current situation from improving, and that prevent a vision of linguistic duality based on respect, dialogue, partnership and equality of Anglophones and Francophones from being achieved.
Specifically, the federal government should ensure that these transformations in the federal administration do not result, as has happened so often before, in losing ground for the language rights of Canadians, federal employees and official language communities.
The government should also make use of public service renewal to attract and train employees who can set an example and demonstrate leadership with respect to linguistic duality. It should also ensure that central agencies carry out their responsibilities to support all federal institutions in the implementation of the Act, and that they continue to assume their management, coordination, monitoring and accountability responsibilities in this area.
The measures taken in the areas of communications with and service to the public, language of work, and advancement and development of official language communities can sometimes make us lose sight of the ultimate objective: achieving linguistic equality in Canada. The place of bilingualism at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games will certainly attest to the federal government’s ability to harmonize these approaches in order to promote the country’s bilingual character.
1. From the statement of policy regarding bilingualism in the public service, made by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson on April 6, 1966. See Canada, Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons, Ottawa, Queen’s Printer, vol. IV, 1966, p. 3915.
2. The Parliamentary Resolution on Official Languages in the Public Service reiterated the principles of the 1969 Official Languages Act and confirmed the right of public servants to work in the official language of their choice, while subject to certain conditions.
3. To learn more about the official languages situation in the 1990s, see Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Service to the Public: A Study of Federal Offices Designated to Respond to the Public in both English and French, Ottawa, 1995. Between 1996 and 2000, other studies were conducted in the provinces and territories to follow up on this initial study. On this subject, see Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Studies. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.
9. Section 28 reads as follows: “Every federal institution that is required under this Part to ensure that any member of the public can communicate with and obtain available services from an offi ce or facility of that institution, or of another person or organization on behalf of that institution, in either offi cial language shall ensure that appropriate measures are taken, including the provision of signs, notices and other information on services and the initiation of communication with the public, to make it known to members of the public that those services are available in either offi cial language at the choice of any member of the public.”
11. Commissioner of Official Languages, Thoughts on Leadership, notes for an address given at Justice Canada’s 2008 Managers’ Forum, Ottawa, 2008. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.
12. Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, “Conclusion,” Government Transformations: The Impact on Canada’s Official Languages Program, Ottawa, March 1998. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.
13. Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, National Report on Service to the Public in English and French: Time for a Change in Culture, Ottawa, April 2001. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.
14. Section 25 reads as follows: “Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that, where services are provided or made available by another person or organization on its behalf, any member of the public in Canada or elsewhere can communicate with and obtain those services from that person or organization in either official language in any case where those services, if provided by the institution, would be required under this Part to be provided in either official language. ”
18. The authors noted, in a recent article describing Natural Resources Canada’s experience in launching a wiki, that offi cial languages was one of the seven barriers to the success of this type of project. See Marj Akerley, Anna Belanger and Peter Cowan, “Collaborative Revolution,” NetworkedGovernment.ca, October 2008. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.
19. Since 2001, the Commissioner of Official Languages has conducted a number of studies to identify the root of these shortcomings: Walking the Talk: Language of Work in the Federal Public Service (March 2004); Making It Real: Promoting Respectful Co-existence of the Two Official Languages at Work (April 2005); Towards Real Equality of Official Languages: Language of Work Within Federal Institutions of New Brunswick (June 2006). See Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Studies. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.
23. Since 2001, the Commissioner of Official Languages has conducted a number of studies on language of work: Walking the Talk: Language of Work in the Federal Public Service (March 2004); Making It Real: Promoting Respectful Co-existence of the Two Official Languages at Work (April 2005); Towards Real Equality of Offi cial Languages: Language of Work Within Federal Institutions of New Brunswick (June 2006). See Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Studies. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.
24. Commissioner of Official Languages, Notes for an Appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages, speech delivered June 9, 2008. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.
25. Treasury Board Secretariat, 2008–2009 Public Service Renewal Action Plan, Ottawa, 2008. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.
28. In 2008, the School of Public Service won a silver medal for “creating innovative learning solutions for maintaining language skills” at the GTEC (Government Technology Exhibition and Conference) Distinction 2008 Awards Program and Gala.
34. Farm Credit Canada (FCC), FCC Expression Fund. On-line version consulted March 31, 2009.