Introduction of the bill — Modernizing and Strengthening the Official Languages Act
The Official Languages Act (OLA) is the key instrument ensuring that Canada’s two official languages, English and French, are promoted and protected. The last major reform of the OLA dates back to 1988, and the intervening changes in Canada’s linguistic dynamics have ushered in new realities that necessitate changes to our language regime and its modernization.
Introduction of the bill
On June 15, the Government of Canada introduced a bill that would modernize the Official Languages Act to reflect a changing society. Indeed, linguistic realities are changing. More than ever, the exchange of digital content, such as information or culture, and the globalization of trade are favoring the use of the English language. In order for the French language to continue to flourish in Canada, it must be further protected and promoted. This is why this modernization aims to ensure that the vast set of government measures in support of official languages respond and adapt to the challenges these languages face in the various regions of the country. The challenges remain numerous, including the need to strengthen the use of French in multiple sectors, for example culture and diplomacy, the need to make learning French more accessible to Anglophones living in majority communities and the need to vigorously support institutions of official language minority communities in Canada.
The bill recognizes the diversity of provincial and territorial language regimes and focuses on learning opportunities of the first language in minority settings and on learning opportunities of a second official language in a majority situation to improve the rate of bilingualism among Canadians. The bill also seeks to protect institutions of official language minority communities both for the English-speaking minority in Quebec and for the French-speaking minority in the rest of the country, and proposes new ways to better protect French in Canada, including in Quebec. For example, the bill would grant the right to receive services and work in French federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence. Federally regulated private businesses in Quebec that do not choose to be subject to the Quebec’s Charter of the French Language will be regulated by the federal regime. The bill also provides for a periodic review of the OLA every 10 years.
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Expected results from the Act
The following results are expected further to the implementation of the Official Languages Act amendments:
- Canadians have better access to opportunities to learn their second official language.
- Federal institutions better understand their official languages obligations and fulfill those obligations to the benefit of all Canadians.
- A strengthened central agency role within the Treasury Board Secretariat, which will ensure the full implementation of the OLA and the compliance of federal institutions with their obligations.
- The Commissioner of Official Languages has new powers allowing him or her to more effectively support and promote the official languages, including the power to order federal institutions and other entities subject to the OLA to take such measures as the Commissioner deems appropriate to remedy violations identified in respect of certain parts of the Act.
- The vitality of official language minority communities is enhanced through the protection of their institutions across the country.
- The French language is better supported across Canada, including in Quebec, and on the international scene.
- Certain federally regulated private businesses have new obligations involving the right to work in French and to receive service in French in Quebec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence.
If the bill is passed by Parliament, the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages will begin the process of adopting two sets of regulations. The first will cover how federal institutions will take positive measures to enhance the vitality of Canada’s French and English speaking minorities and support their development, as well as fostering the full recognition and use of French and English in Canadian society. The second will frame the new obligations of federally regulated private businesses. In addition, the Government of Canada will implement administrative measures accompanying the modernized Act.
The bill is an important step that testifies of the Government of Canada’s efforts to modernize the OLA and its related instruments. The Government of Canada will continue to develop administrative measures in support of official languages in Canada, as indicated in the vision document entitled “English and French: Towards a Substantive Equality of Official Languages in Canada.”
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