House of Commons - Standing Committee on Official Languages

Speech

Opening Statement for

The Honourable Judy M. Foote, PC, MP
Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Before the House of Commons
Standing Committee on Official Languages

Ottawa, Ontario
February 9, 2017

Check against Delivery

Mr. Chairman, Committee members, good morning.

I am pleased to be here to discuss the Government’s response to this Committee’s Study of the Translation Bureau. With me is my Deputy Minister, Marie Lemay.

The Translation Bureau is a unique Canadian institution. Its founding in 1934 was an affirmation of Canada’s reality and the rightful place of two languages. From the beginning, the work of the Bureau has been invaluable in fostering respect for our linguistic duality.

Generations of linguistic professionals have dedicated their special skills and talents to helping transform the federal government’s capacity to serve Canadians in the language of their choice. This legacy of pride in their place and the quality of their work has been taken up by today’s generation of employees who are making a contribution that is much larger than simply words. 

I am committed to restoring pride and honour to the Translation Bureau. This is an organization that actively contributes to supporting linguistic duality within the Government of Canada.

Mr. Chairman, the mandate of the Bureau is as important as it has ever been. Even though the Bureau’s employees have made and continue to make an outstanding contribution, I think that their work has not always been given the recognition it deserves. A new approach is long overdue.

As a Champion of Official Languages, I am determined to lead by example by reinforcing the value of bilingualism to Canadians. I am committed to renewing the Translation Bureau as a Centre of Excellence ready to embrace innovation, adopt leading-edge practices, and recruit the best in class. 

As home to one of the largest French-speaking populations in the world, Canada is a world leader in maintaining the highest standards in terminology, translation and interpretation. 

I am grateful to the Committee for having undertaken this study and for formulating your recommendations. Your work has highlighted some of the key issues around the Official Languages Act and the role of the Translation Bureau in support of Canada’s linguistic duality.

Official Languages Act

With respect to roles and responsibilities, the cornerstone of federal language policy, the Official Languages Act, recognizes English and French as equal languages in all federal institutions and obliges these institutions to do their part in promoting linguistic duality.

Further, the Act clearly assigns specific responsibilities to Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of Canadian Heritage. Minister Brison and Minister Joly have met with your Committee to discuss those responsibilities as well as the commitments in their mandate letters regarding official languages.

In November, Ministers Brison and Joly announced a review of the Official Languages Regulations related to communications with, and services to, the public. In her appearance before you, Minister Joly described the consultations with Canadians that she is leading with respect to this review.

I work closely with both of my colleagues to support their efforts and ensure my department’s actions are complementary.

The Translation Bureau gives meaning to the Official Languages Act by providing high-quality translation, revision and interpretation services for Parliament, the judiciary and federal departments and agencies. It is also the terminology authority within the federal government.

Since our response to your report was tabled, I have requested that officials at the Translation Bureau make progress in relation to your recommendations. Today I am announcing further measures that are consistent with the direction and spirit of your report.

One of those actions concerns the issue of optionality. The Translation Bureau manages, in volume terms, 80% of the federal government’s translation needs.

The Common Services Policy set by Treasury Board specifies that organizations such as the Translation Bureau must conduct periodic reviews to assess whether their services should be optional or mandatory. These reviews are done in collaboration with the Treasury Board Secretariat.

I have written to Minister Brison requesting his support in considering reverting to a mandatory service delivery model for the Translation Bureau as a complement to other initiatives in support of official languages.

I now turn to other measures that I have instructed my department to take.

A hiring process is underway for a new Chief Executive Officer, who should be in place by the end of March. The process was open to the public and promoted to the linguistic profession, and the selection committee will include an external expert from academia.

The priorities of the CEO in the first few months on the job will focus on quality, hiring and training, which align with the Committee’s concerns. I will take a few minutes to address each of these priorities.

Quality

The Translation Bureau has a strong reputation for excellence, not only across the Government of Canada, but internationally.

The Bureau has developed a quality framework that includes a quality control system, a rigorous process to recruit world-class employees and freelancers, and world-class training programs for its linguistic experts. I support this process.

Therefore, to further guarantee the quality of its linguistic services, the Bureau is creating the new position of Chief Quality Officer. This position will be held by a language professional who will report directly to the Bureau’s CEO.

The Chief Quality Officer will oversee all Translation Bureau activities affecting quality and take part in decision-making on training, technology, staffing and other issues. 

In addition, the Bureau is setting up a service line that departments can call to obtain advice on linguistic services. Callers will be able to get information on things like their obligations under the Official Languages Act and standard clauses they can use in their contracts.

Renewal and hiring

In recent years, loss of staff through attrition has created the need to manage lost corporate knowledge and expertise. 

I assure all Committee members that I take this matter seriously. Our mandate is to provide federal departments with access to high-quality linguistic services. Gaps in capacity put this mandate at risk, and we are taking action and monitoring the situation.

This year, the Bureau hired 19 new employees to provide linguistic services in specific domains, such as parliamentary proceedings, national protection and meteorology.

Aligned with the Prime Minister’s Youth Strategy and as part of the Government of Canada’s ongoing engagement with students and universities, the Bureau commits to hiring a minimum of 50 students per year in each of the next five years.

As well, ongoing projects are bringing experienced professionals together with the next generation of translators, interpreters and terminologists. And initiatives are underway to increase the number of interpreter graduates from recognized universities to support additional hiring by both the Bureau and industry.

We are restoring a co-op program. Many Canadian universities, including the University of Moncton, the University of Montréal and the University of Ottawa, have already indicated their interest in participating.

Regional issues

The Bureau’s regional presence is important, providing key expertise to better understand the specialized needs of Canada’s diverse regions.

It will continue to operate its network of regional offices, which employ about one-quarter (317) of the Bureau’s 1,300 (1,297) employees. As well, there are staff on site at certain military bases, such as CFB Gagetown and CFB Borden.

Public service awareness

Mr. Chair, the Translation Bureau’s role in helping parliamentarians and the federal government to listen to and communicate with Canadians is critical.

To increase awareness of the Bureau’s role, and in line with a Committee recommendation, the Bureau is collaborating with the Canada School of Public Service to include this information in courses offered to all new public servants. The new curriculum will be rolled out this spring.

Language Comprehension Tool

I now turn to the Language Comprehension Tool.

With your study, the Committee advanced an important conversation about how official languages and innovation intersect. The Government agrees with your recommendations regarding the Language Comprehension Tool and has acted on all of them. A plan was developed to ensure the content in the tool is regularly reviewed by professional translators. The terms of use have also been modified.

As we embrace innovation, we must do so in a way that supports and advances our government’s priorities related to official languages. 

The online Language Portal of Canada is an example of how technology can be used to provide accessible, innovative tools to help Canadians, from coast to coast to coast, communicate in English and French.

Interpretation services

I now turn to the Bureau’s interpretation services, in particular, efforts to put in place a Request for Standing Offer for hiring freelance interpreters.

Concerns have been expressed that the new approach does not respect official languages, in particular the quality of our services.

Following careful consideration, I have cancelled the Request for Standing Offer. I have asked officials to reset and develop a new approach based on further consultations with representatives from across the interpretation industry.

Mr. Chairman, any new endeavour in this area must reflect our commitment to official languages and the quality of our services. In the meantime, I assure you and Committee members that all interpreters hired by the Bureau are fully accredited based on a world-renowned, proven accreditation process.

Conclusion

We are proudly the party of official bilingualism, and will continue to promote, support and defend bilingualism in Canada.

As we mark Canada’s 150th birthday and the things that make our country great, your report is a reminder of the Translation Bureau’s contribution to linguistic duality in the public service and Parliament, and ultimately for all Canadians.

The measures we are taking will enhance the Translation Bureau’s ability to provide high-quality linguistic services, as it has done for over 80 years.

I am committed to work with this Committee, my Cabinet colleagues and everyone who is interested to ensure the Translation Bureau continues to deliver on its mandate effectively.

Thank you. I am now happy to answer your questions.


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