President of the Treasury Board Appearance OLLO Study on the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations and directives made under it, within those institutions subject to the Act

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1. Opening Remarks

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, it’ s a great privilege to be with you today to discuss the important work that the Treasury Board Secretariat is doing to strengthen and promote Canada’ s official languages within the federal public service and across the country.

As you mentioned, I’ m accompanied by Mireille Laroche, Assistant Deputy Minister, People and Culture, and Carsten Quell, Executive Director, Official Languages Centre of Excellence, from the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer.

Before I continue, I’ d like to sincerely thank the members of this committee for their work in helping to implement the Official Languages Act and promote our official languages in our legislation, regulations, programs and services. This is important work and I’ m grateful for your commitment to these issues.

Mr. Chair, Canada’ s official languages are a defining characteristic of our identity as a country. They are central to our history. They reinforce our values of diversity and inclusion and contribute to social cohesion and resilience.

As a proud Franco-Ontarian, I can say that I care passionately about our two official languages and about defending the interests of francophone minority communities. Our two official languages represent us, make us vibrant and allow us to thrive.

Our language is our identity, and it helps us flourish not only locally, but also internationally. Canadians want us to do more to ensure the sustainability and vitality of both official languages and to strengthen French across the country, so that ultimately our communities remain strong and vibrant.

The Commissioner of Official Languages recently released a public opinion survey that indicates support for official languages, at 87%, remains solid across Canada.

In the federal public service, we’ ve seen improvements on all fronts. Since 2000, we’ ve seen increases in the proportion of bilingual positions, bilingual employees and employees who provide services to the public in both official languages.

The federal government recognizes the importance of our two official languages and understands that it has a responsibility to support and defend French throughout Canada, including in Quebec, while promoting the rights of English-speaking communities in that province.

Under the Official Languages Act, the Treasury Board is responsible for the general direction and coordination of government policies and programs relating to the implementation of those parts of the act that deal with: communications with and services to the public (Part IV); language of work in federal institutions (Part V); and participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians in the federal public service (Part VI).

These powers are exercised by the secretariat, which establishes and interprets official languages policies, directives and regulations and ensures that federal institutions comply with them.

That is why, in my mandate letter, the Prime Minister indicated that I must continue to ensure that Canadians in all regions of the country can receive services from federal institutions in the official language of their choice, no matter where they are in the country.

He also asked me to support the Minister of Official Languages in fully implementing measures outlined in the white paper, English and French: Towards a Substantive Equality of Official Languages in Canada that are related to the public service. As you know, the white paper was released in February 2021, and it outlines a series of legislative, regulatory and administrative changes affecting Canada’ s official languages regime.

Mr. Chair, on June 15 of last year, the government introduced amendments to strengthen the Official Languages Act in the form of Bill C-32, An Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act. However, this bill died on the Order Paper when the last election was called. As a result, the new government has committed to reintroducing a bill to modernize the Official Languages Act.

The fact is that the original Official Languages Act was passed more than 50 years ago, long before the digital age, and it needs to be updated to address the needs and concerns of the various language communities across our country and to reflect the realities of the 21st century with respect to official languages in today’ s Canada. By doing so now, with a real commitment, we’ re ensuring that all federal institutions can take steps to strengthen the vitality of our anglophone and francophone minority communities, and to promote and protect the equality of our two official languages.

A case in point is Canada’ s new Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations. These new regulations are an important step forward for inclusion. When determining significant demand at a federal office, we will go beyond considering someone’ s first language. Anyone who uses a minority official language at home will be considered when calculating the demand for services. This means that for the first time, bilingual families and immigrants are included in our calculation.

Equally as important, federal offices in the vicinity of the 900 minority-language schools across the country will have to offer their services in both English and French. Once the linguistic data from last year’ s census are available, we will apply the new regulations to the approximately 10,000 federal offices where this applies. We expect that around 700 offices that are currently unilingual will become bilingual. This is an important step in raising the bilingual federal presence across the country.

The white paper called to reinforce Treasury Board-led monitoring of federal institutions’ compliance. That will allow us to make further progress in fostering a workplace that supports the use of both English and French across the public service. That enhances services to Canadians in both official languages. It also helps ensure employees can continue to work in the official language of their choice regardless of where they are working from.

As our new legislation modernizing the Official Languages Act is now on the Notice Paper, it is protected by parliamentary privilege, so unfortunately I can’ t speak to it at this time. However, I look forward to sharing the contents of the bill as soon as it is tabled in the House of Commons.

In strengthening Canada’ s official languages law, we’ re building on a solid foundation.

Now, the president’ s Annual Report on Official Languages to Parliament shows that we continue to make progress in key areas. For example, the capacity of the public service to provide bilingual services has increased year over year. There are also more bilingual supervisory positions, more bilingual incumbents who meet the language requirements of their position and more positions that require a superior level of bilingualism.

Further, the 2019-20 edition of the report shows a slight increase in the institution’ s overall compliance with policy requirements compared with the previous year. There was, however, a slight drop in compliance for the language of work requirements, such as access to work documents and employees’ perception that senior management interacts with them in both official languages.

So, Mr. Chair, there is progress but we still have more work to do.

This decade has had an incredibly difficult start, but this is also the moment to advance a more resilient, inclusive and stronger country for everyone. To do that, all Canadians — French, English, Black, Indigenous or racialized individuals, members of the LGBTQ2 community and persons with disabilities — in every region of the country need to see themselves reflected in their government’ s priorities and work. Supporting and championing our official languages, and the openness and respect for differences that grows from that, helps us do just that.

Thank you for hearing me and I would now be pleased to answer any questions you might have. Thank you.

Context

In this section
  1. TBS roles and responsibilities with respect to official languages

2. TBS roles and responsibilities with respect to official languages

Issue

Roles and responsibilities with respect to official languages under the Official Languages Act are shared and assigned to key federal institutions.

Response

  • The Treasury Board Secretariat shares responsibility for the implementation of the Official Languages Act with other federal institutions.
  • The Treasury Board is responsible for policies that help ensure compliance with obligations regarding communications with and services to the public. In addition, we monitor compliance with language of work obligations and the equitable participation of Anglophones and Francophones in the public service.
  • Under their respective responsibilities, the Treasury Board Secretariat and Canadian Heritage table annual reports in Parliament on the delivery of official languages programs by federal institutions.

Background

  • Treasury Board Secretariat:
    • Responsible for the overall direction and coordination of Government of Canada policies and programs related to communications with and services to the public (Part IV); language of work (Part V); and the equitable participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians in federal institutions (Part VI).
    • Reports to Parliament on the execution of official languages programs in federal institutions.
  • Canadian Heritage:
    • Responsible for coordinating Part VII of the Official Languages Act. Part VII of the Act assigns responsibilities to Canadian Heritage, particularly with respect to positive measures that must be taken by all federal institutions to support the vitality of official language minority communities and the advancement of English and French in Canadian society.
    • Responsible for developing and coordinating the implementation of the Action Plan for Official Languages – 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future.
  • Justice Canada
    • Provides legal advice to the government, represents it before the courts, drafts legislation and regulations in both official languages, and promotes access to justice in both official languages.
  • Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages – Ombudsman’ s role:
    • The Commissioner ensures that the language rights of Canadians are respected. As an ombudsman, the Commissioner receives, assesses and, if necessary, investigates complaints. He tables an annual report in Parliament that addresses current issues, makes findings and issues recommendations.
  • Public Service Commission:
    • Responsible for language assessment and for the implementation of the Public Service Official Languages Exclusion Approval Order. This order is a mechanism for appointing a unilingual person to a bilingual position, in which the unilingual person commits to become bilingual. It provides a fair balance between ensuring that appointees meet the official language requirements of bilingual positions and promoting access for unilingual Canadians to bilingual positions in the public service.
  • Canada School of Public Service:
    • Since the responsibility for language training was transferred from the School to deputy heads in 2012, the School now only provides tools to maintain second language skills and prepare for second language evaluations.
  • Translation Bureau:
    • Provides translation, editing, interpretation and terminology services to federal institutions and Parliament.

Mandate Letter (Official Languages)

In this section
  1. Official languages in the public service

3. Official languages in the public service

Issue

Your mandate and current legislative responsibilities

Response

  • My mandate letter confirms my responsibility to:
    • continue to ensure that Canadians across the country can receive services from federal institutions in both official languages; and
    • assist the Minister of Official Languages in fully implementing the measures for the public service set out in the White Paper on official languages reform.
  • My mandate letter also speaks to our priority of building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce. One of the measures announced in the White Paper on reform Official Languages is a new framework for second language training in the public service. This framework will be one that is adapted to the needs of employment equity groups and in particular, Indigenous public servants.
  • Our official languages must be strengthened in a way that is harmonious and complementary with all aspects of diversity in our country.

Background

Treasury Board’ s current role with respect to official languages

Under the Official Languages Act, the Treasury Board is responsible for the overall development and coordination of federal policies and programs for the applications of the parts of the Official Languages Act that concern:

  • Communications with and services to the public (Part IV);
  • Language of work in federal institutions (Part V);
  • Participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians in the federal public service (Part VI).

The Treasury Board Secretariat is responsible for implementing these responsibilities. It applies the principles, directives and regulations relating to official languages and ensures that federal institutions follow them.

Mandate letter commitments concerning diversity, inclusion and official languages

The mandate letter for the President of TB includes a commitment to support the Minister for Official Languages to fully implement the measures set out in the White Paper on Official Languages Reform. One of these measures is the creation of a new second language training framework tailored to the needs of employment equity groups and, in particular, to Indigenous public servants. The framework would provide these employees with training adapted to their needs so that they can contribute fully to the public service. This includes language classes that are specifically conceived for the needs of Indigenous learners.

The mandate letter commitments with respect to diversity include two commitments that relate to official languages:

  • language programs for racialized employees; and
  • language training for postsecondary students to remove barriers to recruitment.

With respect to language programs, each deputy minister can already set aside a portion of these programs to racialized employees—this is already the case in some departments.

For students, there are already public resources for official language learning, such as the Mauril app, as well as the resources available on the Language Portal of Canada. TBS has initiated discussions with the Public Service Commission, the Canada School of Public Service, Canadian Heritage (Mauril) and Public Services and Procurement Canada (Language Portal) to determine whether a common approach is possible.

Under the leadership of Canadian Heritage, the government is implementing the Indigenous Languages Act which sets out considerations for the provision of services in Indigenous languages.

Official languages identified in other ministers’ mandate letters:

  • The Minister of Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has a duty to:
    • work with official language minority communities across the country, in particular to support their vitality;
    • continue to fully implement the reforms set out in the White Paper, English and French: Towards a Substantive Equality of Official Languages in Canada, taking into consideration the pressing need to protect and promote French;
    • make it a priority to introduce the proposed Act;
    • create more opportunities for young Canadians to access French immersion classes.
  • The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has a duty to continue working with Quebec to support the French-language knowledge of immigrants in Quebec, respecting provincial jurisdiction and complementing existing measures, and continue to implement an ambitious national strategy to support Francophone immigration across the country.

The Official Languages Act (Act) is a quasi-constitutional act that seeks to:

  • ensure respect for English and French and ensure equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in federal institutions;
  • support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities;
  • advance the equal status and use of English and French.

The last major revision of the Act dates back to 1988; the social, demographic and technological realities of Canada have changed considerably since then and the government has committed to reintroduce a bill that reflects these realities.

Official Languages Act Modernization

In this section
  1. Strengthen and expand the powers of the Treasury Board
  2. Other reform intentions: Powers of the Commissioner, federally regulated private businesses, Part VII Regulation and rights holders
  3. Recommendations of the OLLO committee: Modernization of the Official Languages Act

4. Strengthen and expand the powers of the Treasury Board

Issue

The Government proposes to strengthen and expand the powers of the Treasury Board, including compliance monitoring of federal institutions.

Response

  • As stated in the White Paper on official languages reform, the government is committed to strengthening the role of the Treasury Board.
  • Bill C-32 reflected this intent by not only empowering but requiring the Treasury Board to monitor and audit the compliance of federal institutions and evaluating the effectiveness of federal official languages policies.
  • We look forward to tabling the new legislation shortly to confirm our official languages commitments.

Background

  • The White Paper entitled “English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada” (February 2021) sets out four proposals for legislative reform. The first deals directly with the powers of the Treasury Board. The following three are the responsibility of the Minister of Official Languages and the Department of Canadian Heritage:
    1. Strengthen and expand the powers of the Treasury Board, notably the power to monitor compliance with Part VII of the Act, by providing the Treasury Board Secretariat with the necessary resources so that it can assume the role of a central body responsible for ensuring the compliance of federal institutions, and by examining cases where permissive provisions would be made mandatory.
    2. Assign the strategic role of horizontal coordination to a single minister in order to ensure effective governance and implementation.
    3. Create the authority to enact policies, directives and other policy instruments to clarify guidelines on positive measures taken by federal institutions under Part VII of the Act.
    4. Create an obligation for the Government to periodically prepare a government-wide federal strategy (action plan) on official languages that would set out the Government’ s main priorities and their funding, and that would promote a clearer overall direction.
  • All of these proposals were translated into provisions in Bill C-32, tabled in the House of Commons in June 2021 and died on the Order Paper in August 2021.

5. Other reform intentions: Powers of the Commissioner, federally regulated private businesses, Part VII Regulation and rights holders

Issue

Committed to modernizing the Official Languages Act, the government has stated several reform intentions, some of which are of interest to the Treasury Board Secretariat.

Response

  • The Treasury Board Secretariat is collaborating with Canadian Heritage, the Department of Justice, and other departments to modernize the Official Languages Act.
  • We are following closely all aspects of the reform of the official languages regime, as they could have an impact not only on public servants and federal institutions, but also on communities and their ability to work and live in the official language of their choice.

Background

There are many reform intentions, including proposals of particular interest to the Treasury Board Secretariat.

Strengthen the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages

  • As part of measures to improve the compliance of federal institutions, some powers fall under the responsibility of TBS and others under the Commissioner of Official Languages. These powers are and will continue to be complementary and will contribute to greater compliance by federal institutions. TBS is responsible for ensuring the compliance of federal institutions as a central agency. The Commissioner receives and independently investigates complaints as an agent of Parliament. He makes recommendations that address both specific instances of non-compliance and areas of systemic improvement.

Federally regulated private businesses

  • In the White Paper entitled “Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada,” the government committed to acting on federally regulated private businesses (FRPB) to promote and protect the use of French as a language of service and work in Quebec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence.
  • FRPBs are not subject to the language regime, with the exception of former Crown corporations, which are already subject to the Official Languages Act (OLA) by their enabling legislation, and some FRPBs that have voluntarily obtained a francization certificate under the Charter of the French Language in Quebec.

Part VII Regulations - Compliance and Positive Actions

  • Part VII of the Act calls on federal institutions to ensure that positive measures are taken to implement the commitment to promote English and French in Canadian society and the vitality of minority communities.
  • Stakeholders, including the Commissioner, expect the government to enact regulations that would set out the conditions for positive measures.
  • While Canadian Heritage is leading the file, the reform intentions propose that the Treasury Board Secretariat be given responsibility to monitor the compliance of federal institutions with the commitment to take positive measures and the development of regulations. TBS would be involved in the adoption of this regulation.

Rights holders

  • Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants certain Canadian parents the right to have their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in the minority official language in their province or territory of residence, from public funds.
  • In the reform document entitled “English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada,” the government committed to improving data collection during the census to establish the number of children whose parents have the right to enroll them at a minority official language school (rights holders) under section 23 of the Canadian Charter.
  • Canadian Heritage is leading this file in close collaboration with Statistics Canada.

6. Recommendations of the OLLO committee: Modernization of the Official Languages Act

Issue

On June 13, 2019, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages (OLLO) released its fifth and final report on the modernization of the Official Languages Act entitled Modernizing the Official Languages Act: The Views of Federal Institutions and Recommendations.

Response

  • The government has taken careful note of your committee's reports. They have informed the government's thinking, including the development of the White Paper that provides an overview of our intentions for the reform of the Act.
  • It contains measures related to bilingualism in the public service that address the issues observed by the committee, such as the need to provide more opportunities for language training to employees.
  • That’ s why the White Paper proposes the creation of a new second language training framework for the public service.

Background

In 2017, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages began a review to consider the perspective of Canadians on modernizing the Official Languages Act (the Act).

The review led to the creation of five reports summarizing the comments made during the committee’ s cross-Canada consultations: The Views of Young Canadians, published in February 2018; The Views of Official Language Minority Communities, published in October 2018; The Views of Stakeholders Who Have Witnessed the Evolution of the Act, published in February 2019, and The Views of the Justice Sector, published in April 2019.

The last of these five reports, entitled: Modernizing the Official Languages Act: The Views of Federal Institutions and Recommendations, contains 20 recommendations for a modernized Act.

Nearly half the recommendations touch on areas where Treasury Board Secretariat has some responsibility, including:

  • Central agency:
    • To assign responsibility for the entire administration and coordination of the Act to a central agency, specifically the Treasury Board.
  • Consultation with OLMCs:
    • Establish the obligation of federal institutions to consult with Official Languages Minority Communities (OLMCs) in the development of policies and programs and consider the creation of an advisory committee.
    • Provide for the adoption of a tool to apply an "Official Language Lens" to policies, programs, initiatives or services implemented by federal institutions, based on the Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) model.
  • Part IV of the Act – Communications with and Services to the Public:
    • Creating a regulation on active offer.
    • To recognize in a regulations on Part IV that the offer of communications and services to the public in both official languages contributes to the vitality of official language minority communities.
    • Extend the federal government’ s communications and services obligations to the public to private carriers, including air, marine, rail, and road carriers.
  • Part V of the Act - Language of Work:
    • Establish/raise second language proficiency to CBC for deputy heads/managers.
    • Make regulations on Part V that would clarify the obligations of deputy heads and managers.
    • Provide to employees opportunities for language training.
  • Part VI of the Act – Equitable representation of English- and French-speaking Canadians in the public service:
    • Ensure more equitable representation of English- and French-speaking Canadians in federal institutions located in the regions.

Annual Reports on Official Languages

In this section
  1. 2019-2020 Official Languages Annual Report of the President of the Treasury Board
  2. Bilingual capacity and bilingualism in the workplace: statistics and trends
  3. Commissioner of Official Languages 2020-2021 Annual Report
  4. Commissioner of Official Languages Report – The Impact of Emergency Situations on Official Languages

7. 2019-2020 Official Languages Annual Report of the President of the Treasury Board

Issue

What does the 2019-2020 Annual Report from the President of the Treasury Board tell us about the state of official languages within government?

Response

  • The annual report provides a regular update to parliamentarians and Canadians on the government’ s performance in relation to official languages.
  • The report indicates that the public service maintains its capacity to provide services in both official languages to the public and to its employees and that it fosters a bilingual workplace.
  • The modernization of the Official Languages Act now gives us an opportunity to strengthen the language skills of public servants so that we can continue to provide quality services to Canadians in both official languages.

Background

The 2019-2020 report was tabled on December 16, 2021. It reports on the amendments to the Official Languages Regulations, communications with and services to the public, language of work, the 2019 Public Service Employees Survey, a follow up to the Report on Language of Work, participation of French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians, human resources management, official languages governance, monitoring, official languages priorities of federal institutions, and Treasury Board Secretariat activities.

Overall, one can observe stability and a solid performance in official languages matters for the federal public service in the fiscal year 2019-2020.

  • English and French speakers are equitably represented in the workforce of institutions subject to the Act across the country. The core public administration maintains its capacity to provide services in both official languages to the public and to its employees. While the percentage of bilingual positions dipped slightly in comparison to the previous fiscal year (42.4% as of March 31, 2020, compared to 42.7% the previous year), the rate of incumbents who meet the language requirements of their positions has increased (95.6%, a 0.8% increase over the previous year), and more positions require the highest level of bilingualism (36.2%, a 0.7% increase over the previous year).
  • In terms of using official languages in the workplace, the perception of public servants is now more positive in regions designated bilingual for language of work purposes.
  • Within the core public administration (data from March 31, 2020):
    • 43.5% of public servants are bilingual (91,834 people).
    • 42.4% of positions are bilingual (89,632 positions).
    • 95.6% of incumbents in bilingual positions meet the language requirements of their position (85,676 of 89,632 bilingual positions).
    • 36.2% of bilingual positions require the highest level of competency in oral interaction (32,435 positions).
    • 49.7% of positions require a knowledge of English (105,062 positions).
    • 3.4% of positions require a knowledge of French (7,191 positions).
    • 4.4% of positions require a knowledge of English or French (9,334 positions).
      • The proportions of French-speaking public servants (25.6%) and English‑speaking public servants (74.4%) are representative of the Canadian population (respectively 22.8% and 75.4% according to the 2016 Census).
    • The Treasury Board Secretariat is working with federal institutions to help them meet their obligations through policy development, sharing of best practices, advice, guidance, data analysis and surveys, and the distribution of tools and reference materials.

8. Bilingual capacity and bilingualism in the workplace: statistics and trends

Issue

The bilingual capacity of the federal public service is improving.

Response

  • The government is committed to a bilingual federal public service and we continue to make progress in this regard. The number and proficiency level of bilingual positions has continued to increase year after year.
  • According to the Public Service Employee Survey (2020), 9 out of 10 employees say that they feel free to communicate with their immediate supervisor in the official language of their choice.
  • That being said, bilingual capacity needs to be strengthened further and for this reason we will pay particular attention to language training.

Background

  • Compared to the data from 2000, we see a net improvement on all fronts: In 200, 35.3% of positions in the core public administration were bilingual and the percentage of incumbents who met the language requirements of their position was 82.8%. Only 25.4% of bilingual positions required level C proficiency in oral interaction.
  • In 2020, 42.4% of positions in the core public administration were bilingual, the percentage of incumbents who met the language requirements of their position was 95.6%. 36.2% of bilingual positions required level C proficiency for oral interaction.
  • Other 2020 data:
    • 95.8% of employees who provided services to the public in English and French met the language requirements of their position and 41.6% of those positions require level C in oral interaction.
    • 95.5% of incumbents in bilingual position related to personal and central services (internal services) met the language requirements of their position and 36.5% of those positions required level C in oral interaction.
    • 95.9% of incumbents in bilingual supervisory positions met the language requirements of their position and 60.7% of those positions require level C in oral interaction.
  • According to the 2020 Public Service Employee Survey, across the public service:
    • Over 90% of public servants, both Anglophone and Francophone said that material and tools provided for their work, including software and other automated tools, are available in the official language of their choice.
    • Over 70% of public servants, both Anglophone and Francophone, say that the senior executives in their department or agency use both official languages in their interactions with employees.
    • Four out of five employees indicate that a lack of access to language training did not have a negative impact on their career advancement in the public service.
  • According to the 2019 Public Service Employee Survey, across the public service:
    • 95% of Anglophones and 89% of Francophones said they felt free to communicate with their immediate supervisor in the official language of their choice.
    • 72% of Francophones said they felt free using the official language of their choice when drafting documents, including emails.

9. Commissioner of Official Languages 2020-2021 Annual Report

Issue

The Commissioner of Official Languages published his 2020-2021 Annual Report on June 1, 2021. The report presents three themes:

  • Pandemic: Compliance, Complaints and Challenges for the Public Service
  • Communities: Impact of the Pandemic, Barriers to Education and Linguistic Insecurity
  • Modernization of the Official Languages Act and the Official Languages Maturity Model

Response

  • Our two official languages are a key component of our identity and remain a priority for the Government of Canada as much as the health, safety and well-being of Canadians.
  • We recognize our oversight role as essential to compliance and provide ongoing support to federal institutions.
  • We will continue to work with the Office of the Commissioner on the best ways to support federal institutions.

Background

The purpose of the Commissioner's annual reports is to inform the public and Parliament of how the federal government is fulfilling its responsibilities under the Official Languages Act (the Act) and to report on the activities of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

In the report, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages indicates that it received a total of 1,870 admissible complaints under the Official Languages Act, in 2020-2021. Of these complaints, 138 are related to the COVID‑19 pandemic. The majority of these complaints relate to communications with the public or the delivery of government services.

  • There are three recommendations in the report, none of which are explicitly directed at Treasury Board:
    • To parliamentarians: to collaborate on the adoption of official languages legislation;
    • To the Prime Minister: to examine with his ministers the security issues and emergency measures mentioned in the Commissioner’ s special report.
    • To the Clerk of the Privy Council: to ensure that concrete measures are taken to a) address the issues identified in the Commissioner's report on section 91; b) place official languages at the heart of public service reform; and c) put in place strategies to combat linguistic insecurity.

The recommendations echo and support those already made in the Commissioner's previous special reports on emergencies, section 91 and linguistic insecurity.

While the second and third recommendations are not explicitly directed at Treasury Board, they do involve TBS responsibilities, including actions being undertaken by OCHRO in relation to section 91 of the Act, linguistic insecurity and emergency communications.

10. Commissioner of Official Languages Report – The Impact of Emergency Situations on Official Languages

Issue

On October 29, 2020, the Commissioner of Official Languages released his report entitled: A Matter of Respect and Safety: The Impact of Emergency Situations on Official Languages. The report suggests ways of ensuring greater compliance with official languages obligations in emergency situations, particularly in relation to communications with the public.

Response

  • Canadians are entitled to communicate with the government and to receive services from it in both official languages.
  • TBS is working with the departments responsible for the health and safety of Canadians to develop a strategy to ensure bilingual communications in emergency and crisis situations.
  • We are determined to make sure that communications are of equal quality in both official languages at all times.

Background

The report is based on an analysis of complaints received between the start of the pandemic and October 2020 (100 complaints, 72 of which were receivable) and the results of an online consultation in the summer of 2020, in which over 2,000 respondents shared their experience with official languages in emergency situations.

Of the 2,228 respondents of the COL’ s questionnaire:

  • 17% noted difficulties accessing information on public health and safety in the official language of their choice during past emergencies; and
  • 24% noted similar difficulties during the current pandemic.

The report documents perceived shortcomings in crisis situations at the federal and provincial government levels. At the federal level, the lack of communications with the public in both official languages (e.g., during press conferences with the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada) and internal communications with federal employees in designated bilingual regions are noted.

The report contains three recommendations, including one concerning the Treasury Board:

That the Treasury Board of Canada, with the support from deputy heads and heads of communications, implement a strategy within 18 months of the date of this report in order to ensure that:

  • the formal communications plans and procedures for emergency or crisis preparedness of each federal institution are reviewed;
  • where appropriate, formal plans and procedures are amended to include clear directives to ensure that communications of equal quality are issued in both official languages simultaneously in emergency or crisis situations;
  • all managers and public servants involved in emergency and crisis communications are trained in how to implement the plans and directives regarding emergency communications in both official languages; and
  • the effectiveness of the measures taken by federal institutions in response to this recommendation is assessed.

The other two recommendations concern the Translation Bureau and the Privy Council Office.

TBS has created an interdepartmental working group on bilingual communications in emergency or crisis situations with the mandate of examining the Commissioner’ s recommendations, identifying practices and challenges in federal institutions, and developing a strategy and action plan. The working group includes representatives from TBS, the Privy Council Office, Canadian Heritage, Public Safety Canada and the Translation Bureau. The group is developing a strategy to improve governance, leadership, tools and accountability in this area.

Revision of Official Languages Regulations - Communications with and services to the public

In this section
  1. Regulations on Communications and Services – Overview and Next Steps
  2. Recent Issues (TBS Perspective)

11. Regulations on Communications and Services – Overview and Next Steps

Issue

The amended Official Languages - Communications with and Services to the Public Regulations (Regulations) include significant improvements to better serve the public in both official languages.

Response

  • The Official Languages Regulations amended in June 2019 provide Canadians with better access to federal services in both official languages. 
  • The review of the application of the Regulations will affect nearly 10,000 federal offices. Of those, nearly 700 additional offices are likely to become bilingual across Canada.

Background

The Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations (the Regulations) set out the circumstances in which federal offices are required to offer their services in one or both official languages, including the criteria that determine whether or not there is significant demand in a minority official language.

Between 2016 and 2019, the Regulations were reviewed in depth for the first time since their adoption (1991). As part of that review, TBS held extensive consultations across the country, including with official language minority communities, representatives of provincial and territorial governments, and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The revised regulations were adopted on June 25, 2019 and include significant changes, such as:

  • a new, more inclusive method for estimating significant demand in the minority official language that takes into account immigrants and bilingual families who speak the minority official language at home;
  • a qualitative vitality criterion that recognizes that the existence of a minority official language school is a stable indicator of the vitality of the community and ensures that bilingual federal services are provided near those schools (e.g., a post office); and
  • demographic protection that recognizes that the official language minority population does not necessarily grow as fast as the majority population and ensures that an office will remain bilingual if the official language minority population remains stable, even if its proportion compared to the general population has declined.

The current update to the Directive on the Implementation of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations stems from the amendments to the Regulations.

The regulatory amendments will be implemented this fall through the Directive and the Regulations Re-Application Exercise to be coordinated by TBS.

The purpose of the Exercise is to update the linguistic designation of some 10,000 federal offices based on language data from the most recent census. It will begin this fall, following the publication of language data from Census 2021 and will continue until 2025.

The results of the Exercise will be available in various stages between 2023 and 2025. Once an office is informed by TBS of its bilingual designation, it has one year to prepare to offer services in both official languages. In some cases, the institution must consult the community on the location of an office.

12. Recent Issues (TBS Perspective)

Issue

Recently, some issues have surfaced and have drawn attention to official languages in the public place, such as the decision by the Federal Court of Appeal in FFCB v. ESDC, including linguistic clauses in federal-provincial/territorial agreements, and unilingual speeches by senior officials.

Response

  • The government has committed to modernizing the Official Languages Act and to take steps to ensure full compliance with obligations under the Act.
  • The recent decision by the Federal Court of Appeal has certainly reinforced the need to act.
  • My colleague, Minister Petitpas Taylor, will soon table a new bill that, overall, will seek to improve the compliance of federal institutions both with the letter and the spirit of the Official Languages Act.

Background

Decision in FFCB v. ESDC

  • The case is related to the application of Parts IV (Communications with and Services to the Public) and VII (Advancement of English and French) of the Act as part of a financial contribution agreement between ESDC, the Canada Employment Insurance Commission and British Columbia.
  • The province agreed to take full responsibility for developing and delivering employment assistance services to British Columbians and committed to provide them in French where justified by demand. In 2011, British Columbia assigned responsibility for all employment assistance services provided in English or French to one organization per administrative region and ended the direct funding of the Francophone organizations that served five administrative regions.
  • The Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique (FFCB) filed several complaints with the Commissioner of Official Languages. Despite a favourable report from the Commissioner, the Federal Court dismissed the FFCB’ s case.
  • The Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) confirmed that Part IV of the OLA does not apply. As for Part VII, it found that ESDC and the Commission failed in their obligation to take positive measures. The FCA ordered that the Agreement in its current form be ended or that an attempt be made to modify the Agreement by common consent to include terms giving them the right to require that it be implemented in accordance with their obligations to the Francophone language minority in British Columbia under Part VII of the OLA. The FCA also ordered that, where possible, the network of employment assistance services be reconstituted with the participation of the Francophone organizations under the model that existed before the Agreement was signed.

Linguistic clauses in federal/provincial/territorial agreements

  • Many federal-provincial/territorial agreements are entered into under federal spending authority, which facilitates federal financial participation in areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction. In such cases, they are agreements that govern intergovernmental transfers. These are not subject to the Policy on Transfer Paymentsand the Directive on Transfer Payments, which govern transfer payments to third parties.
  • The federal government cannot impose clauses that would constrain provinces and territories in their areas of jurisdiction but can negotiate with the provinces and territories to take into account official languages considerations.
  • The reform document “English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada” (February 2021) proposes, among other things, the development of regulations to define positive measures taken under Part VII of the Act. Bill C-32 provided the Treasury Board with the authority to adopt such a regulation and related policy instruments.

Public speeches of leaders of organizations

  • In recent months, the Commissioner of Official Languages has received a large number of complaints concerning the unilingual (English) speech of the CEO of Air Canada and the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The appointment of Mary Simon as Governor General, who is bilingual but not proficient in French, also generated criticism, particularly concerning the language skills of leaders of organizations.
  • However, appointments by the Governor-in-Council—deputy ministers and heads of Crown corporations and institutions under the Official Languages Act—are not subject to bilingualism requirements.

Comments by Senator Percy Mockler and Bill S-229

  • On December 1, 2021, Senator Claude Carignan introduced Bill S-229: An Act to amend the Language Skills Act (Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick)
  • Bill S-229 is a response to the federal appointments of the Honourable Brenda Murphy as Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, and Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, who both did not have a command of the French language at the time of their appointments.
  • On February 10, 2022, Bill S-229 achieved a second reading in the Senate. During the debate, Senator Mockler asked whether the issue should be included in the debates to modernize the Official Languages Act.

Hot Issues for TBS

In this section
  1. Recommendations from the Borbey-Mendelsohn Report
  2. Commissioner of Official Languages Public Opinion Survey

13. Recommendations from the Borbey-Mendelsohn Report

Issue

The 2017 Borbey-Mendelsohn Report examined improvements to be made to language of work in the public service and made a number of recommendations.

Response

  • The government must communicate with and provide services to the public in both official languages and ensure that they are used equitably in federal workplaces.
  • Significant progress has been achieved in the implementation of the recommendations from the Borbey-Mendelsohn Report, such as the creation of an official languages portal with tools for public servants and new second language requirements for executives.
  • With the modernization of the Official Languages Act, we will further reinforce bilingualism in the public service and create workplaces where employees feel confident using the language of their choice.

Background

  • In 2017, the Clerk of the Privy Council published the report “The Next Level: Normalizing a culture of inclusive linguistic duality in the Federal Public Service workplace” (Borbey-Mendelsohn Report).
  • The report presents recommendations for improving the use of both official languages in the public service.
  • Some recommendations have been implemented. Others, more complex, are the subject of administrative proposals as part of the modernization of the Official Languages Act and are identified in the white paper on official languages published in 2021, “English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada.” Some examples:
    • Adopt a language training framework that meets the diverse needs of employees.
    • Review the minimum second language requirements for bilingual supervisors.
    • Modernize official language qualification standards.

Actions taken by TBS to respond to the recommendations from the report

  • A new requirement for executives to have valid second language evaluation (SLE) results to be considered as “ready for advancement” or “ready for lateral deployment” in the talent management process.
  • The development of tools to help employees overcome linguistic insecurity, such as peer coaching circles and courses at the Canada School of Public Service.
  • Official languages training for official language specialists and champions within departments so they are better equipped to help institutions meet their official languages obligations.
  • The launch of a GCwiki page and a periodic newsletter to provide official language specialists with support related to bilingualism in the workplace.
  • Some actions taken by other institutions to respond to the recommendations from the report
  • The Official Languages Hub, a platform for accessing official language resources from across the federal government (Translation Bureau)
  • A pilot project to delegate the assessment of second language oral proficiency to hiring managers (Public Service Commission)
  • Internships with minority Francophone community organizations across the country to allow public servants to improve their French language skills (PCH)

14. Commissioner of Official Languages Public Opinion Survey

Issue

On February 24, 2022, the Commissioner of Official Languages released a report presenting the results of a public opinion survey on official languages conducted in 2021.

Response

  • I noted with great interest the results of the survey released last week by the Commissioner of Official Languages.
  • These results confirm Canadians' strong support for bilingualism and the contribution of official languages to the inclusion of all cultures and communities in Canada.

Background

On February 24, 2022, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages (OCOL) released a report presenting the results of a public opinion survey on official languages conducted in 2021.

This 2021 survey report supports a similar survey conducted by OCOL in 2016 to explore Canadians' views on official languages and bilingualism. For this 2021 survey, OCOL contracted Environics Research to survey the Canadian public using the same methodology but with a larger sample size, to determine the extent to which public opinion has or has not changed over the past five years.

The report does not make recommendations, but rather reports on the findings of the survey. In general, attitudes toward official bilingualism remain stable between the 2021 and 2016 survey results (87% 2021; 88% 2016).

The report is based on data collected through a two-mode research program: a national telephone probability survey of 1,507 adult Canadians and a national online survey of 1,500 adult Canadians. The online survey was conducted from September 30 to October 19, 2021, while the telephone survey was conducted from September 27 to October 16, 2021.

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