REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages

has the honour to table its

FIFTH REPORT


Your Committee, which was authorized by the Senate on Tuesday, November 20, 2007, to study and to report from time to time on the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations and directives made under it, within those institutions subject to the act, now tables its report entitle “Bilingual Staff At Air Canada: Embracing the Challenge and Moving Forward.

Respectfully submitted,

MARIA CHAPUT
Chair


Bilingual Staff at Air Canada: Embracing the Challenge AND MOVING FORWARD 

Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages 

The Honourable Maria Chaput, Chair
The Honourable Andrée Champagne, P.C., Vice-Chair

June 2008


MEMBERSHIP


the standing senate committee on official languages

39th Parliament, 2nd Session 

The Honourable Maria Chaput
Chair

The Honourable Andrée Champagne, P.C.
Deputy Chair

and 

The Honourable Senators: 

Gerald J. Comeau
Pierre De Bané, P.C.
Yoine Goldstein
*Céline Hervieux-Payette, P.C. (or Claudette Tardif)
*Marjory LeBreton, P.C. (or Gerald Comeau)
Rose-Marie Losier-Cool
Lowell Murray, P.C.
Marie-P. Poulin (Charette)
Claudette Tardif 

*Ex officio members 

Other Senators who have participated from time to time on this study:
The Honourable Senators Corbin, Dallaire, Keon, Kinsella, Munson and Ringuette 

Analysts from the Parliamentary Information and Research Service of the Library of Parliament:
Élise Hurbutise-Loranger 

Committee Clerk:
Eric Jacques 

Committee Assistant:
Louise Archambeault


ORDER OF REFERENCE


Extract from the Journals of the Senate, Tuesday, November 20, 2007: 

The Honourable Senator Chaput moved, seconded by the Honourable Senator Merchant:

That the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages be authorized to study and to report from time to time on the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations and directives made under it, within those institutions subject to the Act;

That the Committee be authorized to study the reports and papers produced by the Minister of Official Languages, the President of the Treasury Board, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Commissioner of Official Languages as well as any other material concerning official languages;

That papers and evidence received and taken during the First Session of the Thirty-ninth Parliament be referred to the Committee; and

That the Committee report from time to time to the Senate but no later than December 31, 2008, and that the Committee retain all powers necessary to publicize its findings until March 31, 2009.

The question being put on the motion, it was adopted. 

Paul C. Bélisle
Clerk of the Senate



On November 20, 2007, your committee was given the mandate to study the application of the Official Languages Act and the regulations and directives made under it. Your committee now tables a report on the difficulty Air Canada faces in recruiting bilingual staff.   

 

BACKGROUND 

Pursuant to its mandate under section 88 of the Official Languages Act (OLA) to review the administration of the Act and the regulations and directives made under it, your committee invited representatives of Air Canada to appear before it to discuss the corporation’s linguistic obligations.

Since Air Canada was privatized in 1988, various official language parliamentary committees have regularly looked into the corporation’s performance in terms of language.[1] The recent appearance of Air Canada representatives continues in this vein and demonstrates the Committee’s ongoing interest as regards Air Canada’s compliance with relevant provisions of the Act and the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations.

 

EVIDENCE 

Representatives of Air Canada were invited to appear before your committee on March 3, 2008. They reiterated the corporation’s commitment to offering its customers services in both official languages and allowing its employees to work in a bilingual environment. They also recognized that Air Canada is not perfect and that it receives its share of official language complaints each year.  

 

A. RECRUITING BILINGUAL STAFF 

The representatives explained to the Committee the main official language challenges the corporation faces, including the difficulty in recruiting bilingual staff:

 

One significant challenge we face relates to hiring. As with many other federal employers, we are experiencing increasing difficulty in hiring bilingual staff outside the province of Quebec, the National Capital Region and Moncton.[2]

 

 

To put the issue in context, the Air Canada representatives said that, in the past seven years, most bilingual flight attendant recruits are hired in Montreal and then transferred to in-flight bases in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to meet the needs there. However, this practice lacks long-term viability because flight attendants generally ask to return to Montreal as soon as a vacancy becomes available. Your committee understands this issue and would like to make a few suggestions to address this shortcoming.  

 

B. LANGUAGE TRAINING FOR STAFF 

Along with the difficulties associated with recruiting bilingual staff, Air Canada’s representatives also told the Committee about the challenges associated with providing language training for staff. They said that at the present time they offer new staff a workshop called “Un moment s'il vous plait,” which teaches basic elements of French and strategies to avoid leaving a client without service in their own official language either at the airport or in the plane. The corporation also offers its employees more advanced language training, although that training is on a voluntary basis: 

[Language training] is on a voluntary basis, yes, and with some union groups it is on company time, while other unions use personal time.[3]

 

C. FINANCIAL SUPPORT 

The Air Canada representatives also said that if the corporation had the money, it could offer more employees training on company time. Air Canada told the Committee that it had made numerous requests to the federal government for funding to support its initiatives in this area, and that it had always been refused this funding: 

As you are aware, after we had integrated the 87 per cent English unilingual workforce of the former Canadian Airlines International, at a cost completely absorbed by Air Canada, we requested government assistance as we worked to improve our linguistic capabilities. To that end, we were supported by the Joint Committee on Official Languages in their February 2002 report. While this matter took place five years ago, these unilingual employees are still with us today and their numbers will remain significant for the foreseeable future.

 

Unfortunately, the financial support recommended by your peers and your colleagues in the House of Commons has consistently been denied. For instance, in 2003 and 2005, Air Canada was invited to and did apply for funds through a Treasury Board program called the Official Languages Innovation Fund. We were rejected both times, in writing, and were finally advised that we should request that the invitations to apply for this program no longer be sent to us, given that they would never be accepted.[4] 

The corporation argues that it is subject to the same linguistic obligations as a federal institution but that it is not given the funding and tools made available to other institutions subject to the Act in order to fulfill these obligations. More specifically: 

What we base our logic on is that Air Canada, first of all, does invest a lot of money in languages: over $2 million on language training and testing each year. Air Canada is aware that this is just not enough. Second, Air Canada is subject to obligations and does not have the same resources as other institutions that have the same obligations.[5] 

Air Canada’s assertions in this respect call for some clarification.  While it is true that government institutions subject to the Act have at their disposal funding and tools to fulfill their linguistic obligations, it is also true that Air Canada is a private company which is profitable, which serves a very large public, including the Canadian public, and which therefore must consider appropriate action to adapt not only to the needs imposed upon it by the Part IV of the Act but also by the need to maintain goodwill with users of both official languages in Canada.  


 

OBSERVATIONS 

 

A. RECRUITING BILINGUAL STAFF 

Data from the most recent census shows that almost a million francophones live outside Quebec and that over 83% of them are bilingual.[6] And, according to data compiled by Canadian Parents for French, over 300,000 Canadian students are enrolled in a French-language immersion program.[7] These young bilingual Canadians need employment opportunities to maintain their language achievements. Therefore, outside Quebec, francophones in minority communities and young anglophones graduating from immersion programs are target groups for the recruitment of bilingual staff. Your committee asked about Air Canada’s recruitment process to determine whether the corporation is able to reach these target groups outside Montreal.  

Your committee was reassured to learn that Air Canada approaches francophone communities across Canada to tell them about its recruitment goals. Your committee encourages Air Canada to continue in this direction and hopes that formal partnerships are established with a view to increasing the recruitment of bilingual individuals from these communities. Your committee is also pleased to learn that Air Canada has started making presentations in schools to encourage young Canadians to pursue their language training and keep up their knowledge in both official languages. It’s a step in the right direction.  

Your committee would like Air Canada to consider developing partnerships not only with the federations and associations that represent francophone minority communities but also with the francophone colleges and universities that serve these communities, such as the Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia, Université de Moncton and the Collège communautaire in New Brunswick, Université Laurentienne and the Collège Boréal in Sudbury, the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface in Manitoba and the University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean.  

These institutions are churning out young bilingual individuals about to embark on their careers. Your committee finds that developing solid partnerships and maintaining ties with these groups and institutions could support ongoing efforts to increase the recruitment of qualified candidates. But informing them of recruitment campaigns is not enough.  

Recruitment campaigns must be accessible to bilingual individuals. The most recent flight attendant campaign, in April 2008, took place in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. Your committee encourages Air Canada to hold recruitment campaigns outside major urban centres so as to reach these official-language minority groups. For example, Air Canada could consider holding recruitment campaigns in eastern and northern Ontario and in the Acadian peninsula. Air Canada could also recruit directly from colleges and universities by participating in their regularly held career fairs.  

Your committee recognizes that Air Canada is sincere in its intentions to recruit more bilingual flight attendants. However, your committee would like to point out, as did the Joint Standing Committee on Official Languages in 2000, that good intentions are not enough. Therefore, your committee recommends: 

 

Recommendation 1 

That Air Canada develop partnerships with community groups and educational institutions in minority communities so as to reach its goal of recruiting bilingual staff.

 

Recommendation 2 

That Air Canada consider holding recruitment campaigns outside major urban centres such as Toronto and Montreal so that these campaigns are accessible to members of official-language minority communities. 

 

B.LANGUAGE TRAINING FOR STAFF 

As regards language training, as mentioned above, the Air Canada representatives told your committee that they offer a basic course for new unilingual staff called “Un moment s’il vous plait.” Your committee wants to highlight this initiative, which will certainly allow new Air Canada employees both to be aware of the company’s linguistic obligations and to acquire the necessary knowledge to offer basic services in both official languages.   

As regards the more advanced language training; it is voluntary and may be taken on company time or on the employee’s own time, subject to the various collective agreements that govern the working conditions of Air Canada employees. Your committee understands this union dynamic. However, your committee feels that these circumstances are bound to slow down Air Canada’s efforts to make its staff bilingual.  

Thus, your committee encourages Air Canada to assess various ways to make language training obligatory during working hours in order to facilitate this learning and thereby send a clear signal that the corporation is doing everything in its power to comply with the Act.  

 

Thus, your committee recommends:  

Recommendation 3: 

That Air Canada do everything in its power to make language training mandatory on company time in order to increase its bilingual capacity. 

 

C. FINANCIAL SUPPORT 

As mentioned above, the Air Canada representatives said that, with more resources, they would be able to offer more language training on company time. They also reminded the members of your committee that they had been systematically refused any financial contribution from the federal government in order to support their efforts to provide language training for their staff.   

In its February 2002 report entitled Air Canada: Good Intentions are not enough,[8] the former Joint Committee on Official Languages issued the following finding and recommendation: 

The Committee notes that the integration of employees of the former Canadian Airlines, which was not subject to the Official Languages Act, has generated a substantial demand for language training. It recognizes that the provision of language training to thousands of employees in a short period entails considerable outlays at a time when the Corporation has to manage the current crisis affecting the airline industry. The Committee hopes that the government will provide specific one-time financial assistance to enable Air Canada to improve its bilingual capacity as quickly as possible.

 

RECOMMENDATION

The Committee recommends that the government provide specific one-time financial assistance to enable Air Canada to accelerate language training.

 

Your committee wants to reiterate that recommendation but would like to add that the federal government’s support could be more than simply financial. The federal government possesses considerable experience in the field of language training. Various federal institutions could share that expertise developed over the last few decades in order to support Air Canada officials in this matter.  

Moreover, your committee believes that it would be useful for Air Canada to first establish a language training plan that is more detailed than the data provided in its 2001-2010 language action plan and that would also contain information on the types of courses offered, the evaluation of linguistic knowledge, the levels to attain and the costs associated with these initiatives. In that way, the federal government would be better able to determine where it could provide financial and professional support.

 

Thus your committee recommends: 

Recommendation 4: 

That Air Canada develop a plan in which it sets out its priorities and objectives regarding the language training of its staff so that your Committee may examine it, and the progress made under it, next time it hears from Air Canada representatives.

 

Recommendation 5: 

That the Government of Canada assess the possibility of supporting Air Canada in the development and implementation of its language training plan by offering both financial support and the expertise it has acquired in the field of language training. 

Your committee would be pleased to hear from Air Canada representatives in the following year to learn about the progress made in this respect.  

Respectfully submitted


LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS 

Recommendation 1 

That Air Canada develop partnerships with community groups and educational institutions in minority communities so as to reach its goal of recruiting bilingual staff.

 

Recommendation 2 

That Air Canada consider holding recruitment campaigns outside major urban centres such as Toronto and Montreal so that these campaigns are accessible to members of official-language minority communities.

 

Recommendation 3: 

That Air Canada do everything in its power to make language training mandatory on company time in order to increase its bilingual capacity. 

 

Recommendation 4: 

That Air Canada develop a plan in which it sets out its priorities and objectives regarding the language training of its staff so that your Committee may examine it, and the progress made under it, next time it hears from Air Canada representatives.

 

Recommendation 5: 

That the Government of Canada assess the possibility of supporting Air Canada in the development and implementation of its language training plan by offering both financial support and the expertise it has acquired in the field of language training.


[1] For example, see the February 2002 report of the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages, entitled Air Canada: Good Intentions are not Enough! The report makes 16 recommendations on the services offered in both official languages by Air Canada. The report is available online at http://cmte.parl.gc.ca/cmte/CommitteePublication.aspx?SourceId=37110. Also see the June 2006 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, entitled Application of the Official Languages Act to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. following the Restructuring of Air Canada, available online at http://cmte.parl.gc.ca/cmte/CommitteePublication.aspx?COM=10472&Lang=1&SourceId=169940.

[2] Testimony of Louise McEvoy, meeting of March 3rd, 2008.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid

[6] Jean-Pierre Corbeil and Christine Blaser, The Evolving Linguistic Portrait, 2006 Census: Findings, under the “Bilingualism” section. Available online at http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census06/analysis/language/index.cfm.