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OLLO - Standing Committee

Official Languages



OTTAWA, Monday, March 27, 2023

The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met with videoconference this day at 5:34 p.m. [ET] to study the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations and directives made under it, within those institutions subject to the Act; and, in camera, to study a draft report.

Senator René Cormier (Chair) in the chair.


(The committee continued in camera.)

(The committee resumed in public.)

The Chair: Good evening. I am René Cormier, senator from New Brunswick and chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages.

Before we begin, I wish to invite committee members participating in today’s meeting to introduce themselves.

Senator Poirier: Good evening, and welcome, Madam Minister. I am Rose-May Poirier from the Saint-Louis-de-Kent region in New Brunswick.

Senator Dalphond: Senator Pierre Dalphond from Montreal, Quebec.

Senator Clement: Bernadette Clement from Ontario. Good evening and welcome.

Senator Mégie: Marie-Françoise Mégie from Montreal, Quebec.

Senator Moncion: Lucie Moncion from Ontario.

Senator Dagenais: Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.

The Chair: Thank you, esteemed colleagues. I wish to welcome all of you and viewers across the country who may be watching. I would like to point out that I am taking part in this meeting from within the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation.

Today, we are pleased to welcome the Honourable Mona Fortier, P.C., M.P., President of the Treasury Board, with whom we will discuss the Annual Report on Official Languages 2020–2021.

She is accompanied by officials from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat: Karim Adam, Director, Oversight and Compliance, Official Languages Centre of Excellence, Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer; and Mireille Laroche, Assistant Deputy Minister, People and Culture, Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer.

Good evening and welcome, Madam Minister. Welcome to Ms. Laroche and Mr. Adam as well. Thank you for accepting our invitation.

We’ll now hear your opening remarks, to be followed by questions from the senators.

Madam Minister, you have the floor.

Hon. Mona Fortier, C.P., M.P., President of the Treasury Board: Mr. Chair, committee members, it’s an honour to be here with you this evening. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you, since we had to reschedule our meeting.

I would also like to acknowledge that I am speaking to you from the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.

I’m pleased to be accompanied by Ms. Laroche and Mr. Adam. They have already been introduced, but you should know that they work very hard at the Treasury Board Secretariat.

I’d also like to thank the committee members for their many contributions to the Canada’s official languages framework modernization effort, including its recent report on the pre-study of Bill C-13.

I should mention that my colleague, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, with whom I work closely, and I both greatly appreciate your work. I look forward to speaking to you about this historic bill as it moves through Parliament. I imagine we will be discussing it later tonight.

Bill C-13 is one of the many advances made with respect to official languages in Canada. I think it’s important for committee members to know that last year, we welcomed the largest number of francophone immigrants outside Quebec on record, and for the first time, we achieved the 4.4% target, and that’s 450% more than when we took office.

Our government has completed consultations to develop the Action Plan for Official Languages 2023-28, and we will introduce this new plan later in the year.

In accordance with the new official languages regulations, we anticipate that approximately 700 federal offices that are currently unilingual will become bilingual over the next few years.


As you know, the Treasury Board Secretariat provides advice, direction and coordination to some 200 federal institutions regarding official languages, policies and programs.

I’m proud that 44% of Canada’s public servants are bilingual, and that over 200 official language champions advocate for official languages at the senior management level across government.

Today, as requested by the committee, I will focus on the 2020-21 Annual Report on Official Languages. This is the Treasury Board’s thirty-third Annual Report on Official Languages.

It highlights both achievements and areas for improvement, taking into consideration the most recent results from federal institutions, subject to the act, so they can take action toward full compliance and the equal status of both official languages.


Overall, the report shows that institutions are meeting most of their official languages obligations.

It also provides numerous examples of official languages best practices implemented across government.

For example, 93% of institutions have established best practices to ensure that both the English and French versions of websites are posted simultaneously in their entirety, and are of equal quality. This represents a 9% increase over the previous cycle.

In addition, 90% of institutions have established best practices to ensure that the public is served in the official language of their choice in end-to-end automated transactions.

Finally, 75% have established best practices to ensure that employees receive training in their official language of choice.


That being said, we know there is still much work to be done. For example, more federal institutions should have clear objectives for official languages in the performance agreements of senior managers, supervisors and employees.

And they should also evaluate the extent to which official languages requirements are being implemented, and they should ensure that any shortcomings are dealt with promptly.


The Treasury Board Secretariat does a lot to help federal organizations meet official languages requirements and seize opportunities for improvement.

In 2020-21, we provided advice, prepared briefings, offered training, published newsletters and organized government-wide events.

In the future, we will help federal institutions foster linguistically inclusive workplaces that are conducive to using both official languages in bilingual regions, whether employees work in the office or at home. We will also help them seize opportunities provided by technology to promote official languages in the new hybrid work environment. Finally, we will ensure that official languages are always considered in the decision-making process.


We will also work with stakeholders to ensure that our policies and approaches are aligned with the government’s intention to create a diverse and inclusive public service and foster reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Mr. Chair, this is just a brief overview of the report and the role and activities of Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.


My officials and I will now be happy to answer your questions. As I pointed out last week, I’m always open to dialogue with committee members to improve the status of our official languages. I am offering you this opportunity to share your ideas and opinions at this meeting.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Thank you for your opening statement, Madam Minister.

Before we start questions from the senators, I would like to ask members in the room to please refrain from leaning in too close to their microphone or remove their earpiece when doing so. This will avoid any sound feedback that could negatively impact the committee staff in the room.

Being aware of the time available to us, I suggest that, for the first round, each senator be allowed five minutes, including question and answer.

Senator Mégie, you have the floor.

Senator Mégie: Thank you, Madam Minister, and welcome to our meeting.

On page 16 of your report, it is noted that 61% of federal public servants participated in the survey to evaluate their perception of the availability of materials and work tools in the language of their choice in regions designated bilingual. Do you believe it’s only 61%? Do you know why other public servants did not take the survey? I found this report very compelling and I learned a lot from it. I congratulate you and thank you. However, as you know, we often focus on the little things that don’t work.

In the coming years, when you’re conducting annual employee performance evaluations, if you include a few questions about language, you will surely get responses, because every employee has to undergo annual performance evaluations. So you could get a 100%.

Is that feasible?

Ms. Fortier: First, thank you for the suggestion.

I feel that it’s always important to encourage the opportunity for public servants to share their opinions and wishes. There’s always room for improvement.

Could we provide further detail about page 16? Perhaps Ms. Laroche or Mr. Adam could elaborate.

Karim Adam, Director, Oversight and Compliance, Official Languages Centre of Excellence, Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat: I have the document, I just want to be sure I have the right page.

Senator Mégie: I found it in the footnotes, that 87 federal departments and agencies responded to the survey, which is a participation rate of 61%.

Ms. Fortier: Mr. Adam will be able to respond, as we are a team.

Mr. Adam: Thank you for your question.

You’re referring to a statistic that relates to the 2020 federal employee survey, where the participation rate was 61% at that time.

To answer your question more specifically —

Ms. Fortier: It’s to increase the participation rate.

Senator Mégie: Yes, to increase the participation rate. Everyone is required to undergo annual performance evaluations, whereas anyone can say they don’t want to take a survey.

Do you see what I mean?

Mireille Laroche, Assistant Deputy Minister, People and Culture, Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat: I’d like to clarify that the employee survey is voluntary. Until recently, it was done every year. Now it will be done every two years.

Participation rates vary by department. At the aggregate level, the participation rate was approximately 61%. Naturally, our goal is to always bring up the participation rate to get as close to 100% as possible. A lot of communication efforts have been made in that regard. Therefore, we will continue in that vein to obtain the highest participation rate we can.

Ms. Fortier: I’d like to add that I had the privilege of meeting with the 200 official language champions. We could use these champions in the various departments to increase participation in this annual survey, which brings us the latest data.

You mentioned that a wealth of information comes with this type of survey. I believe we can also work with our champions to encourage public servants to take the survey.

Senator Mégie: Thank you.

I can’t recall which page it was on, but I saw that there was a method for producing the report and that the methodology had been changed to improve results. Did you have any particular reason for doing that?

Ms. Fortier: I will let Ms. Laroche talk about the methodology.

Ms. Laroche: Thank you for the question.

You’re right, the methodology did change. Each year, a third of institutions are required to demonstrate accountability. We look at the results over a three-year period. Instead of reporting annual results, we report results over a three-year period, which gives us a rolling average that changes over time, and we can compare it to the previous cycle.

This strikes a balance between the administrative effort required to respond to the survey and obtaining a fairly representative sample. That’s why we made the change. We get more comprehensive results, while still striking a balance between showing accountability and getting the information we need.

Senator Mégie: Then wouldn’t it be better to use Statistics Canada’s quarterly data rather than the census data that comes out every five years? I’m just asking.

Mr. Adam: That’s a very good question.

Actually, it’s a mix of several types of information. It includes statistical data, the public service survey and the reviews that federal institutions submit to us. It’s a mix of all that information and we use it to produce the official languages report.

Senator Mégie: Okay, thank you.

The Chair: I have a related question to ask.

Does the fact that reviews are self-assessments raise any objectivity issues with respect to the performance assessment presented in your annual report?

Ms. Laroche: Thank you very much for the question.

I know it’s an issue that’s been raised in the past. In the past few years, we’ve been asking for more evidence. Everything has to be backed by concrete evidence from the institutions. My team reviews the results to properly assess progress by ensuring that what the institution is saying is actually supported by concrete evidence.

The Chair: What’s your preferred course of action when an institution is performing poorly and a high number of complaints are received by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages?

Ms. Laroche: I will begin responding, then I will ask Mr. Adam to take over.

We work closely with the various institutions. You saw that several practices to be prioritized were identified in the report. We strongly encourage them to build on those best practices to improve their own practices and we follow up with the team in those institutions.

I will let my colleague Mr. Adam provide some details on the other points.

Mr. Adam: Thank you, Ms. Laroche.

I believe Ms. Laroche covered the essentials. I would add that we’re always trying to take corrective action with the 200 federal institutions. We’re always there for federal institutions. Ultimately, it’s a collaborative effort.

We have the numbers for the past few years in the reviews submitted to us. The numbers are going up, as 83% of institutions submitted reviews between 2018-19 and 2020-21.

I will stop here for now.

Ms. Fortier: I will add a few clarifications.

My colleagues have just shared some very important information with you. However, it’s important to know — and I’m looking at this through the lens of modernizing the Official Languages Act — that if we can manage it, this will even more clearly demonstrate the key role as a central agency that the Treasury Board can play in terms of other types of pressure and audits. It will also improve the reports and tools we’re developing. Modernizing the act will lead us to play a more significant role.

The Chair: Thank you for your answers.

Senator Moncion: Welcome, Madam Minister.

My question pertains to a comment you made regarding Bill C-13 at a meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, on December 6, 2022. At that time, you announced the creation of an official languages policy centre integrating Parts IV, V, VI and VII. Can you tell us more about the centre?

Ms. Fortier: I can provide further information in writing.

This centre will be created in accordance with the broader role to be played by Treasury Board as a central agency. We will create it and implement it. This is one of the measures we hope to implement once the modernization of the act is complete. It will allow us to do the necessary work and discharge the new responsibilities that I hope we will be given.

Senator Moncion: That brings me to my next question.

In accordance with the changes made thus far by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, Treasury Board would have the exclusive role and responsibility as the central agency. That is what I understand thus far. We have to wait for the bill to return to the House of Commons to see if there are any further amendments.

Ms. Fortier: I must point out that we want Canadian Heritage to continue its coordination role, but we also want Treasury Board as the central agency to maintain its role in evaluation and monitoring.

Treasury Board has not been responsible for managing grants and it will not take on that responsibility. What we want is for Canadian Heritage to retain its coordination role, while Treasury Board takes on a greater role.

We will see what happens in the coming weeks. That is pretty much what we want to see: we want Treasury Board to have a lot more power, while also giving Canadian Heritage a role in the implementation of positive measures and of the act.

I hope that answers your question.

Senator Moncion: Yes, thank you. I have a number of questions. The statistics show that there is a pool of bilingual employees. We see that the proportion of bilingual positions remains unchanged at 42%, while the pool of bilingual employees has dropped slightly to 41% from 43% in 2020. What accounts for this drop in the number of bilingual public servants?

Ms. Laroche: Could you repeat the last words in your question?

Senator Moncion: The annual report of the Treasury Board Secretariat provides statistics, including the following key findings for 2021. The proportion of bilingual positions remained unchanged at 42%, while the pool of bilingual employees dropped slightly to 41% from 43% in 2020.

What accounts for this drop? It appears to be a gradual drop, but one that will continue nonetheless.

Ms. Laroche: Thank you for the question. I will begin and then let my colleague continue. Efforts are always being made to offer training in order to have the necessary pool of bilingual employees in bilingual regions. Part of this drop can be attributed to staff turnover, with experienced bilingual employees retiring and being replaced by younger people who need training.

This factor certainly has to be taken into consideration in view of the demographic changes in Canada’s public service, but language training is essential for us. We are in the process of developing a new training framework for public servants to ensure that we have the necessary tools to train our employees and the necessary pool to perform the duties, and over and above what we need.

Ms. Fortier: We want to make sure that we offer every possible opportunity to recruit and retain employees who speak and work in both official languages. With our francophone immigration strategy, we are trying to establish favourable circumstances to recruit people who can work in both official languages. We have to find a range of ways to attract young people to the public service. A whole exercise is under way right now to truly increase the percentage of public servants who can work in both official languages. There is a lot of work going into second-language training in particular — and Mireille talked about this. We will be focusing on that a great deal in the coming years under the new framework.

Mr. Adam: To add to that, if I may, let us recall the report that was released in 2021, at the beginning of the pandemic. It was very difficult to evaluate and test public servants at that time. That is another reason. Thank you.

Senator Moncion: May I continue or do I have to wait for the next round?

The Chair: It will be the next round.

Senator Poirier: Thank you again for being here with us. I have a question, but I would also like to follow up on something. It was noted that the pool or number of bilingual employees has decreased. When a person in a bilingual position retires, are efforts made to replace that position or to place new employees in bilingual positions in order to maintain the same percentage?

Ms. Fortier: As to recruitment in the public service, I can obviously say that a great deal of effort is made to ensure that newcomers have the official languages skills required. I would say the answer is yes. Each department, as part of its recruitment and retention activities... That is something we strongly encourage them to do. For positions that are designated bilingual, they must find someone with those skills.

Ms. Laroche: The report notes that 96.5% of incumbents in bilingual positions meet the linguistic requirements of their position. So 3.5% of public servants were probably appointed on a non-imperative basis, meaning that they were given two years to meet the requirements. In the vast majority of cases, however, public servants meet the linguistic requirements of their positions.

Senator Poirier: Since the latest report from the Official Languages Commissioner, what measures have you taken to focus more on the official languages in the staffing of senior management positions in the federal public service and in Governor-in-Council appointments?

Ms. Fortier: I would say a number of steps are being taken, including by Privy Council, to recruit people who have the necessary official languages skills for deputy minister positions.

At the assistant deputy minister level, those positions are bilingual imperative, at the CBC level; those assistant deputy ministers might also become deputy ministers in the future. That gives us a pool that Privy Council can draw on to promote some of those people up the ranks. There is always a strong effort... We were talking about the training framework that will support the various departments and agencies in the recruitment and retention of people for bilingual positions, or for positions for which the required competencies are official languages skills.

Ms. Laroche: The minister mentioned that assistant deputy ministers represent a pool for deputy ministers; in 94% of cases, deputy ministers are in fact appointed from the pool of assistant deputy ministers and they do have very good official languages skills. Given the nature of their responsibilities, deputy ministers must comply with the Official Languages Act and promote it, whether they are perfectly bilingual or not.

At lower levels, as noted in Ms. Joly’s white paper of 2021, we are also looking at the possibility of boosting the language profile of supervisors in bilingual regions, which will increase the level of bilingualism and ensure that our employees are able to have all the necessary conversations and be appropriately supervised in their preferred language.

Senator Poirier: If I understand correctly, 94% of Governor-in-Council appointees are currently bilingual?

Ms. Laroche: The pool of assistant deputy ministers... The Governor-in-Council can, of course, appoint people from outside the public service to those positions, but in 94% of cases, the appointments are from within government and those people are bilingual, as the minister noted.

Ms. Fortier: I mentioned this earlier and I would like to further highlight the following.

It is very interesting to see the 200 champions throughout government: not only do they exert pressure, but they also encourage employees to take training and perfect their second-language skills in order to offer services.

This is another type of measure that is not really regulated; it enables the champions to play an influential role in the system.

I simply wanted to say how important this measure is in encouraging people to apply for important positions.

The Chair: Thank you for your reply.

I have a follow-up question. You know, Madam Minister, leadership is shown at the highest levels. Yes, the official languages champions in the various departments are very useful, but by your reasoning that assistant deputy ministers constitute the pool for future deputy ministers, how many deputy ministers are bilingual right now? By that reasoning, how many deputy ministers are bilingual? It seems that having bilingual deputy ministers in government is a challenge right now.

Ms. Fortier: My understanding is that we had a very large pool of deputy ministers who were able to work in both official languages. There are a few exceptions, I believe, among those who do not have the CBC level for a deputy minister position. That is not a decision resulting from Treasury Board regulations; Privy Council is responsible for this appointment process, so this does not apply to the rules for assistant deputy ministers.

Nonetheless, there are not that many deputy ministers who are not bilingual or who cannot perform their duties in both official languages at the CBC level.

The Chair: Thank you. That information is important to the committee. In relation to Bill C-13 and the Treasury Board’s new responsibilities, that information is important to give us an accurate picture of deputy ministers’ bilingualism level.

Senator Dagenais: My colleague, Senator Moncion, mentioned the drop in the number of bilingual employees. Can you tell us how often unilingual employees are appointed to positions, even though the positions advertised in some cases require bilingualism?

In which part of the country is it most difficult to recruit people who are truly bilingual?

Ms. Fortier: That is a very good question, but I don’t really have an answer right now, since Treasury Board is not really responsible for that. That is a very good question and we can get back to you with more details about what the departments do. You have to remember though that we do not hire everyone; we establish principles, measures, regulations and guidelines to encourage departments to follow the established process.

In the coming years, I think you will probably see greater demand for people who can work in both official languages, especially since we have 700 unilingual offices that will become bilingual. That will also prepare us to determine how to ensure that those offices can offer services in both official languages.

Ms. Laroche: In addition to the percentage I mentioned, I would like to reiterate that 96.5% of position incumbents meet the requirements. Looking at the breakdown for other aspects of positions, we do have very good results. Close to 97% of employees serving the public in English and French meet the linguistic requirements of their position, and 96.4% of incumbents in bilingual positions working in internal services, such as human resources and so forth, meet the linguistic requirements of their position.

For supervisory positions, we are at 96%. We are not at 100% and that should be our objective, but we are working on it and are making headway.

Senator Dagenais: As to my last question, can you tell me if it is more difficult in certain regions? You mentioned 700 offices that could become bilingual. Are there places in Canada where it is more difficult to invest and find bilingual people? Please don’t say Montreal.

Mr. Adam: Breaking down your question, bilingual regions certainly figure into it. Let us recall that bilingual regions include New Brunswick, the national capital region, certain places in Quebec and also Ontario, in northern and eastern Ontario. Those are bilingual regions.

The remaining regions are unilingual, as you know. In order to designate 700 offices as bilingual, we will, of course, have to assess certain criteria, including vitality. Official language minority communities are another criterion, as are schools. We will make sure that if the second language is represented in a region, we will have a bilingual office there.

The last part of your question pertains to qualified, bilingual staff; that has, of course, been an issue right across Canada since the pandemic. I will stop there.

Ms. Fortier: Having visited communities for more than 30 years across the country, I am well aware that we have many francophone and bilingual institutions that continue to educate and prepare workers who could become public servants.

So we need to continue to work with our partners across the country; immersion programs are also very important and we need to continue to have that space that allows young and old to prepare to contribute to the public service.

The other thing that I’m sure we’re going to discuss tonight is related to the whole issue of language insecurity. This is something that is very real in the public service. I’ve had a number of conversations with a lot of public servants; sometimes they’re afraid because of their accent or because they may not have used the right word, and fear means that they may not try as much. That’s where we should make sure that we encourage accents, encourage people to make an effort and celebrate their efforts, even if their ESL or French isn’t perfect.

We are working to put measures in place to reduce language insecurity. For many of us — we all know this — it’s really important to have impeccable French; at the same time, we need to encourage people who aren’t there yet to want to get to that stage.

I am doing a lot of work to encourage people to do this, especially at Treasury Board. My colleagues Mireille and Karim know it very well: I purposely hold all my meetings in French and that makes people practise. These are reflexes that need to be adopted everywhere in government.

Senator Dagenais: Thank you very much.

Senator Dalphond: I’m going to keep that momentum going with the 700 new offices. I think that’s something interesting.

In the annual report, you say that there are 11,164 offices and points of service in Canada, of which 3,847, or 34.5%, have the obligation to offer services to the public in both official languages. I don’t know what the timetable is if we add 700; that’s the essence of my question, but that number of 700 still represents, compared to 300, a significant increase of almost 20%. That’s something. Are all of these offices currently unilingual English offices?

Secondly, what is the timeline? I’ll have another question afterwards depending on the data.

Ms. Fortier: First of all, you know that it was quite an accomplishment when we were able to announce this measure. There will obviously be work to do to ensure that these offices can provide services in both official languages.

I believe that the offices are currently more unilingual English offices that will become offices offering services in both official languages. There may be a few that are francophone, but unfortunately I don’t have the exact data; Ms. Laroche may have that data.

However, I believe that the offices concerned are generally unilingual English offices that will become bilingual.

As far as the timeline, that’s a good question. It needs to be done, but I’m not sure I know the exact date.

Ms. Laroche: Thanks for the question. I would have some important dates. So, the regulations went into effect in 2019. Recently, in August 2022, following the release of the most recent census-based language data by Statistics Canada, the minister approved the new directive that allowed us to provide guidance on the implementation of the regulation.

There is a whole operation that will begin this spring; we have just launched a new computer system to support the exercise for the 11,000 offices. It’s going to be a phased approach; it depends on the situation of the institution and there’s more or less work to do. There are some for which it will be automatic — it will be a review and we know that their status will not change; others will see their status change. Airports, for example, will have to do surveys to find out the prevalence and the language needs.

I’d say that it will take about two years and it will be done in stages. We won’t wait two years to get the results, but there will be a progression. This is part of the implementation and there will be a noticeable transformation of these offices in the course of the next few years.

Mr. Adam: I would like to add that once an institution adopts regulations, there is a one-year probationary period to ensure that the service is provided. We were talking earlier about staff retention being difficult, but people will have time to put solutions in place.

Senator Dalphond: The regulations were passed in 2019, long before we had the 2021 Census results. Fortunately, your guidance came after the census, armed with all that data. However, the data is disturbing. If you look at the proportion of francophones outside Quebec, it was 4.2% in 2006 and 4% in 2011; that’s a loss of about 5%. Then it dropped to 3.6% in 2016, which is a loss of 10%. It went to 3.3% in 2021, for another loss of about 10%. All of this has happened in a very short time frame, over five-year periods.

We’re talking about things taking perhaps another two years; it gives me comfort that it will be done in a gradual way. Will any initiatives be implemented soon?

Secondly, do you anticipate resistance in Saskatchewan? The percentage of francophones has dropped from 2% to 1%. I met with a group that told me that they didn’t think it was necessary to have bilingual services at the Saskatoon or Regina airport. I sense that there is resistance, because they justify it by the fact that the francophone population has greatly decreased in the province.

Ms. Fortier: There is no denying the fact that French is threatened; we have said so clearly. Nevertheless, French and English are our two official languages and we must make sure that we make the necessary efforts, especially with respect to French. I prefer to be optimistic and to make the necessary efforts to promote French, and ensure that these offices play a role in the various communities.

I look at the strength of francophone minority communities across the country and I believe that civil society will also play a role in ensuring that we make French even more present, both in Saskatchewan and in Montreal. We must continue to do so. There is a willingness on the part of many families, for example, with French immersion programs and groups like Canadian Parents for French, which speak to the reality of many English-speaking families who want their children to be able to work and play in both official languages. That’s where a lot of work is being done.

I am very much looking forward to announcing, with Minister Petitpas Taylor, the new Action Plan for Official Languages. I am including myself because I really want us to have an action plan that will ensure that we increase the presence of French throughout the country and abroad.

I don’t want to say that in Saskatchewan, there are some who don’t like it as much; I apologize, but never mind. We will encourage them, and we will do the same thing with civil society. We have a responsibility as a federal government, as the largest employer in the country, to provide these services in both official languages.

Ms. Laroche: I’d like to reassure you from a regulatory perspective. Methodological changes have been made that will help preserve bilingual rights and offices in official language minority communities.

First of all, we have expanded our definition of who is a francophone or anglophone in a minority setting. We are talking about the mother tongue, but it is the language spoken at home. This will include immigrants, students, and so on, more generally. So there will be a larger population pool.

I think the minister also mentioned that schools will be considered. So if there is a minority language school and there is an office in the area, that office will have to be bilingual.

The other thing that’s very interesting is the demographic protection. This means that if, for example, a population remains stable or increases, but proportionally speaking, it decreases, its rights will be preserved. So, it will not lose its bilingual office, despite the decrease in population. This will help sustain vitality and allow for more activity in the community.

Ms. Fortier: I think that is an important point that my colleague just mentioned. This protection has been put in place. We’re not necessarily going to lose an office, we’re going to be able to use it as a point of service.

The active offer of services is something that we talk about a lot. It is another approach that must be put forward when we talk about the role of the federal government. Providing an active offer of service is important and we continue to focus on that.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Senator Clement: Hello and welcome. I’m happy to see you. Madam Minister, you work very hard; it’s remarkable. Thank you.

I want to come back to the list of designated bilingual regions. I’ve worked in French in Ontario for a long time; for 30 years, in fact. We are talking about the same concept, because the list hasn’t been changed. I don’t know if you have any comments on that. Who would make an amendment? Has the list been amended? Does an update need to be done? In the context of telework, does the concept still mean the same thing today?

Ms. Fortier: Your question is interesting; the answer isn’t clear. We’ll have to look into it more closely, but we’re going through a period of modernizing the Official Languages Act, which gives us the opportunity to see if we can expand the pool of designated regions. I can’t tell you right now if it can be done, because the bill has to pass first.

Some officials work from home two or three days a week, and some work in the office two or three days a week. Others saw their teleworker status extended or targeted by certain exceptions. We’ll have to see what the future holds for this way of working. The process as such has not yet been established. Mr. Adam may want to add something to my answer.

Mr. Adam: When we looked into it at the time, as the minister said, it was part of the framework for reforming the bill. We looked into administrative measures rather than legal ones. As an example, the second-language learning framework comes to mind, as mentioned earlier. Currently, we’re all working on the framework to include diversity and Indigenous languages. That’s something we will see over the next year.

The Treasury Board Secretariat is currently studying the possibility of amending the policy to strengthen the minimum second-language proficiency requirement for bilingual supervisors in bilingual positions in designated bilingual regions.

Ms. Fortier: It might be a good thing for a Senate committee to study the matter more closely. There’s enough work to go around.

Senator Clement: In your opening remarks, and it’s noted in your report, you talked about the issue of a more inclusive and diversified workplace. On page 37, the report states that the secretariat worked with many stakeholders to adapt its policies and ensure they are better aligned with the intention to include a diversity component. What was done, exactly, for you to be able to say this?

Ms. Laroche: Thank you very much for the question.

At the Treasury Board Secretariat, we’re working extensively on diversity and inclusion. In fact, my responsibilities touch on diversity, inclusion and official languages. I think there really is a certain complementarity, but some realities also need to be taken into account.

We’re also working with employee networks, more specifically with Indigenous employee networks, to understand their reality and the barriers they face in learning official languages. Over time, we realized that access to language training was uneven between groups. That’s one of the things we’re looking into.

We work with different departments to see which teaching methods are the best. Employment and Social Development Canada recently set up a pilot project to teach English and French to Indigenous persons, that integrates cultural practices in order to adapt to their reality.

There’s also the language training framework, which we mentioned a few times. We’re looking into the matter so that everyone has better opportunities to learn their second language. For some of our employees, this may be their third, fourth or fifth language. Those languages may not have the same roots, and they can be very different from their reality and their language. We have to take that into account in the way we do things. Official languages and diversity are two sides of the same coin of our country’s wealth.

Ms. Fortier: For your information, and this supports our work in terms of recruitment and retention, the Prime Minister asked me in my mandate letter to work with all departments and hire 5,000 new public servants with disabilities. This number doesn’t really reflect the reality of Canada’s labour market, and we have a lot to do. In fact, I am very motivated to mobilize every effort required to achieve the objective of hiring 5,000 new members of the public service, and even more, because I think we must be representative of Canadians’ reality. I’ve taken this mandate to heart and am working with my colleagues to fulfill it.

We work extensively with civil society and representatives on the ground, especially people living with a disability. This process will in fact allow us to work with many groups on the ground on diversity and inclusion issues. I therefore want to highlight that a great deal of work is being done on that level as well.

The Chair: Time is flying. Senator Gagné, I know you had a few transportation challenges. I will give you the floor so that you can ask the minister your questions.

Senator Gagné: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Madam Minister, Ms. Laroche and Mr. Adam. The challenges with air transportation are unrelated to official languages; I just wanted to mention that.

Ms. Fortier: I am responsible for ensuring that services are provided correctly, so we can talk about it again later.

Senator Gagné: Since I just arrived, I want to know if someone asked you a question regarding the new real property management directive.

Ms. Fortier: No, no one asked me that question. I can let you ask the question in more detail and I would be pleased to answer it.

Senator Gagné: We all know that a new directive has been in force since May 2021. However, it still raises some concerns. I’m asking the question to clarify things, especially with regards to interpreting the requirements regarding senior designated officials’ responsibilities for managing real property.

The Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones raised the issue, and the Franco-Manitoban School Division also faced challenges with it. So I thought it was important to ask you the question.

My question is on sections 4.2.35 and 4.2.36 of the directive. Section 4.2.35 states that senior officials must notify the Canada Lands Company and official language minority communities of the intent to dispose of real property.

In the following section, it states that priority to acquire the entire site for public purpose must be granted in the following order: federal departments; agent Crown corporations; provinces; municipalities and Indigenous groups.

What is the order of priority in all this? Where do official language minority communities find themselves in the list of priorities?

Ms. Fortier: First of all, thank you for the question. I also had meetings with the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones. I had conversations with my colleague, Darrell Samson, who chairs the caucus. Yes, the new directive was implemented on May 13, 2021. It reinforces custodial departments’ obligations regarding official language minority communities’ interests. Custodians must notify them one way or another. Be they first, second or third, the important thing is to notify them.

Many people told me it was not enough. We always want to improve the situation and we will try to find a way to do it. There have been a few improvements, but I’m hearing that things need to improve even more.

We have made significant efforts in terms of modernizing the Official Languages Act, but we will continue to review the directive. We know full well that it is sometimes more difficult for certain provinces to give more information to school boards. We understand that reality. We’ll see how we can ensure that communities are not only notified, but consulted more often. That is what I am hearing. The new regulation exists, but there’s always a way to improve it.

Senator Gagné: To adjust it; it always takes a bit of time to be able to get it right.

I would like to continue, but I only have 30 seconds left.

Ms. Fortier: Go ahead, I can stay for another few minutes.

Senator Gagné: Thank you. If I understand correctly, in Bill C-13, an amendment was proposed at committee to try and reinforce it, if it passes.

Ms. Fortier: Stay tuned.

Senator Gagné: Very well.

Ms. Fortier: I am committed, senator, to seeing how we can improve, and I know my team is already aware of it. I sincerely believe that there is always room for improvement. We have often discussed it. We will see if we can reinforce this directive by giving more opportunities, not only to Indigenous communities, but also to official language minority communities.

Senator Gagné: Thank you very much.

The Chair: Since you opened the door to a few minutes more — In conclusion, to give you the opportunity to expand on the Treasury Board’s role in this proposed amendment, in order to transfer the responsibility for coordinating and implementing the legislation to the Treasury Board — which already has broad responsibilities —, could you explain your vision to us?

What would be the difference between what you do now and what you would do if this amendment were integrated into the legislation as soon it’s passed? I would really like to hear from you, and I think I am not the only one, on this new Treasury Board or the new Treasury Board mandate, and how it will vary or manifest. I would be very pleased to hear what you have to say on the subject, Madam Minister.

Ms. Fortier: I think I said it earlier. The fact that the Treasury Board will see its current power reinforced to ensure it can conduct evaluations and monitor Parts IV, V, VI and VII of the bill much more closely — Part VII is even more important — As I was telling my colleagues, we were asking the same question when I was vice president of the FCFA in 1997. Imagine: all these years later, I have the position of president of the Treasury Board. You can imagine that it remains an interesting point, but we will be able to give the Treasury Board more power.

As you know, the committee is working on it. When that’s done and we can pass the bill, we will see what the committee has decided in terms of the Treasury Board’s role. In my opinion, it is essential for Canadian Heritage to maintain a coordination role. The Treasury Board is not necessarily the best choice to play that role. Nothing is stopping all the other parties from letting the board start to play this new role. We will be able to assess the role it plays as the years go on.

As you know, in the bill, it specifies 10 years, because we don’t want to wait 50 years to keep improving the legislation. The Treasury Board therefore has 10 years to see how it can play its role.

Mr. Adam: The president clearly identified Parts IV, V and VI, which are the Treasury Board Secretariat’s responsibility, and Part VII, which is Canadian Heritage’s responsibility. Positive measures would be assigned to the Treasury Board Secretariat. I cannot speak to the bill as such, but I can say that we at the Treasury Board Secretariat are continuing to work internally, and Canadian Heritage is equipped to work externally with stakeholders throughout Canada. They have regional offices. They are in constant communication with external partners and communities. The minister highlighted that collaboration between the Treasury Board and Canadian Heritage would be preferable and better aligned.

The Chair: Very well. Thank you very much for your appearance, Madam Minister. Ms. Laroche and Mr. Adam, we are all aware that the Treasury Board has an important role to play, that the presidency of the Treasury Board has an important role in terms of the position official languages occupy within the government, and that it has an impact on communities. We are pleased to have heard from you, and we hope to be able to continue this conversation in the context of the new modernized Official Languages Act, which we hope will soon come before the Senate, so that it may review the bill and do its work.

Ms. Fortier: I am really looking forward to being able to send you the bill.

The Chair: Thank you. Dear colleagues, I thank you for your contribution.

(The committee adjourned.)

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