Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 8 - Evidence - Meeting of June 9, 2008
OTTAWA, June 9, 2008
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 5 p.m. to
study and 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.
Senator Maria Chaput (Chair) in the Chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Official
Languages. I am Senator Maria Chaput from Manitoba.
I would like to begin by introducing the members of the committee who are
here with us today. To my left is Senator Andrée Champagne from Quebec. She is
also the Deputy Chair of the committee. We also have Senator Gerald Comeau from
Nova Scotia. To my right, is Senator Claudette Tardif from Alberta and Senator
Rose-Marie Losier-Cool from New Brunswick.
We have with us today Mr. Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official
Languages. Appearing with him is Ms. Catherine Scott, Director General of the
Policy and Research Branch, Ms. Dominique Lemieux, Director General of the
Compliance Assurance Branch and Ms. Johane Tremblay, General Counsel of the
Legal Affairs Branch.
Our last meeting with Mr. Fraser was on December 3, 2007, when he presented
an assessment of his first year as commissioner. Mr. Fraser published his annual
report on May 29, 2008. We are meeting with him this evening to hear him talk
about his main findings and recommendations.
Mr. Fraser, the committee would like to thank you for having accepted its
invitation to appear today. I would now invite you to take the floor.
Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the
Commissioner of Official Languages: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. It is
always a pleasure to appear before you, who are my allies on the issue of
I would like to start by thanking you for inviting me to present my annual
report and comment on the governance of official languages.
When I tabled my first annual report last year, I drew attention to the fact
that the government's actions did not reflect its words. I asked the government
to show strong political leadership and take concrete measures to reinforce the
progress that had been made.
In my evaluation this year, I have made a number of observations on the
government's position on official languages. I have continued my reflection on
leadership and official languages, and I reaffirm that to be a leader in the
public service, it is necessary to be able to inform, evaluate, explain, give
advice and inspire in both English and French.
This definition of leadership must encompass all federal institutions,
including the Supreme Court. It seems clear to me that Canadians have the right
to be heard and judged in the official language of their choice.
In my view, judges in Canada's highest court should understand both versions
of the laws, arguments made in court and all discussions with their colleagues
regardless of which official language is used.
The government reiterated its support for Canada's linguistic duality in its
October 2007 Throne Speech. Yet, it did not set aside any funding for this area
in the February 26 budget. The tentativeness and the lack of leadership are now
evident. Despite the government's many statements in support of Canada's
linguistic duality, there is no global vision in terms of government policies
and the public service.
This lack of leadership has resulted in a plateau being reached, and in some
cases, deterioration in the application of the official languages policy. I have
noted that, yet again this year, very little progress has been made in several
areas of activity, and the situation has even worsened in some institutions. The
initiative that will replace the action plan for official languages is an
example of a commitment that is slow in being honoured and an example of
tentative and uncertain leadership. The deadline of March 31, 2008, is set out
in the action plan. Nevertheless, the government has not had the foresight to
create a new initiative or a replacement initiative before this deadline, and
Canadians are still waiting for new developments.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages has had the report
on the latest consultations undertaken on this subject for several months but
has still not announced any concrete measures. In fact, it almost feels like a
Samuel Beckett play, which could be called "Waiting for the Action Plan.'' I
sincerely hope that I will not have to spend another year watching a drama in
suspended animation as the government bides its time.
However, I would also add that I was happy to hear Minister Verner say in the
House that the new plan will be made public "very soon.''
The government must establish a clear direction and implement initiatives
that will lead to concrete results. Some of the partners involved are concerned,
since they do not know what the objectives of the future initiative will be or
how much funding will be granted.
A little over a year ago, your committee asked for my advice on official
languages governance. You asked me to examine horizontal coordination in
official languages and to make appropriate recommendations. I devoted an entire
section in my annual report specifically to horizontal governance in official
languages, and I made three recommendations that I hope address your committee's
Part of my analysis is based on a report that Professor Donald Savoie
prepared for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. I am pleased
to provide you with copies of his report, which helped me analyze government and
public service initiatives on horizontal governance.
As your committee has already pointed out, coordination of official languages
does not receive the attention it deserves. Good governance requires first and
foremost a clear, strong and sustained commitment from the political executive.
I therefore made three recommendations to the Prime Minister as to how he can
demonstrate political leadership on horizontal management of official languages.
First, I recommended that he create an ad hoc committee of ministers to oversee
the full implementation of the new action plan and language requirements within
all federal institutions.
Second, I recommended that he ensure cabinet reviews official languages
matters at least once a year.
Third, I recommended that he ensure the Official Languages Secretariat is
given the authority it needs to fulfill a horizontal coordination role across
the public service.
Political and administrative leadership is part and parcel of good horizontal
governance. This principle applies equally to official languages and to other
major files within the federal administration.
I recommended that the Clerk of the Privy Council ensure deputy ministers'
annual performance reviews include efforts to implement the Official Languages
Act in its entirety, especially Part VII. To achieve tangible results,
responsibility for such implementation must be recognized and valued at the
highest levels of the federal administration.
Finally, I recommended that the Minister for Official Languages give the
Official Languages Secretariat the mandate of reviewing the official languages
accountability and reporting requirements to simplify the process and, above
all, strengthen the focus on results. The reporting requirements should help the
administration better fulfill its responsibilities, not create a burden.
We need a better coordinated effort to effectively resolve the
language-of-work problems that have plagued the federal government for 40 years.
I recommend that, by December 31, 2008, deputy heads of all federal institutions
report on the actions they have taken to create a work environment that makes it
possible for employees in regions designated by the act to use the official
language of their choice. These regions are New Brunswick, the National Capital
Region and several parts of Quebec and Ontario.
Linguistic duality is a fundamental component of Canada's public service. In
an environment where anglophones and francophones work side by side,
bilingualism is an essential part of leadership in a modern and efficient public
service that reflects our country's values.
However, over the years, the number of positions designated bilingual has not
changed. These positions include mainly those that involve providing service to
the public, and in some cases, supervisory positions. Public service renewal
must make it possible to better anchor Canada's linguistic duality at the heart
of the values and priorities of federal institutions. As 15,000 people are
expected to join the public service every year, Canada's linguistic duality must
be a consideration in the recruitment, training and upgrading of skills.
Successful implementation of policies on communications with and service to the
public, language of work and human resources management hinges on employees
having access to high-quality language training from the beginning of their
careers in the federal government. We must stop the practice of sending an
employee on language training only once they have been appointed to a supervisor
I call on the government to show greater coherence and put its good
intentions into practice. In short, I ask the government to show leadership
instead of simply managing the file.
Through stronger leadership, the government will also have an influence on
the changes that may affect Canada's linguistic duality. Studies published over
the last few months by Statistics Canada describe how vibrant the official
language communities are, but also describe the many challenges that must be met
in a changing social context.
I want to underscore that some federal institutions are providing significant
support for linguistic duality. They are also making a concerted effort to
ensure that both official languages can be used in the workplace, provide
services in both languages and implement positive measures to enhance the
vitality of official language minority communities. Their work deserves to be
recognized. I give several examples in my annual report, and I invite all deputy
heads to draw inspiration from them.
Federal institutions obtain better and longer-lasting results for Canadians
when the government, senior management and public servants show strong
leadership by recognizing the rights and values related to official languages
and linguistic duality and by ensuring these rights and values are respected.
The fortieth anniversary of the Official Languages Act, which will be celebrated
in 2009, seems to me to be an ideal time to turn this vision into action.
In closing, like you, I am following with great interest the issue of
bilingualism at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. My office has undertaken
a study on the matter which is a preventive step which should help the Vancouver
Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC) address
potential shortcomings before the games.
Although study of this matter is still underway, we have already identified
some key issues, particularly regarding resources allocated to official
languages within VANOC, growing demand for translation and simultaneous
interpretation, signage and volunteer recruitment. While our study does not
examine the broadcasting of the games in both official languages, that is also
an issue which I am following closely. I believe that the 2010 Olympic and
Paralympic Games are a golden opportunity for the federal government to show
leadership and to showcase Canada's linguistic duality to the world.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to
answer your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Commissioner. I would like to
start off with a first question. Your annual report indicates that, among other
things, few public servants are fully aware of their official language
obligations. That is truly disappointing because I remember there being an
initiative 7 to 10 years ago called "interdepartmental relations,'' which was
intended to raise awareness among senior federal department officials. Then,
there were what we called "official languages champions.'' When we met some of
those officials individually, a number of them had seemed responsive and had
changed their attitudes.
Now that we know that there will be a public service renewal, we would like
to make sure that the public servants are fully aware of their obligations. We
would really like to get off on the right foot. In your opinion, what would be
the strategic priorities that will get us off to a good start so that the public
servants are aware of their obligations, because this hasn't really worked with
the system we currently have.
Mr. Fraser: First, let me say that there is some degree of variation.
Just like you, I was impressed by the commitment of official language champions
in the departments. In some departments, much progress was made; it has become a
part of the culture and measures have been taken to ensure that the working
language is respected. In other cases, this seems to have been neglected and
there has even been some deterioration of the status of French — and of English
in Quebec — in the working environment.
There are two specific elements that must be emphasized in the message.
First, we should make sure that the active offer of service becomes a part of
the culture when greeting the public as citizens step up to the wicket of
various organizations — Parks Canada, Air Canada, Services Canada, Health
Canada, Passports Canada. I am struck by the fact that although this is a
commitment that is clearly required by law, it does not seem to play any role in
the culture when it comes to dealing with the public. I have often met agency
heads and even ministers who did not even understand what I was talking about
when I spoke of the very weak results in the area of active offer. Several
ministers or heads of agencies asked me: "What do you mean by active offer?''
This leads me to believe that it is not really a part of the culture, of the
guidelines and of presumed obligations.
For this to get done, the message must come from above. One good example is
the progress that was made in the Department of Public Works and Government
Services when the minister became angry at the rather poor results in his
department. He insisted that the results be changed to show some progress.
Within three years, the marks that the department received in the report card
progressed from weak to middling to good. This is evidence that if there is
political will and a will to take leadership, it can be done.
As you remember, I raised this issue last year. During your deliberations,
you raised the problem with moving the Canadian Tourism Commission. You studied
the matter. At first, the institution had big problems with meeting its
commitments after it moved from Ottawa to Vancouver, or from a bilingual region
to a unilingual region. However, now they are among the four institutions that
set an example with their performance. This was no accident, it happened because
they were determined to make it happen, and despite the fact of being in
Vancouver and of having lost bilingual employees upon leaving Ottawa, they
succeeded in picking up the challenge.
Therefore, it is very important for the employees at the grassroots to
understand the obligation. However, for them to understand it, the message must
come from above.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Commissioner, I want to thank you for your annual
report. You forcefully stated what had to be said, namely that there is a lack
of leadership and that there has been an increasing tendency to do the strict
minimum over the past few years in the enforcement of official languages. You
attributed this fact to leadership and I think, in fact, that things either get
done or do not get done, depending on the leadership and political will.
In 2006, when the government came into power, it decided to transfer the
Official Languages Secretariat from the Privy Council Office to Heritage Canada.
I can hardly see how a department can assume responsibility for coordination
when it has no specific powers, and how it can manage its own activities. Do you
think that this decision had an impact on the poor results and the lack of
leadership that we see today?
Mr. Fraser: Last year, I personally expressed the same concern, just
as you, as senators, did when you requested that the issue be studied. I think
that I often repeated this sentence: "We pay more attention to directives from
an office upstairs than from an office down the hall.'' Professor Savoie was
asked to do this study and this study was tabled with you, in response to your
request. Professor Savoie did a very interesting study on the horizontality
issue which is an increasingly fashionable term in the public service, and I am
also beginning to use it. According to Mr. Savoie, horizontality cannot
compensate for the lack of political will. For horizontality to work there must
be some change in the government apparatus as well as an overall view of all the
issues. He raises this issue again and again.
This brings us to the second principle of the sound management of horizontal
issues. In Mr. Savoie's opinion, there is no easy solution nor is there any
model that can apply to all the issues in all circumstances and at all times. No
solution can be complete or perfect. Consequently a solution must be adapted to
each issue at each moment and for each situation so that horizontal management
issues can move forward. In his opinion, we are making slow progress beyond the
Finally, 32 interviews of senior officials were carried out which showed that
they had various suggestions to make. However, they almost seemed to be
repetitive in the way they all indicated first and foremost the need for the
political executive to send out a clear message that the official languages
policy is a priority.
This approach, which is used not only in Canada but also in England and in
the United States, consists of working towards what the British call "joined up
government,'' which was previously called "all of government approaches,'' which
means horizontality. I was strongly influenced by an analysis done by Professor
Donald Savoie which says that an official languages policy can be managed on a
horizontal basis, so long as the political leadership is strong.
This conclusion really corroborated the analysis that we had already begun
regarding the role of leadership.
Senator Tardif: Would your recommendation include the establishment of
a special ministers' committee?
Mr. Fraser: Yes, based on this fairly detailed analysis by Professor
Donald Savoie and on his recommendations, we conclude that this can work so long
as cabinet members display their commitment to providing this leadership.
Senator Tardif: I think that in the past there was a committee of
deputy ministers or ministers in charge of official languages which has now been
disbanded. However, I do not know how many times a year it met.
Mr. Fraser: Yes. In fact, one of the things that Professor Donald
Savoie noticed was that the committee was more or less functional and he
identified some weak points. This is why, if I understand his study correctly —
he did not stand up and say that this is how things should work, but he
recognized that if there is no signal coming from the top of the government
hierarchy and if it is left up to lower levels, problems can be expected.
Senator Champagne: Mr. Commissioner, good afternoon. You talk about a
lack of leadership. I found it quite difficult when reading your report, and I
read it intently, to find small instances — a few of which you call success
stories — where an effort was made.
I am thinking of Bill C-13, thanks to which accused persons are better
informed of their right to be heard in the official language of their choice. I
agree with you: judges will nevertheless have to be able to hear them in either
I am also thinking of Bill C-36, which ensures that language requirements
continue to apply to Air Canada and its affiliates. I agree with you, there has
been some success but there are still problems. All the same, actions have been
You said earlier that you were very concerned — as am I — about the
broadcasting of the Olympic Games. It is all very well to say that there needs
to be leadership at the highest level, but the Prime Minister has no authority
over Globemedia. He can offer them suggestions, but he is in no position to give
orders. How is there a lack of leadership in such a case? I do not know. We face
the same problem with CBC/Radio-Canada where neither the Prime Minister, with
all the leadership in the world, nor the minister can tell the public
broadcaster how to conduct its operations.
When the CBC decides to record the Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala, when
they do the editing and broadcast it on their airwaves, and when all francophone
singers have been left out, that is not, in my view, a lack of leadership on the
part of the government.
Mr. Fraser: Madam Chair, regarding the broadcasting of the Olympic
Games, I do not think that it can be said that I blamed the Prime Minister for
not having played a part in that file.
It is indeed a rather complicated file in that a contract was awarded by the
International Olympic Committee following a publicly-advertised tender call,
which was won by CTV. A consortium was then created, and I think that it was in
part because of your questions and concerns about the issue — which you raised
in the file's early stages — that CTV has made considerable efforts to ensure
that the consortium be as broad as possible.
I have met with CTV broadcasting officials, but at the same time, there are
things that still need to be resolved. However, responsibility for that does not
rest with the Prime Minister, and it was never my intention to suggest that
between the lines.
Senator Champagne: You came very close to suggesting that when you
said that there was this problem, and that more leadership was still needed. But
what is there to say about the Prime Minister's leadership in an area where he
cannot demand anything whatsoever?
Mr. Fraser: The Department of Canadian Heritage does nevertheless have
a role to play. Meetings have taken place and have led to some pressure being
applied. As well, there are ongoing discussions between the department and CTV.
But what also concerns me — and this has nothing to do with the Prime
Minister — are the conditions under which the competitive bidding process was
carried out. Some consortium members are on unstable ground, and if there are
changes in the French-language broadcasting landscape, that could lead to
Senator Champagne: I think the matter is now before the CRTC.
Mr. Fraser: Yes, and so I cannot go any further on the issue, except
to say that at one point I raised the issue during my conversations with CTV and
told them that they should at least start to think about a plan B. We had a very
constructive conversation during a meeting that was held fairly recently. So
there are some elements that make me feel a bit more optimistic than I was a few
Senator Champagne: It is you then who has shown leadership, and we
thank you for it.
I would like to address another topic. In your performance report cards, the
worst grade, which is a failing grade, was given to National Defence and the
Mr. Fraser: Yes.
Senator Champagne: When I saw the "E'' with the asterisks, the worst
possible grade, I wondered if they could not have at least earned a ''D,''
especially now since young francophones from across Canada who wish to embark on
a career in the armed forces can once again study in French thanks to the
reopening of the Saint-Jean Military College, which our predecessors had deemed
to be useless and without any importance.
Mr. Fraser: I applauded Minister O'Connor when he made that
announcement last summer. I always thought that that terrible mess had to be
fixed. A first step has been taken. When I met with officials at military
headquarters, the Canadian Armed Forces executive committee and National
Defence, I was given assurances that the reopening was but the first step in the
redevelopment of French-language training within the Canadian Forces.
At the same time, there have been drawbacks. Last year, complaints received
by my counterpart at the time, Yves Côté, helped identify very serious problems
with the training at Borden. We are currently assessing the situation with the
collaboration of the Canadian Forces.
In the annual report, we indicate that we are trying to develop our role as
an ombudsman. We are putting the conditions in place to be able to intervene
much more proactively. That is what we are currently doing with the Canadian
A year ago or so, the Canadian Forces renewed their approach. I made sure not
to criticize them for that change by not telling them that that was an admission
of failure. However, I have always said that I would not wait until 2012 to see
the results of that new approach. We are closely monitoring what is done at
National Defence. We pay them regular visits. Dominique Lemieux might have other
things to add concerning the Canadian Forces.
Dominique Lemieux, Director General, Policy and Research Branch, Office of
the Commissioner of Official Languages: We are conducting a broad and
in-depth assessment of training in the language of instruction, not language
training. We are covering the marine, aviation and army sectors. This in-depth
assessment will no doubt take us at least one year.
Mr. Fraser: I would like to add something that could reassure you. I
have had very positive meetings with the minister and high-ranking officials. I
have already visited several military bases, and the work is not yet done.
I understand that the Canadian Forces have experienced enormous challenges.
General Hillier even spoke about a decade of darkness. During my meeting with
him, I told him that the forces were now working in broad daylight. All
Canadians are aware of the challenges that the Canadian Forces have to meet. As
we speak, francophone soldiers are putting their lives on the line in a foreign
country. That highlights their right to training in their own language.
Senator Murray: What keeps occurring to me in regard to the horizontal
management of the issue is to know what value-added has been brought to the
system by the creation of a minister for official languages and a separate
Official Languages Secretariat. Frankly, I was always dubious about going in
that direction. I opposed it in the committee and elsewhere years ago.
I think it was the Chrétien government that finally did it, and our friend
from Ottawa-Vanier, Mauril Bélanger, was the first minister. There have been
others since. I think Madam Verner was the minister responsible for official
languages before she became Minister of Canadian Heritage. The position was
junior to some other minister. I do not know whether it was to the Privy Council
or Canadian Heritage.
I wonder whether it is producing anything and whether we should continue down
that road. I have not read Professor Savoie's report. I know that during the
1970s and well into the 1980s, the implementation of the Official Languages Act
and of the policy — language of service, language of work, equitable
representation of the two language groups at all levels of the public service —
was not only a political but an administrative challenge of humongous
proportions, as they say. What ministers and officials face today is not nearly
as complicated as the problems that their predecessors faced in the 1970s and
You and apparently Professor Savoie speak of the need for political
leadership. It was well known under the Trudeau and Mulroney governments that
dragging your feet on these issues was a career-limiting move. I think it was
also true of the Chrétien government, although I cannot speak with as much
knowledge on that.
The leadership was coming from the centre. As a matter of principle, it looks
like the issue has been hived off to this minister of state or the secretariat
or whatever it is.
Put yourself in the position of a civil servant who has two telephone
messages on his or her desk or two emails to answer. One is from the Privy
Council Office and the other is from the Official Languages Secretariat. You
know which one will be answered first: the one from the PCO.
I think it was a mistake to remove the function from there. It gave the
appearance that it was being taken away from the immediate supervision of the
I will read Professor Savoie's report and see what he has to say. However, I
wonder whether someone should revisit the issue of whether a secretariat of that
kind will produce the desired results. If you want to give a progress report on
that secretariat, please go ahead. I would like to hear it.
Mr. Fraser: The secretariat has handled a range of issues, including
the coordination of all of the elements of the action plan. If we do see the
government come forward with the renewed action plan as it has promised, it will
have come out of that secretariat.
Your example of the two pink phone slips was certainly my instinctive
starting point in looking at this. However, in response to the request from the
committee, we issued a tender for a study. Professor Donald Savoie, a world-
recognized expert in governance, took on this issue on our behalf and delivered
a nuanced, analytical study of the issue.
I was impressed by the analysis he gave and the provisos he had about making
this work effectively. They not only informed but provided us with the
recommendations that we made concerning the importance of ensuring that the
secretariat has the authority necessary to ask the Prime Minister to set up a
cabinet committee and to ensure that this cabinet committee review these issues.
I did not think it would be appropriate for me, as commissioner, to say that I
do not care what the study says and just put it back.
As I understand of the decision the clerk made in terms of streamlining the
Privy Council Office, I certainly do not think official languages were the
target of that. I think it was a function of his view of the role of Privy
Council as a central agency and not wanting to duplicate. A similar thing
happened for much of the foreign policy unit that existed in the Privy Council
While I share some of your prejudices on this issue, I was impressed by a
report that ran somewhat counter to my own prejudices, shall I say.
Senator Murray: The key line departments involved in official
languages are Treasury Board, insofar as bilingualism in the public service is
concerned; the Department of Justice; and the Department of Canadian Heritage,
particularly with regard to the federal-provincial aspects, the agreements with
the provinces and so on. These departments already have a reporting
relationship, if you like, to the Privy Council Office.
Mr. Fraser: The Canada Public Service Agency is also playing an
Senator Murray: Yes, certainly.
They already deal with Privy Council Office. It would have seemed to me that
the horizontal role of Privy Council Office would be more effective if they had
continued to exercise supervision over official languages policy in law.
Regardless, I will read Professor Savoie's report. I remain dubious about the
whole exercise. There is only so much talent to go around in the public service,
as you know. It comes down to the political leadership. Either the issue has
priority or it does not. If it does have priority, people from top to bottom in
the public service soon get the message: Herein, fail not; you have to move on
and try to make it work.
I want to ask you about one other matter, something I have not read yet but
have seen reported in the media. Public Policy Forum has produced something on
the public service, and it appears that bilingualism received faint praise, at
best. Indeed, there was some suggestion that the language requirements were
causing problems in the recruitment and retention of other target groups in the
public service, including visible minorities and handicapped persons.
That is not the evidence we heard in this committee and another committee,
the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, where we had the Canada
Public Service Agency and various other responsible people in. We did not hear
evidence that language requirements were one of the problems.
Do you have any comment on what the Public Policy Forum had to say?
Mr. Fraser: Let me share with you what I said first to Ian Green, who
wrote the initial report and worked on the report all the way through, and then
subsequently to Jodi White, the president of the Public Policy Forum. I felt it
was unfortunate that in their series of cross-country conversations with people
that was the basis of some of the research for the initial report, francophones
were strongly under-represented on those panels.
Much of the media attention that was given to the final report was based in
large part on an editorial board session where Ms. White appeared. She raised
the issue of the attempt of a department she did not name to look for somebody
at the assistant deputy minister level in Vancouver who was fluent in Mandarin.
She spoke about how the language requirements were an obstacle.
My response to her was that there are 16,061 federal jobs in British
Columbia; 530 of those jobs are designated bilingual. That is about 3 per cent.
Therefore, 97 per cent of the federal jobs in British Columbia are not
There are some 60,000 francophones in British Columbia and there are 30,000
students in British Columbia who are in French immersion. If you look at those
comparative numbers, look at the pool of people who are available to fill 530
jobs out of 16,000 and you add into the mix the fact that there is job training
available for public servants who are preparing for promotion, I think it is an
exaggeration to say that language requirements are a barrier to entry into the
I think one of the problems is that cocktail-party chatter sometimes becomes
erected into something as if it were public policy. I become quite indignant
when I see people who are engaging in public policy analysis, whether as
journalists or as people engaged in public debate, resort to anecdotal
references. When I see that, my instinct is either to sit down and write a
vigorous response to something that has appeared in the newspaper or to pick up
In the case of both Ian Green and Jodi White, I picked up the phone and I
shared with them the points I just made.
Senator Murray: I sent them transcripts, particularly from the Finance
Committee where we dealt in some detail with this question of target groups such
as visible minorities and so on. The situation is complex. It is not clear to me
why we are not doing better.
This is not a concern of this committee at the moment. However, the question
that arises is where is the competition. Obviously, we are in competition for
these people with the private sector and with provincial and municipal
governments. I would like to know how well they are doing before we say it is
bilingualism that is causing the problem or that there is some systemic
resistance to hiring visible minorities.
Mr. Fraser: Sure. We also did a study last year with Statistics Canada
looking at the age group from 18 to 48 years. That is the basic age group from
which the public service is likely to be drawing when they are seeking
employees. We wanted to see if there was a systematic difference in the level of
bilingualism between members of visible minority communities and Canadian-born
anglophones. We found that members of the visible minority community are more
bilingual than anglophones are. They are not dramatically more bilingual, but
more so than anglophones.
I am always a little suspicious of anglophones saying we should alter those
requirements because they are unfair to visible minorities. I sometimes think
this is a handy excuse for people who feel that they should not have to worry
about these language requirements themselves.
There are only a few reasons why public servants should master both official
languages: to serve the public; to manage people who have the right to use both
official languages on the job; to be able to brief ministers who may insist on
their right to be briefed in French, which is not inscribed in the Constitution
or any regulation; and to have an understanding of the country as a whole.
There are many interesting important jobs in the public service where those
criteria do not apply.
Senator Comeau: First, I want to congratulate Dr. Fraser again for
recently being awarded an honorary PhD. from the University of Nova Scotia; he
is now a doctor of political science. Commissioner or doctor, you made an
excellent speech during your presentation.
Mr. Fraser: Thank you very much, I was honoured by the ceremony and
Senator Comeau: The community was extremely pleased to do this.
Commissioner, I want to come back to a comment you made in your speech. In
reference to Statistics Canada, you said that the official language communities
were vibrant, but that there were also many challenges to be faced in a changing
I presume that you are referring here to communities that have long been
francophone communities and which are on the verge of extinction. We can name,
for example, the Baie Ste-Marie region which you recently visited. These are
historic communities. People are leaving to go west, to Montreal or Ottawa. Is
that what you are referring to?
Mr. Fraser: I was referring to two different things. Following the
2006 census, Statistics Canada conducted a specific study on community vitality,
a study based on interviews, which demonstrated strengths and weaknesses. As you
mentioned, the fragility of various rural communities was one of the things the
study looked at.
I am going to let Catherine speak to give you more details.
Catherine Scott, Director General, Policy and Research Branch, Office of
the Commissioner of Official Languages: Madam Chair, this study was
conducted by Statistics Canada and published last December, and enabled us to
better understand the different aspects of vitality, be it the perception of
identity, access to government services or health care, and even the role of the
media in minority communities. Consequently, this study will allow us to conduct
other research and to dig deeper to better understand the various dimensions
We also conducted studies in partnership with the communities, including a
study on the vitality of the francophone community in Halifax, to try to work
with the community in order to better understand various issues, be it the youth
drain or access to health care, and to help communities develop strategies and
targets to strengthen their vitality.
Senator Comeau: I am pleased to hear you mention Halifax, because
Halifax is not historically an Acadian community; more and more francophones are
settling there. But there are some communities that are being abandoned at a
Perhaps there were reasons that you needed to go to Halifax, but would it not
be more important to visit, at this time, the more isolated and rural
communities? More and more people are recommending that the government abandon
those remote regions, such as Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Baie Ste-Marie,
Nova Scotia, Chéticamp and others and focus on Halifax. No doubt, you have
already heard these comments previously.
Mr. Fraser: Yes. Clearly, the small rural communities are becoming
increasingly fragile. However, the Standing Senate Committee on Official
Languages should know that this problem is not unique to official language
minority communities. Young anglophones are also leaving rural communities.
I think that it is quite difficult to develop public policy targeting only
official language minority communities when there is a generalized problem
facing the remote regions, where it is difficult to retain young francophones in
Quebec and young anglophones as well.
Until quite recently, Saskatchewan had a serious problem with shrinking rural
communities. The loss of the community becomes even more tragic when it involves
a historic community, but it is always hard.
What is important about Halifax is that more and more young people are moving
to Halifax and it is becoming an increasingly important centre.
Senator Comeau: Do you agree that — you seem almost to be suggesting
this — it is too difficult to find solutions for small communities —
Mr. Fraser: No, I do not know.
Senator Comeau: — allow me to continue — such as Île Madame or
Chéticamp, whose young people are going to Halifax? Are you suggesting that we
should concentrate on Halifax instead of on those smaller communities? Is it
difficult to develop a strategy? Is it a generalized problem from which all
those small communities are suffering?
Mr. Fraser: I am not prepared to answer that because we did not look
specifically at small communities.
What comes to mind in answer to your questions is that there are significant
economic pressures in remote regions, which are reeling from the increase in the
price of gas, the cost of transportation and so on.
What I would add, and here is where your question is quite relevant, is that
the government and all its institutions have an obligation to undertake positive
measures to ensure the development of minority communities, be they francophone
communities in Nova Scotia or not.
Increasingly, it is through this lens that we should look at government
decisions. Do those decisions represent or include positive measures for
official language minority communities?
Senator Comeau: Perhaps this is where I would ask you to develop a
strategy that could, through the Office of the Commissioner of Official
Languages, make recommendations to the government as to how it might take action
in those small communities in order to help them, be it in Summerside, Prince
Edward Island, or a small francophone region in Newfoundland, with the exception
of St. John's. The francophone population in those small communities is
dropping. Perhaps the commissioner could assist the government to develop
solutions by identifying the problem and making the government aware of it.
Several years ago, your predecessors had announced the hiring of a new
employee in Atlantic Canada to meet the needs of official language minority
communities. This person was based out of Moncton, a region where there is a
high francophone population, meaning it had the magic number.
Johane Tremblay, General Counsel, Legal Affairs Branch, Office of the
Commissioner of Official Languages: We are talking about critical mass.
Senator Comeau: At the time, I had asked why the same thing was not
being done in Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island? The answer was that they had
received fewer complaints from those regions. Was there a specific reason for
that? Is it because they do not know about you? People have not heard about the
Commissioner of Official Languages because he is located somewhere else. On the
previous page you were talking about New Brunswick, the National Capital Region
and other regions in Quebec and Ontario as target regions. However, there are
other regions. British Columbia is a perfect example. Francophone communities
had been abandoned for years and, suddenly, when we needed them, we found them.
Despite this, it took some time, because we gave money to a foundation — and I
do not remember its name — before we turned to the francophone community in
We realized its importance in the end. There are perhaps others, in the other
provinces, that we can make sure we do not forget.
Mr. Fraser: Indeed, we received 58 complaints from Nova Scotia and
only 49 from New Brunswick. Therefore, I sometimes try to say that complaints
are not the only tool. We cannot claim that service has improved because
complaints have decreased, but we indeed received more complaints in Nova Scotia
than in New Brunswick.
One of the components that contributed to the decision to keep the office in
Moncton was that of the critical mass, not necessarily of francophones, but also
the critical mass of the people in the office. Therefore, that supports my
argument to a certain extent. And I can tell you that the people in the Moncton
office often travel to Nova Scotia, and it is easy to travel around the Atlantic
provinces. This is an office that covers four provinces. The new representative
is in the process of moving from Prince Edward Island. Therefore, we have had
impressive coverage of the four provinces.
Recently, I had a very useful, very cordial and productive meeting with the
minister from Nova Scotia, Chris D'Entremont, who talked to me about his
legislation and his cooperation with the Acadian community, as well as his pride
in the very high level of community participation in the drafting and
enforcement of this act. This would be a good example to follow as far as having
a spirit of cooperation in this area is concerned.
Senator Losier-Cool: It is now my turn to congratulate you, doctor.
My questions will concern francophone culture. Over the last year, this
committee has undertaken a study of francophone culture and its central issues
in minority situations. We have heard from many witnesses.
In March 2008, you published a study entitled Federal government support
for the arts and culture in Official Language Minority Communities. In this
study, you talk about developing a new vision to acknowledge the key role the
arts and culture play in the vitality of the community.
This committee travelled to New Brunswick and we recognized that vitality.
What form could this new vision take?
Mr. Fraser: First of all, I believe it is very important that the
government include arts and culture in the next action plan, and we cannot
imagine a community without culture. Living within a community necessarily
implies living within a culture, having access to culture. We cannot conceive of
someone having received an education without having had access to culture.
In my opinion, culture, in its broadest sense, is an essential component of
civilized life. I was furthermore very pleased to see that Mr. Lord recommended
that the government include culture as one component of its new action plan.
The important thing is to make a connection between the government,
communities and artists. Often, in the beginning, when the first action plan was
being developed, I felt that there were certain artistic communities that were
not quite ready to join in the strategic planning process, the collective
management process that is truly a part of these kinds of relationships with the
We have made a great deal of progress in this area. We can now see that there
are very significant cultural components in some provinces. For example, in
Ontario, we organized artists' tours for schools in minority communities. In
Quebec, the same thing exists for artists; there is a government fund for this.
It is not well known, but it serves to fund artists' visits to schools.
If we think of the long-term vitality of minority language communities, we
absolutely must ensure that these communities have access to culture. That means
having access to books, theatre, movies and television. We have made enormous
progress over the last 40 years in terms of developing access to television, for
example. There are very few communities that do not have access to television,
and the same thing is true for radio. I travelled across part of Saskatchewan in
a rented car listening to Radio-Canada and I realized to what degree
Radio-Canada plays an extremely important role in the vitality of these
communities. It means that these people can hear themselves.
As I see it, we cannot imagine a community existing without access to
Senator Losier-Cool: What you say is true. We have met with people who
are offering educational programs in the schools and school boards in order to
educate people to become consumers of culture.
On the principle of inclusion, you spoke of governments, of communities, of
young people and of artists. As other witnesses also stated, do you believe it
would be useful to have a national cultural policy for francophones?
Mr. Fraser: At first glance, it appears to be an interesting idea. I
hesitate to commit to making it a formal recommendation off-the-cuff; I would
like to know more about it. Our study talks about a new comprehensive vision,
indeed, and that could be part of that context.
Senator Losier-Cool: You mentioned Radio-Canada. Some of our witnesses
congratulated Radio-Canada, but they have also pointed out some of its
shortcomings. Do you have any suggestions to offer the committee as to how
Radio- Canada could even better play its role of reflecting the minority
language communities across the country?
Mr. Fraser: I must admit that we currently have a bone to pick with
Radio-Canada. We believe that CBC/Radio- Canada has an obligation described in
part VII of the act, that is to say the obligation to take positive steps
towards the development of minority language communities. Radio-Canada claims
that, as far as programming is concerned, they are only accountable to the CRTC.
I am hoping to meet with Mr. Lacroix to discuss this. We have received seven or
eight complaints regarding CBC/Radio-Canada and we decided to tell the
complainants that we are grappling with this dispute.
Sometimes, the issues raised are outside of the scope of the act, but could
be of interest to the ombudsman. I try to send the message along to both the
complainant and to the ombudsman who is concerned with awareness. Senator
Champagne raised the issue of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala.
This issue concerns me as well; it is precisely the kind of situation wherein
CBC/Radio-Canada clearly states that it was a programming decision, that they
are the masters of their own agenda and that they are accountable only to the
Senator Champagne: It is an insult to francophones.
Mr. Fraser: Absolutely. That is why I am trying to see how else we can
analyze the impact of CBC/Radio-Canada, outside of the traditional ways. We are
carrying out a study on culture and Radio-Canada is at the very heart of our
Senator Losier-Cool: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. Commissioner, it is 6:15 and we would like to continue
with a second round of questions. Could you stay until 6:30?
Mr. Fraser: I am at your disposal.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Commissioner, you have indicated that the concept
of active offers has not penetrated the organizational culture of several
departments and agencies at the federal level. Has the concept of positive
measures been able to penetrate the organizational culture? Have you received
any comments from the official language minority communities to this effect?
Mr. Fraser: I think that it varies a great deal. Some institutions
have done interesting things in the way of positive action. We are still in the
introductory phase; it will take a few years for this legislative amendment to
become a part of our mentality.
I noticed — and you will probably notice it too if you take a look at our
bulletins — that the institutions are better at management than at getting
results. They create committees, discussions are held, champions are appointed,
but often the concrete results are much less impressive.
I was often struck by the fact that the institutions that set good examples
of positive action are the ones that come from the grassroots, in the regions,
where there is a real contact with the community. I do not know whether I have
already given this example, and if I have, please bear with me: an employee of
Parks Canada in Jasper went to see Jasper's francophone community and offered
them free premises from Parks Canada if, in exchange, they could organize
conversational French classes for Parks Canada employees.
It was a brilliant idea, but it was not at all the kind of directive that
could come from a deputy minister. It depended on the imagination and initiative
of local persons.
Another example, at the other extreme, has to do with the CEO of VIA Rail for
whom this was an important obligation. It was not clear with which minority
community VIA Rail could establish special contacts. The executive of the
Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes suggested that VIA Rail
become a sponsor of the Sommet de la Francophonie held in spring last year, and
VIA Rail accepted.
In both cases, the results were the fruit of collaboration. The Department of
Public Works is offering communities the free use of its Termium technology,
which is a terminological data bank in both official languages used for
translation. Industry Canada developed a DVD showing social and economic
profiles of minority communities. Some departments, such as Canada Post, have
found a new approach. Canada Post is sponsoring La dictée PGL which is now in
both official languages.
The institutions find imaginative initiatives to meet this obligation.
Senator Tardif: I am glad to see that there are positive examples in
all this. However, you said that institutions often do not understand the
definition of positive action, and that the government is overly cautious in
implementing positive action. Has there been any progress, are we still at the
status quo, or did you simply not make any comments about this in your report?
Mr. Fraser: At first, I thought that the analyses made by the
Department of Justice were overly cautious. The discussion was held up by the
fact that the first case that could define the scope of part VII of the act, the
intervention of the FCFA regarding the abolition of the Court Challenges
Program, is currently before the court. Therefore, we will have to wait for the
decisions in this case. The analysis by Justice Canada was held up for this
reason. However, I would say that there is progress, but there are still things
The Chair: If there are no further questions, even very brief ones,
from the senators, Mr. Commissioner, on behalf of the committee members, I would
like to sincerely thank you and your staff for appearing and for the report that
must have taken many hours of intensive hard work. This report will guide us in
our future actions. I wish you every success!
Mr. Fraser: Thank you for the kind words about the report. I want to
tell you how proud I am of our teamwork. The report is accurate and substantial,
and I thank the team for it.
The Chair: Honourable senators, let us pause for a few minutes before
resuming our work in camera.
The committee continued in camera.