Evidence of meeting #42 for Official Languages in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was official.

A recording is available from Parliament.

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Graham Fraser  Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
  • Ghislaine Charlebois  Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
  • Lise Cloutier  Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Welcome to the 42nd meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages on this Thursday, May 10, 2012. We are here pursuant to Standing Order 81(4) to study the Main Estimates 2012-13. I call vote 20 under Privy Council.

We have with us this morning the Commissioner of Official Languages, whom I welcome. I now invite him to make his opening statement.

8:45 a.m.

Graham Fraser Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chair and honourable members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I would like to thank your committee for its interest in the operations of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. The relationship between Parliament and my office is of the utmost importance.

I am accompanied today by Lise Cloutier, Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management; Ghislaine Charlebois, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance; Sylvain Giguère, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications; and Colette Lagacé, Director, Finance.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has a budget of $21.9 million, including $2.3 million in benefits, for 2012-13 to support it in its mandate. Our workforce is 163 full-time equivalents.

Those of you who have been sitting on this committee for some time know that our operations are divided into three program activities: protection of Canadians' language rights; promotion of linguistic duality; and internal services. This categorization of activities has not changed. However, due to financial pressures, we must re-evaluate the allocation of our resources. Some components of these activities could be modified.

The federal budget released on March 29 indicated that our organization will not be directly affected by the deficit reduction exercise, but that "The Commissioner of Official Languages will contribute to the Government's expenditure restraint efforts by reallocating operating savings towards necessary information technology investments." In other words, our Treasury Board submission for $6.4 million over four years to modernize our information technology and information management systems has been refused. This amount represents 7.8% of the Office of the Commissioner's budget for this period. All the data I am presenting today, as well as the recently tabled Report on Plans and Priorities, take into account this major investment, which we have to make.

Every sector of my organization must contribute. The office of the commissioner will continue to carry out all of its functions, but some activities may be reduced or postponed. Rest assured that handling complaints remains my priority, and investigations will be conducted as usual. Eventually, a new case management system will help us become even more efficient in our work.

To implement our first program activity, protecting the language rights of Canadians, the office of the commissioner intervenes, in various ways, with organizations that are subject to the Official Languages Act. Its key tools are complaint resolution through investigations, audits, performance evaluations of federal institutions, and court remedies.

My staff and I regularly intervene with many federal institutions to prevent violations of the act, rather than waiting until they occur.

The expenditures planned for this activity are $7.1 million, which is 32% of the budget. To assume this additional financial burden, my three-year audit plan will be revised. In 2012-2013, we will be publishing last year's audits of Industry Canada and Parks Canada.

To improve services to both the travelling public and the general public, we will continue to focus on institutions that are present in airports. The legal actions against Air Canada and CBC/Radio-Canada are proceeding normally, and decisions should be rendered by the end of the year in both cases.

The transfer of federal funds for official languages to the provinces and territories is very important, so I am planning to conduct an audit to examine the situation. This audit will not extend beyond my mandate or the resources I have at my disposal. It will be a horizontal audit of a limited number of federal institutions. It will not be a financial audit; rather, it will be a review of the accountability process.

Then, with respect to our second program activity, promotion of linguistic duality, the Office of the Commissioner communicates regularly with parliamentarians, official language minority communities, federal institutions and the Canadian public.

Canadians enjoy the full benefits of a country where two major language communities live side by side, thanks to our research, studies, communications products, and discussions with many key people.

The expenditures related to the promotion of linguistic duality are $7.2 million, which accounts for 33% of the total budget. Again, this budget must absorb part of the costs of modernizing our information technology.

In the March 29 budget document, the government announced that funding for the road map for Canada's linguistic duality will continue until it expires in 2013. Those responsible for turning the various components of this initiative into concrete results welcome this news. However, I remain vigilant about the cost cutting undertaken by the federal administration as a whole. Federal institutions must evaluate the impact of their cutbacks on official language communities and on their own capacity to incorporate Canada's linguistic duality into their operations.

Among other initiatives, we will be concluding a study on federal institutions are that managing language training, and we will be publishing a new publication entitled "Linguistic Rights 2009-2011" which will summarize and analyze recent legal judgments involving official languages. We are also organizing a fourth forum on the relationship between cultural diversity and linguistic duality, which will be held in Montreal.

We will continue to promote three very useful tools created in recent years: the leadership competencies profile for official languages for public service managers, the practical guide to promoting official languages when organizing a major cultural or sporting event in Canada or abroad, and the map of second-language learning opportunities in Canadian universities.

The office of the commissioner's 2011-12 annual report, which will be published in October, will look at how Canada's two official language communities are open to linguistic duality. In the fall we will launch Facebook and Twitter accounts, which will allow me to communicate directly with Canadians. I hope you will follow me.

Our third program activity, internal services, allows the office of the commissioner to bring together resources that support our organization as a whole, including asset management, finance, and human resources management. They are essential to any organization and ensure that taxpayers' dollars are used efficiently and transparently.

This activity is allocated a budget of $7.6 million, which is 35% of our total budget. To modernize the information technology and information management system that makes up part of this activity, internal services is reviewing how it delivers a number of its services.

Specifically, we will implement an action plan in keeping with the A-base review conducted last year, and look at the shared services model for the internal services to officers of Parliament.

A new videoconference system will help reduce travel expenses for me and my staff.

In addition, the office of the commissioner will continue to apply accountability mechanisms, particularly the performance measurement framework. We are also in the process of completing an internal audit on investigation practices, to which we will respond to the recommendations.

We are also following up on the 2011 public service employee survey. The office of the commissioner's results are very encouraging. Not only are they quite positive compared to the results for the public service as a whole, but our employees' satisfaction level has increased significantly since the last survey in 2008.

I am very pleased to report that the Office of the Commissioner's employees enjoy their work and recognize excellence in their workplace.

Parliamentarians are rightfully interested in the activities that officers of Parliament undertake to fulfill their mandate and how they manage the public funds that are entrusted to them.

Like the other agents of Parliament, I continue to advocate for a permanent parliamentary funding and monitoring mechanism regarding the role of Parliament and the independence and distinct nature of the mandates of its officers. This would show the government's commitment to the sound management of public resources.

Thank you for your attention.

Thank you.

It would be my pleasure to answer your questions.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Michael Chong

Thank you very much for your opening remarks, Mr. Fraser.

If members desire, we'll have almost two hours for questions and commentary from members of this committee, beginning with Monsieur Godin.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

To start off, I would like to welcome Mr. Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages, and his team, and to thank them for the work they do.

Today I am pleased to tell the team here that I have brought along my grandson with me. I'm getting him ready to take over. This is a student program in which a student can spend a day with an adult at his place of work. It has given Jonathan the chance to come here.

I just want to tell a little story briefly. Before he was born, on February 28, I made a speech in the House of Commons and I announced his birth to the nation two hours ahead of time. Today I am pleased that he is with me here.

Commissioner, I would like to go directly to the issue that concerns me.

With regard to information technology, you are concerned because you have an obsolete system. You need a new system to perform even better. I believe you had requested a budget of $6.4 million. You sent a letter to the Prime Minister requesting that the government add $6.4 million to your budget so that you could take action on the matter. Now the government has announced that the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has suffered no budget cuts but that it will not have any additional money to update its IT system and that it will have to find the money necessary for that purpose in its own budget.

Can you explain to us briefly what effect that will have on your budget? I find it hard to believe this will not compromise your investigations or something else. There will be a shortage of money somewhere. You thought you needed the $6.4 million for your IT system, and now you are going to be affected. I would like to hear you comment on that.

8:55 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Thank you for that question, Mr. Godin.

In preparing our Treasury Board submission, we requested an A-base review. We analyzed our organization and made some recommendations. In that analysis, we calculated that we needed $6.4 million over four years.

We monitored the recommendations, which were that cuts be made to certain sectors that, in IBM's opinion, were a little too costly for an organization of our size. In addition to the mandatory retirements, we cut vacant positions and some other positions in order to make a change to what can be called the organizational profile.

IBM also recommended that we reinforce certain parts of the organization, such as regional staff in order to do promotion. We accepted the recommendations regarding a reduction of the size of the organization, but we did not act on the recommendations that we increase staff in the regions, for example. In addition, as I mentioned in my statement, we decided to defer or postpone some activities. We are lowering the number of audits; we are—

9 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Commissioner, do you need to spend the $6.4 million in the next few years?

9 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

9 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

But here you say that you're going to cut down what? Audits?

9 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Instead of conducting the same number of audits every year, we are lowering the frequency of those audits. We are still conducting audits. We are not cutting the number of auditors; we will continue, but we are more strategic in our analysis.

9 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

They say the government's budget cuts won't affect official languages, the roadmap and things like that, and yet the government is shutting down the Bathurst recruitment centre.

National Defence has four recruitment centres in New Brunswick: in Moncton, Fredericton, Saint John and Bathurst. There are three recruitment centres located less than an hour from one another and one bilingual centre in Bathurst, which serves the Acadian Peninsula and Edmundston, in the Madawaska region. However, the government is closing the Bathurst centre, as a result of which people must now go to Fredericton, where there is already a problem with service, as you know.

You are conducting audits in Fredericton and Gagetown. You are not too pleased about the bilingualism situation in Gagetown and so on, and that is where all the francophones are going to be put. That will be addressed in your audits because I have already filed a complaint. The government is also closing down the navy cadet summer camp in Bécancour, Quebec, the only francophone summer camp in Canada. That was the only camp where francophone navy cadets from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, for example, could go, and it is being shut down. Your work is not finished, commissioner.

9 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I never thought the work would finish with the last budget.

9 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Commissioner, don't you think you will increasingly have more responsibility and that your IT budget should have been increased, without affecting the rest? There were cutbacks in all the departments, and it's not true that the official language minority communities will not be affected. I believe you will have more work than you have ever had, if only as a result of the budget cuts, as I just mentioned to you. For example, the Quebec City rescue centre will be relocated to Halifax, and you will have to continue conducting all those audits.

Yesterday, the CBC network informed us that people aboard a boat at sea had called Halifax for medical assistance but that they were put in touch with someone in Rome, Italy. Did you see that? I would like to hear what you have to say about that. You're trying to be polite by saying that you are going to make every effort for this to work, but do you think it will work?

9 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Since the start of this fiscal year, I have been afraid that the budget cuts might have unanticipated effects. The example I have always cited is what happened in 1995 when the Royal Military College Saint-Jean was shut down, the effect of which has been felt for decades.

To answer your question, I must say I am definitely concerned. And that is why, knowing that budget cuts would be announced, I submitted a brief to Treasury Board. The argument advanced in that brief is still valid. We have been quite responsible in hiring an IBM expert to conduct an A-base review. We are a federal institution and we have to discharge our responsibilities like all the other institutions. I hope we will be able to preserve all our institution's activities over the long term. One of my predecessors, after the 1995 cuts, virtually had to stop research activities, but I am determined to retain all our organization's activities.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Le président Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Gourde, you have the floor.

May 10th, 2012 / 9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to Mr. Fraser and all his team for being here this morning.

Your statement contains a paragraph concerning the transfer of federal funds for official languages to the provinces and territories. A number of witnesses from various organizations told our committee that they were receiving funds. However, that funding came from the province under certain programs, but they were not sure whether it was transferred under the roadmap or whether the organizations had received all transfers to the provinces for new initiatives or for initiatives already in place. It was quite unclear. We also find it hard to monitor the money. And I believe you are concerned about what is happening. Can you do a check, perhaps in cooperation with the provinces, and get more information? How will you do that?