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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 languages.

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

9:25 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I believe so. We introduced service standards in the Compliance Assurance Branch a few years ago, establishing the ideal time required to complete an investigation, based on its complexity. We are increasingly successful in completing our investigations within those service standards.

We also have a performance evaluation system that applies to employees and managers. I believe it is a very useful tool, a way to set objectives, to conduct an evaluation during the year and to see whether managers have achieved the objectives established at the start of the year.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Especially in case management.

9:25 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

That's correct.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

An important event, the Pan American Games, will be taking place in Toronto. It is very important for the city. I know that the commissioner's office was involved in the Vancouver Olympic Games. Some questions were raised. For example, people wondered whether linguistic duality had really been reflected at those Olympic Games. I am involved with the city and province in ensuring that the games are a major success. I recently received trilingual communications from the games' organization. Bravo! However, they were in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The francophone fact was absent from those communications.

How are you going to get involved in planning to ensure that we can really say we are a bilingual country when we present ourselves to the hemisphere that embraces the countries of both Americas?

9:25 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

That's a very interesting question. I frankly didn't know that kind of failure had occurred. I have met members of the Pan American Games executive committee a number of times, and I was very impressed with their openness to the language issue and the French fact. I made a few suggestions at the first meeting, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had already accepted some of those suggested.

They made the person responsible for the language issue a member of the executive committee, an initiative that the Vancouver Olympic Games organizing committee did not take. We made sure those people received our events guide. Our Toronto office is monitoring their work very closely. We are preparing to cooperate with them in the same way as we did during the Olympic Games.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

For several weeks now, we have been conducting a study on the performance of the roadmap. Could you comment on the success of the roadmap and make any recommendations for the next version of the roadmap?

9:25 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

First, I was relieved to see that the budget would not have any impact on the programs of the current roadmap. In the evaluation of the roadmap components for the purpose of establishing the program that will succeed it, it would be very important to consider the vitality of the communities. We must know which programs have a direct impact on the vitality of the official language minority communities and those that might have an impact on visibility.

One of the major challenges for the official language minority communities is the lack of visibility. There are also some challenges with regard to the majority institutions or communities, but I can give you more details by answering another question.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Williamson, you have the floor.

May 10th, 2012 / 9:30 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank you, Mr. Fraser and your team, for being here today. I appreciate your efforts and the work you are doing for us and for all Canadians.

I would like to go back for a few moments to expenditures and the budget that was tabled on March 29.

As the budget outlined, your budget was not terribly impacted by the deficit elimination measures that are in place, but the modernization of your IT was rejected.

I guess my first question is, do you think you're capable of finding those savings within the department? Are you comfortable with this reallocation—recognizing that it's not a perfect world, but we don't live in a perfect world.

9:30 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I've never seen my own personal comfort as one of the issues that should be discussed.

I think we can do it. We went through a process of quite carefully analyzing our expenditures. As part of the Treasury Board submission, we did an A-base review. We followed the advice of the A-base review, which suggested some areas in which we had some elements that were a bit rich for an organization our size. We followed the advice in trimming those, using attrition to reduce the number of positions. We didn't follow their advice in terms of adding positions, for example, in the regions.

We went through a separate process of reassessing the role of our representatives in the regions. Our plan had been—and the recommendation had been from the consultants who did that study—to strengthen the number of personnel in the regions with promotional responsibilities. So we haven't done that.

We're readjusting. I'm confident that we will be able to finance the changes necessary.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

It sounds like you're having to make the same decisions that, frankly, a lot of people throughout this country are having to make. You're having to prioritize decisions. I see nothing wrong with that, and I applaud you for your efforts on that and your willingness to accept that.

I have a quick comment in response to Mr. Dion. I don't think it's accurate to call this a 7.8% cut. That might be called a cut in Ottawa, but that is not a cut. No taxpayer across the country would see a request that was denied as a cut in budget.

You don't need to respond to that unless you want to. That was more of a statement to get that on the record.

Mr. Fraser, I would like to ask you a question that does not concern the budget. Do you believe that a unilingual Canadian has a place in the public affairs of our country, here in Canada?

9:30 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Yes, I believe so. For individuals who work in public life, be they elected members, civil servants or government appointees, language policy depends on citizens' right to receive services from the government. Canada's language policy has never been to demand that every Canadian be bilingual or that electors be restricted in their choice of representatives.

However, what is important is citizens' right to receive equal service from their government. Consequently, the question is whether an anglophone citizen from Quebec receives the same government services as a francophone outside Quebec, whether Quebec francophones receive the same services from the federal government as anglophones from Quebec or the rest of Canada. The citizen's right is all that is important.

Sometimes in this debate there is a tendancy to personalize the issue by saying that we are stigmatizing individuals. I make a special effort not to personalize the debate. I make sure the debate focuses on citizens' rights.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Fraser.

Ms. Michaud, you have the floor.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Thank you very much.

Thank you for being here.

First of all, I would like to apologize for being late. It was as a result of events beyond my control; I apologize for that.

Thank you for your testimony. I read it. It was very interesting and it clarifies matters for us.

Before asking my questions, I would like to comment on the study on the celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation, to which you referred earlier. You mentioned one very important point. You say the committee is master of its decisions and that, if we consider this a priority, we should study it.

However, the moment when we conduct that study also has to be considered. I believe the committee should consider that point. Many other, much more urgent issues could be studied now. I am thinking, for example, of the Quebec City Marine Rescue Centre. Since I come from that region, this is of particular concern to me. So my colleagues and I have sent the commissioner's office a lot of complaints which we should examine here. Thank you for bringing this point to our committee's attention.

Now I come to my questions. You mentioned research in your presentation. This is one aspect of government work that is of great interest to me. I believe it is very important for our communities. However, seeing the various measures contained in the budget, we may well wonder whether the government is actually interested in research. We can look at what is happening at Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. There appears to be less and less research on official languages, whereas the communities consider this issue essential.

I had a chance to speak briefly with the people from the Quebec Community Groups Network, who told me about the importance of research for that community. You yourself say you want to retain your entire research capability. Do you have a long-term plan to do that despite the budget cuts you are facing?

9:35 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

We are carrying out two extensive research projects. I consider them very important. The first concerns language training. We are currently dealing with a system that has changed. The Canada School of Public Service no longer offers language training, and institutions thus have a responsibility to provide that training for their employees by bringing in private sector institutions. I decided that we had to determine whether language training was just as effective following those changes. I admit to a certain prejudice. I still think that some people pass their exams without being able to communicate, whereas others who are capable of communicating are unable to pass their exams. I would like to know whether there is a basis for that prejudice.

As for the second study, we are in the initial stages. It concerns the language skills of judges across the country, access to justice in both official languages. We had previously begun to establish a partnership with my two counterparts from Ontario and New Brunswick. This will be an extensive study for which there will be an advisory committee. However, the process of consulting the judiciary is just starting.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

I hope you can complete those studies. Those are topics that I would have liked the committee to examine. I hope you can find the answers you are looking for on those issues.

Several times during your appearances, you have expressed concern about the changes made to official languages governance within the machinery of government. In your 2009-2010 report, you said it was too soon to evaluate the impact of those changes, particularly the elimination of the Canada Public Service Agency and the transfer of its powers to the Treasury Board Secretariat.

Now, in 2012, can you briefly tell us what the impact of those changes has been? Are you in a position to do that?

9:40 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

The changes are continuing. At the Department of Canadian Heritage, for example, some consolidation of responsibility for official languages is under way.

I'm going to ask Sylvain Giguère to give you more details on the impact the governance changes have had to date.

9:40 a.m.

Sylvain Giguère Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

In fact, it is really too soon to quantify it. We are playing a monitoring role for the moment. In six months to a year, we may be in a position to give you a proper answer, but it is still too soon to do so now.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

All right. Thank you.

Mr. Boughen, it's your turn.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Thank you, Chair.

Graham, let me add my voice to my colleagues' voices in welcoming you and your staff here this morning.

I listened to your presentation. I heard words like “Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia”. I didn't hear words like “Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or Alberta”. Could you share with us what's happening with the language programs in those provinces at the school level, as well as at the community level?

9:40 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Mr. Chairman, one thing that I can say about Saskatchewan is that I went out to Saskatchewan in February and had meetings with members of the Saskatchewan government, with the University of Regina, with the University of Saskatchewan, and with l'Association communautaire fransaskoise, which was having its centenary.

Partly as a result of those conversations, one of the things we have decided to do is have a round table discussion in the fall about post-secondary learning opportunities, which would be a follow-up to the study we did a couple of years ago on post-secondary learning. We've had previous follow-up round tables in Atlantic Canada and in Manitoba.

What we're hoping to do is bring together representatives from all the various elements of the education system—from school boards, from Canadian Parents for French, from the universities, from the francophone community—and have a wide-ranging discussion about what the needs are and what the priorities should be.

This is l'Année des Fransaskois in Saskatchewan. I was quite impressed by the support that was given by the Saskatchewan government in making this a publicly recognized year, if you like, that was in itself a tribute to the centenary of the francophone organization in Saskatchewan.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Good.

Thanks, Chair.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

You're welcome.

Mr. Benskin.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Thank you.

I offer my apologies for my tardiness as well.

It's good to see you again. I remember meeting you, I think for the first time, at the QCGN awards evening in Montreal.

I have a whole whack of questions, but no time to ask them. I'm going to start with this statement. For me—and my colleagues here have heard this many times—language is inextricably linked to culture. I don't think you can really promote one without the other.

My first question is this. There are some 15 departments in the road map that are involved in official languages or have official language priorities. How integrated, if at all, is your office with the various departments and the programs they have regarding official languages?

9:45 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

Well, I am an agent of Parliament, so my fundamental responsibility is to report to you on what they are doing. I wouldn't say we are integrated at all.

What I have tried to do, in a proactive way, is have meetings with departments, talking to them about their responsibilities and about the nature of issues relating to language of service and language of work.

There are times that informal conversations take place between analysts and people in departments. There is a network of champions of official languages. Sylvain Giguère is our champion of official languages within the organization, which means that he is then part of that network of communication.

In order to protect our independence as agents of Parliament, we try not to be integrated into government institutions, but it's a fine line to walk. Our employees are public servants, but we try to keep our distance so that we can give a fair and detached analysis of institutions when they succeed or fail in living up to their obligations.