Evidence of meeting #45 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 departments.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Daphne Meredith  Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat
Marc Tremblay  Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Trottier, you have the floor.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

In the past few months, we have worked on a new version of the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality. I know that concerns the Treasury Board. The Government of Canada has allocated $17 million over five years to the Centre of Excellence for Official Languages of the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer at the Treasury Board Secretariat.

Could you explain to us what long-term role the Treasury Board Secretariat plays in the implementation of the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality?

10:05 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat

Daphne Meredith

Yes. We have described our activities, including the development of official language policies for the Treasury Board's approval. We also explain those policies to the departments so that they can implement them. We develop those tools and have them analyzed by the analysts of the Treasury Board Secretariat for presentation to Treasury Board. Those are a few activities of the centre of excellence.

The minister and Mr. Tremblay mentioned other tools. We use the funding to give the departments a strategic direction and to coordinate their efforts in meeting their obligations under the act.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

You know that the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality is managed by Canadian Heritage. Has there been good cooperation with Canadian Heritage and other departments? Has the framework provided by the roadmap given you a good opportunity to work more effectively with other departments?

10:05 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat

Daphne Meredith

I believe it is working well. Marc talked about our activities, which are carried out in close cooperation with the other departments and Canadian Heritage. We have just decided to ask the departments for figures. We have a partnership with Canadian Heritage for the purpose of collecting information from the departments on their activities.

Marc, could you talk a little more about our partnership with Canadian Heritage?

10:05 a.m.

Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

Marc Tremblay

One of the objectives of the roadmap and the action plan that preceded it, which is well known to some members around the table, was to create a space for coordination and collaboration. Responsibilities under the Official Languages Act are diffuse. They apply to all 200 departments. That space makes it possible to speak with partners about horizontal themes. Those may include immigration, economic development, health, justice and, obviously, the language in which federal services are delivered or the language of work in federal institutions. All that represents a quite disparate whole, but one that must have common objectives. It is important to create that space so that we can coordinate our objectives and focus our efforts so that we are in a better position to achieve them. It produces results such as these ones, that is to say partnerships.

Ms. Meredith referred to an initiative designed to focus the departments' attention on official languages. They were previously asked to submit a report on part VII of the act and another report on parts IV, V and VI. That caused some confusion in the departments.

To create conditions more conducive to an examination of the official languages program—an examination conducted by the deputy ministers, the departments—we are cooperating with Canadian Heritage so that there is a single joint request for information. That would enable the departments to get their deputy ministers to focus just once on all the issues and to see all the links created between effective implementation of parts IV, V and VI and effective implementation of their responsibilities under part VII.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Dion, you have five minutes.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for staying with us, Ms. Meredith and Mr. Tremblay.

I want to resume the conversation with the minister where I left off. I am going to use a very concrete example. I am going to read section 25, in part IV of the Official Languages Act: it states, "Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that, where services are provided or made available by another person or organization on its behalf, any member of the public in Canada or elsewhere can communicate" in either official language. It states, "Every federal institution has the duty." So this is an obligation under the act, isn't it?

I am rereading this paragraph from the report that was distributed to us. This is the third paragraph from the top of page 2, in English: "A majority of institutions indicated that they have included language provisions in contracts and agreements signed with third parties acting on their behalf." That means a minority are not complying with the act. "However, only a small proportion of the institutions have taken steps to ensure that the language provisions are implemented." May we conclude from this that only a small proportion of institutions are complying with section 25 of part IV of the Official Languages Act.

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

Marc Tremblay

I do not believe we can draw that conclusion. This is an indicator telling us that some areas may require improvement. We suspected that there might be areas requiring improvement. We are using this request for an annual report to target issues. This question was not raised in reports of previous requests. It is because we thought one element should be subject to further exploration that we asked that question. We asked it, we got answers and we are now starting to take action on this matter to bring about an improvement.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

I believe that means that those institutions are not complying with the act. They have a duty to ensure the act is complied with. However, they are not doing it. If your paragraph means anything, in English or in French, it means that they are not auditing, and if they are not auditing, they are not complying with the act. It is their obligation to do so.

For someone who is supposed to monitor them, I find you extremely indulgent, and that troubles me. You cannot give parliamentarians on this committee a paragraph such as this to read without expecting to startle them. Your answer startles me even more. I would have expected you to say that this is troubling, that you are going to take such and such a measure to ensure that those institutions ensure that the Official Languages Act is complied with when they contract certain services out to third parties. There are serious indications that this is not being done.

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

Marc Tremblay

We are taking measures to conduct follow-up.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Please tell us what those measures are because they are not in the report. The report smooths over the matter and concludes that things are going well, without telling us what must be done to address the problem, which is one of a number of problems. In the following three pages, there are seven or eight examples of the kind, where you tell us that a majority are doing this, whereas a minority are not, and everything is fine. When I read this report, I have no idea what you are going to do to correct this troubling situation. And nowhere does it say that it is troubling.

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

Marc Tremblay

I said a little earlier that we have taken measures—

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Please tell us which ones. What are you going to do for those who—

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

Marc Tremblay

I was first going to answer the more general question about the various issues that are raised in the annual reports. In this more specific case, we present the subject to our advisory committees, which are the main bodies responsible for official languages, the executive bodies in the departments that must take measures. We inform them that we have identified deficiencies and that there is work to do. We also report this to the champions. As I said earlier, other measures can gradually be taken, but we have to give the person or unit concerned a chance to improve.

With regard to language clauses, there is a working group consisting of representatives of various central agencies. That group is working on developing measures that could improve the situation. The group will consider whether it is useful or necessary to adopt other instruments to address the issue.

It should nevertheless be seen that our policies require the departments to deal with third parties acting on their behalf, that they are ensuring that they meet their obligations. So at the first level, this is the information we give the departments. This is the individual responsibility of the departments.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Do I have any time left, Mr. Chair?

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

You have one minute left.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Very well.

Here is another example for you. You say you have developed an analysis grid to ensure that the decision in the Desrochers, or CALDECH, affair is complied with. We have no idea what that analysis grid is. Then you say that a majority of federal institutions have used the grid, but unevenly. The minority are therefore not even interested in your grid. Things are going well. We do not even know whether it is a good grid, but we know that a minority may not even have read it.

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

Marc Tremblay

We will be pleased to send it to you.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Thank you.

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

Marc Tremblay

I will also point out that the reports indicate the measures taken. In fact, some issues require the departments to explain the measures they have taken to implement this CALDECH grid. So the departments are providing an enormous amount of detail. It is on that basis that we are making our observations.

Those reviews are then submitted to this committee. The clerk of the committee receives a copy of each of the reviews submitted by each federal institution. So this information is widely available for the study of that department. We will be pleased to send you the analysis grid from the CALDECH affair.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

All right, thank you.

Mr. Menegakis, you have the floor.

May 31st, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

I am listening carefully to the exchange back and forth, and I want to bring the discussion back to the strong effort being done to promote linguistic duality. I think the Treasury Board and you folks have been partners of ours in ensuring that happens. I was going through the submission of the minister, his annual report of last year. I was struck with something when reading it. It sounded to me like it was a positive measure. Perhaps you can explain to us what the difference was from before. Specifically in the report, it says:

The human resources management regime has undergone changes over the preceding year, allowing deputy heads to have flexibility and to be able to exercise stronger leadership in human resources management...

Can you explain to us what changed, how that changed, and how that has given the department heads more prerogative, if you will, to exercise leadership?

10:15 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat

Daphne Meredith

Thanks for the question.

I talked earlier to Marc about the changes we have been working on for our suite of Treasury Board policies respecting departments with a view to simplifying them. Those are not yet approved by Treasury Board, but we hope to be taking them to the board soon. Partly, it's working with departments to focus on the key requirements that we want to retain, and where we're going to be offering them greater flexibility. That's in terms of instruments—how we're working on greater flexibility.

I would say most of the activity to date, though, has revolved around changing the culture to really make clear to them that they have responsibility. We have been trying to help them in that regard. Obviously we have the data that has been long-standing in the annual report, and against which we reported progress over the years. We have posed to departments the questions that some of the members of this committee are focusing on, because we thought they would be relevant questions that would help departments get on track. From some of the feedback we're getting, that is valuable feedback for us to then send to the leadership of departments, to say that this is what is determined to be relevant, what parliamentarians are interested in having them do. We can then use these as ways to direct the focus of their activity.

Giving them flexibility, reinforcing the flexibility, and reinforcing the fact that it's their responsibility and that they need to build the capacity within through some of the measures we have highlighted in this report is how we're repositioning our role.

10:20 a.m.

Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

Marc Tremblay

If I can just add a very concrete example, we've been having discussions with departments about the role of champions and whether they need a committee, and whether we could impose that or should impose that by way of policy in a really structured approach to official languages. In our central agency minds, that sounded like a series of good ideas.

They weren't bad ideas, I'd say, in our defence, but some of the departments told us that they have six employees and to have a committee structure created is completely useless to them; when they sit around the table, they're all there.

So the idea is that we don't know everything at the centre. We give the impulsion to the program, and then we let the doers do, adapt, make it real, and make it theirs. We think that has a great potential for change to actually occur, and we're seeing positive signs in that regard.