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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

8:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Welcome to the 45th meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages on May 31, 2012. Pursuant to Standing Order 32, we will discuss the Annual Report on Official Languages 2010-2011 referred to the committee on Friday, December 9, 2011.

Today we welcome the President of the Treasury Board, as well as Marc Tremblay and Daphne Meredith. Welcome to you all.

We'll begin with an opening statement from the minister.

8:30 a.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario

Conservative

Tony Clement ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

Thank you.

Members of the committee, Mr. Chair, thank you for the invitation to come here today to discuss the latest annual report on official languages. I am pleased to have with me Daphne Meredith, Chief Human Resources Officer, as well as Marc Tremblay, Executive Director of the Official Languages Centre of Excellence within the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer.

As you know, responsibility for the application of the Official Languages Act is shared among a number of players in the government.

My department, the Treasury Board Secretariat, coordinates the policies and programs that relate to parts IV, V, and VI of the Official Languages Act. These three parts of the act deal respectively with services to the public, language of work, and the equitable participation of anglophone and francophone Canadians in federal institutions. The secretariat also plays a role in the implementation of part VII within institutions. This involves reviewing Treasury Board submissions to ensure that official languages issues are properly considered as part of initiatives proposed by federal institutions.

Every federal institution subject to the Official Languages Act is responsible for the application of the act within its organization, including designing and delivering effective official languages programming. This is consistent with the human resources management system established after Parliament passed the Public Service Modernization Act, and of course it is consistent with the Official Languages Act. Under this system, deputy heads are responsible for managing human resources, including implementation of the Official Languages Act, in their respective organizations.

Approximately two hundred institutions are subject to the Official Languages Act. These institutions are assessed and evaluated over a three-year period. Certain small, medium, and large institutions are evaluated annually, allowing the Treasury Board Secretariat to give an accurate portrait of the status of the official languages program in institutions across the public service every year.

As President of the Treasury Board, I have a responsibility to submit an annual report to Parliament on the status of the official languages program in federal institutions.

The Annual Report on Official Languages covers the application of parts IV, V and VI of the Official Languages Act.

Last December I tabled the Annual Report on Official Languages 2010-2011. Overall it shows that federal institutions are taking the necessary steps to ensure their services and communications with the Canadian public are available in both official languages. It also shows there has been consistent improvement over the last three years in creating and maintaining a bilingual work environment.

In terms of concrete numbers, the percentage of incumbents in bilingual positions serving the public who met the language requirements of their position continued to grow, reaching 94.3% in 2011, compared to 92.5% in 2009. The percentage of bilingual positions requiring superior proficiency--that is to say, level C in oral interaction to serve the public--has also gradually increased since 2009, from 34.8% to 36.1%.

Additionally, the report shows that based on the 2006 census, both official language communities continue to be relatively well represented in federal institutions.

Finally, I would add that the report highlights some of the measures federal institutions have taken to provide strong leadership in official languages. This includes the use of official languages action plans, as well as simple but effective measures such as regularly adding official languages to the agendas of executive management committee meetings.

These examples all demonstrate the steady progress that has been made in implementing parts IV, V and VI of the Official Languages Act, and in the promotion of linguistic duality in our federal institutions.

For its part, the Treasury Board Secretariat supports the federal institutions that are subject to the act in fulfilling their obligations. My department does this in many ways. For example, we develop policy instruments for adoption by the Treasury Board. We provide institutions with a full policy suite on official languages. We make available to federal institutions tools to help manage official languages, such as the official languages management dashboard. This tool allows institutions that are part of the core public administration to obtain a quick Internet overview of the official languages program in their organizations, with a series of quantitative and qualitative indicators.

We've also made available Clearspace, which is an electronic platform that enables those responsible for official languages to help and consult with each other, and to share information.

We also organize learning and networking events, such as the annual Conference of Official Languages Champions. This month we held our 16th annual conference in Sudbury, which is, of course, a city I know well—just to the north of my constituency—with a strong history of bilingualism.

We also assess the performance of federal institutions with regard to official languages through the management accountability framework. This tool supports deputy heads in improving management practices in their organizations.

We also inform federal institutions of particular issues and provide direction and guidance, as we have done for the Caldech Supreme Court decision, which further defined the nature and scope of the principle of substantive equality in the provision of services to the public in both official languages by the federal government. In fact, I would say the majority of federal institutions have used the analysis grid we developed to assist in the implementation of the Caldech decision. They are now looking to implement required changes to ensure their programs and services comply with the court's decision.

Mr. Chair, federal institutions are committed to making linguistic duality an integral part of their everyday operations. And the government is likewise committed to supporting them in achieving their objectives.

This concludes my presentation. I would now be pleased to answer the committee's questions.

Thank you.

8:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, minister.

We will begin with Mr. Godin.

8:35 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to welcome Minister Clement and to thank him for appearing before the committee.

Minister, you know how important bilingualism is in Canada. You especially know what importance I attach to it, together with many of my colleagues and many Canadians. This act, which was put in place many years ago, is fundamentally important to our country. However, 40 years on, we are still required to have a Standing Committee on Official Languages, which constantly deals with the question and always issues shocking reports.

At the start of your presentation, minister, you said that many stakeholders were responsible for official languages; you are not alone. I would like to know how you interpret your role as President of the Treasury Board in the implementation of the Official Languages Act. It is easy to come and testify this morning and to say that everyone is responsible, but I want to know what your specific role is as President of the Treasury Board, who is responsible for official languages. You did say you are responsible for parts IV, V and VI of the act.

8:40 a.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

The Treasury Board Secretariat of course plays an important role with regard to official languages. The Treasury Board is responsible for the general thrust and coordination of the Canadian government's policies and programs relating to the implementation of part IV of the act, which concerns communications with and services to the public, of part V, which addresses language of work, and of part VI which concerns the participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians.

I am of course responsible for presenting an annual report to Parliament on the situation of the official languages program in all federal institutions.

The Treasury Board also plays a role in the implementation of part VII of the Official Languages Act within the federal institutions. It ensures that the obligation to enhance the vitality of the English and French language minorities is reflected in the documents that are presented to it for approval. That is the general role of the Treasury Board, but I want to emphasize once more that every department of course also has its own responsibilities. Every department has a responsibility to implement the Official Languages Act effectively.

8:40 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

So we could say, minister, that your department is the watchdog of all those departments and that it ensures that they implement the act. They have responsibilities, but you are the head of all that, and that is your responsibility.

Mr. Minister, many were troubled by a number of aspects of your 2011 report that revealed wide gaps in both the consistency and quality of the structure in place to guarantee respect for the institution of bilingualism in the contemporary public service. One example is language of work.

The Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer found that bilingual meetings were public-service-wide problems, and amazingly, less than half of our federal institution holds meetings where employees can participate in the official language of their choice. What do you answer to that? What do you intend to do to correct it—or to tell your counterparts or the other ministers to do their job after 40 years of the law of the official languages?

8:40 a.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Let me underline once again the statistics I mentioned in my opening remarks, which indicate some progress. I think we should celebrate the progress. But at the same time, as Mr. Godin has indicated, there are some areas where we can continue to encourage, remind, and direct where applicable.

I don't know whether Mr. Tremblay or Madame Meredith wish to answer specifically to your question.

Do you have anything to add?

8:40 a.m.

Daphne Meredith Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat

Mr. Tremblay, do you want to talk about our meetings with the department, please?

8:40 a.m.

Marc Tremblay Executive Director, Official Languages, Treasury Board Secretariat

Generally, when we identify areas requiring attention in an annual report, such as that of 2010-2011, the first finding is that it is a horizontal issue. That means that we find this is a challenge that applies to a number of institutions. Our attention is horizontal as well. We use our networks, such as the conference of official languages champions, the departmental advisory committees and the advisory committees of the crown corporations to add this subject to the agenda in order to identify best practices and to enable the champions to see for themselves the challenges our institutions are facing.

8:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Pardon me for interrupting you, but I would like to ask you a question.

I recall an anecdote. Not so long ago, a member of the RCMP, who was responsible for registering firearms in Miramichi, lost his job because he did not speak French. That was the first time in the history of Canada that an RCMP member had been dismissed because he did not speak French. An officer of Parliament was also appointed and told that he was not required to be bilingual because he was the best candidate, but that person is responsible for an entire department.

How could such a person conduct bilingual meetings? How can employees communicate with an officer of Parliament, such as the Auditor General, if he does not speak French, despite the fact that he has promised to learn it. In fact, the time period has almost elapsed since he was supposed to learn French within a year.

How can you justify that? What message is the government sending to the nation if it continues to offer key positions to unilingual individuals who, according to the Commissioner of Official Languages, should be bilingual?

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

I can answer that question. As the government has previously said, it is important to have bilingual institutions in our government; that is an obligation. In fact, it is an obligation under the act, but it is also an obligation for our society.

8:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I agree with what you just said. It is an obligation under the act; that is to say that the government made a mistake.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

With regard to the Auditor General, the government selected the most qualified candidate. However, that individual promised to learn French as soon as possible.

8:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

He said within a year.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

That wasn't the perfect decision, but its purpose was to protect the institution of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. Learning the language is definitely an improvement.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Gourde, it is your turn.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for being here this morning, minister.

Thanks as well to Ms. Meredith and Mr. Tremblay for being here. It is very much appreciated.

Minister, as you know, the deputy heads are the main persons responsible for human resources in their organizations. Your annual report states that the deputy heads have greater flexibility, which enables them to exercise stronger leadership with regard to implementation of the Official Languages Act.

Minister, could you say more on that subject? What changes have given the deputy heads greater flexibility?

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

I can say a few words about that, and perhaps Mr. Tremblay can add something to my answer.

The situation and the figures are encouraging. Our goal is to encourage the use of both official languages in the government workplace. Policy instruments can help us improve the situation and achieve that goal. The Official Languages Act is clear: it is important to create favourable conditions and a work environment conducive to the use of both languages. The figures show that the situation is better than it was five or six years ago.

We also have tools to protect our obligations, such as annual forums, the official languages champions and the audits that the secretariat has conducted. There is an audit process. These tools have demonstrated their effectiveness.

Mr. Tremblay or Ms. Meredith, would you like to continue?

8:50 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat

Daphne Meredith

I can add that the minister is entirely right. We are currently putting the emphasis on leadership in the departments so that they meet their obligations under the Official Languages Act. We are also changing our relations with the departments. We want to strengthen their capacity to meet their obligations. As the minister and Mr. Tremblay previously said, we are working with the departments, together with our committees, to enhance their flexibility and to promote best practices among them. A change is taking place in the relations we have with them. We are putting the emphasis on their capacity and leadership in this area.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

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

Minister, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer provides the management, coordination and tools necessary to achieve the desired official language results. Your report states that the departments are facing challenges in meeting the official language objectives of a large part of the public service.

What tools have been put in place to assist institutions in achieving their official language objectives?

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

As you said, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer plays a main role in the application of our principles and obligations. The office monitors the status of the official languages program. I believe that is a key role. It considers the various elements, which are communications with and service to the public, language of work and the participation of English-speaking and French-speaking employees.

There are many examples to illustrate how the office is performing its role. The Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer develops official language policy instruments and monitors the institutions to ensure they meet their linguistic obligations under the Official Languages Act. Every year, it invites some of those institutions to report on achievements related to the official languages program. As I have already said, it of course submits an annual report to Parliament on the status of the official languages program in the federal institutions. That is the subject the committee is considering today. I can also say that it reports results.

Is there anything else?

8:50 a.m.

Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat

Daphne Meredith

As the minister mentioned in his address, we have specific tools, in particular the Official Languages Management Dashboard and the ABCs of Linguistic Profiles at Your Fingertips, a tool that enables managers and human resources and official languages specialists to identify the language profiles of bilingual positions in an objective and standard manner. We have other tools. It depends on needs. We also meet the needs of the departments.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

Mr. Dion, you have seven minutes.

May 31st, 2012 / 8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, minister, Mr. Tremblay and Ms. Meredith. Thank you for being with us and for submitting a report that is succinct, unlike another report that we recently received. I am sure the committee appreciates that diversity.

However, minister, your report has raised a major concern for me, and I would like to give you the opportunity to allay it. My concern stems from the fact that, in the few pages of this report, we are told that the majority of institutions are complying with a given requirement. So that means that the minority are not complying. It states that a new majority are complying, which means that the majority are not complying, hence my concern. If you could respond in a style as succinct as that of your report, we could get to the bottom of this matter in the few minutes we have together.

You cover 200 federal institutions that are subject to the Official Languages Act. And you have asked 59 of them to submit a report. Is that because you operate in accordance with a random system every year, and all the institutions must be on the lookout in case they are required to submit a report? Is that how you cover the 200 institutions?