Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, good morning.
First, I would like to acknowledge that the land on which we are gathered is part of the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people, an Indigenous people of the Ottawa Valley.
I'm very pleased to be with you today to present the results of my in-depth analysis of the government's proposed measures in Bill C‑13. In my brief, entitled “Seizing a Historic Opportunity: for a Complete Modernization of the OLA”, I explain my position and make a series of recommendations to strengthen Bill C‑13.
If passed, this bill has the potential to transform Canada's language policy in order to advance our official languages and to better defend the language rights of Canadians. The time to modernize the act is long past due. The most recent language data from the 2021 Census clearly shows that the decline in the demographic weight of Francophones relative to that of English speakers is a major concern. The time to act is now.
Although Bill C-13 is very promising, there are some measures in it that could be improved and clarified. There are also other measures that are not included in the bill that I think should be added.
Here are a few examples.
Bill C-13 does not include any measures to modernize the core components of the act: communications with and services to the public and language of work. As I point out in my brief, this omission is one of the weak points in the bill.
I believe that federal institutions' obligations and terms of language of work and communications with the public also need to be better aligned. Let's take the example of a federal public servant who holds a bilingual position in a unilingual work area. Currently, he or she must serve the public in both official languages but does not have access to work tools and supervision in the language of his or her choice. The act must ensure that work tools in both official languages are available so employees can provide quality service to the public.
I also think that Bill C‑13 should enshrine in the act a duty for federal institutions to draft all federal-provincial-territorial agreements in both official languages and to include enforceable language clauses in those agreements.
However, although the bill proposes to strengthen federal institutions' responsibilities to take positive measures, these obligations are still discretionary and do not fully reflect the Federal Court of Appeal's recent decision in the Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique case.
Another aspect of the bill that could benefit from some fine tuning are the measures to improve governance, meaning the way the federal government ensures that the act is implemented effectively. I strongly believe that the act would be greatly improved if responsibility for its governance were assigned to a central agency that had the authority and legitimacy to strengthen accountability mechanisms and to ensure federal institutions' compliance.
In my opinion, the Treasury Board of Canada is in the best position to assume this important responsibility. There is considerable overlap in Bill C-13 between the Treasury Board's responsibilities and those of Canadian Heritage. This results in two separate entities being responsible for the implementation of the act, which is problematic when trying to determine who has the final say.
I am, however, very pleased that the government is giving more teeth to the act by granting me a variety of more binding compliance mechanisms, such as the power to impose monetary penalties, enter into compliance agreements and make orders. The addition of the power to impose administrative and monetary penalties on Crown corporations and other entities operating in the transportation sector that do not meet their language obligations is a step in the right direction. However, the scope of this provision is too narrow, which greatly diminishes the potential to change behaviours elsewhere within the government.
I am therefore recommending that the power to impose administrative monetary penalties be expanded to apply to all federal institutions with obligations related to language of work and services to the public. At the very least, these penalties should apply to businesses that are subject to the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act.
Adding new powers to my toolbox will undoubtedly help me to better ensure compliance with the act. However, it will require the allocation of additional financial and human resources to my office.
The volume of complaints we receive has risen significantly over the past few years. This makes for a sometimes difficult work environment for my team of investigators, which adds a certain amount of pressure on them. It is therefore crucial that our resources be adapted to this new reality and to our new powers so that we can continue to protect Canadians' language rights effectively.
Your committee's consideration of Bill C-13 brings us one step closer to the finish line. However, there are still a number of stages to go before it is passed. The ball is now in your court, and I urge you to seize the historic opportunity before you today to make this bill a success for Canada's official languages.
Thank you for your attention. I will be very happy to answer your questions in the official language of your choice.