Archived - Notes for an appearance before the Senate Committee of the Whole
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Ottawa, March 20, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, honourable senators, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for considering the certificate of nomination extending my term as Commissioner of Official Languages. The past six years have been marked by important events, including regular meetings with members of this committee. I hope that you will grant me the privilege of continuing this relationship for another three years.
I would like to underscore the commitment and professionalism shown by the senior management and employees at the Office of the Commissioner during the past few years. You have no doubt gotten to know some of the members of my executive committee who regularly accompany me to meetings with your Standing Committee on Official Languages and other committees.
But today, it’s only you and me—just like our meeting in 2006, the purpose of which was to confirm that I would apply for the position of Commissioner. You will no doubt remember that, on that occasion, I repeated the question posed by the Laurendeau‑Dunton Commission 50 years ago this year.
“Can English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians live together, and do they want to do so?”
If the answer to this question is still yes, then a results-based official languages policy must be implemented. This is what I said to you six years ago, and I still believe it to be true. The government must continue to make choices and take actions that will:
- allow Canadians to obtain services in both official languages;
- allow public servants to work in the official language of their choice;
- allow official language communities to fully contribute to Canadian society;
- allow people in every part of the country to learn Canada’s two official languages.
I am also judged by the results I obtain as a deputy head. Canadians who file complaints expect effective resolution within a reasonable timeframe. Our interventions with federal institutions must be judicious and lead to lasting changes. Our partners in official language communities and bilingualism promotion groups count on our support. Our promotional campaigns must reach their target audience. Moreover, the organization must be well managed and must ensure respect for employees and members of public, who fund the organization.
The Office of the Commissioner will continue to modernize itself. We are moving ahead with the implementation of new information management systems that will allow Canadians to file a complaint on-line, and we are now present on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. We now have a facilitated complaint process that is used to handle more than 60% of the complaints we receive. Moreover, we will soon be under the same roof as Elections Canada, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Office of the Information Commissioner. This proximity to other agents of Parliament will strengthen our independence and allow us to eventually share some services.
These administrative changes will allow the Office of the Commissioner to tackle upcoming challenges more effectively. I am thinking not only about the program that, I hope, will replace the Roadmap for Linguistic Duality, but also about the many upcoming important anniversaries and events during which Canada’s linguistic duality will play a starring role. My staff has worked closely with the organizers of the 2013 Canada Games in Sherbrooke and is already cooperating with the organizers of the 2015 PanAmerican Games in Toronto, to ensure that we apply the lessons learned during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Celebrations in 2017 for the 150th anniversary of Confederation will include the inauguration of the new Canadian Museum of History, and will be preceded by many commemorative events, for example, for both World Wars and for the 200th anniversary of the birth of John A. Macdonald. These anniversaries serve as the backdrop for a national conversation about our common history and our values. We need to highlight these historic moments, while recognizing that they were, at the time, a source of bitter and polarizing debate. It would be counterproductive to try to mask the disagreements, because we still feel the after-effects today, particularly in this building.
Since it was elected, the Parti Québécois government has been concerned about forces that are endangering the status of French. These dangers are very real. In the scientific, international trade and entertainment communities, the dominance of English often reduces the space that Francophones have to express themselves. But these dangers do not come from Quebec’s English-speaking communities or from federal institutions. This is a message that I will continue to spread.
This is only a glimpse of the work the Office of the Commissioner and the federal government must do over the next few years. Also on the agenda are the following:
- the vitality of official language communities;
- issues related to immigration, which is the past, the present and the future of our country;
- access to justice in both official languages;
- the critical need to improve access to French-language learning.
We also need to keep an eye on the changes within the federal public service, both in terms of services and in terms of language of work and support for official language communities.
The Office of the Commissioner will examine these issues as part of four main priorities:
- Promote linguistic duality in Canadian society, specifically by encouraging the government to play a more visible role in and improve access to second-language learning;
- Ensure that language rights are protected, specifically by monitoring the impact of budget cuts and the use of 2011 Census data to determine the language designation of federal offices, while continuing to monitor federal institution performance;
- Enhance official language community vitality, particularly with respect to immigration;
- Ensure sound management at the Office of the Commissioner during a period of change.
To meet its objectives, the Office of the Commissioner will continue to use every tool at its disposal: the work it does with parliamentarians, studies, audits, investigations, meetings with the heads of institutions, promotion and information initiatives, and of course legal remedies. We will also continue our work with federal institutions and linguistic minorities and majorities, while providing advice in the areas of health and education, the private sector and the media, as needed.
With your permission, I will continue to be a cheerleader and a nag.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.