Archived - Notes for an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages
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Review of the 2013–2014 Main Estimates of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Ottawa, May 9, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
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Beginning of dialog
Mr. Chair and honourable members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages,
I would like to thank your committee for its interest in the operations of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
As an agent of Parliament, I provide parliamentarians with unbiased advice based on objective and factual information to help you hold the federal government accountable for its stewardship of the equal status of English and French in Canada.
I am accompanied today by Nancy Premdas, Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Management; Ghislaine Charlebois, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance; Sylvain Giguère, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications; and Colette Lagacé, Director, Finance.
The Office of the Commissioner has a budget of $23.9 million to support it in its mandate for 2013–2014. This amount includes $15.1 million in salaries, or 72% of the main budget. Our workforce consists of 163 full-time equivalents.
The expenditures planned for 2013–2014 take into account the loan of $2.8 million from the Treasury Board to pay for the cost of moving our offices to Gatineau. This relocation will allow us to streamline our operations and examine the possibility of sharing resources with other agents of Parliament who will be located under the same roof.
Our operations are divided into three program activities: protection of Canadians' language rights, promotion of linguistic duality and internal services.
I suggest we look at these activities one by one.
Protection of language rights
To protect the language rights of Canadians, the Office of the Commissioner resolves complaints through investigations, conducts audits, evaluates the performance of federal institutions and intervenes in court when appropriate.
The expenditures planned for this activity are $6.5 million, which represents 27.4% of the total budget.
The possible impacts of budget cuts on administrative programs and processes linked to official languages continue to preoccupy me. I will continue to observe the impacts of these budget cuts, both in Ottawa and in the regions, and I will continue to intervene based on what is revealed by our investigations and observations.
I know that the numbers in the last census raised some concerns in a number of Francophone communities across the country. That is why we will analyze the impact of the 2011 Census on bilingual services provided to official language communities by government offices across the country.
During the 2013–2014 fiscal year, the Office of the Commissioner will release the results of an audit on how the government fulfills its language obligations with respect to provincial transfers. It will not be a financial audit, but rather a review of the accountability process. The Office of the Commissioner will also publish audit follow-up reports for National Defence, Service Canada and the Halifax Airport Authority. We will also begin two new audits. One will be a horizontal audit on the impacts of new service management models on official languages in a limited number of federal institutions. The other will be on Treasury Board Secretariat's role in the review of the impacts of proposed budget cuts on official languages. We will also follow up on two others—one on Air Canada, and the other on Industry Canada.
I will continue to use my authority to intervene before the courts when necessary. During the next year, I will act as joint appellant in the Thibodeau vs. Air Canada case appealed to the Supreme Court, to ensure consistent interpretation of Air Canada's language obligations and the primacy of the Official Languages Act. Court proceedings against CBC/Radio-Canada are ongoing, and we will be able to evaluate the next steps once the CRTC renders a decision on the renewal of CBC/Radio-Canada's licences, specifically the licence for CBEF Windsor.
In 2012–2013, the Office of the Commissioner received 505 complaints from people who claimed that their language rights had been infringed. Of those complaints, 415 were admissible. To exercise our investigative powers in the most efficient way possible, we will conduct a survey of the complainants and federal institutions involved. Moreover, since February 2013, the Office of the Commissioner has been providing the possibility of filing a complaint online. We have also implemented a strategy to reduce the number of files in arrears. On April 1, 2012, there were 624 complaint files that had been ongoing for more than a year, 437 of which involved a single incident. As of March 31, 2013, only 69 of these files were still active.
Promotion of linguistic duality
Expenditures linked to promotion of linguistic duality are $6.7 million, which represents 28% of the total budget.
To promote Canadian linguistic duality, the Office of the Commissioner communicates regularly with parliamentarians, official language minority communities, federal institutions and the Canadian public. Canadians fully benefit from our research, our studies, the distribution of our information products and our exchanges with many key stakeholders. Since September, these exchanges can take place on social media. The Office of the Commissioner now manages a Facebook page and a Twitter feed to promote the conversation with Canadians.
Over the next year, the Office of the Commissioner will communicate regularly with federal institutions that anticipate making investments under the new Roadmap.
This will be done in order to better understand the expected results on the vitality of communities and the teaching of official languages. With the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation in 2017, I will follow up on recommendations from my last annual report aimed at raising the government's profile when it comes to linguistic duality in Canadian society. Furthermore, from 2013 to 2015, we will carry out an information campaign on the rights of the public who transit in the airports.
Four studies will be published this year. A study on the bilingual capacity of the judiciary of superior courts, conducted in collaboration with the Ontario French Language Services Commissioner and the New Brunswick Commissioner of Official Languages, will be completed shortly. This study will be a thorough examination of the federal judiciary appointment process as well as the language training offered to superior court judges. We will also finalize a study on language training in the federal public service and another on English-speaking seniors in Quebec. In addition, we are working on a study on Governor in Council appointments. Lastly, we will begin to look at a few potential study projects such as a survey of Canadians on bilingualism, the possibilities of learning a second language in colleges and CEGEPs, and a literature review on the effects of social media on our official languages.
It is also important to encourage the Canadian public to celebrate linguistic duality during various events, everywhere in the country. For example, this summer, my staff will be on hand throughout the Canada Games in Sherbrooke to promote Canada's linguistic duality to thousands of visitors. This effort is part of a strategy to work with organizers of major events to ensure that they include Canada's linguistic duality in their planning.
Our third program activity allows the Office of the Commissioner to bring together resources that support the organization as a whole, including asset management, finance and human resources management. This activity is allocated a budget of $6.7 million, which is 28.2% of our total budget. This amount does not include the cost of technological updates ($1.1 million for this year) or the cost of moving to 30 Victoria ($2.8 million), which together represent 16.4% or $3.9 million of the total budget for 2013–2014.
These services, essential to any organization, ensure that taxpayers' dollars are used efficiently and transparently.
In that vein, we have invested in new technological tools to optimize resources. For example, employees now rely on video and teleconferences to reduce the need for travel, increase productivity and reduce operational costs significantly.
Thank you for your attention. I would now like to take the remaining time to answer any questions you may have.