As part of the celebrations of the French Language Services Act’s 30th anniversary, I decided to do a very special blog post. So I’m taking the time to look back on last November’s celebrations and especially the symposium held at the University of Ottawa on November 18th 2016.
It is clear to me that the government must go ahead and revise the Act and then update it to reflect today’s reality. In my annual report entitled FLSA 2.0, I made about 20 recommendations to guide the government in this necessary reform. Within those recommendations, I focus on three important themes: Ontario as a designated area, active offer, and the integrated, almost organic vision of the French Language Services Act.
Today, I talk about the first important theme:
Designated areas versus a single area
The designation process is very burdensome for the community, and very slow. The designation criterion (5,000 Francophone residents or 10% Francophone population) is very old, dating back to the Laurendeau-Dunton commission (Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism) – so almost 50 years. Francophone communities have changed a great deal since then, and many areas have schools, daycare centres and in some cases religious centres to support the Francophone community’s vitality. People expect the government to be able to actively offer them services in their language. In principle, there is only 20% of the Francophone population left to serve (i.e., not in a designated area). Those people are not second-class citizens.
The designated area issue is a phony debate, and I’ll tell you why. In a given designated area, not all government service outlets offer service in French. The government has looked more closely at the distribution of Francophones in each area and determined which service outlets are in districts with higher concentrations of Francophones. If the entire province is a designated area, it is easy to repeat the exercise, in particular based on vitality indicators such as schools, Francophone or truly bilingual community health centres, seniors’ residences and so on. An added benefit is that highway signage would improve. When driving on the 401, we can tell whether we’re in a designated area or not! First the signs are bilingual; then, all of sudden, they are unilingual; and a short time later, they are bilingual again. This doesn’t make any sense.
On the other hand, I see a pitfall. We have to be careful in analyzing the service outlets, because we certainly don’t want to lose any services, especially in a tight budget situation. We mustn’t give the ministries an excuse to cut back on the service outlets needed to reach the Francophone population.
The time and energy spent by Francophone volunteers on getting their area designated are time and energy that they could be spending elsewhere, on important causes such as better access to health care. Situations like Oshawa must not happen again. Nine years of work by members of the community and still no designation because local politicians don’t approve – that’s just unacceptable!