Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

On June 7, I’ll vote!

Last week saw the beginning of a provincial election campaign in Ontario that will end on voting day, June 7.

The next election will be highly polarized. We can expect very firm positions in favour of a specific party, or against a specific party. In the Commissioner’s Office, we feel it is the political parties’ turn to take centre stage so that voters can make an informed decision over the next few weeks.

As you know, the Commissioner’s Office, like the other officers of the Legislature, is obliged to treat the incipient democratic process with the greatest deference. You may have noticed that the Commissioner’s Office has been pretty quiet on social media lately. Over the past four years, we have accepted every interview request from the media. We have had three years and 10 months to talk our heads off, but during the campaign period, the debate belongs to the people.

Nevertheless, it is my job to see that the residents of Ontario receive French-language services for the election. With a view to ensure that Francophones receive high-quality service in French, the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner and Elections Ontario signed a memorandum of understanding to guarantee the effective handling of complaints.

I’m very happy about this cooperation between two independent officers. I would even say it’s a first, but it certainly won’t be the last! I’m particularly grateful to Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa and his team for making this proactive commitment to properly serving the Francophone and Francophile community. The agreement encourages citizens to exercise their language rights, and it also helps find appropriate solutions to their complaints – quickly.

And that excellent cooperation doesn’t end there! We have also been working with the Elections Ontario team and Improtéine to produce entertaining videos, laced with a bit of humour, of course, to encourage Francophone and Francophile Ontarians to get themselves on the voters list and work for Elections Ontario, and to encourage 16- and 17-year-olds to participate by registering now for the list of future voters.

So I am inviting you to enjoy exclusive access to our first video. Feel free to share it on social media. But whatever you do, remember to get out and vote!

Retirement of Commissioner Katherine d’Entremont

We learned last week that the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Ms. Katherine d’Entremont, is planning to retire in July.

I have had the pleasure of collaborating with her since her appointment in 2013. Indeed, a few months after she took office, Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary was published. She jumped in with both feet and worked extensively with my office and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada (in the days of Mr. Graham Fraser).

We also worked on a regular basis on other files, such as the active offer of French language services, Francophone immigration, and French language services in general.

We are also members of the International Association of Language Commissioners, of which I am very proud!

We also spoke out in a common voice on a number of occasions to promote an increase in Francophone immigration outside Quebec, in particular by calling for a concrete action plan to obtain tangible results.

Our situations are certainly different, but we share the same passion for our respective mandates. We were able to observe her exceptional contribution to promoting the development of members of both of New Brunswick’s official language communities throughout her professional career. Through her numerous investigations and her actions, she demonstrated how seriously she took her position as Commissioner of Official Languages. When there was a language-related injustice, she and her team intervened as quickly as possible to condemn it.

Dear colleague, I hope that you enjoy this well-deserved retirement, and know that I am happy and privileged to have had the opportunity to work with you over the last five years.

A “grande dame” of the Francophone community retires

For over 30 years, Jocelyne Samson has dedicated body and soul to the Ontario Public Service, and more specifically its Francophone clientele. The time has come for her to return to good health and focus a little on herself and her family.

When Jocelyne was hired at the Office of the Commissioner in February 2008, after I called her to offer her the position, she was the one who interviewed me! She did not want to work for someone who was not committed to the development of Ontario’s Francophone community. I hope I have not been too much of a disappointment to her! To me, however, that anecdote spoke volumes about her strong personality: if she could talk to her future employer that way, I knew that she would never hesitate to voice her opinion, and the bonus was that she would not have accepted responses submitted by ministries that were not really interested in finding long-term solutions for complainants. In fact, she often used the word “deplorable” to describe what ministries and other government agencies did or did not do.

Speaking of complainants, I have yet to meet a single person who did not have great things to say about Jocelyne’s work. She is indefatigable – I had to persuade her not to write to complainants on the weekend (so she would mischievously send out a series of ready-made emails at 7:00 Monday morning). She is a hard bargainer – she quickly gained a reputation among our government partners for proving that the Office of the Commissioner was not here just for window dressing. She is irreproachable – the quality of her work spoke for itself. For a long time, she was the only person at the Office of the Commissioner who handled investigations, and still, complainants were always kept abreast of the results of our investigations.

I also want to highlight Jocelyne’s high ethical standards, her strength of character, her convictions, her passion as a communicator, her unwavering commitment to the Franco-Ontarian community, and her deep affection for the Office of the Commissioner.

The one thing I can think of to say is little indeed to describe Jocelyne’s contribution to the success of the Office of the Commissioner, but I will take my chances: thank you.

Jocelyne, I wish you a very long and unbelievably well-deserved retirement. Most importantly, may you have good health and let your family and friends pamper you now.

 

 

Passing of M. Noble Villeneuve

We are saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Noble Villeneuve. He was 79 years old.

Mr. Villeneuve served as MPP for the riding of Stormont–Dundas–Glengarry and East Grenville. In his long political career, he held the cabinet positions of Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs from 1995 to 1999.

On behalf of the team at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, we extend our most sincere condolences to his family, friends and loved ones.

Looking back on the 2017 congress of the Assemblée de la Francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO)

I’m taking advantage of a #ThrowbackThursday to reminisce about my weekend at the congress of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) on October 28, 29 and 30. Once again, it was a weekend full of reunions and discussions on topics that are important to Ontario’s Francophones and Francophiles.

During my stay in Ottawa, I participated as a panellist in the workshop on revision of the Act. Many people are already taking part in the debate. I presented once again the recommendations I made in my 2015-2016 annual report regarding a modernized French Language Services Act. Other groups are also demanding an amended Act, in some cases going even a bit further than what I recommended. That’s a good thing: the debate is well and truly joined.

In the evening, we were treated to a lovely reception plus a comedy show. Several good young comedians are clearly ready for the big time. And laughter was just what the doctor ordered for the delegates.

Saturday’s AFO awards ceremony was another great success. A wonderful evening in an enchanting setting surrounded by planes and helicopters of yesteryear. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the award recipients:

  • Linda Cardinal: Pillar of the Francophonie Award
  • Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne, Regroupement des étudiants franco-ontariens and Association des communautés francophones d’Ottawa (FESFO-RÉFO-ACFO Ottawa): Franco-Ontarian Horizon Award
  • Tréva Cousineau: Florent Lalonde Award

You’ve made a great contribution to the Francophonie over many years, and you’ve left your mark on it in a very special way in the past year. The ceremony was an excellent way of honouring the recipients and all those who were nominated.

I’d also like to express my gratitude and deepest appreciation to the AFO for the special ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the Commissioner’s Office. I will remember the sage advice of AFO president Carol Jolin, who encouraged us to continue working with the community and to ensure the continuation and improvement of French-language services across the province.

The unveiling of the very beautiful drawing touched me deeply. It’s certainly a fine representation of the first 10 years of the Commissioner’s Office.

 

 

 

What’s new in immigration?

The issue of immigration has generated much debate in the last few weeks, and I don’t think I’ve provided you with an update on the subject in a while.

I was recently invited to give the closing remarks at the forum of the Central-Southwestern Francophone Immigration Support Network, and I believe that the message I delivered was clear. The province of Ontario cannot achieve its Francophone immigration target without the federal government’s leadership and commitment. In fact, the two levels of government have signed an agreement, and this is a step in the right direction. As part of the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement, a specific Annex on Francophone immigration is under development with a goal of unveiling the annex next March and which, I hope I can believe, will clearly state that the 5% target for Francophone immigration to Ontario will be incorporated into all categories of federal and provincial immigration programs.

One of the objectives listed in Annex A to the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement is that the governments want “To increase the number of French-Speaking Immigrants to Ontario.” This annex is specific to the Provincial Nominee Program, which gives the province an important role in selecting its immigrants on the basis of its labour market needs.

The Provincial Nominee Program lets the provinces create sub-classes based on their needs. This is what Ontario did when it created its Express Entry French-Speaking Skilled Worker Stream, which is for French-speaking skilled workers who are proficient in English and want to live and work permanently in Ontario. This stream enables the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program to nominate individuals who have the required education, skilled work experience, language ability, and other characteristics to help them settle successfully in Ontario and integrate into the province’s labour market and communities. Applicants must, of course, be eligible for the federal Express Entry pool.

The agreement between the two levels of government provides for a number of evaluation and accountability measures. This is an excellent opportunity for the Commissioner’s Office to monitor the efforts and initiatives undertaken by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration of Ontario (MCI) to achieve its target, and to ask the Ministry questions about it.

 

What’s happening at MCI?

We are continuing to work with the Ministry. A hot topic is the U.S. government’s recent announcement that it was terminating the Temporary Protected Status granted to many immigrants, including Haitians, in the United States. Many Francophone community leaders have stated that the new flow of immigrants would be an opportunity for Ontario to pursue its Francophone immigration target. I certainly plan to pay close attention to this issue over the next few months. That said, it’s important to remember that the rules regarding refugee claimants continue to apply and that many of them do not satisfy all the refugee criteria.

So while we understand that the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration is ready to support an influx of Haitian refugee claimants should one materialize in Ontario, the ministry emphasizes that entry into the country is clearly defined by federal legislation and criteria; and that prospective refugee claimants need to be mindful of the legal means for entering the country.

There will be many important discussions in 2018. Of particular interest to me is the establishment of a pilot project called Destination Ontario francophone in Algeria and Morocco. It’s a promising step. In March 2018, Ontario will host the second Ministerial Forum on Francophone Immigration  to follow up on the one held recently in Moncton.

A member of the investigations team, Élisabeth Arcila, travelled to Timmins to attend the provincial forum of the Francophone Immigration Support Networks. Francophone organizations made a number of observations. They complained that Anglophone organizations were not referring newcomers to Francophone networks. It would also appear that we are missing opportunities to provide proper orientation for French-speaking newcomers when they arrive at Canadian airports.

There is good news from the Mobilité francophone program. Some 955 applications for residence have been approved. In the Express Entry pool, about 3.9% of those invited to apply for permanent residence are French-speaking. In addition, MCI has a new team responsible for Francophone immigration, internal coordination and coordination of the federal-provincial relationship for the purposes of developing and implementing the announced measures.

There are a lot of new developments concerning immigration, but much follow-up will have to be done over the next few months and we look forward to continuing to follow these developments closely.