Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Revisiting the #LSF30 celebrations (part 1)

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!

Recap of 2016 and happy holidays !

With the holidays, and the New Year, fast approaching, this is the perfect opportunity to take a look back at what the Commissioner’s Office was doing in 2016!

A review of our publications

Our Special Report – Active Offer of Services in French: The Cornerstone for Achieving the Objectives of Ontario’s French Language Services Act was published in May 2016 (an executive summary is available). I can’t repeat often enough how important this report is, since it is so closely tied to one of my major objectives for the revision of the French Language Services Act. All too often, Ontarians have to request services instead of having the choice of responding to the offer of service in either language. For that reason, active offer is an integral part of my request for a revision of the FLSA.

The second publication, Annual Report 2015-16: FLSA 2.0, is the most important report, in my view (an executive summary is available). It contains an overview of the French Language Services Act’s history, application and raison d’être, which clearly shows that times have changed and Francophone needs have evolved since 1986. The Act made possible many historic advances for Francophones, but it could do more. As a reminder, here are my three main recommendations: Ontario as a single designated area, active offer of service in French, and the integrated, almost organic vision of the French Language Services Act. At the #LSF30 symposium on November 18, the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs formally pledged to revise the Act. We still don’t know the details, but I’d say that’s a pretty good start!

The third and last publication of the year is entitled When the most elementary becomes secondary: Homework Incomplete (Follow-up on the report). In 2011, we produced a report concerning the many complaints we had received about the lack of high schools in the Greater Toronto Area, especially the eastern part. We received a response from the Ministry of Education in February 2012. Four years later, we carried out a follow-up to show what progress had been made since the Ministry’s 2012 response. In our recommendations, we stressed how important it was for the Ministry to provide the GTA’s two school boards with additional resources so that they could buy land and build a new school or enter into discussions with the English-language boards. The recent opening of the new French-language high school in Hamilton is a great example of cooperation between the French-language public and Catholic boards. Toronto’s French high schools will soon be at full capacity. The schools are having trouble accommodating new students because of a lack of space, and it will jeopardize the survival of the French language if we lose students from the secondary school system.

We did a lot more than produce reports in 2016. This was a particularly momentous year for the Commissioner’s Office. We moved to new offices, and we grew from a team of six to a team of 14! Modern new office space, but above all, very functional office space. We are particularly proud of our new offices, and we are even happier to have guests. Our doors are open to community organizations, including Francophone community organizations.

Human resources with expertise in a wide variety of fields, which helped us recruit top-notch people, the cream of the crop, as I like to call them! With this new team, we will be able to focus on introducing a new complaints management system to minimize processing delays and, above all, be more proactive.

Despite these major changes, we have continued to do our work – handling complaints, meetings with political and community leaders, speeches, breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, cocktail parties, conferences, training courses and so on. We had the opportunity to work not only with many government officials (ministers, deputy ministers, MPPs, public servants and so on) but also with members and key leaders of the Francophone community. We continued to promote the importance of updating the French Language Services Act to reflect our reality, and many people have responded favourably to the need to put the issue on the legislative calendar and move quickly so that Francophones will have an act that is consistent with their new reality and meets their needs.

In 2017, we will continue to talk about the importance of updating the Act and the importance of active offer. We will be visiting organizations, schools and public servants to educate them about the Act, its application, its purposes and the consequences for Ontarians. We will be more visible than ever across the province and on social media (Facebook and Twitter). By the way, I urge you to share the superb video produced by Improtéine to explain FLSA 2.0. In closing, on behalf of the entire team at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, I wish you an excellent holiday period and a happy, healthy 2017 full of joy and success!

Patients first – including Francophone patients

In its Bill 41, the government is proposing a major reform in the critical health care sector. The discussion paper issued by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care clearly outlines the deficiencies in health care for the province’s Francophone patients, and I’m grateful to the Ministry for being so proactive in this disclosure. The paper contains the following statement:

“Some Ontarians – particularly Indigenous peoples, Franco-Ontarians, members of cultural groups (especially newcomers), and people with mental health and addiction challenges – are not always well-served by the health care system.”

The government has certainly been responsive to our repeated requests, but I’m concerned that the bill, in its present form, doesn’t go far enough. For that reason, I published a news release, and I appeared before the parliamentary committee last week and gave this presentation. Most importantly, we submitted a more technical legal brief, in which we offered some concrete, achievable suggestions for long-term solutions.

We see two major issues here. The first concerns a subject of particular importance. Essentially, the Ministry and my office have been in a legal dispute for years about how to interpret the obligations of the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) when they identify French-language service providers. We believe quite simply that the service providers become third parties and therefore that the French Language Services Act and its regulations apply to them. The Ministry and the LHINs disagree. It is important to fix this now, while we are in the process of amending the Act. Because the Ministry kept telling me that it could not change the Act to remedy this problem. Now is the perfect opportunity to do so. The consequences for French-language health services for Francophone patients are too great to sit by and do nothing.

The second issue concerns the relationship between the LHINs and the French Language Health Planning Entities. We are offering important recommendations to make the Entities genuine partners in planning health services with the LHINs, as their name indicates, so that they can provide suggestions for long-term solutions for Francophone patients. We also make recommendations to improve the transparency and accountability of both the LHINs and the Entities.

Today, the parliamentary committee responsible for clause-by-clause study of this bill is meeting for the last time to deal with amendments before the bill goes to third reading. We are in attendance to provide advice (or input) if needed, so that we can make sure that we have the best possible bill, a bill that will actually put patients first, including Francophone patients.

 

Ontario officially an observer member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie

A weekend that ended wonderfully with a wonderful announcement! Ontario has been accepted as an observer member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF).

Following this announcement, I must congratulate and salute the leadership of the province of Ontario, not to mention Canada and the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec. As for us, we truly believe that this new status will definitely bear fruit on many levels and above all open doors to La Francophonie on a much larger scale. It is a unique opportunity to enjoy a number of economic and cultural benefits as well as an exchange of knowledge and best practices with other member countries.

We hope that this good news will influence the immigration strategy that the government is to develop following the recent publication of the report by the Group of Experts on Francophone Immigration. The province now has a special place on the stage of the International Francophonie, so it may very well take inspiration from that to put in place an effective recruitment plan and achieve its target.

The IOF Summit proved once again that the French language is not in decline. According to the 2014 study by the Observatory of the French Language, if advances in French-language education continue around the world, the number of Francophones will reach 767 million by 2060. The French language continues to make headway among the languages used at the international level by many countries. As LeDroit highlighted in his editorial, the are more and more Ontarians that realise the presence and the importance of the francophone community. Now that Ontario has observer member status, it’s only a matter of time, I hope, until it becomes a permanent member.

The Premier prepared a gretting on Youtube following the acceptance of Ontario as an observer member of the IOF.

Once again, well done!

Report on Francophone immigration: a demand for a concrete action plan

The report of the Group of Experts on Francophone Immigration was released yesterday. I issued a press release today providing facts, as well as our reactions to the report.

The report from the Group of Experts is a step in the right direction, and I ask that the government accepts the recommendations and have in place an action plan to make it more concrete. The government will have to work with its federal colleagues, since immigration is a shared jurisdiction. It’s important to have a concerted plan to maximize efforts to promote, recruit, establish and integrate Francophone newcomers.

I would very much like the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to establish a permanent advisory committee on francophone immigration to guide the government throughout that process. It was one of my recommendations in my 2011-2012 Annual Report and I think it is even more relevant than ever.

This committee could guide the department in establishing the priorities and a precise timeline to implement the recommendations brought forward by the Group of Experts. This committee could also follow the various inter-departmental work that will be needed to counter the current silo culture. Immigration touches many other departments and fields, and it’s very important to have a holistic approach.

With the cooperation of the federal government, it’s possible to reach the 5% objective of Francophone newcomers. Community organizations have to work with the government to ensure that francophones feel at home here and that they have the right programs and services to facilitate their integration within the great francophone community in our province.

National Francophone Immigration Week

To wrap up this superb National Francophone Immigration Week, I would like to mention the various personal stories we heard through the week and point out how significant newcomers’ involvement is in our communities. I also took part in a few interviews here and there.

I stressed a number of times the importance of having good programs to provide the best possible welcome for people who decide to move to Ontario and live their lives in French. We have to be able to welcome them properly, in French, and find a way of retaining them, so that they will decide to settle here.

In our infographics (which many of you have undoubtedly seen circulating over the last few years), we show the large pool of newcomers who contribute to Ontario’s Francophonie. One out of two Francophones in the Greater Toronto Area was born outside Canada, and only 60% of Ontario’s Francophone population was born here. That says a lot!

Also, in 2009 we broadened the meaning of the term Francophone by introducing the Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF). Under this definition, Francophones are “persons whose mother tongue is French, plus those whose mother tongue is neither French nor English but have a particular knowledge of French as an Official Language and use French at home.” As a result of this change, more people who are already here, in our province of Ontario, are recognized as Francophones and Francophiles.

Some will say, That’s all very nice, but we’re having trouble attracting, recruiting and keeping those people here. The numbers aren’t there, and we are not reaching the provincial target for Francophone immigration. The long-awaited report of the ministry of Citizenship and Immigration’s group of experts is expected out shortly. I will certainly have occasion to respond to it.

Until we see that report and the solutions it will undoubtedly suggest, we have to continue finding ways of attracting newcomers and making sure that we welcome them with open arms. If they feel at home here, they will want to stay and in turn help bring others here and play an active role in the community. We need to continue stressing how important Francophone immigration is and how it enriches our lives.