Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

The warrior’s rest

It would not surprise me to hear that the good Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier himself greeted Mauril Bélanger last night with the kind of remark we might expect from him: “I wasn’t expecting you so soon, but good work, old friend.” Good work indeed. Replacing Jean-Robert Gauthier as MP was not going to be a simple task. But before long, through sheer hard work, but most importantly through the force of his own open, straightforward and endearing personality, Mauril’s riding became his own. After his 21 years as the federal member for the riding of Ottawa-Vanier, it had to happen!

And now Mauril Bélanger has left us. Not just as an MP, but as a hero. When he learned of the terrible illness he had, he could very well have left it all behind and simply tried to enjoy the time left to him. No one, absolutely no one, would have had a word to say against him had he done that; everyone would have understood. But because he had been a fighter all his life, he never gave in. He chose to continue in his important role as an MP, and even to travel to Africa, in spite of his illness, because he had made commitments as a parliamentarian and a representative of the Association des parlementaires de la Francophonie.

That kind of dedication, and with such class to boot, is not something we will see again soon.

Mauril was always available and his wise counsel helped me a great deal. He always recommended not wavering from the course and always being open with people. Mauril Bélanger is the real deal. The real Francophone deal, and they don’t make many like him. It is not unusual for politicians to be eulogized when they die. But our own Mauril has left us, and that hurts. There will be others who will stand up and wage the political battles in future. There will be others whose integrity shines uncommon bright. There will be other MPs who are quite simply top-notch. But the thing is, Mauril is all that and much more.

Mauril’s work has been extraordinary, and some projects can still have a follow thru and great impact. It would be great to see our national anthem (English version) become fully inclusive, and also have our nation’s capital become officially bilingual by the celebration of the 150th anniversary of our country’s Confederation.

Our sincerest condolences to his wife Catherine and their children and grandchildren, from all of us at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.

Thank you, Mauril; you will be with us always.

Vacation time!

On this national mourning day in France, I would like to start this blog entry by expressing my sadness to all my French friends. I am profoundly moved by this great tragedy from last night in Nice. Especially happening on July 14th. I am without words. I can only express my sincerest solidarity with the French citizens.

On a less personal note, I’m sure you’ve noticed that in the last few months, we’ve been very visible in the media, and especially on all of our Web platforms. First, in a special report on active offer and services to the Francophone community, I recommended that the French Language Services Act be revised to include that essential concept. If the only reason for amending the Act were to incorporate the concept of active offer, it would be worth the trouble. I should also mention, that my federal colleague quite recently addressed the issue of active offer. I would like to take advantage of this blog post to commend the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages on its innovative approach in its investigation. The study involved six focus groups with front-line employees, four focus groups with supervisors and 12 interviews with executives from 11 different federal institutions.

In early June, we tabled in the Legislature the annual report of the Commissioner’s Office, FLSA 2.0, whose recommendations include undertaking the major project of a comprehensive revision of the French Language Services Act so that it will better meet the needs of Ontario’s Francophone citizens. I have said this publicly before, and I will say it again here: it is the most important annual report in my entire career. First, because it is based on nearly nine years of observations about French-language services in Ontario.  Second, because I am aware that the reform I am proposing is ambitious. At the same time, though, I believe that the recommended solutions are eminently pragmatic, concrete and, I hope, helpful, not only for the well-being of the province’s Francophones, particularly the most vulnerable groups, but also for the development of the Franco-Ontarian community.

We were also busy packing boxes in June. Yes, boxes, because we have finally moved. Our offices are beautiful, modern and, best of all, well equipped to accommodate our new team. And rest assured, you will certainly have an opportunity to see them during an event – an open house – in late September. Add it to your calendar … an event not to be missed.

Before I forget, I wanted to revisit my last blog post on Bill 5, The Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act. I wanted to salute the amazing work done by Manitoba’s Francophone community and Minister of Francophone Affairs, as the bill was passed on June 30. Bravo!

On that happy note, I wish you an enjoyable, restful vacation, filled with new adventures with your family and friends. Be sure to take in the wonderful festivals and other activities taking place in your area and across Ontario. In Toronto, there is the famous Franco-Fête from July 15 to 17; stop in and see what it’s all about. The program is incredible this year.

So I’m going to take my own advice and put my blog on hold while I enjoy the summer. See you back here in September, and have a great vacation :) !

Manitoba is breaking new ground!

If the Ontario government requires a major incentive to propose a revision of the French Language Services Act, it needn’t look any further than the province next door. Manitoba’s newly minted government has just introduced what can only be described as an exceptional bill. Bill 5, The Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act, was tabled in Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly last Tuesday. It is essentially the same bill introduced by the previous government before the Assembly was dissolved for the general elections.

This was unquestionably a very fine gesture by the new government. Since the two opposition parties have also endorsed the bill, the table is set for it to pass quickly. But even if that were not the case, the adoption of this law in Manitoba will help heal the still open wounds of the 1980s language crisis. As you may remember, at the time of that constitutional and linguistic crisis, the president of the Société franco-manitobaine (SFM) received death threats; the SFM’s building burned down; and the Pawley government was brought down by acerbic and vitriolic comments. May I suggest that you read journalist Frances Russell’s excellent book on the crisis, The Canadian Crucible.

So the problem started a long way back. And it is important to understand where things started before one begins criticizing. By introducing this bill so early in the new session of Parliament, the government is making it clear that the Manitoban Francophonie is no longer a partisan issue but rather a matter of equity and respect for a community that has made such a great contribution to building the province. As a Franco-Manitoban by adoption, I am very proud of the level of maturity shown by the politicians of our neighbouring province. After holding talks with the various political parties in Ontario, I am confident that we too have attained that level of maturity.

The bill confirms not only the importance of the Franco-Manitoban community, but especially the government’s desire to foster the advancement of the Francophonie in Manitoba through a sectoral approach applicable to all pertinent bodies (this is in the preamble, and I will explain later). But first, it is important to note the very broad definition given to the expression “Manitoba’s Francophone community”: “those persons in Manitoba whose mother tongue is French and those persons in Manitoba whose mother tongue is not French but who have a special affinity for the French language and who use it on a regular basis in their daily life.” At first glance, this may seem nightmarish for statisticians, but when we look at the definition more closely, we see that it is quite similar to Ontario’s Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF), which, I remind you, is still not enshrined in the French Language Services Act.  For how, I ask you, can we define people who have a special affinity for the French language and use it on a regular basis in their daily lives except by statistically measuring how many people whose mother tongue is not French not only speak and understand French but also speak it at home (in other words, the IDF!).

The bill also contains a statement of purpose, which is missing from Ontario’s law. That statement reads as follows: “The purpose of this Act is to provide a framework for enhancing the vitality of Manitoba’s Francophone community and supporting and assisting its development through the work of the secretariat and the advisory council and the use of French-language services plans.” Very interesting, but it’s important to look at what follows.

The concept of active offer is spelled out in the bill, another major deficiency in Ontario’s FLSA. The bill states that active offer is the cornerstone for the provision of French-language services. “These services are to be made evident, readily available and easily accessible to the public and are to be of comparable quality to English language services.” Quite comprehensive, I’d say, at first glance.

The functions of the minister responsible for Francophone Affairs are clearly stated and are so interesting that it is worth reproducing them here:

“The minister responsible for Francophone Affairs is responsible for taking measures to enhance the vitality of Manitoba’s Francophone community, including measures to

(a) support the ongoing implementation of the French-language services policy;

(b) advocate that the policies, programs and services of relevant bodies take into account the needs of Manitoba’s Francophone community and that those needs are resourced equitably;

(c) encourage representation of Manitoba’s Francophone community on the boards of government agencies and on administrative tribunals; and

(d) encourage the efforts of public bodies in supporting and assisting the development of Manitoba’s Francophone community.”

Hence, the bill contains ideas about espousing programs that are designed to meet the Francophone community’s needs, representing the community on boards, and supporting efforts to develop the community. Powerful and positive. As for the Francophone Affairs Secretariat, the equivalent of our Office of Francophone Affairs, the bill assigns it very clear responsibilities for promoting and increasing public awareness of the laws relating to Manitoba’s Francophone community, for cooperating with other levels of government, and for establishing partnerships at the local, provincial, national and international levels.

The bill also establishes a Francophone Affairs Advisory Council (which I recommend as well in a revised FLSA). The council’s membership consists of the Clerk of the Executive Council (no less!), at least five deputy ministers, five members of the community, and the president and CEO of the SFM. The council’s role is primarily to review plans for French-language services. Every public body is required to prepare and submit a proposed multi-year strategic plan relating to the provision of French-language services. Those plans must describe the priorities of Manitoba’s Francophone community, the French-language services that the public body intends to provide, even if they are delivered by third parties, and other measures needed to enhance the vitality of Manitoba’s Francophone community and to support and assist its development.  Very strong. Not absolutely perfect, but very strong nevertheless. What’s more, the advisory council may provide advice and make recommendations concerning those service plans (which I also recommend in a revised FLSA).

So everything will depend on how one defines “services”. That said, the language used by Manitoba’s lawmakers, if the bill passes without amendment, is quite clear, with statements on service plans, the roles of the minister, the secretariat and the advisory council, and especially the measures to be taken to enhance the vitality of Manitoba’s Francophone community and to support and assist its development. Music to my ears. Of course, the future of the Franco-Manitoban community will always hinge on its own members, including family first and foremost, as well as schools and community institutions. The government has a complementary role that remains extremely important. Public recognition of French and its use in the public domain are important factors in persuading Francophones to make the daily choice to remain Francophones.

In short, while the bill contains other provisions that would be of interest to jurists, such as the matter of regulatory powers, I won’t go into further detail here, as I’ve been verbose enough. But, as I’m sure you understand, I’m very excited to see this bill. And most of all, the timing could not be better, with the discussions I hope to begin soon with the new Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, the Honourable Marie-France Lalonde.

Stay tuned!

A new Cabinet for Ontario

Yesterday, the Government of Ontario announced major changes to the Ontario Cabinet. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of the ministers who have been appointed.

The announcement that the Hon. Madeleine Meilleur was leaving met with a wide response from the Francophone community, including myself. Her dedication and tenacity led to success on key issues such as the independence of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner in 2014. I can never thank her enough for everything she has accomplished on behalf of Franco-Ontarians. I would also invite you to read the letter I sent to her at the time.

I welcome the speedy appointment of the Hon. Marie-France Lalonde as Minister of Government Services and Consumer Services and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. Given her dual responsibilities, she will obviously be sensitive to the importance of the Government of Ontario providing high-quality, innovative services for Francophones.

Her appointment comes at a pivotal time in the development of French language services in Ontario. With 2016 marking the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the French Language Services Act, I recommended in my 2015-2016 annual report that the government undertake the task of completely overhauling the Act so that it will better meet the needs of the Francophone citizens of Ontario. I am certain that her expertise and her thorough familiarity with issues relating to Francophone affairs will stand Ontario Francophones in good stead.

I foresee that her dual ministerial responsibilities will be an excellent fit, precisely because the entire question of active offer and services offered to the Francophone community needs to be reviewed, specifically with a view to modernizing the French Language Services Act.

In the course of my duties, I have had the pleasure of meeting members of Cabinet on several occasions and I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue this relationship. I foresee excellent prospects for continuity with the new Attorney General of Ontario, the Hon. Yasir Naqvi, on all of the important issues relating to access to justice in French. I also anticipate a productive dialogue with the new Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development concerning issues relating to the creation of new post-secondary programs in French, particularly in central and southwestern Ontario. There are also other appointments to note: the Hon. Mitzie Hunter to Education, the Hon. Laura Albanese to Citizenship and Immigration, and the Hon. Michael Coteau to Children and Youth Services. I offer them my full collaboration.

A plea for revision of the French Language Services Act

Yesterday, I presented to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the media and the public the fruit of several months of reflection and hard work: my ninth annual report as French Language Services Commissioner.

I am very proud of the 2015-2016 report, and I sincerely hope it will be endorsed by the Francophone community, for whose benefit it was conceived. I also hope that it will be favourably received by the Ontario government, from the standpoint of improving the services it provides to French-speaking Ontarians.

This report, entitled FLSA 2.0, is – dare I say – my most important one so far. As its title indicates, the report lays the groundwork for what could be a comprehensive revision of the French Language Services Act, if the government agrees to implement the recommendations I am making.

The Act came into being 30 years ago this year. While it was considered progressive in 1986, that is no longer the case today. The face of the Francophonie has changed. Cultural diversity has taken hold. Attitudes are different, as are modes of communication for that matter. I therefore believe that modernization of the Act is necessary, perhaps even critical, so that it will better meet the needs and aspirations of the 612,000 citizens who make up Ontario’s Francophone community.

The report submitted yesterday contains three main recommendations for the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs: (1) that the Minister propose to the Legislative Assembly a comprehensive revision of the French Language Services Act; (2) that the process of revising the Act be initiated during the current session of parliament, no later than the fall of 2016, as part of the Act’s 30th anniversary; (3) that the Minister launch, without delay, a mechanism for consulting the residents of Ontario, particularly the Francophone community, as a first step in the process of revising the Act.

This last point is particularly important to me. I believe that a project of this scale requires consultation with the Franco-Ontarian community and its stakeholders, and that they must be involved from the outset.

The report also contains 16 recommendations on specific issues, including the Act’s statement of purpose, the use of the Inclusive Definition of Francophone, active offer, social media, designation of areas, government agencies, the roles of the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, the French-language services coordinators, and my own role. All these recommendations are important, in my view. However, I encourage you to read them in context, by clicking on the link below to the complete annual report.

Since the Commissioner’s Office was established in 2007, receiving complaints from the public concerning the provision of French-language services by the provincial government has been the core of its mission. This year, we processed 229 complaints. I urge you once again, my fellow Ontarians, to submit your complaints to us whenever you feel that your right to be served in French has been ignored. That is the most effective way to achieve progress. I can assure you, your voice matters.

In 2015, we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the French presence in Ontario. Will 2016 be the year that the process of revising the French Language Services Act gets under way? For all of us, I hope so. Make way for FLSA 2.0.

 

Read the annual report here.

 

A few media articles:

 

English media

http://www.citynews.ca/2016/06/01/commissioner-wants-french-services-available-everywhere-in-ontario/

http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/commissioner-wants-french-services-in-all-of-ontario-not-just-designated-regions-1.2926786

http://globalnews.ca/news/2735244/commissioner-wants-government-services-available-in-french-in-all-of-ontario/

 

French media

http://www.lapresse.ca/le-droit/opinions/editoriaux/pierre-paul-noreau/201606/01/01-4987450-le-legs-majeur-du-commissaire-boileau.php

http://www.lapresse.ca/le-droit/politique/politique-ontarienne/201606/01/01-4987319-plaidoyer-pour-le-francais-partout-en-ontario.php

http://www.lapresse.ca/le-droit/politique/politique-ontarienne/201606/01/01-4987473-une-vaste-reforme-de-la-loi-8-proposee.php?utm_categorieinterne=trafficdrivers&utm_contenuinterne=cyberpresse_meme_auteur_4987319_article_POS3

http://www5.tfo.org/onfr/le-csf-de-lontario-veut-une-refonte-complete-de-la-loi-8/

http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/ontario/2016/06/01/009-rapport-boileau-refonte-loi-services-francais-ontario.shtml

http://www.lactualite.com/actualites/kathleen-wynne-reformera-t-elle-la-loi-sur-les-services-en-francais-en-ontario/

Submission of a special report on active offer

Yesterday, I submitted to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the Honourable Dave Levac, a report on which the Commissioner’s Office has been working for a long time and which deals with a subject of particular importance to me: active offer. In the report, entitled Active Offer of Services in French: The Cornerstone for Achieving the Objectives of Ontario’s French Language Services Act, I state that more regulation of the obligation to “actively” offer services in French is needed, and I call on the government to propose an amendment to the French Language Services Act to include active offer in the delivery of services by government ministries and agencies.

I point out that since I took office, active offer has been one of my key goals. In my 2012-2013 annual report, I made the following recommendation:

The French Language Services Commissioner recommends to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs that an explicit directive regarding the active offer of French-language services be issued by the Management Board in the 2013-2014 fiscal year and that said directive apply to all ministries, government agencies and entities that provide French-language services on behalf of the government.[1]

At that time, the government’s response to the recommendation was as follows:

The government agrees with the Commissioner that the active offer of French language services is key to ensuring that ministries respect the letter and the spirit of the French Language Services Act.

In fact, the inclusion of an active offer provision in the regulation on the delivery of French-language services by third parties on behalf of government agencies clearly reflects the legal obligation of ministries to ensure that the services they provide directly, and those that are provided by third parties on their behalf, are delivered in French in a proactive manner. This goes beyond what a directive could accomplish.[2]

The regulation to which the government refers, Regulation 284/11, is a step in the right direction for active offer. However, this provision only requires active offer by third parties that provide French-language services on the government’s behalf, not by government organizations as such.

Many stakeholders and decision-makers agree with the Commissioner’s Office that the active offer of French-language services should be a requirement. Unfortunately, the Act has no provisions referring to any active offer obligation. In my opinion, it is time to change this, and to go much further. By failing to actively offer services in French, service providers, particularly in the justice and health care systems, place the responsibility for understanding the information communicated on the shoulders of the users of the services and their caregivers. This is completely unacceptable. Moreover, Francophone Ontarians in vulnerable situations are hardest hit by the absence or poor quality of French-language services.

To address these shortcomings, I made three recommendations in the special report: the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs should take the necessary steps to ensure that (1) the Act is amended to include a provision relating to active offer, and that the amendment comes into force no later than May 2018. In addition, the changes to the Act should (2) be based on an action plan setting forth clear directives and best practices to guide executives and managers responsible for implementing active offer. (3) I also recommended the development of a provincial strategy to promote the implementation of the active offer of services in French by government agencies and institutions subject to the Act. Furthermore, the strategy should be developed in cooperation with community partners that can offer useful expertise and invaluable help in achieving the objectives.

I sincerely hope that the government will respond to these recommendations sooner rather than later. I want Franco-Ontarians to be able to obtain services in French that are equivalent in quality to those provided to all Ontarians, as guaranteed by the concept of active offer.

Making active offer a legal obligation would have a positive impact on the lives of Ontario’s 612,000 Francophones. You may rest assured that, as I have done for the last nine years, I fully intend to keep a close eye on developments in this area.

 

[1] Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, A New Approach, Annual Report 2012-2013, Toronto, 2013, p. 29.

[2] Excerpt from the government’s response to the Commissioner’s 6th annual report, dated January 14, 2014.

 

* To see the full text of the special report, click here.

 

Article by Radio-Canada (in French)

Article by TFO (#ONfr) (in French)