Forum on French-language health services

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the forum on French-language health services organized by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC). Those present included not only the Minister, though he was there only to kick off the discussions, but also senior managers of the MOHLTC and the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), the French Language Health Planning Entities, and the members of the French Language Health Services Advisory Council. It was only the second time such a forum has been held (the last one was in 2014). One of the good things to come out of the meeting was certainly Minister Hoskins’s commitment to make the forum an annual event.

At the meeting, everyone was brought up to date on the latest regulatory changes (Regulation 515/09), and an effort was made to renew the relationship between the LHINs and Planning Entities and focus on the common goal of improving access to French-language health services. It is important to work together to assist Francophones who do not have equitable access to French-language health services in their area and are unable to find out which health service providers or professionals might help them and where they are located. In my brief talk, I attempted to address these particular issues. It is important to bear in mind that the LHINs have been around for just 11 years, and the Entities 7 years. That is not very long, but it is well past time to stop ignoring the mistakes that have been made for so many years. The key word is “collaboration.” The intent of the amendments made in the Regulation is clearly to ensure that the Entities are seen as the LHINs’ partners, and not as mere subordinates.

What’s more, the MOHLTC has published a new guide on French-language health services requirements and obligations. The guide is extremely well designed, and I am very hopeful that it will help all those who were not present at this important meeting to better understand the roles and responsibilities of all parties in the health system and the need to truly focus on integration and collaboration as they go about their work. I have been told the Guide will be available on the MOHTLC website soon.



Bill 177 Carried to First Reading

Yesterday, there were several announcements included in the 2017 Fall Economic Statement. During his presentation of the Statement, Minister of Finance Charles Sousa introduced Bill 177, Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017. It is an omnibus bill (a bill that amends several existing laws or introduces several new laws).

With the legislative calendar being so busy, I fully understand the government’s desire to include three bills for which the province’s Francophones and Francophile have been waiting for a long time.

Here is a brief overview of each of the three bills/amendments.

First, we have Schedule 5 of Bill 177: City of Ottawa Act, 1999. After a few years of letters, demonstrations and complaints from Ottawans favouring official bilingualism for the City of Ottawa, the government has picked up the defunct Private Bill introduced by MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers. It confirms the status quo, of course, but with a few tweaks that will, we hope, enable the City of Ottawa to serve all of its residents better.

The second schedule of interest in Bill 177 is Schedule 12, which would amend the Education Act by establishing the Centre Jules-Léger Consortium. This amendment is more than just a name change: it is also a change in governance. The Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’Ontario (ACÉPO) and the Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC) will each appoint three of the Consortium’s six members. The schedule also contains a number of other details, but I won’t bore you with administrivia. The good news in all of this is that the Centre Jules-Léger will finally be managed by and for Francophones!

Third, Schedule 43 introduces the Université de l’Ontario français Act, 2017. This bill details the constitution of the new university and gives it a name: Université de l’Ontario français. Its special mission will be “to offer a range of university degrees and education in French to promote the linguistic, cultural, economic and social well-being of its students and of Ontario’s French-speaking community.” While I haven’t done a comprehensive analysis, it appears that this mission will give the university a prominent place in the universe of postsecondary institutions. The bill covers the composition of the university’s board of governors and senate, the selection of a chancellor and a president, and the rules for the university’s administration.

Not surprisingly, these announcements made headlines a few minutes after they were made. They deal with issues that matter to the Francophone and Francophile community. The debate will now move to the parliamentary arena, and I can only hope the deliberations will be positive.

The new Action Plan to enhance the bilingual capacity of the judiciary in the superior courts

With the words of the Franco-Ontarian anthem Notre place ringing out across Ontario, Franco-Ontarian Day was marked by the pride and unity expressed by participants. Celebrations flying the green and white demonstrated the strength of this Francophone community and its rich and diverse culture and language.

The celebrations also provided the ideal opportunity for the Minister of Francophone Affairs to announce some good news: Marie-France Lalonde has launched a new community fund that will provide $3 million over three years to support Ontario’s Francophonie. This is excellent news for Francophone organizations. On the federal side, the Minister of Justice of Canada also wanted to take part in these festivities and made an announcement that will benefit Francophones and Anglophones in minority communities. Of course, I am talking about the federal government’s action plan to enhance the bilingual capacity of the judiciary in the superior courts.

I welcome this new action plan with hope and enthusiasm. We had been impatiently awaiting these new measures for several years. Nonetheless, this is an important step forward for access to justice for all Canadians. The plan is in response to the recommendations made in 2013 by my counterparts at the federal level (Graham Fraser, at the time) and in New Brunswick (Katherine d’Entremont) and myself.

The Action Plan provides that the evaluation of candidates for the judiciary will be improved in two ways:

  • two additional questions will be included in the questionnaire used for evaluating candidates for the judiciary; and
  • the advisory committees will be asked to check the language proficiency of candidates who self-identify as bilingual.

The Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs is also now authorized and encouraged to do spot checks of candidates’ language proficiency.

In addition to a more in-depth assessment of language proficiency, the Action Plan provides that the advisory committees and members of the judiciary will have access to a wider range of information and training concerning language rights.

I am also very happy to see that the federal Minister of Justice will be able to consult the provinces and territories in order to learn the interests and priorities of the Canadian public in relation to access to the superior courts in both official languages. The Department will also be working with them to assess the existing bilingual capacity of the superior courts.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the first two recommendations in our 2013 report: that the Department of Justice Canada take measures, in conjunction with its provincial and territorial counterparts, to ensure appropriate bilingual capacity at all times and also to establish a memorandum of understanding with the attorneys general and the chief justices of superior courts of each province and territory. Those recommendations were not included in the Action Plan, but they are nonetheless important. I am committed to raising this question again with the Attorney General of Ontario and encouraging him to discuss it with his colleagues across the country.

I congratulate everyone who has contributed to these achievements, in whatever way, since the result will be to encourage better language skills development for judges and candidates for the judiciary.

Access to justice in French in Ontario is a priority for our office: there is still a shortage of French language services in a number of courts, and people regularly bring this to our attention. This new Action Plan could prove to be an excellent tool for ensuring better management of how language skills are assessed and providing training about language rights for members of the judiciary. As we said in our 2013 report, it is important to “ensure that all Canadians can fully and freely exercise their language rights in their dealings with Canada’s superior courts, in particular the right to be heard in the minority official language.”

This action plan is definitely a BIG step in the right direction.

Gretta Chambers, an incomparable Canadian

On September 9, Gretta Chambers, born Taylor, passed away at the venerable age of 90. I won’t sing the praises of her life story here, since the Globe & Mail has published a well-written, fascinating article on the subject. Instead, I will take the liberty of simply recounting one of our meetings. If I remember well, it was in 2005, when I was still counsel for the federal Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. I was responsible for a huge study we were undertaking on the entire question of modernizing the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations. We had conducted a Canada-wide series of consultations, but we had also had the privilege of meeting with people whose opinion we knew would be critical to our project.

Gretta Chambers was someone you simply could not ignore.  She was not only endowed with rare analytical abilities but also capable of comprehending the arguments on both sides of an issue, which made her well-informed opinion especially valuable. I had the good fortune to meet with her at her home. She welcomed me with an elegance worthy of her outstanding reputation. With her wisdom and experience, she could easily have told me quite simply what to do and write, and I would happily have accepted all of her points. However, that was not her approach. Inquisitive and curious, she first wanted to know what our purpose and goals were, and how we were going about achieving them. As a tactician, she was actually much more interested in how we would get there than in what we would write. As a visionary, she had a very thorough understanding of Canadian society, including and especially Quebec society, in all of its complexity. As she was obviously in love with her Quebec, she spoke with the authority of someone who had seen a thing or two and whose wisdom left no doubts. She symbolized harmony between Canada’s two great language communities and had no time for the “two solitudes.”

Since her passing, I have felt as if there is a great void in Canada. It is now up to others to follow her example. Thank you, Ms. Chambers. Your remarkable contribution made Canada and Quebec much better societies. It is hard for me to imagine us without you.

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

My 10th anniversary as Commissioner

On September 4, 2007, I arrived alone in Toronto to start a two-year term at the helm of the new Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario (OFLSC). Fortunately, the terms are now five years; two years is much too short to prove oneself effectively. Staff in the Office of Francophone Affairs (as it was then) had rented an office for me in a commercial office building near Bloor and Yonge. A computer, with no access to the government intranet, and therefore no access to vital information, a chair and a few blank pieces of paper – that’s all I had to work with! The OFA’s orders from the Minister (the Honourable Madeleine Meilleur) were to leave me be; the staff took her at her word.

Since I had already received a few complaints sent to my private email address even before starting my term, it was clear that my first priority would be to set up a process to receive complaints and to staff the OFLSC with people qualified to deal with them. To me it seemed like a huge undertaking, but I wasn’t concerned about it, since I had already had experience as the first leader of a brand-new entity when I was the first director of the now defunct Court Challenges Program in Winnipeg. However, what kept me awake at night – and still does on occasion – was the possibility that I might disappoint an entire people, a community that was counting on me to halt the decline and, to the extent possible, make a few gains along the way.

In fact, to keep myself from worrying excessively, I set just one goal for myself: make life easier for my eventual successor. That’s how I was able to lay the foundation of the Commissioner’s Office at a leisurely pace. I made sure that the organization would have a reputation for effectiveness based on attention to detail and on the desire to make a difference, while carrying out its work with as much independence as possible. I can say, very humbly, that I believe I achieved my goal.

Seven months later, I submitted my first annual report, entitled Paving the Way. It was 28 pages long and contained three systemic recommendations, including the one concerning the Inclusive Definition of Francophone. I also remember very clearly the reactions of senior officials, especially their astonishment. The report was part of a strategy of asserting the Office’s independence, for the benefit of all Ontarians.

So today I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude for all the progress we have made. Never – not in a million years – could I have accomplished all this without the outstanding cooperation of dedicated employees, three of whom have been with me since they started here in February 2008. Incidentally, the current members of our team are exactly the kind of people I wanted for the Office: they are competent, efficient, empathetic, professional, passionate, and eager to make a difference every day. I am grateful to them for this.

But I am especially thankful to all the people in Ontario who opened their doors to me. I have travelled around just a bit! Whatever people may say about my time in the Commissioner’s Office, they can never say that I didn’t go out and meet the people. I accepted every invitation. Every one. That brings a story to mind. Early in my term, when I was the Office’s one and only employee, I received an invitation to attend a local event in Southern Ontario. I was happy to accept. A few weeks later, someone called me to cancel the invitation, as the organization had found someone local who was better known. As I hung up, in stitches, I reminded myself how much work there was to do! And believe me, we have worked hard over the last 10 years. We’ve celebrated some victories, and we’ve had a few disagreements with the government, but that hasn’t stopped us from persevering. If you want examples,  please read my most recent annual report, the 2016-2017 report, in which I look back over the 10 years of the OFLSC’s existence.

We still have much to accomplish, and as we have pointed out in recent months, we have developed a new strategic plan. So I can assure you that I’m going into this second decade full of confidence that we will be able to continue making a difference every day.


TORONTO, September 5, 2017 — In response to a notice of amendments to Regulation 515/09 concerning engagement with the Francophone community, the Commissioner, François Boileau, has made new recommendations for encouraging more productive collaboration between local health system integration networks (LHINs) and French language health planning entities.

The amendments will help to strengthen the existing collaboration between LHINs and the entities; they will make that collaboration more concrete and focused than before when it comes to access to health services in French. With the planning and accountability tools that will support that collaboration, it will guarantee better delivery of health services that are adapted to the needs of Francophone patients in Ontario,” Mr. Boileau said.

In the notice, the Ministry includes a recommendation that LHINs be required to work with the entities to implement new strategies for improving access to health services in French.

While the amendments to Regulation 515/09 as proposed now by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care could have provided for a greater level of collaboration between LHINs and the entities, they do represent a major step in the right direction, and are certainly an improvement over the present situation,” Commissioner Boileau added.

The Commissioner supports the amendments as proposed now by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and reiterates that he will continue to collaborate with the Ministry and other stakeholders to ensure that Francophone patients are a priority in the healthcare system.

Quick facts

• In 2006, the Government of Ontario decentralized the health system. The Local Health System Integration Act, 2006 (LHSIA) then created 14 LHINs (Local Health Integration Networks).

• When the government created the LHINs, it did not include the needs of Francophones in health services planning at the local level, an omission that resulted in over 100 complaints being filed with the Office of the Commissioner between 2007 and 2008, and led to the preparation of a special report.

• In May 2009, the Commissioner released the Special Report on French Language Services Planning in Ontario, which prompted the government to make Regulation 151/09 concerning engagement with the Francophone community in relation to health services in French, and to create planning entities.

• In November 2016, during the process of enacting Bill 41, the Patients First Act, 2016, the Commissioner, along with many others, hoped that the role of those entities would evolve into a partnership with the LHINs for planning services in French. Unfortunately, the bill was enacted without being amended to reflect that.

• In his 2016-2017 annual report, the Commissioner recommends that the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care amend Regulation 515/09 to give the French language health planning entities a larger role in planning health services in French, particularly in relation to the integrated health services plans to be produced by the LHINs.

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner reports directly to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Its principal mandate is to ensure compliance with the French Language Services Act in the delivery of government services.

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