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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.

MORE CONSTRUCTIVE COLLABORATION BETWEEN LOCAL HEALTH SYSTEM INTEGRATION NETWORKS AND FRENCH LANGUAGE HEALTH PLANNING ENTITIES.

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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UNIVERSITÉ DE L’ONTARIO FRANÇAIS: THE PATH TO ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE

TORONTO, August 28, 2017 — The French Language Services Commissioner, Mr. François Boileau, welcomes with great interest the planning board’s report on the establishment of a French-language university in Ontario.

I would like to congratulate Ms. Dyane Adam and the members of the planning Board for completing a high-caliber and a totally turnkey report for the government in such a short time. I hope that the government welcomes the recommendations of this comprehensive study, because they will certainly pave the way to the establishment of a Francophone institution dedicated to excellence and innovation.” states Mr. Boileau.

The establishment of a postsecondary institution is of utmost importance to Francophone and Francophile communities of the Southwest and the rest of the province. This is clearly reflected across many reports and research studies in recent decades. The publication in 2012 of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner’s report, No access, no future, demonstrates how the establishment of French-language postsecondary programs was of utmost importance then and how it is still relevant today.

Faced with a lack of access to quality French-language postsecondary education in Central and Southwestern Ontario, it became more than essential to increase French-language programs in areas where the Francophone population is growing rapidly and where French-language offerings are particularly limited.

Another critical point in the report is the transition towards a French-language educational continuum from secondary to postsecondary. In fact, French-language postsecondary education contributes significantly to the sustainability of the Franco-Ontarian community.

Colleges and universities are an integral part of the educational continuum and play a crucial role in the education of future professionals who are bilingual and Francophone and therefore, in the longer term, in the well-being of the province and in the competitiveness of its economy. In the minority context of the French language, they also offer an incentive to elementary and secondary students and their parents to commit to an education in French, from the outset.” adds Commissioner Boileau.

In the context of developing a new organizational identity, the report highlights a unique feature: the creation of a Francophone hub, which is in itself truly innovative. A “hub” like this will certainly set it apart across the province and internationally. The shared vision is inspiring and motivating because it refers to an approach that goes beyond education by creating opportunities for fruitful exchanges and collaborations with other institutions.

According to Mr. François Boileau, “The Université de l’Ontario français is a genuine investment in the future of Francophones from a cultural, economic, and social point of view, which will undoubtedly contribute to the prosperity of the province and of Canada.”

Through its uniqueness and its governance by and for Francophones, the institution will fulfill all of the conditions required for it to be designated under the French Language Services Act.

This is an important message for Francophones. Despite the fact that the designation under the French Language Services Act seems logical to some, it is an excellent idea to designate the institution and that this also is included in the recommendations before it is even established. I am very eager to work with the university when the time comes.” states Mr. Boileau.

Quick facts

• In Ontario, there are three bilingual universities (as well as their affiliated and federated institutions), and 19 that offer courses and university programs in French or partially in French.

• In their respective reports entitled No access, no future and Moving forward, the Commissioner and the Expert Panel on French-Language Postsecondary Education both recommended that the government establish a new secretariat to determine the need for postsecondary educational services and programs for the Francophone population in Central-Southwestern Ontario.

• In 2015-2016, about 29% of the total cohort of Francophone students from French-language school boards came from the CSO.

• It is estimated that almost half of Ontario’s Francophone population will live in the Central-Southwest of the province by 2020. Of all the Francophone communities in Ontario, the one in the Central-Southwest has the highest growth rate.

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner reports directly to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and its primary mandate is to ensure that the delivery of government services complies with the French Language Services Act.

 

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A look back on the saga surrounding the closure of Penetanguishene General Hospital.

Yesterday was a day full of interviews following the submission of our brief to the Minister of Francophone Affairs, the Honourable Marie-France Lalonde, as well as her Ministry and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The purpose of the brief was to point out that the process of revoking Penetanguishene General Hospital’s designation constituted a violation of the French Language Services Act. I certainly didn’t mince my words, but I had to do it because, after all, it is the patients who have been suffering the consequences all these years. The process set out in the Act was quite simply ignored. It’s an undeniable fact. I therefore recommended a series of measures to prevent future violations of this kind.

I also stated in the brief that we had been receiving complaints since early 2017 concerning the French-language services provided at Georgian Bay General Hospital (GBGH). I’d like to thank the hospital administration for acquiescing and requesting designation, even if it was partial, under the FLSA. Since July 1, GBGH has been partially designated under the FLSA, and we should be pleased about that. It means that, technically, admission services and ambulatory services must be available in French.

I’d like to salute the efforts of the hospital’s senior management and bilingual employees, as they are working very hard to provide the area’s Francophones with quality services. The Commissioner’s Office acknowledges the hospital’s efforts and is working with its staff to address the non-compliance problems. Since designation, we’ve received a few complaints, but they are not about systemic issues.

You can rest assured that the Commissioner’s Office will continue to work with all parties concerned to improve the delivery of designated services by GBGH for the benefit of Francophone patients. In this regard, the Minister of Francophone Affairs’ initial response shows that the government is receptive to making changes, and that is a good sign.

 

 

THE CONSULTATION ONTHE REVOCATION OF THE DESIGNATION OF PENETANGUISHENE GENERAL HOSPITAL: TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE.

TORONTO, August 21, 2017 — In a brief submitted to the Minister of Francophone Affairs, the Honorable Marie-France Lalonde, the Commissioner of French Language Services, Mr. François Boileau, reminds her Ministry and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that there has been a breach of the French Language Services Act with regard to the revocation of the designation of Penetanguishene General Hospital.

The process required under the French Language Services Act was not respected, and the government players are therefore in breach of the Act. This situation perfectly illustrates the impact that the lack of accountability and compliance verification has on the offering of French-language services: these Ministries were not thorough and the patients were the ones who suffered. It is unfortunate that Francophone patients are prejudiced and are not able to access health care services in their language,” states the Commissioner Boileau.

Before eliminating the designated services offered by Penetanguishene General Hospital, the North Simcoe Muskoka Local Health Integration Network was required to ensure that all reasonable measures were taken to comply with the Act. The Ministry of Francophone Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care also had the obligation to respect the process required under the Act for revoking a designation.

Commissioner Boileau emphasizes that “this overdue public consultation serves no purpose because it is taking place nine years after Penetang Hospital’s designated services were eliminated. Also, the mere fact that Georgian Bay General Hospital was ordered to request its designation is not a ‘reasonable measure’ within the meaning of the Act.”

In his brief, the Commissioner also recommended a series of specific measures to remedy this situation, and to prevent future violations. Among other things, these recommendations seek to improve accountability, organizational efficiency, and the prompt identification of compliance deficiencies in the delivery of French-language services.

 

Quick facts

• The Office of the Commissioner received 19 complaints about the closure of Penetanguishene General Hospital, all filed in November 2014.

• According to Ontario Regulation 398/93, Penetanguishene General Hospital is designated under the French Language Services Act for admitting, reception, ambulatory services, people systems, and business office services. It was not until July 2017 that these same services were designated at Georgian Bay General Hospital.

• Penetanguishene General Hospital closed its doors in March 2016.

• At the end of 2016, the Office received nine new complaints about the inadequate delivery of the designated services by Georgian Bay General Hospital.

 

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner reports directly to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and its primary mandate is to ensure that the delivery of government services complies with the French Language Services Act.

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