News: Municipalities

Honourable Mention: Ontario Job Creation Partnership for the London Francophone Consultation Group

The London Francophone Consultation Group, a conglomerate of 25 organizations that provides services in French in the London area, received funding to hire six people through the Ontario Job Creation Partnership (OJCP) program. The Francophone participants selected gained valuable work experience through their involvement in this project and the activities undertaken, such as:

  • the creation of a Francophone Expo, held on September 19, 2013, which featured more than 25 Francophone stakeholders and 250 Anglophone stakeholders. The event was also attended by City of London counsellors, ministry staff and the French Language Services Commissioner;
  • the development of a comprehensive resource for Francophone entrepreneurs seeking to start their own business; the resource provided links to local, municipal, provincial and federal programs and services;
  • the launch of a website and a marketing brochure that provide information on French services in the areas of employment and education, child care, immigrant services, health services, and cultural/sporting and recreational services. The website, hosted by the City of London website, aims to increase the visibility of French-language services available in the London community.

The Honourable Mentions Series is a series of 11 blog posts that the Commissioner is releasing to individually recognize the leadership shown by government ministries and agencies that have made efforts to expand the delivery of high-quality French-language services, as listed in his 2013-2014 Annual Report. The full list of honourable mentions and the relevant blog posts are available here.

Celebrating 25 Years with AFMO

This blog post is brought to you by our guest blogger Alison Stewart, who is one of my three Project Managers as well as responsible for community liaison, she also attended the conference.

Last week I had the pleasure of finding myself, once again, in the charming city of Welland, part of the designated region of Niagara. Notwithstanding the 3 hour drive it took me to get there, I was happy to be able to address and congratulate AFMO for their 25 years of promoting and uniting Francophone communities across Ontario. I will now pass the blogging pen over to one of my Project Managers, Investigations, Alison Stewart, who attended the Congress.

The conference began on a beautiful sunny day, and attracted 150 attendees, among which included Mayors, municipal leaders, government folk and Francophone youth, who were getting a taste in community building for the first time. After a warm welcome by the Mayor of Welland and the President of AFMO, the conference was kicked off by a powerful and fiery speech given by Ronald Caza, who illustrated the importance of cultivating Franco-Ontarian culture and outlined various legal tools at the community’s disposal for ensuring their rights, reminding the audience of the success to be had when the community bands together, and offered up some interesting examples, including how the community of Russell successfully approved the use of bilingual signage.

We then heard about the excellent community building work that the community of French River (Rivière des français) has done to engage their youth with the town elders, the objective of which is to transmit their Francophone culture from one generation to the next. We also got to hear from the Ministry of Agriculture, who showcased what Foodland Ontario is doing to promote Ontario producers, but also made a point of promoting the French equivalent, and less known Terre Nourricière, doing a good job of not only promoting local producers, but the importance of bilingualism. We also got an overview of the progress made in the justice sector, focusing on the OPP’s strategy to improve their delivery of services in French, which includes active recruiting for bilingual staff and training for their emergency response team.   

One of the most important topic broached throughout this conference, was that of economic prosperity. Annie Girard from RDEE, spoke of the benefits of the “French dollar”. How, far from costing the government money, Canada’s bilingualism is a driver of international trade with Francophone countries, such as France, and Africa. This latter country is already been targeted by China, and should be seen as a land of great opportunity for Canada – and our francophonie is key to this economic development.  France Dionne from the Ville de Québec then spoke about a great initiative: that of driving economic prosperity to cities across North America by focusing on their Francophone heritage. By creating a Francophone tourist trail that would promote cities with French history, such as Lafayette in southern US,  Sault Sainte Marie, and beyond. She also provided some excellent ideas for communities to begin positioning themselves for attracting Francophone and Francophile tourists: add a Francophone tag to your city website (make sure people visiting you know you speak French!), add it to your wiki page (don’t have a page on Wikipedia promoting your town? Create one!),  produce some fun pamphlets promoting your town’s “Frenchness” and make sure the local tourist centre is aware of your historic attractions. Wouldn’t it be fun to see a giant monument celebrating Francophones upon arriving at French River? Sudbury has their nickel. Why not? Lastly, throughout the conference, Guy Rouleau did a great job providing simultaneous translation for all of the speakers. At one point I found myself listening to the speakers in French with my left ear, and to Guy’s English translation with my right ear.

All in all, the conference was an engaging and successful gathering of Francophone leaders and community members from across Ontario, enjoying the local produce of Welland and networking to ensure the vibrancy of the Franco-Ontarian culture. AFMO will be taking place in Toronto next year, a great opportunity to expand the reach of AFMO, and also an occasion to showcase the rich francophonie that exists in Toronto. We can only hope that the city of Toronto will be as welcoming as Welland! Hats off to Jacqueline Noiseux and her team for organising such a wonderful conference.   

Democracy at Your Fingertips at tondroit.ca

2013.12.06 - Billet Tondroit.ca FR-ENAs published in La Passerelle-I.D.É.’s Winter 2013 edition of FOCUS Magazine, thanks to funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Regroupement ethnoculturel des parents francophones de l’Ontario [Ontario Ethnocultural Association of Francophone Parents] (REPFO) and the Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario [Francophone Association of Ontario Municipalities] (AFMO) have joined forces to provide a valuable web resource called tondroit.ca, an awareness-raising tool that encourages citizens, especially immigrants, to get involved in municipal and school board politics.

As stated by Jacqueline Noiseux, Executive Director of AFMO and author of FOCUS magazine’s article, “Canadian citizens have certain fundamental human rights and freedoms, including democratic and legal rights. One’s ability to properly integrate into Canadian society depends, among other things, on one’s ability to exercise these rights at the municipal and school board levels.”

The website tondroit.ca offers a wealth of information on the subject. Visitors will find numerous articles, relevant links as well as visuals including videos explaining the importance of getting involved in school and local politics, making informed choices and voting.

To understand what is truly at stake when it comes to municipal and school board elections with regards to Francophone communities, visit tondroit.ca!

Process of Designating an Area

In an interview on Radio-Canada last week (to listen, just set your cursor to 16:39), I said the number of Francophones in the Durham area warranted designating that area under the French Language Services Act. With 12,000 Francophones in the area, we would think the numbers were sufficient. Officially, however, according to the criteria applied by the Office of Francophone Affairs, that is not the case. Allow me to explain.

I had an opportunity to examine how areas are designated and how the criteria used for this have changed in my Annual Report 2011-2012 Straight Forward. I would nonetheless like to make a few additional explanatory comments.

In the course of its work nearly a half-century ago, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism adopted an idea borrowed from Finland: that language rights be considered on a geographic basis. The Swedish minority in Finland had enjoyed language rights since the 1920s if it represented 10% of the total population of a given area. It should be noted that there have been further developments in the linguistic situation in Finland since 2004 and the Swedish minority, which represents about 5.5% of the population, is now in an even better position in terms of language rights. To learn more about Finland, I invite you to read the excellent report prepared by the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute of the University of Ottawa.

In addition, Parliament has not adopted the idea of bilingual districts, where services might have been obtained in both languages at both the federal and the provincial and municipal levels. It has opted for a paradigm in which rights attach to persons rather than applying on a geographic basis, although that statement must be qualified to some extent (that not being the purpose of my remarks today, however).

In 1968, the Robarts government in Ontario endorsed the principle adopted by the B&B Commission by declaring that all ministries would be encouraged to offer bilingual services in offices located in areas where the numbers of Francophones warranted, based on analyses of the federal census. About 13 counties, districts and municipalities in Ontario were identified where the Francophone population represented at least 10% of the total population. Over the years, and in particular in 1978, the government added more counties, districts and municipalities. And then in 1986 came the French Language Services Act in which the municipalities and areas designated under the Act are set out in the Schedule.

Although there are no criteria stated in the French Language Services Act and no regulations to that effect, the government of the day has retained the 10% of total population criterion. It has also added the criterion of 5,000 or more Francophones in urban areas. The government has also been generous enough to retain all of the areas designated before the Act was passed in 1986, which is a very good thing in view of the not always positive fluctuation in the number of Francophones in some areas over the years.

However, the government has also indicated that it is open to going beyond those criteria, as demonstrated when the Kingston area was formally designated in 2006 by order in council. Kingston thus became the 25th area designated under the Act. Today, a very large majority of Francophones living in Ontario reside in a designated area.

To come back to the situation in Durham, we first need to note that the Office of Francophone Affairs naturally relies on Statistics Canada’s definitions in matters of census geography, for determining what an urban area (now called a population centre) is, for example. Using those definitions, there may be a large Francophone population in the Durham region in absolute numbers, but unfortunately it does not even come close to the 10% needed. In the regional municipality of Durham, only the cities of Ajax, Oshawa and Whitby are recognized as population centres. Here again, even applying the IDF, there are fewer than 10,000 Francophones when those three cities are combined, while the criteria require that there be more than 5,000 Francophones in each of those places (which is not the case). These data may be obtained by contacting the Office of Francophone Affairs.

That said, many other areas no longer have sufficient numbers under the criteria applied by the Government of Ontario. From time to time, I even get questions about whether it would be possible to withdraw designated status from regions that no longer have the requisite numbers under the criteria. First, I am fortunately not the one who has to answer these questions; that is the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. Second, withdrawing a region’s designation status would certainly be contrary to the spirit of the French Language Services Act, a statute that is, I would recall, quasi-constitutional legislation that takes precedence over all other enactments of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. The purpose of the Act is twofold, as the Ontario Court of Appeal held in Lalonde (Montfort): to protect the Francophone minority in Ontario and also to advance French and promote its equality of status with English in Ontario society.

As well, applying those principles, the government went beyond the quantitative criteria to ensure that the Kingston area would be designated. The government does not want to create controversy and seeks unanimity among members of the legislature, and I entirely understand this. At the same time, however, we have to move forward. After all, Francophones in the regional municipality of Durham do not have access to government services in French in their area, unlike Francophones living in other regions that are designated and for which the absolute figures are sometimes lower than in the Durham area.

I may have to consider this question further in the years to come.

The Impact of a Municipal By-Law on Services in French

As a result of a hard-fought compromise between the political parties at the time of the adoption of the French Language Services Act in 1986, the municipalities were exempted from this act. However, when a municipality adopts a French-language services by-law, it must comply with the provisions of subsection 14(2) of the Act: “When a by-law referred to in subsection (1) is in effect, a person has the right to communicate in English or French with any office of the municipality, and to receive available services to which the by-law applies, in either language.”

In other words, it is bound to provide high-quality French-language services at all times. In particular, that obligation should formalize the French-language services already provided by many of the Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario’s (AFMO) member municipalities. The adoption of a by-law also ensures that the provision of French-language services does not hinge on the political good will of the current municipal council.

Moreover, the adoption of a by-law gives citizens the right to complain to the Commissioner’s Office when there are deficiencies in French-language services. I am hopeful, however, that municipal governments will take responsibility and institute a complaint-resolution system, though members of the public would still have the option of approaching the Commissioner’s Office at any time.

In 2011, I contacted senior officials of the City of Ottawa on two occasions to discuss the possibility of a memorandum of understanding between the two organizations. While those demarches have not yet borne fruit, I am leaving my door open for the sake not only of Ottawa’s Francophone citizens but also of any municipality that has a by-law governing the provision of French-language services.

Furthermore, the Commissioner’s Office has always regarded complaints as a mechanism for direct feedback from citizens concerning an activity or service. It is the best means for a dissatisfied or concerned citizen to rate the quality and availability of services. Hence, complaints help the institution concerned to make adjustments when it has failed to meet its obligations and commitments.

Municipalities: Services with Different Jurisdictions

Canada has three levels of government with diverse responsibilities: the federal government, provincial and territorial governments, and municipal governments. For example, a citizen may live in an Ontario municipality located in an area designated under the French Language Services Act and the Official Languages Act. That double designation gives him or her the right to request a federal service in French, such as applying for a social insurance number, or a provincial service in French, such as changing his or her driver’s licence.

That same citizen may very well receive recreational or police services in French if the municipality in which he or she lives provides de facto French-language services. The provision of such services is often due to the size of the Francophone population that is well established in the region.

Indeed, it is important to distinguish between the municipality’s role when it is exercising its municipal powers and when it is providing services on behalf of the Ontario government. For example, municipalities provide court administration services associated with the Provincial Offences Act on behalf of the Ministry of the Attorney General and Ontario Works services on behalf of the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

In such situations, the municipality is required to comply with the provisions of subsection 14(2) of the French Language Services Act, which are much the same as the obligations of the head or central office of a government agency under section 5 of the Act. When it comes to municipal services, a number of municipalities voluntarily provide their services in French even though they have no regulatory obligations. You can expect me to come back, once again, on this question in my next annual report.