News: General Interest News

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.

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.