News: Direct Services to the Public

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.

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.

 

 

Today, we’re dissecting the statistics

It’s finally here – the day we’ll be able to examine the first statistics from the 2016 Census. Our team has been studying the figures in detail since this morning so that we can prepare a brief overview of the data. Here are some of the statistics that drew my attention.

Linguistic diversity
The figures don’t lie: 7.7 million people (22% of the Canadian population) reported an immigrant mother tongue. There is no denying that linguistic diversity is growing in Canada. The proportion of the population reporting a third language as their mother tongue increased from 21.3% in 2011 to 22.9% in 2016. A third language is a language other than English or French, which means that non-official languages are growing rapidly in Canada as a whole. As a logical consequence of this trend, the proportion of people who speak more than one language at home rose from 17.5% in 2011 to 19.4% in 2016.

Mother tongue still declining?
According to the data published this morning, the number of Canadians reporting either English or French as their mother tongue is down slightly from 2011. In 2016, 78.9% of the Canadian population had one or both official languages as their mother tongue, compared with 80.2% in 2011 and 82.4% in 2001. In other words, the proportion has been declining since 2001. What does this mean? Yes, linguistic diversity has increased, which could certainly account for part of the trend, but it would be really interesting to dig deeper and identify the other key factors.

A record high for English-French bilingualism!
As we have just celebrated our 150th anniversary, I’m very pleased to see that the linguistic duality is burgeoning, attaining a record 18% in 2016. It’s true that this increase comes from the province of Quebec, but we also see increases in most other provinces and territories as well. In Ontario, the proportion rose from 11% to 11.2%.

French at home
It would appear that we are tending to speak French at home less often. This is reflected in all of the figures for Canada, including Quebec. The proportion of the Canadian population using French at home was 23.3% in 2016, compared with 23.8% in 2011.

On another note, the demographic weight of Canadians outside Quebec who can carry on a conversation in French remained steady in 2016 (10.2% compared with 10.3% in 2011). It is worth noting that the actual number increased by nearly 160,000. It is interesting that these data differ when you look at the figures based on the entire country (including Quebec): the proportion was down slightly (from 30.1% to 29.8%), while the absolute number continued to climb.

What about Francophones outside Quebec?
Another important point. Even though the number of Francophones outside Quebec was up by 14,000 compared with 2011, the proportion declined slightly from 4% in 2011 to 3.8% in 2016 (1,021,310), mainly because of  immigration. Naturally, these trends vary from province to province.

Nevertheless, we see that the number of people in Ontario whose first official language spoken is French was up more than 6,000 (6,795) from 2011, which is a decline from 4.3% to 4.1%. The growth in absolute terms was not accompanied by a percentage increase because of the continued growth of Ontario’s population, due in large part to immigration.

Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF)
The data published today do not take the IDF variables into account. As previously noted, this approach, which has been used to count Ontario’s Francophone population since June 2009, is one of the province’s most ambitious measures. This new inclusive definition of “Francophones” reflects the new diversity of Franco-Ontarians, regardless of their place of birth, ethnic background or religion.

In 2011, based on the IDF, the Francophone population was 611,500, or 4.8% of Ontario’s total population. Based on today’s numbers, it is more than likely the new figures based on the IDF from the Ministry of Francophone Affairs will probably see an increase in the number of Francophones in Ontario.

Our infographic
Over the next few days, we will be examining all of the other relevant statistics so that we can provide you with a clearer picture of the use of French in Ontario. Our well-known infographic will be updated to reflect the new data from the 2016 Census as soon as the IDF data become available. In the meantime, you can view the current version on our website.

FRANCOPHONE AFFAIRS BECOMES A MINISTRY: AN IMPORTANT BREAKTHROUGH FOR ONTARIO’S FRANCOPHONES

TORONTO, July 31, 2017 — French Language Services Commissioner François Boileau is delighted with this morning’s announcement by Premier Kathleen Wynne that Francophone Affairs would become a standalone ministry.

“This is excellent news for Ontario’s Francophone residents. This new status will undoubtedly give Francophone Affairs more influence in the Ontario government, but it will also revitalize Ontario’s Francophonie. I hope that this will result in better access to French-language services for all Francophones in Ontario and help the Ministry enhance its role as a catalyst for the government and the community,” said François Boileau.

According to the Premier, the new ministry will promote the use of a Francophone lens to advance and strengthen French-language services while celebrating Francophone culture in Ontario and the rest of Canada. The province’s new observer status in the International Organisation of La Francophonie will allow it to further promote its rich French language heritage at the global level.

“This new entity demonstrates the government’s intention to increase the visibility of Ontario’s Francophonie and its importance in society. This new status will surely pave the way for advances on a number of current issues, including the revision of the French Language Services Act, as well as for as well as for allocation of new funding,” added François Boileau.

QUICK FACTS

• The Office of Francophone Affairs was established in 1986. It became the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, a standalone ministry, on July 31, 2017.

• In 2007, the Office of Francophone Affairs assisted in the establishment of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, which became independent in 2014.

• With a population of 612,000, Ontario’s Francophone community is the largest Francophone community in Canada outside Quebec.

• For more than 30 years, Ontario’s Francophone community has had the right to receive government services in French, under the French Language Services Act.

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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.

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/

Honourable Mention: OLG Supports Nine Dedicated Francophone Events Across the Province

With $44,000 in sponsorship money, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation supported nine dedicated Francophone events across the province this year. The funds supported festivals, film, concerts, dance and business luncheons in French in Toronto, Ottawa and Sault Ste. Marie. OLG’s growing commitment to the Francophone community is reflected in a 96% increase in funding over two years. This heightened support not only helps grassroots organizations and the Francophone community that attends these events; it also promotes the events in diverse, far-reaching and appealing ways within the broader 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 here.