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.