News: Land and Resources

Honourable Mention: Mandatory Drinking Water Operator Courses Offered in French

2013.12.04 - Billet 7. Cours obligatoires des opérateurs en eau potable - FR-ENThe Entry-Level Drinking Water Operator Course is a mandatory course for all Operators-in-Training (OITs) in order to be fully trained in the treatment and distribution processes, as well as the regulations that govern water quality. Historically, this course has been offered solely in English, but this trend was changed in spring 2012 when the course was translated and prepared to be offered in French. The Walkerton Clean Water Centre, which administers this course, received a request to deliver the French-language training in Ottawa in March 2012.

Although the course requires at least eight participants in order to be administered, only four people were registered for the training in French. Despite the low turnout, the decision was made to proceed with the training, as it met a need within the Francophone community. Besides, the low turnout also reflected the fact that there are fewer French-speaking operators than English-speaking operators, but their needs should not be of a lower priority.

The training course was adapted accordingly, but the point to be highlighted here is that a legitimate need within the Francophone community was addressed and fulfilled, allowing French-speaking operators to receive the necessary training in their own language so that they could do their job appropriately. A great undertaking met with diligent action; and the result will be long-lasting indeed.

The Honourable Mentions Series is a series of 15 blog posts that the Commissioner is releasing to individually highlight initiatives by government ministries and agencies that demonstrate efforts to expand the delivery of high-quality French-language services, as listed in his 2012-2013 Annual Report. The full list of honourable mentions and the relevant blog posts are available here.

2013 Earth Day: Focus on Waste Diversion Ontario

What better time to discuss environment than on April 22, i.e. Earth Day!

Last year, I noted that many citizens had contacted my Office to demand service in French from not-for-profit corporations mandated by the Waste Diversion Act, 2002 to divert waste, such as tires, cell phones, and batteries, which would otherwise end up in a landfill.

These waste diversion programs are funded and operated by industry funding organizations that collect fees from stewards, largely manufacturers and importers, who have a commercial connection to a designated waste or a product from which a designated waste is derived. Manufacturers and importers often pass these costs along to retailers, who may, in turn, pass them along to consumers.

Industry funding organizations are created under the Waste Diversion Act, 2002 by Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO), which was also created under the Act. WDO supervises the development and operation of designated waste diversion programs.

In spite of the fact that Ontario consumers end up paying the cost of recovering products designated by the Ministry of the Environment, the industry funding organizations do not provide documentation or services in French. They are able to do so with impunity because of their legal status.

The Ministry of the Environment basically washed its hands of any responsibility for the operation of WDO and the industry funding organizations, stating that it had very little oversight over these bodies. Of course, I see the situation differently: in my view, corporations created in application of a provincial statute to carry out key government priorities and objectives have to understand that their operation comes with a responsibility to deliver French-language services. Francophone citizens have the same right as Anglophone citizens to receive detailed information on the eco-fees they pay at the cash register for the diversion of hazardous waste materials, the drop-off locations for the disposal of used cell phones, and so forth. In fact, they have the same right to information on all aspects of waste diversion programs mandated by the Government of Ontario — programs in which they are legally and socially required to participate.

In my 2010-2011 Annual Report, I therefore recommended that the Ministry of the Environment ensure that Francophones had at their disposal, in French, all of the information they needed to fully participate in the province’s waste management programs, by requiring the industry funding organizations to comply with the French Language Services Act.

The Ministry of the Environment’s response to my recommendation was rather terse. The Ministry agreed with me on the importance of providing Francophones with information, in French, on the waste management programs and furthermore stated that it would continue to communicate with the public in English and in French regarding these programs. In other words, the Ministry will… meet its obligations. This response is convenient. And it ends with, what can best be summed up as, an intention to encourage the operators of these waste diversion programs to respect the rights of Francophones.

Clearly, the current state of affairs is unacceptable to me. I am adamant that entities created under a provincial statute for the purpose of carrying out provincial initiatives have an obligation to comply with the French Language Services Act and, therefore, to communicate with members of the public in French and English. At the very least, these agencies are legally regarded as third parties and should therefore have obligations under the new Regulation 284/11.

It is time for the Ministry of the Environment to put “logical” back into “ecological” and take the necessary steps to ensure that Francophones feel fully respected by the programs that come out of agencies created by the government.

Having said that, I wish all Ontario Francophones a tremendous 2013 Earth Day!

Earth Hour, French-Language Services Edition

For the sixth consecutive year, the whole world will be turning lights off this Saturday, March 23, between 8:30pm and 9:30pm as part of the Earth Hour initiative.

As stated on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s Canadian website, Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses switched their lights off for one hour to take a stand against climate change.

In 2008, the plan was to spread Earth Hour to the rest of Australia but there was an appetite to expand the movement beyond that country’s borders. Canada’s own City of Toronto was the first to sign up and it wasn’t long before 35 countries and almost 400 cities and towns followed suit.

This exceptional initiative today brings me to write about the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). Last year, I continued to receive complaints from Francophone citizens who had received English-only coupons from Ontario Power Authority for rebates on the purchase of energy-efficient appliances. For these complainants, the message was clear: if you want a rebate, you have to speak English…

This problem is a perpetuation of the problems that I raised in my 2010-2011 Annual Report with respect to Ontario Power Authority and other energy corporations created under the Electricity Act. These bodies claim that they are not subject to the French Language Services Act and continue to communicate with their clients in English only.

It goes without saying that, in my estimation, communication in support of initiatives of the Government of Ontario, such as energy conservation, that are prepared or led by bodies with a public mandate and that are designed for all Ontarians, must be bilingual.

This is precisely why I recommended that the Ministry of Energy propose to amend the Electricity Act to make Ontario Power Authority and all other current and future entities created under this act subject to the French Language Services Act, insofar as their programs, services, and communications targeting the general public were concerned.

In response to my recommendation, the Ministry of Energy confirmed its commitment to respecting the letter and spirit of the French Language Services Act. In the same breath, it reiterated that entities created under the Electricity Act were exempt from the obligations created by the French Language Services Act.

The Ministry stated that “our [sic!] agencies are committed to also respecting the spirit of the law.” In support of this statement, it provided a list of measures that had been taken during the year by Ontario Power Authority to re-orient its saveONenergy Campaign.

It added that it planned to collaborate with “its” agencies to identify more formal mechanisms so that the spirit and intent of the French Language Services Act are respected.

As I share in my 2011-2012 Annual Report, I find it difficult to understand the Ministry of Energy’s inability to act, in spite of having recognized its ownership of these agencies. I will nonetheless continue to wait patiently to see whether good intentions will be enough to instil a permanent awareness of the needs and expectations of Ontario’s Francophones in Ontario’s energy corporations.

This being said, I meanwhile invite all Franco-Ontarians to join the world and participate in Earth Hour this Saturday, March 23, between 8:30pm and 9:30pm. Together we can make a difference.

Francophone drivers wanted for highway sign focus groups

The Ministry of Transportation is seeking Francophone drivers’ input for the development of a library of bilingual pictograms for its variable-message highway signs.

Three focus groups will be held: one in Orléans (May 16-19), another in Sudbury (May 24-27) and a final one in Toronto (June 6-9). To take part, you must be a Francophone driver who uses the province’s highway system at least once a week.

To sign up, or for more information, please contact Ms. Rabiya Lallani (416-596-1252, ext. 23). Eligible participants will receive a stipend.

New vanity licence plates in French: a victory for Francophones

Finally! Beginning today, French-speaking Ontarians will be able to order French ‘vanity’ licence plates (without graphics) for their vehicles.

Up until now, the only plates that could be personalized were ones which featured the English slogan, “Yours To Discover.”

The complaints received by our Office were pivotal to the changes made by the Ministry of Transportation who, as you know, must fully comply with the provisions of the French Language Services Act, specifically when it comes to offering equivalent services to the Francophone community.

The Ministry is currently evaluating the possibility of offering commercial plates with the option of the French slogan starting this summer, as well as the option of including, on French-language plates, logos supporting various organizations.

Bilingualism threatened at Landsdowne Park?

The topic of bilingual signage at Landsdowne Park is once again in the news, a few days before the arrival of Ottawa’s new mayor, Jim Watson.

I’ve already discussed this topic in an early post when I first found out about the project to redevelop this important landmark. And my position remains unchanged: The fact that project is entrusted to a private developer must in no way undermine or adversely affect the area’s bilingual signs.

In June, I had sent a letter to outgoing mayor Larry O’Brian and his council outlining my concerns. I trust that the new city council will respect its Bilingualism Policy, adopted in 2001.