News: General Interest News

A Look Back at 2014

What a busy year we’ve had in the Commissioner’s Office, beginning with the entry into effect of Bill 106, the French Language Services Amendment Act (French Language Services Commissioner), 2013, concerning the independence of the Commissioner’s Office. On  January 1, the Office became part of the Legislative Assembly, and as an officer of the Assembly, I gained 107 new bosses overnight!

Of course, most of the many changes that have taken place during this transition period are purely administrative. In the longer term, however, this important amendment to the FLSA gives Ontario’s Francophonie a permanent presence in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

I would like to point out that from the beginning of my first term, we have worked very hard to build relationships with the government, ensure the visibility of the Commissioner’s Office and serve our client group.Now, as the Commissioner’s Office makes a new start, the team has seized the opportunity, concentrating on our future priorities and setting new short‑, medium- and long-term goals.Guided by major strategic focuses, these goals will remain relevant for the organization, regardless of the circumstances.

Throughout this transition, the Office pursued its usual operations, and I went to every part of the province to continue the dialogue with the citizens of Ontario and with community groups. We also had our share of speeches and other appearances over the past year, in addition to maintaining, or even enhancing, our strong social media presence.

This has also been a productive year in the area of official contacts, with the signing of a number of agreements on complaint handling with organizations such as the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games and Elections Ontario. We pursued our cooperative contacts with our counterparts on the immigration issue, with a proposal to adopt four guiding principles aimed at increasing Francophone immigration outside Quebec, and the release of a joint report with my federal counterpart in which we examine the current situation and present a pan-Canadian analysis and a series of recommendations for the two levels of government.In addition, we launched two special investigations, one on health, specifically Penetanguishene General Hospital, and the other on governance in education as it relates to the Centre Jules-Léger. These reports are scheduled for publication in the first half of next year.

A number of issues remain outstanding with regard to the Office’s finances and securing the necessary resources to continue our excellent work, but that won’t stop me from meeting with my fellow officers frequently, pursuing the dialogue with cabinet ministers and continuing my conversation with MPPs, with whom I met three times this fall to present the recommendations in my 2013-2014 annual report.

We have a lot of work ahead of us in 2015, but first, it’s now time to recharge our batteries so that we’ll be ready to continue making progress on language rights. On that note, I wish you a wonderful holiday period filled with love and good memories in the company of the people you love. My next blog post will be in early January.

Fact sheets about the language rights of New Brunswick residents

My colleague the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick has begun publishing a series of fact sheets about the language rights of New Brunswick residents. I am pointing out this initiative because I believe that it is always important to educate the public regarding their language rights and, in particular, to promote those rights.  I encourage you to read the first fact sheet, which describes the linguistic obligations that provincial government ministries and Crown corporations have with respect to citizens. I should also mention that we, too, recently published an infographic on Francophones in Ontario and that my colleague’s fact sheet has given us further interesting ideas!

Follow-up on the Report: Recommending a Detailed, Engaged and Relevant Annual Report on the Affairs of the OFA

This is a series of blog posts that the Commissioner is releasing to follow-up on the annual report and to individually highlight some parts of it that remain current. We will have the occasion during the fall to add more information on the interactive version of the report available here.

The Commissioner’s Office received a response to the recommendations in my last annual report. In my view, that response, is highly unsatisfactory.

For example, let’s go back to the first recommendation in my 2012-2013 Annual Report, which was that the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs develop an action plan to ensure that disadvantaged populations have genuine access to the French-language services they need.

In response, the government dismissed the recommendation, stating that it did not consider the development of a separate action plan at this time to be the best way of ensuring that Francophones in vulnerable groups have access to French-language services. In other words, let’s keep the status quo; it seems to be working just fine. Evidently, I do not share the same view.

It is true that only a very small number of official complaints involve members of disadvantaged populations. However, a combination of unofficial reports and internal observations suggests that not all programs and services intended for those populations are delivered in full compliance with the letter and the spirit of the French Language Services Act by the government and those acting on its behalf. Moreover, it is an undisputable fact that members of disadvantages groups will less likely complain when dealing with authorities, let alone know their own language rights.

That said, as Commissioner, I am not responsible for implementing the Act, nor for ensuring that there is a dialogue between the government and the public. That is the job of the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. In my view, it is desirable for her to do more to discuss with members of the public the government’s action plans and vision for the delivery of French-language services. For this reason, I am recommending that the Minister submit to the Legislative Assembly a detailed, engaged and relevant annual report on the affairs of the Office of Francophone Affairs. This annual report would provide an update on actions undertaken with respect to each duty assigned to the Minister and the Office of Francophone Affairs under the Act, and it would be submitted to Parliament as specified in the Act. This is not only a question of transparency to the public but also one of accountability. What gets measured gets done.

That was surely the intent of the lawmakers back in 1986. The FLSA was not drafted with the sole purpose of making sure all documents would be translated. Its purpose is about developing policy, programs and services adapted to the need of full development of Francophones.

Quebec and Ontario Sign an Agreement in Support of Francophone Minorities

I am delighted that the governments of Ontario and Quebec signed a declaration on La Francophonie last week at their annual joint cabinet meeting in Toronto. The two provinces agreed to work together toward the promotion, protection, longevity and vitality of Francophone culture and heritage. I view this as an excellent step forward for the two provinces, recognizing Francophones’ key role in the constitution of Canada and within Canadian society.

I agree with the points made in the declaration, which are closely aligned with the priorities of the Commissioner’s Office, particularly on the subjects of education and immigration.

Through this declaration, Quebec and Ontario will promote exchanges between young Ontario Francophones, those attending French immersion classes and young Québécois. There are many challenges for French-as-a-second-language (FSL) education in Ontario.In fact, in recognition of this situation, I signed a memorandum of understanding with Canadian Parents for French (Ontario) making clear our desire and will to develop closer ties in order to promote the value of the French language and Franco-Ontarian culture and the benefits of knowing both official languages.Intercultural exchanges are a promising way to pursue these advances.

Ontario and Quebec also call on the federal government to act quickly on Francophone immigration.This is a point that my fellow commissioners and I made recently when we urged the federal government to adopt four guiding principles for increasing Francophone immigration outside Quebec.While recognizing government efforts in the area of Francophone immigration to Canada, we feel that those efforts have not yet produced results.Moreover, on the same issue, I very recently released a joint report with the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada that emphasizes how important it is for the federal and provincial governments to include a Francophone perspective in their immigration policies and programs.

The two provinces also call on the federal government to provide support to Radio-Canada so that it can carry out its mandate.This issue is particularly important for Francophones in Ontario, since for many minority communities in the province, Radio-Canada is often the only French-language media outlet that broadcasts local content in French.

Lastly, the two provinces mention the celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the Francophone presence in Ontario.On the eve of this important milestone, I am proud to see that the Francophone presence is still so dynamic in every corner of the province.This reflects an amazing cultural, social and economic contribution to the province that deserves to be officially celebrated.

When all is said and done, this official declaration by Canada’s two most populous provinces is not just a statement of good intentions; it is an excellent example of real commitment to Francophone minority communities.

Former Governor General Michaëlle Jean Elected Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF)

I would like to congratulate Michaëlle Jean, former governor general of Canada, on her election to the post of Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF). The first woman and the first non-African personality to hold this post, she succeeds Abdou Diouf, who served three terms as head of the organization. When she takes office, she plans to undertake an ambitious plan following a campaign that focused on Africa, women and youth and on a greater economic role for the organization. The selection of the Haitian-born Canadian to head the organization will provide a prominent international showcase for Canada to demonstrate that linguistic duality and cultural diversity are important values and symbols for our society. The Franco-Ontarian community have all the right reasons to be very proud, I wish her every success in this important endeavour!

Bernard Grandmaître Awarded the Order of Canada

My sincere congratulations to Bernard Grandmaître on receiving the Order of Canada last week, an honour that recognizes exceptional accomplishments. Mr. Grandmaître has dedicated his life to public administration, notably as Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, earning himself the title of “father of the French Language Services Act.”It is thanks to this Act, whose application I oversee through my power to conduct investigations, that Francophones in Ontario have the right to receive government services in their mother tongue.

The passage of the Act in 1986 was the result of years of struggle by Ontario’s French-speaking community for recognition of their rights. This historic advance helped to ensure the survival of the Francophone population’s cultural heritage, safeguard it for future generations and promote the vitality of this minority community in Ontario. I have the honour of continuing this mission so that the population receives high-quality French-language services from the Ontario government.