Follow-up on the Report: The Application of the Act on Third Parties
July 1 marked the coming into force of Regulation 284/11 on the provision of French-language services on behalf of government agencies. You will recall, in light of my previous recommendations, that I have long wanted a clear commitment from the government to ensure that ministries fulfil their linguistic obligations when they contract with third parties to provide services on their behalf.
The Office of Francophone Affairs did a great deal of work in developing and implementing this regulation, in conjunction with all of the ministries. It would appear that the majority of government agencies introduced mechanisms and processes to ensure the adoption of a systematic approach and compliance with accountability mechanisms.
However, a serious threat looms. We have learned that it had been determined that health service providers were not subject to the third-party regulation because of their particular relationship with the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs). The argument goes as follows: though funded by the government, health service providers have agreements with the LHINs. Since the LHINs have no responsibility for direct service delivery as such, they cannot “delegate” that responsibility to health service providers. Therefore, they do not provide services “on behalf of” the government in the meaning of the French Language Services Act, which means, in their view that the regulation does not apply.
In other words, if the LHINs did not exist, some service providers in the health field would be subject to the Act, on the basis of Regulation 284/11. In my view, this argument does not hold water. I cannot accept it. To me, it seems that these legal gymnastics, of which Franco-Ontarians are well accustomed to, are contrary to the lawmaker’ intent.
I have expressed my concerns to the most senior authorities in the government, who seemed receptive. The discussions are relatively promising, suggesting the possibility of regulatory action that would explicitly target certain health care providers and define their French-language service responsibilities in black and white. However, these piecemeal initiatives will take time, resources and effort and may ultimately fail.
This is not a recommendation, since we are talking about ongoing discussions, but if we do not address the issue, this stumbling block will jeopardize the successful implementation of Regulation 284/11 as a whole.