A Directive without Direction: Challenges of Advertising in the Francophone media of Ontario

Press release (PDF)

TORONTO, April 11, 2018 – Ontario’s French Language Services Commissioner François Boileau today announced the findings of the investigation into government advertising, which showed that the advertising model currently practised is inadequate to support Francophone media. The report makes it clear that it is now, in 2018, essential for the Government of Ontario to take concrete action to improve communications in French with a view to expanding services in that language and contributing to the development of the entire Francophone community.

According to Commissioner Boileau, “Eight years after the adoption of the Communications in French Directive and Guidelines, many government ministries and agencies continue to breach their obligations by repeatedly failing to publish their communications in French in French-language media. As a result, Ontario’s Francophones have not had full access to government information.

The Communications in French Directive and Guidelines introduced an important and flexible mechanism for including French language services in government communications. Several shortcomings remain, however. The complaints received about Ontario government advertisements in the province’s Francophone media (traditional and digital) made it clear that the existing process was not leading to compliance by the government with the statutory requirements or protocols for preparing and distributing government advertising.

The Commissioner further pointed out that: “Francophone media, including newspapers, television, radio and the Internet, contribute to the vitality and sustainability of the Franco-Ontarian community. They provide Francophone Ontarians with relevant information in their own language. Greater awareness on the part of advertisers and other players in the advertising industry is not only highly desirable, but essential.”

Following an exhaustive analysis of current policies and processes, the Commissioner’s report ended with six recommendations to Secretary of the Cabinet and Clerk of the Executive Council, and the Minister of Francophone Affairs. The report recommended introducing a new communications in French regulation, reviewing the guidelines, and providing more targeted training. It further recommended the establishment of an advisory committee to provide the Ontario government with better guidance on how to comply with its statutory obligations with respect to the design and distribution of government advertising.


Key Facts

  • In 2009, the Commissioner launched an investigation into an English-only flyer distributed during the H1N1 influenza A pandemic by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
  • This investigation led in 2010 to the adoption of the Communications in French Directive and Guidelines, requiring all ministries and other government agencies to consider the needs of Francophone communities in planning their communications with the public. The purpose of these policies was to ensure enhanced planning and oversight for communications intended for Ontario Francophones.
  • The Directive also provides for the Ministry of Francophone Affairs to organize online and face-to-face training for communications staff at government ministries and agencies.
  • According to the experts consulted, in Ontario, government advertising on the web now represents a significant share (28%) of overall advertising by government ministries and agencies. For the 2015-2016 period, digital advertising by the government totalled $11.7 million, almost double the amount spent on government advertising in print media. While this leads to substantial savings for the government, it deprives the Francophone media of revenue crucial to their survival.

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner reports directly to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and its mandate is essentially to ensure that government services are delivered in compliance with the French Language Services Act.