Statement by the Commissioner regarding the adoption of the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018
Yesterday evening, the Legislative Assembly adopted a statute that abolishes the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner and, at the same time, an institution that is vital to the development of the Franco-Ontarian community. This decision, hard to justify in terms of budgetary efficiency, violates the language rights of the Francophone population and is a prima facie setback for all of Ontario. As my federal colleague, Commissioner Raymond Théberge, quite rightly pointed out, “A commissioner who is not independent is no longer a commissioner”.
Since my elevation to the position of Independent Officer, I have devoted a large part of my work to advising ministers and other senior officials on the best application of the French Language Services Act. The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner has proved again and again that it is an effective and credible actor in creating and implementing public policies. By relegating the Commissioner to a position under the authority of the Ombudsman, the government is sacrificing an important advisor, without legitimate justifications.
By meeting with the people of Sarnia, Casselman, Chapleau, Sudbury, Welland, Cornwall and Thunder Bay, and countless other cities and villages, the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner was able to hear and understand the Franco-Ontarian community, its realities, its challenges, its aspirations. In the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, they find an impartial advocate of their rights under the French Language Services Act. A Commissioner who is not free to act proactively to protect the language rights of these populations loses all effectiveness and credibility.
I had the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs last Monday, where I made this speech. I took the opportunity to also file a brief that was more exhaustive than the five minutes allotted for speaking.
A Commissioner who is the employee of the Office of the Ombudsman will never have the independence required to carry out all of the tasks of the mandate conferred to him or her by the French Language Services Act. By adopting the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018, the government of Ontario unquestionably undermines the statutory scheme of language rights in a province where, just yesterday, it was leading the way.
That being said, the legislator has spoken and, as an Officer of the Assembly, I will respect its voice, even if important questions concerning the compatibility of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner and the Ombudsman’s respective enabling statutes and mandates remain. In addition, regardless of the circumstances, the Ombudsman of Ontario, Mr. Paul Dubé, in whom I have the utmost confidence, can count on the professionalism of our office in ensuring a transition that is as smooth and harmonious as possible. He is lucky to suddenly find himself with a team that is made up of devoted, engaged, extremely competent, and fully bilingual professionals!
French Language Services Commissioner