The Official Languages Act: The vanguard of cooperative federalism
Two weeks ago, on November 29, we testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages in Ottawa. The purpose was to provide MPs with our expert views and present a brief on the important issues that need to be considered in the process of modernizing the Official Languages Act (OLA), which will be 50 years old next year.
The idea of modernizing the Official Languages Act has been approved; what remains to be determined is how to change it. Modernization is necessary because the roles and responsibilities of official languages actors have changed substantially, as have the official language minority communities. In this regard, I had the opportunity to draw an initial parallel with my recommendation to the Ontario government to modernize the French Language Services Act.
Our appearance before the Committee gave me the chance to talk about the new Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations, unveiled on October 25, which now require that community vitality be taken into account in planning the delivery of services. Under the new Regulations, as I recommended, elementary and secondary schools are now important vitality indicators, which will have an impact on the measurement of demand. What needs to be done now is to ensure that the new Official Languages Act embraces the same vision as the Regulations and is based on an inclusive and qualitative definition of significant demand.
I also recommended that Parliament amend the Official Languages Act to include a possibility to adopt a regulation on active offer. A more robust active offer obligations regime, with objective requirements, is particularly essential when the population group concerned is vulnerable, especially in the health sector. This was my second parallel with the changes that we are proposing for the French Language Services Act in Ontario.
In addition, I emphasized the importance of making a central agency responsible for implementing the Official Languages Act. I argued that the real work of implementing this OLA should fall to Treasury Board and that the OLA should be amended accordingly. I concluded with an explanation of my vision of a language commissioner’s role.