Commissioner’s Blog

 Official photo

This site will be a venue of exchange, interaction and discussion. Thus, we encourage the sharing of different viewpoints and arguments, without however a private exchange solely between two individuals. Please be aware of the conditions of use before participating in this blog.

François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

The French Language Services Commissioner’s reaction to Bill 74, The People’s Health Care Act, 2019

Bill 74, The People’s Health Care Act, 2019 (PHCA), if adopted, will impact how health services are planned, coordinated, funded and provided and will have major implications for French-language health services.  Bill 74 creates Ontario Health, a single agency to operate and oversee services throughout the province and eliminates the 14 Local Health Integration Networks.

Ontario Health will designate Ontario Health Teams at the local level.  These teams will be responsible for coordinating and providing care to specific populations and geographic areas.  These Teams will include, for example, hospitals, long-term care homes, community care agencies and community health centres.  They will be clinically and fiscally accountable for delivering a co-ordinated continuum of care.

Several proposed initiatives may have a positive impact on accessing French language health services.  First, the government will introduce new tools to improve how patients and their families navigate the health system.  This is promising for Francophones who face access barriers.  Secondly, the government wants to optimize the use of digital resources to increase access to specialists. This is also a promising initiative for Francophones living in smaller more isolated communities.

Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, the Honourable Christine Elliott, insisted yesterday on improving access to online health records. It is going to be critical to ensure that these tools are fully accessible in French. Don’t let this begin the wrong way, as we know, from past experiences how difficult – and costly – administrative and program revisions are.

The Minister reiterated numerous times that this new system would let patients have a say in their health care journey.  For Francophones, this ability to influence the provision of health care services in French will be established by maintaining the French Language Health Services Council and the French Language Health Planning Entities.

What is not clear at this stage is the scope of responsibility of the Entities, and to whom they will be able to provide advice. Their voice must be equally heard at the local and at the provincial levels. Their role in the planning, design, delivery and evaluation stages is crucial. Section 44 of Bill 74 seems promising in terms of the relations between Entities and Ontario Health. But their role goes deeper as they need to be able to interact daily with the newly created Ontario Health Teams across the province.

In its preamble, Bill 74 outlines the obligation to respect the requirements of the French Language Services Act but provides little language on how this will be done.  The commissioner’s office would like to see this part of the bill amended to clarify that this requirement applies to the planning, design, delivery and evaluation of the French-language health services.

While the Commissioner’s office agrees that centralizing the planning and coordination of health services may be beneficial to issue stronger, more systemic directives with regards to French-language health services, it will be up to the senior management of Ontario Health to issue and implement such directives.

When Ontario Health Teams are established, and the integration of community health service providers within these teams takes place, the government will have to ensure that health services providers that are fully or partially designated under the French Language Services Act maintain the designation of these services.  This obligation should be clearly specified in Bill 74 so that no French-language services are eliminated.

As in all transitions, the process of designating Ontario Health Teams and integrating service providers may also provide an opportunity to evaluate and vet the capacity of service providers to provide French language services.  Through this process, health services providers that have some capacity to provide French language services should be supported in seeking their designation under the FLS Act. It might be an opportune time to test the new designation process under the French Language Services Act that I have recommended ever since the Minister of Francophone Affairs, the Honourable Caroline Mulroney, took office.

The new legislation unveiled by the Health and Long-Term Care Minister yesterday creates mechanisms for collaboration between the new Ontario Health agency and the existing French Language Health Planning Entities. I applaud the fact that Bill 74, The People’s Health Care Act, 2019, recognizes the important role that Entities can play in advising Ontario Health.

In the weeks to come, I will recommend that this role be further clarified to include all aspects of the planning, delivery, evaluation and deployment of health services for French-speaking communities.   In addition, while the Bill confirms that their voices will be heard at the provincial level, we strongly recommend that provisions be added to confirm the role of Entities at the local level, and their ability to guide the integration and coordination of services by Ontario Health Teams.

As this reform unfolds, my office will continue to provide constructive advice and collaborate with the Ministry to ensure the best possible outcomes for the provision of improved French language health services in the province.

A very effective tool for improving the active offer of French-language health services

Shortly after it launched on April 5, 2018, the Réseau du mieux-être francophone du Nord de l’Ontario challenged me to spend a few hours taking its interactive online training course on the active offer of French-language health care services. I’ve just completed the course, and I’m now the proud owner of a certificate attesting to its successful completion.

In my opinion, it is truly top-notch. It’s worth noting that its six modules were inspired by the priorities established by the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario in our May 2016 special report entitled Active Offer of Services in French: The Cornerstone for Achieving the Objectives of Ontario’s French Language Services Act. The topics covered in the course were selected by other organizations, including Northern Ontario health service providers, the Laurentian chapter of the Consortium national de formation en santé (CNFS) and its students, the French Language Health Planning Entities of Ontario, and the French Language Health Networks of Ontario.

At the same time, I have to admit that I learned some things, one more reason to vouch for its quality. In addition, the Réseau du mieux-être francophone also promised that the platform and the content will be updated and enhanced regularly.

The course is designed to explain the concept of active offer to people who are working or studying in the health care field in Ontario. Its aim is to make people aware of the important role they can play in ensuring ongoing improvement of active offer.

I’d like to take this opportunity to provide a brief review of the concept of active offer. Franco-Ontarians do not always ask for service in French. To save time, out of habit, to facilitate the process or in emergencies, Francophones and Francophiles sometimes simply accept being served in English. By failing to actively offer services in French, service providers, particularly in the justice and health care systems, place the responsibility for understanding the information communicated on the shoulders of the users of the services and their caregivers. Francophones in vulnerable situations are the people most seriously affected by this deficiency. Although the French Language Services Act does not expressly mention Francophones’ right to actively obtain services in their language, some organizations have made active offer the norm in delivering services. However, without an express reference to this obligation in the Act, progress on active offer may be difficult and slow.

So, I salute this brilliant initiative funded by Health Canada in connection with the Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages 2013-2018: Education, Immigration, Communities. The online course, which is free, open to everyone and available in English and French, focuses on the concept of active offer, which is so important for Francophones, and provides examples of best and innovative practices.

Now it’s my turn: I challenge everyone working in the health care field in Ontario and, of course, all health care service providers to take this course. I obviously include all of my staff in this challenge, and I hope that everyone in the office will earn their certificate in the next few weeks! Rev up your computers!

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.

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!

François Boileau

French Language Services Commissioner

 

 

Update – 2018 Symposium: Looking Ahead, Getting Ready

Further to today’s news about the announced demise of the Commissioner’s Office, we are writing you to confirm that the 2018 Symposium, Looking Ahead, Getting Ready, will be going ahead as planned on Monday, November 26, at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto.

The topics we are planning to cover at the Symposium are more relevant than ever. The non-partisan defence of the Francophone community and its diversity, which has motivated us for more than 11 years now, along with our thorough and determined, yet pragmatic and realistic efforts, and of course our victories – all this will last, thanks to the French Language Services Act.

Rest assured that our team will continue to work tirelessly to make the Symposium enriching, constructive and hopeful, even under such circumstances.

If you have any questions about the Symposium, please contact Emmanuelle Bleytou, Lead, Strategic Communications, by email at emmanuelle.bleytou@csfontario.ca or by telephone at  416 847 1515, ext.107.

We are looking forward to welcoming you to what will no doubt be a convivial day of meetings and discussions.

A happy ending: Welcoming services for Francophone immigrants at Pearson Airport

Following a request for proposals issued by the federal government on June 18, 2018, to select a new Francophone agency to provide French-language services to immigrants arriving at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, the long-awaited official announcement has just been made: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has given the Centre Francophone de Toronto the contract, starting in March 2019, to provide guidance to immigrants on where to get assistance in finding their first job or a school for their children, and to address the special needs of Francophone newcomers.

After about 10 years during which these needs have been neglected, we can expect a substantive improvement in the settlement and integration processes for Francophone immigrants, with the provision of support and guidance in their first hours on Ontarian soil after getting off the plane at Pearson.

Some 2,500 Francophone newcomers arrive at Pearson International Airport every year, which is significant. This is a big responsibility for the future of the Francophonie, particularly in Ontario, as I noted in my latest annual report, in view of the demographic issues facing Francophones over the next 10 years.  It is expected that newcomers will receive all the information they need to make their move a success, whether they are settling in Toronto, Sudbury, Windsor, elsewhere in Ontario, or in another part of Canada.

The announcement made by IRCC was just one of several positive developments for National Francophone Immigration Week.

La Cité, one of Ontario’s two public French-language colleges, will be the primary point of contact for Francophone newcomers starting in January 2019, and four regional partners will provide province-specific settlement services under an $11 million five-year collaborative partnership between French-language settlement service providers in keeping with a genuine Francophone Integration Pathway. We are told that in the coming weeks, as many as 14 communities across Canada will be selected as part of the Welcoming Francophone Communities initiative to create a space where French-speaking newcomers will feel welcome. We hope that three of these welcoming communities will be selected in Ontario, but we will see what the federal government  ultimately decides. It is important, now more than ever, that our governments align their efforts to benefit from a pooling of strategies, means of action and resources.

Last but not least was the announcement of the addition of a second French-language testing agency for economic immigrants, which is a very positive step because it will make testing more accessible in terms of locations and dates. It may even encourage bilingual people to take their test in French. We can also hope that a bit of competition between service providers will allow for  the costs of the tests to be lowered. People have been requesting this for a number of years. In addition, this month will see the launch of an expression-of-interest process to obtain proposals from organizations interested in delivering language training for Francophone immigrants and allophone newcomers who have declared French as their official language of preference, in Francophone minority communities.

Providing Francophone newcomers with better welcoming process, guidance, support and information services so that they can in turn contribute to the vigour and vitality of Ontario’s Francophone communities is something to look forward to!