As I emphasize in my 2011-2012 Annual Report, the designation of an agency means a commitment and formal recognition of its ability to provide French-language services. It is not a goal in and of itself, but rather a means of guaranteeing the active and ongoing provision of French-language services in the field, in order to meet the specific needs of the population being served.
A designated agency or program provides its supplier with legal immunity that protects it from changes in the economic and political climate. Montfort Hospital is the most eloquent example of this advantage: it was able to avoid being shut down and broken up precisely because of its designated status. That is the reason why the designation of agencies is excessively important.
Hence, that brought me to take the decision to post a blog relating to the designation of government agencies every week this month of December. I am starting today with a blog post on the representation of Francophones on boards of directors and post-designation assessment. I will then continue in the following weeks with posts on how to address complaints and on the merger of a designated agency with a non-designated agency. I will conclude this series of blog posts by giving the opportunity to some agencies to share with you why they have chosen to ask for designation and also by letting you know the government’s response to my recommendation.
Firstly, many agencies have not been subject to any post-designation assessment to ensure their compliance with the conditions arising from their status as providers of French-language services.
It is certainly true that the government encourages designated agencies to submit tri-annual self-evaluation reports to the Office of Francophone Affairs, in order to ensure that they are still meeting their designation criteria and integrating French-language services in the development of their programs and services. However, very few agencies actually submit these reports on their own initiative and such reports are seldom requested by ministries.
This task also may be difficult, given the fact that the ministries do not always use the same evaluation chart or criteria for designation, as has been mentioned previously. This lack of a shared interpretation should also be addressed.
The criterion for the representation of Francophones on the board of directors and executive committees of designated agencies is a perfect illustration of this situation.
Indeed, once they have their designation certificate, agencies will sometimes use the excuse of flexibility in order to avoid their obligation to provide Francophone representation. Unfortunately, this can result in an underrepresentation of Francophones on the boards of directors of agencies that are located in regions with a high concentration of Francophones.
Such a situation was in fact brought to my attention in the case of a designated hospital located in the Eastern region, following a significant change in the administrative bylaws governing its board of directors. The hospital in question was not complying with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s criterion for Francophone representation that specified that the number of Francophones on its board of directors should be proportional to their demographic weight in that region.
Yet, the ministry had informed the Commissioner’s Office that the hospital had been assessed in 2005, and that, at the time, the Ministry was satisfied that it met the criteria for Francophone representation on its board of directors. This particular case is more than a simple anecdote. In fact, it highlights the lack of an ongoing and mandatory process for assessing designated agencies. This clearly illustrates why it is important to make this process and these criteria formal and consistent.
This is what brought me to recommend to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs that a mandatory directive on the designation process for agencies be established in compliance with the French Language Services Act. I recommended that this directive be implemented by 2013-2014 and include consistent designation criteria that, in particular, provide for a minimum representation of Francophones on boards of directors and executives.
As part of this recommendation, I also highlighted the importance of a mandatory and independent assessment, every three years, based on all of the designation criteria, including criteria dealing with governance. This assessment should also include corrective measures, when necessary.
I will come back to you next week to cover another aspect of my recommendation to the Minister relating to the designated agencies.