Direct Services to the Public
The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services has been cooperating with the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner since shortly after its establishment. We can say with assurance that the Ministry has always been receptive to working with the Commissioner’s Office to find pragmatic solutions to issues raised by complainants concerning the posting of English-only tenders.
As its name indicates, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services provides services to the public, the Ontario government and businesses. It is, so to speak, the main service counter for the ministries. They make arrangements with the Ministry to issue tenders for purchases, supplies and one-time services.
Earlier this year, BravoSolution became the new supplier responsible for providing bilingual e‑tendering services for the Ontario government. It replaces the old bilingual MERX tendering portal where the Ministry used to post tenders from other ministries. Thus, through its role as an intermediary, the Ministry promotes healthy, fair competition between contractors and helps the government procure cost-effective services consistent with the interest of Ontario’s residents.
By virtue of the services that it offers, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services is, like any other ministry that provides services on the government’s behalf, subject to the French Language Services Act (FLSA). MERX was a private supplier acting for the Ministry and so was not directly covered by the FLSA.
In conjunction with the Supply Chain Leadership Council, the ministries are responsible for providing instructions concerning the content and quality of their tenders, including those which were posted on the MERX website. As the Commissioner pointed out in his 2009-2010 annual report, the fact that provincial tender documents on MERX were in English only presented an obvious problem for Francophone businesses, since it limited their ability to take full advantage of that lucrative market. The problem was particularly exasperating when the tenders were for services that had a direct impact on Francophones and Francophiles.
Cases in point
When ministries issue tenders in English only, they run the risk of not meeting the needs of their Francophone clients. This was the case when, in 2011, the government was preparing a list of consultants to meet the needs of Ontario’s school boards, including the 12 French-language boards.
Similar situations have been reported to the Commissioner’s Office, such as the case of a unilingual tender issued by the Ministry of Education for the supply of French and English books for school libraries. Worse still was the English-only tender from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care seeking consultants on the delivery of health care in French. In 2010, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport also admitted making an error when it issued an English-only tender for a project to analyze the production of cultural content in French. A bilingual version was sent out soon afterward.
With its exemplary cooperativeness, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services acknowledged that depriving Francophone users and businesses of opportunities to participate in such tenders could be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Act.
In 2011, the Ministry issued a directive requiring Ontario government ministries to include a bilingual abstract in all tender documents published through private suppliers and portals such as MERX and BravoSolution.
The Ministry also encourages other ministries to go one step further and issue tender documents for goods or services of interest to the Francophone population in both French and English. The Commissioner applauds this decision, as it will make government contracts more accessible to Francophone businesses and ultimately have a positive impact on their growth. This is a happy ending, which reflects the government’s desire to create a climate in which Ontario’s businesses can thrive and strengthen the province’s economy.
This shift in practices is largely due to the comments of citizens who took the time to express their concerns to the Commissioner’s Office. In conclusion, we can say that following these adjustments, a review of the tenders issued on MERX was conducted in 2011, and its finding was that the directive was indeed being followed.