Direct Services to the Public
ServiceOntario continues to take exemplary measures to provide French-language services at all of its offices. In this regard, its cooperation with the Commissioner’s Office, supported by the commitment of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services to meet the needs of the Francophone population, facilitates the resolution of complaints while demonstrating genuine willingness to improve its services.
ServiceOntario is a division of the Ministry whose role is to issue such documents as birth, death and marriage certificates and health cards and oversee land registry offices and private driver and vehicle licence issuing offices. As a government agency reporting to the Ministry, ServiceOntario provides service in French in accordance with the French Language Services Act.The Ministry made a commitment in 2013 to implement an action plan to provide access to French-language services in the 25 designated areas.
Private driver and vehicle licence issuing offices
ServiceOntario has made significant changes in its service delivery models so that services are now available at ServiceOntario centres in 225 communities across the province.
While ServiceOntario is a public agency that reports to the government, driver and vehicle licence issuing offices in Ontario are private service providers acting on behalf of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. In other words, the Ministry engages these service providers in contracts that contain clauses requiring the provision of service in French. In some cases, providers signed agreements well before the Act came into force.
Nevertheless, the lack of French-language services in some driver and vehicle licence issuing offices, particularly in designated areas, was reported to the Commissioner’s Office. Since the Office’s intervention, the Ministry has made a commitment to rectify the situation, acknowledging that these violations of the Act penalized Francophones. The complaints about specific problems have been resolved quickly, to the great satisfaction of the Commissioner’s Office.
The Commissioner’s Office was delighted to learn that ServiceOntario had developed a computer-based training course on the active offer of service in French. The course consists of a number of modules and is accompanied by instructional materials and quick reference guides. ServiceOntario has made a commitment to provide this training to all front-line staff, all staff responsible for policies and programs, and ServiceOntario managers in order to implement the principle of active offer.
Moreover, ServiceOntario took the bull by the horns and sent detailed instructions to the private service providers. These instructions on French-language services cover points as varied as the designated areas where service in French is required in Ontario, the location of ServiceOntario centres that provide bilingual counter service, client service standards and key obligations, active offer, language skills of staff, exemplary hiring practices and signage requirements.
The Commissioner’s Office heartily commends these efforts to encourage compliance by private service providers, along with the online training for staff on the importance of the active offer of service in French. On the other hand, a clear directive on this point from the Management Board of Cabinet and the Treasury Board, which the Commissioner strongly recommends, remains essential to remedy the situation.
ServiceOntario’s 1-800 line offers Francophones the option of speaking to a bilingual representative by pressing “2”. The Commissioner’s Office has received confirmation that ServiceOntario has enough bilingual employees to keep meeting its French-language call targets. As a precaution, the Ministry has also introduced a procedure for cases where a Francophone caller is connected with a unilingual Anglophone representative. Under this procedure, the unilingual representative will be able to confirm the caller’s preferred language, in French, and then inform him or her, by reading a prepared French text, that the call will be transferred. Once the call is transferred, it will be answered immediately by a bilingual representative, or the caller will be put on hold until a representative becomes available.
The Ministry also provides refresher courses for its employees to ensure that French-language service obligations are fulfilled. Despite these procedures, the Ministry recognizes that mistakes can occur, but it is doing everything it can to take immediate steps to remedy the lack of French-language services and reduce the waiting time for Francophone callers.
Other measures in place
ServiceOntario is determined to provide high-quality client service that meets the needs of Ontario’s Francophone community. In addition to online training for all employees, all ServiceOntario offices have received a binder of information about French-language services to assist in the proper delivery of service to Francophones, including a list of the names and telephone numbers of Francophone managers to contact if a client demands to speak with a manager.
In addition, all posters and signs in public offices are in both English and French. The posters clearly indicate that service is available in both languages. All designated staff also wear a “Bonjour, je parle français” pin. The client referral office normally has one French-speaking person on duty at all times. In the event that the bilingual staff member assigned is unavailable, every effort is made to ensure that a bilingual client service representative can provide backup. In 2012, the Ministry made a commitment to ensure that front-line managers, ServiceOntario office staff and service providers operating private offices have materials on the active offer of service in French so that they can meet the needs and expectations of their Francophone clients in delivering services. Unscheduled visits to offices to determine whether French Language Services Act obligations were being met were also introduced. Driver and vehicle licence issuing offices that are not designated and therefore do not provide service in French must post a note indicating the closest location where French-language services are available.
In addition, other measures such as a human resources plan followed by additional hiring of bilingual staff, including a bilingual receptionist, have helped improve French-language services considerably in centres that provide more specific services. Nevertheless, the Commissioner is still seeking a Management Board directive on the development and implementation of a human resources plan for French-language services which would apply to all ministries, government agencies and entities that provide French-language services on behalf of the government. The plan must include concrete measures for the designation, appointment, training and retention of staff.
The ServiceOntario website identifies licence issuing offices that provide bilingual services across the province. Just look for this symbol:
Almost 85% of the province’s Francophones live in one of the 25 designated areas. The French Language Services Act gives citizens the right to receive services in French from the provincial government in those designated areas. No matter where the government offices are situated, the location of the clients is the determining factor for the delivery of French-language services, based on the designated area.
However, not all offices of ministries and other government agencies located in an area designated under the Act have to provide service in both languages. It is the government’s responsibility to designate one or more offices to provide the required services, i.e., reasonable access to services in French.
Closure of the Penetanguishene office
ServiceOntario has always demonstrated a commitment to the active offer of high-quality French-language services that meet the needs of the Francophone community. In fact, in designated areas where ServiceOntario has no presence, the offices now have a contractual obligation to provide French-language services or face termination of their contract.
In 2010, the Ministry ended the service contract of the Penetanguishene office, which is in a designated town, and transferred service delivery to Midland, which is not designated, on the grounds that the latter is more accessible for the majority of customers. The Commissioner discussed this incident in his 2009-2010 annual report in a section on investigations of indirect services.
However, only time will tell whether service availability and quality have been adversely affected. For a small Francophone community, though, such a loss leaves a void that is difficult to fill. The Commissioner hopes that in the future, the decisions that shape these changes in the service delivery models will take into account the ability to offer French-language services and the impact on the Francophone community.