An Organizational Story
1.3.1 A paradigm shift in the processing of complaints
Under the conventional complaint management approach followed over the last few years, all complaints received by the Commissioner’s Office were acknowledged, and a file was opened. Then a questionnaire was sent to the government ministry or agency concerned informing it of the deficiency identified by the complainant. When the organization’s responses were received, they were analyzed to determine whether they were satisfactory or not. In the majority of cases, supplementary questions were sent to the organization. Following receipt of its final responses, most of the time in English, the team had to decide what course of action to take on the case. Very often, the staff member to whom the case was assigned was the one who checked the quality of the French-language services and determined whether the problem had been corrected. If the team found the situation satisfactory, a letter was sent to the complainant, often repeating the ministry’s response, which the team had to translate into French because most complaints are received in that language. About six months later, the Commissioner’s Office would attempt, wherever possible, to verify whether the promised changes had actually been made. If not, the file remained open, and staff had to revisit the problem.
With more than one complaint a day and just two investigators, this laborious process inevitably results in delays. The time has come to adopt a new approach, a new paradigm for processing complaints.
Relations with complainants
Under the new approach, complaints received become important signals. Accordingly, even though a file number will always be assigned to them, the acknowledgement sent to the complainant could also serve as a file closure notice. All complaints received by the Commissioner’s Office will certainly be just as important as before. However, they will now be stored and analyzed with a view to the systemic resolution of non-compliance with the Act in conjunction with ministries and agencies. While the staff of the Commissioner’s Office are already trying to follow this procedure in many cases, the new approach formalizes this modus operandi within the team.
After submitting a complaint to the Commissioner’s Office, a citizen can now expect to receive an acknowledgement that will include the following information:
- A status report or an update on the case in question;
- Forthcoming actions on the matter (for example, if a meeting with a minister was planned to pursue the case, it would be mentioned); and
- A suggestion that the complainant check the revamped website and the Commissioner’s blog regularly to stay current on developments in the case.
This new procedure will be more transparent for complainants and will address their expectations more effectively and promptly.
Relations with ministries and other government organizations
Since the Commissioner’s Office is now looking at admissible complaints from a systemic perspective, the new approach requires ministries and other government organizations to make an important adjustment in the way they handle complaints. The object will no longer be to determine what happened at 1:18 p.m. on July 28, 2012, at a particular location, but to recognize that there are serious weaknesses in French-language services and that the government organization needs to find permanent solutions to the problem.
Currently, government ministries and agencies have more of a tendency to justify their actions than to propose permanent solutions. In other words, they take the time to explain what they did instead of what can be done for the citizen.
As noted in the Access to Justice in French report, this situation arises in the Ministry of the Attorney General in particular: in its day-to-day handling of complaints, the Ministry seems to focus more on determining what occurred in a very specific case than on considering permanent solutions to a widespread problem. The Commissioner has said it before: churning out a lot of words does not necessarily help to further the development of the Francophone community if that is the goal. It is important to stop looking for specific justifications for specific problems and pursue an approach that will encourage the sharing of systemic solutions. The Ministry of the Attorney General is, slowly but surely, turning that corner.
To that end, government ministries and agencies will have to do the following:
- Operate on the assumption that complaints submitted to the Commissioner’s Office are founded.
Overall, 95% of the admissible complaints received by the Commissioner’s Office since it was established have been founded.
- Talk to the staff of the Commissioner’s Office as if they were speaking directly to the citizens who use their services.
Thus, there will no longer be a place for bureaucratic language and justifications. The Commissioner’s Office and the government ministries and agencies serve the same citizens. The government ministries and agencies should therefore be finding solutions for the person who has complained to the Commissioner’s Office, since that person is first and foremost a citizen who uses their services.
- Focus more on developing an internal system for dealing with complaints relating to French-language services, where appropriate.
Most government ministries and agencies already have such systems in place.
- Take responsibility for the importance of satisfying their Francophone clients.
The Commissioner’s Office should henceforth be regarded as a last resort, as is the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario.
In view of these considerations, it is vital that government ministries and agencies not fall into the trap of treating the French Language Services Coordinators as people who deal with complaints: it’s not their job. As the Commissioner indicated in his first annual report, the role of the French Language Services Coordinators is to influence the directions and design of the policies, programs, services and products of each government organization that is subject to the French Language Services Act, starting at the strategic planning stage. It is not their responsibility to solve all problems having to do with deficiencies in French-language services.