A Human Story
2.7 Direct services
It is hard to imagine that any citizen, no matter where he or she lives in the province, would never have received direct services from an Ontario government agency. First, ServiceOntario, which processes more than 48 million transactions a year at nearly 300 service centres, eight call centres, and ServiceOntario’s online channel at
www.serviceontario.ca, is the face of the Ontario government for the majority of citizens. Each of these centres is responsible for a very broad range of services: for example, it is where a mother may go to obtain a birth certificate for her newborn, where a person will renew his driver’s licence, and where an immigrant will acquire a health card.
With its 632 stores across the province, 112 of them designated, more than 124 million transactions per year, and a catalogue of 19,000 products, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, better known as the LCBO, is also an important service provider. The same is true of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), which is responsible for 24 gambling establishments and has 10,000 sales outlets.
The importance of active offer of French-language services
Although all these organizations aspire to excellence in customer service, they do not necessarily put the proper resources in place when it comes to serving Francophone communities. The majority of the complaints that the Commissioner’s Office receives about them are of a systemic nature and have to do with the lack of active offer of French-language services, even though the Commissioner recommended that the government take action on this question in his 2009-2010 Annual Report.
In response to that recommendation, the government produced an active offer guide for service planners and developed a set of guidelines. However, in government jargon, guidelines do not have the same force as an actual directive. Thus, when making a decision, a manager can simply consider the guidelines issued by the government, but he or she is required to follow the existing directives or formally request an exemption. In other words, it is exactly like the difference between a suggestion and
an order. Because of the importance of active offer and the number of instances of non-compliance, the Commissioner feels obliged to revisit the issue.
The French Language Services Commissioner recommends to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs that an explicit directive regarding the active offer of French-language services be issued by the Management Board in the 2013-2014 fiscal year and that said directive apply to all ministries, government agencies and entities that provide French-language services on behalf of the government.
The importance of human resources planning
One of the cornerstones of active offer is unquestionably human resources planning. There is little point in having bilingual signs and forms in both French and English if there isn’t enough bilingual staff capable of providing service in an equitable manner; without such staff, the citizen’s experience will be diminished. In that respect, the government responded positively to the Commissioner’s recommendation in his 2008-2009 Annual Report. In April 2012, an updated Employment Policy was launched, setting out clearer direction on the staffing of designated bilingual positions.
However, this exercise has not sufficed to ensure the provision of high-quality French-language services, as demonstrated by the number and nature of the complaints received by the Commissioner’s Office. It is not acceptable, for example, for a citizen to be told in English to contact a service centre at a different time because the person in the designated position comes in to work later.
The development of a human resources plan for the entire public service, based on diversity and inclusion, should enable the government to adequately address the needs of the Francophone community.
Similarly, it is inexcusable that a citizen should be unable to communicate directly with a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board case manager and should have to do so through an intermediary because the person who is really qualified to manage his case is not bilingual. A case of this type was brought to the attention of the Commissioner’s Office this year. To add insult to injury, the complainant in this case had also received a letter in English informing him of the deadline for appealing the Board’s decision. Following intervention by the Commissioner’s Office team and a delay of several months, the complainant finally received a French translation of the letter, though the appeal deadline was not changed to compensate for the delay in sending out the letter in question. The Commissioner recognizes that errors can happen, but in this situation, despite employees’ good intentions, the service provided was far from equivalent, and the consequences of such practices can be very serious.
The French Language Services Commissioner recommends to the Ministry of Government Services that a directive on the development and implementation of a human resources plan for French-language services be issued by the Management Board in the 2013-2014 fiscal year and that said directive apply to all ministries, government agencies and entities that provide French-language services on behalf of the government. The plan should include concrete measures for the designation, appointment, training and retention of staff.
In addition, in its 2012-2013 budget, the government announced its intention to explore partnerships with the private sector to take over some ServiceOntario functions. However, as the Commissioner pointed out in his last annual report, all too often French-language services are “forgotten” in the privatization of provincial services. The Commissioner is so concerned about this issue that he recommended that the government make sure that any public-private partnership take French-language services into account.
Privatizations too are contemplated on a recurring basis. Once again, it is essential to make sure that they are not carried out before the necessary contractual obligations are in place to ensure the provision of French-language services. The Commissioner will remain very vigilant on this point, because Francophones’ rights must clearly not be overlooked. This is precisely why the Commissioner made a recommendation on privatizations in his 2009-2010 Annual Report.