A key moment
Of course, this independence from the government certainly does not mean that the Commissioner no longer has a boss. Quite the opposite, in fact. He is now accountable to 107 new ones – all Members of the Legislative Assembly. The Commissioner no longer has only a single minister as his main interlocutor, but additionally some of the most influential members of Ontario society: MPPs.
Thus, the challenges faced by Francophone citizens in asserting their entitlement to a government receptive to their needs must be made known at the highest levels in the province. Elected officials who are obligated to ensure that the government carries out its duties properly need to hear about such challenges, and the government should be held accountable for the measures it takes to address those challenges.
However, while the Act stipulates that the Commissioner shall submit to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly annual reports and other reports containing recommendations to support compliance with the spirit and letter of the Act, it goes no further. In the Commissioner’s view, however, the submission of a report is not the ultimate purpose of a bureaucratic exercise designed merely to discharge a legal obligation. Instead, it is part of an indispensable process of two-way accountability between the Office and MPPs. The Commissioner’s reports are not documents cast in stone.
In short, as an officer of the Legislative Assembly, the Commissioner cannot preach in the wilderness: he must find in the Legislature an active, engaged counterpart expected to respond to his comments in a timely manner.
Ideally, the counterpart in question would be a standing committee of the Legislature on French-language services, specifically mandated in part to respond to the efforts made by various parties involved. This committee could thus ensure follow-up on the Commissioner’s recommendations and concerns. Given the key matters and broad issues related to the application of this quasi-constitutional act known as the French Language Services Act, and the need for the province to ensure the full development of the Francophonie for the integrity of Ontario’s sociocultural framework, a specialized standing committee would not sit idle.
Another potential incarnation of this counterpart would be a legislative committee specifically mandated to dialogue with the officers of the Legislative Assembly. Although they play such a fundamental role for society that they were deemed worthy of being
raised to the province’s highest spheres of influence, they are given no platform within the Legislature to participate in a two-way dialogue open to the public.
Given the recent proposition of the expansion of the powers of some of these officers, the Commissioner believes that the formation of a legislative committee assigned to hear what the officers of the Legislative Assembly have to say would be an eminently responsible action.
One thing is clear: the Commissioner cannot function without an active counterpart in the Legislative Assembly, and since the issues he handles are so wide-ranging and important for Ontario society, this counterpart should not be a standing committee that is
already responsible for a wide range of portfolios.