Directive on a human resource plan for French-language services
Nobody can deny that the government has, in recent years, provided tools and resources to government agencies enabling them to better comply with the French Language Services Act (e.g., a policy on designated bilingual positions and a managers’ guide on filling designated positions). It is true that since 2012 the government’s general staffing policy for the Ontario public service has included principles and requirements for managers to follow in designating, staffing and undesignating bilingual positions. This is a step in the right direction, but it is clear that these tools and measures have so far failed to provide ministries and government agencies with real human resource plans for French-language services.
Indeed, each office or branch within a ministry has its own corporate culture. This means that within a single ministry, the approach and degree of compliance with respect to designated bilingual positions, for example, is always dependent on the goodwill of the managers in charge.
In fact, the weight of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the managers and French-language service coordinators to determine whether to maintain a position as designated, and whether to fill it with a bilingual person when staffing decisions are made. Such a practice has shown its limitations: some ministries have seen the number of bilingual positions decrease over time; positions are sometimes designated as bilingual depending on the staff that is already in place or available, rather than on the duties of the position; and the retention of staff in designated bilingual positions remains an ongoing problem.
In short, the importance of having a mandatory, specific human resource plan for French-language services goes beyond the issue of staffing, designating or undesignating bilingual positions. First, such a plan would make it possible to inventory the programs and services provided by ministries and government agencies in order to determine their capacity to deliver them in French where the Act requires, including management positions to ensure the delivery of more complex services. This in turn would lead to the development of a list of designated positions and the number of bilingual employees and would ensure that the available numbers and skills satisfy the requirements of the positions. In the event that a ministry or government agency did not have enough bilingual employees to fill all the designated positions, an action plan would be developed to remedy the situation in the short and long term. This plan would cover personnel training, the hiring of new employees, employee retention or a transfer of responsibilities.
At the risk of repeating himself, the Commissioner insists that, whatever tools and other resources have already been developed and deployed, they cannot truly achieve their goals unless they are first designed in a consistent manner by all stakeholders and then implemented systematically with specific instructions for their use. This is something only a government directive issued by the Management Board can ensure. Also, only the board can consolidate current initiatives, contrary to what the government maintains.
On this issue, the Commissioner will not budge: a directive on the development and implementation of a government-wide human resource plan for French-language services is one of the pillars of the effective, integrated implementation of the Act. Setting out mandatory guiding principles in a general human resources policy is one thing. Instituting a directive issued by the Management Board requiring the establishment of a human resource plan for the delivery of French-language services is something else entirely.
Lastly, in this era of transparency and open data, it would be appropriate for every government institution to publish every year the number of vacant designated bilingual positions and the number of designated bilingual positions staffed by employees who have the required language skills. This would make it possible to track trends in the staffing of designated bilingual positions and take the necessary corrective action, if any.
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