Leadership begins at the top
Requiring the Commissioner to keep on fighting the good fight is not a viable approach. No, the solution lies elsewhere. In fact, it is obvious since it is all there, in black and white, in the French Language Services Act.
The Commissioner is not responsible for the enforcement of the Act. That task belongs to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. And that task includes elements such as the presentation of an annual report, the preparation and recommendation of projects and priorities with respect to French-language services, monitoring the development of programs for the provision of services in French and the use of the French language – and the specific request that government projects aimed at implementing the Act be prepared and presented. This last element is crucial because the implementation of the law requires the implementation of the Commissioner’s recommendations arising from the performance of his duties.
The Commissioner does not seek in any way to denigrate the great work that has been done in the past and which continues to be done through the contribution of the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs and the Office of Francophone Affairs – far from it. But the blandness of some government responses to recommendations that are nonetheless critical for the Francophone community convinces him that such a situation would be rare, and that gains would be much more significant if the government took the steps that are needed for the letter of the French Language Services Act to be fully respected, while showing the backbone required for its spirit to be respected.
In fact, the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Justice Policy currently has a mandate to analyze the actions undertaken by the Office of Francophone Affairs. To the Commissioner’s knowledge, the Office has never been summoned by this important Standing Committee to discuss issues relating directly to the French Languages Services Act. It would, at the very least, be appropriate for the Standing Committee, responsible for such matters, to be better informed on the issues relating to French-language services as well as the essential role that the Office of Francophone Affairs plays and must continue to play.
In this new age of more direct dialogue between governments and the public, transparency becomes absolutely critical. The citizens of Ontario need to be presented, at least once a year, with the government’s vision for French-language services, especially with regards to the initiatives of the Minister and the Office of Francophone Affairs. The community deserves more than the current annual reports, which are buried somewhere on a website and present largely “old news”. In their current format, these reports are written from a purely administrative perspective and exist solely to fulfill a legal obligation. Lacking vision, inspiration and vitality, the current annual reports constitute a missed opportunity to initiate genuine dialogue with the Franco-Ontarian community and society as a whole. The excuse of lacking time and resources no longer meets the grade.
It is imperative for the Minister to use the mechanisms and opportunities instituted by the government to share her strategic reflections on the status of the Francophonie in Ontario in relation to the events, issues and circumstances of the time while remaining focused on the identified goals to be achieved in coming years.
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