1.3.1. A better understanding of its needs
In his first annual report (2007-2008), entitled Paving the Way, the Commissioner pointed out some of the government’s best practices:
“The Commissioner often reminds administrators of government agencies of the importance of truly understanding the needs of their target Francophone clientele (…). Fortunately, several government initiatives confirm that these precedents are already in place.”
Over the last few years, the Commissioner has been pleasantly surprised by the introduction of policies and new programs and services that are manifestly designed for the province’s Francophones. These events were invariably noted in his annual reports.
For example, the annual meetings organized by the justice sector’s French Language Services Coordinator with the province’s Francophone community stakeholders laid a solid, forthright foundation for dialogue between the community and the government. As a result, the former has a better understanding of the government’s priorities, and the latter has a better understanding of the real needs and the difficulties with access to justice. This does not solve all the problems, but the discussions lead to initiatives and actions that are unquestionably productive for all parties concerned.
Another example would be the 2011 launch of the Sexual Violence Action Plan – Changing Attitudes, Changing Lives. Beginning with the initial consultations, regional meetings have been held in communities in every part of the province. Francophone victims of sexual violence and front-line workers were invited to participate and share their views on the support they need.
The consultation mechanism is instrumental in designing government policies and programs that meet the needs of the individuals and communities concerned. However, this practice is not followed systematically by all ministries. Last year, for example, the Commissioner talked about the new provincial strategy for youth mental health. Instead of including the specific needs of Francophone youth from the outset, despite a number of recommendations to do so from community organizations, the government found itself playing catch-up to ensure that young Francophones would be properly served. It is in cases such as this that consultations help determine the nature of the service and the client group’s needs.
“Depending on the nature of the service in question, it is possible that substantive equality will not result from the development and implementation of identical services for each language community. The content of the principle of linguistic equality in government services is not necessarily uniform. It must be defined in light of the nature and purpose of the service in question.”8
But for education, health, citizenship and immigration, community and social development, senior citizens, justice, and many other areas, it is important to make sure that future services will be delivered properly to the public. As the Supreme Court of Canada indicates, the nature and purpose of the service must dictate how these services will be provided by the government. And there is only one way to deliver them properly: by fully understanding the needs of the groups concerned. That is why consultation is so important, especially in minority situations.
In other words, if language is a key factor in the efficacy of the proposed program or service, then consultation with the Franco-Ontarian community is necessary. If we are talking about relational services, which require the establishment of a helping, therapeutic or other kind of relationship, consultation is even more important. On the other hand, if the services are normative or regulatory services, where the relational context is not very important, such as the introduction of a new policy on recycling used tires, there is no valued added in consulting the community.
In view of the foregoing, the Commissioner recommends that the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs incorporate into a revised Act that when a policy, program, service or activity of the Ontario government or one of its agencies is still at the development stage, and if language is a key factor in the efficacy of the proposed policy, service or activity, appropriate consultations with the Francophone community be announced and conducted.
8 Desrochers v. Canada (Industry),  1 S.R.C. 194, 2009 SCC 8, para. 51.