1.7.2. Designated agencies
Under the Act, an agency can obtain designation under which the government recognizes its competence to provide all or some public services in French in accordance with the criteria established by the Office of Francophone Affairs (OFA).
Unlike government agencies, which are required de facto under the Act to provide public services in French, public service agencies can also receive designation under the Act. This designation process is voluntary and can be undertaken by not-for-profit and private agencies, such as the Sudbury YWCA, as long as they are providing programs and services to the public.
Designation of an agency under the Act thus creates a quasi-constitutional guarantee that the government is committed to having services delivered in French on a permanent basis.
In 2012, the Commissioner recommended to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs that a mandatory directive on the designation process for agencies be established in compliance with the Act, after due consultations with representatives from the community and designated agencies. The following year, the Commissioner was delighted to see the establishment of a working group to consider modernization of the agency designation process. This led, in 2014, to the introduction of a new designation plan.
184.108.40.206. New process in effect
This designation plan concerns both new applications for designation and the evaluation of agencies that are already designated.
One of the new criteria in this accountability mechanism requires that designated agencies submit, every three years, “a resolution by the board of directors attesting that the agency has remained compliant with the criteria for designation and that the board of directors and senior management team are aware of the legal consequences of submitting a false attestation, including the possibility of having complaints filed with the Commissioner for French Language Services.”21 The Commissioner welcomes these post factum verification measures, though they can hardly prevent situations where designated services are transferred to a non-designated agency, for example. Unless the process for revocation of designation has been followed, such transfers would contravene the Act, as would the closure of a designated agency. That was the case for the Penetanguishene General Hospital, a partially designated agency under Ontario Regulation 398/93, made under the Act.
220.127.116.11. Example of the Penetanguishene General Hospital
In 2014, the Commissioner’s Office launched an investigation into the announced closure of the Penetanguishene General Hospital. The closure followed its 2008 amalgamation with the Georgian Bay General Hospital (GBGH), which was a non-designated agency.
However, the closure was carried out without following the process for revoking designation required by the Act. Neither the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) nor the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) attempted to have the hospital’s designated status under Regulation 398/93 revoked.
Upon notification of the investigation, the ministry provided all requested documentation and advised North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN and GBGH that the closure of the GBGH Penetanguishene site could not take place until the GBGH Midland site became designated under the French Language Services Act, which required an amendment to Ontario Regulation 398/93 made under the Act.
The ministry has demonstrated its commitment to working with its stakeholders, including the LHIN, Entité 4, the GBGH, the OFA and the community to ensure that designated French language services at GBGH are at a comparable level to those at the former Penetanguishene General Hospital.
This case illustrates a succession of weak accountability mechanisms between the agencies that fund, manage and plan service delivery; the LHINs; and the agencies that actually provide the French-language services. It also shows the OAF’s limited accountability to monitor designated agencies’ compliance with the Act. The ministry should continue to work with its partners to strengthen all the accountability mechanisms between the aforementioned agencies.
21 For more information: http://www.forms.ssb.gov.on.ca/mbs/ssb/forms/ssbforms.nsf/GetFileAttach/025-0005E~1/$File/0005E.pdf (page consulted in May 2016).