1.11.2. Role of the Office of Francophone Affairs
Since he took office in 2007, the Commissioner has always recognized the important, even crucial, role that the Office of Francophone Affairs (OFA) plays in the preparation of policies and programs and in the delivery of French-language services within the provincial government.
In fact, the Commissioner has always taken great interest in accountability for French-language services and the OFA’s role in exercising that government accountability on behalf of Francophone citizens. The government must ensure that it has integrated management of French-language services in all government agencies, both operationally and in the development of policies, practices and programs. That is where the OFA has the ability to play a pivotal role.
220.127.116.11. Executory body
Under section 12(2) of the Act, the OFA may make recommendations on the quality of French-language services, recommend designations of agencies, demand information about future designations, and propose changes in the provision of French-language services. The Act also requires that the OFA perform any other function assigned to it by the Minister, the Executive Council or the Legislative Assembly. That is one of the reasons it has a policy division, small though it is, to work on developing and deploying policies on French-language services.
In practice, however, the OFA’s role in the provincial public administration is a consultative one. The OFA is perceived as an office that can, at the ministries’ request, provide opinions, advice and recommendations on the concerted and coordinated implementation of French-language services. These are essentially advisory functions. The OFA’s opinions do not have a lot of visibility and are issued to encourage ministries to coordinate and plan French-language services more effectively. It not only serves as sort of a “quasi-ministry” of Francophone affairs but also prepares a variety of documents for the Minister, such as speeches, correspondence and briefing notes. The communications needs are considerable in view of the small number of employees assigned to this task, in contrast to other ministries.
Hence, the Commissioner is revisiting a question that he has raised before over the years, i.e., whether the OFA’s available resources are equal to its aspirations to carry out its extensive mission. The observation he made in 2009 still stands in 2016: there has not been a significant or permanent increase in the OFA’s financial resources since 1998. In fact, the opposite is true. Clearly, with its place in the government hierarchy and its limited budget, the OFA’s ability to carry out the mandate assigned to it by the government is restricted.
The Commissioner continues to plead for depoliticization of the OFA’s budgets, as French-language services are a right, not a privilege, given to Francophone citizens. Neither the OFA nor French-language services can be funded at the whim of the government of the day. The government must therefore give the OFA the place it deserves so that it can carry out its mission under the Act. Accordingly, the Commissioner is reminding the Cabinet once again that there is a need to increase the OFA’s resources for the next fiscal year and subsequent years.
18.104.22.168. Entrenching powers
Hence, the powers of the Office of Francophone Affairs are largely advisory. In support of the Minister, it can require the formulation and submission of implementation plans and can fix time limits to this effect. However, it cannot compel ministries or third parties to set their priorities in a way that is compatible with the Act. As per its mandate,36 and in its role as advisor to ministries and government agencies, the OFA relies on its ability to persuade and influence. While the OFA was part of Cabinet Office in its early years and had a corresponding level of corporate oversight and influence, that is no longer the case.
This needs to change so that the OFA will be assured both of real accountability for its initiatives within the government and of fulfilling its primary mission of working with the ministries to ensure that the Act is implemented. The OFA must have decision-making power and influence in the halls of government. It is important to bear in mind that 30 years ago, in the discussions regarding the passage of Bill 8, some people wanted the OFA to be a ministry.
The Commissioner is not commenting on this issue, but he recommends that, without altering the OFA’s mandate with regard to administering the functions of the Minister, the OFA’s Deputy Minister also become a Deputy Associate Secretary of Cabinet Responsible for Francophone Affairs. With this enhanced authority and accountability, the OFA’s DM could better exercise its role as lead government steward for the ongoing implementation of the French Language Services Act.
36 See section 12.2 (d) of the Act.