1.11.3. Role of the French-language services coordinators

Section 13 of the French Language Services Act does not say much about the roles and functions of the French-language services coordinators. It requires that a French-language services coordinator be appointed in each ministry. It also states that the Office of Francophone Affairs will coordinate a committee made up of all the coordinators. In addition, it gives each French-language services coordinator the authority to communicate directly with his/her deputy minister. Since 2007, the Commissioner has tried to point out the discrepancies in the roles of the coordinators who have held office over the years. He is revisiting the matter in 2016 with a view to return to a strict application of the Act.

When the Act came into force in 1989, the coordinator positions were classified at a high level because the incumbents had to have direct access to their deputy ministers. The way the Act is worded suggests that that role was supposed to be proactive and influential. Over time, however, the status of most coordinators has changed, and they no longer have access to their deputy ministers. In many cases, their role has become reactive, as the lack of resources and staff does not facilitate their participation in the initial policy and program development process. Although they are responsible for responding to complaints forwarded by the Commissioner’s Office, that intervention often occurs too late in those processes.

An outside evaluation of the structure of French-language services in the public service was conducted by a private firm in 2004. It indicated that the coordinator role should involve such matters as integration of the Act into the ministry’s operations and service delivery processes, including short- and long-term strategic planning, consultation on policy development, facilitation of oversight, problem-solving, liaison and communications, education and community relations. Although it seems clear that the coordinators are supposed to play a central role in the apparatus of government, we see that all too often, they are “stuck” between the ministry or ministries and the Office of Francophone Affairs, i.e., between a rock and a hard place.

Since the introduction of a new structure consisting of groups of ministries in 2009, several ministries have shared the same French-language services coordinator.

The new French-language services (FLS) coordination structure implemented in 2009 added three new clusters to two existing teams (Justice and Health) that were organizationally sound and focussed on serving two ministries each. The three new clusters, on the other hand, were created by transferring existing resources from the ministries forming the clusters, with the recognition that these resources were not sufficient and that additional resources would be sought. Seven years later, the FLS Clusters continue to serve up to eight ministries each without additional resources. Meanwhile, the level of requests for information and the number of new initiatives has grown steadily, putting even more pressure on the existing resources. Although the cluster model has reduced the isolation of the FLS coordinators, and provided access to the support of colleagues and a dedicated manager, the cluster would strongly benefit from a more robust infrastructure and additional cluster resources.

The Commissioner is aware that many government initiatives are launched without any involvement by the coordinators from the outset. Unless a coordinator is high enough in a ministry’s organizational hierarchy, which is rare, he/she will have very little influence over the development of the ministry’s policies and programs. Since decisions are made in advance and not after the fact, this structure does not benefit Francophones.

However, it was clear that the lawmakers’ original intent was to ensure that the coordinators would have direct access to their respective deputy ministers so that they could facilitate this work of designing, planning, coordinating and monitoring the various ministry initiatives. Yet, the perception of the real role of the French-language services coordinators is no longer what it was supposed to be. The coordinators are still associated with “a translation or interpretation service” within their ministry. For those who do not have access to their deputy ministers, their role is often limited to putting out fires and resolving complaints. As a result, in 2011-2012, the Commissioner recommended that an independent, interministerial evaluation be conducted of the government structures and processes concerned with the implementation of French-language services within the government. In response, the government indicated that the Office of Francophone Affairs had issued a request for proposals from consultants capable of carrying out such an evaluation. Five years later, the Commissioner would like to know the results of that evaluation, compelling as they may be.

The idea is to go back to where we started. The work of the French-language services coordinators must be to support deputy ministers. The Act is clear in this regard, authorizing them to communicate directly with their deputy minister. The issue is accountability for the planning of French-language services.

The Commissioner is emphatic on this point: the coordinators must play a key role in the government. They must identify the priorities of their government ministries or agencies based on the development and growth needs of the province’s Francophone communities. It is important for them to be able to develop a process for consulting the Francophone communities and to prepare plans for French-language services based on stated needs. They must have a quasi-organic relationship with the Office of Francophone Affairs and the Advisory Council on Francophone Affairs. In short, their role is to ensure that ministries and other government agencies work in advance rather than after the fact, and that eventually, the much-advocated “Francophone reflex” is well honed within the ministries.

To this end, the Commissioner recommends to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs that the role of the French-language services coordinators be clearly redefined, with a view to empowering them, in a revised French Language Services Act, so that they may play an influential and strategic role in the design and development of all programs and services that government ministries and agencies intend to initiate.

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