1.10. Human resources strategy

The Commissioner believes that despite the initiatives undertaken, mainly by the Office of Francophone Affairs, the public service still has not formulated any real human resources plans for French-language services. All too often, the complaints received by the Commissioner’s Office indicate that there were no French-language services because the bilingual employee in a designated position was not at work.

Last year, a complainant and his daughter called the 1-888-772-9277 line of the Investigation and Enforcement Unit (IEU) of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on two occasions. They quickly realized that there were no officers available who could respond to them in French. When the Commissioner’s Office checked into the complaint, it encountered the same problem. The Ministry explained that its bilingual compliance officer was on maternity leave. Her replacement had unexpectedly been called back to her home position before the end of her assignment in the IEU. According to the Ministry, the employee on maternity leave was scheduled to return shortly, which made it difficult to identify and hire a qualified replacement for this compliance role. In the interim of hiring a qualified bilingual compliance officer to provide services in French, the IEU answered its calls in French through Language Solutions, a telephone interpretation service. In the Commissioner’s opinion, using the services of an interpreter through Language Solutions does not constitute a level of service equivalent to the service provided to an Anglophone citizen who calls the IEU. Above all, it does not fill a vacant bilingual position.

As a result of this lack of planning for competent bilingual human resources, the approach to and compliance with practices for designated bilingual positions depend on the good will of individuals and managers rather than on rigorous systemic practices.

The Commissioner has concerns about what evaluation criteria are used to help ministries follow good practices with regard to designated bilingual positions, about what concrete measures the government is taking to ensure that French-language services are maintained through those positions, and about the inventory of bilingual employees in the public service and the strategies for recruiting and retaining them.

Moreover, the current approach of solely designating individual positions is outdated and jeopardizes the continuous provision of quality services in French. A human resources strategy for planning French-language services should be based on the designation of units, teams and divisions responsible for providing service in French. By basing the delivery of French-language services on multidisciplinary teams with a critical mass of bilingual employees, the new government strategy would ensure the permanent availability of quality French-language services. This would also solve the problem of recurring deficiencies due to temporary absences of employees in designated positions.

That said, in view of the government’s desire to provide services to the public through third parties, it would also make sense to explore opportunities in conjunction with Ontario’s Francophone communities,35 such as multiservice centres that are managed in French but serve the entire population.

As part of a revision of the French Language Services Act, the Commissioner recommends that lawmakers include more specific obligations regarding staffing in order to ensure that, beside having designated individual positions, work teams, units or divisions be designated to serve the Francophone public and to actively offer services in French.

35 The Commissioner has dealt with this issue in several annual reports, including the 2010-2011 report entitled A Shared Engagement, in which he urged the Francophone community to take an active part in the process of revitalizing the delivery of government services by suggesting innovative, pragmatic, results-oriented methods and means to ensure the community’s development.

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