Archived - Notes for an address at a meeting of the Prince Edward Island Federal Council
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Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, March 5, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
It’s a pleasure to be here in Prince Edward Island. This is my first visit to the Council, but I have already met some of you on previous occasions. Very early in my mandate, I realized how useful it is to talk to the people who coordinate what their institutions are doing at the regional level. It gives us the opportunity to have a look at how linguistic duality should be experienced in everyday situations.
I hope that at today’s meeting we can discuss our concerns and successes regarding official languages. I would also like to talk about the importance of leadership and the role it plays in how linguistic duality and bilingualism are perceived in the workplace. This is a subject I addressed in my most recent annual report, and I hope that we will be able to discuss it here.
I was happy to learn that your council has made official languages one of its key priorities. By promoting a dialogue with PEI’s Francophone and Acadian communities and by developing and maintaining bilingual capacity in the region, you are creating a sustainable culture of linguistic duality in your organizations.
There is a close relationship between the importance given to official languages by public service leaders and the use of both official languages in the workplace. Your council’s Official Languages Committee has an interesting approach. Contrary to most of the official languages committees, not everyone on the committee has specific responsibilities related to official languages. Rather, many of you here volunteered to represent your organizations, and act as ambassadors in your respective institutions. This shows great leadership in embracing linguistic duality as an important value. In this context, I would like to recognize the great leadership of Faith McIntyre as the Champion of Official Languages for Veterans Affairs Canada, as well as for the PEI Federal Council. Over the years she truly has taken this mandate to heart. She exemplifies what an official languages champion should be in our public service and has had great success in that role.
My team was very impressed with the quality and detail of the action plan on linguistic duality that your official languages committee has implemented. You made observations on active offer in federal institutions in PEI to improve the quality of services offered in both languages. You talked with University of Prince Edward Island representatives about the importance of producing bilingual graduates. You organized a “Day of Dialogue with the Community” in the spirit of Part VII of the Act. Your federal council and its official languages committee sets a new standard in best practices to promote linguistic duality in your region. I often speak of the importance of having people who exercise leadership in the promotion of linguistic duality, and this is an example of such leadership. Congratulations to all of you, and I encourage you to continue your great work.
Two conditions are necessary for linguistic duality to work in Canadian society. First, everyone needs to understand that English and French are not foreign languages; they are Canadian languages. Our two official languages belong to all Canadians. No matter their linguistic background. No matter whether they be bilingual or unilingual. Unfortunately, this is not the message put forth by some Canadian universities.
Second, linguistic duality is a value, not a burden—and it should be an integral part of the public service. That is not always conveyed adequately either.
Let me draw your attention to an important distinction. As citizens, we expect our government to show leadership in supporting our national values, which include official languages. Canada’s policies on linguistic duality help not only to strengthen our social fabric, but also to define us as Canadians. This is why the government, through its institutions, has to lead the way. However, to move forward we need the leadership of individual public servants.
To uphold linguistic duality as a fundamental value, the conduct of public service leaders must promote respect for linguistic duality. And I note again how impressed I am by the engagement of many public servants in Prince Edward Island. Creating a public service that genuinely respects linguistic duality is a challenge that requires action at all levels of the federal government.
In 2011, my office released a study titled Beyond Bilingual Meetings: Leadership Behaviours for Managers. This study, which aims to help managers create workplaces conducive to the use of both official languages, is available on our Web site. Also available on our Web site is a self-assessment tool that can help you evaluate your leadership behaviours in a bilingual workplace, to see where your strengths lie, and to identify the behaviours you need to adopt. It gives very practical ideas for behaviours that managers can adopt in their workplace to promote linguistic duality.The desired changes in an organization often happen by ripple effect. Every step in the right direction counts.
In 2014, Prince Edward Island and all of Canada will celebrate an important milestone in Canadian history—we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, which paved the way to Canadian Confederation.
The festivities around the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference will provide an excellent opportunity for PEI to showcase linguistic duality as one of the great Canadian values. These celebrations will attact many Canadians to PEI, and every effort should be made to see them welcomed in both languages.
Sometimes, history shows us that perception is everything—and that things don’t exactly pan out the way we thought they would. George Brown, one of the Fathers of Confederation, saw Confederation as a gesture of separation and thought that the creation of a new province would mean that Anglophones would be “liberated” from Francophones—the end of French-Canadianism, according to a letter he wrote to his wife after the Charlottetown Conference. He wrote: “Conference through at six o’clock this evening—constitution adopted—a most creditable document… a complete reform of all the abuses and injustice we have complained of!! Is it not wonderful? The old French domination is entirely extinguished …Hurrah!Footnote 1”
Well, not quite, as Canadian history has shown us.
And so it is very important to make sure that the 150th celebrations reflect the common history of Canada’s Anglophones and Francophones.
Just as it is important for Ottawa to manifest linguistic duality in the celebrations of Confederation in 2017, so must, the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference be fêted in both official languages. Canadians need a better understanding of the country’s official language communities, including their culture and their institutions—and for this, they have to see them; they have to be exposed to them. To help organizers of large-scale events improve their knowledge and understanding of official languages, my office published a publication called Organizing a Major Sporting Event in Canada: A Practical Guide to Promoting Official Languages. This guide was developed for organizers of major national and international sporting, cultural and artistic events in Canada and for the federal institutions involved in their organization. We have copies of this guide here for you if you wish to consult it.
New tools in the machinery of federal government—blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts—present challenges in how federal departments communicate with citizens while respecting their language obligations. But social media is also an excellent way to promote celebrations and generate buzz, while also dishing out valuable information. It is therefore important to use these technologies in a way that respects Canada’s linguistic duality.
By the way, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is on Facebook and Twitter—I invite you to follow us and join the conversation.
On this note, we cannot forget that the Parti Québécois was elected in Quebec last fall. Even as a minority government, they are having a large impact on the Canadian political landscape and on how Canadians perceive our official languages. As a result, it is even more important that federal institutions respect their responsibilities under the Official Languages Act and that they prepare to manage a possible backlash from Anglophones asking why we should offer services in French when Quebec is tightening the Charter of the French Language.
We are re-entering a period of heightened sensitivity to, and politicization of, language issues. Federal institutions must take heed and must demonstrate exemplary leadership. Linguistic duality must continue to thrive, despite budget cuts and program changes.
Federal institutions need to don their official languages lenses—and minimize the effects of their decisions in this period of fiscal restraint. If we do not remain steadfast in protecting and promoting language rights, the situation could degenerate rapidly. The greatest risk is that reorganization and cuts will make it harder to allow public servants to work in their official language of choice or obtain the language training they need.
Which brings me to Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
Part VII is difficult to define and leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation. Since 2005, all federal institutions have the obligation to implement positive measures to support the development and enhance the vitality of official language minority communities and promote the equal status of English and French. It’s up to federal institution leaders to show creativity and resourcefulness in fulfilling their obligations.
Engaging with the Francophone community will help you understand their needs and priorities. I know that you all have the development of Prince Edward Island’s Francophone minority community at heart. Take the opportunity to be innovative and demonstrate this commitment.
Part VII also requires that institutions take measures to promote linguistic duality. Giving young Canadians more opportunities to experience the other official language is an excellent way to help Canada celebrate its shared heritage.
In my latest annual report, I made two recommendations to promote second‑language learning so that there would be more Canadians who speak both official languages.
I recommended that the Prime Minister take the necessary measures to double the number of young Canadians who participate each year in short- and long‑term language exchanges at the high-school and post-secondary levels.
I also recommended that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages work together with provincial and territorial governments as well as post-secondary institutions to increase the number of programs in which students can take courses in their second official language.
Bilingualism is a key characteristic of leadership in the public service and a crucial element of renewal. The federal government needs to recruit more bilingual employees and promote itself as an employer of choice for young Canadians across the country. This will require that we cooperate with post‑secondary institutions and that we provide Canadians with fair and equitable access to high-quality second-language training at all levels of the education system.
Since the Official Languages Act was passed, the government of Canada has promoted English and French second-language learning through various initiatives, including some at the pre-university level. However, the proportion of bilingual Canadians remains low and, in some regions, there currently aren’t enough programs in the second official language to keep up with the demand. The federal government needs to support young people who want to improve their knowledge of English or French.
For linguistic duality to thrive as a fundamental Canadian value, the private sector, all levels of government and post-secondary institutions must be involved. Federal institutions need to play a leadership role, and demonstrate by example.
Linguistic duality is a question of respect. And good leaders are always respectful.