Archived - Notes for an address to Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat employees on the significance of Linguistic Duality Day
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Ottawa, Ontario, September 13, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good afternoon everyone.
It's a tremendous pleasure to be here today at Treasury Board. I very much appreciate your invitation to discuss the importance of linguistic duality in the federal public service and to share my thoughts on the importance of leadership and collaboration as they pertain to our official languages.
I will also be glad to reflect briefly upon my own personal voyage of discovery on the road to learning my second official language.
But first, I'd like to talk about linguistic duality. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and one that I hope is near to your hearts as well. It gets a lot of attention around this time of year because we celebrate Linguistic Duality Day on the second Thursday of September. That was yesterday. In fact, this is the fifth year now that the federal government has marked this special occasion.
I should also mention that, this year, Linguistic Duality Day coincided with my office's release of a brand new study on language training in the federal public service. I'd like to use some of my time this afternoon to share a few of our findings and recommendations.
In short, linguistic duality is part of our common identity. This dual identity belongs to all Canadians—even those who don't speak both languages.
Neither English nor French are foreign languages. They are Canadian languages. Our two languages belong to all Canadians, regardless of their linguistic background or whether they are bilingual or unilingual.
In Canada today, there are more than 7 million people who speak French as their first language and more than 25 million who speak English. About 17% of Canadians are bilingual. Making all Canadians bilingual is neither a reality nor the goal of the Official Languages Act.
Linguistic duality is a value. It's an asset and not a burden. Linguistic duality is an integral part of the federal public service and a way to enable each employee to contribute to the best of his or her ability.
In the federal public service, official languages representation has been virtually unchanged for the past 25 years. Roughly one third of public servants, including both full-time employees and executives, report French as their first official language.Footnote 1
One third of offices and service points are required to offer bilingual services, and 40% of positions require knowledge of both official languages.Footnote 2
As current and future leaders, you have a critical role to play in emphasizing the importance of linguistic duality throughout the public service. You need to make linguistic duality an integral part of your workplace practices by internalizing it as a core value. Everyone has a leadership role to play at the Treasury Board when it comes to linguistic duality. It needs be a big part of everyone's DNA.
You know, I'm always pleased to see our elected officials demonstrating leadership by using both official languages in the House of Commons. I know, for instance, that the President of the Treasury Board takes his responsibilities as a leader quite seriously on this front. This simple act can inspire others on the Hill, at the Treasury Board and throughout the public service to embrace linguistic duality as they carry out their duties.
No matter what function you serve, whether you supervise employees or deliver a service to the Secretary—or maybe even the President of the Treasury Board—there are opportunities to demonstrate leadership by respecting linguistic duality.
This leadership must materialize starting at the highest levels of federal institutions. I don't think government leaders realize how much their attitude toward linguistic duality can influence their organizational culture.
That said, respect for linguistic duality isn't limited to notions of leadership alone. Making a conscious and committed effort to speak English and French in the workplace can help improve collaboration among colleagues, within work teams and right across federal institutions, if not—one could easily argue—the entire federal public service.
As a central agency that communicates across the full breadth of government, you are well positioned at the Treasury Board to demonstrate leadership and improve collaboration simply by embracing linguistic duality in your dealings with other federal institutions.
Like many of you, I didn't always speak my second official language. In fact, as a young student visiting Quebec for the first time in 1965, the summer I first learned French, I remember being told by a very bilingual classmate that I behaved differently in French than I did in English. “Of course I'm different!” I replied. “I'm stupid, inarticulate and I have no sense of humour!”
When I started this job seven years ago, I was uneasy about my French as I had not had any kind of formal instruction for almost 30 years—and that had been a night course for adults. I had never even been tested.
Initially dismissive of my concerns, my chief of staff suggested that I hire a retired executive from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages who had returned to his first love: language teaching. But rather than focusing on traditional language instruction, we spent our sessions studying the Official Languages Act clause by clause—en français.
Shortly after I became Commissioner, I met with senior second-language evaluation staff and I asked them what was required to obtain a “C.” To get a C in oral interaction, I was told that the candidate should be able to explain something in detail, persuade others and give advice to a junior colleague.
I thought about this and I realized something. These are not language criteria at all. These are leadership criteria. And if our leaders do not embody these values, it is as if they do not exist.
This focus on leadership by the Office of the Commissioner is not new. It has been a recurring theme in the ongoing review of linguistic duality in the Government of Canada. By putting linguistic duality on an even keel with your organization's other values, you are taking a step in the right direction. But there is still work to be done.
There are many ways to demonstrate leadership on language matters within a federal institution like the Treasury Board. For example, consider:
- delivering a speech in French,
- facilitating a bilingual meeting, or
- sending e-mails in both official languages.
These are all examples of leadership that promote linguistic duality. When the Secretary of the Treasury Board Yaprak Baltacıoğlu, for instance, uses both official languages on the job she is working in her second and third language. She once told me that she had had difficulty understanding why people objected to working in two languages. Many public servants face this very real challenge every day.
So how do we attain the competency and comfort level we need to excel in our second language?
In my view, language training is a key component of linguistic duality and career development, and can help public servants develop the leadership skills they need to progress in their careers.
owever, language training has taken on a new direction in the past decade, stemming from its decentralization to federal institutions. It's a process that hasn't been well documented, making it difficult to get a clear picture of what and how we're doing on this front.
This is why we conducted our latest study, Challenges: The New Environment for Language Training in the Federal Public Service.
The study I released yesterday notes the importance of employee motivation in second language learning and maintenance, as well as the key role public service managers can play in leading by example and using both languages regularly.
Therefore, we must ensure that language training is included as part of career plans, and not something secondary to them. I applaud those public servants who are already doing this.
When the transfer of responsibility for language training from the Canada School of Public Service to individual federal institutions was completed last year, I feared the program would simply meld into general training and it would become impossible to get an idea of how much gets done. The fact that we were able to gather so much information for the study is encouraging. A lot is still being done.
As part of our study, we thought it important to define accountability. How do we ensure departments are taking their language training function seriously and putting systems in place to measure progress? I'm pleased to report that many departments have been doing this in spite of budgetary challenges.
That doesn't mean we can pat ourselves on the back for a job well done though. It is also my view that federal institutions need to improve their reporting of language training activities, expenditures and results. While 84% of respondents in our study survey indicated that they keep a record of language training data, nearly one quarter of them admit that data is not collected systematically.
To build on the positives and to improve accountability, my recommendations to deputy heads of federal institutions are as follows:
- that deputy heads be required to establish a list of indicators and collect data in line with those indicators, and establish a reporting mechanism on language training; these measures should all be in place by October 1 of next year;
- that deputy heads of federal institutions be required to establish, by April 1, 2015, a mechanism that would ensure effective and efficient coordination of language training in the regions;
- that the President of the Treasury Board put in place, by October 1, 2014, a panel of independent experts to conduct an in-depth review of the effectiveness of current language training, both in terms of the language skills it produces and the way these skills are evaluated. This review should be undertaken in consultation with the federal institutions that play a key role in this regard; and
- that, by April 1, 2015, federal institutions should reach, at a minimum, the level of funding allocated to language training prior to the budget cuts initiated in 2011.
I know that institutions across the public service have employed various strategies to ensure that both languages can thrive in the workplace. We asked institutions what they are doing in this regard and 83% of survey respondents say they have strategies in place to help employees retain their language skills, such as holding bilingual meetings and various language activities.
I'm delighted to support these efforts with a new on-line tool public servants can use to review best practices for language training and create their own language training model. I invite public servants at all levels to make use of it.
In closing, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that, 25 years ago this month, the Official Languages Act was substantially amended to specify the obligations of federal institutions while providing for a permanent review of the official languages program by parliamentary committee and applications to federal court for remedy.
It was a major amendment, because this Act enshrining our linguistic duality and language rights takes precedence over all other acts of Parliament except the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Today, even though we celebrate Linguistic Duality Day once a year, we have the opportunity to embrace the spirit of the day year-round, simply by using both official languages as we carry out our duties.
It's my hope that, seven years from now, in 2020—with the support of the Treasury Board Secretariat and dedicated public servants like you right across government—that we will be celebrating Linguistic Duality Week.
- Footnote 1
Clerk of the Privy Council, Nineteenth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, “Annex A: By the Numbers - A Demographic Profile of the Federal Public Service for 2011.”
- Footnote 2
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, “Quick facts about official languages,” and Clerk of the Privy Council, op. cit.