LANG Committee Report
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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE SECOND
In the fall of 2009, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages examined the support provided by the Official Languages Support Programs (OLSP) Branch within the Department of Canadian Heritage to organizations devoted to the development of official‑language minority communities (OLMCs). The Committee specifically considered the impacts that delays in obtaining funding approval and receiving payments have had on OLMCs.
The Committee heard from the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, the Quebec Community Groups Network, Canadian Parents for French (Quebec Branch) and the Regional Association of West Quebecers. The Committee also heard from the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages and officials from the Department, who outlined current changes being made and options being considered that should address the Committee’s concerns.
On December 2, 2009, the Committee tabled the report The Impact of Approval and Payment Delays on Department of Canadian Heritage Recipient Organizations, which contains ten recommendations. The report acknowledges that the Department has undertaken a number of positive measures to ease the impact on client organizations, but suggests that corrective actions are still required to maintain the Department’s commitment to community development.
When he appeared before the Committee on October 29, 2009, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages was clear: “(the Government) has paid particular attention to the communities’ concerns about delays in processing applications and the weight of administrative processes. And we are committed to addressing these concerns”.
Canadian Heritage is committed to providing greater stability and certainty for its client organizations. The Department has a strong working relationship with the OLMCs which play an important role in the management and operations of programs devoted to community development.
The Minister, in his remarks before the Committee, made the Government’s position clear: “it is our partners who make our two official languages a living reality. We are convinced that, among them, low-risk clients such as some communities with which we have worked for many years should be subject to a less demanding process.”
At that time, the Minister also outlined the following improvement reforms:
Commitment to improved service
While the Government acknowledges the significance of the administrative challenges and the need for greater efficiencies, it is also mindful of the need for sound stewardship of the Department’s funding mechanisms. Effectively and efficiently carrying out programs for Canadians is a complex responsibility that requires the right balance between the need for greater efficiency, transparency and appropriate levels of accountability for government spending of public funds. The Government remains firmly committed to addressing recipient concerns.
To provide some context on the importance of this responsibility, in 2008‑2009 the OLSP funded over 900 files resulting in an investment of over $350 million to over 400 clients (including non‑governmental organizations, provincial and territorial governments). In 2008-2009, the Department approved 7,828 grants and contributions files, totalling just over $1 billion (80% of all departmental spending).
The OLSP has developed a two-year action plan to address its concerns about the impacts of delays on its client groups. The action plan includes a number of administrative reforms, some of which have already been implemented in 2009‑2010. Additional measures will continue to be implemented in 2010‑2011 which should result in further benefits for client groups.
A key reform of the action plan is the implementation of the new service standards on April 1, 2010. The service standards commit the OLSP to an approval process of 24 weeks, a significant improvement on the average length of the process in 2009-2010 which was 30 weeks. The standards will be publicly communicated and will provide client groups with transparent indications in terms of timelines for acknowledgement of application receipt, the process from evaluation to approval and payments. As recommended by the Committee, the service standards will commit the Department to issuing payments within 28 days of receiving a signed contribution agreement.
The service standards will impact the way the Department works with the OLMCs to determine priorities and make recommendations as part of the approval process. Currently, regions across Canada have varying application deadlines and approaches to community participation in the recommendation process. To achieve the new service standards, the OLMCs will be called upon to work together with the Department to establish an early fall universal application deadline and provide the opportunity for timely community participation.
Together, the service standards and new universal application deadlines will respond to the report’s recommendations that approvals are made and payments issued in time for organizations to properly plan and undertake their activities. The Department, however, understands that the introduction of the service standards and new administrative efficiencies will not be in place in time to fully support the provision of funding for 2010-2011. Therefore, during the transition towards full implementation of the service standards, the Department will provide interim program funding for low-risk regular client groups who will not have received a definitive funding approval as of April 2010. These funding advances will be provided in early April, as recommended by the Committee.
The Committee also emphasized the need to reduce the administrative burden placed on client groups. As one of six vanguard Departments, Canadian Heritage has already undertaken reforms as part of the Government’s response to the work done by the Independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Grant and Contribution Programs which recommended measures to simplify administration and strengthen accountability in the delivery of grants and contributions programs.
In 2009-2010, the Department made changes to ease and simplify the work required of applicant organizations, accelerate treatment by department officials and diminish the volume of applications to be treated every year, while ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Transfer Payment Policy in the area of reporting and accountability. These changes have been implemented and have already had an impact on client groups that submitted funding applications for 2010‑2011. The Department will continue regular reviews, with the participation of OLMCs, of its funding processes in order to streamline where possible and to continuously improve existing systems. In addition, improved electronic application forms were piloted in 2009‑2010 to simplify the work required of applicant organizations and accelerate processing by departmental officials. Implementation of the improved forms will begin in the upcoming fiscal year.
Since 2006–2007, Canadian Heritage’s OLSP staff have been encouraging community organizations to submit multi-year funding applications. As a result, nearly one-third of the organizations receiving program funding in 2009-2010 signed multi-year contribution agreements. The Department will also start providing two-year grants in certain circumstances for multi-year applications submitted for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. As recommended by the Committee, the Department will continue to encourage this practice and hopes that over time more client groups will consider submitting multi-year applications. By providing organizations with funding commitments over the longer term and reducing the need to repeat funding applications each year, client groups can better plan activities and budgets over longer periods, retain staff, and reduce the amount of time spent on administrative tasks. As more client groups apply for and receive multi-year funding, the Department will stagger the agreement expiry dates to ensure renewals will not come due in the same year.
In 2009-2010, the Department increased the maximum level of grant funding from $30,000 to $50,000, meaning that a greater number of funding applications can now be processed as a grant rather than a contribution agreement. For the client, this change means reduced reporting requirements and increased timeliness of payments. This being said, the Department is responsible for choosing the most appropriate funding mechanism for each funding application it approves. While funding requests under $50,000 are generally funded through grants rather than contribution agreements, this decision is based on the assessed risk of each request. The risk assessment takes into account the level of funds requested, the capacity of the requesting organization and the Department’s historical experience with the organization.
The implementation of the Department’s action plan, including implementation of the service standards and related administrative measures, will be monitored and evaluated on an ongoing basis in order to identify areas for corrections and further improvements. This monitoring will be done in close collaboration with OLSP client organizations.
These reforms will provide client groups with the increased efficiency, transparency and accountability they desire. It will also contribute to the achievement of broader public policy objectives to deliver citizen-focused services.
Forty years after the adoption of the Official Languages Act, the Government is proud of the progress made through partnerships with official language community organisations in every region of the country. The work done to date to improve the application and funding processes is a reflection of the Department’s commitment to support and strengthen community development.
The measures outlined above will improve timelines and create administrative efficiencies, ultimately resulting in programs that are delivered in a fair, economical and efficient manner, while remaining accountable to Canadians.