Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the results of the Canadian International Development Agency's first review on official languages.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and committee members, for the opportunity to discuss the results of the Canadian International Development Agency's first review on official languages.
As the chair said, I am joined today by Diane Jacovella, Vice-President and CIDA's Official Languages Champion, Darren Schemmer, another vice-president, and Sheila Tenasco-Banerjee, Acting Director General, Human Resources Branch.
We are here today because linguistic duality is one of the hallmarks of Canadian society, an integral part of our lives, and a fundamental value of the public service.
CIDA's global mandate means that we have a responsibility to showcase Canadian values, including our linguistic duality, to the world. CIDA also has a responsibility to ensure that we include official language minority community needs in our policies and operations.
CIDA is very disappointed in the rating received. We take the results of the Official Languages Commissioner's report card seriously and we are committed to implementing the commissioner's recommendations.
First, in terms of our oversight of official languages at CIDA, the agency has a three-year strategic action plan for 2010-2013, which integrates all parts of the Official Languages Act, including section 41 of part VII.
In January, CIDA's senior management team reviewed the plan in the context of points raised in the review and approved provisions to strengthen the action plan. The action plan is currently being implemented and the agency is taking steps to track the status of each of the actions in the plan. In addition, we have also clarified our official languages advisory committee's mandate and ensured that it includes part VII obligations, as the report card recommended.
I will now quickly review what CIDA is doing in each of the five areas covered in the report.
As committee members know, CIDA offers bilingual services to the public through our central office in Gatineau, Quebec. The report card highlighted our strong capacity to offer bilingual service by telephone and email. And the agency continues to make significant progress on improving our capacity to communicate with Canadians in the language of their choice.
The report card also noted that CIDA continues to promote Canada's linguistic duality in our missions and projects abroad. We are very proud of this. CIDA staff in the field are not only conversant in English and in French, but also in the language of the host country.
Our only low score in this section was for active offer by staff, at 62%. The agency has taken this matter seriously and is reviewing and reinforcing its active offer service. Over the next few months, we will approach all staff working with the public to reinforce their obligations.
As we do every year, CIDA is currently conducting a survey of employees' voice box messages to ensure appropriate active offer is made in both official languages. Where the information needs to be corrected, staff are informed and a follow-up takes place to ensure that correction is made.
CIDA is very proud to have a vibrant bilingual environment; 92% of all CIDA positions are bilingual. In the language of work section, the report card noted that while the majority of CIDA's francophone employees were content with the language of work regime, only 66% of those employees felt that they could use their official language of choice when using email or preparing written material.
To address this, all branch heads have been reminded of their official languages obligations and were asked to ensure that appropriate action is being taken in their respective branches and that staff are reminded of their rights.
A presentation on the results of the report card was given to the members of the official language advisory committee and a discussion took place on how and when to promote the use of both official languages within each branch.
To celebrate our linguistic diversity, CIDA also created an official language award, launched on September 9, 2010, on Linguistic Duality Day. To be given to an employee who has made extraordinary efforts to promote linguistic duality. The award will be presented to the first recipient during National Public Service Week in June 2011.
Regarding the participation of English-and-French-speaking Canadians, CIDA's workforce comprises 54% francophones and 46% anglophones. Notwithstanding this almost even split, our grade in this section was a D. While the total francophone population outside of Quebec and the National Capital Region is only 4.2%, the report card pointed out that CIDA had no francophones outside Quebec and the National Capital Region. As you know, the majority of our workforce is in the national capital. We have eight regional staff, of which three are part-time.
Mr. Chairman, in part, this can be explained by the fact that CIDA's mandate is international and therefore we do not have regional operations as do many other government departments. At CIDA, services to the Canadian public are performed at headquarters through our national, bilingual public inquiries unit. Nevertheless, since the release of the report card, the agency has been examining how we can increase francophone participation outside of Quebec and the National Capital Region, and we are reviewing how our six regional representatives, who primarily provide support to our stakeholders, engage potential communities of interest.
I would now like to discuss with you the last section of the review: the development of official language minority communities. The report card noted that, while we have identified and tried to consult with the official language minority communities, we failed to identify their needs.
In 2009-2010, CIDA tripled the number of OLMC associations consulted through a letter campaign. Twelve national organizations were given the opportunity to comment and provide feedback on CIDA's programming and services. But as committee members know, CIDA's work is focused abroad and the priorities of the OLMC associations are focused primarily on Quebec; therefore our policies and programs were of little interest. Despite this, CIDA has successfully developed many partnerships with Canadian organizations, including universities, colleges, labour unions, professional associations, corporate businesses, youth groups, both anglophone and francophone, many from official language minority communities.
For example, in connection with International Development Week, between February 6 and 12, 2011, we took the lead on IDW events to ensure that they promoted linguistic duality with our partner organizations, such as universities, non-governmental organizations, and community groups. To increase our promotion of linguistic duality, CIDA organized seminars, presentations, and other activities.
Let me give you another example. CIDA's Canadian Francophonie Scholarship Program, which enables students from 37 francophonie countries to pursue post-secondary education in Canada, has been recognized for best practice in the Canadian Heritage Bulletin Spring-Summer 2010 Edition.
We also have a training agreement with provincial councils for international cooperation, to give participants from official language minority communities access to training in the language of their choice.
Where there are opportunities to interact with Canadians, we are alert to, and incorporate, official language needs.
Mr. Chair, as I said at the outset, the bilingual nature of Canada is a fundamental characteristic of our country and a fundamental characteristic of CIDA. We are really committed to improving our official language performance. As I outlined, we have taken very seriously the concerns raised in the Commissioner of Official Languages' report card, and we have a concrete three-year plan to address them.
I would welcome any suggestions or thoughts this committee may have on how we can strengthen our performance on official languages.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning everyone.
I am looking at your performance report card by the Commissioner of Official Languages. It is very disappointing. In fact, we have heard from several institutions, and some have had very good performance reports. I see three Ds, two Cs and one E. I would have preferred to see at least some Bs and perhaps an A in all of that. This is worrisome.
I also quickly familiarized myself with the action plan you will implement. I received it last evening. I see some interesting things in it. You will hand out an award, but in my view, that is not necessarily what is going to help advance both official languages within CIDA.
Ms. Biggs, in your opening statement, you said your only low score in this section was for active offer by staff, at 62%. That is nowhere near 100%. You also said that only 66% of those employees felt that they could use their official language of choice as the language of work. That is very worrisome. That means that francophones cannot feel free to speak their own language. You have 2,000 employees in Canada and between 600 and 800 abroad. That is a lot of people.
One thing is very important to me. You also stated that you ensured that phone messages, on answering machines, were in both official languages. The act has been around for 40 years, and that should have been done a long time ago, a very long time ago. I would like to hear your comments, and for you to elaborate somewhat on your action plan which I find somewhat weak. You really need to implement a more robust action plan. To the champion, I hope that we are going to see some movement, because with ratings like that, you have a lot of work to do.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good morning to you all.
I would like to make a few comments. Earlier, one of you pointed out that an active offer of bilingual services amounted to answering half in English and half in French. I would simply suggest that, if a person asks you for services, you please answer that person in their own language.
Bilingualism does not mean starting a sentence in one language and ending it in another. If a person speaks to you in English, respond in English, and if a person speaks to you in French, respond in French. Sometimes, these kinds of approaches become embedded.
One of my colleagues asked a question about whether people felt intimidated about speaking or working in French. You said you did not know. That is an honest answer. One thing is certain: page 27 of the commissioner's report deals with writing documents in one's preferred official language. All institutions, including yours, that were assessed by the commissioner received a zero out of 16 rating.
That refers to people writing documents in French that are intended for use by anglophones. Do francophones feel obliged to write in English in order to avoid a loss of meaning that might arise from a translation? Once a document is translated, it is sent back to the person who wrote it. That represents lost time, and a person who does that is frowned upon. Ultimately, the person will give up and no longer write in his or her language, thinking that: "Anyway, Canada is English."
I would also like to underscore the fact that 54% of your employees are francophones. I presume that you are referring to people who use French as their everyday language. As well, 92.4% of your employees are bilingual. You said that you will be meeting with the commissioner in order to better understand the rating he gave you. In my view, it is totally absurd that you should receive such low ratings when your employees are capable of expressing themselves in both English and French.
I will come back to my question and give you time to explain. Are people encouraged to write in French or do you prefer they write in English because that is a faster and more effective way of doing things?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning everyone. I am, of course, here today to discuss Natural Resources Canada's commitment to official languages, more specifically in the context of the Commissioner of Official Languages' recent annual report. As you know, the commissioner's report identified areas for significant improvement on Natural Resources Canada's performance and gave the department a weak overall grade. You have already introduced my colleagues, so I will not do so again.
This is the first time the department has been part of the commissioner's review. And I believe the commissioner himself noted that the first time the exercise is done it could be quite painful. We take this assessment very seriously and recognize that, along with efforts already underway, we need to take swift and concrete action to better fulfil our obligations under the Official Languages Act.
Mr. Chairman, I have made this a management priority since assuming the position of deputy minister last October. Immediately following the release of Mr. Fraser's report, I sent a message to all staff to inform them about the results and to make it clear that improving our performance on official languages would be a priority for management within the department, including in the National Capital Region and in our regional offices across this country.
As well, we accelerated a process to develop our three-year department-wide action plan on official languages. I should add that our Minister, the Honourable Christian Paradis, is engaged with this issue. He has corresponded with me to demand that the department take the steps necessary to honour its official language obligations.
The action plan, entitled "Beyond Obligations: Revitalizing Official Languages at NRC" which is before you now, was shared with employees across the department this week. As the title suggests, we intend to follow a course of action that will allow us to go beyond strict compliance with the act. We want to foster a departmental culture that, to echo the words of the commissioner, will fully, instinctively and proactively fulfil both the letter and spirit of our responsibilities under the act.
The commissioner recommended developing concrete activities for implementation in order for departments to achieve success. Our action plan does this. It identifies practical initiatives and results that Natural Resources Canada intends to achieve over the next three years.
Our approach vests accountability for official languages with all levels of the organization—sectors and branches from the line perspective, regional offices, managers, and employees—driven by the most senior levels within the organization: me, the associate deputy minister, and the assistant deputy ministers.
While we have significant work to do, Natural Resources Canada has already undertaken a number of positive steps. One example is our departmental language school, which facilitates the use of both official languages through classes and non-classroom activities and has received praise from the Commissioner of Official Languages in addition to an award from the Conference Board of Canada.
However, clearly we need to do more. While I know that NRCan received an overall “C” rating from the commissioner regarding part IV, the category of “service to the public”, there's no doubt that we need to improve our active offer of these services.
With this in mind, among other measures, the list of Natural Resources Canada offices offering bilingual services will be updated to ensure that they are properly equipped and have appropriate capacity. We will also conduct awareness sessions for managers and employees in service points and reception areas. Again, this is in keeping with the commissioner's virtuous circle model.
Concerning part V of the act, we want our employees to feel comfortable in working in either official language and we want them to have the abilities, tools, and support to do so. I realize from experience that this a challenge in the public service.
The action plan includes some practical tools for accomplishing this objective. For example, we will continue to conduct workshops to facilitate the holding of bilingual meetings. Proactive steps have also been taken to ensure that employees have set up their computers, BlackBerrys, and other work tools in the official language of their choice.
These are obviously available. What we're doing is ensuring proactively that employees are aware that these tools are indeed available in both official languages, and at different intervals we go back to them and remind them of that availability. Indeed, we did so in January, and 382 employees came forward to convert their computers or BlackBerrys to a French interface, having basically been working with the English interface before that.
In terms of evaluation, we incorporated language-of-work questions in our 2010 Natural Resources Canada employee survey. There was not a public service-wide survey this year; we did our own, adding specific questions on official languages so as to be able to track our progress there. We asked basically the same five questions that had been asked in the public service employee survey of 2008.
We have taken note of our initial findings, which show no significant improvement in the area of language of work; nonetheless, these results provide us with a useful benchmark as we move forward.
With regard to part VII of the act, while we have made some limited strides in this area, we acknowledge that there needs to be proactive engagement in building relationships with Official Languages communities. Part VII represents a unique challenge, as this is an area of the law where obligations for departments, as the commissioner himself has pointed out, have yet to be clearly defined.
Nevertheless, two of the immediate priorities identified in the action plan are to gain a better understanding of the department's obligations under part VII and to put concrete measures in place to meet them. We are earnestly working on a methodology to assess the particular contribution Natural Resources Canada can make to the development of official language minority communities. To further guide our work in this area, we have hired Donald Savoie from the University of Moncton, a recognized expert in the area of official language minority communities. Moreover, I have asked that steps be taken immediately to move in this direction.
I have asked that our offices in Canada invite, among others, school boards and official language minority community groups to visit our labs and see our research work. This is a proactive offer and enables us at the same time to promote science and technology among young people, which beyond the question of official languages, is also a priority for Natural Resources Canada.
In addition, I personally met with Mr. Fraser on December 16 to discuss his report and part VII specifically to obtain his advice on the steps to take. Our action plan calls for a monitoring plan that will enable the department to regularly and comprehensively measure the results of the initiatives that we will be bringing forward.
Lastly, I simply want to add that I am very sensitive to the issue of leadership, a point underscored by the Commissioner of Official Languages. I believe that these are in fact areas where leadership counts. I intend to make this issue a specific priority and, of course, to set the example. My new associate deputy minister, who was appointed last week and who was also champion at the Canada Revenue Agency, will be able to support me in this endeavour. I also have a team as well as a champion, and they will be able to help me improve Natural Resources Canada's profile and performance on official languages.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I would be pleased to answer any questions committee members may have.
The commissioner's report gives you a mark that is very difficult to accept. However, you now know what work needs to be done and where you need to start. It is unfortunate, but you should find some consolation in knowing that your department is not alone. There are several departments in the same boat.
I have an extremely important question that I ask most, if not all, individuals, from the various departments and agencies who appear before us, following the commissioner's report. Your work involves providing service to the public and dealing with employees who occupy positions at various levels.
I would like to talk to you about how your employees draft documents. Obviously, the area of natural resources is very connected to the scientific realm, and that is understandable. Your department uses a vocabulary, a jargon, that is not necessarily familiar to the general public. What type of encouragement are your employees given in order to use their official language of choice when drafting documents?
I am referring to the drafting, in French, of memos, comments and important documents that help managers make choices from the options or analyses that have been presented. We know that we are able to be much more accurate when writing in our own language. Some people will no doubt tell me that francophones nevertheless use a lot of English scientific vocabulary because Americans dominate in this sector and therefore English is used more than any other language. The fact remains that, according to the latest information we have—and I checked this morning—there are still two official languages in Canada, French and English.
What is done to encourage your employees to draft documents in French?