Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am accompanied today, on my right, by my colleague, Mr. Davies, Assistant Deputy Minister for Industry Canada's Regional Operations Sector. He is responsible for part VII of the Official Languages Act, as well as being Official Languages Champion. On my left is Bill James, the Director General of Human Resources, and he is responsible for official languages program management.
I want to address three things. First of all, I would like to provide a general overview of the department's mandate, of what we do. Secondly, I would like to give you some data on Industry Canada's workforce. Thirdly, I would like to specifically discuss the commissioner's recent report.
Industry Canada delivers a wide range of programs and services. Basically, our three-fold mandate is to firstly develop and administer what we call framework policies, secondly to foster the knowledge-based economy, and thirdly to support small- and medium-sized businesses to promote competitiveness and productivity. Our program areas include developing industry and technology capability. They also include fostering scientific research, promoting investment and trade, and promoting small business development.
Now, let's move on to the data. The department has about 5,800 indeterminate employees, 78.5% of whom are based in the National Capital Region. Our workforce is spread out among 29 different occupational groups. Many of these people work in different areas, and include commerce officers, patent examiners, and measurement inspectors.
About 3,400 of our employees are in bilingual positions—representing 60% of the department's total population. Of those bilingual employees, about 2,400 provide service to the public. The other 1,000 employees hold management positions or offer corporate services within the department. Ninety-seven per cent of departmental employees meet the language requirements of their positions. The number of employees requiring language training has gone down about 25% over the last five years, due in part to an increase in persons meeting the language requirement of the job at time of appointment. Moreover, all of our 230 executives meet the language profile required, with the exception of one who has reached the exemption level. Recently, 32% of our executives, including the deputy minister, have cited French as their first official language.
Thirdly, I want to discuss the commissioner's report. The department's overall rating fell to a "C" from "B". In recent months, departmental officials have met with representatives from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. They have sought to understand why we received that rating and to discuss where improvements are required.
Now, let me turn specifically to the four parts of the act. I will do so in English.
Part IV of the act deals with service to the public. Industry Canada has about 65 points of service across the country, and 59 of these are bilingual. There are six major areas where we offer services: Spectrum, Information Technologies and Telecommunications, where we do inspection and certification; the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy; the Competition Bureau; Corporations Canada; Measurement Canada; and FedNor in the north of Ontario. To a large degree these services are accessed by specific client groups. There are few programs in the department that cater to the broad general public, as compared with, say, Passport Canada or Canada Border Services Agency. We have a targeted clientele who want specific services. The Spectrum group, for example, certifies radio operators and does investigations when there are antenna-related issues. Measurement Canada inspects the accuracy of measurement devices in gas, weights and measures. The Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy licenses trustees
when people go bankrupt.
As far as our performance on in-person service is concerned, we received the following ratings: active visual offer, 87% of the time; and active offer made by staff, 40% of the time, which is not good. Service in the language of the linguistic minority was available in 73% of the cases. For service by phone, active offer was made by staff or automated system 81% of the time.
For all of the above we got a rating of D, which obviously is not good. We've taken some steps since the report was done to improve. I'll give you a few examples.
The Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy had 13 regional offices where people could phone in. We've consolidated that for a number of reasons, including to provide better language service, into three fully bilingual regional service centres. That's for the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy. I'll come back to that later.
In Montreal, because we have some problems in some of the other areas of the act in terms of anglophones in Montreal, our regional director is a person whose first language is English so we can address some of the other issues.
On a more regular basis we do spot checks of our toll lines. Over the last few weeks, somewhat in preparation for my presentation and visit here, we did a further spot check of our toll lines, and have followed up with remedial action where necessary.
Overall, I think the department has the right number of bilingual positions. We have the right number of people with the right training. There are some gaps. There are some places where we are having problems. I'd point out that with Measurement Canada we still have problems in Penticton, London, and Belleville. For Spectrum, we have a problem in Sydney. We're trying to ensure that we have either phone backup or that additional staff can be recruited in those places where we have difficulty recruiting.
Overall, I think if the Commissioner of Official Languages did a further investigation survey, the rating would improve.
Under part V, language of work, again the rating fell from a B to a D. My understanding is that this decline is attributable to the results of the 2008 public service employee survey for linguistic minority employees. In particular, there was feedback by 13 anglophone survey respondents in the Quebec region. They indicated a need for improvement regarding the ability to communicate with their supervisor in the official language of their choice. Last fall we communicated directly with all senior management to ensure that obligations were well understood.
Last month we did a follow-up survey to the same community of 20 people and noted a significant improvement in communications with immediate supervisors. People were comfortable in doing that. However, we found another problem. Anglophones who wished to use English in work meetings were not comfortable. This was raised by three individuals.
We've spoken to our regional director in Quebec to implement a more broadly based plan so that person can reach out to these individuals and give me a report twice a year. I've also told him that the next time I go to Montreal I want to meet with the anglophone individuals in our regional office to have a discussion on language of work, how comfortable they are, and what else we can do.
I will now move on to part IV of the act, which deals with equal participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians. Here too, our rating fell from a "B" to a "D". Three variables come into play in terms of numbers and participation. First, the number of francophone employees in the National Capital Region exceeded workforce availability by 277 employees, and this number is in our favour. The same is true in the rest of Canada, excluding Quebec and the National Capital Region: in Canada, the number of francophone employees exceeded workplace availability by 56 employees.
The shortfall is in Quebec, where the target is at 13.4% for English-speaking employees. We stand at 6%. To bridge the gap, we have taken a number of steps and plan to take more. For example, I will personally write to the presidents of all anglophone universities in Quebec and to the community colleges, like John Abbott CEGEP, Marianopolis College, and Dawson College, to share with them our requirements as an employer so that they encourage their students to consider Industry Canada as a possible employer.
Employee turnover in our offices is not very high. We must, however, do our best to increase recruitment of anglophones in our Montreal offices. In addition, as I said, we are going to give the woman hired on as regional director for the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada a special mandate to encourage anglophones to apply for positions with us.
With respect to program management, our rating fell from an "A" to a "B". I have been told that it's—
I know, and that is basically the rule. All the same, I believe that, when a position is bilingual, the person filling it should already be bilingual. However, you do not write the rules, someone else does. I am aware of that.
Now, part V of the act deals with the language of work. That is something that bothers me considerably, and that I find frustrating. The problem lies not only in your department, but in others as well.
The D rating that you received is completely unacceptable. It is also unacceptable because, according to the statistics, 41% of Industry Canada employees whose first language is French do not feel comfortable using French in their written communications. As for the language used in communicating with their supervisors, 36% of francophones, or those who claim French as their first language of communication, feel uncomfortable communicating in their own language, i.e., French.
If I were to experience a similar situation in a federal department, I would probably not last very long. I would immediately be sent off to some dustbin or departmental dungeon because I would speak out vociferously.
Please tell me how you encourage employees to submit their reports, documents or e-mails in French? What do you say to encourage your employees?
And how do you deal with a manager who says things like "in English please" or "Why not in English?", because having things translated takes too long? Personally, I would rap that manager on the knuckles.
Those are things that I hear. I am not just being rhetorical.
What are you doing to encourage employees to write in their own language and to discourage those types of reactions from the people receiving their communications?
I came to Ottawa in 1969. At the time, the example you mentioned occurred quite frequently. There were always blockages at one level of management or another. As you indicated, a French-language memo did not make it all the way to the top.
I have not spent my entire career in Ottawa, but when I returned five years ago I did notice a marked change in the city as well as within the Department of Industry. In the past, Industry Canada was considered to be one of the anglophone departments, along with the Departments of Finance and Human Resources and Skills Development.
You gave the example of someone who, because he does not understand French, would prevent any communication in that language and require employees to draft their memos in English. I do not see that happening at the Department of Industry. If you had information in that regard, I would appreciate it if you called me and let me know about a specific case.
Today we use a proactive approach to create an environment in which people can work in both official languages. Let me give you a few examples.
Discussions within my management committee are carried out one-third of the time in French and two-thirds in English. However, one meeting a month is held completely in French. That means that the people who are coming to give presentations or who want to attend expect that the proceedings of the management committee will be held in French once a month.
The department has leadership awards in areas like the management of financial resources or best practices. We decided to establish a leadership award for the promotion of official languages. The award will be presented to managers who take initiatives to encourage their use.
We also put up posters. We are encouraging people. We have networks that promote the use of both official languages. I know that management committees in some sectors alternate between French one week and English the next.
We have a whole series of specific measures. I do not think that there is a magic solution to get everyone to feel completely at ease overnight. That said, I believe that the overall trend is positive.
To begin, as I was saying, I would really like to apologize to the committee for my lack of precision when I appeared on March 8. I am sorry for all of the confusion caused by that lack of precision and clarity, and I hope my comments today will reassure you regarding Service Canada's full compliance with the Official Languages Act and the rights of all Canadians.
Turning now to my opening remarks, first I would like to clarify the situation regarding the language designation of the Atlantic region by Service Canada.
We had four regions, which have been combined into one single large region. This had, and still has, no consequences for bilingual services. Every Service Canada centre and employee position that had been designated bilingual remains bilingual. There has been no change in any language of work entitlements of Service Canada employees. Service Canada fully complies with the Official Languages Act.
Consequently, nothing has changed. The act guarantees the linguistic rights of employees and clients and requires that federal departments and agencies ensure that those rights are respected.
Service Canada's new internal organizational structure, like the previous one, fully respects the Official Languages Act. Therefore, the same rights and privileges that are protected under the act and which existed prior to this structural and administrative change continue to apply.
We continue to serve clients in the official language of their choice, in accordance with the act. We also continue to respect the right of employees to use the language of their choice in bilingual areas such as New Brunswick. Nothing can diminish those rights or our legal responsibility to protect them and ensure that they are respected. In fact, we plan to increase our bilingual capacity for regional senior management positions in the Atlantic region.
There are currently 25 senior management positions in the Atlantic region, of which 60% are designated bilingual. Our goal is to ensure that 80% of senior management positions in the region are bilingual. In New Brunswick in particular, the 10 existing senior management positions are bilingual and will remain bilingual.
We firmly intend to fully respect our official language obligations.
We are committed to developing an official languages plan based on the audit report by the Commissioner of Official Languages, the details of which we provided you at our last appearance before this committee. We will consult with official language minority communities in implementing that action plan. I would also like to repeat that the commissioner expressed his satisfaction with the proposed measures and timelines.
I now reiterate our commitment to offering quality services to the public in the language of their choice. That is our mandate and our purpose. Official languages are an integral part of the cultural service excellence that we are creating across the country.
It is one the values of our organization and that will not change.
That concludes my opening remarks, Mr. Chairman. All four of us are now ready to answer your questions.
I thank all witnesses. Good day, Ms. Forand.
Mr. Chairman, you just stole my punch line. I wanted to provide some comfort to Ms. Forand, who is having a rough go of it.
Ms. Forand, I did indeed want to say that the committee would be interested in receiving the organizational chart.
I consider myself insightful enough, but this morning, I am having some real difficulty following. That said, I am trying to understand. Obviously, the Standing Committee on Official Languages ensures application of the act and wants that to occur as smoothly as possible. I think that the Atlantic region is rather well defined in terms of bilingualism. We all know that New Brunswick is the only Canadian province that is officially bilingual. In my opinion, that is not a matter of debate. However, it is part of a set of provinces that are designated bilingual. It is a region which is more unilingual anglophone than bilingual. I think that is a matter of fact.
When it comes to meeting needs in both languages, your department has an extraordinary responsibility. We certainly hope to receive your organizational chart rather soon so that we may gain a better understanding of what you are trying to explain to us, and that we are not understanding. For the time being, I will focus on something else.
Mr. Godin alluded earlier to staff changes that had taken place over the last few months or the last few weeks, for obvious reasons. Some staff members have retired, others changed jobs etc., which is perfectly normal. I would like to know whether, when people change jobs, those positions are already designated bilingual, and if so, whether it would be considered normal for the people holding those positions to be replaced by people who are not bilingual? Ms. Rallis may answer.
In all the information that you will be sending us in order to try and explain things to us, could you clarify what the change is? Before this, each province was separate. Now, the administrative structure covers the entire Atlantic region. What is the difference between the two situations? Who reports to whom?
Why did Jim Wood say that he was replaced by Doug Johnson? Why Doug Johnson, who speaks only English with the employees in the Bathurst office? I want to know so that I can understand better. You stated that you were sorry for the confusion. But there is no confusion; you told the truth. That is exactly what is happening. Now you are backpedalling. You are trying to save face for Service Canada in light of the actions that were taken.
I would like to come back to the matter of the Atlantic region. I asked you whether that region was designated unilingual francophone and you stated that the Atlantic administrative region is an anglophone administrative region. What is an administrative region? What does the administration do? Why is it unilingual? What is the role of New Brunswick in this unilingual administration? Once again, your answer was that the Atlantic administrative region was an anglophone administrative region.
I don't think you came here without information, unless you were unaware of something. What were you doing? Ms. Forand, your answer was that the province of New Brunswick was not separate and that it is part of the administrative structure. But if that is the case, it must have to deal with the administrative structure and talk to people. You told us on several occasions that the administrative structure is unilingual. I even asked you if it was francophone and you stated that it is anglophone.
Please try to shed light on this for us, because it is not clear. I am not talking about services. Since March 8, every time people from Service Canada have answered questions, they refer to customer service. We are not talking about that; we are talking about the administrative structure. This is about the employees, the structure. Who replaced Louise Branch? You said that it was Mr. Alexander, but when I asked about Louise Branch, I was referred to Ms. Gravelle. And when I tried to speak to Ms. Gravelle, she told me that I should speak to her assistant, because she herself did not speak enough French. After that, when I try to speak to her assistant, I have to speak to Carson Littlejohn, who does not speak French either.
You told us that you comply with the Official Languages Act and that it was not you who designated the Atlantic region as unilingual. On March 8, you told us that it was unilingual anglophone. The people who replaced them are unilingual anglophones, and you told us yourself that the administration is unilingual. Please tell us what is going on in the Atlantic region.