Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are proceeding to a briefing on the current roadmap for official languages. I remind you that this meeting is televised.
We are pleased to welcome the Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board. Welcome, Minister.
Accompanying him are Anne Marie Smart, Chief Human Resources Officer, Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, and Marc Tremblay, Executive Director, Official Languages Centre of Excellence, Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer. Welcome.
We will follow the normal procedure. Minister, you have about ten minutes to make your presentation. Afterwards, the committee members will be able to make comments or ask questions. Minister, we are happy to have you. The floor is now yours.
Mr. Chair, it's a pleasure for me to be joining you today. Thank you for the invitation.
I'm happy to be here to speak about our government's commitment to official languages and, in particular, my role as President of the Treasury Board.
As the members of this committee know, our holds both official languages very close to his heart. He has lived across Canada and across our linguistic duality.
I grew up in Nova Scotia in an anglophone community. I did not have to think too much about bilingualism back then. I did not listen to Robert Charlebois much or watch La Soirée du hockey. Like many others, I learned my French in Ottawa.
However, today I have two lovely bilingual daughters, and I often spend holidays with my in-laws who live in the countryside outside Drummondville.
My daughters are named Rose and Claire. We chose names that are easily pronounced in both official languages. We actually speak to them in both languages, but I fear they might inherit my accent in French.
Being married to a Quebecker has made me part of a francophone family and given me the gift of their language and culture.
Nowadays, I like the music of Trois Accords and I like to watch movies such as C.R.A.Z.Y. or La grande séduction.
It's with this mindset in part that I take on my responsibilities as President of the Treasury Board with regard to the Official Languages Act. These responsibilities were made clear to me and also to the in our mandate letters, which you've all seen.
Of course, my mandate letter, which is public—as are all the mandate letters—designates official languages as one of my priorities. More specifically, I've been mandated to “Ensure that all federal services are delivered in full compliance with the Official Languages Act, supported by the Minister of Canadian Heritage”.
My responsibilities fall principally within the scope of three parts of the act. Part IV concerns communications with and services to the public. Part V is about the language of work. Within reason federal public servants should be able to work in the official language of their choice. Part VI concerns the employment of both French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians in federal institutions to ensure their full participation.
As President of the Treasury Board, I also report annually to Parliament, outlining the progress made by federal institutions with regards to the application of the Official Languages Act.
I would like to share with you some of the highlights from the latest annual report.
The Government of Canada offers services to the public through more than 11,000 offices and points of service in nearly 200 federal institutions across the country and abroad, and 35% of these offices offer services in both French and English.
The latest report for 2014-15 demonstrates that over 95% of employees who provide front-line services to Canadians, and supervisors across the public service, meet the language requirements of their positions. When it comes to the participation rates of anglophones and francophones, they've remained relatively stable over the past 10 years.
As of March 31, 2015, the participation of anglophones in all federal institutions was approximately 73%, and 25% for francophones.
That closely resembles the 2011 census data where over 75% of Canadians reported English as their first spoken language and 23% reported French.
It tells us that the official language groups continue to have reasonable representation within the public service, and that there are fair and equitable opportunities for both anglophones and francophones to obtain employment within the public service.
The annual report also highlights measures being undertaken by federal institutions to create and maintain a bilingual work environment in addition to ensuring that all services and communications to the public are done in compliance with the act.
Institutions have also established clear performance objectives related to parts IV, V and VI of the act and included these in public servants' performance agreements where appropriate.
Another important step is the establishment of official languages champions, and persons responsible for official languages in their organizations. These people meet regularly to share best practices as they are responsible for the promotion and respect of official languages in their institutions. They discuss performance and develop strategies to maintain and monitor progress.
These are all important steps, but we have to do more. We know that federal departments and agencies face challenges when it comes to implementing the act. For example, best practices and shared knowledge can be lost in the turnover among official languages champions and those responsible for official languages. There is a need to ensure that effective social networks are in place to share and build on good practices and advice.
We are fortunate to have a bilingual public service. It is essential that language skills remain valued at work and that new employees take measures to acquire the necessary language skills early in their careers. Institutions must continue to promote a workplace that encourages the use of both official languages and the maintenance of acquired language skills.
Adapting to the evolution of technology and social media presents a challenge for federal institutions, but also an opportunity. Social media is one of the most effective and popular communication methods, as we all know, to reach the public, and it's important that communications be done in compliance with the act.
Golden opportunities are also available to us. I think about that often when my in-laws use Skype to talk to my daughters. If my francophone in-laws can talk to my daughters across the country, why are we not deriving more benefits from those technologies to build bridges among all Canadians in minority settings? The tools available to us should help us make unprecedented bilingual services accessible.
Not only is our government committed to making all federal services available in strict compliance with the law, but there are also opportunities to go beyond our obligations.
I'm happy to be here with you today to discuss this because I have great respect for, and value, the work of parliamentary committees. I'm hoping that we can collaborate and continue to work together on these important issues. I want to congratulate the committee on its work so far.
I'm very happy to engage in discussion with you and to be able to count on your ongoing commitment.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Welcome, Minister. I am very happy to have you with us. I am also very happy about the money the government has invested in CBC/Radio-Canada. Last weekend, people came to see us in Winnipeg to thank us for that development. I was very humbled by those people's support.
Your appearance before us is very timely. We are currently preparing a report on the translation bureau. Before we address that issue, I would like to point out that the previous government made cuts to the budgets of a number of programs. I am also a member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. It is clear, according to all the reports, that all programs have undergone cuts.
Since I am worried by this situation, I would like to know how the Treasury Board could ensure the equality of the two official languages, given the cuts made over the past few years that have complicated matters.
What does the Treasury Board intend to do to remedy the situation? Will the cuts affect the services provided under various programs?
Thank you for the question.
The Treasury Board, along with the Department of Canadian Heritage, is responsible for ensuring that, in the public service and as part of services provided to Canadians, all departments and agencies comply with the legislation and comprehensive policies. It is important for the necessary resources to be available and for investments to be made. It is also important to ensure that the policy is applied across the board.
There has been progress over the years. We have to continue this progress. The financial resources are part of the equation, and we need to make sure we have the right level of financial resources to deliver services in French and English. I also think we can take a more robust approach to the utilization of technology as well. I think that's important.
I said earlier that my mother-in-law outside of Drummondville uses Skype to talk to her grandchildren, but if she's in, say, Nova Scotia in an anglophone community and she goes to a Service Canada office, for instance, in Kentville, Nova Scotia, she can maybe find a francophone there or maybe not. Perhaps she could use technology to speak to a francophone or to Skype with an audio-visual capacity with a francophone public servant.
These are things that I genuinely want the committee's engagement on as we move forward to find ways to expand, not just to maintain, services in both languages across the country. With a combination of financial resources, technology, and innovation, I think we can actually expand, not just protect what we have but do better.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Minister, I want to thank you and your colleagues for joining us today.
My first question is of a general nature, but it is nevertheless important. In the 2016-17 Report on Plans and Priorities of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Treasury Board is mentioned. The following is stated:
Continue the review of the pan-governmental governance for official languages, in collaboration with the Treasury Board Secretariat and Justice Canada.
We talked about this a bit earlier. We are wondering who is in charge when it comes to official languages. We are looking for them, but we unfortunately still don't know who they are. We don't know whether it's you or the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Moreover, if there are two people in charge, whom should we talk to?
There is currently a study on governance. I understand that there is a preliminary report. Will you make it public? When do you think you will complete that study and will you send it to the committee?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Minister, I thank you and your colleagues for being here with the committee today.
Like you, I am a Nova Scotia MP. I am extremely pleased that you are here and that you occupy a very important position in our government.
Before asking my questions, I would like to say a few things.
First, as opposed to you, I lived in a bilingual environment and was exposed to both official languages. You are in a similar situation today, and I congratulate you. Your two children Claire and Rose can go to French schools in Nova Scotia or here in Ottawa. As you know, students obtain excellent results in French schools, and we are very happy about that. Over the past 10 years in the province, there has been a 22% increase in the student population of the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, and a 15% decrease in English-language school boards. You are certainly welcome, and we welcome you with open arms.
Secondly, I find it a bit ironic that my colleagues across the way, the Conservatives, are troubled by the fact that there will be fewer positions over the next two years in the translation bureau, when they eliminated 400 over the past three or four years. That is what caused the problem that exists today, in large measure. To be honest with you, that saddens me.
To conclude, may I say that there is no doubt at all that the translation tool is only a comprehension tool. It is not an official tool, as you just mentioned. It is simply a work tool.
My question is very important, Minister. As you know, Senator Maria Chaput introduced Bill , which is now being sponsored by Senator Claudette Tardif. What is your opinion on that? Could some measures in the bill be implemented by Treasury Board, even though the bill will not be studied by both Houses? It would be very important to know whether Treasury Board could implement certain elements of the bill through regulations or other measures.
In certain departments and agencies, there are official languages champions to promote the use of both official languages and share best practices everywhere. Frankly, we have to do more, and I would like to increase our efforts to improve services in government, in departments, agencies and among public servants, to improve the services we provide to citizens. That is a part of our efforts in this area.
The role of the official languages champions as a policy has only existed since 2012. It's a fairly short period of time.
I very much like the idea and I think they're doing good work. I want to strengthen the roles of the official languages champions. Even during our briefings it's important to encourage public servants to speak in the language of their choice, not just in my department or agency but elsewhere.
I don't want to miss anything. You may notice that in a committee sometimes, but even in cabinet meetings or in caucus meetings, I don't use the earpiece because it helps to improve my ability. This is a tool. It's important in an official capacity, sometimes, to have this so I don't miss anything and I don't disrespect any nuance in a question.
We want to ensure that people are encouraged to utilize their language of choice, but also to learn actively within the public service. Good progress has been made in the official languages champions but I want to make sure that we're giving them the resources and support they need to increase the value and capacity of their work.
Thank you, Minister, for being with us today.
Talking about our spouses and partners, my wife is an anglophone Montrealer so I have been having lessons. I laugh about it because I would say that I learn on the pillow, which is the best place to learn English, and she was in the best place to learn French as well.
We both make a lot of mistakes. I've been married for 27 years to an anglophone and I've been making mistakes for 27 years. I could call her Ms. Berlitz or Rosetta Stone, because she is starting to get fed up. Nevertheless, I think we have to make those efforts. Our children were raised in French and in English. In fact, the Committee on Official Languages should propose that Canadians in future be made to marry persons who speak the other official language. That way, they would become bilingual quite quickly.
But seriously, Minister, your government has some big ambitions with regard to the public service and to hiring, especially young people. That is what we understood, in any case based, on what has been said over the past few months.
How are you going to implement equity, in that the Canadian men and women who are hired by the public service, especially young people, respect our official languages?
As Ms. Lapointe was saying earlier, our young people now are very inclined to learn other languages. Consequently, I think that there are surely Canadian men and women who are equipped to work in our public service. More specifically, is it a top priority to hire these young people?
One of our government's priorities is to hire more millennials. The average age of new employees in the public service is 36. We have to do more to attract them to the public service.
The percentage of bilingual employees in the central public administration has gone from 35% in 2000 to 41% in 2010. There has been some progress, but we have to do more.
We have to give public servants even more opportunities to become bilingual earlier in their careers. There are the traditional schools in Saint-Jean, Montreal or Chicoutimi. People can also use technology, which is more advanced than it used to be. That's very important.
But the problem persists. Our country has to do more to increase bilingualism everywhere in the country, and not only in the public service. We have to work on this with the other levels of government and the Department of Canadian Heritage. It is very important to continue our efforts to make the public service more bilingual. That is one part of the solution, but we have to do more throughout the country to increase and promote bilingualism.
I'm sorry, Mr. Généreux, that we don't have more time to talk about it.
It's a subject I'd like to have a longer discussion on with you as well.
I was aware of the decrease in the number of positions in the translation bureau. Once again, I have a lot of respect for the important work the bureau does. Our government will ensure that it has the necessary resources to maintain its services.
Our government's objective is to broaden the services of the bureau and its capacity to serve the public with traditional means and with the help of technology. All departments have to be open to using modern technology.
I was aware of the changes and of the reduction in the number of positions. My priority is to ensure that the quality of services is excellent and will continue to be.
Moreover, we are open to the use, at the translation bureau, of technology as a comprehension tool, for instance.
We are open to the idea that technology be used everywhere to increase bilingualism in the public service. I think that everyone understands the phenomenon of technological change. However, we must recognize the role of professional translators, which is very important. We have to ensure that we have enough of those translators in the public service.
That said, I look forward to meeting with you again.
I respect the work committees do. I have been a member of Parliament since 1997 and was a minister for two years. As a committee member, I worked very hard for 17 years. Needless to say, I recognize the importance of committees. I would very much like to come back and meet with you.
I'd like to tell you a short anecdote. I know that I make little mistakes in French. My mother-in-law, Ms. St-Pierre, who is from Drummondville, speaks only French. When I speak with her or Mr. St-Pierre, I try to speak in French only. I think this story is important for Mr. Paradis, who has a vineyard in Quebec. I, too, have a small vineyard, but I also have apple trees.
I remember one summer evening when we were at my place and I mistakenly asked my mother-in-law, Ms. St-Pierre, in French, whether she had seen a certain part of my anatomy—mon verge—when I had meant to say "orchard" or verger.
I meant to say verger. You have to have courage when you're venturing into new languages, but I wanted to let you know that I continued even after that foray into French, and I continue to progress. She was, like you have been, very patient with me.
My partner was not very patient under the circumstances.
Thank you once again for your patience and your passion for both official languages. I share that passion, and I'm eager to continue working with you.
So Wednesday, June 8, works then, is that right?
We will hear from the Commissioner of Official Languages on Wednesday, June 8. Then it's settled.
I would now like to welcome Ms. Achimov. She is accompanied by the following individuals from the translation bureau: Adam Gibson, vice-president, linguistic services, Nancy Gauthier, vice-president, business strategies and partnerships, and Lucie Séguin, vice-president, corporate services.
Some committee members wanted clarification on certain points. I will therefore proceed more quickly than usual so as to be able to obtain answers to our questions in the next half-hour, while sticking to the regular speaking order. Ms. Achimov has already appeared before the committee. It is a question of clarifying certain points.
We will start with Mr. Généreux.
Mr. Généreux, you have the floor.
Welcome, Ms. Achimov, and the other witnesses.
I will begin by explaining the reason why we wanted to see you again and also meet the people who designed the Portage tool.
At an earlier meeting, a witness emphasized the software's corpus. From what I understand, the corpus includes expressions that are entered into the system so that, once the translation has been completed, there is a match in both languages. I would like to understand how the corpus is created. This inevitably comes with costs attached, since you need people to put it together. Can a simple user contribute to building the corpus, or are people paid to add data? The committee wasn't able to grasp exactly how it works, and so I am providing an opportunity to all four of you to enlighten us on the matter. How are the data entered into the corpus, and what kind of results have you obtained?
In addition, I have already voiced my financial concerns, namely, how much it will cost to maintain the tool. It's all well and good to create an application or software, but who is putting the data in and how is it being done?
Ms. Achimov, you have the floor.