I invite you to go directly to slide 2 of our short presentation, which gives you an overview of the legislative framework governing official languages. The Treasury Board Secretariat has certain responsibilities regarding this legislative framework which gives life to the programs.
Let's move on to slide 3.
As you know, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives equal status to English and French in all institutions of the Government of Canada. This is, among other things, the cornerstone of federal employees' right to work in English or in French.
The charter also gives members of the public the right to receive services from their government in English and French depending on the location and nature of the office, and where there is a significant demand for the services. The charter rights are further developed and entrenched in the Official Languages Act.
Slide 4 presents part IV of the Official Languages Act, one of the three parts of this act that are the responsibility of Treasury Board and the President of the Treasury Board. This part of the act sets out federal institutions' obligations related to providing communications and services to the public in both official languages.
As of March 31, 2014, there were, across Canada and overseas, 11,469 federal offices; more than 5,000 of these were post offices and Service Canada local offices located throughout the country. This includes Air Canada routes, telephone lines and websites. Of these 11,469 federal offices, 3,931 were bilingual and 7,538 were unilingual, still as of March 31, 2014. This means that 1,371 offices offered unilingual French services, while 6,167 offices offered services in English only. As of March 31, 2014, 34.3% of federal offices were required to offer bilingual services to the public and communicate with it in both languages.
Based on the reports that federal institutions submit to the Treasury Board Secretariat to show that they are complying with the requirements of the act, a strong majority of institutions indicated that in offices designated bilingual for services to the public, oral and written communications are in the official language of the public's choice.
As noted in the 2013-2014 “Annual Report on Official Languages”, we continue to work with institutions to update linguistic designations based on the 2011 Census. This exercise will continue into 2016-2017.
That was a very brief overview of part IV.
Let us now move on to slide 5, which discusses part V of the Official Languages Act, the language of work.
This part of the act makes English and French the two languages or work in federal institutions. The act gives employees in designated bilingual regions the right to use their official language of choice; to be supervised, to receive personal and central services, and to have access to work instruments in the official language of their choice. In unilingual regions, the language of the majority is generally the language of work.
May I direct your attention to a few key indicators which show that federal institutions have created work environments that allow them to meet their obligations to the public and to their employees.
The first indicator is the proportion of bilingual positions in the core public administration, which has steadily increased from almost 25% in 1978 to over 43% in 2014. The second indicator points in the same direction: the proportion of employees in bilingual positions who meet the language requirements of their position has steadily increased, from 69.7% in 1978 to 95.6% in 2014.
I will now go on to slide 6, on part VI of the Official Languages Act, which speaks to the participation of English and French-speaking Canadians in federal institutions.
Anglophones and francophones are well represented across federal institutions subject to the act.
According to the 2011 Census, 23.2% of Canada's population is francophone. As of March 31, 2014, francophone representation in federal institutions was 26.5%, and 33% of executives in the core public administration were francophone.
I am coming to the end of my presentation.
Slide 7 sets out the responsibilities the Official Languages Act gives to Treasury Board and the President of the Treasury Board with regard to developing policies and regulations and tabling reports pursuant to parts IV, V and VI of the act.
The last slide presents a pie chart that provides a brief guide to the committee on understanding the numerous responsibilities of the various federal institutions with respect to official languages.
Mr. Chair, that's a pretty broad question.
Since our policy review and the introduction of new systems at the request of official languages champions, our performance management regime has included official languages considerations. They help to stimulate discussion between supervisors and employees about language training requirements, in particular. Under the policy, this discussion should happen twice a year but, at the very least, once a year. That's already embedded in the systems. Supervisors have no choice but to address the issue and consider training requirements.
As regards the training methods available, I would say they are countless. The Canada School of Public Service makes a host of online training tools available to employees, as well as the general public. Federal public servants and members of the public have access to training tools to help them learn a variety of languages.
Employees can take advantage of a number of other measures, such as assignments in primarily French-speaking units, or vice versa, to improve their second-language skills. Lunch-and-learn presentations on work-related topics are another language-learning opportunity, where all participants agree to use the specified language, either English or French.
In order to practice their second-language skills, some employees wear little signs that say, “Help me practice speaking French or English” or “Don't switch”. There's a culture among public servants of speaking to someone in their first language as soon as they notice that the person is speaking their second language or has a slight accent.
Many such tips and tools corresponding to best practices are available. Champions have compiled several dozen such practices. Every department and organization adopts a certain number of them, trying new formulas every year and introducing novel approaches on a rotating basis. The idea is to use slightly different techniques to encourage employees to continue their second-language learning.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to provide an overview of our mandate at the translation bureau and how we work eagerly to support the government and official languages, as well as the language tools that we are developing to support a bilingual public service.
Joining me today is Adam Gibson, our vice-president of linguistic services, and David Schwartz, until recently vice-president of corporate services.
The translation bureau's mandate is to provide government translation, interpretation, closed captioning, and terminology services. We are the sole in-house service provider to one of the world's largest consumers of translation services—the Government of Canada. This makes us a major player in what is in every sense a global business.
We translate 354 million words a year, of which 44 million are translated for Parliament. We also translate regulations, scientific publications, policy briefs, contracts, and trade agreements.
We enable government officials and ministers to exchange ideas and negotiate with their counterparts all over the world. We do this by offering translation services in more than 100 languages and dialects. We provide interpretation services for over 2,000 parliamentary meetings, 1,800 official language conferences, and 500 foreign language conferences.
We also provide 2,500 sign language interpretation assignments for deaf and hard of hearing public servants and parliamentarians, and live simultaneous closed-captioning in English and French for all House of Commons and Senate proceedings.
I'd like to take a moment to point out that at today's committee we have talented interpreters who are providing these sessions in both official languages. They're at the back of the room.
I'm proud to say the superb skills of not only our interpreters, but also our translators, are often mentioned by colleagues in other governments. The translation bureau is recognized as a world leader in language services and innovation, on par with the United Nations, the European Union, and other organizations.
Here is a bit about our history, with some high-level facts.
The translation bureau was created in 1934 under the authority of the Secretary of State department. In 1993 the government decided to amalgamate most common services into one portfolio. The translation bureau was moved to Public Works and Government Services Canada, with the rationale being that the bureau does extensive procurement with the private sector and should be housed with the rest of the government's procurement activities.
In 1995, we were made a special operating agency by Treasury Board. This meant that we became an optional service and we had to generate revenues. That decision laid the groundwork for making our operations more cost-effective and competitive by giving departments and agencies the authority to purchase translation services directly from the private sector.
In 2004, Treasury Board made a second decision to make the bureau the sole employer of translators in the public service.
Today, thanks to a combination of hard work and the willingness to innovate, we have retained 80% of the government's business.
As far back as the 1970s, we set out to explore how technology could support our operations, the public service, and Canadians. In the following years, the bureau was asked by provinces and the public service to share its terminology and glossaries.
In response to this, in 1999, we launched our first computer-based language tool, Termium Plus. It has since evolved from a fee-for-subscription French/English database on CD-ROMs to an online repository of more than 4 million terms in English and French. Today, it is available to everyone, free of charge through the Government of Canada's Language Portal. Last year, it was used over 61 million times by students, Canada's language industry, and internationally.
Over the past 15 years, we have steadily increased our use of automated tools, alongside the rest of the major players in the language industry, with tools such as translation memory databases and computer-assisted translation.
Most recently, we realized that we needed to do even more in order to keep pace with the rapid changes and access to free and sophisticated information and communications technologies. In order to stay relevant and to offer government quality, we knew we had to rethink the way we offered our services and the way we worked.
Let me be clear, our use of technology does not in any way replace professional translators or interpreters. Rather, it has allowed us to be more efficient, to lower our costs while maintaining our high quality.
In recent years, the size of our operations at the bureau has been shaped by two forces: increasingly competitive and innovative Canadian language service providers that our departmental colleagues and clients can turn to at any time; and changing trends in government communications, and the rise of social media and plain language. This has led to an overall reduction in the volume of our translation business. As business volumes shifted and turnaround times shrunk, the translation bureau had to improve its scalability.
Let me emphasize, no translator has lost his or her job at the bureau because our business model has changed. We are smaller today because we do not need the same number of people to do the work that we once did. We've reduced the number of positions in our organization through attrition. I need to be clear here, that's through voluntary departures, primarily through retirements.
How we build, use, and disseminate technology at the bureau is not only a big part of our business model, it's how we support efforts to advance bilingualism across the public service. Today, in the federal public service, there are one million uses of Google translate every single week and all government desktops are equipped with Microsoft translator. A simple right-click on the mouse gives you translation free, any time of day.
These tools are being used for work-related purposes every single day. They are very helpful, but they come with a risk. Our newest desktop tool, developed by the National Research Council of Canada, helps mitigate this risk. It puts translated texts and vocabulary tailored to the public service workplace and terms specific to government at the fingertips of public servants for the primary purpose of comprehension. When using this tool, simple translations are not done in a cloud offshore, they stay inside the Government of Canada's firewall.
We loaded the tool with millions of professionally translated government-specific terms and phrases to make it easier for public servants to function effectively at work in their acquired official language. It is a better and more secure alternative, meant to aid comprehension, to give public servants the confidence to practice their second official language and work in it more often.
This is not a tool meant to translate colloquialisms, such as “it's raining cats and dogs”, or to be used to translate official government documents. Over time, as more government-specific translated terms and phrases are loaded into it and the translation bureau's linguistic professionals play their role in ensuring its quality, the more sophisticated it will become.
It's worth noting that it is also the kind of tool that millennials, the next generation of public servants, expect in a modern workplace. They're heavy users of similar tools on their own personal mobile devices and they expect to have them at work.
We know the more literate and equipped our public servants are to function in both official languages, the better they will become at serving Canadians in the language of their choice.
In concluding my remarks today, I would like to recognize the extraordinary co-operation we have enjoyed with our colleagues at the National Research Council of Canada. This partnership, with people who work at the leading edge of technological innovation in Canada, has opened our eyes to the possibilities of the future.
In closing, as the translation bureau's CEO, I am very proud of the work of our translators, interpreters, and linguistic professionals, and the teams who support our efficient operations. We are all committed to official languages and to supporting the public service to communicate in both official languages.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the vibrant and committed network of official languages champions across the public service. They helped us pilot our newest machine translation tool, just as they have consistently supported all our efforts to encourage the use of official languages in the public service workplace.
Thank you for your time and attention, and we are happy to answer any questions you have.
Thank you for those very important questions.
We took a look at trends around the world, not just across the government. We had already noticed an overall shift in demand government-wide: departments wanted quick turnaround times, 24/7. We examined how other organizations around the world who followed best practices were dealing with that reality. To be frank, I have to tell you that we learned our processes were somewhat outdated and cumbersome. We had failed to automate the process and find a way to handle texts quickly. We were already in the habit of separating texts for translation into chunks. We improved our practices by working closely with our translators to find better ways of processing texts supported by tools and strong skills. And now, thanks to those efforts, we no longer need as many employees.
In the past, we weren't flexible enough. The bureau's biggest challenge revolves around fluctuating translation demand. And not having flexibility built into the system makes it extremely difficult to manage operations. That is true of any organization, whether in the private sector or other levels of government. With the support of our professional translators, as well as freelance experts, coupled with software tools, we have been able to find a balance.
I would also like to make something clear: we didn't eliminate any positions at the translation bureau. We leveraged attrition, in other words, vacancies left by employees who retired or left the bureau, to build a more flexible organization.
In the next few years, we plan to review our processes and practices as they relate to our core business of government.
We're looking very carefully at what we cannot ever outsource: security documents, top secret work, classified work. We need to keep that work internally, and let me assure you, we will ensure that we have the right level of staff to continue that core centre of excellence.
As to some of the other areas, we will be looking to be very creative in the way we work with not only the private sector but also universities and other organizations, all the while to keep to our original commitment, which is always to ensure that the Government of Canada has a supply of quality translations and that we help departments respect the Official Languages Act.
In 2012, we hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to do a little overview of Canada and elsewhere. Together with the people in that company, we looked at the European Union, the United Nations—
and a host of other organizations such as NATO, as well as very large corporations. As a matter of fact, PricewaterhouseCoopers has quite a large translation bureau because they do a lot of translation work.
What we found was that all of these organizations had a few things going for them that we didn't have. They had flexibility, so they weren't encumbered by permanent large numbers of staff. They had a core team who were experts in what they did. They had the ability to use technology not to replace people, but actually to improve their business processes.
Memory translation is huge in the translation business. It allows you to take a text, to look at it to say we've translated it many times before or portions of it, and it actually builds into that process the terminology, the texts that were translated before, and then it uses the expertise of the translator.
We were missing some of those processes or, to be quite honest, we weren't actually following industry practices in terms of how they were to be used. We studied very closely these best practices and we were able to adopt those within the translation bureau. I have to say, we did that with consultations of our employees and we used the skills of our professional translators and interpreters to improve our productivity and our efficiency.
Thank you for that question.
The structure is a special operating agency. The way that was created, in the mid-1990s, was really to take a look at many organizations, not just the translation bureau, and to instill in those organizations some of that business discipline that we've heard about. That business discipline is understanding what it costs to actually do the work that we do. I have to say I am incredibly proud of my colleagues and my employees. I think we are the new brand of public servants.
We are what Destination 2020 is asking of us. They want us to manage taxpayers' money responsibly, as if it were our own. They want us to make sure we have the best and the brightest and most capable people to do the job, and they want us to do that with the values and the ethics that are primarily part of what is core to the public service.
I'm very pleased that people are hearing us talk about our costs, about being efficient, about creating workplaces that are respectful and innovative.
I will take this opportunity to say we're one of the largest employers that allow and encourage our workers to work off-site.
I am talking about teleworkers. Each month, the number of people working from home increases.
That gives us the ability not only to save on office space, but also to improve the working, home, family, and workplace conditions to make sure that we have a vibrant workforce that is happy to continue to work with us and be part of our future.
The short answer to that question is yes. We have the business acumen; we have the public service values at heart; and most importantly, we have the official languages capability and obligations.