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.