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 Prime Minister 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 Minister of Heritage 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.