Meeting of Departmental Official Languages Champions

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Notes for an Address by Mel Cappe Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet

Vaudreuil, Québec
November 20, 2001

Check Against Delivery


  • Thank you for the invitation to attend the fifth meeting of Departmental Official Languages Champions.
  • The Public Service is a key institution in our country and, as you probably know, we are taking measures to modernize it.
  • This modernization includes revitalizing our commitment, after three decades, to promote and protect our linguistic duality and the mutual respect for the two official language groups which are vital to Canada's history.
  • We are renewing our commitment and efforts to promote and protect our rich legacy by revitalizing the official languages program.
  • As you know the value of this duality is echoed both in law and in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees equal status to both English and French.
  • There are Canadians across the country who have come to recognize linguistic duality as an essential value that sets our identity as a country apart from our neighbours and allies. Some disagree with this view, and the diversity of origins of Canadians presents significant, new challenges for us.
  • I do not agree with those who would pit linguistic duality and diversity against each other as if they were opposing ideas. I see them as both enriching the strong foundations of our society. We all benefit from this richness in our culture - an example that comes to mind is the contribution made to Canadian literature by Francophones of Haitian origin or by Anglophones who originally came to this country from India.
  • My main message to you today is that although we have achieved notable cultural change in the federal official languages program since the days of the Laurendeau - Dunton Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, there have been "ups" and "downs" through the past three decades.
  • We still have challenges ahead, some of them different from the past, particularly in terms of the language of work in the public service; and
  • In addition to being a legal and policy requirement, language of work requirements are tied to workplace well-being, as well as productivity, and to our ability to renew the Public Service by attracting the talent we need in recruiting our future employees from both linguistic groups.
  • The Government's commitment to the official languages was reaffirmed in the last Speech from the Throne: "Canada's linguistic duality is fundamental to our Canadian identity and is a key element of our vibrant society. The protection and promotion of our two official languages is a priority of the Government - from coast to coast."
  • The Prime Minister has therefore assigned the Honourable Stéphane Dion the task of co-ordinating issues related to the official languages and formulating a new policy framework for strengthening the program.
  • Our federal official languages program includes three main objectives for the Public Service: participation of both linguistic groups in the Public Service, language of work, and service to the public. In addition, our initiatives are designed to support official language communities throughout the country.
  • This aspect of the cultural evolution of the Public Service is important, because it allows us to serve Canadians better and to ensure that we are meeting each of their needs in the language of their choice.
  • Last April, the Government made a commitment to modernizing the Public Service of Canada. This modernization will no doubt also entail certain cultural changes - Jim Lahey, Associate Secretary to the Treasury Board, will probably be speaking to you about this important government initiative tomorrow morning.
  • The Public Service has never stopped changing, and since the events of September 11, Canadians have good reason to view the federal government as an institution that is crucial to their security. Today, the question is: What can the government do to better protect us, and not: Is the government too pervasive?
  • This new appreciation for the essential role of the government in the lives of citizens is part of the more recent cultural evolution of our society and the Public Service.
  • In matters of security, as for other services, the members of the two language groups are demanding full access to their government in their official language of choice.
  • Our institutional bilingualism affects many aspects of our dealings with the public; it is also basic to our values as federal public servants:
  • Another important aspect of this cultural evolution is that Canadian bilingualism stands as a major asset in the age of globalization. On the one hand, this linguistic duality distinguishes us from many other countries, and on the other, it serves to help us to better face the challenges of fierce competition in many areas.
  • But my message today is that cultural change in the linguistic field is not yet over: there still work to be done.
  • As you know, we have seen certain cycles in the official languages program over the last three decades. There was the great momentum of the first ten years - the establishment of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the development of policies and the creation of bilingual positions.
  • Progress was made in the eighties, particularly in the area of services to the public.
  • This past decade has been more complicated: there was Program Review, as well as our current efforts to strengthen our programs and services where needs are identified.
  • We can all be proud of the progress made over the last thirty years: for example, the increase in bilingual capacity - bilingual positions in the public service rose from 21 to 35 per cent between 1974 and 2000.
  • And yet we still have much to do: for example, we must increase anglophone participation in our regional offices in Quebec; we must also ensure that Executives who do not have the required level of bilingualism make a serious effort to achieve it.
  • I have both a personal and a professional commitment to improve our performance, with the assistance of the Deputy Minister community.
  • Since I was appointed Clerk and Head of the Public Service, I have taken steps to promote key official languages objectives:
  • The participation rate of francophones among Governor-in-Council appointments has increased. This is important because as leaders they can make a real difference, as you know.
  • 26% of Deputy Ministers are francophone and 40% of Associate Deputy Ministers are francophone.
  • 29% of the Heads of Agencies are francophones and 32% of the leaders of Crown Corporations are, as well.
  • This year, I identified official languages as a corporate management priority. Consequently, official languages are a part of the performance reporting system governing Deputy Ministers and Associates. This reflects the commitment set out in this year's Speech from the Throne.
  • Making official languages a corporate priority means ensuring that management at all levels carries through with the commitment. I know that, earlier today, you discussed accountability contracts and performance measures. You probably know that I provided Deputy Ministers with examples of performance indicators for each of the corporate priorities:
  • In terms of official languages, increased language training for employees and the need to meet the "CBC" level for Executives are some of the indicators against which we assess performance.
  • I recognize, as do my colleagues among deputy ministers, that leadership by example is very important in this, and in many other areas, where we need to improve our performance.
  • This leadership by example is tough. In my own work environment, I try to actively promote the use of both languages during meetings as well as in my personal office. Although I have had some success, there is always room to improve - to continue to persevere.
  • In recent months I have often spoken as well about the need to make the transition between the industrial age and the knowledge age - another aspect of cultural change in the public service that reflects the changes in the society around us.
  • In a constantly changing world which presents us with this new cultural context, our obligations remain. And in that context, our cultural assets, particularly mutual respect among the public as well as our work colleagues, allow us to appreciate the full value added of the federal official languages policy:
  • You may be aware that the government also made a commitment in the Speech from the Throne to deliver government services on-line by 2004.
  • This is an important step, because it marks a strategic shift in direction for us toward future e-government. E-government gives special consideration to the human element, especially in terms of new approaches to work and new leadership skills.
  • As we make maximum use of our technologies, our official languages objectives will obviously have to be included. We know, however, that the world of technology is largely dominated by the English language - and this represents another challenge for us.
  • In my opinion, we have the interest, the skills, the motivation and also the benefit of lessons learned over thirty years of linguistic duality, to be able to successfully develop an E-government that reflects this duality.
  • Therefore, our linguistic duality will have to be an integral part of these infrastructures and these new ways of serving and communicating with Canadians.
  • I think that in this forum today, I am speaking to the converted.
  • The vast majority of departmental official languages champions are bilingual francophones.
  • Too often, francophones have assumed a disproportionate responsibility for being bilingual - some say this is the fate of linguistic minorities everywhere. I think we must correct this imbalance, and this is not easy to accomplish.
  • I believe that, in a country which provides constitutional rights to both linguistic communities, we anglophones must share both the legacy and the responsibility of linguistic duality.
  • Although I recognize the work done by departmental official languages champions to date, one initiative I think we need is to have more bilingual anglophones lead the way in our renewed commitment to our official languages objectives. One way of doing this is by becoming future champions of official languages in their departments.
  • In my view, this type of leadership by example, as I mentioned before, is not easy to achieve and it takes time to achieve results, especially in terms of strengthening our language of work objectives.
  • This leadership within the Public Service is supported by the political commitment of the Prime Minister and the government's renewed commitment to our linguistic duality. Together with your hard work, I think you will agree that we have the basis for making further progress on this important priority in the government's mandate.