Brison’s review of Official Languages Act welcome

Letter published in The Hill Times, November 28, 2016 – 

By James Shea, QCGN President 

Canadians should welcome Treasury Board President Scott Brison’s recent announcement that the Government of Canada is embarking on a much-needed review of the regulations governing Canada’s Official Languages Act.

Although the review will focus on Part IV of the act—communications with and service to the public—all parts of the act are connected to achieve three goals: to ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada; to support the development of Canada’s English and French linguistic minority communities; and, to advance the use of our two official languages within Canadian society.

English-speaking Quebecers know that the constitutional language rights that guarantee the vitality of their linguistic minority are the same as those of Canada’s French official language minority communities. Our communities are intrinsically linked. We either all succeed, or we all fail. Maintaining the national core value of linguistic duality, and the health and presence of both official languages from coast to coast to coast is the only guarantee of linguistic minority community survival.

The current definition used by the federal government to determine what points of service are obligated to provide Canadians assistance in French and English, and who belongs to an official language minority community, have not been reviewed for decades. In our experience, federal institutions and Crown corporations like the Business Development Bank of Canada, Service Canada, and Canada Post, who want to expand bilingual service, are hampered in doing so by the current definition.

Brison’s moratorium on bilingual service points reverting from bilingual to unilingual status is therefore both brave and progressive, and reinforces the current federal government’s commitment to enhancing the full enjoyment by all Canadians of their linguistic rights. The upcoming consultation process to determine a new definition is an opportunity to extend our understanding of official languages beyond outdated binary notions of French and English.

The Quebec Community Groups Network looks forward to participating in this important national discussion, and hopes that its outcome leads to a modern regulatory framework that ensures the Official Languages Act remains relevant and flexible, while preserving continuity of the federal government’s duty towards the linguistic rights of all Canadians.

The full letter is available online in the Hill Times (paid subscription only)