In the lead-up to Canada’s 150th birthday, Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser is recommending that the Prime Minister double the number of young Canadians who participate each year in second-language exchanges across the country in order to promote a better understanding and appreciation of Canada’s linguistic duality.
“Despite the fact that the Official Languages Act is now into its fifth decade, it is still a challenge for some to recognize linguistic duality as a Canadian value and as a key element in Canada’s identity,” says Fraser. “It is important that the government do a better job of stressing the importance of Canada’s official languages and increasing the opportunities for second-language learning by working with post-secondary institutions, the provinces and the territories.”
The Commissioner’s recommendation is included in his 2011–2012 annual report. The report stresses that, in five years, when Canadians celebrate their country’s 150th anniversary, they should be able to celebrate Canada’s linguistic duality—and enjoy its presence—across the country.
“Ultimately, the future of Canada’s linguistic duality depends on two factors,” explains Commissioner Fraser. “The degree to which English-speaking Quebecers and French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec are able to maintain a strong, vital linguistic environment in which they can live their lives fully in their language, and the degree to which Canada’s two majority communities embrace Canada’s linguistic duality as a key element in Canadian identity, regardless of whether they speak both official languages.”
The annual report also includes an analysis of a typical visitor’s experience in the National Capital Region, a study announced last year amid considerable interest. The objective was to determine whether it was possible to be served in French at various locations throughout Ottawa and in English in Gatineau.
“Our observations showed that there is substantial bilingual capacity for visitors to Canada’s capital, but that it is often invisible,” says Fraser. “Almost all hotel employees we met in downtown Ottawa could serve their guests in both languages, but greeted visitors only in English in almost all cases. In a way, bilingualism is Ottawa’s best-kept secret.”
The Commissioner’s report also includes several examples of Canadian companies that are more competitive because they operate in both English and French. In Canada, as elsewhere, clients generally prefer to do business in their first official language and feel more comfortable when they use it.
According to Commissioner Fraser, “the federal government does not hesitate to support Canadian businesses when they need to acquire new skills that give them a competitive edge in the market. It should therefore support them in their efforts to leverage and promote linguistic duality in Canada and throughout the world. This will create a win-win situation for the Canadian economy and for consumers.”
As in previous years, the annual report describes investigations, audits and court remedies that were used to take a closer look at how a number of federal institutions complied with the Official Languages Act. It also reports on the number of complaints filed by members of the public and employees of the federal public service, which is an indication of compliance issues within federal institutions.