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February 18th 2019 - Study on Canadians’ views about modernizing the Official Languages Act - Various Witnesses

Senator Poirier: Thank you all for being here. My question is for Mr. Déry, the Translation Bureau representative.

Two years ago, the committee met with Minister Judy Foote. She shared her plans to restore the Translation Bureau to its former glory by making its services mandatory. You spoke a bit about the directive that you received. However, we’ve heard that not much has happened since that time. Unfortunately, some people have told us that the translation of some federal websites isn’t as good as they would like it to be. Can you explain why no further progress is being made? What would be the solution? Should the act be amended? If so, what would you recommend?

Mr. Déry: Thank you, Senator Poirier. Those are very good questions. Regarding Minister Foote’s appearance before this committee, since I arrived at the bureau last May and since her appearance, we’ve implemented a number of her commitments. We’ve made great progress at the bureau. We’re still an optional service agency. We can’t force the departments to use our services, but we’re there to help them. We’re definitely available to them.

We’ve added provisions to our translation contracts that don’t seek to provide the lowest price, but quality standards. This morning, we published a standing offer in partnership with the Canadian interpretation industry to set the record straight and to ensure that we receive quality services. We’re not lowering our standards. We ensure that the services provided are of high quality. The standing offer that has just been issued, a request for proposals, will help us provide good services.

The Translation Bureau already plays a very important role under the Official Languages Act and parts IV, V and VII of the act. However, as I was saying, the Bureau is an optional service agency that isn’t codified in the Official Languages Act. It will be up to the government to decide whether to codify the Bureau in the act.

We’ve established an advisory panel made of up academics and deputy ministers. The academics, deputy ministers and minority community representatives agree that the Translation Bureau should play a more important role, and that the role should be strengthened in the Official Languages Act to ensure the quality of government communications in both official languages.

Today, it’s easy to translate texts using neural tools. However, who checks the texts afterward? You were talking about Internet sites. Who checks the translation done by a machine to ensure that the quality meets the standards of the Official Languages Act? If the government so wishes, the Translation Bureau could provide the service. The Translation Bureau was a mandatory service for almost 60 years. In 2019, the Bureau will celebrate its 85th anniversary. It has extensive experience. The agency is there to serve the government.

If the government so wishes, by enshrining the Translation Bureau in the Official Languages Act, it can give the Bureau a clear mandate as a centre of expertise in language quality and as a translation tool. We would be prepared to provide all the translation tools to the entire government.

Senator Poirier: Can you provide a breakdown of the funding that you received under the most recent action plan for official languages? What will the money be used for?

Mr. Déry: Thank you for your question. We received funding for the Language Portal of Canada. The Language Portal was funded in 2009. At the time, it was part of the roadmap for official languages. The funding has been renewed under each of the action plans for official languages since that time. The funding received ensures the continuation of the Language Portal of Canada, which we’re working on. No other funding is available, apart from the funding for the Language Portal.

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Senator Poirier: You talked about strengthening your mandate. Have you talked to the minister about the possibility of strengthening your mandate, and, if so, how did she respond?

Mr. Déry: I haven’t had the opportunity. The idea of strengthening the bureau’s mandate came up in the consultations with the advisory panel and universities; participants suggested that the translation bureau be given a stronger mandate. Ms. Joly’s deputy minister, Ms. Roy, is also on the panel and heard all of the feedback from participants, universities and minority communities.

Senator Poirier: The suggestion hasn’t prompted a reaction from either the government or the minister?

Mr. Déry: We aren’t at that stage yet. The advisory panel met for the first time on January 24.

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Senator Poirier: Thank you for being here today. Your presentations and answers are appreciated. One of the criticisms we’ve heard about the new version of regulations proposed by the Liberal government has to do with how complex the calculation method is. In particular, the Commissioner of Official Languages, Raymond Théberge, expressed that concern. Were you consulted on the choice of the calculation method?

Jean-Pierre Corbeil, Assistant Director and Chief Specialist of the Language Statistics Program, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada: I imagine that question is for the Statistics Canada officials.

We worked very closely with TBS, which sought an explanation and methods that were easier to understand, so that’s what we proposed.

Senator Poirier: In concrete terms, what impact will the new method have?

Mr. Corbeil: Rather than depending on a complex algorithm—the first official language spoken—the method that the Treasury Board Secretariat adopted asks about the population that would indicate the minority mother tongue as the only response or as a multiple response. Then we add any population that states that it speaks the minority language the most often, or on a regular basis, as a second language at home. This approach is simpler, but it captures a greater part of the population. The logic that the Treasury Board used was that the people who use a language are more likely to ask for services in that language. That is more or less the argument that was developed.

Senator Poirier: Do you have any role in applying the institutional vitality criterion? If so, is there a disadvantage in the current definition that is limited to schools?

Mr. Corbeil: We had detailed discussions with the Treasury Board Secretariat and Canadian Heritage. In terms of the vitality component, although Statistics Canada conducted a survey on the matter in 2006, Canadian Heritage has the main driving role in the measure that is used. So Statistics Canada cannot express an opinion on that choice.

Senator Poirier: Some planned changes are to come into effect in 2023. In your opinion, could those changes to the regulations happen earlier?

Mr. Corbeil: The act stipulates that the data are from decennial censuses. The last was the 2011 census; the next will be in 2021. Of course, recent data are available.

We have worked with the Treasury Board Secretariat to obtain estimates based on the 2016 census, as well as estimates coming from Statistics Canada’s population projection programs. The decisions will be up to the Treasury Board.

Senator Poirier: In the Action Plan for Official Languages, $3 million over five years has been allocated to you to support research and data analysis. What will that funding be used for? Will it be enough to allow you to achieve your objectives?

Mr. Corbeil: In the past, Statistics Canada has developed many partnerships with various departments, including Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Canadian Heritage, Employment and Social Development Canada, Justice Canada and Health Canada. The funding allowed Statistics Canada to conduct research activities and publish data. However, that approach could not keep the expertise in place, because the funding came with a degree of uncertainty.

To mitigate that risk, funding was allocated in the Action Plan for Official Languages. One of the objectives was for Statistics Canada to have funds available to conduct research and development activities. That includes accommodating emerging issues and new needs for information, and being able to publish information for all Canadians and for official language minorities. Three million dollars over five years clearly allows a degree of stability. It also allows the language statistics program to conduct cost-recovery projects to meet the needs of other departments and agencies. That announcement was very positive for Statistics Canada.

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Senator Poirier: Good evening, and thank you for joining us. Since the government created the Canada Infrastructure Bank, you have had great difficulty meeting your official languages obligations. One of the shortcomings we found in this study was a lack of leadership. Has Minister Joly met with you to guide and support you when it comes to your official languages obligations? If so, how many times has she met you?

Mr. Lavallée: We have not met with Minister Joly on this issue. However, we did interact with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and the people with whom we work at the Department of Infrastructure and Communities to take the necessary steps to meet our obligations.

Senator Poirier: What sort of guidance, if any, has the government given you to help you meet your official languages obligations?

Mr. Lavallée: Could you repeat the question?

Senator Poirier: What sort of guidance, if any, has the government given you to help you meet your official languages obligations?

Mr. Lavallée: In collaboration with officials from the Department of Infrastructure and Communities, we received advice on the various aspects of the obligations of each Crown corporation, including the Infrastructure Bank. We used that advice to put in place the bank’s current procedures and rules.

It is important to keep in mind that the bank is brand new. Some of the difficulties we had in meeting our obligations, which we do not deny, occurred when the bank had only a few employees, even before I arrived. Since our General Counsel and I arrived, we have been able to put in place more specific and comprehensive policies and processes. Those measures have been implemented over the past few months.

Senator Poirier: If you have not met Minister Joly, then she’s not the one who told you about your official languages obligations.

Mr. Lavallée: Correct, since we have not met with Minister Joly.

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Senator Poirier: Could you tell me what percentage of your staff is bilingual?

Mr. Duguay: Since I took the position in November, our staff has doubled. I don’t have statistics on our employees because we have issued offers of employment, and new staff will be joining us. I will have to get back to you on that.

Senator Poirier: Thank you for sending this information to our clerk.

Mr. Lavallée: It changes every week. Of the six senior managers, three are francophones, one person is bilingual, and the other two understand French but can’t work in French. Today, four out of six people on the management team can work in French. That isn’t the norm, and I don’t want to establish it as the rule for all the bank’s employees in the future. For the moment, that is the tempo we have set for ourselves, and it’s not by chance that we’ve achieved it.

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