Since March, there has been a new-found interest by Canadians in the Official Languages Act.
The Act is over 50 years old and it designates more than 110 cities and counties as officially bilingual. These regions can be found all over Canada but are especially concentrated in the National Capital Region, the Province of New Brunswick, and some bilingual regions of Quebec and Ontario.
The Act gives all Canadians the right to receive services from federal institutions in the official language of their choice. The reality is that we are noting a deterioration in the services being offered in the regions. We are hearing more and more stories of documents being poorly translated with automated tools and not being revised by a language professional. Regional service centres are increasingly less equipped to provide services in both languages due to administrative decisions.
Several sections of the Act apply particularly to federal employees working in designated bilingual areas. The Act reaffirms the right of workers to use the official language of their choice in all of their activities. It places responsibility on the employer to implement the means necessary to establish a work environment that is conducive to the use of both languages. That includes work tools, the translation of documents, the holding of bilingual meetings or meetings with an interpretation service, training, and managers who are able to work in both English and French.
Unfortunately, the Act does not take into account the organizational changes made over the past several years. Among other things, I am thinking of virtual teams and matrix management, where members may be spread out over several regions. Some sectors would like to expand their services to other regions, even though they are physically located in regions recognized as unilingual.
Minister Joly recently launched a project to modernize the Act and we are endeavouring through consultations to influence the establishment of adequate rights and the means required to enable institutions and employees to work in harmony in the language of their choice.
The bilingualism bonus was introduced in 1977 and established as a joint directive around 1983. The National Joint Council, whose responsibility it is to monitor joint directives, is currently questioning the effectiveness of the directive and considering whether it is time to negotiate a modernized version.
Closer to home, PIPSC now has its own Task Force on Official Languages. The purpose of the Task Force is to examine the official languages situation within PIPSC and in our work environments. It will play a crucial role in dealing with the official languages problems we face in the years to come.
Feel free to contact the Task Force on Official Languages. Stay tuned!
Stéphane Aubry, PIPSC Vice-President