Statement by French Language Services Commissioner: Integrating the FLSC into the Office of the Ombudsman – Reviewing year one
It has been one year now since the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner (FLSC) and the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario were given the mandate to join forces to promote and protect French language services in the province.
(TORONTO - May 1, 2020) It has been one year now since the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner (FLSC) and the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario were given the mandate to join forces to promote and protect French language services in the province.
This joining of forces has strengthened both institutions, through a broadening of scope, as well as a combination of talent, passion, and resources.
There are numerous opportunities when two institutions are joined. Although, as the Ombudsman has stated, the change was unsolicited, the organization has embraced the changes required to make the union work effectively.
While both institutions were renowned across the country and around the world, we now have a single, more impactful organization that will protect and advance French language rights in the province. We are building a unique and solid pillar in oversight, a model for other such institutions to follow.
The key benefit of this fusion is the combination of expert problem solvers. We now have a larger and more powerful team working together to oversee government action affecting Francophones. We are building on internal and external best practices and applying them to find solutions that ensure that the rights of Ontario Francophones are upheld and needs are being addressed.
Although we have just begun, I am motivated by the strides we have already made in proactively resolving issues regarding the protection of French language service rights through relationship building, teamwork, and proactive complaint handling and prevention.
The productive and appropriate relationships we are building together with stakeholders have already paid dividends. The following examples are particularly noteworthy:
The lecterns used by the Premier and his ministers are now bilingual.
We have worked with the Ministry of Health, Telehealth Ontario and Public Health Ontario from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure proper staffing and resources were in place to ensure a strong offer of French language services. I am pleased that both agencies and the Ministry are well engaged and responsive to our inquiries.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General acknowledged the lack of French language services in its report following the false alert of an incident at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station and made improvements.
Following a complaint of failure to provide services in French by a DriveTest centre in London, we worked with government to strengthen the offer of French language services.
I am committed to remaining accessible and engaged with the Francophone community and all Ontarians connected to Francophone affairs.
In fact, I am maintaining a full calendar of virtual meetings with government officials, mayors, education planners, health care organizations, and Francophone associations across the province. I look forward to getting back to safe social contact so I can resume my face-to-face conversations with all of you.
I have also been working diligently to refine the way we administer our complaints process. It is important to me that citizens receive high-quality and direct service from my team when they feel that government or its agencies have not met their obligations under the French Language Services Act.
We are now directly accessible to complainants, offering an efficient and personalized service to Francophones. We are also obtaining an in-depth understanding of the linguistic issues brought forward by Ontarians, and the impact that these issues are having on them, firsthand. This provides compelling evidence of the important impact that a lack of services has on Francophones. It also allows us to make targeted inquiries to government so we can resolve the issues with solutions that are sustainable.
But… I do not only wait for issues to be brought to my attention through complaints or current events. My ongoing interactions with key stakeholders, conversations with individual members of the Franco-Ontarian community, as well as engagement with government, agencies and organizations, allow me to address issues before they become complaints.
I also benefit from the enhanced resources that the Ombudsman’s office offers, including effective recruitment processes to secure talent and renew expertise in our team, and a broader mandate to achieve expanded outcomes.
The notion that there would be challenges with the integration between these two offices was acknowledged by Ombudsman Dubé in an early interview a year ago. He remarked that it was a complex effort that would take time, but he remained convinced that the interests of the Francophone community would be well-served in the long run.
He was right. It is complex, but the opportunities arising from the integration far outweigh the challenges that complexity presents. In French, I would say, “C’est un beau défi,” a nice challenge to take on.
It is particularly challenging, but also rewarding, during the present pandemic and state of emergency, where the need for Francophones to receive accurate and timely information in French is more important than ever.
That is why I have been actively engaged with the government, from the Premier, to the Minister of Francophone Affairs, to the heads of public service since the onset of the crisis.
As Commissioner, and Deputy Ombudsman within the Ombudsman’s Office, I am well positioned to have these discussions and I am pleased that the government has embraced the opportunity for dialogue and action on these important issues in collaboration with my office.
While gaps in French language communication services are still in question, I am pleased that my productive discussions with the government to date have resulted in the Premier’s important acknowledgement, in a recent letter to me, that:
“[…] Francophones in Ontario have the right to receive communications services in French, equivalent to those offered in English. This is even more critical at this time of crisis.”
The recent decision from the government to offer its daily press updates with simultaneous translation in French is a concrete example of what we can accomplish when a Commissioner, a government and a community work toward the same goal. I also want to acknowledge the crucial role the Speaker, Clerk and staff of the Legislative Assembly played to provide means to obtain these results.
In the year ahead, there is much more work to be done and the integration will continue to evolve. The clock will advance. There will be new good times, more changes and additional challenges to tackle.
I am extremely grateful for the warm welcome and pledges of support I have received from across the province in my first four months as Commissioner. From Ottawa to Sudbury, from Toronto to Chatham, Thunder Bay, Embrun and beyond, the encouragement from hundreds of stakeholders in a wide range of areas from healthcare, to education, to justice and other general government services has been heartwarming and much appreciated.
Our work together is just beginning and I look forward to continuing to achieve positive results for Francophones across the province, and to effecting even more positive changes ahead.
Deputy Ombudsman and French Language Services Commissioner