The federal government’s Bill C-13 – the first major reform to the Official Languages Act in over 30 years – is a step in the right direction, but lacks the teeth and vision needed to protect the French language in Canada and promote bilingualism across the federal public service.
Along with a host of changes, the Bill grants the Commissioner of Official Languages the ability to impose financial penalties on federally regulated employers if they don’t meet linguistic obligations, but the changes don’t go far enough to strengthen bilingualism in federal workplaces.
The pandemic has changed the way that we work and made language gaps in the public service more apparent. Meetings are being held online, yet interpretation is often inadequate, and information often isn’t sent out by managers in both official languages. In our recent member survey, 21 per cent of francophones told us they weren’t able to use the language of their choice during meetings. That’s simply unacceptable.
Bilingualism is a skill that should be encouraged in the federal public service. Yet the bilingual bonus for federal workers has been just $800 since the early 1990s. That’s why PSAC is proposing to increase the bilingual allowance to $1,500 in negotiations with 165,000 federal public service workers, and to expand the allowance to Indigenous languages. If the government is serious about supporting official languages, the bilingualism bonus should be increased.
If the government truly wants to strengthen both official languages, the employer has an obligation to make language training available at no cost to workers. More language training is needed to encourage both anglophone and francophone workers to develop their second language. Critically, the government must put an end to the contracting out of French language training and interpretation services.
To create a dynamic, diverse and bilingual federal public service, we need to create an atmosphere where employees are both able to and encouraged to work in the language of their choice.