Bilingualism, “the French-speaking affair” in the federal civil service

Since then, the Trudeau government has repeatedly said that French needs more support than English because the language is Low in the country.

However, if we look at the breakdown of federal civil service employees, Anglophones appear to be favored by Ottawa and less strict language commitments. In fact, in Quebec, the country’s only French-speaking province, the federal government is most demanding that its officials be bilingual.

According to the Secretary of the Treasury, 68% of civil servants in the province need to speak both French and English to get their job, while in the rest of Canada only 13% of jobs require bilingualism if we exclude the Ottawa-Gatineau capital region .

In some institutions, such as the Border Services Agency, nearly 100% of jobs in Quebec are classified as bilingual, a far cry from elsewhere in the country, including in the only province with two official languages, New Brunswick.

Bilingualism in the federal government, we’ll tell each other the real things, […] It’s good for francophones. It’s a French speaking matterrecognizes an employee of the Quebec Border Services Agency on condition of anonymity.

This source, not authorized to speak publicly, admits that many travelers need to be served in English when going through customs in his province, but he doesn’t understand why we couldn’t take inspiration from the accommodations, that exist in the west of the country.

In fact, not all border officials in English Canada are fluent in both official languages. Travelers who wish to be served in French can choose a queue clearly marked as bilingual, where a member of staff will serve them in their language.

lignes ouvertes en période de pointe, si on en avait une ou deux exclusivement en français, ça ne retarderait pas les opérations”,”text”:”Dans un endroit comme l’aéroport Montréal-Trudeau, où tu as 18lignes ouvertes en période de pointe, si on en avait une ou deux exclusivement en français, ça ne retarderait pas les opérations”}}”>In a place like Montreal-Trudeau Airport, where 18 lines are open at peak times, it wouldn’t delay operations if we had one or two in French only.he says, stressing that there will always be enough French-speaking travelers to fill them.

However, the border protection authority communicates this in writingIn Quebec, almost all ports of entry offer bilingual services, so positions must be designated bilingually.

Dozens of complaints to the tax office

At the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) offices in Quebec City — a city that’s 97% French-speaking — several employees believe they have higher language requirements than their English-speaking counterparts elsewhere in the country.

Some of them have complained to the Commissioner for Official Languages ​​in recent years, believing that posts are being allocated bilingual haphazardly in their offices, without good reason.

Canada Revenue Agency officials have denounced what they consider to be arbitrary designation of certain items as “bilingual” (archive).

Photo: Reuters/Chris Wattie

Example reported by several employees: As soon as there are documents in English in a file, such as E.g. an invoice, the agency assumes that it must be processed by a bilingual auditor, even if the taxpayer has completed his tax return in French.

There are solutions for thatsays an employee at theBOW in Quebec. For example, if we only speak French we can consult one of our colleagues who is bilingual and sometimes, even if we are not very comfortable in English, we can understand the bill.

In Western Canada, if there is an invoice in French on file, does the entity become bilingual? asks for another person employed by the agency in Quebec surprised that the English speaking verifier had withdrawn the file.

Raymond Théberge, Commissioner for Official Languages, received 26 complaints relating to the Canada Revenue Commissioner’s offices in Quebec between 2018 and 2022 (archive).

Photo: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

In June 2020, Commissioner Raymond Théberge agreed with the staff and, in his report obtained by Radio-Canada, ruled that theBOW had not objectively determined the language requirements of the positions concerned by the complaints. Since then, however, more complaints have been filed. Many employees are even waiting for their case to be heard in federal court.

It’s very difficult to make progress if you’re not bilingualconfirms a source at the Canada Revenue Agency in Quebec. We often get stuck in our careers even though we have a lot of experience.

L’BOWwho declined our request for an interview states in writing that that it determines the language requirements of its positions based on its operational needs and the tasks of the employees.

But Yvon Barrière, regional executive vice president of the Public Service Alliance, a union representing more than 20,000 public workers in Quebec, believes operational needs have a broad base and that theBOWlike other departments, relies too much on Francophones to achieve its goals Goals of bilingualism. That is the simple solutionAccording to him.

It’s always up to the Francophones to make the effort. […] There is indeed a certain injustice between the official languages. »

A quote from Yvon Barrière, Regional Executive Vice President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada

The minister is not worried

The President of the Treasury Board does not seem at all concerned about the large number of bilingual civil service positions in Quebec. Mona Fortier even refuses to acknowledge that there is an inequality between the province and the other regions or that the language requirements for francophones are higher.

Treasury Board of Canada President Mona Fortier says she is working to offer federal (archives) officials more language training opportunities.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

When told that two-thirds of Quebec federal employees must speak English to get their jobs, she replies, tit for tat: % de la fonction publique [au Canada] travaille de façon bilingue.”,”text”:”La statistique que je préférerais qu’on donne, c’est que 40% de la fonction publique [au Canada] travaille de façon bilingue.”}}”>The statistic I’d rather get is that 40% of the civil service [au Canada] works bilingually.

I want to acknowledge the fact that we have opportunities for francophones who speak both official languages. »

A quote from Mona Fortier, President of the Treasury Board

Ms. Fortier points out that Quebec has several regions called bilingual – for example Montreal, Sherbrooke or even Compton in the Eastern Townships – where there is a significant proportion of Anglophones. They have the legal right to work in their language, which may partly explain why they think bilingualism is more popular in the province.

However, as Bloc Québécois MP Mario Beaulieu points out, such designations also exist in northern and eastern Ontario to protect the Francophone minority, which number around 500,000 people, and despite everything, % des postes désignés bilingues dans la province, contre 68% au Québec. Ça n’a aucun bon sens”,”text”:”il y a seulement 10% des postes désignés bilingues dans la province, contre 68% au Québec. Ça n’a aucun bon sens”}}”>only 10% of jobs in the province are bilingual, compared to 68% in Quebec. That makes no sensehe complains.

Bloc Québécois spokesman Mario Beaulieu believes that bilingualism should only be required in Quebec when it comes to services to English-speaking rightsholders (archives).

Photo: The Canadian Press/Justin Tang

According to Mr Beaulieu, if It is always up to the Francophones to speak Englishit’s clear that Ottawa definitely has one Anglicizing effects on the entire population of Quebec.

Mario Beaulieu advocates that French should have priority over English in the provinces, including in federal institutions, and that bilingualism should only be required on duty English speaking rights holders.

For its part, François Legault’s government wants Ottawa to keep its word on the approach differentiated promised two years ago: We believe that the French language, as the only official minority language across Canada, deserves special protection and promotion measures.writes Quebec Minister for Canadian Relations and La Francophonie, Sonia LeBel.

It is important that you understand each other

One solution to favoring French-speaking civil servants could be to rethink what is meant by bilingualism, suggests Jean-François Savard, professor at the National School of Public Administration. In the federal government, he explains, We are currently opting for an approach where bilingualism means being able to speak, write and not just understand the other language.

In Switzerland, however, Mr Savard adds, French speakers are generally expected to understand Germans and German speakers to understand French without necessarily expressing themselves in each other’s language.

To obtain a post classified as bilingual, a civil servant must pass a test that demonstrates his or her understanding and fluency in both the official (archive) languages, both spoken and written.

Photo: Radio Canada / Pierre-Paul Couture

Such an approach, in his view, could restore a better balance of power between the two official language communities, but without raising unrealistic expectations, especially towards Anglophones, because There are not enough people in Canada who can speak French to have a fully bilingual civil service.

One thing is for sure, Mr. Savard concludes, although the federal government has been repeating for the past two years that it wants to better protect the French in Quebec and the rest of the country, it seems mostly obvious What it protects is bilingualism.

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