December 2015 Progress Report

PDF Version (798 Kb, 6 pages)


December 1, 2015

Ms. Janice Charette
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet
80 Wellington Street
Room 332
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A3

Dear Ms. Charette:

Subject: Blueprint 2020 – Report of the Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions

We are pleased to share with you the achievements of the Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions in support of Blueprint 2020 as part of our 2015 progress report and to reiterate our commitment to promoting official languages and innovation within federal organizations.

As you know, the Council of the Network mobilizes the community of champions to promote official languages and support deputy heads with their official languages responsibilities.

In recent years, the Council, in cooperation with a number of partners, has worked to promote a culture change throughout the public service with regard to official languages. Specifically, this has involved initiatives to encourage employees to become the architects of their own development with regard to their second official language proficiency, to facilitate the development and promotion of new tools based on emerging technologies that support the federal government and its employees with respect to official languages, and, lastly, to showcase the benefits of using both official languages. The Council of the Network is confident that, through its efforts, it has made a contribution to supporting respectful workplaces and service excellence for Canadians.

Attached is a summary of our achievements for the current year, during which the Council of the Network focused much of its energy on promoting best practices and piloting innovative language tools and new technologies. I would be pleased to provide you with any additional information you would like on our activities.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your ongoing support and to extend our best wishes for the upcoming holiday season.

Donna Achimov and Steven Morgan
Co-Chairs of the Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions



Progress Report on Official Languages - December 2015


Official bilingualism is a fundamental defining characteristic of the Public Service of Canada. It exemplifies our values as public servants in promoting the engagement, openness and transparency upon which respect for people depends. Linguistic duality underpins teamwork, learning and innovation in our work environment and across our workforce. Since the launch of Blueprint 2020, the Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions has been engaged and has submitted suggestions on how it could contribute to the vision for 2020. These ideas reflected the conviction that successful efforts to strengthen linguistic duality in our workforce and workplace will only better equip the Public Service to serve Canada and Canadians in a complex, interconnected and competitive world. The suggestions also underscored the need for more freedom and less rigidity in how we practice bilingualism and think about official languages, to recognize that achieving the level of fluidity in language utilization to which we aspire cannot be achieved if the focus of our collective efforts is centred on administrative rule-making and procedure.

Over the past year, the Network of Official Languages Champions has continued to work towards inspiring innovation and best practices. We have worked in collaboration with the Federal Youth Network, the Human Resources Council, the National Managers' Community, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Canadian Heritage (PCH), Crown corporations and small agencies, the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) and other central agencies, as well as with the Interdepartmental Working Group on Persons with Disabilities and Official Languages, to seek out ways to contribute to a bilingual and engaged public service. This year, we focused on sharing best practices, supporting improved bilingual service to Canadians, and experimenting with innovative language technologies. We have heard many stories and examples of everyday excellence and have captured these stories in our video showcasing the 11 best practices in official languages. Much has been done, and more lies ahead. We remain committed to being agents of change and to contributing to a healthy, respectful and supportive work environment.


The Council of the Network, in collaboration with its partners, has worked on a number of initiatives aimed at mobilizing official languages champions and public servants in general to strengthen linguistic duality and innovation by using multiple communication channels and by taking every opportunity to learn about new approaches and experiences.

A global approach to official languages – On May 22, 2015, the Council of the Network, in partnership with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, TBS and PCH, organized a unique learning event that brought together thought leaders and language commissioners from a number of provinces and countries that are striving to improve or introduce their citizens to the use of dual languages. Representatives of Wales (UK), Catalan (Spain), Switzerland and India addressed challenges, shared leading practices and strategized about the ways in which language opened doors for a country's trade and foreign investment potential, and discussed the fact that most governments around the world will have to start nurturing and encouraging a multilingual/bilingual workforce as we all prepare for the economic and cultural challenges of 2020 and beyond. The Government of Canada and its public service are seen as leaders in the field of official languages, and the exchange served as a vehicle for the official languages community to showcase their best practices and to learn from others.

Boosting innovation to deliver better service for Canadians – In June 2015, the Chair of the Council of the Network met with representatives of Service Canada to initiate a dialogue on how the use of new technologies could support and enhance bilingual service delivery and help employees deliver virtual services. Organizations are currently challenged by a number of factors such as travel restrictions, budgetary constraints, and limited resources for language training. Through close collaboration with the Translation Bureau, a number of tools are being piloted to assess their applicability for supporting virtual service delivery, offsite and remote workers, and employees with disabilities. Tools such as remote interpretation, roaming telepresence robots, and voice-to-text are being tested and assessed for deployment in 2016-17. The video created by Public Services and Procurement Canada provides an overview of these new tools.

Creating a culture of pride and continuous innovation – Once again this year, the Council of the Network, in partnership with the Canada School of Public Service, organized an interactive armchair discussion as part of Linguistic Duality Day. This year's theme was "Proud to Serve Canadians in Both Official Languages." The discussion enabled participants to learn how innovation and new technologies contribute to serving Canadians in both official languages, now and into the future. Follow this link to stream the armchair discussion. In addition, the Council of the Network partnered with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages to offer employees a chance to test their language proficiency by downloading the video for the Commissioner's dictation from the Council's Web site. The armchair discussion reached over 350 employees across the country and is considered an effective means of socializing the idea that a modern bilingual public service needs to be open to new ways of achieving and maintaining language skills.

Supporting inclusiveness for persons with disabilities – The Council of the Network made a commitment to support the work of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Persons with Disabilities and Official Languages, which was established by Justice Canada in 2014 to address the challenges faced by persons with disabilities with regard to learning, evaluating and maintaining second official language skills. A goal of the Working Group is to identify existing language barriers and suggest solutions for mitigating or eliminating them. Donna Achimov, the Chair of the Council of the Network, has agreed to act as an ambassador to support the Working Group. Yazmine Laroche, Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Canada and Chair of the Persons with Disabilities Chairs and Champions Committee, has also agreed to act as an ambassador to the Working Group and has invited the Working Group to make presentations to the Committee, when circumstances warrant, with a view to receiving feedback and guidance from the Committee. The Working Group will reconvene in January 2016, set up three sub-working groups on adaptive measures, policies and laws and awareness, and begin its work.

Promoting innovation and sharing best practices – In 2014, the Council of the Network launched the Collection of Official Languages Resources, a compilation of 450 tools and best practices developed and implemented by a variety of federal organizations. This year, the Council decided to challenge the community to showcase innovation in the workplace and shine the spotlight on everyday excellence in the workplace by launching the Spotlight on the Top 10 Best Practices on Official Languages competition. A selection committee chose 11 of the most promising best practices from among the 79 best practices submitted by federal organizations. The selected practices were unveiled on Linguistic Duality Day in September. A promotional video briefly describing each of the selected best practices has since been developed in partnership with Public Services and Procurement Canada. (Link to Council's Web site) The video will be screened at the Good Practices Forum on Official Languages on December 4, where representatives of the winning organizations will present their best practice during a "Dragon's Den" style activity. The activity is a dynamic way of presenting the best practices so as to encourage the champions and the individuals responsible for official languages attending the Forum to implement them in their own organizations. In concrete terms, each "dragon" or judge will also agree to implement one or more of the tools or best practices within their own organization. The video and practices will also be published on the Council's Web site.

Building capacity and creating momentum for change – Once again this year, the Council of the Network, in cooperation with TBS and PCH, is organizing the annual Conference of Official Languages Champions. This unique learning event exposes participants to leading practices that support the promotion of official languages and employee engagement. The conference takes place December 4, 2015, and will feature presentations hosted by the Translation Bureau, interactive sessions with guest speakers from Google, Microsoft, etc., and live demonstrations. This annual event is proving to be an effective way to engage official languages champions, socialize new concepts, and facilitate a culture and mindset change that will empower and motivate managers and employees to embrace the benefits of using and maintaining their official languages skills.

Delving deeper into the Public Service Employee Survey – An "action-oriented" Working Group was set up by the Council of the Network to analyze the results of the survey in terms of six official languages questions, including a new question added at the recommendation of TBS and the Council of the Network. The goal of the review was to determine how the answers could guide the actions of the Council of the Network in helping deputy heads and organizations improve the use of both official languages and track measurable progress for the next survey. The Working Group will also make a recommendation to refine the survey to address discrimination and the link that was made with languages. Working with Statistics Canada and TBS, the Working Group has been analyzing the data in order to conduct a more in-depth analysis. It expects to release its recommendations by the end of the fiscal year, along with tools to help official language champions address the issues raised.

Equipping official languages champions with tools and support – The Council of the Network has developed a free toolkit of translated tips, emails and articles to support and promote bilingualism in the workplace. The materials in the kit can easily be tailored to reflect the unique needs of individual departments and agencies. The toolkit will be made accessible on the Council's Web site, and the champions will receive regular reminders to use the tools. The toolkit includes tools for supporting mentoring and monthly second-language days, learning and maintenance, as well as guides for supporting bilingual meetings.

Deploying innovative tools – The Council of the Network has been helping the community become more aware of the various emerging technological innovations that support the use of both official languages. The Council of the Network has promoted participation in a number of pilot projects, such as machine translation and remote interpretation. Working in collaboration with the Translation Bureau, the Council of the Network is educating users on the responsible use of these new tools, stressing the importance of respecting quality and official languages obligations. (Please refer to Public Services and Procurement Canada's Blueprint 2020 Submission for an overview of the tools). In addition, the Public Service Commission will be releasing new self-assessment tests of written expression and reading comprehension this fiscal year. These online tests allow public servants and members of the public to better understand their proficiency levels and the results they may achieve on the official Second Language Evaluation tests.

Challenges on the horizon – Speaking truth to power

Official languages champions are energized by the Blueprint 2020 approach to public service modernization and take pride in having made significant inroads since the launch of the initiative. However, there have been a few obstacles along the way. With this in mind, we want to respond to the Clerk's request to share observations about some of the challenges that we as a community face in transforming the way we work and how we deliver on our Blueprint 2020 commitments. As a community, we believe that candour improves performance, and we want to highlight a few areas for the Clerk's consideration.

Official languages as an afterthought – The Blueprint 2020 exercise has shown us that public service leaders at all levels can innovate and manage rapid innovation, but that official languages are often an afterthought. Projects are defined, solutions are built, and – on the eve of deployment – the realization sets in that the solution needs to be deployed in both official languages. We are referring not to translation, but to the way we acquire, test and deploy new tools. Often the technology solution does not factor in a bilingual end user. We have seen numerous instances where pop-up screens appear in one language. Our recent collaboration with the Working Group on persons with disabilities also suggests that, in addition to a language gap, tools are being purchased that often do not meet the accessibility requirements of persons with disabilities. A goal of the Working Group on persons with disabilities and official languages is to identify existing barriers preventing persons with disabilities from working in their other official language. This will include barriers relating to access to technological adaptive measures and their compatibility with the framework present in the public service, e.g. the ability of a public servant with a learning disability to use tools such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking in both official languages.

Challenges associated with introducing new tools – There are many off-the shelf tools and applications that are now offering employees, free, user-friendly options for acquiring and maintaining their second language proficiency. Many of these tools are difficult to integrate into existing government workplaces, due to bandwidth limitations, license acquisition and installation timelines, firewall restrictions, and lack of technicians with the necessary experience to provide end-user support and custom development. It is important to highlight the need for technological expertise in this area, since commercial tools are not "one size fits all." Each client is different in terms of what they require and are comfortable using. In some cases, a custom solution or a blend of multiple commercial tools may be required. The official languages community will work with Shared Services Canada (Accommodations and Adaptive Computer Technology Program), the Canada School of Public Service, and Public Services and Procurement Canada to explore ways in which these tools can be acquired and supported. In parallel, we need to keep exploring new technologies in order to stay current in terms of what can be offered. Examples include remote interpretation, mobile telepresence units for visual interpretation, and voice recognition applications for subtitling and closed captioning.

Access for persons with disabilities – The Working Group on Persons with Disabilities and Official Languages will assess the ability of persons with disabilities to work in their other official language. More specifically, it will examine the ability of persons with disabilities within the public service to learn, be evaluated and maintain skills in their other official language.

Changing the culture associated with language maintenance – The efforts put forward by the Network of Official Languages Champions have contributed to making it mandatory for employees to complete the section of the Public Service Performance Management Application online form to reflect their current language levels, in hopes that managers and supervisors will have performance discussions twice a year and track expired or soon-to-be-expired language levels. This is a positive step forward. It allows for a discussion on maintenance and feeds into the talent management process. The community remains of the view that more needs to be done at the executive level to put the onus on executives to lead by example and maintain their language levels without "regular time-outs" for language refreshers or re training. The community supports continuous improvement and applauds those deputy heads who are tracking the expiry dates of language levels among senior ranks. We recommend that this practice be adopted across the departments and agencies, as it will demonstrate to employees that management is leading by example.

Moving forward

The Council of the Network will continue to work horizontally with official languages champions across the government and advance the initiatives it has launched, some of which have deliverables due in the coming year. We will continue to look for ways to learn from others and to empower one another to create working conditions that will foster bilingualism and innovation. We will continue to explore the use of technology to support improved service to Canadians, engage employees, and include persons with disabilities.

The Prime Minister has indicated that he plans to safeguard official languages. The Council of the Network will continue to work with its network to generate ideas and initiatives that will promote the government's commitments to improving service to Canadians. This includes promoting free online services for learning and maintaining English and French as second languages, supporting equal opportunities for English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians to obtain employment and advancement in federal institutions, and enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities.

Date modified: