October 2013 Report

Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions - Submission to Blueprint 2020

"Leveraging Bilingualism in the Public Service of the Future"

Table of contents


The Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions dedicates its submission to Blueprint 2020 to two public servants who died tragically following an accident in Ottawa the morning of September 18, 2013. Karen Krzyzewski, Library and Archives Canada, and Michael Bleakney, Public Works and Government Services Canada, loved their work. They were dedicated to the Public Service and to serving Canadians. Both were beloved colleagues, who supported their co-workers with countless acts of kindness, grace and generosity. We wish to acknowledge their service and inspire ourselves to continue to pursue excellence in the workplace as they both did.


The Council is a horizontal organization of the Government of Canada within which departments, agencies, Crown corporations and regional federal councils, large and small, all work together. The Council has 23 members made up of 14 official languages champions, 3 regional representatives and 4 representatives of departments and agencies that have a direct role in official languages, namely, the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS), the Privy Council Office, Canadian Heritage (PCH) and Justice Canada. The Executive Director of the National Managers' Community (NMC) and the Chair of the Federal Youth Network (FYN) are also members of the Council.

This report is the Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions (the Council)'s contribution to the Blueprint 2020 exercise. Our community represents federal public servants who advocate for and work to facilitate and enable the use and promotion of both official languages across the Public Service. In this document we outline our response to the three questions posed in the Blueprint 2020 consultations, specifically what the Blueprint 2020 vision means for official languages in the Public Service; what changes, from the perspective of the use of English and French in the Public Service workplace, would have the greatest impact in making that vision a reality; and, what can the Network do to help achieve the Blueprint 2020 vision.

We have intentionally focussed on the language-of-work dimension of official languages policy in the Government of Canada, with the understanding that a more bilingual Public Service can only enhance its capacity to serve Canadians in the official language of their choice, and contribute to protecting and enhancing official language minority communities across this country.

Blueprint 2020 Vision and Official Languages

Across the Public Service, there is a desire for more freedom and less rigidity in how we practice bilingualism and think about official languages. Language is a tool. It is, by any measure, the most powerful workplace tool we have. When work can be conducted by people with the collective ability to move seamlessly in and out of both official languages, stronger insights, greater understanding, and better concepts result. When a workforce has two languages to work with for sharing views, conveying information and expressing ideas, there's enormous potential to communicate more effectively, expand imagination, generate better ideas and increase workforce productivity. In this sense, mathematically speaking, two or more employees each having two languages to work with is four times more powerful than having only one.

However, the reality in practice is less inspiring. An observation that resonates with many public servants concerns language training results versus the effectiveness of that training—namely, the dilemma of passing the language test but not being able to communicate, versus having the ability to communicate but not passing the test. Many who argue for a new approach stress that while language training has its place it cannot be the beginning and the end of the conversation about what to do to bolster bilingualism in the workplace. More is needed to achieve the fluidity that ought to characterize how both official languages are used.

Another dilemma was described recently on CGConnex — the "surreal" experience of two government scientists, both francophone, being unable to speak about their latest research findings with each other in French because both publish in English and were unfamiliar with the French terminology of their field. These are just two examples of the day-to-day challenges that beset the practice of bilingualism in the Public Service that no amount of administrative rule-making can be expected to solve.

Unlocking the potential of having two languages to work with is a cultural challenge. The Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions is pleased to provide our views on the proposed Blueprint 2020 vision and specifically, the contribution that strengthening bilingualism can make to the Public Service of the future.

What the Blueprint 2020 Vision means for Official Languages in the Federal Public Service of the Future

A world class Public Service equipped to serve Canada and Canadians now and in the future involves striving for a more bilingual Public Service, fully equipped to support Canadians in both official languages in a complex, inter-connected and competitive world. It involves reaping the advantages of bilingualism in the global knowledge economy, with a Public Service that fully leverages bilingualism's benefits. At the individual level, these benefits include cognitive and learning advantages such as meta-linguistic awareness and stronger executive control functions such as planning, time management, strategizing and memorization. Collectively, a more bilingual Public Service positions Canada to excel in the global environment. Over a billion people around the world speak either English or French, making institutional bilingualism and linguistic duality strategic assess for engaging new Canadians and the world.

Achieving an open and networked environment involves enabling broader use of both official languages across the Public Service in order to enable:

  1. Networking, mobility, partnerships, information-sharing and sharing of talent to develop evidence-based options and advice for the Government, achieve excellence in the design and delivery of public sector policy, programs and services, and provide effective support to Canadians; and,
  2. Access to government information / services in Canadians' choice of official language from anywhere in Canada or around the world.

Advancing a whole-of-government approach that enhances service delivery and value for money involves ensuring that common / shared service providers function effectively, enterprise-wide, in both official languages.

A modern, enabling workplace that makes smart use of new technologies involves fully leveraging technology's potential to increase collaboration across federal institutions and external stakeholders in a manner that ensures the use of both official languages is facilitated. This requires acknowledging the tension that exists between open data and linguistic duality, recognizing that technological advancements are taking us into a new era that will shift the "language focus" from the publisher to the end-user of information. In the not too distant future, on-demand translation applications will exist that reliably, accurately and near-instantly translate information from one language to another. They will be available via web browsers and desk-top computer software suites, as well as on mobile computing hand-held devices. They will reduce and in some cases, eliminate the human-assisted translation needed for much of the information used in the day-to-day work environment. While official government documents and statements of policy will always require human-assisted translation and/or review prior to publication for quality assurance and legal purposes, it is conceivable that the Government of Canada will be able to make vast quantities of working-level information available in either official language so long as it also provides access to robust, automated translation tools that allow the user to translate for him or herself.

Finally, a capable, confident and high-performing workforce involves taking concrete steps to enable effective collaboration across the Public Service regardless of language of work, ensuring that knowledge and skills are fully leveraged. In a crisis, the Public Service can effectively mobilize talent and find ways to forge highly effective bilingual teams. We need to learn from this experience and make something we do well in a crisis reality on a day-to-day basis.

Changes to Strengthen Bilingualism in the Federal Public Service to better Serve Canadians and Canada

To achieve a world class Public Service equipped to serve Canada and Canadians in both official languages, we need to move beyond viewing linguistic duality as an obligation to seeing it as an opportunity to drive excellence and a symbol of leadership, respect, understanding and inclusiveness. Leadership and individual commitment are both required to achieve a Public Service that values and embraces bilingualism as a competitive advantage in today's world.

Going forward, the goal of recruiting individuals to the Public Service equipped to function in both official languages will continue to be a priority. Leadership will be needed to encourage Canada's education systems and particularly, its post-secondary institutions, to produce bilingual graduates. We have repeatedly heard that we will need to be bolder in branding the Public Service as an employer that values bilingualism, signalling its many advantages for individuals including those who have career aspirations that extend beyond Canada to the world stage. We have heard from many public servants, including those who are new to government, that future recruits must come ready with the job skills needed for a public service career, and in many cases this means entering the public service with the capability of working in both official languages.

At the same time, we must find ways to do more to reinforce employees' efforts to acquire and maintain second language skills. Regardless of who pays – the employee or the employer – acquired second language skills must be used to be maintained. Individual commitment should be supported by leadership that creates opportunities to practice second language skills in the workplace, including with innovative, low-cost language learning and maintenance tools. The performance management process should also ensure that employees' efforts to function bilingually are recognized and rewarded.

An open and networked environment that engages citizens and partners for the public good requires that we recognize that with mobile technologies, mobile work and ubiquitous, borderless networks, "language of work" in the Public Service can no longer be dictated solely by geography. Official Languages policy and, potentially, legislation, may need to be "ever-greened" to ensure that language of work supports the adoption of new technologies and the principle of an open and networked environment for Canada's Public Service. Language of work should be dictated by who is served and the communities and stakeholders with whom public servants interact, in-person or remotely, which for "language of work" purposes may require adjusting the distinction between bilingual and unilingual regions. This would require more emphasis on second language acquisition and maintenance in the workplace and consequential investments in low-cost language technologies such as innovative online language learning applications, mobile device applications for real-time language interpretation, and automated desk-top translation tools for non-official documentation.

Meanwhile, repurposing the bilingualism bonus could provide the financial resources required to make targeted investments in technologies that enable second language acquisition and maintenance. The Bonus has remained $800 annually since its inception in 1976, making it of much less value to individuals today as compared to when it was introduced. There is a compelling argument that both public servants and Canadians would be better off were these resources applied to the workplace tools and applications that can assist employees in acquiring and maintaining second language skills. Many public servants could benefit, particularly if the performance management system recognizes bilingual competencies and enables career advancement for those employees who, among other things, enhance their language skills.

A whole-of-government approach that enhances service delivery and value for money requires the recognition that with greater standardization, consolidation and the widespread adoption of common and shared services for corporate administrative and other functions, the languages of work used in the Public Service institutions that provide these services must inevitably transcend geographic regions and thus, for language-of-work purposes, the distinction between bilingual and unilingual regions. This demands that we ensure that common / shared service providers, wherever they are located, have the flexibility necessary to staff and maintain workplaces that function effectively in both official languages, and that the tools and services they develop and provide to the rest of the Public Service respect employees' language-of-work rights.

A modern, enabling workplace that makes smart use of new technologies to improve networking, access to data and customer service involves changing the culture to enable innovation around official languages and language of work. Among other things, this could involve making a deliberate effort to test and pilot new workplace technologies and system applications in French first, recognizing that this is more likely to reveal difficulties that must be addressed to ensure work environments are conducive to the effective use of both official languages. It will also require ever-greening official language policy to allow the Public Service to adopt new technologies that enable open access to data and information, and effective and efficient knowledge transfer, as they are perfected and introduced.

There are also opportunities to leverage technology and the networks of expertise it mobilizes to help serve and support official language minority communities. There are legitimate concerns that budget pressures are impacting travel and the traditional ways of connecting with and supporting these communities. However, technology-enabled outreach creates opportunities to address these challenges.

A capable, confident and high-performing workforce that embraces new ways of working involves encouraging more Public Service work environments to become conducive to the use of both official languages, including by:

  1. Ensuring all Public Service employees have equitable access to language training regardless of where they work. Our consultations have clearly signalled that public servants are ready and willing to take on the responsibility of managing their own careers, and working towards skills upgrading, including acquiring and maintaining their second official language. However, they are seeking their manager's support to allow them the ability to do so in innovative ways, on the job and during their own time; and,
  2. Providing more innovative, low-cost language learning and maintenance tools and activities to ensure that as more positions are identified as bilingual, successful candidates who do not meet language requirements can obtain the required level of proficiency, ensuring the equitable participation of English- and French-speakers in the Public Service.

These efforts could also be supported by leveraging performance management to encourage second language acquisition, use and maintenance, including by:

  1. Assessing employee performance using appropriate core and functional competencies that reinforce linguistic duality and encourage second language acquisition and maintenance;
  2. Including innovative language learning and maintenance activities in employees' learning and development plans; and,
  3. Developing functional competencies for managers / supervisors that emphasize their responsibilities to help create workplaces conducive to the use of both languages.

Achieving the Blueprint 2020 Vision: How the Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions Can Help

In considering the Blueprint 2020 vision, Official Languages Champions can play an instrumental role in helping to strengthen bilingualism across the Public Service to help achieve it. However, the Council believes that in order to contribute in practical and meaningful ways, Champions will need to go beyond promotional and ambassadorial functions to playing a strategic and tactical role as agents of change. The Council would mobilize our network members, identifying strategic opportunities and targeted investments to facilitate and enable change that positions the Public Service to continue to evolve bilingually, optimizing the advantages to Canada and Canadians of working and serving the public in both official languages.

Initially, this will require that Official Language Champions strengthen their networking capacity. We will need to work together through the Council to define how we can add value and assume responsibilities associated with acting as agents of change.

Already, our Champions are discussing a number of strategic opportunities. For example, Official Language Champions could work to strengthen the recruitment of bilingual candidates with their respective Deputy Heads, each of which is a champion for a post-secondary institution in Canada. In addition to spreading the message about bilingualism's importance to Canada and its value and relevance in an interconnected world, Champions could work with their deputy's institution to forge a strategic partnership aimed at increasing the number of bilingual graduates each produces.

To support an open and networked environment, we would work together to identify strategic changes that may be required to official languages policy to support efforts to strengthen and modernize practices associated with institutional bilingualism. We would identify and promote opportunities to incubate and / or use new language technologies that support language maintenance and effective bilingual workplaces. We have heard repeatedly about the dominance of English in online networks and virtual knowledge communities. We would focus on how to strengthen knowledge networks to improve their utility for and relevance to the work of the Public Service in the French language. This could include facilitating public servants' participation in global knowledge networks to improve their relevance / applicability / utility for the work of the Public Service in French (e.g., http://fr.wikipedia.org), recognizing that this benefits not only Canada, but all the countries of the Francophonie.

To support the whole-of-government approach that enhances service delivery and value-for-money, we would identify policy changes and / or strategic interventions required to ensure that for common /shared service providers, all regions are effectively bilingual and all work instruments and electronic systems they are responsible for are available to employees in both official languages. The Council recognizes that this cannot be an afterthought. It must be a priority at the "front-end" of efforts to build the structures that support greater collaboration, an enterprise-wide management culture and enterprise-wide systems.

To support a modern, enabling workplace that makes smart use of new technologies, the Council would strengthen the capacity of its network members to work with their deputy heads to ensure that use of new technologies facilitates linguistic duality within the Public Service, fostering a vibrant, diverse and bilingual workforce.

To support a capable, confident and high-performing workforce, the Council would step-up its efforts to identify and exchange best practices conducive to the use of both official languages in the workplace, and work with deputy heads to support their adoption in departments and agencies. One such practice, for example, is the Department of Canadian Heritage practice of tabling management presentations in one language, and speaking to them in the other. We would also work to identify innovative, effective and low-cost language learning and second-language maintenance tools and activities to recommend to deputy heads. We would support our network members to make the business case to deputy heads to acquire these learning tools and resources, and to work with departments and agencies to ensure they are used effectively, including through the performance management process.

Conclusion – Leveraging Bilingualism in the Public Service of the Future

In this document, we advance a number of observations and ideas for what the Public Service needs to be in the future, centred on strengthening bilingualism. In summary:

In closing, we want to thank the many public servants who shared their thoughts and views with us. In particular, we thank the Federal Youth Network which was instrumental in helping us challenge the status quo. Also, our gratitude goes to the National Managers' Community which is seeking support to move beyond a "grievance culture" to find more constructive and innovative ways to respect employees' language-of-work rights while achieving a more bilingual workplace. We thank the executives with whom we spoke who emphasize that it is a key leadership responsibility to create workplaces conducive to both official languages, and who believe that we can reap many rewards from being open to new and innovative thinking about official languages at a time when we are stretched for resources. We also want to recognize our many regional colleagues, who have reminded us of the challenges and the opportunities they face in serving official language minority communities, and the growing importance of finding innovative solutions to ensure these efforts are sustained. Finally, we thank functional communities which have clearly signalled their need to better leverage expertise across the Public Service through collaboration and knowledge transfer unimpeded by language-of-work.

Many of the observations and recommendations in this submission were crystallized at an armchair discussion on Blueprint 2020 and Official Languages hosted by the Canada School of Public Service on September 12, 2013. We thank our speakers at this event who were Daniel Watson, Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat; Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages; Liseanne Forand, President, Shared Services Canada, and Kristina Brown, former National Coordinator of the Federal Youth Network. Their thoughtful and provocative contributions stimulated a wide-ranging discussion amongst the 46 on-site attendees and over 200 webcast participants. We thank the Canada School for making the event a successful milestone in our efforts to gather input and advice.

The Blueprint 2020 vision is based on the argument that engagement, collaboration, effective teamwork and professional development are all essential to a high-performing organization. The Council wholeheartedly agrees. We also strongly believe that one of the greatest assets the Public Service of Canada already has is its bilingual capacity in French and English and that this powerful cultural asset is integral to engagement, collaboration, effective teamwork and professional development in our workforce. We are proudly bilingual in service to Canada and Canadians. We must protect, enhance and leverage this competitive advantage as we look to the future.

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