Opening Statement By Maria Barrados President, Public Service Commission of Canada at the meeting of House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages

November 23, 2010

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Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to appear before your Committee. I am here to discuss the work of the Public Service Commission under the Official Languages Act. I am accompanied this morning by Donald Lemaire, Senior Vice President, Policy Branch, who also serves as the Official Languages Champion at the PSC.

The PSC is an independent agency reporting to Parliament, mandated to safeguard the integrity of the public service staffing system and non-partisanship of the public service. We have been in existence for over 100 years, and are proud of our contribution to building a merit-based, non-partisan federal public service that is able to serve Canadians in both official languages. We report annually to Parliament on its activities and results; our 2009-2010 Annual Report was tabled on October 5th. We appreciate the interest of Parliamentarians in our work.

Commissioner of Official Languages

The PSC values the important work of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and we welcome his report, in particular his observations with respect to promoting official languages in our work and workplace. Over the course of my public service career, I do not think that I have been associated with an organization as bilingual as the PSC; this is reflected in our high rating on participation as well as in our language of work.

I am also pleased that the Commissioner has recognized the collaboration between the PSC and Université Sainte-Anne in a pilot project to develop a second-language training program. Their success led the Canada School of Public Service to implement a three-year pilot project on language training involving 10 universities across the country. The Commissioner has however, pointed to shortcomings in some of our practices, such as improving our active offer of bilingual services and encouraging employees to write in the language of their choice. I assured the Commissioner of the PSC’s commitment to fully comply with the Official Languages Act, and I have also informed him that we are developing a new action plan that will be implemented beginning in early 2011. This plan will complement the significant work that the PSC is doing to support the linguistic duality of the federal public service.

Oversight

As defined in the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA), merit establishes official language proficiency as an essential qualification for public service jobs. Our audits, in examining whether merit is met, always include official language as an essential element of the merit test.

Language Assessment

The PSC is responsible for developing instruments to test individuals’ proficiency in their second official language. These skills are evaluated by the English or French versions of three Second Language Evaluation (SLE) tests.

Second Language Evaluation Modernization

The PSC has been renewing its suite of SLE instruments. We introduced the new written expression test and the new oral proficiency test in 2008, and we released the new test of Reading Comprehension during the summer of 2010. These three modernized SLE instruments reflect the latest best practices in the field, and will help to ensure that second language requirements for bilingual positions are assessed fairly, objectively and consistently across all federal organizations that are subject to the PSEA.

Exclusion Approval Order

The Public Service Official Languages Exclusion Approval Order permits exclusions from language requirements under specific conditions. In 2009-2010, a small proportion of appointments (0.9%), or 265 employees, did not meet the language requirements of their positions upon appointment. These excluded appointees are entitled to receive language training and must meet the language requirements of their position at the end of their exclusion period.

Under the Order and the related Regulations, the exclusion may be extended up to four years in specified circumstances. This Standing Committee, in its 2005 report on Bilingualism in Public Service of Canada, noted that organizations do not always ensure that exclusion periods are extended as required by the Order and the Regulations, and that this Order be used only in exceptional cases.

Since March 31, 2005, there has been a steady decrease in the number of cases that do not comply with the Order or its Regulations. There were 55 such cases on March 31, 2010, as compared to 69 and 320 for the two previous years. This reduction is attributable to the PSC's monitoring and its constant efforts to raise the awareness of organizations, and to increased vigilance by deputy heads.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, the promotion of Canada's linguistic duality is an essential aspect of all our activities. We look forward to continuing to work with Parliamentarians, as well as the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, to ensure a professional, non-partisan and representative public service that is able to serve Canadians in the official language of their choice.

Thank you. I would be happy now to respond to your questions.