Executive Summary – Language Regimes in the Provinces and Territories

(Disponible en français : Résumé – Régimes linguistiques dans les provinces et les territoires)

In Canada, language is an area of shared jurisdiction between the various levels of government. Although the federal government has established its own support measures, it relies on the provinces and territories to help ensure the nationwide recognition of both official languages.

This background paper provides an overview of the language regimes established by the provinces and territories and briefly identifies their main features. In recent years, efforts have been made across Canada to promote the recognition of English and French and improve service delivery to the public in both languages.

Each province and territory has its own language regime that evolves over time. Language regimes are governed by a variety of official documents, including the Constitution, Acts, regulations, policies and strategic plans. In addition, language regimes may apply to different areas, such as the delivery of government services, the adoption of legislation, justice, education and municipal services, to name a few.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of provisions in the provinces and territories to enhance the vitality and to support the development of official-language minority communities. In addition, a number of provincial and territorial governments have updated their legislative, regulatory and policy provisions to adapt to the evolving language needs of their respective populations. And yet, depending on where they live, Canadians experience significant gaps in the types of services available to them in the official language of their choice.

There has also been an upward trend in intergovernmental collaboration, including the development of various regional, national and international partnership mechanisms that aim to improve service delivery in both official languages. Each province and territory has its own governance structure to ensure minority language status recognition. Certain jurisdictions have ombudsmen or entities responsible for upholding Canadians’ language rights and to handle language complaints.

The various language regimes in Canada interact in concert with each other and are constantly called upon to change. This is seen most clearly in the annual Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie, where provincial and territorial ministers examine various issues, including, in 2019, the modernization of the federal Official Languages Act.

Read the full text of the Background Paper: Language Regimes in the Provinces and Territories

Author: Marie-Ève Hudon, Library of Parliament