Revised on 21 December 2020, 10:05 a.m.
Any substantive changes in this HillNote that have been made since the preceding issue are indicated in bold print.
(Disponible en français : Le cadre réglementaire pour les langues officielles, revu et corrigé)
The Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations (the Regulations) establish the criteria for designating which federal offices and points of service must offer services in both official languages.
In the fall of 2016, the federal government took steps to address criticism of the Regulations. It consulted various stakeholders, including an Experts’ Advisory Group, to provide guidance on the government’s revision of the Regulations.
In October 2018, the then Treasury Board President, the Honourable Scott Brison, tabled draft Regulations in Parliament. They were subsequently published without amendment in the Canada Gazette in January 2019, despite the fact that the Commissioner of Official Languages, Raymond Théberge, had identified shortcomings.
The final version of the Regulations was passed with amendment in June 2019 taking into account some of the comments expressed by the stakeholders consulted, and published in the Canada Gazette in July 2019.
A phased-in approach
Changes to the Regulations are to be introduced in four stages. The changes provided for in the first two stages are already in effect and concern the following subjects:
- mandatory consultation of official language minority communities to select where bilingual offices will be located;
- a mandatory ten-year review of the Regulations and their administration; and
- services to the travelling public, i.e., airports and train stations in provincial and territorial capitals, and certain offices in embassies and consulates are to be designated bilingual automatically.
The third phase is to begin in the fall of 2022. As a result,
- calculation of significant demand, which is based on some 20 conditions set out in the Regulations, will be based on a new definition of the “English or French linguistic minority population” and will be more inclusive than the previous criterion of “first official language spoken.”
- the presence of a minority official language school will be considered when designating an office as bilingual; and
- the list of key services with a significant impact on the vitality of communities will be expanded.
The fourth stage of regulatory changes will come into effect starting in the fall of 2023. These will do the following:
- give demographic protection to a federal office when the population served has stayed the same or increased, even if its proportion of the general population has decreased; and
- make it mandatory to provide bilingual services to the public by video conferencing.
Key impacts to anticipate
The new regulatory framework marks a significant change in the linguistic obligations of federal institutions that must serve the public in both official languages. In the June 2019 Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement, the federal government estimated that some 738 offices and points of service could be newly designated bilingual. This number is in addition to the 3,867 offices that are currently bilingual under the existing Regulations. As of 31 March 2017, the federal government had a total of 11,330 offices and points of service.
Using Treasury Board of Canada simulations, the Library of Parliament has produced maps showing the federal offices that would be required to offer bilingual services under the new Regulations. These estimates are based on data from the 2011 Census and take into account the location of minority official language schools in 2017.
However, it should be noted that when the regulatory provisions come into effect, they will be based on data from the 2021 Census and 2022 data on minority official language schools. The following maps are therefore provided for information purposes only.
Figure 1 shows anticipated changes to the linguistic obligations of all federal offices that serve the public, aside from Canada Post offices. It is immediately clear that a more inclusive calculation of significant demand and a qualitative approach based on institutional vitality will have a significant impact on the delivery of bilingual services across Canada. According to estimates, the demand for such services could increase by about 40%. Major changes could take place in a number of regions across the country, particularly in British Columbia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Figure 1 – Federal Services Across Canada
Note: Canada Post offices are classified separately in the Government of Canada’s Burolis database. Anticipated changes to the linguistic obligations of these offices do not appear on this map.
Sources: Maps prepared by Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 2020, using data obtained from simulations provided by Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 29 January 2020 and by Canadian Heritage, 9 July 2020; Statistics Canada, 2016 Census – Boundary files; and Transport Canada, Canada’s National Highway System, 1 January 2015. The following software was used: Esri, ArcGIS Pro, version 2.5.0. Contains information licensed under Open Government Licence – Canada and Statistics Canada Open Licence Agreement.
Figure 2 – Federal Services in Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack, British Columbia
Figure 2 shows the regions of Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack in British Columbia. In total, some 20 federal offices currently designated unilingual would be required to provide bilingual services. In Mission, the linguistic obligations would change at the offices of Correctional Service Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In Chilliwack, the changes would affect the same three federal institutions, as well as the local office of Defence Construction Canada. In Abbotsford, most of the offices concerned are part of Correctional Service Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Changes would also apply to the local offices of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canada Border Services Agency. A French-language school is located near two of the three locations, that is in Mission and Chilliwack.
Figure 3 – Federal Services in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
Figure 3 shows the area of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Close to 30 federal offices could see their linguistic obligations change. The changes would apply to more than roughly 20 different federal institutions, including the local offices of Air Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, among many others. In this instance as well, a French‑language school is located nearby.
Of the 738 offices across Canada that could experience changes,
- 300 would become bilingual given the presence of a minority official language school in their service area; and
- 438 would have their obligations modified under either the new method for calculating significant demand, the expanded list of key services or the new obligations placed on airports and train stations in provincial and territorial capitals.
In addition, 72 of these offices were affected by a November 2016 moratorium to allow for the ongoing availability of services in both official languages while the federal government carried out its regulatory review.
Calls for further change
The two parliamentary committees on official languages, one in the Senate and the other in the House of Commons, are mandated to study the implementation of the Regulations.
In the final report of its study on modernizing the Official Languages Act (the Act), the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages recommended additional amendments to the Regulations to recognize that communicating with and providing services to the public in both official languages contributes to the vitality and development of official language minority communities.
In its response, tabled in July 2020, the federal government stated that it was evaluating regulatory and administrative modernization options in conjunction with the tabling of amendments to the Act, expected by the end of the 43rd Parliament. In the Speech from the Throne delivered at the opening of the 2nd Session of the 43rd Parliament, the federal government made a commitment to strengthen the Act, “taking into consideration the unique reality of French.” A white paper on official languages clarifying its vision for a reform of the federal language regime is expected early 2021.
Commissioner Théberge criticized the new Regulations, stating that they “are still shackled to an outdated conception of the Act and therefore fall short of the mark.”
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Special Report to Parliament – A Principled Approach to the Modernization of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations, May 2018.
Government of Canada. Directive on the Implementation of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations, subsection 6.2.3, in effect as of 30 November 2016.
Hudon, Marie-Ève. Official Languages: modernizing the regulatory framework, HillNotes, Library of Parliament, 2 February 2017.
Hudon, Marie-Ève. Official Languages in the Federal Public Service, Publication No. 2011-69-E, Ottawa, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, 7 April 2020.
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Inclusive Official Languages Regulations: A New Approach to Serving Canadians in English and French.
Author: Marie-Ève Hudon, Library of Parliament