Introduction

For more than 400 years, Francophones in Ontario have contributed to the social, cultural, political and economic development of the province.

Ontario’s 622,415 Franco-Ontarians are part of Ontario’s 1.5 million French-speakers and make up the largest Canadian French-speaking population outside of Québec. And this population continues to grow and to change.

Through consultations and dialogue with key stakeholders and the Francophone community, we heard that Francophones still face barriers when accessing services in French. As part of our approach to addressing this important issue of access, we are committed to modernizing the legislative framework of the French Language Services Act and strengthening accountability for the timely delivery of quality French-language services in Ontario.

While a modernization of the French Language Services Act is important, this measure alone is not sufficient to improve access to French-language services in a variety of areas. A comprehensive French Language Services Strategy has, therefore, been developed with a focus on increasing Francophone and bilingual workforce capacity and leveraging effective and innovative service delivery models to expand access to French-language services.

Ontario’s French Language Services Strategy

Public consultations formed a significant basis for the development of the French Language Services Strategy. A six-week public consultation was launched by the Government of Ontario in June 2021. The consultations helped identify key challenges faced by Francophones when accessing critical front-line services, as well as potential solutions to improve the availability of services.

The consultation program included a province-wide online public questionnaire, virtual regional stakeholder roundtables and targeted discussions with provincial stakeholder organizations.

Goals

The Ontario government plans to implement a coordinated, cross-government French Language Services Strategy over three years to strengthen service planning, capacity and delivery.

This includes proposing amendments to modernize the legislative framework governing the delivery of French-language services in Ontario to better reflect the 21st century needs of Francophones.

It also explores expanding Ontario’s supply of qualified French-speaking professionals, particularly for essential service sectors experiencing shortages, such as health, education, justice, social services and direct government services. The strategy aims to look at ways to expand services to underserved areas through a variety of effective service delivery models.

Focus of the French Language Services Strategy

The strategy will focus on the following six main elements.

Quality and access

Improve the quality of and access to French-language services, bolstered by proposing strengthened legislative obligations for government and agencies.

Accountability

Improve administrative and proposed legislative obligations for government and agencies, as well as enhanced accountability processes.

Modernization

Propose modernizing the legislative framework and approaches to service delivery to better respond to Francophones’ needs.

Support

Reduce burden, increase communication and create new tools to support French-language service providers designated under the French Language Services Act.

Promotion

Increase the promotion of services in French and of designations under the French Language Services Act.

Capacity

Build up the Francophone and bilingual workforce to support all other outcomes.

Strategic pillars

The French Language Services Strategy is built on the following three pillars:

  • Legislative framework and policies: The goal of this first priority is to modernize the French Language Services Act and related supports.
  • Francophone and bilingual workforce: The goal of this second priority is to increase the supply of francophone and bilingual workers in key sectors.
  • Service planning and delivery: The goal of this third priority is to increase access to French-language services and new models of service delivery.

Outcomes

The outcomes of the French Language Services Strategy will be:

  • strengthened accountability
  • improved access to French-language services for Francophones
  • reduced burden for French-language service providers
  • a diverse and talented workforce to support provincial economic growth and competitiveness
  • reduced barriers for employers in recruiting qualified labour
  • a more competitive province on the national and international stage

Pillar 1: A proposed modernized legislative framework

Ontario’s legislative framework for the delivery of French-language services is comprised of the French Language Services Act and its four regulations. It has not been substantially reviewed since 1986.

Together, the Act and its regulations set out legal obligations for the delivery of services in French for ministries, their agencies, designated agencies under the Act, and third-party service providers delivering services on behalf of government.

French language service obligations apply to service points located in the 26 designated areas under the Act, as well as head offices.

A: Modernizing the French Language Services Act would include the following proposed amendments, if the proposed amendments are passed:
Change to the Act’s preamble
  • Recognize the diversity of the francophone community.
Changes to improve access to and quality of French-language services
  • Set out the right of individuals to receive services in French according to the principle of active offer.

Active offer

Active offer means that French-language services to be delivered by Ontario government ministries and agencies are not only available but also brought to the attention of the client upon first contact, that is, by taking any measures prescribed for that purpose under the Act.

  • Create new power to add designated points of government services anywhere in the province, including outside areas designated under the Act.
  • Create new accountability tools to better prescribe the provision of French-language services and communications.
  • Add a regulation-making power to deal with the translation of government regulations to increase accountability.
  • Update the Act to reflect the shift from an Office for Francophone Affairs to a Ministry of Francophone Affairs. Include a new function of the minister in relation to the promotion of francophone affairs and the provision of services in French.
  • Continue the existing Provincial Advisory Committee on Francophone Affairs in legislation to ensure continuity and a permanent consultative process.
  • Make ministers accountable for and require ministers to report on the implementation of the Act and quality of services in French to the Executive Council. This would support an annual report to be submitted by the Minister of Francophone Affairs to the Lieutenant Governor in Council and laid before the Legislative Assembly.
  • Provide for a review of the Act at least once every 10 years.

If passed, the modernized French Language Services Act would also provide for new regulation-making authority to better clarify how, when and where French-language services are offered. These new regulations would come into force at a later date, subject to the passage of the amendments, and could provide for:

  • how and when the government offers services in French, and how it communicates in French
  • how services in French must be offered in accordance with the principle of active offer
  • French translation of regulations
B: Modernizing existing regulations and creating new regulations to further enforce the delivery of quality French-language services

The Ministry of Francophone affairs will update two existing regulations:

  • the regulation on designated public service agencies, to ensure the information is current
  • the regulation on third parties offering services on behalf of government agencies, to improve delivery of French-language service

Pillar 2: Francophone and bilingual workforce

A modernized legal framework is essential to modernizing the delivery of, and access to, French-language services. The quality of these services depends greatly on the availability of a workforce able to deliver services in French.

The second pillar focuses on:

  • working across government to increase the supply of skilled francophone and bilingual workers by focusing on training and recruitment, particularly in key occupations such as healthcare providers, personal support workers, teachers, early childhood educators and others
  • working with the federal government on creating francophone immigration corridors and professional certification recognition

Pillar 3: Service planning and delivery

The third pillar emphasizes a cross-government approach to French-language services planning and delivery, by focusing on:

  • leveraging existing community-based service delivery models such as hub-and-spoke and mobile services that have proven effective in minority settings or for dispersed populations
  • implementing innovative, digitally based delivery models to expand access to training and service delivery in sectors such as health, education and justice
  • simplifying the process for designation under the French Language Services Act and better supporting designated service providers

Implementation

The French Language Services Strategy will be implemented through the concerted work of the Ministry of Francophone Affairs and its partner ministries.

As work progresses within each of the strategic pillars, engagement with a range of stakeholders will continue, to ensure that policies and initiatives are responsive to the needs of Francophones across the province.

Conclusion

This comprehensive French Language Services Strategy aims to positively impact Ontario’s Francophone population in all of its diversity and to support the Ontario government’s vision of making government services more accessible.

This Strategy aligns with the province’s Francophone Economic Development Strategy that aims to increase the supply of francophone and bilingual workers to further build Ontario’s economic competitive advantage.

Ultimately, this Strategy seeks to not only strengthen francophone communities throughout the province, but also support the province’s long-term economic growth and its visibility at the national and international levels.