Ottawa: Language training wait-list tests Conservatives' bilingualism commitment

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 17 12:48:10 UTC 2006

>>From CanWest News Service   Wednesday  May 17  2006

Language training wait-list tests Conservatives' bilingualism commitment

Mike De Souza

OTTAWA - More than 1,000 public servants are in limbo because of a newly
enforced bilingualism policy that has them on a waiting list for language
training. With a $12-million funding boost for the Canada School of Public
Service at stake, critics suggest this could test whether the Conservative
government is committed to official bilingualism. But Josee Verner, the
minister responsible for official languages, said she is waiting for an
internal government review of the training program before deciding on its
future. ''It's certain that we hope that the results are efficient and the
system is efficient,'' she said, insisting that the Conservative
government is committed to official bilingualism.

In 2004, the former Liberal government introduced the new policy that
forces public servants who hold bilingual positions to prove their
proficiency in both official languages. ''I think it's clear,'' said
Liberal official languages critic Raymonde Folco. ''It was a Liberal
government that wanted the public service to be bilingual, especially in
the senior ranks.'' Nearly 40 per cent of the jobs in the public service
are bilingual, but many of the workers couldn't meet the requirements and
were forced to take the training. The public service school has a
$17-million annual budget for language training. The Liberals added $11.9
million in extra funding for each of the past three years, but the amount
has not yet been renewed by the new government.

''Even if bureaucrats seem to be bilingual, in fact they are mostly
anglophone, and very few of them are bilingual,'' said Folco, referring to
the findings of Canada's official languages commissioner. ''So it's
important to continue this program or even improve, since there is a
significant waiting list.'' One association representing French-Canadians
argues that it's important for francophones to be able to deal with public
servants who speak their language and understand their communities.
''Today, more than ever, it's an important issue,'' said Rene Cormier,
president of the federation culturelle canadienne-francaise. ''It's part
of what distinguishes Canada from other countries like the United States.
I think we need to constantly remind people publicly that this notion of
(having) two official languages in Canada is not a burden, but an added

But others say the waiting list is a sign that Canada's language policies
are excessive and unnecessary. ''Canada is not bilingual,'' said Kim
McConnell, president of Canadians for Language Fairness. ''When you think
about the fact that most of the French-speaking people are concentrated in
Quebec, and such a small number outside of Quebec, why are we spending all
these billions of dollars?'' The public service school, with a capacity of
350 students at a time for language training, has been working with
private-sector partners to tackle the waiting list that is growing by 50
students per month.

mdesouza at

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