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According to documents obtained by Radio-Canada, there are approximately 100 French-speaking agents in the 108 ServiceOntario offices located in the 27 designated regions of the province.

Ontario recognizes that it is struggling to attract bilingual staff | Ontario and services in French

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ServiceOntario Markham office in Unionville (File photo)

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  • Étienne Lajoie (View profile)Étienne Lajoie
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    The Ontario government is “struggling to attract and retain bilingual staff” to meet its requirements for French-language services in several designated regions of the province, acknowledges the Ministry of Public and Business Services (MSPE) in internal documents dating last January.

    This observation is part of the transition documents of the new Deputy Minister of Francophone Affairs, Roda Muse. The documents were obtained by Radio-Canada through a request for access to information.

    ServiceOntario offices located in designated regions of the province are required to offer services in French and respect the principle of active offer, which was codified in the French Language Services Act during its modernization and which has been in force since April.

    I find it hard to see how the government can hope to achieve or even satisfy its own regulations on active offer and the provision of services in French, it's worrying, says the professor of linguistic law at the University of Ottawa François Larocque.

    Ontario and French-language services

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    According to documents obtained by Radio-Canada, there are approximately 100 French-speaking agents in the 108 ServiceOntario offices located in the province's 27 designated regions. However, the MSPE maintains by email that each office has a French-speaking agent.

    The number of agents in the designated regions was not known to Fabien Hébert, the president of the Assembly of the Francophonie of Ontario (AFO). The labor shortage is probably the biggest challenge facing the French-speaking community, he said.

    To ensure the sustainability of services in French currently, the province must ensure that it properly promotes French-speaking, then bilingual, positions in order to attract staff.

    A quote from Fabien Hébert, president of the AFO

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    Fabien Hébert, president of the Assembly of the Francophonie of Ontario, says he was not aware of the number of French-speaking agents in ServiceOntario offices. (Archive photo)

    Recruitment of Francophone and bilingual workforce represents the second pillar of the Ontario Strategy for French Language Services launched in 2021. The quality of services in French depends heavily on the availability of a workforce capable of providing services in French, the government wrote at the time.

    Even if each office had a French-speaking agent, says François Larocque, this would not allow the province to respect the standard of real equality.

    This standard requires that any French-speaking customer visiting a ServiceOntario office — whether it is 9 a.m. Monday or 4 p.m. Thursday — can access services in French at the same time as an Ontarian using English.

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    Lawyer François Larocque, research chair of the Research Chair on the Canadian Francophonie in linguistic rights and issues at the University of Ottawa, wonders if the province is capable of respecting the principle of active offer. (Archive photo)

    I strongly doubt the ability of ServiceOntario to be able to achieve this level of service with only one bilingual agent per office, says Professor Larocque.

    According to the MPSE, the general labor shortage is impacting the recruitment of bilingual staff.

    In an email, the employees' union of the Ontario Public Service says MSPE has difficulty finding enough bilingual employees due to low salaries. Designated bilingual positions continue to be vacant, says the union.

    The annual reports of the Services Commissioner since his integration into the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman in 2020 have reported year after year problems with the provision of service in French in ServiceOntario offices.

    In an interview, Commissioner Carl Bouchard says that we have to be realistic when we talk about the lack of manpower in ServiceOntario offices.

    People have varying professional profiles and therefore have significant opportunities in Ontario to be able to contribute positively to the prosperity of the province

    A quote from Carl Bouchard , French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario

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    In his first annual report as French Language Services Commissioner, Carl Bouchard writes that his office receives a significant number of complaints each year from people who have had problems with ServiceOntario's French language services. (Archive photo)

    The commissioner explains that the issue of French-speaking human resources is very complex.

    There is a question of looking for a bilingual resource. There is a question of training, there is a question of using technologies also to be able to maximize resources, he lists.

    Technology, says the commissioner, can improve service. Carl Bouchard does not think that, overall, technology offers an equivalent service. On the other hand, I think we must be aware that in a minority context with a province as large as Ontario, we must still think strategically about our service offering in French, says the commissioner.< /p>

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    Documents obtained by Radio-Canada indicate that the province considered using technologies to improve x27;access to services in French in ServiceOntario offices.

    According to the documents, MSPE has been exploring other ways to offer services to French-speaking Ontarians, although the ministry did not specify by email what the status of the project is.

    In February 2023, the province launched a virtual health card renewal service.

    The documents obtained explain that MSPE wanted to attempt to use this technology to provide services in French to all clients of ServiceOntario offices, whether they be in a designated region or not.

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    Government allows Ontarians to renew their insurance card -virtually disease.

    The province then wanted to leverage its solid base of bilingual staff in certain regions of the province, such as the North, to create a centralized capacity of employees who could offer services in French.

    Fabien Hébert affirms that the AFO's preference is in-person customer service, but he adds that remote videoconferencing service at least offers service in French anyway

    Praveen Senthinathan, spokesperson for the MSPE, would not explain what the status of the virtual service project was.

    MSPE explained, however, that it is piloting the use of translation applications in offices located in undesignated regions so that it can provide services in French and other languages ​​spoken in the community.

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