Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Trying to skate on official languages obligations

Thanks to Kady O'Malley's posting of many of the documents online, we continue to be able to see into the machinations behind the scenes on issues pertaining to the Harper government's census changes. Yay to posting original sources!

Here is another interesting aspect of yesterday's document release then. It deals with the official languages issue that has arisen. This is somewhat timely given that today a judge will decide whether to fast-track the lawsuit brought by a francophone group against the federal government over these very changes to official languages censusdom. So, what do we learn from these documents?

Principally, that the instinct of Industry Canada ministerial staff was to put a public face on this issue that said everything on the official languages front was a-ok. That all the prior census questions on official languages would indeed still be asked. This is not the case, however, given what the government has decided to do.

The only mandatory official languages question that will be asked in 2011 is on the short form census and will be about mother tongue. Two offficial languages questions from the now axed mandatory long form census will appear in the new long voluntary survey, "knowledge of official languages" and "languages spoken at home." Meaning that the answers received to those two official languages questions will now become statistically useless. This is mainly why that lawsuit referenced above is proceeding. The ability to determine the number of francophone speakers will be in question given what the government is doing. That will have consequences for federal government service delivery in the future.

Here is the fun part. Below is the text of what Statistics Canada proposed to say in response to a Liberal Senator's question on these changes and whether the Official Languages Act requirements would be fulfilled. That is followed by Industry Canada's proposed wording in response to that same question. You'll note that Stats Canada basically says no, we won't be able to fulfill the Act's requirements. Industry Canada staff, however, confuses the issue to the point where any average reader would believe that yep, everything will be covered (click to enlarge):You can read the whole e-mail exchange in the embedded version, where a Statistics Canada employee, in response to this Industry Canada obfuscation, calls it out for what it is: "factually incorrect." (July 16th email)

Tony Clement's statement at the Industry Committee hearing on July 27th, 10 days after the above material's date, was similar to the Industry Canada obfuscation above:
Some critics have raised a concern that the government will not be able to comply with its obligations under the Official Languages Act.

But I assure you that all the questions on official languages that were asked in the 2006 census will be asked in the 2011 short-form census questionnaire.

The new national household survey includes questions on Canadians' knowledge of official languages, mother tongue, and languages spoken at home. This government remains fully committed to take into account the priorities of the office of the commissioner of languages in the development and implementation of its policies, programs, and services.
Clement makes it sound as if "all" the questions on official languages are on the 2011 short-form census. But they aren't (scroll to bottom, Q.7 is just on mother tongue). Quel confusion Tony was sowing there. (Clement really should resign, given what the documents are showing in terms of his veracity, but fat chance of that with this government.)

The fact that the Harper government, through these ministerial staff and a minister, would be seeking to paper over an official languages failing rather than ensure that it not happen at all is very telling. Nice to see it exposed.