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Don't let budget cuts hit bilingualism, Ottawa told

Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser speaks to the media about his 2010-2011 Annual Report in Ottawa, Tuesday October 18, 2011.


The federal government has to be careful that its planned budget cuts don't have an undue impact on bilingualism, the commissioner of official languages warned Tuesday.

In his annual report, Graham Fraser said official languages shouldn't bear an unfair proportion of the reductions.

"I am not claiming that official languages are being targeted specifically — or that they should be exempted — but there is a risk that they will be unduly affected," he said at a news conference.

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"The government must ensure the decisions that are made during each department's budget review take into account potential consequences for official language communities.

"It is important to make sure that there are no unintended consequences for Quebec's English-speaking communities and for French-speaking communities in the rest of the country."

The government has asked departments and agencies to draw up plans for budget cuts of 5 and 10 per cent. A cabinet committee is studying the proposals.

Mr. Fraser's report, his fifth, also said the federal government has not officially embraced the section of the Official Languages Act which calls for measures to strengthen and promote minority language groups, including English-speakers in Quebec and French speakers outside the province.

"This part of the act is one of the primary tools for ensuring linguistic duality remains a value, a characteristic that strengthens our country's unity, contributes to our economic, cultural and social development, and is partly responsible for our international reputation," he said.

"Five years after this part of the act was strengthened, the government of Canada still has not affirmed, loudly and clearly, that full and proactive compliance with the act is a priority."

He also said it's time to change the act to give the Treasury Board formal responsibility for developing policies and guidelines for promoting English and French.

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Yvan Godin, the NDP languages critic, said this recommendation wouldn't be needed if Heritage Minister James Moore and Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement were doing their jobs.

Mauril Belanger, the Liberal critic, said the government offers no central direction on language policy.

"Most departments and agencies have no clue about what they should be doing," he said.

Mr. Fraser's office also evaluated a sample of departments and agencies on how they handle bilingualism.

"In general, the 13 federal institutions evaluated this year achieved fairly satisfactory results in terms of the availability of service in both official languages," he said.

"However, the active offer of service in person remains problematic for several of them. Of the institutions assessed, only Canadian Heritage received an A, or 'exemplary' rating, and eight received a B, or 'good'."

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