Skip to main content

John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.OLIVIER JEAN/The Globe and Mail

Canada's official-languages commissioner has asked John Baird to dump his English-only business cards.

Baird ordered the unilingual cards in May 2011, soon after being appointed foreign affairs minister.

The cards were also embossed with gold-coloured ink, and the word Canada was sharply reduced in size, leaving Baird's name in the largest typeface.

Graham Fraser, the official languages commissioner, soon received four complaints about the English-only cards, which are against long-standing government policy on bilingual communications.

At the time, Baird dismissed public criticism, saying he also had a set of bilingual cards printed and that these were always available for distribution as well.

Fraser issued a preliminary report in April this year, calling on the Foreign Affairs Department to ensure that all communication tools — including business cards — reflect both official languages.

But Fraser's final report issued Thursday went further, recommending the department "immediately commit to completely disposing" all of the unilingual business cards.

The commissioner said he was taking the additional step because the department "has not made a full commitment in response to the preliminary report."

The department's deputy minister, Morris Rosenberg, wrote to Fraser on May 10, repeating the position that the languages commissioner should never have launched the investigation in the first place.

"At no time was the minister solely in possession of English only business cards," Rosenberg wrote. "At all times he has possessed bilingual cards and has used and continues to use them daily."

But Fraser's final report rejected that argument, saying that "providing bilingual business cards on some occasions and cards in English only at other times does not foster the promotion of linguistic duality in Canada and abroad."

The New Democrat MP who filed one of the complaints applauded the recommendation to dispose of all the unilingual cards right away.

"If he's violating the law, why should he continue to violate it until he finishes his cards? It doesn't make sense," said Yvon Godin, who represents a northern New Brunswick riding with a large French population.

The Canadian Press first reported on the business cards in September 2011, drawing on documents obtained under the Access to Information Act.

The documents also showed that the name of Foreign Affairs' headquarters building on Sussex Drive in Ottawa — the Lester B. Pearson Building — was removed from the mockup cards, thereby eliminating the name of a former Liberal prime minister.

Baird initially made light of the revelations in 2011, even auctioning off one of the controversial cards at a charity event a day after the story broke.

A spokesman for Baird, who was in Colombia for an official visit Thursday, did not indicate whether the department planned to abide by the recommendation.

"We have just received the report and will be reviewing it as a normal course of action," Rick Roth said in an email.

Fraser said he will follow up on his recommendations in late September.

The set of unilingual cards, with a gold-coloured Canadian coat of arms, cost $424.88. The bilingual ones — English on one side, French on the other — cost $197.75.

Both versions lack the "Canada" wordmark, adopted by the federal government in 1980 as an official logo, and mandated on most government communications.