Working in French in the Federal Public Service

A look back at the event and knowledge sharing

In celebration of International Francophonie Day and in the context of the French Language and Francophonie Week, CAPE hosted on March 23 a panel discussion on institutional bilingualism with a special focus on the particular challenges faced by Francophones.

After over 30 years since the enactment of the Official Languages Act, bilingualism is still a hot topic in the federal public service. While federal public service employees have the right to work in the language of their choice, recent studies show that Francophones are not comfortable working in French despite the legal protections in place, a situation that was accentuated during the pandemic. While achieving full parity in English and French is what many hope for, there are major challenges to overcome to get closer to this objective. The role of the government and federal institutions in promoting our two official languages remains paramount, but they need to lead by example ensuring bilingualism is better protected internally, and federal employees receive the training required to learn or perfect a second official language.

We want to thank our two speakers, Hélaina Gaspard, Director of Governance and Institutions at the Institute of Public Finance and Democracy at the University of Ottawa, and Julie Desroches, Chair of the Official Languages Committee, National Joint Council, who had the opportunity to share their experience and research on this topic.

Watch the event again

The event was recorded and the recording will be available soon.


Enrich your knowledge!

Key Takeaways and Reflections  

  • The main objective of the Official Languages Act is to improve linguistic representation in the federal public service. As a leader on this front, the Government of Canada plays an important part in ensuring that both languages are represented. Unfortunately, improving linguistic duality depends heavily on the leadership at both institutional and operational levels.
  • The labour movement had played a major role in the defense of the linguistic duality by engaging discussion with the employer and promoting the right to work in the official language of an employee’s choice.
  • It is estimated that, despite the gap between practices and policy in the workplace, the federal public service has made tremendous progress since the 1960s when it comes to the language of work.
  • Two studies were conducted, one by the Official Languages Committee of the National Joint Council and one by Borbey and Mendelsohn. Both studies agreed on action on the following three fronts:
    1. The Official Languages Act needs to be updated.
    2. Leaders need to be proactive in implementing directives and recommendations.  
    3. Culture allowing linguistic duality to flourish needs to be promoted in the workplace.
  • The bilingualism bonus system needs to be reviewed, given both that the last update to the system dates back to the early 1990s and that proficiency in both languages is a prerequisite and not a complement in performance.
  • Access to language training should be more consistent from one department or agency to another. Second language assessment should be conducted systematically and resources should be available to help employees maintain their language skills and progress in their career.


Your rights and privileges

Check your collective agreement to find out more about your right to participate in language workshops or courses to improve and/or attain your language competencies, and for more information about language training reimbursement rates. 

*Note this may not apply to all occupational groups represented by CAPE.


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