Carsten Quell

About the author

Carsten Quell has a background in linguistics and Canadian studies and has worked in both the public and private sectors. At Canadian Heritage he worked in the Canadian Culture Online Branch before joining the Policy Research Group of the Department. In 2008, he became Director of Policy and Research at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. He is currently Executive Director of the Official Languages Centre of Excellence at Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

Early in his career, he taught at the Lycée Français de Toronto and later managed translation and international communications for the e-commerce company Tucows Inc.

He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and an M.A. from the Free University of Berlin.

About this section

For the purposes of this section, “official languages governance” refers to the administrative mechanisms that exist in a given jurisdiction so that legal and regulatory obligations become realities on the ground. Governance is what gives rights and obligations traction. Good governance ensures that rights are respected and obligations implemented. In reality, good governance also always needs to capture the gap between the ideal state and the real state. It requires mechanisms that monitor the respect for rights and the implementation of obligations. It also requires transparency and accountability in communicating the results of any monitoring. When steps towards better compliance are achieved, they should be communicated. Important efforts should be noted and celebrated. At the same time, shortcomings need to be analyzed and addressed.

When shortcomings are recurrent, and repeated attempts at fixing them do not produce the expected results, some of the rules may need to be reconsidered, recalibrated and possibly comprehensively changed. That recalibration takes place at two levels: One is political and parliamentary and the other administrative. On one hand, government and parliament are called upon to undertake what could be called the “big fixes” or “important rewrites”: updating legislation and regulation would be examples. On the other hand, the “small fixes” undertaken by public administrations do not question and stay well within the existing legislative and regulatory framework. However, their cumulative impact can be powerful, and is worth paying attention to. Good governance includes regular reviews of these smaller, non-legislative/non-regulatory levers and deciding how implementation can be improved so that the overarching goals are achieved more efficiently and effectively. Taking such an honest look requires assessments. They can come from within government and from external observers. In Canada, periodic assessments and reporting of the implementation of language policy often take the shape of annual reports. The importance of such reports is recognized through the fact that the very exercise of publishing such reports is often a legal requirement itself.

The objective of this section is to render the diversity of linguistic governance models in Canada visible and accessible. What is enlightening when we look across Canada’s 14 jurisdictions (one federal level, 3 territories, and 10 provinces) is how governance is adapted to the particular conditions of a given jurisdiction. English and French are the official languages at the federal level and in the province of New Brunswick. In other jurisdictions, the presence of English and French speakers is recognized and reflected in the structures of their public administrations in different ways.

The intention is not to be exhaustive but rather to present a typology. This typology consists of five basic elements:

  1. Is there legislation or are there policies related to official languages or minority linguistic communities? [référer à la section de Pierre Foucher]
  2. Is there a ministry responsible for official languages issues or for the minority linguistic community?
  3. Is there an administrative structure (employees with functional responsibilities) in place that coordinates and supports the implementation of legislation or policies related to official languages or to the minority linguistic community?
  4. Is there a language ombudsman or a language commissioner?
  5. Are there parliamentary committees who provide parliamentary oversight on how government implements its language legislation?

Answers to these questions, some of them quite surprising, are found in this section. It is a concise and comparative overview of government structures that exist. Its usefulness, we hope, lies in its clarity as a point of reference. What this section does not answer, but where it hopes to provide a stimulating starting point, are the questions of how these official language governance mechanisms across Canada came to be. Why, for example, do some jurisdictions have significant legislation but little in the way of administrative structures? Why have some jurisdictions decided to create a linguistic ombudsperson where others haven’t? How do these ombudspersons influence and impact the actions of government? What is the relationship between the size and proportion of a linguistic minority community and the governance mechanism that exists to support it? To what extent does the governance mechanism make a difference to the future of the minority language and its community among all the other factors impacting its development?

Perusing the information provided here, certain hypotheses easily come to mind. But only solid research would allow anyone to distinguish between facile explanations and demonstrable causes. The value of such research for public policy making and implementation could be significant. It would allow governments to better understand what works and what doesn’t and spur innovation as different approaches to implementing similar legislative responsibilities could be compared and evaluated.