Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Budget Cuts Are Hurting Bilingualism, Official Languages Watchdog Warns

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Budget Cuts Are Hurting Bilingualism, Official Languages Watchdog Warns

Article excerpt

Language watchdog sees harm in budget cuts


OTTAWA - Canada's languages watchdog is raising the alarm about "a language chill" in the way government budget cuts affect the right to work -- and be served -- in either French or English.

Official languages commissioner Graham Fraser said Tuesday his office is receiving frequent complaints about the government's downsizing and its affect on the bilingual nature of work in the federal public service.

Some parts of government are centralizing their services in regions not designated as bilingual, curtailing public servants' right to work in the official language of their choice, Fraser said in a news conference after tabling his annual report.

Other employees don't even want to raise that right for fear of getting laid off for not being bilingual, he added.

"They don't want to be singled out in attrition exercises," he said.

The cuts and reorganizations heighten the risk that people won't be able to be served in the language of their choice, he added.

The complaints are relatively recent and have not yet been investigated or quantified.

But Fraser warned a year ago that Ottawa needed to be vigilant in its cost-cutting exercises, and says his warnings may have been ignored. So he is speaking out now, bringing up his concerns in conversations with federal ministers, in the hope of mitigating "a language chill" in the federal public service.

"At a time when linguistic debates are in the news again, it is extremely important that the government upholds its commitment towards linguistic duality," Fraser said.

The annual report on bilingualism showed that 17 per cent of Canadians are bilingual. At the same time, there is a growing demand from employers for workers who can speak both official languages, Fraser said.

The federal government should expand the pool of bilingual workers by focusing on young people, his report recommended. Specifically, Ottawa should double the number of exchange students and also encourage universities to offer programs in a second language.

Fraser said he was not about to impose anything on universities, which fall under provincial jurisdiction. …

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