Opening Statement by Anne-Marie Robinson President, Public Service Commission of Canada at the meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages

April 2, 2012

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Introduction

Madam Chair, Honourable Senators, thank you for inviting me to meet with your Committee to speak to you about the contribution of the Public Service Commission to bilingualism in the federal public service and  how we use  the Internet and social media in our work. 

I am accompanied this afternoon by Hélène Laurendeau, Senior Vice President, Policy Branch, and Gerry Thom, Vice President, Staffing and Assessment Services Branch who is also the Official Languages Champion at the PSC.

Public Service Commission

The PSC is an independent agency reporting to Parliament, mandated to safeguard the integrity of the public service staffing system and non-partisanship of the public service.  Through its policies, services and oversight, the Commission contributes to maintaining a bilingual public service that is able to serve Canadians in both official languages.  
Let me begin with our responsibility for overseeing public service staffing.  First, our staffing polices clearly stipulate that all communication with candidates in appointment processes must be done in the language of their choice, regardless of the language requirements of a particular position. 

Second, as defined in the Public Service Employment Act, merit requires that people meet the official language requirements for public service jobs.  Some positions require a bilingual proficiency; others require proficiency in either English or French. Our audits always include official language as an essential element of the merit test.  All audits are tabled in Parliament.

Third, the PSC is responsible for developing language tests to assess individuals’ proficiency in their second official language against the standards set by Treasury Board. These tests have been modernized and help ensure that second language requirements for bilingual positions are assessed fairly and consistently across all federal organizations that are subject to the Public Service Employment Act.  In 2010-2011, there were more than 85,000 tests administered.  We pay close attention to the pass rates in our regular tracking.

As Honourable Senators may know, staffing of bilingual positions is largely done on an imperative basis, meaning that the language requirements must be met on appointment.  In its 2010-2011 Annual Report, the PSC found that 94.8% of staffing processes to bilingual positions were imperative. For the non-imperative processes, we found that most of the successful candidates met the language requirements on appointment.  There are a small proportion of appointments to bilingual non-imperative positions (0.8%), or 203 employees, who did not meet the language requirements of their positions upon appointment.

They are temporarily exempt for a two-year period on condition that they receive language training and meet the language requirements of their position.  

I am also pleased to report that, since March 31, 2005, there has been a steady decrease in the number of cases that do not comply with the Public Service Official Languages Exclusion Order or its Regulations. There were 22 such cases on March 31, 2011, significantly below the 320 such cases reported by the PSC in 2006. This reduction is attributable to the PSC's monitoring and the proactive measures taken by Deputy Heads to ensure employees obtain the necessary language qualifications.

Madam Chair, I would now like to speak about the work the PSC does as a department with respect to the Official Languages Act. It is a privilege to work at the PSC where our official languages and bilingualism are well established. 

In his 2009-2010 report card on the PSC, the Commissioner of Official Languages gave our organization a high rating on participation of French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians, but he also identified some shortcomings.  He noted that our official languages action plan needed to be updated.

The Commissioner also called for better coordination in our activities to reach out to the official language minority communities. His observations, along with the report of this Committee, were instrumental in helping us develop a new three-year action plan.

We are concerned about our activities involving official language minority communities, and we are doing more work in this area. For instance, our Atlantic regional office is implementing a pilot project to see how we can work more effectively with the francophone minority community to raise awareness about how staffing works in the federal public service. Our Champion is leading our efforts.

Madam Chair, I would like to acknowledge that the deficit reduction action plan will most likely result in less recruitment over the short term. However I believe that it is important to prepare our systems and tools to meet both current and future recruitment needs. In the meantime, the number one priority of the Public Service Commission is to support departments and employees in implementing the deficit reduction action plan which also includes that, as appropriate, official language requirements are respected.  

Social Media and the Internet

Let me now turn to another issue that is of interest to this Committee, how the PSC is using the Internet and social media to communicate more effectively and to improve the delivery of our services to Canadians.

The PSC has taken a gradual approach to innovation, first using these new tools within the organization as a way to test their application and then bring those tools and experience to improve the way we do our work.

This brings me to our most recent innovation, which involves a pilot project to test and evaluate the use of Twitter to communicate externally with job seekers.

We created two Twitter accounts – one English, one French. The two accounts now have a total of 944 followers.  The PSC’s tweets, are posted simultaneously in both official languages.  In addition, the English account is promoted on the French page and vice versa. Replies to any inquiries are done in the official language of origin. 

Another initiative is the instructional video project to explain the Test of Oral Proficiency.   We produced two in-house videos, “How well do I speak French?” and “Est-ce que je parle bien l’anglais?” Those videos are available on our website, and we have provided links on the jobs.gc.ca website. We also produced audio clips to clearly demonstrate linguistic performance at the A, B, and C levels. 

The Twitter and instructional video projects enhance the value of our Web site, which we recently redesigned in collaboration with departments and agencies.  Those changes focused mainly on improvements for the job seeker, including easier access to career information through improved search functions, videos with employee testimonials and a Job-seeker Satisfaction Survey to solicit feedback about the site, its search tool and their experience with the staffing system. 

This brings me to the Public Service Resourcing System, or PSRS, which is the national electronic recruitment system behind the federal government’s primary job portal. This system is used by all organizations under the PSEA for staffing purposes to post jobs open to the public as well as those for students and post-secondary graduates. In 2010-2011, this system handled more than 810,000 job applications in response to just over 3,100 advertisements.  All of the information is in both official languages and communications throughout the hiring process is in the preferred language of the applicant.

Through our system, Canadians can now monitor job advertisements on our website and apply directly for jobs from their homes. We are moving forward with other initiatives such as unproctored or unsupervised Internet testing. Over the long term, I believe that on-line testing will improve access, and allow more people to be tested and to have a greater opportunity to participate in hiring into the federal public service.     

Conclusion

Madam Chair, I also believe that our initiatives at the Public Service Commission help promote Canada’s linguistic duality.  I am committed to making sure that linguistic duality is at the forefront of all our activities. 

We look forward to continuing to work with Parliamentarians, as well as our partners and our fellow Canadians, to ensure a non-partisan and representative public service that is able to serve Canadians in the official language of their choice. 

Thank you and I would be very happy to respond to your questions.