MONTREAL, QC-Canada's federal government and other bodies
subject to the Official Languages Act spend up to $1.8 billion
annually providing French-language services, according to a new
study released today by independent research organization the
The peer-reviewed report,
Official Language Policies at the Federal Level in Canada, measures how much the federal government spent on
implementing bilingualism policies in 2006 and estimates how
much it would have cost the private sector to offer French
translation of federal services instead.
"The annual cost of providing federal services in French as
well as English was between $1.6 billion and $1.8 billion in
2006. While the cost is not very high in relation to the
economy, it is still substantial and we should ensure that it
is money well spent," said François Vaillancourt, Université de
Montréal economics professor and co-author of the study.
Under the current system, all Canadians pay for the
provision of French-language services at an estimated cost of
$55 per Canadian. But if the private sector were responsible
for such translation services, only those requiring access to
government in French would pay the associated costs.
"Using the private sector to provide translation and
language services and moving to a user-pay model may be more
sensible from an economic perspective," Vaillancourt said.
"However, this would be a major change in public policy that
may not be acceptable, given the support shown for official
bilingualism by the Canadian population."
The study notes the main benefit of offering federal
services in both official languages is that it allows
Francophones to interact with the federal government in French.
Between 7 million and 7.5 million residents in Canada are
likely to interact in French with the federal government, given
their mother tongue and knowledge of official languages,
according to the 2006 census
Other benefits accruing from the federal government's
ability to interact in both French and English appear more
"Canada may be a slightly more attractive destination for
French-speaking tourists and foreign students. But the idea
that Canada will have increased access to world markets because
of the Official Languages Act is not borne out," Vaillancourt
"Canada has few French-language trading partners. Almost all
exports of Canadian goods and services are made using English,
mainly because more than three quarters of our exports go to
the U.S. market and because English is the language of
In addition to measuring the costs of implementing
bilingualism policies, the study details the history of the
Constitution and legal framework with respect to Canada's
official languages. The report also notes that French language
rights have indeed expanded since the execution of the Official
Languages Act 40 years ago.
Official Language Policies at the Federal Level in
is the first in a series of forthcoming studies on language
policy from the Fraser Institute.