A uniquely Ottawan communications problem?

As many of you know, I am currently doing some contract work for a federal government agency. It is my first taste of working in the public service; something I have considered as a career at various points.

However, while I speak pretty good French for a guy who spent his high school years on the west coast, my “language profile,” in bureau-speak, is nowhere close to where it needs to be to land anything close to where my skill set would otherwise land me.

Despite the fact that I am exceeding all expectations and working on far more than I was brought on board to work on, I could not be hired for my job if it was a permanent position.

I have mixed feelings about bilingualism as a policy. I believe francophones should have the right to work in the public service in their native language and I understand that Ottawa is HQ for government departments – there is going to be a mix of French and English ’round these parts. But it frustrates me that unless they are in very specific niche-type positions(speech writer, for example), communications people need to be bilingual.

Maybe it is just my approach to the biz but I count on being able to articulate myself well. Yes, communication is largely about making complex things simple but in order to that, you have to be able to understand and articulate the complex things first.

How many bilingual people can honestly say they can do that in both languages? My French comprehension is good enough that I can sit in on a meeting in French and follow along. I don’t catch every nuance but I understand what is going on. But if I have to contribute something, I do it in English – I don’t like being limited by language.

Communications people need to be masters of language. Our very job depends on our ability to make words work. I am not capable of doing that in two languages – should that make me unemployable as far as the government is concerned?


  1. Technically you are not unemployable, you are just unemployable in communications without a solid grasp of both official languages. I am sure there are positions for you that are unilingual.
    I think keeping a lot of the jobs bilingual is a good national goal. It encourages people to learn both a good skill anywhere and is good for national unity.
    I think in communication especially where both languages are neccesary it makes sense for the government to strive to hire bilingual people as much as they can rather than hiring two people who speak one language each.
    If we were talking about skills and not languages no one would begrudge the government for hiring someone with two skills rather than hiring two people with an individual skill each.
    It leaves me unqualified for several federal jobs too, but I am also unqualified for astronaut and I am not upset with NASA.

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