The City of Ottawa is having trouble finding a new fire chief and filling other top jobs because of a requirement that candidates speak both French and English, a city councillor alleges.

"What's happened is it's limiting the job pool. And there's no question about it," Jan Harder, councillor for Barrhaven, said Tuesday. "People are being very honest in telling me that."

Harder alleged that few candidates are applying and those who do are "less than desirable."

In the meantime, she said, the city has been without a fire chief since Rick Larabie  retired four months ago and one of the city's directors has been doing two jobs while the parks and recreation director position remains unfilled.

The City of Ottawa's language policy requires people hired for certain jobs — especially senior positions and front-line service positions — to be bilingual.

However, Diane Deans, chair of the committee in charge of hiring a new fire chief, insists the city isn't limiting its pool of candidates based on the language requirement.

"We have not excluded anyone from either of our executive searches due to language," she said, adding that the city is taking its time looking for the perfect candidate and will soon be starting interviews.

She suggested it may be more difficult to find qualified people at the moment because people are afraid to leave a secure job for a new post when the economy is flagging or because the population is aging and older people may be less keen to switch jobs and cities.

Exemption possible

The city does have a policy that allows managers to ask city council for an exemption to the language requirement if they can't find a qualified candidate who is bilingual.

"And maybe we will," Deans said.

However, the city's francophone councillors don't like that idea.

"It's only used in exceptional circumstances," said Michel Bellemare, councillor for Beacon Hill-Cyrville. "And hopefully they're becoming fewer and fewer."

He added that the entire public and City of Ottawa benefit when the language requirement is enforced.

"Because we have at the end of the day administrators who are able to communicate in both official languages."

Clive Doucet, councillor for Capital ward, said one of Ottawa's greatest advantages is that it's a bilingual city and Harder's allegations are "a bit insulting."

Jacques Legendre, councillor for Rideau-Rockcliffe, said he finds it hard to believe that the language requirement is a barrier to finding successful candidates.

"I think it's a matter of searching properly."

Corrections

  • In an earlier version, CBC News reported Ottawa's retired fire chief was Bruce Montone. It was Rick Larabie who retired May 31, 2009.
    Oct 20, 2009 11:20 PM ET