Manitoba government 'playing with fire' by cutting half of French translation jobs, Opposition says

The Progressive Conservative government says the decision improves efficiency, but translators worry about speed and quality of work.

11 full-time positions will be eliminated, with work being done by freelancers

Rochelle Squires, minister responsible for Francophone Affairs, said in a statement the province wants to improve efficiency by increasing its use of freelance translators. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The Manitoba government is eliminating half of the jobs within its translation services department.

Instead, the work of translating thousands of pages between English and French will fall on freelancers.

The Progressive Conservative government says the decision improves efficiency, and will allow it to provide more government publications in both official languages.

"Placing increased reliance on freelance translators instead of in-house will allow the province more flexibility and result in fewer delays for documents," Rochelle Squires, the minister responsible for Francophone Affairs, said in a written statement.

Squires was not available for further comment.

11 positions being eliminated

A spokesperson for the province confirmed to CBC News that 11 positions within the department of 22 employees will be eliminated.

Seven full-time translators will lose their jobs, while another four positions that are currently vacant won't be filled. 

The decision isn't sitting well with the official Opposition.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew says the province's translation department provides a vital service. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"[This department] translates every single document that the government creates, that the public would be accessing," said Wab Kinew, the leader of the Manitoba NDP.

"This is a crucial part of Franco-Manitoban history. This is what led to the French language crisis in the 1980s — the fact that past governments weren't doing translation services in a way that met the needs of the community.

"The government is playing with fire here in making this cut."

PCs say freelancers will be able to translate more

Right now, the department translates 12,000 pages per year on average.

The PCs say they plan to increase that to 13,000 to 13,500 pages per year.

"We want to accommodate the needs of French translation in our province," Premier Brian Pallister said during question period on Wednesday.

"We believe we can get more French translation done. We believe we can better serve the francophone population of this province with the decisions we've made."

'Erosion' of French language services

Those who work in the field say they're worried that even if there are more pages being translated, the quality may be reduced.

"It's an erosion of the French language services offered to the francophone community," said Charles Leblanc, secretary of the Association of Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters of Manitoba.

"The great majority of documents translated by the service right now, is from English to French. So it affects mainly the francophones of the province."

The Manitoba government is eliminating half of the jobs in its translation services department. Soon the work of translating thousands of pages between English and French will fall to freelancers. 1:59

The union for the workers says it's concerned about how quickly documents can be translated.

"If you're looking at a public health emergency, or a flood situation, if they don't have in-house translation services, which allows us a quick response, then you're going to have a delay," said Michelle Gawronski, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union.

"You're limited to getting accurate and timely information out to the public when there's emergencies," she said.

The Manitoba government says its translation service currently works with 25 certified freelance translators.

"Freelance contractors will remain subject to quality control by the chief reviewer," the province wrote in a statement.

"Interpreters will remain available for translation and revision duties when not on assignment."

The province says the jobs will be eliminated by March 30, and the government will be working with affected employees to "explore all future options." 


  • An earlier version of this story said the Translation Services department translates 30,000 pages per year, and the province hoped to increase that by 10 per cent. In fact, the department translates 12,000 pages per year, and the province hopes to increase that to as many as 13,500 pages per year.
    Nov 29, 2018 1:13 PM CT

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or

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