Workshop participants say there are two main barriers to the government adopting plain language. In both cases, participants lay responsibility at the door of senior government officials.

They say the first barrier is that Ministers and senior management do not use plain language when they review and change documents.

Secondly, they say that many senior officials believe that jargon and complex sentences give the appearance that a person or organization is in control and educated.

Promoting a GNWT plain language plan
The NWT Literacy Council believes training is essential to increased use of plain language. However, training on its own is not enough to sustain plain language use over the longer term.

The Council recommends a GNWT-wide commitment and plan to advance plain language use. Such a commitment and plan would include support and direction from senior management, promotion within the government, and further training opportunities.

As a first step to developing such a plan, this paper looks at the plain language policies, plans, and practices among a selection of Canadian jurisdictions and agencies.

3. Overview of Plain Language Use

Plain language use by governments in Canada is increasing. However, it happens on a project-by-project basis and does not include all communications.

Plain language use ranges from new plain language legislation to revised high school report cards.1 Plain language has yet to become a standard across any government. Plain language use often relies on the expertise of outside consultants.

The Canadian government commits to using plain language within its communications policy. It has published a communications toolkit and information about how to communicate with specific groups, such as seniors, aboriginal people, and less literate Canadians.

Like the federal government, no provincial or territorial government has a stand-alone plain language policy. A plain language policy was drafted by Communications Nova Scotia, but it was not approved by the government.

The GNWT has made commitments to plain language both in its Literacy Strategy, and in Doing Our Part: The GNWT’s Response to the Social Agenda. Its Communications Policy says: “government communications should use simple language and clear symbols in order to achieve clarity and ease of understanding.”

1 “Harris launches new, plain language high-school report card based on accountability and high standards.” News Release. Ministry of Education, Ontario. March 11, 1999.