An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (French language)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Robert Aubin  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Feb. 29, 2012
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment harmonizes the language requirements that apply to federal works, undertakings and businesses operating in Quebec with those in force in that province.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • Feb. 29, 2012 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

February 17th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Manon Perreault Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-315, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (French language), introduced by my hon. colleague from Trois-Rivières.

The bill aims to harmonize the language requirements that apply to federal businesses operating in Quebec with those in force in that province. These businesses, which include banks, shipping companies, port services, communications companies and so on, must guarantee francophone employees the same language rights as are provided by the Charter of the French Language in Quebec.

I strongly support this bill. It is important to state that there are no losers with this bill. It would simply guarantee all workers the same linguistic rights. All workers in Quebec must enjoy the same right to work in their own language.

The bill provides that federal businesses carrying on activities in Quebec will be subject to certain requirements, including the following: using French in their written communications with the Government of Quebec and with corporations established in Quebec; giving their employees the right to carry on their activities in French; drawing up communications to their employees in French; preparing offers of employment in French and publishing them in a daily newspaper at the same time, and with at least equal prominence as any offers published in a daily newspaper in a language other than French; preparing collective agreements and their schedules in French; and finally, ensuring that arbitration awards made following arbitration of a grievance or dispute regarding the negotiation, renewal or review of a collective agreement shall, at the request of one of the parties, be translated into English or French, as the case may be, at the parties' expense.

Those are very reasonable provisions. In addition to ensuring a better work atmosphere for workers in Quebec, this bill would greatly assist the translation profession.

I should also point out that the intent of this bill is not to prohibit the use of another language, but no other language may take precedence over French. This bill would make it impossible for an employer to dismiss, lay off or demote an employee because the employee demanded that a right arising from the provisions of this bill be respected.

I have an example. A woman works at a bank. She is a francophone who speaks a bit of English. Her boss is more comfortable using English. What language takes precedence? We would guess English. Under this bill, that woman could receive her communications in French and would no longer have to be uncertain about what the memos in English mean. Does this stop the boss from speaking English? No, not at all, as long as French takes precedence.

The employee will be happier at work now that she finally understands all the memos she receives; the boss will be sure to have better communication with his employees without having to limit the use of his language of preference.

This bill will be beneficial and will help maintain a healthy and convivial work environment for everyone.

The types of businesses that will be affected are governed by the Canada Labour Code: banks, airports, transportation companies that operate between Quebec and one or more other provinces, telecommunications companies and radio stations.

One provision in the bill allows for exemptions. For example, an English-language radio station working for the anglophone community in Quebec and operating in English obviously would be exempt. This business could even ask the Governor in Council to grant some exemptions to reflect this business's reality.

This is more proof that this bill is not dogmatic, but that it was designed to reflect a majority of Quebeckers and to ensure that they feel acknowledged at home in Quebec and also within the Canadian federation.

It is important to note that there are no losers with this bill. It will allow Quebec workers to work in their language and have access to all the necessary work material in French.

It is difficult to understand why or how an employee working in a bank in Quebec, for example, does not have the same language rights as his counterpart working in a credit union on the other side of the street, when both are working in Quebec.

My colleague's bill would remedy this situation. I do not understand why my colleagues opposite would vote against this bill, which is so well thought out and so important to us.

We are talking about respecting workers and their community in Quebec, without taking anything away from the other community. Furthermore, this bill does not apply to federal institutions, but to businesses. Institutions are subject to the Official Languages Act. Thus, it is very important to understand that communities throughout the country have nothing to fear and nothing to lose with Bill C-315.

Their language rights will always be protected by the Official Languages Act. Five years ago, this House adopted a motion recognizing the Quebec nation. Since then, very little real action has been taken to validate that motion. In 2011, this government appointed a unilingual anglophone to the Supreme Court and named a unilingual anglophone auditor general. What message is this government sending to francophones?

French is the language of the Quebec nation, a nation that the House of Commons and the Harper government recognized. Bill C-315, like other NDP bills, is an important contribution to the recognition of Quebec as a nation within Canada. I believe this is important and therefore I will repeat it. Bill C-315, like other NDP bills, is an important contribution to the recognition of Quebec as a nation within Canada.

The time has come to take real action. We have to show francophones in Canada that the federal government will defend their language and defend their rights as francophone workers. This government claims to be the champion of working people and people looking for jobs, at a time when the economy is in precarious shape. Here we have a way of helping those people.

This bill also protects working people. This legislation would prohibit an employer from dismissing or demoting an employee who demanded that a right arising from this legislation be respected. About 200,000 people do not benefit directly from the protections set out in the Charter of the French Language. In Quebec, it should go without saying that French will be used in businesses under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

The riding I represent is Montcalm, and it is over 95% French-speaking. For those people, this is a labour right. When a person goes to work to support her family, to make ends meet or to earn her living, she has the fundamental right to work in her language. That should be an even more concrete reality as a result of the recognition of the Quebec nation. These are language rights and issues that have dragged on for too long already.

To my constituents, the French language represents our Quebec culture, and it is unique. It is reasonable for them to want to protect it and preserve it and for them to want to work in French. I strongly urge all members of this House to vote for this bill, to show the importance of the French language. This bill is an excellent opportunity to send a clear message to francophone working people in Quebec. Let us show that we are concerned about their work environment and their right to work in French.

I congratulate my colleague, the member for Trois-Rivières, for acting on this proposal. This bill is an art in itself, since it is an art to reason clearly and try to protect a language that is recognized as an official language. By voting for this bill, the federal government can finally demonstrate its intention of acting. Let us take action; let us support this bill, a bill that is extremely well reasoned and, let us say it, extremely well thought out.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

February 17th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-315, which seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code in order to put an end to a linguistic inconsistency in Quebec.

The bill, which was introduced by the hon. member for Trois-Rivières, is in line with what various professional organizations and francophone workers in Quebec are saying. Its purpose is to harmonize the language requirements that apply to federal businesses operating in Quebec with those in force in that province.

I would like to voice my unconditional support for this bill and explain why it should be passed by this House.

This bill will bring an end to a pattern that has been observed in federal businesses operating in Quebec, where francophone workers encounter language difficulties in their workplaces. Approximately 200,000 people are unable to take advantage of the provincial language requirements set out in the Charter of the French Language. They are therefore unable to use their mother tongue at work or are able to use it only sparingly. The Conseil du patronat du Québec found that the fact that employees are unable to use French in the workplace is a problem that affects the work environment. Now that it is aware of the problem, this year, the organization plans to hold a campaign to encourage these companies in Quebec to use French more often in their business activities.

It is essential to allow the members of the linguistic majority of a province to express themselves in their mother tongue. In Quebec, French is the predominant language, and francophone employees of federal businesses operating in Quebec have the right to use their mother tongue in the workplace. This bill will strengthen that right. The language rights of the other provinces have already been established, and I think it is important for Quebec to be able to take advantage of this harmonization with provincial language requirements.

I would like to add that this House adopted the following motion on November 27, 2006:

That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.

Allowing workers in federal businesses to speak French in their Quebec workplaces would help with Quebec's ongoing integration into Canada and would clearly illustrate the principle of asymmetrical federalism that is so dear to the official opposition.

I would like to quote the hon. member who introduced Bill C-315. His words provide a good summary of the spirit of this bill:

...[that] this bill is not dogmatic, but that it was designed to reflect a majority of Quebeckers and to ensure that they feel acknowledged at home in Quebec and also within the Canadian federation.

It has been said that this bill is contradictory. It is not. This is a pragmatic bill that strengthens the language rights of francophone workers—the linguistic majority in Quebec—while preserving the language rights of the province's linguistic minority, through clause 8.2 of the bill.

An exception is set out in clause 8.1 in order to respond to the social and economic reality of these federal businesses. In this case, everyone wins because Bill C-315 in no way infringes on the rights of the anglophone minority in Quebec.

I would like to add that this bill also authorizes employees to use a language other than French, on the condition that it not take precedence over French.

In closing, I would like to quote what the Minister of Labour had to say during question period on February 16, 2012.

Mr. Speaker, French is an integral part of our history, our identity, our daily lives, and it is one of the founding languages of Canada. Our government is committed to promoting and protecting the French language in Canada.

The solution is for the government to support this bill and vote in favour of it.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

February 17th, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to support Bill C-315, introduced by my NDP colleague from Trois-Rivières.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Canada Labour Code regarding French as the language of work in Quebec, in federally regulated businesses. I repeat: French as the language of work in Quebec in federally regulated businesses.

Why is it important for me to discuss this issue today? For over 15 years I helped to negotiate collective agreements in an effort to improve the lives of those around me. I came to realize that there is a flagrant omission in the Canada Labour Code, which affects thousands of workers. Although the majority of the population in Quebec speaks French, many francophone workers do not have the same language rights at work as their neighbours. This is incredible in 2012, but true.

Here is a concrete example: Aéroports de Montréal, an interprovincial and international transportation company, is subject to the Canada Labour Code. In 2004, Aéroports de Montréal carried out construction work and security guards were hired for surveillance purposes. In order to get the job, francophone workers had to complete unilingual English documents; there was no French version available. Another prerequisite: the guards had to be able to speak English. Yet, on the construction site, the language of work was French. All activities took place in French.

At around the same time, in 2004, workshops for municipal vehicles were built in Hochelaga. The City of Montreal is—obviously—not an enterprise that is subject to the Canada Labour Code. No francophone workers involved in the project were asked to complete forms in English, nor did they have to know English to work on the construction site where, again, all activities took place in French.

Fortunately for the Aéroports de Montréal security guards, the employees took a stand and contested these pointless practices. However, they had to defend their rights themselves because the Canada Labour Code did not offer them this protection.

Why did these two groups of employees working in the same city, at the same time, and in similar situations, not have the same rights? Because labour relations for employees of Aéroports de Montréal, whose activities are federally regulated, are governed by the Canada Labour Code and the Charter of the French Language and its consequential language rights do not apply. Quebec's labour relations laws do not apply to the employees of Aéroports de Montréal, while they do apply to employees of the City of Montréal, and the different codes have different rules. For example, unlike the Quebec code, the Canada Labour Code has no anti-strikebreaker provisions, more commonly known as “anti-scab” provisions. This is a great injustice that needs to be corrected as soon as possible.

Let us come back to the clauses related to language of work. Here is another example, a situation that many people can probably relate to. Madame Pelletier—an imaginary person—works in a chartered bank in Montreal east. Her cousin, Madame Aubé, works at a credit union a block away. Both cousins have the same training, work in similar jobs and work in completely francophone environments, but while Madame Aubé continues to advance her career, Madame Pelletier cannot apply for management jobs because she does not speak English. However, English is rarely spoken at her branch. Nevertheless, her bank requires that executives speak English. That is rather unfair, is it not?

Imagine a team working for a large telecommunications company in Amos, in the Abitibi region, that receives the text of an arbitral award rendered following a grievance that affects the team, but they receive it in a language that the team does not understand, because that language has never been required for their work in a francophone community. What do they do?

Bill C-315 will protect the linguistic rights of Quebec's francophone majority working in enterprises under federal jurisdiction. I already gave some examples of companies under federal jurisdiction—and so have other members: mills, radio and television broadcasters, interprovincial and international transportation companies, including rail, road, marine and air.

This would affect several thousand workers in Quebec. In his statement on Wednesday, the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice talked about “making Canada a strong...country in which Quebec has an important place”.

And yesterday, the Minister of Labour said:

Our government is committed to promoting and protecting the French language in Canada.

Our government is proud of Canadian bilingualism and our cultural diversity, and we remain fully committed to promoting the French language in Canada and abroad.

If they truly believe in this, here is an opportunity for the Conservatives to prove it and demonstrate that this is not just empty rhetoric. As my NDP colleague from Outremont often says, they need to walk the talk.

Recognizing the Quebec nation must not be merely symbolic. We do not need an advisory committee to examine the matter. We already know there are problems. While the intentions may have been good, it was money wasted. Other studies have already shown this. It is now time to act.

Bill C-315 proposes concrete results for Quebeckers without taking away the rights of other workers. It simply supports the rights of the francophone majority in Quebec, in the same way that the rights of the anglophone majority are protected outside Quebec .

Federal institutions, governed by the Official Languages Act, are not affected by this bill, because both official languages are already protected by the act. This is the case, for example, with the Port of Montreal, located partly in my riding, Hochelaga.

Nor would a business that provides services only to anglophone communities be asked to have all its documentation translated into French. That would not help anybody. This bill, however, would greatly improve the working environment for a great many francophone Quebeckers. On average, people spend at least a third of their lives at work—in our case, it is a little more—and an even higher percentage of their working lives. When you are not happy at work, the days seem long, and that obviously has a bearing on life outside work.

Having good working conditions is important to people’s mental and physical health and to the quality of their work. Even the Conseil du patronat du Québec is trying to convince businesses in the province that promoting the use of French in the workplace will actually benefit them. Bill C-315 is extremely important, therefore, on several levels: it provides a concrete and realistic solution to an increasingly evident problem; it confers rights upon thousands of workers without taking any rights away from anyone; it helps to create more healthy workplaces; it helps to foster more productive workplaces; it helps to protect and promote the French language; and it reaffirms the place of the Quebec nation in a fair and united Canada.

I therefore congratulate my colleague from Trois-Rivières for having taken up the cause in an effort to close a flagrant loophole in the Canada Labour Code, by proposing a fair and concrete solution.

I would strongly encourage members from all parties and provinces to show their solidarity with francophones in Quebec by supporting this bill.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

February 17th, 2012 / 1:55 p.m.
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NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today in this House, just like my colleague from Hochelaga, to support Bill C-315 introduced in the House by my colleague from Trois-Rivières.

This bill deserves our attention and support. It was a mistake, or at least an accident of Canadian history that a constitution was created in Canada that divides jurisdictions into federal and provincial. Our Constitution of 1867 listed a number of provincial jurisdictions. The intention was very clear in 1867: labour laws would largely fall under provincial jurisdiction. However, there are provincial industries that are completely governed by the federal level. We have to move forward with regulations in those fields. I am talking about fields of work that might have escaped the attention of our hon. colleagues of 1867. Obviously, the Internet did not exist in 1867. That is why telecommunications fall under federal jurisdiction today. The Constitution of 1867 states that anything not listed therein will fall under federal jurisdiction. In 1867, the telephone, the Internet and so forth, obviously did not exist.

That is why today we have workers in Quebec employed by Rogers who do not have the same rights as people employed by smaller, provincially regulated companies in Quebec. It is an inequality that we must resolve. Today, with Bill C-315, we can resolve this matter. We can correct this long-standing mistake, which should have been corrected a long time ago. I am surprised that this House has not done anything about these shortcomings before now.

I believe that my colleague from Hochelaga said that it was a shortcoming to have created a situation in which workers in Quebec are not on equal footing. It is completely unacceptable. We cannot allow an employee at a credit union in Quebec to not have the same rights as an employee who works at a National Bank branch. Even the November 23, 2011, edition of Le Droit raised the fact that “English is quite present at the Banque Nationale”.

Surprisingly, I believe that most Quebeckers may not realize that the people they go to see every day, such as National Bank tellers, do not enjoy the same rights as those who work for provincially regulated companies. That is something we need to address. I believe that the bill before us provides an invaluable opportunity to make changes that have been needed for a long time. We should have addressed this issue a long time ago.

Labour law in Canada is not just about the rights and bills that we debate in the House. Today, we are talking about people's day-to-day lives. People have to feel comfortable in their workplace.

I will repeat the point raised by the member for Hochelaga. She said that labour law in Canada is not the same as labour law in Quebec. Those governed by Quebec's labour legislation enjoy a number of benefits not enjoyed by those governed by Canada's labour code. For example, she spoke about the right, during a strike, to not be replaced by scabs. We have that right in Quebec. This is really something that needs to be fixed, but it is not included in this bill. This bill deals with language. I would like to point out that there are many changes that should be made to Canada's labour law. And that may be one of the most important changes that we should address.

Today, we will discuss language rights. I will point out that there are many people who may not understand today that we are not talking about language rights in Canada.

The Official Languages Act will not be affected by today's bill. All the federally regulated services that are already offered in both official languages will continue to be where needed.

In my riding, many anglophones absolutely want to protect their linguistic rights, their culture and their heritage. These anglophone families have been in my riding for hundreds of years, and we are certainly not casting them aside. We will continue to protect their language. It is not a question here of taking away the rights of anglophones in Quebec. It is a question of giving concrete expression to the rights that francophones should have had a long time ago by virtue of the fact that they work in a federally regulated enterprise.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, it is more by constitutional accident that telecommunications companies, for example, are governed by the federal government rather than the provinces. I am convinced that had the telephone and the Internet existed in 1867, they would have been made a provincial responsibility. However, they did not exist at the time. According to the Constitution, anything not already covered automatically falls under federal jurisdiction.

It may have been a mistake at the time, but what is important is to respect the Constitution and everyone's rights in order for all Canadians to be on an equal footing. In one province in particular, it just does not make sense that workers in one company do not have the same rights as workers in another.

I really want to make sure that people understand that Quebec has different responsibilities than the other provinces. The House has recognized it: Quebec is a nation. There are reasons why we said that. It must not be an empty gesture. If the government recognizes that Quebec is a nation, it must be consistent and put forward bills that prove that the House of Commons respects Quebeckers and the role they have to play in our federal system. Quebec is responsible for promoting the French language within the province, in North America and throughout the world.

Canada is a bilingual country founded by at least two nations. I would even say that we should go a bit further and include the first nations among the founding peoples, but that is another bill for another day. Today, we must focus on Bill C-315, the purpose of which is to respect the language rights of Quebec workers. It is not right that, in Quebec, people are being refused rights because they are francophone. In Quebec, a province that is made up of a large francophone majority, it is not right for collective agreements to be written in English only. We must address the major shortcomings in the Canada Labour Code. Amendments must be made. We must implement the changes that the hon. member for Trois-Rivières is proposing in this bill.

Today's bill is in agreement with the Conseil du patronat du Québec, the Quebec Employer's Council. Working effectively can only be good for business.

This is not just a matter of language rights or a matter of human rights, it is also a matter of common sense. In Canada, if a company wants to find workers, it is perfectly normal for that company to offer them working conditions that respect their living conditions and make it easier for them to integrate into the company. It is a matter of respect for the individual.

People often see themselves in terms of their work. They want to go to work knowing that their employer respects them. It has been mentioned a number of times that the rate of depression and even the suicide rate increase when people are unemployed. We want to create workplaces where people feel respected so that they can develop and so that we can have a united Canada that respects the language rights of all Canadians.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

February 17th, 2012 / 2 p.m.
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NDP

Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise in support of this great piece of legislation, which is essential. I also want to congratulate the hon. member for Trois-Rivières for proposing it. As previous speakers have mentioned, this bill addresses a deficiency. The fact that no member from the government or from the other parties has risen to support this bill makes me wonder. Why do they not support it? I would appreciate an explanation.

I am going to talk about the purpose of this legislation. I represent the riding of Terrebonne—Blainville in the beautiful province of Quebec. When I travel to other parts of the country and tell people I come from Quebec, the first thing they think about is French.

People who do not live in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada would be surprised to learn that there are places where the working environment is English-speaking. Why? It is because our laws are flawed, and this is what the bill seeks to correct. In short, this legislation is useful because it would apply the province's language requirements to federally regulated businesses. As my colleagues who have spoken before me have pointed out, French may be the primary language of work in a small telecommunications company. However, there could be a business next door like Rogers, which is federally regulated, where employees are forced to speak English.

I totally object to this situation and to the fact that an employee may be told by his employer that he must learn English to work there. This is completely ridiculous. We must stop thinking in those terms and correct the flaws in the legislation.

I have some facts for those who criticize this bill on the ground that it is unnecessary. There are 200,000 workers who are not covered by the Charter of the French Language. We are talking about 200,000 people who go to work and may be forced to speak English, that is, to work in a language that is not their first language. This can create a working environment in which workers are less happy. It is important to point this out.

The Quebec Labour Code does not apply to federally regulated businesses, and this flaw must be corrected. Someone mentioned that the hon. Minister of Industry has set up an advisory committee. Perhaps this will correct the situation, but who will appoint the members of that committee, how much will the consultation process cost, and how long is it going to take? Will a report be produced? Will something come out of that exercise? A committee is just a half-measure to correct the situation. We must move forward and support Bill C-315.

I remind hon. members that Quebec was recognized as a nation in the House by all hon. members and by this government. If we believe in the concept of nationhood, it is essential to respect the language rights of Quebec's francophone majority. I want to tell members from Ontario, New Brunswick—actually not New Brunswick, because it is not a good example—and British Columbia, where the anglophone population forms a majority, that this bill will not apply to their provinces. It will only apply to Quebec, where the rights of the linguistic majority are not respected the way they should be. The bill directly addresses this issue.

I have a quote for those who think that this bill is unnecessary. It is taken from an article on the issue of English at National Bank in Quebec: “According to several sources, English has become the primary language of work for a large number of National Bank employees, particularly in the information technology or IT sector.” This is a major problem. When we think “Quebec”, we think “French”, but with such flaws in the legislation, we cannot move forward and correct the situation.

This is all I have to say on the bill. However, I want to congratulate my colleague again for proposing a great piece of legislation. I urge all hon. members to help our members and the workers in Quebec who must learn a language other than their mother tongue in order to work and keep their jobs. I urge all hon. members to rise in support of French.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

February 17th, 2012 / 2:10 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, based on my understanding of the procedure, I have five minutes to conclude on such a fundamental bill. I am not going to repeat what was said by my distinguished colleagues, but I thank them for supporting this bill. I also thank all the parliamentarians who spoke during the first hour of debate that we had on Bill C-315. There were a few parliamentarians from the third party and even from the government.

I must admit that I am somewhat uneasy as I conclude in these last five minutes, because I do not really know what to expect, particularly since the government has announced the establishment of a committee to review the issue and determine whether there is a problem with the use of French in Quebec's federally regulated businesses.

If the government has not already seen that there is a problem, that is a problem in and of itself. But even if there were no problem, Bill C-315 recognizes a basic right for workers in Quebec which, again, is the only province where French is the official language. Nowhere else in Canada does a worker feel compelled to defend his language of work. This is because the language of work in the other provinces is respected. There is something unique here, and this is why this bill is also unique in that it recognizes the rights of Quebeckers. Such recognition is a no-brainer, even if there were no problems. But it is already too late: the problems exist, so let us deal with them now.

The New Democratic Party is a great national party which fully and unanimously supports this bill. No one can say that this legislation was concocted by a group of francophones seeking some privileges. Everyone recognizes that this bill provides Quebeckers with a critical element, following the recognition of their province as a nation. For this, I thank all my other colleagues, and I hope the House will at least agree to have the bill reviewed in committee.

If it needs to be improved on—like all bills, and mine is no exception—let us at least allow it to follow its course and be reviewed by a standing committee. At the same time, the minister's committee can do its own work and shed a different light on the issue. We are not opposed to anything, but please let us not shut the door on the rights of Quebeckers that are recognized in this bill. Otherwise, it will be yet another step backward. In this kind of situation, the status quo is not an option. If we do not recognize the problems, and if we do not solve them, we get caught up and we slip backwards.

I hope all francophones and francophiles in this Parliament will give the bill a chance to go further and refer it to committee for clause by clause review. I am using the term “francophiles” in its broadest sense, because one does not have to speak French to be a francophile, but simply have an open mind toward that language.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

November 25th, 2011 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

moved that Bill C-315, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (French language), be read the second time and referred to committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to see that this House is going to take a few minutes today, even if it is a very few, to discuss the private member’s bill I am sponsoring, the objective of which, I would recall, is to give workers in Quebec who are employed in a work, undertaking or business under federal jurisdiction the same language rights as are provided by the Charter of the French Language in Quebec.

It is actually difficult to understand why, or how, an employee who works in a bank in Quebec, for example, would not have the same language rights as his or her counterpart who works in a caisse populaire across the street, in both cases within Quebec. So this bill is a matter of common sense and I find it hard to see anything that might prevent us from voting unanimously for once in this House.

A well, the purpose of this bill is to recognize the language rights of the francophone majority in Quebec. Because those rights are already recognized for the anglophone majority in the rest of the country, it would seem that we can give to Quebec without taking anything away in the rest of Canada.

On November 27, 2006, this House adopted a motion that stated:

That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.

What I would hope, following on the proposals made to the Quebec nation by my late leader Jack Layton, is that by this bill and others that my colleagues in the NDP will be proposing we will contribute to better defining the place and rights of Quebec within Canada in concrete terms.

Today, with this bill, we have a golden opportunity to begin to recognize that uniqueness through concrete action. There are more than 200,000 workers in Quebec who would thus have the language rights that are taken for granted by all Canadian workers formally recognized and secured. Over seven million people in Quebec would be hearing: “Welcome to Canada, you will soon feel at home with us.”

The day after I was elected, and right up to today, whenever people on the Hill who imagined that the Bloc had virtually disappeared congratulated me for playing a part by defeating a Bloc candidate, I replied that Quebec had chosen to give federalism another chance because with his asymmetrical federalism approach, Jack Layton had succeeded in persuading them that they could hope to rejoin Canada in style one day.

The time has come to take the first step toward Quebec. I refer indeed to a first step, because the process will not end with this bill. While I do not want to be a prophet of doom, we cannot hope that Quebec will offer us a perpetual opportunity to walk together on the path toward building a new Canada that will not deny in practice what it has been happy to recognize in theory. Many years ago, this was what my little catechism called the difference between wishful thinking and real achievements. And so at a time when the Conservatives have Quebec in their sights with bill after bill that is contrary to the broad consensus of our society, it is high time for action and not studies.

Now, for all the francophones in Canada, members of minority language communities, whether in British Columbia or Manitoba or Nova Scotia, and I will be forgiven for not naming them all for want of time, who might be worried when they see this bill that they are seeing the disappearance or decline of the concept of the linguistic duality in Canada, the concept that is the guarantee of their development, I can reassure them and tell them it is nothing of the sort.

Moreover, this bill does not apply to federal institutions, it applies to works, undertakings and businesses. The institutions are subject to the Official Languages Act. And so the communities throughout Canada have nothing to fear and nothing to lose with Bill C-315. Their language rights will still be protected by the Official Languages Act. As well, through my work on the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I will continue to mount a strong defence of their interests for as long as I hold this position.

The same is true for the anglophone minority language community in Quebec, with whom I have had excellent discussions and who now understand that it is possible to be in favour of Bill C-315 without being against the anglophone minority in Quebec.

Now, let us get to the heart of Bill C-315 to assess the impact and to pick up on any problems, because we know that, all too often, the devil is in the details.

With the current wording, federal works, undertakings or businesses carrying on their activities in Quebec would be subject to the following requirements: using French in their written communications with the Government of Quebec and with corporations established in Quebec; giving their employees the right to carry on their activities in French; drawing up communications to their employees in French; preparing collective agreements and their schedules in French; preparing offers of employment in French and publishing them in a daily newspaper at the same time, and with at least equal prominence as any offers published in a daily newspaper in a language other than French.

I should also point out that the intent of this bill is not to prohibit the use of another language, but no other language may take precedence over French. This bill would make it impossible for an employer to dismiss, lay off or demote an employee because the employee demanded that a right arising from the provisions of this bill be respected. This is not rocket science for anyone living and working in Quebec.

What types of businesses would likely be affected by this bill? Banks, airports, transportation companies that operate between Quebec and one or more other provinces, telecommunications companies and radio stations. In the last case, imagine an English-language radio station working for the anglophone community in Quebec and operating in English. This business could even ask the governor in council to grant some exemptions to reflect this business's reality.

This is more proof, if it was even necessary, that this bill is not dogmatic, but that it was designed to reflect a majority of Quebeckers and to ensure that they feel acknowledged at home in Quebec and also within the Canadian federation. Need I remind members that when the Supreme Court of Canada was examining the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Charter of the French Language, it ruled that the objective of this legislation was to promote and protect the French language and to assure that the reality of Quebec society is communicated through the “visage linguistique” ? That was also an important recommendation in the Larose commission report, presented in 2001.

While some here in the House do not feel that this bill goes far enough, I know that for others it creates undue fear. It is understandable that they have those fears, though, because our country's language battles often cloud our vision. With the help of the members of my party, we have done our homework and the NDP caucus is unanimous in recommending that this bill be passed. It is part of the huge legacy left to us by Jack Layton when he mapped out his vision of the Canada of tomorrow.

And although he has left us, his vision remains and all those who believed in him and who believe in an inclusive Canada where Quebec can reclaim its place are waiting for us to roll up our sleeves and get down to it. That is our Canada, and it is up to us to build it. No one will buy into the idea of more studies instead of action. The government's waffling will get us nowhere.

So let us take action and work to build today's Canada together, right now, and make it a place where the Quebec nation will find some recognition.

To conclude, I would like to sincerely thank the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for seconding my bill as well as all the members of the House who are taking the time to debate this bill, which is so important for Quebec, of course, and I would dare say for Canada's future.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

November 25th, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-315, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (French language), introduced by my colleague from Trois-Rivières.

To begin with, I think it is important to explain the situation in Quebec to my colleagues as it relates to the language of work.

In Quebec, there are two separate sets of rules governing the language of work, which cover different categories of institutions, businesses and workers. First, there is the Official Languages Act, which applies to all federal institutions that carry on their activities in Quebec, with the exception of private businesses under federal jurisdiction, such as Bell Canada, to name one example. That important legislation covers about 76,000 employees in Quebec. It stipulates that English and French are the languages of work.

Second, there is the Charter of the French Language, which recognizes French as the official language of the province. The Charter of the French Language lays down the rules to be followed in relation to the use of French in workplaces under provincial jurisdiction. Those rules apply to nearly 3.8 million Quebec workers. About 130,000 employees in the private sector, in some 1,750 businesses under federal jurisdiction in Quebec, are not covered by either the Official Languages Act or the Charter of the French Language.

It is also important to note that the provincial and territorial governments, with the exception of the Government of Quebec, do not regulate the use of languages of work in businesses in the private sector. The same is true of the federal government, with the exception of former Crown corporations such as Air Canada and CN, which are subject to the Official Languages Act.

What Bill C-315 is proposing is to include provisions in the Canada Labour Code so that French would be used in all private sector businesses and organizations under federal jurisdiction that carry on business in Quebec. It must be pointed out that this bill could impose potentially costly statutory and regulatory requirements on some private sector businesses under federal jurisdiction, and particularly small and medium-sized businesses, that operate in Quebec—requirements that would not be imposed on them if they were operating elsewhere in Canada, need I remind the House. I do not think this is the right time to be adding new statutory and regulatory requirements to the already heavy burden on private enterprises in this time of economic uncertainty. We should rather be reducing administrative burdens, and that is what we are doing.

There are many private businesses under federal jurisdiction that voluntarily comply with the Charter of the French Language. Those businesses are setting an example. We support their determination to promote the use of French as the language of work in Quebec.

Our government is sensitive to the desire of Quebeckers to work in French. It is also sensitive to the importance of the French fact in Canada. In that regard, I would like to quote from the 2010 Speech from the Throne:

Canada’s two official languages are an integral part of our history... our Government will take steps to strengthen further Canada’s francophone identity.

For the time being, we do not have any conclusive data to show whether Quebeckers working for federally regulated private businesses have difficulty working in French. In fact, there is little information to support the argument behind Bill C-315. The labour program has yet to receive a complaint. Furthermore, in the 2006 census, close to 96% of all francophone Quebeckers reported that they used French at work most often.

We need conclusive data. We need to clearly understand the situation facing federally regulated workers and private businesses in Quebec. We must listen to what they have to say. That is why our government announced that it planned on creating a consultative committee, which will assess whether a problem exists with regard to the French language in federally regulated private businesses.

French is widely used by Quebeckers at work. We believe that the consultative committee that will be created will help us move forward in the debate on this important issue. I urge my colleagues in the House to join me in opposing Bill C-315.

I also urge them to support the government in its decision to appoint someone to help the Minister of Labour learn about this important issue.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

November 25th, 2011 / 1:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-315 introduced by the hon. member for Trois-Rivières—whom I am getting to know and for whom my respect is growing—is of great interest, primarily because it highlights contradictions, both on the government side and on the official opposition side.

Let us begin with the government and the first contradiction. We all remember the Conservatives' reaction last summer, when the Commissioner of Official Languages decided to investigate the nature of linguistic services provided by private businesses in the national capital region.

At the time, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages said: “It is not the federal government's business to monitor the language used by private businesses with their customers.”

Yesterday, the Minister of Industry and Prime Minister's political lieutenant for Quebec said: “I have the privilege of announcing today in the House that our government is going to set up a consultative committee that will be responsible for determining whether a problem exists with regard to the French language in federally regulated private businesses. ”

This is some contradiction. In light of this contradiction, a few questions come to mind. First, what has changed? Second, if an assessment of the use of French is now the “federal government's business”, as the minister said yesterday, why not ask the Commissioner of Official Languages to tackle that job? He is equipped to do so. Moreover, are the Conservatives beginning to feel the heat regarding official languages? Could it be because of the appointment of a unilingual Auditor General, who is an officer of Parliament, despite the opposition of all parties in the House, except the party in office?

Let us also not forget another contradiction, and I am referring to Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act. It took the Conservatives six years to finally come up with this legislation, and they still do not seem to be in any rush, because we have not heard about this bill since it was first introduced, on October 16.

And what about the gaping holes in the bill? For example, there is no reference to part IV, namely the right to work in the official language of one's choice. The right of employees to communicate with their supervisor in French or in English seems to worry the Conservatives in the case of National Bank, but not Air Canada's subsidiaries or the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. That is another big contradiction.

As for the official opposition, its most glaring contradiction is to claim to be protecting Canada's linguistic minorities yet to ignore the concerns generated by Bill C-315 in Quebec's anglophone community.

Here is what the Quebec Community Groups Network has to say about Bill C-315:

The QCGN continues to oppose federal legislation that asymmetrically addresses the language rights of Canadians. We appreciate the time that... [the hon. members for Trois-Rivières, Acadie—Bathurst and Outremont] spent explaining the proposed legislation to us on October 18, and accept at face value their reasons for continuing to introduce bills which would asymmetrically extend language rights to some Canadian citizens depending on their official language, and place and type of employment. The QCGN has not supported previous attempts by the Bloc Quebecois or the New Democratic Party along these lines, nor is it likely to in future. We firmly believe that Canadians living in the nation's English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada are best served, and their rights best protected by maintaining the equality of our two official languages.

Furthermore, in the spring of 2010, Nicola Johnston, co-chair of the QCGN Youth Standing Committee, appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Here is what she had to say, and I quote:

But the reality is that the English-speaking youth in Quebec face lower political participation and representation and higher unemployment rates compared to their francophone counterparts. We are effectively barred from the Quebec civil service, with a participation rate of 0.2%.

...but I know that it will be a major challenge, and perhaps even an obstacle, for me to be able to serve in the public service of my own province, because I am an English speaker. In contrast, many of my classmates will return to their home provinces to work in the provincial civil service, building on a sense of identity, belonging, and ownership that is perhaps not available to me and others like me.

When studying such a bill, we cannot underestimate its impact on Quebec's anglophone population, especially the younger population.

Here are some other contradictions from the official opposition. The bill contains two main provisions. My colleague talked about the first, which describes in detail the right to work in French in so-called “federal” businesses in Quebec. But there is no mention of a customer's right to be served in French or English.

By so-called “federal” enterprises, are we talking about corporations such as VIA Rail, Canada Post, Air Canada, the airports, which he mentioned, or the Old Port of Montreal? There may be some confusion and it is not clear. Finally, and this is likely the most juicy contradiction, there is the addition of the second section that gives the governor in council, or cabinet, and therefore the Prime Minister, the power to exempt every so-called “federal” enterprise for all manner of reasons. Why bother legislating if all the power is being given to the Prime Minister?

What can we do about all these contradictions? I believe that two big ideas and two major, fundamental principles must prevail. First, given our history, our Constitution and our desire to all continue living together harmoniously, it is up to the Canadian government to promote linguistic duality, in other words, our two official languages: English and French.

Second, the Canadian government has the duty to protect and support official language minority communities in their development. If there is a legal gap in the Canada Labour Code and there is a willingness to fill that gap—it is not clear whether that is the case—allow me to humbly suggest in this House that it should perhaps be filled by the Official Languages Act, federal legislation that represents quite well the will of Canadian Parliament and the Canadian people.

If there is a desire to extend the Canadian government's responsibility for official languages or linguistic requirements toward the private sector in Quebec and elsewhere in the country, should we not look to quasi-constitutional legislation that covers both the promotion of English and French—linguistic duality—and respect for linguistic minority rights? That is what every minority community in the country wants, including the anglophone minority community in Quebec. That is the position of our party and I am very proud of it.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

November 25th, 2011 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-315, introduced by the hon. member for Trois-Rivières. I would like to congratulate him on this bill. This is the second time that a similar bill has been introduced in the House, but this one is more specific. It does not target the public service and federal institutions because they are already covered by the Official Languages Act. I would also like to comment on the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier's speech on this bill.

There was a debate in the House that was brought forward by the Conservative government. There were discussions with our former leader, Jack Layton, and we agreed to recognize Quebec as a nation. The Liberals voted in favour of that. I do not want to get into the definition of a nation and on what it should be given. In terms of labour law, it is hard to believe that in Quebec, where there is a provincial law, workers, as my colleague from Trois-Rivières so rightly said, have the right to work in their language at a credit union, but not in a bank. How can that happen in Quebec?

We also met with the association representing anglophone minorities in Quebec. Anglophones are not entirely comfortable with this bill because it will help only one province instead of the entire country, but they are not overly concerned. They understand. I got the impression that they understand what is happening, especially in Quebec.

The House made the effort to recognize Quebec as a nation. The labour code of that nation gives people the right to work in French and to have their collective agreements in French. However, in federally regulated private businesses, people do not have the same right. That is very difficult to accept.

The bill introduced by the member for Trois-Rivières does not say that anglophones cannot work in their language. Members must not try to muddy the waters and make people believe that we are trying to take something away from anglophones in Quebec. We are simply saying that francophones have the right to work in their language. They are the majority and they have the right to work in their language. Quebec is the only province in Canada and in North America that is truly francophone.

After the bill was introduced, the Minister of Industry and Minister of State for Agriculture said that as far as language of work was concerned, the NDP had clearly not done its homework. He has the nerve to say that in the House when his government just appointed a unilingual Auditor General of Canada. They have the nerve to stand up in the House and say that the NDP did not do its homework when they have the power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court.

This is 2011. Our country has been bilingual for 40 years, but the Auditor General of Canada is going to go before the press to report to Canadians without being able to speak one of our country's official languages. They have the nerve to tell us in the House that we did not do our homework? We are doing our homework by introducing a bill like this one, to allow a francophone employee working for a private company in Quebec to speak his language and have his collective agreement in his language.

The House cannot support that, but it can recognize Quebec as a nation?

It is not enough to just unanimously accept that Quebec is a nation. We need concrete actions. One of the best actions that can be taken is to ensure that all workers in Quebec can work in their language without taking anything away from anglophones in Quebec. This bill does not take anything away from them. The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier tells us this bill might prevent clients from being served in their language. Let us be reasonable. The bill does not do that. We are not in Moncton, New Brunswick, the only bilingual province in Canada, where you cannot get served in French at the casino. In Montreal, you can get served at the casino in both official languages. We are not in Moncton, New Brunswick, where they thumb their noses at the French language. As a New Brunswicker, I am not shy to say so. I hope the Prime Minister hears me as well.

That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about respecting workers and their community in Quebec, without taking anything away from the other community. If there is anyone being trampled on in Canada in terms of language, it is francophones, because of the way today's Conservatives are treating official languages. With the new rules of the House of Commons and the Government of Canada, I had to file a complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages to get a new voice mailbox.

During the initialization, the voice mail will address the person in English, the system's default language. Once the person's voice mail initialization is completed, the person will be allowed to easily change it to French, should he or she choose to do so, by following these steps.

This is 2011. Are they trying to say that Bell Canada does not have the technology to put both official languages on their voice mail? All it would take is to add “press 2 for French and press 1 for English”. This is November 25 and we still have to file complaints with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Now they are worried because a bill will give workers in the Quebec nation the right to work in their language and to have a collective agreement in their language when they work for a federally regulated company. I have a hard time seeing how someone could not be in favour of this bill. I do not see how that could be the case.

Otherwise, perhaps we should have another vote in the House of Commons. Are they sure they want to recognize Quebec as a nation within Canada? We should ask that question again. Were they being sincere the evening of the vote when they recognized Quebec as a nation within Canada? Were they being sincere when they rose? If they were, they must take action and make some changes in this regard. They must be able to tell Quebeckers that they are not only welcome, but that they are also part of Canada, that they are Canadian citizens, regardless of whether they are from Quebec or any other province, and that we will work together and respect them.

It shows a lack of respect for the entire province of Quebec that, these days, people still cannot get their collective agreements in French. The government tells us that it will create a committee to take care of it and do its homework, but where have the Conservative members from Quebec been this whole time? It is true that there are not many left. Where were the Conservative members from Quebec when they voted to recognize Quebec as a nation?

That is why this bill is a way to show Quebec that it fits in with the rest of Canada and that we will work to keep Quebec with us in a united Canada. As colleagues, we will do it together.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

November 25th, 2011 / 2:10 p.m.
See context

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-315, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (French language).

This bill amends the Canada Labour Code to add requirements regarding the use of French in federally regulated private businesses operating in Quebec. More specifically, the bill requires employers to treat French as the language of work in federally regulated private businesses in Quebec.

The bill gives employees the right to carry on their activities in French, to draw up communications in French, to have their collective agreements and schedules prepared in French, and to have all arbitrations translated into English or French, as the case may be, at the parties’ request.

This bill does not prohibit the use of a language other than French, but no other language may take precedence over French.

It authorizes the Governor in Council to exempt, by regulation, federal works, undertakings or businesses from the operations of the provisions of the bill.

I would now like to take a moment to look at the existing language laws already in effect in Quebec.

As my colleagues before me have already explained, there are currently two distinct language regimes in Quebec, and these cover various groups of businesses and workers. The Official Languages Act applies to all federal institutions, including Parliament, federal departments, organizations and crown corporations, as well as former crown corporations and all ports and airports.

Canada Labour Code
Routine Proceedings

October 3rd, 2011 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-315, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (French language).

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to introduce a private member's bill to harmonize the language requirements that apply to federal businesses operating in Quebec with those in force in that province.

Although we must admit that the Conservatives were the ones to recognize Quebec as a nation, there is no denying that this concept has turned out to be nothing more than an empty gesture. This bill, however, would recognize the culture, language and rights of thousands of workers in Quebec on a daily basis.

This bill represents a step towards tangible recognition of Quebec as a nation within Canada, without taking anything away from the country's other provinces and territories. This clearly demonstrates the NDP's approach and its desire to move Canada forward by implementing asymmetrical federalism in which everyone feels that they have a voice and are being respected.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed.)