House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was process.

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The House resumed from February 17 consideration of the motion that Bill S-3, an act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French), be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Godbout Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly an honour and a privilege for me to rise today in support of Bill S-3 to amend the Official Languages Act by making part VII subject to the court remedies provided by this act. Initially, this bill was introduced in the Senate by the hon. Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier.

Allow me to begin by commending Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier on his tenacity and commitment to the Canadian official languages policy. Bill S-3 was the fourth bill introduced by the hon. senator, who had previously introduced Bill S-4, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in the spring of 2004; Bill S-11, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2003; and Bill S-32, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in the fall of 2002.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the invaluable contribution and extraordinary work of Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who has always been a great defender of the rights of Franco-Ontarians and francophones outside Quebec.

I want to pay tribute to this citizen of Ottawa, who has had an exceptional career in the House of Commons and in the Senate. In addition to his work as an MP and a senator, and his involvement in the community, he was the Chair of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie from 1997 to 1999. He is a role model for all Canadians, and we thank him for everything he has done for francophone and Acadian communities across Canada.

The official languages policy is rooted in the past and the present. People have spoken French and English in Canada for centuries and, I am proud to say, they continue to do so in every region of our vast land.

The modern era of the official languages began with the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, as the federal government attempted to adapt to new realities, particularly the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.

In 1969, in light of the recommendations in the report tabled by the commission, Parliament adopted the first Official Languages Act, which recognized French and English as the official languages of all federal institutions. This legislation required such institutions to serve Canadians in the official language of their choice.

The fundamental principles of the current official languages policy are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 and the Official Languages Act of 1988. This legislation has three main objectives: to ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada, and ensure equality of status, and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all federal institutions; to support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities and to encourage the acceptance and use of both English and French in Canadian society; and to set out the powers, duties and functions of federal institutions with respect to the official languages of Canada.

Part VII of this act also sets out the government's commitment to enhancing the vitality of francophone and anglophone minority communities and supporting and assisting their development; and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.

To do this, the Government of Canada seeks to collaborate with other partners to ensure the advancement of the official languages in Canadian society. This legislation makes the Minister of Canadian Heritage responsible for promoting a coordinated approach to the implementation of the federal government's commitment, in consultation with the other federal institutions, the other orders of government and the agencies representing the different sectors of society.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage is the one responsible for taking such measures as she deems appropriate to support linguistic minority communities by supporting the various groups that work for these communities and by facilitating the contribution of other organizations and federal departments to their development.

The Department of Canadian Heritage enters into agreements on official languages with the provinces and territories in order to enable them to provide minority communities with education in their language and services in English and French in the regions of Canada in which these minorities live, as well as enhancing opportunities for all Canadians to learn English or French as a second language.

The legislation also aims to promote English and French within Canadian society by providing support to the various groups helping to recognize and implement the use of both official languages, and to strengthen understanding and dialogue between Canada's anglophone francophone communities.

Look at the progress made in education. Recent statistics indicate that young people from linguistic minorities represent the same percentage of university graduates as other young Canadians, which was not the case 30 years ago.

Thanks to the support provided to minority language education, the Department of Canadian Heritage works to ensure full participation by both language groups in all spheres of life in Canada. Not only do these programs foster the vital cultural contribution of anglophone and francophone minorities, , they also give them access to economic development.

So the progress that has been made in francophone minority education has played a key role in reducing illiteracy and the number of school drop-outs, while increasing the rate of participation in post-secondary education.

Thirty years ago, not only was the quality and accessibility of French education for francophone minorities a major challenge, it was also a major obstacle to the development and survival of these communities across Canada. There has been a considerable change since then.

In 1982, official language minority communities won the right to be educated in their own language and, a few years later, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed their right to run their own schools. We built schools, school-community centres, and colleges where there were none.

We worked with the provinces and francophone parents from one end of the country to the other. The economic value of quality public education in their own language for 1.9 million Canadians living in an official language minority community, cannot be underestimated.

The Official Languages in Education Program and the collaboration between the provinces, territories and the federal government allows more than 250,000 young people in official language minority communities to study in their own language in some 700 primary and secondary schools across the country.

All Canadians benefit from minority language education programs. Without them, as the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism pointed out, “these Canadians could not contribute fully to Canadian society”.

The Official Languages in Education Program helps fund a network of 19 francophone colleges and universities outside Quebec and supports 94% of anglophones in Quebec studying in English-language schools. These programs also allow 2.4 million young Canadians—more than 313,000 of whom are in immersion classes—to learn a second official language, which increases significantly the number of Canadians familiar with the French language and culture. Clearly, the education partnership works well.

Accordingly, the logical next step for Canadian Heritage as facilitator is to encourage its other partners to do more in order to help official language communities flourish.

The action plans the department puts in place must take into account the requirements of the minority official language communities and be formulated following consultation with them, so that departments and agencies include these considerations in planning their activities. The plans together with a report on the results achieved are submitted annually to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, who then submits a report annually to Parliament on the realization of the government's commitment.

We recognize a lot of work remains to be done. For this reason, the government is currently implementing its action plan for official languages, announced on March 12, 2003, which adds $751 million over five years to the official languages budget and which will benefit all Canadians seeking better access to our rich linguistic duality.

Ambitious and realistic, the action plan truly provides new momentum for Canada's linguistic duality. A new accountability and coordination framework has been developed and will consolidate the Government of Canada's policy, administrative and financial activities. One of the desired effects is to have federal institutions implement the Official Languages Act in a concerted and consistent manner and to report more transparently to the public. This accountability and coordination framework is designed to show the Canadian public the seriousness with which the Government of Canada treats this important matter.

Let us return, however, to S-3. Given the importance of the proposed amendments to the Official Languages Act, we must take the time to examine all of the options open to us before we continue. This is a serious matter. The implications of amending an act are many, and all must be taken into account. Therefore, the aim of Bill S-3 is certainly the logical evolution of the Official Languages Act and the bill should not be taken lightly. It is important not only for official language communities across Canada, but for Canadian society as a whole.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill S-3, a bill to amend the Official Languages Act.

My riding of Provencher, which is in southeastern Manitoba, has the largest francophone population in rural western Canada. It comprises about 15% of the population with communities such as Ste. Anne, La Broquerie, Ste. Pierre, Ste. Malo, Ste. Agathe, Ste. Adolphe, Otterburne, Lorette, Pine Falls, Powerview, St. George and Île-des-Chaînes, to mention some of them. The French language is thriving in Manitoba and, in particular, in my riding.

I would like to comment briefly on a May 1998 report written by provincial judge Richard Chartier on the operation of the province's French language services policy in Manitoba. The report was commissioned by the Manitoba Progressive Conservative government while I was the attorney general and our government committed to implementing that report. I am pleased to see that the implementation continues.

Judge Chartier's report is aptly titled, “Above All, Common Sense”. It focuses on making bilingual services more readily accessible in designated areas of the province, including my area of the province. Judge Chartier's key recommendation was that community service centres be established to serve as outlets for government services. He said that the province could better meet the objectives of our French language service policy by making sure that our services in French were actively offered in those regions where our francophone population is concentrated.

In his report he wrote that it was important to try to find practical solutions that could be applied immediately, above all, solutions that made use of common sense. While the report does not have a direct application to Bill S-3, I believe we can learn from the principles contained in that report.

The major purpose of Bill S-3 is to make the commitment set out in part VII of the Official Languages Act binding on the government. Section 41 of the Official Languages Act commits the federal government to:

(a) enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and

(b) fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.

The government has failed on both of those counts.

In 2004 the Federal Court of Appeal stated that “section 41 is declaratory of a commitment and that it does not create any right or duty that could at this point be enforced by the courts, by any procedure whatsoever”.

In other words, the court ruled that section 41 of the Official Languages Act was a broad statement of principle and not an actual legal obligation. The court went on to say, “the debate over section 41 must be conducted in Parliament, not in the courts”.

Bill S-3 addresses this ruling in two ways. First, it would add subsections requiring all federal institutions to take “positive measures...for the ongoing and effective advancement and implementation” of section 41”.

Second, it would add part VII of the Official Languages Act to a list of specific sections of the act that are justiciable, which is contained in section 77. In other words, the bill would make it clear that if the government does not live up to its obligations under part VII of the Official Languages Act it can be taken to court and forced to fulfill those obligations.

As a general principle, I am supportive of legislation that holds ministers accountable to their commitments. However there remain concerns with the bill as drafted. The first concern with Bill S-3 in fact centres around section 41.

Provincial governments have complained in the past that this section of the Official Languages Act infringes on their jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois made the same argument the last time this bill came before the House.

My concern is that making section 41 justiciable, that is allowing it to be subject to court action, would clear the way for court challenges that might result in section 41 and the rest of part VII of the Official Languages Act being struck down on the grounds that it was ultra vires or outside the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government. This concern was raised in committee in 2002 by the minister of justice at the time.

My colleague from Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry has committed to working with the members on the Standing Committee on Official Languages to amend the bill, perhaps by adding a section that expressly respects the provinces and limits the federal government to its own jurisdiction assigned to it in the Constitution so that it fulfills section 41 of the act within its constitutional mandate.

The second concern involves another section of the Official Languages Act that is affected by the bill, section 43. While Bill S-3 seeks to make the government's commitment under part VII of the Official Languages Act more enforceable, it does not clarify the scope of those commitments. As a result, unless the bill is amended, it could result in a wave of court actions and the loss of parliamentary control over the nature, extent and, indeed, the cost of the government's official languages program.

Section 43 currently states:

The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall take such measures as that Minister considers appropriate to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society--

Bill S-3 would change the wording of section 43 to clarify that the heritage minister “shall take appropriate measures” instead of “shall take measures that the Minister considers appropriate”. While it removes the minister's discretion when it comes to the general goal, the bill still leaves sections (a) through (d), the list of specific measures, totally up to the discretion of the minister.

What that means is that the minister does not have to do any of the specific things listed in section 43 but if someone were dissatisfied with the minister's performance when it comes to her or his very general objective, they could take the matter to court regardless of whether the minister takes any or all of the specific measures listed.

Now it seems totally backward to me to make the general obligation legally enforceable and the specific ones up to the discretion of the minister. This act needs to be clarified in that respect and give both the minister a clear direction and give the court a clear framework for deciding whether or not the minister is fulfilling his or her obligations.

I hope we can make suitable amendments to the bill in committee to make it more effective in meeting its goals. I will support the bill in principle and I will encourage my colleagues on this side of the House to do likewise, although they will be free to vote as they see fit since this is an item of private members' business. I think the intention of the bill is something that many members would consider to be reasonable and worthwhile.

I do want to say that if we approach this issue in a common sense way, the way that Judge Chartier did in Manitoba with his report, I think that we can continue to work together as two linguistic groups in this country, French and English, to ensure that the constitutional responsibilities that our governments have are carried out.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is of course with great pleasure that I rise today to address Bill S-3, an act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French).

I would like to begin by referring to the promoter of this bill, former senator Jean-Robert Gauthier. I want to stress the work and dedication of former senator Jean-Robert Gauthier in the defence of francophone minorities and the promotion of their rights.

I also wish to sincerely thank my fellow Bloc Québécois members who addressed this legislation during the first hour of debate at second reading. I am referring, among others, to the hon. member for Repentigny and the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, who are both staunch defenders of the rights of francophone minorities.

This bill, which amends the Official Languages Act, was the fourth one tabled in the Senate by senator Jean-Robert Gauthier. He first introduced Bill S-32 during the first session of the 37th Parliament, then Bill S-11 during the second session and, finally, Bill S-4 during the third session. These three bills, which died on the order paper, were, for all intents and purposes, identical to Bill S-3.

The bill that is now before us primarily seeks to enhance the enforceability of the federal government's obligations under Part VII of the Official Languages Act. We are referring here to the federal government's commitment to enhance the vitality of the English and French linguistic communities in Canada, to support and assist their development, and to foster the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. We are talking about section 41, which would be amended to make it enforceable and thus provide guidance for its interpretation by the courts.

Bill S-3 also proposes to amend section 43 to read as follows:

The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall take appropriate measures to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society.

Finally, it is proposed that part VII be added to subsection 77(1) of the Official Languages Act. This amendment to section 77 would allow citizens to file complaints before the courts to ensure that the obligations included in Part VII are met.

In summary, the purpose of this bill is to clarify the responsibility of federal institutions to implement Part VII of the act and to adopt regulations for the enforcement process of the requirements provided in section 41 of the act. Furthermore, it requires that the federal government take measures to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society. Finally, it provides for a court remedy to challenge a violation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act.

As we have said already, the Bloc Québécois cannot support this bill in its current form. We believe Bill S-3 is incomplete and contains elements that do not reflect the linguistic reality of Quebec and Canada in confirming the implementation of identical measures in Quebec and in Canada. This situation would deny the distinct character of Quebec.

Indeed, under section 43 of the Official Languages Act, as amended by Bill S-3, the government shall advance “the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society”. However, in Quebec, French is the very foundation of Quebec's identity in North America. Quebec is the only place on the continent where French can become the common language and the language of convergence and exchange of its citizens. On a continent where the overwhelming majority of people speak English, promoting the equality of use of English and French in Quebec would weaken the status of French in Quebec and in North America.

Another thing that must be kept in mind in this debate is that the Official Languages Act does not recognize the asymmetry of needs. Both minority linguistic communities in this country do not benefit from the same services. It is clear that the needs of the minority French communities are much greater than those of English speaking people in Quebec. The situation of French speaking people outside Quebec remains very alarming and uncertain in some regions.

Our political party has several times mentioned the notion that the Official Languages Act should recognize the asymmetry of needs. Unfortunately, Bill S-3 still does not reflect the importance of recognizing that asymmetry.

By the way, I should point out that the Bloc Québécois is not alone in proposing this approach. Indeed, the current environment minister and the Commissioner of Official Languages have said in the past that an asymmetrical approach should be taken to the official languages file.

Another major shortcoming of this bill is that section 43, as amended, could prompt the federal government to meddle in areas that are exclusively under the jurisdiction of Quebec. We all know how much the federal government, especially when it is led by the Liberal Party, has increased, year after year, its intrusions in jurisdictions exclusive to Quebec. Members will understand that the Bloc Québécois cannot support that aspect of Bill S-3.

The amendment to section 77 of the Official Languages Act, which gives citizens the power to turn to the courts to enforce the obligations listed in Part VII, also has many shortcomings. How can one explain the absence of precise criteria regarding results achieved by the federal government in the promotion of English and French? We believe that the absence of clarity could not only foster excessive recourse to the courts, but also encourage the central government to take measures in violation of the Charter of the French Language.

I would like to conclude my remarks by making two important points. Throughout this debate, it is obvious that the federal government, in and of itself, could feel obligated by Part VII of the Official Languages Act to ensure the development of minority French-speaking communities.

The problem, according to us, is not legislative, but political, one of attitude and conviction. Undoubtedly, there is a lack of leadership in the federal government with respect to official languages and this has been the case since the very beginning of the Official Languages Act. It is that lack of political will on the part of the federal government which has penalized francophone minority communities.

When a government cannot manage to enforce a piece of legislation that has been in effect for 35 years, and this legislation is disregarded with impunity in its own jurisdictions, departments, and public service, it is because this government does not have the political courage to enforce it.

Today, it is being suggested that making Part VII of the act enforceable could settle all the problems. Come on. As I just said, for 35 years, the federal government has not had the will to enforce the sections of the act that are already enforceable. Why would its attitude change overnight?

Our party is aware of the special difficulties French-speaking minorities have. Unfortunately, the federal government chose not to recognize their special situation. I want to emphasize that our position on Bill S-3 does not take anything away from our commitments to French-speaking and Acadian minorities in Canada. In fact, the opposite is true. Since 1994, when it made a formal commitment not to let down French-speaking Canadians and Acadians, the Bloc Québécois has been the political party in the federal Parliament which has most often raised issues that are important for French-speaking minorities.

On numerous occasions, we have pressured the federal government to raise the level of funding for French-speaking organizations. For example, we asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage to increase the funding for the Canada-communities agreements to $42 million annually to meet the request of the FCFA. Unfortunately, the government has still not responded favourably.

We also raised other issues such as the number of French-speaking Canadians at senior levels in the public service, the use of French at work, the requirement for Air Canada to provide service in French outside Quebec, and so on.

The Bloc Québécois has worked on all fronts and it will continue to do so.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, like the other members who spoke earlier, I would like to thank Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier for Bill S-3.

Like a number of French-speaking people living outside Quebec, I am from a part of our country that, during its history, has welcomed European immigrants coming directly from France. In Windsor and the riding of Essex, originally, a major segment of the population was entirely French speaking. These people could go to French schools and speak their language anywhere: at church, in stores and so on. This was not a problem.

However, after the second world war, particularly because of the influences of the United States, the French language began to disappear in my riding. This continued until the 1960s, when we started to fight against the disappearance of French.

Whether from St. Joachim, Belle-River, Pointe-aux-Roches or La Salle, all members of the community began saying that they and the federal government had the responsibility to ensure that their children will be able to continue to speak French and to preserve the French culture.

As a result of that battle, a lengthy fight has gone on. To some degree, Bill S-3 addresses the problem with this government and, quite frankly, previous Conservative governments. Although they paid lip service to official languages policy and passed legislation, they were not prepared in spirit to enforce that legislation. It seems to me that this attempt by Senator Gauthier is to enhance the ability for us to do that, those of us who for the last 40 to 50 years have had to fight to protect the language and culture of the francophone community in English Canada in particular.

It is difficult to say whether we should support this legislation even in principle as opposed to telling the federal government to get serious and do what it is supposed to do. We recognize the legislative responsibility it has and it should do the same thing: “protect” and “enhance”, as the existing language says, the rights of the francophone and anglophone communities to be able to use their language as they deem appropriate and as they desire to do.

In preparation for today, I was thinking about one of the stories from our critic in this area, who is from New Brunswick. He made a point at one of the hearings in the official languages committee about an individual who was speaking French in the workplace and was disciplined as a result of that by the federal government. This was an employee within the federal public service. In the last couple of years I think of the fight that the francophone community in Windsor and Essex had to lead to keep French services at the post office. Terminating those services was seriously being considered.

I will be the first to say that in a democracy people have to fight for their rights; it is that argument of eternal vigilance. I fully support that, but clearly there is a major responsibility here on the part of the federal government. The Official Languages Act should be sufficient at this point, given all the experiences we have had, but what happens so many times is that individuals, communities and groups of communities have to come together and fight in the courts, sometimes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, just to have their rights recognized and enforced. Quite frankly, it is a role that has not been played to anywhere near a sufficient degree by our federal government.

This bill is going to make it easier to do that, but even though I recognize the need for this given the role the federal government has not played in enforcing the Official Languages Act, it still begs the question as to whether at this stage, in this millennium, after all the battles we have had, it is necessary to do this. I would like to think that at the end of the day the federal government will finally come to the table and enforce the legislation, because we keep running across situations where it is not doing that.

We expect that this bill will go to committee and will be addressed at that point, perhaps with some amendments, recognizing what I believe are very valid concerns on the part of the province of Quebec in terms of the potential intrusion into provincial responsibility in that particular province. I am hopeful that the bill might be amended to a degree that would satisfy those concerns. If it is not, my party will have to give serious consideration as to whether we will be able to support it.

With regard to the bill itself, the provisions that add responsibility to the minister in terms of the Official Languages Act, the amendments to section 41, seem to me to make good common sense. Perhaps this is a response to the member for Provencher who said that should be our guiding light.

I am not sure, given the history of his party, that this has always been the case on its part, but it should be in this case. Subclauses 1(2) and 1(3), which Bill S-3 is proposing to add to section 41 of the Official Languages Act, would appear to us in the NDP to be appropriate amendments as a way of delivering a message to the government and in particular to the minister about their responsibility, and perhaps in a specific way. I am now speaking specifically of subclause 1(2), which is being proposed as a specific way to enhance the language and cultural rights of the francophone and anglophone communities in this country.

The third amendment to Bill S-3, which is to add part VII of the Official Languages Act to the list for which individuals or groups can in fact start court action, that is, take the initiative themselves, I have to say we have concerns about that. We believe the last thing this country needs is more litigation over the Official Languages Act. What we need is enforcement within the existing structure.

We have often talked about and were so critical of the Soviet Union having a great constitution protecting human rights because we knew that absolutely no enforcement was ever made of those constitutional provisions and the enshrinement of those rights. It is a similar type of situation here. I will not suggest it has gone that far. It is a halfway measure.

It always seems to be a halfway measure on the part of this government and in fact of previous governments. The government will push it this far and then it stops. Quite frankly, if one goes to francophone communities across the country one sees that halfway measures are no longer acceptable and they have not been for a long time. Whether the francophone communities are in my home county of Essex or right across the country, they are no longer prepared to accept that.

It should not be the responsibility of these communities to have to fight these cases to the degree that has been dumped on them, especially when it repeatedly seems that even if it is won at the first round, the federal government will appeal it to the highest court in the province and then to the Supreme Court of Canada. That conduct on the part of this government and previous governments has to stop.

If it is necessary for this bill to go through to stop it then perhaps we have to support the bill, but I would ask this government to seriously consider taking a more proactive position and to stop these appeals and enforce the Official Languages Act as it is enshrined now.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, like most of my colleagues, I am pleased to speak on Bill S-3 to amend the Official Languages Act and promote English and French, a bill which is being sponsored in this House by my colleague. Members will recall that I was happy to support this bill.

I also want to thank Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, but differently than my colleagues have done. I grew up in this region and, to me, Jean-Robert Gauthier is an institution. My family is somewhat representative of the Francophonie in Canada, because my parents are Franco-Ontarians. They come from the St. Charles parish and grew up in the same area as Jean-Robert Gauthier. My father had the opportunity to see this great man, as an MP, do a truly extraordinary job as a politician not only for the francophone cause, but in everything that job entails.

Not only was it a childhood dream of mine to be standing here in 2005 as the MP for Gatineau, but I recall my father always telling me just how important it was for me to retain my integrity as Jean-Robert Gauthier did. He is a model politician who has always fought for what he believed in. I want to pay public tribute to him. We are proud to have had such a strong representative in the great history of the Liberal Party of Canada.

I was saying that we represent the Canadian Francophonie because my parents are Franco-Ontarians, and their three children, my brother, my sister and I, were born in Quebec and grew up there. People can imagine the dinner conversations we had when we—the three of us who had grown up here in the Quebec Outaouais—talked about the Canadian Francophonie. My parents experienced the major battles and fought alongside other families for the rights of francophones outside Quebec. People such as Jacqueline Pelletier and Roland Thérien are remembered for their roles in the epic battles of Franco-Ontarians. I salute all those who fight each day for this cause.

In these discussions with my parents, I often represented what the Francophonie in Quebec is about in such discussions. We are rather privileged in Quebec to live in an environment where the French language is legally protected, without denying that it is threatened because it is not the language of the majority on this planet we live on. When we value a language, we must ensure that it is maintained. When comparing the situation of French in Quebec to its situation in the rest of Canada at the time when I was growing up at home, I had a little difficulty understanding those we called Franco-Ontarians.

I understood a little better after I was elected and appointed to the Committee on Official Languages and had the opportunity, along with several of my colleagues in this place of all political stripes, to hear many representatives of this great family, the Canadian Francophonie. I was better able to understand the struggles I had heard about growing up, which I had difficulty understanding because I was not experiencing similar struggles in Quebec. I followed the debate on Bill S-3 and realized how important all this was when the official languages commissioner appeared before the committee and explained her role, the legislation and the fact that this act should be even more effective. It seems to me that was the essence of the amendment sought by the hon. Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier.

I would like to digress for a moment to clarify why I support Bill S-3. It is all well and fine to rise in support of a bill, to point out that we asked umpteen questions, that our party did this, that or the other, but what matters in the end is to make a decision that can really help.

When I see the official languages commissioner fully and unconditionally support Bill S-3, yet people oppose it for one reason or another, at such times I ask myself whether these people really represent the interests of the Francophonie. Hon. members will have gathered that I am alluding to the position of the Bloc Québécois. I have trouble understanding them in this respect.

This is, moreover, a far cry from what I was told in committee when I asked why the Bloc Québécois was refusing to support Bill S-3. I was surprised by their answer. I must admit that they did ask good questions in committee. Now is the time to make an important decision for the rights of linguistic minorities. I had trouble understanding why the Bloc was against the bill. At that time, the excuse they gave was that there was no funding tied to the bill. I have found the explanation my colleague gave just now to be perhaps a bit more representative of the Bloc and its constant sacrosanct fear of the big bad feds invading Quebec's jurisdiction.

It must be clearly understood that what we are talking about here is the federal institutions, so that is a pretty feeble excuse. It is a matter of enhancing the accountability of federal institutions as far as implementing that commitment is concerned.

As you know, the Canadian government is very much attached to the cause of linguistic duality. The French and English languages, and the populations speaking those languages, have shaped Canada and helped to define its identity. Canada's linguistic duality is therefore ingrained in the very nature of our country. We cannot look at the Canada of today without acknowledging the importance of English and French in Canadian society.

I agree with some of my Quebec colleagues here that, if the treatment of our anglophone minority and its survival, its institutions and so forth is compared, there is no doubt, and I am very comfortable stating this, that we look after our minority very well. That does not mean that, as far as the federal government and federal institutions are concerned, we do not need to ensure that our anglophone fellow citizens receive services in their language of choice. That is what we are talking about, and that is why an effort must be made not to shift the debate to things that make no sense, as certain representatives of the Bloc have done.

We are talking about federal institutions. I think that an anglophone living off the beaten track somewhere in Quebec is also entitled to service in his or her language of choice when dealing with federal institutions.

As you know, the Official Languages Act of 1969 is the outcome of a long reflection on the situation in this country. The Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, which was struck in 1963, worked for seven years to produce a true portrait of Canadian society. Its conclusion was that Canada was undergoing a major crisis, the resolution of which required offering both major language communities new ways of co-existing. One of those ways was to make federal institutions bilingual.

My experience at the Standing Committee on Official Languages opened my eyes to many concepts having to do with linguistic minorities. The committee is currently doing a lot of work on the issue of using the official language of one's choice at work in the public service.

I want to take this opportunity in supporting Bill S-3, to say how important the concept of using the official language of one's choice at work in the public service is to me.

As I was saying earlier, I grew up in the greater National Capital region, in the Quebec Outaouais. I am amazed that we are still talking about this. It was extremely important for Senator Gauthier to fight like the dickens to advance the cause of linguistic minorities in this country. Thirty years later, we are still having the same discussion.

It is time to make a decision, to move forward on this issue and to stop using the lousy excuses we have heard for being against Bill S-3. At the Standing Committee on Official Languages I asked the Official Languages Commissioner whether she still supported the bill. Her clear and unwavering response was yes.

I too support Bill S-3. Of course, when we make changes to legislation as important as this, they have to be considered and we will do that in committee. However, just because we ask questions in committee does not mean we are working for linguistic minorities.

When it is time to make decisions that count—I am saying this to all Canadians watching us, especially Quebeckers—the Bloc is absent.

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Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The mover of the motion now has the floor for five minutes to reply and end the debate.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to once again take part in this debate today, to conclude the second reading stage of this bill.

I was somewhat disappointed to learn, from the speeches made by some Bloc Québécois members, that they do not intend to support this legislation at second reading. I find it hard to understand that. The next time people hear their questions on the treatment of linguistic minorities, they will have serious reservations. They will wonder, among other things, if Bloc Québécois members are serious when they ask such questions. In this regard, I agree with the comments made by the hon. member for Gatineau, who said that when it comes to taking action, the Bloc is not there.

There is still time to reflect on this. I would ask the House to unanimously pass this bill at second reading because, at this stage, we are voting to determine whether we support the principle of the legislation. If an amendment is necessary, I am prepared to entertain it. I said it before and I am saying it again today. The committee will be its own master. In the unlikely event where even this process does not satisfy some members, there will be a third reading stage allowing them to vote against the whole bill.

If we vote against the bill today, we are essentially saying that it is so bad that it cannot be amended. But that is not true. This is a good bill. On the one hand, it got the unanimous support of the Senate and, on the other hand, it got the full support of the Commissioner of Official Languages, as the hon. member just pointed out. I realize that the commissioner is not a member of Parliament. However, the vote at second reading, if it takes place today, will show that some members do not want to go ahead with this initiative. This is what it will mean.

I know a thing or two about parliamentary procedure. At second reading, we vote on the principle of a bill; we vote to support the principle of the bill and refer the legislation to a committee. This is what we will be asked to vote on in a few minutes, nothing else. A member cannot say that he will vote against this bill and that if it is improved on, he will then support it at third reading. This is totally contrary to the parliamentary procedure. Hon. members know that, or else they still have a few minutes to inquire about the appropriate process.

In the remaining few seconds, I would like to thank the great Canadian, Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, especially. It is he who introduced the bill many times in the other house. Each version failed or died on the order paper at the end of a session or a Parliament. None was rejected. This bill was passed unanimously by the other house before it arrived here. That does not mean that it is beyond amendment, on the contrary. We have the right to amend it and we retain that right. Amendments considered necessary by the government or members opposite will be proposed at the appropriate time. As the bill's sponsor, I am open to that.

The time has come to broaden the scope of part VII of the Official Languages Act and to give it the enforceability already dictated by some of the courts, in New Brunswick, for example. This has been mentioned. Curious though it may seem, the very MPs who say they might vote against the bill—and I hope they will change their mind—were critical of the government's appeal of the decision in New Brunswick.

Today, these members are appealing, to draw a parallel, the bill before us. Things are topsy-turvy. This is not the way to defend minorities. There is enough time, though, to do the right thing.

If the hon. members think that the bill is beyond repair, poorly drafted or something like that, I reserve their right at third reading to vote against it. However, now is the time for us to act as one to help this country's minorities. I call on all members to join together. We can do it, and I hope we will.

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Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Noon

Some hon. members

No.

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Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those in favour will please say yea.

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Noon

Some hon. members

Yea.

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Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those opposed will please say nay.

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Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Nay.