House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was language.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very familiar with my colleague's experience with respect to Woodbine. Woodbine really is a premier facility. All Canadians can be proud of it.

My question is related to the point that my colleague has made with respect to illegal Internet betting. He has made it very clear that there is a lack of enforcement and that lack of enforcement is also compounded by the fact that there is not a clear definition of criminal activity and the linkage with the activity that is going on.

The banks could be given the responsibility under the code to report, and I think that is a good idea. How would it benefit Woodbine if there was not some form of licensing that it could apply for--and of course governments love to tax, as we know--so that all of the betting activity, even though I am not one to engage in that, would also be a source of revenue? How could that be enhanced such that the public could benefit not only from the enforcement but from the licensing provisions?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, although Woodbine Racetrack is once removed from the member's riding, it still creates opportunities for employment and economic activity that positively impact his riding as well.

The member makes a very good point. These offshore activities are not attracting any revenues for the treasury in Ottawa or indeed at the provincial level. If we created a level playing field, we would find that it would create more tax revenues for the federal government and for the provinces, and it would be a very positive thing.

With respect to the idea of involving the financial institutions, when people are betting on the Internet, they are invariably using debit or credit cards. If people play these poker games--and I am not one to gamble, although I do go to Woodbine Racetrack and I bet on the horses--the reality is that people put up their debit cards or credit cards. The bill that I was looking at would cause the banks to intercept those transactions and disallow those payments to proceed through the payment system. It is a circuitous way of getting at the problem, and I think the more effective way would be to either have Criminal Code provisions that are enforced or to create a level playing for everybody and bring it out into the open. As the member for York South—Weston points out, that would actually be a source of revenue for the federal government, for the provinces and perhaps for the municipalities as well.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order, please. It being 5:45 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

February 6th, 2008 / 5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

moved that Bill C-482, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise again to speak to Bill C-482. I would like to explain what Bill C-482 sets out to amend. First, it would amend the Official Languages Act to recognize French as the official language and the common language in Quebec. Therefore, the federal government would be required not to obstruct the application of the Charter of the French Language within Quebec.

As I begin my speech, I would like to review the elements that led to the creation of Bill C-482.

The starting point was the decision by the House of Commons to recognize Quebec as a nation more than 140 years after Canada became a country.

The Quebec nation existed long before it was recognized. There has been consensus on that for some time now. The fact of the Quebec nation has transcended eras, political parties and debates. In 2003, well before the House of Commons finally decided to recognize it, Quebec's elected representatives in the National Assembly unanimously reiterated the fact that the Quebec people form a nation.

Long ago, the province of Quebec designated the place where elected representatives would sit as part of the National Assembly. The city in which the assembly sits has been given the noble and evocative title of “national capital”. The House of Commons' recognition of the Quebec nation, though slow in coming, was simply to be expected.

The decision to recognize a nation has consequences. Recognizing a nation means recognizing its institutions, its emblems, its traditions, its history, its territory, its culture and, inevitably, its language. The people of Quebec are well aware of this. They saw their government recognize first nations, a step that resulted in the signature of a historic agreement known as the Peace of the Braves.

Recognizing the Quebec nation means also recognizing the predominance of the French language. That predominance is ensured in Quebec by a piece of legislation, Bill 101, which makes French the official language throughout Quebec, except as concerns the federal government, which has two official languages. What we are asking the federal government is to be consistent in its decision making. After recognizing the Quebec nation, it is only natural that it should recognize and abide by the Charter of the French Language in Quebec in the Official Languages Act and comply with the spirit of the charter in regard to the language of signage and of work in related legislation.

Some people will say that such an arrangement is impossible. The question is whether Canada is the only country in the world to face such a situation. The answer is no.

Long before us, democracies such as Spain and the United Kingdom proved that it is possible to successfully combine multiple nations within a state. To do so, they relied on creative solutions that respected the coexistence of the national communities within and equipped themselves with the tools they needed to manage the areas where those communities differ.

No later than November 2006, Quebec's Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs delivered a speech on the subject of the Quebec nation in which he stated:

Quebec and Canada can learn from these experiences in other countries and find unique solutions adapted to their reality. These examples also demonstrate that, far from being a thing of the past, Quebec's desire to be recognized as a nation within Canada is more current than ever. Its legitimacy and feasibility are confirmed by the developments we have seen in other federations or quasi-federations. By respecting and recognizing sociological and political differences instead of denying them, and by translating them into special rights within their political system, these democracies avoided any futile or counterproductive social conflicts.

We must be creative in our pursuit of recognition. We must stop denying the complex character of our society and our national identities, and stop placing them in artificial categories. The reality of those countries experimenting with multi-nation states is just as complex as that of Quebec and Canada. We must not be tempted to abandon the debate, simply because it is a complex question, on the contrary.

Let us remember that those words did not come from an elected member working on Quebec's sovereignty; they came from a minister of a federalist government in Quebec City.

We find that Bill C-482 constitutes an original response that is adapted to the reality of Quebec and Canada. Recognizing the specificity of Quebec is not a whim; it is an overriding duty.

I want to remind hon. members that the Bloc Québécois bill is nothing new. The specific mention of provincial legislation in the text of federal legislation is possible and even common. We are talking about statutory reference. In other words, the government recognizes the provisions of another Canadian legislative assembly.

Take for example the Canada Labour Code, which sets the federal minimum wage according to provincial minimum wages. Section 178 states:

Except as otherwise provided by or under this Division, an employer shall pay to each employee a wage at a rate:

(a) not less than the minimum hourly rate fixed, from time to time, by or under an Act of the legislature of the province where the employee is usually employed and that is generally applicable regardless of occupation, status or work experience.

The Canada Labour Code is subject to amendment within the framework of this bill.

Federal or federally regulated companies are not affected by the Charter of the French Language, particularly insofar as the language of work is concerned. For example, interprovincial transportation companies, maritime transport and ports, air transport and airports, broadcasting, telecommunications, banks and certain companies declared by the Parliament of Canada to be for the general advantage of Canada are exempt. Some of these companies choose to abide by the charter, but it is all entirely voluntary.

An estimated 200,000 Quebeckers work under the Canada Labour Code, or more or less 7% of workers in Quebec.

The amendment to Part I of the Canada Labour Code states that federal companies are subject to the Charter of the French Language when they operate in Quebec. This responds to the request made in 2001 in the Larose report:

The francization of the workplace in Quebec also concerns the workplace of the federal government and workplaces under federal jurisdiction. That is why the Government of Canada should take the necessary measures to ensure that these workplaces respect language legislation when they are in Quebec.

This amendment does away with the legal void whereby federal work, undertaking or business can ignore the Charter of the French Language as concerns language of work. It is, however, important to note that many federal businesses decide on their own to commit to Quebec's Office de la langue française's program of francisation.

But what about those that decide to circumvent Bill 101? The response is distressing. Federal companies and companies under federal charter failing to comply with Bill 101 do so with impunity. Since 2000, 147 files have been closed at the Office de la langue française in Quebec. Its hands were tied because the companies were under federal jurisdiction. This figure includes only files arising from complaints. If no one complains, there is no file. So we can assume the number of delinquent businesses is greater.

This is taking place as a number of studies on the state of French in Quebec are being released. According to 2006 census figures, French has lost ground right across Canada, and in Quebec as well, even though more immigrants than ever speak French at home.

While the number of people with French as their mother tongue increased between 2001 and 2006, from 5.33 million to 6.29 million, their relative importance decreased, and they now represent only 22.1% of the population. This is from Statistics Canada. The figure was 22.9% in 2001 and 26.1% in 1971.

As regards the language used predominantly at home, the proportion of French is declining consistently, dropping from 26% in 1971 to 21% in 2006. The proportion of English rose in 2006 to the figure it stood at in 1971, of 67%. This figure reached 69% in 1986, shortly before the strong influx of immigrants speaking other languages. In the light of these figures, we cannot sit idle. Quebeckers, it is true, must do their part to change things.

I congratulate the leader of the Parti québécois on her courage in introducing a bill in the National Assembly on Quebec identity. The media made a great deal about it. This bill, to its credit, dares to look the facts in the face. It proposes better teaching of French to ensure the quality of French written and spoken in Quebec and promotes an understanding of Quebec's history, a mastery of spoken and written French and the enhancement of Quebec culture.

The bill on Quebec identity aims to help Quebec express its identity, through the passage of legislative provisions to ensure the preeminence of the French language as the language of work and economic activities and education in Quebec. Legislation will be passed to ensure the quality of written and spoken French in Quebec. I am proud to recognize and pay tribute to this initiative.

Bill C-482 will require the federal government to recognize the Charter of the French Language within Quebec and extend its application to businesses under federal jurisdiction.

An amendment to the Official Languages Act is needed to eliminate all ambiguity. It must be clear in the act that French is the official language of Quebec. We therefore consider it important to amend the preamble so that it provides that the federal government recognizes that French is the official language of Quebec and the common language in Quebec.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-482 proposes to amend the Official Languages Act, among other legislation. This bill seems to assume that the Official Languages Act is a barrier to the promotion and use of French in Quebec. And yet the last census, in 2006, disclosed a number of positive developments in this regard, such as the fact that a majority of recent immigrants, 75%, have adopted French, and that the proportion of the population that knows French has now reached 94.5%.

How can the Bloc Québécois demonstrate that the Official Languages Act and the existing rules governing language amount to an obstruction of the French fact in Quebec?

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am truly amazed that a Quebecker could ask me that question, while citing completely inaccurate figures. I have just spoken about this. The number of people who have French as their first language rose between 2001 and 2006, from 5.33 million to 6.29 million. Their relative weight fell, and they now represent only 22.1% of the population, according to Statistics Canada.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for her excellent speech. I would like to ask her this question. We know that the purpose of Bill C-482 is to amend the Official Languages Act, the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Business Corporations Act. We also know that the Conservative Party in fact tried to prevent this debate from being held, claiming that the bill was anti-constitutional.

I would like to hear my colleague’s opinion about its so-called anti-constitutional nature, which in the final analysis does not exist. The Conservative Party alone has objected to it being discussed here. That party, which supposedly recognizes the Quebec nation, has fought with all its might to try to prevent this debate from taking place.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to read the following:

Bill C-482 in no way conflicts with any constitutional guarantee relating to languages. On the contrary, it respects and promotes constitutional standards in this area. That bill also does not violate any principle governing the division of powers in our federation. On the contrary, it seeks to take advantage of one of the recognized means of promoting cooperative federalism. Therefore, Bill C-482 is airtight in terms of its constitutionality.

This is dated December 19, 2007, by Henri Brun, a professor of constitutional law.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to put a question to the hon. member. Before tabling her bill, did she conduct an independent review showing that the provisions of the Official Languages Act are at odds with the Charter of the French Language? I remind her that the preamble of that charter provides that the National Assembly “is resolved to make of French the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business”.

Has the hon. member proven that the federal Official Languages Act and the Charter of the French Language are incompatible? Has she researched that aspect, and could she take a few minutes to explain to us whether her bill is based on material that could be useful to all parties here?

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is asking me the exact same question as my colleague on the constitutionality of the bill. The fact is that a number of studies were conducted. We did our homework. Before introducing Bill C-482, we did reviews, we worked, we conducted studies, and we heard stakeholders. The bill in no way conflicts with any constitutional guarantee relating to languages.

I repeat what professor Henri Brun, who is an eminent lawyer and professor of constitutional law, said himself. In his review of the bill, he stated the following:

Bill C-482 in no way conflicts with any constitutional guarantee relating to languages. On the contrary, it respects and promotes constitutional standards in this area. That bill also does not violate any principle governing the division of powers in our federation. On the contrary, it seeks to take advantage of one of the recognized means of promoting cooperative federalism. Therefore, Bill C-482 is airtight in terms of its constitutionality.

I would like to add that—

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Resuming debate. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou
Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, we are here today to debate the bill tabled by the member for Drummond.

The bill proposes to amend three federal acts. It is based on the premise that the Government of Canada is impeding the growth of French in Quebec as well as its arts and culture.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the government is promoting and solidly supporting Quebec's arts and culture, as well as the French language, in many ways.

Today, I want to emphasize the role that the cultural institutions and programs of the Government of Canada have played, and continue to play, in relation to the French language and the cultural vitality of Quebec.

Bill C-482 seeks to require the Government of Canada to undertake not to obstruct the application of the Charter of the French Language in Quebec. Bill C-482 would amend the Official Languages Act, the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Business Corporations Act, would make French the official language of Quebec and would recognize the Charter of the French Language as the governing legislation on questions of language in Quebec. Before considering amendments to existing legislation, I believe it is important to look at the system that is now in place.

The Official Languages Act states that “English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada.” Canada is made up of three territories and 10 provinces, including Quebec, in which, by virtue of the Official Languages Act, English and French enjoy equal status. The Canada Labour Code and the Canada Business Corporations Act apply to all of Canada in fields under federal jurisdiction, while the Official Languages Act applies only to federal institutions.

According to the Department of Canadian Heritage Act, the department is responsible for programs and policies dealing with the arts and culture. It is also responsible for implementing many of the Government of Canada's commitments related to official languages, pursuant to sections 41, 42, and 43 of the Official Languages Act. Its mandate includes the responsibility to ensure that the cultural and linguistic needs of communities that fall within the federal sphere are supported all across Canada, including the needs related to the French language and cultural diversity in Quebec. These programs, policies and tools help Quebec to remain competitive and contribute to the growth of its artistic and cultural sector, in addition to ensuring the vitality of the French language within Quebec and throughout Canada.

Our government has played an active role in this success, and the range of measures available—including funding programs—provides equal opportunities for all Canadians.

The bill before us suggests that existing federal legislation is an obstruction to the French language and culture in Quebec. And yet through various federal programs, the Government of Canada provides Quebec with extensive support in the area of culture. Those federal programs stimulate the development, sharing and promotion of the French language in Quebec, throughout Canada and everywhere in the world.

We need only think of the support given by the federal government to Radio-Canada, an important link in the extraordinary cultural success that Quebeckers enjoy in the audiovisual and broadcasting industries. Radio-Canada, which is funded by a federal government program, offers high-quality cultural content in French, presenting francophone talent from Quebec and other francophone regions to the general public. Radio-Canada also provides news broadcasts in French on its specialized television network, Réseau de l'information, RDI.

We would also point out that for many years the Canada Council for the Arts has supported the extraordinary artistic development that has occurred in Quebec in the fields of dance, theatre, literature and audio recording.

The Department of Canadian Heritage administers impressive federal programs providing grants and contributions for the arts in Quebec and in French, through arts presentation Canada, cultural capitals of Canada, cultural spaces Canada, the national arts training contribution program and the Canadian arts and heritage sustainability program.

The Government of Canada as a whole promotes the culture of Quebec by investing in artistic creativity and development. Through these activities, francophone artists and creators express their thoughts, showcase our differences and celebrate our similarities.

In 2006 and 2007, the Canada Council for the Arts granted over $44.5 million to the arts in Quebec. Cultural Capitals of Canada approved the payment of $1.9 million to five municipalities in Quebec that are organizing special activities they will use to harness the many benefits of arts and culture in the community.

The goal of Cultural Spaces Canada is to improve the physical conditions for artistic creativity and innovation and to improve access to performing arts, visual arts, media arts and museum collections and heritage displays. In 2006 and 2007, 32 projects were funded in Quebec. In the last six years, the financial assistance injected by Cultural Spaces Canada into that province has risen from nearly $3.7 million to over $6.4 million.

The National Arts Training Contribution Program assists organizations training Canadians seeking a professional career nationally or internationally in the arts. In 2006 and 2007, it supported 10 training facilities in Quebec alone.

The Canadian Arts and Heritage Sustainability Program aims to strengthen organizational effectiveness and build capacity of arts and heritage organizations. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra, for instance, has received nearly $3.3 million in staffing funds from the federal government, and the Grands Ballets Canadiens has received over $2.6 million.

We must not forget that Canadian Heritage and the organizations it funds support the creation of Canadian content and access to artistic excellence, promoting innovation. In 2006 and 2007, the Canada Music Fund paid out $11.1 million to 837 recipients in Quebec. Nearly half of the funding it provides goes to French-language artists living in Quebec, such as Pierre Lapointe, Daniel Bélanger, Ariane Moffat, Kaïn and Les Trois Accords, all of whom received assistance from the Canada Music Fund. The Canada Feature Film Fund provided funding for the 10 top French-Canadian films in 2007.

The federal government has generously invested for years in Quebec so much so that Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board both have their headquarters there.

The Canadian Television Fund has a mandate, through its contribution agreement with Canadian Heritage, to fund projects in French, English and Aboriginal languages. Approximately a third of its program commitments involved French productions, 90% of which come from Quebec.

In conclusion, all the information provided here converges on a single point. We sing, we tell stories, we publish, we surf the Net and we grow—all in French. These activities are made possible in large extent thanks to the help the federal government is providing to actively promote the vitality of the French language.

To conclude, given the federal government's commitment to fully support French culture and language in Quebec, we must question the merits of Bill C-482.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, as has been said, Bill C-482, which was introduced by the member for Drummond, would amend three acts: the Official Languages Act, the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Business Corporations Act. If these amendments were to pass, their effect would be to give precedence to the Charter of the French Language within Quebec, and the three acts in question would therefore be subject to that charter.

To begin with, it is important to quote the Official Languages Act and give a very quick sketch of its history—of course, we cannot do justice to the complexity of this question in 10 minutes.

The act grew out of the situation that existed in Canada in the early 1960s, when it was observed that French was being given short shrift. That observation prompted Prime Minister Pearson to create the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the Laurendeau-Dunton commission, which led directly to the proposal that later became the Official Languages Act, enacted by this Parliament in 1969. Since then, the act has been defined by the courts as quasi-constitutional.

We should also note that amendments were made to the act in 1988, including the amendment that committed the federal government to “enhancing the vitality and supporting the development of English and French linguistic minority communities”. Further amendments in 2005 required federal institutions to “ensure that positive measures are taken for the implementation” of those commitments.

Since this legislation was enacted, over 35 years ago, it has truly become an indispensable beacon, lighting our collective way when it comes to official languages in Canada.

While both French and English are official languages of Canada, the reality is that, in North America, English is not threatened in any way. That is a fact that has to be recognized. The same cannot be said of French, which has to be protected. Successive governments in this place, in Quebec and, recently, even in provinces other than Quebec have realized that they do have a role to play in protecting the French language and culture in Canada.

As a francophone living in Ontario and having sometimes had to endure unacceptable conditions, I completely understand this sensitivity, this desire to protect the French language and culture. I am therefore not insensitive to the desire of francophones in Quebec and their successive governments to protect and promote the French language and culture.

This, however, has to be done in complete respect for our laws and constitutional principles. I will refer to a few legislative provisions, including the preamble of the Official Languages Act, section 16(1) , and perhaps also section 21, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as to the 1998 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec secession reference.

Let us start with the preamble of the Official Languages Act. It is a lengthy preamble, but I will only quote the most interesting part:

The purpose of this Act is to

(a) 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—

In debate and in speeches, the Bloc Québécois argues that this is not binding. That statement in itself would make for an interesting debate, but I will move on.

In response to a question, the hon. member for Drummond said among other things that consultations had been held and everyone appeared to be in agreement. I think, however, that if we checked with the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, we would hear something quite a bit different. The official languages commissioner told the Bloc Québécois he had huge reservations about the bill, as drafted. That ought to be taken into account.

In addition to this brief passage from the preamble to the Official Languages Act, I would like to quote subsection 16(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada.

Subsection 16(3) states:

Nothing in this Charter limits the authority of Parliament or a legislature to advance the equality of status or use of English and French.

It is very important to recognize that we are now referring to the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and not the preamble of a quasi-constitutional law. The Constitution is authoritative. We must respect it, and the Government of Canada cannot divest itself of its obligations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We must remember this.

I will now examine the constitutional principles referred to in the Supreme Court ruling concerning the reference on Quebec secession. The court made sure it examined what are referred to as the constitutional principles. Although often implicit, these are the underlying principles of our Constitution. I will quote a passage from page 40 of the ruling.

These principles may give rise to very abstract and general obligations, or they may be more specific and precise in nature. The principles are not merely descriptive, but are also invested with a powerful normative force, and are binding upon both courts and governments.

The following quote is from page 50 of the Supreme Court ruling.

An understanding of the scope and importance of the principles of the rule of law and constitutionalism is aided by acknowledging explicitly why a constitution is entrenched beyond the reach of simple majority rule. There are three overlapping reasons.

First, a constitution may provide an added safeguard for fundamental human rights and individual freedoms which might otherwise be susceptible to government interference. Although democratic government is generally solicitous of those rights, there are occasions when the majority will be tempted to ignore fundamental rights in order to accomplish collective goals more easily or effectively. Constitutional entrenchment ensures that those rights will be given due regard and protection. Second, a constitution may seek to ensure that vulnerable minority groups are endowed with the institutions and rights necessary to maintain and promote their identities against the assimilative pressures of the majority. And third, a constitution may provide for a division of political power that allocates political power amongst different levels of government. That purpose would be defeated if one of those democratically elected levels of government could usurp the powers of the other simply by exercising its legislative power to allocate additional political power to itself unilaterally.

The last quote from this Supreme Court decision is found on page 54. It reads as follows:

The concern of our courts and governments to protect minorities has been prominent in recent years, particularly following the enactment of the Charter. Undoubtedly, one of the key considerations motivating the enactment of the Charter, and the process of constitutional judicial review that it entails, is the protection of minorities. However, it should not be forgotten that the protection of minority rights had a long history before the enactment of the Charter. Indeed, the protection of minority rights was clearly an essential consideration in the design of our constitutional structure even at the time of Confederation.

The purpose of these quotations is to put this debate back into a constitutional context, which cannot be overlooked. I also sought and obtained legal opinions. As the official opposition critic for official languages, I cannot support this bill. I recognize that, in terms of language of work, there may be a legal void. However, I believe it is up to the Government of Canada to fill that void and not mix public corporations, such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, ports, airports and Air Canada, which are subject to the legislation, with banks, transport companies and telecommunications companies. If there is a legal void, and I think there is, it is up to the federal government to fill it.

Nevertheless, accepting the amendments proposed would go against the Constitution, potentially threaten the anglophone minority in Quebec and create the precedent that the hon. member for Drummond tried to deny. We might then see other provincial governments in Canada ask for the same treatment, thereby also endangering the francophone minorities.

As the official opposition critic for official languages, I will vote against this bill.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-482, sponsored by the hon. member for Drummond. This is a really important issue, particularly for Quebeckers, who have the benefit of Bill 101, not to mention the fact that the Canada Labour Code not only gives priority to French, but makes it the language of work. I can understand that.

However, there is something that bothers me when it comes to the federal level. Here, Bloc Québécois members are experts. They have become experts at telling the federal government that it should not get involved in provincial jurisdictions, that it has no business in these areas, and that it is up to Quebec to decide what must be done in provincial jurisdictions. I can never say it often enough.

Now, we are talking about a federal jurisdiction. The bill introduced by the Bloc Québécois provides that French should be the official language of Quebec and the common language in that province. It amends the Canada Labour Code to provide that federal businesses carrying on activities in Quebec will be subject to the requirements of the Charter of the French Language. The bill also amends the Canada Business Corporations Act, so that the name of a corporation that carries on business in Quebec shall be in a form that meets the requirements of the Charter of the French Language.

The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier mentioned an aspect related to the Official Languages Act, the Constitution, and so on. However, I do not want to get on this theme, because these things have already been mentioned. Moreover, testimonies on this issue are along the same lines.

The member for Drummond said that the use of French is on a downward slope, in Quebec and across Canada. I agree with her on this. That is indeed the case. Perhaps we should wonder why that is the case. Why is French losing ground in Canada?

I think that gains were made in Canada. For example, francophones have made gains, thanks to the court challenges program. They have gained French schools in Prince Edward Island and in Nova Scotia. In Ontario, we can think of Boréal College, in Sudbury, and the Montfort Hospital, in Ottawa.

The court challenges program was the tool provided to minorities—whether the French minority outside Quebec, or the English minority in Quebec—to allow them to seek justice before the courts regarding their equality rights, including their linguistic rights.

There were successes everywhere, in Manitoba, in Saskatchewan and in British Columbia. In fact, wherever the Standing Committee on Official Languages travelled for its study, people and community representatives told us clearly that gains had been made thanks to the court challenges program.

The Conservative government decided, however, to deprive minorities of the instrument that enabled them to go before the courts to safeguard their rights, the instrument that enabled them to have their schools. That is regrettable. Some $2 million is involved. It is sad.

Something else is regrettable too. In 2003, under the Liberals, the federal government established a strategy. The Library of Parliament provided us with the data. They have been checked. They are accurate in our opinion, because they come from the Library of Parliament and have been checked again. There were regular programs of study in the minority regions. At the time, the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien said it would establish a strategy in addition to the regular programs.

We saw that more funds were invested in the strategy in 2002-03.

For teaching in the minority language regions, the federal government had promised $209 million. Each year, the money allocated to the strategy increased. A surplus amount was allocated even to help with teaching in the minority regions or minority communities. The regular program, however, faced a reduction. The federal government was to have invested some $750 million in the regular teaching program by the end of five years, but it spent $500 million. Subsequently, the Liberals boasted that they had spent an extra $50 million on the strategy, making them appear to be good Samaritans.

In Quebec, for example, in recent weeks, it has been reported in the news that the Charest government and others have been saying clearly that more money was needed so anglophones and immigrants could learn French. If this money had been transferred—the $132 million the government took from the regular program, in fact, wanting us to think it had provided money for the strategy—it could have helped the minority facilities and communities with the teaching of the official language of the country and of the province of Quebec. But no, that money was taken away, just like that.

You have to wonder. Other comments were also made. The proposed amendments to the Official Languages Act raise some legal issues. First, it is difficult to discern the restrictions imposed by the new measures added to the Official Languages Act by Bill C-482. As the member for Ottawa—Vanier was saying, subsection 16(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines the principle that French and English are the official languages of Canada.

The Bloc Québécois bill makes us wonder what would happen in private industry. Take Air Canada, for example. The Bloc Québécois members fought very hard with us over the fact that Air Canada should be a bilingual company. Are they saying that Air Canada will no longer be bilingual? Are they saying that flight attendants and pilots who leave Ottawa and arrive at Quebec's border—they will say I am exaggerating—will have to switch languages in mid-air and speak French? Must we switch languages because we have crossed the Quebec border?

Are the Bloc members saying that when the VIA Rail train leaves Toronto and arrives on the outskirts of Valleyfield, Quebec, the employees will have to speak French?

I am talking about federal institutions. Let us imagine that someone who works in a federal institution is transferred from Toronto to a job in Montreal. If that person does not speak French, will he lose his job?

These are important matters that we must address. We must pay attention to this. Personally, I believe there are two peoples in Canada. In fact, there are three peoples, four peoples, even five peoples if we count the Acadian people. We can keep naming peoples or nations, but the point is that we have to respect our languages and cultures.

We will study all of this. There are questions that need to be answered. We should be able to study the bill. The only way to do so is to vote in favour of the bill at second reading so we can listen to experts and the Commissioner of Official Languages. He could study the bill with us. Let us listen to the lawyers and the people who know the Constitution, and get their advice on how to proceed. If the bill does not seem like a good bill, then vote against it. However, if you can live with the bill, vote in favour of it.

The NDP will vote in favour of this bill. I want to be clear that this bill will be studied only if we vote in favour of it. Parliament is not here to pass bills at first reading. There is first reading, second reading, and then third reading. We are here to study bills. That is why the NDP is recommending that we study the bill. Then we will make a final decision at third reading.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-482 aims to force the federal government to comply with Bill 101 within Quebec. I refer to the Quebec nation recognized in this very place in November 2006. It was recognized as well on a number of occasions in the National Assembly of Quebec. We are a nation and want to be treated as one.

Bill C-482 aims to amend the Official Languages Act, the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Business Corporations Act.

In the light of my remarks, when the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation in November 2006, the Bloc Québécois contended vigorously that recognition meant consequences and that symbolic recognition alone would not suffice. Months ago, now, the Conservatives and the Prime Minister congratulated themselves on recognizing the obvious, namely that we existed. It is now time for Conservatives and other Canadian parties to act. We are giving them the opportunity.

The first specific step required is recognition in fact that Quebeckers comprise a francophone nation in North America. If the Canadian parties mean this recognition, they will have to understand that the Quebec nation and the French language go hand in hand. Recognition of one is recognition of the other, hence Bill C-482.

The Quebec nation has established an instrument to ensure that French is the common public language, the Charter of the French Language, or, Bill 101, if you will. What people often forget is that Bill 101 does not exist as far as Ottawa is concerned, and so sectors under federal jurisdiction are exempt from its application, and that means in Quebec as well.

Banks, for example, telecommunications companies, interprovincial transport companies, ports and airports can avoid compliance with Bill 101. The Bloc Québécois therefore introduced amendments to the Canada Labour Code so that these operations may be subject to the charter with respect to language of work.

The Official Languages Act contradicts Bill 101 by promoting English and French in Quebec as well. We are not a bilingual nation. Quebec is a francophone nation. We thus introduced the amendments to this legislation so the federal government would recognize that French is the official language of Quebec and would commit to recognizing the Charter of the French Language and respecting its application throughout Quebec.

Contrary to what the Conservatives have been saying, the Bloc Québécois obviously is not asking the federal government to intervene in linguistic matters in Quebec. All that we ask is that the federal government respect the Charter of the French Language.

To ensure the full application of Bill 101, it would be necessary to amend the Constitution, which seems to be impossible in Canada. The Bloc Québécois’ willingness to amend federal legislation, which can easily be done with a little political good will, shows the reasonable nature of our objectives.

There are some precedents. The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over its employees. The Government Employees Compensation Act provides that the legislation of the province where the employee is usually employed will be the applicable law for compensation of a work-related injury. As a result, by virtue of the federal act, it is the Quebec legislation respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases that applies to workers in Quebec.

The Canada Labour Code also provides for the federal government to take account of provincial laws in establishing the minimum wage. If it is possible to adapt federal laws in terms of compensation and the minimum wage, how can anyone justify refusing to adapt federal laws concerning language, which is a more fundamental matter for the Quebec nation?

The amendments introduced here by the Bloc Québécois would have the effect of requiring the federal government to undertake not to obstruct the objectives of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to remember that recognition of the Charter of the French Language in no way diminishes the rights and privileges of Quebec's anglophone minority as provided by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These amendments simply limit the power of the federal government to intervene in Quebec's language policy.

Specific reference to a provincial act in the text of a federal act is possible. We are talking about a statutory reference. That means that the government recognizes the provisions made by another Canadian legislative assembly. There is another instrument that could be used to amend an act. It is called incorporation by reference; that is another tool that can be used.

Federal undertakings or enterprises under federal jurisdiction are specifically not affected by the Charter of the French Language in relation to language of work. Some companies choose to comply with the charter, but that is done on a voluntary basis. Accordingly, our amendment specifies, “Any federal work, undertaking or business carrying on activities in Quebec is subject to the requirements of the Charter of the French Language.” That provision responds to the demand made in the Larose report of 2001, which stated, and I quote:

The francization of the workplace in Quebec also concerns the workplace of the federal government and workplaces under federal jurisdiction. That is why the Government of Canada should take the necessary measures to ensure that these workplaces respect language legislation when they are in Quebec.

This amendment would eliminate the legal void that enables federal companies to flout the Charter of the French Language when it comes to the language of work. It is important, though, to note that many federal companies decide on their own to abide by the francization programs of the Office québécois de la langue française.

Nevertheless, some federal companies fail to comply with Bill 101 and do so with impunity. Since 2000, some 147 files have been closed at the Office québécois de la langue française because it could not do anything in view of the fact that the companies were under federal jurisdiction. These figures refer only to files that were opened in response to complaints. If no one complains, no file is opened. We can conclude, therefore, that the number of delinquent firms was probably higher.

The Bloc Québécois bill will also amend the Canada Business Corporations Act so as to ensure that corporate names comply with the Charter of the French Language. Corporate names have been the subject of 1,434 complaints since 2000.

This amendment will ensure that Quebec businesses that decide to register in Ottawa rather than Quebec are subject to the Charter of the French Language.

I would remind the House that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which Pierre Elliott Trudeau imposed on Quebec in 1982, aimed above all to counter Bill 101. As Mr. Trudeau's former advisor André Burelle wrote: “Make no mistake; the purpose of Mr. Trudeau's charter was to neutralize Bill 101. In the charter, language rights are elevated to the rank of fundamental rights of individuals that are safeguarded from the notwithstanding clause, while other human rights, even the most basic ones, are subject to the notwithstanding clause.”

It is very important to say that today, with Bill C-482, we are reaching out to the federal government, hoping it will recognize that in Quebec, these institutions must abide by the Charter of the French Language above any other official language legislation. The Quebec nation exists. It is a francophone nation in the Americas. That is what we are and what we want to remain.