House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cuts.

Topics

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #46

Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

It being 5:44 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

March 31st, 2009 / 5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

moved that Bill C-307, 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 pleased to see the interest and energy that introduction of this bill has triggered in the House. That is absolutely normal, given that this bill will enable parliamentarians and the members of this House to give tangible expression to a motion passed in this House in November 2006 recognizing the existence of the Quebec nation. All of our hon. colleagues will therefore be able to be faithful to the decision taken at that time and to amend the Official Languages Act in order to ensure that the Charter of the French Language will be respected in Quebec, particularly by companies under federal jurisdiction.

The purpose of Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts is to require the federal government to recognize the Charter of the French Language within Quebec and to allow it to extend its application to companies under federal jurisdiction.

In order to avoid any ambiguity, we felt it essential for the Official Languages Act to stipulate the fact that French is the official language of Quebec.

We therefore feel it is significant to amend the preamble to state that the federal government recognizes French as the official language of Quebec and of the Quebec nation.

As I said, this recognition of the language common to all Quebeckers is the totally logical extension of the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House.

As I said—

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I will wait until the House is a little quieter.

The hon. member has the floor.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to see you call for order, but I am also pleased to see that my colleagues are very excited at the prospect of debating Bill C-307.

As I mentioned, in order to avoid any ambiguity right from the start, we will amend the preamble to the Official Languages Act to ensure the federal government recognizes that French is the official and common language of Quebec. I will say it again and I will keep saying that Bill C-307 is the logical extension of the House of Commons' recognition of the Quebec nation in November 2006, if memory serves.

We will also amend two sections of the Official Languages Act, namely part VII and part IX, to ensure that these amendments to the Official Languages Act will require the federal government to undertake not to obstruct the aims of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to mention that recognition of the Charter of the French Language in no way diminishes the rights and privileges of the anglophone minority in Quebec as provided under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in the Charter of the French Language, as well. As I was saying, these two amendments to the Official Languages Act will eliminate any ambiguity.

If the Government of Canada and Canadians want to promote bilingualism across the country, let them do so, but it is vital that it be clear to Canadians and the federal government that, in Quebec, there is only one official language, one common language, and that is French. In this regard, the federal government will undertake not to diminish in any way the rights and privileges of Quebec's Charter of the French Language.

It should be mentioned there is no administrative problem in implementing this provision, which will allow the Charter of the French Language to apply to all employees of businesses under federal jurisdiction, and under the federal code specifically, because there are already situations in which the provisions of federal laws, Quebec laws or provincial laws apply to federal law. I am thinking, for example, of minimum wage. It is noteworthy to read in the Canada Labour Code, the provision setting the federal minimum wage according to provincial minimum wages. This provision, section 178.1 reads as follows.

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.

There is no reason Quebec's minimum wage provisions would not apply within Quebec. I therefore have a hard time seeing how the government can support its claim that there would be administrative obstacles to making Quebeckers' common language—French—the language of work for all Quebec workers, whether they are under federal or Quebec jurisdiction.

As we already know, several companies under federal jurisdiction comply voluntarily with the Charter of the French Language, but we think more should be done.

I would point out that some of the national companies governed by the Canada Labour Code are involved in telecommunications and broadcasting. Some are crown corporations, such as CBC/Radio-Canada and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Canada Post is also subject to this provision, but none of the other departments, services or crown corporations are because they are covered by section 16 of the Constitution, which requires a constitutional amendment to achieve the goals set out in my bill. We have set them aside for now to ensure that there are no constitutional obstacles preventing other corporations, particularly private ones, from adhering to the Charter of the French Language.

I mentioned sectors such as telecommunications and broadcasting, federal crown corporations that are agencies, banks, airlines, airports, extraprovincial marine transportation and a number of public services. When I refer to public services, I am talking about railways and bus transportation, which are not necessarily in the public sector. In fact, a number of sectors are targeted. In all, roughly 7% of workers in Quebec are covered by the Canada Labour Code, because they work for companies subject to the code. A total of 200,000 to 250,000 workers are affected.

Between 93% and 95% of workers in Quebec are already subject to the Charter of the French Language. We have to wonder about the inequity of a situation where 5% to 7% of workers in Quebec do not enjoy the rights conferred by the Charter of the French Language. I want to remind this House that the Charter of the French Language does not impose any obligations. It gives workers in Quebec the right to work in French.

It is extremely important that all workers in Quebec enjoy the same rights. In this case, everyone will acknowledge that it will certainly be easier to apply the Charter of the French Language to the 7% of workers who are not currently covered than to do the reverse. Moreover, that would run contrary to the objectives that the Quebec nation has had for a number of years, which are to protect the French language and ensure that it develops.

It is extremely important to take this step so that French continues to gain ground in the workplace. That sends an extremely important signal to the entire Quebec nation. It is also a sign of Canada's respect for the National Assembly's repeatedly stated desire.

All the polls conducted in Quebec show how strongly Quebeckers are united in their support for Bill 101 and the Charter of the French Language.

These amendments to the Canada Labour Code will fill a gap that is creating the inequity I mentioned earlier.

So, this bill proposes amendments to the Official Languages Act to ensure that, in Quebec, the federal government respects the Charter of the French Language. It also proposes amendments to the Canada Labour Code, to ensure that workers in businesses under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec can enjoy the same benefits and rights as those in businesses that come under the Quebec jurisdiction. Better still, the bill also proposes an amendment to the Canada Business Corporations Act, to ensure that the name of a corporation respects the Charter of the French Language. I think this makes perfect sense.

Not only should we respect the Charter of the French Language when it comes to workers' rights, not only should we respect it, and Bill 101, as regards the collective choices made by the Quebec nation and conveyed on several occasions by its National Assembly, but we should also ensure that the Charter of the French Language is respected as regards the names of businesses, because it reflects their corporate image in Quebec.

Let us not forget that since the year 2000 many complaints have been made regarding corporate names. There have been close to 1,500 over the past eight or nine years. So, this is an extremely sensitive issue in Quebec and, in the context of the Canada Business Corporations Act, businesses that are under federal jurisdiction must be required to respect the Charter of the French Language as regards their corporate name. That is why we are proposing amendments to that effect.

I should also mention that a number of people have argued that relatively few complaints have been made to the Office de la langue française about the application of the Charter of the French Language, whether it is regarding the language of work or corporate names. That can easily be explained by the fact that, currently, there is a gap and businesses that come under the Canada Labour Code are not subject to the Charter of the French Language. Consequently, very few people lodge complaints, because they know that they are not relevant in the current context.

If there were any amendments such as those proposed in Bill C-307, clearly, we would be seeing a lot more complaints. Workers have said that meetings were being held in English, even though only a single anglophone and 10 francophones were taking part. Furthermore, employees who are all francophone are being forced to communicate with each other in writing in English, especially in the aerospace sector. This information appeared just today in a major Montreal area newspaper.

In the airport sector, time and time again, employees have complained that it is impossible for them to work in French, even though their jobs do not require them to work in English. Of course I will not bother listing all the complaints that are received on a daily basis regarding services offered in French by airlines, even in the Montreal area.

Logically, this House should fully support Bill C-307, so as to be completely consistent with its decision to recognize the Quebec nation.

This is the second time we are introducing this bill. Last time we had the NDP's support. We hope to have their support for this bill once again.

As for the Liberal Party, the official opposition, it has a new leader who prides himself on being the first leader of a federalist party to recognize the Quebec nation. I therefore expect him to remain consistent with what he has said, and not necessarily take it to its logical conclusion, but at least go one step further towards tangibly recognizing the Quebec nation, by ensuring that the Charter of the French Language applies within Quebec's borders in the case of businesses under federal jurisdiction.

I expect Conservative members from Quebec to support this bill, along with the Liberals and my NDP friends, so it can be referred to committee quickly and improved.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, through you, I would like to ask the sponsor of Bill C-307 now before us a very technical question.

We have a Commissioner of Official Languages. If the bill were adopted—no matter its merits or its timing—that would mean that the Commissioner of Official Languages could promote the official languages in the nine other provinces and territories, but not in Quebec. At present, he looks after Quebec.

Have I understood correctly that, consistent with the purpose of this bill, the Commissioner of Official Languages would no longer be able to work in Quebec because only the Charter of the French Language would apply to federal jurisdictions?

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

We are in contact with the Commissioner of Official Languages. It is very clear that the Commissioner of Official Languages would no longer need to intervene to ensure respect for the Charter of the French Language, given that only one official language, French, would be recognized in Quebec. Therefore, intervention by a commissioner responsible for promoting bilingualism would no longer be relevant.

That would also be the case for private businesses under federal jurisdiction such as Bell Canada, CN and all kinds of banks. The Charter of the French Language would apply to them. However, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would continue to apply to all federal government services, as required by section 16. Therefore, the Commissioner of Official Languages will always have a role to play in ensuring that federal government services are provided in French and English to different users.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his fine speech. This bill shows how important it is to protect the French language in the workplace. We are left in Quebec facing a discriminatory situation with two kinds of workers: those who are protected by the charter and those who are not.

Historically in Quebec, the charter arose out of a major labour dispute when the workers at General Motors fought to work in French in their workplace. There was a long strike strictly over language because French was not spoken in the plant and no documents were available in French. Nowadays of course, there are many companies that show respect for the French language.

I would like to know what my colleague has to say about the two classes of workers we have now in Quebec and the lack of protection under the Charter of the French Language.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question, which is very important.

When the Charter of the French Language was passed in 1977, there was a very difficult situation in Quebec workplaces. A number of strikes, lockouts and labour disputes had arisen simply in order to get collective agreements translated into French or to be allowed to negotiate in French. That is now a thing of the past for almost all companies, including various multinational firms. Rio Tinto is subject to the Charter of the French Language. I cannot believe that Bell Canada could not also be subject to the Charter of the French Language or that Telus Communications could not do as Rio Tinto and other multinationals located in Quebec have done. GM was mentioned earlier, but there are many others as well in the aerospace industry. There are also Rogers and CTV Global Media.

It is a matter, therefore, of political will. This will has been present in Quebec for many years, and the federal government should now show some respect for it. It is particularly incumbent on the House of Commons to do so, having passed a motion recognizing the Quebec nation. The House should therefore recognize the Quebec nation’s decision to have French as its common language. That is just a matter of logic and of correcting a legal loophole, which appeared in 1977 when the Charter of the French Language was passed.

In conclusion, I would like to say that just a few days ago we commemorated the 10th anniversary of the passing of Camille Laurin, who was the father of the charter. I wanted to honour his memory on the occasion of the introduction of Bill C-307.