House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was young.

Topics

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak on this bill, which I will be voting against.

History is repeating itself in this House. In 2008, the Bloc Québécois introduced a motion in this House, which read as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, following the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House, the government should move from words to deeds and propose measures to solidify that recognition, including compliance with the language of labour relations of Quebec's Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec.

That was in 2008. Now we have Bill C-307, which is far broader than the motion I have just read. As a federalist, a Canadian and a friend of the Official Languages Act, I am opposed to many aspects of Bill C-307.

There are four major points in this bill that are of great concern to me. First, it implies that the French language is in decline in Quebec. Second, there is the matter of what goes on in federally regulated institutions in Quebec. Third, are they thinking about the anglophone minority population of Quebec? Fourth, and most important to me as a representative of the Acadian people, of the French speaking people in a country with linguistic duality, there is the Official Languages Act.

Should this bill become the law of the land, what would happen to the francophone minority Acadian populations in New Brunswick, in Nova Scotia, in Prince Edward Island? What will happen to the French speaking minority populations in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, for instance? To the francophones on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River? To the people who attend the Collège Saint-Jean d'Edmonton in Alberta? What will happen to the people of Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan?

When I sat on this Parliament's Standing Committee on Official Languages, I was amazed to learn that there were 50,000 francophones in Vancouver, B.C. What would happen to them if Bill C-307 were adopted? This worries me somewhat.

In her speech, my friend and colleague from LaSalle—Émard said that the Bloc clearly lacked solidarity with the Canadian Francophonie, and in this case, that is true. It is true because this bill would be very problematic for Acadians, for example.

If all federal institutions were to be subject to Quebec's Charter of the French Language, then why not have a Charter of the English Language in other provinces with minority francophone populations?

Why could we not then have an English language charter in a province where there is a francophone minority? What if, in the province of New Brunswick, a government said that the province shall have an English language charter and that English shall be the language of all federal institutions in the province of New Brunswick?

In the history of New Brunswick, there have been riots over political events, hockey victories and defeats, and over quotas for fisheries in parts of our province. One would never see a riot such as there would be if such a law were brought into the province of New Brunswick. It is because I live in a country that respects two languages, two languages under the Official Languages Act that are of equal value and merit, that I so strongly oppose this bill.

The Bloc has falsely stated that the French language is undergoing a catastrophic decline in Quebec. However, the 2006 census and the report of the Office québécois de la langue française, both published in 2008, suggest otherwise. It is not true that the French language is undergoing a catastrophic decline in Quebec. In Quebec, the French language is alive and well, and Quebec's culture is alive and well, thanks in part to the presence of federal institutions that protect the country's two official languages.

It is important to note that Statistics Canada says that the number of people who speak French as their mother tongue increased 1.6% between 2001 and 2006. There have been other increases in the quality and number of French speakers throughout this country. Evidence that bilingualism is one of Canada's core values is so evident in surveys conducted on Canadians by Canadians. It is the very essence of what we are as Canadians.

I want to move on to the question of what happens to federal companies and institutions that are situated in the province of Quebec. In the past, words have been used against the Official Languages Act. The real meaning of what a federal institution is or what a federal company is has come into play throughout this debate. The bill's main result would see that the Canada Labour Code would be amended so that companies operating in Quebec but under federal jurisdiction would be subject to la Charte de la langue française, a provincial charter.

The Bloc is trying to impose la Charte de la langue française on companies under federal jurisdiction under what it would call a regulatory vacuum. Clause 34 in part 5 of the Official Languages Act states:

English and French are the languages of work in all federal institutions, and officers and employees of all federal institutions have the right to use either official language in accordance with this Part.

What is meant by that is that Canada is a bilingual country. We have the protection of the Official Languages Act. The party on this side has always stood for the core value that we are a bilingual country protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act. It has not always been the case that all parties in this place have thought of the country this way. We think it is a core value and we think it is worth fighting for.

We must stop this bill so that we will not see any riots in any parts of New Brunswick or other provinces in Canada over something as fundamental as taking away the guarantee of bilingual rights in our great country.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this private member's bill. I must say that, in the House, I have been very critical of the Bloc in the past. Its option is not at all in the interest of the francophone presence in North America. Indeed, the Bloc's approach has often left Quebec less united around a blueprint for society shared by progressives in Canada. In this case, I find it perfectly normal to have a bill that ensures French may be used in the workplace.

The NDP supports this bill, and it is quite simple. As a federalist party, we say it is important to acknowledge the French fact in Quebec. It is important, as we have done in Parliament, to recognize the Quebec nation. And in Quebec, people should be able to use French in the workplace.

I lived in Quebec for 14 years and am very proud of that. At the start of my life in Quebec, I was a unilingual anglophone. However, I always had access to services in my mother tongue, regardless of where I was in Quebec, be it in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, in metropolitan Quebec City, in the Eastern Townships, in Montreal, in the greater Montreal area or even in the Outaouais. In all these areas, I had access to services in my mother tongue. That is important. It is an important but little known aspect of Quebec. Often, people speak more of what is missing in the anglophone community. It is true that the services could be improved, especially in the health care and social services network, but still the availability of services is very important.

I then returned to the province where I was born, British Columbia, which is home. I adore this province. There is an ever-growing francophone presence there. Some cities even qualify as bilingual according to the Official Languages Act. The francophone presence is increasing not only in absolute numbers but also as a percentage of the population. That is important. Unlike the process of assimilation feared in some provinces, we have this francophone presence in British Columbia.

I am proud that it was an NDP government that brought about the establishment of a whole educational network in French in British Columbia. There are dozens and dozens of schools now. They welcome francophones of all origins, not only francophones from Quebec, Acadie or western Canada. People talk about a sort of rainbow francophonie, which comprises francophones from Africa, Europe, Asia and all the former French colonies, from all countries using French. All these people live in greater Vancouver. Now, people have access to this school system established by a New Democrat government. That said, there remains work to be done in British Columbia.

However, I cannot imagine a situation in which people would not have the right and opportunity, in their workplace, to communicate with their employer and access information in English. That is exactly what Bill C-307 is doing for French. It means that francophones in Quebec, in their workplace, can access information and read their collective agreement in French, in the ordinary course of things, and ensure that they have full rights in their workplace in French. That is perfectly reasonable. It is not surprising, and it is nothing out of the ordinary. It is perfectly reasonable.

Some may say that this is already the case in Quebec, that people can work in French and people who live in French in Quebec have no problem working in French. Certainly, in some cases, companies under federal jurisdiction have arranged for people to be able to work in French in their workplaces. But it is not the case in every situation.

That is why this bill has been introduced. What it is intended to do is to require that companies under federal law, be they Canadian or foreign, allow their employees to work in French. That is nothing out of the ordinary; it is perfectly reasonable. Canadians think that a measure that allows people to work in French in a francophone community is fair. That is also why the Quebec nation was recognized in Parliament, so that people could work in their own language, as I am allowed to work in my own language in British Columbia.

The question is how this bill will affect the Official Languages Act. The problem is that at present, the Conservative government, like the previous Liberal government, is not enforcing the laws already in place. The Commissioner of Official Languages reminds us every year that we still have a long way to go before all of the symbolic measures in the Official Languages Act become part of everyday reality. People need to be able to access services in French and English, regardless of where they live in Canada, where numbers warrant. We are engaged in a project that we must continually improve. There are still problems to be solved with the existing legislation, so that reality reflects what is written in the law.

Because there is still work to be done, I believe it is important for members from all four parties to work together to ensure that an anglophone can feel as much at home in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, and a francophone can feel as much at home on Vancouver Island, in northern Saskatchewan or elsewhere in Canada, as I felt in the Kingdom of the Saguenay 20 years ago.

The NDP has always been active in this issue. I mentioned British Columbia a minute ago. It was a New Democrat government that established the francophone school system in that province. And not just in British Columbia—it was the NDP government that established the francophone school system in Saskatchewan as well. It was also a New Democrat government in Manitoba that made sure that Franco-Manitobans there have more rights now. In Yukon, it was again a New Democrat government that brought in the Official Languages Act to give the French language status. The New Democrat government of Ontario was also a good government, although it was unfortunately led by a Liberal. Nonetheless, it established a French-language college system in Ontario.

What about the government? It has to put its money where its mouth is to advance the cause of francophones and of language equality in Canada. That is why we support this bill.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you will agree with me, or at least you will do after my speech, in my support of Bill C-307. This bill amends the Official Languages Act to recognize that the Charter of the French Language has precedence in Quebec.

In November 2006 in this House, all the members of the Bloc Québécois, all the members of the Conservative Party, all the members of the New Democratic Party, and almost all the Liberal members, except for 16, recognized the Quebec nation for the first time in history in the House of Commons, as it had been recognized on many occasions in the National Assembly of Quebec.

Once it has been said and recognized that Quebec is a nation, Quebec is entitled to the tools that determine, define and guarantee its long-term survival. The Quebec nation makes up about two percent of the population of North America. It is a nation whose ethnolinguistic critical mass is French-speaking. The common public language in Quebec is French. However French finds itself in an anglophone ocean, comprised of Canada as well as the United States of America.

I was listening to my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, the former mayor of Moncton, asking why the other provinces should not protect their English language. Apart from New Brunswick, all the other provinces are de facto anglophone. English is not in danger of disappearing in North America. The history of the Quebec nation is a perpetual struggle to ensure that the French fact is firmly established even in its home, which is Quebec.

We have lived through extremely difficult times in the history of Quebec. One need only think of the struggle of the Patriotes, in 1837 and 1838, when the Lower Canadians of the time melted down their forks to make bullets to fight the British empire, the largest empire of the era. We know the outcome. We were given the recipe for democracy, but not democracy itself. They wanted to take that democracy from us.

In 1848, eight years after Lord Durham’s affront in saying that we had to be assimilated—that everything to do with the French language in the British empire in North America had to be assimilated—we rose up in opposition. The purpose of the Act of Union of 1840 was to assimilate us, that is, to bring about our ethnolinguistic disappearance as a nation and make us a pale reflection of the dominant culture by stripping us of all rights to maintain our cultural identity. The French fact was in danger.

In 1848, Lord Elgin agreed to democracy once he realized that more immigrants could settle in the French part of North America, ensuring the ever-increasing demographic submergence of the French fact. In 1848, what is now francophone Quebec was bigger in numbers, but had to have the same number of members of Parliament as Canada West, which was Ontario. And yet there were more of us and we should have had more MPs.

When they saw we were becoming a minority—and this was the Canada of today in embryo form—they applied the principle of representation by population because it made it easier to assimilate us. So that is Canada.

If Quebec does not take charge of its future, does not defend itself with legislation ensuring the survival of its language and culture, no one else will do it. English Canada is even going to make sure it crushes us. It did so in New Brunswick by abolishing French schools in 1873. It did so in Manitoba by abolishing French schools in 1890. It was only in 1979, thanks to a court challenge by George Forest, that Manitoba was able to recover its credentials as a francophone province, as it was in 1870 with Louis Riel. The Conservatives of the day in the House found a way to hang Riel, in large part because he was a defender of the French fact in western Canada. He defended his Métis brothers and his francophone brothers.

In my home province of Ontario, French schools were abolished in 1912. In 1893, French schools were banned in Saskatchewan, part of the Northwest Territories at the time. This was repeated in 1931 and in 1988, the government of Grant Devine, known well to some in this House as a colleague in their province, even abolished services in French. This has happened three times in history. Now imagine what would happen if Quebec abolished English schools. Not that I want that to happen, but if it did, tanks would be sent into Quebec rather than Afghanistan. They respect neither Quebeckers nor the French language. For Canada, we are a people to be assimilated bit by bit.

Quebec has risen. The perpetuity of the French fact is up to Quebeckers alone. The purpose of Bill C-307 is to ensure that my colleagues, my fellow working men and women of Quebec, will be able to work in their French language in areas under federal jurisdiction. A bill must be introduced to defend ourselves. It is being turned down here. This is one more piece of evidence that, with the exception of the NDP, when they agree to recognize the Quebec nation, it is nothing but a smokescreen, a smoke and mirrors trick. Once again, this shows Canada's lack of respect for Quebec.

I am a Franco-Ontarian who has lived in Saskatchewan. I went to Saskatchewan to fight for French schools that were abolished in 1931. They were reinstated in 1995. For 64 years, there were no French schools, and then we went from 63 to 8 French schools. Even today the rate of assimilation among youth 15 to 25 years of age is more than 85% in this province. Why? Because the institutions that would ensure the survival of the French fact were abolished.

Quebec is in the minority in North America. Quebec must protect itself against Canada. I heard the members for LaSalle—Émard, Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and the Conservative member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles say that there is no respect for French-language minorities. Quebec is entitled to its vision of society. Those people are afraid of Canada. They say that if Quebec were to become sovereign, they would no longer have the critical mass to protect themselves. Quebec has been there for four centuries. That did not prevent the federal government from closing its eyes when the provinces abolished our schools, our French services, hung our Patriotes and hung Louis Riel. That is Canada's attitude towards the French fact.

Bill C-307seeks to protect my Quebec colleagues, to allow them to work in their language and to ensure that the French culture and language will be part of all aspects of daily life.

We do not want Quebec to suffer the same fate visited on my brothers and sisters in predominantly English provinces by English Canada.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, as part of this debate on Bill C-307, if I may, I would like to speak to my colleagues about how important the influence of the French language in Canada and the world is to the government, and what the Canadian government is doing in this respect.

I would first like to say that, if this bill passes, its enforcement would set a major precedent in the history of Canada. Certain provinces could simply enforce restrictive language laws within their borders, laws that would probably not promote the use of French, my mother tongue, in circumstance in which that language is the minority.

Once again trapped by their own secessionist ideology, the members of the third party are thinking only of their own parochial interests, while completely disregarding those of francophones in minority communities in every part of this country.

Canada's official languages policy and the status that it confers on the French language are part of the very nature of our country. This policy is a reflection of the desire of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians in every corner of the country to live together and is a sort of social contract between our two major linguistic communities. The government that I support in the House strongly defends these founding principles of Canada.

Since the beginning of the Canadian federation 142 years ago, linguistic duality has been one of the foundations of our country and is of ever greater benefit to this country and its citizens. My Quebec cousins join me in supporting this linguistic duality.

The government that I support in this House is firmly committed to supporting our official languages and the promotion of English and French, both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. Its Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013: Acting for the Future is clear proof of that commitment.

First of all, as the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, we cannot forget that Canada was French before it was English, when it was founded 400 years ago.

French was spoken on both sides of the Ottawa River before Molière was even born. Samuel de Champlain travelled very close to here on June 4, 396 years ago. That is the day he baptized the Rideau Falls and the Chaudière Falls. Even better than the language of Molière, the language of Rabelais is at the heart of Canada, its history and my identity.

As it says in Psalm 72, verse 8, A Mari usque ad Mare. D'un océan à l'autre. From sea to sea.

Last October, the 12th Sommet de la francophonie took place in Quebec City. Our government was very pleased to have the opportunity to work with Quebec in strengthening the presence of the French language and culture internationally.

That summit provided Canada with a unique opportunity to promote a strong and diversified Canadian francophonie. The event brought together on Canadian soil the heads of state and of government of all the countries of the Francophonie.

I remember; je me souviens.

Canada is a beacon as far as supporting the dissemination and promotion of the French language are concerned. Moreover, we made the effort to ensure that francophones from all parts of Canada had a presence in the activities surrounding the summit.

The lasting support of the summit shows how committed this government is to ensuring not only that Canada's francophone aspect is fully represented on the international stage, but also that Canada as a whole benefits from the fantastic advantages of having French as one of its official languages.

Spoken by more than 200 million people, French is an official language in 29 countries. Canada is very aware of the importance of its French fact and is determined to help it shine on the international stage. Canada was one of the first countries, therefore, to promote the Francophonie by participating actively in the creation and development of its numerous institutions.

The Government of Canada is the second largest provider of funds after France, with a contribution of more than $40 million a year for the International Organization of the Francophonie and francophone institutions.

I must also point out that the Francophonie was a major contributor to the adoption of a convention by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture—UNESCO—to make cultural diversity an inescapable frame of reference. As we know, this convention formally recognizes, in international law, the fact that cultural goods are different from other goods.

That is why the Canadian government wants to work to promote the French language in the context of a unifying, inclusive and respectful vision of all the francophone realities of our country.

Our approach aims to create a francophone space to connect the francophones of Quebec and those from minority communities , as well as francophiles from every cultural origin. There are a number of ways to achieve this, but the cultural sector is definitely a preferred option in this respect.

We know, of course, that Canada's arts and culture policies generously support the cultural development of French-speaking Canadians in Quebec and everywhere in Canada. That is how we support the distribution of Canadian cultural products to foster a better understanding of French language artistic and cultural production from across the country.

This can help create closer ties between francophones in Quebec and their cousins in minority communities and between the country's francophones and francophiles.

Heightened visibility of French also makes all Canadians more aware of our country's linguistic duality.

So whether the purpose is to strengthen the French fact at the international level or within the country, the Government of Canada and the governments of Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario and the other provinces are going to have to work together increasingly closely to strengthen ties between francophones and francophiles here and elsewhere, to promote the establishment of sound partnerships, and to generate concerted and effective measures, which means ensuring that their respective actions complement each other.

I have just given a few examples of the federal government's broad support for the French language and its vitality in Canada, including in Quebec and abroad.

The government's support and initiatives have taken place within the current language policy framework, which proves that the equality of status of the two official languages in no way prevents the federal government from working hard to strengthen the French fact in Canada.

The supporters of Bill C-307 have completely failed to demonstrate how Canada's linguistic regime represents a barrier to the full use of French in Quebec and why it would be necessary to make the proposed legislative amendments to secure the future of French in that province.

Consequently, the government considers Bill C-307 unwarranted, and we will oppose its passage.

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

June 2nd, 2009 / 6:15 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, my apologies for interrupting the debate but there have been consultations and discussions between all parties and I think if you were to seek it you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, on Wednesday, June 3, Statements by Ministers, pursuant to Standing Order 33, shall take place at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions followed by a moment of silence; any recorded division previously deferred to Wednesday, June 3, shall be taken up at the end of the moment of silence provided that the time taken for the ministerial statement and the deferred recorded divisions shall be added to the time provided for Government Orders; and, notwithstanding Standing Order 30(7), Private Members' Business shall begin no later than 7:00 p.m.

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Does the hon. Government House leader have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion 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.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, in a few hours the House of Commons will make its decision on Bill C-307, which I introduced. If it passes, it will ensure that Bill 101 is respected in Quebec, even in federally regulated companies covered by the Canada Labour Code. We are referring here to banks, airports, telecommunications companies and Canada Post. We are not referring by any means to federal government departments or services.

The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard did not read my bill at all and did not understand it. Because of her Trudeau- and Chrétien-like ideology, she distorted what the bill was about. She said the Bloc claims the bill does not talk about federally regulated companies but rather federal institutions, which means the Charter of the French Language would apply to federal undertakings. She implied that government departments would be affected. What we are talking about though are banks—like the Bank of Montreal and the Bank of Nova Scotia—Montreal airport or the CBC, federally regulated undertakings.

At the present time, some 250,000 workers are not covered by the Charter of the French Language, that is to say, they do not have the right to work in French and are often forced to work in English simply because their superiors force it on them, even though there is absolutely no need for it in serving customers. The Official Languages Commissioner recently criticized this state of affairs in airports all across Canada. It is the case in Quebec too.

It is totally unacceptable that these workers do not have the same rights as all other workers in Quebec and are deprived of the perfectly legitimate right to work in their own language, the language of the Quebec nation, a nation that the House has recognized. The House should have no problem at all, therefore, passing this bill so that not only the Quebec nation is recognized but also the fact that this nation has only one official language: French.

We know where the Conservatives stand; the speech we just heard made that all too clear. Right after the motion was passed in November 2006, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that it had no legal implications. We know where the Prime Minister stands. We know that he tried to dismantle Bill 101 and the Charter of the French Language before he became the Conservative Party leader. Quebeckers know what to expect. The party's recognition of the Quebec nation was driven by political opportunism.

Now we are wondering about the Liberal Party of Canada and its new leader. Will the party demonstrate the openness that the Leader of the Opposition referred to when he said that he was the first federalist politician in Ottawa to recognize the Quebec nation? We know that that is why the delegates at the Liberal convention chose the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville instead of him. Tomorrow afternoon we will know for sure whether he was sincere. He will have a choice to make.

Either his recognition of the Quebec nation is exactly the same as that of the Conservatives, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, or we are really witnessing a break with the Liberal Party of Canada's tradition of strong-arm tactics. We will never forget the unilateral patriation of the Constitution, the repeated attacks on Bill 101 and the sponsorship scandal. Tomorrow, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Leader of the Opposition, will show his true colours. If he votes against this bill, Quebeckers will know that he is cut from the same cloth as the other federalists who never really wanted to recognize the Quebec nation—not just the Conservatives, but Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien too.

This is extremely important. I would urge all Quebeckers to pay close attention to the vote. He must not try to slip away. He has to be here, and he has to vote. His true colours will finally show.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

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