House of Commons Hansard #54 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was french.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:25 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, has the member for Trois-Rivières consulted French-speaking minority groups outside Quebec or English-speaking minority groups inside Quebec? I am wondering whether the member might share some views as to how French-speaking minority groups in the other provinces see this bill.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I may have spoken too quickly, but that was part of my speech. I have met with francophone minority groups from throughout Canada and I have also taken the time to talk with representatives of the anglophone minority language group in Quebec, who came to see me at my office to voice their concerns. We took the time that was needed to reassure them. Each of these groups came away with the impression not only that they had been heard, but that they had been listened to. That lessened their concerns about the requirements in this bill.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague carefully. I intend to speak later. Did I understand correctly when he said that his bill would also include airports? Would corporations like Old Port of Montreal or Canada Post be included? I would like him to tell us whether he has made a list of works, undertakings and businesses that are considered to be federal that would be included or not included.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have not drawn up an exhaustive list, to answer my hon. colleague’s question. However, it is clear that this bill only covers works, undertakings and businesses under federal jurisdiction and not the institutions that are already covered by the Official Languages Act. When we refer to transportation companies, we mean the ones engaged in interprovincial transportation.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague for his exceptional oratorical skills. He is a proud representative of the French language and a great advocate of this bill. Does he not find it somewhat surprising that his bill seems to be so appropriate and so well thought out that it has prompted the sudden idea on the part of our colleagues opposite of creating committees to discuss it?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I admit that I find it difficult to take a position on this strategy. It looks like some clever stick-handling to try to hijack a situation that could be settled unanimously in the House, if we took the time to discuss it for only a few hours. There is nothing in the bill for anyone in Canada to be afraid of. This issue has been under study for years. It is high time that we deliver a bill that will recognize the language rights of francophones in Quebec. It will not hurt anyone else in Canada. We have done our homework and made sure of that. Is it really a source of political shame to support a bill that comes from a party other than the government party?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate my colleague from Trois-Rivières. One very important point in this bill has to do with the rights of workers in Quebec. We are talking about people's right to speak the language of their choice at work, especially since this House has recognized the Quebec nation.

I wonder if my colleague could elaborate on the importance of French in the workplace in Quebec and how this bill will help improve the situation.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his excellent question. These days, there are some examples of anglophone executives who come and work in federally regulated businesses in Quebec. The goal of the bill is not to conduct a witch hunt and demand the systematic expulsion of all anglophone executives. Of course, we want them to be sensitive to the fact that they are working in a francophone environment and to learn to speak French themselves, but more importantly, we want the workers under their supervision to be able to exercise their fundamental right to work in French when responding to the request of a unilingual anglophone.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:30 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

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

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Trois-Rivières is proposing that the Canada Labour Code be amended to introduce requirements for the use of French in federally regulated enterprises that carry out activities in Quebec.

What would that really mean in practice?

There are currently two distinct language regimes in Quebec. First is the federal Official Languages Act, which applies to all federal institutions, and prescribes English and French as the language of work. This act covers 46,000 employees in the core of the federal public service and a further 30,000 employees in the crown corporations and certain private sector companies in Quebec.

Second, we have the Quebec French language charter that designates French as the official language in the province. The charter covers approximately 3.8 million employees in the province's public and private sectors. That leaves about 130,000 private sector employees in federally regulated firms in Quebec who are not currently covered by either federal or provincial language of work legislation.

The bill before us today would change that by amending the Canada Labour Code to place new requirements on federally regulated employers operating in Quebec. This would mean that these employers would need to: use French in their communications with the Government of Quebec and with corporations established in Quebec; give their employees the right to carry on their activities in French; draw up communications for their employees in French; prepare and publish French offers of employment at the same time as any offers published in a language other than French; prepare collective agreements and their schedules in French; and translate arbitration awards into either English or French upon request of one of the parties.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that our government understands the importance of language in preserving culture and heritage. Our two official languages are not just part of our history, they are an integral part of our Canadian identity. This is clearly reflected in the Official Languages Act and in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which both state that English and French are the official languages of Canada. The role of the federal government and the federal language legislation is to promote the use of both French and English across the country and not to favour one over the other.

At the same time, this government has made a commitment to take steps to strengthen further Canadian francophone identity. I assure members that we fully appreciate the importance of the issue before us today.

However, we also feel an equal responsibility to undertake a full and fair evaluation of the issue before us today and it is important to consider the context.

I want to underscore that, in looking at all the issues, we have so far found little documented evidence that francophones face difficulty working in French in federally regulated private sector enterprises in Quebec. In fact, in the 2006 census, close to 96% of all francophone Quebeckers reported that they used French at work most often and a further 3.4% said that they used French at work regularly. To date, the labour program has yet to receive a single complaint from a federally regulated private sector employee in Quebec claiming that he or she could not work in French.

Second, the adoption of the bill would represent a departure from past practices in that it would extend the scope of language requirements to the private sector.

From an economic perspective, we need to consider the potential negative implications for the businesses that would be affected by the bill. These businesses need to compete with their counterparts outside of Quebec where other provincial and territorial governments do not regulate the language of work in the private sector firms. As we know, many private sector employers in the federal sector voluntarily conform to provincial language of work legislation. It just makes good business sense to do so.

We need to ask ourselves: Is this really an area where the government should be intervening? Is this the best time to consider imposing additional regulatory burdens on employers?

As members know, our government's first priority is the economic recovery. We are focused on jobs and growth. To that end, we are trying to reduce red tape, keep taxes low and give Canadian businesses more freedom to succeed. Surely, the member for Trois-Rivières would not want to disadvantage the businesses that operate in the province of Quebec.

Do we really need to hurry to impose new laws and red tape on businesses in Quebec in the absence of concrete evidence of a genuine problem?

The Minister of Labour understands the language of work is an important issue in Quebec. That is why the government intends to name an advisory committee to examine the situation and determine whether the working and private sector federal jurisdiction establishments in Quebec are fully able to work in French and will provide its observations in that regard to the government.

As with any important issue before us, we will strive for a clear and comprehensive understanding of the situation and, in turn, make informed decisions on the best way forward. That is what Canadians expect us to do, that is what we intend to do and that is why our government must say no to this bill.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

2 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by pointing out a rather interesting fact. Today is November 25, which means that two days from now marks the fifth anniversary of this House passing nearly unanimously a motion recognizing Quebec as a nation.

Recognizing a nation is not something that one should take lightly. Although I was not here at the time, I am sure that no one in this House made the decision lightly, and yet, about 250 members—I am sorry I do not recall the exact number—voted in favour of the motion. After supporting such a motion, one should then walk the talk. So far, however, no concrete action has been taken in that regard.

It is very interesting because yesterday, the government surprised us by revealing some lovely projects. It plans simply to launch a committee to work on the issue of official languages. In a press release, the government said it is committed to promoting and protecting the French language in Canada. That is rather interesting, because I do not really understand how it can do that, when some of the people in the highest positions of governance in this country are not even bilingual, such as the Auditor General and Supreme Court judges. That is definitely an argument for another day. The fact remains that I do not understand how, with all of that in mind, the Conservatives have the nerve to come to this House and boast about defending the French language. This really amazes me and I am having a hard time understanding it all.

At the same time, it is interesting to see that the member who spoke before me talked about the absence of a problem. He said that no complaints have been received and there is not really a problem, so we would create a law to solve a problem that does not exist. If there is no problem, why form a committee? Why talk about it? Why take the initiative to try to solve a problem if there is none? It seems to me that this is an admission that there is indeed a problem.

We have to ask ourselves another question. If we are determined to protect the French language, is the fact that complaints may or may not have been filed such a big issue? We are simply asking for the harmonization of the existing provisions of the Charter of the French Language with the Canada Labour Code.

I am going to quote a specific part in the preamble of the Charter of the French Language. It reads:

The French language, the distinctive language of a people that is in the majority French-speaking, is the instrument by which that people has articulated its identity.

In that sentence I see an idea that complements in a very concrete fashion the recognition of the Quebec nation. Yet some government members are opposed to our bill, which simply affirms this recognition through a concrete measure.

Let us get back to the committee that will look at this matter. Things are still vague. We do not really know the committee's mandate, which stakeholders will be asked to appear and what specific issues the committee will attempt to solve. The government is setting up a committee, but says that it wants to look at the issue and solve the problem.

That is very odd, because when we, on this side, want to look at problems or delve into issues raised in other bills, the government ends the debate and moves on to something else. However, when the issue is the French language, the government is in no hurry. The NDP is proposing concrete measures, but the Conservatives want to take their time and review the matter. Meanwhile, Quebeckers have clearly told us what their needs are. Complaints may not have been filed regarding the Canada Labour Code, but Quebeckers expressed their views in another way, a very important way, on May 2.

Let me explain. During the election campaign, we, the NDP candidates, and particularly our leader, Jack Layton, said clearly that if we were elected we would look at the issue to really ensure that the Charter of the French Language and the Canada Labour Code were harmonized. As we all know, Quebeckers voted massively for our party, because of the concrete initiatives that we want to take in this House. Quebeckers did not ask for a committee to look at the matter. After all, this issue has been dragging on for a long time.

We know that, among other initiatives, the hon. member for Outremont introduced an almost identical bill during the 40th Parliament, and we are simply tabling it again. This is not the first time that it has been debated. Moreover, we are well aware that, in our country, linguistic issues have been very important issues for decades.

These are in no way new issues. In fact, it is practically the opposite: these issues need to be dealt with immediately.

I know that often, when we debate bills, the best way to make government members understand is by talking about an economic aspect. So I will speak to these issues by giving an economic argument to support this bill.

This is a labour right, a right for Quebec workers. This government claims to be a great defender of people who wish to work, who wish to find a job and who wish to meet their family's needs in uncertain economic times. This is one way of helping those people.

My riding is more than 95% francophone. For these people, it is a labour right. When people work to meet their families' needs, to make ends meet or to earn a living, they have a fundamental right to work in their language. This reality should be even more concrete since Quebec has been recognized as a nation. This issue of language rights has gone on far too long. To me, that is clear. It is interesting because, none of the arguments made by the government or the Liberal Party are in opposition to the bill. They recognize that there is a problem because they want to form a committee. So do not try to tell me that there is no problem. Obviously, if they are willing to form a committee, it means that they recognize that there is a problem.

They talk about respecting both official languages, but do nothing to protect them. This is a concrete measure, an opportunity to show that we are willing to do more than just pay lip service. This is an opportunity, if I may, Mr. Speaker, for redemption from the colossal mistake of appointing unilingual officers to such important positions in our country and to much opposition. I am still trying to find a good and solid reason to oppose a measure that simply harmonizes the Canada Labour Code with existing measures in the Charter of the French Language of Quebec. We are not asking to make major changes to our society. These are measures that have existed since the 1970s. They are already in place.

The NDP thinks that it is normal for the 200,000 people working in federally regulated companies to have the same rights as their colleagues who work in companies or institutions under the umbrella of the Charter of the French Language. It is not very complicated.

I want to come back to the use of the French language and the issue of anglophone minorities. Part of my family is anglophone and I believe that the fact that they experienced the implementation of the Charter of the French Language puts me in a good position to say that it does not infringe on our rights in any way whatsoever; rather, it completes and strengthens francophone rights. Those are two very different things. Anglophones are not being prevented from speaking English. The charter simply protects the fundamental right of francophones to work in French and to receive communications and their collective agreement in French. In labour law, the language of expression, the language that allows us to work and take our place at our work, is essential. It is our identity. It is our way of expressing ourselves. We cannot do without it. I am still waiting to hear arguments to the contrary. The answer is easy. Everyone should support this bill.

I want to commend the hon. member for Trois-Rivières on his work. I know that we in the NDP are taking concrete actions and I am very proud of that.