House of Commons Hansard #141 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.

Topics

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in at report stage.

(Motion agreed to)

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

moved that the bill, be read the third time and passed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

March 8th, 2011 / 6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, having received complaints from my constituents about the lack of services provided in French by the Department of Foreign Affairs and/or Citizenship and Immigration Canada, I thought it best to ask that the Standing Committee on Official Languages receive representatives from both these departments.

The question I asked in the House of Commons on November 10, 2010, was about receiving government representatives with regard to official languages. My question was worthwhile, because in the days following, the Standing Committee on Official Languages received testimony from the departments in question.

The Canadian missions that seemed to be causing my constituents problems with regard to services in French were those in Nairobi, Kenya, Islamabad, Pakistan, Bogota, Colombia, London, England and Kampala, Uganda. There was also the Case Processing Centre in Vegreville, Alberta.

Requesting services in French in a Canadian mission abroad is a fundamental right to which every Quebecker and every Canadian is entitled.

Under the responsibility of its federal institution, the Canadian mission abroad is required to comply with the Official Languages Act. In this case I am referring to part IV: communications with the public and delivery of services.

Angela Bogdan, inspector general at Foreign Affairs, is responsible for the quality of services in both official languages. She indicated that there are still non-imperative positions because of the lack of competent bilingual staff within mission teams. Non-imperative means not required to be bilingual. That is very troubling. It means that services in French will suffer.

Monica Janecek, director of corporate resourcing at Foreign Affairs, assured us that a mission employee who does not obtain the second language proficiency levels of “C” for comprehension, “B” for writing and “C” for oral expression within two to four years will be transferred to a post not requiring the CBC levels. Why are we not hiring bilingual people in the first place? This question always comes up.

We are well aware of the fact that, in the 260 or so Canadian missions abroad, local people are hired. Depending on their duties, these people are not necessarily required to know both of Canada's official languages. I am thinking of a gardener, for example. Nevertheless, positions designated bilingual should be just that.

Canadian missions overseas—which include embassies, high commissions and consulates—provide a range of services. I am thinking primarily of diplomatic services, but there are others, because the missions also provide Citizenship and Immigration Canada services. I will come back to that.

6:30 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada recognizes bilingualism as an important component in Canada's international relations. I would like to take this opportunity to give our assurance that the department is responding to all its legal obligations in official languages and is devoting great efforts to promoting linguistic duality.

I would like to take this opportunity also to address the recent report card that Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada received from the Commissioner of Official Languages. As members know, our department was one of the 16 institutions that received a report card. We are taking the feedback very seriously and we are already taking concrete steps to improve those areas requiring attention.

We are pleased that the commissioner acknowledged that the service we provided by email was available 100% of the time in the official language of choice and that visual active offer was present 97% of the time. Equally, we are happy to know that service in the language of the linguistic minority was available 92% of the time.

Other areas of strength are the overall management of the official languages program, awareness sessions for staff at all levels, an integrated system for monitoring, including official language performance at missions, and promotion of linguistic duality by celebrating la Journée internationale de la Francophonie.

We are also a member of the implementation committee of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's 2006-2011 strategic plan to foster immigration to francophone minority communities. Also, through the speakers program, departmental officials made several outreach efforts to be in contact with the official language minority communities in order to promote our mandate, priorities, programs and services.

To address areas of concern we are finalizing the development of a new comprehensive official languages action plan for 2011 and onward. The plan is an integral part of our corporate planning and is in keeping with our report on plans and priorities for 2011-12, which commits to an active promotion of the use of official languages in the workplace. The plan includes the implementation of strategies and monitoring mechanisms to improve the management of the official languages program and to increase the visibility of official languages in the department.

To ensure broad and coherent planning and implementation, we have accelerated the work of our network of official languages coordinators which represents headquarters, regions and all of our missions abroad, over 150 offices. The network holds quarterly meetings, chaired by our official languages champion.

We have already communicated with all of our heads of mission and asked them to provide us with measures that they have implemented to ensure bilingual service to the public. Missions responded overwhelmingly with positive, proactive measures to ensure linguistic duality, including for services offered by all relevant sections of our mission.

We are well aware that there is still work to be done and we will pursue initiatives already under way and continue to evaluate how we can improve and raise awareness at our missions abroad.

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, Citizenship and Immigration Canada provides extremely important services. Let us think about applications for immigration, refugee resettlement, temporary resident visas and temporary work and study permits. This department helps clients complete their applications and ensures that immigration applications are processed in accordance with the law.

These duties must be carried out while respecting both official languages. All federal departments, agencies and crown corporations must provide quality service in both French and English and not in one language to the detriment of the other.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, we are actively promoting linguistic duality by creating and maintaining a work environment conducive to the effective use of English and French to enable our staff to use the language of their choice. We are ensuring that management and employees are aware of the Official Languages Act and its obligations as well as employees' rights by continuing to provide awareness sessions on the Official Languages Act.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is committed to promoting Canada's linguistic duality, communicating with and serving the public in Canada and abroad in both official languages and to creating and maintaining a work environment conducive to the effective use of English and French so that our staff feel comfortable using the official language of their choice.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise again on the issue of the census.

The government has killed the long form mandatory census and brought in a national survey. I asked the government about an NDP bill that would make the chief statistician independent and out of politics in order to guarantee the data that Canadians were providing would be useful for those in the scientific field. This is important because we make a lot of decisions based upon our census information.

Ironically, today at committee we had hearings about the census. One of the things we learned is that the government is going to spend $670 million on a census that it has not tested. We found no other society, no other country that, when moving to a national survey, did not run a sampling.

It is akin to an individual going to a car dealership and buying a car without taking it for a test drive. Would an individual get on a plane that was built but that had not been tested? No. We should have had some type of test in the development of the long form survey.

Today we heard from witnesses that they were never consulted. They were never even asked their opinion. We are talking about people who deal with this information on a daily basis. They use it for everything from deciding where public transit goes, where language supports go, how economic decisions are made, how we train our population and how we work as an organized civil society. All that information that we have been using in the past on a continuum from 1971 will now be made useless in many respects. We will not know the damage that will happen as rates and anomalies increase in this new national survey.

What is very odd about this is that if the government truly wanted to switch from a mandatory census, it could have consulted with a wide range of scientists and operators and people who are in the business. They would have been able to provide some input to mitigate and ameliorate those types of problems. But no, the government did not do that, so we have a $670 million gamble. That is $670 million that the government is borrowing from taxpayers. We are in a deficit right now. We will have to pay interest on that money.

The census is very important. There are customers who use it. Millions upon millions of dollars are put back into coffers to offset the cost of the actual census. That money could help the taxpayers in terms of reducing the costs of the census. We do not know if we will lose those customers. Those customers may evaporate. What is important is that it also affects other surveys. Surveys which are backed up by good, scientific data will now be lost.

Interestingly enough, the government will still not get rid of the mandatory agricultural survey. That will not be voluntary, so those individuals will be scoped by the government. The short form census will still exist, so there will be individuals under that purview as well.

Why is it that we would want to contaminate one set of very important data? Why would the Conservatives provide different sets of rules for different types of censuses? Why would they want to risk $670 million of the taxpayers' money without doing any type of pilot project or investigation?

When we have employment insurance reforms, we do pilot projects in communities to find out whether they are helping. We make sure we do due diligence. What has happened here is it has been thrown out the window. That is why the chief statistician needs to be independent and above politics. We need to make sure our scientific data is clean, is developed strongly and most important, is very secure and very reliable for actual census usage.

6:40 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, as I listened to my hon. colleague, I wondered if he was at a different meeting this afternoon than I was because he portrayed a different picture of what I remember hearing from the witnesses who were before the committee today.

We had a good committee hearing today. We heard from three statistical experts who shared with us the work that is ongoing right now as Statistics Canada undertakes this national household survey. By all reports today, that work seems to be going well. Some good progress is being made in the north where the process has begun. We are hearing that there is a very strong response rate of 99% for the census and, I believe, 85% so far for the national household survey. That is a good start.

I would like to clarify some of the inaccuracies that we hear from time to time. There was some confusion in the committee today because one of the Liberal members did not realize that we still had a census. I think it is important to clarify that we do still have a census in this country. It is what most Canadians would equate to a census. It is the counting of all Canadians. It identifies their gender, where they live, their marital status and those types of important things for gathering information. As the member mentioned, that census is still mandatory.

In addition to the census, we have a national household survey that is not mandatory. We will no longer be threatening Canadians with fines and jail time because they do not want to tell the government, for example, what their religion is, or how many bedrooms they have in their house, or how much yard work they did last week. We think it is inappropriate and unacceptable to threaten Canadians with fines or jail time for not wanting to answer those questions.

It is fully understandable that we might have a situation where new Canadians may not want to tell the government their religion. Under the law previously, they would be threatened with up to a $500 fine or jail time. In fact, the Liberal member for St. Paul's has introduced a bill that would reinstate that threat of fines. Of course, if people do not pay their fine they are subject to jail time as well.

We think that is inappropriate and unacceptable in a modern democracy like Canada. We think that Canadians, when they receive their national household survey, will, for the most part, want to act responsibly and fill it out. I know I will. We heard from virtually everyone in the room today that if they get the national household survey they intend to fill it out and send it back.

We have some world-renowned experts in statistics who will be working on this and executing the new process to ensure we get the best information that we can possibly get. Perhaps the hon. member underestimates the skills that exist at Statistics Canada. We do not. We believe that we will get terrific, usable and useful information through this process, but we will do it without threatening Canadians.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I hear the mantra with regards to jail time, I only feel embarrassed for the parliamentary secretary and the minister. They make it appear as if Dog the Bounty Hunter will knock down people's door, grab them, throw them across the hood of a car and make them fill out their census. None of that is true. It has never happened. No Canadian has every had jail time for not filling out the census. That has been eliminated already.

I would point out that it has been the Conservatives' policy for the majority of their years here. It has only been when we have raised this that they actually dropped that, but that is not the case any more. People are not going to be jailed for not filling out a census.

What we need to know is why the government is gambling $670 million of taxpayer money.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talks about policy since the Conservative government has been in power. The fact is that the last long form census was held in 2006. That process was long in place before the new government was elected. We did not set that process in place, just to clarify that for the hon. member.

In regards to threats, one does not need to throw people in prison for them to feel threatened. Simply threatening jail time if someone does not want to tell the government their religion and then having to tell the government subsequently, is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to this government or to Canadians.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:47 p.m.)