House of Commons Hansard #83 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was madam.

Topics

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Or a telegraph company.

I understand there has not been a private bill that has originated in the House in a few decades, which is probably why this section of the Standing Orders has not been updated. We have heard today about some other areas we need to update, whether it is the fine for a stranger in the House or whatever else. There is a need to take a look at modernization.

I am really interested in the upcoming review. There will be a lot of work done at committee. We have always worked fairly well in that committee. I would like to say it is because of the chair, but truly it is not. It is because of the work of all members. I want to mention what some of them said here today.

The member for Hamilton Mountain started us off and was very eloquent and passionate. She might even have been critical, but she did it with passion. She said that time is the currency of Parliament proceedings and the Standing Orders regulate how we use that time. It was a very profound thought and I will be sure to share it with her when she goes a little long at committee. She also mentioned that a debate on the Standing Orders is a lot like watching paint dry. I think it is a little more exciting than that, but having listened to the speech by the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, she may have had it right.

I would like to also thank the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, who also sits on the committee and is a very active participant. He said we should make sure we look at the complex parts of the questions that are being asked. Sometimes it is more important to ensure that we are not creating unintended consequences by fixing something in the first place. The committee will take great care to do that.

The member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre is always a great speaker in the House. He suggested today that the Standing Orders were like the rule book on how the game is played in the House. I thank him because often he brings us back to the ground in committee by talking in the way that people back home might understand. When we are talking about Standing Orders, it may not be easy.

The member for Kitchener—Conestoga was also very eloquent in his speech today, as he is in committee. I would like to thank some of the other members on the committee, such as the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent who spoke today. We are really happy with her contributions. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh is also a fantastic member on the committee. The member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine has also been a great addition to how we can work together on a committee.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as was mentioned earlier, works a little differently. Members have fun, work hard and get the job done. I am looking forward to the next number of meetings on the Standing Orders to make this place run just a little better.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech. I have the good fortune to be a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which he chairs.

I wanted to ask him a question about Standing Order 81(4), which enables the opposition parties to refer consideration of the main estimates to committees of the whole.

Regarding that Standing Order, we were wondering if we could not change the order of questions asked at that time, making it more similar to question period, for instance, rather than following the normal order in a normal debate.

We would like to examine this proposal, and I would like to hear the member's thoughts on this.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I do have my bible with me. I was hunting though it for the Standing Order that allows members to ask questions of the chairs of committees during question period today. I could not find it. This is something else we will have to look for, but I thank the members who did that today.

To answer her question, when I finished my speech in the House, that was the last time I will give my opinion on any of the things that will come forward in committee. From now on, I will be the chair and make sure the members do the work.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the member is the chair of what I classify an exciting committee, a committee of which I would love to be a part, but there are some limitations in terms of the number of members who can be on it. He brings up two points in his remarks.

One is the minority reports, to which there is great value. I know that on the citizenship and immigration committee, we provide a minority report or an appendix and then we go through an approval process. It would be nice to see something of that nature formalized in the Standing Orders.

The member made reference also to Standing Order 106(4), which requires that in order to have a committee called, there must be a minimum of four members. In essence, what that rule says is that members have to either be from the official opposition or the government.

Does the member see merit in having a consensus between two political parties or two political entities as opposed to limiting it to strictly a number of members in order for a committee to be called?

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, the member has been a guest at our committee in the last couple of weeks. I think he is starting to see how it works.

The member mentioned the Standing Order about being able to call committees back. Mine was about when it could happen. However, if all committees work collegially like we do, we would always have a friend from another party that we could get and be able to call that meeting.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, in listening to the hon. member speak about his committee, I think I will put in for a trade.

My question relates to a comment that was made earlier in debate. I raised concerns over in camera committee hearings. The response I received was that committees were the masters of their own procedure. There were some very constructive suggestions put forward by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.

My question for the hon. member is this. Will there be a discussion on the merits of these in camera procedures or will they simply be brushed off with, “Committees are the masters of their own procedure”?

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie is a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and he has already brought this forward. Everything we discuss at committee has a serious nature to it and it will happen.

There is a mixture of both to that question. Committees are masters of their own destinies and can, through democratic means, do what committees need to do to get their job done. However, today is the day to look at Standing Orders. That one will come forward and we will certainly discuss it.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very honoured to be able to speak on this occasion, which will happen only once during this Parliament. Indeed, this is only the third time this has happened in the past 20 years. Although some have said that this can be boring at times, I personally find it very interesting.

As deputy critic for democratic reform, I am very concerned about the public's perception of politicians. In light of the cynicism and plunging voter turnout, the situation is becoming more and more urgent. The NDP has a few suggestions for changes to the Standing Orders.

One thing that the public sees the most is the privilege set out in Standing Order 31, which allows a member to make a one-minute statement on various subjects. These statements are a very good way to reach our constituents. Members should use this time to talk about an event in their riding or an organization that, in general, deserves the attention of the House. Unfortunately, recently, many of the members have been using the time reserved for these statements to play partisan games. In my opinion, this type of practice should not be encouraged. Personal attacks are absolutely unacceptable, and Standing Order 31 should be amended so that there is more decorum here in the House.

Another interesting thing to consider is Standing Order 53(1), which allows a minister of the crown to initiate a take note debate. I participated in the take note debate on the Ukraine, and I saw that such debates can be very interesting because they allow all the parties to speak about a particular subject. I wondered why the opposition could not also initiate take note debates. The Standing Orders could include a mechanism whereby the House leaders of all the opposition parties could initiate take note debates. Another option would be to have a set number of take note debates per year and divide them up among the parties in accordance with the number of seats they hold in the House of Commons.

I would now like to talk about Standing Order 86(2), which could be clarified or codified, as the committee decides. At present, senators may introduce bills on the same basis as any member of Parliament, but those bills take precedence over the bills introduced by MPs. They then push back the order of precedence for private members’ business. I find it difficult to understand how unelected parliamentarians take precedence over the elected representatives in this House.

One solution would be to place Senate bills on a separate list and plan a particular time every week to hold those debates. Another possible approach would be to attach a Senate bill to the final item on the timetable of private members’ business and create a double-header evening, as happens when we debate two private members’ bills. That is what happened yesterday, when we had two private members’ bills to debate, one after the other. Of course, we will leave it to the House Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to examine those solutions in depth.

Another point that deserves the committee’s attention is found in paragraphs 94(1)(a) and 94(2)(a). Those two provisions present a problem because they do not allow sufficient lead time for the first member who is to introduce a private member’s bill. They do not allow the member to change positions or give notice to the House that they will be unable to be present to introduce their motion or bill.

This situation has caused other problems. Here, I am referring to what happened on October 19, when the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale had his private member’s bill, Bill C-317, withdrawn from the order of private members’ business because it could not be introduced without a ways and means motion. The Speaker stated that the existing Standing Orders presented a problem when the timetable for private members’ business was reshuffled. This then allowed the member to be put back into the order of precedence and amend his bill to enable it to be introduced, citing Standing Order 92(1).

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

1:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 1:30 p.m., it is my duty to inform the House that proceedings on the motion have expired.

Accordingly, pursuant to order made Thursday, February 16, the motion is deemed adopted.

(Motion agreed to)

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

The House resumed from November 25, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-315, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (French language), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-315, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (French language), introduced by my hon. colleague from Trois-Rivières.

The bill aims to harmonize the language requirements that apply to federal businesses operating in Quebec with those in force in that province. These businesses, which include banks, shipping companies, port services, communications companies and so on, must guarantee francophone employees the same language rights as are provided by the Charter of the French Language in Quebec.

I strongly support this bill. It is important to state that there are no losers with this bill. It would simply guarantee all workers the same linguistic rights. All workers in Quebec must enjoy the same right to work in their own language.

The bill provides that federal businesses carrying on activities in Quebec will be subject to certain requirements, including the following: 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 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; preparing collective agreements and their schedules in French; and finally, ensuring that arbitration awards made following arbitration of a grievance or dispute regarding the negotiation, renewal or review of a collective agreement shall, at the request of one of the parties, be translated into English or French, as the case may be, at the parties' expense.

Those are very reasonable provisions. In addition to ensuring a better work atmosphere for workers in Quebec, this bill would greatly assist the translation profession.

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.

I have an example. A woman works at a bank. She is a francophone who speaks a bit of English. Her boss is more comfortable using English. What language takes precedence? We would guess English. Under this bill, that woman could receive her communications in French and would no longer have to be uncertain about what the memos in English mean. Does this stop the boss from speaking English? No, not at all, as long as French takes precedence.

The employee will be happier at work now that she finally understands all the memos she receives; the boss will be sure to have better communication with his employees without having to limit the use of his language of preference.

This bill will be beneficial and will help maintain a healthy and convivial work environment for everyone.

The types of businesses that will be affected are governed by the Canada Labour Code: banks, airports, transportation companies that operate between Quebec and one or more other provinces, telecommunications companies and radio stations.

One provision in the bill allows for exemptions. For example, an English-language radio station working for the anglophone community in Quebec and operating in English obviously would be exempt. This business could even ask the Governor in Council to grant some exemptions to reflect this business's reality.

This is more proof 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.

It is important to note that there are no losers with this bill. It will allow Quebec workers to work in their language and have access to all the necessary work material in French.

It is difficult to understand why or how an employee working in a bank in Quebec, for example, does not have the same language rights as his counterpart working in a credit union on the other side of the street, when both are working in Quebec.

My colleague's bill would remedy this situation. I do not understand why my colleagues opposite would vote against this bill, which is so well thought out and so important to us.

We are talking about respecting workers and their community in Quebec, without taking anything away from the other community. Furthermore, this bill does not apply to federal institutions, but to businesses. Institutions are subject to the Official Languages Act. Thus, it is very important to understand that communities throughout the country have nothing to fear and nothing to lose with Bill C-315.

Their language rights will always be protected by the Official Languages Act. Five years ago, this House adopted a motion recognizing the Quebec nation. Since then, very little real action has been taken to validate that motion. In 2011, this government appointed a unilingual anglophone to the Supreme Court and named a unilingual anglophone auditor general. What message is this government sending to francophones?

French is the language of the Quebec nation, a nation that the House of Commons and the Harper government recognized. Bill C-315, like other NDP bills, is an important contribution to the recognition of Quebec as a nation within Canada. I believe this is important and therefore I will repeat it. Bill C-315, like other NDP bills, is an important contribution to the recognition of Quebec as a nation within Canada.

The time has come to take real action. We have to show francophones in Canada that the federal government will defend their language and defend their rights as francophone workers. This government claims to be the champion of working people and people looking for jobs, at a time when the economy is in precarious shape. Here we have a way of helping those people.

This bill also protects working people. This legislation would prohibit an employer from dismissing or demoting an employee who demanded that a right arising from this legislation be respected. About 200,000 people do not benefit directly from the protections set out in the Charter of the French Language. In Quebec, it should go without saying that French will be used in businesses under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

The riding I represent is Montcalm, and it is over 95% French-speaking. For those people, this is a labour right. When a person goes to work to support her family, to make ends meet or to earn her living, she has the fundamental right to work in her language. That should be an even more concrete reality as a result of the recognition of the Quebec nation. These are language rights and issues that have dragged on for too long already.

To my constituents, the French language represents our Quebec culture, and it is unique. It is reasonable for them to want to protect it and preserve it and for them to want to work in French. I strongly urge all members of this House to vote for this bill, to show the importance of the French language. This bill is an excellent opportunity to send a clear message to francophone working people in Quebec. Let us show that we are concerned about their work environment and their right to work in French.

I congratulate my colleague, the member for Trois-Rivières, for acting on this proposal. This bill is an art in itself, since it is an art to reason clearly and try to protect a language that is recognized as an official language. By voting for this bill, the federal government can finally demonstrate its intention of acting. Let us take action; let us support this bill, a bill that is extremely well reasoned and, let us say it, extremely well thought out.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

February 17th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-315, which seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code in order to put an end to a linguistic inconsistency in Quebec.

The bill, which was introduced by the hon. member for Trois-Rivières, is in line with what various professional organizations and francophone workers in Quebec are saying. Its purpose is to harmonize the language requirements that apply to federal businesses operating in Quebec with those in force in that province.

I would like to voice my unconditional support for this bill and explain why it should be passed by this House.

This bill will bring an end to a pattern that has been observed in federal businesses operating in Quebec, where francophone workers encounter language difficulties in their workplaces. Approximately 200,000 people are unable to take advantage of the provincial language requirements set out in the Charter of the French Language. They are therefore unable to use their mother tongue at work or are able to use it only sparingly. The Conseil du patronat du Québec found that the fact that employees are unable to use French in the workplace is a problem that affects the work environment. Now that it is aware of the problem, this year, the organization plans to hold a campaign to encourage these companies in Quebec to use French more often in their business activities.

It is essential to allow the members of the linguistic majority of a province to express themselves in their mother tongue. In Quebec, French is the predominant language, and francophone employees of federal businesses operating in Quebec have the right to use their mother tongue in the workplace. This bill will strengthen that right. The language rights of the other provinces have already been established, and I think it is important for Quebec to be able to take advantage of this harmonization with provincial language requirements.

I would like to add that this House adopted the following motion on November 27, 2006:

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

Allowing workers in federal businesses to speak French in their Quebec workplaces would help with Quebec's ongoing integration into Canada and would clearly illustrate the principle of asymmetrical federalism that is so dear to the official opposition.

I would like to quote the hon. member who introduced Bill C-315. His words provide a good summary of the spirit of this bill:

...[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.

It has been said that this bill is contradictory. It is not. This is a pragmatic bill that strengthens the language rights of francophone workers—the linguistic majority in Quebec—while preserving the language rights of the province's linguistic minority, through clause 8.2 of the bill.

An exception is set out in clause 8.1 in order to respond to the social and economic reality of these federal businesses. In this case, everyone wins because Bill C-315 in no way infringes on the rights of the anglophone minority in Quebec.

I would like to add that this bill also authorizes employees to use a language other than French, on the condition that it not take precedence over French.

In closing, I would like to quote what the Minister of Labour had to say during question period on February 16, 2012.

Mr. Speaker, French is an integral part of our history, our identity, our daily lives, and it is one of the founding languages of Canada. Our government is committed to promoting and protecting the French language in Canada.

The solution is for the government to support this bill and vote in favour of it.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to support Bill C-315, introduced by my NDP colleague from Trois-Rivières.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Canada Labour Code regarding French as the language of work in Quebec, in federally regulated businesses. I repeat: French as the language of work in Quebec in federally regulated businesses.

Why is it important for me to discuss this issue today? For over 15 years I helped to negotiate collective agreements in an effort to improve the lives of those around me. I came to realize that there is a flagrant omission in the Canada Labour Code, which affects thousands of workers. Although the majority of the population in Quebec speaks French, many francophone workers do not have the same language rights at work as their neighbours. This is incredible in 2012, but true.

Here is a concrete example: Aéroports de Montréal, an interprovincial and international transportation company, is subject to the Canada Labour Code. In 2004, Aéroports de Montréal carried out construction work and security guards were hired for surveillance purposes. In order to get the job, francophone workers had to complete unilingual English documents; there was no French version available. Another prerequisite: the guards had to be able to speak English. Yet, on the construction site, the language of work was French. All activities took place in French.

At around the same time, in 2004, workshops for municipal vehicles were built in Hochelaga. The City of Montreal is—obviously—not an enterprise that is subject to the Canada Labour Code. No francophone workers involved in the project were asked to complete forms in English, nor did they have to know English to work on the construction site where, again, all activities took place in French.

Fortunately for the Aéroports de Montréal security guards, the employees took a stand and contested these pointless practices. However, they had to defend their rights themselves because the Canada Labour Code did not offer them this protection.

Why did these two groups of employees working in the same city, at the same time, and in similar situations, not have the same rights? Because labour relations for employees of Aéroports de Montréal, whose activities are federally regulated, are governed by the Canada Labour Code and the Charter of the French Language and its consequential language rights do not apply. Quebec's labour relations laws do not apply to the employees of Aéroports de Montréal, while they do apply to employees of the City of Montréal, and the different codes have different rules. For example, unlike the Quebec code, the Canada Labour Code has no anti-strikebreaker provisions, more commonly known as “anti-scab” provisions. This is a great injustice that needs to be corrected as soon as possible.

Let us come back to the clauses related to language of work. Here is another example, a situation that many people can probably relate to. Madame Pelletier—an imaginary person—works in a chartered bank in Montreal east. Her cousin, Madame Aubé, works at a credit union a block away. Both cousins have the same training, work in similar jobs and work in completely francophone environments, but while Madame Aubé continues to advance her career, Madame Pelletier cannot apply for management jobs because she does not speak English. However, English is rarely spoken at her branch. Nevertheless, her bank requires that executives speak English. That is rather unfair, is it not?

Imagine a team working for a large telecommunications company in Amos, in the Abitibi region, that receives the text of an arbitral award rendered following a grievance that affects the team, but they receive it in a language that the team does not understand, because that language has never been required for their work in a francophone community. What do they do?

Bill C-315 will protect the linguistic rights of Quebec's francophone majority working in enterprises under federal jurisdiction. I already gave some examples of companies under federal jurisdiction—and so have other members: mills, radio and television broadcasters, interprovincial and international transportation companies, including rail, road, marine and air.

This would affect several thousand workers in Quebec. In his statement on Wednesday, the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice talked about “making Canada a strong...country in which Quebec has an important place”.

And yesterday, the Minister of Labour said:

Our government is committed to promoting and protecting the French language in Canada.

Our government is proud of Canadian bilingualism and our cultural diversity, and we remain fully committed to promoting the French language in Canada and abroad.

If they truly believe in this, here is an opportunity for the Conservatives to prove it and demonstrate that this is not just empty rhetoric. As my NDP colleague from Outremont often says, they need to walk the talk.

Recognizing the Quebec nation must not be merely symbolic. We do not need an advisory committee to examine the matter. We already know there are problems. While the intentions may have been good, it was money wasted. Other studies have already shown this. It is now time to act.

Bill C-315 proposes concrete results for Quebeckers without taking away the rights of other workers. It simply supports the rights of the francophone majority in Quebec, in the same way that the rights of the anglophone majority are protected outside Quebec .

Federal institutions, governed by the Official Languages Act, are not affected by this bill, because both official languages are already protected by the act. This is the case, for example, with the Port of Montreal, located partly in my riding, Hochelaga.

Nor would a business that provides services only to anglophone communities be asked to have all its documentation translated into French. That would not help anybody. This bill, however, would greatly improve the working environment for a great many francophone Quebeckers. On average, people spend at least a third of their lives at work—in our case, it is a little more—and an even higher percentage of their working lives. When you are not happy at work, the days seem long, and that obviously has a bearing on life outside work.

Having good working conditions is important to people’s mental and physical health and to the quality of their work. Even the Conseil du patronat du Québec is trying to convince businesses in the province that promoting the use of French in the workplace will actually benefit them. Bill C-315 is extremely important, therefore, on several levels: it provides a concrete and realistic solution to an increasingly evident problem; it confers rights upon thousands of workers without taking any rights away from anyone; it helps to create more healthy workplaces; it helps to foster more productive workplaces; it helps to protect and promote the French language; and it reaffirms the place of the Quebec nation in a fair and united Canada.

I therefore congratulate my colleague from Trois-Rivières for having taken up the cause in an effort to close a flagrant loophole in the Canada Labour Code, by proposing a fair and concrete solution.

I would strongly encourage members from all parties and provinces to show their solidarity with francophones in Quebec by supporting this bill.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today in this House, just like my colleague from Hochelaga, to support Bill C-315 introduced in the House by my colleague from Trois-Rivières.

This bill deserves our attention and support. It was a mistake, or at least an accident of Canadian history that a constitution was created in Canada that divides jurisdictions into federal and provincial. Our Constitution of 1867 listed a number of provincial jurisdictions. The intention was very clear in 1867: labour laws would largely fall under provincial jurisdiction. However, there are provincial industries that are completely governed by the federal level. We have to move forward with regulations in those fields. I am talking about fields of work that might have escaped the attention of our hon. colleagues of 1867. Obviously, the Internet did not exist in 1867. That is why telecommunications fall under federal jurisdiction today. The Constitution of 1867 states that anything not listed therein will fall under federal jurisdiction. In 1867, the telephone, the Internet and so forth, obviously did not exist.

That is why today we have workers in Quebec employed by Rogers who do not have the same rights as people employed by smaller, provincially regulated companies in Quebec. It is an inequality that we must resolve. Today, with Bill C-315, we can resolve this matter. We can correct this long-standing mistake, which should have been corrected a long time ago. I am surprised that this House has not done anything about these shortcomings before now.

I believe that my colleague from Hochelaga said that it was a shortcoming to have created a situation in which workers in Quebec are not on equal footing. It is completely unacceptable. We cannot allow an employee at a credit union in Quebec to not have the same rights as an employee who works at a National Bank branch. Even the November 23, 2011, edition of Le Droit raised the fact that “English is quite present at the Banque Nationale”.

Surprisingly, I believe that most Quebeckers may not realize that the people they go to see every day, such as National Bank tellers, do not enjoy the same rights as those who work for provincially regulated companies. That is something we need to address. I believe that the bill before us provides an invaluable opportunity to make changes that have been needed for a long time. We should have addressed this issue a long time ago.

Labour law in Canada is not just about the rights and bills that we debate in the House. Today, we are talking about people's day-to-day lives. People have to feel comfortable in their workplace.

I will repeat the point raised by the member for Hochelaga. She said that labour law in Canada is not the same as labour law in Quebec. Those governed by Quebec's labour legislation enjoy a number of benefits not enjoyed by those governed by Canada's labour code. For example, she spoke about the right, during a strike, to not be replaced by scabs. We have that right in Quebec. This is really something that needs to be fixed, but it is not included in this bill. This bill deals with language. I would like to point out that there are many changes that should be made to Canada's labour law. And that may be one of the most important changes that we should address.

Today, we will discuss language rights. I will point out that there are many people who may not understand today that we are not talking about language rights in Canada.

The Official Languages Act will not be affected by today's bill. All the federally regulated services that are already offered in both official languages will continue to be where needed.

In my riding, many anglophones absolutely want to protect their linguistic rights, their culture and their heritage. These anglophone families have been in my riding for hundreds of years, and we are certainly not casting them aside. We will continue to protect their language. It is not a question here of taking away the rights of anglophones in Quebec. It is a question of giving concrete expression to the rights that francophones should have had a long time ago by virtue of the fact that they work in a federally regulated enterprise.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, it is more by constitutional accident that telecommunications companies, for example, are governed by the federal government rather than the provinces. I am convinced that had the telephone and the Internet existed in 1867, they would have been made a provincial responsibility. However, they did not exist at the time. According to the Constitution, anything not already covered automatically falls under federal jurisdiction.

It may have been a mistake at the time, but what is important is to respect the Constitution and everyone's rights in order for all Canadians to be on an equal footing. In one province in particular, it just does not make sense that workers in one company do not have the same rights as workers in another.

I really want to make sure that people understand that Quebec has different responsibilities than the other provinces. The House has recognized it: Quebec is a nation. There are reasons why we said that. It must not be an empty gesture. If the government recognizes that Quebec is a nation, it must be consistent and put forward bills that prove that the House of Commons respects Quebeckers and the role they have to play in our federal system. Quebec is responsible for promoting the French language within the province, in North America and throughout the world.

Canada is a bilingual country founded by at least two nations. I would even say that we should go a bit further and include the first nations among the founding peoples, but that is another bill for another day. Today, we must focus on Bill C-315, the purpose of which is to respect the language rights of Quebec workers. It is not right that, in Quebec, people are being refused rights because they are francophone. In Quebec, a province that is made up of a large francophone majority, it is not right for collective agreements to be written in English only. We must address the major shortcomings in the Canada Labour Code. Amendments must be made. We must implement the changes that the hon. member for Trois-Rivières is proposing in this bill.

Today's bill is in agreement with the Conseil du patronat du Québec, the Quebec Employer's Council. Working effectively can only be good for business.

This is not just a matter of language rights or a matter of human rights, it is also a matter of common sense. In Canada, if a company wants to find workers, it is perfectly normal for that company to offer them working conditions that respect their living conditions and make it easier for them to integrate into the company. It is a matter of respect for the individual.

People often see themselves in terms of their work. They want to go to work knowing that their employer respects them. It has been mentioned a number of times that the rate of depression and even the suicide rate increase when people are unemployed. We want to create workplaces where people feel respected so that they can develop and so that we can have a united Canada that respects the language rights of all Canadians.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise in support of this great piece of legislation, which is essential. I also want to congratulate the hon. member for Trois-Rivières for proposing it. As previous speakers have mentioned, this bill addresses a deficiency. The fact that no member from the government or from the other parties has risen to support this bill makes me wonder. Why do they not support it? I would appreciate an explanation.

I am going to talk about the purpose of this legislation. I represent the riding of Terrebonne—Blainville in the beautiful province of Quebec. When I travel to other parts of the country and tell people I come from Quebec, the first thing they think about is French.

People who do not live in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada would be surprised to learn that there are places where the working environment is English-speaking. Why? It is because our laws are flawed, and this is what the bill seeks to correct. In short, this legislation is useful because it would apply the province's language requirements to federally regulated businesses. As my colleagues who have spoken before me have pointed out, French may be the primary language of work in a small telecommunications company. However, there could be a business next door like Rogers, which is federally regulated, where employees are forced to speak English.

I totally object to this situation and to the fact that an employee may be told by his employer that he must learn English to work there. This is completely ridiculous. We must stop thinking in those terms and correct the flaws in the legislation.

I have some facts for those who criticize this bill on the ground that it is unnecessary. There are 200,000 workers who are not covered by the Charter of the French Language. We are talking about 200,000 people who go to work and may be forced to speak English, that is, to work in a language that is not their first language. This can create a working environment in which workers are less happy. It is important to point this out.

The Quebec Labour Code does not apply to federally regulated businesses, and this flaw must be corrected. Someone mentioned that the hon. Minister of Industry has set up an advisory committee. Perhaps this will correct the situation, but who will appoint the members of that committee, how much will the consultation process cost, and how long is it going to take? Will a report be produced? Will something come out of that exercise? A committee is just a half-measure to correct the situation. We must move forward and support Bill C-315.

I remind hon. members that Quebec was recognized as a nation in the House by all hon. members and by this government. If we believe in the concept of nationhood, it is essential to respect the language rights of Quebec's francophone majority. I want to tell members from Ontario, New Brunswick—actually not New Brunswick, because it is not a good example—and British Columbia, where the anglophone population forms a majority, that this bill will not apply to their provinces. It will only apply to Quebec, where the rights of the linguistic majority are not respected the way they should be. The bill directly addresses this issue.

I have a quote for those who think that this bill is unnecessary. It is taken from an article on the issue of English at National Bank in Quebec: “According to several sources, English has become the primary language of work for a large number of National Bank employees, particularly in the information technology or IT sector.” This is a major problem. When we think “Quebec”, we think “French”, but with such flaws in the legislation, we cannot move forward and correct the situation.

This is all I have to say on the bill. However, I want to congratulate my colleague again for proposing a great piece of legislation. I urge all hon. members to help our members and the workers in Quebec who must learn a language other than their mother tongue in order to work and keep their jobs. I urge all hon. members to rise in support of French.