Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the debate today because I had a wonderful opportunity all day yesterday and half the day today to be a spectator at a presentation that was being held not far from here in one of the two courts in the Supreme Court of Canada building, the Federal Court of Canada. The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne was there to present its application to have the government's decision announced in August overturned and to request an order to make the census form that the government is proposing to send out next year mandatory and not voluntary.
I will mainly focus on the official languages aspect of this unfortunate decision by the government to drop the long form census—as it is proposing to do—which was mandatory, and to make it voluntary, although sent to more people. The people from Statistics Canada have testified by affidavit. I could provide the hon. member opposite with a quote from the testimony of these people who, without reservation, have said that information obtained by Statistics Canada, government agencies and all those using such a survey, would be less valid and reliable than information obtained through a mandatory census form.
The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne is focusing mainly on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act, part VII, subsections 41(1) and 41(2) in particular. Some colleagues in the House will recall that it was in 2005 that we made the last changes to this section of the act that I will now read in order to give everyone some context in this debate.
Subsection 41(1) of the Official Languages Act states that:
The Government of Canada is committed to (a) enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and (b) fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
Subsection 41(2), entitled, “Duty of federal institutions”, reads:
Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that positive measures are taken for the implementation of the commitments under subsection (1). For greater certainty, this implementation shall be carried out while respecting the jurisdiction and powers of the provinces.
I mentioned that these amendments were passed in 2005, when we were in power. I was the minister responsible. And I must say to my colleagues across the way that they supported these amendments. Also, I thought that they had understood the meaning of what they had approved at that time.
I would like to make a few comments about the intent of the lawmaker at that time. The commissioner of official languages at that time, Dyane Adam, made a wonderful comparison that I would like to share. The lawmaker's main intention was to create an obligation for all agencies and departments in the Government of Canada.
I would like to remind the members that this section was added to the Official Languages Act in 1988 under the Mulroney government. But it was mainly seen as a wish and not an obligation. It was not binding. In 2005, as a result of Bill S-3, which was introduced by my predecessor in the House, Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, we jointly amended the Official Languages Act to create this obligation and make it binding on all agencies and departments. I want to highlight that this law, which was implemented within a year, applies to all departments and agencies.
At that time, Ms. Adam made a comparison to help people understand the new obligation that had been created. It was an obligation to act positively because we were dealing with positive measures. She compared it to a trip to the doctor. If someone goes to the doctor, the doctor is obligated to act and must, therefore, make a diagnosis. And that combines the government's obligation to undertake consultations and to obtain the most accurate information possible. With this diagnosis, the doctor can then prescribe something—medication, an operation or something else. There is an obligation to act. There is no guarantee of results, but there is an obligation to act on the diagnosis.
With the adoption of this section of the act, Government of Canada departments and agencies now have the obligation to act based on consultation, that is, based on information which, it is hoped, is as accurate as possible. Hence the responsibility of one agency in particular, Statistics Canada, to do what it must to obtain accurate information. This was part of the basis for the application of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne to the court. I am anxious to see the court's decision. It seems that the decision may come fairly quickly given the circumstances. I will be watching. I understand the sub judice convention. I spoke about the facts and did not venture into interpretation. I will leave that to the courts, and that is as it should be.
I was listening to the presentation by the government's lawyers this morning. They argued that because there are no regulations there is no obligation with respect to the census. That argument is somewhat disturbing because we must not forget the legal hierarchy where the Constitution is at the top, followed by laws, and after the laws, there may be regulations, and after regulations, there may be guidelines for application. Just because there are no regulations does not mean that the law is null and void and that the responsibilities of the agencies and the government with respect to the law are diminished. That seems to be the gist of what they were arguing this morning. I look forward to the court's decision and eventually, if there is an appeal, the final decision. In fact, it may be appropriate at that time for lawmakers to adjust the act by regulation or amendments so that the intention is not misunderstood.
I would also like to say that the government's decision is unfortunate because if it is not reversed, it would affect everything that has been done since the last census, the post-census studies. This point is worth our consideration. A post-census study does not just have to do with official languages, but that is certainly one important aspect. For example, not too long ago, I went to visit my friends in the Eastern Townships. They were nice; they gave me a study, in both languages, on the anglophone community in the Eastern Townships.
It is “Profile of the English-speaking Community in the Eastern Townships”, second edition. They were quite proud to give me this document, because it is a document that gives a very precise profile of their communities and their membership. It would be rather disastrous if we could not produce this kind of document and profile anymore, which would be a consequence of not having the mandatory long form census.
I have tried to understand the government's intention here, and all I can conclude—and we all agree, at least those who bothered to try to understand—that as soon as a census becomes optional, the wealthy will be less inclined to fill it out in full, and so will the poor and the most vulnerable. So we will have a less-than-complete portrait of society and its inequalities. The only thing I can figure is that by abolishing this mandatory census the government is trying to camouflage, conceal or hide all of the inequalities in our society. Then it would feel less pressure to create programs to eliminate these inequalities, or at least to reduce them. I find that deplorable.
Now it is very clear that the government is not presenting us with a hidden agenda. Their agenda is clear, and Canadians have to deal with it.