Mr. Speaker, first off, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-232, an act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages). This bill was introduced by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst. It is the tip of the iceberg, as the federal government does not set an example in the matter of bilingualism in this country called Canada.
They want the federal public service to be bilingual so that it may serve people in their first language. The government currently wants to look into how universities could train students at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels to be able to speak English and French in order to create a pool of recruits to work in the federal public service. In itself, this is quite a good thing.
However, as regards this idea, which is currently under scrutiny by the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the issue is bigger. I call this issue “the Canadian disease”. In other words, the government wants a public service in which most of the employees are bilingual, while the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada are not required to be bilingual. This makes no sense. In Canada, there is no requirement for deputy ministers to be bilingual, but there is for their employees, the people who work for them and are part of the government machine. The deputy minister does not need to be bilingual. That makes no sense.
Canada's ambassadors are not required to be bilingual and they represent Canada, a country whose constitution provides that its two languages are on an equal footing. However, ambassadors, representing Canada abroad, are not required to be bilingual. That is cynicism. And it does not end there, because 37% of positions designated bilingual in the federal public service are filled by unilingual anglophones.
As you see, the problem is a complex one. This is the way to ignore the French fact. And this is how the Government of Canada acts toward the French fact. It explains why people like the Bloc members, all our members, are here in order to defend the French culture and language, the common, public culture and language of Quebec. In Canada, there is no respect for this language. Now you understand the whole issue of Quebec's independence, a fundamental element. Cynicism in Canada runs high.
I am sure you will agree with me, Mr. Speaker. I will show how the Conservative party has dealt with bilingualism, a concept it claims to support. In Canada, one language is more official than the other, and you will understand which one. Nearly 40 years after the passage of the Official Languages Act, it is still difficult to work in French in the federal system. When a manager is a unilingual anglophone, all the employees work in English. When 10 public servants—nine francophones and one anglophone—hold a meeting, the meeting is most often in English because, in all likelihood, the francophones are bilingual and the anglophone is not.
Worse yet, Ottawa continues not to consider bilingualism necessary for appointments to bilingual positions, as non-imperative staffing is still largely used, especially for senior positions. That is typical Canadian cynicism with respect to the French fact.
While the Conservative Party committed to support the Official Languages Act in its March 2005 policy statement and, again, in its latest election platform, ensuring that English and French have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada, we have to recognize that, clearly, that statement is not being acted upon.
Following the cancellation of the court challenges program, the elimination of the interdepartmental partnership with the official-language communities, the appointment of a unilingual English-speaking judge, and the antics by members who show contempt by daring to call Quebeckers illiterate in their second language, even while French is losing ground, what is next? Think of the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, who said that Quebeckers did not want to learn English, their second language, when data from Statistics Canada clearly show that Gatineau and Montreal rank first and third respectively in terms of bilingualism in Canada. I am from Hawkesbury, Ontario, a town located between Gatineau and Montreal, the second most bilingual city in the country. The people of Quebec are making efforts. Quebec is the province with the largest number of citizens who speak French and English. Yet, some Conservative members are making spiteful comments about the French fact and, in this case, the comments came from a francophone, which goes to show that being a member of the Conservative government does not help further the cause of the French fact in Quebec and Canada.
In May 2008, the Conservative members sitting on the official languages committee refused to support a motion on bilingualism for Supreme Court justices. If the Prime Minister is sincere in his commitments, let us hope he can rally his troops and show his support for linguistic minorities. We are living a horror story from the inside, and it is the Conservative Party that is responsible for this situation.
Considering that the bill seeks to make the understanding of French and English without the assistance of an interpreter a requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court; considering that the Official Languages Act provides that English and French have equality of status and use; considering that the French and English versions of federal acts have equal value and that one is not a translation of the other; considering that the right of any citizen to use French or English before Canada's courts is a fundamental linguistic right and that the Official Languages Act already recognizes the importance of being understood without the assistance of an interpreter before federal tribunals such as the Tax Court of Canada, the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal; considering that simultaneous translation can create problems because it does not allow adequate reaction time to interrupt someone, to ask questions, whether for the justice, the lawyers or even the individuals subject to trial who have a right to be able to understand all the nuances and subtleties of each language, it goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-232.
I will conclude by saying that the Quebec nation has dealt with this issue. On May 21, 2008, the members of the Quebec National Assembly unanimously passed the following motion: “That the National Assembly of Québec affirm that French language proficiency is a prerequisite and essential condition for the appointment of Supreme Court of Canada judges.”
We support this legislation. It is the tip of the iceberg. So much remains to be done in Canada. The federal institution does not respect the French fact. It is about time for it to begin to do so. We still have doubts about the Conservatives, but the Bloc Québécois supports the French language and it also supports this bill.