An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.


Pauline Picard  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Not active, as of Nov. 20, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Government of Canada to undertake not to obstruct the application of the Charter of the French Language in Quebec.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


May 14, 2008 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2021 / 5:30 p.m.
See context


Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Yes, Madam Speaker, I meant the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. Thank you very much.

The purpose of this bill has the consensus of the National Assembly of Quebec. Every living premier and every union is calling for the Charter of the French Language to apply to federally regulated businesses. It is the express and unanimous demand of Quebec.

In this debate, I will explain the changes the bill will make. I will provide some current examples of the French fact in Quebec and I will take the liberty of debunking some popular myths.

The bill we are debating today is nothing new. This is the fourth time the Bloc Québécois has introduced such a bill since 2007. When it passes, I hope, it will ensure that the Charter of the French Language is applied to federally regulated businesses operating in Quebec.

In 2007, the former member for Drummond, Pauline Picard, introduced Bill C-482. In 2009, the former member for Joliette, Pierre Paquette, introduced Bill C-307. Lastly, in 2011, the former member for Ahuntsic, Maria Mourani, introduced Bill C-320. Even the NDP has proposed similar legislation, including a bill in 2009 that was introduced by Thomas Mulcair but never debated, and another in 2012, introduced by Robert Aubin, which imposed bilingualism and included the possibility of an exemption for certain businesses by means of government decisions. This last bill may have nothing to do with the Charter of the French Language, but I wanted to stress the efforts made at the time.

Bill C-254 amends the Canada Labour Code to clarify that any federal work, undertaking or business operating in Quebec is subject to the requirements of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to mention that, right now, approximately 33% of these businesses apply the charter voluntarily. However, that means that 67% do not. Tens of thousands of employees in Quebec do not even have access to workplace communications in their first language.

Also, as long as businesses are not legally required to apply the Charter of the French Language, any change in management or managerial vision can mean a decrease in the number of businesses that apply it voluntarily.

Bill C-254 amends the preamble to the Official Languages Act to recognize that French is the official language of Quebec and the common language in Quebec. Here the legislator is clarifying its will and its expectations of the authorities that apply the act.

Bill C-254 also adds to the Official Languages Act a formal undertaking on the part of the federal government not to obstruct the application of the Charter of the French Language. This is a legislative reference, a legal and constitutional measure already applied in various areas, in particular the federal minimum wage, which is set on the basis of the provincial minimum wages. This undertaking not to obstruct the application of the Charter is essential to make federally regulated businesses understand that compliance with the Charter of the French Language is no longer optional in Quebec.

Bill C-254 amends the Canada Business Corporations Act to clarify that the name of a corporation that carries on business in Quebec must meet the requirements of the Charter of the French Language. There is nothing outrageous about that. Many international companies register in the language of the country in which they are doing business. Quebec will simply join the ranks of these countries.

In recent months, we have all heard talk about protecting the French language from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Official Languages, as well as from members of every party. I have also seen many of my colleagues making efforts to learn French, and I would like to thank them for that. After all, learning a new language is never easy at any age.

In November 2020, the Prime Minister said, “we recognize that, in order for Canada to be bilingual, Quebec must first and foremost be francophone. That is why we support Bill 101 in what it does for Quebec”.

He says the Liberals support Bill 101, but to translate those words into action, they would have to allow it to be modernized and applied as is to all institutions and businesses in Quebec. His statement highlights a trend I have noticed. Until now, a bilingual Canada has mainly meant francophones and allophones learning English and anglophones speaking English. The rate of bilingualism in Quebec is around 44%. It is the highest rate in Canada, which bears out my observation.

The members of the House may think I am exaggerating, and that is their right. I will, however, share a few examples from everyday life. Forty-four per cent of federal public servants are reluctant to speak French because they feel uncomfortable. They think that it might upset their anglophone colleagues or hurt their chances of promotion.

Even today, in both private and professional life, if there is just one anglophone at a meeting, that meeting will take place in English, regardless of the number of francophones present. There is a word for this, and that word is hegemony.

In recent months, I have seen members roll their eyes when another member rises on a point of order because there was a problem with interpretation into French. However, I have never seen members roll their eyes when another member rises on a point of order because there is a problem with interpretation into English. Do not get me wrong, I am not playing the victim. I am simply describing situations that some of my colleagues may not have noticed. I am just pointing out something that may appear trivial but that is a reality experienced at various levels in many different settings by francophones, both in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.

Incidentally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the translators and interpreters for their amazing work and excellent service.

I am going to ask my colleagues to use their imagination. I want them to imagine that they are going to attend a meeting in their riding. If 10 anglophones and one francophone attend this meeting, which language will they speak? Chances are it will be English.

However, in Quebec, when 10 francophones and one anglophone attend a meeting, English will be spoken most of the time even if most of the people attending are French. Why is that? I am not going to speculate as to why my fellow Quebeckers automatically react in this way. It may be out of courtesy or the remnants of a not-so-distant era where workers were told to speak English if they wanted to keep their jobs. I am thinking of the infamous and very nasty phrase, “speak white”, which we unfortunately still hear today. I recently read the following on social media: You lost the war. Deal with it. Assimilate. That is a daily occurrence, sadly.

Recognition of the importance of promoting the use of French must come from all sides, including citizens, businesses and also all levels of government.

I now want to dispel certain very persistent myths. A few years ago, we heard it on the streets and now we are reading it on social media. According to the first myth, by introducing this bill, the Bloc Québécois wants to eliminate English culture in Quebec outright because it hates anglophones.

Anglophone culture is not under threat, neither in Quebec nor elsewhere in Canada or America. In fact, it is omnipresent; no efforts need be made to access it. Communicating in French in the workplace will never prevent anglophones from speaking English.

Wanting to protect the French language does not imply hating English. I would like to make an analogy, although a somewhat poor one. Suppose I like lynxes because I find them beautiful. Lynxes are iconic animals of our extraordinary boreal forest, but there are not many of them. In the boreal forest, there are also caribou and moose. If I like lynxes, does that mean I hate caribou and moose and that I wish they would disappear? No. The same goes for my language. I love it, but that does not mean that I want all other languages to disappear from the world.

I will paraphrase the words of Pierre Bourgault. Fighting to protect the French language means fighting to protect all languages from the hegemony of a single one, whichever one it may be.

The second persistent myth is that applying the Charter of the French Language will cause Quebec to turn inward, that it will no longer be able to communicate with the rest of the world and that its economy will collapse.

To demonstrate the irrationality of this myth, did speaking Russian, Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese or any other language cause those countries to turn inward and cause their economies to collapse? Of course not. In trade relations and at international summits, companies and politicians manage to get by, particularly thanks to interpreters, who do an excellent job.

The third myth is that the Bloc Québécois is being selfish and not standing in solidarity with Franco-Canadians and Acadians by demanding that the Charter of the French Language apply to businesses located in Quebec. On the contrary, promoting the French language in Quebec will encourage francophones across Canada to not be afraid to assert their own rights.

The fourth and final myth, at least for today, is that the bill is unconstitutional because Quebec cannot impose French as the official language given that Canada is bilingual.

In fact, the only officially bilingual province is New Brunswick. Quebec is francophone, and all the others are anglophone. The bill is constitutional, and it respects and promotes constitutional standards pertaining to languages. It does not violate the division of powers in our federation. On the contrary, it seeks to take advantage of one of Quebec's assets, its unique status as a francophone province, and benefits will undoubtedly accrue to other Franco-Canadian and Acadian communities.

In a nutshell, Bill C-254 will ensure consistency of word and deed in Quebec and across Canada. The bill officially recognizes the incalculable value of the French language, so it encourages people to feel at ease speaking French. This bill will support interpersonal and intercultural exchange by sending a clear message that Canada endorses the application of the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated businesses. It delivers on statements made by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Official Languages in recent months.

This bill will encourage Quebeckers of all ages, regardless of how many generations their families have lived in Quebec, to feel confident about using Quebec's common language, French, at work.

I would like to leave my colleagues with this thought. When we love someone, we take special care of that person. We build them up, help them through tough times, congratulate them when things go well and celebrate their successes. The same applies to the French language. Taking care of it is like loving someone. French is who we are. It is our culture. Let us take care of it.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

March 31st, 2009 / 6:25 p.m.
See context


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, the NDP has previously supported a bill similar to Bill C-307. It was Bill C-482. It came before this House and was voted on. The NDP supported it at second reading to have it sent to committee for study, because it was a very significant bill.

The present bill has been introduced by the member for Joliette, who said that, in the opinion of the House, further to its recognition of the Quebec nation, the government should now act and propose measures to give form to this recognition, such as having the Charter of the French Language apply to businesses under federal jurisdiction within Quebec, as concerns language of work.

I was listening to my Liberal colleague, who seems afraid of what will happen to francophones in the rest of the country if this sort of thing were passed in Quebec. I remember the member for Papineau saying that, if people did not learn both languages, it was because they were lazy. In New Brunswick, for example, we have two school boards, one English and one French. I recall the member for Papineau saying in Saint John on a visit to New Brunswick that there should be a single, bilingual school board. We know what that produced—a real setback for the French language.

I would like this bill to be studied in committee to hear the experts and hear whether anglophones in a minority situation in Quebec feel threatened. I have a hard time imagining any danger to anglophones in Quebec, given that McGill and other anglophone universities are located there. They are important universities. There is Bishop's University in Sherbrooke and others. They provide good services.

It is still sad that a bill has to be introduced to protect the French language in this country. I am trying to imagine a French company setting up in an anglophone region. All the employees should speak French and the collective agreement should be in French. I cannot imagine that happening. And yet, back home, in L'Anse-Bleue, for example, an anglophone company refused to provide a collective agreement in French. None of the employees in L'Anse-Bleue could understand it.

And what does this bill say? It says that francophones in Quebec will have the right to speak their mother tongue at their workplace and to have services under federal jurisdiction in French. This is not about government services, because services provided directly by federal departments must be in both official languages. Nevertheless, they say that employees within federal departments are entitled to use their mother tongue.

Again this week, at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, we were wondering how many deputy ministers, at the federal level, do not speak French. There are some. Does the same problem exist on the other side? How many deputy ministers do not speak English? With all the respect I have for anglophones, they do not have this problem, because all deputy ministers speak English, but not all speak French.

With regard to the Olympic Games to be held in Vancouver, we have just discovered that the advertising being done by the British Columbia tourism agency in other countries, such as China and Mexico, to welcome them to the Olympic Games, is being done in English but not in French. We spoke about that again this morning.

In spite of this, the federal government says that it respects both languages, that it has given a lot of money, through Canadian Heritage and Sport Canada, and so on. But we still have to fight to make sure that French, one of the two official languages, of one of the two founding peoples of this country, is respected.

I do not mean that the Bloc has fought to have the nation recognized, that they succeeded, and now they want a little more, but in my opinion the word “nation” does not mean very much. We ourselves are an Acadian nation, but what difference does that make? It does not make a hill of beans difference!

I recall that at the time the Queen was asked to apologize and acknowledge the wrongs done to the Acadians. The Liberal government of the day denied us that and fought to make sure that the British Crown did not acknowledge the wrongs done to the Acadians. What we were asking for was legitimate. The British Crown had apologized in a number of countries for the wrongs that had been done, but we Acadians, we could not ask for an apology.

In New Brunswick, we have learned to work together and we have had our French school boards and our English school boards. And in spite of that, people have worked together and it did not create just unilingual francophones or anglophones. I think that New Brunswick has become more bilingual because of that, and because of our mutual respect.

Last year, on the question of francophone immersion classes in the schools, the Liberal provincial government of Shawn Graham did not want children to start learning French before grade five, in the only officially bilingual province in Canada. I would never have believed that I would see 350 anglophones in the streets of Fredericton fighting to have their children learn French from a very young age, when they first start school.

The two communities have grown closer. I think we can see the difference between how it was before and the direction we are taking today.

For example, at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the organization Parents for French has appeared several times to say that the government should give the provinces more money to help establish more immersion schools so that our children can learn both languages.

Now people are saying they want to learn both languages. This bill does not frighten me so far. It is a beginning. Voting to have it referred to committee would show our ability to talk to each other and to study the bill. It saddens me to hear the Liberals say they will vote against it. We can get some Quebec anglophones and francophones to come in to talk about it, we can chat with them and perhaps come up with some amendments to the bill.

The member for Joliette had even suggested some amendments to the bill. Let us look at the situation as a whole, rather than jump on the Bloc members about its dealing with a nation, and calling them a bunch of separatists. I know that is not what the hon. member said. But people would say that is the perception people have when it comes from the Bloc Québécois. And that is not what it is.

There is one province within North America that is the flower of the francophone culture. As for us, we are the francophones from the rest of Canada and we must protect the language and culture. This is important. We have now made some progress and anglophones see us now, not as a threat, but as full members of society able to work in our own language.

In some countries, there are five or six languages spoken with no problem whatsoever. If, however, we feel that we have to introduce a bill because in Quebec, a province with a francophone majority, francophones are being required to speak English in the workplace because the employer is English, it shows that not much progress has been made.

We need to look at how adjustments can be made. I have problems with Canada Post, for example. There is a problem within the francophonie itself, at the moment. When a person applies for a job with Canada Post, he has to do a test that comes from Quebec. But we Acadians—and it is not that we cannot understand each other—have a different language and a different accent. So I have been told by people working at Canada Post—

Official LanguagesStatements By Members

November 21st, 2008 / 11:10 a.m.
See context


Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, in November 2007, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-482 to amend the Official Languages Act and the Canada Labour Code. The amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois would have forced the federal government to recognize the primacy of Bill 101 in Quebec and required private companies under federal jurisdiction to respect French as the language of work. This would have allowed the workers of such businesses to work in French in Quebec.

Quebeckers form a nation; this House has recognized that fact. It is time to put those words into action. So that all workers in Quebec may work in French, the Bloc Québécois will introduce another bill to ensure that the Charter of the French Language applies to all businesses in Quebec, including those under federal jurisdiction.

Charter of the French LanguagePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

June 13th, 2008 / 12:05 p.m.
See context


Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-482 was introduced in the House and defeated, but I am still receiving petitions signed by hundreds of people demanding that Bill 101, which makes French the official language of the Quebec nation, be respected by the federal government in Quebec.

I have the honour to present two such petitions.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
See context


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start off by saying that the Bloc Québécois, like the official opposition, and like—I believe—the NDP, will opposed the motion by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to extend the sitting hours, for a number of reasons.

First, it is important to remember—and this was mentioned by the House leader of the official opposition—that the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have been completely unwilling to negotiate and cooperate. Usually, when Parliament is running smoothly, the leaders meet and agree on some priorities, some items and some ways of getting them done. But since the start of this session, or at least since September, House leaders' meetings on Tuesday afternoons have simply been meetings where we hear about a legislative agenda, which, within hours after we leave the meeting, is completely changed.

That is not how we move forward. Now the government can see that its way of doing things does not produce results. In fact, I think that this is what the government wanted in recent weeks, to prevent Parliament, the House of Commons and the various committees from working efficiently and effectively.

As I was saying, usually such motions are born out of cooperation, and are negotiated in good faith between the government and the opposition parties. But we were simply told that today a motion would be moved to extend the sitting hours, but with no information forthcoming about what the government's priorities would be through the end of this session, until June 20.

This was a very cavalier way to treat the opposition parties. And today, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the Conservative government are reaping the consequences of their haughty attitude. As the saying goes, he who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind. That is exactly what has happened to the Conservatives after many weeks of acting in bad faith and failing to cooperate with the opposition parties.

In this case, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons—and earlier I mentioned his arrogance, which, to me, has reached its peak today with the way the motion was moved—gave us no indication as to his government's priorities from now until the end of the session, despite the fact that he was pointedly questioned about that matter. What we did receive was a grocery list with no order, no priorities. As the leader of the official opposition said earlier, when everything is a priority, it means that nothing is.

That is the current situation: they gave us a list of bills which, in fact, included almost all of the bills on the order paper. Not only were things not prioritized, but in addition, as I mentioned before, it showed a disregard for the opposition parties. There is a price to pay for that today—we do not see why the government needs to extend the sitting hours.

Not only was the grocery list not realistic, but also it showed that the government has absolutely no priorities set. The list includes almost all of the bills, but week after week, despite what was said during the leaders' meetings, the order of business changed. If the order of business changes at the drop of a hat, with no rhyme or reason, it means that the government does not really have priorities.

I am thinking about Bill C-50, a bill to implement the budget, which we waited on for a long time. The government is surprised that we are coming up to the end of the session and that it will be adopted in the coming hours. However, we have to remember that between the budget speech and the introduction of Bill C-50, many weeks passed that could have been spent working on the bill.

As I mentioned, the list presented to us is unrealistic. It shows the arrogance of this government, and furthermore, the order of the bills on the list is constantly changing. We feel this is a clear demonstration of this government's lack of priority.

In light of that, we can reach only one conclusion: if the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform cannot present us with his government's legislative priorities as we near the end of this session, in effect, it means that his government has no legislative priorities. It has no long-term vision. Its management is short sighted, very short sighted indeed. I would even say it is managing from one day to the next. From my perspective, this can mean only one thing: it has no legislative agenda. When we have before us bills dealing with only minor issues, this is what that means.

Proof of this lack of legislative agenda is easy to see, considering the current state of this government's agenda. An abnormally small number of bills for this time of year are currently before the House at the report stage and at third reading. Usually, if the government had planned, if it had been working in good faith and had cooperated with the opposition parties, in these last two weeks remaining before the summer recess, we should have been completing the work on any number of bills.

Overall, as we speak there are just five government bills that are ready to be debated at these stages, in other words, report stage or third reading stage. Among those, we note that Bill C-7, which is now at third reading stage, reached report stage during the first session of the 39th Parliament, in other words in June 2007. It has been brought back to us a year later. And that is a priority? What happened between June 2007 and June 2008 to prevent Bill C-7 from getting through third reading stage? In my opinion, we should indeed finish the work on Bill C-7, but this truly illustrates the government's lack of planning and organization.

As far as Bill C-5 is concerned, it was reported on by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on December 12, 2007, and voted on at report stage on May 6, 2008. Again, a great deal of time, nearly six months, went by between the tabling of the report and the vote at this stage, which was held on May 6, 2008, while the report was tabled on December 12, 2007.

Finally, Bills C-29 and C-16 were both reported on by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs roughly six months ago.

All these delays of six months to a year force us to conclude that these bills are not legislative priorities to this government.

It would be great to finish the work on these four or five bills, but let us admit that we could have finished it much sooner.

This lack of legislative priority was even more apparent before question period when the House was debating second reading of Bill C-51 on food and drugs. Next on the agenda is second reading of Bill C-53 on auto theft.

If these five bills were a priority, we would finish the work. But no, what we are being presented with are bills that are only at second reading stage. This only delays further the report stage or third reading of the bills I have already mentioned. If we were serious about this, we would finish the work on bills at third reading and then move on to bills that are at second reading.

Furthermore, if its legislative agenda has moved forward at a snail's pace, the government is responsible for that and has only itself to blame, since it paralyzed the work of important committees, including the justice committee and the procedure and House affairs committee, to which several bills had been referred. And then they dare make some sort of bogus Conservative moral claim, saying that we are refusing to extend sitting hours because we do not want to work. For months and months now, opposition members, especially the Bloc Québécois, have been trying to work in committee, but the government, for partisan reasons, in order to avoid talking about the Conservative Party's problems, has been obstructing committee work.

Earlier, the NDP whip spoke about take note debates.

Once again, it is not the opposition that is refusing to work on issues that are important to Canadians and Quebeckers. Rather, it is the government that refuses to allow take note debates, because of partisan obstinacy. In that regard, we clearly see that the argument presented by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform is mere tautology or a false argument. In fact, it was the Conservative Party, the Conservative government, that slowed down the work of the House and obstructed the work of several committees.

Not only is the government incapable of planning, vision, cooperation and good faith, but furthermore, its legislative agenda is very meagre and does not in any way warrant extending the sitting hours. In addition, the Bloc Québécois sees many of the bills that are now at the bottom of the list as problematic, but if we extend the sitting hours, we will end up having to examine them.

Take Bill C-14, for example, which would permit the privatization of certain Canada Post activities. Do they really think that sitting hours will be extended to hasten debate on a bill that threatens jobs and the quality of a public service as essential as that provided by the Canada Post Corporation? That demonstrates just how detrimental the Conservatives' right-wing ideology is, not just to public services but to the economy. Everyone knows very well—there are a large number of very convincing examples globally—that privatizing postal services leads to significant price increases for consumers and a deterioration in service, particularly in rural areas.

I will give another example, that of Bill C-24, which would abolish the long gun registry even though police forces want to keep it. Once again, we have an utter contradiction. Although the government boasts of an agenda that will increase security, they are dismantling a preventtive tool welcomed by all stakeholders. They are indirectly contributing to an increase in the crime rate.

These are two examples of matters that are not in step with the government's message. It is quite clear that we are not interested in extending sitting hours to move more quickly to a debate on Bill C-24.

I must also mention bills concerning democratic reform—or pseudo-reform. In my opinion, they are the best example of the hypocrisy of this government, which introduces bills and then, in the end, makes proposals that run counter to the interests of Quebec in particular.

Take Bill C-20, for example, on the consultation of voters with respect to the pool of candidates from which the Prime Minister should choose senators. Almost all the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee currently studying Bill C-20 said that the bill would do indirectly what cannot be done directly. We know that the basic characteristics of the Senate cannot be changed without the agreement of the provinces or, at the very least, without following the rule of the majority for constitutional amendments, which requires approval by seven provinces representing 50% of the population.

Since the government knows very well that it cannot move forward with its Senate reforms, it introduced a bill that would change the essential characteristics of the Senate, something prohibited by the Constitution, on the basis of some technicalities.

It is interesting to note that even a constitutional expert who told the committee that he did not think the way the government had manipulated the bill was unconstitutional admitted that the bill would indirectly allow the government to do what it could not do directly.

They are playing with the most important democratic institutions.

A country's Constitution—and we want Quebec to have its own Constitution soon—is the fundamental text. We currently have a government, a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Government in the House of Commons who are manipulating this fundamental text— the Canadian Constitution—in favour of reforms that would satisfy their supporters in western Canada.

We do not want to rush this bill through the House by extending the sitting hours. It is the same thing for Bill C-19, which, I remind members, limits a Senator's tenure to eight years.

These two bills, Bill C-19 and Bill C-20, in their previous form, meaning before the session was prorogued in the summer of 2007, were unanimously denounced by the Quebec National Assembly, which asked that they be withdrawn. It is rather ironic that the federal government recognized the Quebec nation and then decided to introduce two bills that were denounced by the Quebec National Assembly.

I must say that the two opposition parties are opposed to Bill C-20, albeit for different reasons. Thus, I do not think it would be in the best interests of the House to rush these bills through, since we are far from reaching a consensus on them.

I have one last example, that is, Bill C-22, which aims to change the make-up of the House of Commons. If passed, it would increase the number of members in Ontario and in western Canada, which would reduce the political weight of the 75 members from Quebec, since their representation in this House would drop from 24.4% to 22.7%. It is not that we are against changing the distribution of seats based on the changing demographics of the various regions of Canada. We would like to ensure, however, that the Quebec nation, which was recognized by the House of Commons, has a voice that is strong enough to be heard.

The way things are going today, it is clear that in 10, 15 or 20 years, Quebec will no longer be able to make its voice heard in this House. We therefore believe we must guarantee the Quebec nation a percentage of the members in this House. We propose that it be 25%. If people want more members in Ontario and in the west, that is not a problem. We will simply have to increase the number of members from Quebec to maintain a proportion of 25%. There are a number of possible solutions to this.

Once again, I would like to point out that we introduced a whole series of bills to formalize the recognition of the Quebec nation, including Bill C-482, sponsored by my colleague from Drummond. That bill sought to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated organizations working in Quebec. That was for organizations working in Quebec, of course. At no time did we seek to control what happens elsewhere in Canada. The bill would have given employees of federally regulated organizations the same rights as all employees in Quebec, that is, the right to work in French.

Unfortunately, the bill was defeated, but we will try again. Once again, the fact that Bill C-482 was defeated does not mean we are about to throw in the towel and let Bills C-22, C-19, and C-20 pass just like that. As I said earlier, we will certainly not make things easy for the government by rushing debate on these bills here.

And now to my fourth point. I started out talking about the government's lack of cooperation, vision and planning, not to mention its bad faith. Next, I talked about its poor excuse for a legislative agenda. Then I talked about the fact that we find certain bills extremely problematic. We will certainly not be giving the government carte blanche to bring those bills back here in a big hurry before the end of the session on June 20. Our fourth reason is the government's hypocrisy, in a general sense.

This has been apparent in many ways, such as the government's attitude to certain bills. I would like to mention some of them, such as Bill C-20. I cannot help but mention Bills C-50 and C-10 as well.

Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, makes changes to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's powers, but that is not what the debate is about. Bill C-10, which introduces elements that allow the Conservative government—

Bill 101Oral Questions

June 9th, 2008 / 2:35 p.m.
See context

Louis-Saint-Laurent Québec


Josée Verner ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member just explained, Bill C-482 did not receive the government's support. That being said, our government will work within its jurisdiction and protect both official languages in Canada.

Furthermore, as a Quebecker, I refuse to accept the Bloc member's flag-waving tactics, presenting himself as the only one defending the rights of francophones in Quebec.

Bill 101Oral Questions

June 9th, 2008 / 2:35 p.m.
See context


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, hundreds of people including many artists demonstrated in Montreal yesterday for the strengthening of Bill 101. The Bloc Québécois has introduced Bill C-482, which attempts to do just that, for example, by amending the Official Languages Act in order to have the federal government recognize that French is Quebec's only official language. Unfortunately, the Conservatives voted against this bill.

With Quebec's national holiday just a few days away, will the Conservatives finally put their words into action and promise to support this initiative?

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

May 14th, 2008 / 5:25 p.m.
See context


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-482 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from May 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-482, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

May 13th, 2008 / 6:25 p.m.
See context


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have introduced Bill C-482. I would also like to thank my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her remarks, in which she really explained the bill. I am a little disappointed to see that my colleagues on the opposition side and my colleague who has just spoken have not sufficiently understood Bill C-482. In fact, it does not take away anything. It only amends the Official Languages Act so that businesses respect the spirit of the charter dealing with the language of signage and the language of work in related legislation on businesses. I would like to thank my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, my colleague from Joliette and my colleague from Gatineau, who travelled all across Quebec to explain Bill C-482, what it would change and what it would modify. I can say that it takes away absolutely nothing from the privileges of minorities within Quebec.

It is essential to specify in the Official Languages Act that French is the official language of Quebec. I would like the members who spoke on this bill could really recognize that French is the official language of Quebec. That is why it seems significant to us to amend the preamble to the act to state that the federal government recognizes French as the official language of Quebec and the common language of Quebec.

This bill would amend two parts of the Official Languages Act: Part VII, which deals with the advancement of English and French in Canadian society, and Part IX, which deals primarily with the mandate of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Recognition of the Charter of the French Language in no way diminishes the rights and privileges of the Quebec anglophone minority that are set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and I emphasize that point. These amendments strictly limit the power of the federal government to intervene in Quebec's language policy.

Let us talk about a concept. The concept of nationhood is to recognize a nation. It also means recognizing its identity, its language, its culture, its history and its institutions. For the Conservatives, the concept of the Quebec nation is an empty shell. The Conservative game is nothing but a manoeuvre intended to trivialize the Quebec nation.

Logic requires that the identity of Quebec be recognized; in the North American context, that the predominance of French in Quebec be recognized; that Bill 101 adopted by the National Assembly be recognized and respected since a statutory reference is possible. We have used an example on many occasions, the example of minimum wage legislation. The reality is that the Conservatives do not have the courage to move from words to action. The Quebec nation in a united Canada is just window dressing.

The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has already publicly committed himself to the need to defend and protect the French fact in Quebec. Speaking of Bill 101, he said in 1997 it was, and I quote, “The opposite of a racist law.” He even told the Canadian Press that Bill 101 was a great Canadian law. In that context, I invite honourable members and, in particular, all members from Quebec, to support this bill.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

May 13th, 2008 / 6:15 p.m.
See context


Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join the debate today on Bill C-482. I must say at the outset that I have a great deal of respect for the member for Drummond, but I profoundly disagree with her on this bill. The bill is extremely dangerous from the point of view of a francophone from outside Quebec. It would give precedence to the French language in federal institutions in Quebec. I can only imagine the repercussions in the other provinces.

First, there is the whole issue that the federal government must respect the Constitution. I will not go into the details of that subject because my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier has very clearly spelled out the matter of constitutional principles. However, I do not understand how anyone could introduce a bill here, in this House, that goes against the Constitution of Canada. I want to look at practical reasons.

The Official Languages Act that was adopted in 1969 has protected and continues to protect our country’s two official languages. The act puts both official languages of our country on an equal footing. I will be the first to admit that there are many challenges to overcome. In a country as large and diverse as Canada, where there is a strong concentration of francophones in one province and where we encourage and celebrate multiculturalism—which is another factor that adds to the complications in an officially bilingual country—it has never been easy to find a balance in all of the issues related to official languages.

Nevertheless, we have made enormous progress. The Official Languages Act was essential to the growth of our minority francophone communities. The member for Drummond said that the use of French is declining in Quebec and everywhere in Canada.

However, we must talk about positive changes. In Manitoba, for example, there 45,000 people of francophone descent, but in principle, 110,000 people speak French. These people completed French immersion or second language courses. In British Columbia, parents, especially from immigrant communities, stand on the sidewalk all evening to register their children in immersion courses. This is really an interesting and significant phenomenon.

Significant changes are occurring in terms of respect for the two official languages. Let us take, for example, the group Canadian Parents for French, which last year or the year before celebrated its 25th anniversary in Manitoba. It is an exceedingly positive group for francophones right across the country.

In this age of globalization, people are realizing that knowing two or three languages is becoming the norm, not the exception. The hon. member will recall a study we did together on democratic reform. We visited England, Scotland and Germany, where she had an interpreter with her. In fact most of those we met spoke two, three or four languages and offered to speak French. That is today's reality.

I do not understand the strategy of turning inward and trying to stick to a single language. It makes no sense in today's world.

I do understand that we want to protect our language. We live in this great anglophone sea that is North America. However, today's youth must not be held back. The teaching of both official languages must be encouraged as must their use in the workplace. Our young people must be given every opportunity.

I have never understood why there has not been greater cooperation between Quebec and francophones outside Quebec. There are 6 million francophones in Quebec, but there are 2.6 million francophones in Canada's other provinces. Once again, in this great North American sea of 330 million people, it seems to me we would do well to work together—cooperatively—more closely and to join forces. But no, it is just not done to acknowledge that there are francophones living outside la Belle Province or that immersion programs are working extremely well. It would not be politically sound for a separatist party to admit that its distant cousins were managing quite well and that there were vibrant communities to be found in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, Vancouver, Regina, New Brunswick and even Alberta.

What was really heartbreaking was the Bloc's vote against Bill S-3, a bill that was vital for minority francophone communities. I can say for a fact that not all the Bloc members supported the decision by the leader of the Bloc.

The Bloc Québécois members who sat on the Standing Committee on Official Languages were torn by this decision. They knew that Bill S-3 was essential to the survival and development of francophone communities outside Quebec. Despite this, it was decided that they should vote against Bill S-3. How can that be good for the Canadian francophone community?

The other day, one of the Bloc members said that Quebec is a francophone nation. That disappoints me. How does a statement like that make the anglophones in his riding feel? That member does not necessarily represent everyone. That bothers me greatly. Anglophones and allophones also have the right to a representative that takes their interests to heart.

Things are changing. For example, in Manitoba, Premier Doer just created the Agence nationale et internationale du Manitoba. It is a francophone Manitoba Trade. We understand the added value of francophones in our province. It is the exact opposite of what is happening in the world and in all of the other Canadian provinces. In Quebec, they want to withdraw into themselves. I do not understand this senseless ideology.

As I said earlier, Canadian Parents for French is the most vocal group in terms of early immersion in New Brunswick. This group is essential for francophone communities.

Instead of seeing this withdrawal, I would rather see the Bloc Québécois work with us to restore the court challenges program and to put into place a new official languages action plan. It would be constructive and would advance French throughout Canada, including in Quebec.

In my opinion, the bill introduced by the member for Drummond would have the opposite effect, and I cannot support a bill that could harm our language. We have all worked too hard to preserve it.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

May 13th, 2008 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, several members of our government have already had a chance to express their opposition to Bill C-482. We can conclude only one thing: this bill purports to solve a problem that simply does not exist. The 2006 census data show that French as a language of work in Quebec is doing well.

Since 2001, the census has collected information on language of work, and the 2006 edition confirms that 99% of francophone workers in Quebec use French most often or regularly at work. These figures speak for themselves. It is very difficult to claim that the use of English in Quebec is a serious threat and that the federal government is to blame. There are no facts to back up this claim.

Some 94% of all Quebec workers use French, with varying frequency. In addition, between 2001 and 2006, the percentage of immigrants who said they use French most often at work, either alone or together with another language, increased from 63% to 65%. There was also an increase in the proportion of anglophones who use French at work most often or regularly. I also want to remind the House that 69% of Quebec anglophones are bilingual now, in comparison with 63% just 10 years ago. Under the circumstances, we really do not see the point of Bill C-482.

If we look at the results of the 2006 census on mother tongue and the language spoken at home, it becomes apparent that certain people have a tendency to draw hasty conclusions about major trends in our society, which in themselves do not pose a threat to the French language. It is true that many immigrants speak their language of origin in the home in order to pass it on to their children. Nevertheless, most of these people work in French and frequently use it in public. In addition, their children attend French-language schools and will eventually find it easy to migrate to this language.

Some concerns were raised last December and January about data on how easy it is for unilingual English staff to get hired in Quebec businesses. Everyone who is familiar with the statistics knows that this was not a serious study and it was undertaken mostly just to stir up trouble without really improving our understanding of the linguistic situation.

We also need to know that the situation in Montreal is not evolving in a vacuum. Every day some 270,000 people from the northern and southern suburbs of Montreal, most of them francophones, cross the bridges to go and work on the island. Nine out of ten of them use French at work: 73% most often and another 16% regularly. Under the circumstances, there is no reason to fear the worst, especially as the data show that the use of French in Montreal has remained stable.

In Canada as a whole, because of immigration, we see the same linguistic diversification and reduction in the proportion of people with English as a mother tongue. Given the importance of English in the world, it is hardly surprising that this is a consequence of our very necessary immigration.

The second good reason to oppose this bill is equally important, because it touches on a deeply Canadian value. It concerns the equal status of French and English, and the federal government's commitment to enhance the vitality of the English and French minorities in Canada. Our government can never overstate the importance of this principle of the equality of the two official languages.

With this bill, the Bloc Québécois is suggesting that the federal government poses a threat to the French fact in Canada, although nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet again, the Bloc proposes a backward-looking vision, where the knowledge of one language is necessarily a threat to another. Through its official language policies, the government encourages not only francophone minorities, but also all Canadians, to learn French. That is why we now have a record number of Canadians who are able to speak both official languages. The government supports the French fact everywhere in Canada and provides particular support to the minority francophone communities. There are a million of these francophones in Canada. This reality opens the gates to the international Francophonie.

This year, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, some important international Francophonie events will be held. Quebec City will host the next Sommet de la Francophonie from October 17 to 19, 2008. It is no coincidence that francophone heads of state and government are turning to Canada to hold their discussions. Canada is a beacon of support for the dissemination and promotion of the French language.

Canada is proud to be a partner in the celebrations, which highlight an important chapter of our history. We want the 400th anniversary of Quebec City to be a celebration all Canadians will remember. It is a great opportunity to celebrate the event, the francophone presence in the Americas, and the vitality of the French fact.

The Prime Minister has often said it, and I quote him without hesitation: we share a long-term vision of a Canada where linguistic duality is an asset both for individuals and for institutions across Canada. The future depends on learning the second language, and even other languages, in a global economy and a spirit of openness to the world. Languages are the key that enables us to understand and appreciate other cultures.

The Canadian language framework that has been developed in recent decades originates in and is based on the principles and provisions found in our Constitution. Canadians today still say that these values are widely shared, and we will make sure that future generations have an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of bilingualism, one of Canada’s fundamental characteristics.

Our language industries are helping to position Canada on the international stage and they will continue to thrive in the years to come thanks to the cutting-edge research that is being done and will continue to energize this entire sector of the economy and thereby Canada as a whole.

I would like to take this opportunity to note that Canada continues to be a world leader when it comes to translation and other activities of that nature. We are also a model for many countries in the management of linguistic duality.

We are determined to continue working to help the official language communities flourish, in a spirit of open federalism and in a way that respects the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories. Our approach to developing a new strategy is therefore aided by our continuing dialogue with the provinces and territories, and in particular by the work done by the Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie. The provincial and territorial governments are the ones that can take direct action on issues of crucial importance to the vitality of official languages communities throughout Canada, and our government looks forward to working with them to promote Canada’s linguistic duality.

In recent years, the Government of Canada has developed a number of policies on official languages, and our government is working actively on the next phase of the action plan, in order to take into account social and demographic changes in Canada. We want to offer Canadians the support that is best suited to their needs. We want to help them preserve their linguistic and cultural heritage and reap the full benefits of that heritage and pass it on to future generations.

Our government will continue to build on existing accomplishments so that Canadians can benefit from all the advantages our country has to offer because of the unique cultural wealth our two official languages represent in North America.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

May 13th, 2008 / 5:55 p.m.
See context


Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, May 1—International Workers' Day—was barely two weeks ago, yet it seems that there are two categories of workers in Quebec. Workers in the first category have the right to work in French in Quebec. They are governed by Quebec labour laws and Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language.

Over 200,000 Quebec workers in the second category are governed by the Canada Labour Code, and their employers are not subject to the Charter of the French Language. All too often, they have to work in both languages and sometimes, in English only. Some of them feel like second-class citizens in Quebec. They are the ones working for organizations that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as ports, airports, telecommunications and broadcasting companies, interprovincial and rail transportation companies, banks, and Canada Post Corporation.

Most of these organizations ignore the Charter of the French Language. Some openly flout it. Bill 101 does not apply to these employers in Quebec, so they can impose their language on their employees, who receive their weekly English-language schedules, and are blithely asked to attend meetings that are held, all too often, in English when at least one of their colleagues is unilingual anglophone. Bizarre situations arise as a result. For example, a company under federal jurisdiction is not required to respect the language of its workers in Quebec, but the union representing those workers, which is subject to the Quebec Labour Code, must comply with Bill 101.

Witnesses have stated that employers even force their employees to work in English, threatening to cut jobs in Quebec and create new jobs elsewhere in Canada, where people speak “Canadian”, if they do not agree to write their reports in English or if they speak up when they receive internal documents written in English only. I should clarify that employees are not refusing to provide services to clients in the latter's own language. They simply want meeting minutes, or the meetings themselves, as well as their interactions with their employers and colleagues, to be in French.

Of course, the situation varies with the region. In Montreal and in the Outaouais, the situation is far more problematic than in the Saguenay region, for example, where francophones make up 99% of the population. Overall, English is the main language of work for 17% of Quebeckers. Statistics recently released by the Quebec Office de la langue française indicate that many more francophones work in English than do anglophones in French. Forty per cent of workers in Quebec use English at work regularly.

The federal government stubbornly refuses to recognize Bill 101 in Quebec, so that even today, despite the legislation's 30 year existence, the process of francisation is still in its infancy. When we raise the matter in the House, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages replies that she is promoting bilingualism in Quebec. In fact, each time the government promotes bilingualism in Quebec, it pushes French back. English is not threatened in Quebec and Canada. Promoting French in Quebec means advancing the cause of francophones outside Quebec.

However, in response to the Bloc's initiative, the Conservative government recognized in 2006 that Quebeckers formed a nation. Who honours the rights of this nation? Certainly not the Conservative government, which protested far too much when the Canada Post calendar did not include Quebec's national holiday—and I say “national”, which is Quebec's national holiday on June 24—only to discover two weeks later that the same error of omission had been made on its own calendar.

Clearly, denial of the Quebec nation and disdain for its rights seem to be part of the culture of the federal government machinery. When have we heard the Prime Minister, one of his ministers or even one of his MPs use the term Quebec nation? Recognition of it is not to be found in either their remarks or their actions.

Let us not forget that the Conservative Prime Minister did not recognize the Quebec nation in November 2006 for its intrinsic value or because he was fond of or respected Quebeckers, but rather with the malicious intent to trip up the Bloc Québécois by adding the words, “within a united Canada” after “Quebeckers form a nation”.

But the time for empty words is over. It is time the Conservative government walked the talk.

To protect workers' language, identity and culture, this government must recognize the Quebec nation in fact by giving workers throughout Quebec the right to work in French.

The Bloc wants to amend federal legislation so that federally regulated businesses carrying on activities in Quebec are subject to the Charter of the French Language. The member for Drummond introduced Bill C-482 to amend the Canada Labour Code. We thank her and congratulate her.

I hear someone applauding. That is a very good idea, because this is a very fine initiative on her part.

Bill C-482 will require the federal government to recognize the Charter of the French Language in Quebec and will extend its application to businesses under federal jurisdiction.

First of all, to avoid any ambiguity, it must be clear in the Official Languages Act that French is the official language of Quebec. We therefore consider it important to amend the preamble so that it provides that the federal government recognizes that French is the official language of Quebec and the common language in Quebec.

This amendment is not purely symbolic. It states, to a certain extent, the intent of the legislator. In this regard, the Barreau du Québec said this:

Jurisprudence, also, seems to consistently demonstrate that the preamble is always important, though the circumstances in a matter, such as the clarity of the provision, justifies setting aside any indications of intent that may be found in the preamble.

It then becomes an insurance policy provided that the body of the act is also amended. The Official Languages Act essentially applies to the Government of Canada and its institutions, and as mentioned earlier, under section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is impossible to amend any provisions dealing with institutionalized bilingualism within the federal government without amending the Constitution. However, two parts of the act can be amended, namely part VII, which deals with the advancement of English and French in Canadian society, and part IX, which deals in part with the mandate of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois will force the federal government to undertake that it will not throw up obstacles to the objectives of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to remember that recognition of the Charter of the French Language in no way diminishes the rights and privileges of the Quebec anglophone minority provided for in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These amendments only limit the power of the federal government to interfere in Quebec's language policy.

The specific reference to a provincial act in the context of federal legislation is possible and even common. This is referred to as a statutory reference, in other words the government recognizes the provisions of another Canadian legislative assembly. For example, the Canada Labour Code sets the minimum federal wage based on provincial minimums. Section 178 states that:

—an employer shall pay to each employee a wage at a rate

a) not less than the minimum hourly rate fixed, from time to time, by or under an Act of the legislature of the province where the employee is usually employed—

This bill will amend the Canada Labour Code.

Federal undertakings or federally regulated enterprises are not governed by the Charter of the French Language, particularly with regard to the language of work. Some of these enterprises choose to abide by it, but on a voluntary basis and too infrequently for our liking.

Which federal enterprises are affected by the Canada Labour Code? I mentioned some earlier: Bell Canada has 17,241 employees; the Royal Bank, 7,200 employees; the National Bank of Canada, 10,299 employees; ACE Aviation Air Canada, 7,657 employees. We estimate that 200,000 Quebeckers are governed by the Canada Labour Code, or about 7% of Quebec workers.

The Bloc Québécois' bill will also amend the Canada Business Corporations Act to ensure that corporations' business names respect the Charter of the French Language.

The problem is that Quebec, as a nation, is still not able to ensure the use of French as the official and common language because of limits imposed by the federal government and its blatant disregard for Bill 101.

I ask that my colleagues in this House seriously reflect on the rights of a nation.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

May 13th, 2008 / 5:50 p.m.
See context


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-482, concerning the Charter of the French Language.

This bill proposes a number of changes with the goal of increasing the use of French as the language of work. It also proposes an amendment to the Canada Labour Code to protect the language rights of francophone workers in the federal sector governed by the Canada Labour Code.

My NDP colleagues and I believe that this bill deserves to be examined in committee. Our primary interest is to protect French where there is the largest group of francophones—in Quebec—and then to focus on the need to increase and promote the use of French at work. Of course, that does not mean that we want to reduce the presence and influence of French elsewhere in Canada. On the contrary, everyone wins when we strengthen Canada's uniqueness and truly try to respect the spirit of bilingualism.

We are all aware that there are still numerous obstacles preventing many Canadians and Quebeckers from truly learning French. Several reports suggest that the use of French is declining even in Quebec. Is this true? We do not know. Further study and discussion are required. A few months ago, the writer Roch Carrier spoke about the high rate of illiteracy in Quebec. That is disturbing. This bill should be examined in light of that kind of problem.

After listening to the comments of my Liberal colleague, who seems to simplify the problem, I believe that we should stop fueling the separatist cause. In a recent interview, the Commissioner of Official Languages expressed his disappointment with the Conservative government's policies pertaining to official languages. I am thinking of the appointment of judges and others, the abolition of the court challenges program— which truly helped francophones exercise their rights outside of Quebec—or the lowering of standards for French in the public service and the military. All these actions taken by the Conservative government undermine this type of educational programs. Yet, the Prime Minister himself is an example of the success of these programs. So why refuse to study a bill that seeks to protect the right to use French as the language of work?

Affirming the language rights of francophones does not at all diminish the rights of anglophones. On the contrary, these actions provide all Canadians with choice and, in this way, ensure the continued growth and vitality of the French language throughout the country.

We know that this is an important issue for Canadians living outside Quebec as well. For example, in my riding, French immersion programs are in high demand and are probably the most popular education program in British Columbia. That is definitely the case in my riding.

On a personal note, my own experiences growing up in Manitoba showed me the importance of promoting French there.

French was banned from the education system for an entire century. I even remember being a little girl, taught by nuns, and when the inspector came into the classroom, we had to put away our French textbooks and hide them. Imagine such a situation. It really created a feeling of being attacked. We had the impression that we did not have the right to speak French.

And if we believe that the French fact enriches Canada as a whole, it must be given the support it needs to fully develop.

However, it remains to be seen if this bill could do that, if it could really achieve those goals, given that we are talking about areas of federal jurisdiction. That is one of the main reasons why we are suggesting further deliberations on this bill in committee.

In addition, the issue of how the provisions concerning federal institutions and companies will be imposed still has yet to be resolved. My hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst already raised this question in his comments. What impact will this bill have on companies such as Air Canada, VIA Rail and many others?

The business administration of these federal institutions, and particularly the promotion of French in those settings, will be a focal point of the committee deliberations, if the bill is in fact referred. That is another reason this debate is necessary. It would be one way of assessing the health of French in those federal institutions.

I am convinced that if we keep an open mind, both in the House and in committee, we will successfully make decisions that will allow us to achieve the following goals: first, to allow Quebeckers to express themselves fully at work in their mother tongue and, second, to preserve and encourage the use of this rich, dynamic language, which we are fortunate to be able to use anywhere in Canada.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

May 13th, 2008 / 5:40 p.m.
See context


Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here in the House today to speak to Bill C-482, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

When we look at the whole issue of the Official Languages Act, there is one thing we must always keep in our sights, one very important thing. That is ensuring that the legislation will improve the conditions of official language minority communities, for both francophones outside Quebec and anglophones in Quebec.

In order to be able to move forward and not backward we must also ensure that the act can be properly defended. If we want to be in a position to properly defend it we must make sure that, when people propose amendments to certain acts, those proposals do not run counter to what many generations have been trying to do over the years to improve the conditions of official language minority communities.

Clearly, anyone who tries to improve the conditions of official language minority communities must be an ardent defender. The Liberal Party of Canada has always been an ardent defender of official languages in this country. We have taken steps to advance many causes and have ensured that programs are in place to enable communities to defend their rights before the courts.

However, when we look at a bill like Bill C-482, we might ask ourselves some serious questions. Serious questions might come to mind because, indeed, as though by chance, this bill is trying to separate one part of the official languages issue in this country and shift it. In the end, it conveniently addresses one part of the issue without considering the overall situation. And the overall situation is very important.

It is not possible to try to make amendments to an act or take over an act—acts under federal jurisdiction—that exists to ensure respect for communities, that exist to ensure that communities, even those in a minority situation in any given region, province or territory, do not see any decreases in their services, their standard of living or their rights.

Respecting their rights also includes the whole issue of employment and language of work. Certainly, if at some point we try to generalize and say that everything is going to go in one direction, people are going to suffer. People are going to suffer because their rights will not be respected. That is one of the reasons why we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to ensure that communities, including language communities, are respected.

But this is a constitutional issue as well. The Official Languages Act guarantees Canadians the right to be served in the language of their choice, be it French or English. Some people want services in both languages, because many communities across the country are bilingual. However, the government has to be able to provide those services.

Imagine for a moment telling the people who work in institutions and undertakings governed by the Canada Labour Code, “Now, you no longer have the right to serve people or work in your own language.” It is a matter of respect.

This does not necessarily mean that the language of work has to be English only or French only. There has to be a balance. In my riding, for example, there are francophones, mainly in the Madawaska area, and there are more anglophones in the Restigouche area. We cannot say that the francophones would not have the right to work in French and would have to work in English only, because it is the majority language in New Brunswick. The reverse is also true. Imagine if it were to happen one day. In one case, the rights of the francophones would be trampled, while in the other, the rights of the anglophones would be violated.

When it comes to official languages, we must always make sure we do not come up with just any bill to promote one part of the official languages issue for our cause. The issue here is not just a separatist cause versus a federalist cause. People all across the country have the right to be served in their own language, but they are also entitled to some respect when it comes to language of work.

As I mentioned earlier, we must never forget that there are other communities in the country, notably francophone communities outside Quebec. These people would like to be able to work in their language, but they are conscious of the fact that they are not necessarily in the majority and that there are also anglophones who work in their language.

We cannot simply tell a minority community that some of their rights will be taken away because the language of work must be limited to a single language. Nor can we say that their rights will be set aside because they are not important. We have to be careful. Often when we talk about linguistic issues it leads to debates because it directly affects individuals. People most often express their gut reaction because they remember the struggle they went through to defend their rights.

It is hard to comprehend that a Bloc Québécois member has introduced such a bill. Bloc members must also be aware that Canada has two official languages. The problem does not crop up province by province. If things were that easy, there would not be any problems in the world. At some point, we have to be able to recognize that each one of us has the right to our own little space and the right to more forward in consideration of our linguistic situation.

It is a bit difficult to understand where people want to go with this bill. We need to have a broad overview and not just look at elements here and there. If we only look at the elements in isolation, we would never be able to move society forward. That would certainly benefit some. However, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms exists to protect minorities.

If there were no injustices, there would be no laws. If justice prevailed across the country and there were no problems, we would not need any laws. However, it is because there are injustices, and rights are not being respected, that we have to bring in legislation to govern the country fairly and appropriately, to ensure respect for official language communities within the country and within each province.

Imagine if each province made its own decisions on this. Some provinces might be interested in doing so. Imagine though how difficult it would be to have the official languages respected. People would end up having to choose which province to live in to receive certain services or to have the right to work in their language. It is somewhat illogical to think that way. That is not what we want. We want people to stay in the province of their choice and work in their language. That does not mean it has to be English only or French only. It is a matter of basic respect.

At the very beginning of my speech, I was saying that we have to make progress on the entire issue of the Official Languages Act. I will give an example that is rather easy to understand. Recently, Ms. Paulin from New Brunswick stood up for her rights and won, and now the RCMP has to provide services in French in New Brunswick. This is a reality: the law will enhance the quality of life of citizens who will be respectfully served in their official language.

The same is true for language of work. It is important to observe reality and get statistics. How many people who speak a certain language work in the public service or in places governed by the Canada Labour Code? Sometimes, these percentages are quite low.

Often, people adapt. Minority communities adapt far more than others to the language of the majority. At the very least, an anglophone should not be required to speak French and vice versa. It is always the same issue: we do not want the inverse to happen. We do not to put others through something we would not want to experience ourselves.

My presentation is drawing to a close. In my opinion, we must remember this: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If we want our rights to be respected then we have to give everyone rights.