Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me today to continue the speech I started last March 31 on Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
A new Official Languages Act came into force in 1988 to reflect and implement the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The 1988 act reflected three major objectives of the Government of Canada. The government wanted to ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada and also ensure equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in federal institutions. The legislation reflected a desire to support the development of minority francophone and anglophone communities and foster progress toward the equal status and use of both English and French in Canadian society. It also specified the powers, obligations and roles of federal institutions in regard to the official languages.
This new law contained provisions as well in part VII on the promotion of English and French, which were strengthened by an amendment in 2005. This amendment reminded federal institutions of their responsibility to take positive action to support the development of official language communities and promote the full recognition and use of English and French in Canadian society. It is also very important that part VII of the act can now be used to take legal action before the appropriate authorities.
I want to remind the House that our caucus was unanimously in favour of this change. That helped the amendment enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities and supporting their development to pass. These changes to the law strengthened Canada’s linguistic legislation. We were motivated then, and still are, by our conviction that federal institutions should assume their responsibilities and lead the way when it comes to promoting our official languages and linguistic duality throughout the country.
This description of the milestones in the recognition of French over the last few decades helps to show that a consensus exists in Canada on the official languages. Linguistic duality is an essential part of the Canadian identity and a tremendous benefit for all of society. Our government is very much in favour of this linguistic regime.
The provisions relating to linguistic duality do not contradict the charter of the French language, as some say. The charter of the French language applies fully in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
As regards the language used by the public, it is generally French in the province of Quebec and on the island of Montreal. In all, 94.5% of the population of Quebec know French. It is also in this province that anglophones have the greatest mastery of French, with 69% of them speaking it. Of the allophones, 50% speak both French and English along with another language. We may readily suppose that they use French regularly.
In our global economy and in a difficult economic climate, it is agreed that knowledge of a number of languages is an advantage. For individuals, it means enrichment, opening the door to whole cultural worlds. The ability to speak a number of languages also means greater employment opportunities, a benefit recognized by parents in Quebec, over 80% of whom want their children to learn at least the other official language, if not a third language.
Our government remains firmly committed to promoting and supporting the economic and social benefits our linguistic duality represents. Our government reiterated this support when it announced the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008-2013: Acting for the Future in June 2008. The roadmap consolidates, adapts and modernizes the government's actions with respect to official languages in order to ensure they produce real results.
Of course, Canadians and their government have come a considerable way in recent decades. Our government wants to focus on the considerable successes and progress in linguistic duality in order to take advantage of the growing mobilization of all players.
The roadmap defines the Government of Canada's comprehensive approach in official languages, while outlining our objectives and strategies. There were originally thirteen federal departments and agencies involved.
Since then, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs has joined the group in order to meet the needs of communities in the territories. So now there are 14 departments working to implement the roadmap and our investment of $1.1 billion.
We want as many Canadians as possible to have the opportunity to appreciate the French language and culture, an essential component of our country's character and identity. Major investments are made annually to this end.
By way of example, our government recently announced the details of the national translation program for book publishing. This program will help Canadian publishers translate Canadian-authored books into English and French. With this program, we want to give as many Canadians as possible access to the enormous wealth of our country's culture and literature.
The Official Languages Act celebrates 40 years this year. This anniversary is a real landmark in our history, since the Official Languages Act was an excellent initiative to affirm the rights of Canadians and give them new opportunities. This enshrined linguistic duality is now at the heart of Canada's identity.
Let us then use this 40th anniversary to make Canadians aware of the benefits of having two world-class official languages and make sure that this linguistic duality is a source of pride throughout the country.