moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise today and speak about my bill at third reading. Right from the beginning, this bill has had incredible support from all the parties, which makes me especially proud.
I would like to start right away by extending my thanks and gratitude to some hon. members who, with their support and wise counsel, helped make Bill C-419 a real success.
First, I would like to thank the member for Ottawa—Orléans for his contribution to the final version of the bill. His enthusiasm for protecting language rights is probably already well known across all the French-speaking communities in Ontario. I extend my sincere thanks to him. As he himself kindly said to me in committee,
[Member spoke in Russian, as follows:]
My thanks also go to the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, who all contributed in a caring, intelligent and visionary manner to this bill. The member for Winnipeg South Centre, the member for Durham, the member for Pickering—Scarborough East and the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore gave their clear support and full consideration to the bill.
The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville also expressed his strong support during his remarks on this subject. It is always reassuring when a great intellectual of his calibre unequivocally supports one's proposals. I truly appreciate that and thank him for it.
Several other government members have believed in Bill C-419 from the beginning, and I would like to remind them that their timely support did not go unnoticed. Without their good will, this bill would have died a long time ago.
Naturally, I would also like to thank the many NDP members who contributed to my bill. One person in particular deserves to be mentioned. I would like not only to thank the member for Acadie—Bathurst, but also to give him a big hug and let him know that I will be forever grateful. I can take a breather now, but his battle wages on, and I wish him all the success he deserves.
I feel fortunate to be celebrating the second anniversary of my May 2011 election to Parliament during the first hour of the third reading of my bill. Never could I have dreamed of coming so far so fast. I am very proud of that and of having been able to work so productively with all parties in the House of Commons.
The fact that Bill C-419 has reached third reading proves to Canadians that we know how to work together. Even though our political visions can be poles apart, we fully agree on certain points.
I can claim victory today because all parties collaborated for the purpose of protecting the rights of Canadians in minority language communities. What we are doing today strengthens the very foundation this country is built on. Many of us here in Canada's Parliament, along with thousands—millions, even—of Canadians, sincerely love this country's two official languages. I am one of those Canadians. My love for English in no way diminishes my attachment to my own language. Divisiveness has never arisen because of language itself, but because of political constructs relating to it.
More and more, I have come to realize that political divisions are often unhealthy. Not only are they ridiculously artificial, but they can also prevent people from thinking honestly about the problems we are facing. Today we have a rare opportunity to celebrate together. We have stepped away from the scourge of adversarial politics, and that is a good thing.
Bill C-419 has emerged from committee significantly abbreviated. Though it is now a relatively short and simple bill, it originally contained a number of different elements related to one central issue.
This core element, the list of the 10 officers of Parliament, was supported by four other elements: a preamble, an explanation of the language requirements for the 10 positions, the flexibility to allow the Governor in Council to add more positions to the list and, finally, clarification on acting positions.
These five separate elements were discussed, and only one of them remained unchanged: the list of the 10 positions in question. Fortunately, this is the most important element. Had this element been altered, it would have changed the very nature of the bill. The fact that it remained unchanged is a victory because everyone found the compromise acceptable.
I would like to explain the changes made and the reasons for them. First, the original version of Bill C-419 contained a preamble. The purpose of this preamble was to better define what is meant by an officer of Parliament. Since this category is not clearly set out in the act, we thought it would be appropriate to include a specific definition of this term. In so doing, we wanted to prevent any future doubt.
Here is the definition of an officer of Parliament that was contained in the preamble of the original version of the bill: officers of Parliament are persons appointed with the approval by resolution of the Senate, the House of Commons or both Houses of Parliament.
This clarification eliminated any legislative hesitation regarding the nature of the positions set out in the new law. Throughout my speech, I emphasized that this preamble was included by way of explanation and as a preventive measure.
Except that, in the end, it was not retained. This decision does not pose a problem, but it does weaken the bill. I am certain that some people do not like this grey area which has been purposely created. The decision was made not to use a clear definition of what an officer of Parliament is or is not.
In general, there was agreement that, although this category is not clearly defined, it is specific enough to not cause any harm. Thus, the preamble was deleted.
The second element on which we could not agree was a phrase in the main clause of Bill C-419. In attempting to state what we meant by a clear understanding of both official languages, we believed that it would suffice to say that the candidate must be able to understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter.
Although the preamble and a legislative detail that we deemed to be important were eliminated, in this case the government suddenly wanted to give a definition that was as broad as possible.
First, we heard that, if we applied the letter of the law, the use of an interpreter by the incumbent of any of the 10 positions would be strictly prohibited in any circumstance.
That is obviously not the case. Requiring the incumbent to be bilingual at the time of his or her appointment does not at all mean that the person can never use the services of an interpreter. I defended the notion that it would be obvious whether or not the incumbent was bilingual from the very first words they spoke in both languages. After all, either you understand a language or you do not. You cannot get by for very long.
However, the issue of an interpreter was too unpopular. To eliminate any merit it may have had, the principal meaning of interpreter was expanded to include sign language interpreters. First of all, we did not want to hinder the candidacy of individuals with hearing loss. Only afterwards, I was accused of trying to exclude the candidacy of people who are completely deaf.
That was obviously not the objective of those six words. The reason I used that turn of phrase was mainly because it is found in the Official Languages Act in reference to the appointment of superior court justices:
Every federal court, other than the Supreme Court of Canada, has the duty to ensure that...(c) if both English and French are the languages chosen by the parties for proceedings conducted before it in any particular case, every judge or other officer who hears those proceedings is able to understand both languages without the assistance of an interpreter.
However, the member for Ottawa—Orléans was able to propose a compromise that was acceptable to everyone. He suggested that we introduce the concept of clear understanding to replace the idea of understanding without the aid of an interpreter. I would like to thank him for this wise addition, without which we would not have moved forward. There is no more mention of interpreters.
The first version of Bill C-419 would have given the Governor in Council the ability to add positions to the list in the future, as needed.
With that clause, we were hoping to make it easier for future governments to amend the law and rectify a language skills problem.
For example, it is easy to imagine that if a new officer of Parliament position were created, the government would want to add it to the list. The way the bill has been amended, Parliament alone can make that addition, not the Governor in Council. That provision was taken out.
Legislators will therefore be required to introduce a bill to add a position to the list. The NDP had no issues with allowing the Governor in Council to add positions to our list, as needed.
Lastly, we felt it was necessary to specify that those appointed to one of the 10 offices listed in Bill C-419 on an interim basis must also meet the requirements.
It could happen that a candidate appointed to a position on an interim basis could end up being permanently appointed to fulfill those duties. Requiring interim appointees to be bilingual would encourage the government to seek out qualified candidates from the start.
We were told that lack of available candidates and the urgency of the situation required extraordinary measures and, in such cases, for the common good, a unilingual person could do a fine job in the interim position.
I maintained that among 33 million people, there should be enough talented candidates who meet the language requirements of institutional bilingualism. I was accused of speculating and of not having studies to back up my blind faith in the bilingualism of elite Canadians.
I am disappointed that the clause regarding interim appointments was taken out. It weakens the bill slightly and opens the door to future problems. However, despite my reluctance, I am confident that even in the most extreme cases—although it may not be explicitly required in the bill—future governments will make every effort possible to comply with the language skill requirements, even for interim positions.
Overall, I am satisfied with the final result, even though all the satellite provisions were removed from the bill. The most controversial points of Bill C-419 were debated fairly, but were eliminated for reasons that could be described as short-sightedness. The essence of Bill C-419 remains intact: the list of the 10 officer of Parliament positions that must henceforth be bilingual to comply with the law.
On that point, I never for a moment doubted the good will of everyone who worked on my bill. Parliament is accountable to all Canadians, regardless of their language background, and respect for institutional bilingualism remains one of the fundamental agreements that exists between all Canadians for the future.
Adding this list of 10 positions to the legislation will only strengthen our union. We just added another building block to the structure of our agreement. I was pleased to see how solicitous the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages were in order to come to an agreement.
As a final point, I would like to look ahead to our shared future. What will the Parliament of Canada look like in 2113? That depends on Canadians and on the direction they would like to take. The ground beneath our feet makes up the second-largest country in the world, one that is blessed not only with abundant natural resources, but also tremendous human potential. Our bilingualism is one of those assets. It enables us to be at the forefront of several cultural movements at once. We must not waste our cultural treasures.
If I had just one wish for 2113, it would be that Canada's aboriginal peoples come and join us in the House with the concentrated strength of a cultural and linguistic renaissance. I truly hope that 100 years from now, the languages that emerged from this country's land are more vibrant than ever and are heard in this Parliament every day, in what will truly be a Parliament for all Canadians.
That is why I will conclude by thanking the House in Huron, the language of my riding.
[Member spoke in Huron as follows:]