Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the private member's bill, Bill C-226, introduced by the member for Montcalm, whom I have always found to be an intelligent and respectful debater, even if we do not share the same vision for our Canadian federalism. He always makes his interventions about ideas, and that is fundamental to a healthy democracy.
Bill C-226 asks the House to support an amendment to the Canadian Multiculturalism Act that would make the act not applicable in Quebec. It is important to mention that official bilingualism and multiculturalism in this country share the same origins. That is the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which did its work between 1963 and 1969. The commissioners believed, in fact, that official bilingualism and multiculturalism could be mutually reinforcing, and they were so very right.
Through its multicultural policy adopted in 1971, the federal government recognized diversity as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and as a pillar of our value system. However, it was also made clear that the advancement of multiculturalism throughout Canada had to be made in harmony with the national commitment to the official languages of Canada. Built not only on the contributions of indigenous peoples and the two official language communities, French and English, the fabric of Canada owes much to the contributions of the many ethnocultural communities and new immigrants who have come to make a life in this country over the span of decades.
By way of background, the Canadian multiculturalism policy was enshrined in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in 1988, and all provincial and territorial governments are subject to its application, including Quebec. The act, which is now 33 years old, provides the framework for federal responsibilities and activities designed to bring Canadians closer together and promote mutual respect and appreciation among Canadians of different backgrounds. The act has been central in creating harmonious relations among Canadians of different backgrounds, and it has helped strengthen the country's social fabric.
Quebec is the only province in Canada that promotes interculturalism as an approach to integration and cross-cultural understanding. Broadly speaking, Quebec's vision and policy of interculturalism propose a model of integration that aims to ensure the continuity of the francophone identity and culture, while still respecting minority cultures, that is, diversity, and the contributions they make to modern Quebec society.
In 1990, a policy statement on immigration and integration entitled “Let's Build Quebec Together” set the parameters of Quebec's policy of interculturalism. Developed by the Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion of Quebec, the document reaffirms that interculturalism and adapting institutions to the values of diversity and reasonable accommodation are key parts of Quebec's approach to integration.
As the Prime Minister often says, “we are strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them.” As many scholars and academics have noted, linguistic duality is at the heart of our Canadian values of inclusiveness and diversity. Accommodating two languages has fostered greater openness in Canadian society toward other cultures. The Official Languages Act and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act go hand in hand in defining the values that Canada represents on the world stage.
In 2021, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Canada's multiculturalism policy, which was introduced in the House of Commons by former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. This will be an opportunity to remember who we are and what unites us.
It is important and, indeed, crucial to note that multiculturalism and interculturalism are not incompatible. They are not really opposites. One does not exclude the other. Both attach great importance to integrating and respecting common civic and democratic values, and both have been invaluable to Canada's social fabric since the 1970s.
I would add that Canada's federal multiculturalism policy is flexible enough to allow for the two concepts, multiculturalism and interculturalism, to coexist. It is very important for the Government of Canada that Canadians in all provinces and territories act in accordance with the country's core values, such as openness to diversity, inclusion and respect for others. In that regard, multiculturalism, like our official languages, is often perceived to be a fundamental social pillar that the government is committed to defending and promoting.
Bill C-226 reminds us that Quebeckers form a nation and therefore possess all the tools and power needed to define their identity and protect three common and essential values, namely, the protection of the French language, the separation of church and state and gender equality. For those reasons, the member for Montcalm is suggesting that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act should not apply to Quebec. However, if we analyze the federal legislation carefully, we see that those three principles hold a very important, and even fundamental, place in it.
First, the application of the act does not exclude the protection of the French language. Immigrant heritage languages cannot be enhanced, as suggested in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, without strengthening the status and use of both official languages. What is more, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, like the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, guarantees freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, while ensuring those freedoms are not endangered.
Second, because of this interpretation of pluralism, which is based on reasonable accommodation, the federal government has the ability to maintain the neutrality of the state, since it does not favour majority religious beliefs over minority ones.
The Multiculturalism Act repeatedly points to gender equality as a fundamental principle of Canadian society. Exempting Quebec from the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, as called for in Bill C-226, could have major consequences.
It would reduce access to the multiculturalism funding program by Quebec's ethnocultural and religious communities. Exempting Quebec from the Multiculturalism Act would also compromise the federal government's ability to promote a consistent shared set of national values and support the overall objectives of the act. Passage of this bill will most certainly lead to discussions about competing anti-multiculturalism ideologies across the country, which is hardly desirable.
This bill is also an attempt to undermine the application of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Quebec, given that section 17 of the charter officially refers to multiculturalism as a Canadian value. The bill is actually trying to do this without invoking the section 33 notwithstanding clause, which requires an official request by the province. I would note that the Government of Quebec has made no such request.
I will conclude by reminding the House that the position put forward by Bill C-226 is not supported by all Quebeckers and all Quebec governments. In 2017, the Quebec government published an official document that outlines its vision of itself within Canada. The document, entitled “Policy on Québec Affirmation and Canadian Relations”, remains current and has been endorsed by two successive governments. It states, “Québec has been able to grow and develop its national identity within the Canadian federal framework.” This clearly implies that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act is not impeding Quebec or its development in any way.
The Canadian Multiculturalism Act makes Canada a stronger, more united and more inclusive country, and it must be protected.
Whichever way we cut it, we are a country of minorities. This reality, and the awareness of this reality, is what gives us, as Canadians, our wise perspective, a perspective that in my view is the recipe for success in the postmodern world. It is what keeps us from the—