An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act

An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act

Sponsor

Julie Vignola  Bloc

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

Status

In committee (House), as of June 16, 2021

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-254.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act to clarify the application of the Charter of the French Language in Quebec.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 16, 2021 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-254, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2021 / 3:10 p.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It being 3:10 p.m., pursuant to order made on Monday, January 25, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-254 under Private Members' Business.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from June 10 consideration of the motion that Bill C-254, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 10th, 2021 / 6:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speeches of every one of my colleagues.

To my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite‑Patrie, who suggested protecting French in Quebec by using the Canada Labour Code to give workers the right to file a complaint every time an employer did not comply with Bill 101, I would say that this idea is just a band-aid on a gaping wound. It is not a bad idea, but it will only tie up the union processes that he is quite familiar with, without really fixing the root problem since, despite the complaints, the employer would not feel obligated in the least to use the common and official language of Quebec, French, to communicate with its employees.

To my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska, who is in favour of the bill, but surprised to be debating it in the House of Commons since it falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, I would say that the refusal by federally regulated businesses to comply with the Charter of the French Language, the argument being that federally regulated businesses do not need to follow Quebec laws, justifies in itself that we are forced to legislate in the House of Commons to ensure that businesses respect Quebec, their own employees and the French language.

To my colleague from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who does not see the point of the bill considering the white paper on official languages, I would say that protecting bilingualism will not allow federally regulated businesses to ignore the Charter of the French Language and the common language of Quebec. Even members of the government get around the requirement to offer information sessions and webinars in both official languages by sending invitations through from their parliamentary email account, which is their privilege, rather than using their ministerial email, which would require them to offer translation. Even in the House, asserting the same rights as anglophones can be complicated, and so can filing complaints.

Some would have me believe that Canada will successfully impose on companies located in Quebec what it does not impose on itself. The word that comes to mind is “nonsense”. You would have to be crazy not to understand that Canada wants francophones and Quebeckers to shut up and embrace bilingualism.

To my colleague from Sherbrooke, who says that provincial laws alone are not strong enough and federal laws are absolutely required, besides the fact that this is a paternalistic attitude that I do not like any more than first nations do, I could respond with various examples demonstrating that Quebec laws have more teeth than federal laws. For example, Quebec's environment, labour and consumer protection laws are much more stringent. If federal protections were so strong, a CN employee would not have been fighting in court since 2015 to have his right to work in French acknowledged. If federal protections were so strong, parents would not have had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to obtain equal rights to education in French. There are many examples. I have others. The Official Languages Commissioner says that the public service does not have an inclusive organizational structure in terms of the use of the official languages, and French often becomes the language of translation.

Protecting French here and elsewhere in Canada is important. Bill C-254 does not go against the official languages reform. It completes it and strengthens Quebec, which could be a beacon for all francophone communities.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 10th, 2021 / 5:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, even though I have not had the pleasure of knowing you for very long, I, too, would like to begin my speech by thanking you for your services and wishing you a very well-deserved retirement.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C‑254. I would like to digress somewhat and even look back in time to explain. I apologize in advance if this feels like Groundhog Day for members, but I want to reread some excerpts from question period on November 18, 2020.

The leader of the official opposition asked the Prime Minister the following question through the Chair, obviously, and I quote:

Mr. Speaker, Chelsea Craig is the Quebec president of the Liberal Party of Canada. Ms. Craig recently called Bill 101 oppressive. The Liberals continue to flout Bill 101, 43 years after it was adopted. Why do Liberal leaders continue to undermine French in Quebec?

The Prime Minister answered, and I quote:

Mr. Speaker, I do not need any lectures from a party that still refuses to commit to appointing only bilingual justices to the Supreme Court. We have always done what is necessary to defend the French fact in Canada, including in Quebec, as we said in the throne speech. We know how important it is to promote the French language across the country and also to protect the French language in Quebec, in partnership with the Government of Quebec.

The leader of the official opposition asked the Prime Minister another related question. He said, and I quote:

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint‑Laurent showed considerable contempt for francophones, but no Liberal members from Quebec have spoken out against that. These members are doing nothing to defend the French language. No action has been taken on official languages in five years. Will the Prime Minister introduce a bill on official languages before Christmas, yes or no?

The Prime Minister replied, and I quote:

Mr. Speaker, if the Leader of the Opposition wants to show his commitment to the French language, will he promise today to appoint only bilingual judges to the Supreme Court of Canada? That is something he did not want to do and we will see whether he agrees to do that. We will always be there to defend the French language and defend the French fact in Quebec and across Canada. That is why we deplore the comments made by the member for Saint‑Laurent and that is why we are pleased that she apologized for what she said.

I was so taken aback by that exchange that I felt compelled to post the following on Twitter: “Fascinating question period. The Liberals and Conservatives are arguing over who is the biggest defender of French.” I thought that was excellent proof of the need for a strong Bloc delegation in Ottawa. I would be willing to bet that if the Bloc did not have 32 members in the House, this debate on the issue of protecting the French language would not have happened, or at least certainly not in such a lively manner, hence the importance of having a strong delegation in what is, for us, a foreign parliament.

A little more recently, on the more specific issue of protecting French as language of work, I had the pleasure, if I can put it that way, of an exchange with the Minister of Official Languages as recently as May 25. Once again, I would like to go back in time and have a bit of a groundhog day by quoting that exchange directly:

I said the following:

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill 96, an act to protect French, the official and common language of Quebec, is to ensure compliance with Bill 101. Clause 65 clearly states that any enterprise or employer carrying on its activities in Quebec is subject to the act, and that includes federally regulated enterprises. We know that the Minister of Official Languages is working on her own language reform. Will she clearly state that she has no intention of interfering in any way whatsoever with Quebec's intention to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated enterprises?

To which the minister replied the following:

Mr. Speaker, I thank my esteemed colleague for her question, which gives me an opportunity to remind the House about the government's position on official languages and specifically the protection of the French fact in Quebec and Canada. I want to remind my colleague that we will of course protect the right to work in French and the right to be served in French, as well as francophones' right not to experience discrimination in federally regulated enterprises in Quebec and in regions with a strong francophone presence across the country. I would be happy to work with her to achieve that vision.

Once again, what is the government's vision for protecting the French language? The fact is, its vision protects institutional bilingualism. As I have said in the House, their vision is to do to federal institutions what they did to Air Canada.

The government's white paper provides for the protection of the right to work in French. However, Bill 96, which was enacted in Quebec, does not do that. Bill C‑254 embodies the principle of Bill 96, in other words the fact that the language of work in Quebec is French.

I asked the Minister of Official Languages countless times if she would interfere in what Quebec is doing. I never got a clear answer, hence the importance of Bill C‑254, which I hope will be put to a vote in the House. This vote will leave the government no choice but to clearly express its will, say whether it intends to interfere in what Quebec is doing and challenge its will to apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses.

The government will also have to clearly state whether it is for or against changing the Canada Labour Code to reflect that the federally regulated businesses operating in Quebec are subject to Bill 101. It will also have to indicate whether the preamble to the Official Languages Act will be amended to recognized that French is the official language of Quebec and the common language of Quebec. We will finally know whether the federal government agrees to commit in the Official Languages Act to not obstruct the application of the Charter of the French Language in Quebec. We will finally see whether it agrees to change the Canada Business Corporations Act to clarify that the name of a corporation that conducts business in Quebec must meet the requirements of the Charter of the French Language.

We have been talking non-stop in the House about reforming the Official Languages Act. This is something that the minister wants to do and that the official opposition is asking her to do, and these reforms are not inherently good or bad. It all depends on what that they look like. The devil is in the details, as they say. The role of the Bloc Québécois here is to ensure that the reform of the Official Languages Act does not end up consisting of platitudes that lead nowhere.

We must act quickly to reverse the trend that is taking hold in Quebec. The percentage of Quebeckers who speak French as a first language has dropped below 80% for the first time in more than a century, and the Office québécois de la langue française estimates that this figure could be in the area of 70% by 2036. The use of English among young francophones aged 25 to 44, on the other hand, has doubled in the past 15 years in the greater Montreal area. In Quebec, only 55% of allophones switch languages to French, but that figure needs to be 90% if we want to maintain the relative weight of French.

As the only French-speaking nation in North America, Quebec not only needs to be intransigent, but it also has a responsibility to keep its language alive and well. I want to share a quote from Pierre Bourgault, who said, “when we defend French here in Quebec, we are defending all the languages of the world against the hegemony of one.”

Bill C‑254, introduced by my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou, will not resolve the fate of the French language and its vitality all on its own, but it is a step in the right direction. It is a meaningful step that neither the House nor the French language can afford not to take. That is why I will be very pleased to vote in favour of this bill.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 10th, 2021 / 5:45 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to say that we will support Bill C‑254. I personally support it, and my party does as well.

I would like to share some of my own personal journey, but before that, I would like to say that, under our leaders, from Jack Layton, Nycole Turmel and Thomas Mulcair to the current NDP leader, the member for Burnaby South, the NDP has always supported strengthening the French language. One of our members, Yvon Godin, whom I can name because he is unfortunately no longer in the House of Commons, was one of the most passionate champions of strengthening the French language.

It is clear that this is a common-sense bill that deserves our support. I will get back to that shortly, but it is clear that it makes perfect sense for a worker working in a francophone environment in Quebec to have the right to communicate and have a collective agreement in French, and that is precisely the goal of this bill.

Mr. Speaker, you are a francophile yourself. As you know, I grew up in British Columbia on the traditional territory of the Qayqayt First Nation in New Westminster, right next to Maillardville, home to one of British Columbia's biggest francophone communities. Since childhood, I have seen signs in businesses where everything was written in French. I was fascinated even though I had no way to learn French at the time. There was no immersion school. When I was young, there were French classes, but we all know that one French class a week is not enough to master the language of Molière.

Today, in British Columbia, just a few blocks from where I live, where I am speaking from right now, there is an immersion school, one of the hundreds in British Columbia. Parents often line up for an entire weekend to register their children to learn French and do all their schooling in French. Our passion for the French language is alive and well in British Columbia. With the network of immersion schools, it is clear how well British Columbians speak French, much better than I do, because they completed all their schooling in French, whereas I only started learning French when I was 24.

Also, thanks to a previous NDP government, we have an entire school system, including elementary schools, high schools and schools following the French curriculum, in other words, French-language schools for francophones. I must say that the status of the French language in British Columbia is much better than it was when I was young. I hope that it will be strengthened and that French will be even more present after all these years.

At 24, I finally decided to learn French. I decided to do it in the best possible place, so I went to Chicoutimi. I arrived on January 3 in the middle of a storm. We do not often get storms like that in British Columbia, especially in New Westminster, which is in the greater Vancouver area. I loved learning French and living in Chicoutimi, in the beautiful Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. Then I moved to the Eastern Townships, to Sherbrooke. After that, I went to Montreal, to the east end of the city, Laurier—Sainte-Marie, and finally to the Outaouais, in the riding of Hull—Aylmer. In each of those places, I saw the importance of the services that are always offered to the English-speaking community, everywhere, even in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. I had the choice between the two official languages, even with the Quebec government. I thought it was extremely important that these services be offered in the minority language.

However, I also learned that, right now, if a worker wants to work in French in a federally regulated business, that is left to the discretion of the business. So long as this bill is not in force, businesses have no obligation to provide collective agreements in French or ensure that employees can communicate in French with their employer. We need to address this. We need to provide a framework so that all workers can work in French. It is only natural, and that is why we must support this bill.

I loved the 12 years I spent in Quebec. I had the opportunity to travel all over the province. I learned about how important it is to strengthen the French language, not just in Quebec, but across the entire country.

This brings me to the important point I want to raise about the modernization of the Official Languages Act. This act was adopted 50 years ago, and things have certainly changed since then. We must all work on this issue and develop tools to modernize the language situation across the country.

In my professional life, before becoming a parliamentarian, I often had the opportunity to travel to Atlantic Canada, across Ontario, especially in the north, and through western Canada, in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There are many francophone communities throughout. You might think of Maillardville, or the Saint-Sacrement neighbourhood in Vancouver. There are many francophone neighbourhoods and towns across the country.

However, the Official Languages Act does not meet their needs the way it used to 50 years ago. We have to strengthen and support these communities no matter where they are. Whether in Saint Boniface, in Hearst, in the beautiful and extraordinary region of Acadie—Bathurst, in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou or in Edmundston, we can see there is a remarkable francophone presence there.

Modernizing the Official Languages Act will make it possible for these communities to not only to continue to exist, but also prosper and attract newcomers, new people who will also speak the language of the Molière.

As I mentioned, our late leader Jack Layton, our former leader Thomas Mulcair, our former MP Yvon Godin, our former acting leader Nycole Turmel and, of course, our current leader have all advocated for strengthening the French language.

The NDP believes that strengthening the French language is not something that is done solely at the federal level. NDP governments in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba set up school systems that offer umbrella programs in French-language schools for francophone students and immersion programs so that people can learn French.

NDP members such as Léo Piquette, Elizabeth Weir and Alexa McDonough, when she was the leader in Nova Scotia, also strengthened francophone institutions. It was the former NDP government that did the most for francophone rights in Ontario. It is therefore not just federal NDP MPs who advocate for the need to strengthen the French language. It is the entire party and all of its members, at both the federal and provincial levels.

For all those reasons, I am pleased to support this bill, and I hope that the right to work in French in Quebec will be strengthened.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 10th, 2021 / 5:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise as you preside over the work of the house. This is surely one of the last weeks before the summer break. I would therefore like to say hello to the people of Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, and tell them that it is such a privilege to represent them.

Today we are debating a bill that the Conservative Party intends to support, as mentioned at first reading stage. It is Bill C-254, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act. In my opinion, there is cause for concern.

As we know, Canada is based on a vision of cultural diversity, but also of linguistic identity and duality, and this duality is threatened.

I have some news articles here with me.

An article from the Journal de Montréal entitled “The situation of French in Montreal: a catastrophe. Interview with Frédéric Lacroix” states, “We are in an unprecedented situation where the relative weight of francophones in Quebec is rapidly declining whereas that of anglophones is increasing.”

Charles Castonguay is a leading expert on this issue. He appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. In his hard-hitting book, he bemoaned the fact that the use of French is declining rapidly in Quebec and that French itself is in an unprecedented free fall. Quebec is not the only place where this is happening.

I have here an article by Benjamin Vachet, an excellent journalist with ONFR+, entitled “Déclin du français au Québec: un danger pour tous les francophones?” He notes that only 20% of the country's population speaks French. I am a member of a committee that studied minority language post-secondary institutions, and I can say that all our institutions, be they in northern Ontario, in Saint‑Boniface, on the Campus Saint‑Jean, in Alberta or in Moncton, are experiencing financial pressure. It is time for a complete overhaul of the Official Languages Act, which we have been calling for for years. As we near the end of the session, and with Saint‑Jean‑Baptiste just around the corner, the Liberals are telling us they might introduce a bill. That is nice and all, but we will not be able to pass it.

French is in decline. Canada recognizes French and English as its official languages, but the two are not represented equally.

I am proud to belong to a party that is taking action for official languages and has done so all the way back to Brian Mulroney.

The Official Languages Act is just over 50 years old. Brian Mulroney's government was the one that really gave this legislation some teeth and enabled official language minority communities to become free and independent with the major reform of 1988. That reform entailed much more concrete action than the lip service of 1969.

We can also think about Mr. Harper. He gave Bernard Lord the mandate to come up with the roadmap. The Harper government invested $1 billion, which was then re-invested to support our communities. It also made it possible to recognize Quebec as the cradle of French, francophone culture and French-Canadian culture. Mr. Harper and the Conservative government recognized that Quebec forms a distinct nation within Canada.

I would like to use my time to correct a Liberal mistake.

The Liberals are always saying that the Conservatives did away with the court challenges program and that the Liberals reinstated it. They are forgetting a very important part of the truth: When Stephen Harper's government abolished the court challenges program, it established the language rights support program, which sought to support francophone communities.

Then, the Liberals took office. For 20 months, the communities no longer had an organization to turn to that would defend their rights. It is always important to distinguish between the narrative and the facts. The Conservatives are there to support francophone communities.

Bill C-254 seeks to support the large francophone minority in the English ocean that is North America, namely the Quebec nation. That is based on a choice that Quebec made, the much-talked-about Bill 101 or Charter of the French Language.

In my opinion, the Conservative Party was a little quicker off the mark. This is not the first time the Bloc has introduced this bill. Two months before the bill was introduced, our leader said that it was important that federally regulated institutions in Quebec be able to enforce the Charter of the French Language.

Why is this important? It is important because this linguistic duality is fragile. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, French is in decline in every respect across Canada. The federal government has a constitutional responsibility, and a quasi-constitutional responsibility under the Official Languages Act, to ensure that French has the support and structure it needs to continue to be a tool of vitality and development. In that regard, I can say that there are significant needs at the post-secondary level, even in Quebec. Some big decisions will have to be made.

When our leader met with the Quebec premier in September 2020, he announced his support for the full application of Bill 101 to federally regulated private businesses in Quebec. The bill we are debating was introduced in November 2020.

Our leader promised something that goes much further than the private member's bill we are debating today.

Our political party is committed to modernizing the content of the Official Languages Act and renewing the spirit of the act. The Liberals are telling us that that is what they want to do, but they have not introduced a bill that would do it. We feel it is important to create a new funding envelope for francophone universities in minority settings in the first 100 days of our term.

This is what my leader said about this subject:

As it stands, the act is based on the principle of reciprocity between the two official languages, but if we are being honest, that statement does not reflect reality.... The federal government must develop an asymmetrical approach that prioritizes protecting the French language.

We are seeing a paradigm shift. Not only does the Official Languages Act protect francophones in minority situations, that is francophones outside Quebec, but it also supports Quebec's anglophone minority, which certainly deserves to be supported. The bill we are debating today recognizes this.

However, it is also important to take positive measures to support French and the emancipation of French in Quebec and across the country. That is what fundamental change is all about. On that note, I should mention that the Standing Committee on Official Languages has embarked on this enormous task, and this is just the beginning. We are coming to the end of the session, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

I would also like to mention that the bill that is in front of us would amend the preamble, part VII and section 55 of the Official Languages Act, to have the federal government commit to “enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development” and “fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.”

Essentially, that means that the federal government must not be given this additional responsibility to the detriment of Canada's minorities, whether they are anglophones or francophones. As the saying goes, we must not rob Peter to pay Paul.

Again, it is important to ensure that minorities are promoted in a proactive and asymmetrical way, including francophone minority communities, but it is also important to promote linguistic duality.

In closing, I would like to reach out to the Liberals. Currently, there is only an English version of the fundamental law of our land, the Constitution of 1867. The government is fighting a lawsuit demanding that our country's founding document be accessible in both of our country's official languages. I am calling on the Liberals to ensure that we have a legal French version of the 1867 Constitution. Instead of promising the sun and the moon, they should do something meaningful.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 10th, 2021 / 5:30 p.m.
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Sherbrooke Québec

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by reminding members of some important points we all agree on in this House. It is important to give Canadians the real facts and the real issues so that we can find common ground and common solutions.

First, we agree that French is a minority language in North America and that we need to do more to protect and promote it.

Second, we agree that Quebec deserves special attention within the Canadian francophonie, as the only majority francophone province in the country. The Prime Minister told the House that if we want to ensure a bilingual Canada, we must ensure that Quebec is first and foremost a francophone Quebec.

Third, we agree that the vitality of Canada's francophone communities from coast to coast to coast plays a key role in growing the Canadian francophonie, especially in terms of living and working every day in French.

Last, we agree that the Official Languages Act must be modernized to make it more responsive to the challenges of our time, and we also agree that federal and provincial jurisdictions must be respected in this process.

I would like to invite my colleagues to refocus our debate on the fundamental facts and issues behind Bill C-254. I agreed with my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou when she stated during the first debate that the recognition of the importance of promoting the use of French must come from all sides, including citizens, businesses and also all levels of government.

Since we are in agreement on these fundamental issues, then we just need to debate the most effective means of achieving our common objectives and propose reforms for Canada's language regime as a whole. We also agree that reforms that apply to all federal legislation, in both the economic and the cultural sectors, are more effective than a single provincial law.

I want to be very clear on that point. Some of our colleagues believe that language of work is strictly a provincial jurisdiction and that only the provinces should pass legislation in that regard. Our government disagrees. We firmly believe that if we are to ensure the vitality of Canada's francophonie, it is imperative that we have a strong Canada-wide language regime that protects French both within and outside Quebec.

As Canadians, we are deeply attached to our two official languages, which are an integral part of our collective identity. We also agree that, although the passage of the Official Languages Act in 1969 transformed the face of federal institutions, it did not put an end to the evolution of the Canadian linguistic landscape. We all know that, despite the great progress that has been made at the federal, provincial and territorial levels over the past 50 years, significant challenges remain.

That is exactly why our government initiated a far-reaching effort to modernize the Official Languages Act after much consultation with francophone and anglophone Canadians, communities, businesses, experts and partners in order to propose a modernized and strengthened act. This act will be effective at countering the decline of French, protecting our communities and guaranteeing the vested language rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is important to remember that the modernization of the Official Languages Act and its related instruments also applies to federally regulated private businesses, the same ones that are targeted by Bill C‑254. The modernization of the act affects these businesses both within and outside Quebec.

In this age of globalization and labour market integration, protecting French as a language of work needs to happen from the top down with a clear, strong, coherent Canada-wide language regime. That is our government's position.

In that regard, our position has been clearly and publicly articulated. We announced a suite of very concrete legislative and administrative proposals with one clear objective: to promote the equal status of the official languages in federally regulated private businesses and, most importantly, to protect the right to work in French in Quebec and in all regions of the country with a strong francophone presence.

In addition, with respect to language of service, the government is proposing to give consumers of goods and services the right to be informed and served in French in all federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and in regions with a strong francophone presence.

To ensure that the new language of work and service rights are meaningful and effective, they will be supported by recourse mechanisms. The government took the time to listen to the expert panel tasked with developing recommendations regarding possible recourse for workers and consumers, the criteria for recognition of regions with a strong francophone presence, and the implementation of the government's commitments and the relevant legislative instruments.

As a result of all these analyses, the government's proposals for Canada's next language regime clearly go much further and extend beyond the framework proposed by Bill C‑254. Specifically, with respect to federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and in regions with a strong francophone presence, we will give workers the right to carry out their activities in French. We will require employers to communicate with their employees in French and to publish job postings, collective agreements and arbitration decisions in French. We will prohibit discrimination against any employee solely because they do not speak French. We go even further. With respect to language of service to the public, the next Official Languages Act will ensure that consumers of goods and services of federally regulated private businesses will have the right to be informed and served in French, in Quebec and in regions designated as having a strong francophone presence.

To promote French in Canada, it is important that the federal government maintain its power and encourage private businesses under its jurisdiction to implement measures. In turn, these measures will have to increase the active use of French as the language of service and the language of work across the country.

I would like to reassure my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou that, when it comes to protecting French in Quebec, her objectives are also ours. She agrees with our government that this is not about taking away the rights of English-speaking Quebeckers, but about protecting and promoting French.

For that reason, I cordially invite her and our opposition colleagues to join us in our efforts to modernize the Official Languages Act and to support our bill, which will soon be introduced in the House. This means agreeing to abandon Bill C‑254 and its provincial limitations.

The House resumed from April 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-254, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Official LanguagesOral Questions

June 3rd, 2021 / 2:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am hearing that my colleague wants to protect French in Quebec, and I am offering to help her. What the federal government can do is ensure that federally regulated businesses provide a French-language workplace, which only Bill 101 can do.

That is why the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-254, which would apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses. My colleague says that she wants to protect French and I would like to help. Will she vote for our bill?

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2021 / 6:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Beaulieu Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for introducing this bill, which would make federally regulated businesses subject to Bill 101. This is the fourth time this type of bill has been introduced in the House.

I want to start by saying that the principles of the Official Languages Act are at odds with those of Quebec's Charter of the French Language. The purpose of the charter is to make French the common language in the workplace. French must not only be the primary language of work, but it must also be used when people who speak different languages have to communicate with each other. In the rest of Canada, English is used in these cases.

Almost all authorities recognize that the two language planning models are in opposition. Studies of such models around the world show that systems based on institutional bilingualism and individual rights—as is the case with the federal government's linguistic policy, the Official Languages Act—invariably lead to the assimilation of the minority languages.

Most countries operate in one common language, the official language. Places where there are a number of national languages and where we do not see the assimilation of minority languages are places where the language management approach is based on collective territorial rights. That is the case in Belgium, Switzerland and many other countries. In a given territory, the official language is the common language, the language of public institutions. However, that does not prevent people from learning any number of second languages and getting by quite well.

As soon as the Official Languages Act was implemented, we saw an increased rate of francophone assimilation and language transfer toward English, which grew with every census.

Outside of Quebec, approximately 40% of people whose mother tongue is French use English as their main language at home. That is also becoming increasingly common in Quebec.

Until just recently, the federal government denied that French was in decline. The Liberals were saying that everything was fine and that Canada is a model for the treatment of linguistic minorities. However, we are witnessing the decline of French everywhere, including in Quebec. We are pleased that the government finally admitted that in the throne speech. However, since the government did not provide any statistics, it is all still quite vague. The Minister of Official Languages presented a proposal for reform, but that is still just good intentions, just rhetoric.

The reality check was the Bloc Québécois's bill requiring knowledge of French to obtain citizenship. They opposed it. Now, they are preparing to vote against the application of Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses.

To date, in Quebec, the Official Languages Act has only served to promote and defend English, as evidenced by previous throne speeches. We know that programs based on the Official Languages Act, such as the development of official-language communities program, the enhancement of official languages program and the official languages health program, receive between $80 million and $100 million a year, paid for by federal taxes collected from Quebec. This only serves to strengthen the English language. One hundred per cent of amounts allocated to these programs only serve to strengthen the English language. That clearly does not help in any way.

The Government of Quebec has stated its expectations for the modernization of the Official Languages Act. The government is primarily asking that Quebec have sole authority over linguistic development and management in the province. It is also asking for recognition of the fact that, of the two official languages, French is the only one in a minority position across Canada. This implies full respect for the legislative authority and the specific responsibilities of Quebec with respect to language.

Our bill moves us in that direction. For example, we are asking to change the preamble of the Official Languages Act to recognize that French is the official language of Quebec and the common language in Quebec. We are also asking that the Government of Canada undertake not to obstruct the objectives of the French language, specifically positive measures, that the federal government spending that only serves to strengthen the English language be changed, and that all this be done with the approval of the Government of Quebec, and not on a unilateral basis.

Virtually none of this is present in what we have seen of the good intentions of the Minister of Official Languages. We need only to read all the proposals. The Liberal government is saying that it will amend the Official Languages Act instead so that federally regulated businesses afford a greater degree of respect to the French language.

On the one hand, as we speak, the Government of Quebec is preparing to strengthen Bill 101. That means that it is trailing behind the federal government with regard to these businesses. On the other hand, even within federal institutions, we can see that French is far from being the common language.

At the Standing Committee on Official Languages, we heard from people from the Quebec office of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. They explained that systemic and deep-rooted discrimination exists within the federal government and that, even in Quebec, their members sometimes struggled to be able to work in French.

A study by the Commissioner of Official Languages even found that 44% of francophones living in designated bilingual regions do not feel comfortable working in French. I have witnessed this first-hand. People working at transportation companies, which are not subject to Bill 101 but rather to the Official Languages Act, have reached out to me. They were unable to work in French, and were even given safety instructions in English.

André Dionne, a long-time employee of the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, complained for 30 years that he could not work in French. Every time he needed to communicate with his team of investigators in Toronto, he was forced to do so in English. He took his case to court, but lost. He was told that the Official Languages Act did not apply to him because he was part of a majority.

The Official Languages Act is for so-called official language minorities. In Quebec, only anglophones are recognized as a minority. Even the UN does not recognize them as a minority because they are part of the English-Canadian majority.

The right to ensure the future and vitality of a language is a fundamental principle of the self-determination of peoples. This is really incredible. People sometimes tell me that it is because of the Constitution, but the 1982 Constitution was forced on Quebec. No Quebec premier signed it.

The government constantly promotes institutional bilingualism, and that shows no sign of changing. The Bloc Québécois wants the federal government to, at the very least, stop hurting French in Quebec, but that has not happened. I strongly urge my fellow Quebeckers to take a good look at what is happening.

Bill C-254 would not fix everything, but it is a small step in the right direction. If even that small step is too much for the Liberals and they manage to block this bill, I think we can draw some conclusions from that. We will have to accept that it is impossible.

They say we are a majority. As long as Quebec is not a country, we are not a majority but a minority subordinate to the federal government. The federal government is using its spending power and its legal authority to impose English everywhere and make Quebec bilingual. That has to stop.

Right now, Bill C-254 just might pass because the opposition parties support it. We really have to do our best to rally and make sure everyone is here to vote and pass it. It would be [inaudible].

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2021 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues who spoke this evening, and I especially want to thank my Bloc Québécois colleague, the member for Beauport—Limoilou, for introducing Bill C-254.

This bill is very similar to others that the NDP supported in 2007, 2009 and 2011. We introduced two similar bills ourselves. I will get to that later.

We may not agree on the process or way of doing things, but we do agree on the objective, which is fundamental for any francophone in Quebec and North America. We need provisions that not only guarantee equality and equal rights, but that also ensure that the resources required to protect and defend French are allocated.

Let me remind the House that, outside Quebec, French is definitely a minority compared to the U.S. cultural behemoth, which I might even call U.S. cultural imperialism. We see this more and more with social media and the new digital platforms that are invading our lives, entering our homes and invading the lives of our children and teens. We must work together to move forward and ensure that French will be defended and not just survive, but thrive and continue to enrich our lives.

I say this in light of the many debates in Quebec about living together in harmony. We use a variety of terms and definitions. Recently, I spoke in the House about the concept of interculturalism, which is part of the NDP's statutes and bylaws. We recognize that it is a way of expressing the concept of living together in harmony that is unique to Quebec and on which everyone agrees. I remember the words of Gérard Bouchard, the well-known historian, who wrote a great book about interculturalism. He said that it contained some fundamental elements, like the idea of a common foundation. In this common foundation, there is equality between men and women. This equality applies to all citizens, male and female, regardless of the colour of their skin, their religion, their sexual orientation, or whether they have been here for two years or 200 years.

Then there is democracy. We have a government elected by citizens. That is a part of our fundamental values. We have representative, democratic parliamentary institutions, we have freedom of expression during election campaigns, and we have the ability to form political parties.

The third part of this common foundation is the French language as the customary language, the common language, the public language and the language of work. That brings us to the crux of the issue. I believe we have a chance to solve a problem that has been dragging on for far too long.

I think that our love and affection for the French language and our desire to preserve it were recently expressed in the House. I moved a motion to recognize the fragility and decline of the French language in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, and it was unanimously adopted by all 338 parliamentarians, including the members from all of the political parties represented here and the independent members.

We took a strong stand on this in the past, foreshadowing what we would do in the future. In 2005, the NDP adopted the Sherbrooke declaration. I will not read it in its entirety because it is dozens of pages long, but here is an excerpt: “The national character of Québec is based primarily...on: 1. a primarily Francophone society in which French is recognized as the language of work and the common public language”. That was a fundamental value for us, and we voted accordingly five times, on three Bloc Québécois bills and two NDP bills.

Here is why it is so important. Earlier, our Conservative Party colleague gave some statistics about the number of Quebeckers working in federally regulated businesses. We are talking about big banks, telecommunications companies, airlines and shipping companies, among others. We could bicker about the statistics, but a large percentage of them already apply the spirit, if not the letter, of the Charter of the French Language. What we want to avoid is inequity when it comes to the language rights of workers.

Right now, there is a two-tier system where most Quebeckers are covered by the Charter of the French Language, but about 10% of the workforce is not, because it is not recognized.

The NDP protects and promotes the French language throughout Quebec and across the rest of Canada in francophone minority communities.

However, we also stand up for the rights of workers. Our political party was founded largely by the union movement and the labour movement, so working conditions and workers' rights are very important to us.

There is a bizarre situation that has existed for several years. Employees of Caisses Desjardins have the right to work in French and to communicate with their employer in French. Of course, that would not normally be a problem. However, people who work for the big Canadian banks do not enjoy the same rights and are not entitled to the same protections. A manager, assistant manager, department, new employer or new boss at a bank could suddenly decide to send their emails in English and hold their meetings in English. If that happened, it would be hard for employees to assert their rights because the Charter of the French Language does not apply to their employer and they have no recourse under the Official Languages Act or the Canada Labour Code.

The NDP has chosen to take a slightly different approach to this. Our desire to stand up for the French language stems from the right of all workers to have similar access, recourse and defences.

This bill could give rise to a problem. I heard my colleague from the Conservative Party say earlier that we should not be afraid because it would probably not happen, but if provincial language laws are allowed to take precedence over the Official Languages Act, there could be cases where the language rights of francophones outside Quebec are violated. I mentioned this concern earlier when I asked a question, and it has been raised by the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne. Obviously, that is not what we want to happen.

It might be much simpler and safer for the Canada Labour Code to give Quebec workers the same protections laid out in Quebec's Charter of the French Language without compromising the potential recourse available under the Official Languages Act to minority francophones.

As the member for Beauport—Limoilou said, it would be despicable to use a debate on this issue to make things worse for minority francophones. I share her concern, and I would be just as angry if that happened, so I would like us to be prudent as we seek to achieve the greatest possible benefit while minimizing unintended consequences and negative outcomes.

Getting back to the issue of protecting French, I am coming up on 10 years as an MP, and I want to remind the House that, in recent years, the NDP has fought for greater recognition and protection for French. I talked about the motion that was unanimously adopted a few months ago.

I also want to remind everyone that the NDP introduced a bill requiring all officers of Parliament to be bilingual. That bill was passed. Officers of Parliament include the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General. That progress came about thanks to the NDP's initiative.

For years we have been calling for Supreme Court justices to be bilingual, to be able to understand and speak French. We believe it is part of the fundamental right to defence. In a country that has two official languages, judges on the highest court of the land should be able to understand us.

It is odd that when it comes to protecting francophone workers in federally regulated businesses, Supreme Court justices and the modernization of the Official Languages Act, it seems like the Liberals have just woken up after a 10-year nap, just in time for an election. My guess is that this might be a political calculation. The Liberals have been in power for nearly seven years. They started off with a majority government, and now they have a minority government. Despite their promise to introduce legislation to modernize the Official Languages Act, the Liberals have done nothing more than present a working document that will result in more consultations. The government just completely changed its position on the rights of francophones working in federally regulated businesses and on having bilingual justices on the Supreme Court.

We have to be cautious. Let us judge the Liberal government on its actions and on the way it votes on various bills. Let us see what it will do to save Laurentian University and the University of Sudbury in order to uphold the rights of francophones in northern Ontario.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2021 / 6 p.m.
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Conservative

Alain Rayes Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be in the House today to speak about Bill C-254, introduced by my colleague from the Bloc Québécois. At the same time, I am surprised that we are talking about it here, in the House, because Bill 101 is a Quebec provincial law.

That said, it is still commendable for wanting to ensure the federal government does not interfere in provincial jurisdiction, especially since, only a few moments ago, we heard the Liberal member try to use any means possible to divert the debate toward the modernization of the two official languages. In fact, that is another extremely important subject that the Liberal government should concentrate on to deliver the bill that we have been awaiting for many years.

Let us get back to the substance of Bill C-254. Its main purpose is essentially to ensure that the federal government does not interfere or contest Quebec's objective of protecting and promoting the French language. Indeed, as it has been so aptly said, Quebec is the only place in America where French is the primary language. Quebec is a francophone province, while New Brunswick is bilingual and the other provinces in Canada are English-speaking, as is every U.S. state.

The Government of Quebec's desire and goal to protect and promote French are commendable and legitimate because, unlike what some may think, French is in decline in Quebec. It is true that there are francophone communities across Canada and that we need to protect and help them. That is set out in the Canadian Constitution and is part of the federal government's role. Quebec, on the other hand, needs to work to promote and protect the French language and make sure that all the conditions are in place so that every individual, family and worker can live a full life in French in Quebec. I applaud my colleague's initiative in that sense.

However, I will repeat that, although we are discussing it here in the Parliament of Canada, this issue falls under provincial jurisdiction, and it is part of the Conservative Party's DNA to not interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction. That is why our leader wasted no time in telling Premier François Legault that a Conservative government will work with Quebec and help it implement administrative measures, but that there will be no challenges from us.

We support this initiative. We encourage it and commend Quebec for making such a great effort to protect and promote the French fact and to make sure that workers are able to work in French in federally regulated businesses in Quebec.

My colleague gave a very good example. If there are 10 francophones and one anglophone in a room, everyone will accommodate the anglophone. We know very well that this type of thing would not happen elsewhere.

I would like to respond to a concern the NDP will raise as a reason for not supporting such a bill. The NDP will cite fears that people in other English-speaking provinces will use it as another excuse to attack Quebec. It reminds me of childish taunts like “my dad is stronger than yours” or “whatever you do to me, I will do right back to you”. If someone jumps off a cliff, should I follow, like a sheep? I do not believe that. Why not?

First, it is because people are smart. It is natural to want to defend one's language, and people will not sink to that level. Second, it is because there is a country, Canada, that has two official languages and has a law called the Official Languages Act, and we have been waiting for years for it to be modernized.

Consultations were held by the Senate, the Standing Committee on Official Languages and the Commissioner of Official Languages. All the francophone advocacy groups in the country have been consulted and have submitted their recommendations. We all expected a bill before the holidays.

In a surprise move, our Minister of Official Languages decided to water it down and instead tabled a white paper, a consultation document. Our Liberal colleague doubled down on this earlier by trying to shift the debate, saying that we should look at this as part of the big picture of the Official Languages Act.

I disagree. Bill 101 is a provincial statute, and Quebec is responsible for promoting and protecting French. That is the essence of the bill introduced by my Bloc Québécois colleague because this is Quebec's responsibility.

For people who are into numbers, this would affect about 200,000 workers in Quebec. Nearly half of the private, federally regulated businesses in Quebec already have administrative agreements and respect Bill 101 or have made appropriate arrangements. I think Quebec wants to send a strong signal about the importance of French and is working hard to do that. We should all be very proud of that.

Our country is blessed with a francophone province, Quebec; a bilingual province, New Brunswick, with its many francophone Acadian communities; and francophone communities in Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario. They all champion this wonderful language and are trying to make things better for people all across the country.

I invite the Liberal government to show some courage and clearly state that it supports Quebec in this initiative. Let it stop using all sorts of speeches to deflect the issue. I invite the NDP to do the same, to clearly state that it agrees with Quebec applying Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses in Quebec. I could write down what I just said and send it to the NDP so that it can make an official statement. That would solve the problem once and for all.

Then we would not be forced to debate the issue this evening because, I repeat, it is a provincial jurisdiction. We must respect the Quebec government, which was legitimately elected by its own people. Federal MPs from Quebec, whether Liberal, Bloc, NDP or Conservative, were all elected by those very same people, whose choices deserve respect.

Conservatives agree that Bill 101 should apply to federally regulated businesses. We think that the Canadian Parliament should not put up obstacles in Quebec, or any other province that wants to implement legislation in their jurisdiction. We should instead be proud of these provinces and encourage them. We should be their partner.

I urge the Liberal government and the Minister of Official Languages to introduce a binding bill on official languages that acknowledges the challenges faced by francophones living in Quebec, since these challenges are not exclusive to francophones outside of Quebec.

The Minister of Official Languages will not stop promoting the white paper she presented early this year. However, her government's budget does not allocate a single cent to help francophones in Quebec. The Liberal government claims to be proud of francophones in Quebec. It claims to be proud of having almost 40 MPs from Quebec, 10 of whom are ministers.

I am not going to get into the WE Charity scandal, in which the Liberals awarded an untendered contract to an organization that could not process French applications. I will also not get into the COVID-19 tests for foreign workers, which are being administered by a Toronto company that is unable to provide services in French in Quebec. The Minister of Labour was so proud to announce this week that this issue would be fixed as of April 28.

This pandemic has been going on for over a year. The Liberal government needs to get moving and implement its powerful Official Languages Act for all francophones across the country, and it needs to let Quebec enforce Bill 101 in federally regulated businesses. That is all we are asking for. We want it to support this bill.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2021 / 5:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to share with the House a few remarks about Bill C-254, which was introduced by my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou, with whom I have the good fortune of serving on the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. We are missing a committee meeting right now because we are both giving speeches here in the House.

I heard my colleague mention francophone and Quebec culture, and I also want to point out the work and accomplishments of a great Franco-Ontarian, Bob Hartley, who just won the Gagarin Cup. He is from Hawkesbury, in my community, and I want to congratulate him before I begin my speech.

Bill C-254 was introduced before our reform document on the Official Languages Act, which was released in February 2021.

That is an important consideration in determining our strategy, as a government, on the best way to protect French across the country, including Quebec, in the workplace and in our cultural and community life. Our strategy was developed following exhaustive analyses of the concerns expressed by Canadians, stakeholders, and provincial and territorial governments, as well as on the studies of parliamentary committees.

Our strategy essentially aims to strengthen our official language communities across the country, but also to protect the vitality of the French language wherever it is spoken in Canada, from coast to coast to coast.

These are not just intentions or wishful thinking, but a formal recognition of the undeniable fact that French is a minority language in North America and that it deserves to be protected by any means necessary. We have followed through by making 56 proposals, including 33 concrete legislative proposals to reform Canada's official languages regime as a whole.

These proposals include options for modernization specifically to strengthen the place and status of French across Canada, as well as to protect this language in workplaces with a strong francophone presence, including in Quebec, where French is the official language.

I am sure my colleagues have had an opportunity to scrutinize the document we released on the reform of the Official Languages Act. I would still like to highlight a few of the key measures proposed by our government to strengthen the place of French within our businesses and in service to Canadians.

Our first proposal is that the next version of our act recognize linguistic dynamics in the provinces and territories, including the official status of French in Quebec, bilingualism in New Brunswick, and all the provinces' efforts and accomplishments relating to official languages.

We then put forward no fewer than five legislative and administrative measures laying out how we will work with the provinces and territories to improve opportunities to learn both official languages, including French, of course.

Third, we proposed a suite of legislative and administrative measures to strengthen institutions in official language minority communities across the country, with a special focus on francophone communities from coast to coast to coast.

I really want to highlight the fourth proposal in our modernization document today. It relates directly and specifically to the issue of protecting French throughout Canada, including in Quebec. Our proposals include recognizing the predominant use of English in Canada and North America and the fact that, given this context, it is imperative that French receive increased protection and promotion.

We also proposed strong, concrete measures that list areas in which the federal government can take action to protect and promote French in Canada, such as broadcasting, culture and diplomacy. That is not all. Another of our proposals is to recognize the importance of the contribution of francophone immigration to the vitality of French and francophone minority communities and to legislate the government's obligations in this specific area.

This last point is so important to my community. We have to increase francophone immigration outside Quebec and attract francophones to our communities, including the one I represent. I am proud to have a welcoming francophone community, Hawkesbury, in my riding.

All of the measures identified and detailed in our modernization document will help achieve my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou's objectives, those of Bill C-254, and much more besides.

In this case, I think it is worth highlighting our proposal about official languages and federally regulated private businesses, including those established in Quebec.

Our government fully understands the key role that Quebec plays within the Canadian francophonie, and we believe that the private sector in Quebec has a role to play in protecting and promoting the French language in Quebec and in the rest of the country. Our government primarily expects federally regulated private business to play this key role.

Our reform document is crystal clear. Specifically, we are committed to specifying the federal government's power to encourage federally regulated private businesses to promote the equal status of the official languages in order to increase the use of French as a language of service and work everywhere in the country.

We propose some concrete measures to achieve this commitment. We will give workers the right to carry out their activities in French in federally regulated private businesses established in Quebec and in other regions with a strong francophone presence in the country, including in my community. We will also oblige the employer to communicate with its employees at least as much in French as in English in federally regulated private businesses established in Quebec and in other regions with a strong francophone presence.

We will vigorously prohibit discrimination against an employee solely because he or she speaks only French or does not have sufficient knowledge of a language other than French in federally regulated private businesses established in Quebec and in other regions with a strong francophone presence in the country.

The Government of Canada, its public service, its businesses and its Crown corporations must be exemplary in their implementation of the Official Languages Act across Canada, including Quebec. The issue of businesses under federal jurisdiction in Quebec and in regions with a strong francophone presence in the country is important to us, particularly to give consumers of goods and services the right to be informed and served in French.

Our reform document mentions the creation of a committee of experts to develop recommendations with respect to the implementation of these commitments, after consulting with unions, employers and relevant stakeholders on modernizing the Official Languages Act. This committee is at work and will wrap up by April 30, a few days from now. We are certain that it will submit meaningful recommendations for a modern act that will be up to the challenge of protecting French for years to come.

In addition to all these major legislative and administrative measures, it goes without saying that the Government of Canada, its public service and its Crown corporations will have to ensure an exemplary implementation of the act across Canada and Quebec.

As we study Bill C-254, we cordially invite the House to consider the broader context of modernizing the Official Languages Act and its related instruments to protect French from coast to coast to coast.

As a Franco-Ontarian, I am pleased to share my opinion and the government's opinion of Bill C-254 with you.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2021 / 5:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very relevant and interesting question.

Indeed, the white paper does not go far enough. The best way to put words into action and walk the talk is to support the passage of Bill C-254, so that federal institutions in Quebec will apply the Charter of the French language.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

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

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.