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

Second reading (House), as of April 28, 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.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

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

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

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

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

moved 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.

Madam Speaker, I am both proud and humbled to begin, with my colleagues, the second reading of Bill C-254, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act, to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated workplaces.

I am proud because I care deeply about French and this bill could be a way to help this beautiful language with the accent of the Americas to be more highly valued and to flourish. I am proud because I am keeping the commitments that were so dear to my grandmother, Cécile Gagnon-Vignola, a proud protector of the French language. Finally, I am humbled because this bill continues the work that has been done by my great predecessors, from Camille Laurin to my colleague Mario Beaulieu.

What is more—

Official LanguagesOral Questions

December 9th, 2020 / 2:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, in an unprecedented, historic move, six former premiers of Quebec issued a clear and concise letter demanding that the Charter of the French Language apply to federally regulated businesses.

In agreement are the unanimous National Assembly, the Conservative Party, if I understand correctly, certainly the Bloc Québécois, and possibly the now self-professed member for “Montreal”.

I would like to know if the Prime Minister of Canada intends to put the Bloc Québécois's Bill C-254 to a vote.

Canada Labour CodeRoutine Proceedings

November 24th, 2020 / 10:05 a.m.
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Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-254, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act.

Mr. Speaker, today, I have the honour to introduce a bill to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act so that federally regulated businesses in Quebec respect the Charter of the French Language and implement measures to promote the use of French as the main language at work.

This is a matter of respect for one of Canada's founding peoples and a way to promote one of the things that makes Quebec unique. No one can deny that what makes Paris unique is the fact that people are welcomed there and able to work there in French. It only makes sense that such should also be the case in Quebec, the last great bastion of the French language in North America. We should be proud of this language and do everything possible to positively promote it every day.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)