Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion moved by the member for Beloeil—Chambly.
I am pleased to pick up where the minister left off in talking about the reform of the Official Languages Act. I want to start by highlighting how important it is to build upon Canada's official languages in this process.
We know that our two official languages, French and English, are inextricably linked to our history and our identity. They are used in all of our conversations, activities and projects. They also help us express our culture, which is made up of and enriched by many different cultures. All of these cultures are at the very heart of the social contract that binds us all as Canadians.
French and English, along with the indigenous languages, enrich this country so much and inspired Parliament to adopt the first version of the Official Languages Act in 1969.
Since the passage of this act, various measures and amendments have allowed us to strengthen both the official languages framework and the measures defining their use in the public service. Of course, the most important contribution to official languages is without question their entrenchment in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Official Languages Act and other linguistic measures, including the court challenges program and the language rights support program, paved the way for incredible gains.
Among other things, we have seen the establishment of institutional bilingualism, enabling francophones across the country to access services in their mother tongue. We have also seen the emergence of a new generation of Canadians who were able to get an education in the minority official language, something their parents were unable to do. We have seen members of official language minority communities assert their rights and support the development and vitality of their community.
Many civil servants were able to learn the other official language in order to support the delivery of adapted services, while measures were taken to allow francophones and anglophones to find a job and advance their career in federal institutions.
Back when the act was passed, who would have thought French immersion schools would be so popular?
The whole country can see how far we have come, but the situation has changed rapidly in recent years. We have observed that, despite our efforts, the use of French has declined across Canada. Because of its minority status in North America, we have always had to be vigilant and focused. Over the past few years, the Internet and social media have become pervasive, international trade has advanced and every aspect of our lives has been digitized. All these factors unduly favour the use of English.
It is time to take action. This new reality has created an array of needs and expectations, as well as new responsibilities for us. A responsible government must study the situation, review its positions, develop solutions and consult Canadians about the best approach. That is exactly what we did.
In February, our efforts to that end resulted in the publication of our reform proposal, entitled “English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada”, which the minister referred to.
In addition, this morning, after extensive efforts, the Minister of Official Languages introduced in Parliament Bill C-32, an act for the substantive equality of French and English and the strengthening of the Official Languages Act. This bill confirms the commitments made by our government in the throne speech and the 2021 budget statement. It fulfills the vision we presented in February, a vision that was favourably received by official language communities and by many community and government stakeholders.
We are convinced that, in a modern society like ours, and given our ambition to build a just society, all Canadians need to see themselves reflected in the Official Languages Act. Anglophone parents must be able to enrol their children in French immersion. The government must meet the expectations of francophones, both in Quebec and across Canada, and it must properly promote and protect the French language.
Francophones must have the right to work in their mother tongue everywhere in Quebec and in regions with a strong francophone presence elsewhere in the country.
Immigration is quickly changing Canada's demographics, and the government needs to attract immigrants who speak French to both Quebec and other areas. The government also needs to support official language minority communities, both anglophones in Quebec and francophones outside Quebec, so that they have strong institutions that will ensure their vitality and survival.
Finally, the federal government needs to set an example. The public service needs to offer real services in both official languages. CBC/Radio-Canada needs to play its role as a key cultural institution, the Commissioner of Official Languages must be given more powers, and finally, judges of the Supreme Court of Canada must be bilingual.
We want to establish a new linguistic balance that will ensure substantive equality between our two official languages. That will sometimes require each linguistic group to be treated differently in the development and implementation of our policies in order to take into account their specific situation, characteristics or needs.
In Canada, French and English do not carry the same weight. It is up to the government to make smart interventions to restore the balance and ensure that the fundamental rights of all Canadians are respected.
Our reform plan and our bill include several guiding principles and proposed changes that will allow us to better promote and support French, support the establishment of essential institutions in official language minority communities and finally achieve the equality between our two official languages that we have been striving for.
Among other things, we want to highlight the specific linguistic vitality of each province and territory and protect the existing language rights of indigenous peoples. We want to create more opportunities for learning both official languages. We want to support institutions in official language minority communities, and we will commit to protecting and promoting French across Canada, including in Quebec. We want the Government of Canada to set an example by enhancing compliance within federal institutions.
I would like to reiterate that the reform will also affect federally regulated private businesses and, accordingly, the linguistic situation in that part of the labour market. We will protect the right to work in French in these businesses across the country wherever there is a strong francophone presence, which obviously includes Quebec. Both workers and consumers in these regions will be better protected, better informed and served in their language.
As well, we have found that legislation dealing with a subject as dynamic and evolving as language must be regularly reviewed and adjusted in order to stay relevant. That is why we have established a system of periodic reviews of the act and its implementation. This is how we will ensure that the Official Languages Act remains relevant and modern.
We want to ensure the vitality of our two linguistic communities and of all official language minority communities. Due to the differing circumstances of each linguistic community, we are adopting broad principles and comprehensive objectives in order to avoid taking a case-by-case approach, which could create more inequality. We are certain that the solution to achieving the desired results lies in a flexible but solid pan-Canadian framework.
I believe that all members of the House care about protecting the official languages and the language rights of all Canadians. I would therefore encourage them to study our reform proposal carefully and to support the bill that we introduced this morning.