An Act respecting the French language

Sponsor

Claude DeBellefeuille  Bloc

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

Status

Second reading (House), as of May 9, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-238.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Act for the Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official LanguagesGovernment Orders

May 20th, 2022 / 1:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Maxime Blanchette-Joncas Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-13, which is particularly important to the Bloc Québécois.

Today's strategy from the Liberals, supported by the NDP, was to move time allocation on a bill that is vital to protecting French in Quebec as well as in the rest of Canada.

Bill C‑13, which is currently under consideration, represents the culmination of efforts to modernize the Official Languages Act. This objective is set out in the mandate letter of the current Minister of Official Languages, as well as that of her predecessor.

In the September 2020 Speech from the Throne, the government recognized the special status of French and its responsibility to protect and promote it, both outside and within Quebec.

The stage seemed to be set for the federal government to protect French in Quebec. It appeared the government would include the reform, requests and demands of those dealing with the decline of their language on a daily basis, namely Quebeckers.

However, in both Bill C-32 from the previous Parliament and the current version, the Official Languages Act reform completely ignores the demands made unanimously by the Quebec National Assembly and the Bloc Québécois about protecting French in Quebec.

In fact, the federal government's bill flies in the face of the Quebec National Assembly's Bill 96. One of the objectives of Bill 96 is to extend the application of the Charter of the French Language throughout Quebec. Despite that, in their interventions and communications, the Liberals claim to support Bill 101 and brag about being champions of the French language.

Since the Prime Minister and Liberal members claim that they have always supported the Charter of the French Language, how can they introduce a bill that will prevent the Quebec government from applying that charter within its own territory? Based on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, provincial laws can apply to federally regulated businesses as long as they do not directly violate any applicable federal law.

Quebec has long been asking Ottawa to allow Bill 101 to apply to federally regulated businesses based on that ruling. A resolution supported by all parties in the Quebec National Assembly and adopted on December 1, 2020, stated that the Charter of the French Language “must be applied to companies operating under federal jurisdiction within Québec” and called on the Government of Canada to “make a formal commitment to work with Québec to ensure the implementation of this change”.

The message could not be any clearer, but what did the Liberals do at the first opportunity? They imposed on Quebec a language regime that subjects all federally regulated businesses to the Official Languages Act, while at the same time destroying Quebec's ability to apply its Charter of the French Language to businesses operating on its territory.

That should not be taken lightly. There is even a serious and real danger for French in Quebec with Bill C‑13. In the event of a difference between the federal regime, which is based on bilingualism, and Quebec's regime, which is based on the primacy of French, the federal regime would prevail.

The Minister of Official Languages can repeat as much as she wants that Bill C‑13 will protect French in Quebec as well as Bill 101, but that is not true. It is factually incorrect.

Bill C‑13 seeks to apply the bilingualism regime to Air Canada. Francophones will be given the right to complain in the event that the right to work in French is breached. It has been shown many times that this model cannot protect the rights of francophones to work and be served in their language. Despite the thousands of complaints against Air Canada over the years, we see that for these non-compliant organizations, French is nothing but an irritant. How will extending this model to all federally regulated private business stop the decline of French?

What is more, Bill C‑13 confirms the right to work in English at federally regulated businesses in Quebec. I repeat, the Official Languages Act is reinforcing bilingualism, not protecting French. Some will say that the bilingualism approach seems reasonable at first glance. It leaves it up to the individual to interact in the language of their choice. However, when we take into account the linguistic and demographic dynamics in which that choice is made, this approach has devastating and irreversible consequences on French. Do not take it from me. It is science.

Professor Guillaume Rousseau from Université de Sherbrooke explained this phenomenon to the Standing Committee on Official Languages in February:

...virtually all language policy experts around the world believe that only [an approach that focuses on just one official language] can guarantee the survival and development of a minority language....

The...approach may seem generous, since individuals may choose which language to use among many, but it is in fact the strongest language that will dominate....In real terms, the federal government should do less for English and more for French in Quebec.

As my party's science and innovation critic, I must insist on the importance of basing our decisions on scientific data. Ottawa must listen to reason, listen to the science and respect the evidence. Science cannot be invoked only when it suits our purposes and ignored when it does not, and the Prime Minister needs to take that into account.

When we look around the House of Commons, we quickly see that the Liberal Party stands completely alone when it comes to the application of Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses. It has always been easy for the Prime Minister to say that he is in favour of Bill 101 as long as that did not require him to take any action, politically speaking. Today, it is clear that French is declining in Quebec and Canada and that its decline is accelerating so fast that the Prime Minister himself has been forced to recognize it and express concern. He still says that he is in favour of Bill 101, but he is not walking the talk.

We are witnessing yet another attempt by the Liberal government to create a wide, untenable gap. On the one hand, the government wants to be the champion of French because it feels the public pressure to protect French better, including in Quebec. On the other hand, it completely refuses to let Quebec control its own language policy. The result is that the Liberal Party now stands alone in its stubbornness. We saw that when my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît introduced Bill C-238, which seeks to subject all federally regulated businesses to the Charter of the French Language. The Bloc, the Conservative Party and the NDP supported it, but the Liberal Party did not.

Let me make this clear. The Bloc Québécois will not support Bill C‑13 unless and until amendments are made that enable Quebec to be the master of its own language policy. The federal government must acknowledge that the Quebec nation is grappling with anglicization, and it must introduce a differentiated approach that recognizes and respects Quebec's unique linguistic reality. That is why explicit recognition that the Charter of the French Language takes precedence over the Official Languages Act for federally regulated businesses in Quebec is a minimum requirement. That is what the Bloc Québécois and the National Assembly of Quebec want, so that is what Quebec needs.

Official LanguagesOral Questions

May 10th, 2022 / 2:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, Quebeckers want French to be mandatory in workplaces.

Workers can, of course, be bilingual or even trilingual, but French should be the language of work in our businesses. There is a solution, which can be found in Bill C‑238, which I introduced. This bill would make federally regulated businesses subject to the Charter of the French Language. It is as simple as that.

Does the minister realize that by refusing such a simple solution she is encouraging businesses to avoid using French?

An Act respecting the French languagePrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2022 / 11:50 a.m.
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Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, Bill C-238, which was introduced by a member of the Bloc Québécois, includes two proposals on which there is broad consensus in Quebec.

The first part of the bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act to ensure that permanent residents who reside in Quebec have an adequate knowledge of French in order to obtain citizenship. Under the current legislation, Canada requires knowledge of English or French. Accordingly, a person can get their citizenship and settle in Quebec without knowing how to speak French. Quebec thinks it is only reasonable for people to have a knowledge of its only official language before being granted citizenship.

What my colleague fails to grasp is that people who arrive under the family reunification program will be here for several years before they apply for citizenship. I therefore do not see why we would not encourage them to learn French. That is what the current Quebec government wanted to do in another way by requiring people to pass a French test in order obtain permanent resident status.

A survey showed that three-quarters of Quebeckers believe that the francization of immigrants is vital to the future of Quebec and that a basic knowledge of French should be mandatory in order to live in Quebec.

The first time the Bloc introduced a bill to this effect, it was simply rejected. It was deemed unconstitutional and therefore non-votable, even though the parliamentary law clerks disagreed. We were more or less told that taking measures to integrate immigrants into francophone Quebec was unconstitutional.

We introduced the bill a second time in 2021. This time, it was not declared unconstitutional, but it was defeated because it did not receive the support of the Liberals or the NDP. The only NDP member from Quebec told us that it was a divisive measure that excluded new immigrants. The odd thing is that no one ever says that requiring English is a divisive measure that excludes new immigrants. Our measure is actually the opposite of divisive. The best way to include new immigrants and form a cohesive society is to make sure that they know Quebec's official and common language.

The second part of our bill seeks to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated businesses. This measure has widespread support in Quebec, having been endorsed by all the former premiers, the big city mayors and the major unions. It was the subject of a unanimous motion in Quebec's National Assembly.

The Bloc Québécois has introduced multiple bills to this effect since 2009. The most recent attempt was my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou's bill during the last Parliament. That is the time we came closest to success. The bill passed second reading after receiving the support of all parties except the Liberals. It then died on the Order Paper, because the Liberal Prime Minister called an election. There is still a legal vacuum, meaning federally regulated private businesses are not subject to any regulations.

Through its reform of Bill 101, the Quebec government intends to apply the Charter of the French Language to all companies in Quebec, including federally regulated businesses. However, the Liberal government wants to stop it by making Bill 101 optional, so that companies get to choose between Bill 101 and the federal Official Languages Act.

The Quebec minister responsible for Canadian relations and the Canadian francophonie, who is usually very discreet, even told the federal government to keep its hands off when it comes to Quebec.

When Air Canada representatives appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages, they were asked this question and were quick to say that they prefer to be subject to the Official Languages Act.

The Liberals tell us that their new bill modernizing the federal law uses Bill 101 as a model for the Official Languages Act in terms of federally regulated businesses. This is not true. Canada's language law and Bill 101 are based on very different and contrary approaches. Canada's language law, the Official Languages Act, is based on an approach that does not aim to strengthen French in Quebec, but rather to strengthen English-language services and the anglophone community in Quebec.

It is based on what language planning experts around the world call the personality principle, that is, a policy of institutional bilingualism based on individual rights, on the right to choose one official language or the other, that is, English in Quebec.

Throughout the world, it has been noted that this model of language policy allows the stronger language to develop to the detriment of the more vulnerable one. This can be seen in the assimilation rates of francophones outside Quebec, which increase with each census.

The other major approach to language planning is based on collective and territorial rights. It aims to establish an official and common language in a given territory. This is the approach of territorial bilingualism or multilingualism used in Belgium or Switzerland, for example. These are the models that André Laurendeau, who first suggested the Laurendeau-Dunton commission, referred to. Guillaume Rousseau, a lawyer from Quebec who specializes in language law, said that “virtually all language policy experts around the world believe that only a territoriality-based approach can guarantee the survival and development of a minority language”.

The Charter of the French Language is based mainly on this approach, although it has been considerably weakened by legal challenges funded by the federal government and decisions handed down by the federal courts under the Constitution Act, 1982, which imposed the principles of the federal law despite the fact that no Quebec government has ever ratified them.

Bill 101 sought to make French the common language in the workplace, whereas the Official Languages Act gives people the right to work in French or in English. It strengthens bilingualism rather than the French language. For example, Bill 101 protects Quebec workers from reprisals or sanctions if they speak only French. The new federal law includes similar measures with fewer remedies and less effectiveness, but it also protects anglophones who wish to continue working in English in Quebec at federally regulated businesses.

Bill 101 imposes the predominance of French in signage. It seeks to generalize the use of French at every level of the business. There is nothing of the sort in the new Official Languages Act proposed by the Liberals. Their bill does not give French predominance as the language of work, the language of communication with consumers, or the language of signage.

The decline of French in Canada and Quebec is increasingly worrisome. For example, language transfers for allophones are typically toward English. For years, my NDP colleague has been advancing the wrong-headed argument that indicators such as mother tongue and language used at home are unimportant, when every demographer agrees that they are in fact extremely important. They do not exclude anyone; they are linguistic indicators. When used properly, the linguistic indicators, even those relating to language of work and the common language, all point in the same direction. It is a false argument.

As I said, the decline of French in Canada and Quebec is increasingly worrisome. According to Statistics Canada, by 2036, the relative weight of Quebec's French-mother-tongue population could have dropped to 69%, and the weight of Quebeckers who speak French most often at home could have dropped to 73.6%. This means that there will also be a decline in French as the language of work. Quebec has its back to the wall. We cannot go back any farther. What happens to our bill will say a lot about the future of French in Quebec and Canada.

For 52 years, or since always, actually, the biggest adversary of French as the common and official language of Quebec has been the Canadian government. For the first time, the federal government has admitted the obvious: that French is in decline and that the government has a responsibility to promote French across Canada, including in Quebec. Is this just more smoke and mirrors from the Liberals to try to win a few more francophone votes in Quebec?

That seems to be the explanation, because, as we saw, they are not changing their position. They are still against applying Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses. The two measures in our bill will certainly not solve everything, but they will respond to what Quebec is looking for.

In conclusion, if no changes are made to the Official Languages Act, Quebeckers will have to once again ask themselves a critical question that is becoming more and more real: Is the choice between assimilation and an independent Quebec?

An Act respecting the French languagePrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2022 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in the House to talk about something that is so important for Quebeckers, as well as for all francophones in Canada and North America.

I would like to thank my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît for introducing Bill C-238 and giving us the opportunity to have this vital discussion in the House of Commons.

From what I hear from my colleagues, I think that we are all concerned about the status of French, its place in Canada, the respect it receives, and making sure it is defended and promoted in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.

It is in this context that, during the last Parliament, the House unanimously adopted a motion recognizing the decline of French in Canada and Quebec. I remember it well, because I am the one who tabled the motion. I am very pleased to have personally contributed to this discussion so that, together, we can make an effort to ensure that French remains the common language in Quebec and that francophone minority communities are better protected and have access to cultural activities and the right to work in French.

The first part of Bill C‑238, which we are debating today, is extremely important. The NDP has agreed with this principle for years. Ever since the Sherbrooke declaration, we have wanted the principles enshrined in the Charter of the French Language to apply to federally regulated companies. It is a matter of equal rights for workers. It is also a matter of defending the French language. The right of these employees to work and communicate in French within their company is fundamental. That is why, for years now, under the leadership of Jack Layton, then Thomas Mulcair and now the hon. member for Burnaby South, the NDP has been advocating for employees working in federally regulated companies in Quebec, whether it be in air transportation, marine shipping or telecommunications, to have the same rights as other workers.

The current situation is completely absurd. If someone works for a credit union, they have the right to demand that their employment contract and communications with their employer be in French. That has always been the case, and there has never been a problem. However, someone who works for Royal Bank or the Bank of Montreal does not have the same right. This is a double standard, since all of these institutions are banks. The employees do not have the same rights or recourse, so we really need to find a solution.

That is why, for years now, the NDP has wholeheartedly agreed with the proposal set out in the first part of the member for Salaberry—Suroît's Bill C‑238. In our opinion, it is very important. We support this goal and we want to see it achieved. We must avoid the fiascoes we saw with Air Canada and Canadian National, as well as the attacks on French-language universities like Campus Saint-Jean in Alberta and Laurentian University in Ontario.

Whether through laws enacted by Quebec’s National Assembly such as Bill 96, which our Conservative colleague mentioned earlier, a bill like the one presented in the House, or the proposal to modernize the Official Languages Act, we need to work together to fight the decline of the French language and ensure French is promoted and remains strong in Quebec and across the country.

Since we are talking about the situation of the French language, I will take this opportunity to express my concern about the use of certain indicators and send a message to my colleague, the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l’Île. I cannot raise this issue in the Standing Committee on Official Languages because we do not have enough time. I will therefore take the time now to say that I am very concerned about what I see as the abusive use of criteria and indicators of the first language and main language used at home. I do not find these indicators and criteria particularly revealing or even appropriate to describe the situation of the French language. Let me explain.

I find that the whole idea of Bill 96 is precisely to reduce the importance of the first-language indicator. Since we want children of immigrants to go to French school, their first language should not count and will count less and less. The more immigrants we host who are not francophone, the less valid this indicator is, since they must learn French in school and will then become francophone.

With respect to the language used at home, in the Quebec nation, which is a nation of immigrants, children may continue to speak their parents’ first language at home. That is okay, and it is normal. What is important is that French be the language used in the public arena and at work. That is my opinion and we can debate it, but I think that these criteria are much more important in a modern Quebec and an immigrant society.

I will give an example that my spouse will not like. My spouse is anglophone. Her second language is Armenian. Her third language is French. She works in French. She prepares communications. She writes in French. Therefore, based on the first-language criterion, she is not francophone, even if she works in French 99% of the time and interacts in the community with neighbours and in stores in French. If we look at the primary language used at home, when I am not at home, she speaks with the children in English so that they can learn English. Therefore, when I am not at home, she is not francophone, either. On the other hand, when I am at home, she is francophone because we speak French.

Is this an exceptional case? No. I have four employees, two of whom are in exactly the same situation. One is Colombian, and the other Italian. Their first language is not French, the primary language they use at home is not French, but they work and function in Quebec society in French. We need to be careful with these indicators. I think that we should choose them carefully to get an accurate picture.

The problem with the bill before us today is in the second part, which states that all immigrants must take a French test to obtain citizenship. It is important to note that Quebec already controls economic immigration and that the number of points granted for knowledge of French significantly favours francophones. That is great for people who want to come work and settle in Quebec and build Quebec society with the rest of us. For economic immigration, we essentially have all the tools we need. The National Assembly and successive Quebec governments have found ways to prioritize francophones who already speak French.

Where federal jurisdiction over immigration comes into play is with family reunification and refugees. As a progressive party, the NDP considers the French test requirement for people arriving here under family reunification and refugee provisions to be unreasonable. Their personal situations are so different that their access to citizenship should not be delayed just because they do not speak French. Delaying access to citizenship also means delaying access to voting rights and participation in our society's democratic life. That worries me, and I do not think this is the best available tool. There are many other things that could be done rather than imposing this on refugees who come here because they are fleeing war and trying to save their lives.

The second problem with requiring knowledge of French for citizenship is that this bill does not take interprovincial migration into account. Someone who does not speak French and does not want to do the French test in Quebec to obtain citizenship can just go to New Brunswick or Ontario, do their test there, get their citizenship and then move to Quebec, so this idea will not really work. I think the idea is fine, but not very practical.

An Act respecting the French languagePrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2022 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, today I am speaking to Bill C-238, an act respecting the French language, which was introduced by the member for Salaberry—Suroît. I thank her for her work on this important piece of legislation.

Bill C‑238 does several things. It amends the Canada Labour Code and certain provisions of the Official Languages Act and the Citizenship Act. It also makes a change to the Canada Business Corporations Act.

As I said in a recent speech in this place, the experts tell us that French is becoming increasingly precarious, even across government and this very government's ministerial offices. Action must be taken immediately and judiciously to achieve the desired effects. In deciding which legislative measures to adopt to protect French, we need to build on existing rights and official language modernization statutes and listen to what official language minority community leaders tell us.

As we know, recognizing official languages tops the list of our most fundamental rights in this country. According to subsection 16(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada”. The charter guarantees that members of the public can communicate with and receive services from the federal government in the official language of their choice. There is no obligation to become bilingual under the charter.

We also need to bear in mind that Quebec has decided to modernize its own legislation to better protect the French language. We must salute the hard work of the members of the Quebec National Assembly who are about vote on and pass Bill 96, an act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec.

Bill C‑238 has been introduced in a context that has not occurred in Canada for decades. Right now, provincial and federal language laws are being reviewed from top to bottom, including in Canada's only bilingual province, New Brunswick.

As I was saying earlier, Bill C‑238 amends the Citizenship Act in order to ensure, among other things, that permanent residents who ordinarily reside in Quebec must have an adequate knowledge of French in order to obtain citizenship. I would remind the House that these changes to the Citizenship Act are the same as the ones proposed in another bill, Bill C‑223, which the Conservatives supported at second reading before the last election.

In addition to the citizenship aspect, Bill C‑238 also proposes amending the Canada Business Corporations Act so that “the name of a corporation that carries on business in the Province of Quebec shall meet the requirements of the Charter of the French Language”. This proposal needs to be analyzed in relation to what the Charter of the French Language already does in Quebec and especially in relation to the scope it will have once Bill 96 is passed.

Bill C‑238 also proposes amending the Canada Labour Code by adding a new provision just after section 4, which stipulates that “any federal work, undertaking or business operating in Quebec is subject to the requirements of the Charter of the French Language”.

If this amendment is applied, will it be consistent with the rest of the federal legislation, including the new Charter of the French Language? That is the question. It is clear to me that federally regulated businesses in Quebec should not aim for the lowest common denominator. We do not want more of what is happening with Air Canada, CN and so on.

Bill C-238 also proposes amendments to the Official Languages Act to add an undertaking that the Official Languages Act will not obstruct the Charter of the French Language. Is the term “obstruct” sufficiently clear and precise? We certainly must ask ourselves how the new version of the Official Languages Act, which could be passed in a few weeks, will work with the Charter of the French Language in Quebec.

I also note that the measures in section 43 must be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the objectives of the Charter of the French Language. How will the courts rule if this provision is adopted?

I agree with several of the underlying principles of this bill, in particular the vital importance of preserving the French language and stopping its decline. I believe that we all share legitimate and common concerns about making the Official Languages Act a modern, effective act that will achieve its objective of ensuring respect for French and English as the official languages of Canada.

Setting aside the objectives themselves, I believe it is important to point out that, as legislators, we must ascertain the optimal way of implementing these objectives to protect the French language and ensure respect for the official languages. I believe that it is important to keep in mind the progress of the work of the House. Bill C‑238 is being introduced while Bill C-13, which seeks to amend many provisions of the Official Languages Act, is in the process of being passed.

Before I vote on this bill that was introduced not long ago, I plan to carefully go through all of the underlying details regarding the proposed measures. There are a number of angles to consider and I encourage all of my colleagues to do the same. Nicolas Poussin, a 17th-century French painter, once said that anything worth doing is worth doing well. As legislators, we must determine the best way to achieve our objectives. To better protect the French language, we need the best bills and therefore the best possible amendments, all working together as one to create an effective body of law that addresses the problems.

After studying Bill C‑238, we will have to determine whether this bill provides all of the tools required to achieve the objectives that I described. I want my colleagues to have enough time to study this bill in depth. I will keep repeating that if we want our country's bilingualism to remain a unique and appealing feature, with English and French as our two official languages, we must act now to stop the decline of French. We must protect and promote French so that it can continue to develop.

An Act respecting the French languagePrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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Sherbrooke Québec

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss Bill C-238 on the French language, sponsored by the hon. member for Salaberry—Suroît.

This bill is similar to bills tabled in previous sittings of Parliament. In the 43rd Parliament, we had Bill C-223, which would have required that immigrants living in Quebec have an adequate knowledge of Quebec, as well as Bill C-254, which sought to apply Quebec's Charter of the French Language to federally regulated companies by amending the Official Languages Act, the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Business Corporations Act.

Bill C‑238 essentially combines those two bills into one. We understand the Bloc's concern about the future of the French language, and we share that concern. As we acknowledged in the throne speech, the use of French is in decline throughout Quebec and across Canada. We have a responsibility to protect and promote French across Canada, including in Quebec.

Where we differ from the Bloc is in our response to this problem. In the last Parliament, the former minister of official languages tabled a document entitled “English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada”, which laid out our government's vision for official languages reform, and Bill C-32, our modernization of the Official Languages Act.

Together, these two documents represented the most ambitious reform of the Official Languages Act since its passage more than 50 years ago. They acknowledged the challenges faced by the French language from coast to coast to coast, including in Quebec, and they recognized for the first time that our government has a duty to protect and promote the French language. However, during our consultations with stakeholders across Canada over the summer, during the election campaign and after the election, we kept hearing that we needed to do more.

That is why, on March 1, in Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia, which is an important historical site for our Acadian community, the current Minister of Official Languages, a proud Acadian herself, tabled Bill C-13, an act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other acts. This bill is noteworthy because it shares similar objectives with Bill C‑238, namely protecting and promoting the French language. However, it goes much further.

Bill C‑13 broadens the historical scope of the former Bill C‑32 by introducing even more protections for the French language. It ensures that francophones can work and receive services in their language, not only in Quebec, but in other regions of Canada with a strong Francophone presence.

That is why our government will not support Bill C‑238, because it does not protect and, by its very nature, cannot protect the French language and francophones from coast to coast to coast.

Let us compare the immigration provisions of Bill C‑238 with those in our bill. In the preamble to Bill C‑13, our government recognizes the importance of the contribution of francophone immigration to enhancing the vitality of French linguistic minority communities and that immigration is one of the factors that contributes to maintaining or increasing the demographic weight of those communities.

Moreover, our bill requires that the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship adopt a policy on francophone immigration in order to enhance the vitality of French linguistic minority communities in Canada. This policy is to include objectives, targets and indicators, as well as a statement that the federal government recognizes that immigration is one of the factors that contributes to maintaining or increasing the demographic weight of French linguistic minority communities in Canada.

This is in addition to the administrative measures set out in the reform paper, which instruct the Minister of Immigration to set up a new francophone immigration corridor, recognize the importance of recruiting and retaining French-speaking and French-language teachers and increase opportunities for newcomers to learn French. There is a shortage of French-language teachers in Canada, particularly outside Quebec, and we need these measures in order to meet our francophone immigration objectives and to nurture the next generation of French-speaking Canadians.

As for the other part of Bill C-238, the section dealing with federally regulated businesses such as banks and airlines, here again, Bill C‑13 offers a more comprehensive solution.

Bill C-13 recognizes that Quebec has adopted the Charter of the French Language. In fact, it even creates a new law, the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act, which states that, in relation to communications with or services provided to consumers in Quebec or in relation to workplaces in Quebec, Quebec's Charter of the French Language applies instead of this bill if a federally regulated private business must be subject to the charter.

However, the Charter of the French Language does not protect francophones outside Quebec. As our government recognized in last year's reform paper, we have a duty to encourage federally regulated private businesses to promote the equal status of our two official languages in order to increase the use of French as a language of service and a language of work across the country.

That is what Bill C-13 does. We are making sure that Canadians have the right to work and be served in French in federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and other regions of Canada with a strong francophone presence. We require employers to communicate with their employees in French and prohibit discrimination against an employee solely because they speak only French or do not have adequate knowledge of a language other than French. We are also enacting legislation to ensure that consumers of goods and services have the right to be served in French.

These tools are necessary to support francophones across the country. That is what we are doing with Bill C-13, and Bill C-238 simply cannot do the same.

Once again, I would like to thank the member for Salaberry—Suroît for raising this extremely important issue. Like her, our government recognizes that the use of French is in decline across the country and that urgent action is needed not only to stop this decline, but also to reverse it and move toward a future where French grows stronger.

However, Bill C-238 does not and cannot do that. I hope that all members of the House will join us in passing Bill C-13 as quickly as possible so that we can meet the objective of protecting and promoting French from coast to coast to coast, including Quebec, for francophones across the country.

An Act respecting the French languagePrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Salaberry—Suroît for her speech, and for having introduced Bill C-238.

Does she have any suggestions about how to improve access to French courses for new Quebeckers who would like to learn or improve their French?

An Act respecting the French languagePrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2022 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît to know that we, Conservatives, will not argue with the Bloc Québécois.

I, too, love the French language. Several elements of Bill C-238 lead me to believe in a future for French in Canada.

In my colleague’s opinion, is this the most effective way to stop the decline of French in Quebec and across Canada?

An Act respecting the French languagePrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2022 / 11 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

moved that BillC-238, An Act respecting the French language, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying that I am challenging myself. On Friday, I participated in a Mental Health Week activity. I went to the open house event at Ancres et Ailes in Ormstown.

An anglophone participant come up to say hello, to thank me and to thank the Bloc Québécois for everything it is fighting for in Ottawa. He was aware of my bill on the French language; he even spoke to me about the bill we are discussing today, Bill C-238. I was very touched by his remarks and the fact that he clearly understands the fight for French in Quebec. He understands our assertiveness, which is accompanied by a real respect for anglophone communities. He also understands that French is threatened and that when French is protected, it is never at the expense of English.

I know he is not the only anglophone who supports protecting French in Quebec. I am grateful to this individual who also told me that he enjoys listening to my speeches and gently pointed out that I gesticulate and move around too much while delivering them. He challenged me to dial it down a little, so today, for his sake, I am making an effort to restrain the way I express myself.

I would like to challenge my colleagues from other parties. I know that a language bill can elicit a lot of passionate debate. Nevertheless, I know that, here in the House, we are capable of speaking to and understanding one another, so I am reaching out to all my colleagues. I hope this debate will give us all an opportunity for reflection. I hope we will be able to move beyond the usual arguments.

I would hope that, if my colleagues are genuinely curious and open-minded about the language situation in Quebec, they will come to the same conclusion as the Bloc Québécois, the Government of Quebec and all members of the National Assembly: Bill 101 must apply to federally regulated businesses. That is why Quebec must have the authority to choose its host language. That is the purpose of Bill C‑238.

When I ask around, it is a given. The language of work in Quebec is French. It is not particularly revolutionary or controversial to say that, in Quebec, people work in French. The language of work is one of the cornerstones of Quebec's language policy. French in the workplace is the result of an intense struggle by the generation that came before me.

The first thing I want to point out to members of all parties is that not all workers in Quebec have the same rights. I have never heard anyone complain that too much French is spoken in their workplace. Still, Bill 101 and its language of work provisions apply in all workplaces: in hospitals, in the service industry, in factories, in small convenience stores, in grocery stores, in technology companies, in retail and so on. Life in the Quebec workplace happens in French.

The beauty of Bill 101 is that it requires all workplaces to use French, yes, but it does even more. Perhaps my colleagues are learning this for the first time, and I do hope they are listening, but Bill 101 does not prohibit the use of another language, as long as all the information is available in French. A business can operate in any language, as long as the equivalent information exists in French. That is the beauty of Quebec's language policy. It respects other languages. Everyone agrees that we can come together around French. To reiterate, as the law stipulates, we can work in any language, provided that the equivalent information exists in French. However, the common language is French.

Bill 101 has been in force since 1977. This summer we are celebrating its 45th anniversary. The fact remains that even though every workplace has adapted to the provisions of Bill 101 with respect to the language of work, only one sector is dragging its feet. All sectors have done their part. All sectors have done what needed to be done. There is just one sector missing: federally regulated businesses. I humbly submit to my colleagues that this fact should come as a surprise to them.

All of my colleagues should wonder how it is possible that a SME or a restaurant is able to comply with Bill 101, but federally regulated businesses are resisting. How is it okay for these major businesses to fail to respect Quebeckers' right to work in French?

For 45 years a worker who repairs the tracks in Les Coteaux, in my riding, has not had the same linguistic rights as his colleagues who work on the municipal roads, and that has been tolerated. For 45 years a financial officer at a bank in Salaberry‑de‑Valleyfield has not had the same linguistic rights as her colleague at a credit union, and that has been tolerated. For 45 years a technician at a telecommunications company has not had the same linguistic rights as the people he provides high‑speed Internet to, and that has been tolerated.

I will say it again, and I am certain this is my colleagues' experience as well: I have never heard anyone tell me that the workforce in Quebec is becoming overly French. I wonder then what could possibly explain why we have tolerated for so long that there are two classes of workers in Quebec: those who have the right to work in French and the others, the federally regulated employees.

With its Bill 96, Quebec is going ahead with the reform of its Charter of the French Language. As I stated, Quebec already has a law that provides for the right to work in French for all Quebec workers. However, it has never been applied from the outset to federally regulated businesses.

To be very clear, the Government of Quebec moved an amendment to section 89 of the Charter of the French Language to clarify its intent to apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses. The amendment was adopted unanimously. All parties in the National Assembly of Quebec voted in favour of this amendment. Therefore, it is the clear will of Quebec's parliament. In my view, the federal government should accept Quebeckers' invitation to apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses.

My colleagues will be pleased to hear that the Office québécois de la langue française is already prepared to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated businesses. It will provide professional services to help businesses with the francization process. There are some very interesting initiatives being worked on right now, and these initiatives will continue to be implemented.

I am sure that major corporations, like Air Canada or CN, will appreciate the helpful advice from the team at the Office québécois de la langue française and will be able to gradually introduce respect for and promotion of the French fact at all levels within their company.

After all, the effective use of French ultimately benefits their employees and their French-speaking customers. In other words, Quebec has the political will to right a historical wrong, namely that federally regulated businesses have not been consistently subjected to Bill 101, and Quebec has professionals who are available and ready to help.

I know that the Minister of Official Languages has introduced a bill to reform the Official Languages Act.

I will briefly summarize our position on that: We believe that this bill has some merit for francophone communities outside Quebec. These communities will determine whether the bill does enough. However, Bill C‑13 would create two overlapping language regimes in Quebec.

Bill C-13 offers businesses a choice to apply either federal provisions or the Charter of the French Language.

Our analysis indicates that even a modernized federal regime is not the best tool for ensuring that Quebec workers have the right to work in French. It is actually not surprising that Air Canada told the Standing Committee on Official Languages that it wanted to remain subject to the federal language regime rather than be subject to Bill 101.

One has to wonder about Ottawa's sudden desire to legislate on the French language at a time when Quebec is specifically stating its intention to apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses.

Let us not create legislative confusion between the Official Languages Act and Quebec's Charter of the French Language. Let us give every worker in Quebec the same rights. That is what Bill C-238 does.

My bill's second objective echoes the Bloc Québécois motion to recognize Quebec as a francophone nation. I want to reiterate that that motion was adopted by a strong majority in the House. The motion could have a number of practical implications. Given that language is central to the way Quebec thinks about immigration, I believe that Quebec has the right to make its own decisions regarding host language and integration.

Bill C-238 states that all permanent residents must have an adequate knowledge of French in order to obtain citizenship in Quebec. When I hear my colleagues in the House say that requiring knowledge of French as a criterion for permanent residents in Quebec is discriminatory, I am astounded, since Canada chose to recognize either French or English as a host language. This criterion reflects a legitimate societal choice.

However, when Quebec chooses its host language and language of integration and the Quebec government does everything in its power to help immigrants learn that language, all of a sudden it is an illegitimate choice. That is discriminatory, and, in my opinion, an entirely obsolete concept. Every nation in the world makes linguistic choices; that is normal. I am eager to see the Quebec nation have the right to what is normal.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work done by L’Insulaire, a French learning centre, La magie des mots and the Centre du Nouvel-Envol, which offer French and francization courses in my riding, much like the ones offered throughout Quebec. These francization courses are often paid for by the government, in other words, with Quebeckers’ tax dollars, or by employers.

In one factory in my riding, I met with Victor, a young welder from Mexico who works full time and then some. He was proud to speak with me in French about his plans for a life and a future in Quebec. Thanks to his work and his francization courses, Victor has French-speaking friends and works in French; his children have access to quality education in French.

I am truly touched when I see and meet with immigrant Quebeckers who are learning French and love the language. In my opinion, Victor is a Quebec welder who is an asset for our community.

Bill C-238 will have no impact on the lives of people like Victor, who discovered the charm and beauty of the French language and immediately understood that learning French was key to actively participating in community life in Quebec. Bill C-238, with its provisions regarding the host language in Quebec, is simply intended to celebrate the French fact in North America.

Today, my goal was to create an opening and to share a little of my love for the French language with my colleagues, who, I am certain, will prove to be open.

I truly hope that this first hour of debate will give everyone an opportunity to reflect on the language issue in Quebec, and to become curious and inspired by Quebec’s struggle to protect its national language, a struggle we must support. Who better than the Government of Quebec, the only francophone state in north America, to actively champion this cause?

Passing Bill C-238 will give Quebec more tools to give new life to the French fact. Let us not stand in the way of the Quebec government or the Quebec nation. Let us love French enough to protect it. Let us pass Bill C-238.

Act Respecting the French LanguageRoutine Proceedings

February 7th, 2022 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-238, An Act respecting the French language.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I introduce this bill, entitled an act respecting the French language. This bill will subject federally regulated businesses to the Charter of the French Language.

Members will recall that Quebec workers, except those who are federally regulated, are entitled to all the protections of Bill 101. In our opinion, that shortcoming must be corrected.

I am also proposing that adequate knowledge of the French language be a citizenship requirement for permanent residents who choose Quebec. Nations around the world, including Canada, choose the host language. The Quebec nation warmly welcomes new citizens in French.

I look forward to debating these measured and reasonable provisions with my colleagues from the other parties.

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