Evidence of meeting #122 for Official Languages in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was language.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michel Doucet  As an Individual
Mona Fortier  Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.
Emmanuella Lambropoulos  Saint-Laurent, Lib.
Geoffrey Chambers  President, Quebec Community Groups Network
Stephen Thompson  Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network
Jean Rioux  Saint-Jean, Lib.

9:20 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

I'm getting old.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

The points you addressed are slightly different from those raised by other witnesses. You touched on similar areas, but you made some points that I'd like to have a bit of fun with.

It would be better to have a three-hour law class where we could talk.

9:20 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

We can do that.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Perhaps we could meet for a few beers after class. I have about 50 questions I'd like to ask you, but I'm going to focus on one or two.

Over the past month, we've discussed the issue of the two founding peoples, which is essential. You said the majority had to understand that, and I entirely agree with you. The issue has been poorly presented, poorly understood and poorly supported. However, it's more difficult to rely on the act to do all the work. I don't want to downplay the importance of including tools in the act. I've had experiences with certain politicians, whom I won't name. I know several deputy ministers, particularly in the Brunswick, and I told one of them I understood why he didn't wonder what he could do to help the Acadians when he went to bed at night. I also told him he had a responsibility and duty to understand the situation. That will is necessary.

Providing tools can help support the will, but some politicians want to survive. They say they want to help the francophone minority in Nova Scotia, for example, but they wonder how they can justify that to the majority. So the issue gets complicated. They have to be provided with tools. Here's an example. Supplementary funding was granted to the English-language school boards in Nova Scotia to provide training to newcomers who spoke neither English nor French. They were offered that training in English.

I reacted by saying we had a responsibility to educate, in French, assimilated Acadians who were entering our schools at the age of five and couldn't speak the language used at the institution, the language of one of the founding peoples. I was initially turned down, but, as a result of that thinking, we received funding for students who were entering the schools and couldn't speak the language used at the institution.

Here's another example. I think the present Nova Scotia government is very much in favour of supporting francophones. That wasn't the case when the Dexter government, which everybody knew, was in power. The NDP didn't support the minority. It's incredible, but that's what we experienced. The present government says there's a will, but it also relies on tools. For example, it says that the francophone school boards have a connection with the Charter and the Constitution and that it will help them for that reason. Nova Scotia is the first province in the country that has considered the possibility of drafting an education act in French solely for francophones.

My preamble is always longer than my question. Nevertheless, the will can't necessarily be cultivated by means of a statute. Consequently, I wonder what essential points in the act will help provide people of good will with the necessary tools to promote this to the anglophone majority.

9:20 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

I wouldn't want to give the impression that I'm opposed to the idea of amending the Official Languages Act. On the contrary, I'm in favour of it. Incidentally, I had the privilege of representing the Acadians of Nova Scotia in the electoral districts case. It was an honour for me. In the courtroom, we sat opposite portraits of Jonathan Belcher, the attorney general who signed the deportation order.

I don't think the way to provide people with tools will be found in the act. I think it has to come from a political message that each of you will deliver. In other words, if the political bodies aren't also convinced of the value of the act or of equality and don't make it a priority, we can't expect officials to do so or the public to understand. It has to come from above.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

We currently connect the will with tools. To me, that's important. However, can't the federal government, which represents both founding peoples, has responsibilities in that regard and transfers funds to the provinces, establish a language provision?

9:25 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

Absolutely, if that was the question, my answer is yes. I think the language provisions stated in federal programs are too lukewarm. They should be much clearer and tell the provinces that it's that and nothing else. What's currently happening...

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

You know what happens when judges are appointed, whether it be Judge Gascon or others. This is why the common law is dangerous. The common law helps us, but what happens is that the judges have different values.

9:25 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

Absolutely.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

I'm not criticizing the policy. What I mean is that the Conservatives appoint people whose values are more conservative. That's what we see in Trump's case. The United States will have a hard time of it for the next 30 years.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much, Mr. Samson. Could you try not to strike the table so much? It must be hard on the interpreters' ears when you do it.

Mrs. Fortier, you have the floor.

November 27th, 2018 / 9:25 a.m.

Mona Fortier Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

We're having a very animated conversation around the table. We're also conducting a thorough review of the issue. Many briefs have been submitted.

I'd like us to take a close look at the measures that might be taken to strengthen federal-provincial/territorial relations through the federal-provincial transfer agreements reached to support the vitality of the minority language communities while allowing the provinces to be responsible for their policies on French-language services.

What positive measures do you think should be put in place?

9:25 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

There is obviously a variety of federal transfer programs. For example, under the Official Languages in Education Program, the OLEP, the minority communities of every province should be more involved in the agreements made under that program. That would ensure that the agreements address the genuine needs of the communities, not what the government believes the communities need.

There must also be accountability under these kinds of agreement. If we give money to a province for education in either official language, that province must account for the way it uses that money to ensure that it spends it for its intended purposes, and the communities must have a right of review.

Consider what's happening in Prince Edward Island, for example. It's definitely troubling that funding is being used for purposes other than those provided for under OLEP.

As for other obligations, the manpower training programs and others, I think that...

9:25 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

There's also health, early childhood and justice.

9:25 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

Yes, it's difficult, because those areas, like education, are also provincial jurisdictions. The provinces don't want the federal government to interfere in their areas of jurisdiction, except that, if the federal government decides to fund certain programs using its spending power or other methods, it must make the provinces understand very clearly and precisely that it has a fundamental obligation under the Charter and the Official Languages Act to ensure that both official language communities are well represented or respected under those agreements.

The problem now is that those commitments are set forth in the agreements but subsequently forgotten, as a result of which no effort is made to ensure that the provinces have in fact complied with the commitments they've made.

I often get the impression that this is done automatically and that the parties subsequently forget to do it and move on to something else. The important part is to enter it in the agreements and to conduct a follow-up the following year to ensure that the money has indeed been used and the minority communities have been duly considered.

9:30 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

Minister Brison recently announced amendments to the official languages regulations that focus on part VII of the act in particular, the issue here being indicators of vitality, such as what's going on in the schools.

What you think about that? How can we acquire compelling data on the situation of the communities and the French fact across the country?

9:30 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

Paragraph 32(2)(a) of the Official Languages Act already provides that the government should have regard not only to demographics, but also to the specific characteristics of the communities.

At the time, in 1990, I appeared before the parliamentary committee that was examining the regulations made under the act to provide that the government should look beyond demographics and consider specific characteristics. Unfortunately, that wasn't being considered at that time. So I'm pleased with the amendment that has since been made to ask the government to consider certain institutions, such as the schools, in implementing the regulations.

I think we can go even further, and that's what I was referring to earlier. I know that many groups have requested that these specific characteristics be acknowledged in the act itself. Unfortunately, I don't agree: in that case, we'd have one specificity for Quebec, another for Nova Scotia, a third for New Brunswick and so on, and the act would become thoroughly unmanageable. However, we could do it in the regulations.

Consequently, the regulations could state that they respect the language rights recognized in a province. For example, there should be no reason to require a francophone from New Brunswick to prove significant demand in order to obtain a service from a federal organization. I had to take the RCMP to the Supreme Court on this issue, but the resulting judgment applies solely to the RCMP. It should in fact apply to all federal institutions because New Brunswick has agreed to recognize the equality of the linguistic communities.

We can do the same for Ontario and acknowledge the specific legal characteristics of the provinces in order to expand the scope of the regulations.

9:30 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

I have a final question for you. If we don't have enough time, perhaps you could outline your ideas on the subject for us later on.

I'm the member for Ottawa—Vanier, and the national capital has been officially bilingual since last December. How could we reinforce the Official Languages Act so we could entrench the bilingualism of our capital in it? I know people are discussing this, and I believe you have a few ideas on the subject.

9:30 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

Yes, I've always been concerned about that issue.

I think the capital of an officially bilingual country such as Canada should protect the image of that fundamental value, the equality of the country's two official languages. On the other hand, I know that municipalities are a provincial jurisdiction. However, the municipality of Ottawa is a special case because it exists thanks to the federal government. In that respect, therefore, I would see no problem in recognizing that specificity and entrenching that obligation in the Official Languages Act.

Ottawa is a lucky city. You could move the capital of Canada to Moncton. A national capital has an enormous economic impact on a region. Ottawa exists thanks to the fact that it's the capital of Canada, and it should reflect that fact.

I always cite the example of Washington. I'm not talking about Washington County in Maryland or the city of Washington in Virginia, but about Washington, D.C., in the District of Columbia. It's the federal capital of the United States. In the circumstances, I think we should do more to guarantee bilingualism in Ottawa.

9:30 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

Thank you very much.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you very much.

Now we will turn the floor over to Mr. Blaney.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Doucet, thank you for your presentation this morning.

This is the first meeting I have attended in some time, and you got us off to a good start by talking about what you would like to see in a modernized version of the Official Languages Act.

I note two points from your presentation: your vision of a Canada in which the two official languages are equal and the need for political leadership.

I believe Mr. Samson touched on an essential point in his preamble, which I won't repeat. How can we make the French language appealing for anglophones? For example, when I see one of my anglophone politician colleagues making an effort to learn French and speak that language, I say to myself that he's ambitious and wants to advance. We know you have to be proficient in both languages to hold senior political positions. What can we do to make French appealing to young anglophones in the primary schools of Ontario, western Canada and Atlantic Canada? It seems to me that it would be good for them, that it would help them discover francophone culture and that it would shape our identity. It's an open question, and I'd like to hear what you have to say on the subject.

9:35 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

I have to say I'd be very sad if I were unilingual because part of the world wouldn't be open to me. I find it very sad that I know only two languages. I'd like to be able to speak three, four, five or even six languages. In a restaurant in a little village in Portugal, I met a young Portuguese man 18 years of age who spoke eight languages. I thought he was much more intelligent and luckier than I.

Being able to speak another language gives you a window on the world and on another way of thinking. I'm not an expert in the field, but I read seven or eight French and English Canadian newspapers when I get up in the morning. The perceptions of the same news items are so different that I often wonder whether we're living in the same country. It would be good if everyone could understand the cultures of others and read their news.

How can you encourage young people to enjoy francophone music? I know American culture is everywhere, among anglophones and francophones, but we must make an effort to make francophone music known. As for authors, on the subject of research... I'd like to know three or four languages. I wouldn't be the same person if I knew only one language. That's why this is very important.

I would add this. We've often talked about two founding peoples, but I think there are three. We mustn't overlook the indigenous peoples.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Educational and language programs fall under provincial jurisdiction. I share your view that the more languages you speak, the better it is.

Going back to the modernization of the act and its part VII, you ultimately think positive measures are wishful thinking and, in fact, mean nothing, but, if we're going to be all in favour of virtue and yet do nothing, isn't there an area that efforts to modernize the act could focus on? How could Canadians rediscover the official languages? That's ultimately the objective. Shouldn't the aim in modernizing the Official Languages Act be to showcase the asset that is proficiency in another language, which comes with a culture and perspective of its own?

9:35 a.m.

As an Individual

Michel Doucet

Two members of your committee are anglophone, but I believe that official languages must be the business of all federal members, not just those who are francophone. The official languages must be as important for people from Alberta as for those from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. This must be part of your will to change Canada. That's important.