Evidence of meeting #84 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 théberge.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Raymond Théberge  Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Thank you.

I will now go into the details of the departmental plan of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

In its report on Air Canada, the Standing Committee on Official Languages recommended that the government have more teeth and that it be able to, among other things, issue fines and administrative monetary penalties.

What do you think? Do you agree that the commissioner should be given more powers?

3:55 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Raymond Théberge

I read your report, which is very interesting.

That said, there are two ways to answer the question.

First, there is the principle. In my opinion, the principle dictates that the commissioner must have access to tools to ensure that the Official Languages Act is implemented.

Second, it remains to be seen what this means in practical terms.

In my opinion, if people read a great deal about what is happening right now, they will understand that we want more teeth. If we want more teeth, the legislation must be tighter. I think it's important to consider those options. Now, in terms of what this means in practical terms, I will say that, if my application is successful, the Office of the Commissioner will study the issue.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

The Office of the Commissioner has nonetheless received a number of complaints against various companies, including Air Canada. Those companies have broken the law on many occasions. They even went to court, but they ultimately received no penalty.

3:55 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Raymond Théberge

I have asked this question a few times: what is the point of legislation if it has no consequences?

If I may, I would like to comment on Air Canada.

Air Canada is a very powerful symbol for Canadians. When Air Canada was privatized, a commitment was made. Just because a number of years have gone by does not mean that we are going back on our commitment. The commitment was made and it must be honoured.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Thank you.

I would like to ask one last quick question.

Do you think the Supreme Court judges should be bilingual?

4 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Raymond Théberge

Once again, there are two answers.

In principle, I think so.

In practice, to what extent are we going to represent Canadian diversity in the Supreme Court? In my view, the Supreme Court belongs to all Canadians. We have to start thinking about what this means in practical terms.

4 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

In your view, where does the complexity lie?

December 5th, 2017 / 4 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Raymond Théberge

In the debate about the last nomination, the regions were discussed. There was also a speech about an indigenous judge. Canada is multicultural, and its face—

4 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Canada is officially bilingual.

4 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Raymond Théberge

It is officially bilingual, absolutely. This does not mean that they are mutually exclusive.

4 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

There's room for improvement.

Thank you.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

You have 15 seconds left.

4 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

I'm done, thank you.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

I will now turn to Mr. Arseneault.

4 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Mr. Théberge. I am pleased to see you here today. I know that you are not officially our Commissioner of Official Languages and that you are not in that position yet. My questions are not intended to trick you before you become familiar with the files or before you have experienced the reality of the new duties, if they are entrusted to you.

I looked at your career and your curriculum vitae. You have certainly accumulated tremendous experience and you have a lot of arrows in your quiver, having lived and worked with minorities, be it in Manitoba or Ontario. You have a lot of experience in education and you studied in Quebec at an anglophone university. So you are familiar with the dual reality of minorities, anglophones in Quebec and francophones outside Quebec. Clearly, I dare say that you have reached the pinnacle of your wonderful experiences in the last five years at the Université de Moncton, in New Brunswick. I will refrain from saying too much about it so that I'm not called pretentious, which I am not.

In all seriousness, Mr. Théberge, you said a few words that touched me right off the bat. You said that the position of Commissioner of Official Languages is key in promoting minority rights in majority communities. I will not give you a law test, but let me take you back to subsection 16(3) of the Constitution Act, 1982, which says:

Nothing in this Charter limits the authority of Parliament or a legislature to advance the equality of status or use of English and French.

If you officially became Commissioner of Official Languages, how would you see your role, in light of subsection 16(3), which says that the charter does not limit the authority to advance the equality of status or use of English or French?

4 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Raymond Théberge

I think the ideal is clearly the equality of status of English and French in Canada. The reality is that we are far from it.

In my opinion, an officer of Parliament position is created because significant value is seen in it. In this case, it is linguistic duality. That's important, and it has always been part of the Canadian federation. However, the status of French and the status of English are clearly not the same. French is the majority language in Quebec, but it is a minority language in North America. English is a minority language in Quebec, but the majority language in North America. In the provinces outside Quebec, French is very much in the minority.

So we have an extremely long way to go in terms of equality of languages. We have some tools to achieve this. We have the Official Languages Act of course, but it is not enough. We also have the action plan on official languages, but that is not enough. So we need concerted action. As I mentioned, we have the act and the action plan. The act itself is not bad. If it were implemented as it is supposed to be, it would perhaps help us come a little closer to the equality of French and English.

For instance, if we look at parts IV, V and VII of the act, we see significant shortcomings and gaps. If we want to advance toward this ideal of equality of French and English in Canada, we must have the tools to do so.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Do I still have time?

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

You have two minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

So we have to start with the goal of equality of language minorities. This much-touted promotion of duality and rights is not fixed in time. There's constantly work to do on a daily basis to try to achieve this linguistic equality, wherever we are in Canada, pursuant to the Constitution Act, 1982.

How can your experience, your background, since you became an adult and started work, help you carry out this promotion once you start wearing the hat of Commissioner of Official Languages?

4:05 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Raymond Théberge

Let me first talk about the francophone communities outside Quebec, followed by the anglophone community in Quebec, whose realities are slightly different.

Outside Quebec, we must constantly promote and support the minority language. We must always provide the resources needed to ensure its vitality. There are a number of ways to do so, such as creating living spaces in French. Vitality is defined by the quality and quantity of interactions we, as Canadians, have in French, and the capacity building of organizations and institutions.

Take, for example, the Université de Moncton. Acadia would not be where it is today without the Université de Moncton. Fifty-four years ago, Acadians built a university that changed the community in 50 years. We need institutions that are able to meet the needs of their communities, regardless of whether it is the Université de Saint-Boniface, Campus St. Jean, or Simon Fraser University. Our institutions must be strong and able to serve the communities.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

Thank you, Mr. Théberge.

That's all for Mr. Arseneault.

Ms. Lapointe, the floor is yours.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Thank you, Mr. Vice-Chair.

Thank you for joining us, Mr. Théberge. I appreciate your being here.

I'm a Quebec MP for the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, a suburb north of Montreal. If you are appointed, what is your global knowledge regarding the English-speaking community in Quebec? You began speaking about that, but I would like to hear more.

4:05 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Raymond Théberge

May I respond in French?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Certainly.

4:05 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, As an Individual

Raymond Théberge

As I mentioned earlier, there is the National Research Institute on Linguistic Minorities at the Université de Moncton and on our board of directors, there are representatives from the anglophone community in Quebec, especially from universities like Concordia University and McGill University. So we are already doing research on the English-speaking minority in Quebec.

A book was published in 2013 by Richard Y. Bourhis on the decline of the anglophone community in Quebec. It was based on demographic analyses. As I said earlier, there is a significant difference between what is happening in Montreal and what is happening outside the city.