Evidence of meeting #85 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

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Sorry.

4:50 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Lucky me, I have a whole minute and 40 seconds. It's okay, I'll have another turn during the next round.

Mr. Théberge, I want to come back to something we discussed on Tuesday: the tools Parliament can equip you with so that you can require institutions, whatever they may be, private and public alike, to abide by the act. If I recall correctly, you said it was essential for you to have tools.

I'll come back to the question in a moment, so I'd like you to think about your answer.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

You'll have to wait for an answer, because you are unfortunately out of time.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Our vice-chair is too strict.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

We now move on to Mr. Mulcair.

You may go ahead for three minutes.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to follow up on something Mr. Théberge said when he was discussing the practices and conventions around Supreme Court justices.

It is not practice or convention that dictates that three of the seats be held by judges from Quebec. It is prescribed in the Supreme Court Act. Further to a recent decision we all recall, the Supreme Court called it quasi-constitutional.

4:50 p.m.

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

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Very good.

I'm going to try to sum up in one sentence what you said earlier, as I understand it.

Mr. Théberge, you are telling us that we need to find a clear way of establishing, by law, that justices appointed to the Supreme Court have to be bilingual.

Did I interpret that correctly?

4:50 p.m.

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

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Wonderful. Already, we're off to a great start.

Now for the next question I wanted to ask you. You are described as a person of experience—which I know you have a lot of—so I'd like you to tell us about a time in your career when you had to take a very public stand against a government or minister on a particular issue. Could you explain how you are going to do that as Commissioner of Official Languages?

It concerns me that the minister included deputy ministers on the selection committee that chose you. A deputy minister's job is to make a minister's job easier, not to challenge them. Your job will be to challenge them.

Give us a good example, of your choosing, to show how you stood up to fight for a public issue.

4:50 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

From 1983 to 1985, I was the head of the Société franco-manitobaine during Manitoba's language crisis.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

I remember it very well, having been in charge of the translation of Manitoba's statutes at the time.

4:50 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

I was in charge of the Société franco-manitobaine, and we stood up to the government. We confronted the majority of people, who were completely opposed to the French-speaking minority. As I said in my opening statement on Tuesday, it was a time of plebiscites, public hearings, and death threats against francophones. Insults were hurled at us every single day.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

There was the fire.

4:50 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

Yes, there was also the fire at our office.

I would say that that was when my ability to stand up to a government really came through.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

I know, Mr. Théberge; I just wanted to hear you say it.

I am very familiar with that chapter in time, since I was there right from the Supreme Court's decision in Forest. I was fortunate enough to see it unfold up-close, being responsible, at the time, for the drafting and revision of the French versions of Manitoba's statutes. The experience you shared with us bodes well for the future.

Nevertheless, we believe the nomination process is flawed. I don't want you to think that comment is aimed at you. The Minister did not follow the law. Just as the Supreme Court Act requires that three justices be from Quebec, the law requires that the opposition parties be consulted. I wanted to tell you that.

The Minister never consulted us, so we have a problem with that.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

Thank you, Mr. Mulcair.

It is now Mr. Généreux's turn.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Théberge, now, I'm going to come back to my earlier question.

It was about the tools that the government could give the Commissioner of Official Languages to enforce the act and, even, bring certain offenders to justice, or at least fine them. Those offenders might include formerly public organizations that were privatized. We know a few of those. Air Canada, for instance, is subject to the act, as are government departments. There are a number of organizations, for that matter—many, indeed.

If I'm not mistaken, on Tuesday, you said you thought it was important that the commissioner have tools. In fact, the former commissioner, Mr. Fraser, repeatedly complained about the fact that he lacked tools with teeth, ones that would truly allow him to ensure the act was implemented.

Air Canada is an oft-cited case. Do you think it's a good idea to impose fines or some sort of penalty on companies subject to the act? Everyone agrees on that, even Air Canada. The company is actually making great strides. The appearance of Air Canada's president before the committee last year received major media coverage. Since then, Air Canada has embarked upon a path of ongoing improvement, and that process continues within the company. Even before last year, those efforts had gotten under way.

Nevertheless, do you think the commissioner should have those powers?

4:55 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

The short answer is yes.

Mr. Fraser frequently said that it was always possible to conduct investigations and make determinations. What consequences would they have, however?

In my first appearance before the committee, on Tuesday, I asked what was the point of having an act without consequences. There is a lot of talk about giving the commissioner more powers. What we need, though, is an act with more teeth.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

In that case, what would you suggest? In light of our report, what tools would you like to have under the act?

December 7th, 2017 / 4:55 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

Yes, the committee submitted a report. I think we should seriously consider the last recommendation, which is to give the commissioner the authority to impose sanctions or fines.

I know it might be perceived as creating some type of language police, but, as I often say, there have to be consequences. That means the commissioner must have the necessary tools and mechanisms.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

We will soon begin a study for the purposes of revising the Official Languages Act, which has not been done in a while. At least, that's what you told us. The committee would like to be involved in that revision. You would appreciate it if the necessary tools were provided under the revised act.

Do you already have your mind made up in terms of your preferences? I don't remember exactly how many, but there were three or four options. Do you have any suggestions?

4:55 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

I haven't really chosen my preferences. The four proposed options bear a more in-depth review to determine their potential impact.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

I see.

The committee heard from many witnesses before we submitted our report. If the commissioner were to issue fines or penalties, the government would be taking the money out of one pocket and putting it back in the other, would it not? Would you agree with that?