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

4:55 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

Yes, that's true.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Our discussion led us to the conclusion that, if departments are fined in a public arena, they will have no choice but to comply with the act to avoid further penalties.

That was one of our guiding principles, to a certain extent, even though, when government departments are concerned, the money is more or less going from the right hand to the left hand.

4:55 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

I think the commissioner's office will need time to examine the options, to do an analysis in order to see exactly what repercussions options A, B, C, and D will have.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Very well. Thank you.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

Since we have only a few minutes before 5:15 p.m., and we may be called for a vote and perhaps a debate, each person will have five minutes. Your time is up, Mr. Généreux.

Mr. Samson, you may go ahead.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Théberge.

We are happy to see you again. I have four or five questions for you, and l'd like you to answer briefly.

You said that we should have a method to ensure that judges are bilingual. You personally believe that Supreme Court justices should be bilingual?

4:55 p.m.

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

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you.

Your mandate includes three important objectives: the equality of French and English in Parliament, in the Government of Canada, in federal institutions, and so on; the equality of French and English in Canadian society; and, in my opinion, an extremely important objective, the task of maintaining and supporting the development of minority official language communities. So it's a matter of enrichment.

Your mandate states that not only must you ensure follow-up of complaints, investigations and reports, but you must play that role while launching investigations on your own initiative.

I know that you are not yet in the position, but do you have any investigations in mind that you would undertake on your own initiative?

5 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

I think it is important to measure the impact of the action plan for official languages. It is also important to know where the funds are going. Accountability is extremely important in the implementation of the action plan.

Certain matters, such as immigration, were raised by the current commissioner and they deserve to be followed up. Targets have been set, but are we reaching them? Immigration is one of the keys to the future of minority francophone communities, and anglophone communities in Quebec.

A report was published two years ago that stated that we would do better, but we have to continue to be vigilant with regard to these targets.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Very well.

Let me speak to you about two other important points I believe in.

The first one is this: the government owns some real estate, lands that are not being used. So it decides to sell them. I will give you the example of British Columbia where the government sold federal lands to other parties. Francophones are entitled to French-language schools and have been waiting for land to be acquired for 10 years. Under the Official Languages Act, francophones in minority situations should have access to those lands.

The second point concerns agreements between the federal government and the province. We are always told that these agreements are a matter of provincial responsibility, but subsection 16(3) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads as follows:

16(3) Nothing in this Charter limits the authority of Parliament or a legislature to advance the equality [...]

This is something for you to think about.

I am going to ask you some brief questions, and I would like your answers to be brief, because I only have three and a half minutes left.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

You only have 45 seconds.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

How many minutes do I have left? That's not possible.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

No, but...

5 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Could you comment on this: “equal does not mean equitable”.

5 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

Equality is not equity. For instance, if you want a minority group to be equal to another group, that is matter of equity.

You have to take proactive measures. For instance, when you look at employment equity, this means that for certain groups, you have to put in place special measures to ensure that they will eventually reach equality.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Thank you.

I have one last question.

Some people have circulated rumours that you may possibly be appointed Commissioner of Official Languages, but feel that you may not be as forceful as they would like.

Do you think you are forceful?

December 7th, 2017 / 5 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

I think that forcefulness is strategic and that you have to use it in the right way.

As I already said, if someone goes to the barricades every day, sooner or later, people will stop listening. I think you have to be strategic. As a rector, when you work with governments, you negotiate. In a context like this, since this is an activist's role, I am returning to my activist roots.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

Thank you very much, Mr. Théberge.

Mr. Mulcair, you have the floor.

5 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

I'd like to go back to the point that I was discussing earlier with Mr. Théberge, so that he understands that our opposition is based on the way in which the government made its choice.

We are one of the recognized parties in the House of Commons. We have 44 members, although you only need 12. The law requires that there be a consultation. Like my friend and colleague Guy Caron said the context of a response to the Prime Minister, for a consultation to occur, you have to ask for the opinion of the person being consulted. For that to happen, the government would have had to submit its choices and proposals and justify them, and so on. Based on the jurisprudence, we believe that a government that claims to consult a party by presenting the person it has chosen has not consulted the party; it has informed it. That is clear to us.

And so I wanted to say that we are going to maintain our position, because we think that the work that must be done by the Commissioner of Official Languages is too important to be tainted by procedural defects in the nomination process. We are not changing our minds on that. Nothing in the non-responses of the minister has changed our point of view in this regard.

Before Mr. Caron drafted his comments, I had written a very similar letter. The minister replied that we had asked that francophones outside Quebec and anglophone Quebeckers be consulted and that an Acadian candidate be considered. She forgot one thing, which is that the primary purpose of my letter was to point out to her that she had never consulted our party, the NDP. And yet it was clearly stated in the letter. I wanted to clarify that point. It is part of our work as parliamentarians to see to it that laws and the rule of law be respected. We live in a society governed by the rule of law. This position is crucial, in our opinion.

That being said, I want to go back to the current provisions of the Official Languages Act. I know that Mr. Théberge knows them very well. Aside from the issue of what happens to the recommendations, there is the concrete case of Air Canada, a company which is in a way, the dunce of the class when it comes to official languages. The previous commissioner, Graham Fraser, said so on many occasions and produced a thick report substantiating his analysis.

I would like to know what tools the Commissioner of Official Languages should have, in your opinion, to obtain compliance from a delinquent like Air Canada, which obstinately refuses to comply with the Official Languages Act.

5:05 p.m.

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

Raymond Théberge

The conclusions of the committee concerning Air Canada do lead one to think that there are not many measures left to apply, and that perhaps the time has come to consider fines and sanctions. Air Canada wants to avoid its responsibilities in terms of official languages, and in order to do so, would like to see them assigned to Transport Canada.

As I was saying, it is therefore extremely important that there be consequences. Air Canada has large budgets, but the fact remains that for a private company, it's often a matter of money. I don't know what means should be used to get this enterprise to respect the law, but I think we have to find ways. There has been some progress, but for the moment, the objectives are not being met.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

To conclude, I'd like to tell you a brief story. This is something I experienced myself on a Porter Airlines flight, to not mention its name. An important announcement was made and a woman who was seated two rows ahead of me could not understand it. Since she wanted to know what it was about, she asked for help, and people answered her in English. But this lady did not speak English. I went to help her but I also asked the flight attendant why she had not spoken French to the woman. She replied that she was bilingual, but since the Official Languages Act did not apply to Porter Airlines, she had been asked not to speak French.

Do you think that a situation like that one could be examined by the Commissioner of Official Languages?

5:05 p.m.

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

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Alupa Clarke

Mr. Arseneault, you will be the last speaker. You have five and a half minutes.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Am I the last one? Oh my!