Evidence of meeting #33 for Official Languages in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was quebec.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Raymond Théberge  Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Arielle Warten  Sociology Student, Youth Advisory Committee, Bishop's Forum, As an Individual
Houston Rifai  Public Policy and Public Administration Student, Youth Advisory Committee, Bishop's Forum, As an Individual
Guillaume Rousseau  Full Professor, Faculty of Law, Université de Sherbrooke, As an Individual

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Lehoux Conservative Beauce, QC

Bill C‑13 adds the new section 44.1 to the Official Languages Act. The section deals with francophone immigration. Is this enough or is it just a cosmetic amendment?

As it turns out, Quebec wants an amendment to strengthen the new section. Do you agree with that?

12:45 p.m.

Full Professor, Faculty of Law, Université de Sherbrooke, As an Individual

Guillaume Rousseau

As a jurist, and especially as a civilist, I definitely prefer it when things are well codified, the rules are clear and judges are given a little less leeway.

As a result, I would tend to be even more specific and even more demanding where immigration policy is concerned. While the judiciary has done some work for francophones in other provinces, unfortunately Quebec case law has tended to be less supportive of protecting French.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Lehoux Conservative Beauce, QC

Quebec also wants an amendment to the proposed new section 3.1, which deals with language rights. Is that really a Supreme Court ruling being codified?

12:45 p.m.

Full Professor, Faculty of Law, Université de Sherbrooke, As an Individual

Guillaume Rousseau

I admit, I don't have it before me.

October 6th, 2022 / 12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Lehoux Conservative Beauce, QC

Okay, no problem.

I have another question.

The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada is proposing an amendment to provide for language clauses and consultations to address the accountability issue in transfers to provinces. What are your thoughts on that?

12:45 p.m.

Full Professor, Faculty of Law, Université de Sherbrooke, As an Individual

Guillaume Rousseau

Federal-provincial agreements, which you discussed earlier with Mr. Théberge, are really important. Having said that, I think asymmetry is the right approach. Yes, it's important that the federal government step in and that there be language clauses in the agreements between the federal government and the other provinces, particularly with respect to access to child care services in French. I believe Ms. Ashton talked about this at the last committee meeting. I agree that it's a very important aspect. However, I support an asymmetric approach in Quebec. The federal government should really let Quebec implement its language policy. I believe that the Quebec government is doing more to protect French, but that our anglophone compatriots are still protected by rights. I feel we've struck a certain balance. There could be more for French, but at least we have a balance.

Therefore, the federal government need not worry about the Quebec government's language policies with respect to the linguistic minority. On the other hand, it should perhaps be more concerned about language policy in the other provinces.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Lehoux Conservative Beauce, QC

Thank you, Mr. Rousseau.

I will leave the rest of my time to Mr. Godin.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Thank you to my colleague.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

You have one minute, Mr. Godin.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

All right.

When I hear people talking about regulatory power, it's music to my ears. It involves limited consultation. It's never as strong as legislation. However, this week the witness told us that it's possible to address the issue using regulations.

With respect to reviewing the act every five years, I just want to remind you of the wording of proposed section 93.1(1): “On the 10th anniversary of the day on which this section comes into force and every 10 years after that anniversary, the Minister of Canadian Heritage shall undertake a review of the provisions and operation of this Act.”

Reviewing isn't the same thing as revising, is it? Okay, thank you very much.

Mr. Chair, I'd like to introduce a motion on the topic we are currently discussing. After hearing the Commissioner's and Mr. Rousseau's testimony, and in light of the issues raised in the Commissioner's brief, I move that, as part of the study of Bill C‑13, the Minister of Official Languages, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Secretary of the Treasury Board be called to appear as soon as possible, as of October 18, 2022, for two hours per department.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

Mr. Godin, I misunderstood what you said towards the end. As of what date would that be?

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

I move that those individuals appear as soon as possible as of October 18, 2022. Of course, we understand that the ministers may have busy schedules, but their appearance to answer our questions should be a priority for them.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

Are there any questions about the motion?

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

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

On a point of order, Mr. Chair.

I agree with the motion, but shouldn't we ensure we use the time allotted to question the witnesses? We could vote on the motion at the very end of the meeting.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

This is in accordance with parliamentary rules. A motion was just introduced in the middle of the committee meeting. It's a perfectly legitimate motion, as it concerns the topic under discussion.

The truth is that the witnesses are learning how committee procedure works. It's a great life experience for them.

Are there any questions about the motion?

Please raise your hand if you wish to speak, because I can see you from a distance.

You have the floor, Mr. Drouin.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

We have no problem with this motion, but I would just like to reiterate one thing. Obviously, each party already has a list of witnesses that they would like to hear from. I hope they don't add more witnesses to the list, otherwise we're going to have meetings like this over and over again and Bill C‑13 won't pass before April 1st, April Fools' Day.

We're prepared to move immediately to vote on the motion and pass it. That way, we can move on and it won't take up Mr. Beaulieu's time.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

I have to say that I'm having some difficulty grasping your motion, Mr. Godin, because it seems to me that the individuals in question are already on our lists of witnesses to be called. Am I mistaken?

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

No, you're not mistaken, Mr. Chair. However, we would like to meet them as soon as possible, not at the end of the exercise. That's the purpose of the motion.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

Okay, I understand.

If there are no objections, we'll take a vote.

(Motion agreed to)

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

We will now move on to the next speaker.

Mr. Drouin, you have the floor for five minutes.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to thank all the witnesses here with us. It's nice to see people in person. I also want to thank the witnesses joining us by videoconference.

Since we have not had the opportunity to ask many questions to the witnesses joining us by videoconference, I'm going to go ahead and ask them some. I am a francophone, but I will ask them in English. I think that's important in a country like Canada, where you can learn both official languages.

Mr. Houston, with Bill C-13, what is the most important aspect of this that you want to see?

12:50 p.m.

Public Policy and Public Administration Student, Youth Advisory Committee, Bishop's Forum, As an Individual

Houston Rifai

The most important positive aspect of the legislation, obviously, is to promote the French language in the rest of Canada. Frankly, the French language is in decline, for two major factors: the lack of immigration to Quebec because of very strong limits on immigration to Quebec, and the loss of language in francophone communities outside of Quebec. Those are clearly the two factors. One is a matter for the Province of Quebec to deal with. The other one is a matter that the federal government should have a laser focus on, making sure that francophone communities outside of Quebec have as many resources and as much help as possible to maintain their language.

However, this cannot come at the cost—which is our entire discussion here—of language minorities in Quebec as well. Frankly, it is already a very heavily regulated system. That is the reality. We don't want to see the Charter of the French Language reflected in the Official Languages Act. That's our big take-away, if you would like one aspect of this.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Okay, thank you.

Now I'm going to turn to Mr. Rousseau, who is here with us in person.

This isn't your first time appearing before the committee, Mr. Rousseau. You've often brought up the principle of territoriality, and that's what I'd like to talk about.

Many Quebeckers choose to move to other provinces, but they don't necessarily settle in French-speaking communities. That's also true for many people from French-speaking communities outside Quebec. In other words, they disperse.

I'm going to use my earlier example. Forty years ago, all the French speakers in Ottawa lived in the east end of the city. You couldn't find a French speaker in the west end. It's an altogether different story today.

Bearing that in mind, how do we go about applying the principle of territoriality? How can we strengthen Bill C‑13 so that it serves the interests of francophone communities, whose members are now scattered all over the place?

Here's something else to consider. Nowadays, most young people don't feel connected toa specific geographic area. They use their cellphones to build their identities. They spend their time on their cellphones.

Without these geographical boundaries, how do we ensure that the legislation supports francophone content and the consumption of that content by young people?

12:55 p.m.

Full Professor, Faculty of Law, Université de Sherbrooke, As an Individual

Guillaume Rousseau

I'm glad you mentioned that I've appeared before the committee before. The questions I was asked by the committee previously prompted me to provide more clarity on where I stand—or at least, I tried to. I really see this as a meaningful and productive exercise.

The last time I was before the committee, I did indeed discuss the approach based on territoriality. I did so because that is the model that universally stands out in the scientific literature. Questions like the one you just asked made me ponder the matter further and consider the so-called blind spots of the approach. I may have only implied this the last time, but I want to be clear now. As far as the protection of French is concerned, the preferred approach should, whenever possible, be the one based on the principle of territoriality, both in Quebec and in regions with a significant francophone population. Basically, that means the areas around Quebec, so northern New Brunswick, eastern Ontario and the Ottawa area. In the other provinces, the approach should be based on the principle of personality, in other words, the promotion of both official languages. That has its limits, however. In an environment where one language is more dominant than the other, when people have the freedom to choose which language they are going to use, more people will inevitably choose the dominant language, meaning English. Nevertheless, it is possible to do certain things.

The model based on the principle of personality, which is the one underlying the Official Languages Act, cannot be expected to work miracles or save a language. It is, however, perfectly legitimate and reasonable to apply the principle of personality in all areas outside Quebec or near the Quebec border that are home to tiny and often isolated French-speaking communities. You're right. Since those communities do not represent the majority, the principle of territoriality cannot, by definition, be applied, except at a micro level. That's the first thing I would say.

For that reason, I would say I respectfully disagree with the witnesses who appeared before me. Personally, I think it is essential that the Official Languages Act refer specifically to the Charter of the French Language. What's more, the notwithstanding clause does not suspend rights; it suspends the requirement to pass constitutional muster, transferring the responsibility of protecting rights to the legislature in question, and the Quebec legislature does a very good job of that.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

Thank you, Mr. Rousseau.

Please remember not to speak too quickly, so as not to make life harder for our interpreters.

Go ahead, Mr. Beaulieu. You have two and a half minutes.