Madam Speaker, the bill describes the central role that the Department of Canadian Heritage will be called to play in the life of Canada and Canadians.
The legislation creates a department which will have responsibilities in the areas of national parks, historic sites, cultural development, amateur sports, multiculturalism and official languages. All those areas have clear links to our identity as Canadians.
I will speak today specifically about the official languages responsibilities of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the English and French languages and the people who speak them that have shaped Canada and helped define its identity. Surely Canada's linguistic duality has its origins in the very nature of the country.
The official languages policies put forward by the Government of Canada since the 1970s are the reflection of a generous and creative vision of Canada. It is a Canada where English and French speaking citizens can feel at home wherever they choose to live. It is a vision of Canada where vital English speaking and French speaking minority language communities can contribute to the economic, social, cultural and scientific life of the country.
In order to translate this vision into reality, federal institutions have become bilingual. It is the institutions that have become bilingual. The government co-operates with the provinces to ensure that our linguistic duality is reflected in the education system and other services in the areas of justice and health.
The government has recognized that it has a role in enhancing the vitality and development of official language communities from coast to coast to coast, both by supporting the development of their institutions and by supporting their efforts to have their rights respected. It has also worked to promote the recognition and the use of two official languages with a wide range of organizations within Canadian society.
The official languages programs of the Department of Canadian Heritage are designed to provide opportunities for Canadians to appreciate and profit from our rich linguistic heritage and to communicate with and participate in federal institutions.
The Government of Canada believes that the great majority of Canadians share these goals. We all know that the Canada of tomorrow is being built in the classrooms of today. Few would doubt the importance of education to any community and of support for minority language education. The federal government works toward the full participation of both language groups in all aspects of Canadian society.
These programs do much more than support the vital contribution of official language minority communities. They allow them to contribute to our country's economic growth. For example, recent progress in education for francophone minorities has been a big help in reducing the illiteracy and school drop-out rates, thus raising the post-secondary attendance rate.
The 1991 census revealed that the number of francophones outside Quebec went up slightly in absolute numbers. Nearly 1 million French speaking Canadians, or about 14 per cent of Canadian francophones, live outside Quebec. They are found in all regions of the country and account for about a third of the population of New Brunswick. The largest community in terms of numbers is in Ontario, where almost 1 million francophones live.
Even in my own province of Manitoba, there is a significant number of francophones and a vibrant community. Minority language education is a good indicator of these communities' viability. There are some 660 French language primary and secondary public schools outside Quebec. By ratifying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, the federal and provincial governments made commitments to official language communities.
Section 23 of the Charter gives minorities the right to be educated in their own language and to manage their own schools, as just happened in Manitoba. In the Mahé decision, the Supreme Court said that this section is "the cornerstone of Canada's commitment to bilingualism and biculturalism be-
cause of the essential role of education in maintaining and developing linguistic and cultural vitality".
By allowing parents to fully participate in the operations of their school boards and ensuring that together they can turn their schools into truly francophone living environments, we also discourage dropping out and give a head start to several generations of our very young children. That is why the federal government must continue to help the provinces and territories fulfil their constitutional obligations to their official language minorities.
As with any government policy, this policy, its objectives and its implementation may be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Even here in the House of Commons, we hear comments that reflect a misunderstanding of the objectives of the federal policy on official languages. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify certain facts about supposedly imposed bilingualism.
The 1969 Official Languages Act stated that French and English had equal status in all Canadian parliamentary and government institutions. It was revised later to take into account the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As a result of this policy everyone has the right to use English and French in Parliament and Parliament must enact its laws in English and in French. Everyone has the right to appear and proceed in the official language of choice before any federal court and any criminal court. The public has the right to communicate with and receive services from the institutions of Parliament and the federal government in either of the two official languages.
English speaking and French speaking Canadians have equal opportunities for employment and advancement in federal institutions. The composition of federal institutions must reflect the presence of the two official languages communities in Canada.
The federal government is bilingual so that the citizens do not have to be. Every Canadian has the right to remain unilingual. Universal bilingualism has never ever been the goal of the policy. The B and B commission stated:
A bilingual country is a country where the principal public institutions must provide services in two languages to citizens, the vast majority of whom may very well be unilingual.
The key concept in all of this is that it is the choice of individual Canadians. So much for the supposed enforced bilingualism.
This policy is one that not only reflects what Canada was, what Canada is and what Canada can be. It is an open policy, a policy that reaches out and encourages people to participate in the official language of their choice. In doing so it does not exclude other groups from participating fully in Canadian life. That is what sets it apart.
I could speak for a long time but I understand that I am coming to the end of my speech. It is unfortunate because I had so much to say. However, I would like to close simply by asking all members of the House of Commons to look with their eyes, their minds and their hearts open at this policy encouraging all Canadians to get involved.