Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my views on Bill C-53, An Act to establish the Department of Canadian Heritage and to amend and repeal certain other acts. The Department of Communications, the Department of the Secretary of State and the Department of Multiculturalism and Citizenship were abolished following the government reorganization announced on June 25 and November 4, 1993. This exercise resulted in the creation of a new portfolio, the Department of Canadian Heritage.
For the first time, all federal agencies in the cultural sector, including the Canada Council, CBC, the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada, the national museums and parks of Canada, the National Archives and many others, are part of a single superdepartment.
I want to quote an important provision regarding a field which comes under the minister's jurisdiction. Clause 4(g), on page 2, states that the Minister of Canadian Heritage must promote "the advancement of the equality of status and use of English and French and the enhancement and development of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada".
That clause provides a good description of the federal government's objective to promote a Canadian cultural identity primarily based on the main features of a bilingual and multicultural Canada. However, no reference is made to Quebec as a society, nor to its cultural and linguistic specificity.
Once again, Ottawa denies the distinct cultural reality of Quebec by attempting to dilute its French status and culture in a supposedly bilingual and multicultural Canadian cultural identity. The creation of that department is in compliance with the defunct Charlottetown Accord, which proposed an artificial and false recognition of the provinces' exclusive jurisdiction over culture.
Never in the past, much less now, did the federal government consider withdrawing from the cultural sector despite Quebec's demands for the transfer of cultural jurisdiction and related budgets from Ottawa. The establishment of this new department is proof positive of this: the federal government is turning a deaf ear to Quebec's demands concerning language, education and, most of all, culture.
The federal government will continue to use its spending power to play a role in Quebec without any regard to the priorities and demands of the Quebec government in matters of language, education, and culture. How many more times will we
have to fight for Quebec's interests and demands? Why is the federal government ignoring Quebec's jurisdiction over culture and language?
My colleagues on this side of the House received a clear mandate to stand for the interests of Quebecers. Quebec's demands concerning cultural and linguistic jurisdiction are part of that mandate, and I will fight for them with conviction and determination.
I would like to quote what the late member for Brome-Missisquoi, Gaston Péloquin, was forever repeating to us and trying to convey to his constituents. It is a true depiction of the Canadian situation.
"The fundamental difference between the two solitudes is that Canada is a country looking for a people, and Quebec is a people looking for a country". The fact that my federalist friends refuse to talk about sovereignty does not mean it will not happen. Quebecers will be deciding for themselves, and the other nine provinces will have to accept that decision out of respect for justice and democracy.
The federal government keeps encroaching on exclusive Quebec jurisdictions. It can offer no guarantee about language, education and culture.
The Canadian Heritage Department is a typical example of this kind of interference in an area of jurisdiction claimed by Quebec. Essentially, the policies and priorities of the department, which were designed without consulting Quebec, are more in line with the prospect of an hypothetical country-wide cultural identity which seeks the outright assimilation, sooner or later, of the French language and the Quebec culture. I believe that is the real objective of the federal government.
The notion of cultural identity is what brings people together in a society. This notion helps to build and establish on a permanent basis the institutions that constitute a given society. What this government must understand is that the notion of cultural identity cannot be commanded or imposed in a democratic system or regime.
Thus the federal government cannot make an abstraction of the French culture and language that give distinct identity to Quebec society. The fact is that Canada is constituted by two nation states. Canada is not composed of a unique culture as the federal government would like us to believe.
These are the facts and the Minister of Canadian Heritage will have to deal with them.
History clearly demonstrates this. The federal government has always been trying to ignore the cultural identity of francophones, and its bilingualism policy is the proof. Bilingualism in Canada is a myth, a beautiful dream, a policy that has never really worked. We must say it: the bilingualism policy has proven to be a real failure.
The fact is that francophones cannot live and get an education in French everywhere in Canada. We have the example of Franco-Ontarians. Their history is marked by struggles, by legal battles and, indeed, a resistance to assimilation. And we have the most recent example of Longlac, in northern Ontario, where the francophone community is unable to get services.
A second example are the francophone and Acadian communities in the rest of Canada. In a submission to the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages in the House of Commons in May, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes sounded the alarm, sending out a cry of distress and demanding that the federal government emerge from its indifference.
I quote the federation: "The emergency situation in which members of our communities are living is unacceptable. The assimilation rate, which is increasing from one census to another, and the social and economic situation, which is deteriorating, do not seem to worry the government overly-"
On a five-year period, the assimilation rate has increased by 4.5 per cent in the overall francophone regions outside Quebec. That is a fact. If we do not act immediately, assimilation will continue on its irreversible course, whatever people think and say here.
A third example: the closure of the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean. This decision is, I believe, the worst the federal government has taken in a decade.
How can the federal government justify the closure of the only French-speaking military college in the country and continue to promote its bilingualism policy? How will the federal government be able to ensure progress towards equality of status and use of the French language in the armed forces without a single French-speaking institution in this country?
According to reports the Kingston military college is not at all ready to accommodate French-speaking servicemen and to offer them the necessary training.
Those are the facts. This is the reality. The federal government denies francophones an equal status.
To continue on the same subject, I would like to give the House some statistics. Out of 13,000 so-called bilingual positions in the armed forces, only 6,000 are held by individuals sufficiently fluent in French and in English. The other 7,000 so-called bilingual positions are held by individuals who speak only English.
This again shows that the bilingualism policy has failed in Canada.
Here is another figure. The great majority, 85 per cent, of the 63,870 designated bilingual positions across the country are along the Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec axis.
As a consequence, the budget cuts that would lead to the elimination of the annual bilingualism bonus advocated by the Commissioner of Official Languages would affect mainly francophones working in the federal public service. It would mean approximately $43 million in lost wages for francophone bilingual employees working in the federal public office.
Such is the initiative to promote a cultural identity based on bilingualism as a main characteristic of Canada from coast to coast.
Ottawa's lack of global vision considerably hinders the development and prosperity of francophone communities throughout the country.
When answering a question from the opposition about this claim, the Minister of Canadian Heritage admitted that presently, his government had no global policy for the promotion of the development and prosperity of the French fact.
The attacks the current Liberal government carries out in reaction to the Bloc Quebecois's demands simply seek to blind us to the failures of its policies to promote French in the English-speaking provinces.
Those who suggest the status quo should know that, for a lot of francophones outside Quebec, in the long term, that means assimilation.
How can we deny that the fundamental difference between Quebec and Canada is precisely rooted in the fact that English Canada is unable to recognize the existence of French-speaking Quebecers as a nation?
Quebec's aspirations to develop as both a distinct nation and a full member of the Canadian federation were always repressed. Today, Quebec has chosen to develop within its own political infrastructures, as would a truly sovereign country.
Quebec's sovereignty is not a goal per se, it is rather the means to achieve the coherent development of our potential. It is the most appropriate means we have to make efficient use of our resources.
As long as it is in Ottawa the Bloc Quebecois will keep on denouncing the federal institutions' indifference regarding Quebec and French language, education and culture.
I was sent here to shake up the political inertia of the federal government and to bring to the attention of the House of Commons the concerns of francophone communities wherever they may be in Canada.
The federal government must correct all its deficiencies in order to better answer the aspirations of francophone communities.
Quebecers have used most of their political energy over the last three decades to build a political structure that will allow them to develop as a people. It must be understood that if something binds Quebecers together it is their refusal of the status quo.
Quebec's political and economic context has changed radically over the last fifteen years. Those changes explain the strong comeback of the sovereignist movement in Quebec after the referendum defeat in 1980, the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord.
Since the days of Jean Lesage, all the federalist premiers have struggled hard to provide the Quebec State with the decision-making powers which it needed to exercise a real control over our collective destiny.
The vast majority of Quebec federalists refuse the system in its present form. What made them different from sovereignists for a long time is that they hoped that the system could be modified, especially by transferring powers from Ottawa to Quebec and recognizing the distinct nature of the Quebec people.
For their part, sovereignists had come to the conclusion that Quebecers could never fully develop as a nation within the federal framework the structures of which were frozen in time.
After 30 years of fruitless efforts and countless attempts to change the federal system, even federalists in Quebec have to face reality: the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords have put an end to any hope for a renewed federalism.
Today, Quebecers, both federalists and sovereignists alike, can be sure of one thing regarding the status quo: they can either take it or leave it. Everyone will have to make this choice. Nevertheless, when it comes to the mandate of the Department of Canadian Heritage, we cannot have just one cultural policy since we have two distinct cultures.
As such, the policy of the Department of Canadian Heritage cannot be developed and applied uniformly across the country. Consequently, the Bloc Quebecois will make sure that the various measures taken by the federal government are in tune with the general direction of Quebec's cultural policy.
The Bloc Quebecois will demand that Quebec get its fair share of federal funding through the main cultural institutions such as museums, the National Film Board and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Bloc Quebecois will also make sure that cuts in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's budget will not be made
at the expense of its French network and, therefore, of Quebec artists.
The Bloc Quebecois will also ensure that the Quebec cultural community receives its fair share of grants from federal agencies such as the Canada Council and Telefilm Canada and from the resource envelopes of the program.
Such is the mandate I received from Shefford constituents and I intend to be worthy of their trust.