House of Commons Hansard #210 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was languages.


Buffalo And Fort Erie Public Bridge Company ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there consent to call it 1.56 p.m?

Buffalo And Fort Erie Public Bridge Company ActGovernment Orders

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Some hon. members


Buffalo And Fort Erie Public Bridge Company ActGovernment Orders

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The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed in today's Order Paper.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

1:20 p.m.


Bob Ringma Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC


That, in the opinion of this House, and as the anniversary of the original Official Languages Act approaches (1969-1994), the government should thoroughly assess the way the act is applied in Canada by appointing some individual to carry out a detailed and balanced review of the work done so far, and reaffirm Parliament's commitment to a just and adequate policy on official languages.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to begin debate on this private member's motion which calls for a review of the Official Languages Act.

This motion may seem familiar to members, and so it should. It originally appeared on the order of precedence last fall as M-107. At that time it was sponsored by Ottawa-Vanier MP Jean-Robert Gauthier who, as we know, has since moved on to the other place.

When Mr. Gauthier answered the call from above his worthy motion was dropped from the order of precedence. More than likely Mr. Gauthier and I have different motives for bringing this motion forward. The fact that I have chosen to do so speaks to the credibility of the motion and the widely held view that the Official Languages Act is not working as it was intended.

The Reform Party supports individual bilingualism but we oppose enforced bilingualism as dictated by the Official Languages Act. We would replace the Official Languages Act with legislation reflecting the philosophy of territorial bilingualism. We believe the primary responsibility for language and culture should rest with the provinces. Parliament and other key federal government institutions would continue to offer bilingual services.

Why do I say the act is not working? A quick look at the Commissioner of Official Languages 1994 annual report provides us with some insight into this claim. According to the commissioner our audits showed that French does not have equitable status as a language of work in the national capital region. He went on to say the shortcomings are essentially the same in Quebec and in Ontario.

This is what our present commissioner had to say about the act. A look back reveals that his predecessors shared a similar point of view. Former commissioner D'Iberville Fortier said: "It seems to me that we are clearly not at the point where we can claim to have translated the act into action in a manner that is judicious, consistent and unequivocal".

In a similar vein, former commissioner Max Yalden accused the government of being inconsistent, unimaginative and indiscriminate in its implementation of the act.

The first Commissioner of Official Languages, Keith Spicer, was often critical of the government's implementation of the act. His 1991 report "Citizens' Forum on Canada's Future" clearly spelled out Canadians' view on the issue:

The view was often expressed that Canada's official languages policy has contributed significantly to the current crisis, including animosity toward Quebec and/or toward French. Frequently used terms describe bilingualism as divisive and as breaking up the country.

An independent review of the application of the official languages policy is badly needed to clear the air, with a view to ensuring that it is fair and sensible. Otherwise there is risk that rising public dissatisfaction and misunderstanding will lead to

rejection of the policy as a whole with irreparable damage to the principles of linguistic equality in federal institutions.

One purpose of the review should be to make clear to Canadians the cost and benefits of official languages policy and activities and explain far more clearly its goals and methods. Such a review should evaluate public information efforts as well as investigate all of the public's expressed concerns.

This recommendation, like all the others contained in the $25 million document, was ignored by the government of the day, just as the Liberals continue to ignore the views of the thousands of Canadians who took part in this process. Despite this lack of government attention to the concerns expressed by Canadians, that recommendation is as valid today as it was in June 1991.

The people intimately involved with the act, the commissioners, say the act is not working as it should.

Other noted Canadians share this sentiment. In an interview celebrating the 20th anniversary of the founding of the B and B commission, nine of the commissioners talked about their original work and how it had been implemented by the Official Languages Act. Mrs. Gertrude Laing was less than complimentary about the way the act had been implemented in the public service. In discussing the wholesale creation of bilingual positions and the massive second language training program, Mrs. Laing said that they "failed to respect individuals' feelings and needs, fears and aspirations".

On those same issues co-chairman Davidson Dutton commented that it was "two steps forward and one step back". Mr. Paul Lacoste, in discussing language of work, lamented the decision not to follow the commission recommendation to set up unilingual language work units and called the language of work policy in the public service a failure.

Similarly Mr. J. B. Rudnyckyj regretted that the Official Languages Act contained such weak provisions with respect to Canada's ethnic minorities. All the commissioners were disappointed that bilingual districts had never been proclaimed as they were a key feature of the blueprint for equal partnership.

Gilles Lalande, deputy commissioner of official languages from 1980 to 1985 and co-secretary of the B and B commission also called the bilingual districts a cornerstone of language reform but said the subject had received little more than lip service and empty declarations of intent. He also said:

The language reform envisaged by the B and B commissioners never took place.

Mr. Lalande was equally pessimistic about the act itself saying:

Implementation of the act remains fragmentary and tentative.

He concluded by saying:

We have to admit that collectively we may have been overly ambitious and taken the wrong tack. It is high time to get our priorities straight.

Other prominent Canadians have also questioned the validity of the current act. Professors Denise Réume and Leslie Green in their 1991 article published in "The Network on the Constitution" wrote:

The main goal of any language policy should be to promote linguistic justice. Nothing in the conventional analysis even addresses this question.

Noted Concordia University sociologist Hubert Guindon stated in a 1978 article: "No matter how lofty its ideals, the legacy of the political disaster created by" the federal "official language policy is there for everyone to see". According to Professor Guindon, the act hinders rather than facilitates the changes needed as a consequence of the social modernization of the Quebecois. It contributes to a climate of ambiguity for immigrants in Quebec and uncertainty for the large private corporate sector in Quebec.

We have seen that several language commissioners, bureaucrats and academics believe the act has failed. If we return to the Spicer forum for a minute we could also see that average Canadians hold similar views. I have heard that firsthand in the west.

Here are a few short quotes from that 1991 report:

Pierre Trudeau's vision of a multicultural and bilingual society for Canada was a noble one, but it is apparent now that it simply will not work.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

An hon. member


Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Bob Ringma Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

"Bilingualism has failed". It continues:

Two languages should be an asset, but administration of "official bilingualism" has taken a potentially wonderful and unifying asset and made it hurtful and divisive.

I could go on with many more such quotes expressed by average Canadians, but I believe this sampling gives a very good picture of the public's attitude toward the act.

If I heard "hogwash" from across the way, referring to what ordinary people are saying, I resent it. Canadians should have the right to express their opinion, especially on commissions such as the Spicer commission.

Now that we have clearly established the shortcomings of the act it is time to address the merits of the motion as it pertains to reviewing the act.

In his 1975 annual report on official languages, Commissioner Spicer wrote:

But surely there is merit in keeping more meaningful accounts. Without them, those dealing with language reform will have to continue waffling on the recurring questions of costs-hearing, but being unable to contradict convincingly such delicious polemical estimates-as $3 billion per year for bilingualism.

It would seem more sensible to pull the whole lot of linguistic items together, specify the purpose for each, tote up the terrifying sum, add 10 per cent for integrated cost, then publish and defend the thing as the high but necessary price for being Canadian.

Those words were written 20 years ago but have been ignored ever since. I am not here to make any wild claims about the cost of official languages because the truth is that I do not know the cost. The truth is that no one knows the cost.

Why do we not know the cost? It is because the accounting practices used for these programs have taken more twists and turns than contestants in a Chubby Checker dance-a-thon.

Mr. Spicer knew this in 1975 and the government knows it today but refuses to act. On two separate occasions I put motions before the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages but was turned down both times. That is why I am getting rid of some of my frustration in proposing the motion originally put forward by Jean-Robert Gauthier.

The people in this committee say that we have the numbers from the commissioner and there is no need for verification. However the truth is that the numbers are not verified in any meaningful way. The commissioner gets the numbers from the Treasury Board which he accepts at face value. Treasury Board produces these numbers based on cost reports produced by all departments and agencies.

The guidelines for producing the reports clearly state that certain costs are not to be counted, such as the person years and salaries of employees taking language training as well as those of staff hired to replace the employees on language training. They do not count those costs.

Treasury Board says that its books are open to the auditor general, but if the books do not contain all the information it is difficult to conduct a thorough audit. It must also be stated that the auditor general has never turned his attention to the full range of language policies and programs.

We know that in 1991 the auditor general looked at the Translation Bureau, found many problems and concluded:

It became clear the Translation Bureau would have to undergo major changes to correct the weaknesses we identified.

In 1993 a follow up audit was conducted and the following conclusion was reached:

Despite these efforts, however, we note that significant weaknesses still exist. We are particularly concerned about cost reduction.

This is but one small area of the official languages program. After 26 years has not the time come to fully probe the entire menagerie created by the Official Languages Act?

The only question that remains is: Who should carry out such an important review? I have already stated that the official languages committee has no desire to perform such a task. Nor would it be the appropriate body as it is out of step with the demographic and linguistic realities of Canada. It would also be impractical to impose this duty on any parliamentary committee as they are dominated by the Liberal government which I believe is committed to the status quo.

My motion simply calls for the appointment of someone to conduct a thorough and balanced review of the work done so far. This someone should be the auditor general. The office of the auditor general is highly respected by all Canadians. It is at arm's length from Parliament and therefore free from political interference. The auditor general is already on the payroll, meaning there will be no extra cost to the taxpayer to conduct this vital review.

As indicated in the Reform Party's blue sheet, we support the concept of official bilingualism. However, we do not approve the way the act has been implemented during the past 26 years. That act was never subjected to a complete review. This is totally unacceptable to those who care about the linguistic policy's integrity.

It should also be mentioned that the B and B commission correctly pointed out that each province is the ultimate authority on its own territory. Consequently, any future linguistic reform should be conducted through the provincial authorities. The Reform Party shares these views but, unfortunately, the principle is not found in the act as such.

Over the past nearly 20 minutes I have illustrated the shortcomings in the act as seen by official languages commissioners, bureaucrats, academics and average Canadians. I have stated logically why we must revisit the act and who should carry out the review: the auditor general.

The issue of language has proven to be the subject of very emotional and sometimes illogical debate in the House. We have seen it directly within the year. It is regrettable as the issue is far too important to be reduced to such a level of squabbling and name calling. Therefore I call on all members of the House to be cognizant of the sensitivity of the issue as they enter into debate today and in the coming months.

I bring the motion forward in the hope of furthering open and honest discussions on Canada's language policy. Partisanship and ideology will do nothing to enhance a true exchange of ideas.

I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and look forward to hearing some intelligent and thought provoking debate on the motion before the House.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

St. Boniface Manitoba


Ronald J. Duhamel LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to the motion presented by the hon. member for Nanaimo-Cowichan.

The motion being debated today includes two proposals. The first one is that the government should thoroughly assess the way the Official Languages Act is applied in Canada, by appointing an individual to carry out a detailed and balanced review of the work done so far. The second proposal is that the government should reaffirm Parliament's commitment to a just and adequate policy on official languages. These are good intentions, no doubt about that.

However, do we not already have all the required processes to ensure that the act is properly applied and to see how it is implemented? I listened carefully to the hon. member's speech. It is true that the implementation of the Official Languages Act could be improved. It is that aspect that we, parliamentarians, should look at.

I heard about a number of flaws, but I did not hear anything about the positive aspects, and that makes me feel uncomfortable.

I also want to say that, from what I understood, the former MP, now a senator, had proposed something very similar in terms of assessing the way the act is applied across the country, from coast to coast. He was interested in reviewing the application of the act. So, I will discuss the topic from this perspective.

Let me explain. A number of mechanisms are available today. The Official Languages Act confers very clear responsibilities and rather precise mandates on three federal departments with respect to its application. These are the departments of justice, treasury board and Canadian heritage.

The Department of Justice has special responsibilities in the area of the administration of justice in both official languages under the act. The act clearly stipulates that English and French are the official languages of the federal courts and that either language may be used by any person in any oral or written proceedings.

The act further stipulates that the federal government is required to use the official language chosen by the other parties in a civil case to which it is a party before a federal court and that any final decision, order or judgment issued by any federal court must be made available simultaneously in both official languages under the circumstances specified in the legislation.

These are fundamental rights which guarantee all Canadians, whether they are English speaking or French speaking equal access to justice. This access is reinforced by the fact that the Official Languages Act requires all federal institutions, including the federal courts, to comply with the provisions of the act.

The second department with a specific mandate regarding official languages is Treasury Board. It is responsible for developing and co-ordinating the official language policies and programs of our federal institutions.

Treasury Board's mandate covers all federal institutions, including Crown corporations, and all agencies which have obligations regarding official languages under any other federal act. By virtue of the scope of its mandate under the Official Languages Act, Treasury Board is a key player in the management of the official languages program.

It is the responsibility of treasury board to ensure that federal institutions respect official language obligations regarding services to the public and the language of work with regard to the language of services. Federal institutions are required to provide services to the Canadian public in the official language of its choice in those locations and under the circumstances prescribed by the legislation.

Federal institutions have a further obligation to inform the public of the availability of services in the official language of its choice.

The official languages regulations adopted in 1991 identify the circumstances under which federal institutions are required to provide their services to and communicate with the public in both official languages. These regulations are essential to the application of the legislative framework enacted to ensure that Canadians receive the services they require from federal institutions in the official language of their choice.

In so-called bilingual regions, federal institutions must also provide a work environment which promotes the use of both official languages in the circumstances covered by the act. In particular, the federal institutions in question must provide bilingual human resources and central services, among others, to their employees, and must provide them with the general and common working tools in the language of their choice.

They must ensure that supervision is available to employees in both official languages, when this will contribute to the creation of a work environment promoting the use of both official languages. These institutions must also ensure that senior managers are functional in both official languages and that general and common information technology tools can be used in both official language. Lastly, federal institutions must be able to provide a comparable level of service in either

official language from one predominantly unilingual region to another.

The third element of the program, the equal representation of French speaking and English speaking Canadians, bears witness to the commitment of the government and Parliament to official languages.

This commitment means that federal institutions must ensure that their workforce reflects the presence of both linguistic communities in the Canadian population. Under the terms of this commitment, federal institutions must see to it that French and English speaking Canadians alike have equal employment and promotion opportunities.


It is the responsibility of treasury board to see to it that federal institutions effectively fulfil their legal obligations under parts IV, V and VI of the act and to report to Parliament annually on the status of official languages within the federal institutions covered by its mandate.

To this end, treasury board has been given the authority to recommend regulations and to give effect to the provisions of the act. It is also empowered to issue directives, to monitor and to audit the general compliance of federal institutions with official languages policies, directives and regulations. Treasury board may also evaluate the effectiveness of policies and programs of federal institutions and provide the public and federal employees with information on these policies and programs.

These are powers that the Treasury Board exercises every day in one way or another. These powers enable the Treasury Board to ensure not only that federal institutions fulfil their obligations but also that Canadians receive the services they need in the official language of their choice where prescribed by law and that they have equal employment and promotion opportunities in federal institutions.

The third federal department given specific responsibilities in terms of official languages, which I mentioned earlier, is the Department of Canadian Heritage. This department is responsible for encouraging and promoting a co-ordinated approach to the implementation by federal institutions of the government's commitment to enhance the vitality of official language minorities and to promote both French and English in Canadian society.

I had so many things to say, but I am coming to the end of my 10 minutes. I would simply want to add that I have not yet mentioned the fourth major player, the Commissioner of Official Languages, who also plays a key role in this matter. The Commissioner of Official Languages has the duty to ensure recognition of the status of each of the official languages and compliance with the spirit and intent of the act, in particular as regards the advancement of French and English in Canadian society.

Unfortunately, I must conclude my presentation. I had so many things to say, but if some of my colleagues are interested in my speech, I am ready to share it with them.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me start by restating the motion before us today, for the benefit of those who are watching us: As the Official Languages Act is 26 years old, it deem it important that the government thoroughly assess the way the act is applied in the country by appointing someone to carry out a detailed and balanced review of the work done so far and reaffirm Parliament's commitment to a just and adequate policy on official languages.

The Bloc Quebecois will have no difficulty voting for this motion. In fact, I requested almost exactly the same thing in a speech I made in this House on October 3. Let us look at where the need for this assessment comes from.

The Official Languages Act stems from the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism set up by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1963. The act was ultimately passed in 1969 by the Trudeau government in response to the sense of urgency felt at the time.

We will recall that the early 1960s were marked by the first manifestations of the FLQ, which were symptoms of profound discontent within Canada.

In fact, in a preliminary report issued in February 1965, the B and B Commission, as it was nicknamed in those days, stated that measures were urgently required as Canada was undergoing a major crisis.

According to a booklet published by the federal government and entitled Official Languages Act in Brief , the objectives of the act are as follows: first, to ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada, and equal status, rights and privileges for these languages in federal institutions. Second, to support the development of English and French language minority communities and to encourage the acceptance and use of both English and French in Canadian society. Third, to set out the powers and duties of federal institutions in the area of official languages.

The document also points out that the provisions of the Official Languages Act stem from the linguistic rights guaranteed by the Constitution. So, the Official Languages Act provides that Parliament and the federal courts must work in both official languages; that the federal government must provide its

services in both official languages, based on certain conditions, and that it is committed to achieving full and equal participation of the two official linguistic groups. Since it was reviewed in 1988, the act also provides that the Minister of Heritage is committed to enhancing the vitality of linguistic minority communities, while also being responsible for co-ordinating the efforts of the various departments toward the fulfilment of that objective.

It is also important to take a look at the preamble of the Official Languages Act. It says that the Constitution provides that English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament. It also provides that the public can communicate with these federal institutions in either official language; that public servants should have equal opportunities to use the official language of their choice while working; that English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians should, without regard to their ethnic origin or first language learned, have equal opportunities to obtain employment in the institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada; and, finally, that the federal government is committed to enhancing the vitality of linguistic minority communities.

Given all these good intentions, what is the situation, after more than 25 years under the Official Languages Act? There are a number of criteria that can help us determine the positive or negative impact of this legislation, including assimilation rate, education, income, availability of federal services in the minority language and, finally, language of work of federal employees.

The situation in Canada's francophone and Acadian communities is certainly not as rosy as the official line would have us believe. In fact, there is every indication that the francophone community outside Quebec is being assimilated, is losing ground where education is concerned, is getting poorer and generally does not have access to the federal services to which it is entitled in its own language. Furthermore, most francophones in the federal public service have to work in English. Warnings come regularly from spokespersons for these communities and the Commissioner of Official Languages. Apparently, to no avail.

Let us take a closer look at some of those criteria. First, the assimilation rate. To calculate the assimilation rate, we take the total number of persons who say their mother tongue is French and subtract the number of persons who tell the census taker that French is still the language spoken in the home.

According to information provided by Statistics Canada, between 1971, the year of the first census that included questions on language, and 1991, the year of the latest census, the assimilation rate of francophones outside Quebec rose from 27 per cent to 34.8 per cent.

French is losing ground across the country, including in New Brunswick, the only bilingual province, where the assimilation rate is still 8.4 per cent.

Of course, the trend is more dramatic in communities in western Canada. In British Columbia, for instance, it was 71.8 per cent in the 1991 census; in Alberta, 64.4 per cent; in Ontario, although the province has the largest francophone minority, the assimilation rate was 36.7 per cent, an increase of ten points over 1971.

In other words, English is spoken in the home by 71 per cent of francophones living in British Columbia; 64 per cent in Alberta; and 36.7 per cent of francophones in Ontario. It should therefore come as no surprise that Bob Rae, the present Premier of Ontario, said on CBC radio that, unfortunately, there were not enough francophones in Ontario for the province to become officially bilingual. Naturally, every effort was made to assimilate them-we can see the results 26 years later.

Statistics on the level of education in francophone communities are also alarming. Thirty per cent of the francophone minority outside Quebec is considered illiterate. In Ontario, the group for development stated recently that the level of illiteracy among the province's francophones was 31 per cent, compared with the figure of 17 per cent for its anglophones. We should, however, perhaps not be surprised by these figures, when all Canadian provinces officially prohibited teaching in French for decades and when, despite the present constitution, the many decisions by the Supreme Court and the many battles waged by the country's francophones, the right to education in French-

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I remind you that you have about two minutes left.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is impossible. I was told I had 20 minutes, like Mr. Ringma.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

No, no. I am sorry. Speeches during private members' business are 10 minutes in length.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, no, I am supposed to have 20 minutes.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member for Joliette has the floor on a point of order.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


René Laurin Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is 20 minutes' speaking time, is it not?

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

For the first speaker, and 10 minutes for all other members.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


René Laurin Bloc Joliette, QC

Yes. For the first speaker of each party.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

No, no. For the first speaker.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


René Laurin Bloc Joliette, QC

For the first speaker who introduced the bill, and then the others have 10 minutes?

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker


Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


René Laurin Bloc Joliette, QC

So, there is a mistake.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Then, I will have to conclude, and that is really unfortunate.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, it is most unfortunate that I have not had the time to read all my speech and that I was misinformed. I guess that is part of the procedure in this House and that, by now, I should have known better.

Anyway, the important thing is to say that we will support the motion of the hon. member for Nanaimo, because it is extremely significant, since we have to recognize that bilingualism in Canada is a failure. Now that multiculturalism has replaced biculturalism and bilingualism, it is no wonder that there are no longer any Canadians in Canada, but only Greeks, Japanese, Chinese, Germans, Ukrainians and Quebecers, who will make the right decision when the time comes.

So, I want to move the following amendment, seconded by the hon. member for Joliette.

That Motion M-381 be amended by adding after the word "languages", the following: "and that the Act be strengthened and applied in full from coast to coast to coast".

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The proposed amendment is in order.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise this afternoon and support the motion put forward by my hon. colleague from Nanaimo-Cowichan.

Twenty-five years ago the first Official Languages Act was passed, as has been noted. Since that time we have never fully reviewed its operation to see if this multibillion dollar ship is taking us where we want to go.

In 1988 the act was revised incorporating three main objectives: first, to ensure the equal status of the two official languages; second, to support the development of official language minority communities; and third, to set out the powers, duties and functions of federal institutions in this area.

To ensure compliance with the spirit and intent of the act, a commissioner of official languages has been appointed. His job is to protect language rights of individuals and groups, evaluate linguistic performance of federal institutions and monitor the advancement of French and English. In other words, the commissioner's mandate is to promote the act, not to evaluate its effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the auditor general has not undertaken a comprehensive review of the act during its entire 25 year evolution. This is a serious flaw.

What we do have is a series of reports, studies and audits of particular aspects of the act. Nobody has looked at the whole thing. Even if problems are identified, no one has the mandate to change aspects of it that are not working.

For example, in past annual reports the commissioner has repeatedly criticized the failure of the government to communicate the basic purpose of the act to the Canadian people. In the words of the commissioner, this has resulted in negative hearsay and durable falsehoods. Despite being over two decades old, Canadians still do not even understand why the act exists. Something is definitely wrong, but the commissioner is not empowered to fix it.

The commissioner's 1993 annual report notes that the Canadian solution to the co-existence of two dominant languages is focused on individual rights rather than the establishment of a territorial linguistic regime. This means the intention of the act is to ensure Canadians can receive services from federal institutions in the official language of their choice regardless of where they happen to live.

During 1993 the office of the commissioner completed its own study of individual choice versus territoriality in the implementation of language rights. Again I quote: "The study concluded that Canada has struck its own balance between individual rights and territoriality, and has done so as a function of its own history and specific human needs".

Despite the fact that the act is not supposed to be territorial in nature, government services in both languages are not universally available, only where there is significant demand and where it is reasonable, logical and fair to do so. This makes some sense but it does not meet the demands of individual complainants who believe their rights to full services under the act have been violated.

Each province implements the act differently. This means the results are also measurably different in each province. Is this a failure of the act or was this the original intention? If we do not review the act nationwide, how do we know whether the overall objectives are feasible or even desirable?

The 1993 report began with a quote from Montesquieu: "Nothing is just merely because it forms part of the law; rather, it should be law because it is just". The Official Languages Act is the law but if we do not examine it impartially and thoroughly how can we know that it is just?

One example of a perceived failure illustrates this point. Many minority official languages communities are upset because they do not receive services of comparable quality to those afforded to the majority. Perhaps this is neither realistic nor affordable. Perhaps we should be looking at providing services of adequate quality rather than comparable quality. No

one is looking at alternative solutions to these problems. The commissioner's role is to pursue the goal of comparable services, not to question whether that goal is attainable.

The Spicer commission studied Canadians' perceptions of the Official Languages Act. One participant: "Being able to speak both English and French should be a worthwhile personal goal for all citizens of Canada. It is also an achievable goal, if only the politicians had the courage to admit that the language policies they have been advocating for the past two decades failed miserably and left the country deeply divided. It is time to scrap the enforced bilingualism policy and heal the wounds".

As my hon. colleague mentioned earlier, another participant in the citizens' forum on Canada's future stated: "Pierre Trudeau's vision of a multicultural and bilingual society for Canada was a noble one, but it is apparent now that it will simply not work".

We are certainly a more bilingual country than we were in 1969, but we are far from achieving the goals of the act and it has been in operation for more than a generation. Surely if the act was workable we would have met most, if not all, of the goals by now.

The list of failures is long. We have failed to achieve equity in the language of work in federal institutions. We have failed to communicate the basic purpose of the act to Canadians. As a result, the act does not enjoy universal support. As I already stated, it has failed to provide comparable quality services to minority official languages communities. It has failed to establish universal access to services in the language of choice resulting in territoriality playing a significant role.

After 25 years why has the official languages policy failed to meet virtually all of its objectives? Without an independent review of the fundamental principles, structure and implementation regimes we will never know. We will merely continue to add to the list of failures because questioning the goals or the means of achieving them is beyond the mandate of the commissioner.

Let us compare the Official Languages Act to a sailing ship under Christopher Columbus. The office of the commissioner has certain tasks to perform, such as investigating complaints, auditing specific federal departments of compliance and ensuring implementation of minority language education programs. These are like the specific tasks of sailors to mend the sails, scrub the decks or feed the crew.

Every once in a while the auditor general comes along and performs an audit on a discreet part of the ship such as his 1991 audit of the translation bureau. This is like lowering a sailor over the side of the ship to chip off a few barnacles rather than checking the integrity of the hull. We fix one or two problems with the sails, replace some lines and bail out the bilge, but no one has looked at the whole ship. We are so concerned with the day to day operations and studying the individual components that no one has looked to see where the ship is going.

Columbus knew his mission was to get to the far east and he fixed the little leaks along the way, but after two months under sail he ended up in America instead. If we do not completely review the act, how can we be sure we will achieve the stated objectives? More important, how do we know our national objectives have not changed?

Right now we do not even know if we are still going in the right direction because we have not done one comprehensive audit in 25 years. Remember, his sails were repaired regularly but Christopher Columbus was not even in the right ocean, let alone on course.

I urge all members to support this motion to conduct a thorough review of the act. We may not all agree on where we think the official languages ship should be headed, but an independent auditor could make sure we are at least sailing in the direction supported by the majority of the crew, in this case the Canadian taxpayers who continue to foot the bill.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


Pierrette Ringuette-Maltais Liberal Madawaska—Victoria, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter this debate on the motion tabled in the House by the hon. member for Nanaimo-Cowichan and, what is really surprising, supported by a Bloc member, which indicates that the Bloc Quebecois will vote for this motion.

Over the week-end, in New Brunswick, the Société nationale des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick is holding its annual assembly; as one of its members, I would have liked to be there, but as the member of Parliament for Madawaska-Victoria and co-chair of the joint committee on official languages, I think it is even more important for me to speak to this motion.

I will begin by recalling the history and the purposes of this act. The original Official Languages Act was passed by the Parliament of Canada in 1969, following the recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. The purpose of that act was to give French and English equal status, non only in Parliament and before federal courts, as was already guaranteed in section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867, but in the whole federal administration.

In 1988 the Official Languages Act was thoroughly reviewed and amended. The new act defers from the old one in that it not only sets out the official languages right of the public but also clearly spells out the duty of the federal institutions in respect to these rights. It contains as well a solemn commitment by the government to enhance the vitality of the English speaking and the French speaking minority communities and to advance the recognition and the use of English and French in Canadian society at large.

We strongly believe that the Official Languages Act in its present form contains a complete legislative framework which is sufficient to ensure and to monitor the implementation of the act in a manner that is efficient, fair and transparent.

The House will know that all federal government institutions, departments, agencies and crown corporations are subject to the act. The key departments entrusted with specific responsibilities for the implementation of the act are treasury board, Canadian heritage and justice.

However, the administration of the act does not stop with federal government institutions. It is important to stress that the commissioner of official languages, the federal court and the standing joint parliamentary committee on official languages also fulfil important functions.

Allow me to review briefly the roles of the key federal institutions responsible for overseeing and reviewing the implementation of the act.

The Official Languages Act entrusts the treasury board with the responsibility for the co-ordination of the policies and programs of the government in the area of communication with and service to the public, the language of work within federal institutions as well as the equitable participation of English speaking Canadians and French speaking Canadians within those institutions.

The President of the Treasury Board informs the House when tabling his annual report.

It should be noted that the government on the recommendation of the treasury board has put into place regulations respecting service to the public in both languages. The final provisions of these regulations came into force last year.

Another key department under the act is that of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, who is responsible for co-ordinating the federal government's commitment with respect to the enhancement of the vitality of official language minority communities and the advancement of English and French.

Last summer in New Brunswick the Prime Minister and the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced new initiatives, including an accountability framework for the co-ordination of government commitment to the enhancement of the vitality of official language minority communities and the advancement of English and French.

The Minister of Justice is the legal custodian of the act since he retains general legislative responsibility for it.

The Minister of Justice has particular responsibilities in the areas of drafting legislation and administering justice, in both official languages, in federal courts as well as in criminal prosecutions under the authority of the Solicitor general of Canada.

We have already mentioned that the administration of the act does not stop with federal government institutions. The act provides for a linguistic ombudsman, independent of government and reporting to Parliament, who is charged with the duty of taking action to ensure that federal institutions comply with the spirit and the intent of the act.

The commissioner of official languages is not a court. He attempts to resolve issues relating to the application of the act through a process of administrative mediation. Through his annual and special reports to Parliament as well as his complaint reports the commissioner ensures that Parliament, the government and the public are kept well informed as to the administration of the act.

The act also provides Canadians with the right to seek court remedy. Pursuant to part X of the act the federal court may, if it finds that a federal institution has failed to comply with the act, grant an appropriate and just remedy.

Finally, I come to the role of the standing parliamentary committee on official languages which is charged, in the words of the act, with the duty to review on a permanent basis the administration of the Official Languages Act, any regulation and directive made under this act, and the reports of the commissioner, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Canadian Heritage.

The committee has been very active in listening to the views and concerns of Canadians on official language matters. Both the commissioner of official languages and the Minister of Canadian Heritage have recently appeared before the committee as have a number of other ministers.

In my opinion the parliamentary committee is proving to be an effective, open forum for Canadians concerns with the implementation of the act.

I would like to add something to the speech. The hon. member who introduced the motion is a member of the Joint Committee on Official Languages. At the beginning of his speech, a short while ago, the hon. member said that his party, the Reform Party, supports the principles of individual bilingualism. At the end of his speech, he said that the Reform Party also supports the principles of official bilingualism.

In the Committee on Official Languages the hon. member did the same kind of flip-flop regarding the Official Languages Act, as I will demonstrate. At the beginning of our proceedings, the member made the following motion to the Committee: "Be it resolved that this committee endorse the recommendations contained in the commissioner's report on service to the public and further, that this committee encourage Treasury Board to draw up an action plan to implement these recommendations in as cost-effective and expedient a manner as possible, and that Treasury Board officials be invited to appear before our committee for the purpose of tabling their action plan at an early date", asking the committee to support unanimously the intent, the report and the Official Languages Act.

One month ago, the same member presented another motion where he proposed to abolish entirely the budgetary votes and the operating budget of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

This quite a turnaround. During the last Parliament, the Committee on Official Languages held only ten meetings over a two-year period. Since the beginning of our mandate, we have had 30 meetings in one year. Why? Because our government is keen on seeing justice done to both linguistic communities in Canada. And the main supporter of this justice and the primary promoter of the Official Languages Act is the Right Hon. Prime Minister.

If the Reform Party and the Bloc have doubts about that and are not sure that Canadians throughout the country support the Official Languages Act, they only have to look at the recent Gallup poll. It says it all.

Official LanguagesPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The next time we debate this issue, it will be the Bloc Quebecois's turn to speak. The hour reserved for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired.

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 2.25 p.m., the House stands adjourned until 11 a.m. on Monday.

(The House adjourned at 2.25 p.m.)