Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the goals of Bill C-202, which was introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
The bill clearly stems from a concern for the future of linguistic minorities in Canada. I want members to know that the federal government shares this concern in every respect and supports official-language minority communities.
On March 12, 2003, and as a result of the commitment it made, in particular in the September 2002 throne speech, the federal government tabled its action plan on official languages, a concrete measure on behalf of official language minority communities.
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs have announced the new Official Languages Action Plan, which I shall refer to as the action plan in this speech.
This action plan includes a $119 million plus investment in health care, to implement positive steps such as the retraining and retention initiative for health professionals and a community networking initiative designed to improve access to services provided to minority communities in both official languages.
In addition, Health Canada reallocated a total of $30 million from its Primary Health Care Transition Fund to improve access to services for official language minority communities.
The government strongly supports linguistic duality in Canada and the action plan clearly shows its commitment for the future.
The plan includes an accountability framework setting out how the commitments and obligations under the Official Languages Act are to be met.
The government is clearly committed to meeting its responsibilities, in addition to defining mechanisms for coordinating the policy and the new measures included in the action plan, meaning that Health Canada and official language minority communities will have real means of improving access to health care services.
Improving access to health care for official language minority communities and ensuring their viability are major priorities for Health Canada.
Health Canada's commitment is clear and has been demonstrated in many ways already, namely:
by funding various projects within these communities on its own initiative or in partnership with Canadian Heritage;
by funding the “Santé en français” forum in Moncton in November 2001, during which the francophone advisory committee made its report public;
and, finally, by funding various projects within these communities, on its own initiative or in partnership with Canadian Heritage. More than $13.6 million has been allocated to official language minority communities over the past three years. This funding, taken from existing programs, was a response to requests made by the communities.
The action plan on official languages will help support the development of French and English language minority communities and will make health care services more accessible to them in their official language.
The action plan is proof of the federal government's support for official language minority communities. This action plan respects provincial and territorial jurisdictions and requires these governments to contribute to improving access to health services for official language minority communities in their own language.
As members know, under the Canadian Constitution health is primarily the responsibility of the provinces and territories.
In other words, the provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the development and delivery of health services to Canadians.
This means that provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the planning and management of their own health care systems.
As for the federal government, it is committed, through the Canada Health Act and the action plan on official languages, to promoting and protecting the health of all Canadians.
I remind everyone that we must never forget that the Government of Canada cannot get directly involved in a provincial or territorial jurisdiction. Nor should it infringe on provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
The federal government cannot and must not act unilaterally in a shared provincial jurisdiction. Any decision to broaden the scope of the Canada Health Act requires extensive consultations with the provinces, and the agreement of all governments.
In Canada, there is a long-standing tradition of partnership and cooperation between the federal, provincial and territorial governments in the health sector.
We continue to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that Canadians have access to health services in both official languages. In fact, the action plan on official languages helps make health services in their own language more accessible for francophones and anglophones in minority communities.
The action plan's accountability framework is the concrete expression of our commitment to these linguistic communities, and it ensures that Health Canada will fulfill its responsibilities to improve access to health care services for official language minority communities.
In order to reaffirm the government's commitment, I move, seconded by the hon. member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, the following amendment:
That Bill C-202, an act to amend the Canada Health Act (linguistic duality) be not now read a second time but that the Order be discharged, the bill withdrawn and the subject matter of the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Official Languages to report back to the House on or before October 31, 2003.