moved that Bill S-4, an act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French) be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me today to speak to Bill S-4, an act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French).
Before going any further, I think it is important for me to say that I informed the Standing Committee on Official Languages—to which I asked that the bill be referred—and my colleagues that, should the bill be considered by the committee in the future, I did not intend to chair said committee during meetings on Bill S-4. In the interest of transparency, I asked that the vice-chair or one of the vice-chairs of the committee take the chair in my place while I sit elsewhere in the room in order to avoid chairing a hearing which will judge the merits of a bill that I am sponsoring.
I also want to commend Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who has championed this issue for many years. This bill, which sets out to give more teeth—if I can put it that way—to the Official Languages Act, is so important to the hon. senator that he has returned to the charge three times since 2001.
I also want to point out that Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier has faithfully been representing Canadians in the House of Commons and the Senate since 1972, if I am not mistaken—32 years . In a few months, Senator Gauthier will leave us because of his age—75—as unfair as that may seem, especially to those who work as hard on initiatives such as protecting minorities. I know that the senator is undoubtedly listening to this debate and that the members of his staff—his assistant, Sébastien Goyer, in particular—are listening closely and watching it too.
The bill is important to me and Senator Gauthier because we clearly remember a time when it was difficult to obtain services in French and English from the Government of Canada. Senator Gauthier has become a symbol of the struggle to obtain respect for the rights of francophones and minorities everywhere.
Francophones know him well as an advocate in this field, but he was long and is still an advocate of many other causes affecting minority communities. Naturally, we will be able to talk about the rights of public servants or various other similar subjects that have been and continue to be important to Senator Gauthier.
Consequently, when the official languages policy was instituted, some 30 years ago, the senator had just been elected as a member of Parliament. I am sure that when he arrived in the House of Commons, although French and English had the same status here in the House as they do today—with simultaneous interpretation and the other things that have existed since Mr. Diefenbaker's time—things were quite different elsewhere in Ottawa.
However, despite all our efforts, something still remains unchanged, and it must be admitted that rights are not always recognized as they should be. Furthermore, there is even one section of the Official Languages Act that, to some people—and I say some, because one senator does not share this opinion—makes section 41 and others declaratory only and not enforceable.
On March 29, the Official Languages Commissioner, Dyane Adam, published her report entitled, “Walking the Talk:Language of Work in the Federal Public Service”. The information in the report was compiled from questionnaires sent to 2,000 public servants working in the national capital region. So, we are talking about this region. The results prove beyond any doubt that we need to make these parts of the Official Languages Act enforceable, if this is not clear to some people.
In her report, the Official Languages Commissioner said:
Anglophones and Francophones are both in favour of the increased use of French in the workplace.
However, even if both groups are in favour of it, that is not always what happens. We know that this is not always the case.
Now it is time to go further. It is time to give the government of Canada the tools to promote the development of the francophone and anglophone minorities. It is also time to ensure that the necessary measures are taken to implement our commitment. When I say our commitment, I mean the commitment of the House, because, after all, it was Parliament that passed the Official Languages Act. Section 41 is already in the law, of course. Now it is time to make it enforceable.
Section 41 of the Official Languages Act reads as follows:
The Government of Canada is committed to (a) enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and (b) fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
Nevertheless, we have been told that this paragraph is only declaratory, as I said before. There are those who claim that, in any case.
Bill S-4 wants to go further. It wants to add two paragraphs to section 41. Proposed subsection 41(2) would now read as follows. I am reading from the senator's bill, which I am now sponsoring in the House. I suppose I could call it our bill, although that would be unfair because he did far more than I ever will be able to do. Nevertheless proposed subsection 41(2) states:
Within the scope of their functions, duties and powers, federal institutions shall ensure that positive measures are taken for the ongoing and effective advancement and implementation of the Government of Canada's commitments--
Proposed subsection 41(3) states:
The Governor in Council may make regulations in respect of federal institutions, other than the Senate, the House of Commons or the Library of Parliament, prescribing the manner in which any duties of those institutions under this Part are to be carried out.
I understand that some may wish to make amendments to some part of this in the future when the bill goes to committee, at least some of what is going to come a little further on. The bill states in proposed subsection 43(1):
The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall take appropriate measures to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society--
Finally, the bill confers more power on the Commissioner of Official Languages, who will use it to raise awareness of the rights of francophones and anglophones living in minority situations. Subsection 77(1) will therefore ensure that, and I quote:
Any person who has made a complaint to the Commissioner in respect of aright or duty ... may apply to the Court for a remedy under this Part.
I would ask members of Parliament to see it in their hearts to adopt this bill today and to send it to committee. I hope at the conclusion of the debate sometime later this day that they will let the debate collapse, which is what I am asking the House to do, and also not to ask for a recorded vote.
The reason I ask for both is obvious. We may be somewhat, shall I say, late in the term of this Parliament--who knows--and if we are, we could send the bill to committee. If any members wanted to make amendments to the bill, these amendments could be offered.
Of course, after the bill goes to a parliamentary committee, obviously it comes back to us in the House, so we may all take part in a recorded division on the bill in its final form.
That is why I feel it would be important for the bill to go to committee today, to enable consideration of it to start as early as next week.
That is what I am asking my colleagues today. First of all, to support the bill, and second to allow this privilege of terminating debate today and, by not asking for a recorded vote, to allow the bill to be immediately referred to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. I hope that decision will be made later on today.
Passage of this bill on second reading would let the 975,000 francophones in a minority situation, as well as the 585,000 anglophones in a minority situation in Quebec, know that their rights are important, and will be even more so in future. If it is true, of course, that certain minorities are well treated, this narrows the scope of the bill, but it is proportionally more important for the minority that is less well served. This is what a colleague on the other side has said.
I thank hon. members in advance for their work, and I again congratulate the senator behind this bill. I congratulate the Senate as a whole, because it passed the bill unanimously, need I emphasize at this point.
Of course I also wish to thank in advance the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which I normally chair, but not this time as I have already said. I know they work very hard where official languages are concerned, and they will examine this bill thoroughly, and come back with amendments if they feel they are appropriate.
Regardless, once the bill has finished its passage through the official languages committee, whether unchanged or with amendments, it will have had the committee's blessing, as it were. Then, of course, in my opinion at least, the House will surely be prepared to pass it unanimously, once it has seen the comments from the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
Once again, I thank my colleagues. I congratulate the senator and his staff, and all those who have been involved in preparations on this bill on more than one occasion, and who have produced the bill we have before us today.