House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was surplus.


Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

(Motion agreed to)

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

When shall the bill be read a third time?

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you realize how glad I am to speak to this bill today. Without predicting the future, I can see it being adopted very soon.

Then I will declare that it was a kind of gift for me before leaving the House. Indeed, in a few months—or less, but I hope not—my duties in this place will come to an end. Before leaving, I would like to be able to say that I contributed to the protection of minority groups in our country. That is the object of the bill.

Of course, I am not the original author of the bill. All the credit for that goes to Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who, during so many years defended so well the interests not only of the French and English minorities, but also those of civil servants and many other groups. He also specialized in parliamentary law and he taught me a lot about procedure, besides what he taught me about minority rights advocacy.

All the credit then must be given to him.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the member for Scarborough Southwest, who gave me the opportunity to use his slot of time to debate this bill.

Later, the hon. member for Gatineau also wanted to contribute to speeding up the process by giving me the time that was allocated to her. That is why I can now begin the debate at third reading of Bill S-3. I thank the hon. member very much. I had the opportunity to thank her a few days ago, but I wanted to thank her again today.

I also thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans, who supported the bill at second reading and who, today, wanted to support it yet again at the report stages and now at third reading. I truly appreciate his support.

I also want to thank the hon. members who sat on the official languages committee for several months dealing with this issue, members on all sides of the House. I extend my congratulations and thanks to all of them because I know that they all worked very hard on this bill.

I did not agree with the points of view of all of them, but that is okay. We are not here to always agree and of course even when we disagree, if our point of view prevails, then presumably it is that much stronger because it eventually triumphs over other points of view. In that respect, I want to thank even those who did not initially like the bill as much, but who, through the amendment process and otherwise, sought to improve the bill that is before us today.

In the next few minutes, I want to talk about the bill before us as amended. It certainly is quite different now. The purpose of the bill was to amend part VII of the Act, in other words, sections 41, 42 and 43. Two of these sections were to be amended by this bill, namely sections 41 and 43. However the bill as amended will change only section 41 of the Official Languages Act.

In the beginning there was concern about whether the bill set out to guarantee a process over a result. The committee discussed this at length with help from the Commissioner of Official Languages and her staff, who are not far from us right now—we are not allowed to refer to the presence of others in the House. They helped us a great deal in improving the wording of the bill in section 41.

As far as section 43 of the Official Languages Act is concerned, our colleagues from the Bloc, and perhaps others as well, made sure the bill did not interfere with provincial jurisdictions. The Commissioner of Official Languages thought it did not. This is what she said about the amendment to improve section 43:

Although I do not agree that this amendment could contradict the Canadian Constitution and thereby allow the federal government to act in areas that fall exclusively under provincial jurisdiction, if this amendment becomes an obstacle to passage of the Bill, I do not believe that it is essential and vital to preserve it.

The committee followed the recommendation made by the Commissioner of Official Languages and withdrew the amendment. As a result, section 43 of the Official Languages Act is no longer being amended. To those who were concerned that section 43 may interfere with provincial powers, even if this concern is unfounded, I am announcing that this amendment no longer exists. Now, only section 41 is being amended. This section refers solely to the powers of the federal government. This section is being improved, so we are also improving the section on government powers and nothing else, since nothing else is specified in either the initial section or in the amendment. So, the status remains unchanged, meaning that the obligations, even if there are more of them, remain those of the Government of Canada, as stated in the initial proposal. We all agree that it is the Commissioner of Official Languages, who has this role, along with her staff and all the experts. We must all recognize this.

I hope that, in the next few minutes—and I have the right to hope, even if I am not certain of the result—that my colleagues on all sides of the House will finally be able to unanimously support the bill as amended. By so doing, all the parties in the House would be unanimously confirming their desire to improve the rights of minorities in this country.

I grew up before section 23 of the Charter existed. At that time in Ontario, attending a French high school was not easy. It was almost impossible. That was my experience. Thanks to the adoption of this section, my children attended elementary, secondary and university in Ontario—my son even got a master's degree—without ever attending an English school. They did all their studies in Ontario. They had this right; I did not. I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that they have more rights than their parents did, just as my children had more rights than I did.

That is the way rights in Canada evolve.

I think that we will improve things in a few days. I want to tell my colleagues: if we are to do this, let us make it unanimous. That is what I want.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell said so eloquently, Bill S-3 will certainly bring about greater obligations.

What does he think about the power of complaint that would be provided to French and English speaking communities, to minority communities, combined with the wording of section 43? How can he justify that the government would still be required to take measures to advance the equality of both official languages and, if it does not, it might be prosecuted by the courts and would have to comply with their rulings in provincial jurisdictions? What does he think about this?

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, with due respect, the member is wrong: she is talking about the obligations under section 43. In the bill, as it came back from committee, section 43 is gone. The amendment to section 43 has disappeared. Now, we are only amending section 41. The bill, at second reading stage, amended sections 41 and 43 of part VII. That part is deleted in the committee's report on the bill we concurred in 10 minutes ago.

We are now talking only about section 41 dealing with federal institutions. We are no longer talking about section 43, because it was deleted in committee, as my colleague may remember. So it is now section 41. Of course, she may get back to this with a supplementary question, but we are no longer talking about section 43. Indeed, we are no longer amending it, since it was deleted from the bill. The member can ask her colleague about this.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will tell my colleague that I know perfectly well that we are finally going back to section 43 of the Official Languages Act. However, the fact remains that that section says “The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall take such measures as that Minister considers appropriate to advance the equality of status and use of English and French”.

Moreover, I have noted that combined with the possibility of using the courts, the fact remains that French is in danger in Quebec.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am doing my best.

Section 41 and 43 were declaratory. The bill makes section 41 enforceable while section 43 remains declaratory. This being said, the enforceable part—which means that it can be taken to the courts, etc.—will become an amendment to section 41 and not to section 43. This is not a fact. The member is incorrect. I am sorry but this is not what this is all about.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Guy Côté Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, maybe I am the one who does not understand the bill in front of us correctly. Let me read the proposed section 77(1), which seems very clear:

Any person who has made a complaint to the Commissioner in respect of a right or duty under sections 4 to 7, sections 10 to 13 or Part IV, V or VII—

The hon. member will correct me if I am wrong but section 43 of the Act is now included in part VII of the Official Languages Act. The section continues:

— or in respect of section 91, may apply to the Court for a remedy under this Part.

It seems very clear that all of part VII of the Official Languages Act has now become enforceable. Unless I am mistaken, section 43, in its present form, is included in part VII of the Official Languages Act.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is simply a wrong interpretation. I am convinced that there is no bad faith on anyone's part.

I will not give a course on procedure here but, between the time when a bill comes back from the committee and the time it is passed in the House—in the case of a private member's bill—that bill is not reprinted. In other words, the clauses that were removed by the committee still appear in the bill, even if they are no longer debated. Now, we are debating only section 41. The other clause is no longer there, because it was revoked a few minutes ago, when we adopted the committee's report. This is how things are done with private members' bills.

However, after this bill is passed, section 43 will still be the same as it was two, three or five years ago. It is not amended, it remains declaratory. Following the amendment made through this bill, section 41 will become binding. This only goes for section 41.

The fact remains that, currently, people can still try their luck before a court. People can invoke any act passed by the Government of Canada, whether it is an act allowing the use of a pesticide to fight mosquitoes, or other acts such as this one, and be more or less successful, depending on the scope of the legislation. That goes for any act, including a provincial one, or even an order in council. This is not a new condition that we have today.

I hope this helps clarify how things work.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to talk about Bill S-3, an act to amend the Official Languages Act. This bill was introduced in each session of the last Parliament. This is the fourth attempt to pass it.

I want to begin by commending now retired Senator Gauthier for his lifelong dedication to official language minority communities in Canada and for his effort to strengthen their protection with Bill S-3.

The main purpose of this bill is to make the commitments set out in part VII of the Official Languages Act binding on the government. The way the act is worded now, the fulfillment of the objectives in part VII is left up to the discretion of the government, with no obligation of results.

It is interesting to note that a senator, a Liberal senator, has had to try four times to get the government to live up to its commitments, and the only way to do that is to make it a law.

Bill S-3 enhances the enforceability of the federal government's obligations. We are no longer talking about the government's intention here, but about taking concrete measures to advance the equality of status of English and French. We all know how much this Liberal government is dragging its feet on proving that it wants to take action in matters of official languages, like in other matters.

I can understand why Senator Gauthier felt such a bill was necessary.

Three sections of the Official Languages Act are affected by this bill: sections 41, 43 and 77.

Section 41 of the Official Languages Act commits the government to:

Enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development.

Section 41 also commits the government to:

Fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.

Section 43 follows suit and more specifically aims at increasing the level of responsibility of the Minister of Canadian Heritage on promoting official languages.

The government has failed miserably on both these accounts.

The Official Languages Commissioner, Dyane Adam, has criticized the lack of action of the Liberal government with respect to official languages. Indeed, in her last three annual reports she recommended to clarify the legal scope of the commitments set out in section 41 of the Official Languages Act.

Furthermore, in 2004 the Federal Court of Appeal stated that “section 41 is declaratory of a commitment and that it does not create any right or duty that could at this point be enforced by the courts, by any procedure whatsoever”.

In others words, the court ruled that section 41 of the Official Languages Act was a broad statement of principle and not an actual legal obligation. The court went on to say, “the debate over section 41 must be conducted in Parliament, not in the courts”.

Bill S-3 addresses this ruling in two ways. First, it would add subsections requiring all federal institutions to take positive measures for the ongoing and effective advancement and implementation of section 41. Second, it would add part VII of the Official Languages Act to a list of specific sections of the act that is justiciable which is contained in section 77.

When this bill was being considered in committee, the Liberals tried to shirk their responsibilities yet again by proposing amendments that were clearly meant to diminish the scope of this bill.

In May 2005, before the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the Minister of Canadian Heritage proposed replacing this result obligation with a process obligation. Once again, this government is trying in every way to avoid implementing all the provisions of the Official Languages Act. The government wants to consult, but does not want to formally commit to taking concrete measures to improve the situation of linguistic minority communities.

Clause 77 is also aimed at binding the government to its commitments. Clause 77 reads:

Any person who has made a complaint to the Commissioner in respect of a right or duty under sections 4 to 7, sections 10 to 13 or Part IV, V or VII, or in respect of section 91, may apply to the Court for a remedy under this Part.

As I mentioned earlier, clause 77 would make it clear that if the government does not live up to its obligations under part VII of the Official Languages Act it can be taken to court and forced to fulfil these obligations. It is a shame in this country that we have to go that far to promote our official languages.

Therefore, Bill S-3 would strengthen the Official Languages Act making explicit the federal government's legal responsibilities to our communities' vitality. It also clarifies our right to use the courts under part VII of the act to enforce the government's legal duties to our communities.

As a general principle, I am very supportive of legislation that removes wiggle room for ministers and holds them to their commitments.

Participants in the public debate on Bill S-3 have suggested that the proposed legislative measures would encroach on areas of provincial jurisdiction and have a prejudicial effect on the balance of power which is at the heart of the Canadian federal system.

It is clear that many of these issues directly related to community development fall under either shared jurisdiction or exclusive provincial jurisdiction. That is why the Conservative Party has fought to have this bill amended to specify that this commitment of the government is to be fulfilled “in compliance with the jurisdictions and powers of the provinces”. We know full well that this Liberal government jumps at any opportunity that comes by to encroach on the provinces' areas of jurisdiction.

With this amendment, the Conservative Party is proud to remind the Liberal government that Bill S-3 is not a new way of interfering in provincial jurisdictions. The Conservative Party's amendment is designed instead to ensure that the government will finally assume its responsibilities in official languages, and do so in compliance with the powers delegated to the provinces under the Canadian Constitution.

In conclusion, I would like to remind my hon. colleagues that the Conservative Party supports any measure to force this government to fulfil its official languages obligations.

The Conservative Party believes that Parliament should draft legislation that is clear and enforceable for everyone involved, instead of passing vague laws and leaving it up to non-elected judges to provide details about measures that the government has to take to meet its official languages commitments.

The Conservative Party respects provincial jurisdictions. It has worked on that, to ensure that this Liberal government will not be able to jump at the opportunity to once again invade areas of provincial jurisdiction.

With the Conservative Party's amendment that seeks to protect provincial powers, the Bloc's exclusionary policy is no longer relevant. The Conservative Party values bilingualism in Canada, while the Liberal government is clearly trying to use all possible ways to divert attention from the failure of its own action plan on official languages.

The poor track record on official languages will not change until the government is replaced by an effective government. Just last evening, during the minister's own mid-term report on the action plan, speaker after speaker stressed that leadership was sadly missing.

The Liberal government has been leading this file for two and a half years and our minority communities are still looking for leadership. Seven-five per cent of them report it is totally ineffective. The language commissioner herself says that it is ineffective. After two and a half years, only 20% of the $750 million in funds have been released to the communities that so desperately need it. This will only change when a Conservative government takes power.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are three points I want to talk about.

First, I would like to explain why we are still opposing Bill S-3. I am talking about the importance of the French language as the common language in Quebec. I also want to say that we regret not being able to support our French speaking colleagues from Acadia, Ontario and western Canada. Finally, I wish to reaffirm the Bloc Québécois' commitment to and solidarity with the francophones of North America who do not live in Quebec.

Part VII of the Official Languages Act says:

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.

This section clearly allows the federal government to fulfill its constitutional commitments to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society.

The promoters of Bill S-3 believed that subsection 77(1) of the same act had to be replaced by the following:

Any person who has made a complaint to the Commissioner in respect of a right or duty under sections 4 to 7, sections 10 to 13 or Part IV, V or VII, or in respect of section 91, may apply to the Court for a remedy under this Part.

Contrary to what was said just now by the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, section 41, which is worded as follows:

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 under subsection (1).

It is understood that this implementation shall take place in compliance with the fields of jurisdiction and powers of the provinces—as amended. We agree that section 41 assigns the government an obligation of result and, combined with section 77, this application to the courts for remedy could lead us into major difficulties, in this desire to ensure the equal status of French and English. So this is a particular issue in Quebec.

It is above all this possibility of applying to the courts that concerns us.

The Bloc Québécois considers that the absence of specific criteria as to the results to be achieved by the federal government, for the promotion of French and English, leaves room for the possibility of abusive application to the courts for remedy by certain persons or certain groups. And let us be frank, such exaggerated application would perhaps occur too often, unfortunately, in Quebec

Furthermore, the federal government too frequently uses its spending power to invade fields of provincial jurisdiction. It has already done so in the field of health. For example, it has concluded a $11.5 million, five-year agreement with the government of Quebec with the aim of increasing access to health care for anglophones. This agreement has been criticized because it imposes bilingualism on the Info-Santé workers in contravention of the right to work in French in Quebec, something clearly laid out in our Charter of the French Language.

In the Action Plan for Official Languages tabled in March 2003 by Minister Stéphane Dion, we read in Axis 2, which deals with community development, and I quote:

The measures considered will enhance the communities’ access to public services in both official languages, mainly in the areas of health, early childhood development and justice.

Need I point out that health and early childhood development are within provincial jurisdiction? It is not surprising that the hon. members on the Standing Committee on Official Languages felt themselves obliged to include in the bill a reminder to the federal government to respect the jurisdiction and powers of the provinces.

It is sad to see the Liberal government in Ottawa pushing its arrogance to the point of thinking itself superior to all those with whom it should, in fact, be collaborating in good faith.

Mrs. Linda Cardinal, holder of the chair of research on francophonie and political studies at the University of Ottawa, testified before the Standing Committee on Official Languages on September 29. She said she was choosing the political and administrative route, which was reinforced through providing new official language coordination responsibilities to Privy Council.

We, in the Bloc Québécois, agree with Mrs. Cardinal.

This has not always been the case and it is very difficult to take these measures at a time when we have to enact laws to try to correct the situation. Court action may weaken the status and use of French in Quebec.

Another witness who appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages, Mr. Jean-Paul Perreault, summarized nicely the problems with Bill S-3. He said:

This policy would not only go against the general objectives of the Charter of the French Language, which is to ensure that French becomes the common language used in Quebec, but it would also cause a further weakening of the language.

French is still unable to attract the majority of speakers, these Quebec immigrants who adopt a new language spoken in Quebec. Consequently, we fear that the new policy will increase the current imbalance in Canada's language situation, always in favour of English. language. The asymmetry of the official language situation in Canada must be recognized, especially in Quebec.

I worked many years in Mauricie and in Quebec promoting the French language before coming to the House of Commons as the member for Trois-Rivières in 2004.

I continue to work for the recognition of French and to promote quality French. Is this some sort of passing craze? I do not think so. On the contrary it is because language is important for the development of individuals, communities and their culture.

Dr. Camille Laurin, the father of Bill 101, remains an authority and a model for those of us who have the general wellbeing of Quebec society at heart. Dr. Laurin explained the importance of one's language in a speech he delivered on September 12, 1998. He said:

All my life, I have been passionate about building Quebec, to make it a country able to help its citizens to realize their full potential. I tried to do this in a number of areas, including language, because I became aware of the situation language was in at that time.

In fact, this is a psychological issue. We lacked self-esteem and self-confidence because our language had been belittled and despised. The only way to overcome these kinds of obstacles to development was to adopt an act or a charter that would allow Quebeckers not only to live in their own language but also to develop in that language.

This shows how important the Charter of the French Language is to us. We know how sad the situation of aboriginals is in this country, because when we lose our language and culture, it creates a void, a loss of identity that triggers some very serious social problems.

Language is the connection between thought and concrete action. While we are open to the learning of a second and even a third language, we believe that a strong first language, a common language, promotes better relations between the various classes in our society. In Quebec, French, as a common language, helps children and hard working classes, and also contributes, to a point, to avoiding isolation and ghettoization.

A language that allows people to express themselves clearly is an asset in school, and definitely later on in adult life. It helps develop an independent spirit and also pride because of this sense of belonging to a people that has a common will to live.

The Bloc Québécois has always been committed to Canada's francophone and Acadian communities. It was over 10 years ago that it solemnly pledged its support to all francophone and Acadian communities in Canada. Since then, the Bloc Québécois was the first party in Ottawa to raise the major issues affecting the Canadian francophonie.

It is the Bloc Québécois that urged the federal government to acknowledge the specific realities confronting French-speaking minorities. We were among those who supported francophones in Ontario when they were asking that Ottawa be given the status of bilingual city. We also encouraged Quebeckers to provide financial support to the campaign led by S.O.S. Montfort, to maintain the only francophone hospital west of the Ottawa River.

Recently, we condemned the use of automated translations by the federal government, because it was a blatant lack of respect. I want to express our regret to our fellow francophones outside Quebec, namely in Acadia, Ontario and western Canada, for not being able to support them.

But we know—

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but her time has expired.

The hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in the House today to Bill S-3, an act to amend the Official Languages Act. Before commenting on the bill, it would be a privilege to make a few comments about the author of the legislation, the retired senator, Jean-Robert Gauthier.

The hon. Senator Gauthier has worked tirelessly as a defender on behalf of the francophone cause in order to permanently eliminate injustices and ensure a high level of equality between the two official languages in our country. On behalf of the House, I sincerely thank Senator Gauthier and wish him many more years of happiness and health in his retirement.

In reference to Bill S-3, it has two important components. One is the unconditional commitment of the federal government to enhance the expansion of francophone and English minorities and endorse their evolution. It is also to promote full recognition of the usage of French and English in our society by respecting the jurisdiction and powers of the provinces.

Second, clause 77 reads:

Any person who has made a complaint to the Commissioner in respect of a right or duty under sections 4 to 7, sections 10 to 13 or Part IV, V or VII, or in respect of section 91, may apply to the Court for a remedy under this Part.

The essence of the bill is to reinforce its executory character and non-declamatory obligations that lie with the Canadian government in reference to part VII of the act on official languages.

For several years, the Government of Canada has had an act on official languages in order to rectify injustices affecting the French and English communities. However the problem has always been, and continues to be, that the government does not recognize the executory character of its obligations concerning section 41 of the act on official languages. We have to ensure that once and for all the government is accountable to its obligations in this matter.

The Commissioner of Official Languages has requested that we address part VII and clarify its imperative character and the federal government's commitment.

The problems that are encountered by federal institutions are that bilingual services in the public service are lacking when serving the Canadian population and francophone organizations have to deal with federal public servants.

The development of minority communities has taken a step backward. Bill S-3 is the fourth bill after Bill S-4 in 2004, Bill S-32 in 2001 and Bill S-11 in 2003. In order to give more substance to the official languages bill, Bill S-3 must be adopted once and for all.

The following is agood example of why the House should support the bill. The Supreme Court agreed on February 17, 2005, to hear an appeal launched by the Forum des maires de la péninsule acadienne and la Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick.

I am speaking here today particularly on behalf of our caucus member from New Brunswick who is not able to be here but feels very passionately about the bill.

The appeal has to do with the transfer of the four inspectors of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency from Shippagan, New Brunswick to Shediac, New Brunswick. In 2003 the Federal Court in the final analysis ruled to cancel the agency decision and ordered the reinstatement of the four positions of inspectors to the Shippagan office with services in French. However, CFIA appealed that decision to the Federal Court of Appeal which reversed the decision of the Federal Court concerning part VII of the Official Languages Act. The Court of Appeal adopted a restrictive interpretation concerning part VII of the Official Languages Act.

Once more, francophones living in a minority situation were forced to go to the courts to have their rights recognized.

The bill would give more stability to the act in the long term and would eliminate court challenges. It goes on to say that not only services must be offered in both official languages in the region, but also that there is an obligation to promote both official languages by the federal government and this cannot be just an empty promise.

The Liberal government has always maintained to recognize the executory character of the law on official languages which would bring forth too many cases in front of the court and it wants to avoid this. There is a need for political willingness. The Senate has understood the urgency of the bill and that is the reason it adopted Bill S-3 on October 26, 2004. It is now the turn of the House of Commons to do the same.

The Standing Committee on Official Languages is mindful of the fact that the implementation of the bill shall be carried out while respecting the jurisdiction and powers of the provinces.

The intent of the bill is not to convey the impression of converting French people to English or English to French.

I can understand that one of the opposition parties, the Bloc Québécois, does not endorse the bill. However, this is a matter of federal jurisdiction as it has to do with federal institutions. The Bloc Québécois has to respect the federal jurisdiction in the manner in which the federal government has to respect provincial jurisdiction.

All the minorities are to be treated with equality and with the same dignity.

The NDP favours linguistic diversity and the development of minority communities concerning official languages. The NDP strongly encourages members of the House to support Bill S-3 with the amendments proposed by the Standing Committee on Official Languages in order that minorities be able to benefit and enjoy the same linguistic opportunities as the rest of Canada.

I thank the work of the House, the Standing Committee on Official Languages and Senator Gauthier on Bill S-3.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

October 27th, 2005 / 6:15 p.m.


Marc Godbout Liberal Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure, but even more a privilege and an honour for me to speak to this important bill, Bill S-3, an act to amend the Official Languages Act.

I would also like to give credit where credit is due and say a few words about Senator Gauthier. He has spent his whole life defending the French fact in Ontario. It would certainly be an achievement for him to see his bill, coming from the Senate, being adopted in the House of Commons and sent back to the Senate for royal assent.

I also want to say a few words about the sponsor of the bill, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. We know that it is thanks to his hard work and conviction that this important bill for the official languages communities has made it so far, to third reading at this point.

I would also like to thank the parliamentary secretary, the member for Saint Boniface. We were in a cold sweat more than once during the discussions held at the Standing Committee on Official Languages. At one time, we wondered if the bill would make it to the House. The parliamentary secretary was very patient with his colleague and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

Much has been said about section 41 and section 43, which was not amended in the end. On the other hand, the most important point in Bill S-3 is certainly the amendment to section 77 of the Official Languages Act. It ensures the justiciability of part VII of that act. Hon. members must keep in mind that parts of the legislation already are justiciable. The set of obligations of federal institutions, that is ministers and Crown corporations, were declaratory rather than justiciable, as the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell has said.

Some may wonder, if the government was that keen on doing this for the official language communities, why the legislation had to be changed. It is because, in another 30, 40 or 50 years, the party currently in power might not form the government. Another party might be in power. The official language communities wanted a guarantee, wanted assurances, and that is what Bill S-3 is about.

Like the Official Languages Act, the bill has been a long time in coming. First of all, in 1995, there was a government policy statement giving the Privy Council, among others, the responsibility for creating provisions for application of the former section 77. Then of course came the official languages action plan, which we are familiar with mostly by the author's name of Dion. A few hours ago, the interim progress report required by the Official Languages Act was tabled. It was positive, and very well received by the communities.

What we are doing at this time is moving on to the ultimate step: making the government's obligation justiciable. For the official language communities, this will be cause for almost as great a celebration as the promulgation of the Official Languages Act back in 1968 or so.

It is also important to keep in mind that the official languages communities have had some success already, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling on the interpretation of section 23.

This is why this issue is important. During debate members often asked why we needed this court element. Without section 23 of the Official Languages Act, we would probably not have our French school boards across the country. Of course, the provinces had to get on board but the charter guaranteed that. This is exactly what the bill is doing about the amendment proposed to the Official Languages Act.

For over 30 years the Government of Canada has strived to promote official languages across the country with a vision of openness, a vision that ensures that French- and English-speaking Canadians can feel at home wherever they live and wherever they may be. We are able to appreciate the huge benefits of this.

I have always said that there is no such thing as a second-class francophone. Whether it is in Quebec, in Acadia, in Ontario or in British Columbia, the use of French is not a privilege, but a right. French-speaking Canadians are entitled to the services and commitment of their government wherever they are in the country. That is Canada. Perhaps some parties have trouble understanding this.

Barely 20 years ago, let us not forget, many of the provinces—as I mentioned earlier—did not have any French schools. In 1990, with the exception of New Brunswick and a few francophone communities in Ontario, not a single French minority community managed its own schools. Today, in every province and territory, all of these communities manage their schools.

The obligations of the federal institutions could nonetheless be spelled out in a regulation, which is obviously the purpose of Bill S-3.

This regulatory power will be exercised in close collaboration with all the key stakeholders, particularly with the francophone and anglophone linguistic minority communities. When the time comes to determine the methods all these federal institutions will be asked to use to develop the communities, the federal government would indeed like to ensure that the institutions have the opportunity to make their points of view clearly known and that their needs are duly taken into consideration. It is very important that the implementation of this legislation is not done in a vacuum.

That is why more consultations were held last night. The government submitted a report and the communities gave their view on the progress of the action plan. We want to work with the communities, whether they are in Quebec or outside the province, but most importantly the Official Languages Act has to apply throughout Canada.

In this same spirit, I want to reassure those in the House who fear that adopting this bill may weaken the status of French in Quebec. Jurisprudence, particularly that from the Supreme Court of Canada on matters concerning Quebec, is unequivocal: linguistic rights must be interpreted according to the context and linguistic dynamism in each province.

In conclusion, numerous francophone and anglophone communities in Canada have been waiting and hoping for a very long time for this increased commitment from the federal government and for this insurance policy. I invite all the members of this House to make their dream come true. The vitality of official languages communities is at stake. We will be following in the footsteps of Jean-Robert Gauthier, Gisèle Lalonde and, I dare say, Arthur Godbout, who sacrificed everything to ensure the survival of the French language throughout Canada.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I realize that my time has just been cut in half so that will give me half the time to praise the good work of this committee.

Like my colleagues, I am pleased to speak tonight in the House on Bill S-3, an act to amend the Official Languages Act. Its main purpose is to ensure that the commitments set out in part VII of the Official Languages Act are binding on the government. The bill will also ensure that the Department of Canadian Heritage takes the necessary measures to carry on through the commitments set out in part VII of the Official Language Act.

Just this morning, in fact, the commissioner did not have very good things to say about how the government is handling the commitment it says it has. The Conservative Party has succeeded in forcing the government to modify Bill S-3, amending the Official Languages Act so that respect for provincial areas of jurisdiction will be safeguarded when the act is applied.

The amendments proposed by our party stipulate that Bill S-3 will not undermine or interfere with provincial jurisdiction. Respect for provincial jurisdiction is a priority for this party and is embedded in all of our policies. It is a principle that is dear to the Conservative Party.

The work done on the committee by the Conservative team in considering and finalizing the bill to amend the Official Languages Act clearly demonstrates the Conservative Party's commitment to defending and promoting both Canada's official languages and provincial jurisdiction. Canada's linguistic duality is one of our country's greatest assets.

I was new to the committee. I was asked to join the committee after the first few weeks of this session. As many will know, I am from Cambridge, where there are a number of great minority groups. There are Portuguese, Italian, Croatian, Punjabi and Chinese communities, but I can tell members that our French community is extremely strong and very vital. In Cambridge, there is a beautiful mosaic of these different cultures.

I am pleased to say that we on the committee, including me, took this job very seriously when preparing for a clause by clause study of this bill while it was in front of the committee. Upon joining this committee, I was surprised when we spent the entire first committee meeting arguing about late Liberal amendments. In fact, I understand that there was ample warning for all parties to submit their amendments. I have in front of me the agenda for that first meeting and there are no Liberal amendments on it, just Conservative and Bloc amendments. I notice as well that there are no NDP amendments.

I bring that up simply because the Liberals continue to say that they and only they care about this, but they could not even take the time to meet the deadline and get their amendments in place. It was a Liberal senator who brought this before the House in the first place. There were four attempts to get this passed and still the government is not taking this issue seriously.

Many of the amendments that we proposed were in order to clarify the government's responsibilities in this piece of legislation. We needed to firm that up and make it more clear. We wanted to protect the rights and jurisdictions of the promises and it was of utmost importance that we do that. However, it is also extremely important that legislation is kept to by the government. Unfortunately, the only motivator, and perhaps not even a good motivator, is a lawsuit. I certainly hope that we do not sue the government as a result of firming this up and forcing them to keep their commitments.

My four minutes are up, Mr. Speaker. I know that you would have liked the other half of my remarks.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, in July last year, the multiculturalism minister joined the cabinet and was advised by the Ethics Commissioner to divest himself of Grand Canadian Academy, the school that he owned at that time in China. The divestiture did not take place until December. Fair enough, these things can take time, and in the interim there is nothing wrong if the minister tried to seek out the highest possible sale price for his school.

What is illegitimate is to engage in any action that puts the minister into a conflict of interest. Let me quote from section 8 of the House of Commons Conflict of Interest Code:

When performing parliamentary duties and functions, a Member shall not act in any way to further his or her private interests...or to improperly further another person’s private interests.

Therefore it is a conflict of interest to do what the minister did in January. Specifically, the minister went on a team Canada trade mission to China with Michael Lo and Queenie Tin, the partners to whom he had sold Grand Canadian Academy only a month earlier. While in China, performing his ministerial and parliamentary duties, he signed a contract that had the effect of boosting the school's value.

When I raised this issue twice in question period, the minister refused to deny that this is what he did. In fact, he refused to stand at all and answer questions on this subject, and I can see why he was reticent. The only rational explanation for what he did while on the team Canada mission is that he was using an official trade mission either to enrich his partners, by ensuring a boost in the value of the company he had just sold to them, or that he had used the trip to enrich himself.

This latter scenario could easily have been the case if, as seems plausible, the purchasers had known in December that in January the minister would be facilitating a new contract for the school that he was selling to them. This knowledge would have increased the value of the school to them, and hence would have increased the price that they would be willing to pay to the minister, which constitutes a conflict under the section that I cited. Both the actions of course are in fact prohibited under the provisions of the Conflict of Interest Code.

Up until now, the only defence that has been presented on behalf of the minister is that he complied with the Ethics Commissioner's instructions to divest himself of Grand Canadian Academy, but this is not a fact that is really in dispute here. What is significant is the manner of the divestiture.

I pause at this point to point out that this is almost a perfect parallel to what happened to Bill Vander Zalm. When Bill Vander Zalm was premier of British Columbia in 1990, he was caught using official hospitality as a way of securing a potential buyer for Fantasy Gardens, his company. Specifically, Mr. Vander Zalm was forced to resign after he had caused the Taiwanese buyer of Fantasy Gardens, Mr. Tan Yu, to be provided with VIP treatment and a lunch with the lieutenant-governor prior to the sale. The matter went to court and the court ruled that in providing this access, Mr. Vander Zalm had been using his position as premier to promote his own business transactions by providing access to cabinet ministers for Tan Yu.

The question I have today is this. Why is it that the action which cost Bill Vander Zalm his job as premier of British Columbia is just business as usual in the eyes of the government, when the same thing is being done by the Minister of State for Multiculturalism from British Columbia?

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario


Mauril Bélanger LiberalMinister for Internal Trade

Mr. Speaker, the allegations the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington has been making are essentially ridiculous. I am rather surprised that he is at it again. He has asked questions during question period on this twice and I gave precise answers on behalf of the government.

The Minister of State for Multiculturalism has acted in an open, transparent and most appropriate manner. As I said during question period, I indicated that the minister upon being invited by the Prime Minister to join the cabinet, did as all ministers do, consulted the Ethics Commissioner within the timeframes allowed to seek advice.

The advice given was that the minister dispose of the shares that he may have had in the school in China. In December 2004, within the timelines that ministers had to settle their affairs in order to comply with the guidelines, the minister did exactly what was suggested of him.

By the time the trip to China occurred, the trip to which the member across refers, he had fully divested himself of the shares and, therefore, of any interest in this company.

We have a minister who did exactly what the Ethics Commissioner suggested he do. The member essentially is complaining that the minister followed the law. He followed the advice given to him by the Ethics Commissioner.

It is not good enough it seems for the member opposite. He keeps casting about innuendoes and suppositions of profiteering and so forth. I am rather surprised at the member because he has never, as far as I can recall, engaged in that kind of tactics before. I do not know what has become of him, for him to engage in this kind of behaviour.

We have a situation that is clear-cut. The minister was invited into cabinet and he sought advice from an independent Ethics Commissioner. Incidentally, it is rather ironic that the member who makes these allegations is on the record as having supported the establishment of an independent ethics commissioner. Now that we have one and the minister has followed the advice of the independent Ethics Commissioner, exactly as was suggested and did what he was told to do, it is still not good enough.

I find this rather bothersome that we in the House would engage in this kind of behaviour. We have codes that were followed and adhered to, and the advice given was followed. There is no conflict because the minister divested himself of all his interests. Yet a member goes about pointing the finger and saying that there is a conflict. They are created when they do not exist. I am really disappointed with the member for pursuing this line. I thought he had managed to rise above that, but obviously I was wrong.

I am sorry that the member persists in trying to slur the reputation of hon. members of the House. That is not a behaviour that I would encourage him to continue, especially when the facts are clear.

We have a situation where a minister sought advice, advice was provided, advice was followed and acted upon in due course, as per all the codes that exist. There is no conflict, yet the member across the way keeps trying to paint the picture of a minister in conflict of interest, when the truth and facts paint the exact opposite picture.

I would invite the member across to cease and desist these tactics that are beneath his reputation.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact the minister was restrained today. When I brought this issue up last time, he said that my comments were verging on the despicable. I thank him for his self-restraint.

The problem is not that the minister divested himself of Grand Canadian Academy. We all agree that that occurred within a reasonable timeline and there is no dispute there.

The question is whether the value of Grand Canadian Academy at the time of its divestiture had been increased by the foreknowledge that the minister would be accompanying the future owners of that company to China and assisting them in signing a contract. If that were the case and it raised the price, then he was enriching himself at taxpayer expense. Canadians paid for that trip and that is a very serious conflict.

Alternatively, he may simply have caused the price to go up for the benefit of those partners, in which case they were being enriched.

As I cited under section 8 of the Conflict of Interest Code, both of those are conflicts of interest and are inappropriate in his position.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, repeating allegations, suppositions and innuendo does not make it fact. Again, I would invite the member to be more careful in his approach of treating other members of the House, from whatever party they may be, or ministers of the government. It behooves us all to rise above petty partisanship.

There is no conflict here. The minister followed the advice given to him by the independent Ethics Commissioner to the letter. The Ethics Commissioner has a role to play. The minister followed his advice and divested himself of any and all interest he may have had, therefore ending any possibility of conflict.

To keep supposing that there is conflict is irresponsible, not to use that other word. I would really invite the member opposite to--

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until Monday October 31, 2005, at 11 a.m. pursuant to the order adopted on September 29, 2005, and to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:41 p.m.)