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—