House of Commons Hansard #152 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.


SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it you will find unanimous consent to see the clock as 5:30 p.m.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Does the House agree to see the clock as 5:30 p.m.?

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5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed consideration from October 27 of the motion that Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of French and English), be now read the third time and passed.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

November 17th, 2005 / 5:15 p.m.


Guy Côté Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill S-3.

Whereas the government has flip-flopped and hesitated with regard to ways to help the francophone and Acadian communities develop, the Bloc Québécois has long supported francophone communities outside Quebec. For example, the Bloc Québécois urged the federal government to recognize the unique situation facing francophones living in minority situations and to take emergency measures to counter assimilation and foster the development of francophone and Acadian communities.

Over the years, the Bloc Québécois has also filed complaints with the Official Languages Commissioner about the treatment of francophones in the Canadian forces, Treasury Board's failure to ensure that numerous federal institutions comply with the Official Languages Act, the right of amateur athletes to practice their sport in their own language and, finally, Air Canada's obligation to provide service in French outside Quebec.

In all these files, the commissioner demanded that the institutions in question take the necessary measures to fulfill their obligations to serve Canadians in both official languages. In my opinion, those obligations go without saying.

The Bloc Québécois has intervened and taken positions in favour of Canada’s francophones on a large number of issues. Specifically, we have pressured the federal government to increase funding for francophone organizations, to have regional news in French or RDI broadcast in the western provinces and to have the government adopt a genuine development policy for francophone and Acadian communities.

When the Bloc committed itself in 1994 to defending the interests of the francophone and Acadian communities in Ottawa, it also expressed Quebec’s desire to continue this mission when it becomes sovereign. It did so by proposing a reciprocal mechanism in Canada, so that each can verify respect for the rights of the francophone minority in Canada and the anglophone minority in Quebec.

In our opinion, the Official Languages Act, in its current form, already included all the mechanisms that the federal government needed to ensure the development of minority official language communities. However, after years of cuts in the funding of official language communities and a decline in the use of French among the francophone population of Canada, the federal government finally acknowledged that action was necessary to promote the development of the francophone and Acadian communities.

The Action Plan for Official Languages tabled by the government in March 2003 had a budgetary envelope of $750 million over five years. It should, we hope, be sufficient to support the development of the francophone and Acadian communities. The Action Plan, however, is not a panacea, as was also noted by the Commissioner of Official Languages in her report published on October 19, 2004, especially insofar as the Liberal government has not made a sufficient effort with regard to the plan. The plan is still, moreover, being implemented slowly. Unfortunately, the Liberal government’s lack of political will has penalized the minority official language communities.

Our Liberal colleagues have on numerous occasions raised the argument that Bill S-3, to amend the Official Languages Act, applies only to federal institutions. Unfortunately I feel compelled to tell them that our reading of Bill S-3 differs from theirs.

Even though we are aware of the importance of this bill for minority francophone communities, we proposed a series of amendments at the committee stage. What we in the Bloc Québécois wanted was to preserve Bill S-3 in its current form for francophone communities in Canada, but to limit its territorial scope in such a way that the new obligations would not apply to Quebec.

This amendment to Bill S-3 appeared reasonable to us in the Bloc Québécois, since it would have allowed us to preserve the linguistic peace that Quebeckers have been able to achieve and thus to prevent the new obligations introduced by this bill from plunging Quebec into a new conflict over language. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, to our great dismay, the Bloc Québécois’ amendments were deemed out of order by the clerk of the committee.

What were these concerns? We had some concerns about the judicial scope that might be established by the passage of Bill S-3. I would like to discuss this aspect briefly.

Among other things, section 43 of the current act states:

The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall take measures to ensure the advancement and the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society and ... may take measures to—

Hon. members will note that “Canadian society” as used here covers more than “federal institutions”.

Some examples of this are given in paragraph ( d ):

encourage and assist provincial governments to support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities generally and, in particular, to offer provincial and municipal services in both English and French and to provide opportunities for members of English or French linguistic minority communities to be educated in their own language;

One thinks immediately of examples where there may be some grounds for fearing interference in areas under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. We know that it does not always go down well with the government in power, but when there is reference to municipal services, these are clearly under Quebec jurisdiction. As well, education is also, as far as I know, still under Quebec jurisdiction.

Here is something a bit more serious. The federal government is required to get results as far as implementation of the various regulations under this legislation is concerned. It is supposed to encourage and cooperate with the business community, labour organizations, voluntary organizations and other organizations or institutions to provide services in both English and French and to foster the recognition and use of those languages.

Our fear is that some group, for instance, could take the federal government to court some day for not doing enough to make companies offer services in both languages, or that a group like this could take an employers association or a labour organization to court for not necessarily providing services in both languages. In my view, these questions are much more a private matter.

In general, for example, speaking of labour organizations, they already have translation naturally where services are provided in both languages.

There was a fear in Quebec, therefore, that the linguistic peace that has developed over the last few decades could be disturbed. We do not interpret that, of course, in the same way as the government.

We recognize, however, that it is essential to protect the francophone minorities outside Quebec. The federal government has often failed in this regard.

I can understand why the various associations to defend francophone rights and communities, whether in Ontario, Alberta or the other provinces, are demanding that Bill S-3 be passed and find it necessary. As I was saying earlier, the federal government has failed all too often to defend the rights of our fellow francophone citizens outside Quebec.

In addition, as I mentioned earlier, we still have some concerns about the implementation of Bill S-3, if it is passed. Rest assured, though, Mr. Speaker, that the Bloc Québécois and the people of Quebec hope that they are wrong. After we finish reading Bill S-3, we will try to make sure that we are wrong. We hope we are wrong. We hope that the passage of Bill S-3 will not upset the linguistic peace currently prevailing in Quebec and that it will apply solely to federal institutions.

I will conclude by adding that we understand very well how necessary Bill S-3 is for francophones outside Quebec. However, we think it was unfortunate that we could not get the requirement for a territorial restriction adopted in committee, which would have ensured that Bill S-3 did not apply to Quebec.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to address Bill S-3. This is a bill that will give the act some teeth, as they sometimes say. At last, minority communities in Canada will be able to rely on part VII of the Official Languages Act to make their arguments, now that the act has certain powers.

I would like to begin by extending sincere gratitude to Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier. This is a person who has defended the cause of minorities in Canada. It was my good fortune to work with him on the official languages committee. He is someone who was respected here in Parliament. Jean-Robert Gauthier deserves to be thanked publicly, as I am taking pains to do tonight, and from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you, Jean-Robert. On behalf of minorities, on behalf of Acadians, on behalf of anglophone minorities in certain regions, and on behalf of francophone minorities throughout Canada, thank you, Jean-Robert.

You have been tenacious, Jean-Robert. I am using your first name because I believe I can do so on the strength of the friendship we formed in the course of fighting for minorities. You hung in. In 10 years, four bills were tabled in the House of Commons, and all were defeated. It is sad to see the government say that it respected minorities, that it respected the Official Languages Act, a statute that was passed 35 years ago, and do that.

Sections 41, 42 and 43 in part VII of the Official Languages Act speak of promoting the official languages in Canada. However, every time minority communities have gone to court to affirm their rights, the government has chosen to appeal.

In one very recent case, Marie-Claire Paulin and the Société des Acadiens et des Acadiennes went to court because she could not be served in French in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province. The other party in the case was a federal RCMP detachment. The Société des Acadiens et des Acadiennes went to court and won. I was very disappointed to see the Department of Justice, which is there to ensure that justice is respected in this country, and the RCMP, which is responsible for enforcing our national laws, our Canadians laws, decided to take the case to the appeal court.

Ideally, Bill S-3 will put an end to federal government spending on taking our communities to appeal court when they win important cases like that one. These are major cases. The government’s excuse is that the federal Department of Justice is going to court because the Government of New Brunswick pays for the RCMP's services. It therefore does not have to comply with federal law.

Imagine the precedent that will set. Instead of promoting our two official languages, the government is changing its mind.

Consider this. We were forced to complain to the Commissioner of Official Languages in order to defend our two official languages in Canada, that is, English and French.

If the government wants to post a job in Canada on the Internet, it translates the English into French by machine. It is a scandal. It is incomprehensible and has no resemblance to the original offer.

Today, they want to offer a service in 12 languages in Canada. I am not looking forward to seeing the machine translation. Whatever the case, they are going to do it and I hope they can.

In the meantime, part VII of the Official Languages Act pertains to only two languages, and each time communities take a matter to court, the government appeals and thus spends taxpayers' money. That is in fact what happens.

This week I saw our colleague, the sponsor of this bill. He was very moved to learn that Bill S-3 would finally be passed by the House of Commons. I want to thank all the political parties, which agreed to pass this bill. We cannot even imagine how much good it will do for the communities.

People are afraid that more people will go to court. That is not true. In fact, the law will be strong and have teeth. The government will have to comply with this legislation. It can no longer claim that section 41 of part VII is not enforceable. It can no longer go to court and argue before the judge that he can not make a given ruling because part VII and section 41 are not enforceable. That is what it does at the moment.

If the government respected the country's two official languages, it would honour the judges' decisions and would not appeal. Hopefully, Bill S-3 will strengthen the law, put an end to court appeals and provide respect for the country's two languages, English and French. That is the aim of S-3.

We can hope the Senate gives rapid consideration to Bill S-3, as it submitted it to the House.

As for the concerns of Quebec, as raised by the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, the bill proposed amendments to sections 41, 42 and 43. These amendments were done away with, however, with the exception of the one to section 41, which deals with federal institutions. The intention is to provide services to the population in both official languages. If one really believes there are two official languages in the country and that this refers to federal institutions, then there is no reason today to be having to continue to fight to get them respected. That is precisely what Bill S-3 will accomplish with section 41.

My colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier has referred to the possibility of legal proceedings against the associations and unions. That was not the idea. We wanted to ensure that the government would help the unions if they needed federal funds and that the federal could promote official languages. That was the intent.

For example, in my province, the New Brunswick Federation of Labour asked for federal funding to help hire translators in order to provide translated documents to organizations. Bill S-3 as submitted to the House of Commons applies to federal institutions but that is not what is covered by section 43. Only section 41 would be executory.

I would once again like to thank all the political parties and Jean-Robert Gauthier. He did a superb job and before he retired, passed on something that will help the minority communities. I also thank the bill's sponsor, who will speak for five minutes to bring the debate to a close, for introducing S-3 to the House of Commons. It is a good bill for all communities, both anglophone and francophone.

Our citizens must be served in the language of their choice, once and for all.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Françoise Boivin Liberal Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to address my colleagues in the House of Commons on Bill S-3 on which the Standing Committee on Official Languages has reported. I also have the pleasure and immense privilege of sitting on this committee. If there is one thing I want to remember about this Parliament it is the passing of the committee recommendations on Bill S-3.

Part VII of the Official Languages Act of 1988 states the federal government's commitment “to enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society”. The purpose of Bill S-3 is to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French) and to enhance the accountability of federal institutions as far as implementing that commitment is concerned.

Allow me to state the Government of Canada's unequivocal commitment to promote the country's linguistic duality. The French and English languages, and the populations speaking those languages, have shaped Canada and helped to define its identity. Canada's linguistic duality is therefore ingrained in the very nature of our country. Over the past few years, the government has clearly indicated that it is fully committed to the values and principles of our official languages policy.

As indicated in recent throne speeches, the government has reaffirmed the value of Canada's linguistic duality and has made a commitment to promote the vitality of official language minority communities, namely by implementing its official languages action plan. This plan shows to what extent the political commitment in the Official Languages Act is taken seriously by this government.

The action plan is the new road map for Canada's linguistic duality. The government is firmly committed to implementing it fully and to achieving the ambitious goals set out in it.

One of the most crucial components of the action plan is the accountability and coordination framework. The objective of this framework is vast and its range is great to ensure that the official language dimension appears in the design and implementation of public policies and government programs. The accountability and coordination framework states the responsibilities of each federal institution under parts I and V of the Official Languages Act and it contains the implementation modalities regarding part VII, with which Bill S-3 is concerned.

For example, it specifies that federal institutions must make their employees aware of the government's commitments and the communities' concerns, identify their policies and programs that have an impact on the status of the two official languages and on the development of the communities, consult these communities and take their needs into consideration, et cetera.

In short, the government’s commitment and actions are directly in line with the aims of Bill S-3, namely encouraging federal institutions to do more to support linguistic duality in Canada and making them more accountable in that regard. This government therefore supported Bill S-3 on second reading. It also indicated that it is in favour of sending the bill to committee so that there can be a closer examination of the potential consequences of amending a statute as fundamental as the Official Languages Act.

The Standing Committee on Official Languages has completed its work and reported its findings to the House of Commons. As we know, the committee feels that the wording of the bill can be improved and therefore proposed a number of amendments to Bill S-3. With the amendments it proposed, I think that the committee struck a fair balance between the risks of language focusing on the obligation to produce results on the one hand and the very legitimate desire to see the government’s commitment translated into concrete actions on the other. Allow me to explain. If the bill were to have passed without amendment in the original form it was in when it was tabled in the Senate, the Bloc and others feared that it might have a significant impact on federal-provincial/territorial relations.

The wording proposed by the committee avoids that situation. Despite all that, unfortunately, the Bloc still opposes the amended Bill S-3.

The committee also is recommending integration of a clause which states that the implementation of the federal commitment respects the jurisdictions and the powers of the provinces. There is no reason to oppose the amendment, but it is important to remember that an amendment such as this merely reiterates an already well established principle.

In reality, under Canadian constitutional law, Parliament can only adopt laws for activities which fall under federal jurisdiction. The powers and obligations of federal institutions are always exercised in accordance with respect to federal and provincial jurisdictions. However, the Conservatives, as usual, like to speak and say nothing new.

Despite the conservative redundancy, I will support the amended Bill S-3 for one reason only: because it will protect our anglophone and francophone minorities.

In the same vein, I would like to reassure those in this House who are afraid that passing the bill may weaken the status of the French language in Quebec. In that regard, the case law, in particular Supreme Court of Canada decisions in cases involving Quebec, is crystal clear. Language rights must be interpreted in light of the linguistic context and dynamics of each province.

Bill S-3, as amended by the Standing Committee on Official Languages, reinforces the Official Languages Act. If Parliament adopts it, the responsibilities of federal institutions will from now on be legally binding, which means they can be the subject of legal recourse. The governor in council will have the power to determine, through a regulation, how execute those obligations.

Many anglophone and francophone communities in Canada have been waiting a long time for a stronger commitment from the federal government. I call on the members of this House to support them unequivocally and to vote in favour of Bill S-3.

In closing, I would also like to thank Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier from the bottom of my heart for his tenacity—God knows how tenacious you have to be here—the MP for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell for his convictions, francophone communities throughout Canada and the anglophone community in Quebec, and more specifically the anglophone community in my riding of Gatineau, which guided me throughout the process of passing Bill S-3.

I thank them for their dedication to making Canada the extraordinary country it is.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill S-3. I want to recall right off one of the founding principles of the Conservative Party of Canada, which is the “belief that English and French have equality of status, and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada”.

Furthermore, article 91 of our statement of policy provides that

the Conservative Party believes that Canada's official languages constitute a unique and significant social and economic advantage that benefit all Canadians.

It also provides that:

(i) A Conservative government will support the Official Languages Act ensuring that English and French have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada.

It provides as well, that:

(ii) the Conservative Party will work with the provinces and territories to enhance opportunities for Canadians to learn both official languages.

Bill S-3 amends the Official Languages Act to make it easier to enforce the government's obligations under part 7 of the act. In other words, the bill forces the government to honour commitments set out in part VII of the Official Languages Act.

Part VII provides as follows:

The Government of Canada is committed to enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society

Bill S-3 adds a provision whereby, 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 and that cabinet “may make regulations...prescribing the manner in which any duties of those institutions under this Part are to be carried out”.

In 2004, the Federal Court of Appeal decided that:

--Section 41 is declaratory of a commitment and does not create any right or duty that could at this point be enforced by the courts, by any procedure whatsoever.

The court concluded, “The debate over section 41 must be conducted in Parliament, not in the courts”.

The bill follows up on that decision by making Part VII of the Official Languages Act justiciable.

Initially, there were concerns about the bill infringing on provincial jurisdictions. I am pleased, however, to say that the Conservative Party fought to have the addition to clause 41 of the phrase “within the scope of their functions, duties and powers”.

This amendment clarifies the fact that Bill S-3 will not encroach upon provincial jurisdictions and also demonstrates the deep desire of the Conservative Party of Canada to comply with the Constitution as well as our respect of provincial jurisdictions. That amendment was adopted during the clause-by-clause study in the Standing Committee on Official Languages. I would like to point out the excellent work done by my colleague, the hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry and commend all the Conservative members on the committee for their efforts in getting that amendment passed.

There is a growing feeling that the Liberal official languages action plan has not had much effect. In fact, when the progress report was tabled in the House of Commons on October 27, 2005, we learned that over 75% of respondents felt that it had had no significant effect. Interestingly, in her annual report, Commissioner of Official Languages Dyane Adam indicated that, two and one-half years after the plan was tabled, only 20% of the $720 million had been paid out to minority language communities, despite the crying need.

The Conservative party believes that the failure of the action plan demonstrates the need for Bill S-3, which will oblige the government to meet its obligations as far as official languages are concerned.

In conclusion, our party is proud of having brought in the amendments protecting provincial and territorial areas of jurisdiction. The Conservative Party also believes this bill will help clarify the federal government's responsibilities as far as Canada's linguistic minority communities are concerned.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill S-3. I have an Acadian name. The Bourgeois come from Caraquet. There are also Bourgeois in Tracadie, New Brunswick. My colleague from Acadie—Bathurst spoke earlier about the Paulins. I do not know whether he was talking about the Paulins from Caraquet, but in any event, there are some Paulins in my family. My family also has some Pauls in Manitoba.

As you can see, I am well aware of the difficulties these families and friends have faced in terms of protecting their language, French. In fact, the Pauls in Manitoba speak more English than French, while the Paulins favour French.

That is one reason it is important for me to speak today. I also want to thank Senator Gauthier for his work and the battle he waged for several years to achieve official language equality in Canada. Unfortunately, this did not happen. The official languages commissioner seems to be making an effort. She got a substantial increase in her budget, which is now some $750 million. We presume she could do more for francophone communities outside Quebec to be respected.

The Bloc Québécois has examined Bill S-3 thoroughly. We realize our position might suggest that we are letting down francophone communities outside Quebec, but that is not so. This bill is dangerous for Quebec since—as our colleague from Gatineau mentioned—it makes it an obligation for federal institutions to enforce part VII of the Official Languages Act. Regulations can be made prescribing the manner in which any duties under part VII are to be carried out.

However, the member did not mention at all—unless I am mistaken—that it also requires the government to take measures “to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society”, while providing the right to apply to the court for a remedy, permission to contest an alleged violation of part VII.

I note that the problem lies in the provision whereby the government is required “to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society”.

The Bloc has examined the bill carefully. We realized that Canadian society is defined as a list of areas in which the Minister of Canadian Heritage should take measures in education, provincial services, health, social services and municipal services. These areas are under Quebec's jurisdiction, exclusively. We already have legislation in Quebec to protect our anglophone minority. Here is an example.

A few years ago, I was the president of a CLSC, a local community services centre, and Quebec legislation on health requires all CLSCs and hospitals to set aside a portion of their budget to provide service in English to anglophones.

It is in the legislation. We have already thought about our anglophone minority. It is a shame the other provinces have not followed suit. They have not tried to help francophone minorities any more than necessary.

The Bloc Québécois is against this bill because it wants to protect itself. We in Quebec are the leaders of Canada's francophonie. Francophones outside Quebec are following in our wake. Many times the Bloc Québécois has helped and defended them and many times have we taken their requests into account. I am proud that we did.

One of our colleagues who has left this House, the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, staunchly defended the Acadians by asking the Queen of England to issue an apology for their deportation.

The Bloc Québécois' support for francophone communities outside Quebec is unfailing. However, we cannot support them if that means losing our own strength as Quebeckers and francophones. Accordingly, we cannot vote in favour of this bill, which will weaken us.

If the Bloc Québécois and Conservative amendments for ensuring this protection had passed, we could have voted in favour of this bill. Unfortunately, it is not possible.

We are distressed about this, given the work put into this by Senator Gauthier and the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, but the Bloc Québécois must protect Quebeckers and their language. Perhaps another time we could be in favour of this bill if it included the amendments we want.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the few minutes that are left to join the debate on Bill S-3 that comes to us through the Senate. I notice that my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst spent a good part of the introduction of his remarks complimenting, recognizing and paying tribute to the sponsor of this bill, Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier.

I too would like to recognize Senator Gauthier's contribution but in the same context I would like to recognize the contribution of my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst. I say to the House without any fear of contradiction that the rights of the francophone minority outside Quebec has no greater champion than my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, who has worked tirelessly since he has been here to emphasize the Official Languages Act and the importance of it. Even anglophones like myself have come to recognize, through his hard work, just how important language is to culture and culture is to the Canadian fabric and how this act plays such an important role.

In recognizing my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, I would like to point out that it is not just his colleagues in the NDP who recognize his contribution. Internationally my colleague has been honoured with recognition from the Francophonie and has been made a chevalier of the Francophonie, which I think is an honour that should be recognized. It was given to him in Vienna recently and this is something he will wear all of his life as an honour and a recognition.

In the same spirit of recognition of those who are champions of this issue, in the province of Manitoba, where I come from, the former NDP government in the 1980s made a very bold step, although not quite as bold as the province of New Brunswick which is officially bilingual and the only official completely bilingual province. Roland Penner, when he was the attorney general of the NDP government in the 1980s, took a very courageous step to demand equal French language rights in all matters of justice. All laws and legislation, the courts and especially the criminal justice system had to be available to the francophone minority in Manitoba in both official languages. This step in fact cost the NDP the government in those years, which is why I say it was a bold step.

I put it to the House that Roland Penner was a visionary because Manitoba is a better province today. At no point in time will we have a case like Marie-Claire Paulin who tried to get service from the RCMP in her home province of New Brunswick, an officially bilingual province, and was not served in the language of her choice. No one should have to go to court to be served in one's first language, one of the two official languages in Canada, certainly not in New Brunswick and, I am proud to say, not in the province of Manitoba because of the courageous action of visionaries early on.

I am happy to stand today as an anglophone from Manitoba to fully endorse and support Bill S-3, which will give teeth to the laws pertaining to official languages in this country. I recognize the importance of the rights of the francophone minority outside Quebec. I am proud that the House of Commons has come to some consensus and spirit of cooperation to make sure this bill passes in this 38th Parliament.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia


Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak in the House on this bill and to indicate my support. I am pleased to see this much support, although it is pity there is not unanimity . Nevertheless, it is good to see how it is moving along, and a great tribute to Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who has been the champion of francophones outside of Quebec, for linguistic minorities, including Quebec anglophones.

There was a time when this could not have been imagined. A time when we could not have imagined this country having official languages legislation. Certainly we went through some bad times in Nova Scotia.

I would also like to pay tribute to another senator from a rather long time ago, my grandfather, who entered political life in 1907. At that time, it was forbidden in Nova Scotia to teach in French. The French-speaking communities could not educate their children in French.

A priest of the day, Father Blanc, or maybe Father Daignault—I stand to be corrected—had written a text called Voyage à travers le Canada . In those days, he could not put his name on such a book. A number of copies were made and it was used in all the Atlantic provinces and even in the United States, in French schools, even though it was banned. That is what the children were taught from. If the school inspector came, they had to put it away and get out an English textbook. The same book was used for six years, so they came to know it off by heart.

Time moves on and things change. Now, thanks to the Official Languages Act, and thanks to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have education in French in our communities. We have an Acadian school board in Nova Scotia like the other provinces do. There have been many other changes too. Father Léger Comeau of Nova Scotia—unfortunately also deceased— would have loved to have been around to see it. He was involved in all the discussions on the Official Languages Act when there was talk of lawsuits to advance the cause. He devoted his life to that. He would be delighted to see it.

There are also people like Denise Samson, with whom I worked. She has also passed away. She spent her entire life working in Acadian communities to further these causes.

It was good. We had the Official Languages Act, with sections 41 and 42. I remember that, at the time, I was volunteering with the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia. I was taking part in the FCFA's work along with the member for Ottawa—Orléans. We saw the consequences that this legislation would have. It was good. It was there, it was declaratory. It stated that federal institutions must serve the linguistic communities and must ensure their social, cultural and economic development. The will was there but not the powers. If a department did not make progress, there was no way to force it to recognize that fact.

I think that this is Senator Gauthier's fourth attempt. He has shown remarkable tenacity. We thank him for it and we are happy that he is here to see this achievement. Thanks to his efforts, we are finally here. The member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell worked hard, as did all the members of the committee, and I thank them. We are now at the point where cabinet will have to adopt regulations in order to ensure enforcement of this legislation. All the departments will have to truly respond to Canadians, because it is justiciable and executory. Canadians can rest assured that the Official Languages Act will be enforced across the country.

That is important to me. It is important for francophones in Acadia, for example, but also for anglophones in Quebec, who are entitled to services and can go to court if they are not provided. It all depends on good will. I do not know if this happens, but we were given the example of Mrs. Paulin in New Brunswick. In my riding, I saw an RCMP call centre move from a bilingual community to a unilingual community. Are they going to be able to maintain those services there? It seems to me that if they had wanted to follow perhaps not the letter but the intention of sections 41 and 42 of the Official Languages Act, they could have kept this centre in the bilingual Acadian community to enhance the vitality of that community. It did not cost any more. However, it was easier for administrative reasons. People preferred to be in a larger community, so it moved.

I am not sure—lawyers will tell us—but if we could have applied Bill S-3, perhaps we would have had some recourse. We certainly will have recourse in future cases.

I have seen cases in our human resources development centres, now called Service Canada, where several jobs involving direct service to the people of these communities were transferred to larger towns instead of being kept in the communities.

In Acadia, especially in Nova Scotia, Acadian communities are in rural areas far from the big centres. We are always fighting a major battle against assimilation. We know that if the community wants to maintain its linguistic vitality, it is important for it to have cultural, economic, and educational vitality and more.

I am thrilled to support this bill. I am very pleased with all the cooperation we received to get it to this stage. Even though it took four attempts, we finally made it. I would like the hon. members from the Bloc Québécois to reconsider and support the bill. It would be good of them to let it get through the House. It would be in keeping with the spirit of Parliament to do so.

Once again, I want to thank Senator Gauthier and the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell for all their work.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Resuming debate. The mover of the motion now has the floor for five minutes to reply and close the debate.

The hon. Member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is rather ironic. Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, for whom we all had great respect, introduced as his last bill before leaving the Parliament of Canada, Bill-S-3, to amend the Official Languages Act. If things proceed as we might hope, it is highly possible that this will also be the last bill on which I will myself have occasion to work prior to leaving this Parliament.

Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier and myself are both francophones from outside Quebec, and specifically Franco-Ontarians. I am in fact of Quebec stock, since I was born in Quebec with one Franco-Ontarian and one Quebecois parent. I am nonetheless a Franco-Ontarian through and through.

I grew up during the post-Regulation 17 era in Ontario. The member, my colleague from Nova Scotia, referred to a period when the teaching of French was prohibited in his province. That was also the case in my province. Admittedly, I was not attending school at that time, but I was able to recognize its vestiges. It was practically impossible to attend high school in French, except at sectarian schools, when I was going to school. My children, however, were able to attend elementary school, high school and university, even do a Master's degree, in Ontario entirely in French, thanks to section 23 and the legislation we had. Today, we are in the process of passing new legislation so that my children's children can have an even brighter future. As I mention frequently, I am a grandfather.

In conclusion, in addition to adding my own thanks to the hon. Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, I would like to thank all my colleagues. Sometimes we were in agreement, sometimes not. All in all, however, I think that it is the wish of all those to whom I have spoken that the circumstances of those who live in minority communities should be improved.

I would like to clarify that part VII, which becomes enforceable, is justiciable. Not only section 41, but also sections 42 and 43 can be used as the basis for launching a court proceeding. This is the possibility we are giving ourselves today. I am not worried that this will result in millions of cases being brought before the courts. However, it is no bad thing if a case is brought from time to time, as happened with section 23. Remember the school management issue. It is not inherently bad if it happens from time to time, just not often.

On the other hand, the Government of Canada will have to do everything it can to avoid being taken to court. That enhances the accountability throughout the entire system and makes it better. The minority communities are the ones who will emerge victorious, of that I am convinced.

Again, I want to thank my colleagues as this may very well be the last piece of legislation on which I will work prior to my retirement. I have a hard time using that word, but I guess I will have to get used to it some day.

I thank my colleagues on all sides of the House for their support on this bill, which hopefully I will get in a minute or two. I thank them in advance for their generosity not toward me, although that is appreciated too, but more important, toward those we are called upon to serve.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

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

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am here tonight to follow up on some questions I had asked the minister earlier this year in regard to the government run marijuana grow op in Flin Flon, Manitoba.

This is a facility that is in a base metal mine far underground in an abandoned part of the mine in Flin Flon. There are, shall we say, deep concerns about the nature of the operation. Also there are recent developments in the medical uses of marijuana-like substances but without the medical harm.

My question for the minister is twofold.

First, if we have to grow the material, would it not be cheaper to do it on surface in a secure location? There are many other locations other than underground. I worked in a mine. Before my accident I was a geological engineer and I can tell members that the logistics of going underground are not simple. If the government is compelled to grow the material, would it not be more efficient and cheaper to do it on surface?

Second, there have been developments in science. There is a new substance on the market called Sativex, which provides all the medicinal benefits but without the harm of smoking. There is evidence that smoking marijuana is more toxic than cigarettes. The government on one hand is trying to curb smoking, but on the other hand is allowing people who are obviously in medical need to smoke, so there is definitely a contradiction there. The Cancer Society has major concerns about smoking marijuana, as do numerous other organizations. In fact, marijuana has about 50% more carcinogens than tar in unfiltered tobacco.

I would ask the member, first, if they have to grow the stuff, are there not cheaper places to grow it, and second, have the alternatives like Sativex been looked into?

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia


Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, as to where the medical marijuana is grown, I know it was reported in the media some time ago that the cost was in the area of $24 million, but the cost is actually in the range of $5 million or $5.7 million for five years. It is a study phase. It was important that it be a secure location. It was done on a competitive basis as to where the location would be and that was the site that was selected.

Perhaps there could be better ways to do it in better locations that would be less expensive. What is important in the meantime is that we are learning as we are doing this. The product that is grown there is tested a lot. It is grown without using chemicals. It is tested to make sure that the product that is produced is consistent in its THC levels. It is distributed at a very inexpensive price to people whose doctors have said that they could use it and they do not have the ability to grow their own.

This keeps those people from being caught and having to buy it on the black market from crooks who might be growing it. The RCMP have stated that pesticides are often used in marijuana grow operations. These products are very risky. There are fluctuations in the levels of THC. It is very important that it be standardized with all the lab work and testing that is done.

The member raised a question regarding Sativex. I am very pleased that product has made it to the market and it has received its approvals. What should be understood is that Sativex has not yet been approved for all uses for which medical marijuana could be used, but in time it may be and other products may be as well. It is very useful for people suffering from multiple sclerosis, for pain due to nerve damage, as it alleviates that pain. However, that represents only about 20% of the people who have been authorized by their doctors to use medical marijuana.

I would agree with the member that if such products in the future could replace the medical marijuana on the market, it would alleviate a lot of other concerns and problems. In some instances there might be some abuse of the privileges of growing the product and it does cause some concern as to the quality of the product available to the medical marijuana users. At present the best way would be to continue with this type of activity while waiting for the approvals and the tests to be done for Sativex or other products that may appear on the market and be approved for other ailments and diseases, or that may be required by the other 80% of the people who have had their approvals.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that alternatives are not being ruled out. There is a case to be made that there is abuse of the substance and that there are very negative health effects to smoking marijuana, particularly over a long period of time. There is also the fact that the medical use of marijuana may be sending mixed signals to other members of our society, in particular our younger and more impressionable citizens.

The member did highlight a wide range of numbers, between $5 million to $24 million to produce this product. Perhaps the members from B.C. are more able to answer this, but it seems that growing marijuana can be done at a much cheaper way in a much safer location.

I wonder if the member could comment on any price reduction.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, once again to clarify, I said that the media had reported that the cost was in the range of $24 million when the cost of the contract is, I believe, $5.7 million.

In the future if we decide that the government is going to provide for the production of this marijuana perhaps there would be better alternatives. This was done on a tendered basis to find the most appropriate way to do it on a test basis.

I would signal that I am in 100% agreement with the member that we have to use caution and make sure that people are always on their guard against the overuse or abuse of any medication, whether it be prescription, non-prescription, or in this case medical marijuana. They all carry great risks. It is important that they be used properly and in accordance with the physician's directions and that we keep them out of the hands of children.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, if anything demonstrates the reason that the government cannot be trusted by the Canadian people it has to be the government's record when it comes to military procurement and, more specifically, helicopters.

As senior minister for Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, who was finance minister at the time, was closely associated with every action, program and announcement of the now discredited former Liberal prime minister. The Prime Minister, as Jean Chrétien's finance minister, wrote all the cheques and slashed all the budgets.

Today the Prime Minister is telling Canadians that either his eyes were closed when he was asked to sign the cheques to Liberal Party ad men in the sponsorship fraud for non-existent work or his signature was being forged on the cheques to his Liberal Party cronies. The fact is that the Prime Minister's eyes were open and he knew exactly what he was signing when the cheques were cut.

If the Liberal Party actually believed in Parliament, democracy and ministerial and political accountability, every Liberal MP who was a member of the Chrétien government, particularly if he or she had been a member of his cabinet, would have resigned the moment Justice Gomery delivered his report on November 1.

It was as a member of the Chrétien inner circle that the current Prime Minister wrote the Liberal red policy book for the 1993 federal election.

It is not by coincidence that the only promise that was kept from the 1993 campaign was the one that scrapped the purchase of a new search and rescue helicopter to replace the then 40-year Sea King.

What was not in that red book, which we now know was part of the hidden agenda of the Liberal Party, was the plan to slash billions of dollars from the defence budget.

Canadians, however, are still paying the GST and free trade continues to bring prosperity to Canadians.

There is no way the Prime Minister would not have known the consequences of cancelling the contract to purchase the search and rescue helicopters. There was a financial cost of over $800 million of taxpayer dollars and a human cost in the lives lost which is still being paid today.

This issue is very important to all Canadians because as a result of Liberal Party political interference in the military procurement process, the helicopters that are in use today are ill-suited to the demands that are being placed on them. Since that decision was made by the Chrétien government and his finance minister to play politics with helicopter purchases, pilots have lost their lives. More pilots will lose their lives until the government stops playing politics with our military and implements a fair and competitive bidding process that is open and transparent.

When I asked the Minister of Defence in this House about his decision to scrap the competitive bidding process and go to sole source purchase of the Chinook helicopter, the minister denied that this was taking place, or the decision to go to sole source procurement had not been announced yet. If the Liberal Party had not already made the decision to sole source the Chinook helicopter, why is a picture of it on the Liberal Party's political website under the heading “Defence”?

Chinook choppers have not been part of the Canadian helicopter fleet for over 10 years, when the few remaining Chinooks Canada had were to sold to the Dutch government. By having a picture of a Chinook helicopter on its political website, the Liberal Party is clearly favouring one helicopter over any other source.

While I might be tempted to observe that the government's defence policy is perennially 10 years out of date to match old photos, as a result of the Earnscliffe lobbying scandal and the personal ties of that lobbying firm to the Prime Minister, Canadians have every reason to be skeptical of any excuses by the Liberal Party that the picture of the Chinook helicopter on its website is only coincidental. That picture makes the political statement that the decision has been made.

The Minister of Defence asked that he should sin first or, in layman's terms, get caught lying before being criticized.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.


Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to set the record straight for the member across the way who knows full well what has taken place with respect to our procurement and our objectives to meet the needs of the men and women who serve so nobly and bravely for our country.

Let me first state a number of our key priorities. The first is to ensure our armed forces personnel get the material they need when they need it. The second is that it is affordable to the taxpayer and that the taxpayer receives good value for the money that they have entrusted us to spend wisely on their behalf.

The defence policy statement clearly states our objectives in these areas. I am glad the member mentioned the helicopter issue and heavy lift capabilities that we are trying to acquire. It is part of a much larger package of fixed wing heavy lift capabilities we are trying to pursue. This is under the umbrella of the $13 billion we have budgeted over the next five years. It is the largest increase for our military in the last 20 years.

I also remind the member that this year's supplementary estimates include an additional $1.3 billion for our forces, making the total for this year $1.8 billion. Where is it going? It is going toward equipment, maintenance, operations, training, care and wages for our service personnel. That is responsible spending of the taxpayer money.

With respect to the fixed wing and procurement, our objective is to have a procurement process that is transparent. We would like to ensure that it is clearly done in an open way. Does it mean that at times we will not go to go to sole source? No. At times we will and we will do it when it makes sense to do it under the guiding principle that our forces get the equipment when they need it.

Will we pursue an open bidding process when, as a matter of principle, we know only one particular piece of equipment is required by our forces? No. We also will try to ensure that the equipment we buy will be either purchased or made in Canada, but not always. Again, getting back to the fundamental principles of ensuring that our armed forces receive the equipment they need when they need it.

This is a much larger part of our plan as articulated in the international policy statement. We are making the investments not only in equipment, but also in training, personnel and care for our armed forces personnel.

I encourage all those people who are watching tonight to take a look at our international policy statement. I encourage them to look at the defence capabilities and at our plans for the future. We encourage people to give us input into how we can make that better. However, we have turned a corner. It is not the end. It is a down payment in the future of our forces and our ability to move forward with the goals and objectives that we want to pursue for our country and Canadians.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the evidence is there for Canadians to see. It is time to be truthful to Canadians. More particular, considering the fact that Canadians observed Remembrance Day ceremonies last week and in the spirit of the Gomery inquiry into the Liberal Party corruption, it is time the minister came clean with the Canadian public regarding helicopter purchases.

The government has in the past been warned about the problems of not using an open and transparent, competitive bidding process. In the 1998 report of the Auditor General into the purchase of major capital equipment for Canada's military, the Auditor General was particularly critical of projects that were fast-tracked or sole sourced, such as the Griffon helicopter and the Coyote. He observed that when the procurement process is fast-tracked or sole sourced, important tests and evaluation steps were often not completed and problems were only discovered after a particular piece of equipment had been put into service.

As a consequence of discovering the limitations of a piece of equipment while it is being used, lives are being put at risk. There is no doubt an element of desperation by the military to forgo the normal process of capital purchase acquisition as a consequence of years of neglect of military equipment. However, safety should not be compromised to provide equipment that should have been replaced long ago.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me reiterate that there are some fundamental principles to which we adhere. First, the procurement process is open, fair and transparent, and we take pride in the integrity of that process. Second, we prefer a competitive bidding process, but as I said, does it mean we will not sole source at some time? No. We will sole source when it makes sense for our armed forces to receive the equipment they need.

The men and women who serve our country are abroad in dangerous situations. Will we go through a belaboured process that will extend the time before they get the equipment they need? No. We will not extend the process unnecessarily. We will not compromise their lives. We get the equipment they need when they need it.

We will not let bureaucracy hold up the acquisition of the essential equipment they need. Their lives and work are of paramount importance to them. It is our responsibility as a government to ensure their lives are protected to the best of our ability. It is something that we will continue to pursue to the maximum of our abilities. It is our responsibility and duty as the Government of Canada.

Official Languages ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am here this evening to ask a question of the government regarding the environment, which may or may not be important to some people. For ours and our families' health, children, parents and grandparents, the environment issue is one of the most important issues with which we need to deal. It is one of the burning items which I have worked on over the last year.

I would like an explanation as to why the government has not dealt with the many environmental issues that are important to Canadians.

For six years I was actively involved in fighting SE2. The local government along with the provincial government in B.C. fought SE2. The federal government, from the former environment minister to the present one, were absent on this issue. There was no federal government presence in the fight on SE2.

SE2 is an electric generator plant located in the Seattle, Washington area which provides energy to the United States. This plant would have pumped tonnes of pollution into the Fraser Valley airshed, and the federal government did nothing. It was asked numerous times over the last six years to help us fight this issue. The good news is that through the help of the local and provincial governments in B.C. and Conservative members of Parliament, SE2 was defeated, but with no thanks to the federal government. Why did the government not fight this? It was the federal government's responsibility.

Why did the government not fight against Devils Lake? Why does Canada have the worst environmental record of the G-8 countries? Why have we had growing pollution levels over the last 12 years of this Liberal government? Why do we have untreated contaminated sites? Why do we still have raw sewage being dumped into our ocean? I asked that of the former environment minister yesterday and he said that was Liberal policy. He said that it was good environmental practice to dump raw sewage into our oceans.

Why do we not have any international air quality agreement with the United States for western Canada? We have an agreement for central and eastern Canada. Is that part of the western alienation policy of the Liberal Party?

Will the government please explain why it does not stand up for the environment?