Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House of Commons on behalf of the official opposition to reply to the government's throne speech.
Before I begin, allow me please to welcome the new government, especially the new members. I would also like to offer you my warmest congratulations on your appointment as Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole House. I have no doubt that you will provide the wisdom and calm needed in this House.
I must also take a moment to thank the residents of Laval—Les Îles in Quebec for electing me a fourth time. It is an honour to continue to be their voice in Canada's Parliament on issues such as immigration, early childhood, youth employment, expanding the labour market, infrastructure development, old age pensions and, right now, bilingualism. Their trust will not be betrayed.
In the 10 minutes that I have, I will cover four issues missing from the government's agenda: integration of minority language communities outside Quebec, support for la francophonie arts and culture, youth and child care.
The Governor General's opening remarks reminded me of my own travels across Canada and the people I have met in the two great linguistic communities. I too can attest to their tremendous asset to our country. We are indeed living in a country where everything is possible. We can follow our dreams and help build a strong and united country.
Mr. Speaker, I am not satisfied with the rigid contrast found in the message of the Government of Canada. It offers no vision for the ongoing integration of francophones and anglophones in Quebec or for the development of official language minority communities.
The year 2006 will mark the 40th anniversary of French immersion programs. It all started with a project at the Riverside school board in St. Lambert, Quebec. Today, this vision of the duality and equality of the two languages is enshrined in the Official Languages Act, and $751.3 million over five years has been earmarked by the action plan for official languages, which sets out clearly the government's responsibility for putting it in place. Linguistic duality is now firmly entrenched in the foundations of our multi-faceted society.
The mother tongue of almost six million people in Quebec today is French. Almost 66% of another approximately 700,000 English speaking people speak French at work. Also, 400,000, or 63%, or another half a million people without French or English, many of them immigrant workers, live and work in French.
The most recent statistics indicate that nearly seven francophone workers in ten living outside Quebec, or some 566,000 people, use French at work.
The Liberal vision of a bilingual country has taken root. We now have a government that is trying to destroy that vision. The day before yesterday I asked a question in this House about the future of bilingualism in Canada. The hon. member responded, and I quote:
“We have a strong minister in charge of heritage and culture who has indicated that she wants to promote that”, meaning bilingualism, “throughout Canada”. The member also said that “bilingualism is something this party supports”. I am very happy about this since the Prime Minister can certainly thank the Liberal policy on bilingualism for having had the opportunity to learn French.
How has the government shown support for bilingualism? The Prime Minister appointed a unilingual minister whose mandate is to coordinate the horizontal work of the government in promoting French and English. What has that minister done since her appointment? She has refused every attempt by the Commissioner of Official Languages, Madame Dyane Adam, to meet with her.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage has yet to say two words about official languages or even meet with francophone and other national organizations which are still waiting two months later for a return phone call.
These groups confirm today that:
in the Speech from the Throne, arts and culture in Canadian francophonie have been eradicated from the vision of Canadian society as the Conservative party sees it. The Conservative party wants to build a strong, united, independent and free Canada, but it is an aberration to think they can do so without culture, without the arts and without cultural diversity. We cannot accept this. How does the Canadian government intend to sustain these sectors, these strong social, economic and educational drivers of our Canadian society and true foundations to building our identity, within the francophone and Acadian communities?
Instead, the minister had a lot to say about the CBC even before her briefing and nothing to say about the minority language community.
There is more. Without even bothering to read the mandate of the Canadian Unity Council, funding was gutted from the council because it does not fit into the Conservative government's vision of open federalism that, according to the throne speech, recognizes the unique place of a strong, vibrant Quebec in a united Canada.
The Canadian Unity Council is a non-profit, non-partisan organization created in 1964 when a group of francophone and anglophone Quebeckers established the Canada Committee, which was the precursor to the council. Its mandate is to create an openness toward federalism and its mission is to inform and mobilize the public on the development and promotion of Canada. It stems from our social foundations as a nation.
Most of the council's work affects young people. For example, its summer job and student exchange program, originally supported by all parties, allows young francophones and anglophones to improve their second language while discovering a region of Canada they are unfamiliar with. I know for a fact that one hon. member opposite benefited from this program when he was young. Because of this decision by the Conservative government, roughly 80 Canadian employees, including 21 at the council's head office in Montreal, have lost their jobs.
The Conservative government talks about supporting democracy, about accountability, open federalism, respect for diversity, bilingualism and the understanding of cultures. How does it do it? It does it by gutting the funding of the Canadian Unity Council across Canada.
Here is an institution able to add to the dialogue of our country. It has or, more aptly put, had offices located in every region of the country. Thirty-two regional round tables were held in Quebec alone through the Council's Centre for Research and Information on Canada. They engaged all sectors of our society: academics, business people, volunteers and the general public. Their work was citizenship participation in action.
How do Canadians get to understand their country if cultural misperceptions exist, if access to people's stories is cut off? If integration and adaptation is eroded by the government's hidden agenda that is now coming to light, how many other non-profit community based organizations are going to be affected?
In the meantime, the Prime Minister's first public address to public servants, delivered mainly in English and posted on the government's website, was a direct violation of the Official Languages Act. Now we know the Conservative leadership's stand on bilingualism. Since being elected and establishing its cabinet, the government's target has not been about bilingualism because it has no vision.
It has been about building super jails to house youth while abolishing the gun registry, instead of putting in place better community support systems and leaving in place the substantive national crime prevention strategy and the youth employment strategy that have helped to reduce crime by 12% over the last 10 years.
This government's Speech from the Throne is an insult to the five-year plan of action to allocate $751.3 million to official languages. The agreements reached between the federal government and the provinces on early childhood education helped to fund more places for official language minority communities.
Nova Scotia could have stimulated the vitality of its francophone and Acadian communities. Newfoundland and Labrador could have worked with its associates, such as the regional health services, to satisfy the needs of francophone children.
There were also plans to have the appropriate authorities report on the provisions available for services in French. This government will put the future of our children at risk because of its linear views on flexible and open federalism.
The Conservative alliance government might definitely need to use as its guide the foresight which our forefathers showed to build a federal system that would be flexible and accommodating of diversity.
In that way, the Conservative alliance could build on one of Canada's greatest strengths—the federal system of government. In the meantime, it would build on the unique strengths of the different parts of our federation.