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House of Commons Hansard #69 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was english.

Topics

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group respecting its participation at the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, D.C., from February 23 to 25.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I see the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader rising. I think he will be asking for unanimous consent to revert to tabling of documents. Is that agreed?

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to three petitions.

Food and Drugs ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

moved for leave to introduce C-529, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (durable life date).

Mr. Speaker, as the Bloc Québécois' critic for health, I want to introduce today to the House a private member's bill to amend the Food and Drugs Act. The bill's objective is to prohibit the sale of prepackaged or canned food that does not indicate a durable life date.

Right after Nutrition Month during which we celebrated World Consumer Rights Day, and on the very day the Canadian Food Inspection Agency admits that unsafe food can find its way onto the market, it is crucial to base all federal regulations concerning labelling of food products on comprehensive information that allows consumers to make healthy and safe food choices. That is the goal of this bill.

I call on all members to support the bill because, as protectors of the public interest and as informed consumers, they are doubly accountable.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Human TraffickingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to present petitions from across Canada. The petitioners are asking that the government continue its good work to stop the horrendous crime of human trafficking. As we know, this is a crime that is having a rising impact on Canadians. It is my honour to present these petitions today in this House.

Unborn Victims of CrimePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to again rise in the House to present more petitions on Bill C-484. This bill has immense support out there. Every day, I am getting a thousand or more names on petitions in support of the bill. This time, they come all the way from Kelowna to Kanata, from all points in between, and from points beyond.

I am very pleased to present this petition in which the petitioners ask that Parliament enact legislation to protect and recognize unborn children when the mother wants them. It is very clear to them what the meaning is. I hope parliamentarians pick up on that.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, following the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House, the government should move from words to deeds and propose measures to solidify that recognition, including compliance with the language of labour relations of Quebec’s Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec.

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to open the debate on this motion, which I will read again—and I thank the member for Québec for her support.

That, in the opinion of the House, following the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House, the government should move from words to deeds and propose measures to solidify that recognition, including compliance with the language of labour relations of Quebec’s Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec.

In bringing forward this motion, the Bloc Québécois is doing again today the work for which, since 1993, election after election, Quebeckers have been sending a majority of Bloc members to Ottawa, that is to represent them in the House of Commons.

At the outset, let me remind members of this House and everyone who is watching us that we are sovereignists. The Bloc Québécois is convinced that the best way for the Quebec nation to take control of its overall development, be it from a political, economic, social, environmental or cultural point of view, is to achieve sovereignty.

Being sovereignists, we are the only ones in this House who can defend without any compromise the interests and values of the Quebec nation. This work performed by the Bloc Québécois is directly related to our party's mandate, which is to promote Quebec's sovereignty. All other parties in the House, whether it is the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party or the New Democratic Party, are Canadian parties that represent the interests and values of the Canadian nation. The only party capable of representing exclusively the interests and values of the Quebec nation is the Bloc Québécois.

It happens sometimes that both the Canadian and Quebec nations share common interests and it is indeed possible for a Canadian party to agree with the Bloc Québécois, or vice versa, to defend a particular cause, whether it deals with social, political or environmental issues.

I know that the debates within the Canadian parties reflect the debates going on within the Canadian nation. For example, the Liberals and the NDP have been able to work with the Bloc Québécois on some measures concerning compliance with the Kyoto protocol. But when the interests of the Quebec nation differ from those of the Canadian nation, it is amazing to see how the three Canadian parties can unite, despite their ideological differences, to defend the interests and values of the Canadian nation, at the expense of the interests and values of the Quebec nation. We must remember that in this House, we are the only exclusively Quebec party that represents the Quebec nation and that is able to defend its interests and values.

Because we are a sovereignist party, we want to facilitate Quebec's transition from provincial to country status. That is why, unlike what a number of federalists believe, we do not attempt to block things, as some of my colleagues like to joke. On the contrary, we think that the more progress Quebec makes within the Canadian federation, the stronger it will become, and therefore there will be a greater appetite for sovereignty among the people of Quebec and within the Quebec nation.

Unlike what some columnists and members of this House think, the Bloc Québécois, the Quebec nation, and all of Quebec have an interest in making progress within Canadian Parliament, and this is what the Bloc has been working towards since 1993. Having the House of Commons recognize Quebec as a nation on November 27, 2006, was a victory for the Bloc Québécois, for Quebec and for all Quebeckers, federalists and sovereignists alike, and it also helps Quebec's transition towards sovereignty.

I remind members that during discussions, people ask us why the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation. First of all, the Quebec nation did not need to be recognized by the House of Commons in order to exist.

It existed already. All of Quebec's civil society is well aware of that fact. The National Assembly had already adopted motions to this effect. We did not need the House's recognition in order to exist. I am always delighted to say, since it is the truth, that the Canadian government is the first foreign government to have recognized the Quebec nation. When Quebeckers make a decision about their future, I expect the Canadian nation, through its Parliament, to accept the democratic choice Quebeckers have made and not to interfere with the democratically expressed will of the Quebec nation to achieve sovereignty. In that context, the decision made on November 27, 2006 is very important for the Bloc Québécois.

We now need to give this motion tangible form, and that is where the problems begin. Clearly, many of the members who voted for this motion—265 voted in favour of the House recognizing the Quebec nation, and 16 voted against—thought it was a symbolic recognition, except obviously the Bloc members. In fact, it is not really clear. Who did we recognize? Did we recognize the Quebec nation, French Canadians in Quebec or the whole Quebec nation as Quebeckers perceive it? That debate seems to have taken place amongst the federalists, but not amongst the Quebec federalists and in Quebec society as a whole.

Now we have to move from words to deeds, which means many things. My fellow Bloc Québécois member for Drummond tabled a bill about the Canada Labour Code and the application of the Charter of the French Language for employees working in businesses under federal jurisdiction in Quebec. This bill would ensure that they have the same privileges and benefits as all workers in Quebec, meaning that they can work in their language, French, within Quebec society and within the borders of Quebec. This bill is currently being examined in the House.

Another bill has been introduced about multiculturalism, because the Canadian Multiculturalism Act is an obstacle, an impediment. It runs flatly counter to Quebec’s vision regarding the integration of newcomers. That bill seeks to exempt Quebec from the Canadian Multiculturalism Act so that Quebec can fully develop its integration model for newcomers. I will come back to this.

It goes even farther than that. Recognition of the Quebec nation must also start with a permanent resolution of the fiscal imbalance. It is not true that the fiscal imbalance has been resolved. Everyone in Quebec agrees on this. The National Assembly, Action Démocratique—the Prime Minister’s friends—and its leader, Mario Dumont, Jean Charest, Monique Jérôme-Forget, the Parti Québécois, Ms. Marois and François Legault have reiterated this: the fiscal imbalance has not been resolved. Recognizing the Quebec nation therefore also means recognizing the permanent resolution of the fiscal imbalance, so that the National Assembly—the Quebec nation—has all of the economic and financial tools for implementing the decisions it democratically makes, which is not the case at present.

How many years did we have to fight to get back the job training measures? It took over 30 years. We got them back largely because of the Bloc Québécois members and the pressure brought to bear by all parties in the National Assembly and by unions and employers in Quebec. After a pointless 30-year battle, we got what was owing to us in the first place.

The same thing applies to the fiscal imbalance: it will never be resolved as long as the federal government does not give up its power to spend in areas under Quebec’s jurisdiction. That means the right for Quebec to withdraw with full compensation and no strings attached. Everyone wants that, but the government refuses to do it. We have seen two or three times before references made in the budget to measures relating to eliminating the spending power in shared-cost programs. Not any more.

No one is fooled when we look at what is going on here. The Canadian parties really do not want to give the Quebec nation the opportunity to give tangible expression to all of the powers it should have, through the decisions that would be made here. It is extremely important to point out that identity bills have in fact been introduced. We will be coming back to them. But there are also financial and economic factors to be considered.

I would also add that the development model that the government is adopting impoverishes Quebec and the Quebec nation. A development model based on oil or the oil sands, which are in fact major greenhouse gas producers, impoverishes Quebec because Quebec imports all of its oil. In Quebec, we want to develop a model that no longer depends on oil, or that depends less and less on it. This runs counter to the interests of the Canadian nation, because that is very clearly what drives the Canadian economy.

As can be seen, this is very far-reaching. Before returning to the bills or examples dealing more specifically with Quebec’s identity, I want to say that we need to give concrete expression to the recognition of the Quebec nation, not just on the financial and economic levels but also in regard to its international aspirations. Do not say that progress has been made at UNESCO because it has been shown and proved that nothing has changed insofar as Quebec’s UNESCO delegation is concerned. It consists of a public servant who is on the delegation but does not have any real powers, and when Quebec and Canada disagree, it is the Government of Canada that wins out. The only progress that has been made is an administrative memorandum that is sent to Quebec explaining the reasons for the disagreement.

This motion is extremely important, therefore, and I would not want to see anyone try to trivialize it. Moving from words to deeds is not limited to the example given in the motion, that is to say, the application of the Charter of the French language to employees under federal jurisdiction, which would entail changes to the Canada Labour Code. It is also a question of recognizing that multiculturalism is a hindrance to our method of integrating newcomers into Quebec society. It also means recognizing that there is a Quebec culture, with which the Government of Canada is still not very familiar. This can be seen in the way budgets are handled. They speak about francophones and anglophones. But that is not the Quebec reality. There is an anglophone linguistic minority in Quebec, but it is an integral part of the Quebec nation and we fight for it too here in the House. There is a common language, though, and it is French. Multiculturalism policies based on bilingualism are a hindrance, therefore, to Quebec’s integration model.

We should recognize Quebec’s culture, therefore, and also give it the tools it needs. This means transferring responsibility for such things as telecommunications, all radio and television broadcasting, and all the new information technologies to the Government of Quebec—something that Duplessis was already demanding back in the days when radio was starting to become an important means of communication.

This is, therefore, a very significant, very far-reaching motion. We hope it will pass because we think that all the progress that is made will help to further strengthen the nation of Quebec and Quebec society and this gathering strength will give them an ever increasing appetite for sovereignty. Finally, this progress will facilitate Quebec’s transition from the status of a province to a country. As I said earlier, we hope in all sincerity, therefore, that the Canadian parties will pass this motion and, by so doing, respond favourably to the requests I have been making.

In the little time that is left, I want to return to the specific example provided in the motion. In our view, the thrust of the motion is to move from words to deeds and solidify the recognition of the Quebec nation. This is a very far-reaching subject involving major changes to the relations between Quebec and Canada. As I have been saying, though, we wanted to provide just an example here, namely, when it comes to the language of labour relations, the Charter of the French language should apply to employees of companies under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec.

This specific example was used because a bill has already been tabled by my colleague from Drummond—I mentioned that—to ensure that the members of this House will have an opportunity to give solid form to the recognition of the Québécois nation, in this field at first.

It is completely unfair that employees and workers in businesses under federal jurisdiction do not have the same rights as workers who are governed by the Quebec Labour Code. That is totally anomalous. How can one explain that 275,000 workers in Quebec do not have the right to work in French? That is what the Charter of the French Language does. It enables francophones and others who want to work in French to do so. I know very well what they are going to tell me. It is what the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages has replied several times: that they are promoting both of Canada's official languages, French and English. That is the illusion. The reality is something else. Everyone knows it and, once again, the statistics are available. Based on the 2006 census, Statistics Canada has shown that the French language is in decline everywhere else in Canada and is very fragile in Quebec.

Thus, the federal government should send a very important message, namely, that it recognizes that, since French is the common language of the Québécois nation, and its sole official language, workers should have the right to work in French in Quebec, Yet, that is not the case. I know people who work in airports and, who, as part of their work, are obliged to speak English. People who work in banks must often work in English. That is not normal and it sends a very bad message.

Between now and the end of April, we will have a chance to debate a bill on this subject at third reading and to adopt it. It is extremely important to send a message that the Canadian nation understands very clearly that the Québécois nation, for whom French is the official language, the common language, needs a little, additional symbolic support. We are talking about 275,000 workers. This is not a revolution. We need this little, additional support to reinvigorate the role of the French language among the people of Quebec. Unfortunately, an examination of the figures from the latest surveys was not conclusive regarding the possibility that there has been some stagnation in the efforts to promote French, especially in business.

Yesterday, moreover, the Quebec Minister of Immigration announced new measures relating to this. Even with these new measures in place, we will run into problems if we remain within the framework of Canadian multiculturalism, with two different discourses: one promoting bilingualism and the other French as the common language. This has created confusion and will continue to create confusion. It will weaken the efforts of the Quebec nation to ensure the harmonious integration of newcomers.

Perhaps the Minister of Labour will tell us it is extremely complicated to ensure application of the Charter of the French language to enterprises under federal jurisdiction. It is not all that complicated. Firstly because, as I have said, we are dealing with 275,000 workers in sectors that are extremely strategic to the economic future of Quebec. These include aerospace, telecommunications and the financial sector. These are sectors where French ought indeed to be the predominant language of work.

Taking as my example, the matter of minimum wage, if it were as complicated as all that, I would have trouble understanding how agreement was reached through administrative provisions to bring the minimum wage for enterprises under federal jurisdiction in line with the Quebec minimum wage set by the Government of Quebec, the Commission des normes du travail. So it is possible technically. What is lacking at the present time is the political will.

Let us hope that recognition of the Quebec nation will be solidified by real actions, such as adoption of this motion, of the bill tabled by my colleague for Drummond, of the multiculturalism bill introduced by myself which will be debated in April, and of other bills to be introduced by the Bloc Québécois. Otherwise, everyone in Quebec will understand what a number of us already suspect: that what was done in November 2006 was nothing but a political ploy and not any true recognition of the Quebec nation. The basis of the Canadian problem is that Canadians and their political representatives have never accepted the fact that other nations exist within the Canadian political landscape. The Quebec nation, the first nations, the Acadian nation, all these are nations with their own specific characteristics.

Given this non-recognition of the Quebec nation by the Canadian nation, the bottom line for the Bloc Québécois is that the only real solution remains the sovereignty and independence of Quebec.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, in his speech, the member for Joliette mentioned Bill C-482. This Bloc bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to make sure that companies doing business in Quebec, which are already subject to the federal act, would also be subject to the Quebec's Charter of the French Language. However, section 34 of Part V of the Official Languages Act states that:

English and French are the languages of work in all federal institutions, and officers and employees of all federal institutions have the right to use either official language in accordance with this Part.

What does the member for Joliette have to say in response to the concerns expressed by the Commissioner of Official Languages, Mr. Graham Fraser, who said that this bill could threaten English-speaking minority rights, particularly in the area of service delivery?

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for this question which allows me to make it very clear that we are talking about private businesses that are covered by the Canada Labour Code and not about the entire federal public service. There is separate legislation covering that aspect. However, we are not dealing with that act, but rather with private businesses that are under federal jurisdiction, a sector that includes 275,000 workers in areas like airports, banks, interprovincial transportation and telecommunications.

We must understand that what we are giving here is only a right to work in French. It is not a matter of forcing all workers to work in French. This has to be very clear. Since the majority of the Quebec population is French speaking, the French language should of course be the language used at work. We are however talking about rights and not about obligations regarding the Charter of the French Language.

As far as the Commissioner of Official Languages' comments are concerned, I would say that he had misread the bill introduced by the Bloc Québecois, that again only deals with private businesses under federal jurisdiction.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn ConservativeMinister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me this opportunity to participate in the debate. I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages and member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.

Thank you for this opportunity to respond to a motion calling on the government to take action that is at odds with the scope and purpose of existing federal legislation.

I would like to focus my comments on the proposed amendments to the Canada Labour Code and how they are predicated upon an obvious misunderstanding of the Canada Labour Code and its intent, or, in practical terms, what can and cannot be done under the Canada Labour Code.

I would point out that these amendments were put forward previously under private member's Bill C-482, which asks that “any federal work, undertaking or business carrying on activities in Quebec [be] subject to the requirements of the Charter of the French Language”.

What is the purpose of the Canada Labour Code? It comprises three parts. Part 1 deals with labour relations; part 2 addresses occupational heath and safety and part 3 concerns labour standards. Let us take a more detailed look at that last part.

It would certainly be a first in labour law history if such a measure were adopted by the House. The Bloc Québécois motion, that is. Indeed, to my knowledge, no labour code, not even at the provincial level, covers language rights. Not even the Quebec Labour Code refers to language. Like the Canada Labour Code, it deals exclusively with labour issues.

I want to be unequivocal here to leave no room for confusion: the Canada Labour Code deals exclusively with labour issues. Language is not its business. The federal government has other, more appropriate laws in place to address questions of language.

When it comes to the Canada Labour Code, the proposed changes are therefore completely inappropriate given the purpose of this legislation. For this reason, we cannot condone the measures being put forward by our well-intentioned but misguided colleagues today.

What can the Canada Labour Code do? I think we should spend a few minutes reviewing what the code can do for employers and workers in federally-regulated industries such as the banking, communications and rail, sea, air and interprovincial transportation sectors. All these sectors are federally regulated. The Canada Labour Code is a critical piece of legislation with an important mandate.

The code is applied equally and consistently within all provinces and territories of Canada—including Quebec—to all the businesses I mentioned earlier operating under federal jurisdiction. The Canada Labour Code serves and protects workers in Nova Scotia and British Columbia in exactly the same way that it serves and protects workers in Quebec. Similarly, each province and territory has its own labour legislation to support both employers and employees who fall under their particular jurisdiction.

In Quebec, the Canada Labour Code protects the rights of more than 180,000 Canadian workers. Across Canada, almost 10% of Canadian workers—or 1.3 million people—are protected by the code under our federal jurisdiction.

What does the Canada Labour Code do? It defines employer and employee rights and obligations related to industrial relations, workplace health and safety, and minimum employment standards. All of these ensure that Canadians benefit from safe, healthy, fair and productive conditions of employment.

Proactive relationships between managers and employers foster positive workplace environments and, ultimately, benefit the bottom line of any business. This benefits both employees and employers. When working conditions are healthy because they are good, employees are happier, pleased to do their work and more productive. For the employer, there are fewer disputes and interruptions in work, which is more beneficial.

Part I of the Canada Labour Code defines good workplace relations and helps parties resolve collective bargaining and other industrial disputes. It is a key piece of legislation in defining unfair labour practices, as well as the grounds for arbitration and resolution.

Let us now talk about workplace health and safety, or Part II of the Canada Labour Code. All Canadians have the right to remain safe and healthy while on the job. Workplace health and safety is becoming more and more of an issue. It is a serious matter. An employer must take the appropriate measures to ensure that working conditions are safe or risk receiving formal legal complaints. The employer knows that he or she must take measures to guarantee a safe working environment for the employee.

Part II provides guidance intended to prevent accidents, injuries and work-related illnesses by describing the measures employers and employees can take and regulating safety standards to minimize occupational health and safety risks.

Let us now look at Part III of the Canada Labour Code. Federal government officials, business leaders and unions have long relied on Part III of the code to negotiate fair and equitable employment standards for federally regulated employees in Canada. These standards define the minimum wage, which the Bloc Québécois mentioned earlier. Minimum wage varies from one province to the next. Not wanting to put pressure on the provinces, the federal government instead has tried to be respectful of them, and federally regulated employees who work in a province will receive the same minimum wage as established by that province or territory.

So, these standards define minimum wage, for example, overtime pay, hours of work, holidays, vacations, parental leave, layoff procedures and severance pay. This is all set out in Part III of the Canada Labour Code. It protects worker rights by informing employers of their obligation to provide at least the minimum acceptable standard in these areas by monitoring compliance.

What do we mean by compliance? All of us want good laws for the workplace. But our laws are only effective if they are respected by employers and by the public. It is not good when a law is not respected. Thus, our laws are only effective if the public complies with them and they are backed by enforcement.

Our government's approach to the enforcement of labour laws emphasizes internal responsibility and labour-management collaboration. These are the best tools we have in the modern world for achieving the results we want. To this end, we are investing in education, which presupposes the sharing of best practices. We also provide dispute resolution expertise, and conduct audits and inspections targeted to high-risk workplaces and companies.

I would like to point out that the Canada Labour Code, and the regulations and guidelines that support it, are a model of best practices for all countries around the world as they develop their own labour legislation. For example, through our labour cooperation agreements with countries in the Americas such as Chile, Costa Rica and Peru, we are providing technical assistance based on almost 60 years of experience with the Code to foster cooperation on labour issues and assist governments in legislating the protection of workers' rights.

To conclude, we should be proud of Canada's international reputation with respect to the Canada Labour Code, its legislation and its efforts to promote in other countries the best possible protection of workers' rights.

This issue falls outside the scope of the Canada Labour Code. Moreover, we know that people speak English in Quebec and they also have the right to receive services in the language of their choice.

Furthermore, when an employer conducts business abroad or in other provinces, it may very well be that employees have to speak English to meet the requirements of our country, which recognizes two languages: English and French.

We are presently dealing with the Canada Labour Code and we therefore deem the Bloc Québécois motion to be inappropriate.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the labour minister’s speech and think in some regards that he cannot be living on the same planet as we Quebeckers. He seems to find it hard getting on the same wavelength as the people. If the minister flew regularly out of Dorval airport, he would see that all the security officers address people in English only, at all times and without exception. He would only have to ask the person who welcomes the public to security in order to find out. This position is under federal jurisdiction, unless Mr. Duchesneau, about whom we were speaking earlier, is not any longer. Regardless of that, airport security is definitely a federal jurisdiction.

Getting back to the company that manages the security officers, I can assure the minister and he should go through Montreal to see that the public is welcomed in English only. I am talking about Montreal here and not Quebec City or Val-d'Or or Rouyn-Noranda or Sept-Îles. I mean Montreal, one of the biggest airports. People are welcomed in English. Members of the public have to start speaking French on their own, and very often, the officer has difficulty answering.

This is what the motion is aimed at. It is as simple as that. Do not start talking about effects on the Canada Labour Code or on this or that. Through our motion, we want the government to pass from words to deeds. Is the minister capable of making his troops understand that we want the motion recognizing Quebec as a nation to be clear and specific and turned into actual fact?

Another example is the National Bank or the CIBC, which is another bank. When someone phones the bank, the first person who answers on the other end of the line generally speaks English. We only need to phone and ask about our VISA accounts to find out. If this person is asked where the call centre is located, they will say it is in Montreal. If they are asked whether they speak French, they say they have certain rules to follow.

The minister should realize that the objective of the Bloc motion is to ensure that after having passed the motion recognizing Quebec as a nation, we must now move from words to deeds.

Is the minister prepared to take action—and this is in his area of jurisdiction—to ensure that people who work in the Montreal airport, for example, can welcome people and speak to them in French and to ensure as well that bank employees address clients in French, not just on the telephone but also by fax, because their faxes are generally in English? It is as simple as that.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Conservative Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to emphasize that the Bloc Québécois motion has nothing to do with the Canada Labour Code. Neither the codes of the provinces and territories, nor the Canada Labour Code deal with the question of language. We are trying to ensure that services are provided in both official languages across the country. Therefore, when there is sufficient demand for service in either official language, we should provide those services.

Indeed, no employer in Quebec would want to provide service only in English if his customers spoke only French. Otherwise, he would not be in business very long.

Certainly, there are always exceptions. I hope that if the member arrives at the Montreal airport and someone speaks to him in English, he will remind that person that they are in Quebec and they should speak French. I hope he will make a point of doing so and ensuring that he receives service in his own language.

Earlier, I listened to the members of the Bloc Québécois boasting that recognition of the Quebec nation constituted a victory for them. It was not the Bloc Québécois that recognized the Quebec nation in this House; rather, it was the Conservative Party. We, the ministers and members from Quebec, did what was necessary for the Quebec nation to be recognized within a united Canada. It was as a result of our work that this happened.

In fact, the Bloc Québécois will never be in power and there is no longer any question of a referendum. What are they still doing in this House now that a referendum has been removed from the picture? Are they going to wait, 30, 40 or 100 years?

Governments are the one who make the laws. Right now, it is the members of the government who can put forward measures and change things, and not the Bloc Québécois.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the motion of the member for Joliette. The point I want to make is that the Bloc members' statements about official languages do not stand up. Inevitably, they start by claiming that French cannot flourish in Canada, which could not be further from the truth and flies in the face of our country's history.

I want to assure this House that our government is firmly committed to meeting its obligations to support the official languages and promote French and English throughout Canada.

I will begin by outlining the linguistic framework put in place by the Government of Canada in recent decades. The objective and results of this framework have always been to enhance and not to impede the vitality of our two official languages.

The first Official Languages Act, passed in 1969, laid the groundwork for protecting and enhancing linguistic duality in Canada. This act was adopted as a result of the recommendations of the Laurendeau-Dunton commission on bilingualism and biculturalism.

In 1982, we saw the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was part of the constitutional amendments that came out of the repatriation of the Canadian constitution. This charter clearly states that English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada.

A new Official Languages Act came into effect in 1988 to reflect and implement the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This new act included provisions about promoting English and French, and these provisions were strengthened by an amendment in 2005.

I would like to remind the House that it was a unanimous resolution of our caucus that paved the way for the adoption of this amendment, whose main objective is to enhance the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and support their development.

This description of the measures that have been put in place in recent decades to recognize French shows that there is a consensus in Canada on official languages: Canada's linguistic duality is an essential part of the Canadian identity and an extraordinary asset for all of society.

Our government is fully in favour of this linguistic framework, which it intends to strengthen in the near future, as announced in the most recent throne speech.

I would stress that the provisions relating to linguistic duality are not inconsistent with the Charter of the French Language, as the Bloc members suggest. The Charter of the French Language in fact has full effect in areas under Quebec’s jurisdiction, and things work well that way.

I would like to mention in passing that the Official Languages Act essentially applies to institutions of the Government of Canada, plus a few others such as Air Canada. One of the objectives of the act is to ensure that services are provided to the public in the language of their choice. This is true in most cases.

Members of the public who speak the minority language can therefore receive services in either official language. As the most recent census figures show, 98% of the Canadian population speaks English or French, so we are able to reach virtually everyone by using one of those two languages.

The policies of the Government of Canada regarding the implementation of the Official Languages Act assign an important role to linguistic duality. I can also say without hesitation that there are many policies and programs that deal directly with the French language itself.

One concrete example is support for minority language education throughout Canada. Some provinces have established immersion programs in recent years.

It is too early to evaluate the final results of those measures, but requests for second language instruction continue to grow.

Teaching French as the minority language is a component for which the Government of Canada provides direct support to provincial and territorial governments. There are funding agreements in place for this.

On the question of knowledge of French, I would point out that based on recent census figures, anglophones in Quebec are increasingly bilingual. Their rate of bilingualism has reached 70%, while among young people it has risen above 80%. We can therefore say that programs to support official languages work directly to promote learning French from one end of the country to the other.

In the area of immigration, as we all know, Quebec is permitted to select its own candidates, and the Government of Canada fully recognizes provincial jurisdiction and Quebec’s francization objectives. You know that for several decades there have been agreements in place in this regard, and considerable amounts of money have been paid to the Government of Quebec to facilitate the integration of these immigrants.

From the last census, once again, we can see that for the first time in Quebec, most allophones who switched languages opted for French rather than English. This trend seems to be taking hold since three-quarters of the new immigrants who arrived between 2001 and 2006, and who speak English or French at home, chose French as their main language. In short, the immigrants who arrived in Quebec after 1971 have overwhelmingly chosen French.

As the right hon. Stephen Harper said—

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

As the right hon. Prime Minister said last year, French is the first language of Canada, and the developments that I am bringing to your attention show that its importance remains. We will celebrate the fact that French came first, chronologically speaking, in the coming year during the 400th anniversary of Quebec City.

French is also an international language spoken on all continents. It also ranks, I might add, among the ten major languages spoken in the world. After English, French has an official status in the greatest number of countries. As you know, the Government of Canada actively supports the institutions of the international Francophonie.

Given the Government of Canada's support for the French language, as I have just explained, I really wonder why we would have to amend the federal legislation to allow a so-called better protection of French in Quebec. The Government of Canada already acknowledges Quebec's francophone reality in all of its initiatives, and a number of indicators suggest that this approach is working. In Quebec, and in the rest of Canada, the promotion of French remains a priority to which we are committed.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised by the speech made by my colleague opposite, especially the last part. Why should we modify the law to allow francophones to work in French in Quebec? That is what my colleague is wondering.

There is one thing I would like to tell the member: we are a French-speaking nation in America, and Quebeckers have the right to use their mother tongue at work. They have the right to receive directions from their employers in their mother tongue. The member should understand this. We have a charter called the Charter of the French Language, commonly referred to as Bill 101. Quebeckers want to be able to work in French in small businesses, in Crown corporations under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec, in banks and in a sector that is certainly not insignificant: the telecommunications sector.

Does my colleague mean to say that he will not admit that it is possible for Quebeckers to work in French, especially in enterprises under federal jurisdiction? Is that what the member opposite is saying?

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I explained, we have a responsibility, as federal government, for both official languages, English and French. We need to promote both languages in every official language minority community.

I also explained that the overall bilingualism rate in Quebec is 70%—over 80% for young people. When I mentioned immigration, I showed that immigrants who choose to live in Quebec tend to adopt French instead of English as the language they speak at work and at home.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has been focusing only on language. In the motion, we used the language issue as an example.

The Minister of Labour said earlier that the Conservative Party had recognized the Quebec nation. However, it was not the Conservative Party that recognized it. It was the House of Commons. More than 260 members voted in favour of that motion. It was the House of Commons that recognized the Quebec nation.

My question for my colleague is very simple. What is the meaning of “Quebec nation” for him? What does “nation” mean? What does this word actually mean? It is only a symbol? Does a nation have powers and prerogatives? Is the existence of that nation based on certain elements? I do not want the member to focus his answer on the language once again. Everybody recognizes that French is the official language in Quebec. This does not prevent people from being bilingual or trilingual. It does not stop us from having international relations.

My question is very simple and I would appreciate an answer. What does the member actually understand by “recognition of the Quebec nation”? What does the word “nation” mean for him?

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, actually, I would like to correct my colleague. It is not that Quebec is a nation; the motion was that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. He does not even remember the motion that the House passed.

That motion was quite embarrassing to my Bloc colleagues. I remember that they had put forward a motion, and they amended their own motion, and then they ended up voting for our motion, the government motion. What an embarrassment for the Bloc.

The problem the Bloc has is that the Bloc members serve no relevance in this House. They do not represent the interests of Quebec. They are basically passing the time putting in place arguments that carry no weight whatsoever. They are a waste of time.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Hull—Aylmer.

My first reaction to this motion from the Bloc Québécois is mostly one of perplexity. What does the Bloc Québécois want if not to take advantage of themes related to identity-based nationalism, as shown by the text of its motion? All this to try to justify its existence. Let me emphasize that such an exercise looks quite painful these days for that party.

My perplexity comes first from the terms of this motion, which show quite clearly that, contrary to what the Bloc Québécois has been saying for a long time, the civic nationalism it claims to promote, which has nothing to do with ethnicity, is not the kind of nationalism the Bloc Québécois is advocating.

In spite of what the Bloc has been saying about its civic nationalism, the motion itself associates the Quebec nation with the language of the majority ethnic community in Quebec. With what is clearly written in the motion, the Bloc is trying to justify its existence mostly by recycling its already threadbare arguments and by taking advantage of the insecurity felt by some in Quebec about identity and culture.

The basic issue, in my view, as a French-speaking Quebecker, is one of self-confidence. What this motion shows is that the Bloc does not have confidence in what Quebeckers really are, as if Quebec were not mature enough as a society to take control of its language and its culture without feeling threatened by others.

The Bloc often urges Quebeckers to "take control of their destiny and their identity". Obviously, the independence movement and the nationalists thrive essentially on the insecurity felt by many because Quebec is the only society in America where francophones are in the majority.

Beyond their rhetoric about “the Nation”, separatist leaders say very little about the teaching of the French language in the education system of Quebec, which has become a true fiasco in the last decades.

Too often, after going through elementary and secondary school, then CEGEP, students cannot write correctly in French when they start university.

If the Bloc were as concerned as it claims to be about the future and the vitality of the French fact in Quebec, it would not present a motion such as the one that we are debating today, because it is just a tactic to justify its presence in this Parliament, not to mention the fact that the measure proposed by the Bloc is really a diversion from the real challenge posed by French in Quebec, and also in the other Canadian provinces.

In order to be thriving in the future, the French language must first and foremost be fully embraced by those who speak it. This begins with a public education system that allows Quebeckers to properly master their language, through quality education.

What should motivate Bloc members is the need, in Quebec, to urgently take the measures that are required to ensure that the education system can really provide a better teaching of French and thus help ensure that this language will continue to be spoken in Quebec for generations to come.

Two years ago, three teachers from Quebec, namely Luc Germain, Luc Papineau and Benoît Séguin, sounded the alarm in their book entitled Le grand mensonge de l'éducation and condemned the fact that, once in university, too few young people master French properly. I am going to briefly quote these authors.

Currently, right now—ask these three authors—do high school and college graduates write well? Do they master their language? The answer is no. Despite the reassuring and patriotic rhetoric, we are hurting and we are teaching in a way that can sometimes be qualified as mediocre what makes us unique and distinct, namely our language.

What the authors of that book are doing is to make francophone Quebeckers face their own responsibility to preserve the destiny of their language. That responsibility is first an individual one, because it is up to everyone to make the required effort. However, it is also a collective responsibility and, in that regard, Quebec has full control over its public education system and, therefore, it has all the means to assume that responsibility.

Indeed, when it comes to this issue, it is impossible to blame anyone else, because education, whether at the elementary, secondary or college level, is definitely and strictly a Quebec jurisdiction. Therefore, it is the responsibility of each and every francophone Quebecker to ensure the preservation of the French language, through a better and more effective teaching, and to demand that the Quebec government increase its efforts to achieve this critical goal for the future of the French language in our part of the continent.

So instead of resorting to empty rhetoric with endless mentions of “the nation”, and instead of using diversionary tactics for essentially partisan purposes, which result in no one taking responsibility for anything, the Bloc should be more concerned with the quality of French language teaching in Quebec.

That is something concrete that can be done to achieve the goal of preserving the French language and culture in Quebec. Fueling identity insecurities is not only a form of demagoguery that does nothing good for democracy, but it is also very counterproductive, since it takes us away from our individual and collective responsibilities.

In conclusion, I remind members that most Quebeckers are not at all worried about the survival of their linguistic or cultural identity as francophones. Unlike the people who continue to alarm Quebeckers about the alleged threat posed by English-speaking Quebeckers when it comes to immigrants, francophone Quebeckers have unwavering confidence in their ability to take responsibility for their language and culture and to envision their future.

I think it is important to remember that this is true for most Quebeckers. They will not be fooled by the Bloc's diversionary tactic—this motion—because they have enough self-confidence and are thinking clearly enough not to fall for it. Quebeckers want concrete, positive measures from the Government of Quebec that will ensure the vitality and future of the French fact. Quebeckers know that political games will not help them achieve that goal, which is too important to be tainted by strictly partisan political interests. For these reasons, the Liberal Party will oppose this motion.

Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in QuebecBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague. Let us try to put this in context. I hope he will listen to what I am going to tell him, in French or English. We are not talking about language here. Careful now, that is not what we are talking about; we are talking about the Quebec nation. Members recognized the Quebec nation in a united Canada. What does that mean in French? What does it mean today? Today, we are introducing a motion to say what we are asking for: that in Quebec, the language of work in agencies and businesses be French. It is not very complicated.

There is something I do not understand. I would like my colleague to give me an answer to this. This is not just a question of language. The motion is not just about language; it is also about values, Quebec’s values. It is what the Liberals in this House adopted when they agreed to the motion recognizing Quebec as a nation. What do they want to do? They may well say they are going to vote against this motion, but that will not mean that the problem will be solved tomorrow.

My question to my colleague is the following: what does recognition of the Quebec nation mean to him?