This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is it agreed?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-47, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very intently to the remarks of my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River. I can imagine that there are not that many aboriginal or first nations people in his riding as there are not in my riding either of Etobicoke North. I was quite impressed with his knowledge of the landscape of this particular bill.

I have been following the debate on the bill and I think it is a very important piece of legislation. I am surprised that a bill dealing with matrimonial interests and rights does not seem to have the support of aboriginal women in Canada nor does it seem to have the support of the Assembly of First Nations. I find that rather shocking and perhaps if the bill goes to committee there will be ways to improve and enhance the bill.

However, I am surprised that the Conservative government would table a bill that does not seem to even remotely have the support of some of the key stakeholders that would be involved.

I know that my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River is a very accomplished lawyer. I wonder if he could expand on some of the jurisdictional issues that he touched on and that I have become aware of in following this bill and the debate that is going on.

It is my understanding that the Supreme Court in 1986 ruled that when a conjugal relationship breaks down on reserve, the courts cannot apply provincial and territorial family law because reserve lands fall under federal jurisdiction. So, although on the face of it that seems fairly straightforward, I wonder if the member for Scarborough—Rouge River would speak about some of the constitutionalities of those issues.

These provisions, which I gather if this legislation would come into force, would be an interim measure and would be a bridging measure that would suffice until the various first nations communities brought in their own laws. Indeed, we have been moving toward self-governance among the aboriginal people of Canada.

Currently, how are these problems resolved in the absence of this legislative framework and how does he see it moving in transition from this legislation to a world where there is more self-governance within the aboriginal communities?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, my feeling is that while we might look upon this proposed statute as a bridge, allowing time for aboriginal communities or first nations communities to actually enact the rules they want in their various communities, it is probably a fact that they will not all get around to it over time. In the absence of really clear, enforceable rules among the first nations, we have problems of lack of clarity and inconsistency, and we have charter problems.

I like what the bill offers in terms of saying to first nations, “Take this and run with it and we will help you do it”. However, for those who never get around to it, the provisions in the bill will govern. I can understand why aboriginal women's groups might be cautious about this. In a sense I am guessing because I have not met with any in the last little while.

However, if there is an aboriginal female on reserve and she looks at the tribal council and she looks at all the guys running the show, she might not feel that comfortable having these guys make up a bunch of rules. A lot of the women might prefer the legislative template and infrastructure that exists in the provinces.

However, women do not have access to those. Also, provincial legislation and federal legislation is not in any way nuanced to deal with the circumstances of the first nations women. They have their own history and culture.

This law has been developed, using current existing legislative norms and matrimonial law norms from across the country. Those women may say that it is great for us in urban Canada, but they have their own thing. This bill does not hit the nail on the head and they need more time, or something. I have respect for that.

On the constitutional side, we are making the best of a very complex basket weave situation here where the provinces just do not, because of our constitutional history, have any jurisdiction involving these matters on reserves. It might be a lot simpler if they did, but if that were to be the case, we would have to have the first nations on the reserve fully plugged into an accountable legislature, and electing people to the legislature. We just have not developed that yet.

I am not sure what the first nations want in that regard, but I sure do not want to propose something that they do not want. What they have now is what they have, and I would like to have members of Parliament work with them and help them develop what they want. However, in the interim, we have this one size fits all with an opt out for first nations who want to customize their own lives in this regard.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the major criticisms that the first nations have, and the women's groups in particular, has been that there is no provision in the legislation for funding for the transition that will be required. I wonder if my colleague could comment on that and whether his party would be prepared to oppose the bill until we see that kind of relationship established.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is really a cogent question. I cannot speak for my party, but most of us could endorse a concept of federal assistance with funding to assist the first nations to develop.

I do not think we would put an actual amount in the bill, and if we do not put an actual amount in the bill, then we would have the question of how much and then it is sort of left with the government. I do not think I would want to oppose a provision in the bill that put on the government a statutory obligation in some fashion, either firm or flexible or something in between, to assist financially in the development of the transition as requested by the first nations women.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I think the next speaker on the list might be interested in the answer to this too. I would like to ask the member if he thinks the government supports this bill. As of this afternoon, we have had a whole day of debate and the government has not had a member speak on the bill. The minister of course supports it as it is his bill. He introduced it.

However, every problem has raised a number of issues. The normal procedure would be that the government would say, “Yes, but here is the answer to those issues, and yes, we still support the bill”. We have no indication of that at this moment. I would like the member to comment on the policy making process.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has spotted what might be interpreted as an apparent lack of interest on the part of the government in passing the bill, but there was a time when the member and I sat on that side of the House, on the government side, and there are occasions when a government believes the bill is perfect in every way and does not believe it is necessary to put up members to speak and delay the passage of the bill.

The opposition often takes a slightly different perspective on it and, for all kinds of reasons, wants to make constructive comment on the bill. I have tried to do that here today. I know the next speaker will do the same.

I should point out that earlier today we actually did get another bill passed in this same first nations envelope, so the government is probably feeling fairly good about that.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from February 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-482, an act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, several of our government members have already had a chance to voice their opposition to Bill C-482. The only possible conclusion is that this is a bill intended to solve a non-existent problem. The 2006 census shows that French is doing well as the language of work in Quebec.

The census has been collecting data on the language of work since 2001, and the 2006 census shows that 99.2% of Quebec francophones use French most often or regularly at work. This figure speaks for itself. It is very hard, therefore, to claim that English poses a serious threat in Quebec and the federal government is responsible. The facts show that this is simply not the case.

Some 94.3% of all Quebec workers use French, with varying frequency. In addition, between 2001 and 2006, the percentage of immigrants who said they use French most often at work, either alone or together with another language, increased from 63% to 65%. There was also an increase in the proportion of anglophones who use French at work most often or regularly. I also want to remind the House that 69% of Quebec anglophones are bilingual now, in comparison with 63% just ten years ago. Under the circumstances, we really do not see the point of Bill C-482.

If we look at the results of the 2006 census on mother tongue and the language spoken at home, it becomes apparent that certain people have a tendency to draw hasty conclusions about major trends in our society, which in themselves do not pose a threat to the French language. It is true that many immigrants speak their language of origin in the home in order to pass it on to their children. Nevertheless, most of these people work in French and frequently use it in public. In addition, their children attend French-language schools and will eventually find it easy to migrate to this language.

Some concerns were raised last December and January about data on how easy it is for unilingual English staff to get hired in Quebec businesses. Everyone who is familiar with the statistics knows that this was not a serious study and it was undertaken mostly just to stir up trouble without really improving our understanding of the linguistic situation.

We also need to know that the situation in Montreal is not evolving in a vacuum. Every day some 270,000 people from the northern and southern suburbs of Montreal, most of them francophones, cross the bridges to go and work on the island. Nine out of ten of them use French at work: 73% most often and another 16% regularly. Under the circumstances, there is no reason to fear the worst, especially as the data show that the use of French in Montreal has remained stable.

In Canada as a whole, because of immigration, we see the same linguistic diversification and reduction in the proportion of people with English as a mother tongue. Given the importance of English in the world, it is hardly surprising that this is a consequence of our very necessary immigration.

The second good reason to oppose this bill is just as important, since is has to do with a truly Canadian value: the equality of status of English and French, and the commitment of the federal government to enhance the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada. Our government cannot emphasize enough the principle that both official languages are equal.

With this bill, the Bloc is implying that the federal government is a threat to the French fact in Canada, when nothing could be further from the truth. Yet again, the Bloc proposes a backward-looking vision, where the knowledge of one language is necessarily a threat to another.

Through its official language policies, the government encourages not only francophone minorities, but also all Canadians, to learn French. That is why we now have a record number of Canadians who are able to speak both official languages.

The government supports the French fact throughout Canada and particularly supports francophone minority communities. There are more than one million francophones in our own country. This opens the door to the international Francophonie.

This year, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, some important international Francophonie events will be held. Quebec City will host the next Sommet de la Francophonie from October 17 to 19, 2008. It is no coincidence that francophone heads of state and government are turning to Canada to hold their discussions. Canada is a beacon of support for the dissemination and promotion of the French language.

Canada is proud to be a partner in the celebrations, which highlight an important chapter of our history. We want the 400th anniversary of Quebec City to be a celebration all Canadians will remember. It is a great opportunity to celebrate the event, the francophone presence in the Americas, and the vitality of the French fact.

The two official languages of Canada are also languages with high standing internationally, let us not forget. French, which is one of the ten most commonly spoken languages in the world, ranks second for the number of countries where it is spoken, and in influence. Like English, French can be found on every continent, and it has official language status in 29 nations.

The Prime Minister has often said it, and I quote him without hesitation: we share a long-term vision of a Canada where linguistic duality is an asset both for individuals and for institutions across Canada.

The future depends on learning the second language, and even other languages, in a global economy and a spirit of openness to the world. Languages are the key that enables us to understand and appreciate other cultures.

The Canadian language framework that has been developed in recent decades originates in and is based on the principles and provisions found in our Constitution. Canadians today still say that these values are widely shared, and we will make sure that future generations have an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of bilingualism, one of Canada’s fundamental characteristics.

Our language industries are helping to position Canada on the international stage and they will continue to thrive in the years to come thanks to the cutting-edge research that is being done and will continue to energize this entire sector of the economy and thereby Canada as a whole. I would like to take this opportunity to note that Canada continues to be a world leader when it comes to translation and other activities of that nature. We are also a model for many countries in the management of linguistic duality.

In conclusion, we are determined to continue working to help the official language communities flourish, in a spirit of open federalism and in a way that respects the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories. Our approach to developing a new strategy is therefore aided by our continuing dialogue with the provinces and territories, and in particular by the work done by the Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie.

The provincial and territorial governments are the ones that can take direct action on issues of crucial importance to the vitality of official languages communities throughout Canada, and our government looks forward to working with them to promote Canada’s linguistic duality.

In recent years, the Government of Canada has developed a number of policies on official languages, and our government is working actively on the next phase of the action plan, in order to take into account social and demographic changes in Canada. We want to offer Canadians the support that is best suited to their needs. We want to help them preserve their linguistic and cultural heritage and reap the full benefits of that heritage and pass it on to future generations.

Our government will continue to build on existing accomplishments so that Canadians can benefit from all the advantages our country has to offer because of the unique cultural wealth our two official languages represent in North America.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here in the House today to speak to Bill C-482, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

When we look at the whole issue of the Official Languages Act, there is one thing we must always keep in our sights, one very important thing. That is ensuring that the legislation will improve the conditions of official language minority communities, for both francophones outside Quebec and anglophones in Quebec.

In order to be able to move forward and not backward we must also ensure that the act can be properly defended. If we want to be in a position to properly defend it we must make sure that, when people propose amendments to certain acts, those proposals do not run counter to what many generations have been trying to do over the years to improve the conditions of official language minority communities.

Clearly, anyone who tries to improve the conditions of official language minority communities must be an ardent defender. The Liberal Party of Canada has always been an ardent defender of official languages in this country. We have taken steps to advance many causes and have ensured that programs are in place to enable communities to defend their rights before the courts.

However, when we look at a bill like Bill C-482, we might ask ourselves some serious questions. Serious questions might come to mind because, indeed, as though by chance, this bill is trying to separate one part of the official languages issue in this country and shift it. In the end, it conveniently addresses one part of the issue without considering the overall situation. And the overall situation is very important.

It is not possible to try to make amendments to an act or take over an act—acts under federal jurisdiction—that exists to ensure respect for communities, that exist to ensure that communities, even those in a minority situation in any given region, province or territory, do not see any decreases in their services, their standard of living or their rights.

Respecting their rights also includes the whole issue of employment and language of work. Certainly, if at some point we try to generalize and say that everything is going to go in one direction, people are going to suffer. People are going to suffer because their rights will not be respected. That is one of the reasons why we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to ensure that communities, including language communities, are respected.

But this is a constitutional issue as well. The Official Languages Act guarantees Canadians the right to be served in the language of their choice, be it French or English. Some people want services in both languages, because many communities across the country are bilingual. However, the government has to be able to provide those services.

Imagine for a moment telling the people who work in institutions and undertakings governed by the Canada Labour Code, “Now, you no longer have the right to serve people or work in your own language.” It is a matter of respect.

This does not necessarily mean that the language of work has to be English only or French only. There has to be a balance. In my riding, for example, there are francophones, mainly in the Madawaska area, and there are more anglophones in the Restigouche area. We cannot say that the francophones would not have the right to work in French and would have to work in English only, because it is the majority language in New Brunswick. The reverse is also true. Imagine if it were to happen one day. In one case, the rights of the francophones would be trampled, while in the other, the rights of the anglophones would be violated.

When it comes to official languages, we must always make sure we do not come up with just any bill to promote one part of the official languages issue for our cause. The issue here is not just a separatist cause versus a federalist cause. People all across the country have the right to be served in their own language, but they are also entitled to some respect when it comes to language of work.

As I mentioned earlier, we must never forget that there are other communities in the country, notably francophone communities outside Quebec. These people would like to be able to work in their language, but they are conscious of the fact that they are not necessarily in the majority and that there are also anglophones who work in their language.

We cannot simply tell a minority community that some of their rights will be taken away because the language of work must be limited to a single language. Nor can we say that their rights will be set aside because they are not important. We have to be careful. Often when we talk about linguistic issues it leads to debates because it directly affects individuals. People most often express their gut reaction because they remember the struggle they went through to defend their rights.

It is hard to comprehend that a Bloc Québécois member has introduced such a bill. Bloc members must also be aware that Canada has two official languages. The problem does not crop up province by province. If things were that easy, there would not be any problems in the world. At some point, we have to be able to recognize that each one of us has the right to our own little space and the right to more forward in consideration of our linguistic situation.

It is a bit difficult to understand where people want to go with this bill. We need to have a broad overview and not just look at elements here and there. If we only look at the elements in isolation, we would never be able to move society forward. That would certainly benefit some. However, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms exists to protect minorities.

If there were no injustices, there would be no laws. If justice prevailed across the country and there were no problems, we would not need any laws. However, it is because there are injustices, and rights are not being respected, that we have to bring in legislation to govern the country fairly and appropriately, to ensure respect for official language communities within the country and within each province.

Imagine if each province made its own decisions on this. Some provinces might be interested in doing so. Imagine though how difficult it would be to have the official languages respected. People would end up having to choose which province to live in to receive certain services or to have the right to work in their language. It is somewhat illogical to think that way. That is not what we want. We want people to stay in the province of their choice and work in their language. That does not mean it has to be English only or French only. It is a matter of basic respect.

At the very beginning of my speech, I was saying that we have to make progress on the entire issue of the Official Languages Act. I will give an example that is rather easy to understand. Recently, Ms. Paulin from New Brunswick stood up for her rights and won, and now the RCMP has to provide services in French in New Brunswick. This is a reality: the law will enhance the quality of life of citizens who will be respectfully served in their official language.

The same is true for language of work. It is important to observe reality and get statistics. How many people who speak a certain language work in the public service or in places governed by the Canada Labour Code? Sometimes, these percentages are quite low.

Often, people adapt. Minority communities adapt far more than others to the language of the majority. At the very least, an anglophone should not be required to speak French and vice versa. It is always the same issue: we do not want the inverse to happen. We do not to put others through something we would not want to experience ourselves.

My presentation is drawing to a close. In my opinion, we must remember this: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If we want our rights to be respected then we have to give everyone rights.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-482, concerning the Charter of the French Language.

This bill proposes a number of changes with the goal of increasing the use of French as the language of work. It also proposes an amendment to the Canada Labour Code to protect the language rights of francophone workers in the federal sector governed by the Canada Labour Code.

My NDP colleagues and I believe that this bill deserves to be examined in committee. Our primary interest is to protect French where there is the largest group of francophones—in Quebec—and then to focus on the need to increase and promote the use of French at work. Of course, that does not mean that we want to reduce the presence and influence of French elsewhere in Canada. On the contrary, everyone wins when we strengthen Canada's uniqueness and truly try to respect the spirit of bilingualism.

We are all aware that there are still numerous obstacles preventing many Canadians and Quebeckers from truly learning French. Several reports suggest that the use of French is declining even in Quebec. Is this true? We do not know. Further study and discussion are required. A few months ago, the writer Roch Carrier spoke about the high rate of illiteracy in Quebec. That is disturbing. This bill should be examined in light of that kind of problem.

After listening to the comments of my Liberal colleague, who seems to simplify the problem, I believe that we should stop fueling the separatist cause. In a recent interview, the Commissioner of Official Languages expressed his disappointment with the Conservative government's policies pertaining to official languages. I am thinking of the appointment of judges and others, the abolition of the court challenges program— which truly helped francophones exercise their rights outside of Quebec—or the lowering of standards for French in the public service and the military. All these actions taken by the Conservative government undermine this type of educational programs. Yet, the Prime Minister himself is an example of the success of these programs. So why refuse to study a bill that seeks to protect the right to use French as the language of work?

Affirming the language rights of francophones does not at all diminish the rights of anglophones. On the contrary, these actions provide all Canadians with choice and, in this way, ensure the continued growth and vitality of the French language throughout the country.

We know that this is an important issue for Canadians living outside Quebec as well. For example, in my riding, French immersion programs are in high demand and are probably the most popular education program in British Columbia. That is definitely the case in my riding.

On a personal note, my own experiences growing up in Manitoba showed me the importance of promoting French there.

French was banned from the education system for an entire century. I even remember being a little girl, taught by nuns, and when the inspector came into the classroom, we had to put away our French textbooks and hide them. Imagine such a situation. It really created a feeling of being attacked. We had the impression that we did not have the right to speak French.

And if we believe that the French fact enriches Canada as a whole, it must be given the support it needs to fully develop.

However, it remains to be seen if this bill could do that, if it could really achieve those goals, given that we are talking about areas of federal jurisdiction. That is one of the main reasons why we are suggesting further deliberations on this bill in committee.

In addition, the issue of how the provisions concerning federal institutions and companies will be imposed still has yet to be resolved. My hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst already raised this question in his comments. What impact will this bill have on companies such as Air Canada, VIA Rail and many others?

The business administration of these federal institutions, and particularly the promotion of French in those settings, will be a focal point of the committee deliberations, if the bill is in fact referred. That is another reason this debate is necessary. It would be one way of assessing the health of French in those federal institutions.

I am convinced that if we keep an open mind, both in the House and in committee, we will successfully make decisions that will allow us to achieve the following goals: first, to allow Quebeckers to express themselves fully at work in their mother tongue and, second, to preserve and encourage the use of this rich, dynamic language, which we are fortunate to be able to use anywhere in Canada.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, May 1—International Workers' Day—was barely two weeks ago, yet it seems that there are two categories of workers in Quebec. Workers in the first category have the right to work in French in Quebec. They are governed by Quebec labour laws and Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language.

Over 200,000 Quebec workers in the second category are governed by the Canada Labour Code, and their employers are not subject to the Charter of the French Language. All too often, they have to work in both languages and sometimes, in English only. Some of them feel like second-class citizens in Quebec. They are the ones working for organizations that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as ports, airports, telecommunications and broadcasting companies, interprovincial and rail transportation companies, banks, and Canada Post Corporation.

Most of these organizations ignore the Charter of the French Language. Some openly flout it. Bill 101 does not apply to these employers in Quebec, so they can impose their language on their employees, who receive their weekly English-language schedules, and are blithely asked to attend meetings that are held, all too often, in English when at least one of their colleagues is unilingual anglophone. Bizarre situations arise as a result. For example, a company under federal jurisdiction is not required to respect the language of its workers in Quebec, but the union representing those workers, which is subject to the Quebec Labour Code, must comply with Bill 101.

Witnesses have stated that employers even force their employees to work in English, threatening to cut jobs in Quebec and create new jobs elsewhere in Canada, where people speak “Canadian”, if they do not agree to write their reports in English or if they speak up when they receive internal documents written in English only. I should clarify that employees are not refusing to provide services to clients in the latter's own language. They simply want meeting minutes, or the meetings themselves, as well as their interactions with their employers and colleagues, to be in French.

Of course, the situation varies with the region. In Montreal and in the Outaouais, the situation is far more problematic than in the Saguenay region, for example, where francophones make up 99% of the population. Overall, English is the main language of work for 17% of Quebeckers. Statistics recently released by the Quebec Office de la langue française indicate that many more francophones work in English than do anglophones in French. Forty per cent of workers in Quebec use English at work regularly.

The federal government stubbornly refuses to recognize Bill 101 in Quebec, so that even today, despite the legislation's 30 year existence, the process of francisation is still in its infancy. When we raise the matter in the House, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages replies that she is promoting bilingualism in Quebec. In fact, each time the government promotes bilingualism in Quebec, it pushes French back. English is not threatened in Quebec and Canada. Promoting French in Quebec means advancing the cause of francophones outside Quebec.

However, in response to the Bloc's initiative, the Conservative government recognized in 2006 that Quebeckers formed a nation. Who honours the rights of this nation? Certainly not the Conservative government, which protested far too much when the Canada Post calendar did not include Quebec's national holiday—and I say “national”, which is Quebec's national holiday on June 24—only to discover two weeks later that the same error of omission had been made on its own calendar.

Clearly, denial of the Quebec nation and disdain for its rights seem to be part of the culture of the federal government machinery. When have we heard the Prime Minister, one of his ministers or even one of his MPs use the term Quebec nation? Recognition of it is not to be found in either their remarks or their actions.

Let us not forget that the Conservative Prime Minister did not recognize the Quebec nation in November 2006 for its intrinsic value or because he was fond of or respected Quebeckers, but rather with the malicious intent to trip up the Bloc Québécois by adding the words, “within a united Canada” after “Quebeckers form a nation”.

But the time for empty words is over. It is time the Conservative government walked the talk.

To protect workers' language, identity and culture, this government must recognize the Quebec nation in fact by giving workers throughout Quebec the right to work in French.

The Bloc wants to amend federal legislation so that federally regulated businesses carrying on activities in Quebec are subject to the Charter of the French Language. The member for Drummond introduced Bill C-482 to amend the Canada Labour Code. We thank her and congratulate her.

I hear someone applauding. That is a very good idea, because this is a very fine initiative on her part.

Bill C-482 will require the federal government to recognize the Charter of the French Language in Quebec and will extend its application to businesses under federal jurisdiction.

First of all, to avoid any ambiguity, it must be clear in the Official Languages Act that French is the official language of Quebec. We therefore consider it important to amend the preamble so that it provides that the federal government recognizes that French is the official language of Quebec and the common language in Quebec.

This amendment is not purely symbolic. It states, to a certain extent, the intent of the legislator. In this regard, the Barreau du Québec said this:

Jurisprudence, also, seems to consistently demonstrate that the preamble is always important, though the circumstances in a matter, such as the clarity of the provision, justifies setting aside any indications of intent that may be found in the preamble.

It then becomes an insurance policy provided that the body of the act is also amended. The Official Languages Act essentially applies to the Government of Canada and its institutions, and as mentioned earlier, under section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is impossible to amend any provisions dealing with institutionalized bilingualism within the federal government without amending the Constitution. However, two parts of the act can be amended, namely part VII, which deals with the advancement of English and French in Canadian society, and part IX, which deals in part with the mandate of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois will force the federal government to undertake that it will not throw up obstacles to the objectives of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to remember that recognition of the Charter of the French Language in no way diminishes the rights and privileges of the Quebec anglophone minority provided for in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These amendments only limit the power of the federal government to interfere in Quebec's language policy.

The specific reference to a provincial act in the context of federal legislation is possible and even common. This is referred to as a statutory reference, in other words the government recognizes the provisions of another Canadian legislative assembly. For example, the Canada Labour Code sets the minimum federal wage based on provincial minimums. Section 178 states that:

—an employer shall pay to each employee a wage at a rate

a) not less than the minimum hourly rate fixed, from time to time, by or under an Act of the legislature of the province where the employee is usually employed—

This bill will amend the Canada Labour Code.

Federal undertakings or federally regulated enterprises are not governed by the Charter of the French Language, particularly with regard to the language of work. Some of these enterprises choose to abide by it, but on a voluntary basis and too infrequently for our liking.

Which federal enterprises are affected by the Canada Labour Code? I mentioned some earlier: Bell Canada has 17,241 employees; the Royal Bank, 7,200 employees; the National Bank of Canada, 10,299 employees; ACE Aviation Air Canada, 7,657 employees. We estimate that 200,000 Quebeckers are governed by the Canada Labour Code, or about 7% of Quebec workers.

The Bloc Québécois' bill will also amend the Canada Business Corporations Act to ensure that corporations' business names respect the Charter of the French Language.

The problem is that Quebec, as a nation, is still not able to ensure the use of French as the official and common language because of limits imposed by the federal government and its blatant disregard for Bill 101.

I ask that my colleagues in this House seriously reflect on the rights of a nation.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, several members of our government have already had a chance to express their opposition to Bill C-482. We can conclude only one thing: this bill purports to solve a problem that simply does not exist. The 2006 census data show that French as a language of work in Quebec is doing well.

Since 2001, the census has collected information on language of work, and the 2006 edition confirms that 99% of francophone workers in Quebec use French most often or regularly at work. These figures speak for themselves. It is very difficult to claim that the use of English in Quebec is a serious threat and that the federal government is to blame. There are no facts to back up this claim.

Some 94% of all Quebec workers use French, with varying frequency. In addition, between 2001 and 2006, the percentage of immigrants who said they use French most often at work, either alone or together with another language, increased from 63% to 65%. There was also an increase in the proportion of anglophones who use French at work most often or regularly. I also want to remind the House that 69% of Quebec anglophones are bilingual now, in comparison with 63% just 10 years ago. Under the circumstances, we really do not see the point of Bill C-482.

If we look at the results of the 2006 census on mother tongue and the language spoken at home, it becomes apparent that certain people have a tendency to draw hasty conclusions about major trends in our society, which in themselves do not pose a threat to the French language. It is true that many immigrants speak their language of origin in the home in order to pass it on to their children. Nevertheless, most of these people work in French and frequently use it in public. In addition, their children attend French-language schools and will eventually find it easy to migrate to this language.

Some concerns were raised last December and January about data on how easy it is for unilingual English staff to get hired in Quebec businesses. Everyone who is familiar with the statistics knows that this was not a serious study and it was undertaken mostly just to stir up trouble without really improving our understanding of the linguistic situation.

We also need to know that the situation in Montreal is not evolving in a vacuum. Every day some 270,000 people from the northern and southern suburbs of Montreal, most of them francophones, cross the bridges to go and work on the island. Nine out of ten of them use French at work: 73% most often and another 16% regularly. Under the circumstances, there is no reason to fear the worst, especially as the data show that the use of French in Montreal has remained stable.

In Canada as a whole, because of immigration, we see the same linguistic diversification and reduction in the proportion of people with English as a mother tongue. Given the importance of English in the world, it is hardly surprising that this is a consequence of our very necessary immigration.

The second good reason to oppose this bill is equally important, because it touches on a deeply Canadian value. It concerns the equal status of French and English, and the federal government's commitment to enhance the vitality of the English and French minorities in Canada. Our government can never overstate the importance of this principle of the equality of the two official languages.

With this bill, the Bloc Québécois is suggesting that the federal government poses a threat to the French fact in Canada, although nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet again, the Bloc proposes a backward-looking vision, where the knowledge of one language is necessarily a threat to another. Through its official language policies, the government encourages not only francophone minorities, but also all Canadians, to learn French. That is why we now have a record number of Canadians who are able to speak both official languages. The government supports the French fact everywhere in Canada and provides particular support to the minority francophone communities. There are a million of these francophones in Canada. This reality opens the gates to the international Francophonie.

This year, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, some important international Francophonie events will be held. Quebec City will host the next Sommet de la Francophonie from October 17 to 19, 2008. It is no coincidence that francophone heads of state and government are turning to Canada to hold their discussions. Canada is a beacon of support for the dissemination and promotion of the French language.

Canada is proud to be a partner in the celebrations, which highlight an important chapter of our history. We want the 400th anniversary of Quebec City to be a celebration all Canadians will remember. It is a great opportunity to celebrate the event, the francophone presence in the Americas, and the vitality of the French fact.

The Prime Minister has often said it, and I quote him without hesitation: we share a long-term vision of a Canada where linguistic duality is an asset both for individuals and for institutions across Canada. The future depends on learning the second language, and even other languages, in a global economy and a spirit of openness to the world. Languages are the key that enables us to understand and appreciate other cultures.

The Canadian language framework that has been developed in recent decades originates in and is based on the principles and provisions found in our Constitution. Canadians today still say that these values are widely shared, and we will make sure that future generations have an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of bilingualism, one of Canada’s fundamental characteristics.

Our language industries are helping to position Canada on the international stage and they will continue to thrive in the years to come thanks to the cutting-edge research that is being done and will continue to energize this entire sector of the economy and thereby Canada as a whole.

I would like to take this opportunity to note that Canada continues to be a world leader when it comes to translation and other activities of that nature. We are also a model for many countries in the management of linguistic duality.

We are determined to continue working to help the official language communities flourish, in a spirit of open federalism and in a way that respects the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories. Our approach to developing a new strategy is therefore aided by our continuing dialogue with the provinces and territories, and in particular by the work done by the Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie. The provincial and territorial governments are the ones that can take direct action on issues of crucial importance to the vitality of official languages communities throughout Canada, and our government looks forward to working with them to promote Canada’s linguistic duality.

In recent years, the Government of Canada has developed a number of policies on official languages, and our government is working actively on the next phase of the action plan, in order to take into account social and demographic changes in Canada. We want to offer Canadians the support that is best suited to their needs. We want to help them preserve their linguistic and cultural heritage and reap the full benefits of that heritage and pass it on to future generations.

Our government will continue to build on existing accomplishments so that Canadians can benefit from all the advantages our country has to offer because of the unique cultural wealth our two official languages represent in North America.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join the debate today on Bill C-482. I must say at the outset that I have a great deal of respect for the member for Drummond, but I profoundly disagree with her on this bill. The bill is extremely dangerous from the point of view of a francophone from outside Quebec. It would give precedence to the French language in federal institutions in Quebec. I can only imagine the repercussions in the other provinces.

First, there is the whole issue that the federal government must respect the Constitution. I will not go into the details of that subject because my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier has very clearly spelled out the matter of constitutional principles. However, I do not understand how anyone could introduce a bill here, in this House, that goes against the Constitution of Canada. I want to look at practical reasons.

The Official Languages Act that was adopted in 1969 has protected and continues to protect our country’s two official languages. The act puts both official languages of our country on an equal footing. I will be the first to admit that there are many challenges to overcome. In a country as large and diverse as Canada, where there is a strong concentration of francophones in one province and where we encourage and celebrate multiculturalism—which is another factor that adds to the complications in an officially bilingual country—it has never been easy to find a balance in all of the issues related to official languages.

Nevertheless, we have made enormous progress. The Official Languages Act was essential to the growth of our minority francophone communities. The member for Drummond said that the use of French is declining in Quebec and everywhere in Canada.

However, we must talk about positive changes. In Manitoba, for example, there 45,000 people of francophone descent, but in principle, 110,000 people speak French. These people completed French immersion or second language courses. In British Columbia, parents, especially from immigrant communities, stand on the sidewalk all evening to register their children in immersion courses. This is really an interesting and significant phenomenon.

Significant changes are occurring in terms of respect for the two official languages. Let us take, for example, the group Canadian Parents for French, which last year or the year before celebrated its 25th anniversary in Manitoba. It is an exceedingly positive group for francophones right across the country.

In this age of globalization, people are realizing that knowing two or three languages is becoming the norm, not the exception. The hon. member will recall a study we did together on democratic reform. We visited England, Scotland and Germany, where she had an interpreter with her. In fact most of those we met spoke two, three or four languages and offered to speak French. That is today's reality.

I do not understand the strategy of turning inward and trying to stick to a single language. It makes no sense in today's world.

I do understand that we want to protect our language. We live in this great anglophone sea that is North America. However, today's youth must not be held back. The teaching of both official languages must be encouraged as must their use in the workplace. Our young people must be given every opportunity.

I have never understood why there has not been greater cooperation between Quebec and francophones outside Quebec. There are 6 million francophones in Quebec, but there are 2.6 million francophones in Canada's other provinces. Once again, in this great North American sea of 330 million people, it seems to me we would do well to work together—cooperatively—more closely and to join forces. But no, it is just not done to acknowledge that there are francophones living outside la Belle Province or that immersion programs are working extremely well. It would not be politically sound for a separatist party to admit that its distant cousins were managing quite well and that there were vibrant communities to be found in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, Vancouver, Regina, New Brunswick and even Alberta.

What was really heartbreaking was the Bloc's vote against Bill S-3, a bill that was vital for minority francophone communities. I can say for a fact that not all the Bloc members supported the decision by the leader of the Bloc.

The Bloc Québécois members who sat on the Standing Committee on Official Languages were torn by this decision. They knew that Bill S-3 was essential to the survival and development of francophone communities outside Quebec. Despite this, it was decided that they should vote against Bill S-3. How can that be good for the Canadian francophone community?

The other day, one of the Bloc members said that Quebec is a francophone nation. That disappoints me. How does a statement like that make the anglophones in his riding feel? That member does not necessarily represent everyone. That bothers me greatly. Anglophones and allophones also have the right to a representative that takes their interests to heart.

Things are changing. For example, in Manitoba, Premier Doer just created the Agence nationale et internationale du Manitoba. It is a francophone Manitoba Trade. We understand the added value of francophones in our province. It is the exact opposite of what is happening in the world and in all of the other Canadian provinces. In Quebec, they want to withdraw into themselves. I do not understand this senseless ideology.

As I said earlier, Canadian Parents for French is the most vocal group in terms of early immersion in New Brunswick. This group is essential for francophone communities.

Instead of seeing this withdrawal, I would rather see the Bloc Québécois work with us to restore the court challenges program and to put into place a new official languages action plan. It would be constructive and would advance French throughout Canada, including in Quebec.

In my opinion, the bill introduced by the member for Drummond would have the opposite effect, and I cannot support a bill that could harm our language. We have all worked too hard to preserve it.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have introduced Bill C-482. I would also like to thank my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her remarks, in which she really explained the bill. I am a little disappointed to see that my colleagues on the opposition side and my colleague who has just spoken have not sufficiently understood Bill C-482. In fact, it does not take away anything. It only amends the Official Languages Act so that businesses respect the spirit of the charter dealing with the language of signage and the language of work in related legislation on businesses. I would like to thank my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, my colleague from Joliette and my colleague from Gatineau, who travelled all across Quebec to explain Bill C-482, what it would change and what it would modify. I can say that it takes away absolutely nothing from the privileges of minorities within Quebec.

It is essential to specify in the Official Languages Act that French is the official language of Quebec. I would like the members who spoke on this bill could really recognize that French is the official language of Quebec. That is why it seems significant to us to amend the preamble to the act to state that the federal government recognizes French as the official language of Quebec and the common language of Quebec.

This bill would amend two parts of the Official Languages Act: Part VII, which deals with the advancement of English and French in Canadian society, and Part IX, which deals primarily with the mandate of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Recognition of the Charter of the French Language in no way diminishes the rights and privileges of the Quebec anglophone minority that are set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and I emphasize that point. These amendments strictly limit the power of the federal government to intervene in Quebec's language policy.

Let us talk about a concept. The concept of nationhood is to recognize a nation. It also means recognizing its identity, its language, its culture, its history and its institutions. For the Conservatives, the concept of the Quebec nation is an empty shell. The Conservative game is nothing but a manoeuvre intended to trivialize the Quebec nation.

Logic requires that the identity of Quebec be recognized; in the North American context, that the predominance of French in Quebec be recognized; that Bill 101 adopted by the National Assembly be recognized and respected since a statutory reference is possible. We have used an example on many occasions, the example of minimum wage legislation. The reality is that the Conservatives do not have the courage to move from words to action. The Quebec nation in a united Canada is just window dressing.

The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has already publicly committed himself to the need to defend and protect the French fact in Quebec. Speaking of Bill 101, he said in 1997 it was, and I quote, “The opposite of a racist law.” He even told the Canadian Press that Bill 101 was a great Canadian law. In that context, I invite honourable members and, in particular, all members from Quebec, to support this bill.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member.

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

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

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.