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House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cuts.

Topics

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Opposition Motion — CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #46

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

It being 5:44 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

March 31st, 2009 / 5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

moved that Bill C-307, 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.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see the interest and energy that introduction of this bill has triggered in the House. That is absolutely normal, given that this bill will enable parliamentarians and the members of this House to give tangible expression to a motion passed in this House in November 2006 recognizing the existence of the Quebec nation. All of our hon. colleagues will therefore be able to be faithful to the decision taken at that time and to amend the Official Languages Act in order to ensure that the Charter of the French Language will be respected in Quebec, particularly by companies under federal jurisdiction.

The purpose of Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts is to require the federal government to recognize the Charter of the French Language within Quebec and to allow it to extend its application to companies under federal jurisdiction.

In order to avoid any ambiguity, we felt it essential for the Official Languages Act to stipulate the fact that French is the official language of Quebec.

We therefore feel it is significant to amend the preamble to state that the federal government recognizes French as the official language of Quebec and of the Quebec nation.

As I said, this recognition of the language common to all Quebeckers is the totally logical extension of the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House.

As I said—

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I will wait until the House is a little quieter.

The hon. member has the floor.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to see you call for order, but I am also pleased to see that my colleagues are very excited at the prospect of debating Bill C-307.

As I mentioned, in order to avoid any ambiguity right from the start, we will amend the preamble to the Official Languages Act to ensure the federal government recognizes that French is the official and common language of Quebec. I will say it again and I will keep saying that Bill C-307 is the logical extension of the House of Commons' recognition of the Quebec nation in November 2006, if memory serves.

We will also amend two sections of the Official Languages Act, namely part VII and part IX, to ensure that these amendments to the Official Languages Act will require the federal government to undertake not to obstruct the aims of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to mention that recognition of the Charter of the French Language in no way diminishes the rights and privileges of the anglophone minority in Quebec as provided under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in the Charter of the French Language, as well. As I was saying, these two amendments to the Official Languages Act will eliminate any ambiguity.

If the Government of Canada and Canadians want to promote bilingualism across the country, let them do so, but it is vital that it be clear to Canadians and the federal government that, in Quebec, there is only one official language, one common language, and that is French. In this regard, the federal government will undertake not to diminish in any way the rights and privileges of Quebec's Charter of the French Language.

It should be mentioned there is no administrative problem in implementing this provision, which will allow the Charter of the French Language to apply to all employees of businesses under federal jurisdiction, and under the federal code specifically, because there are already situations in which the provisions of federal laws, Quebec laws or provincial laws apply to federal law. I am thinking, for example, of minimum wage. It is noteworthy to read in the Canada Labour Code, the provision setting the federal minimum wage according to provincial minimum wages. This provision, section 178.1 reads as follows.

Except as otherwise provided by or under this Division, 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 and that is generally applicable regardless of occupation, status or work experience.

There is no reason Quebec's minimum wage provisions would not apply within Quebec. I therefore have a hard time seeing how the government can support its claim that there would be administrative obstacles to making Quebeckers' common language—French—the language of work for all Quebec workers, whether they are under federal or Quebec jurisdiction.

As we already know, several companies under federal jurisdiction comply voluntarily with the Charter of the French Language, but we think more should be done.

I would point out that some of the national companies governed by the Canada Labour Code are involved in telecommunications and broadcasting. Some are crown corporations, such as CBC/Radio-Canada and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Canada Post is also subject to this provision, but none of the other departments, services or crown corporations are because they are covered by section 16 of the Constitution, which requires a constitutional amendment to achieve the goals set out in my bill. We have set them aside for now to ensure that there are no constitutional obstacles preventing other corporations, particularly private ones, from adhering to the Charter of the French Language.

I mentioned sectors such as telecommunications and broadcasting, federal crown corporations that are agencies, banks, airlines, airports, extraprovincial marine transportation and a number of public services. When I refer to public services, I am talking about railways and bus transportation, which are not necessarily in the public sector. In fact, a number of sectors are targeted. In all, roughly 7% of workers in Quebec are covered by the Canada Labour Code, because they work for companies subject to the code. A total of 200,000 to 250,000 workers are affected.

Between 93% and 95% of workers in Quebec are already subject to the Charter of the French Language. We have to wonder about the inequity of a situation where 5% to 7% of workers in Quebec do not enjoy the rights conferred by the Charter of the French Language. I want to remind this House that the Charter of the French Language does not impose any obligations. It gives workers in Quebec the right to work in French.

It is extremely important that all workers in Quebec enjoy the same rights. In this case, everyone will acknowledge that it will certainly be easier to apply the Charter of the French Language to the 7% of workers who are not currently covered than to do the reverse. Moreover, that would run contrary to the objectives that the Quebec nation has had for a number of years, which are to protect the French language and ensure that it develops.

It is extremely important to take this step so that French continues to gain ground in the workplace. That sends an extremely important signal to the entire Quebec nation. It is also a sign of Canada's respect for the National Assembly's repeatedly stated desire.

All the polls conducted in Quebec show how strongly Quebeckers are united in their support for Bill 101 and the Charter of the French Language.

These amendments to the Canada Labour Code will fill a gap that is creating the inequity I mentioned earlier.

So, this bill proposes amendments to the Official Languages Act to ensure that, in Quebec, the federal government respects the Charter of the French Language. It also proposes amendments to the Canada Labour Code, to ensure that workers in businesses under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec can enjoy the same benefits and rights as those in businesses that come under the Quebec jurisdiction. Better still, the bill also proposes an amendment to the Canada Business Corporations Act, to ensure that the name of a corporation respects the Charter of the French Language. I think this makes perfect sense.

Not only should we respect the Charter of the French Language when it comes to workers' rights, not only should we respect it, and Bill 101, as regards the collective choices made by the Quebec nation and conveyed on several occasions by its National Assembly, but we should also ensure that the Charter of the French Language is respected as regards the names of businesses, because it reflects their corporate image in Quebec.

Let us not forget that since the year 2000 many complaints have been made regarding corporate names. There have been close to 1,500 over the past eight or nine years. So, this is an extremely sensitive issue in Quebec and, in the context of the Canada Business Corporations Act, businesses that are under federal jurisdiction must be required to respect the Charter of the French Language as regards their corporate name. That is why we are proposing amendments to that effect.

I should also mention that a number of people have argued that relatively few complaints have been made to the Office de la langue française about the application of the Charter of the French Language, whether it is regarding the language of work or corporate names. That can easily be explained by the fact that, currently, there is a gap and businesses that come under the Canada Labour Code are not subject to the Charter of the French Language. Consequently, very few people lodge complaints, because they know that they are not relevant in the current context.

If there were any amendments such as those proposed in Bill C-307, clearly, we would be seeing a lot more complaints. Workers have said that meetings were being held in English, even though only a single anglophone and 10 francophones were taking part. Furthermore, employees who are all francophone are being forced to communicate with each other in writing in English, especially in the aerospace sector. This information appeared just today in a major Montreal area newspaper.

In the airport sector, time and time again, employees have complained that it is impossible for them to work in French, even though their jobs do not require them to work in English. Of course I will not bother listing all the complaints that are received on a daily basis regarding services offered in French by airlines, even in the Montreal area.

Logically, this House should fully support Bill C-307, so as to be completely consistent with its decision to recognize the Quebec nation.

This is the second time we are introducing this bill. Last time we had the NDP's support. We hope to have their support for this bill once again.

As for the Liberal Party, the official opposition, it has a new leader who prides himself on being the first leader of a federalist party to recognize the Quebec nation. I therefore expect him to remain consistent with what he has said, and not necessarily take it to its logical conclusion, but at least go one step further towards tangibly recognizing the Quebec nation, by ensuring that the Charter of the French Language applies within Quebec's borders in the case of businesses under federal jurisdiction.

I expect Conservative members from Quebec to support this bill, along with the Liberals and my NDP friends, so it can be referred to committee quickly and improved.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, through you, I would like to ask the sponsor of Bill C-307 now before us a very technical question.

We have a Commissioner of Official Languages. If the bill were adopted—no matter its merits or its timing—that would mean that the Commissioner of Official Languages could promote the official languages in the nine other provinces and territories, but not in Quebec. At present, he looks after Quebec.

Have I understood correctly that, consistent with the purpose of this bill, the Commissioner of Official Languages would no longer be able to work in Quebec because only the Charter of the French Language would apply to federal jurisdictions?

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

We are in contact with the Commissioner of Official Languages. It is very clear that the Commissioner of Official Languages would no longer need to intervene to ensure respect for the Charter of the French Language, given that only one official language, French, would be recognized in Quebec. Therefore, intervention by a commissioner responsible for promoting bilingualism would no longer be relevant.

That would also be the case for private businesses under federal jurisdiction such as Bell Canada, CN and all kinds of banks. The Charter of the French Language would apply to them. However, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would continue to apply to all federal government services, as required by section 16. Therefore, the Commissioner of Official Languages will always have a role to play in ensuring that federal government services are provided in French and English to different users.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his fine speech. This bill shows how important it is to protect the French language in the workplace. We are left in Quebec facing a discriminatory situation with two kinds of workers: those who are protected by the charter and those who are not.

Historically in Quebec, the charter arose out of a major labour dispute when the workers at General Motors fought to work in French in their workplace. There was a long strike strictly over language because French was not spoken in the plant and no documents were available in French. Nowadays of course, there are many companies that show respect for the French language.

I would like to know what my colleague has to say about the two classes of workers we have now in Quebec and the lack of protection under the Charter of the French Language.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question, which is very important.

When the Charter of the French Language was passed in 1977, there was a very difficult situation in Quebec workplaces. A number of strikes, lockouts and labour disputes had arisen simply in order to get collective agreements translated into French or to be allowed to negotiate in French. That is now a thing of the past for almost all companies, including various multinational firms. Rio Tinto is subject to the Charter of the French Language. I cannot believe that Bell Canada could not also be subject to the Charter of the French Language or that Telus Communications could not do as Rio Tinto and other multinationals located in Quebec have done. GM was mentioned earlier, but there are many others as well in the aerospace industry. There are also Rogers and CTV Global Media.

It is a matter, therefore, of political will. This will has been present in Quebec for many years, and the federal government should now show some respect for it. It is particularly incumbent on the House of Commons to do so, having passed a motion recognizing the Quebec nation. The House should therefore recognize the Quebec nation’s decision to have French as its common language. That is just a matter of logic and of correcting a legal loophole, which appeared in 1977 when the Charter of the French Language was passed.

In conclusion, I would like to say that just a few days ago we commemorated the 10th anniversary of the passing of Camille Laurin, who was the father of the charter. I wanted to honour his memory on the occasion of the introduction of Bill C-307.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Madam Speaker, hon. colleagues, it is a pleasure for me to take the floor today on Bill C-307 which, if passed, would make amendments to the Official Languages Act, the Canada Business Corporations Act and the Canada Labour Code, so as to harmonize them with the requirements of Quebec's Charter of the French Language.

As the Prime Minister has reminded us many times, Canada was born in French. Quebec and the French language are therefore at the heart of Canada, its history and its identity, and complement the history of the anglophone and allophone communities in Canada. Linguistic duality has been one of the foundations of Canadian society since the Canadian federation was created, and is an asset for the country and its citizens. Quebeckers are in support of this duality. Indeed, according to a 2006 Decima poll on behalf of Canadian Heritage, 84% of the francophones of Quebec consider linguistic duality to be a source of cultural enrichment.

Whether it be the commitment of $30 million in the 2007 budget, spread over two years to promote increased use by young people of the minority language in their daily lives, or the establishment of the language rights support program, announced last year, to support the language rights of Canadians, our government has taken concrete action to support this duality and the communities that exist at its heart.

Our government takes full account of Canada’s linguistic duality in its actions, a duality which it has committed to promote in Quebec as in the other provinces and territories. In a speech delivered in Quebec City last year, the Prime Minister himself referred to French as the first official language of our country. This is an incontestable truth which goes back to the arrival of the first French colonists in New France.

Our government is firmly committed to supporting the official languages and to the promotion of English and French, both in Quebec and in Canada as a whole. The Roadmap for Linguistic Duality in Canada 2008-2013: Acting for the Future is clear evidence of that commitment.

Announced in June 2008, this roadmap is the Government of Canada’s five-year plan for linguistic duality and official languages, and represents an unprecedented government-wide commitment with a budget of $1.1 billion. Thirteen federal departments and agencies have been its driving forces from the outset. Since then, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs has joined the group, to meet the needs of the francophone communities in the territories.

The roadmap is directed at strengthening the vitality of the official-language minority communities and offering all Canadians the benefits that French and English--the country's two official languages--give them . Hence it supports the development of French all over the country, while also providing for a new arts and culture component and new programs in the fields of justice and economic development, with additional investments in health and immigration.

One example of this increased investment is the $4 million in additional funding which our government provided last week to the Consortium national de formation en santé. This brings that organization’s funding to $20 million in 2008-09, so that more support can be given to francophone students wishing to continue their post-secondary education in the field of health. In this way more of the country’s francophones will benefit from increased access to health services in the language of their choice.

The roadmap includes a new culture component and new initiatives to make the benefits of linguistic duality more accessible to all Canadians. The government recently unveiled two of these programs.

The Cultural Development Fund announced this month, which will have a budget of $14 million over four years, will support and strengthen the arts, culture and heritage within anglophone and francophone minority communities.

It will help Canadians everywhere in Canada to become more familiar with the diversity and vitality of the cultural scene in these communities, from Whitehorse to Moncton and from my community of St. Boniface to Lennoxville.

Our government has also announced the details of the National Translation Program for Book Publishing, for which we are providing a budget of $5 million over four years. This program will help publishers in Canada translate Canadian-authored books into English and French. With this program, we want to give as many Canadians as possible access to the enormous wealth of our country’s culture and literature.

The new programs under the Roadmap, for culture and for linguistic duality, are concrete actions to help promote our two official languages within minority communities and across Canada. We are going to continue down this path. Our government will continue to support the development of francophone and anglophone minorities and to promote the full recognition and use of English and French in our society.

Going beyond the Roadmap, the Government of Canada is very active in implementing cultural measures that encourage the promotion of French. To mention but a few, there are the CBC, Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board, support for cultural industries and the Canada Council for the Arts. At the international level, our active participation in the institutions of international francophonie provides concrete support for the promotion of French and the francophone community of Canada.

The 400th anniversary of Quebec City last year gave us a wonderful opportunity for this, and the celebrations were a great success.

The actions taken by the Canadian and Quebec governments can complement and strengthen each other. In fact, considering that the challenge of preserving Canada’s French language and culture must be met increasingly in the broader context of North American integration and globalization, our government firmly believes that the governments of Quebec and Canada must work together to consolidate a true francophone critical mass within the Canadian, North American and global village.

That is why the Canadian government wants to work to promote the French language in the context of a unifying, inclusive and respectful vision of all the francophone realities of our country. Our approach aims to create a francophone space to connect francophones in Quebec and in minority communities and francophiles from every cultural origin. There are a number of ways to achieve that, but the cultural sector is definitely a preferred option in this respect.

Besides government action with respect to official languages, Canadian arts and culture policies generously support the cultural development of francophones in Quebec and across Canada. We are providing support for Canadian cultural products to promote, among other things, greater awareness of all francophone artistic and cultural production in all the regions of the country. This can help create closer ties between the francophones in Quebec and those in minority communities, as well as between French speakers and francophiles such as myself across the country. Increased visibility of the French language also help increase awareness of linguistic duality among all Canadians.

Linguistic duality is a vital part of our Canadian identity. According to a Decima Research poll, 77% of francophones in Quebec believe that having two official languages is important to their sense of what it means to be Canadian. Our government remains committed to promoting this duality and to supporting official languages across the country.

I would like to focus briefly on the demographics, which have been the subject of considerable discussion since the release of the 2006 census data. This data shows that, in terms of the language used in public, French is the language of the majority in Quebec. Overall, 94.5% of the population speaks French, whether or not they know another language. That is also the case on the island of Montreal.

Quebec's anglophones personify the linguistic duality of our country. Quebec is the province where French is best mastered by anglophones, with 69% being able to speak French and using the language regularly.

To conclude, with our roadmap for Canada's linguistic duality 2008-2013, our government wants to give Canadians living in—

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am taking part in the debate, at second reading, on Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, brought forward by the member for Joliette, in order to explain clearly why the official opposition will not support this legislation.

This bill is merely the transformation of a motion presented by the Bloc, in April 2008, on the same issue. This is to stir up old fears on the same issue and to have us believe that the French language is constantly threatened, and that the efforts of previous Canadian governments to promote French both inside and outside Quebec have been to no avail.

What is even more ironic with this legislation introduced by the Bloc is that it proposes to force the Quebec government to interfere in federal jurisdiction. The Bloc, which has always boasted about defending Quebec's jurisdiction, is bringing forward a bill that would impose a provincial law on businesses that come under federal jurisdiction. That is really odd.

Moreover, for years the Bloc has been claiming falsely that the French language in Quebec is in a disastrous decline. The reality is quite the opposite. The 2006 census and the report of the Office de la langue française in Quebec, published in March 2008, both indicate that the use of French in the workplace has increased in Quebec, compared to the 2001 census data. It is also important to realize that the changes proposed by the Bloc could in fact threaten the rights of the anglophone minority in Quebec.

In many provinces and in the territories, bilingualism rates are going up, clearly showing the vitality of minority linguistic communities. A recent survey shows that a large majority of Canadians believe that bilingualism is a factor that defines our country. However, with Bill C-307, the Bloc strikes at the very heart of bilingualism, which is a Canadian value. What this bill is saying is that French must be promoted in Quebec, without regard for the linguistic minorities outside the province.

It is important to note that, according to Statistics Canada, the proportion of Canadians whose mother tongue is French increased by 1.6% between 2001 and 2006. In addition, during the same period, the proportion of anglophones who know French rose from 9% to 9.4%. The proportion of allophones who speak French rose from 11.8% to 12.1% during the same period. According to the Statistics Canada census, in Quebec, in 2006, nearly seven out of 10 anglophones, or 68.9%, said they spoke French and English, compared to 66.1% in 2001.

It is also important to note that the bilingualism rate increased between 1996 and 2006 in eight of the twelve provinces and territories outside Quebec. In support of the thesis that bilingualism is a core Canadian value, the popularity of bilingualism has increased among Canadians since 2003, rising from 56% in 2003 to 72% in 2006.

These figures are all highly revealing and show how false one of the Bloc’s main arguments is, namely that French is threatened as a language of work and that the situation could be improved by applying the charter to more companies. According to Statistics Canada’s 2006 census, 63% of immigrants spoke French in the workplace in 2001 and 65% spoke French in 2006. In addition, 60% of allophone immigrants used French in 2001 and by 2006, this had risen to 63%. Retail sales are a provincial jurisdiction and here the use of English in the workplace increased by 1%, which goes to show that even the provincial language legislation does not have the expected results.

The Bloc likes to rave over the French fact in the Americas but does not seem to care that the Official Languages Act is intended to protect linguistic minorities all over the country.

The French fact does not exist only in Quebec but in the other Canadian provinces as well.

Private member's Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, would modify the Canada Labour Code so that companies operating in Quebec yet under federal jurisdiction would be subject to la Charte de la langue française, a provincial charter.

The Bloc is trying to impose la Charte de la langue française, also known as Bill 101, on companies under federal jurisdiction, by occupying what they call a regulatory vacuum.

Indeed, section 34 of part V of the Official Languages Act states:

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.

The Bloc argues that the law does not mention companies under federal jurisdiction, but rather, “federal institutions”, which would allow them to impose la Charte de la langue française disposition on companies under federal jurisdiction.

The private member's bill reveals the Bloc's hypocrisy on this since it tramples on already established federal jurisdiction.

The Bloc also fails to provide any detail on the economic and structural consequences of the bill for companies under federal jurisdiction, or on the Province of Quebec, which enforces language law.

Also absent from the Bloc's rationalization is how the anglophone minority would be protected.

If French were imposed on all federal institutions in Quebec, what would stop the other provinces from adopting charters of the English language and insisting that they too should not be subject to the Official Languages Act? What would happen then to the Acadians, the Franco-Ontarians, the Franco-Manitobans and the Franco-Saskatchewanians? The Bloc feels no responsibility at all for the Canadian francophonie.

Since Parliament passed the motion recognizing Quebec as a nation on November 27, 2006, the Bloc has been trying to force the federal government to implement policies that make the Quebec nation more of a reality.

Bill C-307 is just another attempt of this kind. By forcing companies under federal jurisdiction to comply with the letter of the labour relations code in the Charter of the French Language, the bill gives Quebec provincial legislation precedence over federal legislation, which in the Bloc’s view, would be a further recognition of Quebec’s nationhood.

Why in this regard would the Bloc not amend its bill to extend it to limiting voting rights only to people who pass a French test, as the PQ has suggested? When it comes to creating two classes of citizens, why stop when they have made such a good start?

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, the NDP has previously supported a bill similar to Bill C-307. It was Bill C-482. It came before this House and was voted on. The NDP supported it at second reading to have it sent to committee for study, because it was a very significant bill.

The present bill has been introduced by the member for Joliette, who said that, in the opinion of the House, further to its recognition of the Quebec nation, the government should now act and propose measures to give form to this recognition, such as having the Charter of the French Language apply to businesses under federal jurisdiction within Quebec, as concerns language of work.

I was listening to my Liberal colleague, who seems afraid of what will happen to francophones in the rest of the country if this sort of thing were passed in Quebec. I remember the member for Papineau saying that, if people did not learn both languages, it was because they were lazy. In New Brunswick, for example, we have two school boards, one English and one French. I recall the member for Papineau saying in Saint John on a visit to New Brunswick that there should be a single, bilingual school board. We know what that produced—a real setback for the French language.

I would like this bill to be studied in committee to hear the experts and hear whether anglophones in a minority situation in Quebec feel threatened. I have a hard time imagining any danger to anglophones in Quebec, given that McGill and other anglophone universities are located there. They are important universities. There is Bishop's University in Sherbrooke and others. They provide good services.

It is still sad that a bill has to be introduced to protect the French language in this country. I am trying to imagine a French company setting up in an anglophone region. All the employees should speak French and the collective agreement should be in French. I cannot imagine that happening. And yet, back home, in L'Anse-Bleue, for example, an anglophone company refused to provide a collective agreement in French. None of the employees in L'Anse-Bleue could understand it.

And what does this bill say? It says that francophones in Quebec will have the right to speak their mother tongue at their workplace and to have services under federal jurisdiction in French. This is not about government services, because services provided directly by federal departments must be in both official languages. Nevertheless, they say that employees within federal departments are entitled to use their mother tongue.

Again this week, at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, we were wondering how many deputy ministers, at the federal level, do not speak French. There are some. Does the same problem exist on the other side? How many deputy ministers do not speak English? With all the respect I have for anglophones, they do not have this problem, because all deputy ministers speak English, but not all speak French.

With regard to the Olympic Games to be held in Vancouver, we have just discovered that the advertising being done by the British Columbia tourism agency in other countries, such as China and Mexico, to welcome them to the Olympic Games, is being done in English but not in French. We spoke about that again this morning.

In spite of this, the federal government says that it respects both languages, that it has given a lot of money, through Canadian Heritage and Sport Canada, and so on. But we still have to fight to make sure that French, one of the two official languages, of one of the two founding peoples of this country, is respected.

I do not mean that the Bloc has fought to have the nation recognized, that they succeeded, and now they want a little more, but in my opinion the word “nation” does not mean very much. We ourselves are an Acadian nation, but what difference does that make? It does not make a hill of beans difference!

I recall that at the time the Queen was asked to apologize and acknowledge the wrongs done to the Acadians. The Liberal government of the day denied us that and fought to make sure that the British Crown did not acknowledge the wrongs done to the Acadians. What we were asking for was legitimate. The British Crown had apologized in a number of countries for the wrongs that had been done, but we Acadians, we could not ask for an apology.

In New Brunswick, we have learned to work together and we have had our French school boards and our English school boards. And in spite of that, people have worked together and it did not create just unilingual francophones or anglophones. I think that New Brunswick has become more bilingual because of that, and because of our mutual respect.

Last year, on the question of francophone immersion classes in the schools, the Liberal provincial government of Shawn Graham did not want children to start learning French before grade five, in the only officially bilingual province in Canada. I would never have believed that I would see 350 anglophones in the streets of Fredericton fighting to have their children learn French from a very young age, when they first start school.

The two communities have grown closer. I think we can see the difference between how it was before and the direction we are taking today.

For example, at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the organization Parents for French has appeared several times to say that the government should give the provinces more money to help establish more immersion schools so that our children can learn both languages.

Now people are saying they want to learn both languages. This bill does not frighten me so far. It is a beginning. Voting to have it referred to committee would show our ability to talk to each other and to study the bill. It saddens me to hear the Liberals say they will vote against it. We can get some Quebec anglophones and francophones to come in to talk about it, we can chat with them and perhaps come up with some amendments to the bill.

The member for Joliette had even suggested some amendments to the bill. Let us look at the situation as a whole, rather than jump on the Bloc members about its dealing with a nation, and calling them a bunch of separatists. I know that is not what the hon. member said. But people would say that is the perception people have when it comes from the Bloc Québécois. And that is not what it is.

There is one province within North America that is the flower of the francophone culture. As for us, we are the francophones from the rest of Canada and we must protect the language and culture. This is important. We have now made some progress and anglophones see us now, not as a threat, but as full members of society able to work in our own language.

In some countries, there are five or six languages spoken with no problem whatsoever. If, however, we feel that we have to introduce a bill because in Quebec, a province with a francophone majority, francophones are being required to speak English in the workplace because the employer is English, it shows that not much progress has been made.

We need to look at how adjustments can be made. I have problems with Canada Post, for example. There is a problem within the francophonie itself, at the moment. When a person applies for a job with Canada Post, he has to do a test that comes from Quebec. But we Acadians—and it is not that we cannot understand each other—have a different language and a different accent. So I have been told by people working at Canada Post—

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I do not think the hon. member saw the chair's signal.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I am proud to have the pleasure of rising here in the House on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to talk about the language of Quebec, a majority language that is widely spoken in economic, cultural, social and political spheres. It is used in most of our institutions and businesses. Yet that language needs protection.

As I mentioned earlier, Quebec has seen some important struggles, including that of GM workers in Boisbriand. They went on strike for three and a half months in order to protect this language in the workplace, because they were being forced to work in English. Some workers were even dismissed because they did not understand English. Since they were receiving instructions in English, this did cause some major problems. The union had to defend them and initiate strike action to ensure that the French-language collective agreement would guarantee respect for workers, in matters of labour relations, communications and workplace documents. The workers were given only an English version of the documents telling them how to assemble a car. Imagine how hard it must have been for workers who do not speak English to defend themselves in a situation like that.

There is no doubt the French language is important. This bill will affect private companies in Quebec. Either the Liberal Party member forgot part of the bill or she misread it. This bill targets large multinational corporations operating across Canada, whose employees are forced to use English as the language of work. These corporations include banks, airlines, rail lines, NAV CANADA, and all such companies. Take inter-city transportation, where Quebec truckers transporting goods from one province to another or from one town to another have serious problems doing their work in French.

The purpose of this bill is to prevent this kind of discrimination. Earlier, my colleague said that some 200,000 to 250,000 workers are not currently subject to the Charter of the French Language, so they have no way of ensuring that their employers respect their language—French, which is protected under the Charter of the French Language in Quebec—in their own province. Without that charter, we would still be where we were in the 1970s when people were striking. Things could be even worse.

People in Quebec are proud to speak French. Quebec has been recognized as a nation. All we need are some small changes to the legislation that governs the promotion of French and English in Canadian society, changes to sections 7 and 9, to the Commissioner of Official Languages' mandate. All we have to do is insert the Charter of the French Language and enforce its provisions in all of these major institutions.

Consider certain companies, those operating in the interprovincial marine transport sector, for example. Quebeckers who go from one lake to another—people in Quebec use all kinds of waterways—are subject to the English language, the dominant language. Often, they cannot use their own language.

This is simply a question of respect and non-discrimination. The same applies for air transportation, for the workers travel across the country and are often forced to speak English only.

Consider the banks. We have several banks in Quebec, including the Royal Bank of Canada, the Laurentian Bank of Canada and the National Bank of Canada. Every day, the workers speak only English with their bosses: they get their orders in English and they carry them out in English, even though we know for a fact that the entire clientele of these banks in Quebec do business in French. In the end, it is simply a question of respect.

Consider private firms as well. I am thinking among others of Bell Canada, which my colleague mentioned earlier, of Telus, Canwest, Cogeco and Astral Media, which are not subject to the charter. Those persons who have never visited them should take the time to do so. They will see that, indeed, English is dominant there.

For us, this bill is seeking nothing but justice for the workers, and respect for the French language. French has been protected all these years by the Charter of the French Language, thanks to which that language continues to be commonly spoken in Quebec today.

I would also point out that, in Quebec, people often speak two or three languages, but the French culture and the French language are protected. As I always say, we are surrounded by 250 million anglophones. Yet we have succeeded in preserving and protecting French, and in making it dominant. French is increasingly spoken in Quebec, even in economic affairs. Whether it be the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, solidarity funds or equity funds, all important economic tools of the financial sector, French is the language used. Today it is possible to build in French in Quebec. This is not because we want to be different, but only because French is our language, and we are proud of it.

The Bloc Québécois is asking the federal government to recognize and respect Quebec’s Charter of the French Language in the Official Languages Act, and to respect the spirit of the charter in matters relating to language of signage and language of work in related legislation.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles has about three minutes left. He may continue later.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I know that you are a Franco-Columbian and I believe the debate in this House is very interesting.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

This year, as we mark the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, it is important to note that, several decades ago, the Government of Canada established a linguistic framework based on the rights of French and English. Respect is the basis for our policy: respect for our two official languages and respect for the groups and the individuals who speak those two languages.

Canada defines itself as a country that values pluralism and where French and English have the status of official languages. Language rights are defined in our constitutional texts and in the Official Languages Act, and the most recent amendments made to that act in 2005 have strengthened those rights.

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, not only in Quebec, but throughout Canada. This important commitment underscores the key role of the Government of Canada in this area, a role that is understood and supported by the majority of Quebeckers. According to a poll conducted by Decima Research, 2006, Attitudes and Perceptions towards Canada's Official Languages, 84% believe that linguistic duality is a source of cultural enrichment and 87% believe that the Government of Canada has an important role to play in promoting and protecting the status and use of French within Canadian society.

Our government takes that duality—both the francophone reality of Quebec and the fact of francophone minorities across the country—into consideration in all its actions. As a result of the 2005 amendment to the Official Languages Act, the Government of Canada is even more committed to promoting the vitality of official language minorities and full recognition of French and English in Canadian society. We honour that commitment by providing unequivocal support for promoting French throughout the country, and particularly in Quebec.

I would like to take a moment to outline the linguistic framework put in place in recent decades. July 9, 2009 will mark the 40th anniversary of the first Official Languages Act passed by the Parliament of Canada in 1969. This act came out of the recommendations in the report by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

This act laid the groundwork for protecting and enhancing linguistic duality in Canada by recognizing French and English as the official languages of all federal institutions in Canada and giving them equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada. The Official Languages Act also created the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, whose job it is to oversee the implementation of the act, receive and investigate public complaints, conduct independent studies and report to Parliament.

This act would lead to the enshrinement of language rights in the Constitution with the enactment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

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