Mr. Speaker, Bill C-315 introduced by the hon. member for Trois-Rivières—whom I am getting to know and for whom my respect is growing—is of great interest, primarily because it highlights contradictions, both on the government side and on the official opposition side.
Let us begin with the government and the first contradiction. We all remember the Conservatives' reaction last summer, when the Commissioner of Official Languages decided to investigate the nature of linguistic services provided by private businesses in the national capital region.
At the time, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages said: “It is not the federal government's business to monitor the language used by private businesses with their customers.”
Yesterday, the Minister of Industry and Prime Minister's political lieutenant for Quebec said: “I have the privilege of announcing today in the House that our government is going to set up a consultative committee that will be responsible for determining whether a problem exists with regard to the French language in federally regulated private businesses. ”
This is some contradiction. In light of this contradiction, a few questions come to mind. First, what has changed? Second, if an assessment of the use of French is now the “federal government's business”, as the minister said yesterday, why not ask the Commissioner of Official Languages to tackle that job? He is equipped to do so. Moreover, are the Conservatives beginning to feel the heat regarding official languages? Could it be because of the appointment of a unilingual Auditor General, who is an officer of Parliament, despite the opposition of all parties in the House, except the party in office?
Let us also not forget another contradiction, and I am referring to Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act. It took the Conservatives six years to finally come up with this legislation, and they still do not seem to be in any rush, because we have not heard about this bill since it was first introduced, on October 16.
And what about the gaping holes in the bill? For example, there is no reference to part IV, namely the right to work in the official language of one's choice. The right of employees to communicate with their supervisor in French or in English seems to worry the Conservatives in the case of National Bank, but not Air Canada's subsidiaries or the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. That is another big contradiction.
As for the official opposition, its most glaring contradiction is to claim to be protecting Canada's linguistic minorities yet to ignore the concerns generated by Bill C-315 in Quebec's anglophone community.
Here is what the Quebec Community Groups Network has to say about Bill C-315:
The QCGN continues to oppose federal legislation that asymmetrically addresses the language rights of Canadians. We appreciate the time that... [the hon. members for Trois-Rivières, Acadie—Bathurst and Outremont] spent explaining the proposed legislation to us on October 18, and accept at face value their reasons for continuing to introduce bills which would asymmetrically extend language rights to some Canadian citizens depending on their official language, and place and type of employment. The QCGN has not supported previous attempts by the Bloc Quebecois or the New Democratic Party along these lines, nor is it likely to in future. We firmly believe that Canadians living in the nation's English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada are best served, and their rights best protected by maintaining the equality of our two official languages.
Furthermore, in the spring of 2010, Nicola Johnston, co-chair of the QCGN Youth Standing Committee, appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Here is what she had to say, and I quote:
But the reality is that the English-speaking youth in Quebec face lower political participation and representation and higher unemployment rates compared to their francophone counterparts. We are effectively barred from the Quebec civil service, with a participation rate of 0.2%.
...but I know that it will be a major challenge, and perhaps even an obstacle, for me to be able to serve in the public service of my own province, because I am an English speaker. In contrast, many of my classmates will return to their home provinces to work in the provincial civil service, building on a sense of identity, belonging, and ownership that is perhaps not available to me and others like me.
When studying such a bill, we cannot underestimate its impact on Quebec's anglophone population, especially the younger population.
Here are some other contradictions from the official opposition. The bill contains two main provisions. My colleague talked about the first, which describes in detail the right to work in French in so-called “federal” businesses in Quebec. But there is no mention of a customer's right to be served in French or English.
By so-called “federal” enterprises, are we talking about corporations such as VIA Rail, Canada Post, Air Canada, the airports, which he mentioned, or the Old Port of Montreal? There may be some confusion and it is not clear. Finally, and this is likely the most juicy contradiction, there is the addition of the second section that gives the governor in council, or cabinet, and therefore the Prime Minister, the power to exempt every so-called “federal” enterprise for all manner of reasons. Why bother legislating if all the power is being given to the Prime Minister?
What can we do about all these contradictions? I believe that two big ideas and two major, fundamental principles must prevail. First, given our history, our Constitution and our desire to all continue living together harmoniously, it is up to the Canadian government to promote linguistic duality, in other words, our two official languages: English and French.
Second, the Canadian government has the duty to protect and support official language minority communities in their development. If there is a legal gap in the Canada Labour Code and there is a willingness to fill that gap—it is not clear whether that is the case—allow me to humbly suggest in this House that it should perhaps be filled by the Official Languages Act, federal legislation that represents quite well the will of Canadian Parliament and the Canadian people.
If there is a desire to extend the Canadian government's responsibility for official languages or linguistic requirements toward the private sector in Quebec and elsewhere in the country, should we not look to quasi-constitutional legislation that covers both the promotion of English and French—linguistic duality—and respect for linguistic minority rights? That is what every minority community in the country wants, including the anglophone minority community in Quebec. That is the position of our party and I am very proud of it.