House of Commons Hansard #195 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.


Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

moved that Bill C-419, An Act respecting language skills, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise here today to introduce my private member's bill, Bill C-419, to the House and to answer questions from my hon. colleagues.

First of all, I would like to take a moment to sincerely thank my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, for all his support and the huge efforts he has made regarding my bill. I do not know anyone who advocates for bilingualism as passionately and eloquently as he does. I hope his bill requiring Supreme Court judges to be bilingual will enjoy as much success as mine.

If I may, I would like to take the time to provide some more detailed information about the substance of my bill. I know my colleagues are already aware of what Bill C-419 proposes, but I would like to begin by clearly defining the foundation for the changes proposed in this bill.

My bill has already received quite a bit of media attention, which makes me very proud. My bill has inspired people to take the time to contact my office, looking for more information and asking some excellent questions. During my speech, I will draw on some of those very relevant questions in order to ensure that my approach remains clear and can be easily understood.

Bill C-419 is actually very simple. The bill's official summary states that “persons whose appointment requires the approval by resolution of the Senate, the House of Commons or both Houses of Parliament must understand English and French without the aid of an interpreter and be able to express themselves clearly in both official languages”.

Those few people whose appointment must be approved by one house or both houses are commonly called “officers of Parliament“. Therefore, Bill C-419 would require that officers of Parliament be fluent in Canada's two official languages when they are appointed.

For people watching at home, I want to stress again that this bill would not require that all elected federal MPs be bilingual. That would be an amazing proposal, but it is a different kettle of fish and not what we are working on today. This bill only refers to officers of Parliament, those senior officials who, as I just explained, are appointed by the House of Commons or the Senate, or by both the House and Senate.

There will still be unilingual MPs in our Parliament. That is totally normal. However, just as government operations must adapt to the needs of Canadians, Parliament must adapt to the needs of elected MPs. This means that officers of Parliament must adapt to the needs of MPs, no matter what their language background.

A question that naturally springs to mind is: how many officers of Parliament are there in total?

Who are they? First of all, these are people who have expertise like few others, who fulfill an essential role in our democratic system. The Parliament of Canada has to be accountable to Canadians. That goes without saying. This accountability is guaranteed through the work of officers of Parliament. In a way, they are akin to safeguards, alarm systems and safety nets. They guarantee the legitimacy of the parliamentary system. They are there to support the government in its obligation to keep Canadians abreast of what it is doing. When the government fails to disclose everything, officers of Parliament can go through the government's paperwork to ensure that everything is in order, legal and fair. They are the eyes of Canadians in the drawers, wastebaskets and paper shredders of the government. Understandably, officers of Parliament are a valuable resource in our system. They are the most reliable component of the entire parliamentary process.

How many are there? Roughly 10. Why do I say “roughly”? Because this is not a precise and well-defined category. There is a bit of a grey area. The precise definition of who is an officer of Parliament and who is not—and for many other categories for that matter—seems to be more a matter of tradition than anything else.

My bill focuses on 10 positions. What are they? I will list them: the Auditor General of Canada, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Information Commissioner of Canada, the Senate Ethics Officer, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada and the President of the Public Service Commission of Canada.

That is all of them. Canadians are not always aware of the important role these various people play. Every year, these officers of Parliament table reports that have a major impact on how political life in Canada unfolds. If any inconsistencies are noted, the government will be required to explain those to the opposition and, by extension, to Canadians, to whom we are all accountable.

The system is perfect not because it prevents abuse but because any abuse will always be detected in the end. The safety measures are an integral part of the system and help to ensure that the system functions properly. However, to be able to detect this abuse, officers have to be able to understand what they are told and what they read.

Imagine if the former auditor general, Sheila Fraser, had not been bilingual. It would have been much harder for her to understand the complexity of the sponsorship scandal, since it was centred in Quebec. When officers have to analyze such sensitive and complex documents, it is of the utmost importance that they be able to do so in the language in which those documents were written. A mastery of both official languages was absolutely essential for Ms. Fraser because, despite the excellent work of the translators and interpreters, she might have missed some nuances that were key to understanding the scandal. Let us not forget that, without Ms. Fraser, this charade might still be going on.

Officers of Parliament have a clear mandate: to uphold, promote and monitor integrity. They have the right to know everything, to ask anything and to understand everything that is happening within their jurisdictions.

The Auditor General of Canada must conduct independent audits of government operations. He reviews the accounting, checks the accuracy of financial statements and decides whether the government is using public funds effectively and fairly.

The Chief Electoral Officer is the senior official responsible for the administration of federal elections and referendums. His office is responsible for registering political parties, maintaining voter lists and enforcing the Canada Elections Act.

The position of Senate Ethics Officer is held by one of the senior officials of the Senate who are responsible for ensuring that the Senate institutions run properly. The Senate Ethics Officer is responsible for enforcing the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators.

Next, the President of the Public Service Commission of Canada is the head of the commission. The commission—and I am quoting the by-laws and operating principles of the Public Service Commission—"is an independent agency mandated by Parliament to ensure a public service that is competent, non-partisan, representative of the Canadian population and able to serve the public with integrity and in the official language of their choice.”

Whether we are talking about the Commissioner of Lobbying, who ensures that elected officials fulfill their rights and obligations under the Lobbying Act, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, who is responsible for giving confidential advice to public office holders, or the Commissioner of Official Languages, whose job is to ensure that everyone abides by the Official Languages Act, they all protect Canadians, elected officials and the system.

Our system is precious and reliable. It exists for all of us, and officers of Parliament play an essential role in maintaining the excellence and sustainability of the system. It is easy to see. These senior officials must all deal with Canadians from both of Canada's linguistic groups and must consult documents written in both languages. Their understanding of French and English is essential.

Bilingual candidates have generally been appointed to these positions in the past. Everyone acknowledges the fact that the ability to interact in both languages is a prerequisite if we want the job to be done well in a timely manner. In other words, tradition has been a kind of precedent.

Being bilingual in French and English is a competency. Since Canada adopted institutional bilingualism, anyone in this country who wants to become bilingual can do so. It is a matter of putting in the time; all of the tool to get there already exist. I will be very specific. I am talking to those who may not entirely understand. Institutional bilingualism simply means that the government adapts to its citizens; not the other way around. One thing remains clear: linguistic duality will always exist.

No one is trying to create a culturally bilingual state. Not at all. The anglophone side will continue to live, dream and love in English, and the francophone side will continue to do the same in French. Bilingualism is seen as a plus, but it is not an obligation in this country. When Canadians who live in linguistic minority communities talk about bilingualism, they often mix up certain concepts. Some say mean things, others say incorrect things and others dream about multicultural utopian futures. There is no shortage of opinions.

I would like to make some things clear. People often use foreign examples—European ones, specifically—to support their opinions, but those examples do not necessarily reflect our situation. People name officially bilingual countries in Europe, assuming that it is the same thing and that we should either act the exact same way or the complete opposite way.

One of the countries most often mentioned is Belgium. However, it is actually not an appropriate example. While there are parallels between our situations, the Belgian model does not really apply to the Canadian situation. First, the country’s very small size is a factor. There is no need to deploy resources far from Brussels, since the federal capital is readily accessible to everyone. As we know, that is not the case for us.

Second, the linguistic dividing line in Belgium is very firm, and ultimately it has made Belgium a completely decentralized, even divided, country. Flanders and Wallonia live side by side, but they manage their own cultural affairs without really needing to consult each other. Canada tries to do things quite differently. We want to live together.

If fact, if there is a European country whose language situation better reflects Canada’s, it is Finland. Finland is officially bilingual. Finnish and Swedish are both protected in the Finnish constitution. The Finnish government adapts to the Swedish minority language group by providing it with all government services in Swedish. In Finland, children systematically learn both official languages in school. Our situation is similar. Although the Swedish-speaking minority mainly lives within a well-defined geographic area, its members do still live all over Finland.

The Finnish government makes sure that all services it is responsible for providing to the public are available in both languages.

That is institutional bilingualism. The government arranges things to include everyone. No one is obliged to be something they are not. No one tries to impose their language on anyone else. That is the most appropriate system for Canada, for our demographics and our geography.

It will come as no surprise to anyone if I say that of the two languages, French is the one in the minority in Canada. This naturally creates a situation with which we are already familiar. More French speakers than English speakers are bilingual. This is not a criticism directed at the majority; it is simply an observation.

On that point, however, I would like to mention Quebec's English-speaking minority. The last four decades have had an enormous impact on how that segment of our society has come to see itself. Political events and the development of new sentiments in Quebec have compelled these million individuals to reinvent themselves and adapt.

I would like to take this opportunity to tell the anglophones of Quebec that we are proud to live with them and that our future will be a shared one, just as our past has been.

We might think, then, that this bill would benefit francophones more because they are more aware of the need to learn the second language than are anglophones, who are the victims of an odd sort of prejudice precisely because they are part of a majority all their lives. However, I believe that this is a completely false argument.

You do not suddenly become an officer of Parliament by surprise in the middle of a career as a clerk in Saskatoon or as an undertaker in Sorel, without seeing it coming. Someone who is already moving in circles from which he or she may emerge as a candidate for that kind of position is well aware of Canadian law and knows that bilingualism is a requirement.

We are causing harm to no one by requiring bilingualism as a precondition by law. On the contrary, we are doing a lot of good, and here is why.

I have just returned from Moncton, the capital of Acadia, where I had the opportunity and pleasure to meet with several Acadian cultural organizations. Passing through Acadia always does an enormous amount of good for your national feeling. The people you meet there are often extraordinary. Acadia is a land of rare, even unique dynamism and vitality.

So I went to meet with those organizations to present this bill to them. The Acadians long ago made a clear choice for their future. New Brunswick being what it is, they decided that bilingualism was an asset, and they thus made it part of their vision for society.

New Brunswick is the only Canadian province expressly referred to in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Its bilingualism is protected, and that is clearly set out in the act.

Reaction to this initiative was very positive. All the organizations offered their support for my bill. To them, it was clearly consistent with the general thrust of the goals we have set for ourselves as a country. I was very pleased to see that this bill met some genuine political expectations in Acadia.

Acadians live as a linguistic minority. They are therefore extremely sensitive to that fact and know how to advocate for their rights. From the outset, of course, they are a people of uncommon strength of character. As a Quebecker, I can say that, whereas we in Quebec complain like souls suffering in the limbo of our thwarted desires, Acadians often forge ahead, make demands and win.

It is an unusual privilege to be able to travel across our country and see how attached people are to their language rights.

Perhaps we should stop viewing ourselves as the Trojans of North America.

We need only talk to each other and listen to each other because Canada is a fundamentally open, progressive, fair and good country. We are the envy of the entire world as result of these values that define us and that Canadians fully embrace.

I am personally convinced that we have every interest in joining forces and working together. That is ultimately the only way for Canada's two linguistic communities to reconcile. What some have for too long called two solitudes can ultimately prove to be two solicitudes.

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, as someone who is undecided on the bill at this point, I want to honestly ask the member this. I have heard concerns from people who are worried that merit would not be the first criterion when we are considering these positions, that the first criterion would become competency in either official language. I am hoping she can address that specific issue as it has been relayed to me. Can these two things reconcile? Can we talk about merit and bilingualism separately, or do they have to be brought together in this case?

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. It is quite relevant in light of the nature of the bill and initiative under discussion.

As I see it, reconciling bilingualism and competency is not really a problem because bilingualism as such is a skill in this instance. To argue that requiring persons to be bilingual in order to be appointed to office potentially excludes some more qualified individuals is a little like saying that there are no bilingual persons in Canada qualified to fill this position, or that there are no bilingual persons who are qualified enough to hold this office. In my view this is not a real problem because clearly we have a large pool of highly skilled bilingual persons. I do not think it is that difficult to appoint persons from this pool to these positions.

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to congratulate my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent on bringing forward this bill.

According to reports in this morning’s newspapers, the bill has the support of the Conservatives, or the Prime Minister, but it could be subject to a few amendments. One amendment that might be proposed is that persons appointed to one of the offices listed in Bill C-419 on an acting basis would not have to meet the requirements set out in the bill. Personally, I think that this makes sense.

How open is the hon. member to amendments like this which could in fact threaten the fundamental principle of this bill?

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier for his question.

I have indeed heard that some amendments may be brought forward, but I have not officially been apprised of any details. Therefore, I cannot say where exactly matters stand. However, we are more than willing to consider any proposed amendments, particularly as regards acting appointments. Obviously we are open to considering any amendments that are brought forward.

However, I do think that we must proceed with caution. We must not make too many concessions, because we do not want people to use this to get around the law. But we are open to considering any amendments brought forward. The important thing is for the bill to be passed and for mistakes like the ones we saw last fall to be avoided in future.

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent, another one of the very talented young MPs elected to this House during the 41st general election. In fact, the House is made up of a number of excellent young MPs. So I would like to congratulate her on Bill C-419, which would make bilingualism necessary in order to obtain certain positions.

I would like to hear her comments on the fact that the Prime Minister plans to support her bill. Knowing that some members have not yet decided whether they will support it, can she reassure them by explaining why it is a good bill that everyone should support?

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Nickel Belt for his comments and his question.

I was quite moved and very honoured to learn that my bill is likely to receive widespread support in the House of Commons. The whole process of introducing a bill, meeting with people and convincing them of its merits is quite remarkable.

It is crucial that we, as Canadians, take care of one another, that we talk to each other and that we reconcile our linguistic duality, which all too often takes priority over other issues in this country. This is a good way to send a clear message in order to promote bilingualism and everything that makes Canada such a beautiful country.

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable Québec


Christian Paradis ConservativeMinister of Industry and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to announce that our government fully supports the primary objective of this bill and that we will be proud to vote in favour of it.

It is an honour for me today to present our Conservative government's response to Bill C-419 respecting language skills for officers of Parliament to ensure that all officers of Parliament are able to express themselves in our great country's two official languages. This support is in line with our party's long-standing tradition, our legacy to Canadians and our vision for our country's future.

I began to get involved in the Conservative Party as a teenager some years ago. Time unfortunately passes quickly, but I was already a proud Quebecker then. The more I learned about the history of our people and of our country, the more I realized how the Conservative Party had laid the foundation of this country in a way that would enable our nation to survive and prosper.

As the Prime Minister often says, our country was born in French, in Quebec City, in 1608. When our founders laid the groundwork for our modern Canada in 1867, they chose the confederation model, led by Conservatives John A. Macdonald and Georges-Étienne Cartier, to enable our nation to grow in our great country.

I should also note that it was in 1959, under the Conservative government of the Right Hon. John Diefenbaker, that simultaneous interpretation was introduced here in this House. As I did not support the Liberals' policy, which was mainly about keeping Quebec in its place, it was clear to me that promoting Quebec's identity, the French language and respect for provincial jurisdiction was part of the Conservatives' DNA in Quebec.

I therefore enthusiastically joined the Conservative Party, and time has proven me right. Years have passed since the government of the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney made the principle of the advancement of official languages the central component of the Official Languages Act.

However, when I meet people and our supporters on my travels in Quebec, I can see they are still moved by that vision for our country and our nation. I know they are as proud as I am to see how our government and the Prime Minister have taken up the torch.

In recent years, our Conservative government and our Prime Minister have written a new chapter of history by recognizing the great nation of Quebec. Quebec now has a seat at UNESCO. We have also invested significant amounts of money in our communities to promote our official languages and cultural diversity under the roadmap for linguistic duality. Our government continues to be clearly committed to promoting our official languages in Canada and on the international stage.

That is why the Prime Minister travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo in October for the Sommet de la Francophonie, an organization in which Canada plays a true leadership role. Not only did we host the Sommet de la Francophonie in the magnificent city of Quebec in 2008, but last year that city also hosted the very first global forum on the French language.

As I said earlier, Conservatives in Quebec are proud of our government’s achievements and have also expressed their support for the principle of this bill. The Quebec caucus has listened to them, the Prime Minister has also listened to them, and even more importantly, we share their belief. It is therefore entirely natural for us to continue to build on our tradition and support the idea that this bill advances.

We do see a number of technical issues in this bill that we will be able to resolve when we examine it in committee, and we will be pleased to bring our contribution and our Conservative know-how to that task. The approach we are going to take will be constructive, with the aim of ensuring that this important bill is passed. We will therefore go forward with a pragmatic approach, an approach that acknowledges our history and builds for the future. In other words, a Conservative approach.

If there is one place in Canada where an example should be set and our principles of promoting our official languages honoured, it is certainly the Parliament of Canada. Our Acadian and Fransaskois friends, the Brayons, and Quebeckers—all are well aware of what a treasure a language is.

Our support for this bill will send a clear message that today more than ever, promoting our official languages is a guiding principle for the federal government, not just because Canada was founded in French, but also because French must be at the heart of our future.

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to what the minister said. I served on the Standing Committee on Official Languages for a year and never understood the Conservative approach. In any case, we will certainly get back to that issue eventually.

I grew up in northeastern Ontario, in Mattawa, and went to school in North Bay. A local lawyer by the name of Dick Tafel was so adamantly anti-francophone that he became one of the best allies the francophone population could have. Indeed, each time he sent a letter to the North Bay Nugget or spoke on a radio or TV show, his comments were so shocking that they really brought us together.

As a member of this House, I saw something similar happen in 1997, when the Ontario provincial government led by Mike Harris decided to shut down the Montfort Hospital, the only French-language hospital in Ontario. There was a public outcry. Less than two months later, 10,000 people gathered at the Ottawa Civic Centre. It was the start of a legal and public campaign that lasted seven years.

The former Ontario government gave in, and the Montfort Hospital is now twice the size it used to be. It even has a 20-year contract with the federal Department of National Defence. No one will ever dare attack the Montfort Hospital again, because the reaction was so forceful. So each time I talk about it, I thank Premier Harris, who lashed out at us so strongly that we stood up for ourselves, with great results.

I believe we are now in a similar situation. In 2011, the Prime Minister and his government appointed a unilingual Auditor General, even though information published in the Canada Gazette said that in order to be eligible, candidates had to be bilingual, that is, fluent in both French and English. But the Prime Minister sidestepped that requirement and announced the job would be filled by a unilingual person. We all remember how strongly the media and the House reacted to the news.

My party did not want to support the initiative in any way, not even vote against it, and the Liberal members walked out of the House. We could not stomach watching the Prime Minister and his government turn back the clock on such an important issue. A multitude of complaints were filed with the Commissioner of Official Languages, who wrote a scathing report about the government. A number of my Conservative friends—indeed, I have Conservative friends, well, Progressive Conservative—told me they were very uncomfortable with this decision, and they still are.

Again, there was legal action. The matter is currently before the courts. One of my friends, the hon. Jean-Jacques Blais, a former solicitor general and minister of national defence in the Trudeau government, brought this case before the courts because it is disrespectful of Canada's Official Languages Act, a quasi-constitutional law. This will go through because we will see that the government did indeed fail in its duty.

We have before us today Bill C-419, a wonderful initiative by the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. I have already commended her on this, and I am doing so again. I did not mention it, but according to some media reports, the Prime Minister apparently admitted to his caucus this fall that it was a mistake to appoint a unilingual Auditor General. I wonder whether the mistake he was talking about was violating the Official Languages Act, failing to comply with the criteria that he and his government came up with themselves, or prompting a reaction, the sort of mini-tsunami we are currently seeing, because Canadians will stand up for linguistic duality whether the Conservatives like it or not. Such is the nature of people who, as my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent says, want to live together respectfully. That is where things stand today.

This all began in 1969. At the time, the Trudeau government passed the Official Languages Act in this House and in the Senate. It became a quasi-constitutional statute, in which both Parliament and the executive, or cabinet, have an equally important role to play. This is the history behind this bill. In Parliament, we must be able to obey the law, to follow the example, to add new conditions, new prerequisites to the law in order to keep pace with this evolving issue.

If this were a static issue, Canada would still be caught up in the same squabbles as in the 1930s, when francophones were fighting for the federal government to issue bilingual cheques. Imagine. That was the big battle at that time. I admit that we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

Today, the Conservatives are saying that they will support this bill, but that is not exactly what the minister is saying. They will support the basic principle of the bill. I would like to warn my NDP, Liberal and Conservative colleagues. I know the Conservative Party's tactics. In the House they cannot decide to proceed in camera, at least not yet.

The Conservatives cannot go in camera in the House. If they did so, they would have Canadians revolting against them. However, they do it regularly in committees.

So if in committee, they decide that they do not like something and that they want to amend it, they could easily require the meetings to be held in camera, since they have a majority. With all due respect, I really do not trust this government. I have seen too many situations where they manipulate things.

Today, the Prime Minister is having his Quebec lieutenant, the Minister of Industry, talk. It is also important that they tell us that they do not intend to water down the bill, to gut it, or to come up with a scheme involving in camera meetings or the Senate, since we know full well that a private member's bill can be stalled almost indefinitely in the Senate. We used to have this ability in the House but not so much any more because the committees must report to the House about a bill within a certain time frame. They can request that the deadline be extended, but they must still report to the House. However, such is not the case in the Senate.

Is the government trying to pull a fast one on us today? This is exactly is why the House must be on guard. My colleague, the Liberals' official languages critic, will ensure that that this does not happen in committee. If necessary, we will alert the Canadian public once again. There must be an outcry, since we cannot allow the government to do something like that.

I know a number of Conservative members who are in favour of linguistic duality. They are here in this House and are listening. I hope that they will also have the courage to go talk to their Prime Minister to ensure that the government will not be scheming behind closed doors to remove all meaning and legitimacy from this bill.

In conclusion, I would have preferred that it not come to this. The government announced that it was looking for a bilingual candidate, it hired a consulting firm to do the hiring and it appointed a unilingual candidate. That shows a lack of natural justice for all of the unilingual anglophones and francophones in the country who would have applied for this position. They did not apply because they thought that the government would keep its word, but that was not the case.

Now we are having a debate that I believe could have been avoided, but the government chose not to avoid it. When we tried to bring this to the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the Conservative majority totally and systematically opposed it.

That is why I am questioning the government's good faith. The Conservatives had their backs against the wall because of Canadians' desire to honour linguistic duality. They saw that in the polls. They ignored the act and their own eligibility criteria, and in doing so they were caught off guard and claimed to support the principle. So we must be careful. If they support the bill and it passes in the House, it will then have to pass in the Senate so that it receives royal assent and comes into force immediately, since these are all mechanisms that could cause further delays, which is unacceptable.

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today in the House to support Bill C-419, An Act respecting language skills. I want to take a moment to congratulate and thank my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for doing an exceptional job in bringing this bill before the House. This matter is one that needed to be raised and this could never have been accomplished in committee. I would also like to acknowledge the tireless efforts of my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst on behalf of official language minority communities.

If Bill C-419 is adopted, hopefully without amendment, it will ensure that future appointees to the 10 officer of Parliament positions will be required to be bilingual at the time of their appointment.

Earlier, my colleague listed the 10 offices covered by the bill, so I will not bother repeating them.

The bill would require persons appointed to these offices to be able to express themselves clearly in English and French and to understand both languages without the help of an interpreter at the time of their appointment.

Each office targeted by the bill was created pursuant to legislation setting out the terms and conditions of appointment and the nature of the office’s relationship with Parliament.

Officers of Parliament have a special, close relationship with Parliament and elected officials. They interact on a regular basis with parliamentarians. For that reason, it is very important that incumbents of these key offices understand and speak both official languages at the time of their appointment.

My colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent has already explained the crucial roles played by the officers of Parliament targeted by the bill. In light of these roles it is critically important that they be able to interact in both official languages in order to carry out their mandate effectively, while helping to preserve and uphold Canada’s linguistic duality, a value of tremendous importance to NDP members and many other MPs from all parties represented in the House.

In the past, there was a custom in Parliament that the government would generally appoint bilingual individuals to officer of Parliament positions. Unfortunately, in the fall of 2011, the Conservative government decided to completely ignore that custom and made the extremely controversial appointment of a unilingual English-speaking Auditor General, in spite of the fact that the job posting clearly stated that proficiency in both official languages was an essential requirement for appointment to the position.

That decision was a clear insult to francophone communities in and outside of Quebec, an insult magnified by claims that no bilingual candidate could be found who was as qualified as the unilingual anglophone candidate.

I still remember the indignation of the member for Ottawa—Orléans, a Conservative member, who voiced his objections at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. He spoke out against his government's decision. And so from the outset, there was no unanimity either among the Conservatives or in the opposition.

Given the little regard the Conservatives have for the importance of that custom, which recognizes that English and French have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of Parliament, francophones in Canada have reason to ask questions and to be concerned.

Given the ease with which the government broke that tradition, which was designed to ensure that the language rights of Canadians and of their elected representatives are respected, and the ease with which it ignored a crucial prerequisite for the position of Auditor General of Canada, it seems clear to me that we need to enact Bill C-419 now, to prevent this kind of situation from happening again.

I listened carefully to the speech by the Minister of Industry a little earlier, and I would like to set the record straight.

I am fortunate to sit on the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Over the course of the various studies and meetings we had with various groups of witnesses, I observed that the Conservatives’ standard for bilingualism was not what was advocated by most official language minority groups. Since winning a majority, the Conservatives have made many decisions that strongly suggest that bilingualism is not a priority for them, even though they have decided today to support the bill in principle. They want to propose amendments.

They are not yet ready to decree that the people who work in the 10 positions listed in the bill must be bilingual upon assuming office. The willingness expressed today does not change the Conservatives' record since they won a majority.

There was a great deal of debate about the appointment of a unilingual anglophone Auditor General who, to this day, still cannot answer any questions asked of him in French at press conferences. This is a problem, because he was supposed to be able to speak fluent French within a year, which is impossible. I am also thinking of the appointment of Supreme Court judges and the closure of the library at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, the only French-language science library at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Those decisions were made at the expense of the needs and best interests of francophone communities across Canada. They also fly in the face of the government's obligation to comply with the Official Languages Act and to ensure respect for our languages and the accessibility of services in French in all federal institutions.

Another government decision demonstrates its indifference towards linguistic duality, and that is its careless and ill-advised decision to close the maritime search and rescue centre in Quebec City. It is the only centre of its kind in Canada that can provide emergency services in French to the francophone recreational boaters and fishers in the St. Lawrence River.

In addition to answering over 1,500 distress calls in French every year, the search and rescue centre officers help coordinate ground operations. They work with local stakeholders who often speak only French. The need to be understood in one's mother tongue during an emergency at sea is obvious. The government's decision could put many people's lives at risk, or even worse, cause loss of life.

On the other side of the House, the Conservatives are saying that this will not be a problem and that bilingual services can be provided by the centres in Trenton and Halifax, but we know that that is not the case. Several groups and organizations have already publicly called on the government to reverse its decision. Even the Commissioner of Official Languages has expressed his concerns to the government, but so far, he has had no response.

On November 19, the NDP held public hearings in Quebec City regarding the closure of the maritime search and rescue centre. We heard the same thing from the Corporation des pilotes du St-Laurent central, the staff of the emergency centres and a retired employee of the maritime search and rescue centre, among others. Clearly, this decision goes against the best interests of our francophone communities.

Given all the troubling findings I have just mentioned, we very clearly need a bill such as the one introduced by the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent in order to protect Canada's linguistic duality and stand up for the French language in Quebec and Canada by taking real action. We must do so now.

The Prime Minister allegedly admitted that this decision was a mistake. In my opinion, it is too little, too late. This decision should never have been made since, from the very first day, the job posting very clearly indicated that the candidate had to be proficient in both official languages. We should never have to discuss this basic principle since it is in our Constitution and is part of our laws and our parliamentary work in its simplest form. We must ensure that all elected MPs can represent their constituents and do their work properly. To do so, they must be able to interact with the officers of Parliament in the language of their choice, which will make their work as efficient as possible and allow them to properly represent their constituents.

We are not asking that all public servants be bilingual. We understand that that is an unattainable goal. We cannot force everyone to be bilingual. What is more, it is unnecessary in many parts of Canada. However, it is essential that the people who hold the 10 key positions set out in my colleague's bill be bilingual because they interact with the public, hold press conferences and provide direct services to Canadians and elected members. There is no question when it comes to these people: they should simply be bilingual from the day they take office. Our country is based on the principle of linguistic duality, and that should be reflected in all the appointments the government makes to important positions such as these.

I hope that members of all parties will support this bill as it is written because it is exactly what francophone communities in Canada need.

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add to this debate. It gives me an opportunity to reflect on the progress that we have made in Canada in promoting both the use of English and French throughout the country.

In particular, I would like to touch on the progress made in advancing linguistic duality in federal institutions.

The evidence is clear. A great deal has been achieved over the last 40 years.

This includes institutions such as those covered by Bill C-419, which is a bill whose core objective the government supports.

If we look back to the time when the Official Languages Act was put into place in 1969, most Canadians across the country then had to communicate with the federal government in the language of the majority. There were only limited government services provided in French in a country where more than one in four Canadians spoke French as their first language. Today, the vast majority of Canadians have access to federal services in the official language of their choice.

They can access information through a number of bilingual services such as 1-800 numbers, in person and telephone services, as well as publications and websites that include real-time updates available on wireless devices.

Today, there are approximately 200 federal institutions that are subject to the Official Languages Act.

This includes 80 institutions that are part of the core public administration. It also includes 120 crown corporations, privatized entities, departmental corporations, and separate agencies such as the 10 offices listed in Bill C-419.

In addition, certain organizations, such as Air Canada and VIA Rail, retained their language obligations after they were privatized.

When taking into consideration all institutions that are subject to the act, we find 510,000 employees spread out over every nook and cranny of the world’s second largest country.

Every one of these institutions is responsible for applying the act within their organization, including designing and delivering effective official language programming.

In short, the vast range of services the government provides is covered under the act, which is quite a feat when we consider that the Government of Canada has more lines of businesses and points of service than any other Canadian organization, public or private. In fact, the Government of Canada is unmatched in terms of the scope, reach and impact on the lives of Canadians.

Like any multinational, we have offices in most countries around the world and provide a multitude of services. We have people working in the Arctic, while others work on space exploration. We have food inspectors, forensic scientists and even volcanologists. The range of jobs is incredibly vast and we employ some of the most highly skilled people in the country. Many are internationally recognized for their expertise and for their accomplishments. This makes the Government of Canada a key to Canada's competitiveness in the global economy and our two official languages are an economic advantage.

I am proud to say that, in everything we do, we are committed to respecting the language rights of Canadians.

The federal institutions subject to the Official Languages Act continue to take necessary steps to ensure that their services and communications with the public are available in both official languages. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Our recent annual report on official languages for 2010-11 shows that there has been consistent improvement over the last three years in creating and maintaining a bilingual work environment.

In concrete terms, the percentage of incumbents of bilingual positions serving the public and who met the language requirements of their position continued to grow. In 2011, it reached 94.3% in the core public administration.

The report shows that the percentage of bilingual positions in the core public administration is now more than 40%. In the National Capital Region, it has increased to 65%.

This is a dramatic change from 40 years ago when the percentage of bilingual positions was less than 10%.

Additionally, the report shows that, based on the 2006 census data, both official language communities are relatively well-represented in federal institutions.

Finally, I might add, the report highlights some of the measures federal institutions have taken to show strong leadership in the area of official languages. This includes the use of official-language action plans, but also simple but effective measures such as adding official languages to the agenda of executive management committee meetings. These examples demonstrate the steady progress that has been made in the promotion of linguistic duality in our federal institutions.

The bottom line is this. Over the past 40 years, we have gone from a nearly unilingual public service to a bilingual one.

Our government recognizes that it was not easy to get to this point. We also recognize that there is more to do. That is why we announced earlier this year a series of pan-Canadian consultations on official languages as part of our broader commitment to linguistic duality and our two official languages.

These consultations will permit us to follow up on the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality, which we launched in 2008 and which was an unprecedented government-wide investment of $1.1 billion over five years.

The roadmap provided investments in a number of priority sectors, including health, justice, immigration, economic development, and the arts and culture. It resulted in a number of initiatives that have promoted both official languages in Canadian society and ensured that linguistic duality remains a distinguishing feature of the Government of Canada.

The consultations demonstrated our government's desire to listen to the concerns and ideas of Canadians who are deeply committed to this country's two official languages. It is in the same spirit of openness and collaboration that the government has considered Bill C-419 in front of us today.

Like the sponsor of this legislation, I along with the Prime Minister and cabinet believe that the 10 positions listed in the bill should be proficient in both official languages. We therefore support the intent of Bill C-419. However, we feel that there is a number of technical issues that need to be examined in front of committee so that the bill could be implemented responsibly and effectively. The government will therefore propose amendments that would be fully consistent with the spirit of the legislation but which would strengthen the bill and the language requirements it would create.

Our government is determined to build on Canada’s sturdy foundations, which include a desire by English- and French-speaking Canadians to share a common future. Over the years, we have seen countless efforts to ensure that Canada’s official languages continue to be a strong part of our national identity.

In particular, we have seen federal institutions over the last 40 years make important strides in making linguistic duality an integral part of their everyday operations. I assure all Canadians that their government is committed to building on this record of achievement and the record of national unity.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, among the values I hold dear are respect for both official languages and the promotion of those languages. I live that value every day as a bilingual person. I always try to speak to people in their own language, so that we understand each other well. I think the officers of Parliament ought to be able to do the same.

It is inconceivable that the officers of Parliament would not be able to perform their duties in both official languages. The hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent has presented a bill covering the 10 officers of Parliament. These people occupy very senior positions in our system. Among them are the Auditor General of Canada, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Privacy Commissioner and the Information Commissioner.

As well, there are the Senate Ethics Officer, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the President of the Public Service Commission.

These are all people whose appointments require approval by resolution of the Senate, the House of Commons or both Houses of Parliament. They can be considered officers of Parliament based on the fact that we appoint them despite whatever relationship they have with the Houses.

It is the NDP's opinion that bilingualism is one of the key qualifications for these positions. It is not just an asset, which is not a skill or something that should be considered apart from skills; it is an essential skill to fill these positions properly.

It has been customary to appoint bilingual individuals, because the ability to speak both official languages is obviously part of being able to do the job. Unfortunately, recent appointments show that we need to entrench the government's responsibility in the law.

I am very happy that the Conservative members are considering voting in favour of this bill. Since the Prime Minister himself has admitted it was a mistake to appoint a unilingual person to the job of Auditor General, it makes sense for the members opposite to support this bill in order to clarify the bilingualism requirements for these 10 officers of Parliament.

I grew up as a francophone outside of Quebec. That really opened my eyes to the importance of having access to the French language throughout the country. I have met francophones from across the country. However, I would also like to point out that there are anglophones in Quebec who often speak about access to English within the province. In my riding, this is something that is of great concern. These people understand that it is important to have access to certain documentation and colloquialisms in their own language.

Therefore, when we are talking about agents of Parliament, they need be able to understand all members of the House in their native language, in the language they are best able to communicate in. I think that is quite necessary if we are to properly go about democracy in this country.

As my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent said so well, we want to make Canada a place where we live together side by side, respectfully, speaking either official language, and working together. If the officers of Parliament are not fully able to understand us in the House, it will be more difficult to build a good future for Canada.

It seems to me that this is a major double standard. We talk about a bilingual country, but our parliamentary officers are not operating in both languages. The Constitution provides that English and French are the official languages of Canada. French and English have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of Parliament. Parliamentarians may use either French or English in the debates and other work of Parliament, and they work closely with the officers of Parliament. Therefore, I appeal to members from all parties to vote in favour of the bill by the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, which would clarify the bilingualism requirements for these 10 very important officers of Parliament.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me time to speak on this bill.

Language Skills ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2012 / noon


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC


That this House agrees with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, that is asking the government, with respect to the Investment Canada Act, to: (a) clarify the net benefit test; (b) include parameters concerning reciprocity; (c) improve the transparency of decisions; and (d) set specific criteria for state-owned companies to meet regarding net benefit requirements for foreign company takeover bids in order to protect the Canadian economy from potential foreign government interference.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending December 10, 2012, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bill.

In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bill be distributed now?

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders


Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say right at the outset that I am very honoured to be sharing my time with the very talented and eloquent member for LaSalle—Émard, who will be speaking in just a few minutes.

Where to begin? I think all Canadians were profoundly stunned and disappointed on Friday evening when, in a very hastily convened press conference, thrown together at the last minute with very little advanced notice, we had the Prime Minister telling all of Canada, including the three-quarters of Canadians who have been profoundly concerned about the CNOOC takeover of Nexen, that the government would simply rubber-stamp it and push it through.

Following the comments from Canadians flowing into Conservative members of Parliament, flowing into members of the opposition, such as the NDP, and on news websites, we can see that well over 90% of the comments that have been coming out have been wholly negative, given the government's completely irresponsible decision of Friday night.

I want to go into a little bit of the background and I know my colleague from LaSalle—Émard will follow up as well. I say with profound dismay that when we have the Prime Minister standing up at a press conference and saying the CNOOC takeover of Nexen is a bad thing and then approving it in the same breath, that is a logical contradiction that Canadians will not swallow.

The Prime Minister had a few tough words, basically saying that next time they will have some kind of excuse to approve these kinds of takeovers, but what the Prime Minister signalled on Friday was that Canada is for sale. When we look at the evolution of the government over the last six years, when we see that two-thirds of oil sands production is by foreign companies, whether they are state-owned or not, what we see is the very clear intent of the government to sell off Canada, regardless of the consequences.

We can say on this side of the House that the New Democratic Party, the official opposition, consulted with Calgarians. I went out, as well as my colleagues from LaSalle—Émard, Scarborough and Vaudreuil-Soulanges, and we talked with Canadians. We said that it was not in the best interests of Canada. There was no net benefit to Canadians. We do not believe that this takeover should have been rubber-stamped by the government and we profoundly believe that Canadians deserve better than what the government has been doing over the past few years.

New Democrats have always done the heavy lifting on the Investment Canada Act. We are the ones who raised concerns about the sellout of the Canadarm. We were the ones who raised concerns in the House around potash. We are the ones who fought in minority parliaments because we saw that those takeovers were not in Canada's interest. We were able, successfully, with the support of millions of Canadians across the country, to stop what would have been egregious sellouts.

Since the government has become a majority government, it has, at no time, despite weird and amateurish decisions often taken at midnight, not disapproved a single takeover. That is a fact. That is an undeniable reality of the government. I think that is why so many Canadians look forward to 2015 when they will finally have a government that takes a responsible approach to foreign investment and a responsible approach to looking at these kinds of takeovers—

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders


Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have Conservatives chortling and laughing here at the three-quarters of Canadians who raised concerns about CNOOC. They are free to laugh here, but I do not think they should go back to their constituencies and try to laugh in their constituents' faces, when three-quarters of their constituents said that they should be saying no to the CNOOC takeover of Nexen. We will be reminding their constituents that Conservatives have not been working in the public interest.

What did we do two years ago? We brought forward under our former leader, Jack Layton, a motion that would start to rectify what has been an appallingly, nebulous, unclear, amateurish approach by the government on the Investment Canada Act. The Conservatives say this is the same approach as the Liberals. We know that the Liberals rubber-stamped thousands of takeovers, regardless of how many jobs were lost over the course of their mandate.

The Conservatives made commitments to put in place an investment regime that made sense, that was clear for potential investors and also had the confidence of Canadians. They have not done so. They have not brought forward those amendments.

In 2010 under Jack Layton's leadership, we brought forward a motion that said we needed a clearer net benefit test and a more transparent investment review process. We called for mandatory public hearings with affected communities, public disclosure of all conditions attached to the approval of a takeover, along with enforceable penalties for non-compliance. I will come back to this in a moment.

It is absolutely essential to have a functioning investment Canada process and regime, and to have it clarify that the goal of the act is to encourage foreign investment that brings new capital and technology and creates jobs rather than simply seeking control of strategic Canadian resources.

We brought that forward because we believe that foreign investment can be welcomed when it adds to technology and research and development and jobs in our country. However, we simply should not be rubber-stamping every single takeover without a serious examination, and most Canadians side with us on that. Canadians believe that prudent public policy demands there be a transparent process and a clear definition of net benefit.

When we brought forward that motion, the Conservatives voted for it. It passed unanimously in the House. That was direction to the Prime Minister and the government to put in place an investment Canada regime that was clear. Other countries have clear processes; Canada does not. Canada has a nebulous, amateurish process that has been obviously reinforced by the government's amateurish approach on a lot of issues, and I mention the F-35 and many others.

The reality is that the Conservative government just does not seem to get that public policy demands for a clear and transparent process, so that when those potential investors come forward they know the criteria, how net benefit will be defined, the hoops they will have to jump through, the commitments they need to make and, most important, that they need to keep those commitments. That is not rocket science. It is just a fundamental part of prudent public policy, that when those commitments are made, they have to be kept, when approval is given it is not a blank cheque, as the Conservative government has given, but rather it is a true commitment on behalf of that foreign company that is taking over the Canadian one. It is very simple and straightforward.

Tragically, we have seen that under the Conservative government, whether it is Falconbridge, Stelco, Inco, Alcan or whatever commitments were made behind closed doors. We were told in each one of those cases that the government would ensure that jobs would not be lost. In each one of those cases, and in so many others, hundreds of jobs were lost. Once that rubber stamp was given by the Conservative government, it became a blank cheque for the company to do whatever it wanted to do, including laying off employees, shutting down production and shutting down some of the mills it took over.

When production facilities are shut down, that leads to a net loss of jobs. That is one of the reasons we have lost more than half a million manufacturing jobs in this country during the course of the Conservative watch. Over six years, 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been eviscerated, in part because the Conservatives approve these rubber-stamp investment Canada takeovers without any sort of criterion that ensures that those commitments are kept.

We brought forward the motion and it passed unanimously in Parliament, and now two years later we are still in a complete grey zone—nebulous, ridiculous.

Canada is for sale. CNOOC has just received a blank cheque to do whatever it wants with the Nexen headquarters, to do whatever it wants with the Nexen facilities, to do whatever it wants with that asset, which it was to Canada. That is a fundamental reality of the Conservative government. It is irresponsible, and it is for many Canadians unforgiveable.

Under an NDP government we would do what we did two years ago. We would bring constructive motions and resolutions and bills to Parliament that would put a framework around investment Canada. We would have a clear definition of net benefit that would ensure as well that there were public consultations as part of the process, that would make sure that the net benefit actually incurred to Canadians. Under an NDP government, investment in Canada would be handled professionally.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to apologize for laughing at the member when he said responsible government and NDP in the same sentence because, of course, the NDP members were the people who voted against Canada's economic action plan that actually has kept us above and beyond all the other countries in the world as far as economic performance goes.

I want to ask the member if he now regrets the decision to vote against all of the roads, the bridges, the recreation centres, the hockey rinks and all the other things that created a positive economic atmosphere and so many jobs in Canada.

I also want to know if this is the same NDP that is suggesting we stop tanker traffic on the west coast. That is what I have heard from it time and time again, that it would stop all tanker traffic on the west coast. Indeed, that tanker traffic brings oil and gas to many small communities across the west coast. It creates many jobs there. These are the same NDP members who want to shut down the oil sands, where I come from, that created 500,000 jobs across the country and is going to create another 300,000 in the next few years. Therefore, is that what he means by responsible government?

My last question is: Does he support refining and upgrading capacity in Canada and more jobs in Canada, or does he not?

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, seriously, that is all they could come up with, after slapping the faces of millions of Canadians who felt that the CNOOC takeover of Nexen was not in Canada's interest, after the failed press conference on Friday, where the Prime Minister just babbled on for a number of minutes, where the government completely failed Canadians by not putting in place a sort of transparency or definition of net benefit. Are the only questions they can come up with this kind of dated partisan rhetoric?

Canadians deserve better than what the Conservatives are doing. This is important public policy. This is a decision about which we have seen thousands of comments over the course of the weekend, thousands of Canadians saying the Conservatives were wrong to sell us out. They were wrong to say here is a for sale sign on Canadian resources and on Canadian jobs. They were wrong to do that, yet the Conservatives have these childish comments in the House of Commons, rather than answering or asking questions that have some substance around the motion before us today. This shows why the Conservatives need to be turfed out as soon as possible, in 2015 or sooner.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was an honour to second the motion today by my esteemed colleague in regard to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce wanting to get clarity as to what net benefit means. Even though the Prime Minister did babble on on Friday, he did not deal with the fact that net benefit has not been defined. Nor did he provide any kind of information as to when these new rules they put in place are actually going to be released publicly. We also had the Minister of Industry saying, on the weekend, if we want to get more information about this deal, we should find out from China.

I would like to ask the member for his comments with respect to ministerial responsibility and how the industry minister seems to have abdicated that by saying that Canadians should go learn their information from a foreign government rather than their own.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Scarborough Southwest for his question and also for the leadership he has shown on this issue. He has been one of the dynamic team from industry, energy and natural resources that has been working together to actually represent Canadians in the House of Commons.

This is what I find so disconcerting, and so many Canadians do too. I know Canadians are contacting Conservative offices today. They are phoning, emailing and asking what gives. They are saying that the Conservatives promised to be responsible but that this is an irresponsible act.

Now we have the Minister of Industry saying they do not have any information, that if we want any information on what CNOOC is actually putting forward we should go speak to the Chinese government. That is unbelievable, the lack of seriousness of the government, how amateurish it is on important files like the F-35s and Investment Canada, files that have an influence over Canadians' lives, and we see just an incredible amateurish gong show on the other side. Canadians deserve better than what the Conservatives are bringing to government.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, the press conference that the Prime Minister of Canada gave last Friday at the end of the day was quite surprising. On the one hand, the Prime Minister said that Canada was not for sale, and on the other hand, he said that he was giving his approval to the biggest transaction ever to be made under the Investment Canada Act: he simply accepted the takeover of Nexen, a Canadian corporation, by CNOOC, a state-owned Chinese company.

On the one hand, he said that Canada supports the free market and, on the other, he gave his approval to a sale that distorts the marketplace, an offer that no private business can match.

Furthermore, he handed control of our natural resources over to an economy where the free market does not really exist. For the past few months, the Minister of Industry has gone out of his way to say that the rules under the Investment Canada Act were clear, and that the transactions that would be approved would represent a net benefit for Canada.

Now here comes the Prime Minister, who is no longer quite so sure. He says that takeovers of the oil sands by foreign state-owned corporations are not something that will happen again.

In 2010, the Conservative government and the House unanimously agreed to review the Investment Canada Act, to clarify the meaning of net benefit and to hold public hearings on takeovers of our industries. Two years later, the Minister of Industrystill has done nothing about it. The government waited for storms to hit the Canadian economy, for investors to be confused, for provinces to be baffled and for commentators to be unanimous in their criticism of the vague criteria in our foreign investment legislation.

The Prime Minister has once again promised to review the criteria on net benefit. Well, no. Rather than taking advantage of the crisis to clarify our investment rules finally and to schedule public hearings, the Prime Minister has added a new expression to the rather hazy list in our Investment Canada Act.

After guessing at what the government meant by net benefit for Canada, investors will now have to unscramble the equally cryptic criteria that make up “exceptional circumstances”. They are once again offering vague rules simply to sugar-coat the pill of two separate takeovers of our strategic energy resources by foreign governments. Moreover, Canadians still do not know the conditions that CNOOC and Petronas will have to meet.

The new regulations are not enough: nothing in them clarifies the net benefit test; there are no assurances that public consultations will be held with Canadians, who will bear the consequences of these takeovers; there are no assurances of mandatory disclosure of the guarantees given by investors or that they will actually be enforced in a transparent and responsible manner; there is no improved reciprocity for Canadian investors outside Canada; there are no assurances that governments' records of interference in the activities of state-owned corporations will be reviewed; and there are no guarantees that the strategic importance of the asset concerned will be taken into consideration.

In allowing the takeovers of Nexen and Progress Energy, the Prime Minister says they represent a net benefit for Canada. In the same breath, he announces that the rules will now be changed for state-owned corporations wishing to acquire companies operating in the oil sands—is that right?—but not for other sectors of the economy. What is deeply disturbing is that the Prime Minister has decided that this sector will be protected, but not others.

One Globe and Mail columnist wrote:

More profoundly than that, Mr. Harper's populist and ideological decision to draw a line in the oil sands could be one of the most influential rulings by Canada on world economic affairs in decades, as the global economy continues its seismic reordering in the era of emerging superpowers led by China.... The risk is that the world sees Canada as closed for business....

I wonder what the situation is for Canadian businesses in other strategic sectors of our economy, such as agriculture. I am thinking of Viterra, which has just been bought by Glencore. What about sectors such as mining, forestry, the aerospace industry and the high-tech and manufacturing sectors? Will those sectors not be protected?

The Conservatives, who boast that they are the guardians of Canada's economy, totally lack any long-term vision or understanding of industry or resources as a whole.

They are unable to develop a consistent policy to ensure that Canada fully benefits from the positive impact that foreign investment can have. They are incapable of negotiating conditions that would meet the net-benefit-for-Canada test or subsequently to establish mechanisms to enforce it.

The recent past is one of broken promises by foreign investors, but especially of the Conservatives' lax approach to protecting jobs and research and development opportunities.

The Stelco closing in 2009 resulted in 1,500 workers being laid off in Nanticoke and Hamilton. The shutdown of appliance manufacturer Mabe in the east end of Montreal cost 700 workers their jobs. Let us not forget the 1,300 Electrolux jobs that will be lost in L'Assomption, in Lanaudière, when the Swedish appliance giant relocates. There are also the 600 jobs that were lost when the White Birch paper plant shut down in Quebec.

Eric Reguly wrote in the Globe and Mail:

In many cases, some or all these promises have been broken, leading to a hollowing-out of Corporate Canada. Exhibit A is Hamilton, once a thriving steel town....

The new 'net benefit' test must be clearly defined and easily enforced. It has to be transparent. It must come with a defined set of sanctions...if benefit promises are broken. And it has to come with the understanding that Canadian companies investing in, say, China, will be treated equally fairly, even if they are not allowed to own 100 per cent of a Chinese company.

Canadians no longer have faith in the Conservatives' ability to negotiate conditions that will benefit the Canadian economy, create jobs and comply with our environmental standards. The recent announcements are tangible evidence of the Conservatives' total lack of strategy. This reeks of improvisation.

Unlike the Conservative government, the NDP is clear. It is proposing that Canada, along with the provinces, identify Canada's strategic sectors and comparative advantages.

The NDP is also proposing that we develop an energy and industrial policy that would use these comparative advantages as leverage in negotiations for agreements and foreign investment in Canada.

Lastly, the NDP supports an in-depth review of the Investment Canada Act, including: a transparent public consultation process; conditions regarding jobs, the environment, communities, headquarters, research and development, and intellectual property; oversight mechanisms and penalties if the conditions are violated.

The official opposition is prepared to do its share in working together on a process that will satisfy Canadians, as well as Canadian and foreign investors, so that Canada can responsibly and strategically unlock the potential of its resources and so that the industrial spinoffs are felt in all regions of Canada. The government must also include all of Canada's strategic industrial sectors.

It is time to get to work.

Following the press conference of last Friday, I would like to strengthen the motion by proposing the following amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by adding, after the word “interference,” the following: “and calls on the government to hold full and public consultations on the proposed guidelines announced by the Prime Minister on December 7, 2012 and on previously promised changes to the Investment Canada Act.”

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I must inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition motion cannot be proposed without the consent of the mover of the motion. Consequently, I ask the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster whether he consents to this proposed amendment. I only need a yes or a no.