Mr. Speaker, some days it does a body good to rise in the House, and today is one of those days. It is rare to feel this sense of optimism and excitement that leads us to believe that we are close to a broad consensus that would finally allow us to move forward on an issue that should have been resolved ages ago. Better late than never.
I am therefore pleased to speak about a common-sense bill.
In fact, one has to wonder why we are still discussing such a bill in a country that recognizes two official languages.
However, given the growing likelihood that many members of the government and the other opposition parties will get behind this proposal, I would like to talk more about the areas that unite us rather than those that divide us so that this bill can be passed.
In passing, I would like to commend the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst who, long before I arrived in this chamber, had already been fighting for years for the House to treat this country's anglophones and francophones equally.
I would also like to sincerely thank my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent who, through her bill, is strengthening the rights of francophones in every province and territory. Passing this bill will further strengthen francophone communities.
So, what does this bill say? Since the key message of the bill is contained in just a few short lines, I would like to read it for the benefit of all those who are watching these proceedings via CPAC or elsewhere.
The bill's short title is the Language Skills Act. In my opinion, it could not be any clearer.
The bill simply states:
2. Any person appointed to any of the following offices must, at the time of his or her appointment, be able to understand English and French without the aid of an interpreter and to express himself or herself clearly in both official languages...
I will spare hon. members the rest since the list of the agents of Parliament that should have these skills has already been read out by many of the other speakers.
Once it has been established that Canada has two official languages, everything else should just fall into place naturally.
First, the same level of service should be provided to both language communities since the Constitution protects that right.
Second, people whose appointment is approved by resolution of the Senate, House of Commons or both houses must be able to communicate with parliamentarians in both official languages.
Third, French and English must have equality of status as to their use in all institutions of Parliament.
Equality of use highlights the idea behind the original wording that candidates must have the language abilities before they are appointed to be an officer of Parliament. It seems obvious to me that a unilingual anglophone or francophone, even with the best intentions in the world, will not be able to provide equal service in both languages before learning the second language, something that can often take years.
There is a glaring inconsistency between the services offered to one language community over the other. As I mentioned earlier, in the past, more often than not, it has been francophone communities that end up losing out when the principle of official language equality is twisted.
I have been talking about principles since the beginning of my speech because prejudices in everyday life can become quite significant.
So what kind of service would a Canadian receive if he or she contacted the information commissioner, the privacy commissioner, the chief electoral officer or the auditor general if that government official spoke only the language that the Canadian did not speak?
It is easy to picture the fruitless discussion that would take place, despite the goodwill of the participants. That simple example illustrates the need to support Bill C-419, which was introduced by my colleague.
The entire francophone community is watching the members from every party to ensure that we address this issue once and for all and do not try to hide behind excuses or half-measures.
In his preliminary report on the investigation that resulted from the complaint filed by the member for Acadie—Bathurst, the Commissioner of Official Languages—who is bilingual, thankfully—concluded that the Privy Council Office failed to meet its obligations under the Official Languages Act when it appointed Mr. Ferguson as Auditor General.
As I said earlier, this bill is vital to all of Canada's francophone communities. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention that Bill C-419 on bilingual officers of the House, Bill C-315, which was designed to recognize the language rights of Quebec workers employed by businesses under federal jurisdiction, and the bill to recognize Quebec's political weight within the federation are all opportunities to recognize the Quebec nation. There was political will to recognize the Quebec nation within Canada, but there has not been any political will to grant the rights that should be part of that recognition.
Unanimity is a rare event in this House, I agree, but I am asking the few members not yet convinced of the rightness of this bill to try to walk, from now until the day of the vote, if only for a week, or at least a day, in the shoes of a Canadian living in an official language minority situation. If they do not have the good fortune to be bilingual, let them ask to be answered in the official language they do not know. They will quickly discover what lies behind the drafting of this bill.
The goal is not to make all Canadians bilingual, although such a dream can be a fine thing, and such an accomplishment is undeniably an advantage in the international world we now live in. The goal of this bill, rather, is to leave no one behind because of a communication problem arising from ignorance of an official language on the part of an officer of Parliament. It is a question of job skills and requirements.
I must therefore insist: let us never again be told that out of 34 million Canadians across this country, we cannot find a Canadian man or woman who is both bilingual and qualified for the job we are trying to fill. Bilingualism, after all, is an integral part of the skills or qualifications such a person should have.
Our language is much more than a work instrument; it is also a part of our identity. If Canada has chosen to recognize two official languages, for reasons that are historically highly defensible, it should now ensure consistency in its decisions and acquire the means to realize its goals.
The NDP has always been a fervent defender of the official languages in the public realm, and this bill is a conclusive example. We will fight relentlessly for every Canadian man and woman to be able to receive services and interact with officers of Parliament in the official language of their choice. We will soon have an opportunity to send a clear message to all Canadians by voting in favour of Bill C-419.
I implore parliamentarians in all parties in this House, let us not miss this historic opportunity. I will close by thanking all of my colleagues in this House who, in their heart and soul, have already decided to support the bill. I would suggest most humbly to those who still have doubts to drop by the Standing Committee on Official Languages. There they will definitely find food for thought and colleagues who ask nothing better than to discuss with them the wisdom of this measure.