Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss the Standing Committee on Official Languages’ report on the Translation Bureau.
Before I get into the substance of my speech, I would like to remind the House why this report was needed. Although I am very pleased to hear my Conservative Party colleague heap praise on official languages, for the past 10 years this was not the case. In fact, the reason we began an in-depth study of the situation at the Translation Bureau was because of the previous government’s cuts to the Translation Bureau and official languages.
The committee tabled a unanimous report. I congratulate my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Official Languages. However I must remind the House that it was because of deep, even harmful cuts to the Translation Bureau that we had to urgently undertake this study.
The previous government had asked the team to create software called “Portage”. It was supposed to translate all documents for us. The Conservatives believed that with this tool, the Translation Bureau’s services could be completely eliminated. We were told that the Translation Bureau used to have about 1000 employees. However, under Mr. Harper’s reign, this number shrank to 400. Official languages were not at all a priority, and the two official languages were not even respected in the House.
During the exhaustive study we conducted together, it became obvious that official languages had reached a very serious point in the House because the Translation Bureau had been undermined. Services were not respected. We, both in opposition and the party in power, met with people from the Translation Bureau. We listened to them and heard their suggestions because the Bureau’s survival was in crisis. I would even say that it was seriously compromised.
That is why I was proud when the Minister of Public Services and Procurement rose in the House on this matter and came to the Standing Committee on Official Languages to speak to us about it. There was no question of continuing what had been done under the previous Harper government, but rather of reinvesting in the Translation Bureau. In view of that reinvestment, we followed the committee's recommendations quite closely: we hired a new CEO; we created a new chief quality officer; and we agreed to hire 50 students a year over the next five years. That was one of our priorities. In fact, as I mentioned, the survival of the Bureau was threatened.
People around the world can see the quality of the work that Canada's Translation Bureau does for the federal government. Students could not really continue their studies in translation. There was no longer a place to get this essential training. As a result, things came to the point where young people were no longer taking this essential training. It was a priority for us to ensure that these young people were well trained and could continue the Translation Bureau's important work.
In addition, as I mentioned a little earlier, under the former government, the Portage tool was really aimed at eliminating the Bureau because a software program was now going to do everything. Based on our studies and all the questions we asked our witnesses, we found that, because of the errors or mistakes the software made, it was not a translation tool, but rather a comprehension tool. What was quite clear, and this is very important, is that Portage was a comprehension tool and not a translation tool.
Thanks to the efforts we have all made, the committee has submitted a substantive report. I am very pleased that the government has listened. It has put the recommendations in place, which means that the future of the Translation Bureau is no longer threatened. We will continue to reinvest in official languages, since official languages are very important for us, and we must ensure that we are reinvesting in the quality of translation on Parliament Hill, for everyone's sake. It is very important.
In a few words, under the Harper government, the Translation Bureau had been decimated. It had been brought to the point where it had gone from 1,000 employees to fewer than 400 employees. It was not a priority at all. That was the way the Harper government was going to balance the budget—on the back of official languages. That is why I am very happy that the committee came together to ensure that the government understood that reinvesting in official languages and the Translation Bureau was essential. That is what we did. We all came together to make sure this reinvestment was a priority.
The government listened. The Minister of Public Services and Procurement came before the committee and explained the reinvestments. She read the report and listened to the following recommendations: that we hire a new CEO, which the government has done; that a new position of chief quality officer be created, which has been done; and that more than 50 students be hired per year over the next five years, which was essential to the longevity of the Translation Bureau, and to ensuring the quality of the services that we offer. Because of all the cutbacks, there had been no young students brought in at all. Therefore, it was questionable where we were going and whether we could ensure the proper training of these young students. Canada is looked upon as one of the leaders in the world with respect to translation. Other countries look to us to see what we are doing and how we are investing in official languages, and they were questioning our commitment due to the cutbacks over the Harper years. I am glad to say that our government is committed to this. That was clear in its answer with respect to this report, and because of that we have reinvested fully in the Translation Bureau.
The Harper government invested a lot of money to cut positions. It wanted to cut human resources and replace it with a computer program. A computer program would replace the quality of the great men and women who work at the Translation Bureau. What that did was reduce the credibility of what it was doing because it had a lot fewer human resources to complete the work. It was quite clear from the committee study that this computer program would not do the job the government had intended it to do. It was clear that this was not a translation program but more of a program to understand what needed to be translated. Therefore, it was not meant to be used publicly but to be used internally because of that.
I want to reiterate the importance of official languages to this government, as well as the investments we have undertaken in the Translation Bureau to re-energize it and make sure it will be maintained at the highest quality possible. However, it will take a while. Why? It is because of the cutbacks under the Harper government. That is why we are investing heavily and bringing people back on board, because we listened. We listened to the concerns of the people on Parliament Hill. We ensured that we maintained the quality and the capacity of official languages via the Translation Bureau. It makes our job on Parliament Hill so much easier. That goes to the essence of what Canada is, a bilingual country. Therefore, it is essential that we reinvest in the Translation Bureau to ensure the quality of what those men and women are doing for us. That is why I am so proud that the government listened to the report and has reinvested in the Translation Bureau. I am proud of the work that we, the members of the committee, have done together to create this great report to reinvest in official languages in Canada.