Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today.
I thank my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup for talking about this report, because it is very important. It is one of the first reports we prepared at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, one of the first ones we worked on together.
We were hoping to reduce partisanship on the committee and to work together to ensure that the Official Languages Act is respected and that the vitality of all our fine official language communities is maintained and improved across the country. I visited some of these communities in Alberta and British Columbia. On the weekend, I went to Acadia and met with stakeholders in education, health, and arts and culture.
I say all of this to show that the francophonie and official language minority communities, including anglophone communities, like the many wonderful anglophone towns in my riding, need our support so they can remain healthy. Our country is built on bilingualism, which in turn is supported by official language communities. We must therefore ensure that those communities are always at the heart of our considerations.
When we did our study on the Translation Bureau, we asked ourselves what its role was. I would like to take a moment to congratulate and thank all the interpreters, translators and terminologists, those experts who work at the Translation Bureau and who do an excellent job. They not only allow us to have texts in both official languages, but also to have quality, accurate texts, as well as accurate interpretations that allow us to do rigorous work. This is extremely important.
We heard from witnesses who explained the importance of translation and linguistic duality. Among others, I would like to quote Mr. Delisle, who said:
We all know that a lot of translation goes on in Canada. Translation is part of this country's DNA, even though many Canadians consider it to be a necessary evil of Confederation. The same could be said of official bilingualism because translation and bilingualism go hand in hand. Translation is not a by-product of bilingualism; it is a manifestation of bilingualism.
I have here another important quote about the role of bilingualism and translation in Canada. Mr. Doucet stated:
The translator plays a very important role for unilingual people, bilingual people, and for the Canadian public as a whole. People can rest assured that the texts they receive are of very high quality.
We cannot expect a translation that has been hastily thrown together to be a text for the ages that can be used in law, in committee, or as a law that will be interpreted by legal experts. Those texts need to be written by experts, qualified terminologists with a lot of expertise.
There is a problem at the Translation Bureau in that regard, and it is not going away, contrary to what the Liberals are saying. It is true that the Liberals have begun to reinvest in the Translation Bureau. However, as they are reinvesting, they are continuing to go forward with the planned cuts.
The situation is partly good and partly bad, but mostly bad. In 2011-12, the Translation Bureau had 600 translators, and now it has less than 500. It is the same thing for translator-language advisors. There were 347, but we lost about a hundred.
We are going to lose 150 more in the next few years and only a few dozen a year will be hired. If we lose 100 and hire 20, the net outcome is not positive; it is negative. The problem is that the ability of the Translation Bureau to do excellent work is continuing to atrophy and be diminished. At one point, the morale of the troops at the Translation Bureau hit rock bottom. The union leaders came to see us and explained how badly things were going at the Translation Bureau.
I cannot seem to find the quote, but what came through loud and clear was that there was a major problem at the Translation Bureau.
The Translation Bureau is an institution whose expertise was recognized internationally. People from a number of countries in the world came here to Canada to learn about the quality of the Translation Bureau, to get a sense of its expertise, and to learn from how things were done here.
Unfortunately, over the past several years, all that expertise has haemorrhaged out of the bureau. It is no longer there. Now, we no longer have that expertise or the international reputation we once had. We need to reinvest in order to regain that pride and base our country on bilingualism and, of course, on the two official languages.
When we talk about bilingualism and official languages, we always neglect the First Nations. I would like to digress for a moment. We must never forget that the First Nations are central to our country. I think we must always remember that and uphold it. Even though we have an Official Languages Act, we must never forget the First Nations. I know that a Liberal colleague said he would like to be able to speak in the language of his nation. That should be a right that is absolutely recognized here in the House of Commons. I would even say it is a shame that it cannot be done in the House of Commons. We must respect the First Nations. They are the ones who built this country. I hope we will be able to have speeches in the languages of our colleagues. In my party, there are colleagues of aboriginal origin who speak their mother tongue. I hope we will be able to hear them speak it one day, as I also hope to hear their speeches simultaneously interpreted.
That was a digression, but I felt it was important. It is really important for us. I am the official languages critic, but it is still important to me that aboriginal languages be recognized and ultimately promoted. We have a lot of work to do in that regard.
I would like to come back to official languages. The first recommendation that everyone agreed on was:
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada mandate an existing federal authority to ensure that the Official Languages Act is properly implemented with regard to such aspects as the Translation Bureau.
The committee came to that conclusion. It was not just me; it was the entire committee. This is the part that everyone signed. It was not the supplementary report that I subsequently made—because I made one on the record. This is the section that everyone signed, the Liberals and the Conservatives. It says here that there is a leadership problem when it comes to official languages. I have asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage about it on several occasions. I asked her how it is that there are still problems at Parks Canada regarding access in both official languages and the hiring of bilingual guides.
The acting official languages commissioner visited us last week, and she told us that of the nine recommendations in her last report, only two had been implemented by Parks Canada. Two recommendations out of nine is not even close. She brought it up again in her last report to indicate that this needs work.
When I ask the minister questions about this, she tells me that I need to ask the Minister of Environment because a horizontal approach is used, and there is no “boss” when it comes to official languages. Each person has their own leadership. Things do not work like that. We need someone strong enough to really turn up the heat whenever things are not moving along, someone that could say that we need to get to work at Parks Canada because the current approach just does not work.
It has gotten to the point where, when we tell the Minister of Canadian Heritage that things are not working at Parks Canada and ask what is happening, she tells us to ask the Minister of the Environment, who is responsible for Parks Canada. That is not leadership. That is why this recommendation was made.
It is the same thing with the Translation Bureau. The Translation Bureau is not within the purview of Canadian Heritage. It is within the purview of Public Services and Procurement Canada. I am not saying that the minister does not know official languages, but she has so many things to take care of. The Minister of Public Services and Procurement does not have time to deal with official languages. It took several months before she had time to testify in committee. She did not know what to do with the Translation Bureau file and so she sent the CEO to testify in committee. However, the CEO is not the minister. She is not accountable to Parliament. We had been asking the minister to testify in committee for a long time. She is very nice and very responsible, but she has a lot on her plate. She does not have time to deal with official languages. As I said, the Translation Bureau is about more than just translation. It plays an important part in our Canadian identity.
We recommended that Canadian Heritage or the Treasury Board show some leadership and call out those who are not meeting their obligations. Unfortunately, that recommendation was not followed.
The situation is the same when it comes to hiring. However, before we talk about hiring, I would like to say some more about leadership. We saw leadership today. Last week, the Minister of Canadian Heritage appeared before the committee. I asked her whether she knew that the acting commissioner’s term was ending four days later, on June 17, which was last Saturday. She replied that she knew it. I asked her when we would have news about the next process. I also asked her whether the acting commissioner’s term would be renewed. She replied that we would get the information in due course. I said that it was in four days, which was very soon. I wanted to know when we would get the information. She told me we would get the information in due course. I asked her not to forget that it was soon. While we wait, we are in a state of insecurity, because we do not know what is happening. She again told me we would get the information in due course.
In my opinion, it is too late to be saying “in due course”. Since last Saturday, we have had no commissioner of official languages. Today, there is a breach of parliamentary privilege because members no longer know whom to turn to. The government does not want to tell us whom we should refer to. The Minister of Canadian Heritage does not want to tell us who is responsible for presenting reports—who is accountable to parliamentarians when it comes to official languages. She does not want to tell us, and that is a violation of our privileges. It shows a lack of respect for the Official Languages Act and for the official language minority communities throughout Canada.
I hope the minister will fix the problem immediately. It is too late to be saying “in due course”. That is what we mean by leadership. I cited Parks Canada, but I could have cited immigration. The committee heard from the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship last Wednesday. I asked him who in his team was the person responsible for immigration in Canada’s official language minority communities. He said that he was. He is? For heaven's sake! Someone on the team, someone neutral, said he was taking on a lot of responsibility. That makes no sense. That is an enormous workload. This is extremely important, and, at present, Canada is not meeting its targets for immigration in official language minority communities. This is a major problem. All of the communities in Canada need to be revitalized, and immigrants are not going to our official language minority communities, which are in decline.
There is a problem with the percentage of francophones everywhere in Canada, for example.
When I asked the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship who was in charge of this file, he replied that he was. However, one recommendation in our report is that there be someone in charge. We asked that there be a person who can be identified, who can be asked what they are doing to be accountable to the committee, to improve what is a catastrophic situation at present. One person on the committee said that the minister was taking on a lot of responsibility and he would have to work hard, because there was a lot of work to be done at present in the immigration file.
I would like to come back to the work done on the subject of the Translation Bureau. At present, a lot of things have been announced when it comes to the Translation Bureau, but there are still more to come. For example, my colleague from Sudbury just now spoke of the decision to create the position of chief quality officer. That is all fine and dandy, but that position still needs to be filled. A CEO has been appointed, and that is a good first step. To my knowledge, however, the position of chief quality officer has not yet been filled.
I will not speak at length about the Portage tool, which is an automated translation tool. This software was released without much fanfare. The former CEO, who was present, said it was a tool for translating emails and so that people could exchange short texts between themselves. That is false, as was said just now. When it comes to translating and interpreting, you need professionals. We are not professionals ourselves, we members. Public servants are not language professionals. It takes professionals: terminologists, interpreters, and translators.
We therefore cannot simply leave it in the hands of the average person. People can use this software as a reading tool, and thus a comprehension tool, but we must never forget that if a document is to be used in the long term, the services of translators will be required. We have excellent translators in the Translation Bureau. We have to use those services in order to get high quality documents that will carry the same weight in French and English.
I would like to return to another subject. I know that a Liberal member spoke just now about bilingualism among Supreme Court judges. If the Liberals are serious when it comes to these judges being bilingual, they will vote in favour of a bill that was introduced by Yvon Godin, the former member for Acadie—Bathurst. That member waged a battle for 15 years for there to finally be legislation on the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges. Unfortunately, the Liberals are now resorting to pretexts for voting down the bill, which will come before us next October.
The Liberals used the excuse that it could be unconstitutional, which is incorrect. All the major constitutional scholars who appeared before the committee over the past weeks and months said that while some requirements were essential, others were not.
One may ask the question: is appointing a unilingual judge one of the essential requirements? Is it part of the essential requirements for appointing a judge? No, it is not an essential requirement to appoint a unilingual judge or a bilingual judge. However, it is necessary and it is an absolutely essential skill for a Supreme Court justice. In fact, as I said earlier, legislation is drafted at the same time, legislation is equal in English and in French, and that is why I am calling on the Liberals to stop their petty games, to stop saying that it is unconstitutional and to vote in favour of this bill.
Once again, I thank all the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, since they produced a very good report. However, the recommendations need to be implemented. In this respect, everyone on the committee, Conservatives, Liberals and I as the New Democrat, did a fine job on this report.