Madam Speaker, for the first time since the implementation of the Official Languages Act 51 years ago, the federal government admitted in a throne speech that the situation of French is unique. Quebec is part of the minority of eight million francophones surrounded by 360 million anglophones.The federal government is committed to strengthening the Official Languages Act to protect and promote the French language in Quebec.
We cannot forget that before the Official Languages Act, the British North America Act, 1867, set out some fairly weak provisions for official bilingualism in the federal government. Quebec was the only province to have official bilingual status, in which English was favoured. The act allowed all of the provinces, which are now predominantly English-speaking, to create assimilationist and openly ethnocidal legislation. I am sure that many members here are not aware of this rarely mentioned part of history.
For example, in a previous life, I debated the head of the Suburban, a newspaper from the West Island, where I grew up. When I mentioned these laws that banned French even for francophones, he hit the roof and said that it was completely untrue. It is easy to prove, however, because the legislation is very clear.
For example, in Ontario, teaching French was banned in 1880 and again in 1885. Later, in 1912, it happened yet again with the infamous Regulation 17. It was not until 1968 that Franco-Ontarians were able to attend French public high schools. That was not that long ago. People my age were the first to attend French public high schools in Ontario.
In 1890, Manitoba passed a law that made English the sole official language of laws and the only language of instruction. Teaching French was prohibited, even for francophones.
When Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces, they repealed section 110 of the Northwest Territories Act, which officially recognized the use of French and English in Parliament and in the courts.
Despite their Herculean efforts, francophone and Acadian communities were largely anglicized. In the last report issued by Statistics Canada in this regard, the cumulative assimilation rate was found to be approximately 75%. It is certainly even higher today.
People started to wake up and galvanize in the 1960s. There were the Estates General of French Canada. The independence movement was on the rise in Quebec, and the Laurendeau-Dunton commission was established on the heels of these events. The commission came to a damning conclusion on the state of the French language and the economic discrimination that francophones experienced across Canada and Quebec.
For example, francophones ranked 12th in terms of average salary of the 14 linguistic groups in Quebec. People say that a lot of progress has been made since then, but there is still a considerable gap.
The commissioners developed different models of language management, including models based on the principle of territoriality and collective rights, which are recognized in order to protect minority languages. These are the only models that are effective.
Among countries with several national languages, the only ones where there is no assimilation of one language by the others are those where there is a territorial model based on collective rights, such as Belgium and Switzerland, for example. In the Flemish region in Belgium, all government services are provided in Dutch. Even though Dutch is not a widely spoken language in Europe, it survives very well and is the common language there. This does not stop anyone from learning four or five other languages very effectively.
The idea behind this model is that where there is a critical mass of speakers of a certain language, it becomes the official language and all services are provided in that language.
The Laurendeau-Dunton commission, called the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, believed that Canadians would not accept this, and instead proposed a mixed model with bilingual territories.
The model chosen by Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the Liberal government of the day was that of institutional bilingualism based on a principle that has proven that it always leads to the covert assimilation of minority languages. Everywhere in the world where such a model of institutional bilingualism exists, we see the assimilation of minority languages. That is what we have seen here since the adoption of the Official Languages Act. With every census, we see that linguistic transfers from allophones to English are increasing.
The Official Languages Act of 1969 was designed to ensure that services are provided in French in federal institutions, where numbers warrant, in provinces other than Quebec. In Quebec, of course, it ensures that services are provided in French in federal institutions as well. However, its main goal is to ensure services in English everywhere, as though there was not enough of that already.
Bill 101, enacted in 1977, was founded on the principle of territoriality and collective rights. Securing the future of French and being able to help newcomers learn French and integrate is a question of math: French must be the language used by francophones, but we must ensure that it is the common language of all Quebeckers. Of course anglophones will speak English amongst themselves and italophones will speak Italian, but when people who speak different languages converse, French should be the language that brings them together. French is the mortar of Quebec society. That was the goal of Bill 101.
The Official Languages Act promotes the opposite in Quebec. Newcomers and all Quebeckers are told that there is not one but two official languages and that they can use the language of their choice, which is English. It makes sense that newcomers, who are in no way to blame, would tend to lean toward the majority when establishing themselves in a new country. Quebec is still part of Canada, and the country's majority is anglophone. The North American majority is even more strongly anglophone.
The Official Languages Act does not acknowledge that anglophones are part of the English-Canadian majority. It considers anglophones to be minorities in the same way as francophones outside Quebec. Even the UN Commission on Human Rights declared that anglophones in Quebec are not part of a minority, but part of the English-Canadian majority. It is a bit like if Quebec were independent, the federal government was not elected by the English-Canadian majority and did not interfere in Quebec.
In 1982, Ottawa imposed a Constitution on Quebec against its will and the judges it appointed in Quebec have continued to dismantle Bill 101 by virtue of this illegitimate Constitution. To Quebec, all the money from the official languages program, roughly $80 million a year, is used to defend and promote English.
The federal government funds anglophone lobbyists, organizations and institutions that are already over-funded by the Government of Quebec. Every measure for English in Quebec has taken a toll and the decline of French is so bad that Quebec is against the wall and has to mobilize yet again.
The federal government can hardly deny this decline. If the federal government wants to help, it has to stop harming.
The comments by the member for Saint-Laurent were simply a reflection of the comments made by Quebec Community Groups Network, which told the Standing Committee on Official Languages that Bill 101 was a violation of civil rights and that the French language in Quebec is doing well.
If a small measure like knowledge of French for citizenship is once again rejected by the government of the English Canadian majority, it will be a sign to Quebeckers that living in French is not possible in Canada. They will have yet more proof that the only solution for the future of Quebec is independence.