Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure and privilege of participating in this debate on the status of the French language, in particular in Quebec.
I am moved by all of the speeches I have heard and by a warmth in the House that is radiating all the way here, in Lévis. I applaud my colleagues for that.
This evening, I will try to speak a little more slowly than normal, because I was not able to get my speech to the interpreters. Essentially, my message is that our linguistic duality is an asset, a part of the Canadian identity. Of course, language and culture go hand in hand.
This evening, we have seen this culture shine. Members have been naming artists and all kinds of cultural events. This is all part of and helps shape our Canadian identity, and Canadians recognize that it is an integral part of our identity.
We are currently facing the challenge of maintaining that duality. The French language, one of our two linguistic engines is facing some significant challenges. The decline of the French language affects our linguistic duality and goes to the very heart of our Canadian identity, which is why this debate is so important.
Members mentioned the roadmaps implemented by former minister Stéphane Dion. Stephen Harper's Conservative government worked with the former premier of New Brunswick, Bernard Lord, to create two roadmaps to promote and strengthen official language minority communities.
I heard my colleague from Lévis—Lotbinière mention the Stephen Harper government's contribution to the promotion of linguistic duality, and that reminded me of a story. I was in Mexico with Mr. Harper, President Barack Obama and the former Mexican president, Mr. Peña Nieto. As always, Mr. Harper made a point of starting his speeches in French. Some U.S. networks even cut him off because they thought it was a foreign language. At the time, Mr. Obama just said that he agreed with everything Mr. Harper had said in French. Clearly, it is an effective diplomatic language.
Canada's linguistic duality has deep roots. It is said that French is the country's founding language. René Arseneault reminded us that the Acadians were there. The first French governors spoke French. Then the English made a contribution, and it is because of that pact that, today, we have a Canadian community that is open to the world and that also includes indigenous communities. At the core of this Canadian pact is the backbone of our identity and language, namely English and French. That is the challenge that we are facing today.
Others have faced this challenge before us when the Official Languages Act was enacted 50 years ago. My colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent mentioned that a Conservative government modernized this legislation in 1988. For the first time, the act stipulated that English and French were to be promoted. That aspect of the act has been neglected, which is why it has become urgent that we modernize the Official Languages Act.
The situation has become urgent for two reasons. First, unfortunately, we are seeing a decline in French in Quebec and all our communities. Without wanting to be too negative, the number of people who use French in communities across Canada dropped dramatically between 2006 and 2016. French is seriously declining across the country. We have seen it recently in Quebec, particularly in Montreal. We are talking about an even more rapid decline in French there.
For example, demographer Marc Termote told us that we are in a downward spiral, a vicious circle of sorts, where English is thriving and French is declining. Our country's francophone foundation needs some repairs, a helping hand. This expert even said that there has been a drop in the number of people who speak French at home.
We are facing many challenges when it comes to the language, whether it is the spoken language, language of work, language of instruction or language of signage.
I see some colleagues who are on the Standing Committee on Official Languages taking part in the debate this evening. We agreed to address this. This evening we are having a take-note debate that I would say is just scratching the surface. There is a lot of work to be done. At the same time, the urgent need to take action is emerging. Groups and minorities across the country are calling for this. For instance, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, the FCFA, is telling us to do something. We are in a minority government situation. The president of the FCFA, Mr. Johnson, said:
We fear that if the government does not introduce a bill by the end of 2020, the two chambers of Parliament will not have enough time to adopt the changes that our communities have wanted for decades.
It is therefore important and urgent to take action, especially because work has been done by the Standing Committee on Official Languages and the FCFA. Recommendations have been made, and the work is done. This country is ripe for new legislation. We still have a few weeks ahead of us.
I have been listening to the presentations given by our government colleagues. They are saying that they want to take action and that they have plans. Now is the time to act, to make sure the laws are put in place. We are asking the government to act and to introduce its bill to modernize the Official Languages Act today, for two reasons.
First, all communities have been calling for it for decades, as Mr. Johnson said. It is a commitment, a will and a promise made by the party. It is also because several demographers, such as Frédéric Lacroix, are telling us that the situation is “catastrophic”. This is the reason for tonight's debate. It is therefore time to take action, and there is a real need to act. The goal is really to take action.
My colleague from Victoriaville brought forward some concrete proposals to give the act some teeth. It is worth noting that the Official Languages Act is a quasi-constitutional law, which gives it primacy. That is why it is important that this act transcend the various departments and that it remain very close to the Treasury Board, in order to influence the entire federal bureaucracy, but also to explore new fields and become a partner in supporting the vitality of the French language in Quebec.
In any case, it has been a nice evening, and this is a constructive debate. It is interesting to hear the contribution and personal journey of each member in the House. My own family name is of Irish origin. This is proof that Quebec has the ability to integrate linguistic communities. My father married a Breton woman, and I am very proud of my fluency in French. I would say that I speak French quite a bit better than English.
I will close with that, and I look forward to my colleagues' questions.