House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was languages.

Topics

Public Services and ProcurementOral Questions

Noon

Gatineau Québec

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Madam Speaker, we have shown notable transparency. Of course, we communicate dose information to the province and territories and coordinate our vaccination effort very well. Let me quote Innovative Medicines Canada, which represents a number of our vaccine suppliers. It said, “We urge all parties to respect the confidential nature of these commercial contracts which were entered into in good faith, and to ensure that commercially-sensitive and proprietary information is protected from disclosure at this critical time.”

JusticeOral Questions

Noon

Liberal

Emmanuel Dubourg Liberal Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the inequalities that already existed in Canada even worse. It has had a devastating effect on racialized and marginalized groups that were already among the most vulnerable. One example is addiction, which continues to claim many victims across Canada.

Yesterday, the Minister of Justice announced major changes to the criminal justice system. Can the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada tell the House about those changes?

JusticeOral Questions

Noon

Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Bourassa for his dedication to the most vulnerable Canadians and to the fight against racism.

We listened to Canadians, who asked us to make our justice system fairer and more effective. We announced a number of measures to fight racism. They will provide police officers with alternatives so that substance use can be treated as a health issue. It is time to turn the page on the Conservatives' failed policies and move toward a justice system that really keeps our communities safe.

Carbon PricingOral Questions

Noon

Conservative

Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, recently at the public accounts committee, the assistant deputy minister for finance struggled to respond when asked if Canadians are charged GST on the carbon tax, eventually stating that no, they are not. This is both false and misleading, as one of my constituents, who owns a small transportation company, has already paid over $2,500 in GST on the carbon tax since April 2019.

Why is there such a discrepancy between what top finance officials are saying and what small business owners are actually experiencing?

Carbon PricingOral Questions

Noon

University—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, our government is absolutely committed to supporting small businesses, and I would love to see members of the Conservative Party join us in that commitment. We disagree about a lot, but if we all believe we need to support small businesses, let us get behind Bill C-14. Dan Kelly was out there yesterday urging us all to pass this law. It would deliver concrete support. Let us do that.

Natural ResourcesOral Questions

Noon

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, I have asked this exact same very simple yes-or-no question twice before, in November and December, and got incoherent non-responses from the government, so I am going to try again.

We are importing tens of millions of barrels of oil per year into Canada from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Algeria. Is this oil subject to the same rigorous regulations on upstream and downstream emissions as oil coming from Alberta, Saskatchewan and the minister's very own home province of Newfoundland, yes or no?

Natural ResourcesOral Questions

Noon

St. John's South—Mount Pearl Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Seamus O'Regan LiberalMinister of Natural Resources

Madam Speaker, let me speak to impending projects in this country. There are 32 oil sands projects in Alberta that are approved and ready to go. They are just waiting for the provincial government's approval or investment from the private sector, but they are ready to go. This is in addition to our support for TMX, NGTL and Line 3. We approved them and are building them. In the case of TMX, we bought it. We are creating thousands of jobs for oil and gas workers because we are proud of them and we are proud of this industry as it continues to lower emissions.

EmploymentOral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jag Sahota Conservative Calgary Skyview, AB

Madam Speaker, over the last six years, Alberta’s economy has been devastated by the policies of the Liberal government. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to exacerbate these issues. For years we have heard the government say that the best interests of Canadians is its priority.

When will the government stop offering words to Albertans and start taking concrete action to protect our jobs?

EmploymentOral Questions

12:05 p.m.

St. John's South—Mount Pearl Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Seamus O'Regan LiberalMinister of Natural Resources

Madam Speaker, I will reiterate to the House: on TMX, we approved it. We are building it, with 7,000 jobs so far. On the Line 3 pipeline, we approved it, with another 7,000 jobs created. On NGTL, in 2021, we approved it, with thousands of jobs created. On LNG Canada, we are building it, with thousands of jobs created. On orphan and active wells, $1.7 billion, with thousands of jobs created. There is also the wage subsidy, with more than 500,000 workers kept in their jobs in the pandemic in Alberta alone.

That is our record and we are proud of it.

Small BusinessOral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, the pandemic has dramatically impacted many small businesses and our federal government supports for programs like the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada rent subsidy have been lifelines for businesses and very much appreciated. However, some new, legitimate businesses opened after March 2020. Many of them had signed leases and contracts in the months prior to the pandemic and cannot qualify for these benefits. Izibele and Century Park Tavern are just two examples in my riding.

Can the minister update the House on what our federal government is doing to support new businesses?

Small BusinessOral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Outremont Québec

Liberal

Rachel Bendayan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business

Madam Speaker, obviously my colleague knows there is nothing more important to us than helping our small businesses and Canadian employees right across the country, but there is also no one-size-fits-all solution for this relief. We created a very wide range of supports and programs to help small businesses, including the regional relief and recovery fund, which is there and designed, really, to help support businesses that do not qualify for other programs.

That being said, my colleagues in government, along with me and the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Finance had a very productive meeting last week, looking at solutions, particularly for new businesses. I encourage the member—

Small BusinessOral Questions

12:05 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member for Vancouver East.

Canada Revenue AgencyOral Questions

February 19th, 2021 / 12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, my constituent has been earning $5,000 to $7,000 each year as a busker. He has diligently declared his self-employment income on his income tax return for the last two years. The pandemic has seen his income reduced drastically. In applying for the CRB, he was told by the CRA that his income tax return was not good enough. The CRA wants to see receipts or bank deposits for the $20 to $25 he earned in loose change as a busker each day. That is just absurd.

Is the government treating shareholders of big corporations the same way, or is this just for low-income residents? Will the minister take immediate action to correct this unjust treatment?

Canada Revenue AgencyOral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Windsor—Tecumseh Ontario

Liberal

Irek Kusmierczyk LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment

Madam Speaker, our government has been clear from the beginning of the pandemic that we will always be there to support Canadians. The Canada emergency response benefit eligibility criteria clearly stated that a person had to earn at least $5,000 in 2019, or over the last 12 months, from employment income, self-employment income or provincial benefit payments related to maternity or paternity leave.

CERB eligibility was not dependent on having filed a tax return, but the CRA encourages everyone to file their 2019 tax return so that the agency can confirm their eligibility.

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Green

Jenica Atwin Green Fredericton, NB

Madam Speaker, exactly one year ago today, an emergency debate took place in the House addressing the Wet'suwet'en fight for their inherent right of self government on their ancestral territory. Time has passed, but nothing has changed. Land guardians in Nunavut are now forced to defend their rights and their territory in the face of the Mary River Mine expansion. Once again, indigenous voices are trampled on, ignored or distorted. The Minister of Infrastructure recently said that government investments are almost binary, that we either increase emissions or reduce them.

If it is binary, on which side is the government? Will it fight the climate crisis or pretend to do so? Will it respect indigenous rights and international covenants, like UNDRIP, or legislate them out of existence?

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge Park Ontario

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

Madam Speaker, in 1997 the Supreme Court of Canada encouraged the parties in its decision in the Delgamuukw case to pursue good-faith negotiations regarding aboriginal rights. This MOU establishes a path for substantive negotiations toward agreements that would describe the implementation of the Wet'suwet'en rights and title. The parties are working toward an agreement on recognition of rights and the title that will set the stage for future negotiations and implementation. Such agreements, once reached, will be taken back to all Wet'suwet'en people through a ratification process that must clearly demonstrate their support.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member for Calgary Midnapore is rising on a point of order.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Madam Speaker, during question period, the Minister of Transport implied that my facts were incorrect regarding the ability to purchase a single ticket to a sun destination.

I was just on Expedia and had the ability to purchase a—

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

That is a point of debate and I ask the member to please take her seat.

On another point of order, the hon. parliamentary secretary.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

12:10 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I believe this is a proper point of order, especially as it deals with the usage of inappropriate and unparliamentary language. I believe that in one of the opening questions, the member for Carleton referred to the opposite of heaven in raising a question and trying to emphasize a point.

I do not think the usage of the term “hell” is parliamentary language, and I would ask him to retract it and for you to encourage the use of parliamentary language.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I appreciate the point of order that has been brought forward. I will look at Hansard to see what exactly was said and come back to the House if needed.

I would just remind members to please be mindful of the language they use to ensure that it is acceptable language within the House of Commons.

Official LanguagesRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Ahuntsic-Cartierville Québec

Liberal

Mélanie Joly LiberalMinister of Economic Development and Official Languages

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the Government of Canada's public reform document for the modernization of the Official Languages Act, entitled “English and French: Towards a Substantive Equality of Official Languages in Canada”.

Official LanguagesRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Ahuntsic-Cartierville Québec

Liberal

Mélanie Joly LiberalMinister of Economic Development and Official Languages

Madam Speaker, every time I have risen in this House over the past year, I remember how things have changed.

Almost a year ago to the day, we were all gathered here, not knowing what to expect. Since then, we have had a difficult year, a year marked, yes, by upheavals and mourning, but also by the resilience, courage and compassion of our fellow citizens.

In saying that our world has changed, I am just stating the obvious, because across time and place change is the only constant, last year, this year and the next, and when it comes to change, we really only have two options. We can try to fight it or we can choose to see the possibilities that come with it. Time and again Canadians have chosen the latter.

The country we know today was shaped by people who have managed to adapt to and seize the opportunities of a changing world, a country that is strong in its diversity and, of course, proud of its differences, a country that is bilingual. Having two official languages is one of Canada's greatest strengths. Our two official languages set us apart and help us stand out on the world stage.

Each of us has our very own personal history when it comes to official languages. My history is that of a unilingual francophone family, established in a neighbourhood in the suburbs of Montreal where children, regardless of their origins and languages, had made friends. My story also carries the dream of my mother, a teacher, who always insisted that her children become bilingual, convinced that English would open all doors for them.

I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment where French and English come together. However, this bilingual country in which we live is no accident. If the French language is still so alive in North America, it is because Canadians, and Quebeckers in particular, are committed to protecting it and making it flourish.

More than 50 years ago, we collectively chose a modern vision of the state, a state where our two official languages, those two languages that unite and define us, occupy a central place not only in the affairs of our country, but also in our lives. In fact, we owe a lot to the Official Languages Act. Thanks to this act, millions of francophones have the right to be served and to live in their language from coast to coast to coast. Thanks to this act, our young people who live in official language minority communities go to school in their mother tongue, a right that their parents were sometimes denied.

From Moncton to Whitehorse, Sherbrooke to Sudbury, the Official Languages Act protects language rights and ensures the vitality of our communities.

So many of us benefited from growing in a bilingual Canada: kids from the Prairies who studied in French emersion; teenagers in New Brunswick who met their best friend in English class; Francophones who learned English on the slopes of B.C.; Anglophones who fell in love with cities like Montreal and Quebec. In Canada, language is not some abstract concept. It is our connection to the past. It is the vector through which our stories get told and retold.

In fact, language is not just an important part of who we are as individuals, but how our country can be. It is part of our DNA. This is true of French and English of course, but also of indigenous languages, which any language policy in the country should and must take into account.

That is why, in 2019, we introduced the Indigenous Languages Act to reclaim, revitalize, strengthen and maintain indigenous languages. This was historic legislation, but we know that the work being done by indigenous communities to recover and reclaim their language continues, and they can count on our government's steadfast support.

Our world is changing. More than ever, we are interconnected with each other. Globalization has had the effect of imposing certain languages to facilitate trade beyond our borders. At the same time, the rapid development of international trade and digital technologies, including social media and content delivery platforms, are promoting the use of English.

In the face of these changes, our two official languages are not on equal terms. There are eight million francophones in Canada in a North American ocean of more than 360 million inhabitants, most of them anglophones. The use of the French language is on the decline in Quebec and elsewhere in the country. It is up to us not only to protect our language, but to offer a modern vision of our linguistic duality and its future.

The time has come to act. We must act to ensure that all our citizens are reflected in the objectives of the Official Languages Act. We must act to ensure the sustainability of a strong and secure Francophonie in the country, including in Quebec. We must act in the face of contemporary challenges that directly impact the development of a Francophone identity in our children. We must act to promote our Acadian, Quebec and francophone cultures across the country.

Whether people are part of the English-speaking majority, a French-speaking Quebecker or a member of an official language minority community, their unique reality should be reflected in our laws. That is exactly why our government is introducing a series of reforms so our two official languages stand on more equal footing.

Today, our government is presenting a reform aimed at establishing a new balance in our linguistic policies. As French is a minority language in the country, there must be real equality between our two official languages. The government has a responsibility to ensure that we can learn, speak and live in French in Canada, as is the case with English. Today we are sharing our game plan.

First, for a language to be alive, its culture must be strong. Francophones must be able to make their voices heard, especially in the digital space where English dominates. To do this, our federal cultural institutions, such as Telefilm and the NFB, must support and encourage the production and distribution of French content. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission also has a role to play. On this point, Bill C-10 is crucial to the future of broadcasting. We are also committed to protecting CBC/Radio-Canada as a flagship cultural institution and a vehicle for the dissemination of our two official languages and bilingualism across the country.

Our government also recognizes that the private sector has a role to play in ensuring the protection and promotion of French. People have the right to be served and to work in French in federally regulated businesses in Quebec and in other regions of Canada with a strong francophone presence. These rights and their recourses will therefore be established in federal legislation, in consultation with the affected sectors.

That said, when it comes to ensuring respect for bilingualism in the workplace and ensuring the right to work in one's first official language, the federal public service must lead by example. After all, it is Canadians' primary point of contact with the federal government. That is why we are going to create a central body within the government that is responsible for ensuring compliance with language obligations.

We will also strengthen the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and we will continue to defend and promote French abroad in our embassies, in our missions and within major international organizations, such as the UN and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.

The Government of Canada will also make a point of attracting and facilitating francophone immigration outside Quebec. Increasing the demographic presence of francophones outside Quebec is a priority for us. For some communities, it is even a matter of survival. Over time, immigration has changed our language and enriched our communities, and that must continue.

Finally, all our institutions must be bilingual, including the highest court in the country. The Official Languages Act must require that judges appointed to the Supreme Court be bilingual.

As part of our efforts to modernize the Official Languages Act, we will also take steps to promote bilingualism from coast to coast to coast. It should be easier for English Canadians to learn French, but right now too many parents have to get on a wait list or go through a lottery system before they can send their kids to French immersion. These parents and their kids are being turned away because there are not enough available spots. This is unacceptable. We will get rid of wait lists for French immersion.

All official languages communities, English-speaking Quebeckers and Francophones in the rest of the country have constitutional rights. Our communities are only as strong as their institutions, as strong, of course, as their schools, their universities and their cultural centres. That is why the federal government will continue to support those who seek to uphold their constitutional rights. We will stand by their side.

The history of our two official languages is one of resilience marked by persistent demands. This is the story told by Gabrielle Roy, Michel Tremblay, Dany Laferrière and Antonine Maillet.

However, that story, our story, has been told through the works of Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, Margaret Atwood and Gord Downie. This is the beauty and the strength of our country. Defending our official languages is defending who we are as a country.

Our history has stood the test of time. It has also taught us that we can never take our linguistic duality for granted. We always have to do more, especially when it comes to protecting the French language. With this reform, we are paving the way for the next 50 years. We are adapting to a world that is rapidly and constantly changing. We are preparing for the challenges that arise and those that await us.

Our government's vision is rooted in studies conducted by House of Commons committees, the Senate and the Commissioner of Official Languages, but it is above all rooted in the hard work of those who are passionate about our official languages, those whose mother tongue is French or English, those who have learned our official languages or who are working on it, those who enroll their children in French immersion programs and those who are proud to say that two of their languages are international languages.

I am grateful to all these people. Their ideas and work have been a constant source of inspiration, and we look forward to continuing to work with them, as well as all official languages partners and allies across the country. Our society, our country and the future of our children in our two official languages will be all the better for it.

Official LanguagesRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Alain Rayes Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the minister for presenting her discussion paper this morning. I want to acknowledge her work on the official languages file, as well as some of the measures she is taking or says she will take. I do truly believe that she cares about protecting French and promoting our two official languages. However, the means the government uses to attest to that do nothing to prove that this is in any way a priority.

Let me take a moment to congratulate my hon. colleague for her work on this file, but, to be honest, there are a lot of words but few actions.

Consultations on modernizing the Official Languages Act have been ongoing across the country for years. It is important to remember that the Liberals have been in power for over five years. Organizations have been consulted, the Commissioner of Official Languages has made his recommendations and the Senate has looked at the issue.

To know which government one is dealing with, and what it will be able to accomplish in the future, one must look to the past. Over the past several months, examples have been piling up of the Liberal government's failures in the area of official languages. One only has to think of WE Charity, a unilingual anglophone organization, the text messages sent to Quebeckers only in English in the middle of a pandemic, the report on the Governor General Julie Payette that was submitted in English only, even though it was commissioned by the Prime Minister's Office, federal public servants who have said they feel uncomfortable speaking French at work, and the fact that the minister has not implemented any of the recommendations in the report of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Francophone universities are fighting to survive due to a lack of funding. Many surveys and studies indicate that French is on the decline in Quebec and across the country. Multiple calls by many stakeholder organizations for the Official Languages Act to be modernized have gone unheeded.

Everyone was expecting a bill to be introduced today, but instead, here in the House, we can see that the government hatched an inaction plan. It is not an action plan, but an inaction plan because there is no scope and it does not contribute in any way to addressing the problems I have raised, at least not right away. Despite the fine promises, the minister is committing only to investing to reduce the wait lists for French immersion schools for anglophone students. She is not proposing anything new to support the French-language educational institutions in minority communities that are struggling. Every school board in the country urgently needs help.

The Liberals are also rejecting the unanimous call from stakeholders to create an official languages administrative tribunal to allow minorities to better assert their rights. The Liberals continue to ignore the request of the Legault government and every member of the National Assembly of Quebec from all parties to protect French in Quebec by applying Bill 101 to federally regulated private businesses.

Instead, the government presents an electoral campaign plan and hopes that everyone will drink the Kool-Aid without saying a word. Why should francophones across the country believe the Liberals today? Are the Liberals known for keeping their promises? The answer is no.

In my view, what is even more frustrating is that the Liberals are being partisan in their handling of the official languages issue. They were supposed to introduce a modernization project last spring, but then postponed it to the fall. When the Liberals began feeling the pressure of the opposition's efforts in the fall, they postponed everything to the beginning of this year. However, the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which has Liberal members, voted in favour of introducing a bill before the holidays. Then, at the start of the new year and to everyone's surprise, the minister announced with a drum roll that a white paper rather than a bill would be tabled. This took everyone by surprise when the news was reported in print media. Unfortunately, no one and no official languages advocacy organization in Canada knew about it.

In the end, it is not even a white paper. It is just a working document with intentions and no action items. It is disappointing to see the Liberals still drawing things out and not making official languages a priority, as they should be doing. They believe that with two or three photos, some pretty words and a few flashy ideas, francophones and minority language communities in Canada will not notice.

I am truly appalled. I will reiterate that there is only one party that will make good on its commitments, and that is the Conservative Party and its leader, the next prime minister of Canada.

When we pay attention to what our leader is presenting, francophones and anglophones in minority situations all across the country will see that our proposals are clear, real, achievable and, above all, that they will be implemented in the first 100 days of a Conservative government.

At the heart of our message is the recognition that our country was built on a compromise between the two founding peoples, one francophone and one anglophone, along with the first nations. The French language is the essential component of that agreement.

It is the federal government's responsibility to ensure the vitality of francophone communities all across the country. This country was born in French and we must not forget that. A country that does not protect its founding partnership is sadly destined for failure.

As it stands, the act is based on the principle of reciprocity between the two official languages, but if we are being honest, that statement does not reflect reality. For decades, the Liberals have refused to acknowledge that French is the only language at risk in Canada. Let me be clear. The federal government must develop an asymmetrical approach that prioritizes protecting the French language.

The Conservative Party of Canada is proposing a number of practical measures.

First, the wording of the Official Languages Act must be changed to be stronger in meaning. Second, where the law remains vague is in speaking of positive measures. We believe positive measures should be described with concrete actions.

Third, the Conservatives believe that all of the implementation and enforcement powers of the law must be centralized under the Treasury Board.

Fourth, it is also time to set up an administrative tribunal that would meaningfully address complaints and improve the services offered to francophones throughout Canada. We were very surprised that the Liberals ignored that unanimous request from organizations representing francophones across the country.

Come to think of it, I can understand why the Liberals do not want their actions toward francophones to be brought before a tribunal. We need only think about what has happened in recent months with WE Charity, the texts in English and the English-only report on the Governor General. Why would the Liberals want to have to account for their actions when we see what is currently happening in Canada?

These four measures will help to modernize the Official Languages Act.

We also know that funding for our francophone schools is problematic. Our leader has pledged to support them urgently. Our teachers are front-line workers who provide a francophone education to the next generation, and they deserve stable funding. The Conservative Party is pledging to provide significant funding support for francophone post-secondary education in minority communities and to create a new funding envelope. These universities play an important role in helping francophone communities thrive, so they are eminently deserving of the federal government's attention in partnership with the provinces.

Let us remember that, the last time it was in power, the Conservative Party convinced the House of Commons to recognize the Quebec nation. We gave Quebec a seat at UNESCO. Our former prime minister, Stephen Harper, always started his speeches in French no matter where in the world he was. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney was the last prime minister to reform the Official Languages Act.

All of the big changes came about under Conservative governments. The big difference between Conservatives and Liberals is that Liberals are all talk, whereas Conservatives take action and make things happen.

What does modernizing the Official Languages Act mean?

It means a renewed spirit that prioritizes protecting French across the country. It means funding for our francophone universities in minority communities and respect for Quebec's jurisdiction, especially relating to Bill 101. That is the Conservative Party of Canada's vision for official languages.

I can confirm that we will take action very soon, as soon as we are back in power.

Official LanguagesRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Beaulieu Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Official Languages talked to us about the inevitable changes that come with globalization, the capacity of Canadians to adapt, but in terms of language, the primary change we have seen in Canada from day one is the decline of French.

After all sorts of assimilation measures, after successfully making francophones in Canada the minority after 1867, we went from 29% to 20.5% of francophones in Canada from the point of view of language spoken at home in Canada.

For francophones outside Quebec, those hit the hardest by all the assimilation measures, they went from 4.3% of francophones in terms of language spoken at home in 1969 to 2.3%.

The rate of assimilation, of anglicization of francophones outside Quebec increases with every census. The rate is now 40%. It is completely unacceptable and it proves that the Official Languages Act is a complete failure.

What Quebeckers and Canada's francophones have demonstrated throughout history is not a capacity to adapt, but resistance. We have resisted assimilation and English Canada's repressive laws against francophones.

The history of language in Canada is nothing like the fairy tale the Minister of Official Languages presented. The British and Canadian governments knowingly used anglophone immigration and laws prohibiting French schools to anglicize francophones and keep them in the minority.

As francophones rose up and the independence movement grew in Quebec, the federal Official Languages Act was like a band-aid on a gaping wound. Under this legislation, services in French were inadequate and spread too thin to counteract the assimilation of francophone communities. In Quebec, the legislation essentially reinforced the use of English.

When Pierre Elliott Trudeau became prime minister, he was quick to dismiss the demands of André Laurendeau from the famous Laurendeau-Dunton commission. André Laurendeau was calling for the collective rights of francophones and Quebec's special status to finally be recognized.

The federal government does not recognize French as a minority language in Canada and North America, even in Quebec, so federal funding for official language programs in Quebec is provided only to the anglophone community and its institutions, which are already well funded, even though it is the French language that is at risk and on the decline in Quebec. That is how things were 50 years ago, and that is how they are again today.

Yes, Quebeckers, not the federal government, rallied to protect and promote their national language. The Quebec government, led by René Lévesque, adopted the Charter of the French Language on August 26, 1977. Since then, the Liberal Party of Canada has been a fierce opponent of Bill 101. The current Prime Minister's father denigrated it from the start, fighting it and weakening it with his strategy of repatriating the Constitution in 1982. The federal Liberals rejoiced every time a Canadian court struck down our law.

The numbers do not lie. Between the 2001 census and the 2016 census, French as the language spoken at home dropped by 2.5% in Quebec. The numbers have never been so low or dropped so much over such a short period of time. Charles Castonguay's book clearly shows this. The cause is not immigration but the anglicization of allophones and, increasingly, of francophones in Quebec.

Quebeckers know it and are legitimately concerned. They are clearly expressing their attachment to the language and their desire to strengthen Bill 101 and the Official Languages Act to improve the status of French in Quebec.

According to the most recent survey, 77% of francophones want those laws to be strengthened, and 78% support the Bloc Québécois's proposal to apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses. The Liberal Party of Canada has opposed Bill 101 for 40 years. However, today, armed with this opinion data and despite the doubts expressed by many of its members, the party recognized two things that Quebec has known for a very long time.

They are two very obvious things. First, French, unlike English, is a minority language in Canada. Second, French is in decline in Quebec and outside Quebec. The minister needs to take action.

We have the right to ask why the Liberal government is refusing to respond favourably to the Government of Quebec's official position on the modernization of the federal Official Languages Act. What Quebec is asking for is clear and reasonable. It wants the federal government to recognize that the Quebec government must have sole authority over language policy within Quebec. That means that the federal government must fully respect Quebec's legislative authority and recognize that the Charter of the French Language takes precedence over the federal Official Languages Act. In no way and at no time should the federal policy undermine Quebec's language policy. However, the opposite is happening.

Before implementing any language measure in Quebec, the federal government should have to get the consent of the Government of Quebec. That is what the current Government of Quebec is calling for.

Workers in Quebec should all have the same rights. That is a fundamental principle. The minister's proposal means that this value will not be respected. The solution, a simple and logical one, has the support of the majority. The Liberal Party is all alone. It alone is refusing to let the Charter of the French Language protect the rights of all Quebec workers. People across Quebec have spoken up, demanding one simple thing from the federal government: apply the requirements in the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated businesses located in Quebec. It is not complicated. This is what is being called for by the Government of Quebec, a unanimous National Assembly, the mayors of our biggest cities, major unions, the Union des artistes, the Union des producteurs agricoles, and the list goes on.

The Bloc Québécois has been asking for this for a long time, and it is bringing the issue forward again by introducing its bill, which clarifies the application of the Charter of the French Language in Quebec. The Minister of Official Languages is against it. We are dealing with more than just a disagreement over public policy. Language is the basis of Quebec's uniqueness and the identity of the Quebec nation. It is the glue that binds us together as a people. We would be more than happy to see the Government of Canada finally fulfill its responsibilities towards the francophone and Acadian communities. It is all well and good to have bilingual judges and to fund immersion schools, but these schools often serve to assimilate francophones outside Quebec. Should the federal government not start ensuring that all francophones outside Quebec have access to French-language schools run by and for francophones? That is even more important for universities and post-secondary institutions.

It is all well and good to promote francophone immigration outside Quebec, but what is the point of that if the newcomers are anglicized once they arrive? As the only francophone state in North America, Quebec has a huge responsibility towards francophones across the continent. The leadership of Quebec, along with a change in approach at the federal level, would benefit all francophone and Acadian communities. For this to happen, the federal government will have to recognize, in its own legislation, that Quebec has sole authority over linguistic planning and development in Quebec and that Quebec, with or without Canada, is the sole master of its own destiny.

On November 27, 2006, the House unanimously adopted the following motion:

That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.

Even though that motion has never resulted in anything concrete, and even though I think Canada has never been a united Canada, this government's choices continue to diminish the words of the Quebec National Assembly. By refusing to recognize Quebec's cultural and linguistic sovereignty and by refusing to accept the consensus of the Quebec National Assembly, the Government of Canada is proving that its recognition of the Quebec nation was nothing but a decoy, a trick, a sham.

Ottawa continues to deny the collective rights of Quebeckers, their right to self-determination, their right to ensure the future of their language, and their right to truly live in French in the only state where they consider themselves the majority and feel at home.

In fact, the Minister of Official Languages made a fine speech full of good intentions, but there is really nothing tangible for Quebec, just crumbs.

Will the federal legislation on official languages stop justifying the watering down of Bill 101? Will the federal legislation recognize that French is the only minority language and the only official and common language of Quebec, instead of always promoting more services in English and institutional bilingualism?

Bill 101 was established to counter institutional bilingualism and to make French the common language of all Quebeckers. It is not a factor of exclusion, but of inclusion. Bill 101 is the biggest gesture of integration and inclusion that the Government of Quebec has made. That is why we speak proudly of the children of Bill 101.

However, French is steadily losing ground in Quebec and Canada. If we do not make any major changes, it will become increasingly more difficult to turn this around and make French the common language in Quebec. The federal government needs to acknowledge that fact and acknowledge that Quebec has to be the master of its language policy. That way we could make French the true common language of Quebec and ensure the future of French in Quebec.

In the wake of the speech by the Minister of Official Languages, the only thing that will happen is that the federal government will show once again that the only path to ensure the future of French in Quebec is independence, which would in fact allow Quebec to fully support francophone communities outside Quebec.