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.