Yes, Madam Speaker, I meant the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. Thank you very much.
The purpose of this bill has the consensus of the National Assembly of Quebec. Every living premier and every union is calling for the Charter of the French Language to apply to federally regulated businesses. It is the express and unanimous demand of Quebec.
In this debate, I will explain the changes the bill will make. I will provide some current examples of the French fact in Quebec and I will take the liberty of debunking some popular myths.
The bill we are debating today is nothing new. This is the fourth time the Bloc Québécois has introduced such a bill since 2007. When it passes, I hope, it will ensure that the Charter of the French Language is applied to federally regulated businesses operating in Quebec.
In 2007, the former member for Drummond, Pauline Picard, introduced Bill C-482. In 2009, the former member for Joliette, Pierre Paquette, introduced Bill C-307. Lastly, in 2011, the former member for Ahuntsic, Maria Mourani, introduced Bill C-320. Even the NDP has proposed similar legislation, including a bill in 2009 that was introduced by Thomas Mulcair but never debated, and another in 2012, introduced by Robert Aubin, which imposed bilingualism and included the possibility of an exemption for certain businesses by means of government decisions. This last bill may have nothing to do with the Charter of the French Language, but I wanted to stress the efforts made at the time.
Bill C-254 amends the Canada Labour Code to clarify that any federal work, undertaking or business operating in Quebec is subject to the requirements of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to mention that, right now, approximately 33% of these businesses apply the charter voluntarily. However, that means that 67% do not. Tens of thousands of employees in Quebec do not even have access to workplace communications in their first language.
Also, as long as businesses are not legally required to apply the Charter of the French Language, any change in management or managerial vision can mean a decrease in the number of businesses that apply it voluntarily.
Bill C-254 amends the preamble to the Official Languages Act to recognize that French is the official language of Quebec and the common language in Quebec. Here the legislator is clarifying its will and its expectations of the authorities that apply the act.
Bill C-254 also adds to the Official Languages Act a formal undertaking on the part of the federal government not to obstruct the application of the Charter of the French Language. This is a legislative reference, a legal and constitutional measure already applied in various areas, in particular the federal minimum wage, which is set on the basis of the provincial minimum wages. This undertaking not to obstruct the application of the Charter is essential to make federally regulated businesses understand that compliance with the Charter of the French Language is no longer optional in Quebec.
Bill C-254 amends the Canada Business Corporations Act to clarify that the name of a corporation that carries on business in Quebec must meet the requirements of the Charter of the French Language. There is nothing outrageous about that. Many international companies register in the language of the country in which they are doing business. Quebec will simply join the ranks of these countries.
In recent months, we have all heard talk about protecting the French language from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Official Languages, as well as from members of every party. I have also seen many of my colleagues making efforts to learn French, and I would like to thank them for that. After all, learning a new language is never easy at any age.
In November 2020, the Prime Minister said, “we recognize that, in order for Canada to be bilingual, Quebec must first and foremost be francophone. That is why we support Bill 101 in what it does for Quebec”.
He says the Liberals support Bill 101, but to translate those words into action, they would have to allow it to be modernized and applied as is to all institutions and businesses in Quebec. His statement highlights a trend I have noticed. Until now, a bilingual Canada has mainly meant francophones and allophones learning English and anglophones speaking English. The rate of bilingualism in Quebec is around 44%. It is the highest rate in Canada, which bears out my observation.
The members of the House may think I am exaggerating, and that is their right. I will, however, share a few examples from everyday life. Forty-four per cent of federal public servants are reluctant to speak French because they feel uncomfortable. They think that it might upset their anglophone colleagues or hurt their chances of promotion.
Even today, in both private and professional life, if there is just one anglophone at a meeting, that meeting will take place in English, regardless of the number of francophones present. There is a word for this, and that word is hegemony.
In recent months, I have seen members roll their eyes when another member rises on a point of order because there was a problem with interpretation into French. However, I have never seen members roll their eyes when another member rises on a point of order because there is a problem with interpretation into English. Do not get me wrong, I am not playing the victim. I am simply describing situations that some of my colleagues may not have noticed. I am just pointing out something that may appear trivial but that is a reality experienced at various levels in many different settings by francophones, both in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
Incidentally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the translators and interpreters for their amazing work and excellent service.
I am going to ask my colleagues to use their imagination. I want them to imagine that they are going to attend a meeting in their riding. If 10 anglophones and one francophone attend this meeting, which language will they speak? Chances are it will be English.
However, in Quebec, when 10 francophones and one anglophone attend a meeting, English will be spoken most of the time even if most of the people attending are French. Why is that? I am not going to speculate as to why my fellow Quebeckers automatically react in this way. It may be out of courtesy or the remnants of a not-so-distant era where workers were told to speak English if they wanted to keep their jobs. I am thinking of the infamous and very nasty phrase, “speak white”, which we unfortunately still hear today. I recently read the following on social media: You lost the war. Deal with it. Assimilate. That is a daily occurrence, sadly.
Recognition of the importance of promoting the use of French must come from all sides, including citizens, businesses and also all levels of government.
I now want to dispel certain very persistent myths. A few years ago, we heard it on the streets and now we are reading it on social media. According to the first myth, by introducing this bill, the Bloc Québécois wants to eliminate English culture in Quebec outright because it hates anglophones.
Anglophone culture is not under threat, neither in Quebec nor elsewhere in Canada or America. In fact, it is omnipresent; no efforts need be made to access it. Communicating in French in the workplace will never prevent anglophones from speaking English.
Wanting to protect the French language does not imply hating English. I would like to make an analogy, although a somewhat poor one. Suppose I like lynxes because I find them beautiful. Lynxes are iconic animals of our extraordinary boreal forest, but there are not many of them. In the boreal forest, there are also caribou and moose. If I like lynxes, does that mean I hate caribou and moose and that I wish they would disappear? No. The same goes for my language. I love it, but that does not mean that I want all other languages to disappear from the world.
I will paraphrase the words of Pierre Bourgault. Fighting to protect the French language means fighting to protect all languages from the hegemony of a single one, whichever one it may be.
The second persistent myth is that applying the Charter of the French Language will cause Quebec to turn inward, that it will no longer be able to communicate with the rest of the world and that its economy will collapse.
To demonstrate the irrationality of this myth, did speaking Russian, Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese or any other language cause those countries to turn inward and cause their economies to collapse? Of course not. In trade relations and at international summits, companies and politicians manage to get by, particularly thanks to interpreters, who do an excellent job.
The third myth is that the Bloc Québécois is being selfish and not standing in solidarity with Franco-Canadians and Acadians by demanding that the Charter of the French Language apply to businesses located in Quebec. On the contrary, promoting the French language in Quebec will encourage francophones across Canada to not be afraid to assert their own rights.
The fourth and final myth, at least for today, is that the bill is unconstitutional because Quebec cannot impose French as the official language given that Canada is bilingual.
In fact, the only officially bilingual province is New Brunswick. Quebec is francophone, and all the others are anglophone. The bill is constitutional, and it respects and promotes constitutional standards pertaining to languages. It does not violate the division of powers in our federation. On the contrary, it seeks to take advantage of one of Quebec's assets, its unique status as a francophone province, and benefits will undoubtedly accrue to other Franco-Canadian and Acadian communities.
In a nutshell, Bill C-254 will ensure consistency of word and deed in Quebec and across Canada. The bill officially recognizes the incalculable value of the French language, so it encourages people to feel at ease speaking French. This bill will support interpersonal and intercultural exchange by sending a clear message that Canada endorses the application of the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated businesses. It delivers on statements made by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Official Languages in recent months.
This bill will encourage Quebeckers of all ages, regardless of how many generations their families have lived in Quebec, to feel confident about using Quebec's common language, French, at work.
I would like to leave my colleagues with this thought. When we love someone, we take special care of that person. We build them up, help them through tough times, congratulate them when things go well and celebrate their successes. The same applies to the French language. Taking care of it is like loving someone. French is who we are. It is our culture. Let us take care of it.