Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise as you preside over the work of the house. This is surely one of the last weeks before the summer break. I would therefore like to say hello to the people of Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, and tell them that it is such a privilege to represent them.
Today we are debating a bill that the Conservative Party intends to support, as mentioned at first reading stage. It is Bill C-254, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act. In my opinion, there is cause for concern.
As we know, Canada is based on a vision of cultural diversity, but also of linguistic identity and duality, and this duality is threatened.
I have some news articles here with me.
An article from the Journal de Montréal entitled “The situation of French in Montreal: a catastrophe. Interview with Frédéric Lacroix” states, “We are in an unprecedented situation where the relative weight of francophones in Quebec is rapidly declining whereas that of anglophones is increasing.”
Charles Castonguay is a leading expert on this issue. He appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. In his hard-hitting book, he bemoaned the fact that the use of French is declining rapidly in Quebec and that French itself is in an unprecedented free fall. Quebec is not the only place where this is happening.
I have here an article by Benjamin Vachet, an excellent journalist with ONFR+, entitled “Déclin du français au Québec: un danger pour tous les francophones?” He notes that only 20% of the country's population speaks French. I am a member of a committee that studied minority language post-secondary institutions, and I can say that all our institutions, be they in northern Ontario, in Saint‑Boniface, on the Campus Saint‑Jean, in Alberta or in Moncton, are experiencing financial pressure. It is time for a complete overhaul of the Official Languages Act, which we have been calling for for years. As we near the end of the session, and with Saint‑Jean‑Baptiste just around the corner, the Liberals are telling us they might introduce a bill. That is nice and all, but we will not be able to pass it.
French is in decline. Canada recognizes French and English as its official languages, but the two are not represented equally.
I am proud to belong to a party that is taking action for official languages and has done so all the way back to Brian Mulroney.
The Official Languages Act is just over 50 years old. Brian Mulroney's government was the one that really gave this legislation some teeth and enabled official language minority communities to become free and independent with the major reform of 1988. That reform entailed much more concrete action than the lip service of 1969.
We can also think about Mr. Harper. He gave Bernard Lord the mandate to come up with the roadmap. The Harper government invested $1 billion, which was then re-invested to support our communities. It also made it possible to recognize Quebec as the cradle of French, francophone culture and French-Canadian culture. Mr. Harper and the Conservative government recognized that Quebec forms a distinct nation within Canada.
I would like to use my time to correct a Liberal mistake.
The Liberals are always saying that the Conservatives did away with the court challenges program and that the Liberals reinstated it. They are forgetting a very important part of the truth: When Stephen Harper's government abolished the court challenges program, it established the language rights support program, which sought to support francophone communities.
Then, the Liberals took office. For 20 months, the communities no longer had an organization to turn to that would defend their rights. It is always important to distinguish between the narrative and the facts. The Conservatives are there to support francophone communities.
Bill C-254 seeks to support the large francophone minority in the English ocean that is North America, namely the Quebec nation. That is based on a choice that Quebec made, the much-talked-about Bill 101 or Charter of the French Language.
In my opinion, the Conservative Party was a little quicker off the mark. This is not the first time the Bloc has introduced this bill. Two months before the bill was introduced, our leader said that it was important that federally regulated institutions in Quebec be able to enforce the Charter of the French Language.
Why is this important? It is important because this linguistic duality is fragile. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, French is in decline in every respect across Canada. The federal government has a constitutional responsibility, and a quasi-constitutional responsibility under the Official Languages Act, to ensure that French has the support and structure it needs to continue to be a tool of vitality and development. In that regard, I can say that there are significant needs at the post-secondary level, even in Quebec. Some big decisions will have to be made.
When our leader met with the Quebec premier in September 2020, he announced his support for the full application of Bill 101 to federally regulated private businesses in Quebec. The bill we are debating was introduced in November 2020.
Our leader promised something that goes much further than the private member's bill we are debating today.
Our political party is committed to modernizing the content of the Official Languages Act and renewing the spirit of the act. The Liberals are telling us that that is what they want to do, but they have not introduced a bill that would do it. We feel it is important to create a new funding envelope for francophone universities in minority settings in the first 100 days of our term.
This is what my leader said about this subject:
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.... The federal government must develop an asymmetrical approach that prioritizes protecting the French language.
We are seeing a paradigm shift. Not only does the Official Languages Act protect francophones in minority situations, that is francophones outside Quebec, but it also supports Quebec's anglophone minority, which certainly deserves to be supported. The bill we are debating today recognizes this.
However, it is also important to take positive measures to support French and the emancipation of French in Quebec and across the country. That is what fundamental change is all about. On that note, I should mention that the Standing Committee on Official Languages has embarked on this enormous task, and this is just the beginning. We are coming to the end of the session, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
I would also like to mention that the bill that is in front of us would amend the preamble, part VII and section 55 of the Official Languages Act, to have the federal government commit to “enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development” and “fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.”
Essentially, that means that the federal government must not be given this additional responsibility to the detriment of Canada's minorities, whether they are anglophones or francophones. As the saying goes, we must not rob Peter to pay Paul.
Again, it is important to ensure that minorities are promoted in a proactive and asymmetrical way, including francophone minority communities, but it is also important to promote linguistic duality.
In closing, I would like to reach out to the Liberals. Currently, there is only an English version of the fundamental law of our land, the Constitution of 1867. The government is fighting a lawsuit demanding that our country's founding document be accessible in both of our country's official languages. I am calling on the Liberals to ensure that we have a legal French version of the 1867 Constitution. Instead of promising the sun and the moon, they should do something meaningful.