Madam Speaker, to begin, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
It is a great pleasure for me, as a multilingual member of Parliament and someone who grew up speaking French and Arabic at home, to rise today to discuss Bill C-13.
I think everyone can agree that it is time to modernize the Official Languages Act. I also believe that we can acknowledge that the federal government must do more to establish and maintain substantive equality between our two official languages.
Our government's modernization of the Official Languages Act is a big step in the right direction. It demonstrates our commitment to protecting and promoting French everywhere in Canada, including in Quebec, while also supporting official-language minority communities from coast to coast to coast. These goals are not mutually exclusive. We can and must do both proudly. This bill will move us forward to what I believe we all wish to see: substantive equality between Canada's official languages.
It is one of my personal priorities, and I am proud that it is also a government priority.
As my colleagues know, this legislation builds on the bill introduced during the previous Parliament. I want to acknowledge and thank my friend, the Minister of Official Languages, for her work and attention to this, and for the choice of historic Grand-Pré in my beautiful province of Nouvelle-Écosse as the site of this new bill's announcement. The symbolism of that choice did not go unnoticed.
I would also like to recognize the work done on this file by the former official languages minister, who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I had the privilege of attending the 2021 federal, provincial and territorial meetings of ministers responsible for the Canadian Francophonie with her. While there, we discussed the modernization of this act, as well as the provision of services in French and the shortage of bilingual workers.
This improved bill adds important provisions that strengthen compliance with the Official Languages Act across government, enhance the powers of the official languages commissioner, and encourage the use of French in federally regulated businesses in Quebec and other regions with a strong francophone presence.
As several of my colleagues have noted, this is the first major reform of the act in over 30 years.
We have more experience today of how the act has worked over the years and where it has fallen short. We have the benefit of a great deal of input and feedback from stakeholders and official-language minority community groups to draw upon in our modernization, including what we heard in response to the bill introduced last year.
I have personally had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada and the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones. I appreciated their feedback on Bill C‑13. With this bill, we are demonstrating our commitment to listening to community organizations, keeping one of the main promises in our campaign platform and introducing a balanced bill that reflects the linguistic realities of francophone and anglophone Canadians.
What would the amendments presented in this bill accomplish? The answer is, many things, but I will highlight a few. The bill would specify that all legal obligations related to the official languages apply at all times, including during emergencies. It would provide that section 16 of the act applies to the Supreme Court of Canada. It would clarify the nature of the duty of federal institutions to take positive measures to implement certain Government of Canada commitments and the manner in which the duty is to be carried out. It would require the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to adopt a policy on francophone immigration. It would centralize the coordination of the act under a single minister, who would have access to the resources of a central agency, the Treasury Board.
The Treasury Board would be required to establish policies to give effect to certain parts of the act; monitor and audit federal institutions for their compliance with policies, directives and regulations relating to the official languages; and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of policies and programs of federal institutions relating to the official languages.
I think these changes make sense. Canadians need clear accountability so they can make sure their government is delivering concrete results.
Strengthening the Treasury Board's role and removing discretion would help us achieve the vision of a public service where everyone works in the official language of their choice.
Bill C-13 would also strengthen the powers of the official languages commissioners to make sure they have the tools they need to enforce the act, essentially ensuring that the Official Languages Act has teeth. This includes giving them the ability to impose monetary penalties on companies that work with the travelling public and to enter into compliance agreements.
It would provide for Government of Canada commitments to protect and promote French, ensure education rights are being met, and advance opportunities for linguistic minority community members to pursue quality learning in their own language throughout their lives.
It would provide for certain positive measures that federal institutions may take to implement our commitments, including to promote and support the learning of English and French in Canada and support sectors that are essential to enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities and protecting their institutions.
It would empower the Minister of Canadian Heritage to promote the rights Canadians hold with regard to language of work, and advance equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society.
The bill would enact the use of French in federally regulated private businesses act, which would provide for rights and duties respecting the use of French as a language of service and a language of work in relation to federally regulated private businesses in Quebec, and later in regions with a strong francophone presence.
As I mentioned, our bill would give the Commissioner of Official Languages more enforcement tools, which had already been envisioned, to tackle the ongoing problem of non-compliance.
Bill C-13 also addresses worrisome trends, such as the decline in the demographic weight of Canada's francophone population, including in Quebec, and the stagnating overall rate of bilingualism among Canadians. The bill recognizes two important truths. One, the private sector must play a role in promoting our official languages and enhancing the vitality of official-language minority communities. Two, French is in significant decline in our country and we must make a concerted effort to reverse the trend.
I would also like to use my time to share why I feel it is my responsibility to support this bill.
Fostering bilingualism is a personal priority for me, as is growing our francophone population. I, too, am concerned by the decline of the demographic weight of francophones in Canada.
I think we can make inroads on this problem by working hard to increase francophone immigration and by making significant investments in French-language education. My province is in dire need of francophone early childhood educators. We have to do more to ensure that families can see their children grow up in French.
As someone who spoke French before I spoke English, and who returned to my home province as a child without speaking English, I have a deep appreciation for the importance of government taking action to ensure the continued vitality and use of French.
As the former minister of immigration and the former minister of Acadian affairs and francophonie, I launched Nova Scotia's francophone immigration action plan in 2019. I advocated for the introduction of French stop signs in the Acadian regions of Nova Scotia. I worked closely with the French school board le Conseil scolaire acadien provincial—