Mr. Speaker, let us talk about your Acadian roots. As the member for the riding of West Nova, you represent two rather impressive francophone minority regions. We have had a chance to talk about this together. Some of my colleagues may get a chuckle out of this, but we talked about “par-en-haute” and “par-en-bas”, two Acadian-sounding names. Since I have known you, you have always supported and stood up for these francophone minority communities. The fact that you stood up this evening to remind us that you are a native Acadian, meaning that you are a native francophone, shows us how important the francophone fact is to you, not only in Nova Scotia, but across Canada. Thank you very much for clarifying that for us following the speech by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer.
This brings me to the topic of this Canadian Confederation, which was created in 1867, 155 years ago, through the union of two founding peoples, one francophone and one anglophone, with help from the first nations, of course.
What I want to talk about is this founding spirit, this spirit of co‑operation that still needs to be at the centre of government action today, 155 years later. In 2022, when we make laws and implement policies here in Canada, we must always keep in mind the fact that two nations, one francophone and one anglophone, decided to found this great country, Canada, together.
From the very beginning, one of the key aspects of this co‑operation has been the French language. French is part of Canada's identity. As I was saying, it is the federal government's responsibility to ensure that francophone communities thrive from coast to coast to coast.
I am thinking about Acadian communities, such as yours, Mr. Speaker, especially minority communities and the francophone communities “par-en-haute” and “par-en-bas”. I think that I will enjoy using these names. To give people some context, these names refer to St. Marys Bay and Argyle, if I am not mistaken.
Mr. Speaker, you see, we chatted a bit and you had the chance to describe that community to me.
There are also Franco-Ontarian communities, Franco-Manitoban communities, Franco-Saskatchewanian communities and Franco-Albertan communities. With one of my colleagues, I had the chance to visit some francophone communities in Alberta, such as the municipality of Falher. It is rather surprising.
When we travel around Alberta and enter a village in the middle of the province, we hardly expect to feel like we are in an entirely francophone community, yet that is reality, that is not just a feeling. We go out, we talk with people in shops and restaurants, and French is the dominant language.
There is still a wonderfully strong francophone presence in many regions of Canada. What we expect is for the federal government to take action, instead of being content to talk about the importance of francophone communities to Canada. It is time for action. Unfortunately, in the past, instead of taking action, this Prime Minister's Liberals have often turned a deaf ear to the demands coming from francophone communities and from Quebec.
They have been bragging for years about wanting to promote the Canadian francophonie, but it has to be said that, for some Liberals, francophones are a minority like any other. We must always stand up against this utterly false assumption. This goes back to the foundation of the Confederation.
The modernization of the Official Languages Act was pushed back year after year, in spite of the Liberals' promises to Canadians during the 2015 election campaign. For years, several francophone organizations, including the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, and official languages commissioners have called for an overhaul of the Official Languages Act.
Members will recall that the Liberals proposed a modernization in 2018. It was also a campaign promise in 2019. Finally, a first bill to modernize the act, Bill C-32, was tabled in June 2021. What happened to Bill C‑32? It died on the Order Paper because the Prime Minister chose, in the middle of summer and at the height of a pandemic, to call a pointless and costly election that forced us to start from scratch once again.
The last time the Official Languages Act was modernized, it was under Brian Mulroney, a Conservative prime minister who was also proud of his Quebec and francophone roots.
For decades, the Liberals and the Prime Minister have refused to recognize something that is essential to the survival of the French language. It is that, of the two languages that were originally spoken at Confederation, just one is threatened today. Let me be clear. The federal government must make it a priority to protect the French language and to keep protecting it. That is the role of the federal government.
The French language is more than just a simple means of communication. It is more than just the soul of the Quebec nation. It is the soul of Canada and it is a testament to our country's long history. The federal government has a duty to protect the French language and to ensure that it remains valued as part of the government's daily operations and in the enforcement of our laws and regulations. Those of us on this side of the House will not budge on that.
The Conservatives have been asking the Liberals for years to modernize the Official Languages Act. We proposed many measures to protect French in Quebec and the rest of Canada, meaning in minority communities. I want to commend my colleagues from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier and Richmond—Arthabaska for their outstanding work on the Official Languages Act file. They met with groups from all parts of Canada. They held discussions and sought out people's thoughts and opinions so that we would truly understand the reality of people living in French across Canada, mainly in Quebec, but also in other regions.
How do they live in French? Are they able to get services in French? Do they have enough support in French? Are they able to raise their families in French in other parts of Canada?
That is particularly important in rural areas and in francophone minority communities. I think that is something that the government overlooked in the current version of Bill C‑13.
In addition to wanting to modernize the act, we made other proposals, such as increasing the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages. We want the Treasury Board to have the authority to ensure that the act is applied in all federal departments. We have also suggested that an official languages administrative tribunal be created to settle disputes involving the act, to impose stricter penalties on those who do not comply, and to add more stringent formal obligations to part VII of the act.
Then, we worked to provide federal funding to francophone post-secondary institutions in minority settings, such as the Université de Moncton, the University of Alberta's Campus Saint‑Jean, and the Université de l'Ontario français. We have also proposed a new budget envelope of $30 million per year, notwithstanding any future funding, and collaborating with the provinces to achieve these objectives.
With the official languages in education program, we increased support for French-language education at the elementary and high school levels to better reflect the demographic growth of francophone students. Yes, demographic growth is happening in several regions with minority francophone communities.
In addition, to ensure that the demographic weight of francophone minorities outside Quebec remains stable, we are setting out to increase the number of French-speaking immigrants, not only in Quebec, but across Canada.
These are some of the measures we put forward to protect minority francophones and their rights.
As the member for Hull—Aylmer said, the government did take its time, unfortunately. It took seven years to introduce its bill. It said it needed to do it right. Unfortunately, despite seven years of consultations, pressure and advice, it seems the government did not really listen to what people directly affected by the Official Languages Act reform want.
Several key points were left out by the Liberal government, but I will talk about those a little later.
This took seven years of work. However, it seems that a few months were wasted on things other than the Official Languages Act.
In our view, Bill C‑13 is a rather weak legislative response to the decline of French in this country. As we have already pointed out, what is needed are real reforms, not just minor tweaks.
As it took seven years of work, we were expecting the Liberal bill to deal with the whole picture, the entire issue, all the problems and all the situations. However, it seems that the key reforms promised by the Liberals are unfortunately nowhere to be found in this bill.
As I said, the Liberals could have acted much earlier, not to introduce a bill, but to protect French in Canada. Our concern is not amending the bill or changing the regulations or rules and so on. Our role, and our aim, is to protect French in this country.
As currently drafted, Bill C‑13 will unfortunately not stop the decline of French, either in Canada or in Quebec.
As always, the Liberals are good at talking, but not so good at listening. They did not act on the advice that they received from francophone organizations, such as the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada. One of the things that the FCFA called for was the elimination of the division of powers between the Treasury Board and Canadian Heritage. This was a clear, concrete and specific request that would have given the reform of the Official Languages Act some teeth. I will come back to this a little later.
The bill has no teeth. The bottom line is that there is no obligation to deliver results. Bill C‑13 is full of good intentions, but it contains little that will really stop the decline of French. When certain situations arise, the government is not going to know who can do what. No one will be able to do anything to fix the situation.
Liane Roy, the president of the FCFA, said, “There are some significant gains, but some things still need to be worked on before we can say 'mission accomplished'.”
As my colleagues can see, I am not just saying negative things. Some people have had positive things to say, but others have been more scathing, saying that the bill should have gone much further.
The president of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario said that, compared with the previous bill, Bill C‑32, there are some improvements. It took a bit of time to make it better, but it is not good enough yet. More improvements are needed.
We identified six major problems with Bill C‑13.
The first is the government-wide coordination or the centralization of power in a single department. New subsection 2.1(1) makes the Department of Canadian Heritage responsible for “exercising leadership within the Government of Canada in relation to the implementation of this Act.” Everyone agrees that Canadian Heritage does not have the expertise to manage the other departments, unlike the Treasury Board. The Minister of Canadian Heritage can tell his colleagues to do this or that, but there is nothing he can do if they do not comply, except maybe refuse to give them flags for Canada Day. That is the only thing the Minister of Canadian Heritage can threaten his colleagues with.
If the Treasury Board had been made responsible for enforcing the act, it would be a whole different story. The Treasury Board is the one that holds the purse strings and authorizes all of the departments' spending. It is the one that oversees the other departments. The Treasury Board could have made the other departments implement the new version of the Official Languages Act. However, the government chose to go with the Department of Canadian Heritage. That is ineffective, and we think that only the Treasury Board should have been given the responsibility of implementing this act for many reasons that I will come back to at a later time.
Second, we are talking about promoting French and English. The act is being amended to set out federal commitments, specifically enhancing the vitality of minorities, promoting French and English, protecting French and expanding minority language learning. As I said, we believe that the term “commitment” and definitions of these commitments should be clarified. The Treasury Board should also be responsible for this aspect and for the entire act, as opposed to what is proposed in Bill C‑13. Furthermore, part VII of the act is not covered by the new power given to the Commissioner of Official Languages to issue orders, which is also problematic.
Third, we have immigration. The new clause 44.1 proposes that “the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration shall adopt a policy on francophone immigration to enhance the vitality of French linguistic minority communities in Canada”. However, there is no obligation to ensure that targets, objectives and indicators are met and respected. These are once again merely good intentions.
Fourth, the Commissioner of Official Languages is given three powers: to enter into a compliance agreement with federal institutions that contravene the act; to make an order directing any federal institution to rectify the contravention of part IV; and to impose administrative monetary penalties on a limited number of transportation companies offering passenger services that contravene part IV. We believe that these powers should extend to other parts of the act, specifically part VII. What is more, the maximum amount of these administrative monetary penalties is $25,000. We have to wonder what the deterrent effect of a $25,000 penalty would be for an organization like Air Canada, which had over $2 billion in revenue in 2021.
Fifth, the bill does not contain any obligation for the federal government to include language clauses in agreements made with other levels of government to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act, especially where federal transfers are involved, despite the fact that the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that agreements lacking language clauses were invalid. Maybe the government should have listened just a tiny bit.
Sixth, the bill includes an important part about federally regulated private businesses. It creates a new act called “An Act to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts”. In Quebec, businesses would have the right to choose between the Quebec regime and the federal one. In other words, businesses would have a choice between getting punished and not getting punished.
In our view, this bill needs improvement. For these reasons, I move the following amendment:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, be not now read a second time but that the order be discharged, the bill withdrawn, and the subject-matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Official Languages.”.
In conclusion, Bill C‑13 does not constitute the reform the Liberals have been promising for years and does not fulfill those promises.