Madam Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to the debate on Bill C-13, an act to amend the Official Languages Act, so that I can express how the Liberals are disappointing everyone who is concerned about the decline of French across Canada and how the current government does not seem to be taking this seriously.
The evidence shows that we have been asking for weeks to move this bill forward so that we could discuss it more in depth in committee. What did the Liberals do? They put it on the agenda late tonight, on a Thursday or a Friday when no one was listening and no one knew what was going on. That is exactly what the Liberals have always done.
I was a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages for many years, from 2015 to 2021. The reform of the Official Languages Act is something we have been talking about since the beginning of the 42nd Parliament. It is now the 44th Parliament. In the meantime, there have been two elections, and the last one was completely unnecessary. Each time, it was as though all of the committee's work was set aside and we had to start fresh.
Certain groups of witnesses appeared before the committee at least three times to share their recommendations. Once the pandemic began, many presentations were done virtually, but, before that, the committee regularly welcomed stakeholders from New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and even Yukon to Ottawa. I commend those witnesses, who came to speak to the progress of the bill or bills that have been introduced over the years.
Countless reports have been produced, each dealing with the concerns of official language minority communities across Canada and proposing recommendations formulated by a committee whose work is generally non-partisan and very collaborative. I saw this for many years, and I commend the colleagues with whom I had the pleasure of sitting on this committee.
The government had several chances over the last few years to introduce a bill that would have addressed the stakeholders' concerns and implemented all of the recommendations. That is not what we have before us. Bill C‑13 seems more like a rough draft than a modernized act that was last updated over half a century ago.
The Liberals want us to pass Bill C‑13 to make themselves look good and to make it appear as though they are concerned about the French language in Canada. However, the final version before us has perplexed many people. The Fédération canadienne des communautés francophones et acadienne wondered why the Department of Canadian Heritage retains a coordinating role in the implementation of the act when it has no authority over other federal institutions.
The FCFA's president, Liane Roy, stated that she wanted to see a more specific objective for restoring and increasing the demographic weight of the francophone minority community.
Bill C‑13 is chock full of contradictions. The government wants French to be strengthened at Canadian departments and federal institutions, but the task has been assigned to a minister without any authority to do so.
The government wants to increase francophone immigration to maintain the demographic weight of official language minority communities, but no mechanisms are included to reach existing targets, or the targets are just not mentioned.
I will cite a few examples. On page 9, Bill C-13 proposes that the government ensure that “managers and supervisors are able to communicate in both official languages with employees of the institution in carrying out their managerial or supervisory responsibilities”.
Does the government intend to change the working conditions of existing executives? Will it commit to making this a condition of employment, for example? If so, one would expect the President of the Treasury Board to have a role to play, not the Department of Canadian Heritage, which has no authority over the public service. This is a very concrete example.
On page 15, with respect to francophone immigration, the bill mentions that the policy includes objectives, targets and indicators. Will the targets be binding? Will there be consequences for the relevant departments or officials if they are not met? The government cannot tell us.
The government makes some reference to penalties on page 25, stating that on the recommendation of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Governor in Council may make regulations to apply these penalties or to address non-compliance.
To translate that for the reader, the governor in council is really the cabinet. In other words, we are being asked as parliamentarians to vote on a bill whose consequences for non-compliance will be determined later, and only by the Prime Minister and his entourage.
Once passed, the bill gives all its powers to an executive branch, and we in the legislative branch will have no say, except during a comment period before the regulations come into force.
Let me give another example of the government being vague and failing to meet its commitment to introduce a tangible amendment to the Official Languages Act: the use of French in federally regulated private businesses. Pages 57 to 59 make reference to businesses located in Quebec and regions with a strong francophone presence. My goodness. I do not know how they define that, but it is not written anywhere in the bill. Bill C-13 does not define “regions with a strong francophone presence”. Who will decide that? How will it be decided? Again, there are many questions, and no answers.
Once again, Bill C-13 gives cabinet all the power by stipulating that, when making regulations to define “regions with a strong francophone presence”, the governor in council may take into account any criterion it considers appropriate, including the number of francophones in a region in relation to the total population of the region. What is that number? Is it 50%, 20%, 5% or 1%? No one knows.
Without ever specifying thresholds for Bill C‑13, the government is basically telling us to vote in favour, and it will tell us later. The Liberals have been doing this for seven and a half years, and now we are seeing the outcome. Credibility is lacking, which is why we want Bill C‑13 to go to committee as soon as possible so all those details can be incorporated.
To sum up, Bill C‑13 is a feeble legislative response to the urgent problem of the decline of French. What we need is reform, not mere adjustments. It took the Liberals over six years to introduce a bill that does not deliver the reform they promised. The Liberals could have acted sooner to protect and promote French. Bill C‑13 as written will not halt the decline of French. It lacks teeth and accountability. The Liberals have ignored many demands put forward by national organizations, such as eliminating the division of power between Treasury Board and Canadian Heritage.
Conservatives recognize the decline of French in Quebec and across Canada, and we will always support both official languages and language rights.
The official languages are appreciated by the vast majority of Canadians and are a major asset to our country. Some of my colleagues talked about it earlier: because the official languages allow all of our communities to flourish, things are certainly not going to improve with Quebec's independence.
We are calling on the Liberals to commit to working with the opposition parties to allow the Standing Committee on Official Languages to continue to work on improving Bill C‑13, in order to meet the expectations of Canadians and the stakeholders who contributed so much time and effort throughout the entire consultation process to modernize the Official Languages Act.
This has been going on since 2015. I was there and we were talking about this in 2009 as well. It has been 12 years. It is a matter of respect, a matter of recognizing our identity and the uniqueness of our great country. We should be proud to have two official languages, English and French, or French and English, that allow us to access, exchange and share our culture with the 50 other member countries of the Commonwealth and the 54 member countries of la Francophonie.
I have one minute left. I would like to respond to my colleague from Joliette's comments, and I should invite him to ask me questions. Twenty-five years ago, Lucien Bouchard said that if the Bloc Québécois got more than one term, it had failed. The Bloc Québécois has been in Ottawa for 25 years now, and the Parti Québécois is melting away in Quebec along with its option, so that is certainly not how we are going to protect the French language in Canada, nor will we succeed by trying to separate this francophone group, which is significant in Canada and North America, from the rest of Canada, where there are millions of Canadian francophones, francophiles and allies. I think it is important for us to remain the big country we are now and always have been.