moved that BillC-238, An Act respecting the French language, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying that I am challenging myself. On Friday, I participated in a Mental Health Week activity. I went to the open house event at Ancres et Ailes in Ormstown.
An anglophone participant come up to say hello, to thank me and to thank the Bloc Québécois for everything it is fighting for in Ottawa. He was aware of my bill on the French language; he even spoke to me about the bill we are discussing today, Bill C-238. I was very touched by his remarks and the fact that he clearly understands the fight for French in Quebec. He understands our assertiveness, which is accompanied by a real respect for anglophone communities. He also understands that French is threatened and that when French is protected, it is never at the expense of English.
I know he is not the only anglophone who supports protecting French in Quebec. I am grateful to this individual who also told me that he enjoys listening to my speeches and gently pointed out that I gesticulate and move around too much while delivering them. He challenged me to dial it down a little, so today, for his sake, I am making an effort to restrain the way I express myself.
I would like to challenge my colleagues from other parties. I know that a language bill can elicit a lot of passionate debate. Nevertheless, I know that, here in the House, we are capable of speaking to and understanding one another, so I am reaching out to all my colleagues. I hope this debate will give us all an opportunity for reflection. I hope we will be able to move beyond the usual arguments.
I would hope that, if my colleagues are genuinely curious and open-minded about the language situation in Quebec, they will come to the same conclusion as the Bloc Québécois, the Government of Quebec and all members of the National Assembly: Bill 101 must apply to federally regulated businesses. That is why Quebec must have the authority to choose its host language. That is the purpose of Bill C‑238.
When I ask around, it is a given. The language of work in Quebec is French. It is not particularly revolutionary or controversial to say that, in Quebec, people work in French. The language of work is one of the cornerstones of Quebec's language policy. French in the workplace is the result of an intense struggle by the generation that came before me.
The first thing I want to point out to members of all parties is that not all workers in Quebec have the same rights. I have never heard anyone complain that too much French is spoken in their workplace. Still, Bill 101 and its language of work provisions apply in all workplaces: in hospitals, in the service industry, in factories, in small convenience stores, in grocery stores, in technology companies, in retail and so on. Life in the Quebec workplace happens in French.
The beauty of Bill 101 is that it requires all workplaces to use French, yes, but it does even more. Perhaps my colleagues are learning this for the first time, and I do hope they are listening, but Bill 101 does not prohibit the use of another language, as long as all the information is available in French. A business can operate in any language, as long as the equivalent information exists in French. That is the beauty of Quebec's language policy. It respects other languages. Everyone agrees that we can come together around French. To reiterate, as the law stipulates, we can work in any language, provided that the equivalent information exists in French. However, the common language is French.
Bill 101 has been in force since 1977. This summer we are celebrating its 45th anniversary. The fact remains that even though every workplace has adapted to the provisions of Bill 101 with respect to the language of work, only one sector is dragging its feet. All sectors have done their part. All sectors have done what needed to be done. There is just one sector missing: federally regulated businesses. I humbly submit to my colleagues that this fact should come as a surprise to them.
All of my colleagues should wonder how it is possible that a SME or a restaurant is able to comply with Bill 101, but federally regulated businesses are resisting. How is it okay for these major businesses to fail to respect Quebeckers' right to work in French?
For 45 years a worker who repairs the tracks in Les Coteaux, in my riding, has not had the same linguistic rights as his colleagues who work on the municipal roads, and that has been tolerated. For 45 years a financial officer at a bank in Salaberry‑de‑Valleyfield has not had the same linguistic rights as her colleague at a credit union, and that has been tolerated. For 45 years a technician at a telecommunications company has not had the same linguistic rights as the people he provides high‑speed Internet to, and that has been tolerated.
I will say it again, and I am certain this is my colleagues' experience as well: I have never heard anyone tell me that the workforce in Quebec is becoming overly French. I wonder then what could possibly explain why we have tolerated for so long that there are two classes of workers in Quebec: those who have the right to work in French and the others, the federally regulated employees.
With its Bill 96, Quebec is going ahead with the reform of its Charter of the French Language. As I stated, Quebec already has a law that provides for the right to work in French for all Quebec workers. However, it has never been applied from the outset to federally regulated businesses.
To be very clear, the Government of Quebec moved an amendment to section 89 of the Charter of the French Language to clarify its intent to apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses. The amendment was adopted unanimously. All parties in the National Assembly of Quebec voted in favour of this amendment. Therefore, it is the clear will of Quebec's parliament. In my view, the federal government should accept Quebeckers' invitation to apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses.
My colleagues will be pleased to hear that the Office québécois de la langue française is already prepared to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated businesses. It will provide professional services to help businesses with the francization process. There are some very interesting initiatives being worked on right now, and these initiatives will continue to be implemented.
I am sure that major corporations, like Air Canada or CN, will appreciate the helpful advice from the team at the Office québécois de la langue française and will be able to gradually introduce respect for and promotion of the French fact at all levels within their company.
After all, the effective use of French ultimately benefits their employees and their French-speaking customers. In other words, Quebec has the political will to right a historical wrong, namely that federally regulated businesses have not been consistently subjected to Bill 101, and Quebec has professionals who are available and ready to help.
I know that the Minister of Official Languages has introduced a bill to reform the Official Languages Act.
I will briefly summarize our position on that: We believe that this bill has some merit for francophone communities outside Quebec. These communities will determine whether the bill does enough. However, Bill C‑13 would create two overlapping language regimes in Quebec.
Bill C-13 offers businesses a choice to apply either federal provisions or the Charter of the French Language.
Our analysis indicates that even a modernized federal regime is not the best tool for ensuring that Quebec workers have the right to work in French. It is actually not surprising that Air Canada told the Standing Committee on Official Languages that it wanted to remain subject to the federal language regime rather than be subject to Bill 101.
One has to wonder about Ottawa's sudden desire to legislate on the French language at a time when Quebec is specifically stating its intention to apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses.
Let us not create legislative confusion between the Official Languages Act and Quebec's Charter of the French Language. Let us give every worker in Quebec the same rights. That is what Bill C-238 does.
My bill's second objective echoes the Bloc Québécois motion to recognize Quebec as a francophone nation. I want to reiterate that that motion was adopted by a strong majority in the House. The motion could have a number of practical implications. Given that language is central to the way Quebec thinks about immigration, I believe that Quebec has the right to make its own decisions regarding host language and integration.
Bill C-238 states that all permanent residents must have an adequate knowledge of French in order to obtain citizenship in Quebec. When I hear my colleagues in the House say that requiring knowledge of French as a criterion for permanent residents in Quebec is discriminatory, I am astounded, since Canada chose to recognize either French or English as a host language. This criterion reflects a legitimate societal choice.
However, when Quebec chooses its host language and language of integration and the Quebec government does everything in its power to help immigrants learn that language, all of a sudden it is an illegitimate choice. That is discriminatory, and, in my opinion, an entirely obsolete concept. Every nation in the world makes linguistic choices; that is normal. I am eager to see the Quebec nation have the right to what is normal.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work done by L’Insulaire, a French learning centre, La magie des mots and the Centre du Nouvel-Envol, which offer French and francization courses in my riding, much like the ones offered throughout Quebec. These francization courses are often paid for by the government, in other words, with Quebeckers’ tax dollars, or by employers.
In one factory in my riding, I met with Victor, a young welder from Mexico who works full time and then some. He was proud to speak with me in French about his plans for a life and a future in Quebec. Thanks to his work and his francization courses, Victor has French-speaking friends and works in French; his children have access to quality education in French.
I am truly touched when I see and meet with immigrant Quebeckers who are learning French and love the language. In my opinion, Victor is a Quebec welder who is an asset for our community.
Bill C-238 will have no impact on the lives of people like Victor, who discovered the charm and beauty of the French language and immediately understood that learning French was key to actively participating in community life in Quebec. Bill C-238, with its provisions regarding the host language in Quebec, is simply intended to celebrate the French fact in North America.
Today, my goal was to create an opening and to share a little of my love for the French language with my colleagues, who, I am certain, will prove to be open.
I truly hope that this first hour of debate will give everyone an opportunity to reflect on the language issue in Quebec, and to become curious and inspired by Quebec’s struggle to protect its national language, a struggle we must support. Who better than the Government of Quebec, the only francophone state in north America, to actively champion this cause?
Passing Bill C-238 will give Quebec more tools to give new life to the French fact. Let us not stand in the way of the Quebec government or the Quebec nation. Let us love French enough to protect it. Let us pass Bill C-238.