Mr. Speaker, it is certainly an honour and a privilege for me to rise today in support of Bill S-3 to amend the Official Languages Act by making part VII subject to the court remedies provided by this act. Initially, this bill was introduced in the Senate by the hon. Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier.
Allow me to begin by commending Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier on his tenacity and commitment to the Canadian official languages policy. Bill S-3 was the fourth bill introduced by the hon. senator, who had previously introduced Bill S-4, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in the spring of 2004; Bill S-11, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2003; and Bill S-32, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in the fall of 2002.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the invaluable contribution and extraordinary work of Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who has always been a great defender of the rights of Franco-Ontarians and francophones outside Quebec.
I want to pay tribute to this citizen of Ottawa, who has had an exceptional career in the House of Commons and in the Senate. In addition to his work as an MP and a senator, and his involvement in the community, he was the Chair of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie from 1997 to 1999. He is a role model for all Canadians, and we thank him for everything he has done for francophone and Acadian communities across Canada.
The official languages policy is rooted in the past and the present. People have spoken French and English in Canada for centuries and, I am proud to say, they continue to do so in every region of our vast land.
The modern era of the official languages began with the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, as the federal government attempted to adapt to new realities, particularly the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.
In 1969, in light of the recommendations in the report tabled by the commission, Parliament adopted the first Official Languages Act, which recognized French and English as the official languages of all federal institutions. This legislation required such institutions to serve Canadians in the official language of their choice.
The fundamental principles of the current official languages policy are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 and the Official Languages Act of 1988. This legislation has three main objectives: to ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada, and ensure equality of status, and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all federal institutions; to support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities and to encourage the acceptance and use of both English and French in Canadian society; and to set out the powers, duties and functions of federal institutions with respect to the official languages of Canada.
Part VII of this act also sets out the government's commitment to enhancing the vitality of francophone and anglophone minority communities and supporting and assisting their development; and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
To do this, the Government of Canada seeks to collaborate with other partners to ensure the advancement of the official languages in Canadian society. This legislation makes the Minister of Canadian Heritage responsible for promoting a coordinated approach to the implementation of the federal government's commitment, in consultation with the other federal institutions, the other orders of government and the agencies representing the different sectors of society.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage is the one responsible for taking such measures as she deems appropriate to support linguistic minority communities by supporting the various groups that work for these communities and by facilitating the contribution of other organizations and federal departments to their development.
The Department of Canadian Heritage enters into agreements on official languages with the provinces and territories in order to enable them to provide minority communities with education in their language and services in English and French in the regions of Canada in which these minorities live, as well as enhancing opportunities for all Canadians to learn English or French as a second language.
The legislation also aims to promote English and French within Canadian society by providing support to the various groups helping to recognize and implement the use of both official languages, and to strengthen understanding and dialogue between Canada's anglophone francophone communities.
Look at the progress made in education. Recent statistics indicate that young people from linguistic minorities represent the same percentage of university graduates as other young Canadians, which was not the case 30 years ago.
Thanks to the support provided to minority language education, the Department of Canadian Heritage works to ensure full participation by both language groups in all spheres of life in Canada. Not only do these programs foster the vital cultural contribution of anglophone and francophone minorities, , they also give them access to economic development.
So the progress that has been made in francophone minority education has played a key role in reducing illiteracy and the number of school drop-outs, while increasing the rate of participation in post-secondary education.
Thirty years ago, not only was the quality and accessibility of French education for francophone minorities a major challenge, it was also a major obstacle to the development and survival of these communities across Canada. There has been a considerable change since then.
In 1982, official language minority communities won the right to be educated in their own language and, a few years later, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed their right to run their own schools. We built schools, school-community centres, and colleges where there were none.
We worked with the provinces and francophone parents from one end of the country to the other. The economic value of quality public education in their own language for 1.9 million Canadians living in an official language minority community, cannot be underestimated.
The Official Languages in Education Program and the collaboration between the provinces, territories and the federal government allows more than 250,000 young people in official language minority communities to study in their own language in some 700 primary and secondary schools across the country.
All Canadians benefit from minority language education programs. Without them, as the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism pointed out, “these Canadians could not contribute fully to Canadian society”.
The Official Languages in Education Program helps fund a network of 19 francophone colleges and universities outside Quebec and supports 94% of anglophones in Quebec studying in English-language schools. These programs also allow 2.4 million young Canadians—more than 313,000 of whom are in immersion classes—to learn a second official language, which increases significantly the number of Canadians familiar with the French language and culture. Clearly, the education partnership works well.
Accordingly, the logical next step for Canadian Heritage as facilitator is to encourage its other partners to do more in order to help official language communities flourish.
The action plans the department puts in place must take into account the requirements of the minority official language communities and be formulated following consultation with them, so that departments and agencies include these considerations in planning their activities. The plans together with a report on the results achieved are submitted annually to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, who then submits a report annually to Parliament on the realization of the government's commitment.
We recognize a lot of work remains to be done. For this reason, the government is currently implementing its action plan for official languages, announced on March 12, 2003, which adds $751 million over five years to the official languages budget and which will benefit all Canadians seeking better access to our rich linguistic duality.
Ambitious and realistic, the action plan truly provides new momentum for Canada's linguistic duality. A new accountability and coordination framework has been developed and will consolidate the Government of Canada's policy, administrative and financial activities. One of the desired effects is to have federal institutions implement the Official Languages Act in a concerted and consistent manner and to report more transparently to the public. This accountability and coordination framework is designed to show the Canadian public the seriousness with which the Government of Canada treats this important matter.
Let us return, however, to S-3. Given the importance of the proposed amendments to the Official Languages Act, we must take the time to examine all of the options open to us before we continue. This is a serious matter. The implications of amending an act are many, and all must be taken into account. Therefore, the aim of Bill S-3 is certainly the logical evolution of the Official Languages Act and the bill should not be taken lightly. It is important not only for official language communities across Canada, but for Canadian society as a whole.