Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join the debate today on Bill C-482. I must say at the outset that I have a great deal of respect for the member for Drummond, but I profoundly disagree with her on this bill. The bill is extremely dangerous from the point of view of a francophone from outside Quebec. It would give precedence to the French language in federal institutions in Quebec. I can only imagine the repercussions in the other provinces.
First, there is the whole issue that the federal government must respect the Constitution. I will not go into the details of that subject because my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier has very clearly spelled out the matter of constitutional principles. However, I do not understand how anyone could introduce a bill here, in this House, that goes against the Constitution of Canada. I want to look at practical reasons.
The Official Languages Act that was adopted in 1969 has protected and continues to protect our country’s two official languages. The act puts both official languages of our country on an equal footing. I will be the first to admit that there are many challenges to overcome. In a country as large and diverse as Canada, where there is a strong concentration of francophones in one province and where we encourage and celebrate multiculturalism—which is another factor that adds to the complications in an officially bilingual country—it has never been easy to find a balance in all of the issues related to official languages.
Nevertheless, we have made enormous progress. The Official Languages Act was essential to the growth of our minority francophone communities. The member for Drummond said that the use of French is declining in Quebec and everywhere in Canada.
However, we must talk about positive changes. In Manitoba, for example, there 45,000 people of francophone descent, but in principle, 110,000 people speak French. These people completed French immersion or second language courses. In British Columbia, parents, especially from immigrant communities, stand on the sidewalk all evening to register their children in immersion courses. This is really an interesting and significant phenomenon.
Significant changes are occurring in terms of respect for the two official languages. Let us take, for example, the group Canadian Parents for French, which last year or the year before celebrated its 25th anniversary in Manitoba. It is an exceedingly positive group for francophones right across the country.
In this age of globalization, people are realizing that knowing two or three languages is becoming the norm, not the exception. The hon. member will recall a study we did together on democratic reform. We visited England, Scotland and Germany, where she had an interpreter with her. In fact most of those we met spoke two, three or four languages and offered to speak French. That is today's reality.
I do not understand the strategy of turning inward and trying to stick to a single language. It makes no sense in today's world.
I do understand that we want to protect our language. We live in this great anglophone sea that is North America. However, today's youth must not be held back. The teaching of both official languages must be encouraged as must their use in the workplace. Our young people must be given every opportunity.
I have never understood why there has not been greater cooperation between Quebec and francophones outside Quebec. There are 6 million francophones in Quebec, but there are 2.6 million francophones in Canada's other provinces. Once again, in this great North American sea of 330 million people, it seems to me we would do well to work together—cooperatively—more closely and to join forces. But no, it is just not done to acknowledge that there are francophones living outside la Belle Province or that immersion programs are working extremely well. It would not be politically sound for a separatist party to admit that its distant cousins were managing quite well and that there were vibrant communities to be found in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, Vancouver, Regina, New Brunswick and even Alberta.
What was really heartbreaking was the Bloc's vote against Bill S-3, a bill that was vital for minority francophone communities. I can say for a fact that not all the Bloc members supported the decision by the leader of the Bloc.
The Bloc Québécois members who sat on the Standing Committee on Official Languages were torn by this decision. They knew that Bill S-3 was essential to the survival and development of francophone communities outside Quebec. Despite this, it was decided that they should vote against Bill S-3. How can that be good for the Canadian francophone community?
The other day, one of the Bloc members said that Quebec is a francophone nation. That disappoints me. How does a statement like that make the anglophones in his riding feel? That member does not necessarily represent everyone. That bothers me greatly. Anglophones and allophones also have the right to a representative that takes their interests to heart.
Things are changing. For example, in Manitoba, Premier Doer just created the Agence nationale et internationale du Manitoba. It is a francophone Manitoba Trade. We understand the added value of francophones in our province. It is the exact opposite of what is happening in the world and in all of the other Canadian provinces. In Quebec, they want to withdraw into themselves. I do not understand this senseless ideology.
As I said earlier, Canadian Parents for French is the most vocal group in terms of early immersion in New Brunswick. This group is essential for francophone communities.
Instead of seeing this withdrawal, I would rather see the Bloc Québécois work with us to restore the court challenges program and to put into place a new official languages action plan. It would be constructive and would advance French throughout Canada, including in Quebec.
In my opinion, the bill introduced by the member for Drummond would have the opposite effect, and I cannot support a bill that could harm our language. We have all worked too hard to preserve it.