Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the bill to establish the Department of Canadian Heritage. French-speaking communities outside Quebec have long relied on the federal government to protect their rights and promote their development.
And the federal government has always responded with concrete and helpful measures for minority groups. In the early seventies, it set up programs to support French-speaking communities outside Quebec. These programs reflect an open and creative vision which allows French-speaking minority groups to thrive and fully contribute to the economic, social, cultural and scientific life of our country.
Since then, these programs have evolved according to the needs of communities and they have played an important role in their development. One of these initiatives is the Official Languages Act, which was originally passed 25 years ago and improved in 1988. There is also section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees French linguistic minorities the right to receive school instruction in their first language as well as the right to manage their schools, where the numbers warrant it.
So, the government of Canada, which happened to be a Liberal government, first created a legal framework to promote the development of French and English linguistic minority groups, and to promote the official languages in our country. It also created a constitutional framework which guarantees to the two linguistic communities the right to delivery of services in the official language of their choice. Whether it is delivery of services in both official languages or the right to education in the minority language, these initiatives helped make tremendous progress.
As regards the management of schools by French-speaking communities, the federal government supported every cause related to clarifying that right. The Court Challenges Program set up by the federal government was an invaluable tool for French-speaking minorities in the fight for the recognition of their rights. By the way, that program will soon be reinstated.
After the 1990 Supreme Court decision on the Mahé case, the federal government lent its support to every province to ensure a quick implementation of that judgment everywhere in Canada. In May 1993, the federal government announced measures to fund part of the implementation costs of a school management system in every province where such a system had not yet been set up.
Today, thanks to federal government support, French-speaking minorities can manage their schools almost everywhere in the country. I am convinced it is only a matter of time before all francophones in this country will be able to manage their own schools. I may add that this is already the case in my own riding.
The federal government is also present in other areas that are of primary importance to these communities, including the economy, human resources development and culture, to name only a few. The Department of Canadian Heritage is not the only federal institution that can play a decisive role in priority areas but is responsible for co-ordinating the implementation by departments and federal agencies of the federal government's commitment to the growth and development of official language minority communities.
These provisions of the Official Languages Act were not acted upon by the previous government. Last summer, cabinet members agreed to consider the specific needs of official language communities when implementing the policies and programs of their respective departments.
A number of specific projects have now been finalized: The La Picasse Community Centre Project in Petit-de-Grat, Nova Scotia; the new school of electrical engineering at the University of Moncton; a human resources adjustment committee for Canadian francophones; an economic development plan for bilingual municipalities in Manitoba; and the construction of a francophone community centre in Edmonton.
That is how this government supports the growth and development of Canada's anglophone and francophone minority communities. The departments each have their own mandate but all work together towards a common goal: ensuring that official language communities can reach their full potential in all areas.
The communities themselves agree this is a remarkable achievement that will have a clear impact on the development of minority official language communities.
The Canadian government and the communities had established a good working relationship over the years, but since the seventies, the world has changed dramatically. Economic imperatives and new cultural, social and linguistic priorities that are developing today have made it necessary to restructure the federal government's approach, in order to make its support programs for these communities more effective.
Thanks to the current exercise in repositioning at the Department of Canadian Heritage, communities will be able to take an active part in setting priorities and thus target the main areas where action is needed.
Official language communities are a vital force in Canadian society, not only because of their numbers but also and above all because of their extraordinary vitality and energy.
The Government of Canada has always greatly contributed to their cultural development through cultural co-operation agreements with the provincial governments, direct assistance to cultural institutions, through the federal Cultural Initiatives Program and various other support measures and instruments which I mentioned in my speech.
Some people claim that the federal government does not do enough for francophone minorities outside Quebec. We should realize that despite the current financial squeeze, the federal government has maintained the special budgets that enable francophones to manage their own schools and have better access to post-secondary education.
Furthermore, pursuant to the inter-departmental initiative announced last summer, all federal institutions will from now on be involved in the development of francophone and anglophone minority communities, in the spirit of the Official Languages Act.
It is important to see where the real needs are and where real progress can be achieved in developing Canada's francophone communities. The federal government is committed to meeting the specific needs of these communities because it wants to develop this country's full potential. We are firmly committed to pursuing that goal.