House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Berthier—Maskinongé (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 29% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Official Languages Act April 11th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, it is of course with great pleasure that I rise today to address Bill S-3, an act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French).

I would like to begin by referring to the promoter of this bill, former senator Jean-Robert Gauthier. I want to stress the work and dedication of former senator Jean-Robert Gauthier in the defence of francophone minorities and the promotion of their rights.

I also wish to sincerely thank my fellow Bloc Québécois members who addressed this legislation during the first hour of debate at second reading. I am referring, among others, to the hon. member for Repentigny and the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, who are both staunch defenders of the rights of francophone minorities.

This bill, which amends the Official Languages Act, was the fourth one tabled in the Senate by senator Jean-Robert Gauthier. He first introduced Bill S-32 during the first session of the 37th Parliament, then Bill S-11 during the second session and, finally, Bill S-4 during the third session. These three bills, which died on the order paper, were, for all intents and purposes, identical to Bill S-3.

The bill that is now before us primarily seeks to enhance the enforceability of the federal government's obligations under Part VII of the Official Languages Act. We are referring here to the federal government's commitment to enhance the vitality of the English and French linguistic communities in Canada, to support and assist their development, and to foster the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. We are talking about section 41, which would be amended to make it enforceable and thus provide guidance for its interpretation by the courts.

Bill S-3 also proposes to amend section 43 to read as follows:

The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall take appropriate measures to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society.

Finally, it is proposed that part VII be added to subsection 77(1) of the Official Languages Act. This amendment to section 77 would allow citizens to file complaints before the courts to ensure that the obligations included in Part VII are met.

In summary, the purpose of this bill is to clarify the responsibility of federal institutions to implement Part VII of the act and to adopt regulations for the enforcement process of the requirements provided in section 41 of the act. Furthermore, it requires that the federal government take measures to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society. Finally, it provides for a court remedy to challenge a violation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act.

As we have said already, the Bloc Québécois cannot support this bill in its current form. We believe Bill S-3 is incomplete and contains elements that do not reflect the linguistic reality of Quebec and Canada in confirming the implementation of identical measures in Quebec and in Canada. This situation would deny the distinct character of Quebec.

Indeed, under section 43 of the Official Languages Act, as amended by Bill S-3, the government shall advance “the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society”. However, in Quebec, French is the very foundation of Quebec's identity in North America. Quebec is the only place on the continent where French can become the common language and the language of convergence and exchange of its citizens. On a continent where the overwhelming majority of people speak English, promoting the equality of use of English and French in Quebec would weaken the status of French in Quebec and in North America.

Another thing that must be kept in mind in this debate is that the Official Languages Act does not recognize the asymmetry of needs. Both minority linguistic communities in this country do not benefit from the same services. It is clear that the needs of the minority French communities are much greater than those of English speaking people in Quebec. The situation of French speaking people outside Quebec remains very alarming and uncertain in some regions.

Our political party has several times mentioned the notion that the Official Languages Act should recognize the asymmetry of needs. Unfortunately, Bill S-3 still does not reflect the importance of recognizing that asymmetry.

By the way, I should point out that the Bloc Québécois is not alone in proposing this approach. Indeed, the current environment minister and the Commissioner of Official Languages have said in the past that an asymmetrical approach should be taken to the official languages file.

Another major shortcoming of this bill is that section 43, as amended, could prompt the federal government to meddle in areas that are exclusively under the jurisdiction of Quebec. We all know how much the federal government, especially when it is led by the Liberal Party, has increased, year after year, its intrusions in jurisdictions exclusive to Quebec. Members will understand that the Bloc Québécois cannot support that aspect of Bill S-3.

The amendment to section 77 of the Official Languages Act, which gives citizens the power to turn to the courts to enforce the obligations listed in Part VII, also has many shortcomings. How can one explain the absence of precise criteria regarding results achieved by the federal government in the promotion of English and French? We believe that the absence of clarity could not only foster excessive recourse to the courts, but also encourage the central government to take measures in violation of the Charter of the French Language.

I would like to conclude my remarks by making two important points. Throughout this debate, it is obvious that the federal government, in and of itself, could feel obligated by Part VII of the Official Languages Act to ensure the development of minority French-speaking communities.

The problem, according to us, is not legislative, but political, one of attitude and conviction. Undoubtedly, there is a lack of leadership in the federal government with respect to official languages and this has been the case since the very beginning of the Official Languages Act. It is that lack of political will on the part of the federal government which has penalized francophone minority communities.

When a government cannot manage to enforce a piece of legislation that has been in effect for 35 years, and this legislation is disregarded with impunity in its own jurisdictions, departments, and public service, it is because this government does not have the political courage to enforce it.

Today, it is being suggested that making Part VII of the act enforceable could settle all the problems. Come on. As I just said, for 35 years, the federal government has not had the will to enforce the sections of the act that are already enforceable. Why would its attitude change overnight?

Our party is aware of the special difficulties French-speaking minorities have. Unfortunately, the federal government chose not to recognize their special situation. I want to emphasize that our position on Bill S-3 does not take anything away from our commitments to French-speaking and Acadian minorities in Canada. In fact, the opposite is true. Since 1994, when it made a formal commitment not to let down French-speaking Canadians and Acadians, the Bloc Québécois has been the political party in the federal Parliament which has most often raised issues that are important for French-speaking minorities.

On numerous occasions, we have pressured the federal government to raise the level of funding for French-speaking organizations. For example, we asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage to increase the funding for the Canada-communities agreements to $42 million annually to meet the request of the FCFA. Unfortunately, the government has still not responded favourably.

We also raised other issues such as the number of French-speaking Canadians at senior levels in the public service, the use of French at work, the requirement for Air Canada to provide service in French outside Quebec, and so on.

The Bloc Québécois has worked on all fronts and it will continue to do so.

International Day of La Francophonie March 21st, 2005

Mr. Speaker, March 20 was international day of La Francophonie. It gave us a chance to reaffirm our attachment to the French language.

Richard Desjardins was presented with the Mérite du français dans la culture award by the Union des artistes, the Société des auteurs de radio, télévision et cinéma, and the Office québécois de la langue français.

Impératif français awarded a booby prize to the Government of Canada for naming its tsunami intervention group unilingually the Disaster Assistance Response Team, as though Canada becomes an English only country when it comes to providing disaster assistance to other countries.

This day also urges Quebec, specifically, to fulfil its duty to protect and promote our francophone personality among sovereign states.

The Environment February 11th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, Canada must recognize the significant contribution of UNESCO-designated biosphere reserves in Canada.

These reserves contribute to the conservation of ecosystems, species and genetic variation. Furthermore, they promote education, as well as economic and human development that is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.

However, our biosphere reserves are unable to completely fulfill their mandate due to a lack of financial resources. The Coopérative de solidarité de la réserve mondiale de la biosphère du lac Saint-Pierre is currently seeking funding from Canada Economic Development.

Instead of providing funding through all the usual programs, however, the government should designate adequate and recurring funding for all the UNESCO-designated biosphere reserves in Canada.

Supply February 8th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I would like to provide the following reply to the parliamentary secretary. We, Bloc Québécois members, are not opposed to globalization. Globalization is here and we must deal with it. We must make the shift to adjust to market globalization, and we must prepare for it. Therefore, we must give our textile and clothing industries the necessary tools to do that. It is with this objective in mind that we must work.

We are not against globalization in the clothing industry either, but here we are also talking about the thread in the textile industry, which is another issue.

Supply February 8th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, in response to my hon. colleague, the additional funding in terms of the CANtex program for example has been inadequate. An amount of $50 million over five years was mentioned. But this program does not apply to the clothing industry, which also has to be modernized.

The lifting of quotas on China under WTO agreements is detrimental to the clothing industry. It would be possible to close borders to China as part of WTO negotiations, which could help our industries to at least change direction over the next few years. As I indicated, the Chemise Empire company in Louiseville operated a change in direction. It modernized its equipment and is now in a position to compete and keep certain markets in order to safeguard jobs, develop and export.

Special attention ought to be paid to the clothing and textile industry. I do not believe that this is an endangered industry, so long as we give it the importance and the funding it needs.

Supply February 8th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, first, I should inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Drummond. Allow me to extend very sincere thanks to my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois who spoke earlier this morning. This is one more proof that the Bloc Québécois is the best when it comes to defending the interests of Quebeckers.

The fact of the matter is that our party has been talking for a long time of the foreseeable, catastrophic effects of removing quotas on textile and clothing imports, a measure that came into effect on January 1.

In 1994, Canada signed the agreement on textiles and clothing. Under this agreement, it did have 10 years to put transitional measures in place. The federal government had 10 years to develop a transitional strategy for the textile and apparel industry. What has it done?

Almost nothing, really, letting down hundreds of thousands of workers across Canada, with 55% of them in Quebec alone. I want to point out that, since 1998, in these industries, over 40,000 jobs were lost in Quebec, out of a total of 115,000. In addition, some analysts predict that nearly half of the 75,000 remaining jobs might also be lost.

The federal government ought to have noticed that these industries were bleeding out, but it did nothing. When the closures in Huntingdon were announced, it reacted, albeit in an ad hoc manner, in an attempt to save face.

The Bloc Québécois had been calling for a structured response by the federal government for many years, and it was not the only one doing so. This government failed to hear the cries of the Canadian Apparel Federation and the Canadian Textile Institute.

Was the advice of the finance subcommittee not appropriate? We must gather that it was not. What does the federal government's plan provide for? In this respect, I will not elaborate, as my hon. colleagues have already drawn an accurate picture of the situation. I can say, however, that the CATIP and CANtex programs have failed to prevent major closures and are likely to be even less successful in coping with what the future holds.

The bottom line is that this is a blatant lack of vision and political will by this government. What does the Bloc Québécois suggest? First, this government needs to take its responsibilities. It was the government that negotiated and signed the international trade agreements and it was the government that decided to open the borders. Then it is the government that should implement tools and a national aid policy to help the companies cope with the new realities. For example, it must ensure that import tariffs on clothing and textile products are maintained and a quota on Chinese imports imposed under China's WTO accession protocol.

Why could it not implement measures to encourage the use of Quebec and Canadian textiles by allowing clothing made abroad with Canadian textiles to enter duty free, by imposing stricter rules of origin on least developed countries, by negotiating Canada's entry in agreements reached between the United States and Latin America—which is unbelievable and an indirect form of protectionism that sustains the American industry—and, finally, by adopting a policy on buying locally that is compliant with international agreements. These were possible solutions and there is still time to act.

Canada also has a moral responsibility to adopt an international policy that would prevent offshoring. Enough with the fine speeches, now it is time for action. Why not ask certain countries to enhance their minimal work standards and environmental standards? Why not impose labelling that would tell consumers where the products they purchase come from? How many Canadians and Quebeckers know that Canada still has not signed the World Trade Organization conventions against forced labour and child labour?

As for company closures, it would be viable and humanly imperative for this government to conduct an overhaul of the employment insurance system, to increase transfers to the Government of Quebec for professional training and to show solidarity by reinstating the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, or POWA.

The federal government could also set up a real assistance program to modernize the garment and textile sectors and encourage not only development and design, but research as well. The amount of money added to the CANtex program in December—$50 million over five years—is insufficient. This program does not touch the garment industry which will also need to modernize to meet new challenges. Thus, this program must be given more financial resources, and it must also apply to the garment industry.

The textile and garment industries are facing enormous difficulties and challenges. We can and we must support these industrial sectors employing thousands of our fellow citizens. It is a difficult task but not impossible. In the riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, which I represent, these two industries are still alive and well. As in other regions of Quebec, a factory in Maskinongé—Confections Thibault—has announced it will close. More than 50 men and women will lose their jobs and many of them are over 50 years old. A huge part of their personal universe is being turned upside down. They will need help.

Paradoxically, in Louiseville there is a model factory. It is the oldest manufacturer of shirts in Canada. My colleague, the hon. member for Joliette and the Bloc Québécois critic for foreign trade, globalization and international financial institutions, and I visited that factory last fall, to get a better understanding of the needs and challenges in this industrial sector. I would like to thank him once again for his great availability and sensitivity. The factory in question is Empire Shirt. This company is still holding its own in the face of fierce competition. It is concerned with training its employees and modernizing its equipment. Nevertheless, it will need much more solid support from the federal government in order to continue its operations as it hopes to do.

On behalf of the people of Berthier—Maskinongé, I call upon the federal government to develop a real strategy for the textile and garment sectors. And in terms of strategy, we know what it is capable of. We are seeing the level of intelligence it put into developing a real strategy for Canadian unity, beginning in 1995. Thus, it is capable of establishing a strategy that favours the unity of our communities, our families and the textile and garment industrial sector.

Francophone and Acadian Communities February 4th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, when I asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage yesterday whether she had interceded with her colleague from Finance concerning the renewal of agreements between Canada and the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, she was evasive.

I ask her again today: did she or did she not intercede with her colleague from Finance to ensure that the government will act on the FCFA's request to increase the funding levels for the Canada-communities agreements to $42 million annually, beginning with the upcoming budget?

Francophone and Acadian Communities February 3rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne is currently negotiating Canada-communities agreements. The FCFA estimates that $42 million per year is needed so that the francophone and Acadian communities can meet their needs. However, their funding level is only $24.4 million, an amount that has remained almost unchanged since 1992.

Did the Minister of Canadian Heritage intercede with her colleague at Finance to ensure that the government will follow up on the FCFA's request to increase this amount to $42 million annually—

Supply February 3rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, to answer the minister's question, of course, there are programs. However, for several months now, the Bloc Québécois has been here in the House and has been telling the minister that, overall, these programs are insufficient, for both dairy producers and the mad cow crisis. Quebec farmers need more support.

Currently, two farms shut down each week in Quebec. Current aid is, therefore, insufficient. The Bloc Québécois is asking the federal government to invest more so as to maintain our family farms; otherwise, in a few years, none will remain in Quebec. They are important to the Quebec economy.

So, it is in this context that we are intervening.

Supply February 3rd, 2005

I heard a comment. Could the member for Laurentides—Labelle be recognized now to proceed with the debate?