Madam Speaker, every time I have risen in this House over the past year, I remember how things have changed.
Almost a year ago to the day, we were all gathered here, not knowing what to expect. Since then, we have had a difficult year, a year marked, yes, by upheavals and mourning, but also by the resilience, courage and compassion of our fellow citizens.
In saying that our world has changed, I am just stating the obvious, because across time and place change is the only constant, last year, this year and the next, and when it comes to change, we really only have two options. We can try to fight it or we can choose to see the possibilities that come with it. Time and again Canadians have chosen the latter.
The country we know today was shaped by people who have managed to adapt to and seize the opportunities of a changing world, a country that is strong in its diversity and, of course, proud of its differences, a country that is bilingual. Having two official languages is one of Canada's greatest strengths. Our two official languages set us apart and help us stand out on the world stage.
Each of us has our very own personal history when it comes to official languages. My history is that of a unilingual francophone family, established in a neighbourhood in the suburbs of Montreal where children, regardless of their origins and languages, had made friends. My story also carries the dream of my mother, a teacher, who always insisted that her children become bilingual, convinced that English would open all doors for them.
I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment where French and English come together. However, this bilingual country in which we live is no accident. If the French language is still so alive in North America, it is because Canadians, and Quebeckers in particular, are committed to protecting it and making it flourish.
More than 50 years ago, we collectively chose a modern vision of the state, a state where our two official languages, those two languages that unite and define us, occupy a central place not only in the affairs of our country, but also in our lives. In fact, we owe a lot to the Official Languages Act. Thanks to this act, millions of francophones have the right to be served and to live in their language from coast to coast to coast. Thanks to this act, our young people who live in official language minority communities go to school in their mother tongue, a right that their parents were sometimes denied.
From Moncton to Whitehorse, Sherbrooke to Sudbury, the Official Languages Act protects language rights and ensures the vitality of our communities.
So many of us benefited from growing in a bilingual Canada: kids from the Prairies who studied in French immersion, teenagers in New Brunswick who met their best friend in English class, francophones who learned English on the slopes of B.C., anglophones who fell in love with cities like Montreal and Quebec. In Canada, language is not some abstract concept. It is our connection to the past. It is the vector through which our stories get told and retold.
In fact, language is not just an important part of who we are as individuals, but how our country can be. It is part of our DNA. This is true of French and English, of course, but also of indigenous languages, which any language policy in the country should and must take into account.
That is why, in 2019, we introduced the Indigenous Languages Act to reclaim, revitalize, strengthen and maintain indigenous languages. This was historic legislation, but we know that the work being done by indigenous communities to recover and reclaim their language continues, and they can count on our government's steadfast support.
Our world is changing. More than ever, we are interconnected with each other. Globalization has had the effect of imposing certain languages to facilitate trade beyond our borders. At the same time, the rapid development of international trade and digital technologies, including social media and content delivery platforms, are promoting the use of English.
In the face of these changes, our two official languages are not on equal terms. There are eight million francophones in Canada in a North American ocean of more than 360 million inhabitants, most of them anglophones. The use of the French language is on the decline in Quebec and elsewhere in the country. It is up to us not only to protect our language, but to offer a modern vision of our linguistic duality and its future.
The time has come to act. We must act to ensure that all our citizens are reflected in the objectives of the Official Languages Act. We must act to ensure the sustainability of a strong and secure francophonie in the country, including in Quebec. We must act in the face of contemporary challenges that directly impact the development of a francophone identity in our children. We must act to promote our Acadian, Quebec and francophone cultures across the country.
Whether people are part of the English-speaking majority, a French-speaking Quebecker or a member of an official language minority community, their unique reality should be reflected in our laws. That is exactly why our government is introducing a series of reforms so our two official languages stand on more equal footing.
Today, our government is presenting a reform aimed at establishing a new balance in our linguistic policies. As French is a minority language in the country, there must be real equality between our two official languages. The government has a responsibility to ensure that we can learn, speak and live in French in Canada, as is the case with English. Today we are sharing our game plan.
First, for a language to be alive, its culture must be strong. Francophones must be able to make their voices heard, especially in the digital space where English dominates. To do this, our federal cultural institutions, such as Telefilm and the NFB, must support and encourage the production and distribution of French content. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission also has a role to play. On this point, Bill is crucial to the future of broadcasting. We are also committed to protecting CBC/Radio-Canada as a flagship cultural institution and a vehicle for the dissemination of our two official languages and bilingualism across the country.
Our government also recognizes that the private sector has a role to play in ensuring the protection and promotion of French. People have the right to be served and to work in French in federally regulated businesses in Quebec and in other regions of Canada with a strong francophone presence. These rights and their recourses will therefore be established in federal legislation, in consultation with the affected sectors.
That said, when it comes to ensuring respect for bilingualism in the workplace and ensuring the right to work in one's first official language, the federal public service must lead by example. After all, it is Canadians' primary point of contact with the federal government. That is why we are going to create a central body within the government that is responsible for ensuring compliance with language obligations.
We will also strengthen the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and we will continue to defend and promote French abroad in our embassies, in our missions and within major international organizations, such as the UN and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.
The Government of Canada will also make a point of attracting and facilitating francophone immigration outside Quebec. Increasing the demographic presence of francophones outside Quebec is a priority for us. For some communities, it is even a matter of survival. Over time, immigration has changed our language and enriched our communities, and that must continue.
Finally, all our institutions must be bilingual, including the highest court in the country. The Official Languages Act must require that judges appointed to the Supreme Court be bilingual.
As part of our efforts to modernize the Official Languages Act, we will also take steps to promote bilingualism from coast to coast to coast. It should be easier for English Canadians to learn French, but right now too many parents have to get on a wait list or go through a lottery system before they can send their kids to French immersion. These parents and their kids are being turned away because there are not enough available spots. This is unacceptable. We will get rid of wait lists for French immersion.
All official languages communities, English-speaking Quebeckers and francophones in the rest of the country have constitutional rights. Our communities are only as strong as their institutions, as strong, of course, as their schools, their universities and their cultural centres. That is why the federal government will continue to support those who seek to uphold their constitutional rights. We will stand by their side.
The history of our two official languages is one of resilience marked by persistent demands. This is the story told by Gabrielle Roy, Michel Tremblay, Dany Laferrière and Antonine Maillet.
However, that story, our story, has been told through the works of Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, Margaret Atwood and Gord Downie. This is the beauty and the strength of our country. Defending our official languages is defending who we are as a country.
Our history has stood the test of time. It has also taught us that we can never take our linguistic duality for granted. We always have to do more, especially when it comes to protecting the French language. With this reform, we are paving the way for the next 50 years. We are adapting to a world that is rapidly and constantly changing. We are preparing for the challenges that arise and those that await us.
Our government's vision is rooted in studies conducted by House of Commons committees, the Senate and the Commissioner of Official Languages, but it is above all rooted in the hard work of those who are passionate about our official languages, those whose mother tongue is French or English, those who have learned our official languages or who are working on it, those who enroll their children in French immersion programs and those who are proud to say that two of their languages are international languages.
I am grateful to all these people. Their ideas and work have been a constant source of inspiration, and we look forward to continuing to work with them, as well as all official languages partners and allies across the country. Our society, our country and the future of our children in our two official languages will be all the better for it.
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the minister for presenting her discussion paper this morning. I want to acknowledge her work on the official languages file, as well as some of the measures she is taking or says she will take. I do truly believe that she cares about protecting French and promoting our two official languages. However, the means the government uses to attest to that do nothing to prove that this is in any way a priority.
Let me take a moment to congratulate my hon. colleague for her work on this file, but, to be honest, there are a lot of words but few actions.
Consultations on modernizing the Official Languages Act have been ongoing across the country for years. It is important to remember that the Liberals have been in power for over five years. Organizations have been consulted, the Commissioner of Official Languages has made his recommendations and the Senate has looked at the issue.
To know which government one is dealing with, and what it will be able to accomplish in the future, one must look to the past. Over the past several months, examples have been piling up of the Liberal government's failures in the area of official languages. One only has to think of WE Charity, a unilingual anglophone organization; the text messages sent to Quebeckers only in English in the middle of a pandemic; the report on Governor General Julie Payette that was submitted in English only, even though it was commissioned by the 's Office; federal public servants who have said they feel uncomfortable speaking French at work; and the fact that the minister has not implemented any of the recommendations in the report of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Francophone universities are fighting to survive due to a lack of funding. Many surveys and studies indicate that French is on the decline in Quebec and across the country. Multiple calls by many stakeholder organizations for the Official Languages Act to be modernized have gone unheeded.
Everyone was expecting a bill to be introduced today, but instead, here in the House, we can see that the government hatched an inaction plan. It is not an action plan, but an inaction plan because there is no scope and it does not contribute in any way to addressing the problems I have raised, at least not right away. Despite the fine promises, the is committing only to investing to reduce the wait lists for French immersion schools for anglophone students. She is not proposing anything new to support the French-language educational institutions in minority communities that are struggling. Every school board in the country urgently needs help.
The Liberals are also rejecting the unanimous call from stakeholders to create an official languages administrative tribunal to allow minorities to better assert their rights. The Liberals continue to ignore the request of the Legault government and every member of the National Assembly of Quebec from all parties to protect French in Quebec by applying Bill 101 to federally regulated private businesses.
Instead, the government presents an electoral campaign plan and hopes that everyone will drink the Kool-Aid without saying a word. Why should francophones across the country believe the Liberals today? Are the Liberals known for keeping their promises? The answer is no.
In my view, what is even more frustrating is that the Liberals are being partisan in their handling of the official languages issue. They were supposed to introduce a modernization project last spring, but then postponed it to the fall. When the Liberals began feeling the pressure of the opposition's efforts in the fall, they postponed everything to the beginning of this year. However, the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which has Liberal members, voted in favour of introducing a bill before the holidays. Then, at the start of the new year and to everyone's surprise, the minister announced with a drum roll that a white paper rather than a bill would be tabled. This took everyone by surprise when the news was reported in print media. Unfortunately, no one and no official languages advocacy organization in Canada knew about it.
In the end, it is not even a white paper. It is just a working document with intentions and no action items. It is disappointing to see the Liberals still drawing things out and not making official languages a priority, as they should be doing. They believe that with two or three photos, some pretty words and a few flashy ideas, francophones and minority language communities in Canada will not notice.
I am truly appalled. I will reiterate that there is only one party that will make good on its commitments, and that is the Conservative Party and its leader, the next prime minister of Canada.
When we pay attention to what our leader is presenting, francophones and anglophones in minority situations all across the country will see that our proposals are clear, real, achievable and, above all, that they will be implemented in the first 100 days of a Conservative government.
At the heart of our message is the recognition that our country was built on a compromise between the two founding peoples, one francophone and one anglophone, along with the first nations. The French language is the essential component of that agreement.
It is the federal government's responsibility to ensure the vitality of francophone communities all across the country. This country was born in French and we must not forget that. A country that does not protect its founding partnership is sadly destined for failure.
As it stands, the act is based on the principle of reciprocity between the two official languages, but if we are being honest, that statement does not reflect reality. For decades, the Liberals have refused to acknowledge that French is the only language at risk in Canada. Let me be clear. The federal government must develop an asymmetrical approach that prioritizes protecting the French language.
The Conservative Party of Canada is proposing a number of practical measures.
First, the wording of the Official Languages Act must be changed to be stronger in meaning. Second, where the law remains vague is in speaking of positive measures. We believe positive measures should be described with concrete actions.
Third, the Conservatives believe that all of the implementation and enforcement powers of the law must be centralized under the Treasury Board.
Fourth, it is also time to set up an administrative tribunal that would meaningfully address complaints and improve the services offered to francophones throughout Canada. We were very surprised that the Liberals ignored that unanimous request from organizations representing francophones across the country.
Come to think of it, I can understand why the Liberals do not want their actions toward francophones to be brought before a tribunal. We need only think about what has happened in recent months with WE Charity, the texts in English and the English-only report on the Governor General. Why would the Liberals want to have to account for their actions when we see what is currently happening in Canada?
These four measures will help to modernize the Official Languages Act.
We also know that funding for our francophone schools is problematic. Our leader has pledged to support them urgently. Our teachers are front-line workers who provide a francophone education to the next generation, and they deserve stable funding. The Conservative Party is pledging to provide significant funding support for francophone post-secondary education in minority communities and to create a new funding envelope. These universities play an important role in helping francophone communities thrive, so they are eminently deserving of the federal government's attention in partnership with the provinces.
Let us remember that the last time it was in power, the Conservative Party convinced the House of Commons to recognize the Quebec nation. We gave Quebec a seat at UNESCO. Our former prime minister, Stephen Harper, always started his speeches in French no matter where in the world he was. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney was the last prime minister to reform the Official Languages Act.
All of the big changes came about under Conservative governments. The big difference between Conservatives and Liberals is that Liberals are all talk, whereas Conservatives take action and make things happen.
What does modernizing the Official Languages Act mean?
It means a renewed spirit that prioritizes protecting French across the country. It means funding for our francophone universities in minority communities and respect for Quebec's jurisdiction, especially relating to Bill 101. That is the Conservative Party of Canada's vision for official languages.
I can confirm that we will take action very soon, as soon as we are back in power.
Mr. Speaker, the talked to us about the inevitable changes that come with globalization, the capacity of Canadians to adapt, but in terms of language, the primary change we have seen in Canada from day one is the decline of French.
After all sorts of assimilation measures, after successfully making francophones in Canada the minority after 1867, we went from 29% to 20.5% of francophones in Canada from the point of view of language spoken at home in Canada.
For francophones outside Quebec, those hit the hardest by all the assimilation measures, they went from 4.3% of francophones in terms of language spoken at home in 1969 to 2.3%.
The rate of assimilation, of anglicization of francophones outside Quebec increases with every census. The rate is now 40%. It is completely unacceptable and it proves that the Official Languages Act is a complete failure.
What Quebeckers and Canada's francophones have demonstrated throughout history is not a capacity to adapt, but resistance. We have resisted assimilation and English Canada's repressive laws against francophones.
The history of language in Canada is nothing like the fairy tale the Minister of Official Languages presented. The British and Canadian governments knowingly used anglophone immigration and laws prohibiting French schools to anglicize francophones and keep them in the minority.
As francophones rose up and the independence movement grew in Quebec, the federal Official Languages Act was like a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. Under this legislation, services in French were inadequate and spread too thin to counteract the assimilation of francophone communities. In Quebec, the legislation essentially reinforced the use of English.
When Pierre Elliott Trudeau became prime minister, he was quick to dismiss the demands of André Laurendeau from the famous Laurendeau-Dunton commission. André Laurendeau was calling for the collective rights of francophones and Quebec's special status to finally be recognized.
The federal government does not recognize French as a minority language in Canada and North America, even in Quebec, so federal funding for official language programs in Quebec is provided only to the anglophone community and its institutions, which are already well funded, even though it is the French language that is at risk and on the decline in Quebec. That is how things were 50 years ago, and that is how they are again today.
Yes, Quebeckers, not the federal government, rallied to protect and promote their national language. The Quebec government, led by René Lévesque, adopted the Charter of the French Language on August 26, 1977. Since then, the Liberal Party of Canada has been a fierce opponent of Bill 101. The current 's father denigrated it from the start, fighting it and weakening it with his strategy of repatriating the Constitution in 1982. The federal Liberals rejoiced every time a Canadian court struck down our law.
The numbers do not lie. Between the 2001 census and the 2016 census, French as the language spoken at home dropped by 2.5% in Quebec. The numbers have never been so low or dropped so much over such a short period of time. Charles Castonguay's book clearly shows this. The cause is not immigration but the anglicization of allophones and, increasingly, of francophones in Quebec.
Quebeckers know it and are legitimately concerned. They are clearly expressing their attachment to the language and their desire to strengthen Bill 101 and the Official Languages Act to improve the status of French in Quebec.
According to the most recent survey, 77% of francophones want those laws to be strengthened, and 78% support the Bloc Québécois's proposal to apply Bill 101 to federally regulated businesses. The Liberal Party of Canada has opposed Bill 101 for 40 years. However, today, armed with this opinion data and despite the doubts expressed by many of its members, the party recognized two things that Quebec has known for a very long time.
They are two very obvious things. First, French, unlike English, is a minority language in Canada. Second, French is in decline in Quebec and outside Quebec. The minister needs to take action.
We have the right to ask why the Liberal government is refusing to respond favourably to the Government of Quebec's official position on the modernization of the federal Official Languages Act. What Quebec is asking for is clear and reasonable. It wants the federal government to recognize that the Quebec government must have sole authority over language policy within Quebec. That means that the federal government must fully respect Quebec's legislative authority and recognize that the Charter of the French Language takes precedence over the federal Official Languages Act. In no way and at no time should the federal policy undermine Quebec's language policy. However, the opposite is happening.
Before implementing any language measure in Quebec, the federal government should have to get the consent of the Government of Quebec. That is what the current Government of Quebec is calling for.
Workers in Quebec should all have the same rights. That is a fundamental principle. The minister's proposal means that this value will not be respected. The solution, a simple and logical one, has the support of the majority. The Liberal Party is all alone. It alone is refusing to let the Charter of the French Language protect the rights of all Quebec workers. People across Quebec have spoken up, demanding one simple thing from the federal government: apply the requirements in the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated businesses located in Quebec. It is not complicated. This is what is being called for by the Government of Quebec, a unanimous National Assembly, the mayors of our biggest cities, major unions, the Union des artistes, the Union des producteurs agricoles, and the list goes on.
The Bloc Québécois has been asking for this for a long time, and it is bringing the issue forward again by introducing its bill, which clarifies the application of the Charter of the French Language in Quebec. The is against it. We are dealing with more than just a disagreement over public policy. Language is the basis of Quebec's uniqueness and the identity of the Quebec nation. It is the glue that binds us together as a people. We would be more than happy to see the Government of Canada finally fulfill its responsibilities towards the francophone and Acadian communities. It is all well and good to have bilingual judges and to fund immersion schools, but these schools often serve to assimilate francophones outside Quebec. Should the federal government not start ensuring that all francophones outside Quebec have access to French-language schools run by and for francophones? That is even more important for universities and post-secondary institutions.
It is all well and good to promote francophone immigration outside Quebec, but what is the point of that if the newcomers are anglicized once they arrive? As the only francophone state in North America, Quebec has a huge responsibility towards francophones across the continent. The leadership of Quebec, along with a change in approach at the federal level, would benefit all francophone and Acadian communities. For this to happen, the federal government will have to recognize, in its own legislation, that Quebec has sole authority over linguistic planning and development in Quebec and that Quebec, with or without Canada, is the sole master of its own destiny.
On November 27, 2006, the House unanimously adopted the following motion:
That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
Even though that motion has never resulted in anything concrete, and even though I think Canada has never been a united Canada, this government's choices continue to diminish the words of the Quebec National Assembly. By refusing to recognize Quebec's cultural and linguistic sovereignty and by refusing to accept the consensus of the Quebec National Assembly, the Government of Canada is proving that its recognition of the Quebec nation was nothing but a decoy, a trick, a sham.
Ottawa continues to deny the collective rights of Quebeckers, their right to self-determination, their right to ensure the future of their language, and their right to truly live in French in the only state where they consider themselves the majority and feel at home.
In fact, the Minister of Official Languages made a fine speech full of good intentions, but there is really nothing tangible for Quebec, just crumbs.
Will the federal legislation on official languages stop justifying the watering down of Bill 101? Will the federal legislation recognize that French is the only minority language and the only official and common language of Quebec, instead of always promoting more services in English and institutional bilingualism?
Bill 101 was established to counter institutional bilingualism and to make French the common language of all Quebeckers. It is not a factor of exclusion, but of inclusion. Bill 101 is the biggest gesture of integration and inclusion that the Government of Quebec has made. That is why we speak proudly of the children of Bill 101.
However, French is steadily losing ground in Quebec and Canada. If we do not make any major changes, it will become increasingly more difficult to turn this around and make French the common language in Quebec. The federal government needs to acknowledge that fact and acknowledge that Quebec has to be the master of its language policy. That way we could make French the true common language of Quebec and ensure the future of French in Quebec.
In the wake of the speech by the Minister of Official Languages, the only thing that will happen is that the federal government will show once again that the only path to ensure the future of French in Quebec is independence, which would in fact allow Quebec to fully support francophone communities outside Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to participate in this extremely vital and important discussion on the document tabled by the .
I want to take a moment to say that, as a Quebecker, I had the good fortune to be born into a francophone family. My father was a poet and a writer, so I grew up in a home where I was literally surrounded by books. All of the walls were bookshelves filled with books. My brother and I had a very happy childhood filled with Quebec music, including that of Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, Pauline Julien and Claude Gauthier. We also had the opportunity to meet poet Gérald Godin a few times. All of this helped us to develop a love of the French language. We also grew up listening to music by French musicians, such as Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, Barbara and Léo Ferré. The French language is part of my DNA, and it is also part of the DNA of my political party, the NDP, which, on many occasions in the past, has taken action and proposed sensible and effective measures to help the French language thrive in Quebec and throughout Canada.
I am pleased to participate in this debate because I want to express my concern, which is shared by many of my colleagues, about the ongoing threats to the survival, maintenance and development of the French language in Quebec and across Canada. I think virtually all of us would agree that French is in jeopardy at the moment, that we must take urgent action, that there has been a marked decline in Quebec and the other provinces, that the French language requires greater support and that federal institutions and the Government of Canada should be more respectful of it.
Once we realize that, we have to choose our words carefully. Saying that French and English are on equal footing in theory is perfectly acceptable. For example, we agree that Quebec's anglophone minority has historical rights and institutions that must be preserved and protected, but people also have to understand that only one of our official languages is vulnerable and under threat, and that language is French.
We need to protect the French language, and doing so will require measures and additional assistance. French is a beautiful language loved by all, but it is in the minority in North America. There are some nine million francophones in a sea of around 370 million anglophones. We neighbour the United States, the largest producer of cultural content, such as music and film, in the world. The United States may come behind India, but we have fewer influences from India here. We need to acknowledge this and do something about it. Some francophone communities have been on the decline in recent decades. We need to stop the decline once and for all and support francophone communities. Some of these communities are vibrant and captivating and they are achieving great things, while others are very much struggling.
In some parts of Quebec, even, the situation is bleak, and downtown Montreal has struggled in recent years on the customer service front. We all need to be able to acknowledge this situation and then take action. I want to talk about the phrase “take action”, because that notion came up a number of times in the minister's statement, but I am not too sure what she meant by it. The government seems to use the notion of taking action when it is holding consultations but not actually doing anything about the situation.
The federal government has presented a document, a plan to reform and modernize the Official Languages Act. This act has not been amended much since 1988 and its current structure makes it difficult to fully respect the principle of linguistic duality and makes it difficult for communities to access services in the official language of their choice.
That is why francophone minority communities and the official languages commissioner asked the Liberal government over and over again to introduce a bill to modernize the Official Languages Act.
Despite the urgency of the situation and the marked decline of French in Quebec and across Canada, the Liberal government continues to delay the implementation of tangible measures. The Liberal government actually began its consultations on the modernization of the act in 2018. It held numerous consultations in 2019. The minister also acknowledged that between March and May 2019, the federal government held other cross-Canada consultations on the modernization of the act, which concluded with a national symposium in Ottawa attended by more than 300 people.
I must also add that the Liberal 2019 election platform promised the introduction of a bill to modernize the Official Languages Act and the enhancement of the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages, as well as the appointment of bilingual judges to the Supreme Court.
With respect to bilingual judges on the Supreme Court, I have the impression that the government, which rejected this principle until recently, has seen the light, like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, and suddenly decided that it was a good idea and would include it.
Seriously, though, the minister says it is time to take action. After all the consultations that were held, after all the reports that were released, after the work of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, after the work of Senate committees that studied this issue and tabled reports, what is the government actually giving us now? It is giving us a working document that will lead to the creation of a committee that will conduct more consultations, which will lead to a report being tabled with recommendations that may provide some inspiration for a bill that may be introduced someday. That does not seem very serious to me.
If the government really felt a sense of urgency around taking action for the French language in Quebec and across the country, it would not create a new committee; it would draft a bill.
The Liberal government could have introduced a bill three, four or five years ago. Right now, a minority government has been in power for 18 months, and the situation is deemed to be so urgent that the Liberals are planning to strike a committee that will hold consultations and produce a report.
I do not think that members of the NDP define the phrase “take action” that way, despite the fact that the minister used it many times in her speech. The NDP has taken action and we will continue to take action to protect and promote the French language.
I want to mention something that happened eight years ago. When we formed the official opposition, our former colleague, Alexandrine Latendresse, introduced a bill that was passed by the House. The purpose of that bill was to ensure that all officers of Parliament are able to understand and speak French, to ensure that all commissioners, such as the commissioner of the environment, the commissioners for various departments, and the Auditor General be bilingual. That changed things, and that is a practical measure brought in by the NDP that has been successful and produced results.
Recently, I had a motion passed by the House recognizing the fragility of French and the need to promote and defend it. The motion was unanimously adopted.
Today, I get the impression that we have before us a discussion paper that is just a bunch of pious wishes. Believe me, I am not against virtue. The statements and approaches seem worthwhile, but it has no teeth. There are no real measures and no real sense of urgency.
We are glad to see the right to work in French and to communicate in French with the employer in federally regulated businesses finally implemented. The NDP has long been demanding that the principles of the Charter of the French Language be applied to federally regulated businesses. Currently, two sets of language rights apply to workers in Quebec. Those who work for the Caisse populaire have certain language rights to use French at work, but Bank of Montreal or Royal Bank employees do not enjoy the same rights. There is a bit of a contradiction here.
There finally seems to be some willingness to move forward. It certainly took a while. The NDP has been clamouring for this for 10 years. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals had done anything until today. We will see if this amounts to anything.
There is also the possibility of extending this right to francophone workers outside Quebec. That is an interesting idea, but it looks like it would apply only where there is a heavy concentration of francophones or where the francophone presence warrants it. It is not really clear.
This morning in an interview, the minister did not seem to be able to provide specific criteria saying that this committee would study and make recommendations on what this really means. However, there is already a rule in the Public Service Employment Act about the right to work in French. It requires a 5% presence of francophones as a threshold for exercising the right to communicate and work in French. I wonder why the Liberal government has not taken a rule that already exists in the federal public service and applied it to workers in the private sector who could exercise similar rights to work and communicate with their employer in French.
Instead of reinventing the wheel and going back to square one, there is a rule that everyone agrees on and is accepted by everyone, but is not being applied. This will give rise to another debate, namely what constitutes a community where the proportion of francophones is enough to claim this right.
Going back to the question Patrick Masbourian asked this morning, are we creating a two-tier system? I think the answer is yes. What we are looking at here is a two-tier system where, for instance, someone working for Rogers in Moncton would be able to claim French language rights with their employer, but someone working for the same company in Calgary could not do the same because language rights for francophones outside Quebec vary from region to region. For the NDP, that is a major issue.
The government is also giving more powers to the Commissioner of Official Languages. That is also something that the francophone and Acadian communities had been calling for for a long time, and we are happy to see that. However, it seems like the commissioner would have new powers to issue orders, but not to impose financial penalties. It does not look like the official languages commissioner would be able to impose financial penalties on institutions, organizations and businesses that fail to comply with the act. Why is that? In my view, it is a major aspect of strengthening the commissioner's powers. We are going to keep pushing for that.
Most francophone and Acadian communities have asked for an administrative tribunal to handle appeals of certain situations. This is also missing from the document before us today. However, it would be an important and worthwhile element to have in the next few years. There are many other things that can be done and that the federal government should do to promote and defend the French language. I am referring specifically to the Official Languages in Education program. There has been a significant increase in the number of students at the 700 French-language schools found outside Quebec. There has been a 16% increase in the past five years. However, the budget for the Official Languages in Education Program has been frozen for about 10 years. They are not receiving more money. There are more students, but the budget is the same.
The minister seems to be challenging my claims, but we can review the figures and discuss them. This is the kind of thing that is problematic because this program funds many cultural and sports activities in schools. If they do not have the money they need to have interesting programs for students, this may result in elementary students choosing to go to English-language secondary schools if the services and programs offered—
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): I am sorry to interrupt, but the hon. member's time is up.
Madam Speaker, learning a new language is not easy, but it opens up a world of opportunities and adventure.
Immersing yourself in another culture and learning to communicate in a second language is enough to make your head spin. Searching for the right words and not knowing exactly how to answer a question is intimidating. In a way, I am proof that it is possible to reconcile both identities, to be receptive and to celebrate what makes us unique from coast to coast to coast.
However, only by giving ourselves the means to take ownership of this unique Canadian reality will we be able to collectively claim that our two official languages are finally truly equal.
We can sometimes forget what linguistic rights truly represent beyond “Hello, bonjour”. Quite often, they directly affect people's safety and security and their dignity.
During this pandemic, which only causes more stress, the ability to express ourselves in our language and receive a service in that language is essential to ensuring everyone's well-being, whether we are talking about people crossing the border, so that they can understand the quarantine guidelines, or unilingual francophone seniors in my own province, who were unable to receive services in their language at the care centres during a COVID-19 outbreak. This only added to their suffering.
Being able to access education and the resources necessary for schooling in French is also an eternal struggle for francophone minorities, and the burden has been borne by generations from Charlottetown to Victoria. Nothing will ever be achieved until the Supreme Court of Canada proclaims that French and English have equal of status and equal rights and privileges in Canada.
Because there is a difference between having a right and having a right respected, ensuring that the oversight body has the appropriate tools to reinforce the act is also crucial. I am encouraged to see that the government is moving in that direction.
During these last months, I thought a lot about the meaning of the word “resilience” and how we collectively had to learn how to navigate between grief and sorrow and moments of unity and hope. Resilience is the strength that minority linguistic communities have mastered through the decades.
“In unity there is strength.” This Acadian slogan encapsulates what will enable us to prosper after the pandemic and, more importantly, what will enable our communities and families to stay vibrant.
I believe it is only by working together and upholding the values of respect and diversity of this country that we will be able to re-establish this new linguistic balance in all aspects of Canadians' lives: at work, at play and at home. Let us be an example of unity beyond our borders.
I hope that the plan presented by the will be a turning point toward a new, long-awaited chapter.