The House resumed from April 1 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am always proud and honoured to rise in the House as the representative of the people of Gatineau, who once again did me the honour of electing me to this chamber. I am deeply touched.
When we talk about Gatineau, we are talking about a city in the Outaouais region that is proud to be part of Canada's national capital; proud of having contributed to the building of our great and beautiful country, the best country in the world; and proud to participate daily in the work that brings us together and that is important to us, the work of all Canadians.
It is such a pleasure to be here on behalf of the people of Gatineau and to speak about official languages. It is a topic that is so important to everyone in my region.
Therefore, I am pleased to rise today to continue the debate on Bill to strengthen the Official Languages Act and to modernize our linguistic framework.
What exactly are the official languages?
All Canadians expect and deserve to receive federal government services in the official language of their choice. That is a basic principle, one that the Liberals have defended for decades. The federal government must also be a leader in promoting official bilingualism and the representation of Canada's linguistic duality.
As part of our modernization of the Official Languages Act, we are working across government to ensure that we improve our communications and services in both official languages, both in the event of an emergency and in our daily activities. I want to take this opportunity to salute the work of the Translation Bureau. This institution has existed for 87 years. I also salute the interpreters, who are simultaneously interpreting our comments today, and all the people in Canada's language sector who contribute to our official languages regime.
The reform means more than that, however. This highly anticipated reform is intended to modernize an act that is 50 years old. Modernization was needed, but this was also a political and electoral commitment from our party. I salute the for moving so quickly to introduce Bill C‑13 to modernize our regime and the Official Languages Act.
What do the people of Gatineau want?
They want respect for our language of course. It is an official language, one of our country's founding languages that goes back to Radisson and La Vérendrye, who discovered Canada. It is the language of the log drivers who founded our wonderful Outaouais region, and it is a language we are protecting and promoting by reframing this regime, which enables us to do this great work, affirm our francophone presence and make French one of Canada's signature languages.
In Gatineau, ensuring that francophone Quebeckers are well represented within our federal institutions is essential. Departments, Parliament, courts, tribunals and every one of the federal government's administrative organizations must have a daily francophone presence to ensure the vitality of the French language and promote its use within the federal government. For Gatineau, that is of crucial importance too.
I am therefore pleased to support Bill C‑13 for all these reasons. This bill will strengthen and provide a framework for Canada's new official languages regime.
When we talk about protecting official languages, we often think of official language minority communities. We need only look across the Ottawa River to our neighbours, our Franco-Ontarian cousins. These communities are extremely important and deserve our attention.
Then there is Acadia. My wife is Acadian, and I have proudly served the Acadian people. I will continue to ensure that Acadia and francophones in the Atlantic region continue to flourish, just like francophones in minority situations across Canada.
Today, however, I would like to highlight how Bill will support the French language in Quebec. The bill contains measures that will benefit French-speaking Quebeckers, and francophones everywhere, of course.
One of the guiding principles in the development of the bill was to ensure that the French language is protected and promoted throughout Canada, including Quebec. This commitment is written in black and white in the proposed preamble to the Official Languages Act, as well as in the proposed new legislation that will guide private businesses.
I therefore welcome the new use of French in federally regulated private businesses act, which is specifically focused on Quebec. This act is designed to protect and promote French as a language of work and a language of service in relation to federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and, of course, in other francophone regions outside of Quebec later on.
Quebeckers will benefit directly from this new legislation, especially when they are doing business with banks, postal and courier services, telecommunications companies, and companies in the air, rail and marine transportation industries, to name just a few.
Francophone workers at these companies in Quebec will have the right to be hired in French, to work in French and to communicate with their employers in French.
Bill would also protect and promote French in each province and territory, including Quebec. This bill contains meaningful positive measures to protect French in Quebec and all across Canada.
What might a positive measure look like for the francophone majority in Quebec?
Federal institutions could, for example, consider providing support for the creation and dissemination of scientific knowledge in French. We are proposing this strengthened measure as a way to support the development and promotion of French culture across Canada, including in Quebec.
Also, let us not forget that the bill strengthens the Treasury Board's powers and imposes new obligations on it that will lead to improvements to the Government of Canada's compliance regarding the use of French as the language of communication and service in Quebec, in the national capital region, and across Canada.
As a central institution, the Treasury Board will have a central role to play. That was one of the requests from stakeholders. The Treasury Board will coordinate between the federal government and federal institutions to ensure compliance and the necessary planning to achieve the great dream of modernizing Canada's official languages policy.
These are major steps forward for the French language in Canada. They are making the people in my riding proud, and I know people throughout Quebec and across Canada feel the same way. We are proud of this fantastic modernization bill, this implementation of our vision for Canada's official languages.
These measures will provide tangible benefits for the people of my riding of Gatineau. These measures will help promote the French language across Canada and help promote Canada as a francophone country around the world.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
I am pleased to be standing here in the House today to share my concerns about Bill , an act to amend the Official Languages Act, with my colleagues. I have heard a lot of discussion about it, and I have reached certain conclusions.
The French language has been in constant decline in Canada for many years now. The enforcement of the act is weak. It is therefore important to improve the act, but does this bill go far enough? It merely makes amendments to the act, when it seems like a full overhaul is needed.
I recently had the honour of being appointed to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. It is great to work with my colleagues and to hear what witnesses have to say about various topics concerning our two official languages.
There appears to be a consensus. What I keep hearing is that there is a lack of accountability on the part of the government when it comes to protecting the French language in federal institutions. There should be a mechanism for assessing its effectiveness, and there should be an obligation to compile results.
One thing struck me when the committee heard from the about a week ago. We were talking about how to attract more francophone immigrants to our country, and our party asked numerous questions.
The department's way of doing things always seems very complicated. Like many departments, this one has numerous relationships with other departments, but there does not seem to be a clear direction. The questions were often referred to the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat or the Department of Justice. It was never easy to figure out who was driving the bus.
It took the Liberals six years to table an official languages bill. The bill does not contain all of the reforms that many of us would have liked to see, and it seems to be almost symbolic, since very little will be done on the ground. In my opinion, we need to go farther. The French language is still on the decline in this country, and I believe that we can give this bill more teeth.
I hope that the government is prepared to work with the official opposition to improve the bill. We already know that it is prepared to work with the NDP, but will it also consider amendments proposed by the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois?
The Conservatives acknowledge the decline of French in Quebec, as well as in the rest of Canada. We will always fight for Canadian language rights in both languages, because we understand how important they are.
Let me share a few personal experiences. I come from the riding of . I was born there and lived there all my life. I must admit that, growing up, I did not speak English very often. I often wished I could speak more English but, because of my environment, it was not always easy.
In various business dealings and on frequent trips across the border to Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont, it was always clear to me that I needed to improve my English. My colleagues will be pleased to learn that I am taking English classes three times a week. I am still improving my English. That does not mean that I am always confident when I use it in everyday life, but I work hard at it.
When I come to Ottawa, our national capital, I find that, away from Parliament Hill, it is extremely difficult to get any service at all in French. When I go to Montreal, I note that a lot of people are speaking English and that French seems to be disappearing at a rapid rate.
My daughter has lived in three Canadian provinces, but she and her family recently moved from Alberta to New Brunswick, which is fully bilingual. I was very surprised to hear that it is just as hard to receive services in French in New Brunswick, a province that everyone knows is bilingual, as it is in Alberta. We can really see that the French language is in decline.
I would like to congratulate and thank all of the organizations that are working hard to maintain various services in French, starting with French-language schools in different Canadian provinces, and the parents who fight daily to make sure that these services continue to be available. It is thanks to them that my grandchildren were able to continue learning French for the 14 years they lived in Alberta.
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta, the ACFA, for its hard work. Thanks to them, parents who want their children to learn French have a chance to do so, and they have access to French-language activities in their community. These activities are extremely important if we want to socialize in French and prevent assimilation. That is what is going on in several provinces.
For example, I would like to talk about my assistant, a proud Franco-Ontarian born and raised here in Ottawa. He was able to go to elementary and high school entirely in French and he always used his French a lot. However, when we met for his interview, his French was a little rusty. He said he had hardly used it since getting his diploma because he does not have French-speaking friends or access to services in French. Nowadays, he often tells me how lucky he feels to be working in both official languages. He rediscovered his love for the French language.
All this is to say that the French language is very fragile, and we must protect it. One sure sign of the times emerged in recent weeks when the ministers of and participated in press conferences and technical briefings in English only. That is unacceptable; I know both of them are bilingual. I think it is extremely important that these ministers speak to all Canadians, including journalists, in both official languages.
Now I would like to talk about the federal public service, whose departments are responsible for hiring staff. The Commissioner of Official Languages condemned the federal public service's lack of leadership. Everything is fine on Parliament Hill, but if we take a closer look at certain departments, French is barely used in many offices across the country.
I could explain the challenges my staff face when they try to get answers from Service Canada or IRCC in French. Wait times are always longer because of the lack of bilingual workers. Does the government think it is appropriate that my staff members sometimes have to choose English when they call so that they can close a file in a timely manner?
We need to do more. That is why we hope to give this bill more teeth.
As a final point, I would like to comment on the study currently being done by the Standing Committee on Official Languages on how to attract and, more importantly, retain more francophone immigrants to Canada.
I will spare the House and not give too many numbers. The government has never managed to reach its infamous target of 4.5% francophone immigration. The fact that less than 2% of francophone immigrants are settling in francophone minority communities speaks volumes.
In conclusion, we still have a lot of work to do. I look forward to hearing all the suggestions from my colleagues on this matter. This is not a partisan issue, and we need to work together to bring in the best possible legislation in order to improve the lives of all Canadians and future Canadians.
I am a proud francophone, and I am ready to work quickly on this bill in committee with my colleagues. I hope we can come up with some excellent amendments.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C‑13 to modernize the Official Languages Act.
Let me be very clear at the outset. French is very important to Canada. When I was young, from my first year of school through to high school, I took French. It was mandatory. I think that is probably why I can speak French today.
I also worked in Quebec for 15 years. It was a great experience for learning the language. When I arrived here on Parliament Hill, I took French classes again, twice a week. It helped me improve my French and taught me parliamentary terms like “bill”, “second reading”, “clerk” and so on. That is exactly the kind of training we need across the country if we really want to be bilingual from coast to coast to coast.
However, that is not currently the case. In most provinces and territories, there are populations of francophones and francophiles, but the language of business is that of the majority, in other words, English. The francophone population is declining even in Quebec, and we need francophone immigration. That is the current reality.
How can we increase the proportion of francophones in Quebec and in the rest of Canada? How can we protect the culture? Now Bill C-13 has been introduced, a bill that attempts to improve the situation in the federal domain.
Sarnia‑Lambton was given the designation of francophone riding in Ontario. We have 8,000 francophones and francophiles. I am very proud to provide services in both official languages at my office. However, there is a lack of services in French in other sectors.
When I was a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, a study was conducted on the situation of the francophonie in Canada. I heard witnesses say that there is a lack of legal services and virtually no access to university programs in French. These testimonies are similar to those I received at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women during various studies. For example, the only midwifery program in French outside Quebec was cancelled. There is also a lack of legal services in French for military women who experience sexual harassment. That is unacceptable.
To correct the situation, training needs to be provided in French and English everywhere. This bill, however, does not address that need. I hope that the government will work with the provinces and territories to put enough training in place, starting with training for young people.
We also need legislation. Bill C‑13 will clarify the demand for French in every federally regulated office and business. That is a good thing. However, if people do not obey the law, then what? That is the problem.
The Commissioner of Official Languages does not have the power to penalize anyone who violates the act. In committee, he told us that there are several cases of non-compliance. He has the resources to investigate, but the consequences are not very severe. Thus, the problem persists.
Today, we see government ministers making announcements solely in English. That is not right. However, there is no penalty. This bill would have the commissioner work for Treasury Board and not the Minister of Official Languages.
There would finally be consequences for violating the act. These actions fall to the Commissioner of Official Languages, but I believe that this is not clearly defined.
The Treasury Board Secretariat has many challenges, and I believe that official languages violations will go to the bottom of the pile. I understand that the secretariat controls all departments, but it has many other priorities.
How will the know where the problems are? What is actually her role?
I would like to make a few recommendations. First, I believe that this bill will improve the situation at the federal level, but that is not enough. The minister must work with the provinces and territories to create a plan to establish training in both official languages everywhere.
Second, the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada will work with the Minister of Official Languages with the same powers set out in this bill. Perhaps we could look at the possibility of penalizing individuals and not just businesses and departments. The penalties could be more severe. I am thinking of a $25,000 fine, which is a small penalty for Air Canada, for example.
Third, we must continue to welcome francophone immigrants to ensure that we protect the French language in Quebec. We need training in both official languages for all immigrants. Everyone knows that, historically, we have not reached our immigration targets.
In the last Parliament, the House studied Bill . When the Liberals decided to call an election, that was the end of that. The minister says that she has improved the bill, but I am not convinced that it is much different. The Liberals promised to introduce this bill within 100 days of the last election, but it has been more than 200 days. I am not sure why.
There are still many things in this bill that are vague. For example, the onus is still on the institutions to determine appropriate and positive measures. It is not clear when all these measures will come into effect. It is not clear whether a “strong francophone presence” applies only to places where there is an official designation, or perhaps it applies to areas where many francophones live. I think there need to be some amendments in committee to clarify these aspects.
I have spoken a lot about the French language, and now I want to take a few moments to advocate for the rights of anglophones. There are one million anglophones in Quebec. This is not about forcing everyone to learn French. I hope to see the day when all Canadians can speak both languages, but I think some reasonable accommodations are needed. For example, our does not speak French, but she is making an effort every day, and our messaging is always in both languages. She has help from a deputy leader who ensures that announcements are always made in both official languages. That is a reasonable accommodation.
I have heard that the president of Air Canada is learning French, but in the meantime, he needs some help to ensure that all messaging is in both languages. In Canadian cities where there is a francophone or anglophone minority, we should be trying to find solutions to meet the service needs that are not being met.
In conclusion, I think that we can do more to establish our two languages all across the country, but Bill C‑13 is a step in the right direction.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate this bill, which is very important for our country and for official language communities across Canada.
Canada's Constitution was tailor-made for a modern federation like ours with a non-homogenous population. Some might even call our federation postmodern. Ours is a federation that brings together different cultural groups, peoples and nations who all live together in mutual respect, who adapt and who work together to build a society founded on the principles that we all adhere to.
I am, of course, talking about the indigenous peoples, the French from New France and the British settlers, who, over the years, were joined by people from other cultures who all worked together to build the new Canadian reality. Our Constitution was designed for the modern world, for a world that is becoming increasingly complex, in which the historic boundaries of cultural groups have become more flexible, and different groups share the same country.
One of the pillars of our constitutional democracy is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, one of the world's wisest and most progressive bills of rights. Our diverse country calls for moderation and a sense of compromise. The charter contains the distinctive section 1, whereby rights are not considered absolute but rather are tempered where it is reasonable to do so.
Another defining pillar of our democracy, in addition to the constitutional recognition of indigenous rights, is the entrenchment in the Charter of Rights of official language minority rights. It is very important to be clear that, and this is a message that I want to get across to the many who might be watching today who are from minority language communities, language rights in our Constitution are beyond the reach of the notwithstanding clause, a clause that has attracted a great deal of attention and, I would say, begun to be used in a perfunctory manner by different governments.
I am speaking of minority language education rights under section 23 of the charter, as well as the right by virtue of section 133 of the British North America Act to use English or French in the federal courts and in Quebec courts, a right that also extends to Manitoba courts by virtue of section 23 of the Manitoba Act of 1870, and to New Brunswick courts owing to the province's 1993 amendment to the charter. These rights are beyond the reach of the notwithstanding clause. This is important for minority language communities.
The Official Languages Act adds a layer of protection and promotion to these constitutional language guarantees by protecting and promoting the use of official languages in the federal context, namely, in the federal public service and in Crown corporations, such as Canada Post, Air Canada, Via Rail, CN and Nav Canada.
In our constitutional democracy, independent courts adjudicate constitutional rights through the prism of our most fundamental values, and perhaps no program has been more valuable in protecting official language minorities in this country than the federal court challenges program. The program offers funding to those launching legal challenges to protect their rights, including linguistic rights, from laws and policies that threaten those rights.
The court challenges program was recently used by Quebec's English language school boards to protect them from the Legault government's Bill 40. the bill aims to eliminate school boards, which are central community institutions for Quebec's English-speaking minority.
As we know, there was a court decision that said the Quebec government could eliminate school boards, but not English-speaking school boards, because the community has protection under the Constitution regarding minority language rights, and this case continues through the courts. Earlier, the program was vital to protecting Ottawa's Montfort hospital against callous attempts by the Harris government to close this institution, which is so vital to eastern Ontario's francophone population.
As promised, Bill would strengthen the court challenges program by de facto referencing it in the legislation, namely section 43(1)(c) of the act. I admit the reference could be more explicit and more definitive, and we will see what happens in committee. We will see if someone proposes an amendment to make that clause a little more affirmative. However, like any government program, whether it is in law or not, its effectiveness is ultimately directly related to its budget.
Challenging a bill like Bill 40 through the long process of court appeals can be costly. I have heard it could cost up to $1 million for the English-speaking school boards in Quebec to fight Bill 40 all the way to the Supreme Court. I think this is beyond the capacity of the court challenges program, so I call on the government to increase the program's budget. It would be money well spent in support of the fundamental principles to which we, as Canadians, adhere. Not to mention that the 2021 Liberal election platform includes such a commitment.
I represent a riding in Quebec with a large anglophone population. It is, however, very much a bilingual riding with an English-speaking school board that offers bilingual and French immersion primary and secondary education. The community is rightfully attached to its schools and to the education rights of their children.
The new section 41(4) of the modernized Official Languages Act would help maintain those rights by requiring the government to proactively, through the census, help estimate:
...the number of children whose parents have, under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to have their children receive their instruction in the language of the English or French linguistic minority population of a province or territory, including the right to have them receive that instruction in minority language educational facilities.
I would like to pay homage to my colleague from , who worked very hard on having the census be used to estimate the number of people in minority language communities across this country who have rights under the Constitution.
Whether their roots stretch back generations, or they have more recently arrived, Quebec's anglophones are deeply rooted and embedded, by choice, in Quebec society. They are profoundly attached to living in the only place in North America where French is broadly spoken every day, and they wish to remain in Quebec and contribute to its development, but they require employment opportunities to be able to do so.
The representation of anglophones in the federal public service in Quebec is, as I understand it, below the community's share of the population. Bill will hopefully help eliminate this gap in two ways. Section 41(5) of a modernized Official Languages Act would place a duty on the federal government to take concrete positive measures to enhance the vitality of English-speaking and French-speaking linguistic minority communities in Canada and assisting their development, including, presumably, by ensuring anglophones have their rightful place in the federal administration in Quebec.
Moreover, the role of the Treasury Board would be expanded as a result of Bill . The Treasury Board would have a duty to establish directives and policies to give effect to the requirement to institute positive measures, as well as responsibility for “general direction and coordination” of these positive measures across departments. This is a very important addition to the Official Languages Act.
It is worth noting that in Bill , Bill 's predecessor, this obligation was discretionary. In Bill C-13, it is mandatory. Also, Bill C-13 will require the Treasury Board to “monitor and audit federal institutions in respect of which it has responsibility for their compliance” with the aforementioned directives and policies.
As in Bill , the Commissioner of Official Languages' role and enforcement powers have been enhanced, including the power to make compliance agreements. Namely, section 64.1(1) of the new modernized Official Languages Act will, after Bill is passed, state the following:
If, at any time during the course of or after carrying out an investigation, the Commissioner has reasonable grounds to believe that a federal institution has contravened this Act, the Commissioner may enter into a compliance agreement with that federal institution aimed at ensuring compliance with this Act.
As has been mentioned, the government, in parallel to introducing amendments to the Official Languages Act, has also introduced a new act, the use of French in federally regulated private businesses act. This second act reasserts Ottawa's role in regulating businesses operating in federal jurisdictions in Quebec. I know this is something not all parties in this House agree with. If I recall, all opposition parties would relinquish that jurisdiction to the province.
As I see it, this second act will reinforce bilingualism in federally regulated businesses. It will give consumers in Quebec:
...the right to communicate in French with and obtain available services in French from federally regulated private businesses that carry on business in Quebec...
This is already the case, practically speaking.
In any event, Quebec anglophones would not object to this principle. The Quebec anglophone community displays a very high degree of bilingualism. I cannot recall ever seeing a francophone consumer in Quebec being unable to obtain service in their language from an anglophone. As a matter of fact, sometimes what happens is a rather curious kind of dance where an anglophone goes into a store. The person behind the counter asks them in French if they can serve them and the anglophone asking for service is not really sure if the server is an anglophone or a francophone, ending up with two anglophones speaking to each other in French. This happens quite a lot and it is a moment of levity for all concerned.
Moreover, Bill C-13 does not prevent consumers from transacting in English. Section 7(3) states:
For greater certainty, the rights set out in subsection (1) do not preclude consumers from communicating with or obtaining services from the federally regulated private business in English or a language other than French if they wish to do so and the federally regulated private business is able to communicate or provide services in that language.
As regards language of work, section 9(1) states that employees of a federally regulated private business have a right to carry out work and be supervised in French. Again, I do not believe that anglophones in Quebec, at least not in my community, have a problem with this statement in principle. Of course, there will be regulations to determine how this right will be applied, and we will see what the regulations say.
Employees will have a right to use work instruments and computer systems in French. Again, this does not take anything away from those who speak English. Computer software interfaces provide for this flexibility. I trust the regulations will recognize this software flexibility.
This right to workplace bilingualism is reinforced in section 9(3), which reads:
The right set out in paragraph (1)(b) does not preclude communications and documents from being in both official languages...
Therefore, we see that this bill is reinforcing the core values that underlie the Official Languages Act, which of course is bilingualism.
Further, proposed subsection 10(2) states, “In developing the measures referred to in subsection (1)”, that is, measures to foster the use of French in workplaces, “the federally regulated private business must consider the needs of employees who are close to retirement, have many years of service or have conditions that could impede the learning of French.”
I believe this clause may require amendment. It seems to refer to medical conditions that could impede learning French, but there are many reasons why some individuals remain unilingual that have nothing to do with a medical condition. I think that needs to be taken into account.
Further, proposed subsection 11(2) states that a federally regulated private business “must not treat adversely an employee who occupies or is assigned to a position on or before the day on which this subsection comes into force for the sole reason that the employee does not have a sufficient knowledge of French.”
The vast majority of anglophones in Quebec are bilingual and growing more so every day. They should not be negatively impacted by this particular clause. The regulations will be key to ensuring an appropriate flexibility that protects everyone.
Many if not most federally regulated businesses deal with entities outside the province. One thinks of logistics and freight-forwarding companies, of which many are located in my community. This further reinforces the practical value of bilingualism in the federally regulated private sector, which brings me to section 11(3), which states:
Requiring an employee to have a knowledge of a language other than French does not constitute adverse treatment for the purposes of subsection (1) if the federally regulated private business is able to demonstrate that a knowledge of that language is objectively required by reason of the nature of the work to be performed
Federally regulated businesses tend to deal internationally, so there is a role for bilingual individuals in these businesses.
All that said, I feel strongly that no one, anglophone or francophone, should be prevented from working in a federally regulated business because they do not have knowledge of the other language, just as they would not be prevented from working in the federal public service because they only have knowledge of one of the official languages unless the position requires a level of bilingualism. I hope the regulations will respect this fundamental principle of the Official Languages Act.
I would like to see the regulations that will follow under Bill guarantee in some way this right to work. Perhaps this could be done through amendments to the bill. On a practical level, given today's acute labour shortage, it would be in the best interests of employers and the provincial economy to ensure that the law does not hamstring federally regulated businesses and their ability to recruit and hire qualified personnel.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
It is an honour for me to speak to Bill .
From the outset, I would like to point out to the hon. minister that I was parliamentary secretary for official languages during the 41st Parliament from May 2011 to September 2013. Not to upset or offend her, but I would remind her that her government is not the first to give Canada's two official languages the importance they deserve. The fact is that French has never ceased to be under threat, and there is no doubt that threat looms larger than ever since 2015, both in Quebec and the rest of Canada.
I worked on the road map for Canada's linguistic duality, which ended in 2013. We made an unprecedented investment of $1.1 billion to support linguistic duality that brought together 15 departments and agencies.
I will excuse the minister, since she was not yet elected and so many of the previous Conservative government's accomplishments were literally deleted from the Internet with the arrival of the Liberals in 2015.
We have been keeping a close eye on the act for quite some time to make sure it strives to achieve substantive equality between Canada's two official languages.
As a unilingual francophone, I am very familiar with the challenges of being from a small, practically unilingual francophone community, but I am very proud of my roots and my mother tongue.
Our two official languages are an integral part of our identity, and I am privileged to see my children function in both languages more comfortably than I ever did at their age. It is extremely important to be able to grow up, work and live in one's mother tongue. I understand the fragility of our official language minority communities and the many challenges they face.
Ensuring that francophones can access federal government services in their language and that federal public servants can work in the official language of their choice is still a very real challenge in 2022, and there is no denying it. This government has been in power since 2015, and things have not really improved on its watch. I will not even talk about balancing the budget or deficits or the possibility of losing our AAA credit rating, nor will I talk about our justice system or the legacy the Liberals have left our young people by legalizing both soft and hard drugs.
All that is scandalous, but let me get back to today's topic, Bill C‑13.
We have wasted precious time since 2015, and the Liberal government appears to have just recently realized that the Official Languages Act needs to be amended and modernized. I can guarantee that as a member of Parliament and a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I will personally work with my colleagues to ensure that Bill C-13 finally reflects the current linguistic realities and that it promotes substantive equality between French and English, while contributing to the vitality of official language minority communities, which greatly need us.
This bill could have passed in the previous Parliament as Bill , but let me remind members that the Prime Minister felt the need to plunge us into a costly and unnecessary election. We are finally getting around to it now. Still, as the saying goes, better late than never.
Contrary to what the minister claimed last week, we have been working for quite some time already with community stakeholders, the provinces, the territories, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, which is very important to me.
The common goal is noble and reflects our commitment to ensure that the modernized bill reflects the reality of francophones living in Quebec, anglophones across the country, francophones living in minority situations, Acadians and anglophone Quebeckers.
The hardest work is yet to come, but we need to ensure that the Liberal government does not start playing dirty tricks, passing the buck or dragging the process out.
The situation of French is very worrisome, not to mention critically at risk. With eight million francophones in Canada in a sea of more than 360 million anglophones in North America, the protection of French is an issue that deserves close and immediate attention. We will push this federal government to play its role with respect to protecting official language minority communities.
We will ensure that Bill responds to the challenges that the French language is facing in North America and the challenges that official language minority communities are facing. First, we will ensure that the bill recognizes the linguistic realities of each province and territory.
The federal government collaborates with provincial and territorial governments that provide services in the minority language and promote the vitality of the official language minority communities. However, the federal government must also make it a priority to work together with indigenous communities across the country to ensure that indigenous languages are preserved and protected. The modernized legislation would therefore explicitly state that it does not affect the strengthening and revitalization of indigenous languages.
As everyone knows, I do not like scandals. We will continue to speak out against the fact that French is in significant decline in this country in 2022, and it is scandalous that this is still happening. The Liberal government needs to take concerted action to reverse this trend.
More must be done to protect and promote French across Canada, including, of course, here in Quebec. We will ensure that francophones can live in French. We must establish new rights to enable francophones to work in French and to be served in French in federally regulated private businesses.
In this respect, the said on April 1 that these new rights will be enshrined in a new act, namely, the use of French in federally regulated private businesses act, and that these rights will apply in Quebec as well as regions with a strong francophone presence.
We will, of course, ensure that the Liberal government does not forget that the private sector also has a role to play in promoting our official languages and enhancing the vitality of official language minority communities.
I look forward to seeing how the government might ensure better access to justice in both official languages by introducing a new bilingualism requirement for the Supreme Court of Canada. That is a major challenge and, unfortunately, such challenges are not this government's strong suit.
That being said, we will ensure that Bill C‑13 fulfills the promise of strengthening the Treasury Board's role as a central agency to coordinate and enforce the Official Languages Act. The discretionary aspect of its monitoring, auditing and evaluating powers will now become mandatory. We will also ensure that the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages are strengthened. It is imperative that he be given more tools to do his job so that he is able to impose administrative and monetary penalties on certain privatized entities and Crown corporations operating in the area of transportation serving the travelling public.
Air Canada's recent appearance at committee gave us a good example of how francophone Canadians are basically being neglected because employees are not really encouraged to learn or improve their French-language skills.
The bill also includes important clarifications regarding part VII on federal institutions taking positive measures that will benefit official language minority communities. It will be mandatory to take into account potentially negative impacts that decisions could have on the vitality of the communities and on the promotion of both official languages. lt must also strengthen Canada's francophone immigration policy, which must include objectives, targets and indicators with the aim of increasing francophone immigration outside Quebec.
We will ensure that Bill C‑13 will increase supports for official language minority communities to protect the institutions they have built, both for francophones outside Quebec and for the development of the English-speaking minority in Quebec.
The bill must ensure that the Official Languages Act reflects the challenges of the 21st century. We are embarking on a legislative process that the Liberals have finally initiated to significantly advance Canada's linguistic framework, and not before time.
Mr. Speaker, to continue the tradition, it is with great pleasure that I address the House in French today to speak to Bill , which seeks to modernize the Official Languages Act. I think it is important to explain how an anglophone like me is now able to deliver her speech in French in the House of Commons.
I was really lucky. When I was young, my parents, who do not speak a word of French, decided to enrol me in French immersion schools. From kindergarten to university, I was educated in French. I was even able to complete my high school education in French immersion at Father Mercredi School in Fort McMurray. This gave me the opportunity to enrol at Campus Saint-Jean, which is the francophone campus of the University of Alberta and is affectionately called “la fac”. That is where I earned my political science degree.
I really had the opportunity to immerse myself in the Franco-Albertan culture and heritage. Because of this background, I consider myself a francophone, a francophone by choice, not by chance, but a francophone nonetheless. I am part of the growing francophone population in Alberta.
It is an interesting fact that French was the first European language spoken in Alberta. The coureurs des bois were the first people to speak French in Alberta in the 17th century. There are francophone communities all over Alberta. Several places in the province have French names, including Miette, Plamondon, Grande Cache and Lac La Biche.
According to Statistics Canada, Alberta's francophone population is growing: 25% of Franco‑Albertans were born in Alberta, 24% were born abroad and 50% come from the rest of Canada. Francophones are coming in from Canada and abroad, and that gives our francophonie immense vitality and vibrancy.
It is worth noting that Alberta also welcomes more francophone immigrants than the national average, namely 10.3% of the immigrant population, according to Statistics Canada. I am sharing these facts to demonstrate how vibrant and strong the francophonie is in Alberta.
The federal government must rise to the challenge of collaborating with its provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure adequate basic funding that is permanent, predictable and indexed to the cost of living. Since the francophone population is growing, it is very important to provide services in French. We need meaningful action to support francophones outside Quebec, such as Franco‑Albertans.
Those who were counting on legislation with teeth that would result in substantial gains with respect to protecting and promoting French in this country are certainly disappointed by the half measures proposed in this bill.
Sheila Risbud, the president of the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta and spokesperson for the francophonie, said:
However, there is still work to be done because our communities want the bill to include the designation of the Treasury Board as the sole central agency responsible for coordinating and implementing the act, an obligation to negotiate binding language clauses in agreements with and transfers to the provinces and territories, and clarification concerning the objective of a francophone immigration policy.
It is clear that the Minister of Official Languages still has work to do before she can say, “Mission accomplished”. I note that Bill takes a big step backwards compared to the reform document tabled by the former minister of official languages, which died on the Order Paper as a result of the 2021 election.
Bill , introduced by the former minister, recognized an asymmetry between the status of French and the status of English in Canada, but this concept is not included in the new bill. In order for the reform of the Official Languages Act to ensure the future of the French language in Canada, it is vital that it reflect the current linguistic situation and that it not pretend that the two official languages are on an equal footing.
Fifty years after the implementation of the Official Languages Act, our world has changed a lot. Francophones are immigrating from Africa and many other countries. The francophonie is thriving.
We know that bilingualism has some real, tangible benefits, including economic benefits. The Conference Board of Canada released a report that clearly showed that bilingualism is deeply rooted in the Canadian identity and is an effective economic tool. Bilingualism allows for more diverse trade relationships and increased imports and exports.
It is important to note that meaningful measures are needed. We should start by asking why there is no central agency responsible for overseeing and providing horizontal coordination for the act. Instead, there are four bodies responsible for this under the act: Canadian Heritage, the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and the Minister of Official Languages.
The Conservatives believe that the Treasury Board should definitely be the central repository of all powers for enforcing and issuing directives under the Official Languages Act as a whole. As it stands, the powers are split and several departments are being forced to share the tool box. Some departments wind up taking the blame for another department's failure to fulfill its obligations.
In addition, the reform of the Official Languages Act does not do enough to meet the needs of minority francophones, including Franco-Albertans. If the government truly wants to support minority francophones, it needs to support French schools.
As a proud francophone who served as parliamentary secretary for the Francophonie when I was a member of the Alberta legislature, I witnessed the vitality and viability of the French language first-hand.
I am worried about francophones in minority settings who lack support, and I urge the Minister of Official Languages to adopt a fresh, collaborative approach based on feedback from national and provincial organizations to help francophone communities from coast to coast to coast thrive.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my speaking time.
I am so very pleased to speak in favour of Bill today.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is always looking for innovative ways to let people know what is so great about living in Canada and to attract newcomers. Our mission includes ongoing dedicated outreach to francophone immigrants.
As founding members of our nation, we francophones have made a fundamental contribution to building our country. The importance of the French language to Canada's culture and history is undeniable. In Quebec and in francophone communities in the rest of Canada, the strength, richness and vitality of the French language are a tremendous source of pride. Because of Canada's unique bilingual nature, we want to do everything we can to attract people who can integrate into our francophone communities in large numbers, not only in Quebec, but across the country.
The Government of Canada recognizes that immigration helps us meet labour market needs in critical areas such as health care, education, entrepreneurship and agriculture. However, immigration also plays an important role in building and maintaining the diversity of Canadian communities. Because of this reality, francophone immigration remains a top priority for the Canadian immigration system.
Our government continues to support Quebec in its innovative ways of using immigration to address the province's labour shortages, while supporting the French language and Quebec's distinctive francophone identity. The same is true for the many vibrant francophone communities across Canada. The French language has deep roots in many Canadian communities, whether it be the community of Maillardville in Coquitlam, British Columbia; the many French communities in Ontario, including the one I represent, Orléans; the Port au Port Peninsula in Newfoundland; the Franco-Yukoners in Whitehorse; or the many Acadian communities in Nova Scotia.
The government recognizes that immigration plays an important role in supporting francophone minority communities across the country. In 2019, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced a francophone immigration strategy, which includes a target of 4.4% francophone immigration admissions outside Quebec by 2023.
Our government has brought in many initiatives to reach that target, including awarding more points to French-speaking and bilingual candidates under the express entry program. In 2021, the department introduced a temporary resident to permanent resident pathway for essential workers and recent international graduates from Canadian institutions who were already in Canada. We included unlimited dedicated temporary streams for French-speaking and bilingual applicants.
The francophone immigration strategy is already showing promise. In 2020, French-speaking admissions represented 3.6% of all immigrants admitted to Canada outside Quebec, an increase over the 2.8% from the previous year. What is more, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is working to support the government's commitment to the modernized Official Languages Act. We see this legislation as a step forward, because we clearly recognize the importance of immigration in enhancing the vitality of Canada's francophone communities.
One of the primary measures is the requirement to adopt a francophone immigration policy with objectives, targets and indicators. The legislation will also include a recognition that immigration is one of the factors that can contribute to maintaining or increasing the demographic weight of francophone communities.
Naturally, once newcomers arrive in Canada, there is still a lot of work to do to get them settled. In 2019 and 2020, we launched the francophone integration pathway, which was designed to support French-speaking newcomers from pre-arrival to citizenship. More specifically, the pathway ensures that all newcomers, regardless of their linguistic background, are made aware of the services on offer throughout the settlement and integration process. Almost 80 francophone service providers outside Quebec receive funding from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada.
The government will continue its efforts to develop the francophone integration pathway so that French-speaking newcomers are informed of opportunities to settle in French in Canada and are able to receive high-quality settlement services from francophone organizations.
Bill seeks in part to enhance the vitality of francophone minority communities in Canada. In that regard, I want to point out that language training is an important and integral part of the francophone integration pathway, which was developed jointly with francophone communities across the country. Our objective is to give all newcomers the opportunity to settle and thrive in French and to make a positive contribution to Canadian society.