Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
We are going to start meeting 147, which is being televised today.
We have the honour of having Raymond Théberge, the Commissioner of Official Languages, with us today.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(f), we are studying the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Official Languages 2018-19, referred to the committee on May 9, 2019.
To give some context to today's meeting for everyone watching, I would like to point out that the act provides for the presentation of an annual report by the Commissioner of Official Languages. This has been the case since 1969, if I'm not mistaken. The committee's conventions and traditions provide that we shall promptly receive the Commissioner each time so that he can submit his report directly.
Mr. Commissioner, you will have 10 minutes, as is customary, to make your opening remarks. Then, according to the committee's procedure, we will have a one-hour roundtable discussion.
Thank you to you and your team for being here today, including Ms. Giguère, Assistant Commissioner, and Ms. Saikaley.
Go ahead, Mr. Commissioner. We are listening.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mrs. Boucher.
Mr. Choquette has honourably given up his three minutes.
Commissioner, I have two questions for you, and I am sure that Mr. Samson will be happy to hear the first one.
I would like to talk about bilingualism for the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada. I do not think I am mistaken in saying that all members of this committee would like to see the legislation change so that the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada must be bilingual. After all, we all voted in favour of Mr. Choquette's commendable bill.
I have a special request for you, which goes beyond the work of this committee. We only have three weeks left, but you have at least six years.
At the moment, there is a serious problem. Some lawyers from the Department of Justice claim to be constitutional experts, and some really are. Let me throw this idea at you, although I do not know whether you have the authority to do it. They do not work for nothing, but would you be able to employ some constitutional experts to help you to write a legal text, a solid, well-supported counter-argument in opposition to the legal minds in the Department of Justice? That is a text that we could use in the future.
We need you. As members of Parliament, we do not have the resources we need to employ eminent constitutional scholars, but your office does. You have a substantial budget. Would it be worthwhile to prepare a constitutional argument in support of Mr. Choquette's motion?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Consider it, please. We need your help on this.
Finally, Commissioner, I want to thank you for the work you have done in the last year, especially for your second report. I want you to know that you have our moral support. We are with you. You do not stand alone in Canada. You have important tasks and heavy responsibilities. I strongly encourage you to continue in the same direction, even to exert a little more pressure, no matter which government is in power. You have nothing to fear. I want to say that we support you. Surveys seem to demonstrate that most Canadians support your work, and that is positive. I really want you to know that we are behind you. In turn, we expect you to be behind us.
Thank you for appearing before us today, Commissioner.
My thanks to my colleagues for their questions.
Would you like to say a few words?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Alright. Thank you, Mr. MacKinnon. We will certainly send them to you.
To close your presentation, you said that PSPC is committed "to promoting and supporting bilingualism in Canada in everything we do." For my part, I noted during all of my meetings with representatives of OLMCs that they were a bit tired of hearing about promotion and all the rest. You make these speeches, while at the same time, we noted that two months ago, your department's Internet sites that featured calls for tenders were riddled with errors in the French. I am not saying you are guilty of anything, but I am telling you this respectfully. These were grammar or even translation errors. It is interesting and all the more since we have Mr. Déry from the Translation Bureau with us.
It seems that we currently have a lack of leadership in Cabinet. How do you answer for this?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Yes. It will be May 29 and 30, I believe.
We received the invitation.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Dupuis.
It is always an honour to have you at the committee as the main representatives of all of the country's francophone groups. I don't think I'll offend anyone by saying that, as you just said that the bill was a compendium of all of the requests from everywhere in the country.
I have eight questions to ask, and to the extent that that is possible, I would like you to answer them by yes or no. I think you will see that they won't require much expounding.
On page 32 of the document I have here, in Part Vll, section 41.3, entitled “Duty with respect to data collection”, are you alluding to Statistics Canada?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Yes. So, basically, you want the law to include an obligation that Statistics Canada carry out a proper census.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you.
For my second question, let's go to section 41.5 on page 33, entitled “Duty when leasing a federal building or federal real property in the National Capital Region”.
I'm not sure I understand. Does the duty apply to the physical location or to the people in it?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
I see. I hadn't understood properly. I thought it was about posting signs on the premises.
Let's go to the next page for my third question. This won't be a yes or no question.
Paragraph 43(1)(c) states:
(c) encourage provincial governments to adopt measures that foster progress toward the equality of status or use of English and French;
How would you like to do that?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
I see. So that can be done by adding language clauses. We are not talking about encouragement.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
On page 35, paragraph 43.1(1) is entitled “Duty to support instruction in the language of the official language minority communities”.
Is the objective here to broaden the rights holders principle?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
I see. That's a very good answer.
For my fifth question, let's go to page 36. Paragraph 43.1(5), entitled “Use of Funds'', says the following:
(5) The minister shall ensure that the funds transferred to the provinces are spent in the manner provided for in the negotiated agreements.
Does this refer back directly to the language clauses?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Very well.
Do I understand correctly that through 43.2(1), you wish to include the Official Languages in Education Program, OLEP, in the act?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
You may not have included the acronym OLEP here directly, but that is your objective, correct?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
I'll go on to my seventh question.
In proposed paragraph 43.4(1) of the bill, on the collective rights of the New Brunswick communities, was your objective to attach financial reality to section 16 of the Constitution Act, 1982? Aside from indigenous peoples, the Constitution only recognizes the Acadian people.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
If you say so.
Quebeckers have not managed to obtain that recognition, to date. This would be a great victory for the Acadians and I'm very happy for them. However, is your objective here to codify that recognition in the act so that the money will follow?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Okay.
Let me go on to my next question, on proposed paragraph 43.14(1) of the bill, on page 41 of your document.
These are my last questions, because I think my time must be almost up.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
This paragraph is about the Official Languages Promotion Fund. Would funds made available following an order of the Official Languages Tribunal go into this fund?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you.
How would the money in the fund be spent? Your text is not clear on that. The minister seems to have a certain discretionary power, but could he spend that money anyway he wished? That's the part I don't understand.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Minister Joly, I was a little surprised by your response to Mr. Choquette. You said that you hoped the commissioner would have a generous interpretation. However, you and your Prime Minister were the ones who chose the person and submitted his name for the position.
Didn't you first determine the person's approach to official languages? How can you hope for something from an individual, when you were the one who chose that person? That seems very strange. I don't understand.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
You didn't submit three suggestions. You submitted one suggestion, Minister Joly.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
That's fine, thank you.
I have two minutes left.
I may be wrong, but I think that I'm right. Across Canada, people have mainly told me that, while they're pleased with your measures, they find that you lack the leadership to ensure that Part VI of the act is applied in all government agencies.
When he met with us on Tuesday, the commissioner said that federal agencies were following his recommendations in 80% of cases. That's fine. However, in 20% of cases, the agencies aren't following the recommendations or are struggling to follow them. If it were 5%, I could understand. It would almost be by default. However, 20% is significant.
Why did the National Energy Board publish a report in English only? The Canada Infrastructure Bank and Public Services and Procurement Canada websites display calls for tenders that are still riddled with mistakes in French. Why are 20% of federal agencies unable to follow the recommendations? Minister Joly, we don't expect you to be offended by the shortcomings, but to act. You don't seem to be taking action.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
In the committee, we mostly say that the main issue, other than the act, is the lack of political will.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
The issue is the lack of political will. The issue is your place in cabinet. Do you say these things in cabinet? Do you criticize your colleagues for these shortcomings? The 20% rate is unacceptable. A 5% rate would be understandable, by default. However, a 20% rate clearly indicates an issue.
As I told you, people are generally happy with your investments. It's the continuation of the story of the past 20 years. All action plans increase investments. However, people are telling me about your lack of leadership, Minister Joly. That's the serious issue right now. That's why the act must be strengthened. The current Minister of Official Languages in the government doesn't show leadership. If you're doing so, your colleagues aren't listening to you.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Okay, but what do you have to say about the Prime Minister, who spoke only in English yesterday to 78 daughters of the vote participants from Quebec?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Commissioner and all those accompanying you, good morning.
Welcome to this new room; this is the first time we are meeting here.
Mr. Théberge, I would first like to ask you how many employees the office has.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
That's a fairly substantial number.
You shouldn't see any hidden agenda in my next question.
I see that you have $19 million in main estimates 2018-19.
We also see an amount of $4 million for the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying, and another $5 million for the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
What explains that discrepancy between your office and those other offices, just for our information?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
That is noteworthy.
Commissioner, in your opening remarks, you talked about the fact that you didn't think you would take office during a year when language rights were being infringed, as you put it.
In relation to that realization, have you seen an increase in complaints during this year compared with other years?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Okay.
That's interesting.
For next year, you are seeking $21.7 million. Are you requesting that money or is the government giving it to you of its own accord? Is it sufficient? Are you satisfied? Is it enough? Is it too much? I suppose it is never too much.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
That brings me to a sub-question, Commissioner.
There are issues with translation at the Canada Infrastructure Bank, the National Energy Board, or NEB, on tendering Internet sites, and so on. There are also cases of flagrant arrogance, such as what happened at the NEB.
Do you have the power to send them a letter signed by you asking what the issue is? Are you doing that?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon to both of you, Mr. Jedwab and Ms. Chouinard. I am very happy that you are here.
Ms. Chouinard, I think this is the first time you have appeared before the committee. You said it was an honour and a privilege to be here. I am glad to have given you this honour and privilege, since it was my office that invited you. I have seen all your expertise over the past year.
I wanted to hear what you had to say about the administrative tribunal. You mentioned it during your presentation, but I have a few specific questions.
But first, Mr. Jedwab, I want to tell you that I really liked what you said at the end of your opening remarks on the country's fundamental proposals, namely the two founding peoples and the multicultural environment in which we live. This fundamental proposal must never be forgotten. I agree 100% with this vision of the country.
Ms. Chouinard, I detected a contradiction in your comments that may not be a contradiction. I wanted you to correct or clarify what you said. You said that, since the Charter was enshrined, there has been a liberal and generous interpretation by the Supreme Court with respect to language rights. On the other hand, you said that the Official Languages Act and the Federal Court have not yielded the expected results.
Personally, I see this as a contradiction. Can you elaborate on it, please?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Okay.
You say that the commissioner could have more coercive powers, or rather that he definitely has coercive powers right now, but that he does not always use them.
Do you think we should either strengthen the commissioner's coercive powers or create an administrative tribunal, or do you think we could do both at the same time?
What do you think the best option is?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
In your opinion, what are the main benefits of an administrative tribunal?
First, would it be an independent, autonomous tribunal, or would we give responsibility for language rights to the human rights tribunal, for example? Do you envision a completely separate administrative tribunal for official languages?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
There is a lot of talk about the wording of the act and replacing the word “may” with “must”. That's interesting and it would be very good, but I have concerns about part VII and the impact it might have on the British North America Act and the separation of powers.
Do you think that this change of wording from the word “may” to “must” should also be done in part VII, while fully respecting the areas of jurisdiction?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Ah, yes, I heard that. Part IV has regulations, but Part VII doesn't.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
It's like a body without legs, basically. We have no idea how to make it work.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
I have another quick question.
As far as the Commissioner is concerned, when I spoke to other international experts, I noted that there was a lot of room for the idiosyncrasy of the individual in the position. As you said, never has a commissioner brought a case to court. I think I understood that.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'm always honoured to start the rounds of questions.
Mr. Doucet, we are pleased to have you here with the committee. On behalf of the members, I would like to thank you for your lifelong commitment to official languages.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Precisely. I've heard good things about you, of course.
Getting right to it, would you prefer to have an administrative language rights tribunal established or coercive powers granted to the Commissioner of Official Languages?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
I'd like to take a closer look at the tribunal issue with you. I'm very pleased to see that you sat on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Excellent.
How does it work when a tribunal decides to order a department or central government organization—not an individual—to pay a monetary penalty or pay back funding? Several people have told me it makes no sense to compel a department to pay penalties to the government.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
I see.
As regards governance, would you prefer that the act be the responsibility of the Treasury Board or the Privy Council?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
But that's done in a haphazard way.
What institution would you prefer if a government were less interested in the issue?
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
What institution would you prefer regardless of the situation? Canadian Heritage has no power.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Two weeks ago, we heard from senior officials at the departments of Canadian Heritage and Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie. Exactly how they were divided was unclear.
I asked them whether they had begun to take their first step, regardless of what it might be, in the process of revising the act. Someone answered yes. I asked what that first step was, and the answer was that they had to organize consultations, slowly but surely. I asked whether that first step had begun. I think he answered that that was not really the case, but I'll have to look at the transcript of the meeting. The witness seemed to be saying that the officials in question were currently in talks with the minister to determine how to move forward and begin the first step.
Mr. Power, I'm recalling these facts in order to tell you that I don't think a major revision of the act will take place between now and the next election. I want to be logical and efficient for the benefit of the OLMCs across the country, and I don't want to repeat myself. However—I think you addressed this question indirectly with Mr. Choquette—the judgment that was rendered in British Columbia is really negative for language rights in Canada. However, it significantly illustrates the deficiencies of part VII of the act.
Consequently, if I tell you, sadly, to abandon hope of a major revision of the act before the 2019 election, what legislative measures could the government introduce immediately without waiting for that revision? I'm thinking here of measures that can be easily passed in the House in the six months we have left in which to sit.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Without producing a completely new act, could we simply amend part VII of the act?
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