Mr. Speaker, I want to point out how disappointed I am. I could hardly wait to speak about this bill today, mainly for personal reasons. I have an Inuit first name, Alupa, which means “strong man”. My entire family is very aware of and attuned to indigenous matters. My wife is an anthropologist who has worked with the Inuit for many years, and my father is a forensic historian, who has defended indigenous people in many cases by locating treaties or doing research for them.
The minister said that this is an extremely important bill that will protect and promote indigenous languages, some of which are dying out. That much is true. The Liberals have also said that no relationship is more important than the relationship with indigenous peoples. They have said it over and over, but this bill was introduced only a few months before the election, at the end of their mandate and four years after they were elected. Yes, it is urgent that we take action, but it is not true that we will all be able to state our position and discuss it in committee. As there are only three spots for opposition members, I do not think I will have the opportunity to debate the bill or to suggest amendments in committee.
Although we support this bill on the face of it, it deals with some very serious issues. There is a very clear reason why we support this bill, and that appears in the last paragraph of the preamble to the Official Languages Act, which states that the government recognizes the importance of preserving and enhancing the use of languages other than English and French while strengthening the status and use of the official languages.
This bill is therefore perfectly aligned with Canada's political doctrine. However, there are some very important issues that need clarification, and I will talk about them now. Why is the Official Languages Act quasi-constitutional? That is because it is linked to sections 16 to 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The minister told us that Bill C-91, an act respecting indigenous languages, is linked to section 35 of the Constitution. Does that mean that this bill will become quasi-constitutional legislation like the Official Languages Act? If so, we will have to discuss this for weeks because it will have a major impact on our society. It will be a very positive impact, to be sure, but when we say that the bill could be quasi-constitutional we need to know where that takes us.
The bill also states that there would be a commissioner of indigenous languages. Will this commissioner have duties similar to those of the Commissioner of Official Languages? Will they have a joint office?
The bill also talks about funding to protect, preserve and promote indigenous languages. Will that involve developing action plans as we do for official languages? Will this cost billions of dollars over five years every five years, as is the case with the action plan for official languages? Will the department also receive $1 billion in recurring funding every five years?
There are all kinds of questions to which we have no answers today. Could we maybe get an inkling of an answer right now?