Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C‑13, an act for the substantive equality of Canada's official languages. This is an important bill.
As we know, along with indigenous languages, English and French are at the heart of Canada's history and identity. They are a major part of our country's social, cultural and economic vitality. Our government has always emphasized the importance of official languages in Canada, and we consider them to be not only a solemn responsibility, but also a way of recognizing the diversity and inclusion that define our country.
As a proud francophile, Quebecker and Canadian who represents the wonderful riding of Hull—Aylmer, I know how important that responsibility is. I represent what is likely the most bilingual riding in the country. Not only do my constituents speak both French and English, but they speak them well.
Part of this responsibility includes promoting the spirit of the Official Languages Act. The act is not only important to members here and federal public servants, but it is important to all Canadians. It is a reflection of who we are. Our world is changing fast, and linguistic realities are changing too. The linguistic context is in the midst of a major transformation, making an in-depth reform of this law necessary.
The reality is that bilingualism has been part of Canada's identity from the very beginning. In fact, it was in 1867, the year of Confederation, that English and French became the official languages of the Parliament of Canada.
In the 1960s, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, who also wore a bow tie, I might add, today being bow tie Thursday, established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. The commission made recommendations for measures to ensure that Canadian Confederation would develop based on the principle of equality between francophones and anglophones in Canada. Those same recommendations would later form the basis of the very first version of Canada's Official Languages Act, which passed in 1969, the year I was born.
For the first time, the act made English and French the official languages in Canada, not just of Parliament, but of Canada. It stated that Canadians had the right to access federal services in the official language of their choice.
In 1988, the new version of the Official Languages Act updated and clarified the linguistic rights of individuals and the obligations of federal institutions.
As the House knows, our government has taken important measures over the past few years, first by amending the official languages regulations for services to the public, and now with the Official Languages Act.
We held vast consultations with many stakeholders and we listened to what they had to say. Their comments were essential in the context of amending the regulations in order to make them more inclusive and representative of Canadian society.
These changes, which will be implemented over the next few years, will pave the way for the creation of some 700 new bilingual offices across the country. This is a big step forward in terms of providing services to Canadians in the official language of their choice.
Whether on the front lines or behind the scenes, our federal public servants provide these services. Every day, they communicate with Canadians in the official language of their choice. The government is committed to providing federal services in both official languages and to promoting a public service that fosters the use of French and English.
We have made significant progress because today's public service is much more bilingual than it was when I was born. Today, more than 90% of executives in the public service occupy bilingual positions. In surveys, most employees report that they feel free to use the language of their choice at work, but we know that the system is not perfect and that we must do better.
Bill C-13 marks an important step in the modernization and strengthening of the Official Languages Act. I would like to present the changes proposed by the bill.
The bill will do more than just give the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat the authority to monitor the compliance of federal institutions with their language obligations. In fact, it will require the department to do so.
What is more, the Treasury Board will work with the Department of Canadian Heritage to establish policies and regulations that will help federal institutions take positive measures to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities and promote linguistic duality in Canadian society. These policies and regulations will also help to hold federal institutions accountable in this regard.
It will now be easier to ensure that federal institutions meet their official language obligations. This will also help to increase the linguistic capacity of our public service.
What do these changes mean for Canadians? They likely mean two big things: a greater number of services for all Canadians in the official language of their choice and greater emphasis on the needs of Canada's official language minority communities.
For the past 50 years, the Official Languages Act has not only given Canadians basic language rights but also shaped our country's identity. We are a country that respects and celebrates diversity and inclusion.
I think Canada made a unique choice, not on purpose, but out of necessity. The French arrived in the New World, the North American continent, and, thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the indigenous peoples, they survived frigid winters and came to understand that no one could go it alone here, that everyone had to work together.
When the British arrived in North America some time later, instead of absorbing the different societies, as they had done in many other countries, they made room for the French. They allowed the French to keep their culture, their education and their system of laws, and francophones were able to keep their identity as francophones. This makes Canada a country unlike any other.
I do need to point out a certain character trait that Canada has developed over the years, decades and centuries. We tend to accommodate others rather than simply forcing them to adopt our point of view. I think this is reflected in Canada's official languages, and we must promote them, especially for Canadians who belong to minority communities across Canada.
The Official Languages Act is more than just a law. It is a reflection of our country's evolution and a part of our Canadian identity. This bill strengthens bilingualism across the country to make sure that Canadians can access services in the official language of their choice.
I call on all members to work together and support this important bill.