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Results: 1 - 15 of 281
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Welcome everyone. It is a beautiful day.
With me today are Mr. Hubert Lussier, whom you know, and Mr. Michel Francoeur, who discussed with you all the ins and outs of Bill S-3.
It is my pleasure to speak to Bill S-3, an Act to amend the Official Languages Act. The object of this bill is also to promote French and English. It was originally presented in the Senate by the Honourable Jean-Robert Gauthier. First of all, I would like to commend Mr. Gauthier for his tenacity and commitment to Canada's official language policies. S-3 is the fourth bill proposed by the former senator on this subject.
Bill S-3 targets changing the Official Languages Act in order to impose a legal obligation on federal institutions to guarantee the implementation of the federal commitment described in Part VII of the Act. The government shares the objective of increased accountability that Bill S-3 advocates and I would like, at this time, to remind you of the unequivocal commitment of the Government of Canada to promote our linguistic duality.
First, as noted in the most recent Speeches from the Throne, the government is entirely committed to reaffirming linguistic duality as a fundamental Canadian value and to promoting the vitality of official-language minority communities.
Secondly, I would like to remind you that Cabinet now includes a minister responsible for official languages, tasked with horizontal coordination of the implementation of the official languages policy.
Thirdly, the Government of Canada is working towards full implementation of the Action Plan for Official Languages, at the heart of which are found the policies attached to governing Canada's official languages. I think that it is important therefore that I now define certain dimensions of the plan in that respect.
The action plan is the new road map for Canada's linguistic duality. It contains an accountability and coordination framework as well as an investment strategy, including three axes: education, official language minority community development, and measures to make the public service exemplary. The accountability and coordination framework, which is the linchpin of the action plan, targets all of the act. It reiterates the obligation of each federal institution with respect to parts I to V of the Official Languages Act and specifies the conditions for implementation of part VII, which we are talking about here today.
Its aim is vast and its range is far-reaching. It ensures the official languages dimension is included in the conception and implementation of public policies and government programs. In this way, the new accountability and coordination framework specifies that in order to implement the federal commitment contained in part VII, federal institutions must sensitize their employees of the government's commitment and the concerns of the official language minority, identifying policies and programs that have consequences with respect to the status of our two official languages and the vitality of their official language minority communities, consulting them, and taking their needs into consideration. The accountability and coordination framework also includes a whole series of clauses that reinforce horizontal coordination.
In short, the action plan and its accountability and coordination framework are geared towards better collaboration and better results and in this way demonstrate how much the commitment and actions of the government meet those included in Bill S-3: making federal institutions increase accountability and in doing so, increase support for Canada's linguistic duality.
I must, however, tell you about the reservations I have with respect to the current wording contained in the bill. It appears to me that its impact could prove harmful.
Remember that Bill S-3 replaces a non-justiciable policy commitment, which is in great part a commitment based on spending power, with an obligation to take decisions and attain results. S-3 creates this obligation with respect to a very broad objective which is difficult to evaluate - contrary to Parts I, II, IV and V of the Act which target precise situations such as language of laws and regulations, parliamentary debates, services to the public and language of work.
In addition, the obligation to obtain results becomes justiciable, which means that it could be the subject of a court case.
Put this way, the adoption of the bill could cause major repercussions.
First, it could considerably affect the relations between the federal government and the provinces and territories. Currently, many priority areas related to official language minority communities are provincial and territorial jurisdiction, and the government could find it extremely difficult to attain required results without the collaboration of other levels of government.
I would like to remind you that the bill demands, among other things, that the Minister of Canadian Heritage “shall take appropriate measures to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society”. Under these circumstances, trying to achieve desired results with part VII of the act could cause major pressure on federal-provincial-territorial relations.
Next, Bill S-3 could also have the effect of considerably reducing the government's margin to manoeuvre within its capacity to develop policies and programs and when exercising its spending power. Ministers' decisions could be subjected to revision by the courts, and the courts could rule for amendment or cancellation of government initiatives.
I think that the bill should be improved in such a way that, while still maintaining its first objective of increasing the accountability of federal institutions within the implementation of Part VII of the Act, it respects the capacity which the federal government must maintain in its discussions with the provinces and territories, in its choice of policies and programs to be developed, as well as in exercising its spending power.
It is important to preserve the partnership that we have with the provinces and territories in the many areas where we work together.
It seems to me that the best way to proceed towards this end would be to require federal institutions to implement means to fulfill the government's commitment, as opposed to requiring them to attain results to do so. Let us be clear: we are all agreed that it is important to maintain good relations with the provinces and territories. But, at the same time, is it reasonable to ask the federal government to attain results when we know that it would be extremely difficult without the cooperation of the provinces and territories?
I would also like to remind you that, in this regard, the federal commitment found in Part VII of the 1988 Official Languages Act which is declaratory and not justiciable, was written in that way because of serious concerns expressed by the provinces and territories with respect to federal government pressure in areas outside of its jurisdiction.
I want to be sure that you understand what I mean. Putting obligations on measures taken instead of results to be attained does not aim to eliminate federal encroachment in provincial jurisdiction, because it goes without saying that a federal law could not sanction encroachment.
The amendment that I propose aims to reduce the risk of political tension that could arise as a result of a federal institution wanting to obtain results—mandated by the Act—but which depend on other levels of government.
The proposed amendments my colleague submitted to you last week are therefore based on an approach that targets the means as opposed to the results, while at the same time reinforcing the federal government's commitment to the promotion of French and English in Canadian society. With these amendments, federal institutions would be required, when developing policies or programs, to determine whether the policy or program impacts on the implementation of the commitments, consult where appropriate any interested organizations, including organizations representing English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada, and take into consideration the impact of the promotion of French and English as well as results of consultations. The obligations of the Minister of Canadian Heritage would also be subject to similar measures.
I would like to repeat the fact that these steps, which would be justiciable, are far from being banal or negligible. The legal obligation to consider the impact of a policy or program on the promotion of English or French would be substantial and would allow federal institutions to respond more appropriately to the needs of the official-language minority communities and the interests of linguistic duality as a whole. It is along this track that the Commissioner of Official Languages made reference in her last annual report (2003-2004). She said, and I quote:
Institutions subject to the Act must usually consider the needs of official language communities when drawing up policies and programs.
This requirement would have a much larger impact if its binding nature were clearly established. Indeed, all institutions would have to take a much more searching look at the effect of their policies and programs to ensure that they support the development of the communities involved. The Commissioner concluded by recommending that the government “clarify the legal scope of Part VII through legislation or regulation by defining its compulsory nature as well as how federal institutions should implement it under the terms of section 41 of the Act.” It seems to me that the amendments put forward by my colleague are very much in line with this way of thinking.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to present my point of view on Bill S-3. The government accords much importance to its commitment with respect to official languages and I hope that the committee can agree on the best way to improve it.
Mr. Chairman, we are in your hands.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
First, the implementation of the official languages policy as a whole is what is relevant to Part VII of the Act. This refers to agreements between the federal government and the provinces and territories. In this respect, one example would be the memorandum of understanding we signed with the Education ministers across Canada.
In terms of improvements, we would like to make consultations accountable under Part III. The result, be it in the field of education, health services or any other field affected by the government's action plan on official languages, also depend on our relationship with the provinces. Health and education are provincial area of jurisdiction, and we would not want to see the results challenged before the court. Why? Because they are often the fruit of our negotiations with the provinces. It is important to ensure that adequate consultations are carried out with stakeholder organizations in the community as a whole before the process is completed. Moreover, we have to see to it that the negotiations with our partners are not strictly on a bilateral basis: in other words, the federal government must also have done its homework.
If the results were justiciable, that would imply that anyone could argue that the federal and provincial governments are not investing enough into for instance bilingual health care services. The results would be challenged before the court. What would happen then? First, everything would probably be at a stand still for years and then, undue pressure would be brought to bear on the province, which also has a limited ability to pay.
So, we suggest being accountable before the consultations which lead to the results rather than for the results themselves.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
First of all, I would like to get back to what Ms. Adam was saying. It is true that over a two year period we carried out the implementation of the action plan, which was not an easy task. It required a new way of doing business. Ms. Adam could not say the same today, because we have a memorandum in the field of education. We are now working with Ontario, but the fact is that in the case of 12 provinces in territories, everything will be signed within the next few days. Moreover, we are working bilaterally with the provinces. In terms of services, things are going relatively well.
When Ms. Adam stated the progress was slow and that there were no results, she was referring to the implementation of the action plan. For that to be acceptable, many consultations were also required. If we only focus on making results justiciable, the overall results will not be the only thing on the line. Amounts invested by both parties to meet needs will be as well. So, the federal government would not be the only one being challenged: our partners, in other words the provinces, would be as well.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
The results are actually measured within the action plan's framework. There is the Official Languages Commissioner, this committee, and, of course, us. However, there is a big difference between measuring action plan results and making those results justiciable. Making those results justiciable means that the court can examine any program that any citizen feels did not get sufficient funds. I do not think the provinces would be very pleased.
I'll give you an example. We have just settled the education issue with the provinces for a period of four years. The funds that are being invested were determined under an agreement. We will then sit down to deal with bilateral issues; I call this the tailor made part. That involves negotiations with each province. We have settled this issue with the provinces.
Any citizen could say that they think the funds are not sufficient and that on those grounds they will take legal action. This is not a simple affair. First, there is the ability to pay on the part of both levels of government and there is also the issue of undue pressure being put on us and our provincial partners, given that we agreed on the amounts that we must and can invest in this together.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
I'll start by making two points. There are several reasons for complying with jurisdictions.
First, when you're dealing with official languages, you don't want to constantly be tying things up in court. Earlier on, we were talking about a standstill. The best way to bring everything to a standstill is to allow everyone in Canada to challenge results. That halts the process. Take the Montfort hospital. How long did it take to settle that dispute? Four years. That's one thing.
How can one be very efficient without paralyzing the system and without creating undue financial pressure, not only at the federal level but also at the provincial level, because provinces will be affected as a consequence? That is why we felt we needed to proceed through consultation. It is true that the education exercise we undertook was very long. Ms. Adam even asked us when we were going to get results. It is true that it was a very long process, but we learned a lot.
We did our consultations ourselves, and we asked the provinces to consult with their school boards, for example. School boards are very important. They will be meeting this weekend. It's important that they be a part of this process but the provinces have to consult them because this is a provincial jurisdiction. If we make these consultations obligatory and we provide a framework, then the result of the negotiations will be much more tailored to the needs of the communities than if we decide what those communities' needs are, here in Ottawa.
Second, you mentioned compliance with jurisdictions. This has been an important factor. You know that I am quite concerned about that aspect. The Supreme Court, in its latest rulings, has consistently taken into account the various communities' unique characteristics, including those of Quebec, being fully aware that francophones are a majority in Quebec but a minority in the rest of America. It has always taken into account Bill 101. Under our Constitution, our statutes cannot encroach upon provincial legislation, and the Supreme Court, in its rulings, has made sure that it is taking into account the uniqueness of each community. In this case, we're talking about Quebec.
Therefore, I am not concerned about this. I was concerned about something else however. The federal government can end up infringing through its spending authority. The federal government does not infringe on jurisdictions through its statutes but rather through its spending authority. If that spending authority is made justiciable and pressure is exerted on us, then this pressure will also inevitably be felt by our financial partners who are the provinces and the territories.
When one is talking about the public service or about bilingualism in our statutes, one is not talking about part VII, but rather about parts I, II, III, IV and V, which makes it much easier to justify the bilingual requirement or lack of. Part VII is much less easier to quantify. That is why in 1988, the focus was rather goodwill and good understanding. In order to ensure that there is no undue pressure on our partners or on ourselves—because the issue is the ability to pay—in order to not paralyze the system, we will oblige ourselves to consult people. If those consultations are insufficient, then we will have recourse to the courts and we will be able to tell people that they have not done their homework.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
Yes, absolutely. If there are groups who think that they have not been adequately consulted, if they do not see themselves in the results, then they can take us to court. That is the goal.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
No, that cannot happen.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
I will explain why and then I will give the floor to Michel who was very involved in the Montfort Hospital case.
We are required to “determine whether the policy or program impacts on the implementation of the commitments”. We are required to do that, otherwise we may end up in court, and that applies to everything: to Crown corporations and to the whole of the government.
We are also required to “consult any interested organizations, including organizations representing English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada” and to “take into consideration the conclusions drawn from the application of paragraph (a) as well as the results of consultations carried out within the application of paragraph (b).”
In other words, we must comply with all of that and that applies to the whole government: Crown corporations and all organizations.
I will now give the floor to Michel, because the Montfort Hospital's story is an interesting one.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
All right. We are required to take into consideration the conclusions drawn under paragraph (a) and the results of consultations undertaken under paragraph (b).” That means that we aren't just consulting. We are required to take the results of those consultations into account. However, do we want to end up in court over and over again over the years, for each decision made? Is that good for the promotion of linguistic duality in Canada? We have an interesting precedent and that is the Montfort Hospital.
Michel.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
I will let Michel answer because we are talking about legal niceties here.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
When you look at all the obligations, you can see they apply to several clauses, for example clauses 41, 42, 43, 44 and so on. If you read all of part VII, you can see that these obligations are, to my mind, real and verifiable. We shouldn't forget that we absolutely must have significant means to check up on how the communities are flourishing. We must also consult the stakeholder groups. We must consider the impact on the communities and on the results. If it's a justiciable obligation, everything must be documented because, at the end of the day, we could be brought to court.
Those obligations are rather significant.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
Yes, Bill S-3 puts pressure not only on the federal government. The spending in a lot of domains is usually a partnership federally and provincially. In its current status, that's what Bill S-3 does, as far as a result.
We had a discussion with Senator Gauthier. He said this was not really what he wanted. He wanted to make sure that we're efficient, that there is consultation, and that the results of those consultations are taken into account.
That's why we brought an amendment saying we are going to make it obligatory for the whole of government and crown corporations to consult and to take into account the consultations within our plans and negotiations. The result of this is that it then cannot be brought into court because the procedures are justiciable.
View Liza Frulla Profile
Lib. (QC)
No, it's not only that. It's an obligation to verify the incidents within the communities to any policies, any decisions made, and any application of the plan. It's also the obligation to consult all interested groups and to take into account the incidents within the communities of these results. We have to document everything, and we have to make it official. If we're brought to court, we then have official documents to be able to discuss it in court.
It's quite a constraint. This will put more financial obligations on the government and within the machinery because we're increasing the obligation of the government to do that. It's applicable to the federal government. It's our decision to put our money where our mouths are. This pertains to the federal government. It's on our shoulders.
At the end, I'm sure the result will be much better than what we've seen before, because it's obligatory not only for the Minister of Heritage but also for our crown corporations and the entire federal government.
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