IN THE HOUSE – Speech – modernization of the Official Languages Act

44th Parliament, 1st session

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to say that we will support Bill C‑254. I personally support it, and my party does as well.

 

I would like to share some of my own personal journey, but before that, I would like to say that, under our leaders, from Jack Layton, Nycole Turmel and Thomas Mulcair to the current NDP leader, the member for Burnaby South, the NDP has always supported strengthening the French language. One of our members, Yvon Godin, whom I can name because he is unfortunately no longer in the House of Commons, was one of the most passionate champions of strengthening the French language.

It is clear that this is a common-sense bill that deserves our support. I will get back to that shortly, but it is clear that it makes perfect sense for a worker working in a francophone environment in Quebec to have the right to communicate and have a collective agreement in French, and that is precisely the goal of this bill.

 

Mr. Speaker, you are a francophile yourself. As you know, I grew up in British Columbia on the traditional territory of the Qayqayt First Nation in New Westminster, right next to Maillardville, home to one of British Columbia's biggest francophone communities. Since childhood, I have seen signs in businesses where everything was written in French. I was fascinated even though I had no way to learn French at the time. There was no immersion school. When I was young, there were French classes, but we all know that one French class a week is not enough to master the language of Molière.

 

Today, in British Columbia, just a few blocks from where I live, where I am speaking from right now, there is an immersion school, one of the hundreds in British Columbia. Parents often line up for an entire weekend to register their children to learn French and do all their schooling in French. Our passion for the French language is alive and well in British Columbia. With the network of immersion schools, it is clear how well British Columbians speak French, much better than I do, because they completed all their schooling in French, whereas I only started learning French when I was 24.

 

Also, thanks to a previous NDP government, we have an entire school system, including elementary schools, high schools and schools following the French curriculum, in other words, French-language schools for francophones. I must say that the status of the French language in British Columbia is much better than it was when I was young. I hope that it will be strengthened and that French will be even more present after all these years.

 

At 24, I finally decided to learn French. I decided to do it in the best possible place, so I went to Chicoutimi. I arrived on January 3 in the middle of a storm. We do not often get storms like that in British Columbia, especially in New Westminster, which is in the greater Vancouver area. I loved learning French and living in Chicoutimi, in the beautiful Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. Then I moved to the Eastern Townships, to Sherbrooke. After that, I went to Montreal, to the east end of the city, Laurier—Sainte-Marie, and finally to the Outaouais, in the riding of Hull—Aylmer. In each of those places, I saw the importance of the services that are always offered to the English-speaking community, everywhere, even in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. I had the choice between the two official languages, even with the Quebec government. I thought it was extremely important that these services be offered in the minority language.

 

However, I also learned that, right now, if a worker wants to work in French in a federally regulated business, that is left to the discretion of the business. So long as this bill is not in force, businesses have no obligation to provide collective agreements in French or ensure that employees can communicate in French with their employer. We need to address this. We need to provide a framework so that all workers can work in French. It is only natural, and that is why we must support this bill.

 

I loved the 12 years I spent in Quebec. I had the opportunity to travel all over the province. I learned about how important it is to strengthen the French language, not just in Quebec, but across the entire country.

 

This brings me to the important point I want to raise about the modernization of the Official Languages Act. This act was adopted 50 years ago, and things have certainly changed since then. We must all work on this issue and develop tools to modernize the language situation across the country.

 

In my professional life, before becoming a parliamentarian, I often had the opportunity to travel to Atlantic Canada, across Ontario, especially in the north, and through western Canada, in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There are many francophone communities throughout. You might think of Maillardville, or the Saint-Sacrement neighbourhood in Vancouver. There are many francophone neighbourhoods and towns across the country.

 

However, the Official Languages Act does not meet their needs the way it used to 50 years ago. We have to strengthen and support these communities no matter where they are. Whether in Saint Boniface, in Hearst, in the beautiful and extraordinary region of Acadie—Bathurst, in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou or in Edmundston, we can see there is a remarkable francophone presence there.

Modernizing the Official Languages Act will make it possible for these communities to not only to continue to exist, but also prosper and attract newcomers, new people who will also speak the language of the Molière.

 

As I mentioned, our late leader Jack Layton, our former leader Thomas Mulcair, our former MP Yvon Godin, our former acting leader Nycole Turmel and, of course, our current leader have all advocated for strengthening the French language.

 

The NDP believes that strengthening the French language is not something that is done solely at the federal level. NDP governments in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba set up school systems that offer umbrella programs in French-language schools for francophone students and immersion programs so that people can learn French.

 

NDP members such as Léo Piquette, Elizabeth Weir and Alexa McDonough, when she was the leader in Nova Scotia, also strengthened francophone institutions. It was the former NDP government that did the most for francophone rights in Ontario. It is therefore not just federal NDP MPs who advocate for the need to strengthen the French language. It is the entire party and all of its members, at both the federal and provincial levels.

 

For all those reasons, I am pleased to support this bill, and I hope that the right to work in French in Quebec will be strengthened

 

 

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