44th Parliament, 1st session
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking right after my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, not only because his speech was extraordinarily profound and important, but also because he is one of the greatest defenders of minority language rights in the House and, of course, the defender of French in Quebec. His words and his actions are proof of that. He understands that we always need to strengthen the French language, not only in Quebec, but across the country. I have an enormous amount of respect and esteem for him.
As the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie just mentioned, today's motion is important, but it merely reiterates things that were already settled in the past. The fact that Quebeckers form a nation was of course recognized and reinforced by a motion in the House of Commons in 2006. The fact that French is the only official language of Quebec has been recognized since 1974, and the fact that French is the common language of the Quebec nation has been recognized for a long time as well. These facts are constantly being reinforced.
There are some concerns about the decline of French. Certain measures are providing hope, which is important, and my party, the NDP, has always been the only one that defends French and wants to strengthen it both in Quebec and across Canada.
Our record makes that clear. As my colleagues know, the NDP was the first party to talk about enacting an official languages act. It was also the first party to proclaim Quebec's right to self-determination, and the first party to advance the rights of linguistic minorities outside Quebec.
I will get back to this a bit later, but it was an NDP provincial government that set up the French-language school systems in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Once again, in Manitoba, it was an NDP government that enacted the Official Language Act. In Ontario, it was an NDP government that created the college system.
I want to remind the House of our history and the work of NDP members like Léo Piquette in Alberta, Elizabeth Weir in New Brunswick and Alexa McDonough in Nova Scotia. In every respect, the NDP has always understood the importance of French at both the provincial and federal levels. As my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie so eloquently put it, ever since Jack Layton and the NDP adopted the Sherbrooke declaration, we have always borne in mind the need to respect the Quebec nation and to ensure that every federal program allows Quebeckers to opt out with full compensation.
I would also like to talk a bit about the trips I have taken to francophone regions over the course of my life. As my colleagues know, at 24, I decided to learn French, so I moved to Chicoutimi. Even in Chicoutimi at the time, as a young anglophone who spoke only a few words of French, I received services in English at the Jonquière office of the Société d'assurance automobile du Québec when I went to exchange my British Columbia driver's licence for a Quebec one.
In addition to my time in Saguenay—Lac‑Saint‑Jean, I also lived in the Eastern Townships east of Montreal, where I worked for several years at Champlain College and Bishop's University, two entirely English-language institutions in a beautiful region of Quebec where English-language institutions are still alive and well. I also lived in Montreal and in the Outaouais, and in all these places I found well-funded and very pleasant English-language institutions. Whether we are talking about hospitals or schools, the network is there.
What is important is to maintain these institutions, but we must especially make sure that French is protected and that it can develop throughout Quebec. This is an important aspect of what the NDP has always supported. Where I differ from my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois, is about the need to talk about the importance of French outside Quebec.
I worked in northern New Brunswick and in Acadian territory, and I can say that the French language and French-language institutions are extremely strong there. That is important for the francophonie across Canada. Having also worked and lived in eastern Ontario, and as a francophile from British Columbia, I understand the importance of these French-language institutions, as well as of the federal government that finances and supports them across the country. This has not been the case in recent years, under either the Conservatives or the Liberals. The underfunding of French-language institutions puts the very strength and prosperity of francophone communities at risk.
In British Columbia, where I now live, the number of francophones is on the rise. Several factors contribute to this increase. One of the important elements is the fact that, in British Columbia, there are francophiles, people like me, especially young people, who are learning French as a key asset for supporting the francophonie in British Columbia.
I am now one of 300,000 French speakers in British Columbia. This is an important point that is not often considered by my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois. The fact that there are 300,000 of us and that the number keeps rising reinforces the cultural aspect and the importance of the cultural economy of French in Canada. When Quebec or Acadian artists come to Vancouver, they perform before packed houses. The vitality of the francophone community is apparent everywhere in British Columbia. It is apparent in the increase not only in the number of francophones, but in the number of francophiles as well. Francophiles are often the ones packing the house. Right now, with COVID‑19, there are few performances, but we hope to see that change soon.
The fact that francophiles contribute to this major increase in the popularity of French in British Columbia has a lot to do with the fact that parents stand in line for an entire weekend to register their children for French immersion. There are a number of French schools for people whose first language is French, but there is also a system of French immersion schools. As a result, there are more and more consumers of Quebec, Acadian and Franco-Ontarian cultural products. This contributes to the growth of French on a national scale.
It is very clear that French must be strengthened in Quebec. I do not deny that, and the NDP fully supports that idea and the measures that come with it, but it is also important to have a federal government that strengthens the presence of francophone institutions across the country. This is the best way to strengthen French across Canada and truly build a future where the French language can thrive across the country.