Hon. Robert Thibault (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak in the House on this bill and to indicate my support. I am pleased to see this much support, although it is pity there is not unanimity . Nevertheless, it is good to see how it is moving along, and a great tribute to Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who has been the champion of francophones outside of Quebec, for linguistic minorities, including Quebec anglophones.
There was a time when this could not have been imagined. A time when we could not have imagined this country having official languages legislation. Certainly we went through some bad times in Nova Scotia.
I would also like to pay tribute to another senator from a rather long time ago, my grandfather, who entered political life in 1907. At that time, it was forbidden in Nova Scotia to teach in French. The French-speaking communities could not educate their children in French.
A priest of the day, Father Blanc, or maybe Father Daignault—I stand to be corrected—had written a text called Voyage à travers le Canada . In those days, he could not put his name on such a book. A number of copies were made and it was used in all the Atlantic provinces and even in the United States, in French schools, even though it was banned. That is what the children were taught from. If the school inspector came, they had to put it away and get out an English textbook. The same book was used for six years, so they came to know it off by heart.
Time moves on and things change. Now, thanks to the Official Languages Act, and thanks to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have education in French in our communities. We have an Acadian school board in Nova Scotia like the other provinces do. There have been many other changes too. Father Léger Comeau of Nova Scotia—unfortunately also deceased— would have loved to have been around to see it. He was involved in all the discussions on the Official Languages Act when there was talk of lawsuits to advance the cause. He devoted his life to that. He would be delighted to see it.
There are also people like Denise Samson, with whom I worked. She has also passed away. She spent her entire life working in Acadian communities to further these causes.
It was good. We had the Official Languages Act, with sections 41 and 42. I remember that, at the time, I was volunteering with the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia. I was taking part in the FCFA's work along with the member for Ottawa—Orléans. We saw the consequences that this legislation would have. It was good. It was there, it was declaratory. It stated that federal institutions must serve the linguistic communities and must ensure their social, cultural and economic development. The will was there but not the powers. If a department did not make progress, there was no way to force it to recognize that fact.
I think that this is Senator Gauthier's fourth attempt. He has shown remarkable tenacity. We thank him for it and we are happy that he is here to see this achievement. Thanks to his efforts, we are finally here. The member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell worked hard, as did all the members of the committee, and I thank them. We are now at the point where cabinet will have to adopt regulations in order to ensure enforcement of this legislation. All the departments will have to truly respond to Canadians, because it is justiciable and executory. Canadians can rest assured that the Official Languages Act will be enforced across the country.
That is important to me. It is important for francophones in Acadia, for example, but also for anglophones in Quebec, who are entitled to services and can go to court if they are not provided. It all depends on good will. I do not know if this happens, but we were given the example of Mrs. Paulin in New Brunswick. In my riding, I saw an RCMP call centre move from a bilingual community to a unilingual community. Are they going to be able to maintain those services there? It seems to me that if they had wanted to follow perhaps not the letter but the intention of sections 41 and 42 of the Official Languages Act, they could have kept this centre in the bilingual Acadian community to enhance the vitality of that community. It did not cost any more. However, it was easier for administrative reasons. People preferred to be in a larger community, so it moved.
I am not sure—lawyers will tell us—but if we could have applied Bill S-3, perhaps we would have had some recourse. We certainly will have recourse in future cases.
I have seen cases in our human resources development centres, now called Service Canada, where several jobs involving direct service to the people of these communities were transferred to larger towns instead of being kept in the communities.
In Acadia, especially in Nova Scotia, Acadian communities are in rural areas far from the big centres. We are always fighting a major battle against assimilation. We know that if the community wants to maintain its linguistic vitality, it is important for it to have cultural, economic, and educational vitality and more.
I am thrilled to support this bill. I am very pleased with all the cooperation we received to get it to this stage. Even though it took four attempts, we finally made it. I would like the hon. members from the Bloc Québécois to reconsider and support the bill. It would be good of them to let it get through the House. It would be in keeping with the spirit of Parliament to do so.
Once again, I want to thank Senator Gauthier and the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell for all their work.
Subtopic: Official Languages Act