March 2, 1927 (16th Parliament, 1st Session)


Joseph Henri Napoléon Bourassa


Mr. HENRI BOURASSA (La belle):

seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that we had better remain within the scope of this resolution and judge it on its merits. Naturally I will not take up the argument of my hon. friend with regard to regulation 17, because it was only through the indulgence of you, Mr. Speaker, that that was brought up. I simply desire to say to members of this House who respect the rules of debate that they need not expect me to touch upon that matter, although of course I do not accept the views of the hon. gentleman in that connection.
With regard to the motion just now before us, it seems to me that we must consider at once both its principle and application, as in any other proposed enactment. The principle, as I see it, is the assertion of a right connected with the constitution of the country. The hon. gentleman who has just taken his seat read article 133 of the constitution. I suppose in the reading of legislation, as in the reading of Holy Script, there are such things as the spirit and the letter. I will not oppose the view of any French-Canadian to that of the hon. gentleman with regard to the interpretation of our constitution, but rather will I give him the word of a man whose opinion still stands, I think, in the minds of a large number of Canadians, not exclusively Conservatives, as the one man who better understood and to a large extent better applied the spirit of confederation. I refer to Sir John A. Macdonald. Twenty-four years after' this piece of legislation was enacted in London as giving effect to the will of the people of Canada, he made a declaration in the parliament of this country in regard to the status of both languages. The hon. gentle-

Civil Service-French Language
man has just said that there has never been an attempt made by any one outside of Quebec to do away with those rights enjoyed by French-Canadians under the constitution. Evidently his memory is short, because in those days there was a very strong attempt made to altogether do away with the use of the French language in the federal service. That campaign was conducted by Mr. Dailton McCarthy; in provincial affairs it was carried on by Hon. Mr. Meredith, and was also supported, I believe, by the organizations with which the hon. gentleman is connected. Exactly the same arguments were then made as were brought up by the hon. gentleman this afternoon: "This is an English country; Canada has been conquered by Great Britain and therefore must conform to the principles of English government. The English language should Be the sole language of this country as well as of the British empire." Sir John A. Macdonald did not go beyond the boundaries of Canada and did not deal with the whole empire, its ethnical composition or historical development; he contented himself with the statement which I am about to repeat. I have not the book with me but it can be easily found, and I think I know the words almost by heart. He said, "Whether this country was conquered or ceded is a propos de rien", using himself the French words. "Under our present constitution both races", and by that- he meant English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians, "enjoy exactly the same rights in matters of religion, in matters of language, in matters of civil and political rights as well as personal rights, and therefore the two races stand on a footing of equality." That was the spirit of the law. Sir John A. Macdonald had helped to frame the letter of the law, but he had kept also the spirit which had permitted the enactment of confederation. In those days it was not thought necessary to state in so many paragraphs of the constitution that a natural right which had been enjoyed for three centuries by the founders of the country, the pioneers of Canada, those who made it possible for England to keep Canada a British country, should be continued and should not be curtailed by a narrow interpretation of the text of the law by narrow-minded individuals. Therefore the spirit of confederation, the spirit of amity and good will which made confederation possible was preserved, although they did not recite those rights of nature, those rights of the spiritual soul of a nation, in so many articles of law. They did not expect that a time would come when groups or individuals claiming to be their political heirs
would narrow it down to such a measure that, because the right of a national language is acknowledged only in one single article, you must not see that it is kept alive in the political activities of the nation.
In all civilized countries and by all civilized beings, Canada is considered to be a bilingual country, without question. It is a rest for me every time I go to London-and I go frequently-to get away from colonial narrowmindedness and to see how the leaders of thought in England realize how far the British empire is from being an English-speaking community. What an absurd thing! The English race represents only about ten per cent of the population of the British empire. The English language is the one official language of only a very small portion of that empire. I do not know whether or not the hon. member is aware of the fact, but it is a fact that the French language was the only official language of England for about three centuries. Under the Edwards, the English language took form, became the language of society and finally the language of parliament, but not by enactment of law till the time of Elizabeth, if I remember rightly. The English language was first enforced upon Wales by a statute of the British parliament; I think it is the only portion of the British Empire in which that was done, except for a short time in Canada after the rebellion of 1837, when an act of the British parliament imposed the English language as the sole language of Canada. But the English, coming back to their best senses and their best traditions, repealed that act before ten years had elapsed. The Boer language is the official language of South Africa as well as English; the Irish language is to-day the official language of the Irish Free State with English as a secondary language, just as French is in Canada; but thank heavens! the men who rule Ireland, after five centuries of struggle against subjection, are broad enough to give to the English minority in Ireland a position which will never be disputed and to permit them to enjoy not only the use of their own language, but. the other civil and political privileges or natural rights for which the French Canadians have still to fight in effect, owing to the narrow spirit which prevails in some quarters of Canada.
Now to consider whether this motion is opportune or not, we have to take the facts as they are. The hon. gentleman who preceded me himself admits that in the province of Quebec the use of French is necessary in the conduct of public affairs or in the administration of public departments. My hon. friend calls it a French province. I object to that statement, Sir. The province of Quebec is

Civil Service-French Language
not a French province, and the reason why the provincial spirit is still being kept, up in that province is precisely that attitude of mind on the part of a certain number of English Canadians who consider Quebec as apart from confederation, just as, for example, some Indian reserves are kept apart for the preservation of the remnants of our aboriginal ra^s. The province of Quebec is one of the nme Canadian provinces. The vast majority of its people speak French, but they grant to the English minority the right to speak English freely, and they accord to them in the local administrations, municipal or provincial, which are entirely under our control, those facilities which we ask in federal affairs, not merely as a matter of right-I would never put the question on that narrow basis -but as a matter of common sense and true Canadian spirit, so as to spread out into every province of Canada the same spirit of Canadian citizenship which exists in Quebec and should exist everywhere in this Dominion.
This is not, in my view, a matter of sentiment. but of adhering to the principle of confederation, to the terms and spirit of the alliance between the two races who made confederation possible, the founders of the country and the newcomers who came later on and who, after a century of more or less struggle, agreed to bury the hatchet. I come back to the example of the Irish Free State. The descendants of the inhabitants in the English pale, who for centuries had thought that there was no possible destiny for Ireland until the Irish people had consented to become English, finding out that that was not possible, made up their minds to become Irish in their turn and thus have made possible the successful government of that country. We did that sixty years ago. Are we going to exemplify it in the ordinary activities of the state? This, after all, is the question. It simply means that' we are willing to show to the people of this country and to the outsiders who come in-whether they stay with us or traverse our country and learn some of its lessons-that Canada is a different country from the United States. That is the main issue. It is somewhat surprising that certain groups of men who stand as the upholders of everything British are bent on Yankeefying this country as much and as fast as they can. They want to impose on us the Yankee system of education. They want to make of Canada-by language, by habit, by custom and by political administration-a weak and mean replica of the American republic. Well, I have more pride than that, either as a French Canadian, as a Canadian pure and simple, or as a Britisher.

I want Canada to be different from the United States. And how are you going to keep it different? Not merely by proclaiming the king the head of the state. No, the whole of history has proven that emblems of sovereignty and systems of government are not sufficient to keep up the spirit of a nation. It is not by proclaiming in so many articles of law that we acknowledge ourselves British; it is still less by developing in the minds of one-fourth of the population of this country-the pioneers of the land, the only element in Canada which is absolutely and exclusively Canadian, and has been such for centuries-the notion that outside their "Reserve" of Quebec there is no place for them, unless they abide by the will, and the habits, and the language of the majority.
Now, in the public service, I do not hold, as a matter of practice, that every civil servant should be obliged to speak French. No, that would be absurd, and I am sure such an idea does not find a place in the mind of the hon. gentleman who moved the resolution. In that respect, his resolution can be somewhat changed in its wording. But let us take the spirit of it. It means that in this country, first as a matter of historical development, second as a broad interpretation of the constitution of the country, third, taking into account the (Country's present ethnological position, and fourth having in view the necessity of preserving all the mental, moral and social barriers which we can oppose to the penetration of Americanism, we must make this country bilingual as much as we can in order to preserve it as a country different from the American republic. That has always been the main object we had in view in the province of Quebec by demanding-if the hon. gentleman wants me to use that word-by demanding a greater recognition of French all through the country. My hon. friend can take my word for it, that not only when I have spoken before English-speaking audiences, but every time I have spoken on this question in my native province, when there were none but French people to listen to me, my main argument has always been this: It is not as Frenchmen that we should claim a proper place for the French language, and its official expression in all the activities of the state, it is not a mere narrow racial privilege that we ask, but a broad Canadian right, anxious as we are for the preservation of the Canadian soul, a composite one, in constant need of all the good elements and all the contributions which all races can give, but more especially the two main races that have created it.

Civil Service-French Language
Now with regard to the argument made by my excellent friend from Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Woodsworth), of course the hon. gentleman is right in a way, and the resolution, as I read it, and would interpret it if I were a minister of the crown, would certainly include the possibility of putting at the disposal of any group of individuals all through the land public servants capable of understanding them. There must be s recognition of the situation to which the hon. member (Mr. Woodsworth) alluded. For example, in the United States they have grown wonderfully in that respect in the last twenty-five years. You can go into the Interior department, especially the Immigration branch, or into the large post offices of the United States, and there you will find expert linguists who will interpret almost any language of the world. They do it for the efficiency of their administration, but they do not acknowledge [DOT] thereby that the Spanish, or the Yiddish, or the Portuguese, or the Chinese, are recognized official languages in the United States. Here we put the question on this basis: English and French are the two official languages of Canada. That cannot be denied, they are official languages. Some people may consider that one has more right than the other. In the minds of the men who made the constitution, and in my mind, they have equal rights. That is a question of degree which opens a fair door to debate. But French and English are undoubtedly the two official languages of the country, and that fact ought to be acknowledged in practice.
As regards the argument of economy, made by the hon. member for Joliet,te (Mr. Denis), I have frequented departments of state in this country for thirty years, either as a member of parliament or as a ratepayer, and I have found out exactly the same thing which the hon. gentleman has described, namely, that in many instances there are twenty employees where fifteen would do because such a large proportion of them, being incapable of responding to the needs of the Frenchspeaking ratepayers or people who have to deal with the government, unable to answer them in their language, the service has to be duplicated.
Of course, a policy like this would have to be applied gradually and with common sense. It would not mean the exclusion of all employees who speak only English. It would not mean that possession of the two languages would be the sole or even the principal qualification. I would put the matter in this way: the first qualification for a public
servant is honest}7; the second is efficiency,
expert competency; and the third, is the capability of dealing directly with the people of this country who have a right to be understood in their own language. It seems to me that is fair. The hon. gentleman says that there is no impediment of that kind in the province of Quebec. I can tell him that I myself have gone to the Montreal customs house and, just to find out, inquiring from one wicket to another of the customs, I have had to pass a good many before being able to get an employee who understood a word of French. In the largest French city in the world after Paris and Marseilles, the third largest French city in the- world, I have myself been told by a customs officer in the Montreal post office, when I asked in French for some information-he answered me not in English, but in the American slang which is rapidly taking the place of English in this loyal British country-"Can't you talk English? Don't you know this is an English country?" I said, "Yes, sir, I can mumble a few words of English. I think I know English a little better than you do because it is the king's English I endeavour to speak; but I have a right to be understood in French." He said, "It ain't your right. Don't talk nonsense." That is the way I was answered in a public office in the city of Montreal.

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