Mr. Ovide Laflamme (Montmorency):
Mr. Speaker, invited to give my opinion on the resolution concerning the application of bilingualism within the civil service, I will certainly take this opportunity to express my views and, perhaps also, allay the anxieties of some hon. members who consider that the subject is raised much too often in the House.
Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, this resolution concerns a highly political subject which virtually affects the future of the whole Canadian people, and the members of all parties are certainly not wasting the time of the House when they publicly proclaim their opinion on one of the official languages in Canada.
We have adopted the Official Languages Act which was supported by most hon. members, by all party leaders and, of course, by all liberal members. In fact, not to admit it would be lying to one's self.
Moreover, over the past years, several interpretations have been made of the Official Languages Act and particularly of the respective roles that the French and English languages should play within the public service. Let us not deny it: Some fears have been expressed by many citizens and maybe also certain views were circulated through the public service which had nothing to do with reality.
Of course, the principles of the resolution may seem elementary but in view of the past confusion I think it is important to repeat these principles and to allow the most important political body of this country, namely the House of Commons, to state its position on those principles so that those responsible for the public administration may implement them with the knowledge that they have the Commons' confidence. Finally, basic principles will be implemented within the public service towards the essential objective which is to communicate in the language of one's choice at all federal levels.
I think I can make this statement without anyone being able to charge this government with politicking on bilingualism and, on the other hand, without charging the other hon. members and mainly the Leader of the Official Opposition (Mr. Stanfield) or the leader of the New Democratic Party (Mr. Lewis) to try and play politics with this debate, which is basic if we are to understand that in the public service there exists a system by which opportunities and chances are equal for all Canadians. And I am rather convinced that the application of this resolution can better serve the causes of French- than English-speaking people because in the past, a certain group of French Canadians have rather been disinterested towards the federal public service, for reasons that can very easily be understood. There is also something that could be called not discrimination but a tendency to place people on a side line, because it is easier to understand each other when you are using the same language; it is also normal to deal
with an assistant, a helper speaking your own language, because that very important vehicle is essential to communicate with human beings.
Generally speaking, I think that this confirmation of principles by the House of Commons is timely; Mr. Speaker, if the resolution accepted by the House had no result other than to clear up the confusion in the mind of a number of civil servants and if the population could understand that we are trying to provide all Canadians with basic services they are entitled to when we are talking about the language of communication, either French or English, we would have reached an important point and at the same time, we would have insured better understanding between all Canadians be they from Vancouver, Quebec or the Maritimes.
Mr. Speaker, I think I am right when I say, without claiming that Canada is the country which is doing most for the French language, that we must realize that we are the most privileged persons in the world with the best means of communication to be able to use equally English or French which are both world wide communication languages. We must take better advantage of that asset in the federal public service where some gaps still remain to be filled. It is important and imperative for the government and for the House of Commons, because it it the higher political body in the country, to provide guidelines for those who will have the responsibility to apply them in order to ensure services in both official languages.
I was saying, Mr. Speaker, that our country is one of the most privileged countries because it has the opportunity to enjoy both English and French, which are two universal languages. Furthermore, with our means of communication, radio and television for instance, we are perhaps the country which contributes the most for the progress of both languages and particularly French, because I think that French-speaking Canadians, those who have a French Canadian origin in Canada, have a right to wonder.
All hon. members who speak French are members of an international association of parliamentarians. In 1971 we had the pleasure and good fortune of welcoming the representatives of 28 states. They were parliamentarians of French-speaking countries. I think, Mr. Speaker, that these natural relations between states, through the vehicle of thought which is language, are a considerable enrichment.
I think there is no need to recall that at the United Nations as well French is one of the official languages of communication.
But in a country like ours, Mr. Speaker, where a third of the population speaks French and where important steps have been taken by youth to learn one of the official languages a considerable improvement took place these last few years. I think it is important that hon. members make a decision on this question and state openly that some positions must be recognized as essentially bilingual to ensure the citizen the possibility of communicating in the language of his choice when dealing with the government.
One can say of course, once again, that it is elementary; previous years have shown that we had to come back to the subject, talk about it again and that the House of
June 4, 1973
Commons has to make a decision on the matter. If most hon. members can accept this essential point, we will have taken a giant step forward or we will have accomplished significant progress towards national unity, towards well understood Canadian unity and we will have ensured the basic elements of a healthier understanding between Canadians, whatever their province.
I have received open letters and I know quite well that it is the same for several other members. Frankly, I cannot understand how Canadians can now speak of a possible unilingual country, of having one single language and one culture. These people, however, make an effort to write in excellent English. Yet, I believe that these people are not dishonest, but they really lack information. And perhaps their leaders have failed to fulfill the duty incumbent upon them, that is to describe really the nature of our country, how it was constituted, and finally, that there were at least six million French-speaking people in Canada and that bilingualism was not too important in some parts of our country.
I know that in my riding, 99.9 per cent of the people speak French; speaking bilingualism has some importance because it opens the doors of the public service to Frenchspeaking people, which was very difficult in the past since there was some reluctance to do it. To be able to understand and speak to one another, I think that this is one of the most important aspects of the resolution now before us, which recognizes that public servants should be able, under the provisions of the Official Languages Act, to fulfill their duties within the government in the official language of their choice.
I come back to the theme of the resolution which, in a country which was established in 1867, must be considered by people like me as entirely elementary. But, in my opinion, it had to be said in order to secure a better understanding and give public servants who will be responsible for the implementation of these principles the authority to ensure, once and for all, that the individual who will write a letter in French will be able to get an answer in French and that he who will write in English will get an answer in English.
Mr. Speaker, in closing I will say a few words concerning those who maintain that those administrative criteria should be incorporated in the Official Languages Act. Administrative criteria, or principles, which are somehow the guidelines in the implementation of the Official Languages Act in the public service, could very well be called regulations.
But regulations are not part of the legislation, and to answer the hon. member who proceded me, I will simply state that he does not have to get impatient, that if the House agrees to that motion, as I have a feeling it will, the government, which has always moved forward in the implementation of a genuine policy on bilingualism, both within the public service and in connection with the official languages and all the federal institutions, is still really the one which can offer the greatest possible pledge that the rights of individuals will be respected. It will however be necessary to make sure that the language of the citizen can be used as a basis and can likewise be used
in the public service, and that the official positions will be duly filled.
Indeed, Mr. Speaker, when the Leader of the Opposition suggests or recommends that that resolution be made an integral part of the Official Languages Act, I for one do not question his sincerity.
However, at the political level-it may be a very clever suggestion or proposal-I would like to suggest to him that he will have to secure the support of the majority or the totality of the members of his party. The Leader of the Official Opposition is one of the leaders-and I say this with a very open mind, Mr. Speaker-who for the first time as leader of the Progressive Conservative party really sets himself on basic issues at the level of a head of a national party.
However, Mr. Speaker, that is a lot. I know that the House gave him an ovation when he rose to officially support the Official Languages Act against the will of a group of members of his party. He showed real courage.
I lr. Speaker, to those members who are concerned about the fact that this issue comes back very often before the House, I merely say that when voluntarily and with good faith those criteria will be allowed to be applied and become the policy followed within the public service, that is a question which will disappear at the national level and at the same time we will have set the cornerstone to really ensure a well-understood national unity among all Canadians for they will be able to talk to and understand each other.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: OFFICIAL LANGUAGES