Minister lays groundwork to modify Official Languages Act, protect and promote French in Canada
OTTAWA -- Federal Minister of Official Languages Melanie Joly tabled a document Friday set to lay the foundations for official languages reform for the next 50 years.
She promises a bill this year, without providing specifics on the deadline.
The Canadian Press was able to consult a draft of the 30-page document, entitled "French and English: towards real equality of official languages in Canada."
In addition to the provisions surrounding language of work in the private sector, the government is proposing reforms in areas ranging from immigration to the selection of Supreme Court judges, including granting the Commissioner of Official Languages new powers.
Minister Joly thus wants to consolidate the Liberal government's new vision, which takes into account the minority status of French in Canada and North America, and which undertakes to protect and promote French not only outside Quebec, but also in Quebec.
"For us, this is a priority. It was put in the Speech from the Throne," said Joly. "There, we came up with an ambitious reform document, it is a robust reform and that will continue to be a priority. This is not a consultation document, it is a game plan."
But now, the game plan will be accompanied by the formation of a group of experts responsible for making recommendations in 60 days. It is only then that the minister feels that she will be able to present the long-awaited modernization of the Official Languages Act.
"My goal is to table a bill during 2021. The more the reform is welcomed, the faster we can go," she said.
LANGUAGE OF WORK AND IMMIGRATION
The federal government is expected to draw inspiration from Quebec for respect for the language of work, but Joly also wants to act the selection and integration of newcomers.
The document proposes that the future Official Languages Act provide a framework for a francophone immigration policy that would support the francization of newcomers outside Quebec.
"There is already support from the provinces and territories for this to be the case," said Joly.
The idea is to maintain the demographic weight of the francophone population outside Quebec, which has been decreasing year after year.
It was 3.9 per cent in 2011 and could drop to 3 per cent by 2036 according to recent Statistics Canada projections. The federal government is targeting 4.4 per cent thanks to immigration.
It also guarantees the right to work in French in all federal companies with more than 50 employees in Quebec and in predominantly French-speaking regions.
The committee of experts will be responsible for defining which regions outside Quebec will be as well as the possible remedies for workers who feel their language rights have been violated.
An administrative agreement with Quebec for the application of this new federal regime should also be considered.
"We were inspired by Bill 101 for rights," said Joly. "These are the same rights that are in Bill 101 that are found in our approach."
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
The federal government also wants to ensure that it sets an example at the highest level, whether in the public service, Canadian bureaucracy or the highest court in the country.
"We want to act as an exemplary government and that is why we are stepping up... There cannot be erosion, there cannot be hindsight, we have a leadership role to play at this level," said Joly.
On the international scene, the federal government wants to do more to promote its two official languages.
It is therefore a question of supporting bilingualism within Canadian diplomacy and encouraging it to make the protection and promotion of the French language and its belonging to the international Francophonie a priority, the document reads.
Within the public service, we will want, among other things, to review the minimum second-language requirements for supervisory positions in regions designated as bilingual and strengthen the role of the Translation Bureau within the government apparatus.
The government had already committed to appointing only bilingual judges to the Supreme Court of Canada; it would therefore enshrine this obligation in law.
It also intends to strengthen the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages and give him or her more tools to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act.
Finally, the law obliges the government to carry out a periodic review at least every ten years. The last time it was reformed was in 1988 under the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney.
-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.