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Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages Bill

Motion in Amendment

June 15, 2023

Hon. Tony Loffreda [ + ]

Therefore, honourable senators, in amendment, I move:

That Bill C-13 be not now read a third time, but that it be amended,

(a) in clause 2, on page 3, by replacing lines 18 and 19 with the following:

“the National Assembly of Quebec has determined that French is Quebec’s official language;”;

(b) in clause 3, on page 4, by replacing lines 5 to 12 with the following:

“predominant use of English; and”;

(c) in clause 24, on page 21, by replacing lines 27 and 28 with the following:

“(b) the National Assembly of Quebec has determined that French is Quebec’s official language;”.

Hon. Pierrette Ringuette [ + ]

Would you take a question?

Senator Loffreda [ + ]


Senator Ringuette [ + ]

Thank you. I’m looking at the clauses that you want to amend, and these clauses refer to the New Brunswick Official Languages Act, which is a provincial act, and to Manitoba, which also has a provincial act.

In fact, I wish Ontario also had an act recognizing the francophone minority in Ontario. If that were the case, we could have referenced it in Bill C-13 as well.

Senator Loffreda, as far as your issue with references is concerned, I understand that you have concerns, but I don’t see how this reference would be any different from the reference, in the same clauses, to language rights for the people of New Brunswick.

Senator Loffreda [ + ]

The reference to the Charter of the French Language in Quebec, which includes Bill 96, is being challenged in the courts. The “notwithstanding” clause was used pre‑emptively, which leads us to believe that it’s not constitutional, and I don’t believe that’s the way to govern.

Now, I don’t believe that is the situation or the case in the other provinces, and this is why I would like to remove these three references from Bill C-13. What happens when we change Bill 96, if we ever do change the Charter of the French Language law? Do we change Bill C-13?

I don’t believe the same situation as in Quebec is present in the provinces you have mentioned, which is kind of diminishing English minority rights, and that is why I feel these references should be removed.

Along the same lines, I understand that you have concerns about the Quebec law, but I have issues with the fact that you want to get rid of references to all provincial language regimes.

With respect to Quebec’s law, you know that MP Housefather tried to put that same amendment forward, but it was rejected in the other place. I don’t see how you’d convince the other place to go for this.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Loffreda, you have very little time to respond.

Senator Loffreda [ + ]

I think we have a right to defend minorities in this chamber. We are a voice for minorities. That is exactly what I’m doing.

I don’t think every amendment made in this chamber concerns or reflects what the other place is thinking. As I said in my speech — and I don’t want to repeat it — there is a danger in retaining those references, and that is why I’m amending the bill as is.

Hon. Judith G. Seidman [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Senator Loffreda’s amendment. Thank you for introducing it, senator.

Colleagues, the words we use really do matter, and we should be especially mindful of the words that we include in our legislation. We can’t know now just what unintended consequences these three references to the Charter of the French Language may have, but we do know with greater certainty that there will be no harm done by removing them. After all, Bill C-13 makes no references to New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act nor to any other pieces of provincial or territorial legislation. It is my contention that the unique Charter of the French Language references are superfluous and potentially harmful. Therefore, colleagues, they should be removed.

Last week, I listened to Ezra Klein of The New York Times interview Jennifer Pahlka about the machinery of government. In 2013, Pahlka was the Deputy Chief Technology Officer in President Obama’s administration. In 2020, she helped California Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration fix its Unemployment Insurance program. She has great insights about, as Klein puts it, “why things go wrong [in government] even when the people involved are trying to make them go right.” She is focused on an area of policy that is too often ignored by policy-makers, which is implementation. Her insights are transferable to legislators in any country, including ours.

In the interview, Pahlka recounts the story of how a piece of technology that was included in a federal act merely as an example has, as translated through the hierarchy of government departments in the years since its adoption, become a requirement. That is because within bureaucracies, civil servants are most often held accountable based on whether or not they followed a process, and those processes are based on the words found in legislation.

Ms. Pahlka’s experiences working with American governments at the city, state and federal levels demonstrate that the words used in legislation are really important and consequential. As legislators, we must carefully consider whether the wording of legislation might have unintended consequences.

Last week, Eva Ludvig, the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, expressed concern about how Bill C-13 might be interpreted by civil servants. She said:

Once something is in law, we don’t know how that will be interpreted, not only by the courts but also by civil servants who implement it.

However, when I asked about the words included in Bill C-13, Minister Petitpas Taylor disagreed. She said:

Yes, we made reference to the Charte de la langue française in our Bill, but it’s only for descriptive purposes, to say that that regime applies in Quebec.

Justice department lawyers, she told us, have assured her that there is minimum risk to the reference to the charter. Minimum risk — but risk, colleagues. Meanwhile, the committee heard from lawyers not currently employed by the government who suggested that the references do pose a significant risk.

Honourable senators, in the introduction to his interview with Jennifer Pahlka, Ezra Klein noted:

In our media . . . There’s a ton of focus on politics, on elections, on big policy questions and fights and theories. But then the bill passes and the nitty-gritty of how that policy actually shows up in people’s lives is left up to someone somewhere. And when it . . . makes people’s lives worse because of how it is implemented, there’s often no outcry because there’s no attention, and so there are no fixes.

Colleagues, Senator Loffreda’s amendment offers us the opportunity to reduce the risk written into this legislation now, when the spotlight is still on, so that we can avoid some of the unintended consequences that this legislation may have on people’s lives. I urge you to join me in supporting this amendment.

Thank you.

Hon. René Cormier [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Seidman. You know how much I appreciate your advocacy for Quebec’s English‑speaking communities.

I am looking at Senator Loffreda’s amendment, which would make three changes, two of which target the simple assertion that, quote, “Quebec’s Charter of the French language provides that French is the official language of Quebec.” I don’t see how anyone could oppose that.

Senator Seidman, do you agree that this amendment denies the existence of a diversity of provincial and territorial language regimes? As an Acadian, as a francophone in Canada, I am very uncomfortable with the scope of this amendment. I’m sure you can see why I’ll be voting against it. I’d like to hear your comments on that. Thank you.

Senator Seidman [ + ]

Thank you very much, senator. My understanding of what this amendment does is that it takes four clauses — clause 2 on page 3, clause 3 on page 4 and clause 24 on page 21 — and merely replaces the language “Charte de la langue française” with this language that has been presented.

Senator Cormier [ + ]

I just want to say that it actually does more than that, senator. On page 4, the amendment takes away the notion that there’s a diversity of provincial and territorial language regimes, and that makes me very uncomfortable. Thank you for your answer.

Hon. Jean-Guy Dagenais [ + ]

I honestly believed I wouldn’t have to speak to Bill C-13 again, but I find Senator Loffreda’s amendment completely unnecessary and unacceptable. Let me tell you why it should be summarily rejected.

Unfortunately, Senator Loffreda’s amendment indicates that he is playing the same game as the only member of the other place who voted against Bill C-13 to modernize the Official Languages Act.

Every member of every political party in the other place voted in favour of Bill C-13. All but one, who claims to be speaking for a few anglophone groups in Quebec. It’s a shame to see just how willing Senator Loffreda is to endorse that member’s small‑minded belief that the rights of anglophones in Quebec are threatened by the entirely justified reference to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language in the text of the bill.

Quebec’s Charter of the French Language exists. It was adopted by a duly elected government. It makes sense, then, that a bill like Bill C-13 should recognize and refer to it. Given that both levels of government are agreeing to work together for once to protect and revitalize the French language, it would be inconceivable for the Senate not to follow the example set by the members of the other place. After careful study and thoroughly negotiated amendments, MPs understood that this bill is an essential piece of legislation that protects the country’s two official languages when they are in a minority situation.

I have some concerns that I would like to share about the use of devious means or linguistic subtleties to try to remove references to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language from the federal bill. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it contempt for Quebec’s francophone community, but I would point out that within Quebec’s privileged anglophone community, there is a dangerously entrenched desire to resist any political initiative designed to ensure that francophones in Quebec have the right to live and work in their own language in that province.

How can Quebec’s anglophones claim that there’s a threat? There are three English-language universities, four English-language hospitals, English-language colleges and a constitutionally protected English-language school board. Are there that many services dedicated to francophones in the other provinces?

I grew up in the Rosemont area of Montreal and, before becoming a police officer, I worked briefly for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, CIBC. However, I didn’t work in Rosemont. Instead, I was exiled to the West Island to ensure that I learned English. Fortunately, things have changed, but we had to fight to protect our language, something that English-speaking Montrealers don’t have to do and won’t have to do, even when Bill C-13 is passed. It would be inconceivable for the Senate to jeopardize Bill C-13 because banks, airlines and a few other federally regulated companies are afraid of having to communicate with their employees in French.

Let us quickly revisit Senator Loffreda’s amendments. In his speech at second reading, he stated that he had heard no convincing argument as to why the references to the Charter of the French Language needed to be included in the bill. Maybe he should have contacted the Quebec government to ask for details of the discussions that led it to reach an agreement with Ottawa, rather than seeking to create an environment conducive to misunderstandings, as we have seen all too often. In his speech at second reading on Bill C-13, Senator Loffreda described himself as follows, and I quote:

I’m very proud to be a Quebecer, proud to speak French, proud to live in a province where French is the common language of the people . . . .

All the pride he spoke about is represented and enshrined in the charter to which he says no reference should be made.

Given the anemic pride he is expressing today, I doubt that he will get an invitation anytime soon from the Premier of Quebec to celebrate his contribution to the development of the French language.

To be honest, I would have expected a bit of restraint from our colleague and friend.

In closing, I will repeat what I said: Bill C-13 is not perfect, but it contains enough elements for us to allow the government to implement it with, of course, all the necessary oversight both for anglophones and francophones.

To get there quickly, we need to reject the amendments presented by Senator Loffreda.

Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Are senators ready for the question?

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion in amendment?

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