Adrian Wyld The Canadian Press Bloc Québécois MP Mario Beaulieu, during a session of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, February 17 last
A chaotic meeting of a parliamentary committee in Ottawa did not make it possible to guarantee, on Tuesday, the holding of a debate in good and due form on one of the main demands of Quebec regarding the Liberal reform of the Official Languages Act.
“I think it's important to be able to debate the proposals, especially this one,” dropped Bloc Québécois MP Mario Beaulieu.
Along with his colleagues from the Conservative Party, the elected member of the Bloc Québécois asked for more time for the clause-by-clause study of Bill C-13 at the Standing Committee on Official Languages. The text aims, among other things, to legislate the use of French in businesses under federal jurisdiction in Quebec.
The members of the committee agreed on Tuesday to add six and a half hours of study in order to examine some fifty proposed amendments. But, to the great disappointment of Mario Beaulieu and the Conservatives, elected officials from the Liberal Party and the NDP rejected a motion that was to put forward the issue of federally chartered companies in Quebec.
Debates on debates
All the opposition parties claim to want to modify C-13 to specify that businesses under federal jurisdiction in Quebec must be subject to the Quebec Language Charter French. In its current form, the bill offers these companies the choice between the obligations imposed by Ottawa and those imposed by Quebec
However, it is not certain that the Standing Committee on Official Languages has enough time to clearly present everyone's points of view on the matter. Tuesday's meeting was originally scheduled to be the eighth and final scheduled date to discuss proposed changes to C-13. But only about twenty amendments have been voted on so far.
However, sound problems among the interpreters delayed the start of the meeting by an hour and a half, then the remaining 40 minutes were monopolized by debates on the addition of study time. The members of the committee multiplied the proposals and the points of order, sometimes interrupting each other in a hubbub that continued until the final vote.
Liberal MPs were outraged by a Bloc motion that suggested adding meetings as long as all the suggested amendments to C-13 were not considered. “I remind the committee that if the pre-study [of the bill] had been done [as the Liberal Party suggested last year], we wouldn't be in this mess,” said the Franco-Liberal MP. -Ontarian Francis Drouin.
The New Democrat member of the committee, Manitoban elected Niki Ashton, proposed limiting the study of C-13 to two additional meetings, while withdrawing any guarantee that the amendments proposed in section 54 of the act — that on enterprises under federal jurisdiction in Quebec — be debated. All Liberal members of the committee supported his proposal, guaranteeing its success.
Liberals want to 'take action'
“We added extra time, we will do the debates. There isn't much to add. We heard the witnesses, the points of view […]. It's been years. It's time to take action,” said elected Liberal Marc Serré, who accuses the opposition of wasting the Standing Committee on Official Languages' time.
If the committee uses up all the time allocated to study C-13, the remaining amendments will be voted on in bulk — with the possibility of amending them, but without debate.
The Bloc Québécois and the Conservative Party of Canada are confident that they can modify the bill to the satisfaction of Québec. The leader of the New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile publicly reiterated his support for the application of Bill 101 to businesses under federal jurisdiction in Quebec.
Tabled last year, the bill federal law C-13 must modernize Canada's Official Languages Act, in particular by promoting the use of French in private businesses under federal jurisdiction.
Elected Quebec Liberals have already threatened to oppose the text during the final vote before Parliament, in third reading, judging that its references to the Quebec Charter of the French language are too significant. They argue that this charter, recently amended by Quebec Bill 96, has no place in a federal bill.