June 13th, 2022 - The subject matter of Bill C-13, An Act for the Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages - Various Witnesses
Senator Poirier: Thanks to the witnesses for being with us today.
My first question concerns the refusal by the three departments to provide essential information relating to Bill C-13. As a result of their refusal, we will be less effective in examining Bill C-13, particularly since an additional $16 million was allotted in the 2021 budget.
Is this the first time in your experience as Parliamentary Budget Officer that departments have refused to provide information?
Mr. Giroux: Thank you for that question, senator. Since I’ve been in this position, I’ve seen few cases in which departments refused to provide information and, until this unfortunate incident, no cases where departments refused to provide information on the ground that it was not yet public. We requested the information, and the three departments concerned refused to provide it to us on the ground that it had not yet been made public, whereas that’s not a valid exception under the act. However, I must congratulate and thank the Commissioner of Official Languages for his close cooperation, which helped us arrive at a plausible and reasonable cost estimate.
To answer your question briefly, senator, this is the first time since I’ve been in this position that I have encountered simultaneous refusals by three institutions.
Senator Poirier: What reasons did the departments give for refusing to provide the information?
Mr. Giroux: The reason they gave was that the information was not available to the public. Consequently, rather than provide the available information confidentially, as most departments and agencies do, the three departments concerned explained that the information wasn’t in the public domain and that they couldn’t provide it for that reason.
Senator Poirier: When will they be able to provide it?
Mr. Giroux: The day after the report was released, we received details from Canadian Heritage, which provided information to us and explained that an attachment that should have been emailed to us had not in fact been sent. It was unfortunately too late because the report had already been drafted, prepared, translated, published and submitted to the committee. In other words, the three departments forwarded the information once it had been made public.
Senator Poirier: You explain in your report that the government didn’t anticipate the costs that Bill C-13 would impose on the various departments. What kind of problems do you think that will cause when the changes planned under Bill C-13 are implemented? Is there a chance it’ll take longer to implement the changes?
Mr. Giroux: There are two possible scenarios. First, the government may not provide permanent funding to implement the act. The departments and agencies concerned could cut back activities in other sectors in order to fund activities made necessary under Bill C-13. The departments and agencies could also implement the bill in very minimal fashion to avoid cutting back on other activities they have to undertake. For example, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is organizing a number of activities. Bill C-13 could be implemented in a very minimal way, or the departments and agencies could allocate new resources from other sources or that are earmarked for other activities in order to fund activities under Bill C-13.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.
Senator Poirier: My question is a follow-up to what the chair asked earlier. I want to make sure I’ve understood. The chair asked whether there had been consultations with the various groups you mentioned, and what the outcomes were. I believe you said that in the course of some of the consultations with a few of the groups, you had not obtained the information because they did not have enough of it. Who would have this information? Why bother to meet with groups that are unable to give us answers? How will their circumstances be evaluated? How would they be able to obtain the information they need to take part in a consultation so that we could have an accurate picture of their situation?
Mr. Giroux: That’s a good point, senator. The two analysts held discussions with groups from the chambers of commerce, chamber of commerce associations and representatives of the airline sector. However, as written, the bill allows the government a lot of latitude in terms of regulatory application. Several of the regions where the bill will be implemented will be determined by regulatory means. When we met with private sector groups and asked them to estimate what the costs would be for them, they told us that they couldn’t give us an answer, because they didn’t know in which areas or regions of the country the bill would be applicable, because that was going to be determined at a later phase.
Who can give us information on this? The people who work in the departments, including the ministers, if they are familiar with the intent underlying the bill applicable to the regions that are going to be covered. We don’t have a good idea at the moment. That’s why we had to make a number of assumptions in evaluating the costs involved in implementing Bill C-13, because we didn’t have all the parameters.
Senator Poirier: Might it not have been preferable to answer these questions before tabling a bill? I’m not saying that we should wait two years before introducing a bill, but shouldn’t this exercise have been carried out ahead of time so that we could know where we were headed?
Mr. Giroux: I’m not an official languages expert. For you, the legislators, it’s something you would do well to specify before ruling on the application of the bill. Unfortunately, I’m not the one who can answer these questions. I don’t have any of these answers, but you’ve raised an excellent point. The government is asking you to decide whether or not to approve a bill when you are unaware of certain important details in terms of its implementation.
The Chair: Is it fair to say that some of the answers to the questions will be in the regulations?
Mr. Giroux: That’s right. That’s my understanding of it.
The Chair: That’s often one of the issues that arises between the study of a bill and the subsequent regulations. Thank you for your question, Senator Poirier.
Senator Poirier: Thank you both for being with us today.
I have a couple of questions. My first question is on the use of French in federally regulated private business act. It will give the federally regulated private businesses the choice of which linguistic jurisdictions it operates under, which is provincial or federal. In your brief you state that it sets a dangerous precedent.
Could you elaborate on the dangerous precedent it would set and would the dangerous precedent be limited to linguistic minority communities or broader?
Ms. Ludvig: I can answer that. Up until now, the Charter of the French Language was not applicable to any federally regulated enterprise. It really was in the provincial domain. Now we are taking federal activities and allowing them to be regulated under provincial legislation, and that is unprecedented in the language field.
Ms. Fraser: Can I add something to that?
Ms. Ludvig: Of course.
Senator Poirier: Yes, please do.
Ms. Fraser: Senator Poirier asked if this precedent applies only to linguistic matters.
Senator Poirier: Or broader.
Ms. Fraser: I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that it could have broader implications and that it could have implications beyond Quebec should any other provincial government wish to set up a regime where its laws and regulations would apply to federally regulated enterprises. I think a federal government might have some difficulty refusing such a provincial initiative, given the precedent that is being set with this bill. Given that the Charter of the French Language now is covered by the “notwithstanding clause,” you can see implication upon implication arising out of this, I think.
Senator Poirier: The use of French in federally regulated private business act also stipulates that two years after its coming into force, regions with a strong francophone presence will also be subject to this law. In your opinion, is the government not limiting linguistic rights contrary to francophones in Quebec and certain regions with strong francophone presence? And will these regions with the strong francophone presence be the same as significant demand from Part 4 of the act?
Ms. Ludvig: These are very good questions to which we don’t have the answer, but it does open the door to all kinds of new limitations to either francophone communities or obviously, as we say, the English-speaking community.
This is where you start having difficulty when you start creating new regulations, new laws that are not clear as to whether they are federal or provincial. I think that it could lead to difficulties. We will have to see how that works out.
Senator Poirier: Senator Fraser, did you have anything to add?
Ms. Fraser: I don’t think so.