June 16th, 2022 - The subject matter of Bill C-13, An Act for the Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages - Various Witnesses
Senator Poirier: Thank you to the witnesses for being with us this evening.
My first question pertains to something you say in your brief to the committee. You mentioned it in your presentation as well. The brief says, and I quote: “The bill provides an open-ended and confusing employee complaints process.”
You think the complaints process should be more tightly defined. What would you consider an appropriate employee complaints process that doesn’t cause confusion? Do you have an amendment to the bill that you would recommend to address that?
Mr. Vaillancourt: We could certainly recommend an amendment. One example I can give has to do with the commissioner’s investigative powers. The bill stipulates that the commissioner could, at a certain point, refer the complaint to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, but does not set out the time frame or procedure for doing so. Normally, when a complaint is filed with the Canada Industrial Relations Board, the Canada Labour Code provides for a strict deadline.
If the commissioner is given too much leeway, to what extent and within what time frame could complaints be referred to the board? It’s merely to ensure consistency in how the various pieces of legislation are implemented. An amendment could certainly be made to prescribe the time frames in situations in which the commissioner decides to terminate his or her investigation and refer the matter to an administrative body like the board.
Senator Poirier: My second question has to do with the regulations that will be made following the passage of Bill C-13. One of the things they will do is define an important concept, the number of employees for businesses in a region with a strong francophone presence that are subject to the bill. What should the minimum number of employees be? Should the government set out a broad definition of a region with a strong francophone presence?
Mr. Vaillancourt: I think the definition should be liberal in scope. Does that mean the definition should be overly broad? I am in the camp that believes the definition should be as specific as possible. I think every region can have a different scope, and the same goes for the number of employees in each business. I think the nature of the business’s activities will be a determining factor in the number of employees requirement and the number who will have to speak French.
For example, the number of English-speaking versus French-speaking customers and the number of francophones in a region as a proportion of the region’s total population are considerations. I think those factors could help determine the number of employees for each business. I think the number of employees could be different for each business. That is what makes the consultation process and employer involvement so important. Whether or not an employer is in a region with a strong francophone presence, it could in fact argue that it is at a disadvantage compared with another employer not in an area with a strong francophone presence, since that employer would not have to incur any of the costs associated with complying with the new legislation.
Senator Poirier: Did the government consult you previously, in connection with Bill C-32?
Mr. Vaillancourt: We weren’t specifically involved in the process surrounding Bill C-32, but Derrick Hynes can say more about that because he was more engaged at that level.
Derrick Hynes, President and Chief Executive Officer, FETCO: There was a panel that was struck to do some analysis before Bill C-32 was introduced, which was the predecessor to Bill C-13. There was some consultation undertaken at that time.
To circle back to your question, which is where I think this comes from, this is what we view as one of the fundamental strengths of this bill, the consultation process that will answer many of these questions. We are glad that it will be done after the bill passes, so that we can have a fully informed conversation with all stakeholders around some of these definitions and how this bill will roll out, particularly in regions outside of Quebec. We do not have answers at this point around what those definitions should be, but we would want to be a full participant in that consultation.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.
Senator Poirier: Thank you to both witnesses for being with us this evening.
My first question concerns the document that you sent concerning Part 2 of Bill C-13, the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act.
The model you proposed concerns federally regulated private businesses outside Quebec. Can you explain to me how you came up with this model and why it is preferable to the one proposed by the government?
Ms. Roy: Thank you for the question, Senator Poirier.
As you have seen, it is a step-by-step approach that will advance French in all provinces and territories in the country. What we are advocating is a model that applies everywhere; we want both languages to be treated equitably and to be in line with what is already being done in federal departments.
We thought it was simpler than starting a new system in other regions.
For us, this model is the result of careful consideration; we wanted to try to find a model that meets the needs of all our communities in all regions of the country.
This does not mean that this model applies everywhere, all the time. As I said in my text, there may be designated places. For example, if we take any bank, we could have a branch in Vancouver that is designated bilingual, where people could be served and work in French. There is a way to accommodate the entire population in our various communities and in the provinces and territories.
Senator Poirier: Do you have any amendments to support your model in Bill C-13? In your opinion, would it be better to simply withdraw Part 2 of Bill C-13, as you suggest?
Ms. Roy: Our amendments concern Part 1 of Bill C-13. We have proposed wording for six amendments in Part 1 of Bill C-13. We are not proposing any specific amendment to Part 2.
Perhaps my colleague Mr. Dupuis would like to add some comments to this answer.
Alain Dupuis, Executive Director, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada: The limitation we see in relation to Part 2 of the bill is this idea of a strong francophone presence and the way in which this concept will be defined.
It is clear that the definition will come after consultations and that it will be set out in regulations.
Perhaps it is up to you, honourable senators, to determine whether a change to the wording is necessary; does a strong francophone presence take into account the needs of the francophonie in the Greater Toronto Area, where there are 100,000 francophones who speak French as their first language? Is this a region with a strong francophone presence? In our opinion, that would be enough to justify having branches or offices designated bilingual in certain undertakings to provide services and to allow francophones working in a business to work in their language. In our view, this may not require an amendment to the bill as it stands, or perhaps a better definition of what is meant by a “strong francophone presence” should be provided.
One thing is certain: When we appeared before the committee of experts that was to provide information to Minister Joly on the first version of the bill, we emphasized that there was a great deal of concern about the fact that a series of rights would be created for certain francophones who already live in predominantly francophone regions and that there would be no increase in the use of French in federal undertakings elsewhere in the country. It will really depend on how this strong francophone presence is defined. We think that this definition should be based on the same type of definition and the same type of categorization as for French services within federal departments.
For example, there is a regulation in Part IV that applies to services to the public that stipulates that, starting in 2023, a federal office must be designated bilingual if there is a school located within 25 kilometres of that federal government office.
This means that the office will have to provide services in French. We think that this designation makes sense and is based on where people live. That does not necessarily mean that, in a large city like Vancouver, as Ms. Roy was saying, we will have to ensure that all the offices of a federal business offer services in French or allow employees to work in their language. There are certainly enough francophones in Vancouver to justify offering services and accommodating workers who want to work in their language.
Senator Poirier: My question relates to one of the proposed amendments, which is to have Treasury Board as the central enforcement agency. Like you, I am of the opinion that the Treasury Board should be the central enforcement agency.
Can you elaborate on why Treasury Board should be the central agency for the application of the Official Languages Act? And in your opinion, is the success of Bill C-13 highly dependent on having Treasury Board as the central agency for the implementation of the changes contained in the bill?
Ms. Roy: Thank you for the question, as this is very important for us. In terms of the implementation of the act, we suggested the Treasury Board, because they already manage parts of it. We recommend that they be responsible for the whole implementation of the act, the whole act.
This would ensure that we really have a central agency for implementation, coordination and accountability in relation to the law. For us, this is indeed a very important aspect of Bill C-13.