• Post published:February 19, 2021
  • Reading time:4 min(s) read
  • Post category:In Ottawa

Ensuring Access to Services in Both Official Languages

Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in reply to the ministerial statement. I welcome the government’s plan to modernize the Official Languages Act.

I come from New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province in Canada. I am proud to represent the riding of Fredericton, where so many people live and work in both official languages. That reality exemplifies the vision for society that Canadians adopted more than 50 years ago.

As mentioned by other colleagues today, the French language unites millions of people across Canada. In every province and territory, people share stories, love and dream in French. It is of the utmost importance not only to protect the language, but also to take steps to ensure it thrives and flourishes.

I have a deep personal connection to what language represents and an endless empathy for what it means when someone has lost the ability to express their deepest thoughts in the language that once belonged to their ancestors. Language is the reflection of our soul. It is the means by which we are able to better describe the world in which we live, without hesitation or doubt, with love.

When my stepfather was growing up, he and everyone he knew was shamed for speaking Wolastoqiyik. Shame is a powerful weapon. It cuts deep and almost totally severed the connection of his people to their language, the language that should be passed on to my children. Language is at the root of identity. Once this land was a diverse forest of cultural identity, and it can be again with the proper nourishment.
 
As we protect the two official languages of this country, let us also ensure that the ones spoken on this land for millennia take root to stand proud and strong once again. I am encouraged by the minister’s statement affirming the unfailing support of our government toward preserving and revitalizing indigenous languages—
Madam Speaker, learning a new language is not easy, but it opens up a world of opportunities and adventure.

Immersing yourself in another culture and learning to communicate in a second language is enough to make your head spin. Searching for the right words and not knowing exactly how to answer a question is intimidating. In a way, I am proof that it is possible to reconcile both identities, to be receptive and to celebrate what makes us unique from coast to coast to coast.
However, only by giving ourselves the means to take ownership of this unique Canadian reality will we be able to collectively claim that our two official languages are finally truly equal.

We can sometimes forget what linguistic rights truly represent beyond “Hello, bonjour”. Quite often, they directly affect people’s safety and security and their dignity.
 
During this pandemic, which only causes more stress, the ability to express ourselves in our language and receive a service in that language is essential to ensuring everyone’s well-being, whether we are talking about people crossing the border, so that they can understand the quarantine guidelines, or unilingual francophone seniors in my own province, who were unable to receive services in their language at the care centres during a COVID-19 outbreak. This only added to their suffering.
 
Being able to access education and the resources necessary for schooling in French is also an eternal struggle for francophone minorities, and the burden has been borne by generations from Charlottetown to Victoria. Nothing will ever be achieved until the Supreme Court of Canada proclaims that French and English have equal of status and equal rights and privileges in Canada.
 
Because there is a difference between having a right and having a right respected, ensuring that the oversight body has the appropriate tools to reinforce the act is also crucial. I am encouraged to see that the government is moving in that direction.
 
During these last months, I thought a lot about the meaning of the word “resilience” and how we collectively had to learn how to navigate between grief and sorrow and moments of unity and hope. Resilience is the strength that minority linguistic communities have mastered through the decades.
 
“In unity there is strength”. This Acadian slogan encapsulates what will enable us to prosper after the pandemic and, more importantly, what will enable our communities and families to stay vibrant.
 
I believe it is only by working together and upholding the values of respect and diversity of this country that we will be able to re-establish this new linguistic balance in all aspects of Canadians’ lives: at work, at play and at home. Let us be an example of unity beyond our borders.
 
I hope that the plan presented by the minister will be a turning point toward a new, long-awaited chapter.