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Trudeau vows to pass languages bill, despite lingering concerns

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Anthony Housefather, Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Mount Royal, said recent amendments made to Bill C-13 are ‘very worrisome’

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OTTAWA – Liberals are determined to ram through C-13, the official languages bill, despite concerns from their own caucus members representing Quebec’s English-speaking communities.

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Anthony Housefather, Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Mount Royal, told the National Post that recent amendments passed in committee by the Conservatives, the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP are “very worrisome” and he fears “further bad amendments will be adopted.”

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“The idea that the bill should be rushed through and adopted regardless of the type of amendments that are adopted, which abandon the Official Languages Act’s traditional approach to language in Canada, is certainly not my view,” he said, from Washington, D.C.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the issue on Wednesday, saying that his government has put forward a bill that protects linguistic minorities across the country, with a particular emphasis on French language, and that it strikes “the right balance.”

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“We will continue to move forward with this bill,” said Trudeau.

Recent amendments to C-13 — introduced by the Bloc and since adopted by a majority of members — include the recognition in the bill that English communities in Quebec and French communities outside of Quebec have “different needs” and that the federal government should guarantee the existence of a majority French society in Quebec.

The Liberals’ attempt to remove a reference to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language — updated since Bill 96 became law — in the preamble of the bill failed last week. They attempted to quash it despite it being their own government’s wording.

Housefather, alongside his Montreal colleagues Marc Garneau and Emmanuella Lambropoulos, argued that a direct reference to Quebec’s Bill 96 would mean that the federal government endorses the preemptive use of the notwithstanding clause and could cause legal issues in terms of the rights of anglophones in Quebec.

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But their colleagues representing minority French communities outside of Quebec are telling them it is now time to move on.

“We have to move forward with C-13. Our communities cannot wait any longer,” said Francis Drouin, the Franco-Ontarian MP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, in Eastern Ontario.

On Tuesday, Drouin slammed his fellow MPs who had expressed concern on C-13 on Twitter, saying their show of concern was “shameful” and that “the Island of Montreal does not have a monopoly on Canada’s linguistic policy.” He toned down his stance by Tuesday evening, saying he has great respect for his colleagues but they cannot hold up discussions.

Drouin insisted he has an obligation to his constituents who are preoccupied with the decline of French. “Of course, I don’t have everything I want in the bill, but I can’t come back (to them) empty-handed. That would be unacceptable for my community. C-13 cannot be prevented from moving forward.”

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Arielle Kayabaga, MP for London West, said that MPs on the committee are at a point where they need to pass this bill “as soon as possible.”

Marc G. Serré, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Official Languages, said that some of his Liberal colleagues’ frustrations are directed more at Quebec Premier François Legault’s restrictions on the use of English than at the federal government updating its language laws.

“Look, we’re going to pass this bill,” he said. “They spoke at committee, we listened, there was a vote.” Tuesday’s committee meeting went a lot more smoothly, he noted. Housefather and Lambropoulos were absent from that meeting, which saw regular members of the committee such as Drouin, Kayabaga and Serré regain their seats. Garneau was present as an observer.

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Garneau declined speaking to reporters after the meeting and Lambropoulos has not responded to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, Liberal MPs repeated that the caucus had a healthy discussion on the topic of C-13, but they ultimately remained “united” in passing the bill. They also pushed back against accusations that Liberals themselves have been delaying the adoption of their own language reform.

Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, noted that the Conservatives and the Bloc had proposed more than a hundred amendments, and Housefather said most of them “targeted changing the bill to remove” rights of the English-speaking minority in Quebec.

Mark Holland, the government’s House leader, said that members of all parties present amendments and they can be “good and positive” and sometimes not.

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“That is the nature of our process. We seek consensus. That consensus isn’t always easy.”

During question period, Bloc MP Mario Beaulieu blamed the Liberals – and Trudeau in particular – for transforming the parliamentary committee on official languages into a “circus” and praised Drouin for standing up to his Montreal colleagues who represent English communities.

Trudeau shot back by saying the Bloc does not care about francophone minority communities across the country, and that defending them is the federal government’s job. He was asked to apologize by the Bloc after question period, but the Prime Minister had already left.

The Speaker asked all parties to check their language even in the heat of the moment.


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