50th Anniversary of the Official Languages Act: Bringing Together the Two Solitudes
“We are preparing to modernize the Official Languages Act. We will work with all Canadians to ensure we get it right.” (The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, June 6, 2018).
I was very proud to be representing the people of the Pontiac alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he committed to a review of the Official Languages Act. His statement in the House of Commons earlier this month marked the start of an historic period for official languages. This act, passed by Parliament when his father was Prime Minister, was to build bridges between that era’s “two solitudes” at a time when the Government of Canada’s operations were conducted only in English and, with some exceptions, its services were offered exclusively in English. The interests of the Outaouais—and particularly the linguistic and cultural needs of the region’s francophones—were by and large ignored.
The Official Languages Act will be turning 50 later this year. In 1968, when he introduced the act in Parliament for the first time, Pierre Elliott Trudeau stated that “French Canada can survive not by turning in on itself but by reaching out to claim its full share of every aspect of Canadian life” and that English Canada should “capitalize on the advantages of living in a country which has learned to speak in two great world languages.”
It goes without saying that the Pontiac has evolved as its residents have embraced the Official Languages Act. The two solitudes are no more. According to Statistics Canada, almost 60% of the residents of our fine riding today are bilingual. 64% of francophones speak English and of the 31,000 anglophones living in the Pontiac, half speak French, which is the case for myself. Like many children, I attended French immersion schools. I consider myself a product of this political will, entrenched in legislation, to bring together two linguistic communities.
With Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day and Canada Day just behind us, there is no better time for our government to unequivocally state its commitment to linguistic duality. The benefits of bilingualism, even multilingualism, have been well-known for decades. In addition to the economic aspects, Minister Joly recently reminded us that linguistic duality, together with the defence of rights and freedoms protected by the Canadian Charter and reconciliation with indigenous peoples, is one of the three pillars of the social contract that unites us.
Of course, modernizing the Official Languages Act is quite the societal undertaking. Fortunately, the work is well under way with both the Senate and Commissioner of Official Languages holding consultations across the country. I encourage all Canadians to share their views, dreams, and suggestions, if you have not already done so.
Our government is a government of action. To put an end to the Conservatives’ decade of indifference towards the official languages, our government recently announced historic investments of $2.7 billion over five years in support of official languages minority communities. What comes next? The modernization of the Official Languages Act and the elimination of the last vestiges of the two solitudes!