Sean Kilpatrick The Canadian Press Conservative MP Rachael Thomas, during question period in the House of Commons, December 2, 2022
The Conservatives raised an outcry on Thursday in a parliamentary committee when one of their spokespersons asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, to answer questions in English .
“I realize that it is entirely your choice, we are a bilingual country, but, if it is possible, I would like it to be in English,” said MP Rachael Thomas as she began a second round of questions.
Ms. Thomas had just explained that she had noticed that the minister systematically answered her in French, but that she responded in English when the questions came from the Liberals.
The member had not finished her sentence when points of order burst into the room. There were “at least five people shouting,” said Canadian Heritage committee chair Hedy Fry, who was struggling to determine who should have the floor first.
“It’s insulting for Quebecers currently what I heard, for French speakers”, launched the Bloc heritage spokesperson, Martin Champoux.
Committee members and witnesses can express themselves in the official language of their choice, he recalled, adding that the interpretation service is “extremely efficient” and that he uses it regularly.
- Deprived of interpretation, Bloc member Mario Simard considers his rights violated
Ontario Liberal Lisa Hepfner made similar comments. “I don’t think we can ask him to respond in one language or the other,” she said in French.
It is “offensive to everyone” to “put bilingualism in the country,” added the NDP critic for Canadian Heritage, Peter Julian.
But MP Thomas had not said her last word. Rather than resume her questioning, she chose to reiterate her request. “I'm just curious if you would be willing to respond in English,” she said.
This only fueled the outrage. This request from the Conservative Party of Canada goes “against everything on which this country was founded,” lamented Liberal Michael Coteau.
“This is simply unacceptable,” he added. It should be noted that this should never happen in committee, it should never happen in the House of Commons. This is simply something that goes against our basic values as Canadians. »
The chair of the committee has, on several occasions, confirmed that the point of order is valid and that the minister can speak in the official language of her choice.
Given the evolution of the discussion, MP Peter Julian, of the New Democratic Party, undertook to “educate” the MP.
“Having been raised in an English-speaking environment and having learned French At school there are many occasions where your vocabulary in one language allows you to express yourself more easily in that language and this is the principle of official bilingualism,” he said.
< p>According to him, it is “absolutely reprehensible” to “question” this notion. “I can't believe how radical and extreme this party has become since the member for Carleton (Pierre Poilievre) took control of it,” he said.
When the testimony resumed shortly after, the minister explained, in French, that she is responding in her mother tongue because she has “a lot of respect for my colleague's questions” and that she wants to be “sure to use the good vocabulary”, to respond clearly and adequately.
The Constitutional Act specifies that French and English are the official languages of Canada, that they have equal status and equal rights and privileges regarding their use in the institutions of Parliament and the Government of Canada.
< p>This new linguistic controversy comes a few days after a unilingual French-speaking Bloc MP, Mario Simard, said his linguistic rights were being violated and blamed the Conservatives.
The problem is due to fact that the interpreters stop translating the deliberations of this natural resources committee where the elected official sits due to the cacophony, which prevents him from following the deliberations.
Conservative MPs, who are making parliamentary obstruction in committee, consider instead that they have the right to speak over other elected officials who have the floor and that the president misled them by invoking health and safety issues for interpreters.
The Conservative Party of Canada had not responded to an interview request from The Canadian Press at the time of publication.