Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ)
|| That this House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation.
He said: Mr. Speaker, first, I would like you to know that I will be sharing my speaking time with the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean.
The motion the Bloc Québécois is putting before the House today will enable parliamentarians to recognize that Quebeckers form a nation. It is the recognition of a simple fact.
We formulated this motion in such a way as to make it acceptable to everyone. We thus did not link the recognition of the Quebec nation to any other consideration. No condition is attached to this recognition. We also did not formulate the motion in such a way as to permit its interpretation to mean recognition of a sovereign nation, which Quebec is not—at least not yet. We are therefore presenting a motion respectful of one and all, without making recognition of the Quebec nation subject to partisan conditions.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister, did the exact opposite. He introduced a motion recognizing the Quebec nation while imposing a condition—a partisan condition. That is absurd. It is clear that the Prime Minister is simply trying to save face. The only respectful approach to take towards Quebeckers is to recognize them for what they are—a nation that does not stop being one when it is no longer part of Canada—clearly, an unconditional nation.
It is not up to the Prime Minister to decide what option Quebeckers will choose. It is not up to one particular party to decide how Quebeckers will choose. The future of Quebec belongs to Quebeckers—period. Quebeckers will decide their own future under the standing orders of the National Assembly.
I repeat. Quebeckers form a nation, not on the condition of their remaining in a supposedly united Canada. They constitute a nation, not on the condition of their forming a country. Those are political options. They are both respectable, because they are both democratic. In neither instance can the existence of the nation of Quebec be predicated on a particular action or option.
We are a nation because we are who we are, whatever future Quebec chooses. The recognition of Quebec as a nation by the House of Commons is more than symbolic, and certainly above partisan politics. For Quebec, there is no other issue more fundamental than this. It is also a fundamental issue for Canada.
The proof of this lies in the very debate taking place here today and across the country, both in Quebec and in Canada, and in the media. It is an issue which is taking up a great deal of energy.
For years, federally elected representatives have wanted to avoid this thorny issue and sweep it under the carpet. Yet the issue resurfaced recently with the adoption of a related motion by the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada. It also came up following the adoption of an NDP declaration at its convention in September in Quebec City, and yet again following the Bloc’s motion and yesterday’s motion by the Prime Minister. We cannot ignore this issue when so many people are talking about it, and this is to be expected.
Many commentators and federally elected representatives have dug in their heels and refused to acknowledge this evidence that Quebeckers form a nation. Many surveys have found that a large majority of Canadians are not interested in officially recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation, neither better nor worse than Canada, but certainly different. This refusal to recognize Quebec for what it is is why Quebec is not a signatory to the Constitution. This refusal to recognize Quebec as a nation is also why Quebec is considered a province, no different than the rest and not as the place that is home to a nation.
By adding his coda to the Bloc Québécois motion, the Prime Minister is trying, clumsily as he put it, to delude Canadians. In the Quebec National Assembly, sovereignists and federalists alike agree that Quebeckers form a nation. The motion adopted by the National Assembly in 2003 is respectful of the people of Quebec. I will read it to you. It says, “That the National Assembly reaffirm that the people of Quebec form a nation”. This motion was adopted unanimously, by both sovereignists and federalists.
This motion does not subject our identity to one political option or another. If the Prime Minister is acting in good faith when he says he recognizes Quebec as a nation, he will support and vote for the Bloc Québécois motion. If he does not, everyone will know that the Prime Minister sees Quebec as a nation subject to Canada’s rule. Everyone will know that his true interest lies in political sparring. If he votes against this motion, which, I would like to remind you, is identical in every respect to the one adopted by the National Assembly, then it is because he does not believe that the Quebec nation is free to decide its own future. If this is the case, then the statement the Prime Minister made yesterday is just empty talk. I hope this is not the case. I hope he will have the courage to openly recognize Quebec as a nation.
Our intention with this motion is to stop elected representatives from sweeping the matter under the carpet and to have them take a stand on this fundamental issue. There is no question of setting conditions on this recognition. It is not a matter of saying that we recognize the Quebec nation as long as Quebec remains in Canada, or of saying that Quebec forms a nation only if it becomes a sovereign country. We are what we are, period. That is all. And that is the question that is being asked.
It turns out that, by introducing this motion, the Bloc Québecois has forced the issue and is making us all look in the mirror.
This morning, there was a range of viewpoints in the Canadian media. Some agreed with the Prime Minister’s position. Others are deeply dismayed and saying it is not possible to recognize the Quebec nation.
I urge the members of this House to see this through to the logical conclusion and to free themselves from those psychological barriers that prevent them from recognizing the Quebec nation, simply, without any second thoughts, without any ulterior motives and especially without petty partisanship.
I urge Quebeckers to pay close attention to the debate and take note of how each member of this House votes.
Mr. Michel Gauthier:
Mr. Speaker, the motion before us is clear, simple and straightforward. It says what it says. It says what the members of Quebec's National Assembly, federalists as well as sovereignists, have already said unanimously. It speaks of a fact that no one should contest or think of contesting, and says it so clearly that in my view there is no room for interpretation or ill-conceived amendments involving any kind of conditions.
Quebeckers are rather surprised this morning to see that, in this House, the Conservative government and some members from Quebec did not spontaneously agree to recognize that Quebec and Quebeckers form a nation.
The Prime Minister tried yesterday to introduce his own motion, bringing in partisan political considerations, referring to the federalism option and the sovereignty option, saying that it means inside a united Canada. The government's behaviour in this matter is so astonishing that I would like to take the liberty of explaining something to you.
I am the second-longest-serving House leader in the history of Canada's Parliament. Usually when there is a minister’s statement, the government sends it to the opposition. The reason for this is easy to understand: it enables the opposition parties to react to a statement made in the House. Every time a minister has made a statement in this House, the content has been transmitted in advance, whether several hours, 15 minutes, or even just 10 or 12 minutes in advance. But yesterday, something exceptional happened in this House and I would like to raise it in today’s debate.
For the past 13 years, the government has always given the opposition a copy of statements by the Prime Minister. For probably the first time in history, that copy was a fake, a statement that did not contain the most important element in the Prime Minister’s remarks, about which all the media in Canada are talking today, in other words, his motion.
The Prime Minister has insulted not only the Bloc Québécois and the other parties in this House, but all Quebeckers. The people of Quebec are humiliated. I see that the Minister of Transport, a Quebec member, seems to find it funny that his Prime Minister and his government deceived the entire population of Quebec, by deceiving their representatives with a sneaky little trick.
For the first time in this House, because the matter at issue was Quebec and the Quebec nation, the government sent a truncated and misleading statement that did not contain the essence of what the Prime Minister was going to state in the House. I leave it to Quebeckers to judge this government’s tactics. Not so long ago, we had the “night of the long knives”, when Quebec was betrayed during the constitutional discussions. We have just experienced a black afternoon, an afternoon where the representatives of Quebec and the people of Quebec were deliberately deceived by the Prime Minister of Canada, whom I accuse of having sent us a faked version of his statement.
Nothing can justify the use of techniques like this. As parliamentarians of all shades of political allegiance, we should be able to discuss issues honestly and openly, and to judge motions like ours on their merits. That is how a parliament should function.
We should be entitled to some measure of openness from the government, from members from other parts of Canada and especially from members from Quebec who are part of the government, some interest in discussion, comparing ideas and working objectively together to do justice to the people of Quebec. It appears however that this is not possible.
The Conservative government has behaved in exactly the same way as the previous Liberal government when Jean Chrétien plotted behind Quebec’s back. This is absolutely outrageous. Will someone tell me why we in the House cannot simply say what we think about such a clear motion, “That this House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation”. Why is it so difficult to speak about this motion?
In closing, I would like to amend this motion as follows:
I move, with the consent of the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie and seconded by the member for Pointe-de-l'Île, the following amendment:
|| That the motion be amended by adding after the word “nation” the following:
||“currently within Canada”
With this amendment, the motion would then read as follows:
|| That this House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation currently within Canada.
Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, despite my youth, I too have had the privilege of serving in the National Assembly with the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and with the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie on the councils of two different municipalities and now here in the House of Commons. I would mention that I have also heard things which have surprised me in the course of my career. However, I have to say that the motion the Bloc Québécois is asking us to support today, even in an amended form, will remain in my experience as one of the most memorable interventions I have ever heard.
Here we have a political party devoted exclusively and obsessively to the cause of Quebec's separation from Canada asking Canada's Parliament to acknowledge that it is on the right track. The leader of the Bloc is, in a way, calling for a resolution on clarity. Indeed the political about-face is pretty spectacular, even for the Bloc.
Here is what one of the co-founding leaders of the independence movement is asking of Parliament. “Who would you allow us to be?” “What do you want us to become?” No member from Quebec having earned the privilege of sitting here has ever felt the need to ask his peers why he was here. Not Papineau, not Cartier, not Laurier, not Trudeau, not Mulroney nor any other Quebec leader has ever asked his provincial counterparts, “Who am I?”
No. They have each said in turn at various points in time, “This is who we are, this is what we want for ourselves and what we can do together for our fellow citizens”.
I doubt that anybody in a Canadian Parliament ever said to the representatives from Lower Canada, from eastern Canada or from the province of Quebec, that this is who they are and that this is how we will recognize them from now on.
Since 1792, when Canada's first Parliament met in Quebec, right up to the present, we have been called first Canadians, then French Canadians and now Quebeckers. It was not other people who named us, however. We have never asked our partners in the other provinces who we are.
I myself have no problem recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation, since we share a common language, culture and history.
I have already said so and I have no difficulty saying it again today. I am, as an Irish Quebecker, very proud to belong to the Quebec nation as are thousands of other Quebeckers from backgrounds other than that of the majority. I am, however, just as proud of my Canadian citizenship. These feelings are not contradictory. In fact, I think the Quebec nation the Bloc is so keen to celebrate would not perhaps exist today had French culture and language and our legal institutions not been protected in our various Constitutions. The surest guarantee of the continued growth of the Quebec nation is our participation within Canada as a whole.
The Prime Minister clearly understood it when he asked us to support it a motion recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. Those four little words “within a united Canada” contain our entire history as a society, as a people and, yes, as a nation. We will soon be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, the place where I was born and the city where past generations of Cannons and Powers, my ancestors, were able to make their dreams and aspirations come true.
I sincerely hope that this anniversary will remind all Canadians, wherever they come from, that, for four centuries now, successive generations of French-speaking men and women founded a country here, in America, a country that still allows them to tell the world about pride and solidarity. They not only asked others for recognition, they built a country in their own image, with the sweat of their brow, that reflects the scope of their ambition. This country is still their country and it will remain so as long as there are francophones in America.
It is true that, at times, Quebeckers have suffered under a kind of paternalistic, even antagonistic, federalism, but the Prime Minister has proved that he wanted to and has been able to bring in a new, open federalism that would allow the Quebec nation to express its rich personality and bring all its potential to the fore in a respectful relationship with our partners. That is not what the Bloc Québécois wants.
Not long ago, another Conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, poured his heart and soul into the recognition of Quebec as a distinct society within Canada. After years of heroic efforts, that recognition was never achieved. And whom do we find among the people who sabotaged the Meech Lake accord? The future founding father of the Bloc Québécois, Lucien Bouchard, who was consistent enough to go to Quebec City and take over the helm of the Parti Québecois. Then there was Jacques Parizeau who did everything he could, along with Bernard Landry, to tear down Brian Mulroney's government. They did it for the same reason that the current leader of the Bloc Québécois is doing it. The sovereignists fear one thing above all—that the Quebec nation will become stronger within Canada. But it is the nation itself that chose its future, and that is why, in both of the referendums run by the supporters of separation, a majority of Quebeckers chose to remain in Canada, in their own country.
When René Lévesque's Parti Québecois was elected 30 years ago, it was first and foremost because it promised better government, not immediate separation. We cannot criticize a citizen of a nation for being a nationalist. Like a majority of my francophone constituents no doubt, I consider myself a nationalist. Nationalism does not mean separatism. We can love Quebec without wanting to destroy Canada. This is why the majority of Quebeckers, when they felt that their place in Canada was threatened, wanted to uphold and affirm it. Of course, Quebeckers have elected Péquiste governments and Bloc members in the past, but they have never given up their place in Canada, the country that they dreamed of and created and that they continue to improve.
As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we must not mistake the real intent of the leader of the Bloc Québécois and his members, which is to recognize not what Quebeckers are, but what the sovereignists would like them to be. To them, “nation” means “separation” and that is that.
The Quebec National Assembly recently reaffirmed that the people of Quebec form a nation. The Prime Minister of Canada has just done so, and I hope every member of this House will do so as well by supporting his motion.
How can we forget the dignified, reasonable and resolute attitude of Robert Bourassa, whom I had the honour of serving, along with the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, when he said, at an extremely critical and important moment in our history:
| —whatever is said or done, Quebec is today and for all times a distinct society, free, capable of assuming its destiny and its development.
Giving a name to things is not what is most important. We recognize those who contribute to Quebec society by what they achieve. Quebeckers want action and accomplishment, not words and declarations.
The Bloc Québécois, which wants to plunge us into yet another existential debate, has been around since 1990. What concrete, lasting achievements has it been able to deliver to Quebeckers since then? How has it advanced the Quebec nation it claims to serve and represent? It has done nothing because it can do nothing but talk.
Of course, it has provoked major debates like this one, but has it passed a single piece of legislation in this House? Seen a bill through? The answer is no, of course, because the Bloc does not form the government and never will. Conversely, in only a few months, Canada's new government has addressed almost all of the major priorities announced during the election.
Above all we have opened the way to a better future for the Quebec nation by defining a new federalism of openness, which is already bearing fruit. We are working on eliminating the fiscal imbalance, a topic that the Bloc has enjoyed going on about for years. But is it the Bloc that will be solving the problem of the fiscal imbalance? No, it’s the current government that will be doing it.
We have made it possible for Quebec to participate fully in the work of UNESCO, something Quebec has wanted for a long time.
We have made a commitment to respect the spirit of the Canadian Confederation faithfully by respecting the division of provincial and federal powers. We will be putting an end to abuse of the federal spending power.
The Bloc denounces, and tries to bring down, all governments that do not advocate separation, but our government is maintaining sustained and productive relations with the Quebec government, relations that are resulting in agreements and achievements.
Division has never helped the Quebec nation. “Let us cease our fratricidal fighting” said the great Honoré Mercier more than a century ago. He wanted to unite all Quebeckers, blue, red or whatever, so that the only French society in the Americas could forge ahead.
In conclusion, I urge the leader of the Bloc Québécois to think about everything that we could accomplish as a nation within a united Canada if we stopped tearing ourselves apart like this.
Hon. Lucienne Robillard (Westmount—Ville-Marie, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, as a Quebecker and a Canadian, I am proud to rise in this House today on the matter of the Quebec nation and Canadian unity. It is a matter that lies at the very heart of Quebec's identity. Clearly it is a matter of great importance. In my opinion, a people's identity must never be the subject of political games. Unfortunately, that is the very intent of the Bloc.
We must ask ourselves why, in November 2006, the Bloc Québécois has put this motion before the House of Commons. What would prompt a sovereignist party to put such a motion before the House of Commons? I think this is worth thinking about.
The Bloc Québécois has never hidden the fact that it openly seeks Quebec's separation. Now it is asking the House of Commons, representatives from all across Canada, to recognize Quebec as a nation. Permit me to say that the situation is rather ironic. Quebeckers know very well who they are. They know their history well.
Earlier on, my colleague from Pontiac recalled the time when we sat together under the leadership of Mr. Bourassa, who had stated very clearly that Quebec was a distinct society capable of making its own choices. Why is the Bloc asking all the representatives of the people of Canada here to pass this motion? The fairly obvious conclusion is that by tabling this motion the Bloc Québécois is simply trying to create division among us here in the House of Commons. It is pretty clear. It is another trick to try to cast us in an unfavourable light and then proclaim to Quebec and Quebeckers that Canada's parliamentarians did not want to accept the fact. This seems obvious to me. This is the Bloc's only reason. If it is not the case, why is a sovereignist party that wants Quebec to separate asking the House of Commons to define Quebeckers? It makes no sense.
May I remind members that this is the same party that in 1995 voted against the distinct society within Canada. Let us be clear: the ideology of the Bloc Québécois, and the Bloc is explicit about this, is purely and simply Quebec separation, full stop. While the leader of the Bloc Québécois always says that Canada can continue to function as it wishes, it is obvious that Quebec is part of Canada. When he brings in motions that seek to divide the people, I have to conclude that he does not want Canada to function well.
I consider that the Bloc is playing a very dangerous game, and one that leads nowhere. The Bloc tried to set a trap for the other parliamentarians. By chance, its own foot has been caught. There are seasoned parliamentarians in this House. There are specialists in parliamentary strategy, I would even say in parliamentary tactics. That is exactly what the Bloc tried to pull, but it has not succeeded.
Essentially, by attempting to take control of this debate, the Bloc members are trying once again to make out that they are the only ones defending Quebec’s interests. I really cannot hear that said one more time in this House. I have been hearing it for over 10 years. They dare to say when they get up in this House to defend some issue or other, some program or piece of legislation, “We are acting in the name of Quebeckers”. Excuse me, but I am a Quebecker too. The member for Bourassa is a Quebecker, the member for Pontiac is a Quebecker. By what right do they make this preposterous assertion? It has been the same story ever since the Bloc started sitting in the House of Commons. It thinks it speaks for almost 7 million Quebeckers, but that is not so.
There are federalists in this House who also represent Quebeckers. The Bloc has trouble accepting that there are federalists here who defend the interests of Quebec, but who are also committed to promoting Quebec as a part of our great country. That is the fundamental difference.
The Bloc members may find it hard to believe, but there are federalists in the Quebec National Assembly as well. I was one, and my colleague from Pontiac was another, and today the Liberal Party of Quebec is leading the province, a federalist party that defends the interests of Quebec while promoting Canada.
The Bloc should perhaps admit this reality: there are a number of people who as elected representatives speak for segments of the Quebec population and care about Canada. I realize that the Bloc may also have difficulty accepting that there are federalists within my own party, the Liberal Party of Canada, who also care about defending Quebec’s interests within Canada.
I cannot pass over in silence the fact that this motion that has popped up in November 2006, as if by chance, follows the debate that is currently taking place in Quebec within my own political party. So I would really like to ask the members of this House not to forget that the rank and file of the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec are really the ones who opened this debate. In my party, we have never shied away from debating important issues and new ideas, with a view to finally reaching consensus.
This is truly the sign of a party that is listening to its rank and file, and that rank and file comes from all parts of Quebec.
This morning, I would like to pay tribute to these men and women of the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec who were courageous enough in recent weeks to put this debate on the nation at centre stage again. It took nerve. They did it and they deserve some credit today. I think these Quebec federalists have demonstrated that this is an important issue that can help us continue to modernize our federation and make Canada a more united country. They listened to people from all parts of Quebec in their consultations and they raised the issue. They reached out.
What do all these Quebec federalists have in common? It is what Canada represents to them. They legitimately expressed the attachment that a majority of Quebeckers feel for Canada, in their daily lives and in their hearts.
The founders of our country sought to create a land where two languages and a number of cultures and religions can peacefully coexist. I firmly believe in the presence of francophones in Canada; because of their attachment to their language and culture and Quebeckers’ determination to defend their identity, this country has learned to appreciate differences. Not only to appreciate and respect them but indeed to celebrate them. It is because of the French fact in Canada, Quebeckers who have defended their identity, that this country is open to other cultures. We now welcome people from all over the world to our country and accept them as citizens. Now other countries look at us and wonder how we have achieved this success in Canada.
In my opinion, the greatest contribution of francophones and Quebeckers is that this country is now open to all cultures and dimensions. This is why our country is so original compared to others around the world and why all eyes are on us.
It is fairly clear that the Bloc is trying to question everything we have achieved over the years. Yet the federalists in Quebec went through two referendums. Never mind the ambiguity of the question. I campaigned during these two referendums. I must say that when we went door to door during the last referendum—and I am sure the members from Bourassa and Pontiac would say the same thing—and tried to explain this issue to people, some Quebeckers said, “We will vote yes, but we will always be Canadian citizens”.
It was mass confusion. Yet, the outcome was no both times. Why did people vote no twice? Why are the Bloc and the Parti Québécois asking us to choose between our two identities? I am a proud Quebecker and a proud Canadian. Why ask us to choose between our identities? Why?
The answer was “no thanks”. No thanks: we are proud to have a number of identities. I am a proud Montrealer, a proud Quebecker and a proud Canadian.
The members of the Bloc have always had trouble accepting this reality. They continue to refuse to admit that, for the majority of Quebeckers, Canada is a country with a future, a country they still intend to keep building. For me, it is very clear that Canada would not be what it is today without Quebec, and conversely, Quebec would not be what it is without the participation of other Canadians in this collective project.
I think of my experience since entering politics. I will always remember that, before I did so, the Quebec Justice Minister at the time, Herbert Marx, told me that if I decided to enter politics, I would have to move ideas forward step by step. When you try to rush things and not let them proceed at their own pace, that is when you may fail. That is what is happening. Step by step, we are advancing Canada's recognition of the place of Quebec.
I arrived in federal politics, in this very House, in 1995. You may have been there, Mr. Speaker. I think you were, because you have a lot of experience as an MP. At that time we voted in this House to the effect that the people of Quebec are a distinct society within Canada. Let us not be surprised that the Bloc once again, naturally, voted against.
I recall that under the leadership of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, we took action on many issues to recognize Quebec's difference. Quebec had the opportunity to introduce its own parental leave, and we recognized the innovative initiative of the Quebec day care system. First and foremost, there was the desire—and I want to salute the very firm resolution shown at that time by the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard who was then Prime Minister—to record in an agreement the concept of asymmetrical federalism in this country.
We can see that this is being done step by step. The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard even said, in response to the leader of the Bloc during the leaders’ debate, that he had always recognized that Quebec was a nation.
What is happening today? Why has the Bloc tabled this motion? That is really the question we should be asking ourselves, and we must not fall into the trap. I repeat that I am proud that the rank and file members of the Liberal Party of Canada have been bold enough to bring this debate back to the forefront. I am proud to see that the federalist parliamentarians of this House have not fallen into the trap set by the Bloc Québécois. But above all, as a Quebecker, I am very proud to see that my parliamentary colleagues from all across the country are prepared to recognize the distinctiveness of Quebec. Truly, this warms the hearts of all Quebeckers.
For this reason, I ask the Bloc to accept the following subamendment to the amendment that has been tabled.
Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 85, if the sponsor of the motion will consent, I move: “That the amendment be amended by deleting the word ‘currently’ and by adding the words ‘a united Canada’ after the word ‘within’.”
Ms. Denise Savoie (Victoria, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will not get lost in the maze of amendments, subamendments and political games for the time being. In fact, I am very proud to stand today and speak in favour of a strong Quebec nation within Canada. That is the reality. Quebec is part of Canada at present. The NDP and I will continue to fight to keep Quebec in Canada.
I myself am a francophone with Quebec and Acadian roots who was born in Saint-Boniface, in Manitoba. I lived in Ottawa for many years. I also lived in Montreal and Calgary. I became a city councillor in Victoria, British Columbia, where I now live. I know what a beautiful and diverse country Canada is. That diversity is an integral part of our identity as Canadians.
I believe strongly in the Canadian federation. I am a federalist through and through. I entered politics partly so that the federal government would hear and consider my community's priorities and voices and partly so that the federal government would not be a centralizing force, but a unifying force, protecting the social, cultural and environmental rights of all Canadians.
When I entered politics, it was also because I believe in the importance of a strong presence of both cultures in a united country. I greatly appreciate the contribution of the Quebec people to the social fabric of our country, both in the past and to date. I appreciate the Quebec culture and language, its sense of humour, music, literature and politics. These are part and parcel of what it means to be Canadian.
However, I cannot speak for Quebeckers. I believe that the Quebec nation will define itself as it wishes. The Quebec National Assembly unanimously proclaimed, as was stated this morning, that Quebeckers form a nation. That is why I wholeheartedly support the NDP acknowledgement that Quebec is a nation. I believe that we must recognize a simple fact, an obvious fact. My conversations with Quebec members of our party and my Quebec friends have convinced me that a good number of Quebeckers firmly believe that the Quebec nation can realize its tremendous potential, and its destiny, in a united Canada.
They believe that Quebeckers can be masters of their own destiny while being part of the Quebec nation. They do not approve of the Bloc Québécois option of a separate Quebec.
Similarly, I believe that the vast majority of Canadians outside Quebec want to see Quebec culture and language to be protected and thrive. We are not the same country without them. One need only think of how oversubscribed for example immersion schools are on the west coast in Vancouver and Victoria where parents have to camp outside in the fall at the time of registration to ensure that their kids can learn French. They even take part in lotteries, again to ensure that their children have the opportunity to become bilingual.
The cultural context of British Columbia is favourable to French to the extent that I was able to teach my own children to speak French and now I see my grandchildren learning French. There are many francophone associations. French music and shows are appreciated and that is also part of the contribution of Quebec to the rest of Canada.
The reaction of Canadians from coast to coast to coast in October 1995 was an extraordinary display of kinship. It reflected the overwhelming sentiment among Canadians that to lose Quebec would be to lose a part of ourselves, for Canada with Quebec is how we define Canada. I believe we are allowed, as federalists, to define our country as we see.
The evening of that famous referendum I was deeply saddened and I thought how rudderless I would feel without Quebec. Nor did I think that as a francophone my viable option was to leave western Canada to live in Quebec because I need both parts of Canada to feel truly Canadian. How can we be Canada without its intrinsic parts, without Quebec? Such a reality could not exist.
I am delighted that the Prime Minister has finally recognized Quebec as a nation. In the last election, he was urged again and again to recognize this fact. He had difficulty saying the words. It was only political gain and opportunism that led him to do so yesterday. But I congratulate him nevertheless. As is their custom, the Liberals also decided to jump on the bandwagon.
In this debate I believe it is important to denounce the lack of vision of the Liberal Party that led us straight to the sponsorship scandal. Just like the referendum, programs steeped in corruption placed our country at risk. They damaged federalism in Quebec.
However, other current trends are worrisome for the future of our country. As Roy Romanow aptly stated in an article published in The Walrus:
|| The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, an influential lobby group that represents Canada’s largest corporations, recently advanced the idea that Ottawa should grant more taxing powers to the provinces and cease making transfer payments historically used to ensure that national standards for social and economic programs are applied throughout the country. Apart from narrowly defined roles primarily in defence and foreign affairs, what is left for the federal government to do under such a scheme?
It is obvious to me there are many ways of destroying a country, whether it be by corruption but also policies and neo-conservative policies. I oppose the watering down of our Canadian social fabric by a government that substitutes tax cuts for social policy, downloads responsibilities to provinces, and sees the federal government as a mere skeleton dealing with military and foreign affairs.
We have to be very careful, as we make allowances for our differences, not to compromise what makes our country unique in the world. The NDP recognizes the importance of building the country, investing in what makes us unique, investing in post-secondary education, in certain social programs and in our public institutions. The NDP has long recognized Quebec's specificity, its national character and we even reiterated that during our convention, in the Sherbrooke Declaration:
|| The national character of Québec is based primarily, but not exclusively, on:
|| 1. a primarily Francophone society in which French is recognized as the language of work and the common public language;
|| 2. a specific culture, unique in America, that is expressed by a sense of identity with and belonging to Quebec;
|| 4. a specific legal system;
|| 5. its own economic, cultural and social institutions.
We have long proposed a vision that allows Quebec to stay proudly in Canada. What we foresee is a Canada that respects Quebec. We are proposing solutions and a vision that will make Quebeckers want to stay and build a progressive country with its allies in English Canada.
It is because we believe, first and foremost, that an egalitarian and cooperative society must accommodate and celebrate differences, and not level them, that we are supporting the concept of Quebec as a nation within Canada. Unity does not necessarily mean uniformity.
It follows that the federal Canadian state and Canadians outside Quebec recognize that Quebec has to have specific powers, some leeway in order to develop to the fullest its culture and language that are so fundamental not only to Quebec's identity, but also to Canada's identity. The NDP recognizes the historical fact that Quebeckers are a nation, a nation—and let me be clear—within Canada.
We are simply acknowledging a fact that is unchanged regardless of who proposes it. We know that the Bloc is playing games around this idea, but we are not. We will not play those games.
The people of Quebec know well, at least I hope they do, that this debate is about much more than just a word. It is about recognizing the Quebec people, with its unique culture and history and its institutions, as a truly unique society not only in Canada but worldwide, a society which is actually the envy of the world.
The NDP recognizes that Quebec forms a nation, but when it comes to the separation of Quebec from Canada, the NDP chooses Canada. It has always chosen Canada and so have Quebeckers. We are a proud federalist party. We are proud that our federation includes Quebec.
The Bloc's objective in Parliament is clear: it wants to see Quebec leave the great Canadian family fold. We oppose their blueprint.
In a world rife with sectarianism we must build bridges not rip them out.
We in the NDP believe that ordinary Quebeckers will be better served by remaining within Canada. This is why we think that, despite our differences as federalists, we must work together to really, actively create the winning conditions for Canada in Quebec. We are actively proposing a vision of cooperation, recognition, equality, respect, flexibility, transparence and honesty. We are asking the people of Quebec to join us.
Ms. Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l'Île, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.
I did not expect to rise and speak to the House of Commons when I decided last week to come here today to renew my experience of this House where I have already spent a great deal of time and where I am still proud of representing the citizens of La Pointe-de-l'Île. I am here today and this debate concerns me deeply. I will try to speak of that in the short time I have, and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to tell me when I have one minute remaining.
I want to remind members that Quebeckers have formed a nation for a very long time and that, unfortunately, Canada as a whole has never agreed to recognize that fact. Today, I am astounded to hear certain arguments from members, whom I otherwise very much respect, speaking of this trap that the Bloc Québécois is setting for Parliament by tabling this motion today.
First of all, Quebeckers have formed a nation for a very long time. My first field of study was history. At that time, people spoke of the history of Quebec and of Canada. We can believe—and there are quotations to that effect — that from the time of the French regime, before the British conquest, the Canadiens—because Quebeckers of that period called themselves Canadiens to distinguish themselves from the French—already formed a nation. The Americans had given themselves a country, they had claimed their independence, but even if they had not declared their independence they would have been different from the British. They were Americans. They made up the American nation. In the same way, the Canadiens of that period, in the Canada that was a French colony, made that distinction and there was already that difference. There was this nation that was there.
Needless to say that in the British conquest—the fact that the very great majority of colonists were settled, according to the wishes of British governors, on the Ontario side for one part, and in the Eastern Townships for the other part—the high birth rate of those Canadiens, who later became French-Canadians, emphasized even more this feeling of difference. I could speak about that at length.
I want to remind members that when Lord Durham—of unhappy memory in Quebec—came after the 1837-1838 insurrections, he said, in speaking of Quebec, referring to what was then Lower Canada following the insurrection—and I learned it from my history professor during a session on Lord Durham: “I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state”.
Lord Durham, after his report, concluded that the most urgent requirement was to turn those Canadiens into a minority. Once that was done, they could be given responsible government later. From that flowed the forced union of what is today Ontario and Quebec which later became Canada. But before giving self government to the colony, which was the seed of independence, Lord Durham said: “These Canadiens must be put into a minority”.
This Quebec nation, recognition of which is said today to be a trap, simply expresses itself and grows differently. It is. It is, not because Canada is united. It just is.
I travel a lot and there are multinational countries, countries that have more than one nation within them—Belgium recognizes that it is one. A nation like the Quebec nation, whether it forms a country or not, is a nation. So saying that it is a trap to recognize it is extremely surprising, to say the least.
It is also surprising that for all this time, from the British conquest to today, with all of the progress by Canada and the self-satisfied image that Canadians often project, they have never wanted to recognize the Quebec nation as a nation, as a group of people united by history, by language, by culture and by a body of laws. This is as true in English as it is in French. Certainly, it is not a country. That is why Quebec cannot join the United Nations.
Why, for all this time, has Canada had such difficulty recognizing it? We need only think of the epic tale that some of us, and I myself, lived through, the tale of recognition of the distinct society and the provisions of the Charlottetown accord. Why find it so difficult to recognize the characteristics of this nation, no matter where its future lies? Once again, I am astonished to hear it said that this is a trap, or a trick. To my mind, the words I have read are much more of a trick. I read those words because I was not here yesterday, for reasons I can explain outside this chamber. And so I read what the Prime Minister said:
|| The real question is simple: do the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada? The answer is yes. Do the Québécois form a nation independent of Canada? The answer is no, and it will always be no.
If there is a trick anywhere, it is in what “united Canada” is intended to mean. That is why the leader of the Bloc Québécois rose just now to say that he would agree with an amendment that said “currently within a united Canada”. We want to say how things are. Quebeckers are what they are in Canada today, that is true, and our motion says that.
That is why we could not understand—at least, I could not understand, myself—why this Parliament as a whole does not agree with our motion, as amended, because what we have done is precisely to make the effort to get an admission of the recognition of the Quebec nation for what it is today. We cannot accept, however, that at the same time we would be told:
|| Do the Québécois form a nation independent of Canada? The answer is no, and it will always be no.
In our motion, we do not want to assume what the future holds.
Why does the Prime Minister's motion, which everyone has praised, have to assume what the future holds?
We agree to recognize the Quebec nation, because we are sure of what the future holds.
No. We say that we have to recognize today—
Mr. Michel Guimond (Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the motion introduced by the leader of the Bloc Québécois, a motion that, as you know, is of great importance.
Given that the debate hinges on the concept of the Quebec nation, I think it makes sense to define what we mean by “nation”. The term “nation” can apply to two different things. When it applies to a state or a territory, it is synonymous with “country”. That is what we mean when we talk about the United Nations, an organization that Quebec can unfortunately not be a member of because it is not sovereign.
Therefore, if the motion as written says that Quebec is a nation, some might claim that means Quebec is a country. But that is not what the motion says. The motion is asking this House to recognize that Quebeckers currently form a nation within Canada, according to the latest amendment introduced by my colleague from Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. However, when it applies to people, the term “nation” is not synonymous with the word “country”. Dictionaries offer a wealth of information on this subject. I feel that we do not refer to them often enough.
According to the Petit Larousse, the term “nation” means “Large community of people, typically living within the same territory and having, to a certain extent, a shared history, language, culture and economy”.
What about the Petit Robert? It defines the term “nation” as a “Group of people, generally large, characterized by awareness of its unity and a desire to live together”.
That is exactly the meaning of the motion before us today.
Hon. members may have noticed that neither of these definitions refers to origins. They refer to “desire to live together” and shared culture and territory.
For those who claim that the term “nation” does not mean the same thing in French as it does in English, we checked with the Oxford English Dictionary, which says:
||a large body of people united by common descent, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.
Fin de la citation.
The definition is exactly the same in French. However you put it, it is clear that Quebeckers form a nation.
Is Canada prepared, and that is the gist of the motion, to unconditionally recognize this obvious fact, contrary to the motion put forward by the Prime Minister? Because that is precisely what the word “united” in the Prime Minister's motion is: a condition set by the federal government.
There is a broad consensus in Quebec that Quebeckers form a nation, and there has been for years. I will remind members that, as my leader indicated, on October 30, 2003, Quebec's National Assembly unanimously passed the following motion:
|| That the National Assembly reaffirm that the people of Quebec form a nation.
What does unanimously mean? On October 30, 2003, at the National Assembly, it was the very same Parliament as the one sitting today. We have a majority Liberal Party government in Quebec, with the Parti Québécois as the official opposition, and a third party, the Action démocratique, which has not been recognized as a registered party because it did not get enough candidates elected, but which did vote in favour of that motion. All three parties represented at the National Assembly, regardless of federalist or separatist allegiance, unanimously voted in favour of the motion.
The motion does not state that Quebeckers form a nation provided that Canada remains unchanged, or that Quebec will be a nation if it achieves sovereignty. I defy the Chair or any member of this House to find any such conditions set out anywhere in the motion before us. This motion states that Quebeckers form a nation, period. There was a reason for the National Assembly to specifically state the existence of the Quebec nation. Members will understand that, when I talked about the National Assembly reaffirming that the people of Quebec form a nation, I was referring to the motion it unanimously passed on October 30, 2003.
Let us now see what Maurice Duplessis said in April of 1946:
|| The Canadian confederation is a treaty of union between two nations.
Jean Lesage said in November 1963:
|| Quebec did not defend provincial autonomy simply for the principle of it, but because, for Quebec, autonomy was the specific condition not for its survival, which is assured, but for its affirmation as a people and a nation.
I am running out of time, but I also have quotes from Daniel Johnson Sr. in 1968, René Lévesque in June 1980, Jacques Parizeau in December 1994 and Lucien Bouchard in October 1999. They were all premiers who reaffirmed throughout the years that Quebeckers, the people of Quebec, are a nation.
The Prime Minister would like Quebeckers to form a nation only within a united Canada. This is a bit ridiculous, and my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île went over this a little. It just so happens that Quebec was a nation long before Canada existed. I am going to run out of time since I was given only 10 minutes. Nonetheless, hon. members could refer to what Talon said in 1667, what the French sailor, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, said in 1756 or even what Lord Durham said about the revolt of the Patriots in 1838. It is worth mentioning what Lord Durham said, “I expected to find a conflict between a government and a people, but instead found two nations at war within the same state”.
I want to close by referring firmly to what the Leader of the Bloc Québécois said yesterday:
|| I would never insist that Quebeckers form a nation only on the condition that they have a country, nor would I ever accept that we could be recognized as a nation only on the condition that we stay in Canada.
|| We are a nation, because we are what we are, regardless of what the future might bring.
It is important to re-read the wording of the motion before us today.
Hon. Jim Prentice (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I begin today with a reminder from the Confederation debates of 1864, quoting a father of Confederation:
Then let us be firm and united--
One country, one flag for us all:
United, our strength will be freedom--
Divided, we each of us fall.
Yesterday the Prime Minister of Canada put forward the following motion:
|| That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
I speak in this House as a western Canadian who is passionate about the history of our country and the future that we share together.
I have been privileged in my time in public service to travel the length and breadth of this remarkable country and to experience every region. As the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, I have explored the most distant reaches of this remarkable and compelling land, travelling in the company of extraordinary Canadians who comprise our first nations.
I am also rising in this House today as a francophile, as a Canadian who recognizes, who respects and who embraces Quebeckers' language, culture and history. I am addressing this motion today as a Canadian who is proud of his whole country and of the diversity that prevails within its borders.
The debate that concerns the House is properly before us. The Prime Minister of this country has shown decisiveness and courage in putting forward a motion which effectively responds to the mischief put forward by the Bloc Québécois. In a constructive way, the motion addresses the desire of Canadians to stand as a united country, while also recognizing the foundational role of les Québécois as one of the nations of people who comprise Canada.
The leader of the Bloc and his separatist colleagues do not seek a definition of les Québécois within the context of a united Canada. That is what distinguishes we who are the federalists in this House of Commons, separating us from those who would divide, separate and diminish us. They are not concerned with defining les Québécois, nor are they concerned with the advancement of the very special language, culture, traditions and history of les Québécois within the context of this, the most remarkable nation on the face of the earth. Instead, they would unleash a divisive debate that pits Canadians one against the other and les Québécois against themselves. This is a road that this government will not travel.
The Bloc Québécois continues to want to raise the issue of sympathy. It wants to break Canada. The Bloc Québécois' mission is to defend and promote its own interests, not those of Quebeckers. We disagree with that. Quebeckers, and other Canadians, are all builders of our country. This government and this Prime Minister will protect the unity of our country, which we have all helped build.
This Prime Minister and this new government prefer to travel on the road of nation building, on the same journey as other great prime ministers and great parties. This was the chosen path of Sir John A. Macdonald on a route that he travelled with George-Étienne Cartier. It was also the path of Laurier, Trudeau and Mulroney.
As Conservatives, we affirm and recognize that les Québécois form a nation within a United Canada.
We, the Conservatives, prefer to build a stronger Quebec within a better Canada. Quebeckers want tangible, concrete results, which the Bloc will never be able to deliver.
This is an immense country, remarkable in its diversity and in the strands of the ethnological, the linguistic and the cultural riches that define the tapestry that is Canada. As a western Canadian, I cherish this vibrant and colourful mosaic.
It is important to recognize that the creation of this country began with several founding nations, but that Canada has since benefited from the influx of new Canadians from every single corner of the globe. I have often been struck by the fact that, as one reads the speeches surrounding Confederation, this immigration and this peopling of the west was indeed the very plan of the Fathers of Confederation.
I would observe as well, parenthetically, that the first nations of Canada, the aboriginal peoples, including the Inuit and the Métis, have from the outset contributed to the Canada that we know today.
We have done all of this in a manner that has become a beacon to the world. We have succeeded in building a country that is the envy of all people by reason of the prosperity we have, the freedoms we enjoy, and the respect, the tolerance and the civility with which we treat one another as fellow citizens.
The Bloc seeks to end all of this. The Bloc seeks to drive wedges between us. The Bloc seeks to separate us. We must always remember that this is their raison d'être. It is the reason they exist and it is their fervent ambition.
Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, the true intention of the Bloc leader and the sovereignist camp is perfectly clear. They hope to separate, divide and break Canada apart. But we must uphold Canadian unity. We must defend national unity. Our Prime Minister and this government defend Canada, which, for us, includes a Quebec that is strong, confident and proud, a Quebec that is stronger within a better Canada.
Indeed, we are all proud to live in this country called Canada.
Indeed, we can all be proud to call Canada our home.
I have often marvelled at the construct of Canada. Why have we succeeded in the creation of such a great country?
To attempt to answer this question personally, I have often turned to the Confederation debates and the words of our Fathers of Confederation at the time they created this wonderful country. The Fathers of Confederation chose a form of government uniquely suited to expressing and accommodating regional, linguistic and religious diversity. The most important example of this diversity was undoubtedly the existence of the two major language groups.
With our linguistic diversity, we are the envy of many countries that are still unable to resolve their cultural differences.
One of the major factors in the creation of Canada as a federation was the presence of Quebec. The founders of our country wanted to build a nation which embraced our diversity.
There can be no doubt that in the heart of this country and all that we have achieved lies the compact that was defined by the Fathers of Confederation. This compact was based upon the recognition of the nationhood of les Québécois, the uniqueness of their language, their culture, their tradition and their history.
None of this was in dispute at the time of Confederation, as the British American provinces united freely, voluntarily and with the fullest intent to protect and advance those very characteristics. The concept of Confederation has always been that les Québécois and other Canadians would be stronger in unity than we would in division.
This was the concept of Canada. It is that very respect, tolerance and acceptance which not only lies at the heart of this country but which has in every way permeated the character and the philosophy of what we have created.
I quote for illustrative purposes H.L. Langevin, after whom the edifice across the street is named, who said:
|| We are told: “You wish to form a new nationality”. Let us come to an understanding on this word...What we desire and wish is to defend the general interests of a great country and of a powerful nation, by means of a central power. On the other hand, we do not wish to do away with our different customs, manner, and laws; on the contrary those are precisely what we are desirous of protecting in the most complete manner by means of Confederation.
Central to the Confederation debates was George-Étienne Cartier. He was described at that time as the finest statesman in North America. His oratory carried the day in the conferences leading up to Confederation. In 1864, he asked this question:
|| Was it surprising that some should try to find difficulties in the way of the formation of a Union because there happened to be different races and religions? I have already spoken about the elements which are necessary to constitute a nation.
As Cartier said of Confederation in 1867:
|| We sealed our pact without bloodshed and without exploitation of the weak by the strong. All it took was fairness, justice and some compromises on both sides.
The words spoken at the commencement of this country ring true today also. My friend Jean Charest, the current premier of Quebec, has said:
|| Recognizing Quebec as being different, recognizing our history, recognizing our identity, has never meant a weakening of Quebec and has never been a threat to national unity.
That is the nature of the country we have built. Canada is strengthened by its new immigrants as well as by its first nations, creating one of the most beautiful, diverse countries in the world, a country where great opportunities abound for everyone.
A nation drawn together as an act of will in 1867 by les Québécois and their fellow citizens of the English speaking provinces, and so yes, les Québécois do form a nation within a united Canada.
The Bloc, on the other hand, posits that Quebec itself is a nation and that it is a nation extraneous to Canada. The political entity of Quebec is not an independent nation, and if Cartier, Langevin and their descendants are to have their way, and if we as Canadians govern ourselves with goodwill and with a large and generous spirit, the answer will always be no.
Because of all of the attributes in Canada, that which is most central, that which is most important to who we are, is the respect with which we treat one another. We are unaffected by divisions, by distinctions of race, religion, gender or creed, and the humanity and the compassion that inspire us will always prevail.
The motion put forward by the Prime Minister does not recognize the province of Quebec as a nation. Rather, it recognizes les Québécois, the people of Quebec, as a nation within a united Canada. The difference is crucial.
The Bloc Québécois is seeking to tear this country apart. We, on the other hand, defend national unity. We defend Canada. We defend a strong Canada. Together, we have become what we are.
We are, as the Prime Minister has said, a shining example of the humanity that can be achieved through respect and forbearance, by way of our willingness to respect the language, the culture and the history of one another, the recognition of the history, the language and the culture of les Québécois.
Today, Canada is a prosperous and politically stable country because we have made diversity an asset rather than a problem. Canadians are able, as a result, to make democratic choices based on a respect of human rights, and today, more than ever, we understand that accommodating pluralism is not merely a political necessity but a source of pride and enrichment that reflects Canadians values.
Our capacity to adapt as a society and to build institutions that respond to the demands of our citizens has served us very well. Federalism is the natural response to governing a large, demographically and regionally diverse country. With 10 provinces, 3 territories, 6 time zones and bordering on 3 oceans, Canada's regional diversity is obvious.
Our diversity is also reflected in the two official languages. Almost all Canadians speak English or French, and one in five also speaks a non-official tongue. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 98% of the people have English as a mother tongue, while in Quebec, 81% have French as a mother tongue. In Nunavut, 79% speak Inuktitut, a language spoken by less than 1 in a 1,000 Canadians.
Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, stated emphatically:
|| I have no accord with the desire expressed in some quarters that by any mode whatever there should be an attempt made to oppress the one language or render it inferior to the other: I believe that would be impossible if it were tried, and it would be foolish and wicked if it were possible.
And so it is not in this Canada.
We are a pluralistic society, not just because of the diversity in the makeup of the population, whether linguistic, cultural or regional, but, more important, because we have come to understand that these differences contribute to our national community and our identity. In that sense, Canadians are a symbol of hope to a very dangerous and divided world.
The Bloc wants to separate Canada. That is something that our party and our government will never accept. That is something that this Prime Minister will always stand against immediately, unequivocally and decisively.
There are those who question whether this debate is properly before the federal House of Commons. I say that the Bloc has brought this question before the House. While its original intent may have been mischief, this new government and this new Prime Minister shall decisively resolve the matter in favour of les Québécois and in favour of a united Canada.
I am heartened by the integrity of other federalist parties in this House of Commons. I am moved by their willingness to set aside partisanship and to follow this Prime Minister on the road of statesmanship. Again, the wisdom of this path finds its antecedence in the debates of the founding fathers who similarly and wisely set aside their differences.
In closing, I echo the words of the great Sir John A. Macdonald on September 1, 1864, at the Charlottetown conference. When commenting upon les Québécois and the other founding partners of Confederation, he observed, “Our hearts are one. It was so then. It is today even more so the case”.
We shall press on as the federalists in this House of Commons, protective of one another and protective of the peoples and the nations which constitute Canada. May we, however, be ever wary of those who would separate us, those who would divide us and those who would seek to destroy what the unity of our peoples has created.
I close, as an Albertan, with the words of another Albertan, Ian Tyson, who, together with Peter Gzowski, wrote a song entitled, Song For Canada, reminding us that we are one nation. It went as follows:
Just one great river, always rolling to the sea
One single river rolling in eternity
Two nations in this land, that lie along its shore
But just one river rolling free
Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.
I am extremely proud to rise and speak to the motion introduced by the Bloc Québécois that reads as follows:
|| That this House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation currently within Canada.
This is a fact that has long been recognized by Quebeckers themselves. It is also a fact that has often been reaffirmed by all the parties in the Quebec National Assembly, whether federalist or sovereignist. The Bloc’s intent, in tabling this motion, was to give the House an opportunity to recognize a reality that Canada has always refused to recognize. We introduced a motion, therefore, that was as neutral and objective as possible and simply recognizes that Quebeckers form a nation.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister wanted to play with words and tabled his own motion yesterday afternoon. He subverted the debate and deflected it from its true intent in order to introduce another idea—which was not at all what the Bloc wanted—about the constitutional future, the future that Quebeckers will have as a nation.
I really think that this manoeuvre was downright dishonest. He diverted the real debate. This was obvious in what the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development had to say. This is not a debate about whether we want to have sovereignty or keep the Quebec nation part of the Canadian political federation. It is simply about whether Canada is capable, once and for all, of recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation. This is obviously no longer possible because the debate has been subverted. They are incapable of telling us what this concept of nationhood, as recognized by the House of Commons and Canada, actually means.
The Prime Minister’s tactics or manoeuvres, which I would describe as dishonest, avoid once again providing real, formal, clear recognition. Everything has been all mixed together in the speeches I have heard this morning.
In a spirit of goodwill, the Bloc Québécois amended its own motion to be even more objective and neutral. That is why we said: “...Quebeckers form a nation currently within Canada”. That is a reality. We are a nation and we are still within Canada. I really cannot see, therefore, why the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP would vote against a motion that simply states a fact.
On the other hand, what is false is what we find in the Prime Minister’s motion when he says that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. That is not true. Those are not the facts. That is imagination. It is perhaps what he wants or what he dreams of, but it is not true.
If we go back to the beginnings of Confederation and the beginning of the history of Canada and Quebec, Canada was never a nation, even less united. As we know, since 1982, no Quebec government, whether federalist or sovereignist, has agreed to sign the 1982 Constitution, which was unilaterally patriated by the Liberal government of the time headed by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. There is a reason why Quebeckers have never elected a Liberal majority in Ottawa since that time. For a few mandates, they elected Conservatives under the leadership of Brian Mulroney. Since the departure of Mr. Mulroney and after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, Quebeckers have decided to elect the Bloc Québécois.
The fact that the Prime Minister included “a united Canada” in his statement is not only contrary to reality, it is in fact disdainful of the positions adopted by the National Assembly and the various Quebec governments since 1982. By manoeuvring in this fashion, by including in his motion the word “united” before the word “Canada”, supposedly to recognize the Quebec nation, he has trivialized the decisions taken by the National Assembly and the governments that have refused to sign the Constitution.
They are closing their eyes to the reality of Canada, whose political system is currently in crisis, as is clearly reflected in this House. There is a reason why we have had a minority government for the last two mandates. It is because Canada is in crisis. The fact that Canadian federalists, particularly those outside Quebec, are refusing to recognize that reality does not change anything: far from it.
The Bloc Québécois has tabled a motion that is intended to be objective and neutral, so as to permit the House of Commons to recognize the reality once and for all, that reality being the existence of a Quebec nation within the Canadian political arena. Unfortunately, they have fallen into petty manoeuvring, and unfortunately, we will probably be unable to close this discussion, unless this House adopts the motion tabled by the Bloc, a motion which does nothing more than reflect reality.
I would point out once again that, by adopting the Bloc’s motion, we will not be deciding on the future of the Quebec nation, but simply leaving the doors completely open. I and my colleagues in the Bloc, like a good many Quebeckers, have already drawn our conclusions about what that future should be, but the debate is not over. That has nothing to do with the debate that is going on here, because it will in any case be Quebeckers—the Quebec nation—who will alone decide on their future, in accordance with the rules democratically established in the National Assembly.
All that we can do here, in this place, is to recognize the Quebec nation and the particular role of the Quebec state. Of course, this House and the governments sitting here in Ottawa can also provide this Quebec nation with tools to help it develop, particularly with respect to its most profound identity. Obviously this is not the direction we are taking with the Prime Minister’s motion. If the motion of the Bloc Québécois were adopted, however, that would create an opening.
I would point out that in political spaces that are states and countries, more than one nation can coexist. Canada is an example of this. There are others in the world. Russia, Spain and Great Britain are examples. But in order for such countries to develop harmoniously, there has to be mutual, respectful recognition. The minister said so, but it is not how things really are. There is no respect for the Quebec nation. The motion introduced by the Prime Minister is yet another example of this.
The fact of recognizing the Quebec nation is not what causes problems. The fact of not respecting it does that. I would have hoped, and I imagine that my ancestors would also have hoped, that within this political space, Canada, which in fact combines the former colonies of British North America, recognition of the Quebec nation would come much sooner. I would also have hoped that we would agree to recognize that there is a Canadian nation, an Acadian nation and the first nations, and above all to recognize that those nations must have governments, authorities or administrative bodies that provide them with their own instruments for advancing their interests. That has always been denied. Today, still, the government is unfortunately denying it.
It is not what I hope for, but it seems to me that this House is once again moving toward disrespect for the reality of Quebec.
Within a country, it could very easily have been imagined—in my opinion it is too late, but perhaps not for everyone in Quebec—that through that mutual respect, a spirit of solidarity could be developed and Canada could exist in a real sense. That is not the case. Unfortunately, history shows us that it is not possible. At least, that is the conclusion we have reached. That is why, in all friendship, we want to make Quebec sovereign and have the most harmonious possible relations with our neighbours in Canada.
In conclusion, that is not the purpose of the debate today. We are asking that this House recognize the existence of the Quebec nation, a civic nation to which the anglophone minority and all the waves of immigrants that have happily washed over Quebec belong; to recognize that this nation has a common language—which does not prevent people from speaking the language of their choice at home, or the anglo-Quebec minority from having its own institutions, but the common language, in the political space, within the Quebec nation, is French; to recognize that we have a common history that is distinct, although it is connected to the history of Canada; to recognize that we have a unique culture, one that is a crossroads and that is our own vision of something that is emerging in many places in the world.
Quebec’s culture is not a culture that is closed to what others can contribute. Obviously the French, British and aboriginal traditions, and the traditions of everyone who has come and helped to enrich this Quebec culture, are part of our unique vision of the world. That is Quebec culture. That is what we are asking this House to recognize.
If, unfortunately—and I hope not—the House rejected the Bloc’s motion, we would conclude that Canada, once again, did not really want to recognize the existence of the Quebec nation.
Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Joliette on his excellent speech. It gives me an opportunity to put in my two cents' worth about this motion introduced by the Bloc Québécois.
I will go back to the original motion, because we have proposed an amendment. The Conservative Party has even made it a separate motion. Everyone is ascribing all sorts of intentions to the Bloc Québécois, when it is actually being true to itself. It wants recognition that Quebeckers form a nation. This is not the first time that the Bloc Québécois has introduced a motion to that effect in this House.
That surprises me and will always surprise me. I have been here since 2000, so obviously I was not around for the saga of the Clarity Act. But today I can see the federalist parties' position on Quebec, and I can imagine what things must have been like when the clarity bill was introduced. The original motion made by the Bloc Québécois was crystal clear. Excuse the redundancy, but it could not have been any clearer:
|| That this House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation.
That was the Bloc Québécois motion. The Bloc Québécois did not sit down one morning and decide that because these were nice words, it was going to write this motion. On the contrary, every word is important. That is why we chose “that Quebeckers form a nation”; we did not choose “that Quebec forms a nation”. It is simple. Dictionaries define the word “nation”. The word “nation” can be used in reference to a state or territory. For example, the word “nation” in “Quebec is a nation” would be synonymous with “country”.
But the Bloc Québécois did not want to trick the House of Commons. It wanted to show its openness and to avoid involving anyone in a partisan fight by asking for recognition that Quebec is a nation. Instead, it proposes to recognize that Quebeckers form a nation. Simply put, according to the definition in the Larousse dictionary, the word “nation”, when applied to people, means:
|| Large community of people, typically living within the same territory and having, to a certain extent, a shared history, language, culture and economy.
For the benefit of some, I can use an English dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary:
|| A large body of people united by common descent, culture and language inhabiting a particular state or territory.
The Bloc Québécois made sure that the motion it tabled in the House was crystal clear precisely so there would be no political partisanship.
The Conservatives did not choose to table an amendment or to ask the mover of the motion for an amendment; they simply took the motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois and made it their own, adding the words “within a united Canada”, which made it a partisan motion. That is what the Conservative Party chose to do.
Of course, I cannot help but smile when federalist parties that supported the clarity bill tell us today that the Bloc Québécois is not clear and reject our motion to table one that is a lot more partisan than ours. I have seen it all. Other colleagues in this House have said that they have seen it all; today, I have seen in all.
I did not take part in the debate on the clarity bill. However, I am taking part today in this debate on the motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois, a party that has never hidden the fact that it wants this House to recognize Quebeckers as a nation. It is not the first but the third time that it has proposed such a motion. Whatever the circumstances, we are always consistent. We tabled a motion that was meant to be as clear as possible, but it was not clear enough for the Conservative Party that had to put a partisan slant to it.
Today we are trying to clarify our situation and to make the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democrats understand that we do not want to force them into an ideological or political war. We are defending a sovereignist option and, one day, Quebeckers will democratically settle the issue. Two referendums have been held so far, and rest assured that there will be a third one. Quebeckers will make that choice. It is not something that we wanted to impose on the Canadian Parliament.
I will reread the motion, because earlier, I heard the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development explaining that the aim was to have Quebec recognized as a nation and accordingly a country. No, I am sorry. Let us read the Bloc's motion carefully. I will reread it for my colleagues in this House, in order to demonstrate our good faith:
|| That this House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation.
In order to clarify our position, we have added “currently within Canada”. Yes, currently, Quebeckers are within Canada. We say this perhaps in all honesty. You think we have some ulterior motive behind what we are after, which is recognition.
Other parties have problems in this House. Other parties have political problems. All we want is to simply have the House recognize what the National Assembly of Quebec recognized and passed on October 30, 2003, when it stated that the people of Quebec form a nation.
The members of that assembly did not use the word “Quebec”. The National Assembly used the words “people of Quebec“. We used the words “Quebeckers“. It amounts to the same thing—the people.
Let us return to the dictionary definition. I find the position of the Conservatives and the other members of this House nonsensical. The Larousse dictionary provides that the word “nation”, when applied to people refers to a large community of people, typically living within the same territory and having, to a certain extent, a shared history, language, culture and economy.
You cannot claim Quebeckers do not form a large community of people. Seven million five hundred thousand people—a large community, in my opinion.
Although it is not the subject of the debate, I will nevertheless say that, if Quebec became a country, it would rank 95th of 230 countries in the world in terms of its population.
It cannot be said that Quebec is not a large community and that Quebeckers, as a nation, do not form a large community with 7.5 million inhabitants. The definition also provides “typically living within the same territory”. Well, indeed Quebeckers do live within the same territory. This is not the subject of today's debate either, and I do not wish to be partisan, but should Quebec become a country, it would be 18th among the 230 countries in the world in terms of its size.
You cannot accuse us of saying that we are not living within the same territory or that it is not a territory with a shared history. Some federalist members have even referred to the history of Quebec. Quebec has its linguistic history. I cite the definition from the Larousse dictionary again; it says “having a shared history, language”. You cannot deny that Quebec is French. It is the largest francophone territory in North America. Nothing more needs to be said about this linguistic fact. In terms of culture, you cannot deny Quebecers have their own cultural structure. Our artists are known throughout the world, whether we think of Cirque du Soleil, Céline Dion or others. The definition talks about having a shared economy, to a certain extent. If Quebec were to be a country, it would rank 20th in terms of gross domestic product, out of 230 countries.
The purpose and objective of the Bloc Québécois are not to engage in a partisan debate about Quebec sovereignty. The objective of the Bloc Québécois is for the House of Commons to settle the nation issue once and for all. That is why the question was so lucid and so clear. The first motion that was introduced by the Bloc, and because of which the Conservatives introduced a motion in an attempt to have a completely new debate, was worded as follows:
|| That this House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation.
It was that simple. We extended our hand to the federalists who found it so difficult to recognize Quebeckers as a nation. I can understand them. Recognizing Quebec as a nation, according to the dictionary definitions, is like recognizing Quebec as a country. I say: the Bloc Québécois motion has been studied and analyzed. We have used the correct terms.
It is the Conservative Party that decided—once again, the ones who voted for the referendum clarity act—to take that clear motion, to eliminate it completely and to introduce its own motion. The Conservatives wanted to say: “Look, they are wrong”.
I hope they will understand that it is up to Quebec to choose a question for its referendum, it is not up to the Conservatives to decide that. Once again, in this House, they are incapable of accepting the clear position in a very clear and very lucid motion by the Bloc Québécois, a motion talking about the Quebec nation, that Quebeckers form a nation.
I hope that my Conservative colleagues will make a little progress and understand that there was no malicious intent in the position taken by the Bloc Québécois, other than to get federalists in the rest of Canada to understand that Quebeckers form a nation.
Hon. Karen Redman (Kitchener Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Wascana.
I rise today to take part in the debate on the motion moved by the leader of the Bloc which asks that the House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation. I understand that this is a very emotional issue for some; however, we must debate serious issues and even difficult issues in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance.
My position vis-à-vis the Bloc motion is very clear and unequivocal. I will vote against it. As the leader of the official opposition said yesterday in the House, how could we ever support a motion on Quebec by a party that has zero commitment to Canada and which is blind to the greatness available for Quebeckers within Canada?
There are many people in Quebec who strongly believe in Canada and want to be full participants, as well as enjoy all the benefits that come from being part of one of the greatest countries in the world. Canada is richer and a more vibrant nation for having Quebec and that is why I take great pride in rising to say why I object to the motion, even though I happen to be from Kitchener Centre which is a southern Ontario riding.
I recognize that the duality of Canada goes back to the two founding nations, the cultures and the two religions that has led us to be an incredibly rich and tolerant country that I believe impacts the lives of all Canadians. It makes Canada a beacon of hope to the world of how we can live together in peace, and not just tolerate diversity but celebrate it.
There are many federalists and even nationalists in Quebec who believe in Canada and who are committed to a strong Quebec within a strong and united Canada. Liberals have always believed that Quebec, with all its resources, can prosper and meet its dreams within a united Canada.
Yesterday in the House the leader of the Bloc, and the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, stated during ministerial statements:
|| The debate on Quebec's future hinges on whether, as some believe, Quebec is better off growing and prospering within Canada...--or whether, as others like me believe, sovereignty is the only way for Quebec to reach its full potential.
Clearly, by the admission of the leader of the Bloc, his party is dedicated to destroying Canada. His party believes that the only way Quebec can reach its full potential is by withdrawing from Canada.
It goes without saying that I, as well as all members in the House, respect the opinions that are expressed in the chamber. However, on the issue that is before us today, I fundamentally disagree with my colleague from the Bloc. I share the view, along with the majority of Quebeckers, that Quebec can reach its full potential within a united Canada.
I will always fight for a united Canada that is based on tolerance, respect and inclusion. Twice through referendums, Quebeckers have rejected leaving Canada. Even with flawed questions, Quebeckers have opted to remain as full partners in a united Canada.
Why does the Bloc choose to ignore these Quebeckers, the ones who have twice rejected proposals to leave this country of Canada? If the Bloc says it speaks on behalf of Quebeckers, why does it ignore the majority who have twice rejected leaving Canada?
It is the point of view of the majority of those Quebeckers that I am speaking to and defending today. Liberals have always believed that when confronted with a clear question, whether or not to be part of Canada, Quebeckers will always choose Canada.
The member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean has proposed an amendment to his leader's motion that implies that Quebec will one day leave Canada because the motion says, following the word “nation”, he would add “currently within Canada”. Clearly, there is a ticking time bomb here as far as the Bloc is concerned.
The suggestion that Canada could be united now but not in the future must be rejected. I will not support any amendment that implies in whole or in part that Canada will one day not be united.
My party, the Liberal Party of Canada, and I will always fight for a strong and united Canada. I believe a strong Quebec can prosper within a strong Canada.
In December 1995 the House voted on a resolution recognizing that Quebec is a distinct society within Canada. This resolution was proposed by the Liberal Party. I am proud that my party stood in the House and recognized that Quebec is a distinct society within Canada.
The Bloc MPs in the House that day voted against the Liberal resolution recognizing Quebec as a distinct society within Canada. It is true, when the Bloc members had the chance to vote in the House in favour of Quebec being recognized as a distinct society, they voted against that recognition.
One must ask, what are the motives for the motion that we have before us today? There is broad agreement that all parties of the House--and I think that was demonstrated yesterday and I would have to say that yesterday was probably one of the most historic days that I have spent in Parliament--recognize Quebeckers as a nation. The motivation then becomes suspect when we see the amendment that was put forward by the Bloc today. It is quite clear that the Bloc's motives are to tear apart Canada.
Soon all of Canada will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city of Quebec by Champlain. Quebec's history is a rich history. It is part of Canada's history. I know that I will be proud to celebrate that 400th anniversary, as will all Canadians across this land.
I would like to take one moment to further reflect on something that was raised by my colleague, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie earlier today when she was speaking to the motion. She talked about the Bloc's motive. What could it be? What was its purpose? She said that in her view the Bloc is trying to divide federalists. The Bloc members want not only to divide federalists and those who believe in a strong and united Canada, but they are continuing to keep Quebeckers divided by refusing to acknowledge that the majority of Quebeckers believe Quebec can reach its full potential within Canada.
As my leader said yesterday, the Bloc's raison d'être is the breakup of Canada. The motion before us, once again, is an attempt to divide rather than to unite. It is pure politics. These tactics and attempts by the Bloc must be rejected. This is simply another demonstration of the Bloc playing games, games of which I refuse to be a part.
In closing, it is important to rise above partisanship and political games, and defend the interests of all Canadians, including those Quebeckers who have twice rejected leaving Canada. It is equally important to adopt a solution that allows all of us to reach our full potential, a solution that respects Quebec and Quebeckers, and gives them a prosperous future within the most magnificent country.
Let us not be fooled by the politics of the members of the Bloc Québécois. They have no desire to define what Quebeckers are. Their objective is to take Quebec out of Canada.
I am convinced that Quebeckers will always opt for a strong Quebec in a united Canada. That is my objective and duty. I want to ensure that Quebeckers can fully thrive within Canada.
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, in participating in this very important debate, I first want to take note of the compelling words of my leader and my deputy leader, the hon. members of the House for Toronto Centre and Westmount—Ville-Marie, who, within the last 24 hours, have spoken so eloquently about Canada and about the vital and dynamic position of les Québécois within a successful and united Canada.
Theirs was a message of inclusion and cohesion, of strength, of hope, of growth. They spoke of how les Québécois can and should be so proud and confident about their Quebec identity, and equally proud and confident about their Canadian identity.
By contrast, the separatist argument from the Bloc today implies that those two identities must, by definition, be mutually exclusive, that les Québécois must ultimately choose one identity or the other, but they cannot have both, and that is a great shame.
Thus the Bloc motion is fundamentally divisive. The motion is also deliberately incomplete. It is potentially confusing, capable, indeed prone, to misinterpretation. The leader of the Bloc essentially confirmed that mischievous intent on his part in the remarks that he made in this House earlier today.
As is its stated goal, the Bloc will seek at all times to engender an environment within which their separatist objectives could be realized, and this motion is part and parcel of that strategy.
We also recall the words of former Premier Parizeau, who said his plan for separatism was to make other Canadians feel their relationship with Quebec was something like a perpetual visit to the dentist. We must not succumb to that game plan, neither the divisiveness nor the contrived painfulness.
We need to focus instead on how to keep building success for les Québécois and for all Canadians, including les Québécois. We need to demonstrate our unique historic Canadian talent and capacity for respect, inclusion and accommodation within this vast country. That may well be our greatest possible gift to the world, the gift from all Canadians, including les Québécois. Indeed, it is probably in no small measure because of les Québécois that our country has developed this talent and this capacity to live, grow and thrive successfully in a diverse context together.
In a troubled world, a divided world, a world where human disputes, strife and anguish are just too prevalent, surely it is a hugely important achievement, a hugely important model, to have the inclusive Canadian success story. Les Québécois have always been integral to that success. It would not have been achieved, indeed it would not have been achievable, without the role and the experience of les Québécois. Together we must not give up on ourselves.
This country covers a vast land mass, spanning the northern part of a vast continent, the second biggest country in the world, with five huge regions and six time zones. We have fantastic geography and topography to admire, to wonder at and to challenge us from coast to coast to coast.
We have all the features on the North American continent tending to run north and south, while we strive to build a country together east and west. We have a difficult and sometimes downright perverse climate, ranging all the way from the North Pole to the same latitude as the state of California, and all of that belongs to all of us.
We have a small but very complicated population, beginning with the aboriginal peoples, then the French explorers and settlers, then the English explorers and settlers and then wave after wave of the most enriching immigration. It is to the point now where we in Canada include every colour, every creed, every ethnic origin, every religion, every political background, crucially and importantly two official languages, many cultures, quite literally the diversity of the whole world all here and mixed together unevenly, not in a melting pot, but as a mosaic and strung out rather sparsely along about 4,000 miles of American boundary.
We can hardly imagine a more difficult or challenging set of circumstances from which to try to forge a country, but we have forged one. It is the envy of the world.
How have we accomplished that? Yes, with a lot of hard work and also with some generous good luck. Also, we have done it, I believe, primarily through the faithful application of some typically Canadian values and characteristics, like a sense of fairness and justice, a spirit of generosity, compassion, tolerance, sharing, open hearts and open minds, pride in our vast diversity. We have practised the creative art of accommodation so the overall result for all of us can be more, not less.
We have always had that patient willingness to listen to each other, to reach out, to bridge our differences, to try very hard to understand one another. Once we have listened and understood, then we as Canadians have always been prepared to take action with and for each other together, not because any such action is in the narrow self-interest of some comfortable majority, not because we have to, but because we want to, because that action is right for the fair, decent and wonderful country that we aspire to be.
That is the stuff of nation building, and nation building the Canadian way is a never ending process. Canada is today and it always will be a precious work in progress. We must be absolutely resolved to keep on building this great country and to do it always and forever together.
Our opportunities for steadily increasing success for Canadians and for les Québécois and our prospects and opportunities for good fortune would not be possible in our country without the absolutely indispensable skills and values of les Québécois. Those skills and values reach back through out national fabric continuously for more than 400 years. They enrich us today and they will for generations to come.
Ms. Paule Brunelle (Trois-Rivières, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to express myself during this debate on the Quebec nation. This is one of the main reasons I decided to run for a seat as a member of the Bloc Québécois in 2004. I forgot to tell you at the beginning that I will be sharing my time with the member for Papineau.
I think that the concept of a nation is very important. This is not an abstract word that people do not really care about, as the Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for la Francophonie said last June 23. Recognizing the existence of the Quebec nation is more than a symbolic gesture; it is not just a label.
We know that nations have rights, especially the right to self-determination, that is, the right to direct their own development.
Two former premiers of Quebec, a federalist and a sovereignist, Robert Bourassa and René Lévesque, agreed on this issue. René Lévesque once said:
|Having all the attributes of a distinct national community, Quebec has an inalienable right to self-determination. This is Quebec's most basic right.
Robert Bourassa, a federalist, had this to say about self-determination:
|English Canada must clearly understand that, no matter what, Quebec is today and for all times a distinct society, free and capable of assuming its destiny and its development.
The right to self-determination is also codified by the UN. Resolution 26.25 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1970 describes it best.
The Bélanger-Campeau Commission, which was set up in Quebec after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and chaired by a federalist and a sovereignist, agreed with this. Some of its findings, unfortunately, are still current because we have not really ended the impasse between federalists and sovereignists. The Bélanger-Campeau Commission said:
|The consensus expressed in the work of the commission is clear: profound changes to Quebec's political and constitutional status are needed.
This has not been done. It also said:
|Only two solutions are open to Quebec in redefining its status: firstly, making a new, last, attempt to redefine its status within the federal system; and, secondly, achieving sovereignty.
As soon as Quebeckers are recognized as a nation only two options are open to us. In presenting this motion, the Bloc Québécois is not saying it wants to achieve sovereignty. What we are saying is that there needs to be a major renewal of federalism on a new foundation or there needs to be sovereignty. Those two options are available. But can federalism truly be reformed? Some 40 years of fighting make me doubt it.
Currently all these avenues seemed to be blocked. The only door that is still open, at least for Quebeckers and for the Bloc Québécois, is sovereignty.
Since Quebeckers are a nation they have to be able to have a say on the world stage in their areas of jurisdiction. For more than 40 years now, all the Governments of Quebec have asked to be able to engage in international relations directly themselves on their own behalf where Quebec's jurisdictions under the Constitution are concerned. For more than 40 years now we have made little progress in all these debates. Quebec participates in only one international organization, namely the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. This is not thanks to the federal government, but on the insistence of France, General de Gaulle in particular.
During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister promised that Quebec would have its own seat at UNESCO, along the lines of the francophone summit. What we are seeing is Quebec left with only a folding chair, rather than a seat, and since the signing over six months ago, which was all for show, no concrete action has been taken.
The Prime Minister also promised that, on the international level, Quebec, as well as the other provinces, though they see less need for it, would have a say in matters affecting their own jurisdictions. We saw in Nairobi, Kenya, during the United Nations climate change conference just what his promise was worth. Quebec was given no voice at that conference. More progressive nations heard about Quebec's plan only because a European minister talked about it.
And the Conservative government only accused her of interfering in Canada's domestic affairs.
The Prime Minister also promised to recognize special cultural and institutional responsibilities of the Quebec government. We are still awaiting the asymmetrical agreement that would allow Quebec to speak for itself on matters under its jurisdiction.
The Prime Minister promised the following:
|| I am ready to discuss mechanisms to enable the provinces to extend their jurisdictions on the international scene.
How many times, since the election of this new government, has Quebec been allowed to freely exercise its own jurisdictions on the international scene?
The Bloc Québécois would like to assert three principles. The government cannot pretend that it has respected its promises in these three areas.
First, Quebec is not like the other provinces. Rather, it is home to the Quebec nation. For this reason, it requires greater autonomy than the other provinces, including on the international scene.
Second, within its constitutional jurisdictions, Quebec is fully sovereign. It must be permitted to exercise its authority from A to Z, including in international relations.
Third, when negotiating on the international scene in matters affecting jurisdictions under Quebec's own legislative authority, the federal government cannot claim to represent Quebec, unless Quebec authorizes it to do so.
Subordination has plenty of disadvantages. It prevents the Quebec nation from fully developing and realizing its full potential. It is neither normal nor desirable for Quebec to be a province of another nation. Legally, Quebec must be on an equal footing with other countries. That is the Bloc Québécois' opinion.
Obviously, the motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois is not asking that the House decide whether or not Quebec should choose sovereignty. What we are asking is that it recognizes that Quebeckers form a nation. As for Quebec's political future, the decision will be made in Quebec, in a referendum that will be held in the purest democratic traditions, as Quebec has always done.
For the benefit of the many sovereignists in my riding, I would like to talk about the advantages of sovereignty. Why would we choose the sovereignist option for Quebec and why would we work so hard to achieve sovereignty? We all want to be free and responsible, both personally and collectively, as Quebeckers do form a nation. We want to face our own internal and external problems, solve them ourselves and gain from it experience, dynamism and the richness of being, all this in a spirit of healthy cooperation with our neighbours, whom we respect, but without the sterile blockage that has existed for too long between Quebec's normal dynamism and the check Ottawa is putting on that.
I want to pay my taxes to the Quebec government that sits at the National Assembly. I want the National Assembly to make the laws that govern the country of Quebec. I want representatives from Quebec at the table in international meetings to debate and sign agreements and treaties that will have an impact on the lives of Quebeckers.
Quebeckers have the means as well as the obligations of a sovereign people. Two neighbours who each have their own house get along better than those who have to share accommodations where the boundaries are blurred. A sovereign Quebec next to a sovereign Canada will better contribute to the well-being of both neighbours.
Mrs. Vivian Barbot (Papineau, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the motion that we Quebeckers from the Bloc Québécois tabled in this House today reads as follows:
|| That this House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation.
What we want to debate is the recognition of the fact that we, in Quebec, form a nation, nothing more and nothing less. The Prime Minister deemed appropriate to add the mention, “within a united Canada”. We are prepared to present an amendment that would say, “currently within Canada”. Indeed, we recognize that we are within Canada and that, currently, Canada forms a country. As people know, we Quebeckers want something else. When we say that we want Quebec to be recognized as a nation, we are asking that this feature of Quebec be recognized. This does not question the features of the other nation, and it does not put an end to anything. It is simply a matter of recognition. This recognition should be treated with a little more respect than it has been so far.
Does the Prime Minister realize that by adding “within a united Canada”, he will trigger issues about Canada's unity? We consider that Quebec is a nation and, regardless of what anyone may say, that is our reality. The other parties should try to understand that. In my view, this is a tactic, but people will not be fooled by it.
The Prime Minister and the other parties are interpreting the intention that we had when we proposed this motion. Yesterday, in his speech, the Prime Minister said:
||—the real intent behind the motion by the leader of the Bloc and the sovereignist camp is perfectly clear. It is to recognize not what the Québécois are, but what the sovereignists would like them to be.
In this regard, it seems to me that we are the only ones who can tell what our intentions are. The Prime Minister really cannot know those intentions, and by presenting things in this fashion, he is attempting to get us stuck with a vision that is not ours. We have a right to consider that Quebec is a nation, with or without Canada.
In Quebec, there has for years been a consensus that Quebeckers form a nation. On October 30, 2003, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously passed the following motion:
|| THAT the National Assembly reaffirm that the people of Quebec form a nation.
The motion does not say that we form a nation if we remain in Canada. Neither does it say that we form a nation if we leave Canada. It says that we form a nation, period. The National Assembly is stating that it reaffirms the existence of the nation of Quebec. In fact, this resolution echoes what governments of Quebec have been saying for decades. I will read some quotes from governments of Quebec.
In April 1946, Maurice Duplessis said:
|| I firmly believe that Canadian confederation is a pact of union between two great races.
In November 1963, Jean Lesage said:
|| Quebec is not defending the principle of provincial autonomy because a principle is involved, but for the more important reason that it views autonomy as the concrete condition not for its survival, which is henceforth assured, but for its affirmation as a people.
For his part, Daniel Johnson Sr. said in February 1968:
|| The Constitution should not have as its sole purpose to federate territories, but also to associate in equality two linguistic and cultural communities, two founding peoples, two societies, two nations, in the sociological meaning of the term.
Later, René Lévesque said:
||—Canada is composed of two equal nations; Quebec is the home and the heart of one of those nations and, as it possesses all the attributes of a distinct national community, it has an inalienable right to self-determination...This right to control its own national destiny is the most fundamental right that Quebec society has.
In December 1994, Jacques Parizeau, to whom the Prime Minister referred yesterday, said:
|| To date, Canada's basic law has failed to recognize Quebeckers as a nation, a people or even a distinct society.
That is a sad commentary.
Finally, in October 1999, Lucien Bouchard said:
|| Quebec is the only majority francophone society on the North American continent with a well-defined land base and political institutions which it controls. The Quebec people has all the classic attributes of a nation... The Quebec people adheres to the democratic concept of a nation characterized by its language, French, and a diverse culture, and which is broadly open to international immigration—
The product of immigration myself, I am one of those who have been welcomed on Quebec soil as a full-fledged Quebecker. I have been here since 1967. I can therefore echo the last part of what Mr. Bouchard said and confirm that the Quebec people to whom I proudly belong “adheres to the democratic concept of a nation characterized by its language, French, and a diverse culture, and which is broadly open to international immigration”.
This goes to show that Quebec has been a nation for quite some time. We are not interested in forming a nation provided that we remain within Canada. No one should force a people to stay in a system that it does not believe in. Things will unfold democratically. But what we are looking for today is full and complete recognition of what we are, nothing more, nothing less.