An Act to repeal the Clarity Act
André Bellavance Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
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- March 6, 2013 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to a legislative committee.
Private Members' Business
March 6th, 2013 / 6:35 p.m.
The House resumed from February 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
The Quebec Nation
Statements by Members
March 6th, 2013 / 2:05 p.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, tonight's vote will be telling. On November 27, 2006, the House formally recognized the Quebec nation. The time has come to recognize all the powers that come with nationhood, including the inalienable right to self-determination. In passing the Clarity Act, the federal government unilaterally claimed the right to interfere in the democratic process by determining what question and what majority are acceptable and on what terms Quebec can be master of its own destiny.
Under René Lévesque, Quebec's National Assembly passed the Referendum Act, which paved the way for the referendums. The “yes” and “no” sides voted in those referendums, and no one questioned the act's legitimacy. None of the parties in the National Assembly, sovereignist or federalist, accept the idea that the Clarity Act takes precedence over Quebec's laws. No one accepts the idea of a trusteeship or a veto.
This evening, the members who recognize the Quebec nation should be voting in favour of Bill C-457.
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2013 / 3:55 p.m.
Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Charlottetown, so people can stay tuned and look forward to his comments.
I am happy to speak to the motion today from my colleague from the New Democratic Party, the member for Toronto—Danforth. I and my colleagues in the Liberal caucus will be voting against the motion when it comes up for a vote. In our view, not only is this motion constitutionally very naive, it may in fact even be a cynical attempt on the part of the New Democrats to change the channel on what will be a difficult evening for them tomorrow night when they are forced to get up and vote on a Bloc Québécois private member's bill, Bill C-457, with respect to the Clarity Act.
It is constitutionally naive because, although some NDP members in their comments have suggested otherwise, most constitutional experts acknowledge that not changing the character of the Senate but abolishing the Senate would require the unanimity of the provinces, and that is for a very important reason. At Confederation, the Senate was, as members will know, designed to offer the smaller provinces in our federation a chance to have some regional balance that would not necessarily be found in this chamber, which reflected the population of different provinces and different constituencies. The New Democrats realize that unanimity with respect to abolition of the Senate would be impossible and, if we are being generous, we might even say it would be very hard to achieve.
The member for Vancouver Kingsway offered examples of premiers who had been in favour of the abolition of the Senate, but they are from Canada's most populous provinces. That the premier of Ontario or the premier of British Columbia may favour the abolition of the Senate should not surprise many Canadians. It would surprise me if the premiers of small provinces such as the premier of Manitoba, the premier of my own province of New Brunswick or the New Democratic premier of Nova Scotia were in favour. These premiers correctly recognize that the Senate offers the smaller provinces in our federation a chance in the Canadian Parliament to have some balance.
The opening of the Constitution, as my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville so properly pointed out this morning, would offer a constitutional swamp that would see no end. There is the idea that we could have the partners in our federation come to a constitutional meeting. We know the Prime Minister certainly is averse to any meetings that would involve all first ministers in the federation, so we should not hold our breath for that ever to happen. It has not happened on issues as important as the economy, so I find it hard to imagine it would happen on an issue as complicated as abolishing the Senate. However, at that meeting, we know very well that first nations people would want to talk, correctly so, about self-government and aboriginal rights. Certainly the current separatist Government of Quebec would arrive with a laundry list, which would take up a two or three week meeting, of ridiculous grievances and complaints that it would fabricate to try to hijack the meeting.
As for the idea that we could ever get to a point, Canadians are not interested because we have been at that point. In the 1980s, under the leadership of a Progressive Conservative prime minister, Mr. Mulroney, Canadians remember Meech Lake and they remember the Charlottetown accord process. Canadians are correctly asking their elected parliamentarians to focus on issues that affect their daily lives, like the economy, youth unemployment and the environment. Those are the calls I get in my constituency office in Shediac. I have not had numerous people say to me that we need to convene a first ministers conference to discuss the issue of abolishing the Senate.
I understand why the NDP tried, somewhat cynically, to take advantage of some of the problems the Senate is having right now.
We have seen in reports from various media outlets that expenses have been called into question and that some senators seem to be having difficulty determining their place of residence.
Obviously, we are not in any way minimizing the importance of settling and resolving the situation and holding accountable anyone who acted inappropriately.
That is why the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration decided, on its own initiative, to refer certain cases to a major external audit that will be made public, and some cases involve certain senators appointed by the current Prime Minister. I have no doubt that if the external audit indicates potentially fraudulent circumstances, the senators will do the right thing and refer everything to the appropriate authorities. The Senate takes its financial responsibility seriously.
We are in no way minimizing the concerns of Canadian taxpayers about circumstances that are of significant concern to us. I must say that no one in the Liberal caucus will object to having people who may have done something inappropriate face serious consequences, including prosecution, if so required.
However, we cannot pretend that we need an endless constitutional discussion because there is currently an issue with residency or expenses. This problem may be resolved severely, appropriately and quickly, as the Senate itself has said. I think this is an attempt by the NDP to change the subject. Perhaps the NDP is thinking that tomorrow evening, with the vote on Bill C-457 , put forward by the Bloc Québécois, will be difficult for them. We know very well that the NDP opposed the Clarity Act. The NDP will have to be absent en masse tomorrow evening when we, the Liberals, will vote against this Bloc bill that makes no sense. Sort of along those same lines, the NDP is pretending that another constitutional crisis needs our attention.
The Senate at its very inception, as I said at the beginning of my comments, offers the regions of the country a chance to balance the obvious demographic weight of some of the larger provinces in this chamber. An unelected Senate will certainly never be able to play the effective and, I hope, regionally equal role that the Fathers of Confederation, almost 150 ago, thought this model might achieve.
We need to be clear. The Liberal Party has supported and continues to support the notion of an elected, effective and equal Senate. For us, that would be an appropriate Senate reform measure.
In our view the country is not ready to proceed to a constitutional conference to discuss that at this moment. However, if we were to accept that the abolition of the Senate was in fact the alternative, then smaller provinces like mine in New Brunswick, like Manitoba, where my colleague from Winnipeg North sits as a member of the House, would not have an opportunity to work with the other partners of the federation and hopefully a prime minister who would interested at some point in having a discussion, when the moment was right, on how we could achieve an elected, effective and equal Senate.
My colleague from Toronto—Danforth, a member for whom I have considerable respect, also has on the order paper his own private member's bill, Bill C-470, which seeks itself to abolish the Clarity Act and substitute this bizarre 50% plus one formula, which shocks many Canadians, as a threshold to break up the country.
I think some NDP MPs would also have difficulty voting, and I am thinking of my friend from Acadie—Bathurst, who represents so well francophone minorities outside Quebec. For him to get up and have to vote for a bill by the member for Toronto—Danforth would obviously be difficult. That is probably why it is so low on the order of precedence, with no possible hope of ever actually coming before the House to be debated.
It is a cynical attempt, from our perspective, to change the channel at a time when Canadians think we should be referring and discussing issues a lot more important to the daily lives of Canadians than a pipe dream that somehow we could convene a constitutional conference to abolish the Canadian Senate.
Private Members' Business
February 28th, 2013 / 6:25 p.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to conclude the debate on Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act.
Liberal and Conservative MPs both delivered their usual speeches. They stuck to their guns, which was to be expected. The Liberals brought forward the Clarity Act after being shaken by how close we came to a yes vote in the 1995 referendum. They came up with a plan B. This plan B was the Clarity Act.
I heard some fairly unbelievable things in those speeches, which is why I should inform all my colleagues that the Clarity Act was condemned by the whole of Quebec's National Assembly. By that I mean that every member of every party, federalist and sovereignist alike, rejected this ignominious law called the Clarity Act.
As for the Quebec Liberals, we know that the former leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, Claude Ryan, said that the Clarity Act placed Quebec under trusteeship. We know that Daniel Johnson, the leader of the “No” side and also the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party at the time, criticized the Clarity Act, just like Jean Charest who, when this legislation was passed here in 2000, said that Quebec was the master of its destiny. All these federalists felt that Quebec was the master of its destiny regarding its decision to become sovereign, or to remain part of Canada.
As for the leader of the NDP, he was the most surprising in this House. He too arrived here and criticized the Clarity Act. Like all NDP members who spoke to my bill, he said that the Liberal Party's Clarity Act passed in 2000 had no reason to exist and that it was disrespectful of Quebeckers' rights. He also said that the debate was useless—that was also mentioned this evening—that there were other priorities, that this was an old issue, an old quarrel, and that the Bloc Québécois was only looking for trouble.
In short, he used a bazooka to kill a fly. He said he would introduce Clarity Act No. 2. He said the Clarity Act should be abolished because it deals with an old issue, it is a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of Quebeckers, who want a democratic process to decide whether or not they want Quebec to achieve sovereignty. However, he comes up with Clarity Act No. 2. The first one is useless, but Clarity Act No. 2 is so useful. So, he perpetuates the old debates by introducing this legislation.
Bill C-470, introduced by the previous speaker, the member for Toronto—Danforth, is just a bill which, like the present Clarity Act, imposes trusteeship on Quebec regarding its perfectly democratic right to decide its own future in the Canadian Constitution.
Clarity Act No. 2—that is what it is—is not simply about oversight in Quebec's affairs. It gives the federal government—the Conservative government in this case —the right to decide whether a referendum question is clear. It is written in black and white in the bill. It even goes further and unilaterally provides the wording of two questions that the NDP considers to be clear. According to the NDP, the Quebec National Assembly and the people of Quebec do not have the last word on the question to be asked in a potential referendum. The NDP has the last word in its Bill C-470.
Even if the National Assembly agreed on the wording, with this bill, the federal government could oppose the question and send it to the courts, which would certainly bring Quebec's referendum process to a standstill.
I think this comes down to trading four quarters for a dollar. The speeches we are hearing from the NDP make no sense. They are all saying that the Clarity Act should be repealed, but they do not want to vote in favour of my bill, even though the only thing my bill would do is repeal the Clarity Act.
In conclusion, I want to reach out to all members of Parliament, especially those from Quebec. I urge them to do some soul-searching, to look at themselves in the mirror and say, like Robert Bourassa and a number of federalists said, that Quebec has the right to its own destiny, the right to choose its own future, and that these decisions should happen in Quebec, not in the federal Parliament.
Private Members' Business
February 28th, 2013 / 6:05 p.m.
Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to all of the debate on this issue. Clearly, this debate is in Quebeckers' genetic makeup. This is a key issue that is not always easy to address.
I listened to the comments made by the member of the Bloc Québécois who gave his speech a few weeks ago. Like many Bloc members, he is always trying to give the impression that only members of the Bloc Québécois or the Parti Quebecois can be proud or respectful of Quebec. As the member for Gatineau, what I often hear in what these members are saying is that, if we are not with them, then we are against them, and we are not sticking up for ourselves.
As a proud Quebecker, I think that, sometimes in life, there are issues that are even more important, such as respect for the rule of law. Everyone—at least everyone in the NDP caucus, since they supported the Sherbrooke declaration—recognizes that Quebec has the right to self-determination, that Quebec is a nation and that, as a nation, Quebec certainly has the right to determine the statute under which it wants to operate. However, even if Quebec is not a signatory to the Constitution, despite what the hon. member for Papineau thinks, Quebec signed administrative agreements and operates under a very specific legal framework.
Much has been written about the issue of a Quebec referendum. Often, it seems that people are walking on eggshells because they are so scared to talk about it. Yet, Quebeckers, the people of my nation, are more open than people may think. It is wrong to think that dotting the is and crossing the ts, or trying to see how Quebec operates will cause mass hysteria.
As the hon. member for Trois-Rivières was saying earlier, when I talk to the people of Gatineau, this is not the first question that I am asked, nor is it the second or the third. Frankly, I am rarely asked anything about it. However, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-457. I am not surprised. That is also part of their genetic makeup. It was time it was done. Given that the Bloc Québécois held the majority of seats for Quebec in the past, I am surprised that the party waited for the mass influx of NDP members and the positive, optimistic offer that Jack Layton made to Quebeckers before it finally woke up and decided that it wanted to repeal the Clarity Act. The party took its time. If this is how the Bloc Québécois takes care of Quebec's interests, then I have some news for them. They introduced the bill, but now it is in our hands.
Bill C-457 is very simple and calls for the “Clarity” Act, introduced by the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, to be repealed. The word “clarity” is in quotation marks because this bill is anything but clear. It was drafted hastily and in a panic.
In 1995, the day after the last referendum in Quebec, all of Canada woke up and realized that the results were very tight. Oddly enough, no one was talking about 60% or 65%. Throughout the night, I was providing commentary on the results for a television station in my region. No one was asking me what would happen if the results reached the majority of 51%. Although we sensed that the results would be tight, no one told me that we had to wait for them to reach 60% or 70%.
There was already a sense of normalcy. We waited to see which side would get the majority at the end of the day. The federalists ended up being successful. However, we cannot forget history. In the House and in Canada and Quebec we often forget our history, which means that we repeat the same mistakes.
What happened? There was a wave of panic, because people realized that they could end up in the middle of a serious constitutional crisis. They were wondering what to do. People were wondering if it would be acceptable had the results been reversed.
Then came the brilliant idea that any government with no backbone, no sense of leadership and no idea what to do would come up with: it sent the issue to the Supreme Court to ask the court to rule on the subject. The Supreme Court rendered its decision in 1998 in the Quebec Secession Reference. What it said was very clear. It had to answer three questions. Under the Canadian Constitution, could the National Assembly, legislature or Government of Quebec effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally? Could they do so unilaterally under international law? Which would take precedence between domestic and international law?
In response to the first question, the Supreme Court said that, yes, negotiations would have to take place if a clear answer were given and if the result were clear. That would force the federal government to sit down with the province that wanted to secede. An obligation would be created.
The Supreme Court was extremely clear. The members of the House will have to decide how they are going to vote on Bill C-457 and how they are going to vote on Bill C-470 introduced by the member for Toronto—Danforth, who has the courage of his convictions and is very faithful to the constitutional law established by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Supreme Court was very clear in its response: Canada's constitutional law forces the federal government to negotiate once a clear question receives a positive response and a clear result. That question is clearly defined in Bill C-470, so we would have no choice. But what did the Liberal government at the time—that great defender of democracy, values and respect for the charter, the party that cloaked itself in the flag—do? It passed the Clarity Act. I challenge anyone, even those with a law degree, to tell me, with a straight face, that the Clarity Act is a clear piece of legislation.
What it says is very clear: we might negotiate with you but we will look at the results and the question after the fact and then we will decide whether to sit down and negotiate.
Yet that is not at all what the Supreme Court of Canada told the partners in the federation. There must be some form of respect. Things start to get off track when people start to get worked up about Bill C-470. First, this bill does not impose a specific question on Quebec; however, it has the courage to warn Quebec. That is a good negotiating approach. When I negotiate under labour law, I do not tell the opposing party that I will see what I feel like discussing and, if I feel like it, I might talk about something, but then again I might not. Instead, I provide an agenda and I announce how the items on it will be dealt with.
Bill C-470 simply gives the other side, namely, the Quebec nation, two examples of questions that have been deemed appropriate. Those questions could not be overturned and the results could not be called into question.
As others have already mentioned, Canada agreed to allow Newfoundland to enter into the Constitution based on the 50% plus one principle. I am asking those who are telling me that the NDP's constitution requires two-thirds of the votes to leave me alone. If my Gatineau riding association wants to change the NDP's constitution, then a majority has to pass a resolution. Then, it can go to the next level. It is the same thing for Canada.
Once again, for those that think that this bill is not at all democratic, I would like to say that the Clarity Act is undemocratic. What is more, the legal vacuum that the Bloc Québécois is trying to create is even more undemocratic.
As a proud Quebecker, I would be pleased to vote for Bill C-470 and to vote against Bill C-457 and would like to tell Quebeckers that they were right to democratically elect all these people to represent them.
Private Members' Business
February 28th, 2013 / 6 p.m.
Nycole Turmel Hull—Aylmer, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to debate Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act.
I should say at the outset that we will not be supporting this bill. In May 2011, 4.5 million Canadians voted for a more inclusive, greener and more prosperous Canada. Some of those Canadians live in Quebec. For the first time since 1988, Quebeckers elected a majority of federalist MPs to the House of Commons, thanks to the NDP.
Quebeckers placed their confidence in our progressive, federalist vision. They voted for a party that believes there is a place for Quebec in the federation. The message Quebec voters sent to the Bloc Québécois was very clear: we want to go in another direction; we want to work together to build a better Canada; we want to look towards the future, not the past. The Bloc does not seem to have understood the message, however.
In tabling its Bill C-457, the Bloc is clearly demonstrating its limitations. It obviously has little to offer Quebeckers. Rather than talk about the economy, combatting poverty, the social housing crisis or job creation, Bill C-457 talks about referenda.
In 2013, Quebeckers and many Canadians expect their elected representatives to work tirelessly to find solutions to such problems as the rising cost of living. They want their representatives to pressure this government to put more money into health, abandon its employment insurance reforms, ensure security in retirement for our seniors, and stop cutting the services for which they pay taxes. They also want the government to step up and ensure that big corporations pay their fair share of taxes. They do not want to hear any more talk of secession.
As our fellow citizens watch the Conservative government perform, they wonder how the next government will manage to clean up the mess it leaves behind. The NDP has practical solutions to improve the lives of all citizens.
We are fighting every day to establish a balanced 21st-century economy based on sustainable development, an economy that generates wealth, not just for a handful of industries and regions, but for every part of this country.
The NDP champions respect for democracy and for voters. On this subject, at the beginning of this Parliament my colleague from Pontiac tabled Bill C-306, the main purpose of which was to require members wishing to change sides in the middle of a legislature to run in a byelection. Unfortunately, the bill was rejected by the Conservatives. This is nevertheless the kind of commitment to respect for democracy that Canadians expect. They no longer want members of Parliament who get elected under one banner, and then change sides.
As we prepare to form the next government in 2015, the Bloc is limited to talking about referenda. Our goal is to get the Conservative government out of power, instead of trying to get Quebec out of Canada. An NDP government will implement the progressive policies that millions of Canadians supported in the last election.
With regard to federalism, our position on Quebec’s place in Canada is clearly set out in the Sherbrooke Declaration we adopted in 2006. Our approach has the merit of being firmly positive and inclusive. We want to build bridges between people, not divide them. Unlike some, we refuse to believe that secession is the only solution available to Quebeckers.
Anyone reading Bill C-457 will realize at once that it disregards the opinion of the Supreme Court, as set out in its opinion in the Quebec Secession Reference. The Supreme Court was very clear in formulating its opinion: if a majority of Quebeckers chose secession in a referendum, both parties would be obligated to negotiate.
The federal government would thus be obliged to negotiate, but so would Quebec. Now, in order to trigger an obligation to negotiate, there must be a clear question and a clear result.
Bill C-470, An Act respecting democratic constitutional change, sponsored by my colleague from Toronto—Danforth, responds to the Supreme Court opinion and the federal government’s obligation to negotiate if a majority of Quebeckers answer a clear question in a referendum.
Bill C-470 does not deal with secession, but opens the door to any question about constitutional change, because the NDP believes that Quebec’s right to decide its future may also be exercised within Canada.
Among other things, the Bill refers to the integration of Quebec into the Canadian constitutional framework, the limitation of federal spending power in Quebec, and the Government of Quebec’s opting out with full compensation from any programs if the Government of Canada intervenes in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
Bill C-470 is designed not to prevent negotiation between the federal government and the Quebec government, but to provide genuine clarification of the conditions that trigger the obligation to negotiate referred to by the Supreme Court. It also provides examples of clear questions, while recognizing the right of the National Assembly to draft its own question.
My colleague from Toronto—Danforth has introduced an excellent bill, and I wish to congratulate him on it. I should add that the entire NDP caucus is behind him in the introduction of his bill.
Unlike Bill C-470, Bill C-457 has the merit of proposing a constructive solution that moves us forward, rather than back. That is what Canadians expect: that we propose solutions for the future, rather than be content to live in the past.
We should be looking towards the future, and that is what Bill C-470 proposes.
Private Members' Business
February 28th, 2013 / 5:35 p.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, I do not like to interrupt my colleagues when they are in full flight. However, with all due respect for the Chair, I would like to remind him and my colleague who is making a speech that we are discussing Bill C-457. I really do not see the connection with the bill he is talking about now.
Private Members' Business
February 28th, 2013 / 5:35 p.m.
Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act. First of all, I must say that the NDP team is working very hard to restore Quebeckers' faith in politics.
In introducing this bill, the Bloc Québécois is trying to resuscitate old debates and is proposing nothing new. In view of the fact that Quebeckers have overwhelmingly rejected parties that have disappointed them in the past and those that took them for granted election after election, my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois should be ashamed.
The NDP's approach is different. We believe the federal government should be an ally to Quebeckers, as a nation, as acknowledged in the House, and that it should co-operate with the provinces in a way that respects them. This shows once again that the Bloc does not really want to help people build bridges or bring them together from sea to sea. We know that people are prepared to move on to something else in good faith and to set aside the old debates. That, moreover, is the message they sent in the last election.
The NDP has even tabled its own bill, which follows from the Sherbrooke declaration and its positive vision of federalism, which turns the page on the old debates. We believe that the leader of the official opposition is the person who can best bring together the people of Quebec and the rest of Canada to work together to build a more just, greener and more prosperous Canada. The NDP's team and leader are the only ones who really want to establish winning conditions for Canada in Quebec in a manner respectful of democracy.
Speaking of democracy, allow me to point out that, in an election, members solicit votes under a political banner with ideas and promises from the party they wish to represent. Once elected, members have a duty to respect the people's choice and be accountable to their constituents throughout their term.
I introduced a bill to that effect last year. Its purpose was to make the people's representatives more accountable and to enhance the image of the country's political institutions. That bill provided that a member's seat would be vacated and a byelection called for that seat if the member, having been elected as a member of a political party or as an independent, changed parties or became a member of another party. However, the seat would not be considered vacant if the member, having been elected as a member of a political party, chose to sit as an independent.
In other words, my bill proposed that byelections would be called when a member elected as a member of a political party chose to change political parties during his term. It proposed that byelections would also be called. That is respect for democracy.
The House resumed from January 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.