House of Commons Hansard #275 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Constitutional Amendments Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Carleton—Gloucester, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. members from the Reform Party. Without speaking disparagingly of them, some of my remarks may be directed at their party.

"Reform's hard line hinders unity of effort" was the headline in the Toronto Star of December 10, 1995. The article stated:

But Confederation from the start treated provinces unequally, to accommodate their special needs.

Protestants in Quebec, for example, have the constitutional right to their own school boards, as do Catholics in Ontario. That doesn't apply elsewhere-For 25 years, Canada has been trying to find ways to give constitutional expression to Quebec's special identity-But Manning's visceral opposition to Parliament making any special gesture to Quebec is dangerous and divisive. It lends credence to the separatist argument that the rest of the country really doesn't care. And that gives the separatists more ammunition, at the very time when Chrétien is trying to take it away from them.

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4:55 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, if ever there was an occasion when one should not have been generous in allowing an extra minute, that was one. It is water under the bridge and we cannot veto it, which brings me to the whole point of the discussion today.

Any one of us in the House could have vetoed the opportunity for the member opposite to add that couple of minutes to his presentation. We could have prevented him from coming forward for a host of reasons, some of which could have been petty, some of which could have been meaningful. Any one of us would have been able to prevent that member from finishing his speech. That is the nature of a veto and that is why there is no place in a constitutional democracy for a veto for anybody.

We should compare the American constitution with what we are trying to cobble together in Canada. The very fact that a constitution has flexibility allows it to live. The ability to change and evolve over time is the lifeblood of a constitution. That is what allows it to speak to the people and the people to speak to it.

Thomas Paine, in the mid-1700s, was an adviser to Thomas Jefferson. He had a lot to do with the gist of the American constitution. In Thomas Paine's book "The Rights of Man", from which I have quoted in the House in the past, he makes the point that every generation has the right and the responsibility to govern

for its times and should no more bind future generations to today than past generations should have been able to bind today to the past.

A veto to any specific province puts our Constitution into a strait-jacket. It puts the feet of the Constitution into a bucket of cement. It also states that from this day forward future generations will be stuck with what we give them today. For all Canadians watching this debate, wondering why we are debating the Constitution when our country's economy is in such a state, that is the reason we should not have a veto in the Constitution for any province.

If we are to have an amending formula in which a super majority is required to amend the Constitution, we should stick to something like the seven out of ten provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.

Given that we will not be able to change this, because it is not a perfect world, in the Canadian barnyard we are all equal but some of us are more equal than others. It has to do with the residents of our province. We could all have a veto if we all moved to a province with a veto. That would satisfy that little problem. However, that is not likely to happen.

What is the nature of the veto we are stuck with, the effective veto? The government has stated it does not have a whole lot of meaning or effect in some parts of the country. It has stated right here in the House that the next government can simply remove this legislation. However, it states that in Quebec it is extremely meaningful.

I believe it is extremely meaningful legislation because once we have gone down that road and given the commitment of a veto to the people of Quebec, there is no going back. There is no way we will be able to go back on that ground.

The Prime Minister has cobbled this together to try to save his political skin in Quebec or perhaps to save the political skin of Daniel Johnson in Quebec. He has effectively put our Constitution in a strait-jacket, which will make it impossible to change in the future.

Why on earth would any Prime Minister give a separatist government in Quebec a constitutional veto which would prevent change of our Constitution for evermore? Surely if we must give a veto to a province we should give that veto to the people in that province, not to the government or to the legislature.

Most legislatures are elected with a minority of the votes cast. A case in point is this Chamber. The Liberals have a massive majority with 175 seats but received only 43 per cent of the popular vote. The same thing can happen because of vote splits in every legislature. Therefore a legislature with a veto could use that veto even though it has not received a plurality of the votes cast in that province to put it into power in the first place.

A legislature could be elected three or almost four years prior to the constitutional issue about which it is being required to make a decision. Here we have a situation in which a province could have the right to veto constitutional legislation. The legislature could have been elected with a minority of votes cast and have been elected three years before the question at issue came to the floor. Its election, the fact that it is there and has the ability to veto the legislation would have absolutely nothing to do with its popular right to do so.

Constitutional Amendments Act
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5 p.m.

An hon. member

No mandate.

Constitutional Amendments Act
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5 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB

No mandate. None whatsoever. That is why in the regions the veto power must rest with the people and not the legislators.

Constitutional Amendments Act
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5:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Read the bill.

Constitutional Amendments Act
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5:05 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB

A member opposite says read the bill. It does not rest with the people. It rests with the federal government which may at its pleasure make the distinction of how that decision is arrived at. It is not required that it be by referendum of the people in the province, which is what I am saying it should be.

My friend opposite earlier in his comments made brief reference to the distinct society. Very few people would recognize Quebec as being anything other than a distinct society, one which the vast majority of Canadians cherish as a fundamental part of Canadian identity. Most every Canadian recognizes that.

Our amendments essentially reinforce that first, recognizing Quebec as a distinct society would in no way confer on it powers or rights not be conferred anywhere else; second, that there would be no chance to abuse minorities; third, one nation, the affirmation that we are one nation. These were the things we felt must be affirmed in the distinct society status.

I thank the House for the opportunity to share a few thoughts. I ask the government to consider one other change to the legislation: make sure it is a popular ratification by the people.

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5:05 p.m.

Saint-Léonard
Québec

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Secretary of State (Parliamentary Affairs) and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the report stage and the third reading of Bill C-110, an act respecting constitutional amendments.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a Minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to

allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stages.

Points Of Order
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5:05 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Madam Speaker, I tabled a private members' bill the other day, Bill C-362. I take full responsibility. There is an error in the bill. There was a later draft which should have been presented.

I would like to bring the correct draft to the House but first I must have the unanimous consent from the House to withdraw the current Bill C-362. I have agreement from the government side and from the Bloc.

Therefore I ask that the House give unanimous consent for me to withdraw Bill C-362 from the Order Paper.

Points Of Order
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5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House?

Points Of Order
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5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Order discharged and bill withdrawn.)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-110, an act respecting constitutional amendments, as reported (without amendment) from the committee; and of Motions Nos. 1 and 2.

Constitutional Amendments Act
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December 11th, 1995 / 5:05 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park
Ontario

Liberal

Jesse Flis Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to be debating Bill C-110 and more specifically Motion No. 2 to Bill C-110. Wherein Bill C-110 the veto powers were given to four regions of Canada, Motion No. 2 gives this veto power to five regions of Canada.

Where did this veto proposal come from? Let me take the members back to the referendum. The Prime Minister made certain promises about recognizing Quebec as a distinct society. Having many relatives in Quebec, I find it very incomprehensible that the Bloc Quebecois would vote against the recognition of a distinct society. I hope that somehow, maybe on a one to one basis, it can clarify that for me because I find it shocking.

We have excellent support for the direction the Prime Minister is taking. Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow says the proposals deserve to be carefully considered by political leaders and the public as an honest effort by an honest individual, the Prime Minister, to keep this great country together.

An Edmonton Journal editorial states: To hear some of our politicians'', and we are hearing them today,you would think that the Quebec referendum didn't happen. There seems to be little recognition that Prime Minister Chrétien made necessary promises during the referendum campaign and that he is honour bound to keep them''. That is what we are doing.

The Prime Minister has tabled legislation to keep his promises, and he is known for that. In his 30 years of politics he has never broken a promise, which is why he is so well liked by Canadians from coast to coast.

However, we have to settle this dispute of Quebec separation once and for all. People are fed up hearing about it. People are disgusted. It is affecting families psychologically. Families cannot have a normal relationship anymore. Instead of coming home and talking about hockey scores or other things they get on the referendum and become depressed. I know this from my family. Whether in education, whether they work for the police force, whether in the Department of National Defence, entire families are being affected by this dispute. Let us settle it once and for all and let us settle it quickly.

Some are complaining about why we are pushing this through quickly. It is Canadians who want us to act quickly. When people in Quebec voted no to separation they also gave us an important message to bring about changes but not to bring them about as former Prime Minister Mulroney did, dragging out commissions and committees and joint committees, et cetera. At the end of a one-year or two-year process what did Canada get? Nothing but more frustration, more disputes, more dividing of this beautiful country which was named number one by the United Nations. We do not want that. Canadians do not want that. They want us to act quickly and keep the promise we made during the referendum.

This frustration is not only within Quebec but outside of Quebec. I hear it in my constituency. I held a recent town hall meeting just after the referendum specifically to discuss what happened and where we should go from there. It covered the entire spectrum with frustration across the entire spectrum.

Allow me to quote a constituent, Howard Dunnick: "Dear Mr. Flis, I object strongly to giving Quebec distinct society status. As for the veto, why should the tail wag the dog? We just cannot afford to let Quebec spend our money like drunken sailors any longer. They say they are one of the founders of our nation. If they are so concerned, why do they first lead us to bankruptcy and then break up the nation? In fact, they do not care if they bleed us to death".

That is how strong the feelings are at that end of the spectrum. It is not the majority feeling, nor a feeling I share. At the other end of the spectrum Janet Page says: "Quebec needs to be brought into the Constitution. I do not want to lose Quebec. Bouchard does not have

the best interests of the people in mind. The government should force him to bargain in good faith. We need an end to this".

That is the frustration at the other end of the spectrum. We need an end to this dispute, to this debate. At town hall meetings we have to allow the people to share this frustration. What I like about the process of a town hall meeting, at least as I observe in my riding, is that people get educated. They educate themselves. Initially at town hall meetings they are filled with anger, with a let them go attitude. By the end of the evening they ask: "How can we demonstrate to Quebec that to us Canada includes Quebec?" They are good debates and discussions: What is Canada? What does it mean to be a Canadian?

By the end of the evening the same group of people who had those extreme views are making suggestions. They asked me whether when I was the principal of Argentina School and it was twinned with Canada School in Buenos Aires the children learned anything. I said yes. They learned about each other's culture and language. There were student exchanges and project exchanges. That is a suggestion they give for us here in Canada. Others suggest that cities and towns should be twinning. Families should be meeting so they can talk around the dinner table and get to know each other.

I was so pleased that out of the frustration grew these kinds of positive suggestions. If we go in that spirit and we accept the distinct society, if we accept that Quebec has a civil code for its justice system, if we accept that regions should be given a veto power-and I support the fact that this motion allows B.C. to have a veto power.

I was born and raised in Saskatchewan, a third of my life was spent there. When we talked about the prairie provinces we did not include B.C. We included Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and that is a natural region. B.C. has its rising population and its distinctiveness of trading with the Pacific Rim and everything else that the minister mentioned in his presentation. It is natural that B.C. is a region, the prairie provinces are a region, Ontario is a region, Quebec is a region and the Atlantic is a region.

With that kind of check on changing and bringing amendments to the Constitution, we will see this country grow and flower like we have never seen. We have to be willing to share and to support each other, not like the Reform Party where the leader was the one who suggested that we include B.C. as a separate region. What does Reform do now? It is going to vote against this motion.

It is that party which held up five fingers every question period. Why not B.C.? It got B.C. What is it doing? Reform members are not interested in Canadian unity. They are interested in scoring political points. They are scoring political points down to the point where they are 8 per cent in the polls.

I appeal to the Reform Party. I appeal to the Bloc Quebecois. This is Canada. It is the most beautiful country in the world. We are not building Canada for you and you and you and me. We are building Canada for future generations. That is why we were elected. If we believe in that, we will all pull together and pass this motion and the bill.

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5:15 p.m.

Bloc

François Langlois Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, I have been saying for a long time that the federal Canada of 1867 was a compromise based on a misunderstanding: the vision of Sir John A. Macdonald, who wanted a legislative union, or a single parliament for all of Canada, and the vision of George-Étienne Cartier, who wanted strong provincial parliaments, as well as powers delegated to a federal legislature that would be a creature of the provinces.

However, the creature decided to become the creator and committed the sin of pride like our first parents, who paid the ultimate price, as will the federal system. Earlier, the hon. member for Parkdale-High Park told us how nice it is to have a resolution that recognizes Quebec's distinct nature, because of its civil law tradition. But we have known that since 1867. Indeed, subsection 92(13) provides that property and civil rights come under provincial jurisdiction. Consequently, we were allowed, at the time, to keep our civil code which, incidentally, was in effect as of 1866 in Lower Canada.

As for our language, one just have to use it in this House to realize that it is different, that it is distinct from that of our fellow Canadians. The same is true for our culture.

Following the speech made in Verdun by the Right Hon. Prime Minister, there was a shortage of Tylenol to bring the fever down, and something had to be done very quickly. Consequently, the government hurriedly drafted a resolution providing that Quebec is a distinct society because of its language, its culture and its civil code. We already knew that. But what comes with that recognition? Absolutely nothing. This is a meaningless statement. No powers are granted along with that recognition.

And to make sure of that, the government has introduced Bill C-110 and told us: under the resolution, Quebec is a distinct society by virtue of its language, its culture and its civil code. That is it. We will not get anything else. And to be sure that nothing will change, Bill C-110 gives veto power to just about everybody. I call that the Colonel Sanders veto power: a big chicken with legs for everybody. That is what our federation with vetoes for everybody looks like.

According to what Mr. Jean Dion was saying last week in Le Devoir , from now on it will take the approval of the equivalent of 91.8 per cent of the population to change anything in the Canadian Constitution. This means that nothing can change any more. And the Prime Minister will be saying: ``There is nothing I can do now for Quebec. I would like so much to be able to do more, but I cannot because of Bill C-110. Heavens, has that piece of legislation ever put us in a difficult situation. I would have liked so much to give French Canadians, to give Quebecers the same rights enjoyed by Canadians in the western provinces and elsewhere''. So we are going to be stuck with that.

The leader of the Action démocratique du Québec, Mario Dumont, was telling us the other day that because of the close results in the referendum, the Quebec government would have to start opening the mail. The one thing we are sure of today is that, with the bill before us, postage will not be very expensive: half a page, 45 cents. And they think that they will buy peace in Quebec with half a page.

As my colleague from Joliette was saying, what Quebec wants is a white horse, not a pony, and I totally agree with that. Let us have something concrete. Before granting veto powers here and there to block any constitutional amendment, the government should come up with concrete proposals involving some devolution of powers to Quebec. It should repeal the preamble of section 91 which authorizes the federal Parliament to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada.

This preamble has been used by the courts to grant the federal government unforeseen powers, for example, the general spending power, this national dimension theory allowing the federal government to get involved in almost every area, emergency powers and ancillary powers. All of these constitutional theories were approved by the courts, but were never foreseen by the Fathers of Confederation. If there had been Mothers of Confederation, the women would probably have realized at that time that something was wrong with the Constitution.

The government should also repeal section 91(29) concerning the residual powers. In 1867, it was said that all powers that were not specifically granted to the provinces would come under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Think about the development of all the technologies, like broadcasting, cable distribution, television, aeronautics-we are now talking about the information highway-which could not have been foreseen in 1867 and which automatically fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, pursuant to section 91(29). These residual powers should be granted to the provinces retroactively, with a transfer period of no more than 12 months, so that the provinces can recover all of the residual powers which have surfaced since 1867 and the federal government can keep the power to subsidize it will need to exercise the powers the provinces will let it have.

The government should also withdraw from section 91 the federal powers in the area of unemployment insurance and give those powers to the provinces as it withdraws from the field of taxation.

If we add a distinct society clause, it should be enshrined in the Constitution and not be limited to the present clause concerning only language, culture and the Civil Code, or Napoleonic Code, as the Prime Minister said the other day, in a rather revealing slip of the tongue. The Napoleonic Code is used in France. We have had our own Civil Code in Quebec since 1866.

So, we should have a distinct society clause enshrined in the Constitution stating that Quebec is a distinct society. The Constitution of Canada must be interpreted in such a way that the Quebec legislature is vested with all powers inherent to the recognition of its distinctiveness.

We would then have an interpretive clause that would colour the Constitution. We now hace a resolution of the House of Commons similar to the ones we use to vote an anniversary or the end of a conflict somewhere. That is not really what Quebecers want.

Section 95 of the Constitution says that agriculture and immigration are shared jurisdictions. The problem is that in the very same section, we see that federal legislation prevails when federal and provincial laws clash. Section 95 should be abrogated and immigration and agriculture recognized as exclusively provincial jurisdictions. The federal government should withdraw completely from these fields.

We might as well abrogate the sections concerning the Senate. In 1995, we certainly do not need this chamber any more, a non-elected chamber which is now delaying Bill C-69 on electoral boundaries, for example. Non-elected people telling us how the House of Commons should be elected, that takes guts. We could abrogate this at the same time.

According to section 91 there is nothing in the present Constitution which specifically addresses the management of foreign policy. It was inspired by section 132, which set out the powers passed down from the imperial Parliament, the Parliament of Great Britain. We could add to section 91, under federal powers, that foreign policy is a federal jurisdiction, but solely in those areas falling under the legislative authority of the federal Parliament. Section 92 could have the addition that foreign relations are also under the jurisdiction of the provincial legislatures. Lieutenant-governors ought to be appointed by the legislative assemblies, as should senators if we keep the Senate.

Since today's debate is a bit short, I will skip over a few important aspects I was going to mention. When a package, a binding offer, is arrived at by the federal chambers, Commons and Senate, and the legislatures of all the other provinces, for there are many items that require unanimous consent, when that is done, then mail it off to Quebec and the negotiations can start. That can be the basis for negotiation. I do not expect to live long enough to see the day when postage costs will come down to a level that would allow such a document to be mailed.

So the Mario Dumont yardstick of at least reading the mail is no more, and since October 30, since the referendum results, we have had the proof in all ways possible that what the government is proposing is a totally cosmetic change with no substance whatsoever.

At both the report stage and on third reading, I will be proud to rise in this House to vote against Bill C-110, which has the sole merit of making the Verdun speech even more meaningless.

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5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Stewart Brant, ON

Madam Speaker, let me begin my comments by saying that through these naive and inexperienced eyes, I view the debates on Bill C-110 and our resolution that calls on the House to recognize Quebec as a société distincte as some of the most important debates we have had in our 35th Parliament.

We have just completed another chapter in our collective history and in our search for ourselves. We know that chapters talk about the Vikings. It is absorbing to read about our First Nations, about Jacques Cartier and about New France. When I think about the chicken tracks that really are the depictions of Champlain's voyages across the map of North America in the 1600s, I find that the interest is nowhere near as exciting as the interest which is created when we study the human intrigue we see beginning with the conquest in 1759.

That word conquest is such a terrible misnomer. Our Canada was never conquered in the traditional British fashion. Canada was never a classic British colony. In fact it was quite the opposite. Look at the demographics at that time. There were some 65,000 French living along the St. Lawrence River, compared to only 5,000 or 8,000 British. The first British governor, Murray, had very little opportunity to quash the French culture, its language, its religion, its customary civil rights, its civil approach to property management and property exchange; nor did he want to.

The history books tell us that Governor Murray Murray at the time indicated: "I will govern by the dictates of my heart and my heart dictates clemency and understanding". Those were some of the very first notions of the British governors in Canada. That commitment continued and it became much more formalized in 1774 with the Quebec Act.

The British needed the support of the French against the rise of republicanism in the United States. They needed to ensure that the French were on side. Therefore, with the Quebec Act in 1774 there were very strong and real commitments that allowed for the free exercise of religion, for customary property and civil rights.

Those words are not very different from the words which included in this resolution which calls on the House to recognize Quebec as a distinct society in its religion, language and its right to civil institutions. I do not see the resolution as being anything special, unique or new. Rather, it is a very important reaffirmation of the commitments made to Canadians so very long ago.

Distinct society was understood in a very real sense by my ancestors. They were United Empire Loyalists, loyal to the crown. They came up from the United States after losing the revolution. They United Empire Loyalists came up through the walnut trail into southwestern Ontario and found a society different from that with which they were familiar. Catholicism was being practised. The French language was being spoken. There was no responsible assembly. They did not understand the method of transfer of property. The fee simple method, which was so much a part of the British culture, was not a part of society in Canada.

I suppose my ancestors were the first separatists. The United Empire Loyalists, who just could not make sense of the new community, the new situation, were successful in achieving the split into upper and lower Canada, right along the Ottawa River.

As time went on the issue and the need for responsible government was felt very clearly in both upper and lower Canada. We know about the Papineau revolution of 1837. We know that Lord Durham was sent over from England to complete a royal commission. His decision was to unify the two Canadas. He felt it was the right thing to do. He thought it was appropriate because in his mind it would create a homogeneous society by bringing the two cultures together. However, that is not how it works in Canada. It does not now and it did not then.

When the two first prime ministers, Baldwin from upper Canada and LaFontaine from lower Canada, came together to form the first great ministry, English was not the only language of Parliament. LaFontaine spoke in French. He and his colleagues from lower Canada were encouraged to speak French. As the Parliament moved from community to community, because there was not a set location, its members spoke in both English and French, without translation. Somehow they worked together. They understood each other. They took steps backward. They took steps forward and kept Canada together with two cultures and two languages working together.

I would suggest that it is that very heritage which has made this country what it is today. The acceptance of two cultures coming together to forge a common foundation has created Canada as we know it today: compassionate, humane, understanding, fully cognizant of the fact that to get along, to make progress, one does not have to deny a person's culture or an individual's history.

While it is very difficult to do, we can encourage people to keep what is so important to them, that is, their own sense and understanding of their personal history. It is this that has made Canada different from Britain, different from France. It is what has made Canada the best country in the world in which to live.

We still have difficulties and concerns. We look back and understand that shortly after Canada's 100th birthday in 1968 was the first comprehensive constitutional review. It was just a year after we celebrated Confederation.

From then on, we know the history. It is a litany of referenda, patriation of the Constitution, constitutional commissions, committees. We have been through 20-some years of discomfort, confused about where we are as a country.

Perhaps it is just the 100-year itch. Perhaps it is just a country anticipating a great future in the 21st century. If we step back and contemplate that, pull ourselves out of the reality as we understand it today, we may be able to find some important solutions for ourselves.

As we have noted with the extension of the veto to five regions, Canada as a result of social, economic and technological changes is regionalizing quite effectively. I look to my colleagues in Dartmouth and Moncton and consider the work they are doing to encourage the people in Atlantic Canada to think about a different kind of political unity, the unification of the Atlantic provinces.

Now may be the time and place when Canadians can step back, look at ourselves and ask the question, are we being paralysed by a paradigm of administrative doctrine of provinces that is constraining to us, that is making our clothes fit too tightly? Are we ready to break out and think of our country in a different way?

Can we actually contemplate a Canada of five regions: a strong Atlantic region; a strong region of Quebec with its deep cultural heritage that is so important to making the country unique; Ontario, which leads the industrial engines of the country; the prairies that have such great natural resources and truly are the bread basket not only of our country but perhaps even of the world; and of course, British Columbia, a different and unique part of the country.

Can we step back and allow ourselves to think of streamlining our country, bringing it together so that we can focus on our capabilities, on our strengths to build for a future, to make Canada not the slow moving, happy leviathan that has been treading water both calm and rough, but create ourselves into a darting and flexible space ship with five regions. We would add, of course, our very important First Nations, all under the umbrella of a strong federal government that could direct a comprehensive, cohesive, united Canada into the 21st century.

These are my ideas. We have so much to offer as a country to the people of Quebec, to the people of Ontario, to the people of British Columbia. I have great optimism that we have a strong future together and I would encourage the House to consider that as well.

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5:35 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciated very much the words that my colleague has just left with us.

When the justice minister appeared before the standing committee when we examined this bill, we were confronted-at least I was-with the fact that in the bill it transfers power or influence to the provinces, yet, there is no definition of province. We do not know for sure to whom we are transferring the power. Are we transferring the power of veto to the provincial legislatures, to the cabinet or to the people of that province? This is very important. We saw during the Quebec referendum that it was not the Government of Quebec that kept Quebec within Confederation. It wanted to take the province out of Confederation. It was not the cabinet or the legislative assembly that kept Quebec in Canada, it was the people of Quebec.

If a veto is granted to the provinces surely it ought to be to the people of the provinces. The recent history of attempts to amend the Constitution shows very clearly that politicians will not represent the will of the majority of their people, as was the case in Alberta and in a number of other provinces on the Meech Lake accord.

The people of my province had the Meech Lake accord forced on them simply because our premier had signed an agreement. He then came back, laid down the law to his cabinet and caucus and that is what we were going to be stuck with.

If we want to maintain the unity of this country, as the hon. member has just so eloquently spoken about, if we want to appeal to those people who have vital reasons for staying within Canada and remaining united, then we ought not to leave the power to tear our country apart in the hands of the politicians. We must place power in the hands of the people who have a common sense feeling for this country and do not want to engage in these enormous social engineering experiments.

I asked the justice minister when he was before the committee to whom this bill was transferring power because there is no defini-

tion of province in this bill. He said that it could be the legislature who could then transfer that power to the people by way of referendum. However, there is nothing in this bill that mandates that the provinces go to their people.

It is a little bit like the Charlottetown accord where there were provisions within the accord for the provinces to elect senators. However, some of the provinces, including Quebec, were not going to allow the people to elect the senators. It was the legislative assembly that was going to elect them. In other words, the power of appointment was being transferred from the federal government to the provincial governments and they were going to do the appointing. We cannot unite a country that way. If we are going to keep Quebec within Confederation we must transfer the power that this bill is going to provide to the people and not to the politicians.

I have heard hon. members say that the people of Canada want us to move forward on this, that they support this. That is not what we heard from those who appeared before the standing committee. We had four distinct groups of aboriginal peoples who do not support this bill. These people are referenced in the Constitution. They should have been contacted and consulted just as the governments of the provinces should have been consulted. They are referenced in the Constitution as well.

However, the government of the day did not have time for that. It rushed this thing through and it is still rushing it through. We were given 48 hours, as my colleague mentioned earlier. We were going to sit until midnight to hear witnesses if enough witnesses came forward on such short notice. Some of them would have to prepare with only 24 hour's notice. Is it not amazing that we were going to rush this thing through and we are being told that the people of Canada want this bill, yet we are not giving the provinces sufficient time to prepare, attend and express their views about this bill?

We had the justice minister appear before the committee and tell us that this bill was constitutional. Some witnesses could not appear in person but appeared using a video hook-up in their own areas. Professor Morton, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, stated the following concerning the constitutionality of this bill:

The Chrétien veto law is unconstitutional, in as much as it proposes to legally change the amending process, without following the rules of that process. Section 41(e) of the Constitution Act, 1982, states explicitly that there can be no amendment to the part V amending formulas except with the unanimous consent of all 10 provinces and the federal government. The government's position is that because the "veto law" is not a constitutional amendment, it need not follow the amending formula. But this misses the crucial point that the amending process will have been changed and that this change will have the force of law.

He said that is the key point.

The justice minister is telling us it is constitutional. This professor, and I am sure others if they had had time to prepare and

appear before the standing committee, are telling us that there are very serious concerns about the unconstitutionality of the bill. There is an inconsistency in legal opinions on the constitutionality of the bill.

I want to touch on some of the testimony made before the committee and some of the concerns raised by the aboriginal people. There were four groups. Grand Chief Matthew Coon-Come of the James Bay Cree appeared. Ovide Mercredi, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations appeared, as did Rosemarie Kuptana of the Inuit Tapirisat and Wendy Moss, her legal adviser. There was Zebedee Nungak from the Makivik Corporation. They all spoke against this bill. Why? They said it is going to affect their constitutional rights that are guaranteed under section 35 of the act. In fact, Rosemarie Kuptana said:

Last week the Globe and Mail reported on a leaked federal memo that explicitly recommended our exclusion from national unity and constitutional discussions as well as recommending the means to achieve that exclusion. It was based on a cynical and wildly inaccurate view that our silence or acquiescence on national and constitutional issues could be bought by making financial commitments at the local level on unrelated files. In its worst light, this strategy can also be viewed as a form of blackmail, progress on matters outside the Constitution or national unity will only come in return for silence on our constitutional rights.

That formed part of the presentation from the leader of that aboriginal group. I do not have time to go into all of these comments, but the Grand Council of the Cree indicated this:

Bill C-110 is inadequate and unacceptable from an aboriginal perspective and we think will be found to be inadequate and unacceptable from the perspective of all Canadians.

We did not hear that many witnesses, but we heard many things said about this bill. The individual who spoke the most and made the most fundamental comment was Ovide Mercredi, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who said: "No autocrat is going to unite Canada". He pointed out very clearly that Bill C-110 has not united Canada; it has divided the provinces. It has not brought the aboriginal peoples in; it has divided them.

I simply cannot support the bill for the reasons given.