House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

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May 16th, 1996 / 10:15 a.m.

Roberval
Québec

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Leader of the Opposition

moved:

That the House endorse the declaration of the Prime Minister of Canada, who stated in 1985, "If we don't win, I'll respect the wishes of Quebeckers and let them separate".

Mr. Speaker, to begin with, as the Standing Order allows, I would like to request that all speeches from here on be split into ten minute segments.

Now, to explain the context of this motion before the House, let us say that, recently, the Prime Minister has acquired the bad habit,

if I dare describe it as that, of going back on his word about certain things he has said, explaining to the public that, of necessity, in political life sometimes commitments cannot be met, and that politicians must not be required to keep their word.

We have seen that in the GST matter, where the PM had promised to scrap the GST and where, finally, the government's decision was quite different. It was the opposite, in fact: to expand the GST. Since the federal government is digging itself further and further into a constitutional hole by cosying up to Guy Bertrand in contesting the legitimacy of a Quebec referendum, we thought it worthwhile to review the statements the Prime Minister has made.

For this reason, we are submitting the matter to the House, and are asking our hon. colleagues, both those in the Reform Party and more particularly those in the Liberal Party, to join with us in ensuring that the House deals with a statement made by the Prime Minister, when he said in 1985 that "If we don't win, I'll respect the wishes of Quebeckers and let them separate".

This is a quote from Straight from the Heart , written by the Prime Minister himself. In 1985, the Prime Minister waxed most eloquent, saying: We'll put our faith in democracy. We'll convince the people that they should stay in Canada and we'll win''. It is normal for a politician to believe in what he is proposing, normal for him to think that he can win in his political undertakings. But he ends up saying:If we don't win, I'll respect the wishes of Quebeckers and let them separate''.

That is the quote, and the book, behind today's motion. The question being asked of our colleagues across the way is this: Are we going to take steps to ensure that the House in its entirety, through a majority vote or, who knows, even by a unanimous vote, endorses these words by the Prime Minister? Is what the Prime Minister promised, stated, in 1985, still endorsed, first of all, by himself-something we might well wonder-and then by his ministerial colleagues, of whom solidarity is required, and his caucus colleagues, who are also supposed to be in solidarity with their Prime Minister on a matter as basic as this?

To facilitate the decision, I shall be making use of some more quotes by the Prime Minister, for this is not the first time the Prime Minister has made a statement on this matter. Doing so may perhaps help them see that this was not just an unfortunate slip of the tongue that got past the Prime Minister in an angry moment, or in some speech or other, but indeed something that he felt profoundly, or at the very least, something he wanted to get across to his fellow citizens by writing it down and repeating it in a variety of ways.

During the proceedings of the Bélanger-Campeau Commission, on December 17 1990, which is even more recent, the Prime Minister declared, and I quote: "I am a democrat. I said in numerous speeches in 1980 that if we had not recognized that Quebec had the right to opt for separation, we would have acted differently. There were powers we could have used but we decided not to".

Therefore the hon. members across will appreciate that the Prime Minister formally recognized for a second time that Quebec has the right to separate. By saying that there are powers which could have been used but were not, he also excluded resorting to legal guerilla warfare as a means to challenge the referendum.

We feel concerned because unfortunately the Prime Minister went back on his word, on this point. We all know that this government decided to team up with Guy Bertrand in a legal war which could result in denying Quebecers the right to make a decision on their future. In 1990, the Prime Minister repeated his statement of 1985 according to which Quebec has the right to separate.

Even more recently, on October 24 1995, the Prime Minister declared in the speech he delivered in Verdun on the eve of the referendum: "Next Monday we will have to decide if we are ready to abandon a country which personifies them better than any other country. Think twice before voting". This means that the Prime Minister explicitly recognized that the referendum vote was decisive. Indeed, he declared: "Think twice before voting. Next Monday we will have to decide if we are ready to break away from our country". Therefore, on the eve of the referendum, on October 24 1995, the Prime Minister repeated what he had written in 1985 and reiterated in 1990.

On October 25 1995, in his address to the nation, the Prime Minister said: "The vote on Monday will determine the future not only of Quebec but also of Canada as a whole. This is a serious and irreversible decision". Once more he recognized what he had already admitted in 1980, 1985, 1990 and on the previous day, on October 24 1995: "Canada, our country and heritage, are in danger. Breaking Canada apart or building this country, remaining Canadian or becoming foreigners, staying or leaving, those are the issues at stake in the referendum. When we make our choice, we all have the responsibility and the duty to understand the impact of our decision".

In the mind of the Prime Minister, therefore, a referendum in Quebec is legitimate and its results are binding. The outcome of the referendum must be respected.

The Prime Minister has the support of one of his colleagues in cabinet, the super minister of the Quebec referendum, the present Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who said: "We have always said that Quebecers were entitled to have their say on Quebec's future inside or outside Canada. Ours is a democratic country, and we will respect the outcome of the vote". So the minister supports the Prime Minister.

In closing, since my time is running out, any doubts the Liberals may have had as to a vote in favour of this motion calling for the House's endorsement of the Prime Minister's declaration: "If we don't win, I'll respect the wishes of Quebecers and let them separate", are fading.

I will close by saying that, if it might reinforce their conviction that they must support what the Prime Minister has said, I will quote his speech to the nation on October 25, 1995.

In this last quote, the Prime Minister said, and I suggest they think about it: "My friends, we are facing a decisive moment in the history of our country. And people all across Canada know that decision lies in the hands of their fellow Canadians in Quebec".

In all that he has said since 1980, in 1985, 1990 and 1995, he has been consistent repeatedly. He has always said that Quebecers had the right to decide their future themselves and that a referendum would be decisive, binding and would change the nature of things in Canada.

Accordingly, there is no reason for the Liberal members to think the House will not endorse the statement he made in 1985. We could have taken all the ones he has made since then, but we chose 1985: "If we don't win, I'll respect the wishes of Quebecers and let them separate". We will see whether the GST is the only issue where the Prime Minister reversed himself or whether, in the constitutional matter as well, he will suddenly deny all he has said on different occasions over a very long period of time.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would ask the Chair to rule on an issue which was brought to our attention a few moments ago, whether it is either customary or even procedurally acceptable that members share their time on the original motion.

It has been customary in the past for the length of speeches of all members to be 20 minutes. Later on, for subsequent speakers, in particular during the second round, the whip can rise, and I believe under the rules only the whip can do it, to invoke Standing Order 43, by which he or she will then state members can from that point on share their time.

What occurred this morning was irregular in two ways. I would like the Chair to consider this and rule on it later. The initial speaker indicated to the Chair that he wished for all Liberal members to have their time shared. I believe that proposition is in itself irregular and that it must be done by the whip.

Occasionally members have between themselves agreed to share their time, but that was not the proposition advanced this morning. That proposition was put forward by an MP who is not the whip. He asked that all members of his party be allowed to share their time. I do not believe that is provided for in Standing Order 43.

The second point is that I do not believe the Speaker has entertained that proposition in the past at the request of the initial speaker on any particular motion. It has always been done with subsequent speakers.

In any case, Mr. Speaker, I ask that you consider the two points I have brought to the attention of the Chair and to rule whether the suggestion by the hon. leader of the opposition is acceptable under our rules. I contend it is not and I ask the Chair to rule on that issue.

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, speaking of custom, I will not go back to times immemorial in this House but simply to March 20, 1996, which is not so far back. The same thing happened then. The hon. member for Medicine Hat shared his time. He was the first speaker, and the issue was the GST. Imagine that. He shared his time with the member for Capilano-Howe Sound who moved an amendment. This was on March 20, 1996.

The Chair did not see anything irregular in that. That time, our Liberal friends did not rise to protest. I understand that they may have regretted it afterward. They had some problems with the GST, but this was on March 20, 1996. I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that this double standard is unacceptable. Even a triple standard, a rule for the third party, a rule for the party in power and another one for the Bloc Quebecois.

On March 20, 1996, everything was clear. Unless there is an error in Hansard , nobody spoke up. I note that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons was present. He made no objection. The member shares his time, the member with whom he shares it amends the motion. This was on March 20, 1996, not so long ago.

Beauchesne did not deal with this issue, he did not have the time. I suppose that if he had, people on the other side would have risen to protest that it did not make sense. Let us not try, by devious means, to prevent the opposition from holding a political debate of great importance.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are a few points I want to bring to your attention.

First, it is well-known that one case does not make a precedent. The Speaker has not ruled and so no jurisprudence can be invoked. If Mr. Speaker does not rule on the previous case no one can claim that it is good precedence.

I would argue the following and invite you, Mr. Speaker, to consider this. If this-

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10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Richelieu, QC

Your French is very good.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I want to tell the member opposite that I have no reason to be ashamed of the chance, the honour and the privilege I have, in this country, to speak both official languages. I do not have to apologize to him. I think I am competent in both languages and I am free to choose the one that pleases me. As a Canadian, it is my privilege and my right, a concept-

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10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I ask all those who want to speak to this matter to be co-operative and to stick to the point of order.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Chair to consider this proposal: if what was just done is allowed under our rules, it could-and I invite the Chair to think about this carefully-make it impossible to amend this motion or any other opposition motion in future. The first speaker could table his motion and the following one, from the same party, could ask the previous question, which would preclude all amendments.

That is why, Mr. Speaker, I ask you to do whatever is necessary to invalidate what the opposition leader asked for this morning. Otherwise, it would completely change the rules of the House of Commons.

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10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, since this concerns me primarily, I would like to make a few points for your consideration. First, our Standing Orders are full of provisions which, when used properly by the House, shorten debates or prevent the taking of a vote, make it compulsory to have a debate or prevent debate.

The Standing Orders are full of provisions which, when used properly by parliamentarians, as is usually the case here, have an impact on the nature and the course of the proceedings.

Therefore, it is not justified to strike this particular provision from the Standing Orders or overturn the ruling already made, otherwise the Standing Orders would have to be reviewed entirely and many provisions amended. If the hon. whip wants to embark on such an operation, he should consult his House leader, and we will see. But for the time being, this cannot be taken into account, otherwise it would also apply to a lot of other provisions.

Second, I would like to respectfully point out to the hon. government whip that, before going ahead in this manner, mindful as I always am to follow not only the spirit but also the letter of our Standing Orders, I consulted the Chair and the Principal Clerk of the House, and they both confirmed, rightly I must say-they could just as easily have ruled otherwise-that the ruling already rendered and the practice of the House allowed me to ask that we all share our time.

Therefore, I followed the directive of the House, on the recommendation of its principal officer and on your recommendation, Mr. Speaker, and therefore I do not know why-

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10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

The Liberals had no objection.

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10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Indeed, there was no objection from anyone when I did it. Moreover, the hon. whip raised his point after I had finished speaking. If he had any objection, some of his colleagues were there across the way when you agreed to my request and everybody thought it was all right.

Why all of a sudden, once I have finished my speech, would I no longer be allowed to do it? Mr. Speaker, I am asking you to take these elements into consideration in your ruling.

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10:35 a.m.

Fundy Royal
New Brunswick

Liberal

Paul Zed Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, while I understand the comments made by my hon. friend, it is important to mention that it was out of respect for the fact that he was in the middle of making his speech that no one rose at that time. It was a courtesy to the hon. member. We felt that it was important not to get up in the middle of his speech over one comment. Otherwise, we would be always standing.

While I accept the point that my hon. colleague made, I do not think that the Chair should take it too seriously. The points that the chief government whip made amply demonstrate some of the difficulties that we would endure if the Chair were to rule in a different way.

My hon. friend, the opposition House leader, has talked about a recent decision, but there was no decision of the Chair. It was a practice; not a decision of the Chair. It is only one practice. It does not make a ruling. There has been no ruling of the Chair.

There is no ruling and the chief government Whip has made that point. There is no precedent. If there were a precedent, then I would suggest that the chief government whip would not have risen at all.

I believe respectfully that the Chair should consider this matter in due course and we should be given an opportunity to hear what the Chair's ruling might be in this matter.

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10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think you authorized it by allowing the Leader of the Opposition to split his time. It is done regularly by members of the House. The whips do not always say: "Our members will be doing that". The members just rise and say: "I will share my time with my colleague". Liberals do it regularly.

If the member is so courteous today, I imagine it is only because, as a former leader of the rat pack, he experienced a special surge of politeness.

Nobody objected. They could have done so before the beginning of the speech and they did not. They realized later on that, since nobody had offered any opposition, a second member would speak. This member has the right to present amendments or not, just as much as any other member in this House.

I repeat there should not be two sets of rules, one for the party in office and one for the opposition. Next time, be prepared; that is all I can say.

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10:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I will take the question under advisement and the Chair will rule on it later today.

I want to thank the chief government whip and the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader on the government side for their interventions on this point of order.

I would also like to thank the hon. Leader of the Opposition and the House leader of the official opposition for their statements on this very important issue. The Chair will study those statements very carefully.

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10:40 a.m.

An hon. member

We should suspend our proceedings.