House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would never presume to speak for the Parti Quebecois or the Bloc Quebecois but I would say on my own behalf that I would hope Canadians, men and women of goodwill across this great nation, would work very hard to ensure the viability and the unity of this great country of ours. I would expect that would be the position taken by people who genuinely want to unify Canada and maintain the strength of this great nation.

I would hope as we move into the 21st century that is the position taken by Canadians. I see that being the case. I am heartened more and more by the fact that we are moving in this direction and I am confident that that is the direction that precisely we will take.

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1:15 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give my speech in French in order to send a clear message to the people of Quebec. Unfortunately, my fluency in French is limited. Therefore, I will speak in English.

I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona for bringing this motion to the House today at this very important time.

We are, in effect, as part of the Reform Party trying to articulate, trying to break the glass ceiling on the national unity issue. This issue has been with us for over 200 years but in particular over the last 15 years we have seen our nation fractured into two solitudes or into a number of solitudes.

The ties that should bind us as the greatest nation of the earth are not being encouraged. In fact, because of repeated inaction by federal governments and a lack of courage and a will to really deal with this issue in a substantive way through consulting and dealing with the people, we have seen our nation be but a shadow of what it could be and the ties that should bind us as people break apart.

We have seen a separatist movement in British Columbia. We have a separatist movement in Quebec. We have seen rumblings in the maritimes. What a shame for a nation, for all the wealth that we have as a country, to have this happen.

If we are to continue on this course, we will indeed fracture. Would it not be a profound tragedy for that to happen? Would it not be a profound tragedy for us to fracture into little solitudes in our own little worlds when indeed we could be far greater as a group than what we could be as individuals?

At no point in time was this more evident than in 1995 during the referendum. This did not merely appear on our television sets overnight or in a few months. Rather, it was the culmination of at least 15 years of profound dissatisfaction from the people of Quebec and people across this country.

The dissatisfaction of the people in Quebec is expressed perhaps in different ways but equally passionately by Canadians across this country. We do not feel that the current constitutional envelope in which our country currently exists is working. Indeed, the proof is in the pudding.

The people of Quebec, people in British Columbia, people across our nation have been clamouring for a new vision for Canada, a new Canada where the provinces can have the powers to do what they do best and the feds have the powers to do what they do best, where Canadians have a direct input into the policy making that happens in this House.

What happens in this House is not a democracy, as we all know. The people out there are disarticulated from the policy that is made in the House of Commons. In part that explains the dissatisfaction from the people of Quebec. That has to be dealt with and it has not.

If, for argument's sake, we continue going the way we are going and separation starts to fall by the wayside as it has been, if in the next referendum the people vote 60% no against separation, would that be success?

I would argue that it is not success. I would argue that the way we are going, the people who would vote 60% no would merely be voting for the bastard that they dislike the least, not voting for a vision of Canada for the simple reason that no one, except I would argue the Reform Party over the last few years, has been trying to articulate a new message, a new vision, a new division of powers for the country.

We have seen the failures of Liberal and Conservative governments before. I am not going to dwell on this but merely state a historical fact. We need to look at a new way and we want to work with all members in this House, all parties in this House to do that.

In fact my colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona in his motion has said very clearly that we want, we demand and we encourage the government and particularly all Canadians, to be involved in this important process. We want the people of Quebec to be involved in this process. For too long the people of Quebec and indeed the people of Canada have been left out of this debate. This debate has taken place in the rarefied atmosphere among political elites and intellectual elites. While our country hangs in the balance this debate has gone on in quarters that are less important by far than the public. The public must be involved.

This process is only valuable if the government is going to listen to what the people are saying. It is not going to be useful if their wishes and their desires are going to be ignored again. Merely going through the motions is not going to do justice to articulating that vision that holds our nation together.

I asked the member before a very important question. I asked him whether or not he felt that the Parti Quebecois, the Bloc Quebecois, Mr. Bouchard, Mr. Parizeau and their ilk are interested in keeping our country together. If we ask the Bloc Quebecois members here today, they are not interested in keeping Quebec in Canada. We asked them that in the last Parliament and they said “Vrai”. It is true that they do not want to keep Quebec in Canada.

Why are we negotiating with people who have no interest in keeping Quebec in Canada? We have repeatedly gone around in a circle because we repeatedly try to debate and discuss and put forth solutions to people who have no interest whatsoever in keeping Quebec in Canada. Therefore, we cannot win. It is impossible to win in this debate.

Therefore, we have to negotiate with the people of Quebec. We have to get in the trenches. We have to parler français avec la francophonie, parler anglais with the English speaking people, work with the allophones, work with the anglophones, work with the francophones, get our message across directly to the people of Quebec.

We will fail miserably if we continue to negotiate with separatist politicians who are only interested in keeping Quebec out of Canada. It is a loser's game.

I cannot implore more strongly, I beg as a Canadian, not as a member of Parliament, for this House to bring the message repeatedly and consistently to the people of Quebec. It is exceedingly important, essential in fact in keeping our country together.

It is also extremely important that in the process of doing this we dispel the myths that have occurred. In the last referendum the people of Quebec thought they could send members of Parliament to this House if they separated. The people of Quebec felt they could use the Canadian dollar, which they might do. They felt also that they would have more power over their economy. They used the European Union as an example.

If Quebec was to engage in a relationship as an independent country along the lines of the Maastricht treaty, along the lines of the European Union, their control over monetary and fiscal policy would be less than what they have today.

The people of Quebec did not understand that. There were many myths flying around and no one was doing anything about them because the government said “Don't worry, be happy, everything is going to be fine”. We came within a razor's edge of fracturing Canada. That will never happen again as long as the Reform Party is here to defend Canada.

The message that we send across goes directly through a separatist leaning francophone media in Quebec, not all but the vast majority of them. That is part of the reason why the majority of Quebeckers are more familiar with plan B than plan A. They can be manipulated in that way to think that the rest of Canada does not want them in Canada.

As the member for Quebec East said in the last Parliament, the problem is that English Canadians hate French Canadians, en français. That message gets across to the people of Quebec and we do nothing to dispel those horrendous and poisonous myths. What about the francophone population in the rest of Canada? What about the Acadian population in New Brunswick? No one speaks about that, least of all the separatist members in this House.

The member for Quebec East was on a television program with me. I asked him the following question: If you separate what will happen to the French-speaking people in New Brunswick, the Acadians in New Brunswick, and the French-speaking people in northern Ontario? He answered “Who cares?” Who cares? We care.

The French-speaking population, the French culture and the French language are integral and essential to Canada. We are proud of that fact, we love it and we want francophones to be a part of Canada forever as equals. The people of Quebec also want to be equals.

What do the people of Quebec want? It is understandable that they do not want their language and culture diluted in a sea of anglophones. That is why the Reform Party said we should give the powers over culture and language directly to the provinces to manage. Then the province of Quebec, as every province, would be the master of its own cultural and linguistic destiny.

The people of Quebec want better jobs and a better future for their children. They want strong social programs. That is what the Reform Party stands for and I am sure that members across this House stand for the same thing. We have effective solutions. We have put those solutions forward repeatedly. Before the last referendum we gave the government a plan on how to give the provinces power over what they do best and how to give the feds power over what they do best. That is essential to keeping our country together.

It is important to heal the wounds and to articulate this vision of a stronger future for all Canadians. It is important to note what the people of Quebec actually receive from the federal government. It is amazing to listen to the myths believed by many in Quebec, that Quebec gives money to the federal government and gets nothing in return. Twenty-seven per cent of Quebec's provincial budget comes from the federal government. When I say that, an extraordinary number of people in Quebec feel they have just dropped off the edge of the planet. That kind of thing must occur.

A division of power is important. The Reform Party also put forward the notion of the triple E senate. During the Charlottetown agreement discussions there was an agreement on a 2.5 E senate with regional rather than provincial representation. At least this way the senate would balance out the population powers in this House by regional interests and regional power. That way all people in our country could be more empowered, including the people of Quebec.

I cannot argue strongly enough that today more than ever we need to have a vision for our nation. We are not a country without an identity. We are a country with a very strong identity which we get from our international experiences, through peacekeeping and the agreements and work in the House of Commons yesterday in the pursuit of a ban on land mines which will save thousands of people's lives.

Canadians are respected throughout the world as peacemakers, as organizers, as individuals and as a nation of people that can be respected abroad. Canadians are respected because we show respect abroad. We can lead the world as a nation that has managed to bring in people from all over the world from disparate religions and languages into an environment that is relatively safe. No other country in the world has been able to do that.

We need to deal with the national unity issue now. That is why my colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona and the other members of the Reform Party are trying to push this issue. We no longer want to go to the edge of the precipice as we did in 1995 to find our country almost lost. We must articulate a message that involves the devolution of sensible powers to the provinces under the umbrella of equality. We must enable the feds to do what the feds do best and the provinces to do what the provinces do best.

We must articulate that message directly to the people of Quebec and not through separatist politicians who have one interest and one interest only, the separation of the province of Quebec.

We must send our message not through the separatist media in Quebec but directly to the people, eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart, soul to soul. We must dispel these myths. We must reach out our hands in an environment of equality. We must build bridges of tolerance and understanding so that we together can be brothers and sisters in this great nation of Canada.

We must respect our differences. Indeed we must use our differences to build a stronger nation.

For decades we have used our differences to pull ourselves apart. We have isolated ourselves. We have developed as a nation of solitudes. These differences are not chasms which keep us apart; they are ties which bind us together.

If we could look at ourselves in the same way foreigners look at us, we would be proud. Perhaps we would have a new insight on what it means to be Canadian.

I hope that all members of the House and, more important, Canadians will understand this motion, work on its principles and reach out to all Canadians to build a stronger and united Canada.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, we heard a lot of wonderful words from the member opposite about brothers and sisters and working together.

Normally I would congratulate the Reform Party for this motion, except that I smell a hidden agenda. I wonder about the suggestion of going to the people of Quebec. If Reform members are going to communicate with the people of Quebec, I would like the member to tell me if they intend to use the same advertising agency they used during the federal election campaign, which sent a very poisonous message that was not helpful to Canadian unity.

I would agree with the member that the separatists have no interest whatsoever in keeping this country unified. However, we must develop a reasonable option where if we are saying that the separatists do not want to keep Canada together, we are prepared to talk to Quebec.

I would ask if the member could tell us exactly how Reform members would calmly talk to Quebeckers to ensure them that they are indeed a unique people.

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1:30 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, we would speak to the people of Quebec as we have spoken to the people of Quebec in the House today. The message that we have given today will go to people all across the country, including the people of Quebec.

The Reform Party's agenda is not hidden. The Reform Party's agenda is very transparent: keep our country together, build a stronger country, work together toward unity. We would do it by the division of powers. Let the provinces do what the provinces do best, and let the feds do what the feds do best. We would ensure that the people of Quebec would have the power to control their culture and language, as would all the provinces. We would do it under the umbrella of equality for all.

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1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Paul Marchand Québec East, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca that as a whole, I appreciate what he had to say. I want to come back to his suggestion. He seems to have something to say to the people of Quebec; I would suggest, if he is really interested in solving the problem, that he listen to Quebeckers.

The problem in Canada is that people do not listen to Quebec. To begin with, he should wonder why is Canada falling apart. It is not Quebeckers' fault. It is not because they did not say what was on their mind and what was troubling them, it is because nobody wants to listen. People have been disregarding the message not of something that is uniquely Canadian, but from a third or a quarter of the Canadian population, one of the founding nations of Canada, which today has been reduced to something with a unique character.

I would suggest that my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, if in his heart he truly wants to find a solution to save Canada, listen to Quebec.

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1:35 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Quebec Est. We have had a longstanding debate on this issue for many years and it is one I enjoy tremendously.

If the member wants to talk about listening to the people of Quebec, he would have listened to what was said in the last two Quebec referendums. He would have gone home and tried to build a stronger Canada. The people of Quebec have clearly stated that they want to stay in Canada.

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1:35 p.m.

An hon. member

For a few years.

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1:35 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

That is the problem. The members of the Bloc do not listen to the people of Quebec. However, I will put that aside because I want to build on something more positive.

The member is partly correct. All people of Quebec have been dissatisfied with the provincial and federal relationship for many years. He will be interested to know that the dissatisfaction is felt by Canadians across the country, by British Columbians, Albertans, maritimers and Ontarians.

The member raised the subject of unique and distinct. The people of Quebec do not give a care about unique and distinct. They want good jobs, strong social programs and a better future.

I would ask the hon. member, if the House were to give the people of Quebec the distinct society clause, would he still want to stay in Canada. I do not think so.

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1:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just have a brief comment. I hope our Liberal friends across the way have understood, following what Reform members said this morning, that they had better vote against the motion from the Reform Party if they want to keep some credibility in the constitutional debate.

My question is for the Reform member. He gave a poignant, perhaps interesting speech. About francophones, he said “Who cares?” I would like to answer that question. Reform certainly does not care, judging by its anti-francophone campaign during the last federal election. But I would like to ask him how he reconciles the fact he wants to abolish the Official Languages Act with the defence of francophones in Canada.

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1:35 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, before the last referendum the prime minister said “don't worry, be happy, everything is going to be fine”.

The Reform Party said that everything was not fine. Months before the referendum we put together a plan A and a plan B. It is interesting that now the government is articulating a message which is very similar to our plans A and B, one it denigrated before the last referendum. Who cares? The Reform Party cares.

I do not think there is a member in the House outside of the Bloc Quebecois who does not care about keeping Canada together. All members of the House and the vast majority of Canadians, including the people of Quebec, want to stay in Canada. We just need a vision. We need to change the federal-provincial responsibilities. The people of Quebec need to understand that they are welcome and loved within the family of Canada. They are an integral part of our history and our future. We need to get that message across. However, it will do no good for this debate to occur just within the House and with the people who are watching today. The message has to get into the living rooms and kitchens of people across the country, in particular to the people of Quebec.

It is important to have the francophones of northern Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and other parts of the maritimes as allies to keep our country together. Francophones in Quebec must understand that their language is stronger within a united Canada than it would be in a divided one.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, with some of the Reform messages I have been hearing over the last half hours or so I feel like I am sucking on a very sour candy or a lemon. I am left with a very bitter taste in my mouth.

I hear the words unity and grassroots being spit out like invectives. They are not nice sounding words. I wonder why I am not feeling the warm fuzzy stuff that I am supposed to be feeling from you people. In fact, it does not feel good to me. It feels very suspect. I question your desires to actually keep this country together.

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1:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member will address her remarks to the Chair. The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

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1:40 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member feels that talking about consulting the people through grassroots and talking about national unity is invective and somehow poisonous, I suggest she look at a dictionary.

We have repeatedly tried to put forth plans to keep our country together. In fact, I introduced last year a letter writing campaign between students in Quebec and students in British of Columbia. What I hope to do is get the young people of British Columbia and Quebec writing to each other to try to dispel the myths between them, for them to understand each other. If we can get to the youth, when they are confronted by myths put out by separatist politicians, they will say “I have a friend in British Columbia. My friend is a good person who talks sense, who likes me, who has very similar concerns”.

That is how we are going to build ties. We are going to build them by building bridges of understanding, tolerance and communication. I have not heard anything from the New Democratic Party, any message whatsoever on how to keep the country together. I strongly urge the member to look at our plans, plans based on keeping the country together on the basis of equality for all.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier today, I congratulate the member for Edmonton—Strathcona for his initiative in presenting to the House of Commons an opportunity to speak on national unity.

This is the type of debate which should throw the clock away. As long as members want to speak on it we should be allowed to keep going.

The objective of the motion I totally support. It may not seem as a surprise to him but I come from a totally different direction on how we resolve the issue of national unity.

I came to this city in 1979-80. I had the privilege and the pleasure of working for the prime minister of Canada at that time, the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau. One of the central themes of the prime minister was the Constitution. One of the areas within the Constitution the prime minister was passionately committed to was the whole are of national programs. He believed, and nearly all of us supported him in this House, even many members in the opposition, that national programs create national will. From national will you have a spirit that can promote and bind the country together.

I can remember from 1980-1984 the taxpayers of Canada spent millions of dollars promoting the Government of Canada's presence in every region of the country. In early 1980 there was this great feeling of western alienation, that the Government of Canada did not do anything for the west. We were all surprised because there was billions of dollars, whether in direct grants or programs or services, which went to western Canada, as to other regions. We discovered when we looked closer that the Government of Canada's presence was hidden. It really was not well known. We had to educate and show people what the Government of Canada did in providing service, presence.

Agriculture Canada had 55 research offices across western Canada. Very few people even knew they were there providing a service to farmers and the agricultural community of western Canada.

We tried vigorously to have a Government of Canada presence in anything and everything we were doing, not just in western Canada but right across the country.

Since the election of Prime Minister Mulroney I have noticed something that has not stopped. There has been an almost complete dismantling of the Government of Canada presence in the country. In name of being fiscally responsible or fiscal discipline, we have offloaded, sold off airports, given away properties, have walked away from responsibilities and have given them to the municipalities or the provinces. We have done all this in the name of being fiscally efficient or in the name of it being important in terms of promoting partnership.

With respect and admiration for my friend from Edmonton—Strathcona, I think the pendulum has swung too far. The Government of Canada presence has dwindled to a point where many people are wondering whether we even have the capacity to deliver on some of the programs and services we should be delivering on if we are to properly manage the country.

By the way, I will be sharing my time with the parliamentary secretary for international affairs.

I said earlier and I will say again that I support the member's objective of talking about national unity. However I do not think we can be in a community or a marketplace if our product is not on the shelf. In the last 10 to 15 years we have removed the the Government of Canada presence from all shelves not just in Quebec but in other regions of the country. I make no apology; I am a passionate believer in the Government of Canada having a major presence in every community and region of the country.

I abhor the fact that the postal service of Canada has practically written off the Government of Canada presence. For many years in many villages and communities across Canada that was the only shelf presence of the Government of Canada. It was the community's only link to this place. When we move from post office to airports to ports, the litany goes on and on and on.

Let us just take a business example. If someone is selling Pepsi-Cola and I am selling Coca-Cola and the only thing in the market is Coca-Cola, what will happen? Will we go to the store and ask for Pepsi even though we never see it?

In my judgment what we have in Quebec is a total lack of Government of Canada presence. We have given the separatists a free ride. Those of us who were in the House in the last parliament, those of us who were here when Lucien Bouchard was here, notice the distinct difference. When Lucien Bouchard was here as the leader of the official opposition they had lots of presence. They owned the market. They controlled the market. Thank God the Reform Party has moved into official opposition, because not only have we lost Lucien Bouchard, who was a charismatic leader, but we now have the Bloc Quebecois slipping off the radar screen. The Bloc is starting to slip. Its presence in the marketplace is starting to slip. Its own people are asking what it is here for.

I say to my friend from Edmonton—Strathcona that if we are to have success in pulling the country together it is time for the Reform Party to shift gears a little. It should change its direction of dismantling, offloading and decentralizing national government.

The objectives of members are founded on good will, but perhaps the Reform caucus will say it should be looking at amplifying the Government of Canada presence in the province of Quebec rather than what it says every day. They ask “What are going to sell off? What are we going to offload? What are we going to give to the provinces?”

We have 10 different chunks across Canada and the Government of Canada is rendered meaningless. It is off the shelf.

In the last few years we have all been obsessed with putting the fiscal framework of the House back together. Obviously all members have worked hard to achieve that objective.

If we are to hold the country together, Government of Canada presence through proper services for young people, proper services for small business, proper activism and knowing that creativity and activism come from the House, we will have to shift gears and get back into an activism in all markets.

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1:50 p.m.

Reform

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from Broadview—Greenwood on his speech. I enjoyed it. We share many similar ideas and views.

One thing specifically pertains to the motion put forward today by the Reform Party and I would like to ask the member what he thinks specifically about it.

He talked about a greater government presence and a strengthening of government presence in Canada. We have an opportunity, especially from his point of view, to do that now in Quebec with the Calgary declaration. He talked about a product. Here is a chance for the Government of Canada to take a product to the people of Quebec, who will hopefully have a say like the rest of Canadians, and to bring the country together. Surely that is goal of all my colleagues and most members of the House.

What does the member have in mind on behalf of the government, as we suggested in the motion, in terms of taking the Calgary declaration to the people of Quebec? When should we do that or how should we do that?