House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was yea.

Topics

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 760
Government Orders

1 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

Points Of Order
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1 p.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to deal with the point of order raised by the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry on March 3, 2000 relating to certain motions in amendment to Bill C-20, an act to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Secession Reference, which were found out of order.

I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

The hon. member stated that the motions in amendment submitted to the journals branch were intended to clarify the working of clauses 1(5) and 2(3) of Bill C-20 and did not go beyond the scope of the bill. He maintained that, because the amendments were ruled out of order, not only was he prevented from debating them but that this action interfered with the rights of all members of the House and constituted a restriction on his freedom of expression and that of other members.

I can assure the hon. member that the scope and substance of the amendments submitted by him were carefully considered.

I also want to underline to the hon. member and the House that, while preliminary assessments about such matters may be taken by officials of the House, the review and approval of such decisions remain the responsibility of the Speaker.

It is a responsibility that I take very seriously.

I have myself re-examined all of the amendments ruled out of order, not in relation to their substance, but from a strictly procedural perspective and I remain convinced that those amendments the hon. member referred to do in fact go beyond the scope and alter the principle of the bill as already agreed to by the House.

I refer the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry to page 666 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice . I wish to reassure the member that the decision is purely procedural and not based in any way on whether the subject matter is worthy of debate. It was made in accordance with the traditions and practices of this House.

For these reasons, I must conclude that the matter does not constitute a valid point of order. I thank the hon. member for raising this issue and trust that this ruling has been helpful to him and to other hon. members.

Further to the question raised by the member for Rimouski—Mitis on Friday, March 3, 2000, I wish to inform the House that there was an error in the table for the voting on Bill C-20. The vote on Motion No. 70 will apply to Motion No. 71. A revised voting table is available from the table. I regret any inconvenience this may have caused the hon. members.

Privilege
Government Orders

March 13th, 2000 / 1:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The deputy House leader of the Bloc Quebecois raised a question of privilege on March 1, 2000 relating to the rejection of two motions in amendment to Bill C-20, an act to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Secession Reference.

These motions in amendment, declared out of order by the clerks involved with the bill, were never forwarded to the journals branch for inclusion in the Notice Paper.

Before beginning I would like to thank the hon. member for raising the matter. I also want to acknowledge the contributions of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, as well as the House leader for the Reform Party on this subject.

The acting House leader stated that on Tuesday, February 29, 2000, the Deputy Principal Clerk of the legislative unit forwarded a letter to the office of the leader of the Bloc Quebecois presenting the procedural details for rejecting some 700 motions in amendment to Bill C-20. These motions in amendment were appended to the letter. The Bloc Quebecois had, in fact, never forwarded two of the motions in amendment bearing the reference numbers 5180 and 5163 to the journals branch for inclusion in the Notice Paper.

After inquiries by the office of the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, it became clear that the clerks working on the bill had made an error by including reference to those two motions in the covering letter. The acting House leader argued that the privileges of the Bloc Quebecois members and all members of the House have been breached because of the actions of these clerks involved in the performance of their duties, namely consulting a database that the member contends is intended for the exclusive use of the legislative counsel.

The member went on to assert that the relationship of confidentiality that must exist between the legislative counsel and those members who request the drafting of amendments had been breached and that this action constituted a contempt of the House.

On behalf of all members of the House, I have looked carefully into the actions and events related to this matter. Hon. members should understand that House legislative counsel do not work in isolation.

They are part of an operational team that supports the legislative work of the Chamber and its committees. This group is comprised of procedural clerks as well as legal drafters who are assisted in their functions by text processing operators and administrative support staff. The confidentiality to which the acting House leader refers is shared by all staff within this group for operational purposes.

There is no separate database for legislative counsel as the hon. member suggests. The legislative database supports the work of all persons having duties within the field of legislative support operations.

Members should also understand that with respect to report stage, there must be interaction between the staff of the legislative services group, the clerk of the committee to which the bill was referred, and the staff of the journals branch.

All staff of the House working in support of members in their legislative function are governed by strict confidentiality with regard to persons outside their operational field and, of course, vis-à-vis other members.

In this case, I note there is no mention of any breach of confidentiality whereby the text of proposed motions of the hon. member or her party has been made known to persons working outside the field of legislative support operations or to other members. Confidential information proprietary to the Bloc Quebecois and several of its members remained completely and absolutely confidential. Consequently, I am unable to find that this constitutes a prima facie question of privilege or a contempt of the House.

I thank the acting House leader of the Bloc Quebecois for bringing this matter to my attention and permitting me to make this clarification to the House.

The House resumed from March 3 consideration of Bill C-20, an act to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec secession reference, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Liberal

Reg Alcock Parliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, at this point I will use the three minutes I have remaining to remind the House of why we are here and why we will end up in the position we seem to be inexorably heading toward tonight.

After the 1995 referendum there was a decision to ask the supreme court what we might do in the event of another referendum. The court said very clearly that in a democracy like Canada, should there be a clear expression of the will of a population in a region of Canada on a clear question about the secession of that province, the Government of Canada would be obligated to negotiate. The government has come forward with a piece of legislation that puts that decision into law and nothing more. It adheres very closely to the decision of the supreme court.

From the moment it was even hinted that we might undertake to do that, at every opportunity the Bloc indicated there would be no co-operation, no discussion, no debate and no attempt to work together to improve legislation as is often done in the House. That is the purpose of this Chamber. I note that the New Democratic Party and its House leader, who was a member on the committee, worked hard to review the bill and put forward amendments. I note that even the Reform Party came forward in support of the bill and also looked at ways in which the bill could be improved.

Unfortunately, we end up where we are, responding to the unending stream of statements and actions by members of the Bloc who say “It does not matter what the debate is. It does not matter what the logic is. We are going to do everything we can to stop this”. Therefore, we end up in a very sad place, a place where it is no longer possible to debate. I am sorry that we are here, but we are here. Let me be very clear on this. We are here because of the consistent and continuing actions of one party in the House.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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1:15 p.m.

Reform

Grant Hill Macleod, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to speak briefly to Bill C-20.

The clarity bill, as it has been called, is a bill which the official opposition supports in principle. I might say that we support it in principle because we think that confusion is antidemocratic.

However, we disagree with the haste of this process. We disagree with the imposition of time allocation. We disagree with the arbitrary nature that the committee used to decide who would appear as witnesses before the committee. I will not spend a lot of time on those things because that disagreement has been well documented.

We believe that a well informed public is better than a confused public. On an issue as important as the breakup of our country, to be well informed is very sensible.

It is not often that a politician makes a comment about his opposing politician. However, I would like to make a positive comment about the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs across the way. I believe that the minister has been forthright on this issue. He has been pretty straight-up on this issue. He has not changed his tune since he made up his mind that he was going to look for clarity from the supreme court and carry it through. I give him credit for that. He has been castigated in his home province. He has been called unpleasant things. He has been made fun of in caricatures. I would like him to know personally that I do not agree with any of those things. I think he has been at least honourable on this subject.

We can disagree with him, and I believe that it is fair to do do, but in this instance I do not disagree with him. I want him to know personally that I think the characterizations have not been accurate nor proper.

I will spend a moment on the committee hearings to talk about what I found most interesting. I attended all of the meetings and found the old politicians to be the most interesting people who appeared before the committee.

First, two of the witnesses I listened to opposed Bill C-20. Claude Ryan, who is a man with enormous prestige in Quebec, opposes Bill C-20, as well as Joe Clark, a politician who has had many years of constitutional battles. I will not make comments about the reasons they oppose the bill. They have reasons which I think are debatable and arguable. However, those two senior politicians both oppose Bill C-20.

I looked at those who came in support of Bill C-20. I found it interesting that some of them fought those constitutional battles with vigour themselves. I will list four of them: Claude Castonguay, le père de l'assurance-santé, the father of medicare in Quebec, is supportive of Bill C-20; Gil Rémillard, a senior politician who has had long experience in Quebec, supports Bill C-20 as well; and two politicians from outside Quebec, Ed Broadbent and Bob Rae, both came to the committee and said they support the bill.

I found it interesting when I asked them this question: “Did you ever during your time battling these constitutional battles ever say that a clear question was something that was valuable?” They admitted that they had not. They battled this without ever saying publicly that a clear question was important.

I also want to reflect on what Reformers think of the clarity bill. I had the opportunity to poll Reformers. It was not a poll which would reflect the views of every Canadian. It reflected the views of Reform supporters.

It is fascinating that when asked if a clear question was important, 98.7% of Reformers who responded said yes. When asked the question, “Should the majority level be spelled out?”, 96.2% felt that the majority level should be spelled out. This bill does not do that. That probably reflects my position that the majority level could and should be spelled out.

When asked about the majority level, as to whether 50% plus one was sufficient, especially if it also was to decide what part of Quebec would stay in Canada, the percentage dropped to 77.6%, still a pretty strong number of people saying that the level should be spelled out.

I tried to reflect, all the way through the committee hearings, on whether the question last time was clear. My way of deciding was not to listen to those who on one side or the other have an axe to grind, but to ask those who are experts in asking questions of the public, and to my mind they are the pollsters, those who do polling all the time. The pollsters told me that when asking loaded questions we cannot expect anything but a loaded answer. They ask “yes-no” questions, which of course the referendum did as well.

When I asked the pollsters if the last question asked of Quebecers was unambiguous or unconfusing, they said no, it was neither; it was both ambiguous and confusing.

I posed to the pollsters what kind of question they would ask. I received some uniformity in their answers, which I will distil by saying that if there are two issues, two separate questions would have to be asked. It would be something like the following: “Do you want Quebec to enter a new economic partnership” or whatever “with Canada?” To that question there would be a response, yes or no.

I think that most Quebecers would probably answer yes, that they would like to enter into a new partnership with Canada. However, if we wanted to go further we would ask: “If that new partnership is unsuccessful within a timeframe, do you want Quebec to separate from Canada and sever all legal ties, yes or no?” On that issue I believe that we would get a different response from that which we had in the last referendum.

My analysis is that there are lots of people within and outside Quebec who would like to have a new relationship with Ottawa, and that relationship with Ottawa could well reflect a country that was advancing, a country that was improving, a country with a vigorous future. However, when asked if that new partnership fails would they want to split up Canada, I think the response might well be different. I know that there is very little appetite for splitting up the country outside Quebec, and certainly not in my part of the country.

Bill C-20 is imperfect. It could have been improved. It is a step in the right direction. In principle it is supportable. The official opposition will be supporting the bill unamended. I think it literally will not be amended, unless there is some surprise awaiting us.

It has been a privilege to represent interests from the western part of the country on the bill.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words before this bill clears the House. In that respect, I want to reiterate my view that this bill has been rushed through in a way that has discredited the parliamentary process.

For the record, it has been one of the low points in my parliamentary life, watching the way this bill has been handled, both by the government and in some respects also by the Bloc Quebecois, because it has created a situation in which something as important as the legislative framework for the secession of a province from Canada has not been able to be studied in the way that it should have been studied. We were not able to hear from as many people as we should have. We were not able to hear from them in a context that was constructive and open to real change.

I see the minister in the House today and I am glad he is here. I would like to echo the complimentary, positive attitude of the member who just spoke, but I would find that difficult. I do not think the minister and the government have been open, unless I am wrong and I find out later today that they will be open to some amendments. They have not been open to building a consensus around the bill that would enable not just Liberals but others to go forward and claim this very important piece of legislation as their own, so that it would be clear that, with the exception of the Conservatives, there was some measure of federalist unity on this issue.

I have been part of this process before. Even Pierre Trudeau, who was noted for his determination and has been called all kinds of things, including arrogant, tried to do things in the early eighties which the NDP felt were important so that he could bring us on side.

That is related to what is happening today. At that time the NDP would not support the patriation package unless it was amended to recognize the inherent rights of aboriginal people. That had been left out. What did Pierre Trudeau do? On the basis of being urged by the NDP, the patriation package was amended. That is why we have section 35 today.

But nothing was learned. In fact, some things seem to have been unlearned. We have Bill C-20 before us, and we have a bill, insofar as it affects aboriginal people, that is pre the patriation package. It does not recognize them at all.

Then we have something which is pre the patriation package, or worse, because in this context we have made recommendations, in conjunction with the Assembly of First Nations, the Grand Council of the Crees, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada and others, and pleaded with the minister to accept some of the amendments we have officially made and which aboriginal organizations have recommended. So far, nothing.

We will be voting later today and the word I get from the government is “no amendments”. So even the wisdom of that time, the early eighties, of Mr. Trudeau and others trying to build something that could bring people together, is not for this minister. No, he knows everything and the rest of us are just chopped liver, including the aboriginal leadership and everyone else.

This is constitution making, as it has to do with the possible breakup of the country or how it could be kept together in the event of a referendum, depending on how one looks at it. It needs to be approached with a far different spirit and a far different frame of mind from the way in which the current minister has approached it. Frankly, he has made it very difficult. Maybe that is what he wanted all along.

He is making it very difficult for myself and others in my caucus who supported the principle of the bill, who supported the idea that there be a legislative implementation or framework established pursuant to the supreme court opinion. We have supported the need for a clear question, which is absolutely fundamental to any referendum, the need for the rest of Canada to be able to pronounce on whether it was a clear question and would justify negotiations on secession, the need for a clear majority, the fact that democracy was more than just a simple majority and that there was a need for a qualitative judgment after the fact. All of these things we have supported.

All we asked was that what the Assembly of First Nations and others have identified as a fundamental flaw, to use the language which they used in a letter released this weekend, be addressed, that aboriginal people be listed as political actors, and that the government be obliged to take their view into account. Those are the two easiest amendments for the government. We have submitted about six or seven amendments having to do with aboriginal concerns, but the two easiest ones for the government were to simply list aboriginal people along with the provinces, territories and the Senate as people whose views the minister would want to take into account in determining whether there was a clear question and subsequently whether there was a clear majority.

The government will not do that. Why not? There is absolutely no good reason for not putting the aboriginal people on that list of people whose views need to be taken into account. There is not a person on the other side of the House who could stand up and give me one good reason why those two amendments could not be accepted, except for the unmitigated, titanic, bloody arrogance of that man over there, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs who thinks he knows everything about this country and that the rest of us do not have anything to say.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe that is unduly provocative and unparliamentary. I think it is uncalled for and the member should withdraw what he just said.