House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

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The House resumed consideration of the motion that 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, be read the third time and passed.

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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March 15th, 2000 / 5:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not have a lot of time but I have lots to say to squeeze into the next five minutes.

The NDP began the consideration of Bill C-20 with a number of concerns, but we supported the bill in principle and supported the view that in any future referendum in Quebec there needs to be a clear question and that the House of Commons has a right to have a say in whether or not that question is clear. We supported the view that there needs to be a clear expression of the will of the people of Quebec or any other province, and we recognize the value of the supreme court opinion that the judgment, in some respects, can only be made qualitatively after the fact of the referendum, although we did raise concerns with respect to whether or not there could be amendments which would have at least fixed the numerical aspect of the judgment that needed to be made. We therefore moved amendments having to do with 50% plus one—

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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5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize to the member for Winnipeg—Transcona, but in the spirit of co-operation, I would ask for unanimous consent that the government would consent to allow the member for Winnipeg—Transcona to make a 15 minute intervention without questions or comments, followed by a 15 minute intervention without questions or comments from a member of the Progressive Conservative Party and at the conclusion of these two interventions the Speaker shall put all questions necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of this 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
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5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the request for unanimous consent by the hon. chief government whip. Does the hon. chief government whip have unanimous consent?

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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5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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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5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know what the government House leader's proposal is all about. Is he asking that the time allocated both to my hon. colleague from the NDP and my hon. colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party be extended? Does this apply to both?

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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5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

That is right.

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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5:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I express my thanks to the government and to my colleagues for extending my time as the NDP spokesperson and also the time of my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party.

I was saying that we had a number of concerns about the bill. I cited the fact that we were concerned about an aspect of the bill that left open the possibility of some abuse on the part of the federal government after a referendum in jacking up the numerical majority that might be needed in order to justify the decision that there was a clear mandate. We moved amendments in that respect and we moved them in a way that I thought was consistent with the fact that there was still a qualitative judgment to be made after the referendum. However, the government rejected those amendments for reasons of its own.

We also had concerns about the role of the Senate. We moved amendments in that regard and those amendments were defeated.

Finally, and I think most importantly from my point of view, we had a number of amendments dealing with the role of aboriginal peoples in the process that the bill sought to set up with respect to how this House would determine whether or not there was a clear question and a clear majority.

What we sought was to move amendments which would have done the following: they would have added to the list in those sections of the bill that listed those institutions or those parties which the government would have to take into account the views of; and on that list there was the House of Commons, the Senate, the provincial governments and the territories. Our amendments were to the effect that the aboriginal peoples, in particular the aboriginal peoples of the province which was seeking to secede, would be added to that list.

We had a number of other amendments that were of concern to aboriginal peoples, in particular the aboriginal peoples listed as those who would be represented in any talks or any negotiations having to do with secession, and some other amendments having to do with the fiduciary responsibility of the federal government with respect to aboriginal rights.

We worked on these amendments all through the process. It was a matter of great disappointment to me that I did not actually get to move these amendments in committee because of the process, although in the end it may have been a blessing. They probably would have been defeated in committee at that time and then the government having once defeated them might have been even more reluctant than it was to have consented to some of those amendments in the final analysis.

As it turned out, in the hours just before the amendments were to be voted on, discussions were continuing with the government. The last time I rose in the House to speak at report stage, I have to say that I rose with the impression that no amendments were going to be accepted.

Some members may remember that I was a bit angry and that I spoke in anger. I might say that it was justified anger. I felt that none of the amendments were going to be accepted and, frankly, that would have had the effect of making it very difficult for the NDP to have continued to extend the support to the bill which we extended at second reading.

Two of our amendments were accepted. They were important amendments. Indeed, they have been recognized as such by the Assembly of First Nations, the Grand Council of the Crees, the minister himself and members of the committee from the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the NDP who supported them.

It was unfortunate that the amendments could not have received the unanimous support of the House. The Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party did not support those amendments, but nevertheless the amendments are there. They do not add any new status for aboriginal people, but they make sure that in this very important bill a status which they already have is recognized. The danger was that by not having them on that list, and listed in that way, then that could have been seen as a way of diminishing or not recognizing the status which they already have.

With these amendments having been accepted, I think I can say with great certainty that the NDP as a caucus will be supporting Bill C-20 at third reading.

This has not been easy. There are many in my party and elsewhere who feel that somehow Bill C-20 is an attack on or contrary to the principle of Quebec self-determination. Particularly within the New Democratic Party there are people who feel that somehow Bill C-20 is contrary to our traditional position of support for the self-determination of Quebec. If I thought that was so, I would not support Bill C-20 and neither would my colleagues behind me.

In our view not only does Bill C-20 recognize the right of Quebec to self-determination, it entrenches and recognizes in law the right of Quebec to self-determination. However, it says that this has to be achieved by virtue of a legitimate process that was outlined by the supreme court in its opinion. What this law attempted to do was to give legislative incarnation, if you like, to the supreme court's opinion. I believe that Bill C-20 meets that test. I do not think it is contrary to the principle of self-determination for Quebec.

There are also a lot of people with whom we normally agree who feel that this bill is a violation of their commitment to what is sometimes called plan A; that is to say, keeping Quebec in the federation and resolving problems of national unity by renewing the federation in a way that Quebecers feel that some of their longstanding aspirations and grievances can be met within the federation.

Again, all of us here are plan A types. We have had one plan A after another plan A. We urge the federal government and the minister to come up their own plan A. One of our criticisms of the Liberal government has been that we do not feel it has a sufficient plan A. Not everybody feels this way, but we also feel that to be committed to a plan A is not to take the view that there cannot be a plan B. We do not take the view that there is no plan B, if you like, in Quebec among separatists, among sovereignists; that is to say, a plan which may try to configure events in such a way that Quebec could be led into a situation of secession or negotiations on secession which are not the result of a clear question and a clear majority.

We cannot come at this innocently. I think there is a legitimate means to self-determination and to secession. I hope that day never comes.

I hope we will have a plan A. Even if we never have a plan A that works and is implemented, I think we have a country worth belonging to and a country worth keeping, no matter what. However, I would urge the government to get busy on having its own plan A.

I say to my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois that I do not see anything undemocratic about requiring that there be a clear question and requiring that there be a clear expression of the will of the Quebec people. If I was a separatist I would say that would be the minimum condition I would want anyway before I sought to take my province out of the confederation. I have to say that I do not understand that objection, at least when it comes in the form of accusing Bill C-20 of being anti-democratic.

If it comes in the form of saying that the House of Commons and the federal government have no jurisdiction, I can at least understand that claim. I do not accept it because I think that the rest of Canada does have some say and is entitled to some say in what will bring them to the table and on what conditions we would agree to talk about secession; that it is not just up to Quebec to say what conditions should bring two parties to the table. Quebec can say what conditions would bring itself to the table to negotiate secession, but if there are two parties to a negotiation, the other party has the right to say what would bring it to the table. That, in my view, is what Bill C-20 does.

For all those reasons, the NDP caucus has decided to support the bill at third reading. We have been very unhappy with the process. I still say to the minister that I do not think it needed to be rushed like this. I think we could have done a better job than we did, but I am very happy that we succeeded in the final hours of this debate in getting the amendments we did. I hope that Bill C-20 is a bill which none of us ever has the occasion to use.

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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5:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the government and all the parties for their kindness and broadmindedness in giving my NDP colleague and myself a last chance to speak to Bill C-20. For the Progressive Conservative Party, the debate is only beginning in the other place.

Bill C-20 was extremely difficult, frustrating, disturbing and alarming. Because of the possible failure of the country's unity of the country, the Prime Minister and his government have gone, in a few years, from indifference to constitutional matters in 1993 to the whip. That is what the government just did. After Bill C-20, what happens? It will be the government's the latent period. All will be settled, there will not be any changes. I often say that a country evolves at the same pace as his citizens. Legislation absolutely must evolve also.

The most important legislation in this country, one that affects us every day, which is the basis of everything, is the Constitution Act. But the government is budging very little if at all. Why not strive constantly to keep up with developments in the country? It is not doing anything. It says “We do not want to talk about it”.

When the government does decide to talk about it, it turns up with a bill that is going to settle what exactly in the end? Nothing, absolutely nothing at all. This is a false comfort zone, false security. Just look at the Reformers' argument: the vast majority of their basis for supporting the bill or not is to say that they are 90% in disagreement but they will support it anyway.

They voted against an amendment concerning the first nations, but they support it anyway. Where is the logic in that? It is a political logic. According to the polls, everyone wants a clear question and a clear majority. Running a country requires principles and guidelines. Yet the bill is not clear. We are trying to explain that to people, and we are trying to explain that to ourselves.

It is true that this has been difficult for our party and our caucus. Nevertheless, we are not going to give up just because it is difficult. It is not because a problem is hard to overcome that we will not overcome it. That is not the way we operate.

The bill is not clear. Is the question clear? Where can we see, when we read the bill, what the question will be, what its major thrust will be? I tested it with people who will have to vote yes or no. They do not know. They do not understand. Will we have a battle between legal experts? I asked people who have read the bill “What do you think would constitute a majority?” Their answer was either “It has to be clear” or “I don't know”.

In the end, could it be 50% plus one, 60% plus one? Let me give you a figure that no longer applies today: 91%. The Prime Minister got that majority two years ago. Now, that majority has been eroded, and even his own Liberal members are questioning his leadership. The majority was 91%. One can see how faulty the logic is. It is clearly illogical. Bill C-20 is illogical, it does not make sense. It is a short term political gain designed to prevent true long term improvements in this country.

As for the question, the minister tells us there are guarantees for Canadians. This is another comfort zone, a marketing operation. The federal government is guaranteeing Canadians that, if another referendum is held in Quebec—even though the act does not refer to Quebec because, technically speaking, the amendments that we proposed to make the bill clearer have been rejected—negotiations will take place. How logical is that? The federal government is saying that, in a future referendum on sovereignty, Canadians can be sure that it will demand a clear question and a clear majority before any negotiations can bet under way. Thank heavens, we are saved. For now, but there will be other referendums.

Do people not realize that, if it has come to this, it is because something is wrong? Yet the government claims that Canadians will now have the guarantee that, in the event of a referendum, before entering into negotiations, it will make sure that the question is clear and that there is a clear majority. That is illogical, Liberal logic with regard to the future of this country. It would mean getting ready for the country not working and providing for it in legislation.

Our position is that this country deserves to be saved, most of all from the Liberals. We guarantee that if ever—by the grace of God and of this country's voters—we form the government, that legislation will be repealed. We will send a message to everybody: this country does not need such legislation.

A country is not some kind of marriage contract. What is a marriage contract? It is a contract for divorce. That is not what a country is about. I wonder if that is why there is such a drastic drop in the number of marriages across the country.

We must make sure that a signal is sent. This government has been in office for seven years. What message has it sent to Quebecers, Albertans and everybody else as to how this country can be improved. We have gone from indifference to the whip.

Will the Minister of Finance now say “Let us dig into our purses and open our wallets”? Who knows? He has not done a great job at it. It will be at least two years before we see the difference in our pockets.

But what message is being sent? In one-on-one conversations with Liberal MPs, and even some ministers, when we really talk about Bill C-20, what do they say? “Something had to be done. The order has come down”. That is not much of an argument.

I ask them “How do you feel about perhaps making some small improvements? How would you feel if there were a bill that improved certain relationships or a Constitution for the 21st century?”

Why not have a collective project? In addition to getting this country on the Internet, since the desire is to have everyone wired in to the high tech world and to have everyone right up to date on what is going on, might the collective project not also be right up to date as well? The answer is “Oh no, that is not a good idea politically speaking, because people's reaction will be that it will be another blessed conference on some island out in the ocean, with Mounties everywhere and journalists trailing 20 feet away from any politician.”

But that is not what needs to be done. We in the Conservative Party would also have some proposals for future solutions, but the first thing is a matter of attitude. After seven years, nothing has been done. They have gone from indifference to the whip. We have a clarity bill that is not clear in the least, that is only divisive, one that in my humble opinion settles absolutely nothing and is against the spirit of the supreme court opinion, against the letter even.

Where in the supreme court opinion have they found the right for the federal government, which is barely mentioned in the opinion—the reference is to political actors—to intervene at the start of a referendum process? That is not what the supreme court said.

The NDP proposed an amendment relating to the first nations. When the minister came before the committee, I asked him “can the bill be amended?” His answer “No, it is a perfect bill”.

The member for Winnipeg—Transcona must have thrown a few fits. It took the three groups of first nations to convince the government to change its mind, and not even that much. Is this the message we want to send first nations? We are telling them “Everything is fine, no problem, do not worry”. It took fits and pressure from these groups for the government to even consider taking the first nations into account. If I were in their shoes, I would be scared.

I have the honour of being a member of the second nation to come here, and I am very proud of it. But I am worried about the first one. I am even more scared for those at the provincial level because the political actors are not involved at the federal level. Unfortunately, the provinces are letting their big federal brother decide what to do.

If there is a referendum, the country might break up, but their message to the federal government is “Take care of things. You are so good. For the past seven years you have accomplished a lot. You have not done a thing with regard to the Constitution, but you have ideas. Do it.”

People across the way know the government has no plan to improve the rules governing relationships in this country. It has no plan. It has absolutely nothing to offer.

This has been a very difficult bill for us. I do not hide that fact. Our party's position has not changed. It is clear that some members will vote with the government. We have tried to explain our position. It was not easy and it has left scars within the party. We do not hide that either.

However, people should know that our team is still there and that we will keep on. In spite of all that and in spite of Bill C-20, we will not stop. The Progressive Conservative Party will break new ground in relationships within this country. In spite of all the difficulties, the Progressive Conservative Party will deal with the situation, something the government has refused to do.

I do not have much time left and I would now like to propose an amendment in the other official language.

I move:

That all the words after “that” be struck out and the following be substituted:

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, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the legislative committee on Bill C-20 with instructions that the committee conduct further hearings and report to the House, not later than October 30, 2000, amendments to the bill to provide a mechanism to ensure that all proposed amendments to the constitution adopted by the legislature of any of the partners in Confederation are brought to parliament and considered in accordance with the opinion of the supreme court at paragraph 88.

As I was saying at the beginning about the other place where the debate will be held, I hope that the government will be a little bit more open.

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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5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Chicoutimi, QC

The other place that has been forgotten.

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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5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

The other place which, incidentally, as the member for Chicoutimi was saying, has been forgotten in the bill.

I would like to ask the government, on the eve of an election maybe, in a year or so, or of a crisis within the Liberal party, I would like to see the government shelve bill, as it does sometimes, and come up with interesting proposals.

What I am asking again is that we be united, as our country should be.

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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5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The amendment is in order.

I want to tell the House how privileged I felt to be in the Chair during this debate. It has not been an easy debate. The contributions of all of the members this afternoon were worthy. I think that when historians look at the debate that took place this afternoon, they will feel that our country has been well served by its parliamentarians.

Pursuant to order made earlier this day, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

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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5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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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5:40 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
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5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

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