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.

Topics

Government Response To Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Government Response To Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

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

Division No. 1161
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

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

March 15th, 2000 / 3:55 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

moved 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.

Mr. Speaker, now that the House of Commons has reached the last stage of its work on Bill C-20, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the important work done by members of the legislative committee and the witnesses who contributed to the examination of this bill which is fundamental to the rights of Canadians.

I would also like to take this opportunity to salute the vision of the Prime Minister of Canada, whose sense of duty has given Canadians this essential guarantee of their rights.

Every citizen of this country will be guaranteed two fundamental rights if, as it is desirable, the House of Commons and the Senate pass Bill C-20, the clarity act.

First, every Canadian will have the guarantee that the Government of Canada will never enter into negotiations on the separation of a province unless the population of that province has clearly expressed its will to cease to be part of Canada.

Second, the clarity act will guarantee to all Canadians that any such negotiations on secession, should they occur, would take place within the Canadian constitutional framework, respecting the principles identified by the supreme court: democracy, federalism, constitutionalism and the rule of law, and respect for minority rights.

The clarity act will protect the rights and interests of all Canadians, but especially Quebecers, because it is in Quebec that the provincial government is contemplating a secession attempt in an atmosphere of confusion and outside the legal framework. Quebecers want no part of that disturbing prospect. The clarity act is pro-Quebec and pro-democracy.

The Government of Canada is convinced that Bill C-20 complies fully with the supreme court's opinion. Renowned legal scholars testified to that effect before the committee, including Dean Yves-Marie Morissette, former Quebec Justice Minister Gil Rémillard, and Dean Peter Hogg, who stated as follows.

I quote Professor Hogg:

No, I think Bill C-20 is completely consistent with the Supreme Court's judgment, and I think it would be difficult to both support the decision of the court and reject the bill.

The government is also convinced that Bill C-20 ensures that the House of Commons and the Government of Canada fulfil their obligations without infringing in any way on those of the provinces.

It is noteworthy that no sitting provincial premier, with the exception of Quebec's, has criticized the clarity act.

Before the legislative committee, in addition to Mr. Rémillard, who stated that, and I quote “this bill respects Quebec's jurisdiction”, another former minister of the Government of Quebec, Claude Castonguay, stated “I have not seen anything in this bill (C-20) that limits the jurisdiction of Quebec's National Assembly, nor Quebecers' right to decide on their own future”.

Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae stated:

I'm perfectly satisfied that the level of consultation that is provided for in the clarity bill is certainly adequate and nothing in the clarity bill takes away from the jurisdiction of any province.

We may all have read in today's Calgary Herald the same unequivocal support for Bill C-20 of a former premier of another province and another political allegiance, Mr. Peter Lougheed.

Nevertheless, it will be recalled that some witnesses, including Claude Ryan, told the committee that even if the federal government has the right, if not the duty, to assess the clarity of support for secession and to conduct itself accordingly, the House of Commons would not have the right to make a determination as to the clarity of the question before the referendum result were known, The hon. member for Beauharnois-Salaberry, the Bloc's intergovernmental affairs critic, also shares this opinion. The House of Commons would have the right to make a determination, but only after the referendum, and to conduct itself accordingly. So there is not that much distance separating us.

In point of fact, however, as Professor Patrick Monahan has noted, if it is legal and legitimate for the House of Commons to express its opinion on clarity after the referendum, it is hard to see how it would be unable to do so beforehand.

Moreover, in purely practical terms, it is hard to imagine how the House of Commons and the Government of Canada could go through the whole referendum campaign without ever answering the simple question: Do you think the question is clear? Voters would press them for an answer, and rightly so. They would have the right to know.

This brings me to the clarity of the question, and I will begin with two quotes. The first is this “We don't need to dress it up with a partnership”. The second goes as follows “These institutions are just nonsense, it's just window dressing to sell it to people. I think we have to be straight with people if we want to sell our option”. These calls for straight talk were made by PQ youth members at their meeting at the beginning of this month.

It should be acknowledged by everyone that the question in 1995 lacked in clarity, and that it could not lead to any negotiations as worded. Anyone who still has any doubts on this would do well to consult the document submitted to the legislative committee by Professor Maurice Pinard. It contains abundant evidence that the 1995 question gave rise to a great deal of confusion. To give just one example, and I am quoting Professor Pinard “In 1995, only around 50% of voters knew that sovereignty-partnership was divisible. The rest believed that there would be no sovereignty without partnership at the same time”.

The separatist leaders would do better to aim for maximum clarity. So why is it so difficult to acknowledge that only a question on secession can give rise to negotiations on secession? With clarity, everyone wins.

Now, let us talk about the clarity of the majority. In Canadian federal law as in Quebec law, a referendum is a consultation whose results must be evaluated by the political authorities. There is no legal majority threshold at which point a referendum would lose its consultative nature to become a decisive one binding governments.

The separatist leaders accept this rule of law for municipal, and they accept it for held by aboriginal peoples, but they do not accept it for a referendum on the secession of Quebec. They say it is undemocratic to challenge the threshold of 50% plus one in determining whether a majority is sufficiently clear to trigger negotiations on secession.

I do not think that anyone can question Mr. Ed Broadbent's deep-rooted commitment to democracy. He has devoted his life to it. This is what he had to say to the legislative committee.

It would be misleading in my view to describe democracy as simply a system in which all decisions are reached on a 50% plus one basis. In fact I would argue that...the more serious decisions require much more than 50% plus one, and some require unanimity.

Will the separatists say that Mr. Broadbent is anti-democratic?

Mr. Claude Ryan reiterated to the committee his preference for a minimum threshold of 50% plus one of all registered voters. Will he have to be called undemocratic as well?

As everyone knows, the clarity bill does not set a threshold. The clarity bill provides that the majority will be the subject of a qualitative assessment following a referendum. In actual fact it is very difficult to set a minimum threshold in advance which would guarantee a clear majority in all circumstances. Indeed, setting a threshold in advance would likely be contrary to the spirit of the supreme court's opinion.

As Dean Hogg told the committee:

I just don't think there is a constitutional basis for doing that and that is why fidelity to the court's judgment requires us now to wait until after the referendum.

Not setting a threshold in advance is consistent with our law and with Canadian tradition regarding referendums.

For example, the Government of Canada did not commit itself in advance to accepting Newfoundland as a province of Canada on the basis of a 50% plus one majority in the 1948 referendum. Instead, the Government of Canada proceeded exactly as provided for in Bill C-20. It waited for the referendum result before it came to a decision.

And what about international practice, including the United Nations, the separatist leaders ask? Again, I must reiterate that the UN generally supervises referendums held in the context of decolonization, in which the UN recognizes right to independence and expresses a strong preference for this political solution, as professor Jean-Pierre Derriennic so eloquently told the legislative committee.

Other than in cases of decolonization, the UN has shown no sympathy for secession whatsoever, and has even opposed it completely, as in the case of Katanga. It does not make secession a right, and certainly not a right that can be exercised on the fragile basis of 50% plus one of the ballots cast in a referendum held only in the territory where secession would take place.

To believe that the Government of Quebec could obtain international recognition under such circumstances is to display a profound misunderstanding of state practice.

So the clarity bill does nothing undemocratic in establishing, in accordance with the supreme court's opinion, that the clarity of a future referendum majority in favour of secession be subject to assessment. On the contrary, Bill C-20 displays an unusual openness, in a democracy, toward the widely opposed phenomenon of secession, as professor Robert Young, the author of a major book on secession, told the committee.

That is all on the subject of the clarity of the majority. I will now consider the aboriginal issue.

Although the negotiation of secession raises many issues, it was the issue of aboriginals that dominated a good part of the deliberations of the legislative committee.

Speaking to the committee, Quebec's Canadian intergovernmental affairs minister, Mr. Joseph Facal, maintained a position and the opposite at the same time. On the one hand, he cited international legal texts recalling that, although aboriginals are nations, and I quote the minister, “aboriginal rights must be exercised within sovereign states”.

On the other hand, he stated that accessions to independence for nations such as Quebec were, and I quote, “purely a factual matter”, a political rather than a legal issue—an allegation incidentally contradicted by the supreme court, which states in paragraph 83 of its opinion that “Secession is a legal act as much as a political one”.

In other words, he and his government believe themselves to be free to act outside the law, but aboriginal populations, for their part, would have to submit to the law. Clearly a double standard.

It must surely be somewhat embarrassing to give oneself a right and deny it to others. We know that the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, the Bloc's intergovernmental affairs critic, was of the opinion, before he entered politics, that the aboriginal peoples could remain in Canada in the event of Quebec's secession. And, the esteemed witnesses invited by the Bloc to appear before the legislative committee have maintained that point of view: professors André Tremblay, Andrée Lajoie and Guy Lachapelle and the head of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, Mr. Marc Laviolette.

Under Bill C-20 the Government of Canada commits itself to addressing in negotiating secession the rights, interests and territorial claims of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. The Assembly of First Nations, the Grand Council of the Crees and the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada called for stronger guarantees before the legislative committee. Several other witnesses, including Mr. Jack Jedwab, made proposals to better take into account the rights of aboriginals, and of minorities in general.

Liberal and NDP members of the committee showed strong support for amendments that would make guarantees for aboriginals more explicit. The validity of these suggestions led the Government of Canada to support two amendments proposed by the NDP and supported by the Liberal members of the committee. The scope of these amendments is to explicitly mention representatives of the aboriginal peoples of Canada among those whose views would be taken into consideration by the House of Commons when assessing the clarity of the question and of the majority.

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Mr. Phil Fontaine, indicated that he was satisfied with these modifications, but was disappointed that the role of aboriginal representatives in negotiations on secession had not been more clearly defined. On this matter, and I want to stress this, the reason subsection 3(1) of the clarity bill mentions among the participants in possible future negotiations on secession only the governments of the provinces and the Government of Canada is that these are the only political actors to which the court assigned an obligation to negotiate in the event of clear support for secession. However, neither the court nor Bill C-20 rule out the possibility of other political actors participating in those negotiations, including representatives of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. Simply put, it was not for Bill C-20 to go beyond the court's reference by creating an obligation for actors other than those to which the court assigned such an obligation.

I want to add that, according to the Constitution Act, 1982, the federal and provincial governments are bound by an agreement in principle by virtue of which representatives of the aboriginal peoples would be invited to participate in discussions on any constitutional amendment that would affect the provisions of the constitution that are mentioned in subsection 35(1).

The clarity act respects that principle by clearly stipulating that negotiations on secession would include at least the governments of the provinces and the Government of Canada. I stress “at least”.

In conclusion, complying with all points of the supreme court's opinion and giving effect to it, the clarity bill guarantees to all Canadians that their federal government will never negotiate the secession of a province, unless the House of Commons has determined that the population of that province has expressed its will to cease to be part of Canada. The clarity bill guarantees them that any such negotiations, should they occur, would respect the rule of law and constitutional principles.

Our colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, who ferociously opposed Bill C-20, have merely succeeded in creating the impression that they know full well they are incapable, through straight talk and clarity, of convincing Quebecers that secession is the best solution.

The fact is that Quebecers, and indeed all other Canadians, have a right to clarity rather than ambiguity and to the protection of the law rather than anarchy.

The fact is that Quebecers and indeed all other Canadians have a right to clarity rather than ambiguity and to the protection of the law rather than anarchy.

The time for ambiguity has passed. I call on all members of the House to vote in favour of the clarity act.

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

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There has been consultation among the parties and if you were to ask, I think you would find unanimous consent for the motion that the 18th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented on Wednesday, March 1, be concurred in.

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

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

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

4:15 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
Government Orders

4:15 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

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Grant Hill Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to give the official opposition's comments at third reading of the clarity bill, Bill C-20. We approached this bill with some broad principles in mind. I would like to list those broad principles.

The official opposition supported the issue of clarity of the question. We undertook to try and pin down the majority. We felt that broad consultation on an issue like this was best. We felt that there were many more issues on the table than were listed in the bill. We also felt there were a significant number of positive changes to the federation that would be more useful than rules for a battle. Today I would like to report on how we did with those broad principles.

On the issue of a clear question, this is where I believe the bill has been a success. The old question, the question asked previously was ambiguous and open to misunderstanding. It was a two pronged question. It asked about partnership on one hand and sovereignty on the other hand in the same question. It made it difficult to say yes or no to that question and be certain what one was saying yes or no to. I listened carefully to one of the senior Quebec politicians, Claude Castonguay, as it related to the question. He felt as I did that the question was not clear. It was not unambiguous.

I also used a pollster's comment to bolster that statement. The pollster told me that a question such as this could not be asked and get a legitimate result. He felt that if the question were split in two, it could legitimately be considered clear. In other words: do you want to have an improved partnership with Canada, yes or no, and if that failed, do you want to leave Canada, yes or no. The pollster guided me in the sense that the question prior was not clear.

This bill will result in a clear question. I sincerely hope the House of Commons never has to pass judgment on a question. I believe that a question coming from a province on this issue will never ever be as ambiguous as the last one. Surely for something as serious as secession, the least we can expect is to have a clear unambiguous question.

On the issue of majority, how did we do? We just listened to the minister opposite say that setting a threshold would be a mistake and so a threshold has not been set. I would say that we have failed on that issue. Our position was that 50% plus one of the votes cast was the threshold. I did listen to the debate on that and there were good arguments on both sides. I must say I found some of those arguments persuasive.

I would however like to use the example of Massachusetts as it parted from Maine as to how a particular threshold that was set to prevent secession did not succeed. This was a fairly low threshold. In 1786 independence became an issue for Massachusetts trying to secede from Maine. This was a state. Maine was a district. Massachusetts wanted to become a state. They went through seven referenda, each time asking for secession from Maine. When it looked like it was close to Massachusetts succeeding, Maine raised the threshold to five votes out of nine, or 55.6%. The vote subsequently did not reach that threshold. It reached 53.6% but public pressure resulted in secession of Massachusetts from Maine with a very low threshold of 53.6%. Artificially raising the threshold, leaving the threshold ambiguous in my view is not wise.

The third issue was broad consultation. We felt that broad consultation was better than just a small group of people coming to Ottawa. We failed on that issue as well. There was no travelling. We had but one week of committee hearings. Many witnesses were unable to attend. No amendments were put forth at committee. There were internal reasons that no amendments were put forward. We did gain one thing. The proceedings were televised. That was one concession, one tiny victory on the issue of broad consultation so I would have to say that we failed on that score as well.

On the fourth issue of broadening the issues, the bill mentions debt and assets, boundaries, minority rights and aboriginal concerns. We felt and still feel that there are many other issues here: citizenship, passports, the Canadian dollar, international recognition, an Atlantic corridor particularly relating to Quebec, defence issues including military assets. There is also the issue that was never discussed, the one of rejoining Canada in the event a province seceded and then decided it had made a mistake. All those issues could have been discussed at least.

When I make comments on a bill or process I always like to say how we would have done things differently. How would Reform, if we were the government, have had a different impact on the clarity legislation?

There would have been broader consultation. Not just one province but every province would have had input at the committee level. There would have been more issues on the table. I have mentioned those issues.

Our bill would not be proclaimed. In other words the bill we would have passed would have gone through all the legislative processes and then would have been set on the shelf as an unproclaimed bill only to be used in the event of a secession.

Our bill would have had a 50% plus one threshold in it. That threshold of course would have also been used for that part of Quebec that wanted to stay in Canada in the event of secession.

The haste we went through in relation to this bill was unnecessary and unwise. It gives those who would fight against Canada a little bit of a tool to say that we were not as democratic as we could have been. That is a legitimate complaint. I am afraid that I as an ally of the government on this bill still feel that the haste was unnecessary.

I conclude by saying that the official opposition will continue to support this bill. I have mentioned areas that could have been improved. We support it on the basis and the premise that an informed vote is a powerful vote. I have a simple statement for Quebecers.

Who are afraid of a clear question?

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

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Turp Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I rise in this House, I usually say I am pleased to do so. I am not in the habit of rising in this House without any pleasure.

I must admit that it is with some sadness and a great deal of frustration that I rise now, at the end of this day, after we have debated the proposed amendments to this bill for the past few days.

I chose to become a member of this parliament where I was elected, together with my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois—those who were elected in 1993 and those who were in 1997—to adequately represent the citizens who elected us to this place, and to do so with a democratic mandate to act and speak up in this House on behalf of our constituents who elected us to defend their interests and promote sovereignty, a plan very dear to a great many Quebecers.

Throughout this debate, I noticed that we were dealing not only with foes of sovereignty, but also with people, members and ministers on the government side, who had become foes of Quebec democracy. Through their comments and reactions regarding our plan to turn Quebec into a sovereign state, they were not trying to respect neither this plan nor the citizens who elected sovereignist MPs.

The whole process surrounding Bill C-20 has demonstrated how little respect there is in this country, in this Parliament, for what we stand for in this House and for the people we represent.

Bill C-20 is undemocratic. We will keep on repeating it. We will have many opportunities to do so after it has been passed by the House and the Senate and given assent by the Governor General. We will no doubt have an election campaign where Bill C-20 will be a major issue and where Quebecers will have a chance to pass judgment on the conduct of a majority, the Liberal Party, that did not show even the most basic respect for the members of this House and the citizens they represent.

On behalf of my colleagues, I would like to tell you how sitting in the House of Commons, whose traditions, customs and practices we have always respected, has become difficult and will probably be made more difficult yet by the introduction of Bill C-20 and its possible passage by the Parliament of Canada.

When one thinks about it and in spite of the assurances, guarantees and suggestions by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, with the passage of Bill C-20, this country is becoming a pioneer in the area of secession, a democratic country unrivalled anywhere in the world.

If members look very carefully at this bill, at its provisions and at its purpose, if they read the speeches that the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs made when he appeared before the committee, they will realize that this bill is ultimately an instrument to prevent, and I quote the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, “a separation threat from Quebec”.

We do not need a bill telling us that we are a threat to Canada. That is not what it is all about. We have the right, and the supreme court recognized it in its opinion dated August 20, 1998, to promote sovereignty for Quebec. This is a legitimate initiative according to the supreme court. To pretend that we pose a threat to Canada, that we are threatening it with secession or break-up, as mentioned in the preamble of this bill, does not respect this legitimacy recognized by nine justices of the supreme court.

But more than anything, it does not respect Quebecers who consider the sovereignty project as an option for the future, an option they are entitled to consider and to support when consulted on this matter.

During the committee hearings, there was a striking testimony that left the Liberal members of the committee quite lost and disappointed, which the minister quoted earlier in the debate, and that is that of Mr. Claude Ryan, a previous leader of the opposition in Quebec's legislative assembly.

While debating or discussing with some of us, here is what he had to say regarding the behaviour of the Liberal government, of the ministers and of the government members of this House:

He said “You know, in Quebec, sovereignists and federalists are adversaries, but they respect each other. Here in Ottawa, however, sovereignists and federalists are enemies. They do not respect each other”.

I have always believed that those who do not necessarily think as we do and who promote federalism and its renewal deserve our respect. As far as I am concerned, I have always respected those who propose or would like to propose this project to Quebecers, a project which, if it were renewed, could promote a greater following than the present federalism. But theses views are not shared by all.

It seems that respect for the sovereignists that we are does not exist here in this House since we are considered as enemies of the Canadian democracy, when we are in fact, by our mere presence here, participating in this democracy.

We are undoubtedly the ones who have the most respect for parliamentary democracy in this House. We have so much respect that we try to protect not only our rights—and we had to do so repeatedly during debate on Bill C-20—but we also want to ensure that the rights of all the parliamentarians in this House are respected.

When we see before us enemies of democracy in Quebec and enemies of those who, in the name of democracy, promote sovereignty, it is difficult not to consider those who make such a harsh and dangerous judgment on what we represent here as enemies of democracy in Quebec.

Bill C-20 is an eloquent example of the fact that this government tries, as the minister said earlier in his speech, to protect Quebecers against themselves or against sovereignists, their representatives and their independentist leaders.

Quebecers do not need to be protected against themselves or against their independentist leaders. They vote for independentist leaders and they put their confidence in them. They have done so on numerous occasions in the past by electing successive governments of the Parti Québécois. They have put their trust in independentist leaders by electing, in the last two consecutive federal elections, a very clear majority of members of the Bloc Quebecois to this House.

To think that this House can stand in for independentist leaders and the national assembly, where sovereignists have the majority, and that it can ignore the opposition of the members of the Bloc Quebecois shows a lack or even an absence of respect for Quebec's democracy.

Bill C-20 would stand in for our institutions and give the House of Commons the power to decide on something that has always been determined by the national assembly, namely the question and its clarity in a debate which might take place and which has actually taken place in the National Assembly during two previous public consultations on sovereignty. The House of Commons will never be able to substitute itself for the National Assembly when time comes to formulate a question.

This House will never be able to impose on the national assembly and its members a question which would exclude a partnership, a question which would prevent us to ask for a mandate to negotiate, a question which would be imposed because the issue here is about the future of Quebec as it is promoted by members who were elected to the national assembly by Quebecers.

Bill C-20 precisely purports to give members of the House of Commons, of which a large majority comes from English Canada, the power to decide on the clarity of a question asked by the national assembly.

Furthermore, the bill is unacceptable and undemocratic to the point where it would allow the House to make a judgment on the clarity of the question even during a referendum campaign. The House of Commons could say, while the campaign is under way, that the question is not clear. Would this not be a totally unacceptable intrusion in a democratic process that was launched by the national assembly and the elected representatives of the Quebec people?

The provisions concerning clarity in this bill are undemocratic, despite what the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs thinks, because they give the House a right of disallowance on a decision made by the national assembly.

Claude Ryan, to quote him again, thought this was somewhat a trusteeship system. It was giving the House a trusteeship over the National Assembly when it came to the question and the assessment of its clarity.

Not only does this provision on the question and its clarity reveal the undemocratic nature of this bill, but the provisions on majority infringe even more adversely upon Quebec democracy as it was developed and fashioned by many generations of people who have exercised the highest political functions in Quebec.

The minister claims that the 50% plus one rule has not been applied or considered applicable during the referendums on sovereignty association or sovereignty partnership, because it is not written in the Referendum Act.

Undoubtedly it was not included because it was so clear and obvious that it was the applicable rule. In fact, that rule had never been generally challenged by Canadian leaders. It is universally accepted. Since that rule no longer seems acceptable to the Government of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada, it must be enshrined in Quebec legislation, which is the purpose of Bill 99 now before the National Assembly.

The 50% plus one rule is acceptable and accepted. The Liberal government did not have the courage to include it in this bill despite the insistence of the opposition parties. Three of the opposition parties thought this bill should have contained a reference to the clear majority rule of 50% plus one vote. This lack of courage shows fear on the part of the government with regard to the 50% plus one rule.

There is a fear that Quebecers will make the decision because sovereignty is an option that can be negotiated, that must be negotiated as soon as a majority of voters have decided to choose that option. So it has been suggested that this is an irreversible and serious decision, because we are told that these majorities are unstable. But that is supposing and stating that they are, that is supposing that any decision on a people's future is irreversible and is binding on future generations, and that is prejudging the decision future generations will make.

Bill C-20, which will be enacted, is unacceptable to Quebecers, as it should be to all Canadians. Moreover, Canadians in other provinces abide by the rule of 50% plus one; it is the case in British Columbia and Alberta for example. That rule is universally applied.

Even if the minister and others claim that the last few accessions to independence, whether in a colonial or non colonial context, were accomplished with considerable majorities, we must not forget that the rule that applies to accession to sovereignty is still the 50% plus one rule.

That rule is universally accepted. It is accepted by the United Nations, it was accepted during the 1980 and 1995 referendums and, even if we were told repeatedly that Prime Minister Trudeau and the present Prime Minister claimed that it was not the applicable rule and that it was not sufficient for them to feel bound to negotiate after a vote in favour of sovereignty-association or sovereignty-partnership, we must recall that these prime ministers were deceiving the public. As they were saying this rule did not apply or would not bring them to negotiate, they were also telling Quebecers “You must understand, either you stay or you leave.”

Just a few days before the May 20, 1980 referendum, Mr. Trudeau put the seats of all his MPs at stake. Quebecers, who are said to be confused by the questions of sovereignists, understood the question quite well. We called on the intelligence of Quebecers with complex questions, not confusing ones, as several witnesses before the legislative committee on Bill C-20 pointed out.

Prime Ministers Trudeau and Chrétien themselves confused Canadians when they told them that a no vote in the referendum meant yes to the renewal of federalism. It was not clear. The no vote of Quebecers in 1980 and again in 1995 was not clear. Maurice Pinard, a colleague of mine from McGill University, had to admit he himself had not conducted any study or analysis on the possible confusion created in the minds of Quebecers by prereferendum promises made by federalist leaders. Odd, is it not?

The only confusion around is supposed to be in the sovereignist camp. But what about the confusion created by generations of federalist leaders claiming this federation can be renewed, can be changed to meet Quebec's demands and expectations? They have never been able to carry out their plan to renew the federation.

When they tried to carry out a reform, be it the one proposed in the Meach Lake accord or in the Charlottetown accord, they were defeated by Canadian public opinion, in the case of the Meech Lake accord, or by people or provincial leaders who refused to ratify the accord. They were again defeated in 1992 by the Canadian people, who refused to change the Canadian federal system because of irreconcilable differences of opinion on federalism both in Quebec and Canada.

The minister will never really persuade Quebecers that they did not understand the questions in 1995 and 1980, because they understood them perfectly well. They voted to maintain the federation and we, as democrats, respected their decision, but that decision is not immutable.

Quebecers who keep their options open witnessed and examined what was going on in the House. They will be persuaded that Bill C-20 curtails their freedom, and is some kind of yoke, or a new padlock act, passed by Ottawa this time. They will also realize how this government and the Liberal Party of Canada wanted this legislation to be passed in a hurry, even if that meant ignoring the most basic rules of parliamentary democracy.

To create an artificial and partisan deadline for the benefit of one political party, the Liberal Party of Canada, showed a total lack of respect for this House. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Prime Minister want to go before not all Canadians, but their own party members with Bill C-20 in their pockets. They want to stand tomorrow in front of the members of the Liberal Party of Canada and say “We have succeeded in bringing Quebec to heel. We have managed to pass legislation that will give us the last word on the question and on the majority”.

According to the government majority party, Quebec should no longer be master of its own destiny. That party shall rule Quebec. And Quebecers will never agree to that.

Since the Bloc Quebecois was created, Quebecers have not trusted the Liberal Party of Canada. I should remind those who are watching the debates that, in the 1993 federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada had only 19 candidates elected out of the 75 members representing Quebec in this House. In 1997, only 26 Liberals were elected to the House.

The Liberal Party of Canada does not represent Quebecers. It does not represent the interests of Quebec. Today, with Bill C-20, it is showing it clearly. What it does with Bill C-20 is trample on the democratic rights of Quebecers.

Quebecers saw how eager it was to flout not only Quebec's democracy and democratic institutions, but also the rules of the parliament in which it is abusing its majority. That is what it has been doing since the day in December when the minister used a trick to introduce a draft bill, flouting right from the beginning of the consideration of Bill C-20 the rules of the House and parliamentary traditions.

It flouted them again following a few interventions in the House in December and February. It imposed closure and allowed only seven members of our party to speak to this bill.

The Liberal Party limited to 45 the number of witnesses the legislative committee could hear and the committee was able to hear only 39 of those witnesses.

It also imposed closure to end debate and stop the hearings all opposition parties would have liked to continue. These parties all wanted the committee to travel throughout Quebec and Canada and the Bloc was more than willing to hear the views of other Canadians on the bill.

But the committee was not to travel. It had to hear 45 witnesses here in Ottawa. What was the minister afraid of? Why did he oppose the committee travelling around Canada and Quebec with his Bill C-20? Was he afraid to be told in all the cities of Quebec, in Quebec's national capital, in Montreal, the metropolis, and in all the regions that we from the Bloc represent that his bill was antidemocratic? He did not have the courage of his convictions.

If he was convinced that Bill C-20 was an acceptable bill, why did he refuse to go to Quebec to defend it? Why did he refuse to go to Quebec to hear those who are in favour of it, those he talks to when he goes to chambers of commerce and elsewhere, but also to hear those in the civil society, the unions, the teachers, the young and the students who oppose it?

While claiming to be afraid of nothing, he did not have the courage of his convictions. He told the committee he was afraid of nothing, yet he was afraid to go to Quebec. He was afraid to hear Quebecers tell him that this bill is an undemocratic legislation.

He was afraid of the opposition parties, which wanted a full and meaningful debate to take place, instead of cutting it short on the eve of a Liberal Party convention, putting a premature end to testimonies and actually preventing dozens if not hundreds of people from appearing before the committee. There are people who sent in briefs but were not heard, in spite of the fact that they had contacted the clerk to indicate they were interested in testifying before the committee. No, debates had to be limited.

Actually, the proceedings of that committee had to be made very partisan. There were witnesses for the Liberal Party and witnesses for the Bloc Quebecois and the other parties. My colleague, the minister, believes, I suppose, that meaningful and in-depth debates are necessary, and that bills require proper consideration if we want good legislation. According to many of the people who came to talk to us about the rules that should apply if we were to go ahead with the sovereignty plan for example, legislation should reflect consensus. They said there should be a consensus to hold a referendum on sovereignty.

The minister has often said “Do not organize a referendum if there is no consensus to that effect in Quebec. Unless there is a consensus, do not hold a referendum even if you were elected with a mandate to organize one and the possibility to hold one, if this was the choice of the democratically elected party”.

I suppose this requirement should apply even more to a bill aimed at regulating referendums which are required to be based on a consensus before being organized. There is no consensus in Quebec concerning Bill C-20. Three political parties from the National Assembly are against this bill. The minister knows it. He has made representations to political parties that see more eye to eye with him, and they have said this project is unacceptable.

The civil society of Quebec is clearly opposed to this bill. When we rise later to vote on Bill C-20, presumably 49 out of the 75 members from Quebec will be against it. Over 60% of the members of parliament will vote against this bill.

This bill will have no legitimacy. It will not stop Quebec from deciding its own future. Contrary to what the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs thinks, it will not be binding on the Quebec government. The minister was caught in a contradiction when Minister Facal appeared before the committee. Mr. Facal said that the government would not feel bound by this illegal bill, after having heard the minister and all those promoting this bill say that it only concerned the federal government and the federal institutions. And yet the minister has said that the Quebec government would have to comply with this bill, a contradiction eloquently brought to light by the editorial writer for Le Soleil , Michel Venne.

The debate will not end here. It will continue as long as Bloc Quebecois members sit in this House, and they will be here for a long time to defend the interests of the people of Quebec and of democracy in Quebec. This is our mandate, one that we must take more and more seriously, because there are people in this House who want to hold this democracy hostage.

In closing, I would like to add this on behalf of Bloc Quebecois members. We Bloc Quebecois members having been democratically elected to represent Quebecers in the Parliament of Canada, holding the majority of Quebec seats and defending the interests of the people of Quebec and of democracy in Quebec, affirm that Bill C-20 is undemocratic and that it has no legitimacy whatsoever on the territory of Quebec.

We affirm that the Prime Minister of Canada wants to deprive Quebec of its freedom to choose its own destiny and we condemn him for it.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois accuse the architect of plan B, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, of wanting to force Quebec to stay in Canada.

We, members of the Bloc Quebecois, deplore the fact that the majority of the members of parliament from the rest of Canada have sided with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs in their desire to restrict the freedom of the Quebec nation.

We, members of the Bloc Quebecois, consider that passage of Bill C-20 fits within a history marked by full-fledged attacks against the Quebec nation, particularly the Union Act of 1840, conscription in 1918 and 1944, the War Measures Act of 1970, the patriation of the Constitution in 1982 and the 1999 framework agreement on social union.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois reaffirm our allegiance to Quebec and to its best interests alone.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois recognize that sovereignty belongs to the Quebec nation and is exercised within Quebec's National Assembly.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois point out that Quebec is a land of pride, brotherhood, tolerance and social justice. We affirm that the most precious collective treasure of Quebecers is freedom and that no authority, including the Parliament of Canada, can deprive their nation of the right to control their own destiny.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois are convinced that our struggle will serve future generations and will aim at preserving their freedom and the territory of their culture.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois affirm that the Quebec nation has no allegiance to any other nation and never will have.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois are committed to continue to fight for Quebec's freedom to democratically decide its own future and to freely determine its political status.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois invite all democrats from Canada, Quebec and the international community to join the Quebec nation in its fight to preserve its freedom.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois affirm that the Quebec nation is sovereign.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois affirm that Quebec is free.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

Reform

Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been consultations with the other parties and I believe there would be unanimous consent for the following motion. I move that the 18th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on Wednesday, March 1, 2000, be concurred in.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Wetaskiwin has asked for the unanimous consent of the House to present the motion. Does the member have unanimous consent?

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)