House of Commons Hansard #86 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

The Québécois
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

moved:

That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.

Mr. Speaker, first off, I have to admit that it is with great pride that I propose at this time that the following motion be concurred in:

That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.

Such pride comes, first, from the fact that this motion was put forward in this place on Tuesday by the Prime Minister of our country and that it has allowed us to share a rare moment of solidarity among all members of this House who believe in Canadian unity and want to help preserve it.

On this occasion, most of us experienced something akin to a moment of grace in the middle of debates that usually divide us along party lines.

We all know that, under such circumstances, there can be no unanimity in Parliament. We have here a caucus whose stated purpose is precisely to break our unity, a caucus that will always vehemently oppose any measure or great initiative designed to cement the historical spirit of cooperation between francophones and anglophones in Canada. The irony of the situation is not lost on anyone anymore.

Here is a party which has been sitting in the federal Parliament for 16 years, yet purports to demonstrate the uselessness of federal ties. Here is a party ensconced in our parliamentary system with the objective of advancing the specificity of Quebec, but when given the opportunity, it will not recognize that Quebeckers form a nation within a unified Canada.

It must be said, more out of sorrow than anger or despair, that unanimity is not possible in this Parliament because there is one party represented here that does not want Canada to succeed. Tuesday's spontaneous show of support by the members of those parties who do believe in Canada for the motion put forth by the Prime Minister is as close to unanimity as we can possibly get. The fact itself should be a powerful reminder of the necessity for us to reflect carefully on what should unite us and what could divide us.

Nevertheless, here in this House, we are all democrats. Every last one of us represents Canadian democracy. I believe that our first responsibility as members is to exemplify and defend Canadian democracy. That is what we are doing and that is what generations of men and women from all across this vast nation have done before us.

I am thinking especially of those generations of members who have brought forward in this House the grievances, questions, achievements and hopes of their fellow citizens from Gaspésie, Saguenay, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Outaouais, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Montreal, the South Shore and the North Shore. They have come here from our cities, our regions, our plains and our mountains to accomplish something and take something back to their communities. Most of them have been Conservatives or Liberals, but there have also been Créditistes, members of the Bloc populaire and independents. There was even an NDP member from Quebec once.

However, I do not think that there has ever been a group of members in this House, not even a single member from Quebec, who would have been opposed to recognizing that Quebeckers belong to a nation within a united Canada, simply because they all know that they belong to the Quebec nation within a united Canada—even the members of the Bloc Québécois, though they do not want to admit it.

The Bloc Québécois members are a little like Molière's Monsieur Jourdain, who wrote prose but did not know it: they belong to the Quebec nation within a united Canada without even knowing it. Having Quebec members in Canada's Parliament whose goal is for there to be no Quebec members in Parliament is unprecedented.

Bloc Québécois members are also democrats and representatives of democracy. We must recognize that. They sit among us because they were elected, just like the rest of us, by their fellow citizens. They are members of Parliament and Quebeckers, as am I, which gives me the right speak to them frankly.

If I may, I would also like to emphasize how proud I am that the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie supports the passing of this resolution. I have been a great admirer of the hon. member for a very long time. I had the privilege of serving alongside this remarkable woman for five years in the Quebec National Assembly, when we were both part of Robert Bourassa's government.

The hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie and I now sit on opposite sides of this House, but such is life in politics. I feel nonetheless very comforted, even touched, to know that we are still on the same side when Quebec's higher interests and Canada's integrity are at stake.

Like her leader and almost all her Liberal colleagues, and like the members of the NDP, I would like to point out, the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie has chosen to put the interests of the country before the interests of her party. The hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie and I experienced, from the Quebec perspective, the grand adventure of the Meech Lake accords, which, as I recall, inspired tremendous enthusiasm and also caused plenty of anguish.

Yesterday, I alluded to the role of separatist groups in the eventual failure of that promising constitutional initiative. I will not repeat myself here today, except to say the following to my Bloc Québécois colleagues. Nearly ten years ago, you were on the wrong side of history and the majority of Quebeckers were not with you. Please do not make the same mistake again here today. The majority of the people who elected you to serve them are delighted that we are recognizing them for what they always have been and what they always will be. Support this motion. Recognize your constituents for what they are, and not for what you would like them to be—which they have always democratically rejected.

You can always defend your dream of a sovereign Quebec, but do not close your eyes on today's Quebec.

I must repeat what I said yesterday: division has never helped us Quebeckers. This is even truer now. The world is not going to stop while we are stuck in debates on existential issues. A new generation of Quebeckers is ready to take fully its place in the new global economy, and it has already begun to do so brilliantly. Our most fundamental responsibility as Quebec parliamentarians is to open wide the doors to the future for this generation. It is particularly important not to drag it into sterile and fruitless debates.

Since I have the opportunity to mention my past and current cooperation with the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, I would like to warn my Bloc Québécois friends against the temptation to interpret the past in a slanted fashion to justify an uncertain future. For example, yesterday, I heard the Bloc Québécois leader quote, in front of the media, some well-known statements made by Mr. Bourassa, to which I myself referred in my speech yesterday, to support his new resolution on an eventual departure of the Quebec nation.

Out of the respect I have always had for that great man and out of respect for historical truth, I must say this to the leader of the Bloc: when I was a student, I worked in Mr. Bourassa's office. Later, I was a member of his caucus and his cabinet. I am honoured to consider myself someone he trusted. I can say with certainty that Mr. Bourassa never wanted Quebec to separate and never supported separation. In fact, he fought against separation throughout his political career. Mr. Bourassa fought as long as he was able so that Quebec could achieve its full potential within the Canadian family and so that its unique character would be recognized, which is exactly what the resolution before us seeks to do.

I am convinced that those members of this Parliament who respect the memory of Mr. Bourassa will vote for this resolution. I have a friendly word for my friends in the Bloc: stop interpreting a dead premier and listen to a living Prime Minister instead. You will hear the answers to many of the questions you have been asking here for a long time.

For years, you have rightfully criticized the fiscal imbalance that has existed for too long between federal financial resources and provincial and municipal needs. We are going to correct that imbalance. For years, you have demanded that Quebec participate fully in UNESCO; it now does. For years, you have called for measures to prevent misappropriation of public funds; we are putting those measures in place. Since your party was founded, you have been demanding respect for provincial jurisdictions; we are also working on that. It is surprising what you can accomplish when you know who you are and what you want to do.

It is even more remarkable to think about everything Quebeckers have been able to accomplish in Canada. The Bloc would have us believe that “nation of Quebec” and “Canadian unity” are incompatible. In reality, Canada is united because the nation of Quebec is part of it, and the nation of Quebec still exists because it is still part of Canada. That is what I am asking all the members of this House to recognize today.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. minister for a very clear statement of why we are here today debating this important motion. He talked about those in this place and in this country who believe in a united Canada and, more importantly, are here to protect it. I thank him for that assertion.

In his speech, the minister also alluded to the concerns that we have, and maybe that Canadians at large have, about what could divide us and the consequences of dividing us. I wonder if the minister would comment on that concern and why we are so passionate about keeping Canada united.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member and his party for the support they are going to give this proposal. I would say that Canada has clearly demonstrated over the course of its history, and through its different constitutions, the important role that Quebeckers play. Before, it was the French Canadian community. Then it became the Québécois. In this country, we have a mosaic of people, nations, immigrants and groups that came together and built this strong country.

What we are doing by this resolution is indicating that today, November 24, there is indeed a recognition that has to be given to Quebeckers, à tous les Québécois et les Québécoises quant à leur contribution, and obviously to the maintenance and the commitment. They have done this, I recall, on two occasions. I was there. I fought for Canadian unity in the referendums, as did my colleague, the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.

Fundamentally what we are saying is that Quebeckers are part of Canada. They are an integral part of Canada and they do want to continue in that way. They voted massively in favour of that and they promoted that.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for this opportunity to speak this morning to this government proposal, this motion that is so very important for the future of our country.

From the outset, I want to say without hesitation that I intend to support this motion presented this morning for the government by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I intend to speak to a few subjects that are important to me: I will talk about my background and my own view of the motion before us, its meaning and its importance for the future of our country.

We all agree that this issue is important in the historical context of our country. Our country was shaped by two founding peoples, as well as by the aboriginal nations, the first nations. It was built up with every passing decade, sometimes with difficulty and tension that manifested itself one way or another, but always with the goal of improving life for the citizens of the country, especially for our children and grandchildren.

I think it is right to say that over the years and through the generations we have succeeded in Canada in creating a country where people see improvement in their economic situation, their civil status and their living conditions. It is important for us to be able to continue down that path. For that we need to have harmony, coherence, a vision, an open mind and an open spirit, qualities which I believe this country has always demonstrated.

In recent years this historical context has been tested. As we all know, this happened twice: in 1980 and 15 years later in 1995. The people of Quebec were called upon to vote on whether they wished to continue to be part of this country. Twice, the majority said no to separation and yes to Canada. But—because there is always a but—there was also an understanding. It was not so much an understanding as a promise by the rest of the country to come up with an arrangement and a recognition of some sort. Some attempts were made, which unfortunately did not succeed.

Today the House is asked to consider a government motion recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada. That is the reality of our country, and we must recognize that fact. We must also recognize that history progressively led us to this situation. We are simply recognizing a fact: Quebeckers form a nation within Canada.

Recognizing that fact will not take anything away from other citizens of this country.

That is the starting point.

I also want to mention something as an aside.

I do want this parenthesis addressed to you in particular, Mr. Speaker, because I find it also a bit awkward that the debate we are having and which has seized the entire nation--I am not trying to play with words--the debate which has seized the entire country, if we will, has come at us from a supply day of the supply cycle. This is a parenthesis that I will close rapidly, but I think that at one point we may be well advised to look at that process.

To have this kind of debate thrust on us in a rather surprising move and in a manner, I would argue, and I think most people would agree except my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois, so as to trap the federalists, perhaps to embarrass the Liberals in this case, because we are having a convention next week and internally there has been this debate, I am not sure this is appropriate. I am not sure that this is an appropriate use of the supply cycle and an opposition day.

I think this kind of debate is so serious and so important that it necessitates preparation time. It necessitates reaching out to Canadians. It necessitates the ability to have this collective reflection that would then be brought to the House and voted upon.

Now we are caught in a situation in which some political games have caused the situation whereby the Prime Minister felt that he should do this. We support the Prime Minister in that move, because indeed, we cannot play silly politics with this kind of important debate that is fundamental for the future of our country.

I would hope that at some point, when the dust has settled on this, some of us in this House might actually be able to take a look at how far we can go and how flexible we can be in the supply cycle motions of opposition days, so that these kinds of debates are not thrust upon us as a surprise, as a political tactic, but rather in a manner that is respectful of the significance of the debate we are having today. I will close that parenthesis.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I want to talk about a situation that is obvious to me as a French Canadian from Ontario. I find myself taking part in a debate that can be heart-rending and very difficult sometimes. I used the term French Canadian and I respect the fact that this concept of a French Canadian nation offends my colleagues from the Bloc. They do not accept it, and I recognize that fact.

However, 50 years ago, a hundred years ago, that French Canadian nation did exist. Members will recall that in the 1960s, the States-General of the French Canadian nation led to a rupture. Today the French Canadian family includes the Franco-Saskatchewanians, the Franco-British Columbians, the Franco-People of the North, the Franco-New-Brunswickers or the Acadians—some even talk about the Acadian nation. There are also the Franco-Ontarians and the Quebeckers. They are all members of the family formerly known as French Canadian.

On a few occasions, I tested my colleagues to see if they identify with this notion. More often than not the answer was no. However, I have a feeling that it may be less shocking than it was in the past.

Having said that, I believe that, in this country, we have a Canadian francophonie. It is undeniable and all francophone Canadians identify with this Canadian francophonie. Whether they are Quebeckers, Franco-Ontarians, Franco-Manitobans, from Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador, no matter where they live, the francophones of this country identify with the Canadian francophonie.

I hope that we will be able to see clearly in this debate. I have some goods friends who have told me they are worried. One of them, Pierre Deblois, sent me an e-mail yesterday. He is worried about this motion before us. He is not convinced that it should be supported. I wish to reassure him: in this country there is a Canadian francophonie from coast to coast. There is no question about that. Where there are common ties, a willingness to do what is right and to improve the lot of all, there is a willingness to renew ties in this Canadian francophonie.

I was delighted when the Government of Quebec announced, a few days ago, that it wishes to step forward and play an important role in this Canadian francophonie. Unfortunately, that can only come from a federalist Quebec government. In fact, we have seen Mr. Charest stand up and take not only his rightful place but the one he must occupy, that Quebec must occupy in this Canadian francophonie. That also goes for New Brunswick, and we do not often speak about this.

Kudos to the province of New Brunswick and to Mr. Hatfield, the Conservative premier who, at the time, had the courage to make bilingualism official in New Brunswick and to declare that the province, the only one in the country, was officially bilingual. As a result, we can affirm that the Acadian society, that the New Brunswick francophonie and the Acadian nation are thriving.

In the years to come, when we have a Quebec nation within a unified Canada again, we will be able to forge again the ties within the Canadian Francophonie, so that francophones across Canada but outside Quebec do not feel as if they are part of a diaspora, but rather that they are part of one big family, and even, eventually, a nation.

I do not know if I will live long enough or be a member of Parliament long enough to rise in this House and vote in favour of a French Canadian nation one day. I would be delighted to do so. This represents an ideal, an objective I intend to continue dedicating myself to achieving as I have for many years. I have done so as the minister responsible for official languages and I plan to continue for as long as I have the privilege of representing the people of the riding of Ottawa—Vanier.

But right now, I will make another aside, this one about the government. I think that the government cannot sit on its laurels with respect to the implementation of the Official Languages Act.

Much remains to be done in this country to ensure that the French Canadian family that we now know as the Canadian Francophonie feels comfortable and completely at home anywhere in the country, and not only in Quebec. In Ontario and the other provinces, much remains to be done.

In 1969, under the government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, this Parliament approved the Official Languages Act. This brought about a turnaround and recovery in terms of making this francophone family, the Canadian Francophonie, feel comfortable in Canada. In 1988, the Mulroney government amended the legislation to strengthen it. In 2003, the Chrétien government introduced the official languages action plan, which gave effect to many initiatives requested by our communities. Last year, this Parliament passed a very significant amendment to the Official Languages Act. This amendment came from the Senate, more precisely from Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who introduced, as members will recall, Bill S-3 to make an important part of the Official Languages Act enforceable. Next week, when this legislation goes into effect, all government agencies and departments will now have this obligation to act, under the Official Languages Act.

In my opinion, if we want to say that, eventually, we will recognize the French Canadian nation again, or the Canadian Francophonie from coast to coast, and that today we are talking about recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada, we cannot underestimate the importance of respecting Canada's linguistic duality.

I think this goes without saying. Any government, regardless of political stripe, partisanship or allegiance, must not only respect the Official Languages Act, but go beyond that and also respect the linguistic duality of Canada and of its two founding nations, just as we are currently making efforts to show better respect for the country's first nations, which are also founding nations.

What is Canada?

What have we been trying to do since the official start in 1867 and even before? We have been building a country that has become, and I hope will remain, the envy of the world. Canada is a country of diversity, of accommodating, but not of tolerance. No one wants to be just tolerated. That is not good enough. We want to be accepted and celebrated. The Canadian population of all the populations in the world is the one that celebrates diversity the most. We have a head start there.

As we all know, the world is shrinking in terms of our ability to communicate with each other instantaneously and our ability to move around. The human species had better begin preparing for some of the difficulties and the tensions we are now confronting.

We have built in this country, bit by bit, an edifice that is a bit of a beacon for the world, as the interim leader of the official opposition said in this House on Wednesday. It started with the two founding nations and the first nations. Over the successive decades, we have added to that. From Europe, we have had people coming from Italy, Poland and Ukraine. We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the arrival in Canada of 40,000 Hungarians who came to our country because of difficulties in their own country.

The same goes for the Vietnamese people. We may remember the early 1980s. Now we have people from South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East coming to join us, and for very obvious reasons. We are a beacon of peace and hope for them. These people come here hoping to give their children a better future and a better life. That is essentially how Canada has developed.

This has led us to basically to what we are becoming, which is a pluralistic society. In a pluralistic society, people must acknowledge and recognize that there are others who are different than we are and we must welcome them with open arms.

The source of this motion is to recognize that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada. Apart for those people, as the Minister of Transport said, whose purpose in coming here is to cause the separation of our country, I do not think we will find much dissension in this House that we as members of the House of Commons have a duty to preserve our national unity.

The Prime Minister's motion works to that purpose. When it is adopted, I believe it will be a positive step toward preserving the unity of this country. In preserving the unity of this country we are helping the world.

This is not bravado. We are helping the world by being a good example of civility, of accommodation, of openness, of celebrating diversity and of recognizing that the wealth and the richness of humankind needs to be celebrated and embraced.

Whether they live in French or in English, people have come here from all over the world and are now in a country where human rights are respected.

Yesterday, I heard some Bloc Québécois members say that Quebec did not sign the Constitution. That is true, but the Constitution benefits Quebec, because all Canadians, whether they live in Quebec or elsewhere, benefit from the rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All citizens, whether or not they come from the countries I mentioned, whether they live in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada, benefit from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We even used its amending formula to recognize linguistic school boards in Quebec. One can say that Quebec did not sign the Constitution, but it still uses it and benefits from it. We must put this situation in its proper perspective.

We would like to see this made official, and we would like to see the Quebec National Assembly eventually adhere to the Canadian Constitution. I think it will happen some day. In the meantime, we must continue to build our country.

I believe that the motion before the House today will work and will help us achieve that goal.

It has been a pleasure for me to address this motion. I believe I raised all the issues that I wanted to bring up in a debate of great interest to all Canadians. In conclusion, I move:

That this question be now put.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Are there any questions or comments on the speech made by the member for Ottawa—Vanier?

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I first want to acknowledge the work of the member for Ottawa—Vanier who, ever since he has been in this place, has been the voice on behalf of the linguistic duality of Canada. In our caucus, and I know in this place, he has taken every opportunity to remind us of the rich heritage that we have in our two official languages.

He has also, and I think it is reflective in his speech, reached out to explain how Canada has developed into a country that celebrates cultural diversity and representation from countries all around the world that contribute to the greatness of Canada and also, as he puts it, the beacon for countries around the world.

The media commentary on this issue has somehow deflected, from time to time, attention away from the points that have been raised by the speakers so far about the importance or the strength of Canada and the reasons why we are here to protect it.

I wonder if the member could share his thoughts on how we can assure Canadians that what is happening here, in terms of supporting and protecting Canada and embracing the Quebec reality as well, is important for Canada's long term future.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I spoke a bit of the recent history of the country, we cannot ignore the fact that twice, in 1980 and in 1995, the population of that province said, “We won't separate from Canada. We want to remain in Canada”.

At that time, those of us who were involved in those debates and those referendums will remember that there was a commitment from the rest of the country toward that population that there had to be some accommodation and some recognition. That was done by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, among others. Over the years since then, we have grappled with that, and now we are coming to terms with a significant portion of that commitment in recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada. Those are very important words because they are the words that show we respect the decision that the population of the province of Quebec made twice.

There is nothing nefarious in the motion that the Prime Minister has put forward here. It is a reflection of a commitment that was made by the country toward the population of Quebec in 1980 and in 1995 when both times the population of Quebec said, in a majority voice, that they wished to remain in Canada. That commitment we made has yet to be delivered upon. What we are doing today when we vote on this and, I hope, adopt that motion, is part and parcel of the commitment we made to those who said that they wanted to keep this country united.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have known the member for quite some time and I recall the times we spent together dealing with this issue around the constitutional discussions in and around Charlottetown. We learned, hopefully, from that. However, I do want to ask him about the issue before us.

Many in the media have said that the repercussions of this motion, if we were to pass, as most of us would like it to, will amount to acknowledging something around constitutional conversations that perhaps we might not want to get into.

In 1995, as the member mentioned in his speech, we passed a motion in this House having to do with recognizing Quebec in a way. What is today's motion really about? Is it about acknowledging what we all believe Canadians want to acknowledge or is it something that goes beyond that? I would like the member's take on that.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, yes, I fondly remember the efforts of I and my colleague in Charlottetown. We were rather successful in this community because there were only a few areas in the country where Canadians voted in favour of that. The National Capital Region happened to be one of them. Some people might try to dissect that in any which way they can, and I will let them do that.

I had the pleasure to be in the House and supported the distinct society motion without any hesitation. It is a recognition of the state of fact. What I was trying to say is it is sometimes with envy that I look at the dynamics of Quebec society in cultural and economic matters, its ingenuity and so forth. It is a recognition that it is a society with some distinct characteristics, some of them enshrined in law, le droit commun versus le régime napoléonique, some of the enshrined in law in terms of language rights for education and other matters and some of them enshrined in custom, in the way it does things. The country has not suffered for that. Au contraire, the richness and diversity of our country, Canada, has benefited tremendously from the francophone presence as well as the presence of others in Quebec who are not francophone.

Canada is a good representation of the human species in that we accommodate each other. We recognize we cannot all be the same. It would be damn boring if we were. We are not the same in the country, but we do not diminish differences. We value them. We take great pleasure and pride in the fact that we can accommodate diversity from around the world in our country, but it could not work or happen if we had not initially recognized the two founding nations and our aboriginal societies and accommodated each other that way. If we could not do that at the level of linguistic duality, how could we go beyond that and start talking about pluralism.

We have done that. We have accommodated each other, and not in a tolerant manner but respectfully. That is the way of the world. In that sense, the motion before us today builds on that and pushes us in the same direction.

Some of us may have some hesitation, differences or second thoughts on it. I have received some of those messages. However, let us put those aside for the benefit of our country. Let us rise above partisan politics for the benefit of our country. Let us think of our children and grandchildren instead of ourselves for a while and think of what we will cede to them in terms of a great country that is the envy of the world. Let us keep building this place.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I wish to give notice that with respect to the consideration of Government Business No. 11 at the next sitting a minister of the Crown shall move, pursuant to Standing Order 57, that the debate be not further adjourned.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I decided to table a motion on the recognition of the Quebec nation, I had a choice. I could have very well decided to word the motion in a way that would have forced the other parties in this House to vote against it. That is not what I chose to do. I chose to make the motion neutral so it would be possible for all members to vote in favour of this recognition.

We have tried on several occasions to bring the House of Commons to recognize the Quebec nation and, each time, the other parties used some term in these motions as an excuse to oppose them. That is why I proposed a motion without any second thoughts, without any ulterior motives and especially without petty partisanship. I wanted, and still want, the House of Commons to recognize Quebeckers for who they are. It is obvious that they form a nation.

This nation is neither better nor worse that the others. There is no such thing as a “better nation” in the world. Our nations are equal, and they are different. It is as simple as that. I have acted in good faith since the beginning. I even went so far as to amend the Bloc Québécois motion to include the words “currently within Canada”.

The Prime Minister is an intelligent man. He realized that his party would be divided by the Bloc Québécois's motion. He realized that the federalist members would be divided. He realized that continued refusal to recognize the evidence would be disastrous for federalists in Quebec. He had no choice but to be proactive and table his own motion, which included the words “within a united Canada”.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister has clearly and formally recognized the existence of the Quebec nation. That is a huge step forward for Quebec. The Bloc Québécois is very proud to have instigated this unanimous recognition of the Quebec nation by all parties in this House. Careful analysis of the facts shows that there is something in these two motions that all parties in this House can agree on. For the first time ever, everyone in the House of Commons recognizes the existence of the Quebec nation.

I realize that it must be difficult to explain to some Canadians that suddenly, after decades of denial, the House of Commons and the Prime Minister of Canada recognize that Quebeckers form a nation. Politically, this was a very difficult decision, and people in Canada are already speaking out against it. I would urge my colleagues from other parties to stand fast and explain to their fellow citizens that it had to come to this and that the Bloc Québécois was going to force the issue anyway.

For my part, I am very happy that after so many years, the Bloc Québécois has succeeded in winning recognition for Quebec as a nation. Objectively, we have to admit that Quebec is still part of Canada. That is a fact. The proof is that I am here in this House. Now, determining whether Canada is united is more difficult.

As André Boisclair asked yesterday, can we claim that Canada is united politically when the nation of Quebec has not signed the Canadian Constitution? Politically, it is clear that we cannot. Moreover, with this appendix, the Prime Minister is saying that he recognizes the nation of Quebec only as part of Canada. Recognition of Quebec as a nation is a fundamental issue, however.

Quebeckers are masters of their own destiny, said Mr. Bourassa, who was not a sovereignist but accepted the different options. Mr. Bourassa had agreed to respect Quebeckers' decision in the event they opted to form a country. Obviously, the whole world will recognize that country. It was not his preferred option; on that I agree with the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. In my opinion, we can conclude that Robert Bourassa was a democrat.

Recognition of Quebec as a nation is a fundamental issue, however. Today, for the first time, the National Assembly and the parties in the House of Commons are recognizing unanimously that Quebeckers form a nation. They form a nation, and both Quebec City and Ottawa now recognize that.

To settle the matter once and for all, the Bloc Québécois will live up to its responsibilities. In the best interests of Quebec, I announce that the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of the Prime Minister's motion.

Now that the issue of Quebeckers' status has been symbolically addressed by the unanimous recognition of the parties in this House, we can move on to the next step. I see that the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities is pleased.

Nations have rights. Resolution 2625, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1970, says it best:

All peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status.

[All peoples have the right] to pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Nations have the right to control their own development.

On Wednesday, one of the Prime Minister's allies, the leader of the Action démocratique du Québec, Mario Dumont, said that the Prime Minister's decision to recognize the Quebec nation opened the door to discussions on reviewing the federal framework to the satisfaction of Quebec.

The Quebec premier said that this recognition could have legal consequences. He added that it significantly advances Quebec's place within Canada.

As we know, last week in Nairobi, the Government of Canada chose to silence Quebec on the international scene. Now that the government recognizes the Quebec nation, will Quebec have its own voice at international forums? As Mr. Boisclair requested, will the government offer Quebec the opportunity to create its own legislation for young offenders? From now on, will the federal government concede to the many unanimous demands voted by the Quebec National Assembly?

What is the next step?

Quebeckers are no doubt delighted to finally be recognized for what they are. However, they are now anxious to see what the next step will be. For now, federalists are not promising anything to the Quebec nation. This must change, and the Bloc Québécois will ensure that this recognition leads to action.

As a final point, we must celebrate the fact that, this week, Canada became the first country to officially recognize, in its democratic structures, Quebec as a nation. One day, many other countries will recognize the nation of Quebec and Quebec as a country.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Peterson Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the motion before the House, that represents all Canadians, concerning the future of Quebec and its place within Canada, I am very grateful—as are all my colleagues—to the Bloc for having recognized the important role of all Canadians in the future of Quebec.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, sometimes, comments are indeed wishes.

I will tell my colleague that the future of Quebec will be decided by Quebeckers under the rules set by the National Assembly. There is unanimous agreement on that in the National Assembly of Quebec. Whether members of the National Assembly are federalist or nationalist, they all agree that it is for Quebeckers to decide their future and to maintain a nation-to-nation relationship with our friends from the Canadian nation.

From today on, the relationship that Quebeckers may have with Canada will be a nation-to-nation relationship. We will demand, as representatives of Quebec here in the House of Commons, that the rights of the Quebec nation, that has now been recognized, be respected.

We are now in a much better position not only to claim those rights after being recognized for the nation that we are, but also to interact with all other nations in the world that know what that recognition means. The day we decide to become a country, it will be a lot easier for these nations to say that they recognize this new nation that has formed a country because the House of Commons will have recognized, some time ago, that the Quebec nation in fact exists.

The Québécois
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

There are seven minutes left for questions and comments on the speech by the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie. If he so wishes, we can proceed with that after question period.

Burlington Performing Arts Centre
Statements by Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank the many volunteers in my community who are working hard to bring the dream of a performing arts centre to Burlington.

In particular, I want to thank the member of my community who recently donated the largest philanthropic gift our city has ever received. This individual has pledged $5 million of his own money to this project. This has created a dollar for dollar matching program for all other donors to the performing arts centre.

The leadership and generosity of Mr. Gary DeGroote will make a difference. We want to thank him for his vision and commitment to the development of culture and arts in Burlington.

From the new council to all the donors both large and small, to those who will perform on stage, and to those who will be enriched as audience members, a performing arts centre will enhance the quality of life for all the citizens of Burlington.

I want to thank all these volunteers for their time and efforts. Their relentless work will make this dream a reality.