House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

March 22nd, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, how many members from Quebec, who represent Quebec in Canada, voted in favour of withdrawing Bill C-12, which is not in the best interests of Quebec? That is my question.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague. It is not complicated. On three separate occasions, the National Assembly moved a motion calling on the House to withdraw Bill C-12, which marginalizes Quebec. That means all 125 members, whether federalist or sovereignist. Indeed, there are two sovereignist parties and two federalist parties in the Quebec National Assembly. All of those members voted against Bill C-12.

Here in the House of Commons, there is only the Bloc Québécois, but fortunately, we represent most of Quebec. Overall in Quebec, nearly 90% of Quebec's elected representatives want Bill C-12 to be withdrawn. Unfortunately, a few Liberal and Conservative members from Quebec continue to toe their party line. I would like them to explain to Quebeckers how reducing Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons is a good thing. Those members are the only ones who would say so. That is indefensible in Quebec.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, you will rarely see me speak to a bill that has not been debated much, in this case Bill C-12.

Usually I speak to matters involving justice and aboriginal affairs. But I had to speak up to denounce what this government was preparing to do in Quebec. I am glad I was in my seat to hear the question by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. He knows absolutely nothing about the situation. In Quebec, we talk about two solitudes and I can say that the minister responsible for this matter belongs to a very large solitude. I hope he will be the only one in the House to vote in favour of this bill, but unfortunately that will not happen.

The idea behind Bill C-12 seemed interesting at first. Some of the provinces are out of balance. Some have a larger population now and should be given more seats in order to have slightly greater representation in the House of Commons. Perfect. So far, so good. But things go downhill from there. The minister should listen and understand this: he forgets that there are two founding nations in the country called Canada and Quebec was one of them. This bill is a vehicle for reducing or even destroying Quebec's contribution to the founding of Canada.

Obviously aboriginal peoples were here first, but two nations took part in founding what is called Canada and those nations are France and Great Britain. However, when I read the preamble of this bill, it is clear that the purpose is to reduce the role or presence of Quebec in the House by increasing the number of MPs from the other provinces.

You have to have done a bit of reading. You have to read about the history that led to the Constitution of 1867, the creation of the provinces, and what was said. It is odd. Some have forgotten what it means. I am not the one who put in section 52. It was there in 1867; it was not written last week.

The Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from Time to Time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.

The minister did not read this. I did not put it in. I will repeat it because I believe that the minister did not understand: “provided the proportionate representation of the provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.” That is not what will happen with Bill C-12. The proportion is not perfect—that is clear—but what the government is preparing to do is to reduce the weight of Quebec.

I will also repeat what Benoît Pelletier said because I believe it is important to point it out. I hope no one opposite or in the federalist parties will think that he is a sovereignist. I will repeat what my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska said because it is important. Benoît Pelletier said:

But I wonder whether there might be special measures to protect Quebec, which represents the main linguistic minority in Canada, is a founding province of Canada and is losing demographic weight...Why could Quebec not be accommodated because of its status as a nation and a national minority within Canada?

There is something that we find to be of key importance. It was not me; it was the federal government who, through the Prime Minister, tabled a motion to recognize the Quebec nation, except the Conservatives refuse to recognize our language. They refuse to consider the existence of our national culture in the administration of all laws. They refuse to recognize the continuity of our national culture, which depends on our ability to ensure that newcomers embrace it. They refuse to recognize that our society, because it was developed by a different nation, is also different. They refuse to even consider the possibility that Quebec could have a radio-television and telecommunications commission, etc.

What the minister does not understand and what he must understand is that Bill C-12 would indirectly cause the weight of one of the founding provinces of Canada to become reduced. Maybe that is what the Conservatives want. On the other hand, whether the minister likes it or not, this will likely increase support for sovereignty. We do not have any objection to that. If they want to take Quebec's 75 seats, they can take them. It is perfect. We will create our own country next door. That is what we want. So let us go. Stop buying votes at referendum time. Stop renting buses and planes to invite people to come tell us that they love us. As soon as possible after this, at the first opportunity, we will try to pass a bill to this effect.

Being the nice people that we are, we proposed an amendment:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because the Bill would unacceptably reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons and does not set out that Quebec must hold 25 percent of the seats in the House of Commons.”

It is not complicated: it is what is provided for in section 52 of the so-called British North America Act. Let us respect section 52 and let Quebec continue to have the same representation as it does at present. Is there no way to find other accommodations for other provinces in their current situations? It is up to the minister to find them.

The minister says that for 20 years the Bloc Québécois has served no purpose in the House. I would respectfully remind him that we supported his first budget, and if we had not, he might not be here. In a few moments, in about half an hour, we shall see what we shall see with a minority government. When something is good for Quebec, we vote in favour of it; when something is not good for Quebec, we vote against. That is precisely the situation. I know that is not what the federalists want, but that is our job here. Over 45% of the population of Quebec has the right to be represented by members, and those members have but one thing to do here, and that is to defend the interests of Quebec. That is what we shall continue to do, whether the minister likes it or not.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member with interest. Canada was founded by two founding nations, the French and the English, but we must not to forget the aboriginal first nations as well.

The point of Bill C-12 is to ensure that faster growing provinces are adequately represented in the House of Commons. That is the very simple premise. Ontario, B.C. and Alberta have far more people per member of Parliament than any other province. All we are trying to do is make it more fair because Canadians believe in fairness.

The challenge that the member has in his logic is that he does not want to make Canada stronger. It is his raison d'être to destroy Canada. If the member had his way, there would be zero seats in the House of Commons for Quebec because that is what he wants to do. Would the member just admit that he wants to destroy Canada?

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, the minister will not be pleased by my response. It is not true: I do not want to destroy Canada.

Canada is a lovely country for Canadians. I am a Quebecker and my country is Quebec. If the majority of Quebeckers were to decide that Quebec should become a country, then we could talk, nation to nation, something you dare not do with the first nations—and yet you call yourselves defenders. It is not true that we want to destroy Canada.

Democratic Representation Act
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3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I would ask the hon. member to address his comments through the Chair.

Democratic Representation Act
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3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Excuse me, Madam Speaker.

I will say one thing: it is not true that we want to destroy Canada. This is false. However, the Conservatives are succeeding in doing it. By the way they are acting, they will achieve this goal and we will be there to thank them.

We do not want to destroy Canada. We are here to defend Quebec's interests. This is why we were elected and this is why we will be re-elected, whether you like it or not, if the Conservatives have the gall to call elections.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, I respect the member opposite and his arguments but I must disagree with him.

If we read section 52, it states:

The Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from Time to Time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.

I think the member has wrongly interpreted the proportionate representation of the provinces prescribed by the act. I think that means that the number of MPs in each provincial division should be proportionate to the population from those provincial divisions, which means representation by population. That is consistent with how the Supreme Court has interpreted the act. It is subject to the two provisions of the senatorial floor and the grandfathering clause of 1986.

However, those two restrictions aside, the fundamental principle is representation by population, as has been the case for the better part of 140 years.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I am not going to give a lecture in law but if my colleague is talking about the Campbell vs. Canada decision, I would tell him that I have read it. We will discuss that outside the House between poker games.

Indeed, proportional representation must be respected. We want it to be known that Quebec is a founder of this country and has to be respected. Ways must be found so that Quebec is not put at a disadvantage if it is necessary to increase the number of seats for provinces that need more. I can understand that, but Quebec must maintain its weight. This is what we want and it is the only thing we are asking for. This is why we cannot vote in favour of Bill C-12.

However, we understand the position. The only thing we want is respect for the fact that Quebec was a founding nation, together with the anglophones from England. Quebec was one of the two founding nations of the country called Canada. We have to work to find ways to do this.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, when the Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot constituents elected me, they did so knowing that I would stand for them in this House, and that I would serve their interests at all costs. I have often taken the floor to denounce government decisions that were going against the needs of my riding. I have kept my word and will keep doing so unconditionally

Since members opposite do not consider regional development very important, I am convinced that only the Bloc Québécois is promoting ideas and real solutions in order to increase the wealth and power of regions. Regions stand to lose the most if Bill C-12, which we oppose today, is passed. I do not approve of the Conservative government decision to reduce the relative weight of Quebec in Parliament. I strenuously oppose, along with my Bloc colleagues and members of the Quebec National Assembly, the Conservative decision to marginalize Quebec in Parliament.

I really wonder why the Conservatives so stubbornly want to implement Bill C-12. I remind you it would be a disaster for the Quebec nation. Would their main reason to do this be their Conservative ideology and their will to achieve a majority government at all costs? We should not overlook the fact that Quebeckers elected only a handful of Conservative members and that they keep electing a majority of Bloc members, one election after another. They know that they can count on a coherent party which will not hesitate to stand up for them here.

The proof that the Conservatives will never meet our aspirations is that not a single one of them has opposed the blatant injustice to Quebec proposed in Bill C-12. Is it because they cannot have elected members in Quebec that they so badly want to increase the number of seats in other Canadian provinces?

As many of my colleagues have explained to the House, the Conservatives, although they boast about their recognition of the Quebec nation, have done nothing to show that this recognition is anything more to them than hot air. Their attempt to diminish Quebec's political weight in this House is but the last of numerous examples. I repeat that Bill C-12 is one of many examples that show that the recognition of the Quebec nation, for the Conservatives as well as the Liberals, means absolutely nothing here. Indeed, after pretending to recognize the existence of this nation, Conservatives and Liberals have dismissed all our differences and our choices out of hand.

One can only ridicule the ads in which the Conservatives claim they are working for the benefit of the regions. Passing Bill C-12 would greatly prejudice the preservation and development of the regions. Without the significant contribution of the Bloc Québécois in this House and also without its important representation of Quebec, I cannot imagine what would happen to the issue of regional preservation and development.

Need I remind the House that the interests of Quebec and Western Canada are very different and that, for political reasons, the Conservatives and Liberals choose to respond first and foremost to the requests of Western Canada and Ontario? This is why it is vital to maintain Quebec's present political weight as much as possible. For us, the oil sands and the giveaways to oil companies and banks are not part of our values and priorities.

With a diminished representation of Quebec in the House of Commons, the Conservatives and Liberals will use new tricks in order to marginalize the Quebec nation, as they already do. With less political weight, how would it be possible to force the Conservative government to pay the billions of dollars it owes Quebec for the harmonization of its sales tax? How would it be possible to get it to make new investments in our social programs, such as social housing, employment insurance, the GIS, support programs for older workers, environmental issues, the manufacturing and forest crisis, land occupancy, securities, culture and so on?

Not only do the regions stand to lose, but the whole province of Quebec would sustain important losses.

When the Quebec National Assembly and Bloc Québécois members requested special federal assistance to give timely support to those affected by the forestry and manufacturing crisis, the Conservatives kept pumping billions into the auto industry, which is heavily concentrated in Ontario. In Quebec, the manufacturing and forestry industries got a mere pittance. In my own constituency, the furniture and textile industries are starving to death for lack of government support. Just imagine the importance this House would give to these issues if the Bloc Québécois did not have a strong position in this House and if Quebec had less political weight

Injustices like the ones I just mentioned are far too numerous. Quebec is still waiting for a program to promote the development and accessibility of broadband communication services like high-speed Internet in many communities, especially rural communities.

The Bloc Québécois urged the Conservatives to announce grants to our CFDCs, which are essential economic instruments in our rural communities. Do the Conservatives realize that rural people and the Quebec nation are not second-class citizens? How bad would the situation be, were it not for this significant contingent of Quebec members in this House?

As concerns agriculture and supply management, it is crucial to be able to rely on a strong Quebec representation. The same can be said about the environment. Despite all the efforts made in Quebec since 1990, the Canadian position in Copenhagen was a rigid position in favour of the oil sands.

Once again, how could Quebec’s interests be advocated without a strong contingent of Quebec members in this House? I repeat: Quebec must keep all the political weight it has now in this House, because, on a whole range of issues, there are big differences between the interests of Quebec and those of Canada.

In the time remaining before Quebec becomes a sovereign country, I can be counted on to stand for my constituents in Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I want the member to be clear that nothing in this bill takes anything away from Quebec or its regions because this government is protecting the seat count in Quebec. Quebec will have at least 75 seats and if the population warrants it, it will get more seats. It depends on the population growth of the provinces.

The fact is that there are provinces like Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta that have grown faster and are under-represented in this place. Another fact is that one Conservative MP does more for Quebec in one hour than the Bloc party has done in 20 years for the people of Quebec.

Electing any federalist MP is better than electing a Bloc MP because the Bloc Québécois will never have power. The Bloc will never stand up for the people of Quebec. In fact, it votes against many of the funding measures that this government and others have brought to Quebec. If the Bloc party had its way, it would have zero seats in the House of Commons. It is ironic that the member asks for more seats when the Bloc wants zero seats.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, my answer to the Minister of State for Democratic Reform is that in the Senate, Quebec has many more seats than Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta or British Columbia, although its population is declining. Why is it that something that is good for the Senate would be bad for elected members from Quebec?

The minister says that the Bloc has been useless in the last 20 years, but I should remind him that his government was not in power during this whole 20 year period. What did the Conservatives do when they sat in opposition? They were siding with us, asking for measures that were important for both Canadians and Quebeckers. Since they formed the government, they have pushed Canada 20 years back into the past.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a simple question. In my province of British Columbia and in her province of Quebec we are Canadians. We suffer from the similar challenges of a lack of economic innovation, health care reform, pension stability, and a good plan to deal with reducing carbon emissions.

Does the member not think that a much more fundamental question is not the number of members in this House but the liberation of members of Parliament to represent their constituents, to vote freely in this House, to have freedom of speech, and to use the collective knowledge we have to apply ourselves to the big challenges that our country faces, not nibbling around the edges and the margins of issues that are irrelevant to the citizens of our country?

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, the Quebec National Assembly is currently having a debate on electoral redistribution. Some would like to take seats away from remote regions in order to give more to the area surrounding Montreal.

Many Quebeckers think we should fight migration from rural areas, but first, sparsely populated regions should have representation that gives them the same political weight as the more densely populated areas. It is important that these communities be heard and that they maintain their political weight, even if their population does not warrant one more seat in the National Assembly.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Before I move to the next speaker, I would like to ask for a little order in the House please, as the debate continues until 4:00 p.m.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.