Last in Parliament April 1997, as Bloc MP for Lac-Saint-Jean (Québec)
Won his last election, in 1993, with 75.52% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Social Programs Financing December 13th, 1995
Mr. Speaker, there is considerable confusion afoot, but if anyone knows what is at stake here, the Prime Minister does.
In fact, it makes all the difference in the world to have tax points that leave a government free to proceed as it wishes and will increase in value with total tax revenues, as opposed to having financial contributions which the federal government reduces at will and controls by imposing national standards. It makes all the difference in the world.
I want to ask the Prime Minister whether he would not agree that what we have here is an entirely odious strategy that consists in making the Quebec government pay an increasingly larger share if the cost of social programs, and meanwhile Ottawa collects more and more taxes from Quebec.
Social Programs Financing December 13th, 1995
I would like to ask the Prime Minister how he can dismiss out of hand the proposal made by Mrs. Marois, which in fact would respond to what Quebec has maintained since the Victoria Conference in 1971, and I am referring to Quebec's insistence on the need to control all the levers of its social programs.
Social Programs Financing December 13th, 1995
Mr. Speaker, I must say the leader of the government took some of the wind out of my parliamentary sails.
In a word, I would like to tell him that I will leave this place, respecting its members and the opinions of those members, even if they do not coincide with ours, and with every respect for these institutions as well as a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to become more experienced in the ways of a truly exceptional parliamentary democracy, the House of Commons of Canada.
Social Programs Financing December 13th, 1995
Mr. Speaker, in a speech he made in Verdun at the very end of the referendum campaign, the Prime Minister made a formal commitment to decentralize the federal system, in response to Quebec's demands. Yesterday, his finance minister indicated this commitment was doomed when he refused to so much as discuss a proposal from his Quebec counterpart for replacing Ottawa's
contribution for social programs with an equivalent transfer of tax points to Quebec.
My question is directed to the Prime Minister. How can he reconcile his formal commitment to decentralize the federal system with his finance minister's refusal to discuss even the principle of the proposal made by the Government of Quebec to replace Ottawa's present contribution to social programs financing with a transfer of tax points?
Unemployment Insurance Reform November 30th, 1995
Mr. Speaker, the minister tells us his reforms are intended to create jobs. Would he agree that, in fact, his reforms are intended to get people off unemployment insurance so they will have to go on welfare, all of which will add to the bill the provinces will have to pay?
Unemployment Insurance Reform November 30th, 1995
Mr. Speaker, I have not met Mr. McKenna recently, but I saw reports in the newspapers this morning that he condemned the minister's reforms and warned they would create an unprecedented political backlash. And I am fully aware of the fact that Mr. McKenna is a Liberal like the minister himself, so he cannot be accused of being soft on policy.
I want to ask the minister whether he realizes that young people and women will be the main victims of his reforms, since these will tighten UI criteria by substantially increasing the number of hours and weeks worked.
Unemployment Insurance Reform November 30th, 1995
Mr. Speaker, in an all out attack against the federal government, Premier McKenna of New Brunswick, a faithful ally of the Canadian Prime Minister, strongly condemned the UI reform proposals.
Mr. McKenna warned that by directly targeting workers in Eastern Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, these reforms will create what he referred to as "an unprecedented political backlash". Mr. McKenna's scathing attack is similar to the stand of the official opposition on the new cuts in unemployment insurance Ottawa is about to make.
Does the Minister of Human Resources Development agree that, as stated by the Premier of New Brunswick, these new cuts will come down hard on seasonal workers in Eastern Quebec and the Atlantic provinces?
Act Respecting Constitutional Amendments November 30th, 1995
Madam Speaker, we are engaged here in a continuation of the discussion of the recent attempts by the Prime Minister to amend the Cconstitution. I feel that the contribution made to the history of Canada and Quebec constitutional law by Bill C-110 will be fairly negligible. It will add a page to the federal statutes, but that is as far as it will go.
Before entering directly into an examination of the content of Bill C-110, I would like to try to destroy a myth, if I may-although myths are virtually indestructible-the myth that René Lévesque lost Quebec its right to a veto. Yesterday again we heard the Prime Minister tell the House that Quebec had to be given back its veto because René Lévesque had given it up. That is something we hear all the time on the Hill as a self-evident truth, but something that is totally contrary to the facts.
I note that the Minister of Justice, with his familiarity with law and jurisprudence, has taken great pains to avoid repeating such an enormity. We are well aware that the reason why Quebec is in the vulnerable situation it is with respect to constitutional change is that the Supreme Court, in a 1982 decision, its second judgment on constitutional challenges raised because of the 1982 patriation, found that the veto Quebec believed it possessed, the veto everyone believed Quebec possessed, which had always been respected because the general perception was that the Canadian Constitution could not be altered without Quebec's consent, had never existed.
The Supreme Court analyzed the Constitution and found, after examining all elements which might make it possible to confirm the existence of a veto, that Quebec had no veto and never had had one. Now, that is a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada. As a result, people ought perhaps in future to refrain from stating that if the necessity for Quebec to obtain a veto is central to the whole constitutional debate, is not as a result of René Lévesque's being so careless that it was lost, but has never existed in the opinion of the Supreme Court. The proof lies in the second challenge in 1982, when Quebec, which now stood alone, attempted to block unilateral patriation by invoking its right to a veto.
You will recall that in the first attempt, in the first case, in 1981, Quebec had seven other provinces on its side and was successful in blocking patriation, this time by convincing the Supreme Court that a reasonable measure of provincial consent was necessary for proper patriation and major change to be possible. The Supreme Court had concluded that, with eight provinces dissenting and only two supporting the federal government, the reasonable measure of consent needed to authorize the patriation of the Constitution and the amendments it contained had not been reached.
It was in the second attempt, when Quebec found itself alone, that it tried to block patriation and exercised its right to veto. At the heart of the 1982 constitutional challenge, which the Supreme Court decided on, just before the act of patriation was signed, but still in 1982, the court concluded that the argument did not hold in this case, because Quebec had no veto.
I would just like to say this so it appears somewhere in Hansard , here, in this wash of gratuitous remarks to the effect that René Lévesque lost the right of veto, that someone rose, namely the Leader of the Opposition, who was on one of the teams of lawyers at the time, to point out that the Supreme Court never said René Lévesque had lost the right of veto. On the contrary, it said we never had it. Hence the present debate, which is part of a long series
of abortive attempts to introduce the right of veto into the Canadian Constitution.
Earlier, the Minister of Justice provided a quick overview of the various attempts that have been made, from Victoria, more specifically the Pepin-Robarts Commission, to the various task forces that were set up during the constitutional debates that preceded the Charlottetown accord, to show there had been a number of formulae. The formula used in Bill C-110 is somewhat like the Victoria formula in which Quebec is considered a region and could therefore, if the government is rightly talking veto, have its own veto too.
But what is the reality of the situation. I contend, and the Minister of Justice was careful to avoid saying it, that there is no way this bill can be said to give a veto to Quebec in particular or to other provinces and regions. There is no way anybody can claim this bill provides for a veto, for two basic reasons.
First, veto power is given only if everyone wants it to be. As soon as someone objects to its being given, the right vanishes. Consensus is at the very heart of the according of veto power. Unanimity is essential. All the provincial legislatures and the federal government must be in agreement. What we have before us is nothing more than the federal government's wish. Where is the support of Canada's provincial legislatures? There is none.
What we do have are statements making it very clear that at least two, and maybe more, provinces have refused to support this veto bill. Only one need refuse for it to never exist.
This means there is a basic flaw in the plan for establishing a right of veto. The reality of the situation is that we do not have here the conditions necessary for a veto to be given.
The second reason has to do with the definition of a veto. The right of veto is an absolute guarantee. It is written into the Constitution and cannot be withdrawn without everyone's approval. It serves to permit one of the interested parties to block constitutional change.
It should be binding on everyone under the constraining effect of the Constitution, the country's supreme legislation. Where will this bill end up after being passed by a majority of the members in this House? It will end up gathering dust in the federal statute books, where it will remain. It will never be enshrined in the Constitution or invoked to bind anyone outside this House because it is not, in fact, a right of veto.
They will tell me: "Yes, but Parliament will be bound, the federal government will be bound, since a bill was passed". Not really. It will be bound only so long as the act remains in the federal statute books. It will no longer be binding, even on this government, as soon as one minister or another rises to propose that this bill be withdrawn and replaced with another one. One piece of legislation replacing another. The legislative process hinges on having the same forum, the same vehicle, namely the House of Commons, pass a bill to amend another piece of legislation.
In any case, we know full well that, fortunately, governments do not last forever, that there are elections in a democracy, that there will be a federal election in two or three years, that another government will be formed, perhaps by the same party, but possibly by a different party, why not? As for the Bloc Quebecois, it will certainly not be in the running, so that the only other party in this House likely to come to power is the Reform Party. What will be the first bill tabled by Reform should it come to power? The bill to withdraw Bill C-110. Which means that Bill C-110 is nothing. It amounts to smoke and mirrors.
So, Madam Speaker, I trust you will allow me to spare you and not spend too much time repeating that this bill contributes absolutely nothing to the debate, that it is, at best, a diversion, a show put on by the Liberal government to silence criticism about failing to act on the constitutional issue, making empty promises and misleading the people. This way, for the next two or three years, the Prime Minister will be able to keep telling us, until we are sick and tired of hearing about it: "We granted Quebec the right of veto through Bill C-110. We granted Quebec the right of veto through Bill C-110. We granted Quebec the right of veto through Bill-"It will become quite annoying to hear him say that over and over. That is not true, but he just will keep on repeating it all the time. Over, and over again.
Those in the know, all those who examine the constitutional issue, who are courageous enough to keep looking into it from time to time, who overcome their mental fatigue to ponder these matters again, know that Bill C-110 is just one of those political ploys that do not really change anything in the problem Quebec and Canada have in this regard. And I suspect that the Minister of Justice would be the first one to recognize that, he who, a moment ago, gave a very neutral, factual and, I would say, professional description of his approach by setting out very clear limits, reassuring English Canada in the process.
I noticed, in the remarks he made in English in particular, that he made a point to remind everyone that the Constitution will remain unchanged. "Do not assume that this is a constitutional change. This will have no effect on the Constitution. The federal government is just exercising self-discipline". I heard a speaker use the word "discipline" earlier, in English. The federal government will
exercise self-discipline, restraint, before granting too much to Quebec, of course. To anglophone listeners, the government is describing this initiative as a way to refrain from giving too much to Quebec, to resist the urge to do anything like that.
This leads me to believe and shows us that Bill C-110, in fact, has a pernicious effect in that, since the Canadian Constitution is so complex and twisted in certain respects, this bill, and that is a paradox, will in no way solve the current problems, but will make it even more difficult to transfer the powers that the federal government might be willing to give to Quebec.
I can see the day when members from this side of the House will rise to ask the Prime Minister: "Are you going to transfer manpower to Quebec, along with the real powers provided for in the Constitution? Are you going to enshrine the transfer of manpower in the Constitution? Are you going to do that? Are you going to also transfer the related funds?" The Prime Minister will reply: "I cannot do that. Bill C-110 prevents me from doing that. I have imposed self-discipline on myself. I have forbidden myself to transfer anything to Quebec". Since he is a law abiding person, the Prime Minister will no longer be able to do anything for Quebec, when he wanted to do so much.
I end with the conclusion of the Minister of Justice, who said: "Listen, this may not be much"-and he is right-"but it is only the first step. It will be improved. We will continue to work. The committee has an important task. That committee, which is chaired by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and which will explore avenues for change, will come up with other proposals just as inventive as Bill C-110". The minister adds: "Do not lose heart just yet. True, there is not much in this, but we will improve things". The fact is that, never in the history of constitutional negotiations and talks involving Quebec, the federal government and the rest of Canada, was an initial proposal improved on. On the contrary, every initial proposal made was later scaled down, watered down, split, doctored or dolled up, and in the end became almost meaningless. Now we are told: "No, this time we start small, but end up with something big". We will talk then.
For the time being, let us simply say that this sham fails to convince, and that we will not give it any credibility by voting in favour of the bill. On the contrary, we will oppose this legislation and, in Quebec, we will move on to a more immediate, pressing, serious and imperative agenda, given the need to put our fiscal house in order, to create jobs and to do something about education and culture.
We will see what happens after that.
Recognition Of Quebec As A Distinct Society November 29th, 1995
Just wishful thinking. And even the House is not bound by this resolution. If the House passed the resolution, with the Bloc voting against it, of course, if the House, on the strength of its majority, were to impose adoption of the resolution, the very next morning the resolution would not be binding. The House could do anything at all. Imagine if the government were to change. What would our Reform Party friends do with the resolution and the so-called veto? We will talk about that one tomorrow.
It is just a mirage. This resolution is a mirage. Not smoke and mirrors, that would be too strong a term, because it implies there is more than meets the eye, and in this case, when you read the resolution, it is all there. So this is not a case of smoke and mirrors but a mirage.
It demonstrates a complete failure to appreciate what Quebecers want. I think that when people have been in Ottawa for a few years, and it might happen to me because I have been here for some time-they tend to become a little isolated from what is happening in Quebec. It is almost inevitable. Being on the Hill is like living under a glass dome, and because we always breath the same oxygen, see the same faces, listen to the same voices, read the same newspapers and talk to the same reporters who are listening to us, we finally lose touch to some extent-not altogether, of course not-with what is going on out there.
Remember what it was like in the House the night the Charlottetown resolution was adopted. I remember. It was a very solemn occasion, of course. The whole House rose to adopt Charlottetown, all parties, all members. There were only six or seven members- The member for Beaver River was with us, members of the Bloc, in the corner, along the curtain, and we voted against the resolution. We almost felt embarrassed to do so. I told myself that evening: Could it be that the Bloc, having been in Ottawa for too long, has lost touch with reality, that it has failed to understand that Canadians and Quebecers want the Charlottetown accord? Could I be wrong? Could we, the dissident minority, the outcasts along the curtain, be wrong? Could we be wrong or could all these intelligent people who fly to their ridings every day, who meet everybody, who know the issues, who are advised by people who are extremely bright, people from the Privy Council, be wrong?
They were wrong indeed. The people proved them wrong. So I was saying that there is something in Ottawa that makes people lose touch with reality, at least with Quebec's reality. How can the Prime Minister think that Quebecers will be pleased to hear him say that he recognizes the fact that they are a distinct society? How can he think that this will make us, Quebecers, happy? We certainly know that we are a distinct society and we have known it for quite some time.
What we want is the means to make our own decisions, to plan Quebec's future based on our differences. That is what we want, but we are not getting it. There is nothing to that effect in the resolution.
What I am saying basically is that the Prime Minister and his colleagues are burying their heads in the sand. By constantly refusing to face reality, they eventually sink into some kind of surrealism. This is evident from the fact that, from Meech 1 to Meech 2 and from Meech 2 to Charlottetown, Quebec was always
offered less and less. Maybe they offered a little less each time because they were tired by their previous effort.
They tried Meech 1, it did not work. They offered Quebec a little less in Meech 2 and, of course, it did not work either. They offered even less in Charlottetown, which was rejected by the people in a referendum. So what are they doing now? They are trying again, offering less than in Charlottetown this time. And they think that Quebec will go for it. They even think that Quebecers are fascinated by this debate. Well, they are not. I am sure they will not be listening to us today or tomorrow. I am convinced that they have now moved on to other things that are of greater concern to them.
It has now become the debate of the Prime Minister, who is just discovering the distinct society clause, who wakes up at night thinking about Quebec's distinct nature. Too late, Mr. Prime Minister, it is over. You can sleep at night and dream of other things that Quebec's distinct nature. It is a thing from the past, from the political past.
When I said that the government's approach borders on surrealism, let the people be the judge. On the one hand, as I have just shown, the federal government's offers are less and less meaningful, ever shrinking.
At the same time, and moving in the opposite direction, Quebec's demands are growing and are more attuned to the reality of the people of Quebec. Why? We have only to look at events in recent years. In May 1980: 40 per cent of Quebecers give their support to a soft question on something that ended up simply being a mandate to negotiate, to try to negotiate sovereignty-association. Charlottetown, 1992: the Accord reached by all parties and governments, including the Government of Quebec under Mr. Bourassa, is rejected. In 1995: sovereignty on a hard question, that is, the legal and political ability to proclaim sovereignty following a yes vote, 49.4 per cent vote in favour.
While Quebec, on the move toward sovereignty, is ever increasingly achieving its status as a people and wanting to assume this status with means that are rightfully its own, the federal government offers less and is surprised when the offer is refused. Is this surprising? Not to the people in Quebec, at least.
What I am saying in fact is that the whole debate on Quebec's distinct nature has largely lost its immediate relevance.
Why? First, because, in Quebec, everyone knows that it is impossible for English Canada to get its act together enough to propose something acceptable to Quebec on this point. This House is an example of English Canada, for once. I was talking about the other House, which is disconnected from the people of Quebec and Canada. At least this House shows us that, in English Canada, there are a lot of differences in opinion on the Prime Minister's vision.
Therefore, Quebecers who see all this, know what happens in English Canada and have lived through 30 years of useless efforts know full well that nothing positive will come in response to their basic expectations about the recognition of Quebec's distinct nature. It is also out of date, because it must be understood that the phrase "Quebec's distinctiveness" was a compromise right from the start. It is a phrase that Mr. Bourassa used out of political courtesy, out of political correctness, I would say, to avoid using the actual phrase "the people of Quebec".
He knew that to recognize the people of Quebec would scare the federal government and English Canada and that it would never go over. So Mr. Bourassa, who has a way with words, who must have read the old reports of the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, found this phrase, included it in his speech, and ended up making it one of the conditions for Quebec's joining the 1982 Constitution.
But English Canada saw right through it. People have great instincts. I think that people in both Quebec and English Canada have very sound political instincts. English Canada realized, perhaps more or less consciously, that behind the phrase "Quebec's distinct society" lurked the phrase "the people of Quebec", and that is why they rejected the agreement. That is why they will always refuse to recognize Quebec's distinctiveness, as they have done so far. If we ask them, and if Quebec does not act to secure this recognition, they will always refuse. They will never let a Prime Minister of Canada turn this recognition into a legal reality.
I just said that I urge the Prime Minister to be realistic. I would also like to tell him that I want to preach by example and that we in Quebec now intend to face reality. First of all, everyone in Quebec is tired of talking about the Constitution. Everyone is sick and tired of hearing these phrases that keep changing year after year and month after month: special status, asymmetrical federalism-that one was quite a find; we never found out what it meant but it will probably be explained to us some day-, equitable federalism, cultural sovereignty, distinct society, and also "equality or independence" and then "masters in our own home", all this to go around in circles.
The people of Quebec know that we have tried everything, that we have gone through the dictionary, and that all these efforts have led nowhere. It is time for a reality check; the people have had enough of these debates. Second, we in Quebec have more pressing priorities like government finances. In Quebec, the integrity of our public finances-which, incidentally, are in better shape that the federal government's, but that is none of my concern since I am not
responsible for managing federal affairs, while the Parti Quebecois may entrust me with the public finances of Quebec-is a basic requirement, not only as a matter of correctness or sound management practice.
No, in Quebec-and it is the same in Ottawa, I am sure-putting our fiscal house in order is a matter of restoring our ability to choose. Unless the government's financial base is restored, no one will have any choice any more. There is no point in holding debates on the environment, the Constitution, the future of political systems, export policy, social assistance or any other issue, if steps are not taken to ensure that the government will be able to make choices.
Any government that is in a financial squeeze has no room to breathe and can no longer carry out its basic function. That is why we in Quebec, if the Parti Quebecois puts its trust in me, will address this problem. I will not waste any time reading constitutional proposals made by the Prime Minister if they look anything like this. There are other priorities, but these will be dealt with in greater detail in Quebec City. We may participate in discussions. After all, we are still part of the federal system. I can see where the Prime Minister is coming from. I heard his plea the other day, when he said he was prepared to discuss in the interest of the people of Quebec and Canada. But in the meantime, anything that may be in the interest of Quebec will not fall on deaf ears if the Parti Quebecois puts its trust in me.
What Quebec wants, when all is said and done, with respect to the Constitution-a discussion that may continue tomorrow again, for the Prime Minister has yet another proposal to make to us tomorrow; the Prime Minister is suddenly becoming very active, hyperactive even, in connection with the Constitution-let us be clear right from the start, what Quebec wants, what we need, with respect to the Constitution, we know we cannot expect from either the federal government or English Canada. We know that we are the only ones who can give it to ourselves, take it for ourselves, and to the extent that our future as a people, the remedy for our present problems, the flowering of our economic, social and cultural identity, is linked to our status as a people. We now know, from the message we are receiving from English Canada, particularly after today's inadequate resolution, that it is up to us to give ourselves the status of a people.
We have nothing to ask for, nothing to beg for from the federal government and English Canada. We do not mean this arrogantly; we are merely speaking as adults. We have attained a sort of political maturity which comes from all of the conclusions we have drawn from all of those years of empty discussions, of going around in circles. English Canadians are also familiar with this; they are just as tired and disillusioned as we are. So Quebec knows that its rendezvous with the future is a rendezvous with itself, that it will involve a referendum, that it will address Quebec's sovereignty so that Quebec may come into its own as a people.
I would like to say to the Prime Minister that it might happen, perhaps not here in this House but one day-whether I take over the responsibilities I shall be seeking shortly or someone else does-that whoever becomes the Premier of Quebec might face him across the table. I hope that this will come to pass. My personal wish, in the interests of Quebec and of Canada, although I am aware that it is harder to convince Canada of this than Quebec, is that one day a premier of Quebec will find himself across the table from his federal counterpart, precisely for the purpose of discussing political systems.
But I would not want this Premier to stand alone like his predecessors, those who failed, who paid a high personal price and sometimes made Quebec pay a high price as well and caused strong tensions in relations between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Not that we did not send good negotiators. Not that the people who came here to negotiate on behalf of Quebec, as Premiers, were not competent. I would say we sent our best people. No one could be better than René Lévesque to negotiate for Quebec.
But from now on, the situation will be different, because the Premiers who will come to talk about the Constitution and political arrangements will come with a mandate from the people of Quebec. They will not be out to retaliate, to be aggressive, to be negative. No. They will come with respect but confident, with the confidence of a prime minister, a head of state, who has received a mandate for sovereignty from the people. In other words, we will negotiate as equals, and then we will be able to agree, and only then. As long as Quebec comes here as a province like the others, we will never be able to agree, because those who came here and failed when they represented Quebec were not always separatists, as the Prime Minister said. Very often, and I would say in most cases, they were federalists. But success escaped them as well.
Why? Because Quebec federalists are Quebec nationalists, first and foremost. They realize that Quebecers cannot develop their potential unless they do so as a group, and as such they must have the resources and the capability to define their own policies.
I am not saying we will no longer speak to each other. We will have to, all the time. We are neighbours and partners through our history and all kinds of connections. We are practically doomed to talk to each other. That being the case, and I offer this advice in all modesty to the Prime Minister, he will have to be careful not to waste the capital of good will that is left. If we keep tossing resolutions back and forth and discussing the kind of futilities we have before us today, it will create more false hopes and perhaps fuel feelings of resentment. Let us be careful.
Let us call some kind of truce where we can address our primary concerns. I just mentioned what we have to do in Quebec. I do not know when we will be able to come back to this discussion. It may be sooner than the Prime Minister thinks. Who knows? This time we will not let him know one year in advance. Let us create the climate that will have to prevail when we have this real meeting, this real discussion, where we will have to and, for the first time, be able to look realistically and lucidly, but with a chance at succeeding, at defining a new partnership between Canada and Quebec.
Recognition Of Quebec As A Distinct Society November 29th, 1995
This is not the place to discuss personal issues. The Deputy Prime Minister should not express any animosity she may have towards a person during this debate.
Here are the facts: at the time, that man, Brian Mulroney, was Prime Minister. He had succeeded in having the Meech Lake accord signed on June 3. No one had ever managed to do something like that in Canada. Never. Obviously, the Prime Minister is not on his way to achieve that either.
If I am not mistaken, the opposition organized by the current Prime Minister, then a possible candidate, and later an official one, for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, convinced Mr. Mulroney and his entourage, of which I was no longer a member, that he had to negotiate with him. So, without many people knowing about it, I certainly was not awareof it, people decided to move closer to the views held by the future Prime Minister, so that he, since he controlled the leaders of the provincial Liberal parties who were blocking the Meech Lake accord, could remove the obstacles and ensure that the accord would be signed, albeit with a revised content.
That agreement was reached by the so-called Charest commission. They agreed on diluting the content of Meech. The Quebec caucus of the Conservative party, which was under my responsibility, had pledged that the substantive provisions of Meech would never be changed. I believe it was in the last days of May that we learned there would be a Charest report which had the support of the Conservative and Liberal parties, and which diluted the recognition of Quebec's distinct nature to such an extent that the charter of rights would apply to it, thus having the effect of making it sterile.
That is when I resigned. I resigned, as did others, as a matter of principle. I had not come to Ottawa to support the views of the current Prime Minister. I had come here to fight them.
So that led in June 1990 to Meech II, son of Meech, watered down Meech, wishy-washy Meech, the Prime Minister's Meech which was even then rejected by English Canadians for still going too far. In Newfoundland, Manitoba and among English Canadians in general, two out of three surveys showed that it was still giving too much to Quebec, whereas it had become unacceptable for Quebec, even for those who had supported it until then.
Then came Charlottetown, where it was diluted still further. This is where they started to define recognition of the distinctive nature of Quebec; by defining it, of course, they restricted it. They started to put it on the same footing as equality between the provinces; distinct, equality for all. Everybody was distinct. Something for everyone, everyone on the same footing. It no longer had any meaning. The people rejected it. Not me, not the wicked separat-
ists, but all of the people of Quebec, all of the people in English Canada.
So, bye bye Charlottetown.
What is this week's incarnation? What are they proposing to us now? I have to admit that I have a compliment for the Prime Minister: this last attempt to water down distinct character is the best yet. This time we do not need a lawyer's opinion appended to the resolution to know that it means nothing.
Remember, in the somewhat comic episodes involving Meech II, there was still some doubt, still some people who were wondering "maybe it does still mean something". Some lawyers signed a legal opinion that it meant nothing, which was appended to the Meech Lake accord.
This time, there is no need to pay any lawyers. There is nothing that needs to be appended; all one needs to do is read it to realize it means nothing. They took no chances this time.
Why? First of all because it leaves untouched the concept of a single Canadian people according to the 1982 Constitution. In other words, the Prime Minister saved his Constitution, the one that is not Quebec's, the one we did not sign but he signed on the steps in front of Parliament. His Constitution is intact.
There is only one Canadian nation; Quebec is part of all that and should live with it and blend in. The identity of the Quebec people? Sorry, some other time.
Furthermore, what we have here is just a simple resolution. Just that. So what does this mean in legal terms, a resolution by Parliament, by the House of Commons? It is a wish formally expressed by a group of parliamentarians but without any legal effect. The courts are not bound by this resolution. A lawyer could not even put it before a court, which would refuse to acknowledge its existence because legally, a resolution does not exist. It is nothing.