Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I take part in the debate on Bill C-10, on marine conservation areas.
We know that the bill reflects the pan-Canadian vision that is characteristic of the present government. History will probably remember this government as the champion of centralization, as far as the development of this great beautiful Canada is concerned, a country that is more and more untied because Ottawa wants it to be so, even though it does not necessarily have the agreement of the Canadian population. Of course, members understand that if I mention the agreement of the Canadian population, it is because it is obvious that there are doubts about the agreement of the Quebec population.
We know that the present federal government, under this parliament and under the previous one, has been guided by the social union framework agreement, signed in February 1999 by nine provinces out of ten. Mr. Bouchard, the head of Quebec state, like all his predecessors no matter their party allegiances, refused to take part in a scheme aimed at trivializing Quebec by refusing to recognize its specificity and the existence of its people.
This is why Premier Lucien Bouchard refused to sign the social union framework agreement, which has nonetheless actually been implemented. It is a tragedy for Quebec and for the people of Quebec to see the actions of this institution, which is so pretentiously democratic. We saw it recently at the summit of the Americas in Quebec City. Canada praised democracy and demanded democracy from other countries, even taking a tough stance against the Cuban government. This does not ring true when one knows how things work in this great Canadian democracy, where returning officers are still appointed on a partisan basis.
When the premier of Quebec, the head of the Quebec state, refused to sign in 1999, as one of his predecessors refused to sign in 1982, the unilateral patriation of the constitution under Prime Minister Trudeau, it did not change anything to Canadian logic. It did not disturb the federal steam roller, which is there to level the provinces. It is there to standardize them, which may be necessary. That is one of the constraints of globalization to increase efficiency in Canada, but it is a tragedy for Quebec to be stripped of its specificity and of its distinct character and to be moulded, week after week, month after month, into the great Canadian whole with no attention being paid to its distinctive features.
No attention is being paid to the fact that Quebec is supposed to be, according to the member for Saint-Maurice and Prime Minister of Canada, a distinct society. It is the government people themselves who invented this concept, following the commitments made in Verdun, where Quebecers were told that they were a distinct society. Then, without even using that expression, commitments were made during the referendum campaign, just as Mr. Trudeau had made commitments in 1980. He had said that he would put his head on the chopping block if changes were not made, although he did not say which changes exactly. They put theirs seats on the line for Quebec to be duly recognized within the Canadian federation.
What happened in the following months? They announced that the constitution was being patriated, which happened in 1982 without Quebec's consent. This phenomenon occurred again in 1999 with the social union.
This is quite a change; the more it changes the more it is the same. No efforts were spared, through a shameless propaganda campaign to the tune of $1,000 or $2,000, as we say in Quebec “The sky is the limit”, to try to convince Quebecers they can be good Canadians. They have tried to convince Quebecers slowly and carefully of the value of the concept of nations, founding nations in particular, and distinct society to mention a few, to get back to this one, which was put forward by the Primer Minister himself. They never said to which areas distinct society would apply.
We could also mention the personal information issue about which the Conseil du patronat as well as the Quebec Bar and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux told the government “stay out of this. Quebec's legislation is excellent. We do not need the strong arm of the federal government interfering in the area of personal information. Stay out of this. We have good legislation in Quebec”.
Distinct society does not apply in this area any more than it does with regard to parental leave, marine conservation areas and 5$ a day care. If the government was consistent, it would say “We made commitments during the referendum campaign. With all due respect for democracy in Quebec and for the people of Quebec, we are going to implement what distinct society means. Distinct society means an unconditional right to opt out, because Quebecers are distinct, because they have successfully handled a particular responsibility of our collective life. We therefore have no need to duplicate what already exists”.
No, that is asking too much. Why? Because we know perfectly well that, if this government dared to do such a thing openly, particularly with the knowledge of the English majority in this country, there would be quite an outcry from English Canadians, who would once again massively reject, as they did the Charlottetown accord, any vague desire by this government to recognize that the people of Quebec have distinct rights or characteristics.
It is a dead end for Quebec. Slowly but surely, Quebecers are coming to the realization that there is no future in this country. There is no future for characteristics specific to Quebec or for the normal evolution of the Quebec people in this country. It is two countries in one. It is two different kinds of logic: the Canadian one and the Quebec one. This was the simple description that Marcel Léger, the well known and marvellous Parti Quebecois organizer, came up with during the constitutional debate. René Lévesque described it as two scorpions in the same bottle. If we go further back in time, the Laurendeau-Dunton commission referred to two solitudes in 1963.
That is the real Canada, a country in which the provinces are all put on the same footing, a country in which the power will be inexorably displaced to Ottawa, where decisions from coast to coast will be made in Ottawa. It has no time to lose with Quebec, which will be made to fit in and slowly disappear.
People need to be aware that, particularly because Quebec cannot control its immigration, some demographers feel that the Island of Montreal will be non-francophone within eight, ten or twelve years. People need to be aware that, as a result of immigration and the birth rate, Quebec will go from its present 24% of the Canadian population to just 21% within 25 years and just 16% within 50 years.
There is, therefore, an implacable process under way that will end up with Quebec's being trivialized, neutralized, if it continues to be part of Canada. Quebec must leave, and the necessity of this is illustrated by Bill C-10 on marine areas, in which the government announces quite openly that the ownership of these will be federal, whereas there is a law in place which states that the beds of the rivers, the St. Lawrence and its estuary are the property of the government of Quebec.
This is confrontation. This is what all these squabbles about overlap are, these meetings of public servants who want to wage administrative battles to the detriment of the public purse. It is the poor old taxpayers who will have to pay through the nose for all these multiple meetings, evidence of how conflicted this country is, while the federal government ignores the recent example of the Saguenay—St. Lawrence marine park, which offered a model of a well administered conservation area. This is no longer a model for the new Canada that has been under construction since 1999, with social union and all the logic that goes with it. This needs to be understood in future by all concerned.
I am sure that some hon. members on the other side are unaware of the gravity of this situation.
There are social democrats and humanists among the Liberals, and among others, who have not assessed the situation. There are people of vision, who love Quebec and know it. I am sure they do not want Quebec to be minimized and ultimately wiped off the map.
Under the democratic process mentioned earlier, what are we reduced to, if we want some degree of vision? The people of Quebec are reduced to being cut down, and systematically so, and will end up looking like Acadia, with all its charming influence. Then, the next stage is Louisiana and folklore. That is the sad truth. It is relentless.
My colleagues from Quebec sitting opposite must understand what machinations they are involved in. It is abnormal to be so negligent, so careless. Or perhaps they are happy, I do not know. There is one thing, though, there are things to be said between Quebecers and between right thinking persons, on the evolution of this people.
I must mention the article by Lysiane Gagnon in La Presse on Saturday, which gave rather nasty and cavalier treatment to a report on the constitutional position of the Liberal Party of Quebec . The report was written by an eminent constitutionalist, Benoît Pelletier, from the Outaouais region.
It is a discussion paper for right thinking federalists, those who still dream of a Canada where Quebec will be respected, something I see as Utopian, a dead end. Ms. Gagnon says, and I quote:
In the next round, if there is one, God help us—
As if the problem were resolved.
—all the provinces, all the native nations and all of Canada's lobby groups will put their demands on the table, and the effect of this would probably move Quebec's position away from the status quo.
As if the status quo existed. This is the type of smoke and mirrors that we get from these types of individuals, such as Ms. Gagnon, and from others in Quebec, but Quebec is caught up in Canada's moving ahead.
It is somewhat like what the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport wrote in his document entitled “Building Canada through Sport”, which is a monumental mistake, but which at least is transparent. Since February 1999, Canada has been moving ahead, it is not the status quo. What we have is a Canada that is moving ahead like a steamroller, a Canada that trivializes the role of the provinces, something which may be necessary for its own good performance, but which is tragic for Quebec.
Ms. Gagnon continues by saying:
What would be achieved, for example, in having enshrined in the constitution a specificity that is obvious and that exists in any case?
“A specificity that is obvious and that exists in any case”. This “that exists in any case” is the type of smoke and mirrors used by Quebec federalists; it would exist in any case if it were enshrined in Canada's constitution. However Quebec's specificity does not exist in writing. According to these people, it is a perception, and yet, Quebec exists, the Quebec nation exists, the Quebec homeland exists. This is not recognized here and this is what is tragic.
In my opinion, this is why Quebecers will not always be able to have it both ways. We will lose at one level or at the other. If we do not react, as we are being asked to by the Premier of Quebec, Bernard Landry, it is going to be a matter of life and death for Quebec, in terms of its influence.
We know the influence Quebec has right now. Those who, like us MPs, have had the privilege of travelling, of meeting people on the international scene, see the planet differently. They see a planet with a rather impressive Quebec geographically, a Quebec that is home to seven million francophones who have a definite role to play and who contribute to humanity, which is unique, with its French influences, of course, and its English influences, with its important Montreal minority, a minority that is very respectable and very rich in every sense of the word, and its allophone population, because Quebec is incidentally a wonderful destination for immigrants.
There is also the Anglo-Saxon influences, particularly from Canada and the United States. We are a truly unique people, which is clearly an asset in terms of its contribution to the planet and to humanity. One just has to look at the situation from afar to realize that the fact that Quebec is not sovereign is a complete aberration, Mr. Trudeau would have said that it was a crime against humanity.
It makes one wonder where Canada's social democrats are and why they are not leading the fight for Quebec's sovereignty. Quebec has things to say. Quebec is different. What Quebec has to say would benefit not only Canada, but the international community as a whole.
I cannot get over how this great country of Canada has failed to grasp that Quebec's sovereignty would benefit everyone.
I cannot get over the naïveté, bad faith or cynicism of which Lysiane Gagnon is capable when she writes things like this about Quebec's specificity, which exists anyway. I cannot get over it. It is sticking one's head in the sand to reason like this when one is aware of the constitutional problem, because there is one. There is a constitutional problem in Canada.
I think we must go back to the basics of Quebec-Canada relations. There is something wrong with the course of action adopted following the 1995 referendum, which, in my view, consisted of three scenarios.
The first was the status quo, business as usual. The second scenario, driven by English Canadians frightened by the 49.4% of votes in favour, and the 60% of francophone votes in favour, and I think we are still allowed to say this, was to try to please Quebecers. The government would try to amend the Constitution of Canada so that Quebecers would feel comfortable in this country moving ahead. The country would amend its constitution to reflect the will of the people, because it had had a real scare, because for much of the evening on October 30, 1995, Quebec had decided in favour of sovereignty. As luck would have it, around 11.30 p.m., that sovereignty slipped out of our grasp. We have lived with this.
I think that English Canada could have learned something from this. The Liberal government therefore had the choice of making the country more welcoming to Quebecers.
A third scenario, which was the one the Liberals adopted, was to dig in their heels; let Quebecers do what they liked, let them make their own choices, but in Canada, this was the direction they were taking. Take it or leave it. They had no time and no energy to spare to try to find approaches that would make Quebecers happy because they would never be happy anyway.
So, they have chosen the hard line. They came up with Plan b and they enlisted the ineffable Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. All of this was part of one big scheme. The style the minister has chosen is not conducive to problem solving.
They dug in their heels and said that that was the way to go and that Quebec could get on board or withdraw. The ball is now in Quebec's court. I think this deserves more in depth consideration. To help us with our reflection, we have before us today a technical bill that is utterly misleading and is part of a Canadian centralist vision where the federal government calls the shots and the provinces have to yield. In 8, 10, 12, 20, or 25 years from now, the provinces will be just big regional county municipalities.
This may be a good thing for English speaking Canada, but I maintain that it would be a tragedy for Quebec. I will fight tooth and nail to prevent this tragedy.