Mr. Speaker, I would like to reread the Bloc Québécois' opposition day motion.
—following the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House, the government should move from words to deeds and propose measures to solidify that recognition, including compliance with the language of labour relations of Quebec’s Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec.
In this regard, I would like to respond to the member for Lévis—Bellechasse, who is gloating that everything is going so well and that 94% of Quebeckers speak French at work. If this is the case, it should be included in the act. If this reflects the real situation, they should put it in writing, support the Bloc Québécois' motion and formalize this ideal situation that exists in Lévis—Bellechasse.
The fact remains that Quebeckers are a nation. By recognizing this, the House of Commons automatically recognized its attributes, in particular its language, its culture, its model of integration and its Civil Code, but we will talk about it later. French is the official language of Quebec, except for the federal government, which recognizes two official languages. However, the federal government does not expressly recognize Quebec's culture. Whenever the federal government comes to Quebec to promote bilingualism, particularly in Montreal, it weakens French. Whenever French is supported in Quebec, it helps francophones outside Quebec.
However, the federal government imposes an integration model. It imposes multiculturalism, which runs counter to the Quebec integration model of interculturalism.
The Bloc Québécois recommends, therefore, that the federal government recognize and comply with the Charter of the French Language in Quebec, specifically with regard to enterprises under federal jurisdiction, that it exempt Quebec from its multicultural policy and that it grant Quebec regulatory power over radio broadcasting and telecommunications.
This would be a start in a genuine recognition of the Quebec nation. In fact, although the Conservative party prides itself on its openness towards Quebec, it has done absolutely nothing for the people of Quebec, except for recognizing the nation, which was, let us recall, a Bloc Québécois initiative.
It was the Bloc Québécois that, on an opposition day like today, introduced a motion that called for the recognition of Quebec as a nation. This government, that really just intended to obstruct and deceive us, used a shameful political tactic and applauded itself as it said that it was going to recognize Quebec as a nation, but within a united Canada. We will see later that Quebec was already a nation before Canada even existed.
As I have just mentioned, a little more than a year ago, on Monday, November 27, 2006, the House of Commons agreed to the following motion by 265 votes to 16:
That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
This was, as it still is, a great victory for the Bloc, but it was above all a victory for all the people of Quebec. To be recognized as a nation is no small matter, and it comes with privileges and rights. But on these, the government is silent.
Even so, it was still the first time that Canada recognized our existence as a national community. It is the first country to do so and we hope that it will not be the last.
Applied to persons, the term nation refers to a “group of people, generally fairly large, distinguished by its awareness of its unity and a desire to live together” according to the definition in the Robert dictionary. In short, “nation” is the community to which we belong, the group with which we identify, and within which we debate and decide how our society is to be organized.
And because a nation is the special place where political decisions can be made, recognizing a nation means recognizing a political entity with legitimate political rights and aspirations.
By recognizing the Quebec nation, the House of Commons recognized the right of Quebeckers to control the social, economic and cultural development of Quebec themselves. By stating that the Quebec nation is composed of all residents of Quebec, regardless of their origin or mother tongue or the region where they live, the federal government recognized that the Quebec nation has a clear geographic base, made up of all of the territory of Quebec. In so doing, Canada declared that calls for partition are illegitimate.
In short, recognition of the Quebec nation also means recognition of the legitimacy of Quebec’s repeated demands that Quebeckers have the powers and resources that are needed in order to develop their own society. To date, unfortunately, Canada has not yet acted on that recognition, and continues to behave as if it was composed of a single nation. Here again, we can see this Conservative government’s lack of openness to Quebec and to Quebeckers. As we shall soon see, this government’s openness to Quebeckers is a myth; it is an urban legend. Recognition of a nation must in fact be more than symbolic.
Nations have rights, and they have one right in particular, the right to self-determination, the right to decide the course of their own development. Quebec can choose the course of its own development by becoming sovereign. We know that this is the first choice of the Bloc Québécois. Just as it can choose to try to get the powers and resources it needs in order to achieve that by working to renew federalism. That is not our choice. But both options are legitimate, and we recognize that.
While waiting for Quebec to be sovereign, the Bloc Québécois works to promote the sovereignty of Quebec every day. The Bloc works to defend the interests of the Quebec nation. Even without recognition by Canada, the Quebec nation continues to exist, to pay its taxes, to have interests that are unique to it and that are often very different from Canada’s. The Bloc continues to defend the interests and promote the values of the Quebec nation. If Quebeckers form a nation, it is not up to Canadians to decide how they plan to organize their society.
Because Quebec is the homeland of the Quebec nation, it must have the resources to control its own development. To that end, the Bloc Québécois plans to work to resolve a number of priority issues, including the fiscal imbalance, because that has still not been resolved. Because the Government of Quebec is our national government, it must resolve this problem. As long as it persists, Quebec does not have the resources to implement the choices of Quebeckers, and what Quebec does depends on the goodwill of Canada.
Culture and communications are two other priority issues for the Bloc Québécois. Because Quebeckers form a nation, telecommunications and broadcasting must be under Quebec’s jurisdiction. As well, because the Quebec nation exists, Ottawa must recognize Quebec’s culture and identity in its cultural policies and legislation.
Quebec's standing on the international scene is a third priority issue for the Bloc Québécois. Because Quebeckers form a nation, they must be able to express themselves on the international scene in their jurisdictions. Quebec is fully sovereign in the jurisdictions the Constitution gives it. It must be able to fully exercise its powers in those jurisdictions, including in international relations.
What is a nation? The word “nation” can refer to two different things. When applied to a state or territory, the word “nation” can mean “country”. That is the meaning of the word in United Nations, an organization of which Quebec cannot unfortunately be a member yet because it is not sovereign. So, if the motion said “Quebec is a nation”, some people could say that that means that Quebec is a country. But that is not what the motion says. It asks the House to recognize that “the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.”
When the word “nation” is applied to people, it does not mean “country”. According to the Larousse dictionary, it designates a “large human community which, most of the time, lives on a common territory and has historic, linguistic and cultural unity and the desire to live together”. That is the meaning of today's motion.
In Quebec, there is a long-time consensus that Quebeckers form a nation. On October 30, 2003, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion: “That the National Assembly reaffirm that the people of Quebec form a nation”. The motion does not say that Quebeckers form a nation if Canada remains what it is or if Quebec opts for sovereignty. It simply says that the people of Quebec form a nation. There was a reason why the National Assembly chose to reaffirm the existence of a Quebec nation.
This resolution repeated what all the Quebec governments have been saying for decades. I will quote a few, including Maurice Duplessis, the leader of the Union Nationale party, who said “The Canadian confederation is a treaty of union between two nations”. He said that in April 1946, not yesterday.
Jean Lesage, a Liberal, said:
Quebec did not defend provincial autonomy simply for the principle of it, but because, for Quebec, autonomy was the specific condition not for its survival, which is assured, but for its affirmation as a people and a nation.
Jean Lesage, a good Liberal and former premier of Quebec, said that in November 1963.
Daniel Johnson Sr., another unionist, said:
The Constitution should not have as its sole purpose to federate territories, but also to associate in equality two linguistic and cultural communities, two founding peoples, two societies, two nations.
I could also quote René Lévesque:
Canada is composed of two equal nations; Quebec is the home and the heart of one of those nations and, as it possesses all the attributes of a distinct national community, it has an inalienable right to self-determination...This right to control its own national destiny is the most fundamental right that Quebec society has.
That was in June 1980.
Jacques Parizeau, a good PQ premier, said:
To date, Canada's basic law has failed to recognize Quebeckers as a nation, a people or even a distinct society. That is a sad commentary.
Lucien Bouchard was once a Conservative, but he finally opened his eyes and realized that the Quebec nation deserved better than the Conservative Party. In October 1999, he said:
Quebec is the only majority francophone society on the North American continent with a well-defined land base and political institutions which it controls. The Quebec people have all the classic attributes of a nation... The Quebec people adhere to the democratic concept of a nation characterized by its language, French, and a diverse culture, and which is broadly open to international immigration.
The Bloc Québécois' Bill C-482 is extremely important. We know that it was introduced in this House by the hon. member for Drummond. The bill calls on the federal government—because it was obvious that the federal government did not have the will to do so—to recognize the Charter of the French Language within Quebec and extend its application to businesses under federal jurisdiction and—as we will see later—more specifically under the Canada Labour Code.
To avoid any ambiguity, it is essential to state specifically in the Official Languages Act that French is Quebec's official language. It must be done because this Conservative government is promoting bilingualism in Quebec. And Quebec being totally surrounded by a sea of anglophones and being constantly bombarded by the anglophone culture through television, radio and the Internet, when bilingualism is being promoted in a nation like Quebec and in a city like Montreal, the French language loses ground, particularly in Montreal. The situation is probably not as critical in Lévis—Bellechasse, but in Montreal the French language is certainly losing ground: 25% of Montrealers work in English.
This amendment is not purely symbolic. It states, to a certain extent, the intent of the legislator. In this regard, the Barreau du Québec said this:
Jurisprudence, also, seems to consistently demonstrate that the preamble is always important, though the circumstances in a matter, such as the clarity of the provision, justifies setting aside any indications of intent that may be found in the preamble.
It then becomes an insurance policy provided that the body of the act is also amended. The Official Languages Act essentially applies to the Government of Canada and its institutions, and as mentioned earlier, under section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is impossible to amend any provisions dealing with institutionalized bilingualism within the federal government without amending the Constitution.
However, two parts of the act can be amended, namely part VII, which deals with the advancement of English and French in Canadian society, and part X, which deals in part with the mandate of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
The amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois will require a commitment by the federal government not to interfere with the objectives of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to remind members that the recognition of the Charter of the French Language does not in any way diminish the rights and privileges of the anglophone minority in Quebec under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These amendments are strictly limited to the power of the federal government to interfere with language policy in Quebec.
The specific mention of a provincial legislation in a federal statute is allowed, and it is even common. This is called a statutory reference. It means that the government recognizes the provisions made by another Canadian legislature. For example, the Canada Labour Code includes a statutory reference about minimum wage that says the provinces are to set the hourly minimum wage. This is section 178 of the Canada Labour Code. The bill contains an amendment dealing with that.
Almost 10% of the labour force in Quebec is under the Canada Labour Code. These workers are under federal jurisdiction and are employed by companies that do not comply with Bill 101. A federal piece of legislation is needed in order to have them comply. In this regard, two or three industries are usually mentioned, but I will give a more extensive listing.
The Canada Labour Code applies to: works or undertakings connecting a province with another province or country, such as railways, bus operations, trucking, pipelines, ferries, tunnels, bridges, canals, telephone and cable systems; all extra-provincial shipping and services connected with such shipping, such as longshoring; air transport, aircraft and airports; radio and television broadcasting—all our radio and television stations in Quebec; banks; defined operations of specific works that have been declared by Parliament to be for the general advantage of Canada or of two or more provinces, such as flour, feed and seed cleaning mills, feed warehouses, grain elevators and uranium mining and processing; and Federal Crown corporations where they are engaged in works or undertakings that fall within section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, or where they are an agency of the Crown, for example the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority.
Here are examples of the number of employees in some of the enterprises coming under the Canada Labour Code. Bell Canada, which is under federal jurisdiction, had 17,241 employees in 2006. In the financial sector, the Royal Bank has 7,600 and the National Bank of Canada has 10,299. In the interprovincial transportation sector, Air Canada has 7,657.
It is estimated that there are approximately 200,000 Quebeckers working in an environment that does not comply with Bill 101 in Quebec, that is a little less than 10% of Quebec workers. The amendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois adds to Part 1 of the Canada Labour Code a provision that stipulates that “any federal work, undertaking or business carrying on activities in Quebec is subject to the requirements of the Charter of the French Language”. That provision responds to the demand made in the Larose report of 2001. I refer to Gérald Larose, then and still president of the Conseil de la souveraineté.
I can give a very good example of this Conservative government's lack of respect for the Quebec nation. It occurred last year right after the recognition of the Quebec nation. That motion was, I repeat, adopted in this House in November 2006. Within a week or two of that date, the Minister of Labour tabled Bill C-55 in this House.
This bill, which was a reworking of the bankruptcy legislation, contained a clause that ran counter to the Quebec Civil Code and made certain RRSPs seizable. What this Conservative government wanted was to see bankrupt small investors lose the money they had put aside over the years to certain major finance companies I shall not name here. Major credit card companies. That is what this government wanted to do, which runs counter to one of the things that differentiates the Quebec nation, its civil code. This runs counter to the values of the Quebec nation. This is not the approach we take to working people. We respect what they have put aside over the years.
Finally, after six months, the Bloc Québécois managed to get that legislation amended. Not a single Conservative member of this House spoke up for the investors of Quebec.