Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise tonight to speak to the motion put forward by my hon. colleague from Verchères.
In his motion my colleague recommends that the House should officially recognize the historical contribution of the Patriotes of Lower Canada and the Reformers of Upper Canada to the establishment of a system of responsible, democratic government in Canada and in Quebec.
Before I start I would like to quote briefly from an article written by S. W. Wallace, which was published in the first issue of the Canadian Historical Review :
The real significance of Canadian history lies in the fact that in the evolution of the new and unprecedented phenomenon, the British Commonwealth of Nations, Canada has played a leading part. It was in Canada that responsible government was first worked out in the colonial sphere.
Responsible government is undoubtedly a Canadian concept. It is part of our rich sociopolitical history. Question period, for example, is one of the ways in which the government can be challenged to remain accountable for its actions.
In any event, I am not here tonight to debate who fought harder for the concept of responsible government in the British North American colonies, Joseph Howe or the duo of Louis Joseph Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie. Each contributed in his own way to the establishment of responsible government in Canada.
What I am concerned with is the fact that we are seeking to recognize a holiday based on a history which focuses on ordinary citizens taking up arms against the government of the day. Even if the motion of our colleague from Verchères should pass the House when would he suggest that the Patriotes and the Reformers be commemorated? The closest Sunday to November 23, just like the Parti Quebecois declared in 1982?
I am aware that my colleague is not demanding a national holiday. However, we already set aside two days when Canadians can pause and reflect on this great country of ours. These two days are Heritage Day and Canada Day.
On these days Canadians reflect and celebrate their country. What prevents us from commemorating on the third Monday of February or on July 1 the contributions of the patriots and the reformers to the establishment of responsible government?
For example, in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and all around the south shore area, the Canada Day weekend is the beginning of a local heritage celebration called Privateer Day. Privateers were men who smuggled supplies instead of serving in the Royal Navy during the American revolution, the Napoleonic wars and the war of 1812.
During these commemorative festivities fireworks are lit on Friday night over the Liverpool harbour in memory of the privateers. On Saturday there are two parades which recreate the events of days gone by. To my knowledge, the privateers of Nova Scotia have never been officially recognized by the House of Commons for their contribution to the economic prosperity of the south shore of Nova Scotia, yet every year during the Canada Day weekend the entire community remembers the privateers.
What is preventing our hon. colleague from Verchères from encouraging community leaders to organize events commemorating Louis Joseph Papineau and his followers? He certainly does not need the federal government's approval to organize such festivities.
My real opposition to this motion stems from the unique place in history given to the Patriotes by the Quebec sovereignists. I think it would further fan the flames of nationalism and separatism if this motion was adopted by the House.
I would like to quote from an article that appeared in L'action nationale which is without a doubt a propaganda tool for the Quebecois nationalists. The article was penned by Gilles Rhéaume who at the time was director of the Ligue d'action nationale as well as president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal which is one of the most radical nationalist groups in Quebec. In his short article, Mr. Rhéaume stated:
"Admiring the Patriotes of 1837-38 is fine, but being inspired by their example is better. Let us draw our inspiration from their devotion to freedom and sovereignty. But, in order to do so, we need special occasions. That is why the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste of Montreal welcomed the order issued by the Quebec government declaring the Sunday nearest to November 23, the anniversary date of the victory at Saint-Denis, as National Patriots Day".
The Quebec sovereignists use the patriots of 1837-38 rebellion as a weapon of legitimization in their fight for Quebec independence. The sovereignists of today try to demonstrate to their fellow Quebecois that Louis Joseph Papineau and his followers were rebelling against the intransigent tyranny of the British powers, much like the Bloc is doing in this Parliament against the federal powers.
Granted, conditions in Lower Canada during the 1830s were difficult and frustrating for the French Canadian majority, difficult because economic hardship seriously affected the francophone working class, frustrating because the francophone petite bourgeoisie constituted the majority of members in the lower House. Yet these same members had very little say in the financial management of the colony.
What concerns me if this House adopts Motion No. 257 is that we will be playing right into the hands of the Bloc Quebecois as well as those of the Parti Quebecois. Certain parallels can be drawn between the causes fought for in 1837-38 and the present day battle over Canadian unity.
Once again, I will draw upon Mr. Rhéaume's comment to support my argument. Mr. Rhéaume states that economic conditions, especially the lack of control over the purse strings of the colonial treasury were one of the main causes for the 1837-38 rebellion. Today Quebec nationalists complain that they have only partial control over their economy. The essential levers of power rest within the hands of the federal government where the Quebec representatives are a minority.
The Patriotes believed that only full control of all economic levers could permit the French Canadians to survive as a people. The Quebecois nationalist elite uses the same argument today to preserve its language, culture and tradition.
I clearly see comparisons being drawn by Quebecois nationalists between the events of 1837-38 and those unfolding in 1994-95. If this House is seriously fighting for a strong Canada it would be hypocritical for its members to vote in favour of this motion.
Since our colleague for Verchères is very interested in history, as all Canadians should be, let us look back on some of the Patriote commemorative ceremonies which have taken place over the years. Since 1962, the 125th anniversary of the rebellion, commemorative ceremonies held in Montreal in honour of the Saint-Denis victory have taken on a nationalistic overtone. For example in 1970 at the height of the October crisis about 3,000 people rallied at the Patriotes monument. Representatives of the Chevaliers de l'indépendance, as well as those of the FLQ were on hand. Camille Laurin, leader of the national assembly of the Parti Quebecois, stated:
The most insidious means are used to perpetuate colonialism in Quebec, but Quebec will achieve its independence through peaceful means.
At a similar celebration in 1973 Francois Albert Angers, one of Quebec's most important proponents of economic sovereignty, asked French Canadians to stand behind the Parti Quebecois so that they could defeat more easily the anglophone political party. Links do exist between Quebec sovereignists and Patriotes commemoration.
In 1977 the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal awarded its Patriote de l'année award to Camille Laurin, the minister who steered Bill 101 through the national assembly. This is no coincidence. The nationalists use the term Patriote de l'année when giving an award to a Parti Quebecois minister who severely restricted, we could almost say outlawed, the use of English in his province. The Parti Quebecois during its last tenure in power also renamed a highway in honour of the Patriotes in addition to declaring the Sunday nearest November 23 as the official day for commemorative ceremonies.
The Parti Quebecois is using the battles of their forefathers during the 1837-38 rebellion to legitimize their struggles against Canadian federalism. Today the term patriote has taken on an almost anti-English anti-federalist connotation in Quebec. Whereas the original Patriotes fought in part to establish responsible government, today's patriots seem to be working toward the demise of this great country of ours.
Louis Joseph Papineau, William Lyon Mackenzie and their followers certainly have enriched Canada's history as have thousands of other men and women. In opposing this motion I do not want to belittle their contribution in any way. However, I am concerned for the message we would be sending out to the Quebecois sovereignists if we legitimized the Patriotes' actions. I therefore urge all members of this House who want to preserve our country to vote against Motion No. 257.