Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this House to speak to the proposal put forth by my colleague, the hon. member for Verchères. The motion reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government 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, as did the government of Quebec in 1982 by proclaiming by order a national Patriots' day.
I want to point out right away that this proposal is in no way designed to add a statutory holiday to the calendar. The thought of adding such a holiday never crossed the mind of the sponsor of this motion.
The purpose of this motion is however to recognize the contribution of the Patriotes of Lower Canada and the Reformers of Upper Canada by an order of this House to that effect.
The point was made that the violence of the 1837 and 1838 rebellions should not be condoned. Of course not, but let us not forget however that Patriotes and Reformers voiced their grievances and complaints in pamphlets, in newspapers articles, at rallies, through petitions and presentations at the House of Assembly they had in those days, before some of them finally decided to rise up in arms.
The sole purpose of the motion before us now is to pay tribute, regardless of these unfortunately violent events, to these men and women who believed in the need to have a responsible and truly democratic government. Among those who took part in that movement, some became well-respected public figures because of their convictions and their major contribution to our society.
I can think of people like Louis Joseph Papineau, Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine, Robert Baldwin or George Étienne Cartier. Of course, the Patriotes and the Reformers were not the only ones who contributed to the establishment of responsible government in this country. Others also made a historical contribution to the building of Canada. I imagine that some measure will eventually be proposed to also honour these people.
Certain Patriotes are better known than others, as well as some places. I am honoured by the fact that a meeting of Patriotes took place on July 16, 1837, in Deschambault, in my riding of Portneuf.
Deschambault is one of many small communities in my riding which are located right on the shore of the St. Lawrence River. It has a pier, a promontory called Cap Lauzon, as well as a church which was already there at the time. There is also a general store, the Magasin général Paré, which dates back to that period.
Let us go back 157 years, to July 16, 1837, in front of the general store which is located next to the old church, and let us listen to what the Patriotes of the time were saying:
Resolution No. 1. "That this assembly solemnly condemns the resolutions concerning the affairs of this province which were recently introduced by the minister in the British Parliament, which overwhelmingly approved them, hence sanctioning a principle which sooner or later will be used as a precedent to attack and destroy not only the rights and liberties of other British colonies, but even those of the English people".
There are in these historical statements some valuable lessons that might enlighten us about our current situation.
Resolution No. 2 is as follows: "That the resolutions introduced by Lord John Russell in the House of Commons in England on March 6, on behalf of all ministers, to authorize the Imperial Parliament to seize in the provincial coffers the monies from the labour of the people to pay public servants, most of whom have shown themselves unworthy of this country, and since passed by the Commons and the Lords, are a violation of the Constitutional rights and privileges of the people of this province".
Resolution No. 3: "That the adoption of these resolutions is in complete defiance of the just demands of the inhabitants of this province; that it destroys our confidence in the British Parliament, and that it should convince French Canadians that, in the future, they should expect from the United Kingdom no reparation for their grievances and no respect for their political rights." Unfortunately, you will agree, there is nothing new under the sun.
Resolution No. 4: "That the people of this country would bear the mark of degradation and would be enslaved if they agreed to be taxed, to be violently deprived by the public authorities of their money, which would then be distributed to perverse servants, without the sanction of their representatives who are the only ones to have the right to make appropriation of it". In those days, there was no deficit, no public debt. Still, very serious statements were already being made. What would these Patriotes of 157 years ago say today if they saw our current taxation levels and our use of public funds? Then, 157 years ago, people had good horse sense and I think we still have it today.
Resolution No. 5: "That the British Parliament, by passing a resolution to seize this province's revenues, was guilty of an outrageous violation of our most accepted rights, that it is our people's most pressing duty to resist this violation with all the legal means-that is what was said-at our disposal, and that we should henceforth have the steadfastness to appeal no more to a body which has declared itself so resolutely hostile to our freedoms".
Resolution No. 6: "That for the preservation of these freedoms, it would be prudent to prepare ourselves for the difficulties that we may encounter by limiting our personal expenses and by promoting education, agriculture, industry, manufacturing and trade in this province." This certainly sounds very contemporary.
Resolution No. 7: "That when the revenues of this province are squandered to satisfy the greed of those who are always opposed to the wishes and the needs of the people, it is our duty to improve our domestic manufactures and to recommend their increasing use to our fellow citizens, just as it is our duty to avoid in so far as possible the products of those who pay duties".
Quebec's Patriotes were already showing us the way 157 years ago. There are many more resolutions, but it was a privilege for me to read in this House tonight these words so full of common sense that our ancestors wrote in difficult times and that can still guide us today.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention that the words I read tonight were written by Mr. Louis Gariépy, president, and Mr. N.G. Gauthier, secretary, and were published in La Minerve , on July 24, 1837.