Mr. Speaker, a country is what citizens make it. Therefore we can take collective pride that Canada has been deemed by the United Nations as the number one country in the world in which to live.
Today we are challenged once more to reaffirm our faith in our country. We are asked to reaffirm our trust in each other. We are called to creative leadership. Either we are for Canada or we are not.
It is with great pride that I rise today during this historic debate to offer my full support of the unity package unveiled by the government and now before the House.
A key component of this package is Bill C-110, an act respecting constitutional amendments. The bill commits the Government of Canada to obtain the approval of all four regions of the country, namely, the western region comprising Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, the Atlantic region comprising Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec as two separate regions.
Ottawa commits itself, before constitutional amendments can be proposed to Parliament, to first obtain the consent of at least six provinces, namely, Quebec, Ontario and two provinces from the Atlantic region representing more than 50 per cent of the region's population and two provinces from the western region representing more than 50 per cent of the west's population.
When Bill C-110 becomes law, the federal government could not proceed to table a constitutional amendment if any one of the four regions refused to give its consent, even if seven provinces representing 50 per cent of Canada's population pass resolutions in favour of such a constitutional amendment.
Although the present bill does not amend the Canadian Constitution which stipulates four legal amending processes as provided for in sections 38 to 44 of part V, it is as an act of the federal Parliament binding on current and succeeding governments.
The western region makes up nearly 30 per cent of Canada's population, larger than Quebec's and smaller than Ontario's. Taking into account the population of each of the four western provinces, the bill affects the western region in this fashion: first, Alberta would require either British Columbia or a combination of Saskatchewan and Manitoba to exercise the veto; second, Manito-
ba and Saskatchewan would require British Columbia or each other and Alberta to exercise the veto; third, British Columbia would require only one other western province to exercise its right to say no.
The regional veto envisioned in this bill gives greater strength to each of the western provinces than can be obtained under the existing amending formula.
It is a significant step forward. It illustrates the flexibility of federalism to which the government is committed. It is this sort of political creativity and ingenuity that should summon in us a sense of pride in our Canadian citizenship, which should be a forum for transcending differences and considering the common good of all.
Most Canadians became citizens by birth. For me, becoming Canadian was a conscious choice, a choice informed by a strong commitment to the values, goals and vision Canada has for herself in the world community.
In January 1968 I braved my first Canadian winter in Winnipeg as a new immigrant. Coming from the tropical climes of the Philippines, the country of my birth, the cold winds and bitter frost of the North American prairie seemed particularly harsh. But the chill of the winter was quickly offset by the warmth of the welcome I received from the people of Manitoba. Winnipeg was my Canadian city of entry, a friendly place where I felt at home instantly. But Canada is the country I adopted.
My four sons were born on Canadian soil. Many of my dreams for my family and my career have been realized in Canada. My future goals, if they are achieved, will be achieved in this country.
This is a country which accommodates the dreams of individuals from all cultures, from all walks of life. This is a country that promotes and supports a fully integrated citizenship which takes these differences into account.
My constituency of Winnipeg North is a microcosm of Canada. People of aboriginal ancestry and people of Ukrainian, Jewish, Polish, Indian, Portuguese and Filipino origins, along with anglophone and francophones and many others, have made Winnipeg North their home. They are proud of their heritage and they are proud of their Canadian citizenship. These define our shared identity.
Beyond our shared identity, beyond our diversity there is a stronger force that socially binds us. It is a set of shared political values. Canadians share a belief in equality and fairness. They believe in consultation and dialogue. They share in the importance of accommodation and tolerance. They share compassion, generosity and an attachment to the natural environment. Together they support diversity. As a people we share a commitment to freedom, peace and non-violent change.
Canadians from coast to coast to coast told us four years ago that we share these seven values. It is certainly true that we in different regions, provinces, cities, communities and households may feel like a minority with different priorities and goals. Sometimes those differences can make us feel alienated from the majority.
I know that feeling. As a Filipino Canadian, I know that being a member of a visible minority makes me sometimes feel like an outsider. Occasionally I feel a sense of aloneness. But those feeling pass whenever one stops to consider the policies which inform the real discourse of this country.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago in this House, then Prime Minister Trudeau introduced a ground breaking policy which formalized the very values of which I spoke earlier. One of the chief aims of that policy was to enhance every Canadian's sense of belonging, in the process fostering the ties that bind us all together.
The policy has showcased, in a very real sense, the creativity, the ingenuity of the Canadian people. It sent a clear message to me as a Canadian of Filipino origin that I was as welcome in Canada as anyone else. It confirmed my initial impressions of Canada formed that first winter a few years earlier. It made me understand that, yes, I am different from some, but I am equal to all.
The bill before us today is the fulfilment of a promise, part of the promise that includes recognizing Quebec as a distinct society within Canada. We all know and have known since Confederation that Quebec is a distinct society within Canada, a distinctiveness defined by her unique culture, French speaking majority and civil law tradition.
As I mentioned before, differences can lead one to a sense of alienation. With this motion introduced by the Prime Minister, Canadians are sending the clear message to Quebecers that we not only respect the differences in their traditions, history, language and culture, we celebrate and value them. They make Canada whole.
We are reawakened to the spirit of partnership and collaboration which brought us together more than a century and a quarter ago. We want Quebecers to know that by working together, we can develop a national vision to confront with resolute confidence the challenges of today and tomorrow just as we triumphed when we faced the challenges of the past.
Our historical achievements in building this nation rightly give us a sense of national pride.
Our shared identity, our shared values, our collective sense of pride in the midst of our deep diversity, are the tools that shall preserve Canada as a nation, that shall propel us to prosperity. These are the tools that will translate our hope into reality.
The challenge before us today is whether we have the will to accommodate, the will to make sacrifices for our common national good, the goodwill to see us build on the partnership of the past 128 years. We cannot allow history to judge us harshly. We cannot allow the moment for national unity to pass. I therefore ask all colleagues to shed political partisanship for Canadian partnership. Long live Canada. Vive le Canada.