That, in the opinion of this House, the government should, in accordance with international law, recognize Quebec's inalienable right to choose its political destiny and consequently its right to self-determination.
Mr. Speaker, I am sorely tempted to dedicate my speech to the member for Kingston and the Islands. You will understand how proud I am to make this speech, because constitutional dialogue requires a discussion, not of a distinct society but rather of what is as plain as the nose on our face, what is an accepted fact and a sociological reality: Quebec is a nation.
As you know, when international law recognizes the right to self-determination, the holders of that right are individuals who together are characterized as a people and form a nation.
First and foremost, let me state that on this side we are totally convinced that Quebec is indeed a nation, which is to say it has its own vernacular, controls its territory, has its own legal system, and possesses a proud history which is the focus for its collective feeling of belonging. Obviously, there is a fifth element in Quebec's right to self-determination, a collective desire for it.
I feel that it would be important, to say the least, and one of the most positive indications for our future, if this House were to acknowledge this morning that Quebec is a nation and therefore entitled to self-determination. An examination of international law shows that the right to self-determination means specifically the right to freely choose a collective destiny. Most often, but not always, this takes the form of a referendum process.
I trust that all of the hon. members speaking in this debate will acknowledge that Quebec is blessed with highly democratic and up to date legislation on public consultation. No parliamentarian could object to the fact that Quebec held a referendum last October. Nothing could prevent Quebec from holding a referendum in 12 months, 26 months, 3 years or even six weeks if it so desires, to determine freely its collective future.
There is a paradox here, because to foreign observers, even those well up on the Canadian political scene, constitutional reform has been central to the political debate in this country for the past 30 years. When we started talking about constitutional reform 30 years ago, there were two tendencies. One said patriate the Constitution first and include a Canadian charter of human rights. Mr. Trudeau chose to take the same position during the eighties, but the fact remains this was already being discussed in the early sixties.
There was a second tendency, mainly in Quebec, to say that the important thing was not necessarily patriating the Constitution which at the time, I may recall, had no official French version while half of its sections were already obsolete, so Quebec's political leaders said, and I am sure the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands will remember this, that the important thing was not necessarily-that was how Quebec's leaders felt at the time, in any case-to patriate the Constitution but to revise thoroughly the balance of Canadian federalism, which meant reviewing sections 91 and 92.
This would be the position held by all Quebec's leaders, whatever their political stripe, from Jean Lesage onward. Among those who succeeded Lesage, there would be this insistence that for Quebecers, the crucial point was not the Constitution as that last trace of colonialism but the fact that Quebec should have a certain number of powers which were sadly lacking. It was on this basis that constitutional reform was to begin.
Of course the process, which would go on for 30 years, gave rise to a number of political doctrines. Some people became experts on the subject, including Richard Arès, who spent much of his life examining the national question. Of course there were many others, and we can say that during the past 30 years, constitutional reform has given rise to three major political anchors for Quebec.
In the 1960s, the idea that Quebec should have a special status was picked up by Gérard Fillion, who, at the time, was editor in chief of Le Devoir . This marked the first attempt to amend the Constitution and to change the colour of the constitutional debate.
With Le Devoir , Gérard Fillion and a number of other intellectuals, it was felt that all of Canada's institutions required reworking. There was even talk of the Senate. There was increasing discussion obviously of an official languages act as well. There was a feeling of special status. In other words, the fact that Quebec, in addition to being a province, was a nation and had a special responsibility towards all French speakers in this part of North America had to be recognized.
With this idea of special status, it became clear that Quebec had to be seen to be a French society in a binational context expressed in all of Canada's major institutions.
This idea was set aside to some extent and gave rise, a bit later, about five years later, to the idea of associated states. Those who remember the political and constitutional debate in Quebec will remember this idea. The idea of associated states or two nations, on an equal basis, involved the idea of full equality, an idea that reached a much fuller and much more concrete conclusion with the idea, proposed by the Parti Quebecois and its president and founder René Lévesque, of sovereignty association.
The common denominator, however, in these three ideologies, these three constitutional doctrines, is that Quebec is a nation. Each time a Quebec premier went along to the constitutional table, it was in this context. There is a reason for our always making this claim as one of Quebec's constitutional demands, including in Victoria.
I found that a little funny. As some veteran members of this House will recall, the Victoria formula was not only about regional vetoes but also about giving Quebec more power over language and social policies. According to then Premier Robert Bourassa, however, that did not go far enough.
Will the House of Commons, which is supposed to be a fairly accurate reflection of Canada, have the courage to recognize that there are two nations in Canada and that one of them will therefore probably move toward full and true sovereignty? This, of course, will be achieved through a referendum to be held in coming months.
Yet, it is difficult to understand how, 30 years after initiating the debate on constitutional renewal, we are now considering Bill C-110, which all but ignores the major constitutional demands traditionally made by Quebec. Even without going as far as recognizing Quebec's right to sovereignty in a bill, how can a Prime Minister such as the one now in office, who has been a key witness to the events of the past 30 years in Quebec, believe that he will satisfy a single Quebecer with a bill offering nothing but a hypothetical veto that is not even enshrined in the Constitution.
What prevented the Prime Minister and his government from considering Quebec's major constitutional demands and ensuring that federal spending powers are defined in Bill C-110, for example? For the past 30 years, this has been part of a set of demands that have been renewed by every successive administration and government.
If the Prime Minister had been serious, he would have included a minimum of demands in Bill C-110, namely to limit federal spending powers, resolve the issue of residual powers, give Quebec more power over language matters, and recognize that Quebec is the only authority on language.
Even the Pepin-Robarts report, that Pierre Elliott Trudeau liked quoting from ad nauseam, recommended, besides a Confederation Chamber, the notion of recognizing Quebec as distinct, because, through its National Assembly, the Quebec government is the only real government ever to have been run by francophones in this part of the country. What would have kept the Prime Minister from recognizing that Quebec does have, regarding language, certain prerogatives?
The key issue of manpower is also at the heart of Quebec's demands. But this issue does not basically mean that, within the context of national standards, the Government of Quebec will be allowed to manage a program. That certainly was not what all the people who, in the past 30 years, recognized the need for Quebec to manage what could be call globally labour market policies had in mind.
Now the situation emerges where Quebec is told: "You will have the right to take back manpower programs, provided however that your program is compatible with our national standards". That is the crux of the problem.
How can they think that national standards could be established regarding something as changing and fluctuating as the labour market, when we know full well that, even within an economic space as small as the Quebec economy, labour market policies vary from region to region. The reality in the Gaspesian Peninsula is not the same as in Montreal. We find ourselves in a relatively disturbing situation, to the extent that those who launched the constitutional debate, those who worked to ensure that Quebec is treated more fairly and more in accordance with its status as a nation within Confederation, now find themselves with a constitutional proposal that is disappointing to say the least.
We could have gone a lot farther. That is part of the list of demands. What keeps us from recognizing Quebec as a distinct society? The term "distinct society" is absolutely meaningless. Just ask Library of Parliament researchers to go through the literature on international law. They will not find a legal basis to the effect that we are a distinct society. That concept is absolutely
meaningless in terms of what Quebec truly is and in terms of its nationhood.
The government, and in particular the Minister of Justice, who seems somewhat reluctant, will have to take notice of that. We understand that the Minister of Justice may not the best informed person regarding claims made by Quebec in recent years, but there are well informed people in cabinet, including the Minister of Labour, who has some experience on the Quebec political arena, and who may miss it at times. In any case, there are people in this government who know very well that Quebec is a nation, that it has a right to self-determination, like any other group forming a people and a nation, and that nothing will keep Quebec from holding another referendum when it chooses to do so. Quebec will hold a referendum when it has democratically decided to ask its citizens to make the inevitable choice.
In a debate like this, we cannot help but think of someone like André Laurendeau. In some respects, André Laurendeau is like a spiritual father to the Bloc Quebecois because he too, in his days, believed it was important to have a sovereignist front right here in this Parliament, to protect Quebec's interests.
For several years, André Laurendeau was the member for Montréal-Sainte-Marie. He accepted Lester B. Pearson's invitation to co-chair the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission. When he and his team tabled the preliminary report, the white paper, I think he understood something which is at the heart of the present political and constitutional wranglings in Canada. You will recall that he wrote "Out of disappointment will come the irreparable". The irreparable, of course, is sovereignty.
André Laurendeau had clearly understood that the federal regime's inability to acknowledge that there are two nations which must be treated as equals, that there are two nations in fact and in law which must engage in dialogue and treat each other as perfect equals, and that from this inability of the federal regime and those who personify it to recognize those two nations the irreparable will ensue. The irreparable will be-already is-that feeling. There is great satisfaction in seeing that in less than a decade the soverignist option has made a ten per cent gain.
There are not many examples of an idea which was initially perceived as being really marginal ending up with democratic backing that has become more and more solid; it is now headed toward a majority.
We are not wrong in this. I would like to state in closing that we in Quebec are committed, as is the rest of Canada, to engaging in a dialogue on the basis of what we are, through and through, which is a nation. Discussions between nations are on a totally equal footing. That equality will be made official in a democratic referendum, which will be Quebec's next rendez-vous with destiny.
It is my belief that today's debate ought to afford an opportunity, particularly on the government side, for recognition that Quebec is a nation, that it is entitled to self-determination, and that this right to self-determination justifies its demands for full and complete sovereignty.