Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on the issue of Quebec's veto over amendments to the Canadian Constitution and why we in this House should finally recognize that reality.
During the referendum campaign many Canadians were concerned about a possible yes vote but recognized the right of Quebecers to determine their own destiny.
Unfortunately, some on the yes side in the campaign characterized this respect of the Quebecois right to self-determination as ambivalence. When the rhetoric about indifference on the part of the rest of Canada escalated, Canadians were pushed into proving their commitment to a united Canada, a commitment I might add, that I never believed to be in question.
This expression is part of a larger package that the Prime Minister has put forward in the form of a resolution. It is a resolution that will recognize Quebec's distinct society. It offers a veto to Quebec as well as to other regions of the country over constitutional amendments and clarifies the roles and responsibilities with respect to labour force training and to the delivery of programs.
The Prime Minister is right to make this commitment and it is timely because Canada is changing. It was changing before the referendum, it was changing during the referendum and it will continue to change. This is natural. We all need to realize that there cannot always be a sense of finality on every issue. A country lives, changes and evolves. This is natural and progressive, if sometimes inconvenient.
In this case it is not wise to look for a specific date when this debate will be resolved. It will not, nor should it be. It is a healthy, modern and necessary progression that will continue over time.
This perspective is markedly different from those of the official opposition and the third party. Their obvious political agenda is to continue to raise the stakes and make demands within confining time frames to advance their own interests at the expense of our country. This disappoints me.
We on this side are driven by a genuine concern for Canada. I believe that it is testimony to our strength as a nation that we can move forward with the determination that we do in the face of these two parties, one that wants out of Canada and one that is ambivalent about our united country.
As part of the larger package, formal recognition of Quebec's distinct society is long overdue. We are expressing a characteristic of Canada that is on the positive side of the ledger as well as a historical fact. Canada is unique internationally in its multicultural nature, historic recognition of our aboriginal underpinnings and of our more recent two founding nations. We also have the capacity to constantly evolve through the different phases of these relationships.
Quebec's right to a veto has long been supported by this party. We have gone even further in offering a similar veto to the Atlantic region, Ontario, the west, and have recently offered a veto to the province of B.C. These regional vetoes are a reflection of this government's commitment to reach a broad consensus on issues concerning the Constitution.
In offering B.C. a veto, the Prime Minister has taken a leadership role in promoting flexibility and accountability in government. Since it was clear that B.C. was feeling misunderstood and unappreciated, the Prime Minister acted quickly and listened to its concerns. This is an important step in our evolution in recognizing this right as a fact just as Quebec's distinct society is a fact.
The leader of the third party on the other hand did not take advantage of an opportunity to propose a veto in committee. He did not even once in the House call for a veto for British Columbia. Those who view the third party as representatives of the west's interests may want to look at this obvious neglect to perhaps recognize that it is the governing party and our caucus that is listening and responding to every region in the country. I would like to congratulate my colleagues from B.C. who effectively represented their constituents and enabled this important amendment to be made to the original proposal.
There are some who say that the government has not gone far enough in passing a resolution. What they fail to point out is the very real impact several resolutions have had in the past, such as the official languages resolution of 1968, the resolution reaffirming linguistic duality in 1973, and the resolution regarding the language of work in the federal public service.
Coming from New Brunswick I am very aware of the impact of all these resolutions, not only on the country but also on how the country operates inside my province. Those that would have us believe that Ottawa is simply throwing Quebec a bone but avoiding dealing with the issue with any degree of seriousness have questionable motives themselves.
Of course the Bloc members will not accept the seriousness of the resolution because in admitting that Canada can work they make themselves redundant. It is all too easy to point a finger at Ottawa for not doing enough when in fact it is offering exactly those changes that Quebec has rightfully sought in the past.
Is the attitude of Bloc members one that really takes Quebec's interest to heart, the interests of all Quebecers regardless of what language they speak? I think we know the answer to that question.
Canada is not made up only of Ottawa and Quebec. In looking beyond Quebec there are a number of different realities that must be reconciled. In the eastern provinces we find loyal strongholds in regions rich with history. In the western provinces we find many new Canadians with rich multicultural influences and traditions. The ability to bring these regions together is the challenge, a challenge to which I am certain we will be able to rise.
For all of those who are narrowly defining regional interests I ask simply: What region will be better off with a fractured country? There is no region in Canada that will benefit from the secession of Quebec. It is obvious which political party will benefit and that is what disappoints me.
This debate must continue. The Prime Minister has opened the door for Canadians to speak to and of their country, not in a highly structured and regimented way but to simply open the door to opportunity much in the same way as the rally did on October 27.
We must recognize that we need to move forward and not become mired in the past. Canada building should be our focus, not tearing Canada apart. This debate is about values, the values of fairness and acceptance that are integral to the successful resolution of the question.
I would like to mention a forum that was held in my riding two Sundays ago. The topic of discussion was Canadian unity. Many individuals took the time to come and express their views on the subject. I want to commend everyone who helped make it happen and mention a few of their suggestions.
The idea of generating more dialogue among Canadians inside and outside Quebec was brought out often, as well as having our educational system teach more about each other's histories and traditions. One individual felt that information is too filtered by the media and by politicians and someone else mentioned the need for everyone to better appreciate our economic interdependence.
I would like to thank the member for Brome-Missisquoi who took the time to visit Fredericton and participate in this public forum. His insights were very useful to the debate and to our understanding. This forum was a logical progression from the rally that was held in Montreal, a rally that was attended by hundreds of constituents from my riding who were willing to drive in a bus for 10 hours each way to express their desire that Quebec stay in Canada.
When I was asked to speak in the House in the first week on this issue I felt that I should hear from my constituents on that weekend first before attempting to express their views. I appreciate their participation and hope I have been able to transmit to the House the level of their commitment to Canada.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to commend the Prime Minister on his integrity and his broad Canadian vision. I am not surprised that he has acted quickly on this issue. I support him fully. I feel more Canadian because we have expressed a reality that makes Canada a great country. It is my great pleasure to support the resolution and I close by paraphrasing Lord Acton: "A state which is incompetent to satisfy difference condemns itself". It is not our intention to condemn but to construct.