Mr. Speaker, this is not a happy occasion, because just before the fall referendum in Quebec, the Parliament of Canada has failed to recognize the historic contribution of the people of Quebec and confirm that Quebec will have 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament.
I know the amendment was defeated, but I cannot help talking about it because for us in the Bloc Quebecois, and, I suppose I could say, in Quebec, the most important aspect of the bill is the representation of the people of Quebec. This is a gesture the Parliament of Canada could have made to Quebecers. It is a gesture it refused to make, which sends the following message to Quebecers: "We do not recognize your position, your historic contribution or what you are as a people and a distinct nation".
I realize historic references are not always appreciated in this House. But since I am speaking to you, Mr. Speaker, I will try
and make a few. To know where you are going, you have to know where you are from. We must remember that in 1837-38, we had a rebellion in Lower Canada and Upper Canada, both of which were put down. Upper Canada and Lower Canada were forced to come together in a union. Canadians, and I am referring to the "Canayens", the people who came over to America from France and, before France was defeated by England, had become sufficiently independent to start criticizing France, the church over here quarrelling with the church over there, so that if the colony had remained French, after a while it would have become independent like all the American colonies did after a while. These French men and women, who became the "Canayens", are the ones who were defeated. They were left here, about 60,000 of them, and here in North America they continued to multiply, develop the land and try in spite of everything to preserve their language, their religion and identity.
These "Canayens" who in 1791 obtained their national assembly, these Canadiens who for years elected their members and founded a party called the Patriote Party, who wanted to negotiate the patriation of executive powers with England, and finally, these "Canayens" who, according to the historians, were provoked by the Doric Club in 1837, were defeated and became a minority as a result of the forcible union of 1840.
I say became a minority because we should remember that in 1810 and later in 1822, the British Montrealers wanted to make Montreal Island a part of what was not yet known as Ontario but as Upper Canada. However, they were not successful because the "Canayens" who had large families were not about to become a minority.
After the rebellion was put down in 1837-38, when Lord Durham came to conduct his investigation, he said the following: "I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state". Lord Durham was anxious to put these "Canayens" in a minority position, to ensure that the character of British North America, come what may, would remain British.
At the time, there were about 450,000 "Canayens" in Lower Canada, 150,000 anglophones and about 400,000 British or people of British descent in Upper Canada. This means that although the population was not the same within the union, Upper Canada and Lower Canada were given the same number of members, irrespective of population. There was a significant difference between the number of people in Lower Canada and in Upper Canada. At the time, it was important to maintain the minority status of the "Canayens".
Once the union became official, it did not work very well. According to the history books, many settlers came to Ontario, to Upper Canada, and when the union did not work out, members for Upper Canada, under the slogan "Rep by Pop", demanded a new government. An alliance was formed between representatives of Lower Canada and others, who did not seem prepared to unite with them in Upper Canada to produce a federation, when it became clear that the union was not going to work and something new had to be found.
But, in exchange, and this was clear, patriots like George-Étienne Cartier who fired the first shots, George-Étienne Cartier who was a member of the McDonald government, could not accept a confederation proposal which did not recognize Lower Canada, what it represented and its importance.
Confederation was enacted in the British North America Act. At Confederation, Quebec, because that was how it was then known, became one of four regions. Quebec was granted 65 MPs out of a total of 181.
Since then, Quebecers have steadily become a minority. This situation led a large number of Quebecers to want sovereignty, and it led us, the Bloc Quebecois, who are here in the Canadian Parliament just a few months before the referendum, to say to ourselves that the Canadian Parliament possibly would recognize the right of Quebecers to 25 per cent of all seats because of their status as a founding people.
Now, I will talk about the Quebecois people. This people has long been recognized as Canada's francophone nation. The francophone nation of Canada, the "Canayens" of whom I spoke, held their hands out to the anglophone nation after 1840 in friendship so that those who called themselves English Canadians could try with French Canadians to piece back together the pieces of two shattered colonies.
For a long time, French Canadians in Quebec desperately tried to find their niche within Canada. They were searching for equality. I said for a long time and desperately because there is something desperate in this repetitive quest over the years, we can even say over the centuries, of the descendents of the first francophones, the "Canayens" who became French Canadians who, despite the circumstances, wanted to take their place within Canada.
It is only after repeatedly failing to do so, after recognizing the potential to develop to their fullest in Quebec, that in the 1960s or thereabouts, because history cannot be boxed in, Quebecers saw events quietly transform reality. At a certain moment, the situation changed: in the 1960s or thereabouts the people who were referred to as the cradle of French in Canada became the Quebecois people.
I am always pleased to quote Daniel Johnson, the father, the one who was Premier in 1966, whose father was Irish. Daniel Johnson, the father, this leading Quebec politician, a French
Canadian, the first to launch his party, the Union Nationale, the party in power without a break from 1944, except for the period between 1960 and 1966. He is the one who called an election on a platform of "Égalité ou indépendance". He was thinking of equality for the French-Canadian nation, but he said in his text: "If French Canadians cannot achieve equality within Canada, it will be legitimate, normal and natural for them to seek political independence within their territory".
The people known as Quebecers have a long and meandering history, having moved from a French colonial identity to a North American identity, from Cajun to conquered, to dominated, to colonized by the British colony, to French Canadian in a colony that gained its independence from Great Britain in 1931. The French Canadians, who became Quebecers in the 1960s, are having a hard time discovering their identity, some of them. Some of them mock it.
Their history, although meandering, is one of courage. And Parliament's recognition in acknowledging Quebecers' entitlement to 25 per cent of the seats would have been a minimum tribute to Quebecers' contribution to Canada.
I would add the following. The French Canadians, I saw it earlier and I am repeating it, it hurts me but it is true, French Canadians desperately wanted to find their place and grow within Canada. Often they were the only ones wanting to. At the same time, though, they developed the qualities that go into making a people. They meet all the criteria of a nation: language, different laws, the Civil Code, their religion, a culture and a community spirit. Neither the people nor the nation is closed, as some would claim.
I quoted Daniel Johnson senior earlier. He was the son of an immigrant and became premier. I do not think I need to provide many more examples in talking of this openness.
This people tried to find its place in Canada. After the referendum when the people said "no" in 1980, because Trudeau had promised change, federal reform, the people followed Bourassa with his five basic conditions. Today, some people have no other choice but to say: "We will take charge ourselves".
They do not want an end to relations. For them, the only way to grow in this country is to say yes to who they are and offer the rest of Canada an economic and a political agreement.
It would not have cost Parliament much to grant this status to the people of Quebec, a status they have anyway, by recognizing that they are a founding people of Canada and play a fundamental role within Canada.
Personally, I would have liked to see such a sign. Instead, what we saw was its failure to recognize this basic difference of ours.
Some members addressed the technical requirements of the rep. by pop. rule and we understand that this is important. However, the message Parliament could have sent or still could send Quebec is infinitely more important than setting the allowable percentage of variance in determining the size of any given riding. We are talking about having one country or two.