Mr. Speaker, at this rather late hour we are debating a bill that is purely technical. I wonder whether people who may still be listening would appreciate some information on the present proceedings. There are not many of us here but that is not the point.
We are discussing Bill C-69, which provides for the establishment of electoral boundaries commissions. The bill is of particular interest to Quebecers and in fact to all Canadians, as we saw in the course of the debate this evening.
The bill is of particular interest to people in Quebec because at the report stage, we proposed an amendment that would guarantee Quebec 25 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons. This amendment was voted on and defeated.
When we first arrived in the House of Commons, we voted on a bill, C-18, which suspended the proceedings of the commission which had started to review the electoral districts under the legislation then in effect, on the basis of the 1991 census.
We went through the whole procedure to pass this legislation, and now we have Bill C-69 which must be approved before tomorrow midnight, if the new legislation is to come into force. In this area, as in so many others, as we saw recently in the case of the CRTC and satellite television, we may end up with a new legal debate.
If Bill C-18 is once again in effect on June 22 because the bill before the House today has not been passed by the Senate, according to the parliamentary House Leader who has his own interpretation of the facts, we will have a problem because we will have to find out which legislation will be in effect on June 26: the one that was in effect before or the new legislation, when it is passed by the Senate? That is a legal argument we can look forward to.
What is difficult to understand in this process is the government's agenda. The bill was tabled, and we worked together on this bill, as the government's chief whip pointed out. In fact, the hon. member for Bellechasse contributed his expertise to make this bill as good as it could be.
But in the end, we had to vote against the bill, unwillingly, but the government refused to concede on one thing we considered essential: the guarantee of 25 per cent of the seats.
The bill went to the Senate. The senators are appointed, not elected. They come from the regions. They met and tried to find something that could be changed in the bill, with the good intention, no doubt, of improving it. When we look at some of the amendments from the Senate, we wonder how these people, who in principle are supposed to represent the various regions in Canada, could propose an amendment like the one to change the variation in the quota from 25 per cent to 15 per cent.
To put this in concrete terms, suppose there was an average of 100,000 voters in Quebec ridings, the bill provides that the number could grow to 125,000 or drop to 75,000 in a riding because the variation can go 25 per cent either way.
The Senate, for its part, suggested that this quota should be reduced from 25 to 15 per cent. As you can well understand, such an approach could not have been worse for regional representation. This bill came back from the Senate with six amendments. At first, the government said, "We will accept the one amendment that makes sense". An amendment to the amendment was moved by our Reform colleagues, who suggested that we approve a few others. But as far as the substance of this debate is concerned, what is really interesting to us, the people of Quebec, is that the message is very clear. When they were in opposition, government members were the first to demand 25 per cent representation for Quebec and to express a willingness to guarantee such an outcome.
The statements made by the hon. member for Papineau-Saint-Michel, who insisted that Quebec should be guaranteed 25 per cent of seats, are still fresh in our memory. This is not the first time we point out that, when they were in opposition, the Liberals advocated policies that were sometimes very innovative in my opinion. However, now that they are in power, they repeat the speeches made by those they used to criticize when in opposition, and it could even be said that, in some regards, they are going much further than the Tories would have gone.
To us, the message is crystal clear: Quebec no longer has its place in Canada. What they want is to turn Quebec into a minority as quickly as possible, to reduce its representation as much as possible, and they are not even interested in saying that they want to keep Quebec in Canada. They are telling Quebec that 25 per cent is too much. They will reduce its representation as much as possible; they could not care less if some day Quebec ends up with only 5 per cent representation.
In the end, the clear message from the government is that Quebec is not welcome and that it can go on with its plans. On the eve of the referendum, when we see that the government is unable to send us a clear message, as our colleague from Mercier reminded us, we may well ask ourselves where this is taking us. If we look at what happened in history, I remember that the Prime Minister recently stated that, "If we continue like this, the sovereignists will want to keep the name of our country, Canada, for themselves". Rest assured that you can keep that name, even though you took it from us, as Canada first came into being in Quebec.
At the very beginning, before Quebec took its name, it used to be called Canada. So, you took our name. You stole it away and said: "We will turn it into a great country from coast to coast". Both my colleagues from Bellechasse and Mercier made historical reviews, saying that, while it may not be fun to hear historical reviews in this House, we need to be reminded that Quebec is a founding people. We were here first. You came 200 years later. My ancestors were here before the British conquest. This gives me a sense of belonging to this land. We first settled in the province of Quebec, which was known at the time as Canada. When Upper and Lower Canada were created, we were on equal footing as two founding people.
Did you know that this is what we would like to return to, because the only way for us to continue to develop on this land is by restoring somehow the balance that used to exist between Upper and Lower Canada in numerical terms. These were two distinct entities and one could not legislate for the other. They settled their problems between themselves and even had the decency to pay their debts. Debts were released and we started over with a clean slate. Realizing that this did not work so well and learning from this experience, another step was taken in 1867. And what we want to do now is basically the same thing: have two equal people who recognize and respect each other as such, two founding people. It is obvious that within Canada, there are two nations: the Quebec nation and the nation of Canada.
So, let us have two separate countries. Then we can talk about an economic and political union. After all, we will have things to manage together in the process of starting from scratch again so that you can have your country and run it as you wish. Never again will you have to wonder what we want, since we will have gone with all we wanted, and that is a country. That is what we want.
Eventually, discussions would be bound to be held to sort things out because to us it is very important, as a founding people, to be able to deal with you on an equal footing.
You took the name; keep it, it is yours. Not everyone knows this, but you also took the national anthem from us, lyrics and music. That is right, both the lyrics and the music are from francophone Quebecers.
There are people in Canada who are not aware of this important fact. When Canada adopted the national anthem, one of longest debates in the history of this House, the problem was to agree on an English version of the "O Canada". It made for very stormy debates. If there had been television back in those days, we could watch how low members quibbled over how the original "O Canada" should be translated into English.
People can even be found who think that we are responsible for changing the words to the national anthem, when translations were in fact adopted following these events. It is obvious that the small favour we were asking was the assurance that we would continue to carry a reasonable political weight, as a form of recognition for all we had done for Canada. Do not think, however, that we came here and did nothing for the country. We helped build this country, we helped give it a top notch image, a respectable image in the eyes of the international community; we have contributed at least 25 per cent towards its development, because we represent 25 per cent of the population. But, at one point, we made up at least 50 per cent of the population of Canada.
If policies which were fair towards both founding countries had been adopted, if a dominant approach had not been taken in order to crush us, under Lord Durham's policy for example, we would not be where we are today. We would have been two peoples who could have grown in ways we wanted to grow and could have carved out the niches we wanted.
Therefore, our demand for 25 per cent representation was entirely legitimate. Our demand was supported by a very, very large consensus among politicians in Quebec.
It is safe to say, for example, that the Liberals from Quebec who were in the House in 1992 and who are still in the House today, want Quebec to be guaranteed 25 per cent of representation. Therefore, if we add these Liberals, who are government members, to the Bloc members, who are on this side of the House, and to the Quebec Liberals, because, do not forget that the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Daniel Johnston, tabled the following motion: "That the National Assembly of Quebec reiterate its goal of maintaining Quebec's representation at at least 25 per cent in the House of Commons of Canada, and that it ask the Government of Quebec to make representations to this effect". A federalist, a Liberal, Daniel Johnston, the leader of the opposition to the Government of Quebec, asked the Government of Quebec to make such representations to the Canadian government.
So we can say that all the elected representatives of the people of Quebec, all the representatives of Quebec, in Quebec and Ottawa, came to bring this message to Canadians who also represent the people, asking them to grant us this representation of 25 per cent. It was denied. For us, as the hon. member for Mercier said, it was a very sad day.
This bill is going to the Senate, to the other place. Personally, I hope the senators do not intend to sit tomorrow or, if they do, that they will take a long time to discuss the bill so it will not be passed in time to supersede Bill C-18 which was passed last year. That is the sad part for Canada, because the referendum will be held this fall and we still do not know what the democratic choice of Quebecers will be. So no gesture was made to Quebec.
In a way, as a sovereignist, I am delighted. I will be able to travel all over my riding all summer, and at all the political meetings I attend during the referendum campaign, I will be able to tell Quebecers that Canada does not want us. Canada is not willing to make any concessions. Canada is not making any gestures.
I think Quebecers will realize there is no future in Canada for us and that we could never develop our potential in this country. We were here first. We want to see a gesture of openness, of sympathy for a people and a nation you say you want to keep in this country. It seems to me that if the government wanted to
show that it loves Quebec, it should have realized long ago that what we wanted was a guarantee of 25 per cent.