This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #27 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was institutions.

Topics

Distinct SocietyOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

An hon. member

It is the Minister of Human Resources Development.

Distinct SocietyOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I am sure all members would like to hear both the question and the answer.

Distinct SocietyOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I apologize to the Minister of Transport. It is the Minister of Human Resources Development who never listens and never understands anything in this House.

Let me get back to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, who, while he does not answer, at least listens. I would ask the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs if he would acknowledge, after switching from the reality of the Quebec people to the idea of a distinct society, to that of the homeland of the French language and culture and finally to that of linguistic community, whether the Liberal Party of Canada's search for new terminology continues to be with the intent of diminishing the status and the role of the people of Quebec within Canada?

Distinct SocietyOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion LiberalPresident of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to finally be able to express the truth about the status and the role of the people of Quebec, because it is not being expressed by the opposition and never will be.

The people of Quebec enjoy the greatest possible autonomy within Canada as regards their own institutions. Of all the federations in the world, it would be difficult to find one more decentralized than Canada. Canada's provinces have a higher status than American states, Swiss cantons or German l«nder. This is what Quebecers enjoy. They also enjoy Canada.

We are not saying that everything is perfect. Things have to be improved. The reality of Quebec in Canada and in North America must be recognized, but to move from that fact to endlessly describing Quebec as suffering to the point where only such an extreme solution as secession will suffice is stretching the truth to the breaking point.

Distinct SocietyOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

There seems to be a lot of energy on both sides of the House. This is fine, but, I would ask for everyone's co-operation in making questions and answers a little shorter.

Distinct SocietyOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I am sick and tired of hearing the minister tell us that we Quebecers are lucky to enjoy our institutions within Canada. That is appalling.

The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs can go ahead and try, as he has yesterday and today, to dissociate himself from the Liberal Party of Canada's resolution adopted this past weekend, but the fact remains that he voted in favour of this demeaning concept.

Will the minister admit that it is a cause for alarm that a concept as important as the one adopted by the Liberal Party for its new orientation has been endorsed by the Prime Minister, without the minister responsible for this having any opportunity to say anything about its content beforehand?

Distinct SocietyOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion LiberalPresident of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, first of all, in his preamble, the hon. member spoke of "we Quebecers". I would remind him that I am as much a Quebecer as he is, and that no one here has the right to speak as if he were the one and only spokesperson for Quebecers. I feel obliged to remind him that Quebec is a pluralistic society.

Second, concerning the motion on which I voted, I would repeat, for what I believe is the third time in this House, that what it says is that the Liberal Party of Canada supports the enshrinement in the Constitution of the principles recognized in the Parliamentary resolution defining the distinct society, which was adopted in December, 1995. That is precisely why I voted in favour of the resolution.

Third, the Liberal Party of Canada is a highly democratic party. Sometimes democracy has such surprises in store for us, and we shall always be most pleased to acknowledge and accept, for what they are worth-I repeat, for what they are worth-the lessons on democracy offered us by a party whose leader was elected by the astronomical number of 150 members, and one of whose leading members was quoted as saying that the choice of a leader did not concern the public.

Distinct SocietyOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is not my fault that the minister felt excluded from the "we" in my reference to Quebecers.

What credibility can be given to a new minister of intergovernmental affairs, when it took the unanimous denunciation of the National Assembly to reveal to us the full extent of his feelings on this proposition which, just hours before, he was trying to sell us on right here?

Distinct SocietyOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion LiberalPresident of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I am delighted with the hon. member's commitment to never again identify himself and his party as the sole Quebecers. That in itself is very good news.

Second, and I have always said the same thing about this, there may be disagreements on the choice of words, but what counts is the substance. I would advise the hon. member to go easy on ridiculing the people of Quebec, who have always acted from the heart, sometimes less than successfully but always admirably, in seeking paths toward reconciliation, so that they might preserve Canada.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Reform Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I asked the Minister of National Defence to explain to the House exactly what is his understanding of ministerial accountability, particularly in relation to events surrounding the Somalia inquiry.

We received the weakest answer that any minister has given to a question in this House since the 35th Parliament began, so we want to try again.

According to the doctrine of ministerial accountability, as articulated by a former Liberal Speaker of this House, ministerial responsibility extends to situations where there is a serious dereliction of duty by an official of the minister.

Does the Minister of National Defence accept that the attempted cover-up of data relevant to the Somalia inquiry constitutes a serious dereliction of duty by somebody in his department?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry the leader of the Reform Party thought the answer was weak. Perhaps that reflected the weakness of the question.

The question cannot be answered because all of the assumptions in the question are totally false.

I have to reiterate that a commission of inquiry is looking into all the matters that concern the hon. member so much. That commission of inquiry should be allowed to do its work. We should not be playing a political game in the House of Commons that could injure the process of justice, that could further injure the reputation of the men and women who serve in the armed forces and perhaps even injure the reputation of Parliament.

I would ask the hon. member to confine his questions to what is relevant. The relevant questions to be asked are those that will be faced by the inquiry and to appreciate that the inquiry should do its job to the fullest extent possible.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Reform Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was asking about dereliction of duty. I was not referring to the events that specifically gave rise to the Somalia inquiry. That occurred under another government and led to the establishment of this inquiry. That is not the dereliction of duty I am talking about.

I am referring to the attempted cover-up of data relevant to the Somalia inquiry, a cover-up that occurred under this government and under this minister. I am referring particularly to the alleged scheme by the public affairs branch of DND under General Boyle to rename, hide and even destroy important Somalia documents.

I ask the minister again. Does he accept that this attempted cover-up constitutes a serious dereliction of duty by officials responsible to him in the department?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, once again the hon. member is so concerned about the public affairs issue. Last week the commission chief, Justice Létourneau, said that he would set aside two or three weeks to look at this specific question. He starts those hearings on Monday. That is where all the questions should be answered. That is where all the evidence should be placed, not in the House of Commons.

The hon. member talks about dereliction of duty. If he wants to talk about dereliction of duty I will, but of the dereliction of duty of him and his colleagues.

Yesterday the hon. member made a grave allegation on the floor of the House and went outside where parliamentary immunity was no longer present and that allegation evaporated. His defence critic has had so many positions on the inquiry that his credibility has evaporated.

The hon. member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley attacked and made allegations about CSIS some weeks ago and that evaporated. The trend is clear, the Reform Party will evaporate in the next election.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Reform Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, if these remarks constitute the minister's understanding of ministerial accountability, no wonder his department is in a mess and no wonder he is failing.

This minister was the Minister of National Defence when the military hierarchy initially tried to whitewash this whole Somalia affair. He was the Minister of National Defence when these vital documents were tampered with. He was the Minister of National Defence when his officials deliberately tried to block inquiries to the Somalia inquiry.

Whether the minister likes it or not, the buck stops with him. I ask him one more time: Does he accept responsibility for any wrongdoing that the Somalia inquiry determines took place while he was Minister of National Defence?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it has become patently obvious that the hon. leader of the Reform Party has never read the terms of reference of the Somalia inquiry. The inquiry is to look into cover-up. The inquiry is to look into the destruction of documents. The inquiry is to determine if there is wrongdoing. That is the forum, a neutral place with three independent observers, not a partisan inquisition on the floor of the House of Commons.

Department Of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Marc Jacob Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of National Defence.

In 1993, Corporal David Gunther from Quebec died in Bosnia. Once again, the department of defence found a way to come up with two conflicting stories to explain to his family how he had died.

In the first statement dated June 18, 1993, DND said Corporal Gunther had been killed by fragments from a mortar shell that blew up near his vehicle, while a second statement dated the same day listed the cause of death as an anti-tank missile that made a direct hit on his vehicle.

How does the minister explain once again his department's habit of coming up with two different stories?

Department Of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I cannot discuss individual cases publicly because that would contravene the Privacy Act. However, if the hon. member is giving me notice of a question that really should be put down on the Order Paper I will get him an answer in due course.

Department Of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Marc Jacob Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not appreciate the minister's answer at all. But, as long as a search is on, can the minister tell us why, once again, important documents have mysteriously disappeared from the armed forces' filing cabinets, as in the Somalia affair?

Department Of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, as I just said, I will take the question as notice and give the hon. member an answer.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Similkameen—Merritt, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of National Defence.

On October 24, 1995 at 8.40 a.m., Nancy Fournier, a clerk of DND's public affairs branch, was interviewed by the military police about her refusal to destroy documents related to the Somalia affair. Let me quote: "She can recall on numerous occasions being told to destroy files but specifically recalls a senior officer saying to her `had you got rid of this stuff like I told you this wouldn't be happening now"'.

According to the commission counsel on Monday they said: "the minister and the department did not deem it necessary to go any further". Why not?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, what the hon. member and the Reform Party is doing is absolutely reprehensible and it is contemptuous-

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Collenette Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is contemptuous of the three people who are charged with heading this inquiry.

Justice Létourneau has set aside two or three weeks on this specific case. Everybody concerned, including the chief of defence staff, will have an opportunity to make their views known and to give their points of view. Then people can judge accordingly.

For the hon. member to read selective quotes from certain documents into the record, some of which may be germane to that investigation, to create a certain impression is absolutely and totally unacceptable. I would say it is unparliamentary and it is even un-Canadian.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Similkameen—Merritt, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister is trying to twist this, as the Liberals do so well, and is shirking his responsibility as a minister of the crown.

Canadians and armed forces personnel are tired of this minister's lacklustre performance.

I will state again, "he did not deem it necessary to go further". The minister had to know that senior officials at DND were defying the minister's own order of a year ago to turn over documents to the Somalia commission.

How can the minister continue in his job knowing that the officials at DND defied his orders?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is becoming so incoherent he is choking on his rhetoric. By and large I answered that question in the first response.

The hon. member talks about morale in the armed forces. Let me tell him and his colleagues-I am sure that his colleagues have had the same calls-that members of the armed forces and their families have been outraged by the conduct of the opposition on this matter.

It is the opposition that is trying to discredit the armed forces and undermine the morale of the armed forces.

This matter should be dealt with in a calm and rational manner before the inquiry that members in the Reform Party sometimes support. They support it one week, they support it another week and in between they are not so sure, they want it wound down. They have no credibility on this issue whatsoever.