Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on the subject before us today, following the example of my colleagues, particularly my eloquent colleague, the member for Shefford, who is, to top it all, bilingual. I will admit I am a bit intimidated by his performance, but I will do my best.
This motion was presented by the Minister of Justice. It deals with the future establishment of denominational schools in Newfoundland. The denominational system was guaranteed by term 17 of the agreement between the federal government and the government of Newfoundland, when Newfoundland entered Confederation.
In order to amend such a term, it is possible for a province to invoke section 43 of part V of the Constitution of Canada dealing with the rules for amending the Constitution. This is what Newfoundland did, by passing legislation in a particular context. This legislation was passed after consulting the public.
This is where it departs somewhat from the short history of using section 43 of part V of the Constitution of Canada. It was the first time a government consulted the public to give weight to its action. Section 43 has been used on three other occasions in the recent past.
In the case of Newfoundland, the results of this public consultation gave the following results: 52 per cent of the public turned out to vote and 54 per cent supported the government's action. According to what we are told, the Government of Newfoundland has a number of objectives in mind.
First, it wants to rationalize the province's education system and thus save $17 million. Second, it would like to have a single education system, instead of four based on the recognized religions, the last on the list being the Pentecostal Church, which has already been the subject of a section 43 application. If it is successful, Newfoundland will have a single school system serving all denominations. Finally, it would like to reduce the number of school boards from 27 to 10, and make them multidenominational.
Where this initiative is of definite interest to Quebecers is in the lessons to be drawn from the democratic basis of the process as a whole. The federal government, via its Prime Minister, immediately and apparently unhesitatingly recognized the referendum and its result, although the participation rate was only 52 per cent, and support for the government's plan only 54 per cent.
In the context of Quebec's and Canada's political evolution, this is, I believe, an action that speaks volumes, and one that is totally representative of the desire of the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party to recognize the democratic process of what went on in Newfoundland in connection with the denominational schools issue.
You will understand that, as sovereignists, we are legitimately and spontaneously moved to transpose the debate held in Newfoundland, and the government's attitude toward it, to the next steps taken by the Government of Quebec and the people of Quebec concerning its desire-this time, we are convinced, a fulfilled desire-to finally cross the threshold to sovereignty. We are counting on the same spontaneity, the same logic, the same justice from the federal government in acknowledging the democratically expressed desire of the people of Quebec to finally be a sovereign people.
It must be pointed out that, in this undertaking, the federal government did not in any way whatsoever, despite what it is now claiming, intervene in the wording of the question or in the procedure for acknowledging the results only provided there was such and such a percentage-there was none of that. The province of Newfoundland was allowed to consult its population and the democratic process was recognized. We ask no more than that. That is what democracy is.
That is, after all, how a democratic tradition is built. It is by recognizing and recalling the highly democratic events of the past that the rules of the game that have to be respected are built up over time.
In this regard, we have to give Newfoundland credit for doing what it did, for doing what it did in 1949, when once again it taught us something by consulting its people twice and ending up with 52.3 per cent of the population of Newfoundland voting in favour in 1948-49 of joining ranks with Canada and of leaving the United Kingdom behind.
With the nevertheless close result of 52.3 per cent in favour, we can assume that some regions in Newfoundland voted against joining Canada. Was Newfoundland then divided up according to the regions that voted in favour and the ones that voted against? Or did they respect the will of the majority of Newfoundlanders to join Canada in 1949? They respected the whole of Newfoundland as so they should in a democracy, without all the present kerfuffle, particularly on the part of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, who, with the least possible subtlety, is advocating the partition of Quebec the day after a vote in favour of sovereignty.
In conclusion, I would like to say that there is in this debate something I find disappointing and aggravating, namely the reaction of Mr. Tobin, the premier of Newfoundland, who was a minister in Ottawa, a seasoned parliamentarian who was elected here when he was 25, and left to become premier at 40; he had 15 good years here in Ottawa. He is quite able to understand Quebec's and Canada's problem. And yet, he stoops to such simplistic reactions as the one reported in Le Devoir of May 30.
I will quote from an article by Jean Dion entitled "Tobin elated by the Bloc's position" which says: "Brian Tobin believes that by supporting the constitutional amendment requested by Newfoundland, the Bloc Quebecois, and with it the sovereignist movement as a whole, proves that the rule of law must prevail in Canada under any circumstance. I believe that the leader of the opposition is stating his faith and confidence in Canadian laws, said Mr. Tobin, adding that it will now be difficult for those who say that the law is not important to prove it. If the law is relevant when Newfoundland requests an amendment, it must be equally relevant when any other province is seeking to amend its constitutional status".
Third quote: "In this respect, he promised that Newfoundland would wholeheartedly support Quebec if it wanted similar changes. He even invited Mr. Bouchard to take full advantage of the amending formula which only requires bilateral agreements in certain cases, and of the nature of the federation to get the changes he wants within the federation".
I am very disappointed by such comments, because they imply that, in order to abide by the rules, there must be rules. But, in the Canadian Constitution, there are no rules on how to secede. How do you expect us to respect the rules? And that explains the whole approach and the ridiculous debate which was launched by Mr. Bertrand and which is increasingly jeopardizing the government position, since the federal government has supported this approach.
The people and the Government of Quebec are ready to abide by the rules, as long as there are some rules. Unfortunately, there are no existing rules, except for the rules of international law that will some day govern Quebec's accession to sovereignty.
The second thing that irritates us is the lack of information, given Mr. Tobin's previous position on the problems between Canada and Quebec. We know that the debate has been going on for some thirty years now. My personal reference point is the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission which as early as 1963 concluded that there were two solitudes.
We have someone here who has had ministerial or similar duties for 15 years in Ottawa and who still treats Quebec as just another province and completely disregards the fact that, when we talk about the people of Quebec and their demands, we talk about a nation, and more specifically one of the two founding nations of Canada.
There is absolutely no comparison possible between a premier who so cavalierly shrugs off a democratic process and talks about bilateral agreements between Quebec and the federal government and the debate we, the sovereignists, have been holding for the last 15 years, since we are talking about the survival of the French speaking nation of Quebec.
Talking about administrative agreements with the almighty central government, especially when it is ruled by the Liberal Party-to whom all the institutions seem to belong, I could give you a lot of examples from my riding-and reducing Quebec's evolution towards its sovereignty to some mere bilateral agreements will not help to elevate this debate. We will use a democratic approach to ensure that Canadians and Quebecers realize how important this issue is and how important Quebec's impending sovereignty is.