House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.


Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers be allowed to stand.

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


Appointment Of A Special Joint CommitteeGovernment Orders

October 1st, 1997 / 3:45 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville Québec


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


That the House of Commons do unite with the Senate in the appointment of a Special Joint Committee of the House of Commons and the Senate to study matters related to the proposed resolution respecting a proposed Amendment to Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 concerning the Quebec school system;

That sixteen Members of the House of Commons and seven Members of the Senate be members of the Committee;

That the Committee be directed to consult broadly and review such information as it deems appropriate with respect to this issue;

That the Committee have the power to sit during sittings and adjournments of the House;

That the Committee have the power to report from time to time, to send for persons, papers and records, and to print such papers and evidence as may be ordered by the Committee;

That the Committee have the power to retain the services of expert, professional technical and clerical staff;

That the quorum of the Committee be twelve members whenever a vote, resolution or other decision is taken, so long as both Houses are represented, and that the Joint Chairpersons be authorized to hold meetings, to receive evidence and authorize the printing thereof, whenever six members are present, so long as both Houses are represented;

That the Committee be empowered to appoint, from among its members, such sub-committees as may be deemed advisable, and to delegate to such sub-committees all or any of its powers except the power to report to the Senate and House of Commons;

That the Committee be empowered to authorize television and radio broadcasting of any or all of its proceedings;

That the Committee make its final report no later than November 7, 1997;

That, notwithstanding usual practices, if the House or the Senate are not sitting when the final report of the Committee is completed, the report may be deposited with the Clerk of the House which is not sitting, or the Clerks of both Houses if neither House is then sitting, and the report shall thereupon be deemed to have been presented in that House, or both Houses, as the case may be; and

That a Message be sent to the Senate to acquaint that House accordingly.

Mr. Speaker, on April 15, 1997, the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously in favour of a resolution for a constitutional amendment that would end the application to Quebec of subsections (1) to (4) of section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

I tabled an identical resolution in the House on April 22, but the election call prevented us from moving to strike a committee to examine this constitutional amendment. That is why I am tabling that resolution again, so that it can be referred to a special joint committee that is to report to Parliament in the coming weeks.

As I have indicated on several occasions, the Government of Canada supports the proposed amendment because it is a good thing for the citizens affected by it and because it enjoys a reasonable degree of support from those citizens.

It is one thing to want linguistic school boards and another thing to want to achieve them by way of a constitutional change. Although the Government of Canada has noted in recent months the existence of a consensus surrounding this proposal, including for the constitutional amendment, we could not flout the democratic traditions that Quebeckers share with all their fellow Canadians.

The Official Opposition in the National Assembly asked the Government of Quebec, in vain, to strike a parliamentary committee. Therefore, we feel it is necessary to proceed, respecting our parliamentary procedure, by striking a joint committee to which experts, groups and citizens will be able to express their views. Such a committee will allow them to make their opinions known while promoting better understanding of the changes sought by the constitutional amendment.

For some time now, Quebec society has been secularized and has become considerably diversified through the contribution of newcomers. It is therefore not surprising that this society has questioned on many occasions the appropriateness of a system established on a denominational basis.

Throughout the consultations and reports that have marked the past 30 years, a consensus has emerged on the need to reorganize school structures along linguistic, rather than denominational, lines. That consensus was confirmed during the Estates General on Education in 1996, which verified that Catholic and Protestant Quebeckers, anglophones and francophones alike, wanted to establish linguistic school boards.

Quebec's National Assembly acted on that desire for change by unanimously passing, on April 15, 1997, the resolution to amend section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, with respect to its application to Quebec.

Two months later, on June 19, 1997, Quebec MNAs again demonstrated their agreement on this matter by unanimously voting in favour of the legislation that will ensure the implementation of linguistic school boards and govern the place and role of confessionality in Quebec's school system. This legislation is the Act to amend the Education Act.

The proposed amendment not only makes it possible to adapt the Canadian Constitution to take account of the deep-seated changes Quebec society has undergone, but it also has the merit of allowing for the changes sought by the vast majority of the citizens that are affected.

First, it is noteworthy that the Quebec government is not seeking to exclude any reference to religion in education, but rather to secularize the administrative structures. Many Quebeckers are attached to religious instruction, and the Quebec government has taken account of that. Section 520 of the Education Act, as amended by section 36 and by the schedule of the Act to amend the Education Act, authorizes schools that so desire to retain their denominational orientation.

Furthermore, the right to religious instruction is still guaranteed under section 41 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, a document that has quasi-constitutional status according to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Such arrangements help explain the support garnered by the reform sought by the Quebec authorities. While it has not expressed itself on the means used, the assembly of Quebec bishops has nevertheless publicly supported the establishment of linguistic school boards and has not opposed amending section 93.

For their part, many groups and associations have endorsed the constitutional amendment requested by Quebec's National Assembly. By way of example, I would mention the Catholic Committee of the Superior Council of Education, the Federation of School Boards, the Federation of Parents' Committees, and teachers' associations representing the entire teaching force of the province.

While section 93 does not protect linguistic rights, language and denomination nevertheless have close historical ties. In the past, Quebec's anglophone minority relied heavily on the Protestant school boards to ensure its development. The constitutional amendment proposed today does not run counter to the interests of that community. On the contrary in effect section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will continue to provide strong constitutional guarantees to Quebec anglophones.

While section 93 guarantees the existence of denominational management structures in Montreal and Quebec City and the right of dissent in the rest of the province, section 23 allows the minority to control and manage linguistic school structures.

In addition the establishment of linguistic school boards will allow the anglophone community to consolidate its school population and thus to establish a more solid foundation for its rights under section 23.

As things stand now, Protestant school boards serve a growing number of children whose language of instruction is French. This phenomenon threatens to strip the anglophone community of its control over those institutions, institutions which are less and less reflective of sociological reality and which cannot in any event address the needs of the Catholic segment of the anglophone community.

In that regard it is important to note that students who profess the Protestant faith today account for less than 40 percent of the school population served by Protestant school boards.

Of course it is normal for any minority group to want to increase its constitutional rights. We understand the anglophone minority's concerns about its demographic situation, about the provisions which limit access to English schools and about the secessionist orientation of the current Quebec government.

In this light we understand why some groups in the anglophone community are using this opportunity to call for the full application of section 23 in Quebec. Nevertheless the Government of Canada believes that this issue raises a whole other debate. While the proposed amendment does not go as far as some might want, it nevertheless deserves to be passed because it is in the interests of both the minority and the majority in Quebec.

The government of which I am a member has reiterated on a number of occasions that any constitutional amendment must be the subject of a reasonable consensus within the minorities affected. I am pleased to note that that requirement is met in this case. The Government of Canada solemnly affirms that the same requirement would be indispensable in the event that another province called for an amendment with respect to guarantees for minorities within its territory.

In conclusion, Quebec society has succeeded in reaching a consensus on a constitutional issue which touches upon such vital issues for citizens as schooling, language, religion and the Constitution. For that reason, and because it will benefit the Quebec community as a whole, the government believes that this amendment should be passed.

Appointment Of A Special Joint CommitteeGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Preston Manning Reform Calgary Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the minister's remarks today, which he has made in large part at an earlier time in the House.

I would like to say at the outset that the official opposition regards the proposed amendment to be studied by the proposed joint committee as an extremely important one. It deals with the Constitution which is the fundamental law of the land. It deals with children and education. The manner in which it is handled may set an important precedent for other provinces with respect to educational reform. It deals with majority and minority rights. Of course it also involves Quebec-Canada constitutional relations and is therefore part and parcel of the national unity issue.

Reform is generally supportive of the establishment of a parliamentary committee to study the proposed resolution and amendment and to report to the House. We note that the government's motion directs the committee to consult broadly. We like those words. We want to encourage the government to consult broadly on any constitutional initiative.

In order to give the committee more time to do its work, we will propose an amendment to the government motion that the committee make its final report no later than the last sitting day in December.

We have some reservations about the proposed committee. For example, we share the view expressed by the member from Saint-Hubert in the last House that it is absurd to have senators who have no democratic legitimacy in either Quebec or Canada on a joint committee. However until the Senate is reformed, this resolution has to pass the Senate as it is, so we do not intend to quibble over Senate representation on the committee.

We have some further comments to make on the committee and the process it would employ. These comments will be made a little later by my colleague, the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley.

Because this subject is so important to the people of Quebec, I dearly wish that I could be making my principal points en français. Since that is not yet quite possible, I am pleased that my bilingual colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona will also be commenting on the motion a little later in the day.

I would like to take a few moments to sketch the background of this particular motion and resolution.

As the minister said, on April 15, 1997 the Quebec legislature voted unanimously in favour of a resolution for a constitutional amendment which would end the application to Quebec of subsections (1) to (4) of section 93 of the Constitution Act 1867. This is the section dealing with provincial jurisdiction over education. This resolution is the latest stage in an ongoing internal debate in Quebec over the past 30 years on how to change the province's denominationally based school system, known as the Confessional School system, into a secular system based on language rather than religion.

I want to read the text of the resolution passed by the Quebec Assembly into the record because I think members studying this should have the resolution in front of them. They might want to see the section of the Constitution that we are amending. The Quebec resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS the Government intends to institute linguistic school boards as soon as possible:

WHEREAS in so doing the National Assembly of Quebec reaffirms the established rights of the English-speaking community of Quebec. More specifically, whereas Quebecers whose children are admissible in accordance with Chapter VIII of the Charter of the French Language have the right to have them receive their instruction in English language educational facilities under the management and control of this community, as provided by law and which are financed through public funds;

WHEREAS it is desirable, for that purpose, to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 so that Quebec may recover its full capacity to act in matters of education;

WHEREAS such amendment in no way constitutes recognition by the National Assembly of the Constitution Act, 1982, which was adopted without its consent;

WHEREAS undertakings were given by the federal government to proceed rapidly with such amendment, through bilateral action and with the agreement of the National Assembly,


That the National Assembly authorizes the amendment to the Constitution of Canada by proclamation of his Excellency the Governor Canada under the Great Seal of Canada in accordance with the following text:

  1. The Constitution Act, 1867, is amended by adding immediately after section 93, the following:

93A. “Paragraphs (1) to (4) of section 93 do not apply to Quebec.”

  1. This amendment may be cited as the Constitution Amendment, year of proclamation (Quebec).

It will be noted that the Quebec assembly goes out of its way to state that its proposed amendment in no way constitutes recognition by the National Assembly of the Constitution Act of 1982. At the same time, the amending formula which the federal and Quebec governments propose to apply to this amendment is that provided for by section 43 of the Constitution Act of 1982. In other words, the Canadian Constitution is to be amended at the request of the Quebec assembly by means of an amending formula which the Quebec assembly does not recognize. Only in Canada would we have this phenomenon.

The section of the Constitution Act 1867 which the Quebec resolution seeks to amend is section 93. This is a section of the Constitution providing for exclusive provincial jurisdiction over education, subject to certain provisions pertaining to the protection of minority rights. Again I hate to take the time of the House but I think it is important to read into the record that section so members may have in front of them everything that is being talked about here.

The full text of section 93 is:

  1. In and for each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Education—

This is provincial jurisdiction over education, clear and simple.

—subject and according to the following provisions:

(1) Nothing in any such Law shall prejudicially affect any Right or Privilege with respect to Denominational Schools which any Class of Persons have by Law in the Province at the Union;

(2) All the Powers, Privileges, and Duties at the Union by Law conferred and imposed in Upper Canada on the Separate Schools and School Trustees of the Queen's Roman Catholic Subjects shall be and the same are hereby extended to the Dissentient Schools of the Queen's Protestant and Roman Catholic subjects in Quebec;

This is the one subsection that specifically mentions the province of Quebec.

(3) Where in any Province a System of Separate or Dissentient Schools exists by Law at the Union or is thereafter established by the Legislature of the Province, an Appeal shall lie to the Governor General in Council from any Act or Decision of any Provincial Authority affecting any Right or Privilege of the Protestant or Roman Catholic Minority of the Queen's Subjects in relation to Education;

(4) In case any such Provincial Law as from time to time seems to the Governor General in Council requisite for the due Execution of the Provisions of this Section is not made, or in case any Decision of the Governor General in Council on any Appeal under this Section is not duly executed by the proper Provincial Authority in that behalf, then and in every such case, and as far only as the Circumstances of each case require, the Parliament of Canada may make remedial Laws for the due Execution of the Provisions of this Section and of any Decision of the Governor General in Council under this Section.

If the Parliament of Canada approves the amendment sought by the Quebec assembly, it will be declaring that these last four subsections just quoted pertaining to the rights, powers, privileges and duties of the denominational schools do not apply to Quebec.

This is the background, the content and the import of the matter to be placed before the proposed special joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate.

I would like to take a moment to summarize what I think the government's position is. The government will have a chance to correct me if I do not have it right.

On April 22 the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs proposed that members and senators analyse the proposed amendment by asking and answering three fundamental questions. I take these questions to be the principal test that the Government of Canada feels members should apply to this amendment.

First, what amending formula is applicable to this particular case? Second, the government suggests that we ask, is the proposed amendment a good thing for the citizens affected by it? Third, does this amendment enjoy a reasonable degree of support from the citizens affected by it? Those were the three tests that the government proposed.

The minister then answered those questions on behalf of the government first, by saying that in the opinion of the federal government section 93 can be amended pursuant to section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In other words, this is a bilateral amendment which can be made with the approval of the House of Commons and the legislature of the province to which the amendment applies, namely, Quebec.

The minister answered his second question by saying that the proposed amendment is a good thing in his judgment because it acknowledges the secularization of the Quebec school system while still guaranteeing rights to religious instruction, and because it permitted the Quebec educational system to be based on language rather than religion and that the proposed system, in his judgment, was fair to both language groups.

The minister answered his third question by saying that the amendment did enjoy a reasonable degree of support from the people of Quebec.

I would like to outline the approach of the official opposition to this amendment. First of all, I want to make clear that the Reform Party believes strongly in provincial jurisdiction in education. The official opposition therefore neither supports nor opposes a confessional school system for Quebec. We feel that this is an issue that the people of Quebec must decide for themselves by free and fair democratic processes and in accordance with the rule of law.

The official opposition also wishes to propose that members and senators analysing the Quebec resolution subject it to three great tests. I suggest respectfully that our three tests are broader and deeper than those proposed by the government. I would like to encourage the government to adopt them as useful tests.

We propose that if a constitutional amendment proposed by a province—whether it is the constitutional amendment proposed recently by the Newfoundland Legislature or that now being proposed by the Quebec Assembly—meets these three tests, then it should be supported by this Parliament.

We propose that, if a constitutional amendment proposed by a legislature does not satisfy these three tests, that legislature then be encouraged to make such changes in what it is proposing as would be required to meet those tests.

I want to suggest that our three proposed tests for application to constitutional amendments are broad enough and deep enough to handle any proposed constitutional change, including those of the most radical variety.

In other words, I think it is very important for this Parliament, which is going to be dealing with constitutional problems and approaches that have never been dealt with by this Parliament, to establish tests that will be applicable to virtually any situation that we may be confronted with, and not to get into a situation where we apply one set of tests to one type of constitutional amendment and then another set to some others.

These then, are the three great tests that we would propose being applied to this constitutional amendment or any other that comes before this Parliament.

The first is the test of democratic consent. The first question we ask members and senators of this joint committee to answer for themselves is: Do a majority of the citizens affected by the proposed constitutional amendment, in this case a majority of the people of Quebec, approve of the amendment?

We do not believe since Charlottetown or since Meech Lake that any major constitutional amendment should be passed without public ratification through a referendum. The public has had too many cases where their governments have said this is what our people want in terms of constitutional change, and found out later that that was not the case.

We believe on major amendments that the test should be conducted through a referendum. We would therefore ask, have a majority of Quebeckers approved of the proposed amendment through a referendum process? Was the referendum process fair and was the referendum question unbiased?

The second test we propose, and this is not something that should have to be said in a parliament or legislature, but it does have to be said and that is that the proposed amendment be subjected to the test of the rule of law. The Canadian Constitution contains four different amending formulas, each of which is used for amending different parts of the Constitution. Most parts of the Constitution cannot be amended without the consent of at least seven provincial legislatures plus Parliament, as provided by the amending formula in section 38 of the Constitution Act of 1982.

Provisions which relate to only one province can be amended by the less rigorous section 43 amending formula which requires only the consent of Parliament and of the relevant province's legislative assembly.

The government says, and I gather with the concurrence of the Government of Quebec, that section 43 is the relevant amending formula. Members and senators, however, on the joint committee will want to satisfy themselves that this is in fact the case. I will return to this point in a moment.

I would also like to point out that the intent of the Fathers of Confederation with respect to section 93, the one that is amended by this Quebec amendment, was to provide exclusive provincial jurisdiction over education, subject only to certain provisions for the protection of minority rights. Section 93(1) as it currently stands does not prevent Quebec or any other province from reforming its educational system or from implementing reforms that affect minority rights, but conformity to the rule of law as provided by section 93(1) does require that the Quebec government demonstrate that any proposed reforms do not prejudicially affect the rights of those who desire a religious orientation in the education of their children.

Members and senators on the committee should be asking themselves and asking the representatives of the Quebec government, does the proposed Quebec constitutional amendment prejudicially affect in any way the rights of those who desire a religious orientation in the education of their children?

There is a third test which must be applied to any proposed constitutional amendment and that is the test of the Canadian national interest. I suggest that is a test that in the final analysis only the Parliament of Canada can apply. The actions of one province affecting minority and majority rights in education may set important precedents regarding educational rights of majorities and minorities in other provinces.

Members and senators on the committee will therefore want to assure themselves that the passage of the proposed Quebec amendment in no way establishes a precedent prejudicially affecting minority rights in other provinces.

Having outlined those three tests, and I could say a lot more on each of them but I have said enough already, I would now like to make a preliminary application of those tests to the amendment that has been put forward by the Quebec assembly. I am not saying this is the last word in that analysis but I want to illustrate how these tests might apply to the amendment that the committee will be studying. It will be up to the joint committee of course to apply these tests and other tests to the Quebec resolution.

Let me apply first of all the test of democratic consent as we understand it. In the case of the recent request from the Newfoundland legislature asking the House to amend section 17 of Newfoundland's 1949 terms of union, the Newfoundland government has conducted two referendums and a majority of those voting voted on both occasions in favour of the proposed amendment. In our judgment that therefore meets this test of democratic consent in a virtually indisputable way.

In the case of the proposed Quebec amendment, no provincial referendum has been held. We would suggest the test of democratic consent has not yet been fully passed. If the provincial government is confident as it says it is that there is a broad province wide consensus in favour of the amendment, it should conduct a referendum in order to demonstrate that fact beyond a reasonable doubt to this House and to other Canadians.

With respect to application of the test of the rule of law, the government says that section 43 of the 1982 Constitution Act is the appropriate amending formula to apply to the Quebec resolution. We want to be absolutely certain of that because if we proceed on that assumption and the courts end up saying that no, we have applied the wrong section, we have done more damage than we have good.

It is clearly understood by everyone that the section 43 amending formula can be used to amend the Constitution of Canada in order to place further restrictions on any individual provincial government's freedom of action. In practice whenever that is done, a sort of provincial constitution with additional safeguards for the rights of the citizens of that province is being created. This is what was done for example when several sections were added to the charter of rights requiring the New Brunswick government to offer services in both French and English. Similarly, it is presumably acceptable to use section 43 to remove any such special restrictions.

However it is not clear that it would be acceptable to use the section 43 amending formula to remove a restriction from one provincial government when that restriction is still in place for every other provincial government in the country, since this would have the effect of extending the powers of one province into an area henceforth outside the jurisdiction of any other province.

Such an amendment could potentially require the use of the general amending formula, the seven and fifty formula. At the very least any provincial government demanding an amendment of this sort should be expected to refer the proposed amendment to the province's supreme court for a ruling as to whether the use of the section 43 amending formula is legally acceptable. If the provincial government fails to do so, the Government of Canada should make a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada on that point.

These facts relate to section 93 in the following way. Paragraph (2) of section 93 was clearly intended to apply only to Quebec which is mentioned by name in the paragraph, the only place that it is mentioned. Therefore paragraph (2) is in practice part of the provincial constitution of Quebec and can be amended using the section 43 amending formula.

But paragraphs (1), (3) and (4) are intended as sections of general application to all provinces. These paragraphs apply to all provinces except Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Newfoundland. In each of these four provinces, section 93 has been replaced by a section which restricts the provincial government's ability to prejudicially affect denomination schools at least as much as section 93 would have done had section 93 applied to that province.

For example section 22(1) of the Manitoba Act corresponds to section 93(1) and uses almost the same wording, but it contains a further restriction on the province's freedom of action. That section says:

Nothing in any such law shall prejudicially affect any right or privilege with respect to denominational schools which any class of persons have by law or a practice in the province at the union.

My argument therefore is it appears that it is probably not constitutionally permissible to use the section 43 amending formula to amend the Constitution in the manner proposed by the federal government and the Quebec assembly. This matter could be resolved through a supreme court reference by either the Government of Canada or the Government of Quebec.

The Reform Party strongly believes in majority opinion and majority rights as expressed and exercised through referendum. However the Reform Party also believes that the majority has an interest in minority rights. We are all part of some majority in some situations, maybe an election or something else, but virtually all of us are part of a minority one way or another. It is therefore in the majority's interest to have protection of minority rights and minority interests and the best way to do that is through rigorous adherence to the rule of law.

In raising this point I am not trying to be obstructionist in any way. I am trying to wave a red flag. I think the last thing that any of us would want, whether we talk about the people in Quebec or people from outside Quebec, is for an amendment like this to pass through the Quebec assembly and to pass through this Parliament and then to have it be overturned in the courts as unconstitutional. That would be bad for us. It would be bad for Quebec. It would be bad for the process of educational reform in that province.

Let me make a preliminary application of the test of the Canadian national interest to this amendment. As previously noted, the actions of one province affecting minority or majority rights in education may set important precedents regarding educational rights of majorities in other provinces. That is why we take so seriously the amendment coming from Newfoundland. Yes it pertains only to Newfoundland but does it have precedent application for other provinces?

For example parents in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba with a keen interest in ensuring a religious based education for their children are watching both with interest and apprehension the precedents being set in educational reform and changes to minority rights in both Newfoundland and Quebec.

As I said, Parliament will want to assure itself that the passage of the proposed Quebec amendment or the Newfoundland amendment in no way establishes a precedent prejudicially affecting minority rights in other provinces. Even if the supreme court were to determine that it is acceptable to use the section 43 amending formula to give Quebec powers that are not available to other provinces, the use of an amending formula that excludes most Canadians in order to grant special status to one province violates the principle of equality of provinces.

If this were to be permitted, a dangerous precedent could be set under which restrictions that had been placed on the powers of all provincial governments could be stripped back unilaterally from one province or another. Under such conditions Canada could become a patchwork quilt of provinces with different powers. No other federation in the world permits such a situation although all federations allow provinces, states and cantons to establish their own constitutions so that citizens of each of these units can impose further restrictions on their own governments if they choose.

While no one questions that an improved educational system for Quebec is in the Canadian national interest provided Quebec remains in Canada, it appears that the form of the proposed amendment and the precedents which it may establish do not yet fully satisfy the test of the Canadian national interest.

We want to be constructive. We therefore want to conclude with some suggestions for repairing the possible defects in the Quebec constitutional amendment which may make it impossible for this House to approve it in its current form.

The children of Quebec and provisions for their education are of great importance to all Canadians. They are of great importance to the official opposition in this Parliament. Reform believes most strongly that education is a matter of provincial responsibility and that provincial jurisdiction over education should be respected and enhanced.

The principal interest of the federal Parliament in educational reform is mainly that such reforms do not prejudicially affect the rights of minorities which Parliament has an obligation to protect. Parliament should discharge these responsibilities by applying to constitutional amendments allowing for educational reform the three great tests of democratic consent, the rule of law, and the Canadian national interest.

The chances of the Quebec government's constitutional amendment satisfying these three tests would be greatly enhanced and its prospects for gaining the support in this Parliament of the official opposition would be enhanced if this constitutional amendment were to be accompanied by three things:

One, clear evidence of majority support for the Quebec constitutional amendment through the results of a province wide referendum. Two, compelling legal evidence, preferably a supreme court ruling, establishing that both the proposed approach to amending the Constitution and the constitutional amendment itself conform to the rule of law. Three, clear evidence demonstrating to this Parliament that Quebec's educational reforms do not prejudicially affect rights previously granted and thus in no way establish precedents which may be damaging to minority rights in Quebec or in any other province.

To give effect to these arguments I therefore move:

That the motion be amended: by adding immediately after the words “concerning the Quebec school system;” the following:

“more specifically the matter of applying the following three tests for such a proposed constitutional amendment: the test of democratic consent, the test of Canadian national interest, and the test of the rule of law”;

and by replacing the words “November 7” with the words “the last sitting day in December”.

Appointment Of A Special Joint CommitteeGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, allow me to congratulate you on your new duties.

We are on the verge of a truly historic experience. I want to thank all the parties in this House that will join with the Quebec National Assembly to permit, and this is the core of the issue, the implementation of a resolution passed by the only francophone parliament, the only one controlled by a majority of Quebeckers, the National Assembly, of course.

I would first like to give three warnings. The resolution that will create the joint committee does not concern Quebec's language rights. The debate concerns obviously Quebec's ability to withdraw from the effect of section 93, especially subsections 1 to 4.

We would be hard pressed to find reference to Quebec's language rights. If we want to consider language rights, we would have to consult section 173 of the Charte de la langue française and of course the Charte québécoise des droits de la personne.

In our minds the matter involves—and I see that the Privy Council agreed—a bilateral amendment. I hope the Reform Party will understand that the five options offered by the Constitution Act, 1982 are clearly worded so that we can make no mistake as parliamentarians that we are right to put Quebec's resolution into effect according to the bilateral amending formula.

Perhaps the leader of the Reform Party does not fully grasp what one may call the consensus in Quebec. As for linguistic school boards, because that is what this is all about, the resolution says that religious beliefs have no bearing on the way Quebec will be organized or the selection of an administrative or management method. There is therefore no connection between people's religious beliefs and the method of management we will adopt for school boards. This is what dividing school boards by language is all about.

Why has a referendum on this issue not been held in Quebec in the past 15 years? Because of a lack of democracy? Of course not. The reason we have not had a referendum is, first, that the main stakeholders in education, regardless of their sympathies, have expressed exceptionally clear support for dividing school boards by language.

Let me remind the hon. members—as the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs indicated, I think—that, in Quebec, we have had a consensus on this issue since 1982: the Conseil supérieur de l'éducation and the Assemblée des évêques are in favour of the proposed change. When the Assemblée des évêques makes a pronouncement on an issue, it usually does so solemnly. Bishops being at the service of the Lord, they generally give a great deal of thought to any decision they make. They take every necessary precaution.

I can assure the Leader of the Opposition—and I am prepared to table a list of organizations, if he wishes, to help him better understand the reality in Quebec—that every player in the area of education, organizations such as the Alliance des professeurs, the Fédération des cégeps and the Council of Universities, were in favour and still are in favour of dividing school boards by language.

The leader of the official opposition should also know that, since the Parent report was tabled, both sovereignist and federalist governments have attempted on six separate occasions—yes, six occasions—to reform the education system in Quebec. Each of these attempts was blocked by the requirements, the obligations under section 93.

So, what will we do as parliamentarians when, before the holiday season—indeed Christmas is coming, but I am confident and also grateful to the government for its diligence—we pass a motion allowing the National Assembly, therefore the people of Quebec, to modernize, thanks to the existing consensus, its school system, so as to have linguistic school boards? This is the fundamental issue that must be understood.

Does this mean, assuming we proceed, that religious or pastoral teaching will no longer have its place in schools? Of course not, because the Education Act requires us to provide such teaching, and because section 41 of the Quebec charter of rights expressly recognizes such rights.

Therefore, I ask the Leader of the Opposition to make a careful reading of Quebec's reality. For goodness sake, there is no betrayal of democratic principles here. The Leader of the Opposition rose to say that education is sacred. We Quebecers have known that since the Tremblay report. Every Quebec premier has always said that education is sacred, primarily because it has to do with one's identity, culture and training.

The Quebec National Assembly adopted the resollution unanimously. As parliamentarians, we all know how difficult this is to achieve, that unanimity in Parliament seldom occurs. So, let us rejoice at the Quebec National Assembly's unanimous stance on the establishment of linguistic school boards.

The Leader of the Opposition should never forget that six attempts were made to reform Quebec's school system. Again, who, in this House, can claim that, in Quebec or elsewhere—but we speak for Quebec—there is a link between the religious convictions of individuals—which we respect, given their noble character—and school boards? There can be no links between the religious beliefs and convictions of individuals and the way we will, or want to, set up school boards.

We all know that the worst thing that could happen to this Parliament would be for there to be a slippage, a sideways skid, and for there to be an attempt to link this constitutional amendment with the language rights of anglophone minorities, something which, as you know, all hon. members hold dear.

Why this attachment to the anglophone minority? First of all, because the anglophone minority is part of our history. There were Thompsons, there were Jeffersons, in our history, and we know very well they had a hand in building the province of Quebec, the country of Quebec, and we acknowledge their special role. None among us can claim—I see that the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine is nodding her agreement—that the English Quebec community, the anglophone community, and the 90 some-odd other groups co-existing in Quebec, can be put on the same footing.

We therefore recognize—and I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition has read the National Assembly motion—that the anglophone community, or the English speaking community as they chose to put it, is entitled to its educational structures, to schooling from kindergarten to the university level, according to a criterion found in article 73 of the Charter of the French Language. No one is challenging this. Moreover, generally speaking, I do not believe I am mistaken in thinking that the anglophone community, via a number of spokespersons, has been rather favourable to the point that, when it comes down to it, what it will get from the linguistic school boards is an enhanced control over its institutions. That is what it will mean to the anglophone community.

There are some, of course, who link this amendment with section 23(1)(a). Let us be accurate about it. To repeat, what we are dealing with today is an amendment which invites us to follow up on a unanimous resolution by the National Assembly concerning denominational schools and not—and I repeat—a debate addressing language rights.

We are not creating a precedent here, and I hope the Leader of the Opposition is going to share our enthusiasm and agree that we are doing the right thing, as parliamentarians, in relying on section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982. We know full well that in the recent history of the Constitution, no precedent has been created.

The Parliament was asked on four occasions to use this amending formula, and you will recall that two of these cases concerned Newfoundland. In the first instance, it was to grant the Pentecostal Church the same rights the five other churches had in Newfoundland, and to that end section 42 was used. The Leader of the Opposition spoke at length about the most recent case involving Newfoundland.

The same section was applied to New Brunswick to enshrine the equality between the francophone community and the anglophone community. Closer to us—and at the time I was a member of this House—we used section 42 with regard to the construction of the bridge linking Prince Edward Island to the mainland.

Members should know that, as we speak, there is a bill before the national assembly, Bill 109. It is the result of the consensus I have been talking about for the past several minutes. I say to all my colleagues from every party that should we not be able to pass and proclaim this motion and the resulting bill due to a twist of fate—passing them is not enough, they have to be proclaimed—the national assembly would have a major problem. Bill 109 will create linguistic school boards across Quebec, thus bringing the number of school boards from 158 to 70, and making the Quebec education system more coherent.

If it were not passed by December—and this is why it is important that all political parties, the government, the Reform Party, the Conservatives and the NDP co-operate—it would create a problem for the National Assembly, because its legislation provides that everything should be in effect at the start of the next school year, including the administrative provisions dealing with the boundaries of the school boards' territory, student registration, and the sharing of existing facilities between the new school boards that will be created. In any case, the act still provides that school boards will be created.

However, if it were not passed, it would complicate things and the provincial government would have to reopen collective agreements with the unions. Such a situation would not benefit anyone, and certainly not Quebec students.

I want to make it very clear—and I am grateful to the minister for pointing it out—that in no way will the right to religious teaching be marginalized or diminished when linguistic school boards are created. As I said earlier, that right is clearly stated in the Education Act and in section 41 of the Quebec charter of rights, which is a quasi-constitutional provision.

Again, it is the National Assembly's prerogative to act upon this consensus. There is a consensus among all those who have expressed their views on the issue. We are talking about a large coalition.

If I took the time to mention all those who have been interested in this issue since the early eighties and who hope we can modernize Quebec's school system, you would see that everyone in our province supports this change.

The National Assembly approved the resolution unanimously, which means that all parties agree. This is no mean feat, considering it is the parliamentarians' role to debate, to challenge ideas, sometimes to reach a consensus. We are talking about a group which includes some very knowledgeable people, such as the MNA for Marquette who was at one time, albeit for a very brief period, chairman of the Montreal Catholic School Commission. Again, there is a consensus in Quebec's National Assembly, in fact, there is unanimity.

I would be lying if I said we are happy with the fact that seven senators will sit on this committee. The Government of Quebec believes, and we agree, that a strong enough consensus has developed and that the amendment only concerns Quebec and the federal government. Therefore, we would rather have done without the joint committee.

However, we respect the government's prerogative to conduct such consultations. We hope they will be carried out with all due diligence, but we will take the process seriously. We will listen to those who wish to make presentations but, again, we must bear in mind that we are dealing with education and what this amendment is about is enabling the National Assembly to rearrange the way school boards are managed. We think there is a strong enough consensus to allow this to proceed.

Similarities with the situation in Newfoundland make it necessary to exercise some caution. First, when we read about what happened in Newfoundland, we see that a referendum was held, the results of which were unequivocal—let us hope this will happen again—but still, the case of Newfoundland is somewhat unique, as I am told that it is the only Canadian province where the six religious denominations each controlled their own institutions and that the amendment passed by referendum in Newfoundland is designed to establish a public education system across the board so to speak, which is obviously not what Quebec is asking for. The amendment it is seeking is more administrative in nature.

We should therefore be careful not to make hasty comparisons with Newfoundland. I think it is important to reiterate our deep attachment to the anglophone community. We believe it has historically played a role in Quebec and we look to a future that includes the anglophone community. We are strongly committed, and I want to make it very clear, to rights. I find this a good test of democracy. I think it was the philosopher Valéry who said a civilization must be judged on the way it treats its minorities. Minority rights are, of course, an important element in the balance of a community.

Madam Speaker, you would not find the same thing anywhere else, if you and I were to agree, in a burst of generosity, to take a trip across Canada in order to try to find somewhat comparable examples elsewhere of how francophone minorities outside Quebec are treated. I think no Quebecker need feel ashamed of how the anglophone community is being treated, and we must continue along that path, as we have in the health system. An anglophone living in Quebec has access to institutions, to a public education system from kindergarten to university. That is something.

Contrary to section 223 of the 1982 legislation, there is not even a numerical criterion. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs knows very well that we have never subjected anglophone rights to a clause such as “where numbers justify”.

I think that these are the facts the Reform Party ought to read, and I hope that our debates will run smoothly. I greatly fear we will get sidetracked and I am calling upon the maturity of all parties, of course. As you know, I shall keep my distance from any such sidetracking because what the debate must be about is denominational schools. The debate must be about the right of the province of Quebec, and the country of Quebec, to organize its own school boards, as the National Assembly wishes, and must not be about language rights. I think a great effort must be made to keep that in mind.

In closing, I would like to state that what strikes us as very important for the future is that the National Assembly must be respected and that we must be able to modernize the Quebec school system.

There is, moreover, certainly a connection to be made with all of the work currently being done in Quebec to ensure that programs to be implemented in the schools are such that they will prepare Quebecers for the society of the year 2000.

Madam Speaker, since you are indicating that my time is up, let me conclude by hoping that the debates will be calm ones and that the wishes of the National Assembly will be respected.

I would also like to remind the leader of the Reform Party that he need not look for a flawed democracy where it does not exist. If ever he would like to improve his French by coming with me to meet those who are actively involved in the Quebec educational system, I would be only too pleased to do so.

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4:45 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta


Preston Manning ReformLeader of the Opposition

I would like to thank the member for his speech and his invitation to serenity. I did not realize that serenity was part of the Bloc's platform but I am glad to hear that it is.

I have just one question that I would like him to perhaps enlighten us on. He appealed in his talk to section 43 of the Constitution Act 1982 as this would be an appropriate formula for amending the Constitution in the way that Quebec desires. But the very resolution that Quebec has brought to this Parliament says that this in no way constitutes recognition by the National Assembly of the Constitution Act 1982. In other words we are being asked to amend the Canadian Constitution in compliance with a section of the Constitution that the Quebec assembly does not recognize.

Would the hon. member explain how he reconciles those two positions?

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4:45 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, may I say to the leader of the official opposition that calm is to my party what openmindedness is to his. This is what leads me to think that the debate will be calm.

That having been said, the Leader of the Opposition knows very well that the motion tabled in the National Assembly states very clearly that we do not recognize the Constitution Act, 1982, for a number of reasons, and with the support of a number of analysts in English Canada, who studied its impact. What did it mean to Quebeckers to have a charter of rights and freedoms? It meant that whole chunks of the only law of national redress ever to be passed by the National Assembly, Bill 101, were invalidated, as concerns display in administrative terms, and of course the Canada clause versus the Quebec clause.

That having been said, we are governed by a constitutional order and contrary to our will we must, in order to modernize our school system in Quebec, face this obligation before us to use the amending formula.

I think the Leader of the Opposition is above making simplistic links. We are democrats and here we are in a national parliament where each member was elected by the people in his or her riding.

There is a constitution, which we did not sign for all sorts of reason, but the first—and I would propose to the Leader of the Opposition that I give him for Christmas a book written by an intellectual by the name of Mandel of the University of Toronto, who proves the point clearly. He is an anglophone who is not a sovereignist. I am sure this book is in the Privy Council library. The author demonstrates in his book that the basic reason why in 1982 we adopted a charter with language rights incompatible with those of the National Assembly was to invalidate Bill 101. And he made no mistake, because, as you know, entire chunks of Bill 101 were invalidated.

That having been said, the Leader of the Opposition should never forget that we are democratic. There is a Canadian constitutional order that will apply until international law takes over. As part of the process, we are obliged to use the amending formula, a bilateral formula. To achieve our goal, we must respect this state of affairs.

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4:50 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville Québec


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

Madam Speaker, I enjoyed the hon. member's speech but his reply did not please me nearly as much. He launched into a debate that was completely off topic.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Constitution Act of 1982 applies. It does. The reasons put forward by the PQ government in Quebec and other political parties for not recognizing the Act of 1982 are very shaky. This is a debate I have taken part in on several occasions already, but we could also have it in this House, I guess.

Since we speak about the rule of law, 1982 is the rule of law in this country and I am very happy about that. Some parties might be unhappy about that, but it applies.

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4:50 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mamdam Speaker, if I pleased the minister with my speech at least, that makes me happy. He must realize however that my reply was directed to the Leader of the Opposition.

Incidentally, I would like the Université de Montréal to organize a debate opposing the minister and myself. I was a student of his. I hope he has a fond memory of those days.

Does the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs agree with me that legislation was properly and duly passed in the Quebec National Assembly, which is said to be the only national redress act ever to have been passed in Quebec, and I am referring to Bill 101?

Does the minister recognize that there are those who claim that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms could potentially weaken the authority of the National Assembly, by invalidating entire chunks of the act; does he agree that I am right when I rise in my place to make that argument, and does he agree that it is not desirable that francophones who have a unique responsibility on this continent could see their language rights weakened by a Constitution that was never recognized by the National Assembly?

That is what I am saying and I am prepared to argue my position in any forum and debate it with the minister in the forum of his choice.

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4:50 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I am ready when he is, but this is not the right time.

The hon. member is contradicting himself. While in his first speech his heart went out to the anglophone community, he is now bothered that, under a charter of rights and with the support of a large majority of Quebeckers, a support which they have expressed in one poll after the other, the use of English on commercial signs has been allowed.

This is obviously a serious contradiction, one that is furthermore irrelevant to the debate on the issue before us, which is the fact that Quebec wants linguistic school boards and, as far as the government is concerned, that is no problem.

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4:50 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, it is true that we must distinguish the two. I agree with the minister. However, the minister will realize that I was responding to a question from the Leader of the Opposition. He knows full well that, as a man of principle, I simply must reply to the opposition leader.

In short, the debate must be conducted in a dispassionate manner. I thank the government for its intention to act diligently regarding linguistic school boards, because such is the wish of the National Assembly.

I hope we make the necessary distinctions between denominational and linguistic rights. I want to reiterate, on behalf of all Bloc members, our attachment to that founding minority, the English community, whose rights will be maintained in the future. I am confident that, in the future, the dialogue will always be conducted in a spirit of generosity, as it has been in the past.

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4:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Thibeault)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Infrastructure.

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4:50 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I will try to be brief and serene and just say a word or two as to why the NDP caucus will be supporting the motion to send this matter to committee.

Regardless of what unanimity may exist in the National Assembly in Quebec, obviously a variety of concerns if not viewpoints have been expressed here this afternoon that point out the reason why we have due constitutional process in this place.

Constitutional resolutions which are to be considered by the House of Commons are as a rule considered by a special joint committee. It is only appropriate despite the obvious anxiousness on the part of the Government of Quebec and perhaps the National Assembly of Quebec that this be expedited as quickly as possible, that we observe this due process and have the opportunity to consult broadly with all Canadians who may be concerned about this particular constitutional resolution.

I share the perspective of the Reform Party with respect to the continuing inappropriateness of the role of Senate, not individual senators but of the Senate, in so far as its undemocratic nature is always a procedural contaminant in our proceedings here, especially when we are required to do things in the context of a special joint committee.

I would also remind the Leader of the Opposition that long before the Reform Party darkened these halls or lit these halls, depending on one's perspective, the NDP and before that the CCF were calling for the abolition of the Senate, precisely because it offended our democratic values and our feeling that whatever institution we have, whether it be no Senate or a new Senate, that it be democratic in nature.

There are a variety of reasons why this is a very important matter. Many of them have been touched on already. It does have the possibility of setting a precedent, if not a legal precedent at least a political precedent with respect to how similar issues will be dealt with in other provinces.

I think there is legitimate concern among the religious constituencies not just in Quebec but outside Quebec as to how we deal with these issues. We are mindful of the fact that we will be dealing with another not identical but nevertheless related issue, that of the future of denominational schools in Newfoundland. Therefore how we deal with this both in terms of process and in terms of substance is very important.

It has to do with the whole role and relationship between minority rights and the role of the majority. This is a very difficult question. It always has been and always will be. It needs to be sorted out as well as can be in respect of this issue. It has to do with national unity. We need to deal with this sensitively in respect of Quebec but we also need to respect due process. We want to do that in a way that can be respected by the National Assembly in Quebec and the Government of Quebec in so far as that is possible.

We also need to use this and other opportunities that will be presented to us to have if not a full debate, at least a preliminary debate about the future of the education system in so far as religious values are concerned.

There is an underlying concern, and the minister himself has referred to this as the secularization of the school system in Quebec. It seems to me that for a lot of Canadians, whether they are looking at the situation in Newfoundland where the government is considering getting rid of denominational schools altogether, or in Quebec where the denominational school system is being transformed into a linguistically based school system, there is an underlying question. That question is on the future of education as it pertains to values and how we continue at the same time to recognize that we no longer live in what might be technically called Christendom while on the other hand we want to live in a society where the appropriate role of religious values, religious instruction and religious world view are taken into consideration and not relegated to the realm of something purely private, something that exists only after hours or in some special segregated way.

It would seem to me that we all want to be pluralistic. On the one hand we want to recognize that we no longer live in what can be called Christendom but on the other hand we do not want to accept that we will live with our schools under the illusion that there is no such thing as fundamental values, that there is no such thing as something in which everything we do has to be grounded.

I will stop the theological dissertation at this moment, but this is something we need to pay more attention to when we are talking about education.than we have.

We support the motion. I will reserve judgment on the Reform amendment but on the face of it I do not see why the amendment is necessary. I sometimes think the Reform Party has a talent for moving the obvious in this House when it comes to certain things. I would hope that the committee would not have to be instructed to take into account the matter of democratic consent or the rule of law or the matter of whether or not it is in the Canadian national interest. It seems this would be something that I would hope parliamentarians would do without instruction.

The only thing that remains to be considered is whether the postponement of the reporting date is appropriate. The member from the Bloc raised some of the concerns that the Government of Quebec has with respect to any postponement beyond the date. I feel that has to be taken seriously although the concern does prejudge the outcome of what the hearings will be and what the fate of the resolution will be. However, we know what the fate of the resolution will be because the government has said that it intends to pass this resolution. We presume that its majority will be effective in that respect.

There are a couple of things I cannot resist commenting on. Much was made of the patriation debate or the Constitution of 1982. I think I am the only member of Parliament in the room at the moment who was here during that debate. I say to my Bloc colleagues that this was not passed without the consent of Quebeckers, at least in so far as those of us from outside Quebec perceived it at the time.

There were 75 members of Parliament from Quebec in this House at that time. At least 74 of them voted for that package. It would be wrong in the mythology of the sovereignist movement in Quebec to imagine that somehow members of Parliament from outside Quebec at that time did something in the face of opposition from Quebec as they understood it. They did it in the face of the opposition of a particular government in Quebec at that time, but they had no reason to believe that there was anything in the way of unanimity in Quebec in opposition to that package because they could see every day members of Parliament from Quebec getting up and urging other members of Parliament from outside Quebec to pass that patriation package.

Keep that in mind when telling the story because the story ought to be told in full and not just selectively.

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5 p.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I am going to make a comment and, if he wishes, the member is welcome to pick up on it.

He says that, at the time the Constitution was patriated, there were members who voted in favour. In fact, 74 of the 75 members from Quebec were Liberals.

However, I have news for the member. This is why the Bloc Quebecois is here, to prevent this dual legitimacy in Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois, and increasingly all of Quebec, is very clearly unanimous on this as well.

Even the Liberals in the National Assembly, those close to the federal Liberal Party at the time, were unanimous in disagreeing with how the federal government wanted to proceed.

I think he should take another look at his history, including that of Quebec, because just because there were Liberal members from Quebec who were in agreement or who voted in favour of patriating the Constitution does not mean Quebeckers were in agreement. They were not in agreement. There was a Liberal party line and they toed it.

But in the National Assembly, and this is what counts, they were unanimously opposed to patriating this Constitution.

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5:05 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the question. It does not seem to me that it contradicts what I said. The point I was trying to make is that it would be wrong to set up what happened in 1982 as something that Canadians, members of Parliament or Canadians from outside of Quebec did to Quebec. But rather that there were 74 members of Parliament in this House who voted for it. There were Quebecers who were against it, who were part of the PQ government at the time and others. I agree.

The fact is, and this is a continuing dimension of the debate which is frustrating for those of us outside of Quebec, it was a family fight. It was a fight between Quebeckers about the appropriateness of the patriation package.

If the Bloc and others are looking for the culprits, if there were culprits because I think there were legitimate positions on both sides and it is wrong to sort of demonize either side, it was other Quebeckers who were holding this position and who were telling people outside Quebec this was okay and had the support of the people of Quebec.

To pretend there is not that in-house dimension to the debate which goes on and which I have watched in the House for 18 years between various sets of Quebecers, federalists and sovereignists and nationalists, it gets very frustrating after a while when positions are attributed to the rest of Canada which are positions which arise out of the debate between Quebeckers themselves.

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5:05 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta


Preston Manning ReformLeader of the Opposition

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's remarks. He suggested that maybe the committee does not need any instruction, although I would suggest that a committee with some senators on it might at least require instruction on the subject of democratic consent. Maybe he would concede that.

He supports the amendment which has come to us from the Quebec legislature which includes asking Parliament to strike down section 93(1) as it applies to Quebec. The section says nothing in any such law shall prejudicially affect any right or privilege with respect to denominational schools which any class of persons have by law in the province at the union.

The hon. member's province has a very similar quotation in the Manitoba act. It is virtually identical. I am wondering what his position is.

Does he support striking down that section of the Manitoba act as it applies to Manitoba? Does the member have any fears that if this section is struck from 93(1) it might create a precedent for striking that section from the Manitoba act?

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5:05 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, all I indicated on behalf of the NDP was that we supported sending this to the committee so that all the various concerns could be examined. I did raise the matter of what precedence this may set for other provinces. It is something the committee has to discuss and arrive at a position.

There is no such request from Manitoba and one finds it hard to imagine a unanimous request from Manitoba on such a matter. Clearly this is a concern that people in other provinces have both in respect of the Newfoundland situation and the Quebec situation.

To the Leader of the Opposition, in terms of the three tests it seems this represents some development in Reform thinking when it comes to democracy. It has always seemed to me that until today there has been a more simplistic attachment to the result of referenda than we see today.

It is not just democratic consent, it is also the rule of law, which I would have assumed. Then comes the matter of Canadian national interests, obviously a very political matter in the best sense of the word, what is good for the body politic.

That may mean from time to time that parties and their leaders may have to say on occasion there may be a conflict between what the will of the people appears to be and what is in the national interest. That is when political leadership is really tried, when one has to go beyond appealing to the crowd and saying will it be Barabas or will it be Christ, saying it is up to the people and making a choice of your own as to what is right.

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5:10 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Madam Speaker, members have been speaking about the 1982 patriation of the Constitution for the last few minutes.

I have been listening to what has been said. The Leader of the Opposition, among others, mentioned that, because an amending process is involved, thought should perhaps be given to a referendum to validate the democratic basis.

I would like to point out that in 1982 there was not all this nitpicking about a referendum. For Quebec, it meant the loss of a number of powers conferred on it by the original Constitution.

Imagine for a moment, and I ask the Leader of the Opposition to picture this, that the American Congress decided, without consulting one quarter of the American states—California, Florida, New York—to change the American Constitution. Imagine for a moment that that were to happen. There would be a second American revolution.

Faced with an identical situation, since Quebec represents one quarter of the Canadian population, Quebec looked for an accommodation. Even now, with the demand from the National Assembly, Quebec is looking for an accommodation, without recognizing the Constitution, which was the result of a process from which it was excluded.

The NDP member mentioned that it was in good faith that he supported patriation of the Constitution in 1982 because, he says, 74 Liberals representing Quebec said it was all right. First of all, since Liberal members were involved, he should have been on his guard. Am I not right, Madam Speaker?

When all parties in the Quebec National Assembly say that they are taking a particular stand, it seems to me that this House should take notice. I await my hon. colleague's comments.

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5:10 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am not sure. It seemed the hon. member was asking questions of the Leader of the Opposition. I have given my account of what I think happened in 1982. It ought to be taken seriously.

The points the member makes are legitimate, but I was simply trying to point something out for the purposes of historical accuracy and, for that matter, for a kind of emotional accuracy.

What was done in 1982 by members of Parliament from outside Quebec was not done in the face of the absence of a strong Quebec opinion that what we were doing was the right thing.

There was a division within Quebec about it and we had to choose which among the different Quebec opinions we would adhere to. We would have been equally open to the charge that we were—

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5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member. Resuming debate.

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5:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Progressive Conservative Compton—Stanstead, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to the motion put forward by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs on the establishment of a joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate to study matters related to the proposed resolution respecting the amendment to section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, concerning the Quebec school system. That is just to be clear on what we are addressing today. We seem to be wandering a little bit.

I commend and congratulate Madam Speaker on her appointment as speaker. The Right Hon. John G. Diefenbaker once said to parliament “Parliament is more than a procedure. It is the custodian of the nation's freedom”. Madam Speaker, you are charged with a very important duty in the House as members seek to serve their constituents. I, on behalf of my constituents, look for your assistance in the pursuit of serving Canadians.

First of all, I want to thank the constituents of Compton—Stanstead who entrusted me with the important task of representing them in the House of Commons. It is an honour for me to be their MP.

Compton—Stanstead is a half urban, half rural riding. It is a dairy farm region. It is also an area full of lakes and hills where one can do some sailing, boating and trekking during the summer and ski or go on snowmobile tours during the winter. Finally, it is a region where everybody loves the great outdoors.

I would like to invite all the members to visit this wonderful region where people have never stopped working towards a stronger Canada, a part of Quebec where anglophones and francophones have rubbed shoulders for many generations and have learned to live and work together.

As a representative of this Eastern Townships region, I have some experience in the issue before us today.

The Eastern Townships have been used as a test area for linguistic schools in Quebec for the last 10 to 15 years and I must say we are very pleased with the results so far.

Linguistic schools were tested in the Eastern Townships in preparation for their implementation all over Quebec. At first there were some real concerns, because people did not know how this system would work and they wondered if it would be fair.

In fact it worked. It worked quite well. We were the test case. We went through it. At present I have lived through the experience personally. It has been a good working system.

This committee, however, will examine something a lot larger than the test case of linguistic schools in the eastern townships. At present the rights of minorities are guaranteed in the Canadian Constitution. They are guaranteed under the Constitutional Act, 1867 and 1982.

It remains my opinion that amending the Constitution is a very serious matter that should not be taken lightly, which presents the House with a dilemma.

The National Assembly in Quebec City has voted overwhelmingly in favour of instituting linguistic school boards as soon as possible. It is desirable for that purpose to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, so that Quebec has full capacity to act in matters of education.

As I said earlier, in my experience this probably makes good sense. Yet it concerns me. Is it the role of the House to stand in the way of what seems to be the overwhelming will of the people of Quebec? Or, is the role of the House to ensure that the rights of all Canadians are protected under the law? Can it do both?

I am new to this debate. I have much to learn about the Constitutional nuances of my country. What I do know is that the Reform Party's proposal to have a referendum on this question is without merit.

At some point we have to trust elected officials. On this particular matter there seems to be consensus in the national assembly. The Reform Party is proposing to have a constituent assembly comprised of the entire province of Quebec.

As a constitutional amendment must not, it seems to me, be made with a nod of the head, I intend to ensure that the committee examines all the repercussions of the proposed amendment on Quebec and on the Constitution of Canada.

I would like now to speak of my immediate concerns and the questions this committee must answer.

The matter is a complicated one, but it concerns a very basic right. I believe that, in the context of the debate on these issues, we must first and foremost answer the following question: will these decisions best serve the interests of young Canadians?

Still on the subject of education, let us look at a few other concerns. First, minority rights and specifically the rights of the anglophone minority in Quebec.

The legislative report of the Government of Quebec indicates that, in order to protect the rights of linguistic minorities within denominational school boards, the bill would have language councils in each. I quote:

The parents of students of the linguistic minority in question will sit on these councils. As appropriate, the language councils will have sufficient authority to ensure constitutional guarantees to anglophones are honoured.

The language councils are to be consulted prior to the establishment of the schools needed for the students of the linguistic minority. They will ensure the school boards provide the minority with an equitable distribution of human, material and financial resources. In the event the school boards conclude service agreements, these agreements shall also be approved by the language councils.

All that seems reasonable. The minorities will have their language councils. That seems perfectly reasonable. However, the document continues, and I quote:

The foregoing provisions are contained in a specific section of the bill, which indicates clearly that denominational school boards and the right to dissent shall remain in force until such time as the Government of Quebec regains its full legislative powers in the field of education.

In other words once the Constitution is amended that is it for language councils.

Second, it is important to note that not all francophones are in favour of linguistic school boards. I have a stack of letters in my office from very pious, observant francophone Protestants who are concerned they will lose their own schools and no religion will be taught.

I will read one letter as an example.

Dear Mr. Price,

We have three children, two of whom have attended and one of whom still attends a French Protestant school called Le Sentier. I am writing to express my disagreement with the request of the Quebec government to amend section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 to make school boards non-denominational in the province of Quebec. I am very satisfied with this school for which we fought for well over 15 years before it finally opened six years ago. I am totally opposed to the fact that we can be denied our right to an education that is tailored to the needs and aspirations of our community.

Therefore, I urge you not to allow our Constitution to be amended, particularly section 93.

I want to keep the right to dissent, which to me is synonymous with freedom, and I am counting on you.

And this letter is signed by Mr. and Mrs. Béliveau of Rock Forest.

In my experience in the eastern townships there has been a chaplain in all the schools. These chaplains are trained to teach and handle issues arising from different religions. This will satisfy the needs of very religious people, but will there still be chaplains?

Another concern raised by some is that without religion in the schools there is nobody to teach and instil values in Canada's young people. This has to be addressed by the committee.

The last concern to which I will speak today is crucial. The Government of Quebec is devoted to independence for Quebec. It is imperative that any decisions regarding this issue be made for the right reason, not to appease that government or because we feel threatened by the separatist government in Quebec.

Similarly we should not make a decision that only serves to frustrate the Government of Quebec. The interest of Canada's young people must be the guide.

I would like to point out something that I found very interesting. When the Quebec minister responsible for education, Pauline Marois, issued the notes for the press conference to introduce the bill she made reference to several objectives in it.

The number one objective in notes of the Quebec minister was to promote the integration of immigrants into the francophone community. While it is important and necessary to ensure immigrants are welcomed and integrated into the Quebec community, it seems that bettering the education of Canada's young people might be a more important first objective for a government serious about education, not just talking about taking Quebec out of Canada.

I would like to address the differences between the situation in Quebec and Newfoundland, and I say differences because there are very few similarities. The people in Newfoundland have spoken clearly on the issue. There has not been full public consultation in Quebec. The public needs to be consulted and this committee will ensure that the public will be consulted.

In Newfoundland two school systems are being combined to create one public school system. In Quebec it is proposed that two school systems change dramatically to create two new school systems. While the principle might be similar, the realities vary. For this reason it is important to look at the issues of Quebec and Newfoundland separately.

I am pleased that the House is getting around to considering this matter in a serious fashion. It was completely unacceptable for the government to forgo any real consideration of the last constitutional amendment that came its way. Thankfully the Senate did an admirable job last year in travelling to Newfoundland to hear all the views and concerns of interested parties. The House should not have dispensed with its constitutional duty so cavalierly, without debate and without concern.

A last concern is that it has come to my attention that this committee will not be permitted to travel. This seems strange. I hope I have succeeded in outlining the importance of this committee. It should be given the resources to conduct its job properly and efficiently. This will almost certainly mean hearing from witnesses who would not come before committees if it meant being unreasonably inconvenienced.

The eastern townships was a test case and it worked out quite well.

Let us look now at what we can accomplish together for our country and especially for our youth.

Appointment Of A Special Joint CommitteeGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to question the member about one thing in his speech. His wording was something like there was a time when people had to trust their representatives or their officials.

How does the member distinguish the times when he would trust his constituents as opposed to trusting himself? Does it have to do with self-interest or an academic qualification? How does he define his representation of constituents? Does he represent them? Does he represent himself or does he represent his party?

Appointment Of A Special Joint CommitteeGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Progressive Conservative Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is quite straightforward that I represent my constituents. They elected me to do a job. I do not think they expected to come here every time there was a separate vote, that they would have to vote individually. I am here representing them and that is the job we should be doing.