Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to respond today on behalf of the Reform Party of Canada to this ministerial statement.
I note that the Reform Party has not taken a position as a caucus on the issue since it was just tabled in the House today. However I would like to express a few thoughts which may guide individual members during the discussion of this important issue and which may help members of the Reform Party in their decision about whether to vote for the resolution.
I am somewhat surprised but pleased that this request to change the Constitution comes from a legislature which denies the validity of the Constitution. I suppose we in Parliament are pleased that although the political rhetoric from Mr. Bouchard is running high, his actions run contrary to his words in actual fact with his recognition of the Constitution as the rule of law in the country. He is abiding by it. We in the Reform Party wish that he would make a public commitment to abide by the Constitution with respect to the
question of the sovereignty of Quebec. I will return to that theme in a moment.
Reformers are committed to the principle of grassroots participation in decision making, especially when it comes to our most basic law, the Constitution. Decision making on political issues needs to be pushed as far down the political ladder as possible to those most affected by the decision.
Although politicians in the legislature of Quebec have voted unanimously for the resolution, there is a large group of people from whom we have not heard. Those are the parents of the children in the schools. They may support the resolution or they may be against it, but the point is that we simply do not know. There have been no public hearings held on the resolution in Quebec as far as I know. That is a fundamental flaw in the political process which the government has not addressed.
Many Reform Party members will vote against the resolution for this reason alone. We are changing the legal rights of religious minorities and other minorities without hearing from the people who might be affected. As I mentioned, many Reformers will find that very unpalatable and very hard to support.
I am pleased that at least the federal government is referring the resolution to a joint committee. It is my hope that the government will take its time and not rush the matter through without hearing from all those affected, simply because there is an election in the offing and the federal government may want to appease the Government of Quebec. I hope that will not happen.
In my province constitutional change must be approved in a provincial referendum before any change is accepted by the province of British Columbia. I believe that is the proper way to do it.
The last time we dealt with a change to the Constitution in Parliament was at Newfoundland's request. Most Reform Party members found that although we had questions about whether it was a wise decision and questions about minority rights and all the things that concerned us, most of our concerns were put at ease. There had been wide public consultation in the province of Newfoundland. There had been public debate. There had been a referendum on the question. The people of Newfoundland expressed the opinion that they were in favour of the change.
If the province of Quebec had done that on this issue and come to the House asking for the change, it would have been so much easier to support, knowing full well that the people had been consulted in the most democratic way by having a referendum on the question.
When the joint committee begins its investigation some questions will be raised, if the committee is allowed to do its work properly, by parents, bishops, minority groups in Quebec, Alliance Quebec and others. They will come before the committee to raise several questions.
They will raise the question that it is not wise or prudent to toss aside a century old tradition and constitutional requirement to have confessional schools. They will say it is not good enough to make a blanket declaration that Quebec society is now secular and therefore that justifies broad changes to the Constitution.
Many Quebecers may well want these changes. That question will be put by the bishops and by many others that have contacted our office and other MPs' offices saying they want to have a say in the matter. They want to put some questions and bring their concerns to the table. I am sure that would be one way they would do that.
People will come forward to say that in the past there has been positive contribution from many confessional schools or religious schools. The schools have been a check and balance on the Government of Quebec using its influence within the school system to mould the future youth. It is interesting how so many different players are involved in moulding our youth. Certainly the parents have the primary role but many other factors mould the next generation.
Our schools are a big factor. Our religious institutions suffice it to say have a huge influence on the next generation. I do not know the numbers exactly of how many are Catholic or Protestant and how many are French or English. They help to balance the third influence, the government.
People will raise the question that it is a good check and balance on the system to have different players such as parents, religious authorities, the government, people devising curricula and all the different factors coming into play to help mould the next generation. Sometimes those checks and balances are necessary to make sure that no one group forces its agenda on the table.
I hope the hearings will allow those people to come forward. The government will realize that sometimes it is not always wise to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are some necessary checks and balances. Many people will be coming forward to indicate that these changes take some of those checks and balances away.
The rights of linguistic and religious minorities must be respected in Quebec as in all of Canada. The resolution has the potential, many people will argue, to abuse those rights. We have assurances from the minister that he does not believe that will happen. We have assurances from the Bloc that will not happen.
The record of the separatist government in Quebec is not very good. In some statements its members have made they have blamed ethnic minorities and other people for different actions, everything from unemployment to whatever. During the hearings people will be bringing forward the idea that religious and linguistic minorities may be losing some of their rights through this change. Again that will be discussed. The joint standing committee
that will be struck will want to review that in detail to make sure it is not the case.
I hope the federal government will avoid any rash political decisions in this most important debate because an election is probably only three or four days away.
I hope it is sincere in that it does want to allow a joint Senate-Commons committee to do the investigative work, to call witnesses, to put people's minds at ease where it can be done, and to raise any troubling concerns that people in Quebec may have about this proposed constitutional change.
I hope the federal government will do that. I think this is a most important debate that we will be entering into and it will centre around our desire to preserve our values of tolerance, our appreciation of the past, our religious freedoms and our national unity. I look forward to that debate. I thank the minister for his intervention.