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House of Commons Hansard #75 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was flag.

Topics

Ways And MeansOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Willowdale Ontario

Liberal

Jim Peterson LiberalSecretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 83(1) I wish to table two notices of ways and means motions. The first is to implement a Kamloops Indian band tax on alcohol, tobacco and fuels. The second is to amend the Budget Implementation Act, 1997. I ask that an order of the day be designated for consideration of these motions.

The House resumed consideration of the motion and of the amendment.

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3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Kitchener Centre.

We usually begin our addresses in this place by saying we are pleased to rise on the particular issue. I wish I could say that about this issue.

The first thing I want to do is surrender to the authorities if that is appropriate, to admit my guilt that I waved a flag in this place. Members opposite referred to someone over here waving a full size Canadian flag. Guilty. The member for Scarborough East and I held it up. We sang the national anthem. We were proud to do it, no question. We were making a point to the separatists and to the reactions of the member for Rimouski—Mitis at the Olympics.

The deputy House leader for the Reform Party seems fit to chirp as she leaves her seat. She knows and you know, Mr. Speaker, that members of the Reform Party are absolutely nothing but opportunists in this issue. They are a disgrace to this place. They are a disgrace frankly to the Canadian flag for using it for their own political benefit. Reform Party members should be ashamed of themselves for what they are doing.

Far be it for me—

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3:05 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Edmonton North, AB

You never want to wave it again?

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3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

If the member opposite wants to take her seat and debate this in a normal fashion, I would be delighted to take her on.

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3:05 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Edmonton North, AB

I did that already this morning. You were not here when I was speaking.

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3:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Order. Hon. members may feel free to address other hon. members through the Chair.

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3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would make the point that if members of the official opposition really wanted to deal with this issue in a proper parliamentary form, they would participate with the House leaders in coming to a resolution. There is an option.

Government representatives and all other representatives of every party in this place came to an agreement proposing that the House Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could be mandated to study possible uses of the flag on Parliament Hill and in the House based on the conventions in other parliaments, particularly in the Commonwealth countries. I could support that if that was the motion put forward by the opposition. It would make sense. It would calm the issue down. It would allow for some proper time to study how we might more appropriately use the Canadian flag in this place and in the precincts around the capital and Parliament Hill.

Far be it for me to quote from the media, but I want to read from an article that Andrew Coyne wrote. It says there is nothing wrong with “a little flag waving so long as honest love of country is the motive”. I think the Canadian people will in time recognize the motive of the Reform Party as being purely political in this matter. It has nothing to do with freedom of speech. No one's freedom of speech is restricted in this place as long as they do so within the rules.

It is an interesting thing that happened. We broke the rules and I think everybody knows it. Some 200 of us waved little flags in the air, my colleague and I held up the large flag, and we broke into a rendition of O Canada . I was proud to do that and I would do it again.

Even though I know it is against the rules in this place, it was important for once to make the point to the Bloc Quebecois, to the member for Rimouski—Mitis that we do not accept her remarks at the Olympics with regard to the display of the Canadian flag on behalf of Canadian athletes and Canadians everywhere. In fact it was a proud thing to see.

It was particularly proud to see the Olympic athletes smuggle in that huge flag. And it is against the rules in the Olympics. It was the second time it has happened at the Olympics. It became the focal point of the televised section of the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. It was a marvellous thing to see. If it bends the rules a little bit, so be it. Those athletes, not all of them kids, had a Canadian heart beating in them and they wanted to share that with the world. They wanted to tell the world that they had just competed for their country.

For a member of Parliament to make a comment like the separatist member has made is enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of one's neck. We wanted to send a message and did so with our demonstration. The message is that Canadians right across this land, including Canadians who live in Quebec and want to stay in Canada, are fed up with that brand of separatism as that member would try to sell to her constituents back in Quebec.

My constituents have called and said they were really angry with this. They know we have called a vote to put the flag on every desk. They think it is a difficult argument but wonder why we would not put a flag on our desks. Maybe we should.

I have been in legislatures and Parliament for several years and I have seen many, many instances where the rules were bent. I have seen people filibuster by reading names and addresses out of telephone books. Should we make that legal? Is that a proper form of debate?

When I was in the Ontario legislature I even presented Mike Harris with an American flag to make a point. The point was that we could see the Americanization of the agenda that has since come out as the common sense revolution.

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3:10 p.m.

An hon. member

Point over there.

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3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

The member says I should point there and he is right, but I have trouble pointing to the left when I talk about them.

The reality is that I did that for effect. I knew that the Speaker would admonish me and say it was not proper parliamentary procedure. I also knew I would not do it again because the point had been made.

We also made the point to the separatists. Let us not forget that what the Reform Party is doing by turning this into a debate over our cherished flag, by saying we have a bigger flag than they do or that we are prouder to be Canadians than they are, we are totally allowing the separatists to get off the hook. They started this. They are the ones who denigrated our flag with the comments by the member, on federal taxpayers' dollars, at the Olympic games with Canadian athletes fighting for their country. And we are letting them off the hook.

I object to the cheap political antics of painting a car. Imagine. A member has put a private member's bill forward as a result of one of the Reform members actually throwing the Canadian flag on the floor of the House of Commons in anger. The private member's bill states that it will be a criminal offence to desecrate the national flag of Canada. It should be a criminal offence. If that bill existed, that member would be hauled out of here and charged with a criminal offence.

For Reform members to now get on their high horse and try to tell Canadians across the country that only they care about the flag, I reject that. It makes me so damned angry. Canadians right across the country are proud of our flag and proud to be Canadians and so is the Liberal government.

These people are just playing cheap politics which in fact is a method of denigrating the Canadian flag. They should be ashamed of themselves.

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3:10 p.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member says that we are letting the Bloc Quebecois off the hook by bringing forward this motion.

I would suggest that the member is letting it off the hook by opposing this motion. The member is saying that we are to be patriotic yet he is castigating that party because it said there are too many flags at the Canadian Olympics. The member is saying that is wrong. There should be flags at the Canadian Olympics. But what the hon. member is also saying is that there should not be in the House of Commons, the federal government of this country.

I still suggest that if there is a problem in this House it is not the matter of the Reform Party's bringing this motion forward, but rather the hon. member rejecting the idea that Canadians should be able to see their federal members with their federal flag on their desks. What is wrong with that?

I asked a question earlier but time did not allow it so I was cut off. I put it to him. The minister of heritage spent over $20 million of taxpayer money giving away flags and trying to get Canadians to be more patriotic. Why, after spending all that taxpayer money, is he opposed to a small display of the Canadian flag here in this House of Commons?

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3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the Reform Party opposes the distribution of flags by this government which was an attempt to share the patriotic view of the House of Commons. It was done on behalf of all members across the country.

I did not say I am opposed to the flag being displayed. I am not opposed. It currently is displayed and I can see two of them as I speak. If the Reform Party were serious it could have adopted the agreement made by most members in this House over the weekend. The members said the issue should be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the committee be mandated to study the possible use of the flag on Parliament Hill.

If we really want it done, we can send it in the proper procedural way to a committee. Let the committee bring a report and we can depoliticize this issue. To play games with the Canadian flag is to do an injustice to that proud flag that I will stand behind in my constituency.

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3:15 p.m.

Reform

Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have been in this House for four years plus but I have never during all the time in this House seen anybody destroy the integrity of this House and the credibility like the member who just spoke.

This is what it says on this little label: “As a loyal Canadian, please wave this flag the first time you see the Bloc member stand up to speak in question period”. These flags were put out by the member for Oshawa. The credibility of this government is such that I am mad, and damn mad. My relatives died for a flag. This type of credibility in this House is not deserved and I want to know what this member would do when a gun was pointed at him, not just a little stick?

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3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand the passion the member feels because I too feel passionate about this issue. He is right. It was a Liberal backbench member who put these flags in everybody's desk and the message was to send a message to the member from the Bloc who was making the comments in Japan, and we sent that message with pride. I stood here and waved a full size flag in this House with pride and sang the anthem with pride. My relatives fought for this country too.

They do not have a corner on being self-righteous about this country or about this flag and I resent the comments by that member attacking my integrity and the integrity of this government. We should send this to a committee. We should calmly discuss it and if the committee can come up with a way to properly and in a larger way display our wonderful flag in this House, then that is what we should do. It would be supported by all members.

It is not grandstanding the way the Reform Party is doing it that will work and solve this issue.

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3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, this has not been the finest hour in this House. As a matter of fact, I am disappointed to stand and take the floor today to talk about some of the rhetoric that surrounds this issue.

There are a couple of points that I would like to make at the outset.

Members of the official opposition have been speaking to the effect that only small desk flags would be the result of the passing of the motion before us. However, the motion clearly states that the flag would be no larger than that of a standard recognized flag. This indicates that a flag of any size would be permitted to be displayed on desks. I would ask why members opposite are being so selective as to the flags they are referring to in the debate we are having today.

Another point is that members of the official opposition have been stressing the importance of flags being permissible in the House of Commons. I remind these members that it is difficult to sit here in the House today and not see the two Canadian flags proudly displayed on either side of the Speaker's chair.

These two points aside, I have thought about this issue a lot over the past week and a half, as I know many of my colleagues have. I was in the House the day the flags were spontaneously waved and our national anthem was sung. I was in the House to see a member of the official opposition throw a Canadian flag on the floor of this Chamber.

I understand the emotion of members of this House and of Canadians upon learning what the hon. member of the Bloc said about the display of our national flag in the Olympic village. Her comments were, at least to say, unfortunate.

However, the actions in this House upon her return have also done damage. They have further politicized our national emblem. It has been used as a mere prop of nationalism.

This motion does not suggest that flags be mandatory. My question to members opposite is if I do not have a flag on my desk and my seatmate has a flag on his desk, does the logical extension then say that he is more nationalistic, a prouder federalist than I am? I think not.

Nationalism and patriotism run deep. They are not limited merely to the display of our national flag. They are demonstrated in numerous ways, too many to count.

Need I remind our colleagues that just over two months ago regions of Ontario and Quebec, just across the provincial border, close to the Hill where we now are, were stricken by an ice storm? Need I remind members of this House how Canadians of all political stripes, from all regions, from all backgrounds and ethical beliefs banded together in a massive demonstration of nationalism of the strongest kind, nationalism of action?

We are elected representatives to the House of Commons. We are elected to represent the people of our constituencies. We are elected to use our best judgment when dealing with sensitive issues based on our firsthand knowledge. We are elected and sent to this House to debate government policies and to initiate action.

I do not deny members of the official opposition the right to introduce any motion of their choice on their allotted day. I do, however, regret that they have decided to further debate the issue which was ruled on yesterday in this House by our Speaker; an issue which most parties represented in this House recommended be directed to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further study; a study based on precedent and the conventions of this and other parliaments, particularly those of the Commonwealth countries.

The fact that members of the Reform Party do not support this recommendation, which is based on respect for the institution and the procedures of our democracy, further demonstrates that their motion is not about patriotism but merely about politics.

Members of the Reform Party are using the flag as a lightening rod to attract the attention of the media, overshadowing larger issues, issues which need to be discussed in the House, issues of job creation, health care, child care and industry development.

Let us not allow politics to be ruled by sound bytes used by the media, short clips heard on television and printed in newspapers. Yes, these things do provide information, but it is only a snapshot, not the whole picture.

The issues we deal with in the House are much larger and much more substantive than the way this whole issue has been portrayed.

I ask the House to return to the issues of importance to all Canadians. I ask Canadians to see this motion as one that will not move the envelope of Canadian unity toward a lasting stability for the country. Canada's future lies in a strong society.

I ask that the orders of precedence be respected and that we return to work on the important substantive issues facing the country which will make longlasting differences and help shape the future for all Canadians.

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3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's speech, but my recollection of the event that led to this parliamentary crisis is not quite the same as hers.

She spoke of a spontaneous demonstration. What I remember is that, when my colleague, the member for Rimouski—Mitis, rose to ask a very relevant question, flags began waving everywhere in the House, and it did not look spontaneous. It looked very well organized, by both the Liberals and the Reformers.

The result today is that all Quebeckers have understood that this demonstration that fired up nationalist sentiment in English Canada apparently did nothing to improve relations between Quebec and Canada.

I went back to my riding. What I found most distressing was that people were saying “What is it with that Parliament? You are wasting your time on this sort of thing. Is Parliament some kind of farce?”

In that sense, today's Reform Party motion only makes matters more farcical.

Would it not have been more important today to address the issues of employment insurance, poverty, and the multilateral agreement on investment, all daily concerns of Quebeckers and Canadians?

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would concur with the last comments of the member opposite that there are more substantive issues and there is a more productive way we could use this time. However, I would also like to underline that the comments, although made outside this Chamber by a member of the Bloc, were indeed unfortunate and were responded to with almost unanimity from members of other parties in the House. It was very difficult to deal with.

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3:25 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, it saddens me somewhat to even address this issue because I feel it should not even be discussed today. We must look realistically at how the issue commenced in the House. I emphasize in the House because members are free to do what they want outside. If people have concerns, they should be dealt with outside.

When the flags were waved in the House as a prop and the national anthem was sung to silence a member who had the right to speak, that was wrong. It is wrong now to be debating this issue as if it were one about flags. It is not an issue about flags. It is an issue about people wanting to get their way, to prove what they did was right and to justify what they did. I hear people making all kinds of excuses as to why they did it. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. It is not an issue of flags and we should not misinterpret it as being an issue of flags.

I feel very sad because the Canadian public is being taken in by this whole issue. We as parliamentarians who are supposed to be responsible people elected to serve our constituents are here wasting our time, spending taxpayer money debating an issue that ought not to be debated, should never have begun in the first place. The people who started it should be big enough to stand up and agree they were wrong and let it drop at that. Not every member of the House stood and sung O Canada.

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree. The Chair ruled on the events of that day. We are more than willing to accept that ruling and move forward.

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3:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will try to address my concerns to the Chair and keep them very brief.

There is a greater question here and I would like to ask the former speaker what she thinks of this. If we display a Canadian flag on our desk, what does that tell the people who do not display the Canadian flag? It does use it as some type of a weapon or some type of coercion to convince everyone else that they too should have one.

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I fully support this being referred to a standing committee and being dealt with through the proper channels and procedures.

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3:30 p.m.

Reform

Gary Lunn Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this debate has had an interesting fate in the way it has progressed over the last two weeks.

There are a number of issues I want to deal with. I think one of the most important things is that all of the people who are listening to this understand why we are doing this, putting an end to this. This issue admittedly arose from members of the government side standing to wave a flag, as well as members of this party, and rightfully so. They should have. I stood up proudly and waved the flag in response to comments made by a member of the Bloc. We said enough is enough, we have to get on with the important governing issues.

The members repeatedly have said send it to a committee. Sending that to a committee would be a colossal waste of time. It is important but it is not rocket science. We are talking about a very simple question.

This is the only way we can put this thing to an end once and for all and make every single member in this Chamber stand up and be counted. Will you allow a flag on your desk or will you not?

When we debated this supply day motion as to whether or not to proceed with it, that was the number one issue. Let us get this thing over with, make people stand up and be counted and move forward.

The fisheries and oceans committee I am involved with meets two or three times a week and we do a lot of good work. By sending something like this to committee to be buried in months and months of meetings is insane. It is absolutely ridiculous it has arrived at this point where we have used a supply day motion because there are lots of important issues. We were forced into this. We were pushed and we had to respond. This is one way to put an end to this and that is what this is all about today.

It can be argued that we are sitting here using up valuable time but we are not going to have this issue go on until May or June and then into next fall because that is crazy. That is what you guys keep telling us to do, send it to a committee and let us talk about it.

Yes, we did get a ruling from the Speaker yesterday and he did say it was clearly out of order. I accept that. No question. What happened? There were about 200 members of Parliament responding to comments made outside the House when a member was visiting a foreign country representing Canada with taxpayers' dollars. They were infuriated. They were outraged and they responded.

There were comments by the Speaker yesterday that this should not be repeated. With the highest respect for the Speaker himself and the authority of that chair, I would suggest that if these kinds of comments are made outside the House again exactly the same thing would happen.

We saw members of the government proudly wave a three foot by six foot flag during the budget debate only weeks ago when this issue came up. I supported them. I stood on my feet and sang O Canada , and I was proud to do that.

This debate has been elevated and it has progressed but thank goodness the Reform Party is bringing it to an end. It will not go to a committee. It will not go off to further meetings. They will not be talking about this in June. We will not be hearing grumblings about it. It is over today, once and for all.

Every member will have to stand in this House and be counted. There will be no ducking behind some orders of the government. They have an opportunity to stand and be counted on whether they will allow members to have a flag on their desks.

We are advocating that we should have this place give each person their right. They do not have to if they do not want to. I heard a member opposite just moments before referring to the flag as a weapon. For goodness sakes, that is the craziest thing I have heard. It is the elevation that this debate has come to. They talk about respect for institutions.

I do believe that a majority of these members, with the exception of one party, believe in this country and are patriotic. Some members just want to demonstrate that. However, I do not want to lose sight of why we are here today.

This is a very important question: Can some members put a flag on their desks? I admit that we did not do this in 1993 and we did not do it last September. This whole thing evolved out of the outcome of actions by a member of this House on a taxpayers' junket to another country and the House responded.

It has elevated to this and it is time that it has to stop. It has to be over and done. This is the one way that it can be done. The Reform Party had to use its supply day motion to put an end to this nonsense, to make sure they stand up and are counted.

I am in a state of awe that those members are sitting over there saying “Send it to a committee. Let them talk about it. Let us come back in June. Let us come back next fall. Let us carry this thing on”.

This is such an elementary question. It is so painfully simple that we have to make sure they stand up in this House, that they are heard and that we move forward.

I have heard people suggest that the Reform Party is using this as a lightning rod and as an opportunity. I will tell this House and every single Canadian out there watching in all sincerity that we do believe in this country. We do believe in the flag. I proudly stand here on Wednesdays and sing the national anthem. I do. If I did not, I would not be standing here right now making this speech. I would have a lot better things to be doing.

I will continue to fight for this country and fight for my kids so that they have a good place. I mean that sincerely. I really do.

To carry on with this nonsense is just absolutely crazy. The only way that we could force an end to this matter is to use our supply day. That is exactly what we have done. Every member over there will have to stand and be counted. They will have to say what side they are on. Let us talk about what this is all about.

Those members can say that it is a weapon. I heard one of the top strategists for the Progressive Conservative Party equating this to a Reform member having this tattooed on their body and displaying it in the House and whether that would be acceptable. There is all this craziness.

That is where all the other parties are taking this debate. It is simple. Can we take a little desk top flag and put it on our desk when we want to talk about a very important issue? Maybe we will want to leave it there all the time.

This is the House of Canada. This is the Parliament of Canada. There is only one flag for Canada. There is only one national anthem for Canada. I will stand up in this House and say that the Quebec flag does not belong in here any more than the Newfoundland flag or the British Columbia flag or any other flag from this country.

The only flag that belongs in this House is the maple leaf. I am sure I would have a lot of people who would agree with me. I stand in this House as a proud Canadian. Those flags belong beside the Speaker and no other flag on this desk.

Every member of Parliament sitting in this House should be standing up and fighting for the good of all Canadians. That is what we are doing today.

Now we are hearing comments that we are wasting time. The reality is respect. We are spending three or four hours debating this in this House.

This started out as an appropriate response to comments made and it has now elevated to this. This nonsense has to end and end today. People have to stand up and make sure they are heard, which is what we are here for.

I am happy to ask anyone to ask me any question on this issue. I will be glad to give them a response as long as they do not want to get into some silly debate about a whole bunch of issues that we are not talking about today.

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3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before we go to questions and comments, we have a point of order from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.

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3:40 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table the letter that the minister referred to during question period, if I have unanimous consent.

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3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Do we have unanimous consent?