Mr. Speaker, the Reform Party, by putting this motion before us, is trying to create the impression that it is leading the country in patriotism. The motion purports to start a practice of allowing the displaying of the Canadian flag on members' desks in the House as an act of patriotism. That is what it would like the Canadian public to believe.
How can we take the motion of the Reform Party with any modicum of seriousness and sincerity when barely two weeks ago it condoned utter disrespect for our national emblem?
This is the same Reform Party which allowed one of its members, the member for Medicine Hat, to desecrate the Canadian flag on the floor of this Chamber, duly documented in the media.
Indeed, when Canadians realize all of this, the motion before us quickly loses its moral edge, particularly when it is realized by all that the Reform Party did not introduce the motion before the Speaker's ruling but one day after that ruling.
Recall that the Reform Party has been widely reported in the media as having threatened the Speaker with a vote of non-confidence if he ruled against the Reform's pleading. This motion is a classic example of the Reform Party's sense of procedural justice.
Frankly, I would like to display the Canadian flag on my desk. I know I would treat it with the utmost respect and dignity befitting our national emblem, the embodiment of Canadian dreams, a sentiment aptly articulated by John Matheson in his book Canada's Flag: A Search for a Country : “The traditions of our people, their accomplishments, and their hopes for the future are summed up in the symbolic meaning of our flag”.
How then can the House show support for this motion when its authors belong to the same party which has failed to discipline one of its own members who showed a complete lack of decency in handling the Canadian flag on his desk?
Let me remind all colleagues and all Canadians that the said member of the Reform Party, a senior member of that party, instead of apologizing for his cowardly act, had the arrogance to tell the media “it was no big deal”.
The Reform Party ought to heed the words of Jennifer Robinson, that our flag is not a prop for the Reform Party's stunts, which appear in a column in today's issue of the Montreal Gazette : “Reformers may love their country, but they do no honour to the flag by using it as a prop for their political stunts. There is no honour in singing the national anthem if it is only to drown out political adversaries, no patriotism in waving a flag if it is only to show contempt”.
A distinguished member of the House, the hon. member for Sherbrooke, correctly said on the weekend: “A flag is meant to be cherished and is to be a symbol that unites people, not something to be bandied around for the purpose of trying to make a political point”.
The leader of the Reform Party said: “We think there is a second principle, equally important, the freedom of expression”, in hinting his disagreement with the ruling by the Speaker, who based his decision on the principle of decorum and order in the House.
Let me remind the leader of the Reform Party that freedom of expression, like all freedoms, is not absolute. As the old saying goes, my right to swing my fists ends where your face begins.
I agree with the wisdom of the Speaker's ruling yesterday. He said: “Without order there is no freedom of speech and, fundamentally, that is what this place is really about”.
The Winnipeg Free Press in today's issue timely reminded Canadians about the Reform Party: “Above all, they declared their determination to restore seriousness and decorum to Parliament and to put an end to the raucous disorder that infected question period. So what has happened to turn the Reformers into the bunch of merry mischief makers that they are today?”
Truly it is an appropriate question begging for an urgent answer from the Reform leader.
I agree with today's issue of the Toronto Star : “The two and a half week controversy that led to yesterday's ruling was damaging and unnecessary. It cheapened Canadian patriotism, hurt national unity and put the Speaker in an impossible position”. It went on to say it is a shame that the Canadian flag was used to disrupt the proceedings of the House.
The Toronto Star posed a challenge to the Speaker: “The Speaker should set himself the higher task of ensuring that the Canadian flag is used to symbolize tolerance and pride in the House of Commons”.
I remind all members and respectfully inform all Canadians that we already have in full view two full size Canadian flags on each side of the Speaker's chair. Moreover, we sing O Canada every Wednesday before question period.
Perhaps I could even force myself to understand the Reform Party's frustration or political argument with the Speaker. But the utmost of my understanding cannot condone any immature display of temper, to say the least, or any unconscionable deliberate insult to our flag, an act unbefitting any citizen, let alone a member of Parliament.
The Reform Party would like Canadians to believe that it is serious and sincere with this motion to display the Canadian flag on our desks as a manifestation of patriotism. Anyone can see through the Reform Party's motion a veneer of hypocrisy. A disguise is a disguise is a disguise. A disguise of outrage cannot hide a vacuum of sincerity in the motion.
Yesterday the Speaker of the House issued his ruling, pointing out that such a display of the Canadian flag on members' desks is not sanctioned under the present rules of the House. It should be said that the Speaker's ruling is not without precedent. In 1964 the then Speaker of the House in a precedent setting ruling prohibited flags at MPs' desks to be used as props.
Part of Reform's motion reads “that the said flag remain stationary for the purposes of decorum”. Yes, by this motion the Reform Party pretends to be the defender of decorum in the House.
The Reform motion purports to do one thing while its behaviour in the House clearly showed manifest disrespect for the flag and for decorum.
Mr. Hugh Windsor of the Globe and Mail in yesterday's issue rightly observed in his column “The Power Game” that the Reform Party has, to some extent, effectively used a staged photo opportunity as a tactic to draw media attention but that in the case of the hon. member for Rimouski—Mitis, alluding to the flag waving fuss which should have been another one day wonder, it carried the game too far by totally disrupting proceedings, denying the MP her right to speak and turning the Commons into a minstrel show by jumping up and singing O Canada.
In today's issue editorialist John Dafoe of the Winnipeg Free Press writes: “Obviously inspired by the success of that photo opportunity, they moved on to their newest caper, fun with flags. They turned the Canadian flag into a prop for yet another of their sight-gags”.
That is why even before the Speaker's ruling I regretted the disruption to the proceedings of the House the incident caused. I imagined before the Speaker's ruling what would happen to the business of the House were we to allow ourselves to be drawn to such actions so often. That is why, in all humility, I see the wisdom behind the ruling of the Speaker who emphasized the need for civility in the Chamber.
A wise man once said he who says he has learned everything, for him that is the beginning of educational death. There is a place for a dose of humility in the House.
The Reform Party did not hide its threats, its displeasure of the Speaker on the flag issue. Why did the Reform, in the interest of a greater goal, to allow the business of the House to proceed, decline to give its hands of peace, setting aside partisan politics?
Without decorum and order, the House cannot be expected to conduct its business, government proceeding with its legislation and the opposition holding the government accountable. What a pity that we are using this time not to debate the budget, education and health care but this issue.
Displaying flags on the desks of the members could invite further indignity to the flag as exhibited by the Reform Party. I intended to propose an amendment, but I will decline.
In his book The Story of Canada's Flag published in 1965, George F.G. Stanley, a leading Canadian historian, captured the historic and emotional significance of the Canadian flag when he wrote: “A flag speaks for the people of a nation or community. It inspires self-sacrifice, loyalty and devotion”.
This motion is just that, a motion, an empty statement devoid of sincerity, good will and respect, a parody of patriotism and a travesty of civility and decorum in Parliament.