Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to stand today in this House of Commons to debate this motion. The motion is a very simple one. In the positive as it is stated it says that members will be permitted to display small flags at their desks if they so choose. That is the essence of it.
For me it was really defined at a time when I was denied that permission. Because I have been quite involved with this story, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today.
I will give a little background. I am a first generation Canadian. I had no choice as the previous member had about when and where I was born. However, I am very glad that I was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, in a province of Canada. I grew up in a family which had chosen to make Canada their home.
Along with other people in their immediate group, my grandparents while living in southern Russia during the first world war, suffered from a lot of persecution. The revolution came after the war. Members of our family in that country were killed in that revolution simply because of their beliefs and not because they committed any crime or anything else. They were not on the right political side.
My grandparents having escaped from the same disasters made the decision to move their family out of that country. They literally fled that country and came to Canada. They came here because this was the country of freedom, opportunity and safety for their family. Though they did not know each other, this happened in parallel to my grandparents on both my mom's and dad's sides.
As a youngster growing up in a farm home, we had central heating which was defined as being a stove in one of the main floor rooms. There was a hole in the ceiling that allowed the heat by convection to go upstairs. There was a grate at the hole and we could hear what the adults were saying downstairs. I remember hearing my grandparents, my uncles, aunts and some of their friends discuss how things were in the old country. Over and over I remember hearing how wonderful that we could come to Canada.
This was not part of my speech but it is tremendously important. I was asked this week a number of times whether I was proud to be a Canadian. I said yes. The word that describes it better is that I am grateful to be a Canadian. I am thankful to be a Canadian. I am so thankful that my grandparents made that decision to leave that country and come to this country. There is deep within me feelings and convictions of the importance of preserving freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of choosing one's faith, all these freedoms in this country which I and my family value so highly.
I will go back to February 26 when the member came back from Nagano. At the suggestion of one of the Liberal members, a member of this House had placed flags on all our desks. It was agreed that when the member who had said things about our Canadian flag came back from Nagano that as loyal Canadians we would wave these flags and show her that we love our country.
At that stage I did not know who had made this suggestion. No one in our party had said they had done it so I did not think it was from our party, and I did not care. I said I agreed with this. Yes, I confess to engaging in a spontaneous demonstration in this House of Commons when the member who had spoken disparagingly of our flag came back from Nagano. I confess I joined in that demonstration.
The question is should I now apologize for it? The answer is no, I should not. If we do not have freedom of expression in this country, in this very House, then really what else matters?
Shortly thereafter we went back to the budget debate. This is the defining moment for me. This is the moment in my entire life where my flag meant more to me than at any other time. That was the same Thursday when, a few minutes later, there was a Liberal member droning on about how wonderful their budget was. I had heard most of the things before, therefore I will confess again that I was not paying a great deal of attention to what he was saying. I was reading.
After a little demonstration, without thinking instead of putting my flag back into my desk, I placed it into my little water holder. As a result, it just sat there, this little, tiny flag, three inches by six inches, and for those who are metric, seven and a half centimetres by fifteen. There it was. I was reading a paper. A Liberal member was droning on.
Suddenly, there was a point of order. A separatist member of this House got up and said “Madam Speaker”—it was the one of the Acting Speakers who was in the chair—“I see flags and I would like to have them removed”. That is a paraphrase, not a quote.
I basically ignored it. I will admit that. The Acting Speaker did ask for members to remove their flags. I was busy reading and really did not pay too much attention to it. It was also in a language that I do not understand, and I regret that I do not understand it.
He stood up immediately again and said “Madam Speaker, I still see flags” and she did not see them. My flag was very small and very unobtrusive. It certainly was not bothering the Liberal member from speaking.
He pointed right at me and then she looked at me and said “Will the member for Elk Island remove his flag?” I have to say at that moment that flag meant more to me than anything. When I was asked to remove it, I did not.
Am I sorry? No, I am not. See how torn I am. The rules do not permit me in that instance to display a simple, little, Canadian flag and that is wrong. There is not another geographical location in this whole country where we cannot display our flag.
We have it in our offices. That has already been mentioned. I do not think there is a business in this entire country where, if an employee of the company would have a little flag on their desk, anyone would have the audacity, the nerve to say “Take it away”.
For me, it is not the permission to have the flag. It is an assurance that it will not be taken away from me. That is what happened on that day. That was the defining moment.
We have bombasted here today. We did not plan this. We honestly did not. I said that on very many talk shows this week. It was not a planned thing by the Reform Party. I did not know until two seconds before this happened that this is how it would develop.
I will say one thing. If I am asked to stand up for my country and my flag, I will do it and there will not be a member who is trying to tear this country apart who will stop me, nor any other Canadian or non-Canadian.
If I do not have that kind of fortitude, I do not have the right to stand here. It is a formidable task we have. Judging by the debate so far, everyone is against this motion. They are somehow trying to judge our motives. Because our motives are wrong, they are going to vote for what is wrong instead of for what is right.
I am appealing, I am begging, I am doing everything I can to ask hon. members on all sides of the House to do what is right. What we are asking is for a small incremental change.
Yes, I believe in rules. I believe in law. I believe in order. I believe that we have limits to our freedoms of expression. We are moving. We want to move those limits ever so little in this House so that when a member gets into a situation like I was in, the rules of the House cannot be used to defeat and to destroy my freedom of a very simple expression which I value so highly.