Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the indulgence of the House. I have been here for most of the day listening to the debate. I have had the opportunity on several occasions to ask questions of speakers. I wish to speak to the motion before the House on behalf of the residents of York South—Weston.
In my view, it is important that this debate take place. Much has been said today about whether or not this motion should be before the House. In my view, it is extremely important that we discuss this matter and that it be debated in the Parliament of Canada. I am not sure whether this is the appropriate time to do it given the events of the last several weeks. However, the motion was properly put by the Reform Party.
I will read the motion for the benefit of my constituents:
That this House should recognize the Canadian flag as an acceptable symbol that may be displayed at any time on the desks of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons provided that only one flag be displayed on a Member's desk at any one given time, and that the said flag remain stationary for the purposes of decorum and be no larger than the standard recognized flag.
Mr. Speaker, if you were to put this question to Canadians right across Canada, the decision would be overwhelming. If it were put in a referendum, of course they would endorse this. I find it regrettable that there are a number of different political agendas at play this afternoon. I believe the political agendas at play this afternoon have tainted the debate.
Of course, no one wants to vote against the flag but for whatever reason four of the political parties in this House have decided en masse to vote against the motion before the House. In my view, it should be a free vote. I regret that some of the political parties in this House have made it a political vote, a party vote, a whipped vote. In effect, several parties have given talking points with respect to the motion to their members.
It would be morally wrong for members of this House to prohibit the waving or the display of the Canadian flag in the Canadian House of Commons. Why are we as Canadians so proud to wave the Canadian flag when we travel abroad, so proud to wave the Canadian flag in an uninhibited fashion when our athletes are successful at the olympic games or when our hockey teams are successful at international competitions? Why are we so prepared to wave the Canadian flag during those moments yet we appear to be prepared as a House of Commons today to limit the display of the Canadian flag here in the House of Commons?
We are in the process of denying ourselves in the House of Commons of Canada the right that every Canadian has in this country, that is to display a Canadian flag. Could we imagine for a moment an employer prohibiting an employee from displaying a small Canadian flag at his or her desk? There is no place in the country of Canada where the display of the Canadian flag is prohibited, where the right that is given to us under the charter of rights and freedoms is restricted or prohibited.
Others Canadian have the right under the charter of rights and freedoms to display the Canadian flag in their workplaces. If a person were prohibited from displaying the Canadian flag and a court case ensued, I submit that a competent court in this land would declare that to be unconstitutional. Canadians would have the right to display the Canadian flag, but not an unfettered right. As members have pointed out, it would be a qualified right. All rights are qualified.
As an hon. member pointed out, the right to swing your fist ends where the other guy's nose begins. The right to shout fire in a crowded theatre is limited.
Why are we limiting the right to display the Canadian flag? I submit it is for political reasons. I have a flag in my desk but I am prohibited from sitting it and displaying it on my desk.
In the 14 years I have served in the House of Commons I have never wanted to or had the opportunity to display a flag at my desk, but I knew I had the right to do it. That is what is important, having the right to display a flag at my desk. Some members may choose not to display a flag at their desk. That is their right.
Canadians express their patriotism in different ways. Some prefer to wave or fly flags outside their residences. Others do not. Some prefer to belt out O Canada at a hockey game. Others choose to remain silent. They have that right to do that.
As a member of Parliament, it seems to me I ought to have the right to display the flag. The Speaker yesterday invited members to make a decision. It is up to the House to make that determination. It seems to me that if we were truly representing our constituents as opposed to narrow partisan interests that we would vote in favour of the motion.
It seems to me that much of the opposition to the motion presented is not directed at the merits of the motion but at the authors of the motion, the Reform Party of Canada. I submit we are doing a disservice to our country and to our constituents by allowing narrow, partisan interests to interfere in a matter as important as this, a matter as symbolic as this is for Canadians right across the country.
I would like to share with the House some editorial opinion. The Toronto Star says “We believe there is no better place than the Parliament of Canada for Canadians to see their flag displayed freely and proudly”. They go on to state “We merely think an exception should be made for the Canadian flag. It is our most powerful national symbol. As long as MPs display it respectfully, we believe the public interest will be well served”.
This, I believe, would be the sentiment shared by the overwhelming majority of Canadians. We tolerate much in the House. We have tolerated much in the House with respect to free speech and the ability of those who hold different political persuasions to speak in the House.
It seems patently strange that we say to people they do not have to swear allegiance to Canada in order to sit in the Parliament of Canada. I do not deny for a moment the right of separatists to sit in this House because they have received a mandate. It does not sit well with me but they received a mandate from their constituents to sit in the House of Commons of Canada and they have a right to sit here.
Surely, as members of this House, one has to respect the traditions of the House and respect the symbols of the House. Yes, hon. members say that there are two large flags flanking the Speaker, and rightfully so. They ought to flank the Speaker. Likewise, every member of the House should have the right to display a small Canadian flag.
What harm does it do to people? Are we offending somebody? Who is it that we would be offending if we were to display a small Canadian flag at our desk? Is that the reason why there are those in the House who would defeat this motion? Is it because they are afraid of offending a group of people in the House of Commons of Canada?
It is morally wrong to deny members of Parliament the right to display the flag. It is morally wrong to prohibit or limit the use of the flag of Canada in the House of Commons of Canada for fear that it might offend somebody.
I have always been chagrined by the fact that we as Canadians at times find it difficult to express our patriotism and love for this country. It is with envy that I at times watch our American friends when they are given the opportunity to exhibit their patriotism. Some people find that offensive and un-Canadian, but I find it touching for American nationals to be so proud of their flag and what it stands for and the freedom that it symbolizes.
Men and women have gone to war for the freedoms and rights that we have in this country. Mr. Speaker, the flag that flanks you as you sit in the House of Commons is symbolic of our democracy and the freedoms that we have in this country. To limit, restrict or in any way prohibit the waving or displaying of that flag I would submit is morally wrong.
I regret that when this motion is put in a few moments it will be defeated. It seems to me that this motion will be defeated not because it is not a good motion on its merits, but because of the various political agendas at play.
Surely we are sending out conflicting messages to Canadians. On one hand we are spending millions of taxpayers' dollars inviting Canadians to fly the Canadian flag as the Canadian government did a few short months ago at a cost of millions of dollars. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Canadians are now flying the flag. We were giving away free flags to Canadians a few short months ago.
What kind of a mixed message is the government sending to Canadians when it is telling them on one hand to fly the Canadian flag, do not be inhibited or shy, show their patriotism, but on the other hand we are about to deny ourselves the very right that we would give to other Canadians?
I would like to conclude with what I indicated earlier. The net effect of this motion is to deny ourselves the freedom that every other Canadian has. At times we are chastised and criticized because we give to ourselves certain rights such as the freedom of speech that most other Canadians do not have. We have the ability to say things in this Chamber that we could not say outside the Chamber because we could be sued for slander.
In this case the reverse is true. Other Canadians have that right. Other Canadians want us, as their representatives in the Parliament of Canada, to have that right. Yet, for some inexplicable reason I suppose we are about to deny ourselves the right to fly or display the flag at our desks.
This is not a question of order or disorder. Disorder is always contrary to the rules. If the Canadian flag is used to restrict someone from speaking or to prevent someone from speaking, that of course would be unacceptable as would any other display or prop that is used in this House.
However, to prohibit the display of a flag at my desk is excessive when dealing with the problem of disorder in this House. In the 14 years that I have served in this House only on a handful of occasions have we spontaneously sang O Canada . I recall when the government of the day was passing the free trade bill, members of the opposition and members in the gallery spontaneously broke out in a rendition of O Canada .
I do not believe that members are that irresponsible that if they are given the right to display a flag they would abuse that right. If they were to abuse the right it would be incumbent upon you, Mr. Speaker, to prevent disorder in this House.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak.