Madam Speaker, it is with great respect for the debate that we are having here this afternoon that I am honoured to partake.
We have seen in the House just how emotional this issue is, not only for the people who live in the province of Quebec, but for all Canadians who have lived in harmony for over 130 years, trying to resolve through the democratic process the differences which the provinces have.
We have been faced more than once with a province which has addressed the issue of separation to leave the country we know as Canada. I do not for a minute think that this will not occur again.
In anticipation, the government took the issue to the supreme court and asked it to make a decision as to whether a province could unilaterally leave the country. The supreme court was very clear that it is the democratic right of provinces to address the issue of separation, but that it could not be done unilaterally. It was quite clear that the court felt that if there was a clear question and a clear majority the federal government and the other provinces would have a responsibility to negotiate with that province which chooses to leave the country.
That brings us to the bill which was introduced by the government yesterday. It is a bill which, I presume, tries to strike clarity. It may strike a degree of clarity when it addresses the question, in that it outlines a question that would be considered clear; however, what it does not outline, and perhaps should, is what is a clear majority. It is very hard to play a game, it is very hard to be in a game of this nature, when we do not know where the goal post is. We only find out after the game is finished where the goal post is. Therefore, I would suggest that the government, in looking at this legislation, attempt to reach some clarity as to what is a clear majority. If the government feels that a clear majority of 50% plus one is not good enough to leave the country, then it should state what it considers to be a good enough majority. I think it is unfair to continue this process without that clarity, without the rules of the game being known before the game is played.
I do not think there is anybody in the country who does not agree that the rules of the game have to be laid out in the beginning. The Reform Party tried to lay out some rules with the 20/20 discussion paper of 1994. We took a lot of heat as a party for bringing clarity to what the understanding of Canadians was when we talked of separation. We took a lot of heat for raising the issue at that time. I find it a little ironic that we raised the issue when the debate was hot and heavy and the government waited until everything had quieted down and the separatists were busy trying to run a province, rather than a referendum, to revisit the issue.
One could question the timing, but I do not think one could question the need for establishing clear rules to the game so that there is clarity in the question that is asked and there is clarity in the result that is delivered.
Another concern that I have is that the federal government in the process, for whatever reason, seems to have walked away from plan A; plan A being the reasons that we would give to the people of Quebec to choose to stay in Canada, developing a new relationship between the federal government and the provinces which would enable them to have more control and a greater ability to define what the future of the provinces would be, based primarily on those jurisdictions that were given to them at the time of Confederation.
The federal government had an opportunity with the social union. I would argue, and I know it is debatable, that the federal government blew it. It had an opportunity at that time to show Quebec how we could change the federation to allow the provinces to have greater certainty and greater control over the delivery of social programs without the intrusion of the federal government in provincial jurisdiction through its spending power.
The social union, originally developed by the premiers, developed some controls or guidelines with which they could all agree, a dispute mechanism and an understanding that if a province wanted to withdraw or not take part in an agreed program, it would have the right to do so and still get the dollars that should go to the people of that province.
For whatever reason, the federal government felt that allowing this change in the relationship between the federal government and the provinces was not okay, that it was more important that the federal government retain its control and its power over provincial jurisdictions, primarily through its spending power.
As I said earlier, I think the federal government blew it. I think that it walked away from a prime opportunity to show the province of Quebec that it would be much better to remain in Canada and that in working with other provinces Quebec could achieve the best that is possible for that province.
The government, again for whatever reason, walked away from developing this new relationship with the provinces. Instead it decided to come down heavy with plan B. The timing is confusing to me. I am not sure this is the time one wants to confront the issue. I would have thought this would have been a more appropriate time to talk to Quebec about the division of powers, about respecting what is the federal government's responsibility and respecting what is the provincial government's responsibility.
I would even suggest that it is time to introduce a new concept. There are some grey areas where neither the federal government nor the provincial governments have been given the jurisdiction, and where there is a real need to collaborate and negotiate to come up with some means of working together.
One area is national standards. It is not right for a federal government to impose national standards on the provinces. What is more appropriate is for the provinces to negotiate with the federal government and with each other to come up with those standards they feel are appropriate for all concerned.
Interprovincial trade is another example of the need for provinces to work together with the federal government to overcome the barriers. Because it is province to province the federal government has to be involved.
There are laws like the criminal code which is a federal act and jurisdiction but it is applied through the provincial governments. The provincial governments are the ones that apply the criminal code to their citizens.
It would seem to me that rather than confront the province of Quebec, the federal government should have put more time and energy into trying to find new and better ways of working with the province. But the government decided to go to plan B . Having its concept of plan B of clarity before us, we have to debate whether or not this piece of legislation is going to make it clear to the people of Quebec that if they decide to leave Canada, there will be some consequences in doing so.
During the 1995 referendum I was amazed to see that poll results showed that 25% of Quebecers thought that they would still send representatives to the House of Commons in Ottawa and that there would not be any change in representatives sitting in the House of Commons. Over half of Quebecers thought that they would still maintain their Canadian citizenship.
It has to be very clear to the people who will vote on whether or not to leave Canada just what in fact they are leaving. The Parti Quebecois and the Bloc Quebecois owe it to the citizens of Quebec to be honest and up front with them.
Having sat in the transport committee and having listened to the debate in the House and in the committee, it was interesting to see how the Bloc represented the debate on restructuring the Canadian airline industry. Canadians have indicated a bit of concern that Air Canada's headquarters by legislation are located in Montreal. It was interesting to see that the Bloc Quebecois wanted to protect that. It wanted to protect the 10% ownership in Air Canada and leave the foreign ownership at 25% in the airline industry. I do not know if the Bloc Quebecois understands that if Quebec leaves Canada, then any shareholders who own shares in Air Canada in Quebec become foreigners and would be limited to the 25% that it was arguing for. I do not know if the people in Quebec understand that.
I would suggest that the illusion the Bloc members are creating in Quebec that the separation will be like a velvet glove, that there will be no upset and that there will be no extreme changes to the way they deal with Canada is a fallacy. If Bloc members honestly feel that the rest of the country will allow Quebec to leave without any kind of consequences, they are fooling themselves. And they are certainly not doing anything positive for the people of Quebec who have to make that choice.
This legislation is at least a start in the direction the government has to go. The government does have to establish clarity of the question, what question would be acceptable, what result would be acceptable, which is still unclear. The government has to at some point address what a clear majority—