Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today. I originally decided to seek a seat in this House to come face to face, in this democratic forum, with opponents of sovereignty, opponents I respect and will continue to respect because, in my view, the real opponents of sovereignty are to be found in this House. They are those who have a different plan for Quebecers, who claim too often they have fulfilled their promises regarding renewed federalism, and who have trouble convincing Quebecers they fulfilled their promises in this respect.
I did not think when I came to this House that I would have to fight against enemies of democracy; enemies of Quebec's democracy, a democracy which was built and is still based on a parliament, a national assembly we are very proud of.
A senator told me some time ago that it was the Westminster-style parliamentary institution in Canada that had evolved the best, modernized its practices, and resolutely entered into the modern age while other houses, this one included, revel in traditions that ought to be inspired by the new traditions created by Quebec's national assembly.
It is a government that has transformed Quebec, bringing it out of a great darkness, built an effective and competent public service, provided Quebec with progressive laws, laws we are very proud of; courts which apply the rule of law, making Quebec a constitutional state we are also very proud of; courts that in part are outside the jurisdiction of Quebec, its assembly and its government because, in some cases, and in most cases in Quebec's superior courts, judges are still appointed by the federal government, which is contrary to the federal principle.
It is a democracy based on a charter of rights and freedoms under which everybody has an equal vote in elections as well as in referendums and on a referendum act that was adopted in 1979 to give Quebecers a say on important issues, including issues relating to their political status. Three referendums were held to date under the Quebec Referendum Act.
The strong criticism I address today to those who choose to support the government with regard to Bill C-20 has nothing to do with a lack of respect on my part for those who want to change the federation, but I can tell the proponents of this bill—with all due respect for the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, a professor at the University of Montreal—that it has to do with the fact that I think that, far from recognizing the right of Quebec to become a country, far from recognizing, as was said many times today, the right to secede, to use the same expression used by the supreme court, this legislation will prevent Quebec from choosing to become a country.
This week a commentator wrote: “If we are now bold enough to rule out secession in practice, why must we pretend to allow it in principle?”
That is what it is all about. This bill suggests that it would respect the will of Quebecers to build a country, but in fact it wants to deny them the right to choose that option.
I think this legislation, which, according to its proponents, is based on the opinion issued by the supreme court on August 20, 1998, does not respect the main requirements of that opinion. We believe that opinion has been misinterpreted in many ways.
Absolutely nowhere in the supreme court's opinion could we find the basis for the authority given to the House of Commons to determine how clear the question is and how clear the majority is. One wonders why the government wanted to give the House of Commons authority in this area, whereas the supreme court recognized no such authority.
Over the last few weeks we have set out the views of several famous jurists, such as Professor Henri Brun from Laval University and Professor Andrée Lajoie from the University of Montreal. Only a few minutes ago I cited the opinion by Alain Pellet, professor at the University of Paris-Nanterre and a member of the International Law Commission. They are all of the opinion that the government is on the wrong track when it claims it has found in the supreme court's opinion some comfort and some justification for the provisions in this bill.
I invite hon. members to look particularly at Mr. Pellet's opinion, which is probably one of the first comments on the draft bill, and Bill C-20 as it is now, since he feels that Bill C-20 gives the federal government a triple veto with regard to the future of Quebec.
Thus, I want to comment on the three clauses of this bill which give this veto to the Canadian government and to those who will be consulted by the Canadian government.
The first clause of this bill concerns the question that the national assembly could or would ask Quebecers about their political future.
It is peculiar, even indecent, to propose a formula that would allow the House of Commons to rule on the clarity of a question during a referendum campaign because the 30 days following the tabling of a question at the legislature of a province would, in Quebec, cause the debate on the clarity of the question to occur during the referendum campaign.
Besides this intrusion, this involvement of the House of Commons in the referendum campaign itself, we cannot help but recognise that clause 1(4) of the bill limits the jurisdiction of the national assembly when it comes to determining the question to be asked Quebecers, since it excludes any mandate to negotiate or any reference to an economic or political agreement or partnership of any kind.
If that is not limiting the jurisdiction of the assembly or dictating the phrasing of the referendum question, I do not know what is, or what this clause means. To say that with this act the Canadian parliament would be respecting the autonomy of the national assembly in this respect is totally inaccurate.
The second clause, concerning the majority, is probably the one which poses the greatest threat to democracy in Quebec. It is a weapon handed to the Parliament of Canada and especially the House of Commons to veto the referendum results.
In fact, I feel that in many ways this bill brings back the veto. What is the power to veto a question because in the opinion of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada it is not clear and what is the power to veto the results because it is felt that a clear majority was not reached if not a new veto granted to the federal parliament?
I will comment further on these provisions in the weeks and months to come. Last, I want to point out briefly that clause 3, which refers to the matters that could be negotiated, implies that some issues like borders will be subject to negotiation.
I was glad when the minister told us today—and it was duly noted—that he thinks this provision does not deal with the partition of Quebec, but that it could include changes to borders, like what was done in Lithuania and Czechoslovakia, according to the example the minister gave us yesterday.
I conclude by reminding hon. members that the debate we are beginning today is an important one in the political history of Canada and of Quebec. It deals with the way we view democracy in a democratic country and the way we review it.
However, the revision the government is proposing with Bill C-20 ends up telling Canadians and Quebecers that there is a higher authority in this country, a supreme authority, which is the House of Commons. The House of Commons can veto a question approved by what we call a national assembly, and what the Calgary declaration only called a legislative assembly, by what is considered an inferior assembly, since the question can be vetoed by this House.
The question could be rejected by this House where there are 75 members from Quebec who have a legitimate voice here, as recognized by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. However, among those 75 members from Quebec, there are 44 members of the Bloc Quebecois, one independent member who will certainly vote against this bill and four Conservative members who will also vote against this bill, as they said they would.
It is a House of Commons that, when it rises to pass this bill, although we hope that, in the course of this debate, the government will realize it is making a mistake and should withdraw the bill, will once again seek to base its authority on members who should not have a veto over Quebec's political future before a referendum is held.
In the weeks and months to come we will see Quebecers tell those who want to have this bill passed that it is out of order, that it is a rejection of our institutions and our democratic practices in Quebec, that parliament, that the House of Commons of Canada does not have precedence over the National Assembly of Quebec on issues relating to Quebec's political and constitutional future.
When members of the national assembly, members of this House from Quebec, civil society and the other political actors in Quebec decide that this initiative is out of order, our friends opposite will certainly realize that they were wrong, that they made a bad choice, that they did the same thing in the past when they forced a constitution down our throat in 1982, just as they are trying now to put us in shackles with regard to the future of Quebec.
In closing, I will quote another commentator who reminds our friends opposite of what could happen. He said:
“Mr. Chrétien has bludgeoned dissent within his party and cabinet”, bien que ça ne paraît plus. “He won't get away with it in Quebec. People there may be tired of constitutional wrangling, and who could blame them? But they are proud and democratic. In their own way and time, they will let Mr. Chrétien know”.
This being the end of my speech, I would like to propose a motion to adjourn the House.
That the House do now adjourn.