House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was referendum.


PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege. Earlier today the Department of Human Resources Development gave a news conference which was astonishing in its degree for the contempt that it showed for this place.

We have a situation where the government is unable to properly account for over $1 billion in public money. I would strongly urge the Chair to take under advisement that there is a responsibility on the minister to have been here in the House, in her place, prepared to speak to this matter and to make a public statement.

The minister and the Prime Minister have decided to distance themselves from this fiasco by simply taking it outside the House of Commons. In so doing I suggest they destroy centuries of practice which are at the core of our freedoms in this place. The government must be accountable to this parliament, representatives of the people.

The government continues to bypass the House and marginalize the abilities of all members to ask questions and to interact directly with the minister. Ministers have an overriding duty to advise the House of actions which go to the core of the management of public money in this House, which is the sole source of authority for the legal expenditures of public money. By hiding behind a press conference by unelected officials, the same officials who created the situation—

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I would rule that it has been our tradition for a number of years that ministers and all members are absolutely free to make interventions in a press gathering or a meeting of any kind.

We have always said that it is better to bring this information to the House, but I suggest to the hon. member that over the course of the next few days he will have ample opportunity in question period and by other means to question the minister involved.

Therefore I would rule that the member does not have a question of privilege.

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If it might be helpful to you and other members of the House on the issue raised previously involving the member for Wentworth—Burlington, I understand he is on his way to the House and should arrive very shortly.

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the member for the information.

The hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm has asked for him to be here. When he is in the House, we are going to continue this question of privilege, perhaps just after Oral Question Period today.

The House resumed from December 14, 1999, consideration of the motion that Bill C-20, an act to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Secession Reference, be read the second time and referred to a committee; and of the amendment.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2000 / 12:10 p.m.


Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Fredericton.

This debate is important for the future of all of Canada. It is critical for me, my constituents and the future of our children, and this is why I want to be part of it.

We must ensure that the democratic interests of people in every province are respected, should there be a referendum process that could lead to secession.

For 25 years, I have been fighting the separatists who want to destroy my adopted country. This beautiful country allowed the daughter of immigrants, a Quebecer and a Canadian of Greek origin, to now be a member of this House and to represent her country all over the world.

The bill calls on the government “to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec secession reference”. If there is one thing that the supreme court insisted on, it was clarity.

Clarity is the cornerstone of any democratic process. Citizens must be in a position to understand the scope and the consequences of what they are voting for, and governments must be clear about the nature of the mandate they have been given. For that to happen what is at stake in a referendum must be clear to all. As the supreme court has pointed out, the political actors have a role to ensure that this requirement for clarity is respected.

It is a bit strange even to have a debate on the need for a clear question in a future referendum. I would have thought it was intuitively obvious, yet the separatists continue to harp on this and reproach us through ads that use children.

When I became a member of the House I never imagined for a moment that one day I would be reproached for caring too much about the fundamental component of democracy. After all, clarity is the first thing incumbent on all of us as parliamentarians.

The PQ government criticizes our alleged interference in the referendum process. We on this side of the House would by far prefer no referendum at all, since such a process can only be divisive.

However, the PQ government, in particular Premier Bouchard and his Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Joseph Facal, keep repeating that such a referendum will take place during their government's current mandate.

Mr. Facal made it very clear when he said that, in his mind, there was no uncertainty whatsoever, adding that, every day, he works relentlessly to prepare for a winning referendum on sovereignty during his government's current mandate.

In light of the events that took place in Laval this past weekend, however, there seems to be some confusion among separatists. Some say that a referendum will be held during the current mandate, while others say it will be during the next mandate. Be that as it may, these people are arguing amongst themselves. They do not know when a referendum will be held, but they are trying to create, as they have always said, winning conditions, precisely so that they could then have a referendum.

Based on what Mr. Bouchard and the separatists, including their former leader, are saying, we are concerned that a referendum probably will be held.

We think that the question to be asked should be clear, and that Canada could not be divided without a clear majority of the people of a province having opted for separation; without their saying clearly that they want the province to no longer be a part of Canada. This stands to reason.

Let me read the following question, and tell me whether it is clear, because I do not think it is.

The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations; this agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, levy its taxes and establish relations abroad—in other words, sovereignty—and, at the same time, to maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency. No change in political status resulting from these negotiations will be affected without the approval by the people through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?

That is not clear. That was the 1980 question. Now let us look at the 1995 question:

Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?

That is the question with the partnership proposal that Mr. Bouchard later described as skeletal.

The separatist leaders have always tried to have Quebecers believe that the questions asked, both during the 1980 and the 1995 referendums, were clear. Let me clarify that in 1980, and again in 1995, Prime Minister Trudeau and our current Prime Minister clearly indicated that the questions posed to Quebecers were not clear and that they did not feel bound to negotiate because the questions were not clear.

The question in 1995, like the one in 1980, is convincing proof that we need a clear question. A poll conducted shortly before the referendum of October 30, 1995 revealed that 80% of Quebecers who were planning to vote yes believed that if the yes side won Quebec would continue to use the Canadian dollar and that economic ties with Canada would remain unchanged. Fifty per cent believed that they would continue to use the Canadian passport. Twenty-five per cent believed that Quebec would continue to elect members to the federal parliament. Another poll indicated that almost one out of five yes supporters believed that a sovereign Quebec could remain a province of Canada. If that is not cause for confusion I do not know what is.

This is the truth of the matter with respect to the so-called clarity of the question in 1995. I would remind those still unconvinced of the ambiguity surrounding that referendum of a statement made by their friend, Jacques Parizeau, in an open letter he sent to the Devoir last year. Mr. Parizeau said: “We have often been told that the 1995 question was not clear”. He is the one saying so. “It is true, as I have often said, that the question I would like to have asked was the following: Do you want Quebec to become a sovereign or independent country effective—?”

One can be forgiven for wondering why Mr. Parizeau was not interested in this degree of precision when he took up his duties as Premier of Quebec and leader of the yes camp. But I will not get into that today.

Our government is duty bound not to undertake any negotiations that could lead to the separation of a province unless the voters of that province state clearly and democratically that they want to secede from Canada.

When we speak of voters I must speak on behalf of certain Quebecers who are often overlooked, ignored or even ridiculed by certain members of the opposition and by certain separatists in Quebec, unfortunately. I am one of those Quebecers who is not pure laine—not that I know what that means—and who, in the language of some separatists, should be excluded from their so-called democratic process. I will not quote a number of former leaders of the movement who stated that openly and publicly.

I consider myself a Canadian living in Quebec, whose origins are Greek. I am proud of my origins, but I am also proud of being a Quebecer. Most important, I am particularly honoured and proud that my parents chose Canada as their adopted country.

I, as others who have immigrated from around the world, am Canadian by choice. We have chosen to live in Quebec. Many of us have left countries that have known civil unrest, dictatorship, coup d'etat, hypocrisy, abuse and even the denial of basic civil, legal and human rights, the imprisonment and the execution of democratically elected parliamentarians, economic hardship beyond comprehension, and let us not forget the abuse and exploitation of the most vulnerable of our society, our children. That is an abuse to which I will not refer in terms of the ads that are now being promulgated all over Quebec.

It is on behalf of the citizens who sought and found a safe haven in a democratic society, as well as all of my constituents, that I ask my provincial government to respect my rights and to ask a clear question without ambiguity, without nuances and without word playing.

Mr. Bouchard should give all Quebecers the right to choose separation or unity. It is only through clarity that all Quebecers can make an informed decision. I am confident that their choice will be the same as mine, that their democratic rights will be respected by the PQ government and, more important, that future generations of Canadians living in Quebec, such as my daughters, will thank the members of this government and of this House for assuring that Canada continues to remain an open, democratic and just society where everyone can enjoy the same rights and where future immigrants from all over the world will be embraced and offered a safe haven. We are and will continue to be the best country in the world in which to live.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, we can understand the hon. member fighting for her country to be Canada. However, we cannot understand as well her resorting to some rather complicated reasoning for someone who wanted to speak of clarity. We too wish to speak of clarity.

On two occasions, in the previous referendums in Quebec on sovereignty, in 1980 and 1995, reference was made to an association or partnership with Canada. The hon. member who today boasts of belonging to a government of clarity is one of those same people who told us “No, no partnership for us”. We subsequently learned that Ontario was making secret preparations to negotiate with Quebec; we also learned in the Supreme Court decision that there would be an obligation to negotiate a partnership. Why were these aspects so important? Because we were dealing with people who were not telling the public the truth, that is that there would obviously be negotiations between Quebec and Canada.

Those who are today staunch defenders of clarity were trying to spook people by telling them there would be none. What we wanted was to show that we were sincere and honest, and it was even made part of the question. We were creating an obligation to negotiate even before achieving sovereignty, with a time limit of one year, with a monitoring committee which would reach a decision on this. There was even room in its membership for representatives of the Liberal party of Quebec.

We do not consider ourselves any smarter than the people who are going to vote. People can make decisions. Those about to express their opinion and finding the issue unclear still have the option of saying “No, the question before me is not clear enough”. Of those who voted, 49.5% found the question sufficiently clear to say yes and say that they were prepared to support the proposal of sovereignty-association put to them.

Over 90% of voters cast a ballot. Did the people not understand the issues? The fact that a Liberal Party poll has just shown there may be some confusion is not going to convince us that the people did not know what they were voting on. When the people left home to go and vote they knew very well what the issue was, and the proof is that 93% of voters went to vote.

Why do members opposite think they are smarter than the other side of the House and say to us “The people voted yes because they did not understand”? That is not the case. The people understood perfectly well. They understand increasingly that they have an intransigent Liberal federal government before them that has been incapable of offering anything to Quebecers since the referendum and so has decided to take a hard line and prevent them from deciding as they wish the next time.

It will not work, because Quebecers are responsible and intelligent people. They can see through these tricks and they will express their pride fully the next time by saying that they have had it with people who cannot understand and respect them.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, the only people who do not respect the intelligence and the rights of Quebecers are those who belong to the party sitting on the other side of the House and those who belong to the governing party in Quebec.

They talk about intelligence. Yes, people went out to vote. Thank God, people believe in the importance of their right to vote, and I will always defend that right.

The only people who are afraid are those in the Quebec government who do not dare ask a question such as the one proposed by Mr. Parizeau “Do you want to separate from Canada?” Negotiations are not the issue here.

We always said and the supreme court said that there will be negotiations if the question is clear and if there is a clear majority. Those are the two things upon which the supreme court insists, even before negotiations are undertaken. However, the members opposite are talking about two questions that were not clear.

This is not a poll by the Liberal Party. It is a general poll that was done before the 1995 referendum, and it showed that people believed that, after a yes vote, they would still be part of Canada and they would still use Canada's currency and have a Canadian passport, things the party opposite and the governing party in Quebec does not want.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, through you, I would like to ask my colleague a question.

The people in Quebec who voted no, the federalists on her side who voted no, did they understand the question?

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, we are back to the same issue. The member asks me if they understood clearly. Yes, because I think federalists—

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

An hon. member

Are federalists more intelligent?

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

No, I never said that. Madam Speaker, the hon. member must not put words in my mouth.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

An hon. member

You are not being very clear.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

I find it unacceptable for the member to put words in my mouth when they are not true. Nobody said that on this side of the House, but maybe on the other side—

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but we will resume debate. The hon. member for Fredericton.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Madam Speaker, the bill that has been tabled in the House is a crucial issue for Canada, which is why I wish to speak to it today.

Some members opposite, like members of the current Quebec government, are reproaching us for wanting to clarify the referendum process. They say that the Government of Canada wants to take the place of the legislative assembly of a province.

In the time given to me, I will explain why I believe the Government of Canada has a role to play, as stated in the bill, in giving effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the supreme court on August 20, 1998.

It is important to bear in mind what the separatists never wish to speak about. By playing its appropriate role in the referendum debate, the Government of Canada is in no way encroaching on the prerogatives of the legislative assembly of a province. Any province can ask any question it wants. No one is challenging its right to do so.

The bill reiterates that:

...the government of any province has the authority to consult its voters by referendum on any issue and the right to formulate the wording of its referendum question.

Furthermore, the supreme court's opinion stipulates that the obligation to negotiate secession is closely linked to another obligation, that of obtaining a clear majority in support of secession and in response to a clear question.

Paragraph 100 of the opinion reads:

A right and a corresponding duty to negotiate secession cannot be built on an alleged expression of democratic will if the expression of democratic will is, itself, fraught with ambiguities.

That applies “both in terms of the question asked and the support it achieves”.

In paragraph 153, the court also specifies: will be for the political actors to determine what constitutes “a clear majority on a clear question” in the circumstances under which a future referendum vote may take place.

These two sections of the opinion are highly significant and are more than sufficient to justify the role the federal government intends to play in clarifying the referendum issue. In fact, it obliges the Government of Canada.

Asking for a clear question and a clear majority does not violate the prerogatives of the national assembly.

The Government of Canada is one of the political actors the court referred to in its opinion. How can the separatists speak or ask us to shirk our constitutional responsibilities when the future of our country is at stake?

Our opponents accuse us of flouting Quebec democracy. We have heard a number of politically inspired accusations against us over time but this particular one raises the bar. Since when is it undemocratic to call for clarity? Our shared democratic heritage demands that citizens really have a say through their votes. All we are asking for is a clear question and a clear majority. Otherwise, how can we determine whether the citizens of a province truly want their province to leave Canada and become an independent state?

What is really undemocratic is asking citizens to vote on a deliberately ambiguous question.

The question must allow the people to clearly state whether or not they want their province to leave Canada and become an independent state.

A question on a mandate to negotiate that does not ask the people to state whether they want their province to cease to be a part of Canada or a question for secession mixed with another option would not allow the people to express their will that their province cease to be part of Canada.

For instance, the 1995 referendum question referred to a new economic and political partnership with Canada, an ill-defined, unrealistic partnership that Mr. Bouchard would later describe as “bare bones”. That question posed as a question on secession is patently undemocratic. It was not exactly a masterpiece of clarity.

I am sure our opponents will not accept my judgment on this. Maybe they will believe the polls conducted at the time of the referendum. I note specifically the poll that revealed that one in four yes voters believed they were voting for an option that proposed that Quebec would remain a Canadian province. One sovereignist voter in four.

To give rise to such confusion, the 1995 question certainly did not permit voters to clearly express their will for their province to cease to be a part of Canada.

When we look at facts like that, we get a better appreciation of why the federal government—to use the language of the supreme court decision—is an “actor” in ensuring that a referendum on separation, if we were ever to come to such a sorry state of affairs, would have to be held in an atmosphere of clarity.

There are other reasons for setting out the circumstances under which the Government of Canada would negotiate around a referendum result.

Premier Bouchard has never renounced holding another referendum during his mandate, so we need to be prepared. We need to clarify these issues, not when the referendum campaign is in full swing but well beforehand.

This referendum obsession is still a clear and present danger. Premier Bouchard said so on November 9. Quebec's intergovernmental affairs minister, Mr. Facal, has suggested that the Quebec government may override the supreme court opinion. Mr. Bouchard has also said that the Government of Canada's willingness to have the supreme court's requirement for clarity respected is a sign of bad faith on our part and opens the door to a unilateral declaration of independence.

In all likelihood, it was the former Quebec premier, Jacques Parizeau, who got it right when he pointed out on November 30 how important the allusion was to a unilateral declaration of independence. The translation reads “He's really opened the door. You have to understand how important Mr. Bouchard's statement really is on that. It's really something, that statement”. He added that he himself had never been that clear. Not only is there a real threat of another referendum, there is also the real possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence.

If there was ever an issue that we on this side would gladly stop speaking about it is the prospect of another referendum for the secession of a province. The Quebec separatist leaders will not let it die. It is the first article on their political platform. They are obsessed by it. That is why they rejected the Prime Minister's proposal to stop talking referendum.

We would like to address other priorities but we are duty bound to ensure that the supreme court's requirement for clarity does not fall by the wayside. Our respect for Quebecers requires us to assume our responsibility in that regard.

We did not start the fire and we are not the ones perpetuating this sad state of affairs. We are not the ones trying to break up the country. The separatists leaders are doing that. As long as we have to argue with them to ensure the unity and the progress of the country, we will continue to promote the democratic tradition that is one of the great achievements of Quebec and of all Canadians.

With regard to the bill itself, to those who say “not now”, I say “if not now, when?”

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Jean-Paul Marchand Bloc Québec East, QC

Madam Speaker, I have listened with a great deal of interest to my hon. colleague's remarks. He talked mainly about the requirement for clarity and democratic principles.

My feeling is that the main purpose of this bill is not so much to establish the need for a clear question, or the respect for democracy, but rather to strike a blow against Quebec and its citizens' interests. It spearheads a plan B that involves making no concession whatsoever to Quebec. The government does not want to have a clear question and a democratic process—we always had that—but to make sure the next referendum is unacceptable for English Canada. That is the purpose of this bill.

The government wants to make both the question and the majority in favour of that question unacceptable. In other words, it is a direct attack against Quebec. The government is setting rules that will make any referendum unacceptable in English speaking Canada so that it will not pass in Quebec.

It is a bit like going into somebody's living room and telling him how to should place the furniture. It is invasion. It is a show of strength. The requirement for clarity has nothing to do with this.

In the past, the referendum questions have been clear, and people in Quebec understood quite well what it was all about. This bill is an insult to Quebeckers. It treats them like ignorants.

Why this show of strength? Why force on Quebeckers referendum rules without respecting their basic rights and their democratic rights?

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Madam Speaker, I will address two or three points made by my colleague. First, he said that the last question in the 1995 referendum was in fact clear. I suspect that is one of the reasons why we need to take a role in this. I do not think there would be a consensus that it was a clear question at all. In fact, it was anything but clear.

I also remind my colleague that the legislation actually supports the notion that the province has the right to conduct such a referendum and frame its own question. That is contained within the bill. All provinces have the democratic right to conduct their own affairs and express their own will.

As the supreme court has stated, the exercise and the expression of that will can only be achieved if the question is clear and the majority is clear. If 51.1% is a clear majority, then what is an unclear majority?

The government's bill is an important recognition of the right of any province to speak its mind in terms of its will. Our condition of negotiation subsequent to that is to make sure that it is based on a clear question and a clear majority, which what democracy is all about.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, it is always disappointing to hear members opposite say that the Quebec separatist leaders will never let it die.

The supreme court decision he has just cited said that the sovereigntist project was a legitimate one and that we were within our rights to promote it. They have never been willing to admit that our project is legitimate. So legitimate is it that there are 45 sovereigntist members in this House. Logic dictates that the House recognize this legitimacy, which is the legitimacy recognized by the Quebec people, who are entitled to decide, in a percentage of 50% plus one, what their future and political status will be.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Madam Speaker, the bill specifically recognizes the legitimacy of this movement by stating that any province can ask any question it wishes, but it would seek clarity on both the question and the majority. This is a significant act for a democratic country like Canada to propose. As I am sure the hon. member knows, many countries would not allow that.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, it is with considerable regret that I rise today to speak on a bill that contemplates the potential breakup of Canada.

Having recently participated in the NDP Social Democratic Forum on the Future of Canada, a constructive and thoughtful process of consultation and reflection on the future of our federation, I would much prefer, as I am sure many members of the House would prefer, to be making the case for the many positive proposals that the forum put forward not simply to strengthen national unity but more significantly to improve our democracy and the way that Canada works for all its citizens.

My regret also stems from my firm belief that Canada could have done better than this, that the situation we are now in was avoidable. While I believe that the government is now doing in part what needs to be done, I begin by saying that I hold the Liberals, who are now the government, responsible in no small way for where we are now.

The current Prime Minister has had a long career, all of it characterized by a lack of sensitivity to the appropriate constitutional aspirations of the Quebec people within Canada. This was most clearly and most tragically apparent in the nature of his opposition to the Meech Lake accord, the failure of which led to the formation of the Bloc Quebecois and the resurgence of separatism in Quebec.

It also led, in the context of the subsequent and unsuccessful Charlottetown accord, to the rise of the then nascent Reform Party and therefore a political situation in which a meaningful plan A is now a faint hope or at least a plan A which addresses the desire of many Quebecers for some kind of constitutional recognition of the special, distinct or unique nature of Quebecers as a people or a society within Canada.

Devolution of power is one thing and this has happened extensively in recent years in training, housing, immigration and other areas. However, this administrative approach to addressing Quebec-Canada relations not only has no effect on separatists, not surprisingly, it does not address the most important needs of Quebec federalists either, all the while weakening the presence and the role of the federal government in the rest of Canada. Likewise, the resolutions passed by the House after the 1995 referendum having to do with distinct society and the Quebec veto came too late and too much like deathbed repentance after the near death experience of the 1995 referendum, and they still do not constitute constitutional change.

And so Quebecers may be asked to choose between staying in a Canada that is now unwilling or unable to do certain important things, or becoming a separate country. If they are asked this question they will be asked to make the choice by a provincial government that is committed to Quebec becoming a separate country in any event. I say this because I take it as self-evident that if Quebec federalists were in power in Quebec City, if Jean Charest was in power in Quebec City, Quebecers would not be having such a question put to them.

Not all Quebecers are committed to the view that if Canada does not meet each and every desire they have for constitutional change their response should be to form a separate country. There are many Quebecers who may be unhappy with the way things have worked out in recent years but who are still committed to working out those problems within the context of a united Canada.

It is to those Quebecers that in many respects I feel this bill is directed, so they do not become, along with other Quebecers, the object of a political process which sets in motion a process toward secession without there being such things as a clear majority and a clear question.

We have to deal with the situation we have before us, with the real live historical possibility of another referendum. We do not know exactly when it will come. It appears that Mr. Bouchard does not know exactly when it will come. He appears more uncertain as the days and weeks go by.

How we got here is not the issue any more. The issue now before us is twofold. The first issue is whether Quebecers, in any subsequent referendum that a separatist Quebec government sees as an instrument of its separation strategy, will be presented with a clear question so they know exactly what they are choosing. The second issue before us is whether Quebecers, if they choose to leave Canada in response to a clear question, should do so by some standard of “clear majority”. These two issues correspond to the two conditions laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada as the conditions that would have to be met if the rest of Canada is to be obliged to negotiate secession after any referendum.

As to referendums on non-secessionist questions, these would continue to be possible and would continue to have whatever effect they might have, depending on the level of support that such non-secessionist proposals might have in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. There is no need to incorporate the possibility of such referendums into this bill, as has been suggested by some. The possibility of such referendums is not endangered by the clarity bill.

Referendums on various forms of partnerships and associations would still be possible, but they would not trigger negotiations that had anything to do with, or could lead to, secession. That is the difference between the kind of referendum and referendum question that this bill addresses and other referendums and referendum questions that may be possible.

Those other kinds of referendum questions, which do not have to do with secession, could trigger whatever kinds of negotiations that might be politically possible in any given historical context. Such non-secessionist referendum proposals would presumably come as an aid to the normal process of constitutional amendment, whereby a province like Quebec, or for that matter any other province, could demonstrate the unity of its population or the strength of its posital change by having a referendum.

The clarity bill does not damage nor does it replace the ordinary process of constitutional change and amendment. The clarity bill addresses what would need to happen for there to be extraordinary constitutional negotiations and extraordinary constitutional amendments leading to the secession of Quebec or some other province.

Canadians listening to this debate may notice that I have assumed the right of Quebecers to freely and democratically determine their own future. Since the founding of the New Democratic Party in 1961, New Democrats have affirmed Quebec's right to self-determination. The NDP is proud to have been the first federal party to recognize that right.

Recently at our August 1999 convention we adopted a paper which advocated recognizing Quebecers as a people, not in the ethnic and therefore inappropriate nationalistic sense of being a people, but rather as a way of recognizing that Quebecers form one of the two linguistic and cultural realities that most Canadians live and move and have their social being within. This non-ethic understanding of a people which the NDP proposes to recognize corresponds with what some observers have called civic nationalism.

In itself, though, Quebec's right to self-determination, or the self-determination of the Quebec people, is just an abstraction. It is just a principle if it is not fleshed out in the context of other democratic values, such as the rule of law, individual and aboriginal rights, constitutionalism and federalism. As with any other individual or collective right, Quebec's right to self-determination must be given concrete expression in a clear, fair and democratic process that is consistent with all of the competing but equally legitimate democratic principles.

It is precisely this challenge that was taken up in the 1998 supreme court reference on Quebec's right to secede from Canada. In that opinion the supreme court offered some key advice, particularly with respect to the rights and obligations of the federal parliament in any secession bid.

In its opinion the supreme court made two key points. First, it affirmed the democratic legitimacy of Quebec's right to self-determination even though the Canadian constitution contains no explicit process for the secession of a province. The court even recognized that a democratic referendum would be a legitimate mechanism through which Quebecers could express their desire to secede. On this question the court said:

A clear majority vote in Quebec on a clear question in favour of secession would confer democratic legitimacy on the secession initiative which all of the other participants in Confederation would have to recognize.

This was a legitimate victory for my sovereignist colleagues in the House who for too long have been taunted by some who have threatened to not negotiate in any event.

However, the court in its opinion also made a second equally important point: that Quebec's right to self-determination must be exercised within the Canadian constitutional framework. The court said:

Quebec could not, despite a clear referendum result, purport to invoke a right of self-determination to dictate the terms of a proposed secession to the other parties to the federation. The democratic vote, by however strong a majority, would have no legal effect on its own and could not push aside the principles of federalism and the rule of law, the rights of individuals and minorities, or the operation of democracy in the other provinces or in Canada as a whole.

This was a legitimate victory for those who believed that no referendum by itself would enable Quebec to act unilaterally and without regard for the views of the rest of Canada.

We see in the supreme court opinion that Quebec's right to self-determination must be respected by its partners in confederation, but that that right must be exercised with respect for the other democratic values that have guided us for more than 130 years. In striking a balance between these two key principles the supreme court specified a clear role for the federal parliament in any secession bid.

As a key actor in the constitutional amendment procedure, parliament has an obligation to negotiate in good faith should it be confronted with a clear will to secede, and it has an obligation to represent the rights and interests of all Canadians in any such negotiating process.

The bill before us today sets out an orderly process by which parliament would discharge these responsibilities.

We in the NDP are supporting this bill in principle at second reading because we recognize the role that parliament must play in setting the terms under which the rest of Canada represented in parliament would negotiate secession.

As one of the negotiating parties to any possible secession, parliament has a right to say what it will regard as sufficient to trigger its own willingness to negotiate secession. This right should not be put into question any more than the right of the national assembly in Quebec to conduct a referendum and to ask any questions it wants should be put into question. These two rights coexist. They are not in conflict with each other.

The only thing that should be debated here is whether parliament, in exercising that right, has set the bar too high on the issues of clarity and majority or whether the clarity bill acts in some other way that can be judged as unfair or prejudicial to the freedom of the Quebec people or the rights of minorities in Quebec such as the aboriginal community. This is what the committee process should be about.

At the end of the day we believe it will be in everyone's interests, both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, to have a clear and transparent framework for defining a secession bid and for dealing with a secession bid should we unfortunately be presented with one.

It is particularly important to establish in advance the conditions under which secession negotiations would be triggered. The supreme court identified two key conditions for a referendum to trigger secession negotiations: a clear question and a clear majority.

New Democrats agree that a clear question is a necessary condition before any secession negotiations begin because with an ambiguous question it would be impossible to determine whether a referendum result truly reflected a desire to secede. Surely this is a democratic principle and cannot be construed as an attack on democratic principles that an unambiguous question should be required in order to create the conditions for something as serious as separation.

It should be emphasized again that the bill's requirement for a clear question to trigger secession talks would not in any way prevent Quebec from holding a referendum on any kind of question it desires. It simply means that only referendums that are clearly about secession could impose an obligation on the federal parliament to enter secession negotiations. That seems only fair and reasonable to me.

However, we do have some concerns about the current drafting of the bill's provisions with respect to a clear majority. That is why we have offered our support in principle for the bill at second reading, but will no doubt be proposing amendments to address our concerns when the bill goes to committee for more detailed study and consultation.

In addition to the bill's definition of a clear majority, we also have concerns about the role and rights of aboriginal peoples and the excessive role given to the unelected Senate.

On the notion of clear majority, the bill does not specify a particular threshold. Instead, it follows the supreme court suggestion that after a referendum result parliament must make a qualitative judgment, taking into account the size of the majority, the turnout and any other factors relevant to determining the true meaning of the result.

While we can appreciate the court's desire to avoid oversimplifying the issue, the process proposed in the bill could permit an irresponsible parliament to ignore a clear majority in favour of secession by arbitrarily establishing an unreasonably high threshold after the votes are counted, the so-called moving goal posts after the game. We are concerned about that. We look forward to hearing from Canadians about how we might improve the bill to avoid or minimize this potential problem.

New Democrats are also concerned that the rights of aboriginal peoples are not adequately protected in the bill. Existing constitutional protection for aboriginal rights would clearly be threatened by the secession of a province.

The bill specifies that the question of aboriginal rights would need to be addressed—whatever that means—but specifies no basic level of protection for these rights that would need to be achieved before parliament agrees to the secession of a province.

The bill also identifies various actors whose views parliament must take into consideration in its deliberations on a secession bid, but aboriginal peoples are not among those specifically identified.

Recent practice and natural justice suggest that aboriginal peoples should be involved. New Democrats will be actively searching for ways to ensure both that aboriginal peoples are meaningfully involved and that stronger protection is provided for their rights.

The bill's failure to involve aboriginal peoples is particularly problematic, some might even say offensive, when one considers the prominent role it gives to the Senate, or to the other place as we are required to say in this place. The bill calls on parliament to take into consideration the views of the Senate in determining whether or not there is a clear question and a clear majority.

New Democrats have long argued that an unelected, unaccountable Senate has no place in a modern democracy and so it seems to us that there is simply no justification for giving such an undemocratic institution an important role in a process concerning a serious issue like secession. After all, the primary objective of the bill must be to establish a framework that is in both fact and perception fair and democratic. Giving a prominent role to the Senate clearly does not help in this regard. One can only wonder what the Liberals were thinking when they came up with this.

While I raise these concerns about the current drafting of the bill, I want to emphasize that New Democrats will go into the committee stage with open minds. We invite Canadians to share their suggestions for improving the bill in the three areas I have identified and indeed in any other areas they may want to raise and bring to the attention of the committee. We also call on the Liberals to join us in a sincere effort to improve the bill so that Canadians can have the most fair and democratic framework possible for dealing with the gravely serious issue of secession.

Like many Canadians, I have been concerned that the Liberal Party may be using the bill to serve narrow partisan interests. It would not be the first time in Canadian history that votes have been sought by virtue of a so-called tough on Quebec strategy. The Liberal Party since 1968 has profited greatly from such a strategy on occasion. The Reform Party is heir to the same tradition, a tradition that the united alternative, or CCRAP, or CRCAP, or whatever, seems to want to distance itself from.

I say with great pride that the NDP has never been attracted to any such strategy. We do what we do now because we believe it to be necessary. We take no joy in it. We loathe the destructive family feud that goes on in this House between the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois. From time to time we are called to take a stand on some matter of principle. From time to time in doing so we have voted with the Bloc on such matters as they pertain to Quebec and have been attacked in some of our home constituencies for catering to separatists and siding with separatists. We have done it when we thought the Bloc was right. On this issue we find the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs to be in the right despite the often arrogant and unhelpful way he goes about his business.

Finally, I want to reiterate the comments of my leader. She closed her speech on this bill by urging the government and parliament not to allow work on this bill to distract them from the critically important task of building a better Canada, one that meets the hopes, dreams, needs and aspirations of our citizens so that the legislation we are debating today will never be required.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate, following the speech by the NDP member.

I would like to quote from an article written by Manon Cornellier, which appeared in the English press. The headline reads “Progressive Canadians Opposed”.

The article states as follows: “Support for the federal clarity bill is not unanimous outside Quebec, particularly among those who usually back the New Democratic Party. Over 80 intellectuals representing unions and activist groups have already indicated their support for an open letter denouncing the project launched by a Laurentian University professor, Gary Kinsman, and I quote: 'We are calling for the withdrawal of the clarity bill and an end to threats and intimidation with respect to the right of Quebecers to decide their own future'. We are also affirming the right to self-determination of the aboriginal peoples in Quebec and in the rest of Canada”.

A bit further on, the article mentions a source of concern. According to these same intellectuals who usually back the New Democratic Party “This authoritarian bill is a source of concern for anyone defending democratic rights because it denies Quebecers the right to decide their own future”.

They denounce the fact that the Parliament of Canada will reserve the right to decide on the clarity of the referendum question and result and they say: “This means that parliament is taking away the historically recognized right of Quebecers to make their own decisions”. I would like to hear what the member has to say about this.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am familiar with the statement from which the hon. member is quoting and I have to say that I think the people who signed that are wrong. I do not understand how they could claim that what is happening here is an authoritarian attempt to prevent Quebecers from determining their own future. All it is saying is that Quebecers are a part of Canada now, and if they determine their future in a way that results in separating from the rest of Canada, that the rest of Canada through its parliament has some right to say through its parliament what the conditions would be in the context of which negotiations for secession would commence. I do not equate that with any attempt to prevent Quebecers from determining their own future and if the people who signed this statement do, then I profoundly disagree with them.

I do not think that Quebec's self-determination is something that has to be defended by defending each and every position taken by a sovereignist government in Quebec City, or for that matter defending each and every sensitivity of Quebec nationalists, whether they be sovereignists or federalists.

We in the rest of Canada are entitled to our own view on this matter. I think that parliament has a right assigned to it by the supreme court as one of the actors that must determine what constitutes a clear question and a clear majority. Parliament has that right. This bill is a way of exercising that right.

If Quebecers vote for a clear question for secession and they get their clear majority, the negotiations will take place, Quebec will no longer be a part of Canada and my friends in the Bloc Quebecois will be happy. They will have their own separate country. Are they really saying to us that that is not possible under this legislation? Because if that is the claim they are making, I think that is patently false.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona delivered a rather well-thought-out message regarding certain issues, especially the danger—and he said his party would be on the lookout—that the government might make a change after the vote, by raising the passing mark.

For example, if we got 52% it might decide, after the vote, that we needed 53%. The hon. member also talked about the need to respect aboriginal people and about the role given to the Senate, a non-elected house that is accountable to no one.

There are three very important aspects in Bill C-20 that bother the New Democratic Party, yet the hon. member says he will support this legislation.

I would like the NDP member to tell me whether, in his opinion, a result of 50% plus one is acceptable in a democracy and, if not, what would be the acceptable threshold.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member refers to the controversy over 50% plus one.

Certainly one of the things I understood the Bloc and many others to be worried about at a certain point when we did not know what the clarity bill would look like was that the government might be coming in with a bill that would actually and definitively set the threshold higher than 50% plus one. The bill does not do that. The bill says that a qualitative judgment has to be made.

I was saying in my remarks that I think the merits of the court's finding that there needs to be a qualitative judgment made after a referendum need to be held in balance with the legitimate concern that my colleague and I have that this somehow could be used, to use the metaphor I used earlier, to move the goalposts during or after the game.

It is not just a question of 50% plus one, it is also a question of other things that an irresponsible parliament or an irresponsible government might try to do after a referendum result that it did not like. I would remind the member, and this corresponds to the supreme court judgment, that if a parliament or a government tried to act in a way that was clearly moving the goalposts, that was clearly an abuse of that requirement for a qualitative judgment, that a Quebec to which such an injustice was being done would have the right then I believe, and I think the supreme court said this, to appeal to the international community that the Canadian government in that context was not acting in good faith and not respecting the findings of the supreme court.

It is not as if there would be no recourse in such a circumstance. The question is whether we want to set a numerical threshold going into the vote. I understand the member wants to do that. I think there are some good arguments for doing that. I want to hear those arguments, but I also want to hear the arguments against it. I am happy so far that the government has not done what we were worried it would do, which is to come in and say that it has to be 60%, or 55%, or whatever because that certainly would have been a mistake.