Madam Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to speak briefly to Bill C-20.
The clarity bill, as it has been called, is a bill which the official opposition supports in principle. I might say that we support it in principle because we think that confusion is antidemocratic.
However, we disagree with the haste of this process. We disagree with the imposition of time allocation. We disagree with the arbitrary nature that the committee used to decide who would appear as witnesses before the committee. I will not spend a lot of time on those things because that disagreement has been well documented.
We believe that a well informed public is better than a confused public. On an issue as important as the breakup of our country, to be well informed is very sensible.
It is not often that a politician makes a comment about his opposing politician. However, I would like to make a positive comment about the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs across the way. I believe that the minister has been forthright on this issue. He has been pretty straight-up on this issue. He has not changed his tune since he made up his mind that he was going to look for clarity from the supreme court and carry it through. I give him credit for that. He has been castigated in his home province. He has been called unpleasant things. He has been made fun of in caricatures. I would like him to know personally that I do not agree with any of those things. I think he has been at least honourable on this subject.
We can disagree with him, and I believe that it is fair to do do, but in this instance I do not disagree with him. I want him to know personally that I think the characterizations have not been accurate nor proper.
I will spend a moment on the committee hearings to talk about what I found most interesting. I attended all of the meetings and found the old politicians to be the most interesting people who appeared before the committee.
First, two of the witnesses I listened to opposed Bill C-20. Claude Ryan, who is a man with enormous prestige in Quebec, opposes Bill C-20, as well as Joe Clark, a politician who has had many years of constitutional battles. I will not make comments about the reasons they oppose the bill. They have reasons which I think are debatable and arguable. However, those two senior politicians both oppose Bill C-20.
I looked at those who came in support of Bill C-20. I found it interesting that some of them fought those constitutional battles with vigour themselves. I will list four of them: Claude Castonguay, le père de l'assurance-santé, the father of medicare in Quebec, is supportive of Bill C-20; Gil Rémillard, a senior politician who has had long experience in Quebec, supports Bill C-20 as well; and two politicians from outside Quebec, Ed Broadbent and Bob Rae, both came to the committee and said they support the bill.
I found it interesting when I asked them this question: “Did you ever during your time battling these constitutional battles ever say that a clear question was something that was valuable?” They admitted that they had not. They battled this without ever saying publicly that a clear question was important.
I also want to reflect on what Reformers think of the clarity bill. I had the opportunity to poll Reformers. It was not a poll which would reflect the views of every Canadian. It reflected the views of Reform supporters.
It is fascinating that when asked if a clear question was important, 98.7% of Reformers who responded said yes. When asked the question, “Should the majority level be spelled out?”, 96.2% felt that the majority level should be spelled out. This bill does not do that. That probably reflects my position that the majority level could and should be spelled out.
When asked about the majority level, as to whether 50% plus one was sufficient, especially if it also was to decide what part of Quebec would stay in Canada, the percentage dropped to 77.6%, still a pretty strong number of people saying that the level should be spelled out.
I tried to reflect, all the way through the committee hearings, on whether the question last time was clear. My way of deciding was not to listen to those who on one side or the other have an axe to grind, but to ask those who are experts in asking questions of the public, and to my mind they are the pollsters, those who do polling all the time. The pollsters told me that when asking loaded questions we cannot expect anything but a loaded answer. They ask “yes-no” questions, which of course the referendum did as well.
When I asked the pollsters if the last question asked of Quebecers was unambiguous or unconfusing, they said no, it was neither; it was both ambiguous and confusing.
I posed to the pollsters what kind of question they would ask. I received some uniformity in their answers, which I will distil by saying that if there are two issues, two separate questions would have to be asked. It would be something like the following: “Do you want Quebec to enter a new economic partnership” or whatever “with Canada?” To that question there would be a response, yes or no.
I think that most Quebecers would probably answer yes, that they would like to enter into a new partnership with Canada. However, if we wanted to go further we would ask: “If that new partnership is unsuccessful within a timeframe, do you want Quebec to separate from Canada and sever all legal ties, yes or no?” On that issue I believe that we would get a different response from that which we had in the last referendum.
My analysis is that there are lots of people within and outside Quebec who would like to have a new relationship with Ottawa, and that relationship with Ottawa could well reflect a country that was advancing, a country that was improving, a country with a vigorous future. However, when asked if that new partnership fails would they want to split up Canada, I think the response might well be different. I know that there is very little appetite for splitting up the country outside Quebec, and certainly not in my part of the country.
Bill C-20 is imperfect. It could have been improved. It is a step in the right direction. In principle it is supportable. The official opposition will be supporting the bill unamended. I think it literally will not be amended, unless there is some surprise awaiting us.
It has been a privilege to represent interests from the western part of the country on the bill.