Mr. Speaker, we are debating a bill that nobody would have expected a responsible democratic government to come up with.
I have tabled an amendment to delete from the bill a number of the whereas clauses at the bottom of the first page. I would like to say a few words about these clauses and explain why I believe they should not be included in the bill. In fact, I consider that the whole bill should have been withdrawn by the government.
The first whereas that I would like to delete reads, and I quote:
Whereas the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that the result of a referendum on the secession of a province from Canada must be free of ambiguity both in terms of the question asked and in terms of the support it achieves if that result is to be taken as an expression of the democratic will that would give rise to an obligation to enter into negotiations that might lead to secession;
As you will note, the French version of this text is in the negative, as it reads “ne saurait être considéré”. This is not the way the supreme court worded its opinion. On the contrary, it said in the affirmative that the question had to be clear and that there had to be a majority in the qualitative sense of the term, equally clear.
The legislation before us is not a clarity bill but legislation on bad faith. I will explain why I believe this legislation reeks of bad faith.
First, the clarity of a question does not depend on the length of the sentence but on the way people perceive the issues behind the question in relation to their own interests. A question can be short or long, but the way people perceive their interests depends on the conditions in which the debate occurs and on whether each and every party will be allowed to express its concerns in light of the issues behind the question.
In the 1995 referendum, the question was simple. It was this: Do you want Quebec to become a sovereign state and to propose a partnership with the rest of Canada? This is a simple question that was debated not only during the referendum period, which lasted one month, but also long before that, considering that, in April 1995, during the Bloc Quebecois convention, the notion of partnership was introduced. On June 12, 1995, the three parties, the Bloc Quebecois, the Parti Quebecois and the Action démocratique, agreed on a basic partnership proposal to be submitted to the rest of Canada, should Quebecers vote for Quebec sovereignty.
Well, no one in this House or elsewhere claimed that the question was not clear. Let me note that most people who claimed that the question was not clear do not read French, and, consequently, they simply repeated what they read in the papers concerning the so-called lack of clarity of the question.
I think that, in Quebec, the question is so clear that the majority of Quebecers would know the question referred to even if all they saw on a sheet of paper was a yes and a no block. The issue was debated even before I was born. Everyone knows what is at stake.
For many Quebecers, it is very clear that Quebec must acquire all the powers needed to ensure the future it deserves.
However, some people think the House has the divine power to judge the clarity of a question better than average Quebecers. I want to point out to my colleagues, in all humility, that members of the House are average citizens coming from their environment of average citizens. On this side or the other side of the House, we do not have supernatural brain power that would place us above and beyond the people in our capacity to judge the clarity of a question.
Average citizens know they are able to judge whether they have understood the question and whether they agree or not with the proposal made to them. Average Quebecers are as intelligent and as capable of judging the clarity of a question as any member of one side of the House or the other. That, through legislation, this parliament should appropriate the almost divine right to decide whether a question is clear or not, goes beyond the abilities, the competency and the very right of the House to democratically make decisions on behalf of the people.
When we call on the people, the people must have the last word and, in a democracy, they have the last word. When the people elect a member of parliament, they do not ask whether the member is clear or not; they make a value judgment on the man or the woman and take the decision to vote for him, for her or for another person. When people read a question, they assess it in terms of their interests and decide whether the proposal contained in the question suits them or not.
This decision will not be taken by this House in place of the people. We do not have the right to do so. If we did, we would usurp the democratic right of each and every citizen. In that regard, Bill C-20 clearly goes beyond the prerogatives of this House. But there is even worse.
Through this bill, the House also wants to give itself the right. When I say this House, the fact is that there are two sides: the government side and the opposition side. The government side outnumbers the opposition side, that is got to form government in the first place. It always votes the same way as the Prime Minister, because this is the way our Parliament works. This bill enables, not this House, and not the government, but the Prime Minister and him alone to determine the clarity of a question and, worse yet, to determine the majority required to win a vote for sovereignty.
In a democracy—at least this is what I was taught—each person has an equal right to vote. My vote is not more important than the vote of any other person, and nobody's vote is not more important than mine. This is the basic principle of democracy. Yet, this bill suggests that a vote could have more weight than another one, which is totally unacceptable. That is why I intend to now move a motion to amend Motion No. 2.
That Motion No. 2 be amended by adding, between the words “were” and “consulted”, the word “democratically”.
Something this bill is seriously lacking. This amendment is seconded by the hon. member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok.