House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was yea.


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

4:05 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

No. The situation with this bill is very simple.

I do not think all members of the Bloc are separatists. Most are sovereignists or perhaps indépendantistes, but they are not separatists.

In Quebec, some separatists are looking for winning conditions. I think that two winning conditions are a confusing question and a majority of 50% plus one.

We have two parties in the House that go along with that. The Conservative Party thinks a confusing question is all right, and the Reform Party led by Mr. Manning says that 50% plus one is enough to break up Canada.

The Liberal government will not last forever, and it is unfortunate. Eventually, Reformers or Conservatives may form the government. I think Preston Manning, and perhaps Joe Clark also, could impose party discipline with a great deal of authority. In that case, the Reform leader would be able to impose the majority of 50% plus one. Perhaps the Conservative leader would accept an unclear question to get negotiations underway—

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

4:10 p.m.


Dick Harris Reform Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know it was probably just a slip of the tongue but the member did mention the Leader of the Official Opposition by name. I know he did not mean to and that he would withdraw it.

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

4:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sure he would not mind. I am sorry, I missed hearing the name but the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington will not, I am sure, want to allow that to continue.

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

4:10 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Excuse me, Mr. Speaker. I was under the impression that the Reform leader had resigned his position.

The winning condition is simply to have a Reform leader, a Canadian Alliance leader, or a Conservative leader as government leader. These are winning conditions for the separatists.

Bill C-20 prevents this possibility by conferring the power to determine if the question is clear, and if the majority is clear on that question. It confers such power to all members of the House of Commons. It creates a sensitive situation with respect to the question initiating negotiations for the break-up of the country. This responsibility is vested in all members, who would participate in some kind of a free vote. I think that most members of this House, including Bloc members, will vote according to their conscience.

For these reasons, I think that this bill is good as it takes the power of the executive and gives it to the members of this House.

I think this is true democracy.

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

4:15 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague for the quality of his French. I have known him for four or five years and his French is improving. I would like to tell him also that I hope with his learning French and understanding Quebecers that in a few months he will change his mind and vote in favour of the sovereignty of Quebec. Let us hope so.

I am glad to be able to speak today to Bill C-20, however difficult it may be for us in this House to convince people.

I followed closely the dynamics that developed since the introduction of the bill before Christmas and, like great philosophers, I like to ask myself questions.

The first question I asked myself was why? Why want to trap Quebecers in the status quo? Then, I told myself I had to try to identify the interests of the party in power. Not only did the Liberal Party introduce legislation that is undemocratic, but it trampled several democratic rules that I want to address in my remarks.

I came to the conclusion that the interests of the Liberal government are quite simple: it is interested in Quebec because Quebec sends a lot of tax money to Ottawa and that must not change. I found a few examples, and what is going on here in Ottawa is best described as misappropriation of Quebecers' money.

In fact, taking into account several issues over the years—I was first elected in 1993—I believe that the government wants to keep Quebec in Canada because it is profitable for the government. It is not profitable for Quebecers or it is far less profitable for them, but for Canadians and the rest of Canada, for example, the motto is “Let us keep Quebec in Canada and, if need be, let us lock it up in Canada”. At least I believe this is what the government is trying to do.

For instance, and this is one example among many, let us look at the issue of GST harmonization. Not long ago, as members will remember, the government said “We will scrap the GST”. As soon as they were elected, they said “No, we will keep it”. Moreover, they tried to convince all the provinces to harmonize their taxes with the federal GST.

The Atlantic provinces, for example, received $1 billion for the harmonization of their taxes with the GST. Quebec was the first province to say to the federal government “Listen, you are giving compensation to the Atlantic provinces, so, give us compensation too”. We were asking $2.5 billion. And the federal government stubbornly said “No, you are not entitled to this”. They said to themselves “Let us keep Quebecers and Quebec in Canada, because it is to our advantage. We can compensate the other provinces, but let us forget about Quebec”.

I remind the House that it was even suggested that an arbitration board could be set up between representatives of the federal government and Quebec arbitrate on this issue, and the federal government said no.

Other examples come to mind, such as the Canada social transfer. The value scale of the Canada social transfer has always been based mainly on the wealth or poverty of the provinces or the regions. The government changed all that. Now it is just the demographic factor that counts, meaning that Quebecers have lost a lot of money, because Ontario is the largest province in demographic terms. It is the one getting the big chunk of federal money in the Canada social transfer. Another injustice for Quebec. “Let us keep Quebec, it is very important to us. We can limit transfers, give a little more to the others and enclose Quebec in Canada. This is what we want, because it is to our advantage”. The question is always the same: what are the interests and why this bill?

Another example is Public Works Canada. No more than two weeks ago, the statistics came down: Quebecers contribute 25% of the cost of all the departments, including Public Works Canada. Yet 57% of contracts go to Ontario and 13% to Quebec. “We have to keep Quebec in Canada, because it is a cash cow”. Quebecers pay full taxes to Ottawa, 25% of the tax base, but they are not given the equivalent. They have to be imprisoned in Canada.

There is an annual $2 billion shortfall in Quebec. Then they tell us that Quebec does not know how to manage, that it has a huge debt, that it always has deficits, that the federal government has put itself in a good position and that now there is no deficit. We can understand why. I am giving examples of instances where Quebecers are continually shortchanged in Canada.

Quebecers continue to contribute 25% of the tax base for National Defence, but only 18% of spending goes to Quebec and only 16% of the infrastructures are in Quebec. Another shortfall.

Some even talk about a shortfall of 5,000 Quebecers in the military. An additional 5,000 Quebecers in the labour force would have a significant impact on the economy. Again, the federal government ignores this because it wants to keep Quebec a prisoner in the Canadian federation.

These days, we hear a lot about the price of gas. I want to tell Quebecers who are listening that, for at least 15 years now, they have been paying 3 to 10 cents more than Ontarians for gas. Why? Because the government of the time decided that no subsidies would be paid to refineries located east of the Borden line. That decision automatically triggered a 3 to 10 cent increase at the pump in Quebec. Incidentally, three refineries in eastern Montreal have since shut down. The hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve is well aware of this. It happened almost in his riding.

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

4:20 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

In the riding of Mercier.

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

4:20 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Canada wants to create health research institutes. Let us talk about research institutes. Out of 43 research institutes in the national capital region, 42 are located in Ottawa and one is in Hull. And it is Quebecers' taxes that pay for this. Twenty five per cent of these institutes are paid for by Quebecers who, in return, only get one of them out of 43.

Research institutes are important. Contracts are awarded, well paid jobs are created and subcontracts help generate economic spin-offs. But no “Let us keep Quebec a prisoner within Canada. We want the taxes paid by Quebecers. We are not interested in giving them back services”.

At one point, Quebecers told themselves “Let us try to correct things. Let us make reforms”. In 1982, the Constitution was unilaterally imposed by Ottawa. No Premier of Quebec, either sovereignist or federalist, has ever agreed to sign it as things now stand. It was tried with the Meech Lake agreement, where we put forward five little minimum conditions. We were turned down. As for the Charlottetown accord, the rest of Canada said no and so did we. We considered that we did not have enough power and the rest of Canada considered that it was giving us too much.

Now what is this bill trying to do? It is trying to trap Quebec within the Canadian federation. After accusing the Liberals of diverting money belonging to the Quebec people, I accuse them of hijacking democracy because we have seen closure after closure with this bill, and a bold and unacceptable attempt by the government to restrict the number of amendments that the members could move, allowing ministers to move more.

It is a good thing the opposition held together and managed to thwart these plans, but it will not prevent the government from trying to impose all its wishes on us, like closure to limit debate. We are told that we will be voting like little rabbits; this is what I understood a little earlier from one of my colleagues. What is this? Are we acting in a undemocratic way when we vote laws in the federal parliament the way we have been doing over the last hundred years?

There is a limit. And it is not a question of money. The only thing we can do is a little bit of parliamentary resistance as far as the votes are concerned, and we are even blamed for that too.

This is to show how the government intends to keep Quebec in the prison of confederation. The bill is quite undemocratic. Since when is 50% plus one not acceptable? Canada itself has recognized referendums that took place in Croatia and in Macedonia, where the 50% plus one rule applied.

Furthermore, the question had two components, one of which was on partnership. Now, the government tells us “No, there will not be any partnership. We will examine this in the House of Commons, in our great paternalistic wisdom toward Quebec. We will examine whether your question is clear enough”.

I want to say one thing. There is no single prison that will keep Quebecers in this federation when they decide enough is enough. There are not enough locks in all the Ottawa region to keep all Quebecers within the Canadian federation when they decide enough is enough. There is no prison that is tight enough to keep them inside forever.

Quebec sovereignty is the only solution, with a partnership offer, and I hope Quebecers will understand this. I also hope that Canada will be open to this idea at that time. It is not with bills such as this one that the government can ensure Quebec will stay within the Canadian federation; on the contrary, when it decides to leave, nothing will stop it.

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

4:25 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important issue. There is no greater issue that any member would address than the dissolution of his or her country. I am in somewhat of an ironic position because in the riding of Scarborough East, where I come from, this is, frankly, not an issue.

One would have thought or anticipated that the dissolution of one's country would have been of extreme interest to citizens of my riding, that constituents would have spoken to me, or would have sent e-mails, faxes, letters, et cetera. Quite to the contrary, if I could characterize it as such, this is an issue that has almost fallen off the political map. In some respects my constituents see this as a done deal and they thank goodness that somebody has introduced some sanity into the debate.

There is an irony. This is an enormous issue. It is a very significant issue on which the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs gave probably one of the finest speeches that the House has heard in a number of years, and yet there is no political resonance in my community.

I have just spent a week in my riding, as did all members. What I heard were issues around Bill C-23. I heard about gas prices, as if I am somehow able to deal in some manner with gas prices. Health care is a significant issue to my constituents. I think those are probably the top three issues. I cannot recall anyone in the past week or 10 days writing to me, faxing me or e-mailing me about this issue. It is enormously ironic that arguably the most significant bill which the government will pass in its mandate has almost no response from my own constituents.

When this bill was introduced by the government there was an initial sense of euphoria. Finally the Government of Canada was getting on with it. Finally somebody was going to do something concrete, something decisive, something that will bring closure to this issue, this interminable debate of our national dream.

The message I got from my constituents was pretty vocal. First, they liked it. They thought this was a great bill. Second, get on with it. Just do it. I cannot phrase it any more bluntly than that. The message was, bring clarity to this debate. Finish it. Deal with it and move on.

The tactics in this debate are hugely ironic. Bloc members, for their own reasons, and I am still at a loss to understand them, choose to take tactics of delay and obfuscation, introducing meaningless amendments and reading newspaper articles into the record. It does everything but deal with the issue and is quite reluctant to accept the political judgment of Canadians on this matter.

Instead of dealing with what I perceive to be the political reality of not only my constituency but Canada and all Canadians including Quebec, which is that this is something that needs to be done, the Bloc's tactic in this matter is to delay and to waste parliamentary time.

I have listened to the members opposite. I have some understanding of their issue. They consider this to be a unilateral decision which is something that is available to Quebecers and Quebecers only. That position has been debated and frankly they have lost the debate. After that there has been nothing of substance added to the debate.

I have some expectation given the philosophical position of the Bloc that it would not really care what the constituents of Scarborough East, Ontario or the rest of Canada thought, but I would have thought it had some interest in what other Quebecers thought. What I understand to be the situation is that the political reality in Quebec is much similar to the political reality of Scarborough East which is to get on with it, deal with it and finish it off.

The position of the Bloc to my mind is unfathomable. I do not understand. It does seem to me that this has become a discredited political philosophy. Members opposite are unwilling to accept that this has become a discredited political philosophy, that they are in the death throes.

We get ironical statements by members such as the member who spoke previous to me about how Quebec is being ripped off in its relationship to the rest of Canada. He quotes a number of examples where apparently research and development is done on one side of the Ottawa River as opposed to the other side of the river, et cetera. He neatly forgets the equalization payments of something in excess of $4 billion on an annual basis. Any studies I have ever read on the issue have said that Quebec does very well in its relationship with Canada.

I cannot quite fathom what they are against. I looked up the speech of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. I thought it was one of the better speeches given in the House in a long time. He said in his conclusion that the bill is reasonable, that it is in everybody's interests including those of his fellow Quebecers who desire independence. They can and must acknowledge that their plans for political independence can only be realized in clarity and legality. To act otherwise is to try to reach independence through ambiguity with no legal safety net, is to show disrespect for Quebecers and to doom the independence initiative to failure, to an impasse that would be disappointing and costly for everyone. I adopt the reasoning of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and I think he said it well.

I find the tactics of the Bloc to be quite disappointing. Raising irrelevant amendments and matters of procedure, slowing down the work of the House ending up in endless picayune discussions as to whether a comma should go here or there is a great disservice to what was and is a noble cause, namely the issue of whether Quebec is or is not a nation. To my mind it does no great service to the dream of René Lévesque and all those who have spoken so eloquently in favour of the position.

It appears to me that the Bloc members are reluctant to accept a democratic result. They simply will not accept it. Again I go back to the speech of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. It states, “In this matter the separatist leaders do not defend the rights of Quebecers. None of our rights as Quebecers are threatened in this bill. Quite the contrary, no one in this country wants to keep Quebecers against their will. No. What the separatist leaders defend is their capacity to maintain confusion on their project. They are upholding their so-called right to confusion”.

I was not aware that a right to confusion was in fact a charter or parliamentary right but I suppose this is something we will have to look at. The tactics bring parliament into disrepute. This is the kind of stuff that makes Canadians say that parliament has outlived its usefulness, that it is only marginally relevant. It tends to diminish parliament in the eyes of my constituents and of other Canadians.

In summary, my constituents want this bill to pass. My constituents believe that the time has passed for this endless discussion. My constituents want clarity.

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

4:35 p.m.


René Canuel Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to my colleague had to say and I see more and more that there are two entities in Canada: his and that of men and women in Quebec.

I had prepared something for the year 2000, something that could give hope to the Matapédia—Matane people et to all Quebecers.

The inaugural magic of great moments is difficult to conjure up for the humanity. As a magic date, a mythical passage, the arrival of year 2000 created a lot of hope in all our hearts. Many were disappointed, especially since the introduction in this House of Bill C-20. Like the whole of humanity, Quebecers entered the third millennium with a lot of hope and expectations.

On the eve of year 2000, the people had the feeling, the belief that things could now be better. It was even said “Peace and goodwill to all”.

With the minister's Bill C-20, the government cast darkness over that environment. This minister could be called the “son of darkness”, it is incredible how poorly he understands Quebec reality. Once in a while, legislation can be considered a comedy, but if I had to describe this one, I would have to say it is a terrible tragedy.

People on the other side should have a hand dog look tonight. But that is not the case; they are smiling and saying this is a good piece of legislation for Quebec. If by their fruits you shall know them, then—

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

4:35 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

They are rotten.

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

4:35 p.m.


René Canuel Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Yes, they are poisoned. We must judge a government, and especially the minister, by its legislation. This minister is arrogant and his legislation is provocative. Furthermore, Bill C-20 is an insult to and a crime against intelligence.

It more or less tells the members of the National Assembly “You are not bright enough, not intelligent enough to determine your own destiny. Mr. Bouchard, Mr. Charest, Mr. Dumont, you are three minus habens. You are waterboys, second class politicians or, as Trudeau told Bourassa, hot dog eaters”. That is what Trudeau said.

Moreover, it is an insult to and a crime against freedom. My adolescent students used to say “We are free”. They were right. I imagine that Quebecers are quite capable of freely making their own choices. Bill C-20 says the question must meet such and such requirements. Any other question will be considered as ambiguous. Is that freedom? Is that the extent to which freedom can be exercised in this Parliament?

The federal government's judgment can supersede Quebec's judgment. As my colleagues said earlier, Bill C-20 is undemocratic. In 1980, the federalists won with 50% of the votes plus one; they were happy and they celebrated with champagne. In 1995, the federalists won with 50% plus one, and they really brought out the champagne. However, at the next referendum, if we win with 50% plus one, that would not be enough. According to the Prime Minister, such a result could not be recognized. The rules have changed somehow.

I have always admired Mr. Ryan who, many years ago, was the editor in chief of Le Devoir and has also been the Leader of the Opposition in Quebec. He is a remarkable man. He said he would recognize these rules. Joe Clark, a former Prime Minister, said the same thing in this House.

What is going on here is that they are using their strength to crush a whole people, the Quebec people. Never will the people of my riding, the people of the riding of my colleague from Charlevoix, whom I had the honour to meet twice, and the Quebec people as a whole go for such legislation.

Ottawa's bill is not only abusive, it is unjust. Its proponents are acting with the arrogance of conquerors. Those who support them are serving a cause or purpose. What cause or purpose? To eradicate anything that makes possible the existence and the expression of a people that the constitutional order of the Canadian society obstinately refuses to recognize.

We, in the regions, are fed up with a government, which, instead of trying to settle real problems and create jobs, is attacking our government, the government of Quebec and those who are truly elected by the people.

This government dares to dictate our conduct. That is something that no one can or will accept. We find the dirty tricks of the present Liberal government pretty tiring. Even the Liberal MPs from Quebec, and that is what is sad and unacceptable, fail to understand and are not attuned to their constituents. I can understand this in the case of those representing anglophone ridings, but the member representing Bellechasse—Etchemins—Montmagny—L'Islet should have ears to hear what his fellow citizens are saying. After the next election, he will no longer be around. It is perfectly clear, because people with freedom at heart, people who understand what Quebec wants, will definitely show their MP the door, minister or not. And they will not be ushering him out an emergency exit for his safety, but booting him out the front door.

There is no way to ignore the sour note on which this past century and this past millennium came to an end. If the Quebec people were to bow to the yoke of Bill C-20, it would be a sign that we had been tamed. We would be just like the domestic animals on the farm to serve humans. I trust that my friends across the floor will understand, and I will offer a quick summary.

If the people across the way want to put up fences, if they want to impose a yoke on us, if they insist so much on keeping us, this must be, I should think, because our values are superior to theirs.

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

4:45 p.m.


Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

We are worthwhile from the financial point of view.

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

4:45 p.m.


René Canuel Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

We must be very much worthwhile financially. I have been fighting for sovereignty for the past thirty years at least. I have federalist friends who, fortunately, are realizing more and more that Quebec must become sovereign, not to stir up trouble but to put an end to the squabbles, not to be an enemy but to be more of a friend, because they are going to live in one beautiful country and we in the other. We will then be able to reach out the hand of brotherhood and all will be well.

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

4:45 p.m.


John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow the last three speakers.

I have a small comment before I approach the clarity bill from the point of view of my constituents. I must say to my colleague from Matapédia—Matane that he appears to have forgotten that although we talk about two founding nations there are others. We also have aboriginal people who have been here for more than 11,000 years. We have just established Nunavut within Canada, an Inuit territory. We have just passed the Nisga'a treaty in B.C., an Indian nation. In fact, many Newfoundlanders consider themselves to be part of a fairly unique group. We have the Acadians in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

My friend says that we have the nerve to tell the French Canadians, the Quebecers, what to do. That is not so. The government has the responsibility to maintain the federation, if possible, and to see that it is not broken apart on a vague question because some people feel disadvantaged. Lots of people feel disadvantaged.

The member for Saint-John, with whom I have worked very hard on a couple of committee, said that Quebec tax money is coming into Ottawa in undue amounts. That is not so. I do not know why we have to argue about figures which have been the same for a great many years.

Ontario is a have province. Quebec has been termed a have not province. That is not out of disrespect of course; it is due to the equalization payments of the provinces.

Just this year the cash paid to Ontario was raised to equal the per capita rate that is paid to Quebec. Ontario people knew that and they were very pleased. Finally they were being paid at the same rate as Quebecers.

My friend also said that we will stand up and sit down like rabbits to vote tonight, or soon. There is an easy way to cure that. They could withdraw the unnecessary amendments. Then we could all get on with the nation's business and discuss a lot of other important things that we need to do.

Twice this afternoon speakers from the Bloc talked about sovereignty with a partnership. That is what a federation is. It is a partnership among equal partners. That is what we have in this country and we want to maintain it.

I agree also with the member for Scarborough East. My constituents support this bill. They think it is long overdue. They are fed up with the uncertainty and the instability which the spectre of sovereignty raises every other year or so over industry, exports and farm products.

The bill follows the supreme court decision on the Quebec secession reference and it asks for a clear majority on a clear question. My friends in the Bloc are upset about 50% plus one. I would ask the question that the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs asked: If 50% plus one is a clear majority, what is an unclear majority?

In my experience on organizations, hospital boards, school boards, unions, Liberal associations and other associations, at an open meeting on a matter that goes to a vote, if there are six votes for and five against it passes. However, that does not hold for constitutional amendments. Most of the organizations I belong to require 66% or a two-thirds majority for a constitutional amendment, and even that is only following notice and discussion which has probably taken six months or a year. To make a constitutional amendment any faster than that would require 90%, not 66%. Why is that? Because it makes awfully good sense.

It means that a rump group or a group of zealots cannot change the constitution of a well respected association, of a government, a country or a company by marching into the annual meeting and taking over. It is to preserve the policies, the methods, the rules by which we live, the rules by which we conduct our business. It is not to get around anything, it is to protect us from undue change and unlawful takeovers.

Canada is unique. We have two founding nations. We have two official languages. In the schools in my county French language instruction begins in grade 3. We have French immersion in our public schools. We have French immersion in a high school. Students take all of their courses in French, and this is in the heart of southwestern Ontario. Our children know the value of the federation and their Canada includes Quebec.

Since the 1995 referendum I have co-operated with my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi in Quebec on a student summer work and exchange program between my riding and his. I am glad to say that this program has now spread across the country and literally hundreds of students each summer go to Quebec, New Brunswick or other parts of Canada on a work exchange, to live within the community, learn about that community and return home better people. They have no trouble understanding, working with or playing with students from Quebec. They find themselves and their parents to be very much alike.

Our young people know that Canada is respected around the globe. Canadians who travel abroad are always happiest when they return to Canada's shores and set foot again on Canadian soil. They display the Canadian flag wherever they go because it is sine qua non. It is an entry to every country in the world, and yet here we are trying to establish a bit of a rule and clarity on how long we will keep this country going. We will not have it broken up by frivolous and unworthy claims.

The last clause in the bill states:

No Minister of the Crown shall propose a constitutional amendment to effect the secession of a province from Canada unless the Government of Canada has addressed, in its negotiations, the terms of secession that are relevant in the circumstances, including the division of assets and liabilities—

This sounds like a divorce to me. It continues:

—any changes to the borders of the province, the rights, interests and territorial claims of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, and the protection of minority rights.

I wonder how many people have thought about what that would comprise and how long it would take, a possible change in the borders of the province.

Most of the people I discussed the matter with are concerned about four changes. First, the Inuit of northern Quebec would obviously have to be given some territory because they would not stay with Quebec if they could stay with Canada.

Second, the Cree of James Bay in northern Quebec would have to have a large chunk.

Third, maybe the Outaouais-Hull area would want to become part of Ontario because its citizens do a lot of work here. They have been freely interchanging for years.

Fourth, in my thinking about this I look at the independence of India and the partition between Pakistan and India. Eventually the two parts of Pakistan, thousands of miles apart, ended up as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. There has not been peace between India and Pakistan since they were established. I think that if Quebec were to go, then we would have to talk about a land connection between Ontario and New Brunswick.

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

4:55 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate. I listened to many members of the Bloc Quebecois talk this afternoon to this bill. Listening to them, I have the feeling that they feel that unless people are from Quebec they cannot really relate to their vision of where Quebec should go, and unless people totally support their view of this bill, then those people have had no association with or understanding of their province.

It was 20 years ago this month that I was invited to Ottawa to work, and that invitation came from a Quebecer. That Quebecer was sitting in the House of Commons with 74 out of 75 members coming from Quebec. That member of parliament, the then prime minister of Canada, went on in May of 1980 to decisively win the first referendum in the province of Quebec with a vote of almost 60-40.

In 1984, after Mr. Trudeau resigned, I decided to support another Quebecer who had served the parliament of Canada for many years. The Right Hon. Jean Chrétien did not win the leadership of the party then, but—

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

4:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I know the hon. member meant to say the Prime Minister and I know he will want to comply with the rules in every respect.

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

4:55 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

You are right, Mr. Speaker. The Right Hon. Prime Minister, who of course is now in his eighth year, has put this bill before the Parliament of Canada. Quite frankly this bill is a crafted jewel. I think this bill will go down in history as one of the best things the Prime Minister has ever done.

I say that because I listen to my constituents. Not just in my community in Toronto but right across Canada there is a general feeling that the debate on Quebec's separation has gone on long enough. One of the reasons the debate has gone on so long is that the separatists, the sovereignists, the indépendantistes, whatever we want to call them, have constantly used clouded questions, shall I say every trick in the book, to try to confuse their own communities.

The beautiful thing about this legislation is that for the first time we have the rules that will actually decide Quebec's right to sovereignty. No one will deny that right, but some basic rules will have to be respected: one, a clear question; two, a majority; and three, we have to make sure if those conditions are met that the political actors are put together to make that secession possible.

I have not met anyone yet who is against the notion of a clear question. Why the Bloc Quebecois would argue the point with hundreds and hundreds of amendments on a simple clause is really beyond me.

It was very interesting when we listened to witnesses. Some of the most respected leaders from the province of Quebec came before us and said that this bill is in order. Some members said that maybe they would challenge the process. Maybe they would like us to take a little longer and debate it. That is a fair comment but we are elected to lead. We are elected to govern. The leadership that is in charge right now has said that we have debated this bill long enough. It has three clauses. Let us get on with it and we will be accountable for it.

One of the leaders who appeared before us was the former prime minister of Canada, the Right Hon. Joe Clark. He did not support the legislation. He felt if a situation ever did arise where a group of sovereignists were so effective and so passionate that there should be an environment where ambiguity could buy the Government of Canada some time so as to delay the process of negotiating the secession.

I thought Mr. Clark's point was a good one. However he failed to realize that in this bill, in the third clause, we have actually enshrined a structure whereby lots of time can be taken before a secession would be possible. In other words, we could argue that clause 3 creates an environment of debate and ambiguity. The reality is that it will take us years before we can decide on the ground rules. Maybe in that period of time people in Quebec will have had the opportunity to assess if they really do want to leave this great country.

That is one of the special features of this bill. Even if there was a clear question and even if there was a clear majority, it would literally take years and years. There are people who essentially at the moment are focused on ripping this country apart. It would give us time and it would give the political actors in Canada the time to possibly drag this out until we put the right type of people in place through the electoral process.

That is one of the genius components of the bill. One could argue it actually enshrines ambiguity. That is the irony of it: the clarity bill that enshrines ambiguity.

I want my friends in the Bloc Quebecois to know that I have spent most of my political life working with people not just from my province and other provinces across Canada, but men and women from Quebec. There is a lot more to achieve by their constituents being part of this great Chamber and being part of this great country rather than continuing to knock on the door of separating them from this great nation.

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

5:05 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, I have mixed feelings.

First, I have a feeling of gratitude towards our colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry and our colleague from Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans for their excellent work in committee, where they truly tirelessly defended the rights of Quebec.

I have mixed feelings because despite this gratitude, I believe that all who speak out in support of democracy are in a sort of mourning today.

I listened to our colleague, deliciously pompous as usual, remind us that the rule of 50% plus one suffered no exception. Spiritual son of Pierre Elliot Trudeau that he is, he should be covered in shame, because he must know that his mentor was a true supporter of the rule of 50% plus one.

In committee, a witness by the name of Guy Lachapelle, an eminent political scientist—and I will seek consent to table the document after reading it and I dedicate a single quote to my colleague—quoted former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who made the following statement:

Democracy genuinely demonstrates its faith in man by letting itself be guided by the rule of fifty-one per cent. For if all men are equal, each one the possessor of a special dignity, it follows inevitably that the happiness of fifty-one people is more important than that of forty-nine; it is normal, then, that— ceteris paribus and taking account of the inviolable rights of the minority—the decisions preferred by the fifty-one should prevail.

It is signed Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Approaches to Politics , Montreal, Éditions du Jour, 1970.

One cannot speak out of both sides of one's mouth. The reality is that no politician, except the Liberals, is saying that the Quebec referendum should not be decided by the National Assembly and that the 50% plus one rule should not apply.

I challenge any government member to give us one example, and political expert Guy Lachapelle clearly said “It is important to remember that no western democracy worthy of that name makes mention of a specific majority for a referendum”.

I remind hon. members that the sovereignist movement is very comfortable with the notion of democracy. Do you know why? It is because three leaders of the sovereignist movement founded political parties to periodically submit the option to the public.

It is quite the paradox to live in a political system where the supreme law of this so-called country is the 1982 Constitution, which was never approved by the public. By contrast, in Quebec, three sovereignist leaders historically known and appreciated have created political parties. We know these leaders; they are Pierre Bourgault, René Lévesque and Lucien Bouchard.

From time to time, we have had the courage to submit our option to voters. Periodically, we have had referendums too. We have submitted our option to the referendum test. They took part in the 1980 campaign, and the one in 1995. The rule was 50% plus one.

What was the first reaction the next day by that great Quebecer Lucien Bouchard, at the Mirabel Airport press conference, after we lost the 1985 referendum? What did the Premier of Quebec say? His behaviour was that of a democrat. It was not that of a partisan. It was not that of a party leader, but of a democrat at the head of seven million Quebecers. The day after the referendum, what he told Quebecers was this “A no is a no, but when the day comes that the answer is yes, then that will be yes, and that will mean yes”.

We accept that rule. We are not saying that the 1995 outcome was too tight, that its validity is not recognized. We acknowledge that we lost the 1995 referendum, if only by 50,000 votes. A victory is a victory, if lost by 50,000 votes.

Here in the House of Commons something rather dramatic is going on. I would like to share with the House just how much indignation is being stirred up in quarters where none is usually expected.

Claude Ryan, that intellectual respected by those of all political stripes, he who was there during the discussions of the Fulton-Favreau formula, who was there for Victoria, who was there when the Parti Quebecois took power, who was there in 1995, who has been a minister, leader of the Liberal party, leader of the no faction, is a federalist. He is a self-confessed devout federalist, a militant federalist. He is a man of great discipline and no one can deny the discipline of Claude Ryan.

He appeared before the parliamentary committee. If it would not be abusing your kindness, Madam Speaker, we should circulate his brief.

I quote what he said:

In the third “whereas” of the bill, the federal government, in accordance with this principle, recognizes that “the government of any province of Canada is entitled to consult its population by referendum on any issue and is entitled to formulate the wording of its referendum question”. However, it contradicts this statement by including in the bill a clause giving the Parliament of Canada the power to interfere directly in the referendum process—

If the National Assembly has the right to consult its population on a proposal to secede, it must be able to do so free from any constraint or interference from another parliament.

That is what is bad about the bill. We accept that there is a split in Quebec between federalists and sovereignists. We wanted to include in the referendum act provision for the ability to express one's viewpoint, on equal terms.

We are not in a situation where one option is more amply funded than another. In democracy, everyone is entitled to his viewpoint. The best way in a democracy to oppose an idea is to propose a better one.

We sovereignists think that our idea, our viewpoint, our option are better than the federalist option. But this is not what we should be talking about today.

Bill C-20 says to Quebecers “Whatever choice you make, no matter how you read the constitutional future, there are people outside Quebec, in the federal parliament, who will retain a veto”. And that is unacceptable.

Who are the allies of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs? I could say that the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs is not a democrat. I will refrain from passing personal judgement on the minister. I will put an objective question and ask his parliamentary secretary to reply. Who are the minister's allies in Quebec?

When we think about the major central labour bodies, Claude Ryan and the student federations, we realize that the minister is a lonely man. The Bloc Quebecois does not find it easy to witness what is going on right now. It is never easy for democrats, for elected representatives to watch such wrongdoings.

I will conclude by saying that we are convinced that, in the short and the long term, Quebecers will opt for democracy and, when they are consulted at the next federal election, they will fire this government, which has constantly bullied the National Assembly and trampled the democratic principles of which we on this side are so proud.

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

5:15 p.m.


Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Given the quality of the speech delivered by the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve and given our interest in Bill C-20, I request the unanimous consent of the House to allow the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve to have the floor for an indefinite period of time.

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

5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hon. member is asking for unanimous consent to allow the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve to speak for an indefinite period of time. Is there unanimous consent?

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

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


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

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


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

5:15 p.m.


Jean Augustine Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Madam Speaker, what you have just heard and the debate by the member across the way does not deserve any continuation. I will join in the debate and say at the outset that Bill C-20 addresses the concerns of all Canadians.

For years the people in my riding of Etobicoke—Lakeshore and, I am sure, all across the country, have wrestled with the fundamental question of keeping our country together. They have wrestled with such questions as how will legislators deal with the possible secession of a Canadian province.

This bill gives answers to Canadians. This bill, rightfully named the clarity act, gives clarity to the question. Bill C-20 is squarely in line with the Supreme Court of Canada's opinion in the Quebec secession reference which states clearly that it is for the political actors to determine what constitutes a clear majority on a clear question.

With Bill C-20, the federal government is delivering on its responsibility to all Canadians, giving Canadians an opportunity to make an informed decision about the breakup of our country. The clarity act is about good governance and democracy, values that we cherish in our political system.

Madam Speaker, I want you to keep in mind those three words, good governance and democracy, as I proceed. What is happening here today in this debate does not speak to good governance and democracy as we hear from the members across the way; those values that we cherish in our political system, those values that are amplified in this clarity act which sets out principles and procedures under which the Government of Canada and the House of Commons must proceed if ever some day we are to decide on the clarity of the will to secede. It is a framework for the Government of Canada and it has the support of my constituents and Canadians across the country.

There was a recent poll done around December 9 to 17. It was a CROP poll conducted for the Centre for Research and Information on Canada. Some 58% of respondents agreed with the government's intention to clarify the conditions under which secession could be negotiated. It is democracy and good governance.

The numerous amendments by the Bloc Quebecois to the bill lack substance and are clearly an obstruction of the process. When we introduce amendments in the House we do so as members of parliament with the intention of improving the legislation and improving the ideas expressed.

Motions Nos. 1, 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12 as put forward by the Bloc do not have that intention. These motions propose removing the title of the bill, deleting the existing clauses in the preamble, gutting the bill and putting us back into a position whereby Canadians would not be able to get resolution to this thorny issue of national unity.

The Bloc motions proposing the deletion of the bill title is aimed solely at stalling the procedures in the House, during the committee hearings, and are not intended to improve the bill.

On February 15, appearing before the committee studying Bill 99 in the national assembly, the Bloc's intergovernmental affairs critic was already saying, and I quote:

The difficulty we have, is that the bill is so blatantly unacceptable that to propose substantive amendments does not seem to us to be in the order of the day. Proposing amendments to stall the passage of the something that is in the realm of possibility.

Those who say that they want democracy and that the bill is undemocratic would not at the outset let the process take its course.

My constituents want us to get clarity on the issue and to know that we can get over this difficult question that seems to come around almost in circles. They want us, as members of parliament, to do their bidding, to stand for a clear question and decisions so that however we move we will move with clarity.

The title of the bill speaks to that clarity. Any discussion from across the way that would somehow say that this is undemocratic does not really speak to the intent of the bill.

I have joined in the debate because I want to see clarity on the issue. I want my constituents to know that there are members on this side of the House who want to bring this question to a close, who want to see this legislation pass this House and who want to see us go forward into the 21st century with clarity so that whatever happens, all sides know exactly what the terms are.

I call on my colleagues and those of the opposition, the Bloc Quebecois especially who are opposing this, that they allow the democratic process to take place and let the will of Canadians be heard through this clarity act. I call on everyone of us to join in ensuring that the bill is passed.

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

5:20 p.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, 18 months ago tomorrow, a year and a half to the day, I was elected by the people of the riding of Sherbrooke.

At that time, I was proud to represent the people of Sherbrooke, and I still am. At that time too, I was convinced that I would find the purest expression of democracy in this House. How naive I was.

I realized that more and more once I had read some excerpts from the works of political scientist Léon Dion. One of them says, in substance, that Quebec creates its own worst enemies. At the time, he did not realize that he was going to become the spiritual father of the person we can now describe as one of the worst of Quebec's worst enemies.

We of the Bloc Quebecois have tried on numerous occasions to enlighten the 26 Quebec Liberals, who are the worst enemies of Quebec, as well as the House as a whole, by asking repeatedly for unanimous consent to table documents, and the government refused. It refused to be enlightened.

This past February 7, Parliament began its first sitting in this new millennium. Everyone thought the millennium bug was a thing of the past, but we now know this was not the case. The government is contaminated with a virus. In fact, we are pretty well certain that the millennium bug is the federal Liberal government itself.

We are all aware of several viruses affecting the Liberal government. Of course, earlier in the year, there was the Minister of Industry's attempt to subsidize sports millionaires by giving direct favours to some helpful friends.

At the moment, there is a scandal at the Department of Human Resources Development arising from political meddling intended to help friends or buy votes.

The biggest virus, however, the most destructive, the vilest, is Bill C-20, the produce of a sort of germ or rather a two headed mite eating away at our democratic net like a sort of rat.

So, on December 13, 1999, the duo of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs tabled in the House of Commons an act to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada. Since then, the federal government has brought out its work boots to ram through a bill that disregards the political institutions Quebec has created and acts as if there had never been three referendums.

Ideally, we would have Bill C-20 withdrawn. There are three good reasons for this.

First, it gives the House of Commons power to disallow legislation passed by the National Assembly and a choice expressed by the Quebec people.

The bill also denies Quebecers the freedom to choose their own political destiny and to include in a referendum question, should they so wish, a proposal of partnership with Canada.

Bill C-20 denies the universally accepted rule of 50% plus one for the majority and the fundamental rule of the equality of votes. And the reason for this is clear. It is because the government knows that the next Quebec referendum will be a winner for the Quebec people. So, with this bill, the government thinks it can get out of its obligation to negotiate. It is supremely wrong.

Not only does it want to get out of future negotiations, it does not even want to debate its bill in the House with the members. It proved it by imposing a gag on hon. members as early as second reading, then at the legislative committee stage and again, today, at third reading.

A few years ago, in an interview on Quebec television, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a former Prime Minister, stated that the people were sovereign and that a country could only be founded on the will of its people to be governed, and a free people must decide its own destiny and chose democratically its leaders.

If we are free, no yoke or shackles must be put on us, nobody outside Quebec should dictate to us what to think or what to do? With Bill C-20, the federal government wants to force Quebec to do things its way, to impose the procedure and determine the rules of the game.

If, as a Quebecer, I wanted to tell Ontario or another province how to manage itself, I would be told to mind my own business. That is exactly what the majority of the members from Quebec in this House, the National Assembly as a whole and many major organizations representing thousands of Quebecers are saying to the Liberal government in Ottawa: “Mind your own business and get off our backs. We have the sacred right to make our own decisions”.

Quebec is not a child, it is big enough to take care of itself without federal government interference. It can very well make enlightened decisions without Ottawa taking it by the hand or telling it what is good for Quebecers.

With Bill C-20, the Liberal government is telling us, like one does with a child, how to define a fair majority, a majority that suits its needs. All over the world, the 50% plus one rule is the accepted majority. Here in Canada, which claims to be a cradle of democracy, the Liberals want to change this universally accepted rule, according to their mood. Will it be 60%, 65% or 70%? Will it depend on whether it snows or rains on that day? This is called controlling democracy.

Some major Quebec organizations have condemned Bill C-20. The CSN, the FTQ and the CEQ formed a united front to condemn this unprecedented show of force against Quebec, and so have various other associations, including student federations, women's groups and community and social groups.

Twice, for the 1980 and 1995 referenda on the future of Quebec, it was the National Assembly that set the rules of the game and no one in Quebec, whether in the federalist or sovereignist camp, challenged the legitimacy and democratic character of these two public consultations. We had the right to do it then, but not any more. We can do it one day, but not the next day. The Liberal government is playing with democracy as if it were a yoyo.

On October 30, 1995, the no side won by a few tens of thousands of votes. The universal majority rule, 50% plus one, applied. Not one of those Quebecers who voted yes and who lost the referendum challenged the validity of that rule. We respected the public's decision.

Incidentally, I remind hon. members that all the referendums held in Canada so far were based on the universal rule of 50% plus one. Canada has also recognized many countries created after referendums held according to the same rule. This is also the rule used by the United Nations when it supervises referendums on sovereignty. Why should the federal government not ask the United Nations to change its democratic rule and set an arbitrary percentage to dictate the procedure to other countries?

If Quebec were sovereign, nobody would tell us what to do or what to think. We would not be in a federal yoke. The federal government was caught in its own trap when the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the legitimacy of the sovereigntist option and the obligation to negotiate on equal terms. Even if Canada does not recognize a yes at the next referendum, the other counties of the international community will if everything is done democratically.

I am proud to be a Quebecer, even more so when people from Quebec are successful internationally. With sovereignty, it is Quebec as a whole that will be successful internationally.

The federal government tricked us when it repatriated the Constitution of Canada without Quebec's consent. Enough is enough. The time when they played tricks on us and decided for us is over. We are a great people capable of taking its destiny into its own hands. We want to be autonomous and sovereign. That, at least, is 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

5:30 p.m.


Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am truly pleased to stand in the House today as a member of the legislative committee that worked on the clarity bill. In a word I would describe the bill as brilliant.

The separation of Quebec would have profound effects on the whole of Canada and its citizens, including Quebecers wishing to remain in Quebec.

While I agree with this sentiment these are not my words. These are the words of Claude Castonguay, a former Quebec cabinet minister from the Bourassa government.

The clarity bill is a reasonable bill. It is made up of three clauses. It is brief and it is straightforward unlike the 411 motions brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois with which the House will deal later today.

In Motions Nos. 13 to 68 in Group No. 2 there are frivolous changes to the 30 day suggestion put out in the clarity bill. They range from 50 days to 250 days. They are not constructive and they do not improve this piece of legislation.

The message we all took from the 1995 referendum was that we came dangerously close to losing our country on a vague question and a dubious vote. In 1995 the referendum question asked by the Quebec government was confusing. It read:

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 12th?

Quebecers who voted on this question felt they understood, but when they were polled there was a great disparity as to what they thought they were voting on. While individuals were clear within their minds it was not a shared vision that they were voting on.

The results of the referendum saw the yes side receive 49.6% of the vote and the no side receive 50.4%. Support fluctuated by 15 percentage points depending on whether sovereignty would be accompanied by economic partnership with the rest of Canada. Voter turnout for the referendum was high because Quebecers realized the stakes were high. Individuals, while convinced their interpretations were clear, did not share the common view.

The clarity bill states that within 30 days of a provincial government officially releasing a referendum question on secession, the House of Commons would express its opinion by resolution as to whether or not the question is clear. If the House found that the vote on the question could not result in a clear expression of will by the population of that province on whether or not it would cease to be part of Canada, it would no longer deal with the question.

In reaching its assessment the House would take into account the views of other political actors, political parties in the legislative assembly of the province whose government was proposing secession, other provincial or territorial governments and other legislatures.

Soliciting a direct expression of will of the population of a province as to whether the province would cease to be part of Canada is a huge question. This has results that could not go back four years and be reversed. The Government of Canada would enter into negotiations only if the House had concluded that there had been a clear expression of will by a clear majority of the population of that province.

In reaching the assessment the House would take into account matters it considered relevant. These kinds of issues need to be dealt with in context. The clarity bill spells out the qualitative aspect of both the question and the majority.

Secession would require an amendment to our constitution. It would involve at least the governments of all the provinces as well as the Government of Canada. We would have to discuss such things as division of assets and liabilities, perhaps border changes from the province and of course the rights, interests and territorial claims of aboriginal peoples as well as the protection of the rights of minorities.

Another issue that came up very many times when we were discussing this bill—and we heard from many expert witnesses during this process—was whether or not 50% plus one was an indication of a clear majority, a majority that would be irreversible. One does not break up a country with 50% plus one.

Quebecers have already said no twice to secession but the question keeps coming up. How many times is enough? Is it three out of five? Is it five out of seven? Is it seven out of twelve? How many times will we deal with this issue?

Members opposite would have us believe that 50% plus one is a telling majority, and yet they have received that from the no side and they continue to ask the question. No means no now but yes means maybe later. Yes is forever. Only a yes vote will give rise to irreversible change that will bind future generations of the country.

The supreme court requires political actors to assess the clarity of any future majority in favour of secession. It uses the expression clear majority 13 times in its ruling to underline how much it feels this is an issue to be dealt with.

The hon. member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok in Motion No. 2 states that the acceptable majority in the 1995 referendum was 50% plus one and therefore this is the threshold that should be used in any future referendum.

Quebec's own referendum laws set no threshold for an acceptable majority precisely because referendums in Canada are consultative. This was recognized by the PQ government in its white paper leading to its referendum law which stated:

The fact that referenda are consultative makes it unnecessary to include provisions about a required majority or a level of voter participation.

The supreme court's opinion made clear that there was no precise numerical threshold which would trigger negotiations but that:

It will be for political actors to determine what constitutes a clear majority on a clear the circumstances under which a future referendum vote may be taken.

When we ask Quebecers what they think, on October 30, 1999, the Government of Canada released a poll that was conducted of 4,992 Quebecers. It is one of the most important and precise polls, with a margin of 1.6% error, ever conducted on the question of national unity. The will of Quebecers was never again to undergo a confused referendum process such as those that we saw in 1980 and 1995. Quebecers want the process for any future referendums to be based on the principle of clarity. Most say it is reasonable to require a clear referendum question; 93% versus 4% agreed with this statement and on a clear majority 72% agreed versus 24% before Quebec can become independent.

The majority of Quebecers say that the 1995 referendum question was not clear at a support level of 61% versus 36%. Quebecers are opposed to a unilateral declaration of independence if the yes side won in a referendum. The majority says it is reasonable that the Government of Quebec would have to reach an agreement with the rest of Canada before declaring independence.

Quebecers say there is also majority support for the supreme court's decision that the Government of Quebec does not have the right to unilaterally declare independence. That was supported 55% versus 36%.

During our two week consultation process when we again heard from many expert witnesses, many former colleagues at different levels of government came to talk to us. Ed Broadbent commented, when appearing before the legislative committee on Bill C-20, as follows:

Of the 13 new countries to emerge following referenda in the post-World War II, post-colonial era, nine had positive results over 95%; two over 90%; and the remaining two in excess of 75%.

He went on to say:

In my view, Premier Bouchard would be a wise man if he waited until he could expect comparable results. He would be even wiser to abandon his secessionist goal and acknowledge the evident truth that the majority of Quebecers have made great gains in recent decades. By means of the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all Canadians, they have created a wonderful and, dare I say it, distinct society. They are proud Quebecers and proud Canadians.

The clarity bill defines the real stakes in a referendum. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, when he appeared before the legislative committee, said:

On August 20, 1998, the supreme court gave a legal confirmation to that moral obligation. It is eminently desirable that we all respect that opinion, whether we are in favour of Canadian unity or Quebec independence.

Secession is a black hole and I am convinced that the clarity bill is the best guide in making our way through.