Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in the debate on Bill C-20. I would like to do so by referring to some of the motions or the amendments that have been put forward today.
Today and this evening at 6.30 the House will be voting on 411 motions or amendments by the opposition parties. Pursuant to Standing Order 76.1(5) the Speaker has grouped the motions for debate into five groups. I would like to speak to the motions in Group No. 1.
Group No. 1 deals with the preamble of the bill. The preamble itself contains eight clauses. In addition to the preamble the clarity bill itself is actually very clear and straightforward. It contains three operating clauses.
There is a reason I have chosen to speak on the preamble and on the motions within Group No. 1. I ask the Canadian people to decide for themselves tonight as they watch the House of Commons start to vote at 6.30 p.m. whether in fact what they are experiencing here is democracy at work, as my friends in the Bloc have said a number of times today, or is it really an abuse of the parliamentary process and parliamentary rules and procedure.
I do so by looking specifically at Motions Nos. 5 and 9 and talking a bit about the preamble. The bill closely reflects the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec secession reference. Each of the preamble clauses is drawn from elements of the court's judgment. Despite Premier Bouchard's attempt to conveniently ignore certain parts of the judgment, it is important that all the elements be reflected in the clarity act preamble.
When we look at Motions Nos. 5 and 9 which are the motions I would like to start with, we will note that Motion No. 5 seeks to delete a word from the first clause of the preamble. So that Canadians know what we are talking about, clause 1 of the preamble states:
Whereas the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that there is no right, under international law or under the Constitution of Canada, for the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally;
Instead of a motion being brought forward by my friends in the Bloc to question or to amend this, because I have heard time and time again the amendments are here to make the bill better, what does Motion No. 5 say? Motion No. 5 states that Bill C-20 in the preamble be amended by replacing lines 1 and 2 on page 1 with the following, and it deletes the words that the Supreme Court of Canada “has confirmed” and replaces them with the words the Supreme Court of Canada “is of the opinion”.
Are we talking substantive amendments or are we talking as in my days as a lawyer of what we would call frivolous and vexatious motions? Let us look at that.
Let us move to Motion No. 9 which again is a substantive amendment with so much rhetoric across the way saying that they are are trying to make this bill so much better. What does Motion No. 9 say? Let us look at clause 4 of the preamble. It is important for Canadians to know what we are talking about. We are not talking about the government abusing democracy or wanting to invoke closure so that we do not have the ability to debate or make substantive comments. We are talking about proposing frivolous and vexatious motions.
Do the people of Canada know that today in the House of Commons when we start voting at 6.30 we will be potentially voting continuously until 2.30 a.m. on Thursday morning? Is that democracy at work or is it again an abuse of parliamentary procedure at best?
Let us look at what clause 4 says:
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 from ambiguity both in terms of the question asked and in terms of the support it achieves and 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;
What part of that section of the preamble has been moved to be changed? Are we amending ambiguity? Are we amending that there is an obligation that negotiations be entered into? Are we amending anything substantial?
Let us look at what Motion No. 9 says. It is a funny thing. It sounds like Motion No. 5 because again they want to delete a word. The word this time is not “confirmed”. It is the word “determined”, whereas the Supreme Court of Canada has given an opinion, instead of using the word “determined”.
Those are the substantial democratic amendments the members of the Bloc have proposed. Is it so substantive that we change the word “confirmed” to “determine”? What is wrong with those words?
I remind members of the House of Commons that certainly as a lawyer who practised 18 years and as a member of the Ontario bar, I knew that when the supreme court made a pronouncement it was regarded as highly persuasive and binding on all lower courts.
Governments in Canada have always acted as though reference opinions were binding on them. Governments not acting in accordance with reference opinions risk legal challenges on any aspect of opinions dealing with legal issues. Is this a question of semantics or is this a question of substance?
I would also like to quote what the supreme court noted in the reference regarding remuneration of judges of the provincial court. The court stated: “The fact that this court's opinion is only advisory does not leave the parties without a remedy. They can seek a declaration. This court's opinion will be of highly persuasive weight”.
Opinion, determination, confirmation; is it truly necessary that for this first group of amendments, Motions Nos. 1 to 12, that we sit here for two or three hours to determine on the preamble? What in substance is talked about in the preamble?
Motion No. 2 did address the fact that whereas when the Quebec people were consulted by referendum in 1995, the winning choice was the one that obtained the majority of the votes declared valid, that is 50% of the votes plus one.
That could possibly be a substantive amendment, but what is intended and what does that accomplish by putting that amendment in? We could also go into the history of Canada from the date of confederation and the British North America Act and what powers were given to the provinces and Quebec's special status in Canada. We could do that as well.
Sometimes people just say things for the sake of saying things. I would submit that Motion No. 2 is exactly that.
If my friends in the Bloc were actually true to their substantive amendments, why is it that they propose in Motion Nos. 5 and 9 that the words “confirmed” and “determined” be substituted by the words “of the opinion”, but at the same time in previous Motion Nos. 4 and 8, they seek to delete both paragraph one of the preamble and number four? And if they do not get away with that, then in Motion No. 3 they completely seek to strike out the entire amount of the preamble.
I say to all Canadians, is what we are seeing here substantive amendments? Is this how we try to make our lives better? Is this what the Canadian taxpayers are paying us to do, to sit here for 55 hours to vote on, with all due respect to some who may claim in the House of Commons, substantive amendments?
I would submit that that is not the case. In fact this is not a case of democracy at work, but it is truly a case of parliamentary procedure being abused at best.
Why is the federal government taking this action in the face of such strong opposition? I would submit that the government has taken this decision because Quebecers have a right not to lose their country unless it is clearly expressed in their will and unless negotiations are concluded that respect the rights and interests of all Canadians.
As the only government representing all Canadians and as one of the parties in possible negotiations, it is important that the Government of Canada signal the circumstances under which it would enter into negotiations that could lead to the breakup of this country. Given the dramatic consequences of secession, it is in the interests of Quebecers and all other Canadians that such negotiations only be undertaken if it is the clear will of Quebecers that they no longer wish to remain in Canada.
When we talk again about substance or frivolity, when we talk about democracy or abuse of process, I would ask all Canadians as they watch tonight and for the next 54 hours that they determine what truly is happening here.