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House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

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.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

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.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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.

Some hon. members

No.

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.

Reform

Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to give the official opposition's comments at third reading of the clarity bill, Bill C-20. We approached this bill with some broad principles in mind. I would like to list those broad principles.

The official opposition supported the issue of clarity of the question. We undertook to try and pin down the majority. We felt that broad consultation on an issue like this was best. We felt that there were many more issues on the table than were listed in the bill. We also felt there were a significant number of positive changes to the federation that would be more useful than rules for a battle. Today I would like to report on how we did with those broad principles.

On the issue of a clear question, this is where I believe the bill has been a success. The old question, the question asked previously was ambiguous and open to misunderstanding. It was a two pronged question. It asked about partnership on one hand and sovereignty on the other hand in the same question. It made it difficult to say yes or no to that question and be certain what one was saying yes or no to. I listened carefully to one of the senior Quebec politicians, Claude Castonguay, as it related to the question. He felt as I did that the question was not clear. It was not unambiguous.

I also used a pollster's comment to bolster that statement. The pollster told me that a question such as this could not be asked and get a legitimate result. He felt that if the question were split in two, it could legitimately be considered clear. In other words: do you want to have an improved partnership with Canada, yes or no, and if that failed, do you want to leave Canada, yes or no. The pollster guided me in the sense that the question prior was not clear.

This bill will result in a clear question. I sincerely hope the House of Commons never has to pass judgment on a question. I believe that a question coming from a province on this issue will never ever be as ambiguous as the last one. Surely for something as serious as secession, the least we can expect is to have a clear unambiguous question.

On the issue of majority, how did we do? We just listened to the minister opposite say that setting a threshold would be a mistake and so a threshold has not been set. I would say that we have failed on that issue. Our position was that 50% plus one of the votes cast was the threshold. I did listen to the debate on that and there were good arguments on both sides. I must say I found some of those arguments persuasive.

I would however like to use the example of Massachusetts as it parted from Maine as to how a particular threshold that was set to prevent secession did not succeed. This was a fairly low threshold. In 1786 independence became an issue for Massachusetts trying to secede from Maine. This was a state. Maine was a district. Massachusetts wanted to become a state. They went through seven referenda, each time asking for secession from Maine. When it looked like it was close to Massachusetts succeeding, Maine raised the threshold to five votes out of nine, or 55.6%. The vote subsequently did not reach that threshold. It reached 53.6% but public pressure resulted in secession of Massachusetts from Maine with a very low threshold of 53.6%. Artificially raising the threshold, leaving the threshold ambiguous in my view is not wise.

The third issue was broad consultation. We felt that broad consultation was better than just a small group of people coming to Ottawa. We failed on that issue as well. There was no travelling. We had but one week of committee hearings. Many witnesses were unable to attend. No amendments were put forth at committee. There were internal reasons that no amendments were put forward. We did gain one thing. The proceedings were televised. That was one concession, one tiny victory on the issue of broad consultation so I would have to say that we failed on that score as well.

On the fourth issue of broadening the issues, the bill mentions debt and assets, boundaries, minority rights and aboriginal concerns. We felt and still feel that there are many other issues here: citizenship, passports, the Canadian dollar, international recognition, an Atlantic corridor particularly relating to Quebec, defence issues including military assets. There is also the issue that was never discussed, the one of rejoining Canada in the event a province seceded and then decided it had made a mistake. All those issues could have been discussed at least.

When I make comments on a bill or process I always like to say how we would have done things differently. How would Reform, if we were the government, have had a different impact on the clarity legislation?

There would have been broader consultation. Not just one province but every province would have had input at the committee level. There would have been more issues on the table. I have mentioned those issues.

Our bill would not be proclaimed. In other words the bill we would have passed would have gone through all the legislative processes and then would have been set on the shelf as an unproclaimed bill only to be used in the event of a secession.

Our bill would have had a 50% plus one threshold in it. That threshold of course would have also been used for that part of Quebec that wanted to stay in Canada in the event of secession.

The haste we went through in relation to this bill was unnecessary and unwise. It gives those who would fight against Canada a little bit of a tool to say that we were not as democratic as we could have been. That is a legitimate complaint. I am afraid that I as an ally of the government on this bill still feel that the haste was unnecessary.

I conclude by saying that the official opposition will continue to support this bill. I have mentioned areas that could have been improved. We support it on the basis and the premise that an informed vote is a powerful vote. I have a simple statement for Quebecers.

Who are afraid of a clear 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

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I rise in this House, I usually say I am pleased to do so. I am not in the habit of rising in this House without any pleasure.

I must admit that it is with some sadness and a great deal of frustration that I rise now, at the end of this day, after we have debated the proposed amendments to this bill for the past few days.

I chose to become a member of this parliament where I was elected, together with my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois—those who were elected in 1993 and those who were in 1997—to adequately represent the citizens who elected us to this place, and to do so with a democratic mandate to act and speak up in this House on behalf of our constituents who elected us to defend their interests and promote sovereignty, a plan very dear to a great many Quebecers.

Throughout this debate, I noticed that we were dealing not only with foes of sovereignty, but also with people, members and ministers on the government side, who had become foes of Quebec democracy. Through their comments and reactions regarding our plan to turn Quebec into a sovereign state, they were not trying to respect neither this plan nor the citizens who elected sovereignist MPs.

The whole process surrounding Bill C-20 has demonstrated how little respect there is in this country, in this Parliament, for what we stand for in this House and for the people we represent.

Bill C-20 is undemocratic. We will keep on repeating it. We will have many opportunities to do so after it has been passed by the House and the Senate and given assent by the Governor General. We will no doubt have an election campaign where Bill C-20 will be a major issue and where Quebecers will have a chance to pass judgment on the conduct of a majority, the Liberal Party, that did not show even the most basic respect for the members of this House and the citizens they represent.

On behalf of my colleagues, I would like to tell you how sitting in the House of Commons, whose traditions, customs and practices we have always respected, has become difficult and will probably be made more difficult yet by the introduction of Bill C-20 and its possible passage by the Parliament of Canada.

When one thinks about it and in spite of the assurances, guarantees and suggestions by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, with the passage of Bill C-20, this country is becoming a pioneer in the area of secession, a democratic country unrivalled anywhere in the world.

If members look very carefully at this bill, at its provisions and at its purpose, if they read the speeches that the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs made when he appeared before the committee, they will realize that this bill is ultimately an instrument to prevent, and I quote the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, “a separation threat from Quebec”.

We do not need a bill telling us that we are a threat to Canada. That is not what it is all about. We have the right, and the supreme court recognized it in its opinion dated August 20, 1998, to promote sovereignty for Quebec. This is a legitimate initiative according to the supreme court. To pretend that we pose a threat to Canada, that we are threatening it with secession or break-up, as mentioned in the preamble of this bill, does not respect this legitimacy recognized by nine justices of the supreme court.

But more than anything, it does not respect Quebecers who consider the sovereignty project as an option for the future, an option they are entitled to consider and to support when consulted on this matter.

During the committee hearings, there was a striking testimony that left the Liberal members of the committee quite lost and disappointed, which the minister quoted earlier in the debate, and that is that of Mr. Claude Ryan, a previous leader of the opposition in Quebec's legislative assembly.

While debating or discussing with some of us, here is what he had to say regarding the behaviour of the Liberal government, of the ministers and of the government members of this House:

He said “You know, in Quebec, sovereignists and federalists are adversaries, but they respect each other. Here in Ottawa, however, sovereignists and federalists are enemies. They do not respect each other”.

I have always believed that those who do not necessarily think as we do and who promote federalism and its renewal deserve our respect. As far as I am concerned, I have always respected those who propose or would like to propose this project to Quebecers, a project which, if it were renewed, could promote a greater following than the present federalism. But theses views are not shared by all.

It seems that respect for the sovereignists that we are does not exist here in this House since we are considered as enemies of the Canadian democracy, when we are in fact, by our mere presence here, participating in this democracy.

We are undoubtedly the ones who have the most respect for parliamentary democracy in this House. We have so much respect that we try to protect not only our rights—and we had to do so repeatedly during debate on Bill C-20—but we also want to ensure that the rights of all the parliamentarians in this House are respected.

When we see before us enemies of democracy in Quebec and enemies of those who, in the name of democracy, promote sovereignty, it is difficult not to consider those who make such a harsh and dangerous judgment on what we represent here as enemies of democracy in Quebec.

Bill C-20 is an eloquent example of the fact that this government tries, as the minister said earlier in his speech, to protect Quebecers against themselves or against sovereignists, their representatives and their independentist leaders.

Quebecers do not need to be protected against themselves or against their independentist leaders. They vote for independentist leaders and they put their confidence in them. They have done so on numerous occasions in the past by electing successive governments of the Parti Québécois. They have put their trust in independentist leaders by electing, in the last two consecutive federal elections, a very clear majority of members of the Bloc Quebecois to this House.

To think that this House can stand in for independentist leaders and the national assembly, where sovereignists have the majority, and that it can ignore the opposition of the members of the Bloc Quebecois shows a lack or even an absence of respect for Quebec's democracy.

Bill C-20 would stand in for our institutions and give the House of Commons the power to decide on something that has always been determined by the national assembly, namely the question and its clarity in a debate which might take place and which has actually taken place in the National Assembly during two previous public consultations on sovereignty. The House of Commons will never be able to substitute itself for the National Assembly when time comes to formulate a question.

This House will never be able to impose on the national assembly and its members a question which would exclude a partnership, a question which would prevent us to ask for a mandate to negotiate, a question which would be imposed because the issue here is about the future of Quebec as it is promoted by members who were elected to the national assembly by Quebecers.

Bill C-20 precisely purports to give members of the House of Commons, of which a large majority comes from English Canada, the power to decide on the clarity of a question asked by the national assembly.

Furthermore, the bill is unacceptable and undemocratic to the point where it would allow the House to make a judgment on the clarity of the question even during a referendum campaign. The House of Commons could say, while the campaign is under way, that the question is not clear. Would this not be a totally unacceptable intrusion in a democratic process that was launched by the national assembly and the elected representatives of the Quebec people?

The provisions concerning clarity in this bill are undemocratic, despite what the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs thinks, because they give the House a right of disallowance on a decision made by the national assembly.

Claude Ryan, to quote him again, thought this was somewhat a trusteeship system. It was giving the House a trusteeship over the National Assembly when it came to the question and the assessment of its clarity.

Not only does this provision on the question and its clarity reveal the undemocratic nature of this bill, but the provisions on majority infringe even more adversely upon Quebec democracy as it was developed and fashioned by many generations of people who have exercised the highest political functions in Quebec.

The minister claims that the 50% plus one rule has not been applied or considered applicable during the referendums on sovereignty association or sovereignty partnership, because it is not written in the Referendum Act.

Undoubtedly it was not included because it was so clear and obvious that it was the applicable rule. In fact, that rule had never been generally challenged by Canadian leaders. It is universally accepted. Since that rule no longer seems acceptable to the Government of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada, it must be enshrined in Quebec legislation, which is the purpose of Bill 99 now before the National Assembly.

The 50% plus one rule is acceptable and accepted. The Liberal government did not have the courage to include it in this bill despite the insistence of the opposition parties. Three of the opposition parties thought this bill should have contained a reference to the clear majority rule of 50% plus one vote. This lack of courage shows fear on the part of the government with regard to the 50% plus one rule.

There is a fear that Quebecers will make the decision because sovereignty is an option that can be negotiated, that must be negotiated as soon as a majority of voters have decided to choose that option. So it has been suggested that this is an irreversible and serious decision, because we are told that these majorities are unstable. But that is supposing and stating that they are, that is supposing that any decision on a people's future is irreversible and is binding on future generations, and that is prejudging the decision future generations will make.

Bill C-20, which will be enacted, is unacceptable to Quebecers, as it should be to all Canadians. Moreover, Canadians in other provinces abide by the rule of 50% plus one; it is the case in British Columbia and Alberta for example. That rule is universally applied.

Even if the minister and others claim that the last few accessions to independence, whether in a colonial or non colonial context, were accomplished with considerable majorities, we must not forget that the rule that applies to accession to sovereignty is still the 50% plus one rule.

That rule is universally accepted. It is accepted by the United Nations, it was accepted during the 1980 and 1995 referendums and, even if we were told repeatedly that Prime Minister Trudeau and the present Prime Minister claimed that it was not the applicable rule and that it was not sufficient for them to feel bound to negotiate after a vote in favour of sovereignty-association or sovereignty-partnership, we must recall that these prime ministers were deceiving the public. As they were saying this rule did not apply or would not bring them to negotiate, they were also telling Quebecers “You must understand, either you stay or you leave.”

Just a few days before the May 20, 1980 referendum, Mr. Trudeau put the seats of all his MPs at stake. Quebecers, who are said to be confused by the questions of sovereignists, understood the question quite well. We called on the intelligence of Quebecers with complex questions, not confusing ones, as several witnesses before the legislative committee on Bill C-20 pointed out.

Prime Ministers Trudeau and Chrétien themselves confused Canadians when they told them that a no vote in the referendum meant yes to the renewal of federalism. It was not clear. The no vote of Quebecers in 1980 and again in 1995 was not clear. Maurice Pinard, a colleague of mine from McGill University, had to admit he himself had not conducted any study or analysis on the possible confusion created in the minds of Quebecers by prereferendum promises made by federalist leaders. Odd, is it not?

The only confusion around is supposed to be in the sovereignist camp. But what about the confusion created by generations of federalist leaders claiming this federation can be renewed, can be changed to meet Quebec's demands and expectations? They have never been able to carry out their plan to renew the federation.

When they tried to carry out a reform, be it the one proposed in the Meach Lake accord or in the Charlottetown accord, they were defeated by Canadian public opinion, in the case of the Meech Lake accord, or by people or provincial leaders who refused to ratify the accord. They were again defeated in 1992 by the Canadian people, who refused to change the Canadian federal system because of irreconcilable differences of opinion on federalism both in Quebec and Canada.

The minister will never really persuade Quebecers that they did not understand the questions in 1995 and 1980, because they understood them perfectly well. They voted to maintain the federation and we, as democrats, respected their decision, but that decision is not immutable.

Quebecers who keep their options open witnessed and examined what was going on in the House. They will be persuaded that Bill C-20 curtails their freedom, and is some kind of yoke, or a new padlock act, passed by Ottawa this time. They will also realize how this government and the Liberal Party of Canada wanted this legislation to be passed in a hurry, even if that meant ignoring the most basic rules of parliamentary democracy.

To create an artificial and partisan deadline for the benefit of one political party, the Liberal Party of Canada, showed a total lack of respect for this House. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Prime Minister want to go before not all Canadians, but their own party members with Bill C-20 in their pockets. They want to stand tomorrow in front of the members of the Liberal Party of Canada and say “We have succeeded in bringing Quebec to heel. We have managed to pass legislation that will give us the last word on the question and on the majority”.

According to the government majority party, Quebec should no longer be master of its own destiny. That party shall rule Quebec. And Quebecers will never agree to that.

Since the Bloc Quebecois was created, Quebecers have not trusted the Liberal Party of Canada. I should remind those who are watching the debates that, in the 1993 federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada had only 19 candidates elected out of the 75 members representing Quebec in this House. In 1997, only 26 Liberals were elected to the House.

The Liberal Party of Canada does not represent Quebecers. It does not represent the interests of Quebec. Today, with Bill C-20, it is showing it clearly. What it does with Bill C-20 is trample on the democratic rights of Quebecers.

Quebecers saw how eager it was to flout not only Quebec's democracy and democratic institutions, but also the rules of the parliament in which it is abusing its majority. That is what it has been doing since the day in December when the minister used a trick to introduce a draft bill, flouting right from the beginning of the consideration of Bill C-20 the rules of the House and parliamentary traditions.

It flouted them again following a few interventions in the House in December and February. It imposed closure and allowed only seven members of our party to speak to this bill.

The Liberal Party limited to 45 the number of witnesses the legislative committee could hear and the committee was able to hear only 39 of those witnesses.

It also imposed closure to end debate and stop the hearings all opposition parties would have liked to continue. These parties all wanted the committee to travel throughout Quebec and Canada and the Bloc was more than willing to hear the views of other Canadians on the bill.

But the committee was not to travel. It had to hear 45 witnesses here in Ottawa. What was the minister afraid of? Why did he oppose the committee travelling around Canada and Quebec with his Bill C-20? Was he afraid to be told in all the cities of Quebec, in Quebec's national capital, in Montreal, the metropolis, and in all the regions that we from the Bloc represent that his bill was antidemocratic? He did not have the courage of his convictions.

If he was convinced that Bill C-20 was an acceptable bill, why did he refuse to go to Quebec to defend it? Why did he refuse to go to Quebec to hear those who are in favour of it, those he talks to when he goes to chambers of commerce and elsewhere, but also to hear those in the civil society, the unions, the teachers, the young and the students who oppose it?

While claiming to be afraid of nothing, he did not have the courage of his convictions. He told the committee he was afraid of nothing, yet he was afraid to go to Quebec. He was afraid to hear Quebecers tell him that this bill is an undemocratic legislation.

He was afraid of the opposition parties, which wanted a full and meaningful debate to take place, instead of cutting it short on the eve of a Liberal Party convention, putting a premature end to testimonies and actually preventing dozens if not hundreds of people from appearing before the committee. There are people who sent in briefs but were not heard, in spite of the fact that they had contacted the clerk to indicate they were interested in testifying before the committee. No, debates had to be limited.

Actually, the proceedings of that committee had to be made very partisan. There were witnesses for the Liberal Party and witnesses for the Bloc Quebecois and the other parties. My colleague, the minister, believes, I suppose, that meaningful and in-depth debates are necessary, and that bills require proper consideration if we want good legislation. According to many of the people who came to talk to us about the rules that should apply if we were to go ahead with the sovereignty plan for example, legislation should reflect consensus. They said there should be a consensus to hold a referendum on sovereignty.

The minister has often said “Do not organize a referendum if there is no consensus to that effect in Quebec. Unless there is a consensus, do not hold a referendum even if you were elected with a mandate to organize one and the possibility to hold one, if this was the choice of the democratically elected party”.

I suppose this requirement should apply even more to a bill aimed at regulating referendums which are required to be based on a consensus before being organized. There is no consensus in Quebec concerning Bill C-20. Three political parties from the National Assembly are against this bill. The minister knows it. He has made representations to political parties that see more eye to eye with him, and they have said this project is unacceptable.

The civil society of Quebec is clearly opposed to this bill. When we rise later to vote on Bill C-20, presumably 49 out of the 75 members from Quebec will be against it. Over 60% of the members of parliament will vote against this bill.

This bill will have no legitimacy. It will not stop Quebec from deciding its own future. Contrary to what the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs thinks, it will not be binding on the Quebec government. The minister was caught in a contradiction when Minister Facal appeared before the committee. Mr. Facal said that the government would not feel bound by this illegal bill, after having heard the minister and all those promoting this bill say that it only concerned the federal government and the federal institutions. And yet the minister has said that the Quebec government would have to comply with this bill, a contradiction eloquently brought to light by the editorial writer for Le Soleil , Michel Venne.

The debate will not end here. It will continue as long as Bloc Quebecois members sit in this House, and they will be here for a long time to defend the interests of the people of Quebec and of democracy in Quebec. This is our mandate, one that we must take more and more seriously, because there are people in this House who want to hold this democracy hostage.

In closing, I would like to add this on behalf of Bloc Quebecois members. We Bloc Quebecois members having been democratically elected to represent Quebecers in the Parliament of Canada, holding the majority of Quebec seats and defending the interests of the people of Quebec and of democracy in Quebec, affirm that Bill C-20 is undemocratic and that it has no legitimacy whatsoever on the territory of Quebec.

We affirm that the Prime Minister of Canada wants to deprive Quebec of its freedom to choose its own destiny and we condemn him for it.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois accuse the architect of plan B, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, of wanting to force Quebec to stay in Canada.

We, members of the Bloc Quebecois, deplore the fact that the majority of the members of parliament from the rest of Canada have sided with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs in their desire to restrict the freedom of the Quebec nation.

We, members of the Bloc Quebecois, consider that passage of Bill C-20 fits within a history marked by full-fledged attacks against the Quebec nation, particularly the Union Act of 1840, conscription in 1918 and 1944, the War Measures Act of 1970, the patriation of the Constitution in 1982 and the 1999 framework agreement on social union.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois reaffirm our allegiance to Quebec and to its best interests alone.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois recognize that sovereignty belongs to the Quebec nation and is exercised within Quebec's National Assembly.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois point out that Quebec is a land of pride, brotherhood, tolerance and social justice. We affirm that the most precious collective treasure of Quebecers is freedom and that no authority, including the Parliament of Canada, can deprive their nation of the right to control their own destiny.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois are convinced that our struggle will serve future generations and will aim at preserving their freedom and the territory of their culture.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois affirm that the Quebec nation has no allegiance to any other nation and never will have.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois are committed to continue to fight for Quebec's freedom to democratically decide its own future and to freely determine its political status.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois invite all democrats from Canada, Quebec and the international community to join the Quebec nation in its fight to preserve its freedom.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois affirm that the Quebec nation is sovereign.

We members of the Bloc Quebecois affirm that Quebec is free.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

Reform

Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been consultations with the other parties and I believe there would be unanimous consent for the following motion. I move that the 18th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on Wednesday, March 1, 2000, be concurred in.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Wetaskiwin has asked for the unanimous consent of the House to present the motion. Does the member have unanimous consent?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed 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 third time and 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

March 15th, 2000 / 5:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not have a lot of time but I have lots to say to squeeze into the next five minutes.

The NDP began the consideration of Bill C-20 with a number of concerns, but we supported the bill in principle and supported the view that in any future referendum in Quebec there needs to be a clear question and that the House of Commons has a right to have a say in whether or not that question is clear. We supported the view that there needs to be a clear expression of the will of the people of Quebec or any other province, and we recognize the value of the supreme court opinion that the judgment, in some respects, can only be made qualitatively after the fact of the referendum, although we did raise concerns with respect to whether or not there could be amendments which would have at least fixed the numerical aspect of the judgment that needed to be made. We therefore moved amendments having to do with 50% plus one—

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

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize to the member for Winnipeg—Transcona, but in the spirit of co-operation, I would ask for unanimous consent that the government would consent to allow the member for Winnipeg—Transcona to make a 15 minute intervention without questions or comments, followed by a 15 minute intervention without questions or comments from a member of the Progressive Conservative Party and at the conclusion of these two interventions the Speaker shall put all questions necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of this bill.

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

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the request for unanimous consent by the hon. chief government whip. Does the hon. chief government whip have 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

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know what the government House leader's proposal is all about. Is he asking that the time allocated both to my hon. colleague from the NDP and my hon. colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party be extended? Does this apply to both?

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

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

That is right.

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

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I express my thanks to the government and to my colleagues for extending my time as the NDP spokesperson and also the time of my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party.

I was saying that we had a number of concerns about the bill. I cited the fact that we were concerned about an aspect of the bill that left open the possibility of some abuse on the part of the federal government after a referendum in jacking up the numerical majority that might be needed in order to justify the decision that there was a clear mandate. We moved amendments in that respect and we moved them in a way that I thought was consistent with the fact that there was still a qualitative judgment to be made after the referendum. However, the government rejected those amendments for reasons of its own.

We also had concerns about the role of the Senate. We moved amendments in that regard and those amendments were defeated.

Finally, and I think most importantly from my point of view, we had a number of amendments dealing with the role of aboriginal peoples in the process that the bill sought to set up with respect to how this House would determine whether or not there was a clear question and a clear majority.

What we sought was to move amendments which would have done the following: they would have added to the list in those sections of the bill that listed those institutions or those parties which the government would have to take into account the views of; and on that list there was the House of Commons, the Senate, the provincial governments and the territories. Our amendments were to the effect that the aboriginal peoples, in particular the aboriginal peoples of the province which was seeking to secede, would be added to that list.

We had a number of other amendments that were of concern to aboriginal peoples, in particular the aboriginal peoples listed as those who would be represented in any talks or any negotiations having to do with secession, and some other amendments having to do with the fiduciary responsibility of the federal government with respect to aboriginal rights.

We worked on these amendments all through the process. It was a matter of great disappointment to me that I did not actually get to move these amendments in committee because of the process, although in the end it may have been a blessing. They probably would have been defeated in committee at that time and then the government having once defeated them might have been even more reluctant than it was to have consented to some of those amendments in the final analysis.

As it turned out, in the hours just before the amendments were to be voted on, discussions were continuing with the government. The last time I rose in the House to speak at report stage, I have to say that I rose with the impression that no amendments were going to be accepted.

Some members may remember that I was a bit angry and that I spoke in anger. I might say that it was justified anger. I felt that none of the amendments were going to be accepted and, frankly, that would have had the effect of making it very difficult for the NDP to have continued to extend the support to the bill which we extended at second reading.

Two of our amendments were accepted. They were important amendments. Indeed, they have been recognized as such by the Assembly of First Nations, the Grand Council of the Crees, the minister himself and members of the committee from the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the NDP who supported them.

It was unfortunate that the amendments could not have received the unanimous support of the House. The Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party did not support those amendments, but nevertheless the amendments are there. They do not add any new status for aboriginal people, but they make sure that in this very important bill a status which they already have is recognized. The danger was that by not having them on that list, and listed in that way, then that could have been seen as a way of diminishing or not recognizing the status which they already have.

With these amendments having been accepted, I think I can say with great certainty that the NDP as a caucus will be supporting Bill C-20 at third reading.

This has not been easy. There are many in my party and elsewhere who feel that somehow Bill C-20 is an attack on or contrary to the principle of Quebec self-determination. Particularly within the New Democratic Party there are people who feel that somehow Bill C-20 is contrary to our traditional position of support for the self-determination of Quebec. If I thought that was so, I would not support Bill C-20 and neither would my colleagues behind me.

In our view not only does Bill C-20 recognize the right of Quebec to self-determination, it entrenches and recognizes in law the right of Quebec to self-determination. However, it says that this has to be achieved by virtue of a legitimate process that was outlined by the supreme court in its opinion. What this law attempted to do was to give legislative incarnation, if you like, to the supreme court's opinion. I believe that Bill C-20 meets that test. I do not think it is contrary to the principle of self-determination for Quebec.

There are also a lot of people with whom we normally agree who feel that this bill is a violation of their commitment to what is sometimes called plan A; that is to say, keeping Quebec in the federation and resolving problems of national unity by renewing the federation in a way that Quebecers feel that some of their longstanding aspirations and grievances can be met within the federation.

Again, all of us here are plan A types. We have had one plan A after another plan A. We urge the federal government and the minister to come up their own plan A. One of our criticisms of the Liberal government has been that we do not feel it has a sufficient plan A. Not everybody feels this way, but we also feel that to be committed to a plan A is not to take the view that there cannot be a plan B. We do not take the view that there is no plan B, if you like, in Quebec among separatists, among sovereignists; that is to say, a plan which may try to configure events in such a way that Quebec could be led into a situation of secession or negotiations on secession which are not the result of a clear question and a clear majority.

We cannot come at this innocently. I think there is a legitimate means to self-determination and to secession. I hope that day never comes.

I hope we will have a plan A. Even if we never have a plan A that works and is implemented, I think we have a country worth belonging to and a country worth keeping, no matter what. However, I would urge the government to get busy on having its own plan A.

I say to my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois that I do not see anything undemocratic about requiring that there be a clear question and requiring that there be a clear expression of the will of the Quebec people. If I was a separatist I would say that would be the minimum condition I would want anyway before I sought to take my province out of the confederation. I have to say that I do not understand that objection, at least when it comes in the form of accusing Bill C-20 of being anti-democratic.

If it comes in the form of saying that the House of Commons and the federal government have no jurisdiction, I can at least understand that claim. I do not accept it because I think that the rest of Canada does have some say and is entitled to some say in what will bring them to the table and on what conditions we would agree to talk about secession; that it is not just up to Quebec to say what conditions should bring two parties to the table. Quebec can say what conditions would bring itself to the table to negotiate secession, but if there are two parties to a negotiation, the other party has the right to say what would bring it to the table. That, in my view, is what Bill C-20 does.

For all those reasons, the NDP caucus has decided to support the bill at third reading. We have been very unhappy with the process. I still say to the minister that I do not think it needed to be rushed like this. I think we could have done a better job than we did, but I am very happy that we succeeded in the final hours of this debate in getting the amendments we did. I hope that Bill C-20 is a bill which none of us ever has the occasion to use.

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.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the government and all the parties for their kindness and broadmindedness in giving my NDP colleague and myself a last chance to speak to Bill C-20. For the Progressive Conservative Party, the debate is only beginning in the other place.

Bill C-20 was extremely difficult, frustrating, disturbing and alarming. Because of the possible failure of the country's unity of the country, the Prime Minister and his government have gone, in a few years, from indifference to constitutional matters in 1993 to the whip. That is what the government just did. After Bill C-20, what happens? It will be the government's the latent period. All will be settled, there will not be any changes. I often say that a country evolves at the same pace as his citizens. Legislation absolutely must evolve also.

The most important legislation in this country, one that affects us every day, which is the basis of everything, is the Constitution Act. But the government is budging very little if at all. Why not strive constantly to keep up with developments in the country? It is not doing anything. It says “We do not want to talk about it”.

When the government does decide to talk about it, it turns up with a bill that is going to settle what exactly in the end? Nothing, absolutely nothing at all. This is a false comfort zone, false security. Just look at the Reformers' argument: the vast majority of their basis for supporting the bill or not is to say that they are 90% in disagreement but they will support it anyway.

They voted against an amendment concerning the first nations, but they support it anyway. Where is the logic in that? It is a political logic. According to the polls, everyone wants a clear question and a clear majority. Running a country requires principles and guidelines. Yet the bill is not clear. We are trying to explain that to people, and we are trying to explain that to ourselves.

It is true that this has been difficult for our party and our caucus. Nevertheless, we are not going to give up just because it is difficult. It is not because a problem is hard to overcome that we will not overcome it. That is not the way we operate.

The bill is not clear. Is the question clear? Where can we see, when we read the bill, what the question will be, what its major thrust will be? I tested it with people who will have to vote yes or no. They do not know. They do not understand. Will we have a battle between legal experts? I asked people who have read the bill “What do you think would constitute a majority?” Their answer was either “It has to be clear” or “I don't know”.

In the end, could it be 50% plus one, 60% plus one? Let me give you a figure that no longer applies today: 91%. The Prime Minister got that majority two years ago. Now, that majority has been eroded, and even his own Liberal members are questioning his leadership. The majority was 91%. One can see how faulty the logic is. It is clearly illogical. Bill C-20 is illogical, it does not make sense. It is a short term political gain designed to prevent true long term improvements in this country.

As for the question, the minister tells us there are guarantees for Canadians. This is another comfort zone, a marketing operation. The federal government is guaranteeing Canadians that, if another referendum is held in Quebec—even though the act does not refer to Quebec because, technically speaking, the amendments that we proposed to make the bill clearer have been rejected—negotiations will take place. How logical is that? The federal government is saying that, in a future referendum on sovereignty, Canadians can be sure that it will demand a clear question and a clear majority before any negotiations can bet under way. Thank heavens, we are saved. For now, but there will be other referendums.

Do people not realize that, if it has come to this, it is because something is wrong? Yet the government claims that Canadians will now have the guarantee that, in the event of a referendum, before entering into negotiations, it will make sure that the question is clear and that there is a clear majority. That is illogical, Liberal logic with regard to the future of this country. It would mean getting ready for the country not working and providing for it in legislation.

Our position is that this country deserves to be saved, most of all from the Liberals. We guarantee that if ever—by the grace of God and of this country's voters—we form the government, that legislation will be repealed. We will send a message to everybody: this country does not need such legislation.

A country is not some kind of marriage contract. What is a marriage contract? It is a contract for divorce. That is not what a country is about. I wonder if that is why there is such a drastic drop in the number of marriages across the country.

We must make sure that a signal is sent. This government has been in office for seven years. What message has it sent to Quebecers, Albertans and everybody else as to how this country can be improved. We have gone from indifference to the whip.

Will the Minister of Finance now say “Let us dig into our purses and open our wallets”? Who knows? He has not done a great job at it. It will be at least two years before we see the difference in our pockets.

But what message is being sent? In one-on-one conversations with Liberal MPs, and even some ministers, when we really talk about Bill C-20, what do they say? “Something had to be done. The order has come down”. That is not much of an argument.

I ask them “How do you feel about perhaps making some small improvements? How would you feel if there were a bill that improved certain relationships or a Constitution for the 21st century?”

Why not have a collective project? In addition to getting this country on the Internet, since the desire is to have everyone wired in to the high tech world and to have everyone right up to date on what is going on, might the collective project not also be right up to date as well? The answer is “Oh no, that is not a good idea politically speaking, because people's reaction will be that it will be another blessed conference on some island out in the ocean, with Mounties everywhere and journalists trailing 20 feet away from any politician.”

But that is not what needs to be done. We in the Conservative Party would also have some proposals for future solutions, but the first thing is a matter of attitude. After seven years, nothing has been done. They have gone from indifference to the whip. We have a clarity bill that is not clear in the least, that is only divisive, one that in my humble opinion settles absolutely nothing and is against the spirit of the supreme court opinion, against the letter even.

Where in the supreme court opinion have they found the right for the federal government, which is barely mentioned in the opinion—the reference is to political actors—to intervene at the start of a referendum process? That is not what the supreme court said.

The NDP proposed an amendment relating to the first nations. When the minister came before the committee, I asked him “can the bill be amended?” His answer “No, it is a perfect bill”.

The member for Winnipeg—Transcona must have thrown a few fits. It took the three groups of first nations to convince the government to change its mind, and not even that much. Is this the message we want to send first nations? We are telling them “Everything is fine, no problem, do not worry”. It took fits and pressure from these groups for the government to even consider taking the first nations into account. If I were in their shoes, I would be scared.

I have the honour of being a member of the second nation to come here, and I am very proud of it. But I am worried about the first one. I am even more scared for those at the provincial level because the political actors are not involved at the federal level. Unfortunately, the provinces are letting their big federal brother decide what to do.

If there is a referendum, the country might break up, but their message to the federal government is “Take care of things. You are so good. For the past seven years you have accomplished a lot. You have not done a thing with regard to the Constitution, but you have ideas. Do it.”

People across the way know the government has no plan to improve the rules governing relationships in this country. It has no plan. It has absolutely nothing to offer.

This has been a very difficult bill for us. I do not hide that fact. Our party's position has not changed. It is clear that some members will vote with the government. We have tried to explain our position. It was not easy and it has left scars within the party. We do not hide that either.

However, people should know that our team is still there and that we will keep on. In spite of all that and in spite of Bill C-20, we will not stop. The Progressive Conservative Party will break new ground in relationships within this country. In spite of all the difficulties, the Progressive Conservative Party will deal with the situation, something the government has refused to do.

I do not have much time left and I would now like to propose an amendment in the other official language.

I move:

That all the words after “that” be struck out and the following be substituted:

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 not now read a third time but be referred back to the legislative committee on Bill C-20 with instructions that the committee conduct further hearings and report to the House, not later than October 30, 2000, amendments to the bill to provide a mechanism to ensure that all proposed amendments to the constitution adopted by the legislature of any of the partners in Confederation are brought to parliament and considered in accordance with the opinion of the supreme court at paragraph 88.

As I was saying at the beginning about the other place where the debate will be held, I hope that the government will be a little bit more open.

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

5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Progressive Conservative Chicoutimi, QC

The other place that has been forgotten.

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

5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

The other place which, incidentally, as the member for Chicoutimi was saying, has been forgotten in the bill.

I would like to ask the government, on the eve of an election maybe, in a year or so, or of a crisis within the Liberal party, I would like to see the government shelve bill, as it does sometimes, and come up with interesting proposals.

What I am asking again is that we be united, as our country should 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

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The amendment is in order.

I want to tell the House how privileged I felt to be in the Chair during this debate. It has not been an easy debate. The contributions of all of the members this afternoon were worthy. I think that when historians look at the debate that took place this afternoon, they will feel that our country has been well served by its parliamentarians.

Pursuant to order made earlier this day, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt 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

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.