moved 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.
Mr. Speaker, now that the House of Commons has reached the last stage of its work on Bill C-20, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the important work done by members of the legislative committee and the witnesses who contributed to the examination of this bill which is fundamental to the rights of Canadians.
I would also like to take this opportunity to salute the vision of the Prime Minister of Canada, whose sense of duty has given Canadians this essential guarantee of their rights.
Every citizen of this country will be guaranteed two fundamental rights if, as it is desirable, the House of Commons and the Senate pass Bill C-20, the clarity act.
First, every Canadian will have the guarantee that the Government of Canada will never enter into negotiations on the separation of a province unless the population of that province has clearly expressed its will to cease to be part of Canada.
Second, the clarity act will guarantee to all Canadians that any such negotiations on secession, should they occur, would take place within the Canadian constitutional framework, respecting the principles identified by the supreme court: democracy, federalism, constitutionalism and the rule of law, and respect for minority rights.
The clarity act will protect the rights and interests of all Canadians, but especially Quebecers, because it is in Quebec that the provincial government is contemplating a secession attempt in an atmosphere of confusion and outside the legal framework. Quebecers want no part of that disturbing prospect. The clarity act is pro-Quebec and pro-democracy.
The Government of Canada is convinced that Bill C-20 complies fully with the supreme court's opinion. Renowned legal scholars testified to that effect before the committee, including Dean Yves-Marie Morissette, former Quebec Justice Minister Gil Rémillard, and Dean Peter Hogg, who stated as follows.
I quote Professor Hogg:
No, I think Bill C-20 is completely consistent with the Supreme Court's judgment, and I think it would be difficult to both support the decision of the court and reject the bill.
The government is also convinced that Bill C-20 ensures that the House of Commons and the Government of Canada fulfil their obligations without infringing in any way on those of the provinces.
It is noteworthy that no sitting provincial premier, with the exception of Quebec's, has criticized the clarity act.
Before the legislative committee, in addition to Mr. Rémillard, who stated that, and I quote “this bill respects Quebec's jurisdiction”, another former minister of the Government of Quebec, Claude Castonguay, stated “I have not seen anything in this bill (C-20) that limits the jurisdiction of Quebec's National Assembly, nor Quebecers' right to decide on their own future”.
Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae stated:
I'm perfectly satisfied that the level of consultation that is provided for in the clarity bill is certainly adequate and nothing in the clarity bill takes away from the jurisdiction of any province.
We may all have read in today's Calgary Herald the same unequivocal support for Bill C-20 of a former premier of another province and another political allegiance, Mr. Peter Lougheed.
Nevertheless, it will be recalled that some witnesses, including Claude Ryan, told the committee that even if the federal government has the right, if not the duty, to assess the clarity of support for secession and to conduct itself accordingly, the House of Commons would not have the right to make a determination as to the clarity of the question before the referendum result were known, The hon. member for Beauharnois-Salaberry, the Bloc's intergovernmental affairs critic, also shares this opinion. The House of Commons would have the right to make a determination, but only after the referendum, and to conduct itself accordingly. So there is not that much distance separating us.
In point of fact, however, as Professor Patrick Monahan has noted, if it is legal and legitimate for the House of Commons to express its opinion on clarity after the referendum, it is hard to see how it would be unable to do so beforehand.
Moreover, in purely practical terms, it is hard to imagine how the House of Commons and the Government of Canada could go through the whole referendum campaign without ever answering the simple question: Do you think the question is clear? Voters would press them for an answer, and rightly so. They would have the right to know.
This brings me to the clarity of the question, and I will begin with two quotes. The first is this “We don't need to dress it up with a partnership”. The second goes as follows “These institutions are just nonsense, it's just window dressing to sell it to people. I think we have to be straight with people if we want to sell our option”. These calls for straight talk were made by PQ youth members at their meeting at the beginning of this month.
It should be acknowledged by everyone that the question in 1995 lacked in clarity, and that it could not lead to any negotiations as worded. Anyone who still has any doubts on this would do well to consult the document submitted to the legislative committee by Professor Maurice Pinard. It contains abundant evidence that the 1995 question gave rise to a great deal of confusion. To give just one example, and I am quoting Professor Pinard “In 1995, only around 50% of voters knew that sovereignty-partnership was divisible. The rest believed that there would be no sovereignty without partnership at the same time”.
The separatist leaders would do better to aim for maximum clarity. So why is it so difficult to acknowledge that only a question on secession can give rise to negotiations on secession? With clarity, everyone wins.
Now, let us talk about the clarity of the majority. In Canadian federal law as in Quebec law, a referendum is a consultation whose results must be evaluated by the political authorities. There is no legal majority threshold at which point a referendum would lose its consultative nature to become a decisive one binding governments.
The separatist leaders accept this rule of law for municipal, and they accept it for held by aboriginal peoples, but they do not accept it for a referendum on the secession of Quebec. They say it is undemocratic to challenge the threshold of 50% plus one in determining whether a majority is sufficiently clear to trigger negotiations on secession.
I do not think that anyone can question Mr. Ed Broadbent's deep-rooted commitment to democracy. He has devoted his life to it. This is what he had to say to the legislative committee.
It would be misleading in my view to describe democracy as simply a system in which all decisions are reached on a 50% plus one basis. In fact I would argue that...the more serious decisions require much more than 50% plus one, and some require unanimity.
Will the separatists say that Mr. Broadbent is anti-democratic?
Mr. Claude Ryan reiterated to the committee his preference for a minimum threshold of 50% plus one of all registered voters. Will he have to be called undemocratic as well?
As everyone knows, the clarity bill does not set a threshold. The clarity bill provides that the majority will be the subject of a qualitative assessment following a referendum. In actual fact it is very difficult to set a minimum threshold in advance which would guarantee a clear majority in all circumstances. Indeed, setting a threshold in advance would likely be contrary to the spirit of the supreme court's opinion.
As Dean Hogg told the committee:
I just don't think there is a constitutional basis for doing that and that is why fidelity to the court's judgment requires us now to wait until after the referendum.
Not setting a threshold in advance is consistent with our law and with Canadian tradition regarding referendums.
For example, the Government of Canada did not commit itself in advance to accepting Newfoundland as a province of Canada on the basis of a 50% plus one majority in the 1948 referendum. Instead, the Government of Canada proceeded exactly as provided for in Bill C-20. It waited for the referendum result before it came to a decision.
And what about international practice, including the United Nations, the separatist leaders ask? Again, I must reiterate that the UN generally supervises referendums held in the context of decolonization, in which the UN recognizes right to independence and expresses a strong preference for this political solution, as professor Jean-Pierre Derriennic so eloquently told the legislative committee.
Other than in cases of decolonization, the UN has shown no sympathy for secession whatsoever, and has even opposed it completely, as in the case of Katanga. It does not make secession a right, and certainly not a right that can be exercised on the fragile basis of 50% plus one of the ballots cast in a referendum held only in the territory where secession would take place.
To believe that the Government of Quebec could obtain international recognition under such circumstances is to display a profound misunderstanding of state practice.
So the clarity bill does nothing undemocratic in establishing, in accordance with the supreme court's opinion, that the clarity of a future referendum majority in favour of secession be subject to assessment. On the contrary, Bill C-20 displays an unusual openness, in a democracy, toward the widely opposed phenomenon of secession, as professor Robert Young, the author of a major book on secession, told the committee.
That is all on the subject of the clarity of the majority. I will now consider the aboriginal issue.
Although the negotiation of secession raises many issues, it was the issue of aboriginals that dominated a good part of the deliberations of the legislative committee.
Speaking to the committee, Quebec's Canadian intergovernmental affairs minister, Mr. Joseph Facal, maintained a position and the opposite at the same time. On the one hand, he cited international legal texts recalling that, although aboriginals are nations, and I quote the minister, “aboriginal rights must be exercised within sovereign states”.
On the other hand, he stated that accessions to independence for nations such as Quebec were, and I quote, “purely a factual matter”, a political rather than a legal issue—an allegation incidentally contradicted by the supreme court, which states in paragraph 83 of its opinion that “Secession is a legal act as much as a political one”.
In other words, he and his government believe themselves to be free to act outside the law, but aboriginal populations, for their part, would have to submit to the law. Clearly a double standard.
It must surely be somewhat embarrassing to give oneself a right and deny it to others. We know that the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, the Bloc's intergovernmental affairs critic, was of the opinion, before he entered politics, that the aboriginal peoples could remain in Canada in the event of Quebec's secession. And, the esteemed witnesses invited by the Bloc to appear before the legislative committee have maintained that point of view: professors André Tremblay, Andrée Lajoie and Guy Lachapelle and the head of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, Mr. Marc Laviolette.
Under Bill C-20 the Government of Canada commits itself to addressing in negotiating secession the rights, interests and territorial claims of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. The Assembly of First Nations, the Grand Council of the Crees and the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada called for stronger guarantees before the legislative committee. Several other witnesses, including Mr. Jack Jedwab, made proposals to better take into account the rights of aboriginals, and of minorities in general.
Liberal and NDP members of the committee showed strong support for amendments that would make guarantees for aboriginals more explicit. The validity of these suggestions led the Government of Canada to support two amendments proposed by the NDP and supported by the Liberal members of the committee. The scope of these amendments is to explicitly mention representatives of the aboriginal peoples of Canada among those whose views would be taken into consideration by the House of Commons when assessing the clarity of the question and of the majority.
The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Mr. Phil Fontaine, indicated that he was satisfied with these modifications, but was disappointed that the role of aboriginal representatives in negotiations on secession had not been more clearly defined. On this matter, and I want to stress this, the reason subsection 3(1) of the clarity bill mentions among the participants in possible future negotiations on secession only the governments of the provinces and the Government of Canada is that these are the only political actors to which the court assigned an obligation to negotiate in the event of clear support for secession. However, neither the court nor Bill C-20 rule out the possibility of other political actors participating in those negotiations, including representatives of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. Simply put, it was not for Bill C-20 to go beyond the court's reference by creating an obligation for actors other than those to which the court assigned such an obligation.
I want to add that, according to the Constitution Act, 1982, the federal and provincial governments are bound by an agreement in principle by virtue of which representatives of the aboriginal peoples would be invited to participate in discussions on any constitutional amendment that would affect the provisions of the constitution that are mentioned in subsection 35(1).
The clarity act respects that principle by clearly stipulating that negotiations on secession would include at least the governments of the provinces and the Government of Canada. I stress “at least”.
In conclusion, complying with all points of the supreme court's opinion and giving effect to it, the clarity bill guarantees to all Canadians that their federal government will never negotiate the secession of a province, unless the House of Commons has determined that the population of that province has expressed its will to cease to be part of Canada. The clarity bill guarantees them that any such negotiations, should they occur, would respect the rule of law and constitutional principles.
Our colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, who ferociously opposed Bill C-20, have merely succeeded in creating the impression that they know full well they are incapable, through straight talk and clarity, of convincing Quebecers that secession is the best solution.
The fact is that Quebecers, and indeed all other Canadians, have a right to clarity rather than ambiguity and to the protection of the law rather than anarchy.
The fact is that Quebecers and indeed all other Canadians have a right to clarity rather than ambiguity and to the protection of the law rather than anarchy.
The time for ambiguity has passed. I call on all members of the House to vote in favour of the clarity act.