Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to participate in this historic exchange of views and to debate a motion that will realize a longstanding aspiration of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
For over 30 years the government of Newfoundland and Labrador referred to itself by that very name: Newfoundland and Labrador. Today we are amending the Constitution of Canada so that the name change would be enshrined in all legislation enacted by the Government of Canada.
The government of Newfoundland and Labrador only passed the motion requesting the Government of Canada to amend the constitution on April 29, 1999. I understand that it has been a recurring topic of discussion in that province for over 30 years.
In the 1960s the then government of Newfoundland decided to officially include Labrador in its name to reflect the wishes and concerns of the citizens of Labrador who joined Confederation at the same time as their offshore brethren. In fact they had been part of the same dominion territory since the beginning of the 19th century. It was also done to assure them of their status within the province.
Since then all official government documentation, legislation and essentially anything put out by the provincial government has been published, released and referred to under the name of the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The dual name has been widely accepted in Newfoundland and Labrador and is considered to be the official name by which the province is known though often in conversation the province is simply spoken of as Newfoundland.
In supporting the motion we are simply giving effect to the longstanding wishes of the citizens of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It may take time to get used to saying Newfoundland and Labrador, although some of us are in the habit of it already. The member for Labrador said that he managed to teach the Prime Minister to do this, and we are glad to hear the Prime Minister is teachable.
There is no doubt that the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador favour this change. The motion passed the legislative assembly unanimously in 1999, the year before the federal government commissioned a parliamentary committee to travel around the province finding out what Newfoundlanders wanted.
The former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, who is in the House today, may recall that the provincial NDP opposed the travelling committee at that time. In its view the change had been so commonly accepted that there was no need to spend money on a government junket asking people a question that it already knew the answer to. Newfoundlanders responded with rousing support for the changes without the need for an official government commission.
Today we are asked to approve an amendment to the constitution. This will be a bilateral amendment requiring only the consent of the Government of Canada at the request of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Labrador is rightly seen as an integral part of the province even though it only has 30,000 inhabitants compared to approximately 570,000 for the province. This amendment would recognize that Labrador is an unquestionably important component rather than an adjunct to the province. The member for Labrador made that argument quite eloquently.
The dynamics of Canadian federalism would not be affected by this motion. I would like to say, in passing, that the government of Quebec did accept that the name of the province be changed to Newfoundland and Labrador. The Minister of Industry said that the resolution would have no impact on the boundary line between Newfoundland and Quebec. I think that he is right in this regard, and I support that position.
The minister is not always right. We have to take these opportunities when we can get them.
The last time the federal government presented that motion, the Quebec government expressed its opposition to the change. I am pleased to see that Minister Facal and the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier have finally recognized how important it is to respect the will of Newfoundland citizens who want the name of their province changed.
Finally I would like to reaffirm that this change to the Canadian constitution, though minor but obviously significant to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, is an example of how easy it can be to amend the Canadian constitution to reflect the wishes of its citizens. I wish that in the past when we had sought constitutional amendments that went further than bilateral constitutional amendments that we had had as much success as we have had in the House recently with bilateral constitutional amendments. This is the second one having to do with Newfoundland and Labrador. There was one earlier with respect to Quebec having to do with school boards in that province.
I share the sentiments expressed by the member for Charlesbourg--Jacques-Cartier regarding the number of attempts to amend the Canadian constitution to reflect the special place of Quebec within the Canadian confederation that have not succeeded. I was here through those days and supported those amendments, both Meech and Charlottetown, as was the Minister of Industry. I hope that someday we might be standing here debating or reflecting unanimously upon a change to the Canadian constitution that would accomplish that, but that day has not yet arrived.
There is no reason for us not to do what is possible. What is before us here today is possible and has the support of the NDP.