Mr. Speaker, first I will say that I welcome the invitation made to all parliamentarians in this House to debate without any name calling, without showing disrespect and by getting to the bottom of things.
I am convinced that no one here would want to tarnish the reputation of any of his or her colleagues. That is not what we need to discuss in addressing the motion by our colleague from Bourassa.
How did a question of privilege come to be put before the House? There is a question of privilege because of a fundamental breach of a principle which must guide the entire course of our political activity, and that is the principle of ministerial responsibility. Funds have been used without Parliament having an opportunity to exercise any control and without any means of democratically finding out what these funds were intended for.
Yesterday, I listened to our colleague from Bourassa as he put forward his case. I have no doubt that he was extremely sincere. I would urge him, however, to consider two elements in this debate. The member for Bourassa has called for a substantive debate, and rightly so.
After being elected member of Parliament for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, I never forgot that, in the history of the sovereignist movement, three individuals founded political parties to ensure that the sovereignist option would periodically be put to the greatest test afforded a democracy: popular ballot.
Lucien Bouchard, René Lévesque and Pierre Bourgault each founded a political party to ensure that this option would have democratic legitimacy. Had René Lévesque, Pierre Bourgault or Lucien Bouchard—and I could add to the list Diefenbaker, Saint-Laurent and every Prime Minister who rose in this House to defend the principle of ministerial responsibility—read the Gomery report, I do not think they would be saying any different from what the Bloc Québécois is saying.
Let us focus on what Commissioner Gomery himself said. He said, “At a cabinet meeting, in 1997, on February 1 and 2, the government realized that federalists and the government were having a visibility problem in Quebec”.
He had the right to make that finding. People have the right to be federalists in Quebec, just like they have the right to be sovereignists. But no one is above the law. When we read the Gomery report, it is obvious that there are individuals,I regret to say that some are on the government side, who said that the end justified the means.
For a democrat, the end never justifies the means. When we lost the referendum by 50,000 votes, in 1995, Lucien Bouchard showed up at the Dorval airport and said: "yes means yes, but no means no". No sovereignist questioned the verdict of the people.
The criticism that we can make of the Liberals and the government is that they tried to promote their option without accepting ministerial responsibility and going through the no camp. I am sorry but, with all due respect to the Liberal members from Quebec, who have the right to be federalists, who were elected like us and who can be just as dedicated as we are in defending the interests of Quebec, I must say that we are divided by principles. We believe that in a democracy, there are two sacred principles: ministerial responsibility and the prerogative of the National Assembly.
Therefore, I regret to say that, when we look at the report from the Gomery commission, we see that these two principles were trampled down by the Liberal Party.
There is a basic, implacable and established fact which will go down in history as one of the saddest moments of our democracy, as expressed by Justice Gomery:
From 1994 to 2003, the amount expended by the Government of Canada for special programs and sponsorships totalled $332 million, [and here is the scandal] of which 44.4%, or $147 million, was spent on fees and commissions paid to communication and advertising agencies.
This is where I have a problem. My friend, the member for Bourassa, has the right to campaign promoting federalism, to write in newspapers, to speak on the radio and to appear on television. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs has the right to use all the eloquence we know she is capable of. However, no goal, nor political circumstance can justify greasing the palms of agencies with taxpayer money and violating democratic principles.
It gets worse. There is nothing more important than ministerial accountability. This means that members do three things: they pass legislation, they adopt budgets and they represent people. I am ready to debate the fact that the federal government has the right to promote its option. However, to set aside millions of dollars in the Prime Minister's office to interfere in the referendum campaign, without having obtained authorization to use those funds for that purpose and without a debate in Parliament to that effect, cannot be justified.
Let us look at what Justice Gomery said. Jean Chrétien's deputy minister, Ms. Bourgon, the highest public servant in a position of authority, who is supposed to be above partisan considerations said, on December 18 1996, in a memorandum to the Prime Minister in which she expressed her concerns about the question of ministerial accountability for funds allocated from the unity reserve on the basis of the Prime Minister's signature, that she was concerned to see that the Prime Minister had taken on a very large burden of responsibility. She thought that a review of future projects by the Privy Council Office or a group of ministers would provide better management of the $17 million, that became, as we know, $50 million, allocated to Public Works and Government Services Canada. Mr. Chrétien did not reply to Ms. Bourgon's memorandum. She reiterated her concerns in a second memorandum dated September 30, 1997 concerning access to the reserve.
This is what Commissioner Gomery had to say, not the member for Roberval, the member for Hochelaga or the leader of the Bloc Québécois, but Commissioner Gomery, with whom the Minister of Transport says he agrees.
I am a democrat. The member for Bourassa is a democrat. As a democrat, I say today that I will never get over the discovery that they did not comply with the Referendum Act. If they want to debate the national issue, we can do so. We can go on radio and television, write articles in the paper and debate in all forums. However, the National Assembly has a law. It provided, among other things for the 1995 referendum, 50¢ per voter, $5 million for both the yes and the no camps. Sheila Copps, who would get up at night to do so if she had to, approved $4.8 million in spending in 33 days.
Thus they doubled the amount of money available to the no camp. Is that democracy? Is that debating by the rules? Former Premier René Lévesque, who would not be very proud today if he were to read the Gomery report, said that the best way to oppose an idea in a democracy was to put forward another, instead of calling names and not treating people with respect.
In our opinion, our option is the best one. I personally have been elected four times and hope to be elected a fifth time as a sovereignist member.
When I wanted to take part in a debate on the option I represent, I did so according to the rules of the game. Once again, no one in the sovereignist movement is disputing the federal government's right to take part in the debate. No one is questioning the existence of the Liberal Party. The member for Bourassa and all of his Quebec colleagues are just as legitimate as all of us.
Where opinion is divided, however, is about abiding by the rules. I took part a few weeks ago in a the 10th anniversary of the 1995 referendum. I think there are as many Liberal members from Quebec as Bloc members who agree that Pierre-F. Côté is non partisan. He administered both referendums in Quebec, decided by order in council with a 30 hour debate in the National Assembly. People were able to debate it.
Pierre-F. Côté pointed out how the federal government had not played by the rules. When 150,000 people got together in downtown Montreal to promote the “no” side, they were entitled to do so. However, I object to the fact that, when they chartered buses and planes to come to Quebec, they did not declare the expenses that made this rally possible. It is not true that this is part of the democratic process.
There are lessons to be learned from the Gomery report, and I hope that these lessons will be learned. First, I think that the true redress to which the member for Bourassa alluded is that all parliamentarians in this House should make a commitment, whether they are federalists or sovereignists. The Supreme Court went even further. It ruled that there must be public funds voted by the National Assembly to authorize those who want to take part in a referendum campaign, but who do not want to be registered as being in the “yes” or the “no” camp. This ruling was made in the Libman case.
Again, I never doubted the democratic legitimacy of Quebec federalists and their right to defend their country, Canada. Today, regardless of which side of the House members are sitting, I hope they will take part in this debate to acknowledge the reason why we must comply with the Referendum Act.
Indeed, it is the National Assembly which will make the decision on the right to self-determination. That is why this violation really hurt. In a referendum debate, it is wrong to say that the end justifies the means, that might is right, that one can spend at will, that one can resort to influence peddling, or that one can ignore the rules of the game and turn a blind eye.
Quebeckers will not forget the Gomery report's incubator and matrix, known as the sponsorship scandal, because it is the direct result of the fact that the issue was not debated openly and in the respect of the rules. Instead, the government wanted to resort to influence peddling, once again, without respecting a referendum's democratic process. That is unacceptable.
There will be another referendum soon. I cannot tell the House whether it will be in two, three or four years. However, I hope that the rules will be obeyed. All the members from Quebec, no matter who, can express their vision of the future. There is a national liberation movement in Quebec. It is a movement that is rooted in the political parties. Everyone is quite proud that in Quebec, we have never gone armed into the streets in order to promote our ideas. We use words to express our platform because we are democrats.
It was words and votes that got us elected. The Bloc Québécois currently has 54 members here. It is the number one force in Quebec. It is not because we are nicer, better looking or more intelligent, but because of what happened at the polling stations. It is the will of the Quebec people for the sovereignist platform to reverberate here in the House of Commons.
When we will be asked to give our view of the Gomery report, we will not call anyone any names nor will we be disrespectful to anyone. During the next referendum campaign, we will invite the hon. member for Bourassa and all the hon. members from Quebec to make a commitment to respect the Referendum Act. Lucien Bouchard said if we win, it will be yes. If we lose, it will be no and we will respect the public's wishes. We will respect their choice by respecting the rules of democracy.
It is governmental responsibility that is at issue in the Gomery report. We must be clear on the sequence of events. No one can deny that the ad agencies received 44% of the $303 million. No one can deny that kickbacks were given to the Liberal Party, since there is evidence to prove it. How did this all come about? In 250 pages, the Gomery report describes the genesis. The way the events unfolded is not a tribute to democracy.
I am sorry, but the Bloc Québécois cannot sit idly by on this. It is not disrespectful toward the hon. member for Bourassa or the other members of the House of Commons representing the Liberal Party to say that, unfortunately, there was misuse of funds and a complex system of kickbacks in a known network. Public funds went to ad agencies and to the Liberal Party. It is sad. I am sure that some Liberals are saddened by this as well.
I am not suggesting that some ministers got richer because of that. That is not what I am saying. I find it disturbing that, in a democracy, the following two things occurred: the Prime Minister concentrated millions of dollars in the Treasury Board, in his office, without going through Parliament, and kickbacks went to the Liberal Party. It should not work that way.
It is our duty to bring those issues to the attention of the public. We would not deserve to sit in this House if we were to turn a blind eye to those actions. So we will not.
We need to learn from the Gomery report. I hope that every member in the House agrees. For a democrat, the end does not justify the means. If Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his cabinet had agreed to come to Quebec to discuss the option and allow a real democratic debate, we would not be in the position we are in today.
Somehow, it is comforting to know that this will never happen again. What do Quebeckers say? They say that they will never tolerate such practices again. I hope that the conviction of people like Pierre-F. Côté and of the electorate will get through to the Liberal Party. We are not asking the Liberals to become sovereignists, nor to like the Bloc Québécois, nor to wish a secession, if this is not what they want. In the name of our democratic legitimacy, we urge them to respect the National Assembly and the rules of the game, and to act like democrats. That is what we want, in essence.