Mr. Speaker, I begin today with a reminder from the Confederation debates of 1864, quoting a father of Confederation:Then let us be firm and united--
One country, one flag for us all:
United, our strength will be freedom--
Divided, we each of us fall.
Yesterday the Prime Minister of Canada put forward the following motion:
That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
I speak in this House as a western Canadian who is passionate about the history of our country and the future that we share together.
I have been privileged in my time in public service to travel the length and breadth of this remarkable country and to experience every region. As the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, I have explored the most distant reaches of this remarkable and compelling land, travelling in the company of extraordinary Canadians who comprise our first nations.
I am also rising in this House today as a francophile, as a Canadian who recognizes, who respects and who embraces Quebeckers' language, culture and history. I am addressing this motion today as a Canadian who is proud of his whole country and of the diversity that prevails within its borders.
The debate that concerns the House is properly before us. The Prime Minister of this country has shown decisiveness and courage in putting forward a motion which effectively responds to the mischief put forward by the Bloc Québécois. In a constructive way, the motion addresses the desire of Canadians to stand as a united country, while also recognizing the foundational role of les Québécois as one of the nations of people who comprise Canada.
The leader of the Bloc and his separatist colleagues do not seek a definition of les Québécois within the context of a united Canada. That is what distinguishes we who are the federalists in this House of Commons, separating us from those who would divide, separate and diminish us. They are not concerned with defining les Québécois, nor are they concerned with the advancement of the very special language, culture, traditions and history of les Québécois within the context of this, the most remarkable nation on the face of the earth. Instead, they would unleash a divisive debate that pits Canadians one against the other and les Québécois against themselves. This is a road that this government will not travel.
The Bloc Québécois continues to want to raise the issue of sympathy. It wants to break Canada. The Bloc Québécois' mission is to defend and promote its own interests, not those of Quebeckers. We disagree with that. Quebeckers, and other Canadians, are all builders of our country. This government and this Prime Minister will protect the unity of our country, which we have all helped build.
This Prime Minister and this new government prefer to travel on the road of nation building, on the same journey as other great prime ministers and great parties. This was the chosen path of Sir John A. Macdonald on a route that he travelled with George-Étienne Cartier. It was also the path of Laurier, Trudeau and Mulroney.
As Conservatives, we affirm and recognize that les Québécois form a nation within a United Canada.
We, the Conservatives, prefer to build a stronger Quebec within a better Canada. Quebeckers want tangible, concrete results, which the Bloc will never be able to deliver.
This is an immense country, remarkable in its diversity and in the strands of the ethnological, the linguistic and the cultural riches that define the tapestry that is Canada. As a western Canadian, I cherish this vibrant and colourful mosaic.
It is important to recognize that the creation of this country began with several founding nations, but that Canada has since benefited from the influx of new Canadians from every single corner of the globe. I have often been struck by the fact that, as one reads the speeches surrounding Confederation, this immigration and this peopling of the west was indeed the very plan of the Fathers of Confederation.
I would observe as well, parenthetically, that the first nations of Canada, the aboriginal peoples, including the Inuit and the Métis, have from the outset contributed to the Canada that we know today.
We have done all of this in a manner that has become a beacon to the world. We have succeeded in building a country that is the envy of all people by reason of the prosperity we have, the freedoms we enjoy, and the respect, the tolerance and the civility with which we treat one another as fellow citizens.
The Bloc seeks to end all of this. The Bloc seeks to drive wedges between us. The Bloc seeks to separate us. We must always remember that this is their raison d'être. It is the reason they exist and it is their fervent ambition.
Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, the true intention of the Bloc leader and the sovereignist camp is perfectly clear. They hope to separate, divide and break Canada apart. But we must uphold Canadian unity. We must defend national unity. Our Prime Minister and this government defend Canada, which, for us, includes a Quebec that is strong, confident and proud, a Quebec that is stronger within a better Canada.
Indeed, we are all proud to live in this country called Canada.
Indeed, we can all be proud to call Canada our home.
I have often marvelled at the construct of Canada. Why have we succeeded in the creation of such a great country?
To attempt to answer this question personally, I have often turned to the Confederation debates and the words of our Fathers of Confederation at the time they created this wonderful country. The Fathers of Confederation chose a form of government uniquely suited to expressing and accommodating regional, linguistic and religious diversity. The most important example of this diversity was undoubtedly the existence of the two major language groups.
With our linguistic diversity, we are the envy of many countries that are still unable to resolve their cultural differences.
One of the major factors in the creation of Canada as a federation was the presence of Quebec. The founders of our country wanted to build a nation which embraced our diversity.
There can be no doubt that in the heart of this country and all that we have achieved lies the compact that was defined by the Fathers of Confederation. This compact was based upon the recognition of the nationhood of les Québécois, the uniqueness of their language, their culture, their tradition and their history.
None of this was in dispute at the time of Confederation, as the British American provinces united freely, voluntarily and with the fullest intent to protect and advance those very characteristics. The concept of Confederation has always been that les Québécois and other Canadians would be stronger in unity than we would in division.
This was the concept of Canada. It is that very respect, tolerance and acceptance which not only lies at the heart of this country but which has in every way permeated the character and the philosophy of what we have created.
I quote for illustrative purposes H.L. Langevin, after whom the edifice across the street is named, who said:
We are told: “You wish to form a new nationality”. Let us come to an understanding on this word...What we desire and wish is to defend the general interests of a great country and of a powerful nation, by means of a central power. On the other hand, we do not wish to do away with our different customs, manner, and laws; on the contrary those are precisely what we are desirous of protecting in the most complete manner by means of Confederation.
Central to the Confederation debates was George-Étienne Cartier. He was described at that time as the finest statesman in North America. His oratory carried the day in the conferences leading up to Confederation. In 1864, he asked this question:
Was it surprising that some should try to find difficulties in the way of the formation of a Union because there happened to be different races and religions? I have already spoken about the elements which are necessary to constitute a nation.
As Cartier said of Confederation in 1867:
We sealed our pact without bloodshed and without exploitation of the weak by the strong. All it took was fairness, justice and some compromises on both sides.
The words spoken at the commencement of this country ring true today also. My friend Jean Charest, the current premier of Quebec, has said:
Recognizing Quebec as being different, recognizing our history, recognizing our identity, has never meant a weakening of Quebec and has never been a threat to national unity.
That is the nature of the country we have built. Canada is strengthened by its new immigrants as well as by its first nations, creating one of the most beautiful, diverse countries in the world, a country where great opportunities abound for everyone.
A nation drawn together as an act of will in 1867 by les Québécois and their fellow citizens of the English speaking provinces, and so yes, les Québécois do form a nation within a united Canada.
The Bloc, on the other hand, posits that Quebec itself is a nation and that it is a nation extraneous to Canada. The political entity of Quebec is not an independent nation, and if Cartier, Langevin and their descendants are to have their way, and if we as Canadians govern ourselves with goodwill and with a large and generous spirit, the answer will always be no.
Because of all of the attributes in Canada, that which is most central, that which is most important to who we are, is the respect with which we treat one another. We are unaffected by divisions, by distinctions of race, religion, gender or creed, and the humanity and the compassion that inspire us will always prevail.
The motion put forward by the Prime Minister does not recognize the province of Quebec as a nation. Rather, it recognizes les Québécois, the people of Quebec, as a nation within a united Canada. The difference is crucial.
The Bloc Québécois is seeking to tear this country apart. We, on the other hand, defend national unity. We defend Canada. We defend a strong Canada. Together, we have become what we are.
We are, as the Prime Minister has said, a shining example of the humanity that can be achieved through respect and forbearance, by way of our willingness to respect the language, the culture and the history of one another, the recognition of the history, the language and the culture of les Québécois.
Today, Canada is a prosperous and politically stable country because we have made diversity an asset rather than a problem. Canadians are able, as a result, to make democratic choices based on a respect of human rights, and today, more than ever, we understand that accommodating pluralism is not merely a political necessity but a source of pride and enrichment that reflects Canadians values.
Our capacity to adapt as a society and to build institutions that respond to the demands of our citizens has served us very well. Federalism is the natural response to governing a large, demographically and regionally diverse country. With 10 provinces, 3 territories, 6 time zones and bordering on 3 oceans, Canada's regional diversity is obvious.
Our diversity is also reflected in the two official languages. Almost all Canadians speak English or French, and one in five also speaks a non-official tongue. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 98% of the people have English as a mother tongue, while in Quebec, 81% have French as a mother tongue. In Nunavut, 79% speak Inuktitut, a language spoken by less than 1 in a 1,000 Canadians.
Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, stated emphatically:
I have no accord with the desire expressed in some quarters that by any mode whatever there should be an attempt made to oppress the one language or render it inferior to the other: I believe that would be impossible if it were tried, and it would be foolish and wicked if it were possible.
And so it is not in this Canada.
We are a pluralistic society, not just because of the diversity in the makeup of the population, whether linguistic, cultural or regional, but, more important, because we have come to understand that these differences contribute to our national community and our identity. In that sense, Canadians are a symbol of hope to a very dangerous and divided world.
The Bloc wants to separate Canada. That is something that our party and our government will never accept. That is something that this Prime Minister will always stand against immediately, unequivocally and decisively.
There are those who question whether this debate is properly before the federal House of Commons. I say that the Bloc has brought this question before the House. While its original intent may have been mischief, this new government and this new Prime Minister shall decisively resolve the matter in favour of les Québécois and in favour of a united Canada.
I am heartened by the integrity of other federalist parties in this House of Commons. I am moved by their willingness to set aside partisanship and to follow this Prime Minister on the road of statesmanship. Again, the wisdom of this path finds its antecedence in the debates of the founding fathers who similarly and wisely set aside their differences.
In closing, I echo the words of the great Sir John A. Macdonald on September 1, 1864, at the Charlottetown conference. When commenting upon les Québécois and the other founding partners of Confederation, he observed, “Our hearts are one. It was so then. It is today even more so the case”.
We shall press on as the federalists in this House of Commons, protective of one another and protective of the peoples and the nations which constitute Canada. May we, however, be ever wary of those who would separate us, those who would divide us and those who would seek to destroy what the unity of our peoples has created.
I close, as an Albertan, with the words of another Albertan, Ian Tyson, who, together with Peter Gzowski, wrote a song entitled, Song For Canada, reminding us that we are one nation. It went as follows:
Just one great river, always rolling to the sea
One single river rolling in eternity
Two nations in this land, that lie along its shore
But just one river rolling free