Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to express myself during this debate on the Quebec nation. This is one of the main reasons I decided to run for a seat as a member of the Bloc Québécois in 2004. I forgot to tell you at the beginning that I will be sharing my time with the member for Papineau.
I think that the concept of a nation is very important. This is not an abstract word that people do not really care about, as the Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for la Francophonie said last June 23. Recognizing the existence of the Quebec nation is more than a symbolic gesture; it is not just a label.
We know that nations have rights, especially the right to self-determination, that is, the right to direct their own development.
Two former premiers of Quebec, a federalist and a sovereignist, Robert Bourassa and René Lévesque, agreed on this issue. René Lévesque once said:
Having all the attributes of a distinct national community, Quebec has an inalienable right to self-determination. This is Quebec's most basic right.
Robert Bourassa, a federalist, had this to say about self-determination:
English Canada must clearly understand that, no matter what, Quebec is today and for all times a distinct society, free and capable of assuming its destiny and its development.
The right to self-determination is also codified by the UN. Resolution 26.25 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1970 describes it best.
The Bélanger-Campeau Commission, which was set up in Quebec after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and chaired by a federalist and a sovereignist, agreed with this. Some of its findings, unfortunately, are still current because we have not really ended the impasse between federalists and sovereignists. The Bélanger-Campeau Commission said:
The consensus expressed in the work of the commission is clear: profound changes to Quebec's political and constitutional status are needed.
This has not been done. It also said:
Only two solutions are open to Quebec in redefining its status: firstly, making a new, last, attempt to redefine its status within the federal system; and, secondly, achieving sovereignty.
As soon as Quebeckers are recognized as a nation only two options are open to us. In presenting this motion, the Bloc Québécois is not saying it wants to achieve sovereignty. What we are saying is that there needs to be a major renewal of federalism on a new foundation or there needs to be sovereignty. Those two options are available. But can federalism truly be reformed? Some 40 years of fighting make me doubt it.
Currently all these avenues seemed to be blocked. The only door that is still open, at least for Quebeckers and for the Bloc Québécois, is sovereignty.
Since Quebeckers are a nation they have to be able to have a say on the world stage in their areas of jurisdiction. For more than 40 years now, all the Governments of Quebec have asked to be able to engage in international relations directly themselves on their own behalf where Quebec's jurisdictions under the Constitution are concerned. For more than 40 years now we have made little progress in all these debates. Quebec participates in only one international organization, namely the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. This is not thanks to the federal government, but on the insistence of France, General de Gaulle in particular.
During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister promised that Quebec would have its own seat at UNESCO, along the lines of the francophone summit. What we are seeing is Quebec left with only a folding chair, rather than a seat, and since the signing over six months ago, which was all for show, no concrete action has been taken.
The Prime Minister also promised that, on the international level, Quebec, as well as the other provinces, though they see less need for it, would have a say in matters affecting their own jurisdictions. We saw in Nairobi, Kenya, during the United Nations climate change conference just what his promise was worth. Quebec was given no voice at that conference. More progressive nations heard about Quebec's plan only because a European minister talked about it.
And the Conservative government only accused her of interfering in Canada's domestic affairs.
The Prime Minister also promised to recognize special cultural and institutional responsibilities of the Quebec government. We are still awaiting the asymmetrical agreement that would allow Quebec to speak for itself on matters under its jurisdiction.
The Prime Minister promised the following:
I am ready to discuss mechanisms to enable the provinces to extend their jurisdictions on the international scene.
How many times, since the election of this new government, has Quebec been allowed to freely exercise its own jurisdictions on the international scene?
The Bloc Québécois would like to assert three principles. The government cannot pretend that it has respected its promises in these three areas.
First, Quebec is not like the other provinces. Rather, it is home to the Quebec nation. For this reason, it requires greater autonomy than the other provinces, including on the international scene.
Second, within its constitutional jurisdictions, Quebec is fully sovereign. It must be permitted to exercise its authority from A to Z, including in international relations.
Third, when negotiating on the international scene in matters affecting jurisdictions under Quebec's own legislative authority, the federal government cannot claim to represent Quebec, unless Quebec authorizes it to do so.
Subordination has plenty of disadvantages. It prevents the Quebec nation from fully developing and realizing its full potential. It is neither normal nor desirable for Quebec to be a province of another nation. Legally, Quebec must be on an equal footing with other countries. That is the Bloc Québécois' opinion.
Obviously, the motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois is not asking that the House decide whether or not Quebec should choose sovereignty. What we are asking is that it recognizes that Quebeckers form a nation. As for Quebec's political future, the decision will be made in Quebec, in a referendum that will be held in the purest democratic traditions, as Quebec has always done.
For the benefit of the many sovereignists in my riding, I would like to talk about the advantages of sovereignty. Why would we choose the sovereignist option for Quebec and why would we work so hard to achieve sovereignty? We all want to be free and responsible, both personally and collectively, as Quebeckers do form a nation. We want to face our own internal and external problems, solve them ourselves and gain from it experience, dynamism and the richness of being, all this in a spirit of healthy cooperation with our neighbours, whom we respect, but without the sterile blockage that has existed for too long between Quebec's normal dynamism and the check Ottawa is putting on that.
I want to pay my taxes to the Quebec government that sits at the National Assembly. I want the National Assembly to make the laws that govern the country of Quebec. I want representatives from Quebec at the table in international meetings to debate and sign agreements and treaties that will have an impact on the lives of Quebeckers.
Quebeckers have the means as well as the obligations of a sovereign people. Two neighbours who each have their own house get along better than those who have to share accommodations where the boundaries are blurred. A sovereign Quebec next to a sovereign Canada will better contribute to the well-being of both neighbours.