Mr. Speaker, despite my youth, I too have had the privilege of serving in the National Assembly with the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and with the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie on the councils of two different municipalities and now here in the House of Commons. I would mention that I have also heard things which have surprised me in the course of my career. However, I have to say that the motion the Bloc Québécois is asking us to support today, even in an amended form, will remain in my experience as one of the most memorable interventions I have ever heard.
Here we have a political party devoted exclusively and obsessively to the cause of Quebec's separation from Canada asking Canada's Parliament to acknowledge that it is on the right track. The leader of the Bloc is, in a way, calling for a resolution on clarity. Indeed the political about-face is pretty spectacular, even for the Bloc.
Here is what one of the co-founding leaders of the independence movement is asking of Parliament. “Who would you allow us to be?” “What do you want us to become?” No member from Quebec having earned the privilege of sitting here has ever felt the need to ask his peers why he was here. Not Papineau, not Cartier, not Laurier, not Trudeau, not Mulroney nor any other Quebec leader has ever asked his provincial counterparts, “Who am I?”
No. They have each said in turn at various points in time, “This is who we are, this is what we want for ourselves and what we can do together for our fellow citizens”.
I doubt that anybody in a Canadian Parliament ever said to the representatives from Lower Canada, from eastern Canada or from the province of Quebec, that this is who they are and that this is how we will recognize them from now on.
Since 1792, when Canada's first Parliament met in Quebec, right up to the present, we have been called first Canadians, then French Canadians and now Quebeckers. It was not other people who named us, however. We have never asked our partners in the other provinces who we are.
I myself have no problem recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation, since we share a common language, culture and history.
I have already said so and I have no difficulty saying it again today. I am, as an Irish Quebecker, very proud to belong to the Quebec nation as are thousands of other Quebeckers from backgrounds other than that of the majority. I am, however, just as proud of my Canadian citizenship. These feelings are not contradictory. In fact, I think the Quebec nation the Bloc is so keen to celebrate would not perhaps exist today had French culture and language and our legal institutions not been protected in our various Constitutions. The surest guarantee of the continued growth of the Quebec nation is our participation within Canada as a whole.
The Prime Minister clearly understood it when he asked us to support it a motion recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. Those four little words “within a united Canada” contain our entire history as a society, as a people and, yes, as a nation. We will soon be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, the place where I was born and the city where past generations of Cannons and Powers, my ancestors, were able to make their dreams and aspirations come true.
I sincerely hope that this anniversary will remind all Canadians, wherever they come from, that, for four centuries now, successive generations of French-speaking men and women founded a country here, in America, a country that still allows them to tell the world about pride and solidarity. They not only asked others for recognition, they built a country in their own image, with the sweat of their brow, that reflects the scope of their ambition. This country is still their country and it will remain so as long as there are francophones in America.
It is true that, at times, Quebeckers have suffered under a kind of paternalistic, even antagonistic, federalism, but the Prime Minister has proved that he wanted to and has been able to bring in a new, open federalism that would allow the Quebec nation to express its rich personality and bring all its potential to the fore in a respectful relationship with our partners. That is not what the Bloc Québécois wants.
Not long ago, another Conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, poured his heart and soul into the recognition of Quebec as a distinct society within Canada. After years of heroic efforts, that recognition was never achieved. And whom do we find among the people who sabotaged the Meech Lake accord? The future founding father of the Bloc Québécois, Lucien Bouchard, who was consistent enough to go to Quebec City and take over the helm of the Parti Québecois. Then there was Jacques Parizeau who did everything he could, along with Bernard Landry, to tear down Brian Mulroney's government. They did it for the same reason that the current leader of the Bloc Québécois is doing it. The sovereignists fear one thing above all—that the Quebec nation will become stronger within Canada. But it is the nation itself that chose its future, and that is why, in both of the referendums run by the supporters of separation, a majority of Quebeckers chose to remain in Canada, in their own country.
When René Lévesque's Parti Québecois was elected 30 years ago, it was first and foremost because it promised better government, not immediate separation. We cannot criticize a citizen of a nation for being a nationalist. Like a majority of my francophone constituents no doubt, I consider myself a nationalist. Nationalism does not mean separatism. We can love Quebec without wanting to destroy Canada. This is why the majority of Quebeckers, when they felt that their place in Canada was threatened, wanted to uphold and affirm it. Of course, Quebeckers have elected Péquiste governments and Bloc members in the past, but they have never given up their place in Canada, the country that they dreamed of and created and that they continue to improve.
As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we must not mistake the real intent of the leader of the Bloc Québécois and his members, which is to recognize not what Quebeckers are, but what the sovereignists would like them to be. To them, “nation” means “separation” and that is that.
The Quebec National Assembly recently reaffirmed that the people of Quebec form a nation. The Prime Minister of Canada has just done so, and I hope every member of this House will do so as well by supporting his motion.
How can we forget the dignified, reasonable and resolute attitude of Robert Bourassa, whom I had the honour of serving, along with the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, when he said, at an extremely critical and important moment in our history:
—whatever is said or done, Quebec is today and for all times a distinct society, free, capable of assuming its destiny and its development.
Giving a name to things is not what is most important. We recognize those who contribute to Quebec society by what they achieve. Quebeckers want action and accomplishment, not words and declarations.
The Bloc Québécois, which wants to plunge us into yet another existential debate, has been around since 1990. What concrete, lasting achievements has it been able to deliver to Quebeckers since then? How has it advanced the Quebec nation it claims to serve and represent? It has done nothing because it can do nothing but talk.
Of course, it has provoked major debates like this one, but has it passed a single piece of legislation in this House? Seen a bill through? The answer is no, of course, because the Bloc does not form the government and never will. Conversely, in only a few months, Canada's new government has addressed almost all of the major priorities announced during the election.
Above all we have opened the way to a better future for the Quebec nation by defining a new federalism of openness, which is already bearing fruit. We are working on eliminating the fiscal imbalance, a topic that the Bloc has enjoyed going on about for years. But is it the Bloc that will be solving the problem of the fiscal imbalance? No, it’s the current government that will be doing it.
We have made it possible for Quebec to participate fully in the work of UNESCO, something Quebec has wanted for a long time.
We have made a commitment to respect the spirit of the Canadian Confederation faithfully by respecting the division of provincial and federal powers. We will be putting an end to abuse of the federal spending power.
The Bloc denounces, and tries to bring down, all governments that do not advocate separation, but our government is maintaining sustained and productive relations with the Quebec government, relations that are resulting in agreements and achievements.
Division has never helped the Quebec nation. “Let us cease our fratricidal fighting” said the great Honoré Mercier more than a century ago. He wanted to unite all Quebeckers, blue, red or whatever, so that the only French society in the Americas could forge ahead.
In conclusion, I urge the leader of the Bloc Québécois to think about everything that we could accomplish as a nation within a united Canada if we stopped tearing ourselves apart like this.