Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to take part in this historic debate in this House.
I know that the members of all parties in this House have stated their positions with great emotion and passion for this issue, like the member who has just spoken. It is true, and he was right to do so, because this debate is so important and so fundamental to the future of our country.
This motion goes to the very heart of what makes up a country, what makes up a nation, what it means to be Canadian and what it means to be Québécois. The motion is perhaps an opportunity to remind ourselves how lucky we are to live in Canada and what is at stake when we embark on such a discussion. The motion is perhaps an opportunity to remind ourselves of what is at stake for not only the Québécois but for the entire country.
Many think of Canada as a young nation, a country that has, as has often been said, more geography than history, and yet it is more than a bit ironic that this young country should be one of the most respected, with one of the oldest democracies and one of the oldest and most successful federations on the planet.
As stated by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, the support of this motion is a generous showing of solidarity. To paraphrase them both, it is a beacon of hope for other nations and a shining example of humanity and harmony. Those are weighty words from current federal leaders which, I think, are quite representative of the dominant view of this House and rare. It is in fact far too rare an instance in which we see a convergence of support in this chamber.
If there ever were such an important cause to rally around I would suggest this is it. National unity and the preservation of Canada are surely something all members of Parliament should agree upon without equivocation or qualification.
While I might take a position contrary to the member opposite from York, no one doubts anyone's loyalty to Canada and no one doubts anyone's passion for what they believe is important to this country.
While this debate may invoke emotions and, in some cases, the inkling of partisanship, we need to bring it back to the fundamental issue of how we preserve this great nation, this incredible fabric woven together over our country's history that is reflective of two founding nations.
The truth is that Canada is a federation that works. The success of our country has not been achieved by accident, and is not something that can or should be taken for granted.
The Fathers of Confederation chose a form of government that was particularly well suited to the inclusion of regional, linguistic and religious diversity. The best example of that diversity is unquestionably the existence of two major linguistic groups. The presence of Quebec is one of the main factors that led to the creation of Canada as a federation. The founders wanted to build a country that would make room for our diversity.
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.
Georges-Étienne Cartier stated in the Confederation debates of that time:
We could not legislate for the disappearance of the French Canadians from American soil, but British and French Canadians alike could appreciate and understand their position relative to each other....It is a benefit rather than the inverse, to have a diversity of races.
Let us not refute the intentions of the founders of the Canadian federation. They were all too aware of the need to recognize diversity, differences and specificities of all partners of the federation. They made it work, most important, and they did it under more trying and demanding circumstances than exist today.
Let us not give way to the politics of convenience or short-sightedness. Let us instead demonstrate the same characteristics of our founding fathers, perseverance, fortitude, honourable compromise and most of all, tolerance and mutual respect.
For their part, these traits have been bread in the bone, in the very marrow, in the DNA of Canada's genetic makeup. Canada was premised on the concept that diversity is a permanent characteristic. As the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney said:
Our approach to sustaining that prosperity is, first of all, an inherent flexibility in our Canadian federation that allows us to live together, to celebrate our differences and to understand, in a living way, that to be different does not mean that we are not equal, and to be equal does not mean that we must all be the same.
Mr. Mulroney further added:
Equality in Canada simply means that no one has the right to discriminate against us because of our differences.
From a historical standpoint, we learned long ago that we have to be mindful of the accommodations needed in a society where there are two major linguistic groups. Quebeckers have always exhibited a constant determination to advance and defend their rights and to preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage. They have achieved fantastic success, and all of Canada, the whole world in fact, is the richer for it.
Federalism has served us well. Today, it is hard to imagine other arrangements that could have served us as well. A federalism that, 140 years later, is still a model for the rest of the world to follow.
The challenge of accommodating diversity is perhaps one of the most difficult facing the world today. The recent debate in Quebec on what constitutes reasonable accommodation for religious minorities is echoed in similar debates around the globe.
Diversity is a modern reality. Most states in Europe, Asia or Africa contain a variety of languages, religions and cultures. Many of the most successful in dealing with this diversity have chosen the federal system of government.
Looked at from a contemporary world viewpoint, it is apparently homogenous states that are the exception. The nation state, which implies the parallel occurrence of state and ethnic nation, is extremely rare. In fact, there are no ideal nation states. Existing states differ from the ideal in two ways: the population includes minorities; and, they do not include all national groups in their territory.
Today's Canada is a prosperous, politically stable country because we have made diversity an asset rather than a problem or an issue. We embrace and celebrate that diversity rather than refuse it or repel it.
In fact, the economic and fiscal update recently released by my colleague, the Minister of Finance, is a positive signpost in this continuum marked by strong economic growth, focused government spending, lower debt and reduced taxes. All of this prosperity is for the benefit of all Canadians.
The advantage Canada plan will further help Canadians build a strong economy by creating the right conditions for Canadians and Canadian businesses to organize, thrive and prosper.
Canadians are able, as a result, to make democratic choices based on respect for human rights. Today, more than ever we understand that accommodating pluralism is not merely a political necessity, it is also a source of price and enrichment which reflect Canadian values.
Our capacity to adapt as a society, to build institutions that respond to demands of its citizens has served us very well. Federalism is a 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 and geographic diversity is obvious.
Our diversity is also reflected in our two official languages. Almost all Canadians speak English, 85%, or French, 31%, and one in five also speaks a non-official language. These diversities do not reflect the intangible benefits of language and culture in our nation's rich fabric. It goes beyond far beyond language and culture. These are things cannot always be grasped, or seen or felt, but they are there and they breathe in every community throughout the land.
Canada is increasingly urban and multicultural. In 2001 nearly 80% of Canadians lived in cities of over 10,000. In today's Canada, immigration represents 41% of the growth, a 2004 figure, and new Canadians tend to settle in our major urban centres, including Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to mention a few.
There is also no denying the enduring contributions of our earliest people, our first nations, Canada's aboriginal people.
As well, in many areas of the country, we have the contribution of the original pioneers who came to make their homes in this vast and often harsh land, the Prairies, the communities that dot our coastline and our majestic north.
Canada is made up of much more than large city centres. The small towns, communities, rural life in our country continues to be an important part of the fabric.
Ours is an enormous and awesome country in size and soul, one of governance and getting along, of balance, of benefit, of being benevolent, all Canadian personality traits.
Beyond accommodating regional preferences and diversity, Canadian federalism has provided an environment in which contemporary national, provincial and cultural identities have flourished. Federalism allows and encourages experimentation in political, social and economic matters.
The open federalism approach of the Prime Minister is in keeping with that modern nation state, mature and confident in the overall desire to succeed in a united and strong Canada. The willingness to succeed with les Québécois as a nation of people among others within a strong and united Canada is the abiding and unbending part of the equation.
Canadian federalism is not—as the Bloc Québécois would have us believe—a yoke that has hindered the development of Quebec. Rather, it is an open and flexible system that is constantly evolving. Quebec is inextricably bound up in the Canadian dream.
Canadian values derive from the fact that we have to understand one another and adapt, with courage, generosity and sensitivity, to the presence of two linguistic communities.
All of the succeeding generations of Canadians have had to meet this challenge. The choices we have made attest to our common aspirations for the future of this vast country, choices that are the envy of the whole world.
Anyone who has travelled much outside Canada knows that Canada is still one of the most favoured nations. Our prosperity and our public-spiritedness have been achieved through hard work, but can never be taken for granted.
Canada is a pluralistic society, not just because of the diversity or the makeup of the population, whether linguistic, cultural, ethnic or regional, but, more important, because we have come to understand that these differences contribute greatly to our national community and our very identity. To use the symbolism of our great river system and source of natural clean water, of life itself, all the vast rivers of nationhood flow to one sea.
Across the country, Canadians work together in a variety of ways to build a better nation with no group building in isolation. As a result, Canada has become a model for other countries. In a world with some 6,000 languages and only 200 states, pluralism is the norm, not the exception. Its success requires a uniquely Canadian talent, the ability to work together and transcend that diversity.
This vision of Canada as a nation, inspired by generosity and tolerance, has repeatedly triumphed over narrow ethnic tribalism. Canadians in Quebec and across the nation are proud of our success. Our Canada includes a strong, vibrant francophone Quebec, les Québécois. We would not have it otherwise.