Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that every time the word Quebec is mentioned in this place and in fact even outside of this place, it congers up a lot of language and a lot of debate. Let me suggest to the House that there is a reason why it does.
On November 16, 1976, the separatist party, Parti Québécois, stunned the country by winning the provincial election making René Lévesque premier, a very significant event.
On May 20, 1980, we had a Quebec referendum on what? It was on sovereignty association. Does anyone remember sovereignty association? It was not a clear question. It was not, “Do you want to separate from Canada?” It was something nebulous that no one had any idea what sovereignty association meant. Did it mean that one would still belong to Canada but one was separate? One could still enjoy passports, the protection of the army and a few other things.
That took us on a road which I suspect has been the genesis of much of what has been said in this place today. Just to remind all hon. members the vote was 60% opposed and 40% in favour and it was Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau who was the lead campaigner for the no side.
On April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth signed into law the new repatriated Canadian Constitution but without Quebec's signature. This was very significant. I remember watching the proceedings and seeing Prime Minister Trudeau basically conclude that we had better take what we could get because it was the best we were going get. However, it is not over. We need to have Quebec to be a signatory to our Constitution.
On June 3, 1987, 11 first ministers including Prime Minister Brian Mulroney reached an agreement called the Meech Lake accord in an attempt to bring Quebec into the Constitution and declare it a distinct society. It needed approval from all provincial governments within three years. It is not over yet.
On June 23, 1990, the Meech Lake Accord died when Manitoba and Newfoundland legislators fail to ratify it. The accord died on the same day that former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is elected Leader of the federal Liberal Party.
On August 28, 1992, my wedding anniversary, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the provincial premiers signed the Charlottetown accord. The Charlottetown accord was another package of constitutional amendments that would have recognized Quebec as a distinct society.
If we want to have a debate, let us have a debate on what constitutes a distinct society and I think we will hear much of the same arguments that we have heard in this debate since last Friday
On October 26, 1992, the Charlottetown accord died when five provinces including Quebec voted against it. The accord was narrowly approved in Ontario by a margin of 50.1% to 49.9%.
On October 30, 1995, Quebeckers voted to reject sovereignty again with 50.6% voting no and 49.4% voting yes. The then premier Jacques Parizeau blamed the resulting loss on money and the ethnic votes.
Again, there are more elements of history in this debate. In the discussions that have been held in this place for many years, there is history.
On March 15, 2000, the House of Commons passed the Clarity Act which put strict rules on any future Quebec referendum, including a provision for a clear question on sovereignty. I believe the legacy of our former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, is defined in many ways for many achievements, but the passage of the Clarity Act by the Parliament of Canada was probably the most significant event that occurred during his prime ministership.
A number of members, who have spoken in this place on all sides of the debate, have raised some interesting questions. What better place to debate the subtleties and the nuances of issues than in the Parliament of Canada, on the public record and in front of the people of Canada, issues that have been the subject of Ph.D. theses for at least 30 or 40 years? We are dealing with issues that people have studied extensively.
The bottom line is that we must remember who the Bloc Québécois members are and what they represent. Fundamentally, that is what this debate comes down to for me. The Bloc raised a motion in this place on an opposition day that basically said that Quebeckers form a nation. Some changes were made and there was talk about whether it would be with the phrase “within a united Canada at this time”. We have had some iterations on what is going on but the leader of the Bloc said that the motion was without a partisan condition.
As we know, the government presented its own motion, “that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada”. The leader of the Bloc Québécois said to Parliament and to Canadians that the condition was a partisan condition.
However, to suggest that we are talking about this matter in the context of a united Canada is not a partisan opinion. It is a fact and we must remember that. We must also remember why the Bloc is here.
The Bloc members are here to fundamentally oppose anything that would support, protect or defend a united Canada. They want to break this country up. They want to take Quebec outside of Canada. The Bloc members were elected to this place under the rules that guide all elections across the country. They are entitled to be here. I am sorry they are here but they are entitled to be here and to hold their positions. We know that when they vote they vote in favour of anything that enhances the conditions or the circumstances as they relate to Quebec. They oppose anything that goes into the realm of possibility of infringing on provincial jurisdiction. They certainly would vote against anything that would not be in the best interests of Quebec. We know that. We know why they are here.
We know why the Bloc members have thrown this issue on the floor of the House of Commons. It is because they saw an opportunity to see what they could do to enhance the prospects of the Bloc Québécois in the next federal election. This was a political decision. It was a partisan decision. It was a decision to take advantage of the rights and privileges of this place to enhance their political objectives, and that is to separate Quebec from Canada. That is why the Bloc raised the motion. All members here know that. The federalist members of this chamber are here to ensure that never happens.
Part of our job is to defend the Constitution, to defend this country and to defend its people from sea to sea to sea. Quebec is often talked about as Quebec and Canada in the Bloc parlance but in this place Quebec is part of Canada. It is part of my Canada and I am here to defend and to protect my united Canada.
Let me remind all hon. members of what was said in this place when the government motion was put on the table. The motion, as members know, reads:
That the House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
I would emphasize the word “recognize”.
Unfortunately, it may be too simplistic because it does not have a lot of detail. It leaves open to interpretation, which many members have done in their speeches, the word “recognize”. Questions have been raised by the hon. member for Halton as to what nation means. In this motion I know exactly what “within a united Canada” means. When Liberals support this motion, that is what we are supporting, a united Canada.
The Prime Minister stated:
Mr. Speaker, the real intent behind the motion by the leader of the Bloc and the sovereignist camp is perfectly clear. It is to recognize not what the Québécois are, but what the sovereignists would like them to be.
The meaning is clear. The motion reminds us of why the Bloc Québécois members are here. They are here to break up this country.
The Prime Minister went on to say, “if you recognize that the Québécois form a nation, you have to vote yes in a referendum”, according to the Bloc. That is the way the Bloc members would like to spin it because that is what they are telling us.
The Bloc has abandoned its motion and it will now be supporting the government motion because it sees it as a way to spin it, just like people have been spinning it in the debate today and last Friday. It can talk about nation without worrying about the part that says “within a united Canada”. It can talk about nation because the Parliament of Canada recognizes Quebec as a nation.
However, it is not up to the Government of Canada to determine and establish that Quebec is a nation. That is up to the province. The province has done it as a matter of fact. It passed it unanimously. All of the separatist and federalist members of the Quebec National Assembly passed it unanimously. Quebec is a nation. They understood.
If we look at the debates of that resolution that Quebec is a nation, we and the member for Halton will see clearly what the definition of “nation” was when Quebec debated it in the national assembly. It was not country. If the member wants an answer, he will get an answer. He can look at it for himself. If he looks at the debates, they were to recognize the distinctiveness of Quebec, the language, the culture, the identity and the civil code.
One can paint a picture of Quebec but I can paint a picture of the Métis, the Acadians and the first nations. I could do that and we could have resolutions in this place to recognize the Métis, the Acadians and first nations. Would it raise the ire of some members of Parliament the way this has? I do not think so but I know why this has raised the ire of some members. The legitimate concern of some members is the fear of what it means and the fear of the consequences down the road?
We need only look at the history and, yes, there is history and there is a threat to this country. I was watching the night the result of the referendum was so close. I remember the reaction of Canadians. They were absolutely scared that we almost lost the country. They were hurt that somehow somebody let us get so close to something we did not understand what it really meant and how it would be done. They did not understand but they knew they came so close that they never wanted to be there again.
Parliament, I believe, and all federalist members of Parliament since then and I hope in the future, will continue to come to this place to protect, defend and speak out on behalf of a united Canada and not to let any opportunity go by in this place to remind the Bloc that we are here to protect Canada.
The Prime Minister went on to say:
Quebeckers know who they are. They know that they have participated in the founding of Canada and in its development and its greatness. They know that they have preserved their language and their unique culture, and they have advanced their values and their interests within Canada. The real question is simple: do the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada? The answer is yes. Do the Québécois form a nation independent of Canada? The answer is no, and it will always be no.
The members in this place have to repeat it, time and time again, to their constituents, to the Bloc and to the media. If we are here to fight for Canada, then we must stand up for Canada at every opportunity.
I am sorry but sometimes I think some members are nervous Nellies when it comes to talking about tough issues. Yes, this is a tough issue but this is the place to talk about it. If we are not prepared to defend our country in this place, if we are not prepared to remind Canadians that we are here fighting against the Bloc Québécois members who want to separate this country, we should not be here. We have come here to fight for Canadian unity and to fight to make this country a better place.
The intent of the motion is clear to all federalist members. We needed to take action on this. The members rose in this place at the end of the Prime Minister's comments in unity and said that we would be supporting the motion because the motion has to do with one thing, and that is to remind Canadians that we are here to fight. It reminds Canadians that we will say no to the Bloc. We will say yes to Quebec within a united Canada because we love every part of our country from sea to sea to sea and it includes Quebec. When the Bloc suggests otherwise, I will rise in this place and I will fight that.
I ask all hon. members, whenever they see the opening, whenever they feel the threat and whenever they know that the separatists are firing themselves up to take another run, to stand in this place and say no to the separatists. Tell the separatists that Canada is united, that it is the best country in the world and that we will keep it that way.
I commented on the Clarity Act, which is an important act. I believe it will ensure we do not run into the same problems as we did with the previous referendum but we will have another referendum. Let us not ever be afraid to talk about Quebec ever again. Let us not show some reticence to deal with this issue. We must deal with it every time it comes up. We must reaffirm our commitment to Canada and to Quebec, reaffirm the commitment we made when we came to this place and swore an oath to be in this place and to protect Canada. It is all about protecting Canada and to make it an even better place, not only for us but for the generations to come.