House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebeckers.


Motion that debate be not further adjournedThe QuébécoisGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed from November 24 consideration of the motion and of the motion that this question be now put.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

It is rare, indeed, that parliamentarians have an opportunity to speak about the fundamental character of their country. Today is one of those opportunities. Canada is indeed a great nation. It is our great nation, a nation with a long history of vibrant constitutional debates. Sometimes in our past, we have approached these debates with fear and fatigue, but we have always looked back with certainty that these open and honest debates are one of the central pillars upon which our nation is built.

Many Canadians are well versed in the terminology of the constitutional debates and can point to the milestones on the long road of Canada's constitutional history. Simply by mentioning the words such as the amending formula, Meech Lake and Charlottetown, one can revive both the focus and passion of previous constitutional discussions.

The constitutional history of Canada as we know it begins with the Treaty of Paris in 1763 in which France ceded to Britain almost all of its North American territories. A century later, the British North American Act of 1867, followed by the 1931 Statute of Westminster, cemented the concept of and the right to self-government by Canadians. Then in 1982, more than 200 years after the Treaty of Paris had first defined Canada as its own territory, the Constitution Act brought our constitution home to Canada.

Who can forget the day when the visionary Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau joined with Queen Elizabeth II at the signing ceremony just outside this very building? It was obvious to all that this event was a huge step forward. Today we are discussing what many of my hon. colleagues argue may be the next logical step forward in the evolution of this wonderful country. But is it?

I spent much of my last week consulting with eminent constitutional and international scholars on the nature of today's debate. One thing is clear: no precise or globally accepted definition of the word “nation” exists. Indeed, in January of this year 35 member states of the Council of Europe concluded that it was impossible to define the word “nation” at all in constitutional terms.

Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier, who worked tirelessly to strengthen our country through immigration, understood the word “nation” simply to mean Canada. In 1889 he stated:

We form here, or wish to form, a nation composed of the most heterogeneous elements...In each one of these opposing elements, however, there is a common point of patriotism, and the only veritable politics is that which dominates this common patriotism, and brings these elements toward a unified goal and common aspirations.

Laurier further stated that his countrymen included:

--no matter what their race or language—whom the fortunes of war, the twists and turns of fate, or their own choice, have brought among us.

Canada, for that great statesman, was a broad, great and single country.

By identifying les Québécois as a nation or as a sociological nation within a united Canada, we as members of Parliament, representing all 10 provinces and 3 territories of this great country, would extend to the people of Quebec the recognition of their unique identity within the Canadian federation and, indeed, within the North American continent itself.

Many other nations assign within their borders the concept of nationhood to people with unique cultures and traditions, which are reflected in their history, ethnicity, custom and language. The United Kingdom, upon which our parliamentary system is based, embraces the so-called constituent nations of Wales, Scotland and England.

Any casual traveller will have seen that the people of Wales consider themselves very much a nation, as do the Scottish people. In recent years they have seen powers devolved to them from the central government at Westminster. Many of their political and governmental responsibilities, while arguable different in scale, are not unlike those of our Canadian federation.

The example of Wales is relevant for us as it is a nation within the United Kingdom that has its own official language, a parliament with specific powers and rights, including input with respect to laws passed elsewhere that concern it.

As we objectively review our own constitutional history, we must conclude the sociological concept of les Québécois nation within a united Canada is something we neither fear nor resist. In fact, that very sociological nation has always existed in spirit. The concept of a les Québécois nation within Canada will not diminish or threaten the country with which Quebec is confederated and in which the people of Quebec are citizens, free, proud and loyal. They remain a vibrant part of Canada in spirit and in reality.

We have a clear and present opportunity to move our constitutional history forward and to, moreover, acknowledge the historic significance and culture contribution of the people of Quebec.

By 1000 AD, what is now the province of Quebec was the first destination of the Viking longboats, bringing the first Europeans to the Arctic shores of Ungava Peninsula. Some 500 years later, Jacques Cartier was the first French explorer to erect a cross in this new world. In 1603, Samuel de Champlain came to found the first permanent colonies in Canada, including the establishment of Quebec City itself in 1608.

Thus began the great French presence in the North American continent, with its rich tradition borne of exploration, enriched with deep culture and rapid social development.

In 1774 the Quebec Act was passed in London to ensure the continued growth and development of the French presence in North American manifest in the resilient Quebec people.

It was in 1880, during the St. Jean Baptiste Day ceremony, that our national anthem, O Canada, was penned in Quebec by the composer, Calixa Lavallee, who clearly had a love of this land.

Through the ensuing years, the people of Quebec, who proudly and rightly called themselves les canadiennes, continued to build the country and express their unique social experience in Canada, culminating with the quiet revolution of the 1960s. This was a period of profound social change in Quebec, and a significant leap forward in terms of their identity as a people.

It is crucial to acknowledge and affirm that all this rich history, vibrant culture and enthusiastic political expression flourished as a unique Quebec identity securely cradled within the Confederation of Canada.

We Canadians are an example to the world of the tolerance and understanding of the differences that make us unique, and our open, confident and forward thinking has helped to craft one of the world's truly great countries. We welcome newcomers with open hearts, recognizing that in our shared individuality we find our united strength.

My family came here 30 years ago from the misty islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean called the Azores, precisely because they believed that Canada was a nation of unequalled opportunity. My personal experience of the unbounded welcome and shared vision of Canadians has made it easy for me to love and celebrate our country, both here in Parliament and among my constituents of Davenport, most of whom are immigrants, working for their daily bread, and who give thanks every day for the country they now call home.

Many nations other than ours have sadly concluded that it was arms and armed conflict that bought them their freedom. We, on the other hand, are blessed to live in a country where we deal with our differences not by the sword, but by the word. In Canada our respect for one another has given us our freedom, and it is our laws that have given us liberty and justice.

We are a nation that does not fear differences, but rather encourages diversity. From our first nations, diverse in themselves, to the exploring peoples of Europe and Asia and other parts of the world, together we hail from ancestors who recognized the enormous strength to be found in our shared histories.

Through the motion we discuss today, Canadians outside of the province of Quebec will be able to openly recognize the unique nature of the people of Quebec within our broader confederation. As we have heard, some members of the House oppose this measure as being too much or too little, but neither of these polar positions appropriately reflect the reality of our history. Quebec is part of Canada and Canada is part of Quebec. History and geography have made us one. We are the new global standard of nationhood.

Ours is a country characterized by opportunity, understanding, compassion and service, both to its citizens and to the people of the world. Our nation is much more than a beautiful idea. It is a standard of perfection existing in the hearts and minds of our citizens. It is a profound reflection of the consciousness of time, beauty and the art of our collective humanity. So powerful is the essence of our nation that it is greater even than our imperfect definitions of ethnicity, language and creed. It is not our provinces, territories or fragments that make us great; it is our oneness that makes Canada the greatest nation on earth.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the motion that the Prime Minister has put before us reads as follows:

That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.

Before voting on a text that some of our fellow citizens believe will be of great significance, we have a duty to tell them clearly what that text means.

In French, according to Le Petit Robert, “nation” has at least three meanings.

First, there is the ethnic sense of the word:

Group of men presumed to have a common origin.

Second, there is the state sense of the word:

Group of people constituting a political unit, established in a defined territory..., and personified by a sovereign authority.

Third, there is the sociological sense of the word:

Group of people, generally large, characterized by awareness of its unity and a desire to live together.

The sociological sense of the word “nation” is also found in Webster's Dictionary.

In the first sense, the ethnic sense, Quebec and Canada are not nations, but French-Canadians are a nation, one that is concentrated primarily in Quebec but is present everywhere in Canada.

There are several other groups of people in our country that can also be considered to be nations in ethnic terms. I would therefore vote in favour of a motion that said: In Canada, including in the province of Quebec, there are several nations in the ethnic sense of the word.

In the second sense of the word “nation”, the state sense, the only sense that confers legal existence in international law, Canada and Canada alone is a nation. I would therefore vote for a motion that said: Canada forms a single nation which holds a seat at the United Nations.

In the third sense of the word “nation”, the sociological sense, we, the Québécois, are a nation, because we form a large group within Canada—nearly a quarter of the population—and we have an awareness of our unity and a desire to live together. In that sense, it is correct to say that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. I will therefore vote for the motion that is before us.

However, I add that the entire Canadian population is also a nation in the sociological sense of the term. As Canadians, we have the sense of our unity and the will to live together, and there is nothing that prevents the same individual to be part of different nations in the sociological sense of the term.

So I say, in this House, that I am a proud member of the Quebec nation and a proud member of the Canadian nation. I say that these identities are cumulative and indivisible, and that I will fight with every resource that democracy gives me against anyone who wants to make me choose between these two wonderful identities: Québécois and Canadian.

I know all too well the game that the independentist leaders want to play. They want to persuade us that we cannot be part of the Canadian nation because we, the Québécois, form a nation. In other words, they want to shift from the sociological to the state sense of the word “nation”: from the “community” sense to the “country” sense. As usual, they want to conflate the meaning of words in order to sow confusion in people’s minds.

Well, as usual, my country and my 33 million fellow citizens can count on me to counter confusion with clarity. I know all too well that in the politics pursued by some people, there is little regard for dictionary definitions.

Facing this motion, two quotations come to mind.

The first one is from the great Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran, who said, “Pity the nation divided into fragment, each fragment deeming itself a nation”. This is why members of the Bloc will vote for the motion. They hope it will help them to fragment Canada.

However, there is another interpretation of the motion, which is not only in accordance with the definition of the dictionary but also noble and generous. It comes from José Carreras, who said, “Cuanto más catalán me dejan ser, más espanol me siento”.

In other words, in proclaiming my identity as a proud Quebecker today, I am proclaiming my identity as a proud Canadian. Let us work together to ensure that this noble and generous interpretation of the motion that we will vote on today will prevail.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has given us thoughtful input into this very important question. Very often as people have spoken, they have looked to definitions. It is clear that when we look at definitions we can find a definition to suit our purpose. We are not surprised at that, but the motion before the House is a qualified definition. It states “nation within a united Canada”. That, to me, does not seem to have too many alternatives other than to say a nation in not a unified Canada. That would be the only difference.

I want to ask the member about how he feels since the Bloc leader has decided to support the resolution before the House with a view to using it to his advantage. Could the member please explain how the statement “a nation within a unified Canada” precludes a reasoned debate on the basis that the Bloc leader has suggested?

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the answer is that it does not preclude anything. This motion will not solve the problem of unity, and we need to make sure that it will not see the unity of Canada deteriorate. That is why I am saying that I will be in this debate to put clarity into the debate. Because what the Bloc, the PQ and Mr. Landry want to say is that since we Quebeckers are a nation, we cannot be the province of another nation. They want to switch from the community meaning to a statehood meaning. We will need to fight that.

But I urge everyone who is committed to Canada not to give so much importance to this kind of motion. I do not think it is the best way to promote our country. It is not what I want to do, but since this motion is facing me today, I am telling members that I will do my best to make sure that it will be the José Carreras interpretation that will prevail, that because we Quebeckers are Canadian, we are more Quebecker, that this Canadian identity is part of us. If we remove this Canadian identity from us, we will not be such strong Quebeckers as we are today.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Barry Devolin Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the member. I know that he is very experienced in these matters. I have a question for him. Today it is reported that a very high profile member of his party, given the chance, would vote against this motion today. He is a federalist. I am wondering if the member could explain to the House what rationale people might have for voting against this motion when they say they are strong federalists themselves.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member will accept that we should not hammer each other when we have a disagreement on this, because we all agree on what is basic in this, which is, for those who are Quebeckers, that we are proud to be Quebeckers and Canadians, and that other Canadians are proud to have Quebec as part of their country.

As for those of us who have a difficulty with this motion, except for my Bloquiste colleagues, all the others love Quebec. This is not the problem. The problem is with the word “nation”. I would say that technically speaking the motion is accurate and I will vote for it, but I would invite everyone not to have too much hope for the effectiveness of this kind of strategy to keep our unity together.

Symbolic politics is something that we Canadians need to handle better, but the necessity to keep our country together will come when we are able to say, all of us, without playing games between each other, that there is nothing that justifies separation in Canada. If we are able to say so, then let the separatist leaders show that we are wrong. Let them try to find the compelling reasons that may convince people to do something as sad and as radical as to change fellow citizens into foreigners.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, it is with pride and emotion that I speak today to acknowledge the historic motion that the Prime Minister tabled in this House last Wednesday.

November 22, 2006, is a day that will be indelibly marked in my memory and that of Quebeckers.

I am from the Beauce region of Quebec, and I was touched by the Prime Minister's comments. By acknowledging that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada, he has shown, once again, that he is a great Prime Minister, one of the greatest prime ministers Canada has ever known. Our party has always been at the centre of the great moments and great challenges that have marked the history of this country. Last week was no exception.

It took the members of the Bloc Québécois three long days to finally see the light and support our motion. What an about face! Last Wednesday, as hon. members know, the leader of the Bloc Québécois expressed outrage in this House and harshly criticized our motion recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation. I listened to him very carefully and I had a hard time understanding his point of view. I do not think I was the only one in the House who felt that way at the time. I wondered: how can he be against the idea of the government recognizing something so obvious? How can he be against this recognition he has been calling for loud and clear for so many years? I was thinking that several of his colleagues must disagree with him, but no, I was wrong: all the members of the Bloc Québécois gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech last week.

I was stunned, and even more so the next day when I heard the House leader of the Bloc Québécois talking about a black afternoon. According to the comments by the House leader of the Bloc, it seemed that this motion was the worst thing that could happen to Quebec. However, it seems that on Friday, the leader of the Bloc Québécois received some telephone calls, perhaps from André Boisclair and even Bernard Landry, and this made him change his mind since even in sovereignist circles, some had to admit this was a step in the right direction.

Now all Canadians can celebrate the Bloc's decision to support the Prime Minister's motion to recognize Quebec's historic role within Canada and strengthen Canadian unity. We can only hope that the Bloc, which changed its mind on this issue three times in three days, will continue to support it until the vote.

Our motion is important for all Canadians because it is a gesture of reconciliation. It is important to recognize that Quebeckers have succeeded in preserving their unique language and culture while remaining part of the Canadian federation.

Our government truly believes that Quebec society will have better opportunities for development, progress, prosperity and reaching its full potential as part of the Canadian federation than as the independent Quebec advocated by the Bloc Québécois, the hypothetical benefits of which are merely unfounded speculation.

Quebeckers know who they are. They know that they helped found Canada and helped build the great country it is today. They know that they have protected their language and culture while promoting their values and interests within Canada. They know that they can be both Canadians and Quebeckers, that they can be proud Quebeckers and proud Canadians, and that they do not have to choose between the two, as the Bloc would have them do.

Since becoming Canada's new government, we have advocated open federalism, and that has brought about concrete results for both Quebec and Canada. We have invited Quebec to participate actively in UNESCO debates and we respect provincial jurisdiction. We have also brought about many changes. We promised to fight corruption. We have done that by introducing the accountability act, which will restore the atmosphere of trust that is so vital between the people and their government.

We promised to put in place a real national child care program, and we have done so. Parents are receiving a cheque for $100 a month for every child six years of age or younger. We promised to gradually reduce the GST, and we have kept that promise. We have reduced the tax burden on Canadians, and we will continue to do so. We promised to settle the softwood lumber dispute, and we have done so. That is what Quebeckers want. They want action, they want a government that respects the Constitution and honours its commitments.

This motion, which was proposed by our government, shows once again that it is the Conservatives who best defend Quebec's interests, not the Bloc Québécois. And we are achieving these results with just 10 members from Quebec. Just think of what we could do if we had far more.

The Bloc members have decided to support a motion that strengthens Canadian unity. The Bloc no longer has any purpose in Ottawa. I repeat, the Bloc has decided to support a motion that strengthens Canadian unity, and it therefore no longer has any purpose in Ottawa. My honourable colleagues opposite, who advocate Quebec's separation, should follow the example of their former colleagues, who decided to get jobs in the National Assembly. They are totally useless here, in Ottawa, in this House. It is the federalists who recognized that Quebeckers form a nation, and the Bloc members had to follow our lead.

In nearly a decade and a half in Ottawa, the Bloc has never achieved anything tangible for Quebeckers. The Bloc members are wasting their time in Ottawa. They are hampering the development of Quebec society.

For nearly 30 years, the Parti Québécois and its allies, the Bloc Québécois, have been trying to convince Quebeckers to become a nation separate from Canada. Quebeckers rejected this option during two referendums. Why? Because they are proud of their historic role in this country's development. The federalist forces, led by the Prime Minister, are taking action in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois, on the other hand, is pulling back. It has not made any concrete decisions that would have any real consequences for Quebec. It will never be able to make any such decisions, since it will always been confined to the opposition benches.

During its last convention in Quebec City, the Bloc said that its mission was to introduce new ideas. That is not what Quebeckers want. Quebeckers want real results, concrete results. They want their federal representatives to take concrete action, not just spout rhetoric.

As the Prime Minister said in his famous speech in Quebec during the last election campaign, he wants to build a strong Quebec within a better Canada. The motion he moved in this House last week aims to do just that. It will help to strengthen Canadian unity and Quebec can only gain from this. The time for bickering is over. It is time to look forward and build a strong economy. It is time to overcome the challenges before us. Federalism has much to offer for Quebeckers.

Quebeckers, just like the citizens of the other provinces, reap considerable benefits from this type of government. By creating a unified market, federalism allows greater movement of goods and services, labour and capital. This market has allowed all regions of Canada, including Quebec, to specialize in areas in which they most excel and to do business in world markets. Federalism gives us a common currency, which facilitates trading and the circulation of capital. It helps ease economic shocks, thus ensuring greater economic stability for all Canadians thanks to risk sharing, regional transfers and the pooling of this country's riches. It gives less fortunate regions a higher quality of life, and better health care and education services than they could otherwise enjoy.

Our federalism improves our ability to negotiate with other countries. We are not alone against the rest of the world. Together, we form a strong, united Canada.

The size of our market is such that we have considerable economic power and bargaining power on an international level. Canada is a member of the G-7, an influential member of the World Trade Organization and plays a key role within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD. Canada has an important place on the world stage. It is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, the Organization of American States and NATO. Geographically, Canada is open to three of the world's most significant economic markets, namely Europe, the Americas and Asia.

The advantages Quebec draws from Canadian federalism are also political in nature. Canadian federalism is a form of government that takes into account differences by fostering cooperation and compromise. Canadian federalism was not imposed on Quebeckers. They have been instrumental in its creation and development. Its key advantages are its flexibility, its vibrancy, its pluralism, its emphasis on diversity and its adaptability to modern challenges. Federalism is not rigid. It divides up the political jurisdictions in a way that responds to the common needs of the public, while taking individual situations into account.

Quebec controls a number of jurisdictions, including natural resources, education and so forth. It has its own Civil Code, which makes its legal system unique in North America. It has its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms and it collects its own taxes. Canadian federalism is constantly proving its effectiveness. As I was saying earlier, the primary reason is that Canadian federalism adapts to change and to the major issues affecting this world. Federalism allows countries like Canada to redefine intergovernmental relations as they develop. Canadian federalism has demonstrated that it can be innovative and respond to the legitimate interests of Quebec within our constitutional framework.

For example, since the 1960s, a series of agreements between the federal government and the Government of Quebec have allowed the province to extend its activities into jurisdictions traditionally held by the federal government. As hon. members know, in immigration, Quebec selects its immigrants and has its own integration programs. In foreign affairs, the federal government has developed a series of mechanisms in order to integrate the interests of Quebec and allow it to take part directly in international activities. The summit of la Francophonie and, more recently, the announcement of Quebec's new role within the Canadian delegation to UNESCO are good examples of this.

Quebec enters directly into agreements with France and Belgium, and is a member of several international Francophonie organizations, as I stated earlier. It opens offices abroad to promote its interests in various areas. In short, federalism is advantageous for Quebeckers and for the rest of Canadians.

In closing, I would like to thank all the members of the national caucus of our party, the Conservative Party, for unanimously supporting this motion and hence recognizing the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada. I know that it may be somewhat difficult for some of my colleagues to understand what this recognition means to Quebeckers. I would like to thank my colleagues opposite, the Liberal members, and all the federalists in this House who unanimously supported this motion, both my Liberal and my NDP colleagues. Last week, it was very moving to listen to the speeches of the interim leader of the Liberal Party as well as of the leader of the NDP. I was filled with emotion and pleased to see that this Chamber and this government have the support of my federalist colleagues in the House. That is why I said earlier that we made history in the House last week.

I know that it may be somewhat difficult for some of my colleagues to understand what this recognition means to Quebeckers. As I mentioned, I would like to reassure them. With this gesture, my colleagues who represent the other provinces of Canada have contributed to strengthening the ties that unite us and reinforcing Canadian unity. This is a stand that we should all salute and I am very proud to be a member in this House in order to vote in favour of this motion.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Jean Lapierre Liberal Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister’s speech was interesting. There was a slight partisan side to it that I can forgive today but I noticed that he spoke of a motion that is really symbolic, that it is perhaps an opening gesture and probably an olive branch towards Quebeckers. However, his remarks did not go any farther.

I hope that the member and the minister do not take it for granted that with this motion the work is finished. Reconciliation with Quebeckers and Quebec’s acceptance of the Constitution will require a great deal more work. In my opinion, we are taking a small step today. It is nice, but it is symbolic.

The minister did not talk to us about spending power; for example. I would have liked to have heard him discuss that. Does his government intend to take some action in that area? The minister did not talk about the fiscal imbalance.

Those subjects belong at the top of the agenda because beyond the symbol, there is a reality. I know that our fellow citizens have expectations concerning these subjects. One day, I hope we can be here together to celebrate the final and total acceptance by Quebec of our constitutional laws.

I would be glad if the minister could give some details of his thoughts beyond today’s resolution.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Maxime Bernier Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his remarks.

Yes, it is true. It is a small step; but it is small step in the right direction.

I want to make it clear that the clarification of spending power is a commitment of our government that the Prime Minister formally stated in Quebec City December 19, 2005. It is an important issue for Quebeckers and for Canadians. I can assure my colleague opposite that we are working with all the provinces to ensure that at last the Canadian Constitution can make progress, and in the direction that all the provinces want.

Concerning the fiscal imbalance; that is a very good question. That is another commitment we made in Quebec City on December 19, 2005, and we repeated that commitment to deal with the fiscal imbalance in the last budget.

I know that on December 15 my hon. colleague, the Minister of Finance, will meet with his provincial counterparts to discuss the correction of the fiscal imbalance. Like my hon. colleague, I hope that can be settled as quickly as possible. We are a government that respects its commitments and we will act accordingly.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not disagree with most of the minister's remarks; in fact, I find I can associate myself with them to a large degree. I would like to ask him, though, about one issue that has come to our attention in recent days.

Technical difficulties make it impossible to amend the motion. However, given that the first Europeans to come to North America made contact with what they reported to be nations of indigenous people, would he agree if it were possible to amend this motion that we could and should in the context of this debate and the vote also recognize first nations aboriginal people in the same vein as we recognize the Québécois form a nation in this country?

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Maxime Bernier Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would simply say that the first nations are in the Constitution.

What we are debating right now is only Quebeckers as a nation and not Quebec as a nation. There is a big difference. I hope my colleague is going to vote with us on that, considering that the first nations have their recognition in the Constitution.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke is adjacent to the province of Quebec. They are separated only by the Ottawa River but very much are connected to one another.

The area of Allumette Island was largely settled by Irish immigrants and therefore its residents are mainly English speaking. Many of the residents work and attend school on the Ontario side of the river. Indeed, prior to the election of the current Minister of Transport, many attended my office for assistance on constituency matters. They are asking what this motion means to anglophones. How is it going to affect their day to day lives?

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Maxime Bernier Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will not change their day to day lives. It is a recognition that the Quebeckers form a nation, that Quebeckers are a nation within Canada.

I was in Calgary this weekend. I spoke with some of my colleagues from Calgary and Canadians from Alberta. They had that kind of concern. I can reassure people across the country and my colleagues across the floor that it will not change anything in their day to day lives.

What we are doing right now was not my first choice. My first choice is that Quebeckers know who they are and they do not need us to tell them who they are. But the Bloc Québécois brought this issue to the House and we had to respond. What we have brought forward is the right response. The most important thing in the motion is that Quebeckers are a nation within Canada. We will not give to Quebeckers more powers or other jurisdictions to the province of Quebec. We will respect our Constitution. That is why it is very simple for us as Quebeckers and for our colleagues to vote in favour of the motion.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, when the Bloc motion was initially debated, the leader of the Bloc said that the motion being proposed by the Conservatives in adding the phrase “within a united Canada” was a partisan condition. My view is that the addition of “within a united Canada” reflects a fact, a reality. I wonder if the minister would like to comment on whether he considers that addition to be a partisan condition.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Maxime Bernier Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, no it is not partisan. It is a reality. Quebeckers are proud to be Canadian and are proud to be Quebeckers also. It is only the reality.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario


Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, we have watched the Bloc take three different and contradictory positions. Bloc members first said they defend provincial jurisdictions, but at the same time, they gave Ottawa the power to define what Quebeckers are and to determine whether they form a nation. They gave this House that power. We therefore moved a motion to define Quebec as a nation, which upset the Bloc. It was against recognizing Quebec as a nation and was going to vote against this motion. However, the next day, it changed its tune again—for the third time—and said that it would vote in favour of defining Quebec as a nation and for a united Canada.

We now see that the Bloc has completely lost its raison d'être. It is completely pointless.

Can the minister tell us why Quebeckers should keep this party alive? Why should the Bloc Québécois exist?

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Maxime Bernier Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that, as time goes on, the Bloc Québécois is proving more and more that its presence in this House is completely pointless. Bloc members cannot achieve any real results for all Quebeckers. With some ten Conservative members, we have done so much for Quebec, which the Bloc Québécois will never be able to do because, as we all know, it is doomed to forever remain an opposition party.

I think my fellow Quebeckers realize all this and, during the next election, they will make up their minds.

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1:20 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to join with my colleagues in support of the motion presented by the Conservative government. This is a historic occasion for our country. It is a time for all of us to reflect on who we are and to express our dreams for this country. In this context, the NDP supports the motion that recognizes the Québécois people as a nation within a united Canada.

For clarification purposes, I want to also indicate that the NDP will be opposing the original motion presented by the Bloc Québécois which very simply suggested that the Quebec people form a nation. Given all of the developments over the last few days, it is important to explain exactly why we feel this way and what is important about this occasion.

When this issue erupted on November 22, at first we felt considerable joy that there was this unity in the House over a longstanding matter that had to be resolved, that being the question of how to recognize Quebec within the federalist family within Canada. That soon turned into a heated debate between politicians, through the media, and among premiers and other leaders in this country.

I am not sure the debate filtered too far down into our community level, but it certainly took on a whole new dimension, especially when the Prime Minister, over the course of this weekend, chose to start muttering out loud about further developments on the constitutional front. He suggested that he was prepared to look at opening up the Constitution to address spending powers. Canadians suddenly started feeling a sense of déjà vu.

We have had Meech; we have had Charlottetown. We have had numerous other federal-provincial meetings and discussions, and heated debates. And here we go again with another attempt to open the door, so that this country could actually start to lose its unity of purpose because the hidden agenda is one of ceding federal powers to the provinces. This debate has taken on a whole new set of values and a heck of a lot of interest on the part of Canadians because they truly are wondering what this means in real terms.

I want to start by saying what it means to New Democrats and what it does not mean to New Democrats. I want to ensure that the House knows how we address the questions of our aboriginal people in the context of this motion and how we celebrate the ethnocultural diversity of this land given this motion.

The unease and concern of Canadians has to do with definition. For me and for some folks who have worked and talked, and thought about the issue of the unique status and the distinct nature of Quebec society, it might be clear. We therefore have little trouble putting down on paper that we see the Québécois people as a nation within Canada. For us it is a description that defines a people. It reflects a history. It is imbued with all kinds of meanings and values. It is important.

It is important for people like me to stand and say it is long overdue that we resolve this historical impasse and that we come to some resolution that will not open the door further to any thought of devolving federal powers or opening the door to the Québécois people to separate. That is what we must be absolutely sure about today.

We in the NDP support this motion on the basis of recognizing the role, the culture, and the people of Quebec throughout our history. We have done this since our party began. Whether we are talking about Stanley Knowles, who was a member of Parliament from my area for many years, or David Orlikow, who also was part of this place for 25 years, or going back to David Lewis and Tommy Douglas. Our leaders, our politicians, and our representatives have always tried to recognize that which is unique about Quebec and to stand proud in describing our country in those terms.

More recently, we have grappled with this notion in the context of federalism and how we define federalism while recognizing that status of Quebec. We as a country have debated that and we have come to recognize that asymmetrical federalism is probably a doable approach, that it can in fact lead to that which we all desire, which is a united Canada that recognizes the uniqueness of Quebec.

Under no circumstances have we, at any point, intended that to mean the debate is wide open for further diminishment of our federal government in the nation state, or for further encouragement to the Québécois people to consider separation or sovereignty. No, our debates have been on how to ensure a united Canada, how we can accommodate the demands and the place of history in this country without putting us on a path of losing something which is absolutely important. We come today to say that we support this notion that Quebec people constitute a nation within this country.

The NDP has long supported appropriate recognition of Quebec's national character. We know, and it is important to say so with respect to the Bloc motion, that the Bloc is playing political games. In our opinion, that is the case. The New Democratic Party will not play these games.

Since this discussion evolved on Wednesday, we have seen and heard statements from both the leader of the Bloc and the leader of the PQ suggesting that this was just the beginning. They began to put a spin on the debate that this was the wedge, the lever by which the forces for sovereignty and separatism would be able to gain further support and make inroads in this direction.

It became pretty clear in the course of the last couple of days that in fact we were part of this bidding war. There was an attempt on the part of forces to actually distort the concept that was part of the resolution, when we talk about Quebeckers being a nation within a united Canada, or just dealing with it on its own, Quebeckers forming a nation.

The members of the Bloc and the leader of the Parti Québécois are only interested in the sovereignty agenda. We have decided to reconsider our position on their motion.

We support the present motion because we are recognizing the historical fact that Quebeckers form a nation and we have done so for decades.

We are a proud federalist party. We have worked over the decades to find a solution to this fundamental question: what constitutes a united Canada and how do we recognize the unique nature of Quebec?

We do not for one second consider the nation state as divisible or an entity that can be weakened gradually over a period of time by changing the powers and looking at the question of the role of the federal government. Nor for a second do we accept any wording, any notion, any rhetoric, any policies, or any programs that will take us down the path to a separate Quebec, to a Quebec as a sovereign nation, because we consider ourselves as part of a great nation. We will fight to the end to ensure that Quebec never has reason to leave this country.

That does not mean we disregard the notion of self-determination and the right of the Quebec people to have a say in their future. Obviously, that is all tied up in this debate, but we have a role as federalists, we have a role as parliamentarians to ensure we have addressed all those questions and concerns. We have a role to ensure that we have taken away the debate, the arguments, the excuses, and the raison d'être to even consider a separate nation for Quebeckers. It seems to us that is what is fundamental here, why we support this debate and this motion, and why we cannot now support what the Bloc is proposing.

The objective of the Bloc and the Parti Québécois is clear: they want to see Quebec leave the great Canadian family. We will oppose this option.

We believe that ordinary Quebeckers will be better off staying in Canada. That is why we believe that despite our differences as federalists, we have to work together to create winning conditions for Canada and Quebec.

That explains why we support the motion, but we also understand what this debate is not even tapping into and that is our identity as a country. We are talking a lot about the identity of Québécois and Québécoises, but what does that leave in terms of this country? Part of this task rests in terms of identifying the original peoples.

Today we actually should have been amending this motion to reflect what first nations want, but we could not. We could not because the Liberals brought forward a deleterious motion and cut off all further amendments. We should be doing what the Assembly of First Nations has requested, which is to amend this motion with respect to ensuring that it in no way derogates from, diminishes or modifies “the unique status and rights of First Nations and their unique place in the past, present and future of this land”.

That would clarify, would it not? That would ensure that through this process we were not leaving any impression that we were diminishing the significance of the people who were originally here, notwithstanding the fact of the founding nations later on who came to develop this country, the French and the English, and not to even touch on the waves and waves of immigrants who came to this country to build this country and to create a great future.

Let us be clear, I say, that when we support this motion we in no way apologize for the ethnocultural diversity of this great land. Instead, we celebrate it. Let us be clear that when we look at this whole complex issue we stand in the context of our recognition for Quebec saying that we celebrate Canada as a diverse nation, as a model to the world.

How many people have actually described this country as the window on the world? Others have said that we are the world in one nation. Those are beautiful sentiments reflecting a beautiful notion about this country, sentiments that we have to celebrate and stand up and say on a day like today.

The biggest worry the NDP has about this whole debate is that in fact it might be used as a way for the federal government to open the door wider, to devolve powers from the federal government, to review the spending powers under the Constitution and in fact weaken our nation-state.

It is certainly a legitimate concern after listening to what the Prime Minister had to say over the weekend when he talked about limiting federal spending powers in exclusive areas of provincial jurisdiction and when he talked opening up the Constitution, which requires two-thirds of the provinces and territories and half the population. There is every reason to be concerned.

So while we stand today in support of this motion, we do not for one second give any legitimacy, credence, credibility or validity to an agenda that the Conservatives may have to use this as an opening to slip in changes to the Constitution that would weaken our nation-state and change the very nature of federalism.

We only have to look to last week, when the Minister of Finance gave us his economic update. In his document entitled “Advantage Canada”, he states:

To this end, the Government is committed to:

--Limiting the use of the federal spending power.

It is a fairly upfront, open agenda. We only have to look back to the federal budget address of May 2, 2006, when in fact the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance reflected on the issue of federal spending power.

The 2006 budget stated that initiatives may “have expanded the use of the federal spending power” and were “launched in areas of provincial responsibility” and:

Concerns have been raised that these initiatives have often imposed new conditions and cost pressures on provincial and territorial governments.

It is interesting to note that the government then used that as a legitimate argument for not advancing a national child care or early childhood development plan. It used that to argue why the federal government should not be involved in housing and homelessness issues. It used that, in fact, to explain why it should not be doing anything about literacy in this nation.

There are ominous signs on the horizon about which we must be very vigilant. We will not let the government take advantage in any way of unanimity and harmony in the House today around finally coming up with some wording that will address a longstanding historical unanswered issue.

Today we need to reflect on where we have come from and where we are going. I want to wrap up and say that we accept, as we have done throughout history, the notion of Quebec as a distinct society, and that, we believe, is reflected in this motion. We also recognize that there are many important influences in this country that have to be also acknowledged, whether they be aboriginal peoples or the many waves of immigrant populations who have come to develop this country.

We also recognize that hidden in this motion there in fact may be a power grab, as some have commented in the media, and that there may be a tendency on the part of the government to set the stage through this motion to open the door to a dismantling of this country.

We are left today with wanting to ensure that all members agree on the need to establish very clearly the unique identity of Canada, one that recognizes the uniqueness of Quebec as a nation within this country on a united basis but that also understands what has built this country and has contributed to our greatness: that is, those values of cooperation and compassion, the desire among Canadians to care about one another and to share wealth and resources, those values that actually led to the creation of medicare, the best health care program in the world, one that defines who we are as a nation, and those values that led to numerous programs that bind us together and ensure that no matter where we come from, whatever region we are from, whatever ethnic group we are part of, whatever language we speak, we are part of this nation, and we are one people, strong and united.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, in their discussions today, I noticed that a number of hon. members have been very careful to emphasize what they believe this motion is not about. I think that is a good thing to do when we deal with a motion that is as laconic in its language as this one is. It is necessary to make sure that no one understands us as having supported something for reasons that were in fact invalid and therefore imputes meanings to this motion that are not actually there.

I thought, therefore, that it was good and very valuable to hear the hon. member just a moment ago speaking about the things that she does not want to be understood as supporting when she votes for this motion. She is concerned about the government having an agenda to do a number of things to roll back the federal government's role in Canadian life.

I want to assure the hon. member that such is not the case. I think that is to some degree self-evident from the nature of the way in which this motion came forward after the Bloc Québécois had proposed another motion. This motion was introduced after that time.

I also want to be clear in indicating that my own support for this motion is based upon understanding it to have limited implications, on understanding it to be a reflection of a sociological fact and not to be understood as, for example, indicating that we are or I am supportive of some form of asymmetrical federalism, or for greater powers for one part of the country over another, or for having the kinds of implications that the distinct society clause had when it was introduced.

Some people here supported the distinct society clause back in the early 1990s. Others of us did not and campaigned against it. The distinct society clause had the implication that, among other things, the charter of rights would be interpreted in light of the fact that Quebec is a distinct society.

This motion, as I understand it, has no such meaning. The charter of rights and the Constitution apply equally. The equal status of the Canadian provinces is not changed. That is my understanding. My question for the hon. member is this: is this narrow reading of the motion also her understanding?

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we clarify what this motion is about. I want the motion to be about, and I believe it is, addressing a longstanding gap in our history's policy development process, which is a way to recognize the contribution and the qualities of the Quebec people and a way to meet their longstanding grievances in terms of being a part of this country.

The motion does not explicitly suggest anything more than that. Why I worry is that the ink was barely dry on this motion when the Prime Minister of our country came out publicly talking about opening up the Constitution and dealing with spending powers.

We know from past discussions that the Conservatives are very anxious to put limits on federal spending powers so that they do not have responsibility in many other important areas, which in my view does a complete disservice to what this nation is all about. We have a national health care act. We have medicare. We have the Canada Health Act because we got over this jurisdictional haggling and wrangling and said, “This is a shared responsibility that involves both leadership from the federal government and spending powers from the federal government in an area that is largely a provincial jurisdiction”.

We need to make sure that we continue this part of our history. We need to do it in areas of education like never before, because in fact the federal share of education has dropped to less than 10% and we are struggling to find a way to make sure that all students have access to education. We need to do it in areas of child care and early childhood education. In fact, if we do not work together on the needs of children at a very young age, we are cutting off our nose to spite our face.

I know what the Conservative agenda generally is. I know what the Prime Minister said coming out of the discussion about national unity last Wednesday. I am worried. I want it to be clear that while we support this motion we in no way give any legitimacy or validity to a Conservative notion of decentralization or dismantling this country and eroding our nation-state.

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1:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, during her speech the hon. member referred specifically to the motion and the full wording, including the reference to the phrase “within a united Canada”.

She also talked about some of the historical positions of her party from way back when. She said twice, or in two different ways, that, first, we support the national character of Quebec, and that, second, we have long supported that Quebeckers form a nation.

I am curious as to whether the member could advise the House whether in coming to those policy positions on behalf of her party there was the presumption that Canada was a united country. The way it was stated by the member in her statement would seem to be supportive of the initial Bloc motion.

As we know, and as I believe all hon. members who are federalist members here understand it, this is simply a question of the fact that there are those in this place who support a strong and united Canada and there are those who want to break up this country. I wonder if the member would like to clarify her statements.

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1:45 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my statement. In the course of a debate that is 20 minutes in length, one tries not to keep repeating oneself in terms of all the descriptions and adjectives.

A t the outset, I said we were supporting the motion that says, “the Québécois are a nation within a united Canada”, and that we rejected the Bloc motion which stopped short of saying “within a united Canada”. I want to elaborate for a moment. As part of our history, we have always fought for that recognition within a united Canada.

I want to refer very quickly to the statements we have made over the years. Back in 1999, we said that Quebec was a vibrant, distinct society. It is a result of many historical developments and it is one that we respect and reflect in our policies in the context of a dynamic, varied, multicultural society which recognizes the first nations as our founding peoples.

Again, in our statement at our last convention in Montreal, in what has now been described as the Sherbrooke declaration, we very clearly described the need for recognition of Quebec's unique status or definition as a nation within a united Canada, as long as we were fully cognizant of the fact that federalism itself was something that must be nurtured, developed and worked on time and time again or we would be in danger of losing the very essence of who we were as a nation.

I hope that has clarified for the member what we feel, and to be absolutely clear that we only look at this question within the context of a united Canada.

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1:50 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, very briefly, I thank my colleague from Winnipeg North for raising the issue of the first nations, brought to us over the weekend.

In the context of the debate, there has to be some kind of non-derogation recognition that what we do today will not derogate from or diminish in any way the status of first nations within the context of the Constitution or the debate.

Could the hon. member reinforce for us today how the first nations are recognized with this status within Canada and we, in this party at least, will not have anything to do with anything that derogates from that?