Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-10, which would limit senators' terms to eight years. I am certain that in opposing this bill, the Bloc Québécois is like a goaltender, defending the interests and values of Quebec. I would even say we are the Halaks of this House.
To my way of thinking, the NDP member who just spoke is somewhat naive about the Conservative strategy. On its own, Bill C-10 may seem like a relatively minor change, but together with the bill currently before the Senate that would require that an election be held before a senator's name is placed on a list, it represents major changes in the nature of the Senate.
The position of the Government of Quebec, which was outlined by Benoît Pelletier when he was minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs, is that these changes require constitutional negotiations with the provinces and Quebec. The government cannot get around that.
I find it rather deplorable that the government thinks Bill C-10 is acceptable, when another bill concerning the Senate is currently being examined in the other place.
Then there is Bill C-12, which would marginalize Quebec's political influence. Together, these three bills call into question the 1867 Confederation agreement. This is fundamental, and I would even say this is major. If Bill C-10 and the two other bills I mentioned are passed, it would be a clear sign to the Quebec nation that it has no future within the Canadian federation, and that it might be time to step up and move towards sovereignty, in order to take full control over its future.
We cannot consider debating Bill C-10 without considering the bill that is before the Senate and Bill C-12, which we will probably be examining next week. We are therefore not in favour of this bill, because we want such changes to be the result of constitutional negotiations with the provinces and Quebec.
The Conservative government is trying to indirectly do what it cannot do directly by slowly bringing in its Senate reforms, in an attempt to turn it into a chamber that is more legitimate than it is right now. It wants to ensure not only that Quebec is even more marginalized in the House of Commons, but also that all senators from across Canada can speak in the Senate with much more political legitimacy. We will be oppose that fiercely. The former minister of Canadian intergovernmental affairs, Benoît Pelletier, was very clear in 2007. He appeared before the legislative committee to speak about Quebec's traditional position:
The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Regional Veto Act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.
That was in a press release issued by Quebec's Canadian intergovernmental affairs minister on November 7, 2007. It could not be more clear. Our position is that we want to abolish the Senate, and I believe that that was, until quite recently, the opinion of the NDP as well.
I remember that, seeing that his Senate reform would not get through, the Prime Minister started threatening the Liberals by saying that he would abolish the Senate. I do not know if he was also threatening the NDP. The problem is that if the Prime Minister wants to abolish the Senate, he will have to undertake constitutional negotiations with the provinces and Quebec.
Surely Quebec will want to ensure that in such an important reform of federal institutions, its relative political weight—and I am talking here about the 24.3%, not the 75 members—remains the same, regardless of the changes made to the Senate or to the number of seats in the House of Commons.
In fact, the same day, that is November 7, 2007, the National Assembly unanimously passed the following motion: “That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the Federal Government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.”
So it is not only sovereignist members who share this opinion, but federalist members from Quebec as well. Everybody in Quebec agrees that the change to the Senate, in fact both changes proposed by the Conservative government require constitutional negotiations despite the ruse employed by the Conservatives.
When the Conservatives realized that their first bill on public consultation to create a pool of candidates from which the Prime Minister would appoint senators would not get through because the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois were opposed to it, for completely different reasons, they decided to make a small change. The Liberals wanted the rights of their senators to be grandfathered. The NDP wanted the Senate abolished and was wondering why we should change in any way an institution that it wants to see abolished. As for us, we were adamant that such changes could not be made without constitutional negotiations. We will have the opportunity to discuss this further when the Senate is done studying this bill.
The Conservatives have made it optional. The provinces that do not wish to set up an electoral process to consult the people about who should be in the pool of potential senators will have to live with the current practice, partisan appointments by the Prime Minister.
They are attempting, through the back door, to apply pressure to implement a general practice that will become a constitutional convention. Subsequent prime ministers will appoint Senate candidates chosen by popular consultation. Why pick the second, third or fourth candidate when the first garnered the most votes?
We will end up with senators elected for a term of eight years. Perhaps the Conservatives will eventually introduce another bill to reduce the term to four years. It is very possible that in 10 or 15 years we will end up with two chambers, the House of Commons and the Senate, with elected members and elected senators. It would act as a counterweight to the presence of Quebec in the House, already under attack with Bill C-12.
We are not naive. The Conservatives' game plan is obvious and we will oppose Bills C-10 and C-12 with respect to the bill being studied by the Senate.
The Conservatives' game plan is clear because, for a long time, we have been hearing the Prime Minister promise his electoral base in the west that there will be a triple E Senate, one that will be equal, elected, and effective. That is the Conservatives' project. Given that their project is not going over well, they will resort to getting it in through the back door, as is their custom. They will do indirectly what they have been unable to do directly.
I will give another example to show that this is not the exception, but the rule. According to the Constitution, securities commissions are clearly the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. What is the Conservative government doing? It says it is putting in place a single pan-Canadian organization and telling dissenting provincial securities commissions that if they do not want its system, they can keep their own.
We know very well that, with a single securities regulator, there will be a great deal of pressure to integrate dissenting provincial commissions into this process. We are not naive.
Having said that, I am convinced that Quebec will fight until the last, until the moment it decides to become sovereign, because abandoning this important lever is out of the question.
What will happen to Alberta, which is opposed to this? I think we all agree that Alberta is not its own nation. It is part of the Canadian nation. Companies in Alberta would most likely prefer one commission instead of having to register twice, once in Alberta and once in Toronto to get a licence from the minister of finance. A single Canadian securities commission would slowly be built, even though the Constitution is very clear on this subject.
They are going about this indirectly because they cannot do it directly. As I said earlier, protecting our securities commission, from now on known as the Autorité des marchés financiers, is not the problem. We will maintain it no matter what, because when Quebec is a sovereign nation, we will need this type of authority to ensure that businesses have access to Quebec's financial market. We will make agreements, as is usually the case, with this Canadian securities commission if we have to, but we will maintain our own.
We will be following the debate in Canada closely. The federal Conservative government must not, and this is exactly what we are worried about, make registration with a single Canadian commission mandatory while registration with Québec's Autorité des marchés financiers would be optional. That would put an end to this financial authority. I can assure my colleagues that it would be a fierce battle and a constant fight and that we would win in the end, in any case.
We are wary of these bills because we know what the Conservatives are up to: they always try to do indirectly what they cannot do directly. But that is not all. There is also their pathological refusal to recognize the Quebec nation. They will say that the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation in November 2006. In reality, however, since then, every time we seek concrete expression of that recognition, the Conservatives totally and completely refuse, with the complicity of the Liberals most of the time and that of the NDP some of the time.
We understand that the interests of the Canadian nation are the main focus of most of the members in the House, and we do not hold that against them. However, they must also understand that the main focus of the Bloc Québécois members is defending the interests of the Quebec nation. It should be the same for all members from Quebec. Unfortunately, that is not the case. To repeat the comparison I made at the beginning of my speech for the benefit of my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, we are the Halaks of the House. In fact, Slovakia is a good example for us to follow.
As I was saying, the Conservatives have totally and completely refused to recognize the Quebec nation. We introduced a bill to ensure that the Charter of the French Language applies to enterprises under federal jurisdiction. This would include banks, interprovincial transportation, airports and telecommunication companies.
What was the response of most members of the House, representing the Canadian nation for the most part? They completely rejected it. I would point out that a few NDP members supported us, and I encourage them to continue on that path.
When we talk about Quebec culture, and again my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert can attest to this, we are constantly told that Quebec culture is a regional culture of the broader Canadian culture.
We do not have a problem with the broader Canadian culture. However, we think that Quebec culture is the culture of the nation of Quebec and not a regional culture. Nonetheless, we are denied that at every turn and the way the arts budget is divvied up is a good example. Another example is the film industry, which is viewed as two entities in Canada: English-language film and French-language film. In fact, there are two types of films: Canadian films with a French-language minority and Quebec films with an English-language minority. This means that Quebec gets penalized in Telefilm Canada's budgets.
Culturally speaking, the government is once again refusing to recognize the nation of Quebec in the way Quebec integrates new arrivals into society. We know this is a challenge faced by all countries that welcome immigrants, such as Canada, Quebec, the United States and Great Britain. We have developed a unique approach in Quebec. It is not an Anglo-Saxon multicultural approach, which Canada has borrowed from Great Britain. Nor is it a U.S.-style melting pot approach, which does not seem to be producing the results American society had hoped for. It is not the republic adopted in France. It is a model we call inter-culturalism, where new arrivals are invited to enrich the common culture. There is only one common culture, though: it is the culture of Quebec with one official language, one common public language, and that is French.
By promoting bilingualism and multiculturalism, the Canadian nation is taking aim directly at the recognition of the Quebec nation and, in a way, interferes with our development and the harmonious integration of newcomers.
As we can see, this is very widespread. As a further example, I could talk about telecommunications, where the same thing is happening. We are prevented from having our own Quebec radio-television and telecommunications commission. Legislation to that effect is currently under consideration. Overflowing with optimism, I trust that this legislation will eventually be passed, that those members from the Quebec nation and from Quebec who just did not get it will see the light and understand that this is a necessary tool to ensure the cultural and linguistic development of Quebec.
A bill will soon be put to a vote, but the last time, it was flatly rejected. It is very interesting to note that Quebec established its radio-television and telecommunications commission before Canada created its own commission. Let us hope this will meet with approval, but again, I am not too confident.
Last I will address the refusal to give tangible expression to the recognition of the Quebec nation in the so-called economic action plan of the Conservatives, where they systematically ignored the needs of Quebec with respect to industries and regions that needed and still need help. I am thinking, of course, of the forestry sector, but the same is true of the aviation industry. A great deal of assistance was provided to the automotive industry—$10 billion—and we had no objection because it did need a shot in the arm. Why is it, however, that when it comes to industries concentrated in Quebec, we have to rely on the marketplace?
Yesterday, during question period, the Minister of State for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec again said about the forestry crisis, the problems facing the pulp and paper industry, that the issue was just markets. As if the crisis in the automotive industry was not a market issue. If we saw fit to help the automotive industry, notwithstanding the market, we should also help the forestry industry and the aviation industry. On the one hand, Canadian interests are promoted and, on the other hand, the needs and interests of Quebeckers are ignored. That is something that is widespread.
Quebec is opposed to Bills C-10 and C-12 and to the bill that is currently being studied in the Senate. A motion regarding Bill C-12 was unanimously passed in the National Assembly last week. Quebec's government is a Liberal and therefore a federalist government. Its leader, Jean Charest, once sat in the House as a member of the Conservative Party. He was part of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform in 2007. In a memorandum from May 31, 2007 we read:
The Government of Quebec is not opposed to modernizing the Senate. [Obviously, that is the position of Quebec Liberals.] But if the aim is to alter the essential features of that institution, the only avenue is the initiation of a coordinated federal-provincial constitutional process that fully associates the constitutional players, one of them being Quebec, in the exercise of constituent authority.
On one hand, a piecemeal approach to reform is not acceptable. On the other hand, reform would require constitutional negotiations.
I will finish by quoting another excerpt from the Government of Quebec's report:
The Government of Quebec, with the unanimous support of the National Assembly, therefore requests the withdrawal of Bill C-43 [a bill proposing an elected Senate]. It also requests the suspension of proceedings on Bill S-4 [which became Bill C-19 and then Bill C-10 on Senate term limits, the bill before us now] so long as the federal government is planning to unilaterally transform the nature and role of the Senate.
My colleagues can rest assured that the Bloc Québécois will shoulder its responsibilities, just as we hope the Canadiens and Halak will do tonight.