Madam Speaker, I want to begin by thanking my friend, the hon. member for Hamilton Centre for his work on this very important matter.
It was a revelation for me to discuss this bill within the New Democratic Party caucus. We are in favour of adding more seats for British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, but it is possible to achieve these increases without going against the unanimous recognition of the House whereby Quebeckers constitute a nation within Canada.
I find it interesting that the Conservative government is pushing the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills out to the forefront of this debate today. Indeed, that hon. member was rather famously against recognizing the nation of Quebec when he was a member of cabinet. He has never gone back on that stance. From this I gather that the Conservative government is again going to play petty partisan politics instead of considering that, in a country like Canada, a broader perspective might be required for dealing with these complex issues.
Let the government play petty politics. What we are trying to say is that if we want to be consistent about recognizing the nation of Quebec, then Quebec's political weight in the House must never be any lower than it is at present.
In its motion, the Bloc Québécois cites the 25% that was in the Charlottetown accord. Obviously, it would be overly ambitious to want more, especially since, as history reminds us, the Bloc Québécois fought tooth and nail against the Charlottetown accord. To attempt today to pluck the best element out of something they fought so hard is a little like asking to have their cake and eat it too.
I am very attentive when my colleague says that the Bloc Québécois is open to amending its proposal, and that it now considers that the proposal has been made, as was attempted previously, to change the 25% to 24.3%, which is the exact current percentage of Quebec’s seats here in the House of Commons. This is a slight but important difference, because they cannot have fought against the Charlottetown accord and now say they want it back again. On the other hand, and my colleague from Hamilton-Centre continues to insist on this date, it is the date of recognition of the Quebec nation that is now important to us, and therefore, if the political weight of Quebec ended up being reduced, that would prove the extent to which that recognition is hollow, empty and meaningless.
My colleague from the Bloc Québécois who spoke earlier said that Bill C-12 was an attempt to weaken Quebec. Allow me to express a slightly different opinion, in the following sense: I am not attributing unworthy motives, but simply making an observation of fact. Contrary to what seems to be the understanding of the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills, we are not in the United States here. It is true that our American neighbours have a very rigid approach to the idea of one person, one vote. Every time they get the data from their latest census, the lines are redrawn, and there are exactly the same number of voters in every electoral district.
This question was debated up to the Supreme Court of Canada, and in a decision most remarkable for its nuance and for the fact that it took account of the historical and geographic reality of Canada, it was agreed that, contrary to the American model, which allows no exception to one person, one vote, here in Canada it was necessary to recognize the existence, and this is the expression used by the Supreme Court, of different communities of interest.
This is a very interesting notion. It could be a community of interest which is regional, or geographic, or historical. What could be a more important community of interest in Canada than one of the two founding peoples? The only province with a French-speaking majority, Quebec, is now recognized here as a nation.
I respectfully submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that because its effect is to reduce the demographic weight of Quebec in the House of Commons, this bill is taking a wrong turn, and is a danger for all of those who, like me, have always fought to keep Quebec in Canada.
I would like to explain to the member from Wellington—Halton Hills that, unlike him, I did not spend my career on my sofa, watching the news on television, to find out what was happening in Quebec. I was there, experiencing it first-hand, in the trenches, during the 1980 referendum. I was a member of the Quebec National Assembly for nearly 15 years. I was there to defend Quebec's place in Canada in the 1995 referendum. I do not have any lessons to learn from the Conservatives on that. However, if there is one thing I have always known, it is that Quebeckers and their inclusion in Canada must never be taken for granted. In August 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that if Quebec obtained a clear answer to a clear question, it could separate. Personally, I always keep those words in mind.
Unlike the brilliant member for Wellington—Halton Hills, I understand that it is in our country's best interest to continue working to respect Quebec and its specificity, as well as its democratic weight in the House of Commons.
Let us look at the facts and what the Conservative government has done since recognizing Quebec. My hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst introduced a bill that would require that in the future, in order to be appointed to the Supreme Court, judges would have to have a sufficient grasp of the French language to understand the arguments being presented in French.
By sheer coincidence, I saw the chief justice yesterday evening. She recalled a time when she had to rein in a litigant. Perhaps “rein in” is too strong. She had to ask a litigant to speak more slowly in French, to accommodate one of the justices, who did not understand a word of it. The interpreters were having a hard time keeping up.
When a case is being argued before the Supreme Court of Canada, everything is regulated and timed to the last minute. Apparently, at present, when francophone lawyers are arguing cases before the Supreme Court, they have less time, because they have to speak more slowly. I have experienced this in a parliamentary committee. What is interesting is that I have never seen the Conservatives ask an anglophone to speak more slowly, but I have seen them ask francophones to slow down, so they can understand the translation. The 10 minutes allotted are therefore cut short when the witnesses are speaking in French.
Yesterday evening I saw a Conservative member of Parliament, the minister for the Quebec City region, receive the highest honour of the Ordre de la Pléiade from La Francophonie. Yet she voted against the requirement that Supreme Court judges understand a sufficient amount of French to be able to hear cases in that language. Everything else is always done in writing and they can have help.
These days, someone who is old enough to be appointed to the Supreme Court would have necessarily completed law school after the Official Languages Act was passed in 1968. That is a part of our national identity and character.
If the individual did not understand the importance of this institution well enough to see the need to learn enough French to be able to understand it in his work, that could be a good indication that this person is not right for the Supreme Court, because this individual will be called upon to defend the institutions. But we are living in a fantasy land if we want the Conservatives to respect Canadian institutions, our constitutional institutions, the institutions of our Parliament. They cheated with political party financing, which was unanimously confirmed by the Federal Court of Appeal. They were found in contempt of Parliament. Once again today, they are strategically leaking information that is supposedly—note that I said “supposedly”—in the budget. At 1 p.m. we will find out whether that is true. This also has to do with respect for the institutions, but they could not care less. That does not apply to them.
With respect to Bill 101 and education in French, we currently have a rather centralizing Supreme Court. It rendered a very tough judgment last year opening the doors to English school. I had moved a motion in this House to recognize that the children of anyone choosing to settle in Quebec—to immigrate to Quebec is a choice—must learn French first and foremost.
It would have been nice if the government had supported us when we wanted to extend to federally regulated businesses the guarantees provided in the Charter of the French Language since 1977. The NDP put forward a bill to provide that protection without undermining the Official Languages Act, but of course the Conservatives are publicly opposed to the idea.
Why on earth should a woman working for the Royal Bank in Montreal have fewer linguistic rights than a woman working for the Caisse Desjardins? Those are simple issues: the right to receive communications in French from one's employer; the right to receive one's collective agreement in French, and the right to work in French without being required to be fluent in another language, unless that is necessary to perform the tasks at hand. More specifically, if you work for a cell telephone company, which is a telecommunication business and is therefore governed by the Canada Labour Code, your employer, who is arriving from another province and who does not speak a word of French, can demand that you speak English when working with him. And that is the reality on the Quebec territory today, in 2011. The NDP put forward a bill dealing with this issue, but the Conservatives are opposed to it.
As for the federal spending power in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, the Conservatives were supposed to do something about it, and they have said so more than once in their Speech from the Throne. One big zero. As regards securities, the passport system is working well. The Autorité des marchés financiers in Quebec does a great job.
The Conservatives are centralizing everything. They fought all the way to the Supreme Court to have exclusive authority or jurisdiction in the area of competition. That is typical of the federal government. It fought all the way to the Supreme Court, and it won its case of course because that area came under its exclusive jurisdiction. The result is that we now have the Competition Act and the Competition Bureau.
Oddly, collusion is a subset of the Competition Act. That is rather strange. In all the collusion cases that have surfaced, there was a strong element that came strictly under federal jurisdiction. And what did the Conservatives do? Nothing. But now they want to go at it again: they want to fight all the way to the Supreme Court to gain another area of jurisdiction, which could eviscerate a critical sector of the economy, job creation and expertise in Montreal's financial community—to the benefit of other regions of Canada—and they claim that this is in our own best interests. We happen to disagree.
Similarly, they promised to reform the Senate. The hon. member for Hamilton Centre has suggestions about how to conduct consultations concerning the Senate and proportional representation in order to finally make changes. This year, we witnessed something that had not happened in the past 70 years: a bill was introduced by the leader of the New Democratic Party, duly adopted by the House of Commons, and defeated by the Senate, which was packed with the Conservative Party's friends. Some of them are now facing very serious charges that could have dire consequences. They are proud of that. Time after time, the Conservatives present the same defence.
I was again surprised last week when I watched them talking, as panel members, primarily on English television. The only defence they offered for the fact that they were spending tens of millions of dollars of public money in anticipation of a possible general election this spring, is that the Liberals did it before them, and they named the Liberal Party member who did it. In the minds of the Conservatives, two wrongs make a right. That is their moral standard; that is their logic.
When we analyzed this issue, we discovered that the Supreme Court had provided the theme of communities of interest. What can be more important in Canada for the largest linguistic minority—which must continually fight for its institutions, its language, its recognition and respect—than to ensure that, in the place where laws are made in the interest of all Canadians, Quebec does not lose its democratic weight?
It is always a revelation for us too, to learn that the Liberal Party, which loves to talk about openness toward Quebec, is in fact never there every time that something can be accomplished. When we presented our bill to extend the guarantees in Bill 101 to companies under federal jurisdiction, we saw the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine rise to veto it and say it was not a good idea. When we tried to talk about subjects that might be under provincial jurisdiction, like securities, the Liberals were always opposed. And here the same old reflex on the part of the Liberal Party of Canada, to vote systematically against Quebec, is going to play out today as well.
We can do both. We can give British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario the number of seats it is important to give them here in the House of Commons. But to be able to decode what is going on here today, we need only understand that we are in fact very possibly standing on the threshold of a federal general election. If this issue were of such great concern to the government, why the devil has it waited until the last second to put it forward? This is neither credible nor plausible. It is obviously a repeat performance of what we have seen in the past, trying to tick as many boxes as possible, the better to divide the country. This is the Prime Minister who, every time he comes to Quebec, puts hand on heart and swears that the Quebec nation is important, but who, every time he is faced with a concrete choice involving doing something real to give meaning to that recognition, cops out and sends his backbench puppets to tell the same tall tales, to vote against their own language.
I hear them talking about the judges of the Supreme Court, and it is unbelievable: they say we should not prevent a very good unilingual francophone lawyer from sitting on the Court. I have news for them. Never but never in the history of Canada has there been a judge of the Supreme Court who came from Quebec who did not understand English. That is not where the problem is. They are using that as justification.
In closing, the motion is proposed as a friendly one to the Bloc. It would change the 25%, which is more than the political weight at present, and set the proportion at 24.3% as of the date the Quebec nation was recognized. If it agrees, who knows, perhaps the Liberal Party will be able, for once, to do something concrete in recognition of the importance of Quebec here in this House. But you will forgive me if I do not hold my breath.