Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate, which serves to expand our reflections on the democratic institutions we need now and will need in the future. Everyone must recognize that there is currently a crisis in terms of traditional democratic representation, not only in Canada and Quebec, but also around the globe. This crisis in representative democracy is even more evident in Canada because of the continued existence of a completely archaic institution: the Senate.
The Bloc Québécois is not afraid of a debate on proportional representation. Everyone knows we do not have a definitive position on this, but we are very open to listening to all kinds of proposals. In a sovereign Quebec, we definitely would not have an archaic institution like the Senate. Perhaps we would have a proportional system or a house to represent the regions. It remains unknown. This allows me to take part in this debate with an open mind regarding the need to improve democratic institutions in all democratic countries.
The motion we are debating, moved by the member for Hamilton Centre, contains two elements. First of all, it talks about a referendum on the question of abolishing the Senate. Second, it proposes appointing a special committee for democratic improvement, whose mandate would be to engage with Canadians to determine what should replace the current system and to advise the government on the wording of a referendum question concerning abolition of the Senate.
We are comfortable with this motion, but on two conditions. The first is that the Senate be abolished only if voted on through a referendum and that, in Quebec, as was the case with Charlottetown in 1992, the referendum be held in accordance with Quebec's Referendum Act, which has already been used three times. This method of consulting the population has proven itself and should help avoid some of the pitfalls experienced in 1995, when the federal government decided not to respect the Referendum Act and made massive investments to support the forces on the no side.
In the debate among Quebeckers, the rules were followed and both the yes and no sides had equivalent means of expressing their points of view. I want to point out right now that we will support the NDP motion, but we must ensure that, in Quebec, the public is consulted in accordance with Quebec laws and regulations. We also agree with abolishing the Senate and with looking at a new voting system that would include elements of the proportional voting system. No other country but Israel has a truly proportional voting system. Most countries with such a voting system have elements of both representation based on ridings and representation based either on regions or on lists presented by political parties. There are a number of possible models. In Quebec during the time of René Lévesque, Robert Burns did some very important work that led to proposed reforms that, unfortunately, were never implemented.
With respect to the debate on a new form of representation in the House including elements of a proportional voting system, there is a set and established rule that Quebec's political weight cannot be less than its current political weight. That is not just one of Quebec's traditional demands. In the Charlottetown accord in 1992, all parties agreed that Quebec's representation within federal institutions should be at 25%. This is nothing new. We are opposed to Bill C-12, which would add 30 seats for the Canadian nation, because the representation of the Quebec nation within federal institutions—essentially this House of Commons—would be less than its current demographic and political weight, which is completely unacceptable for us.
The second condition is that, no matter which model is decided upon, as long as Quebeckers are part of the Canadian political landscape, their political weight within institutions, particularly the House of Commons and future political institutions—who knows, perhaps there might even be proposals to create a house of the regions—must remain as it is now, approximately 25%. That is the spirit as well the actual text of the amendment proposed by my colleague, the member for Québec, who is our democratic reform critic. We want to make it completely clear: the NDP motion will not be acceptable until it is modified by the amendment proposed by the member for Québec.
I would like to come back to the two major elements proposed by the member for Hamilton Centre. I will start with the abolition of the Senate. The Bloc Québécois has been calling for the abolition of the Senate for a very long time. The institution is completely archaic and dates to colonial times; it is a British legacy. High society has always distrusted the public. When the House of Commons was created, a counterbalance was thought to be necessary, as in London, consisting of representatives from society's elite to balance the decisions of those less thoughtful and rational than the elite. At that time, it was a question of the nobility and the upper classes. Now it is a question of Conservative organizers and friends of the regime. That is how it was with the Liberals, and that is how it is now with the Conservatives. It is an undemocratic counterbalance to the House, which is filled with democratically elected representatives of the people. It is completely archaic.
At the time, this fear of allowing the common people, the masses, to make decisions was reflected in American institutions as well. Tradition dictates that the electoral college votes according to the way the people in the various states have chosen their presidential electors. If, in the state of Massachusetts, for example, the majority of voters decide that the Democratic candidate should become president, then the presidential electors of that state will vote against the choice of the people of their state. However, there have been times when the presidential electors did not agree to vote for the candidate that had received the most support. That system was put in place after the American revolution, with the independence of the United States. It created a sort of second class. After the popular vote, there were these presidential electors who chose the president. This goes back to a time when the emerging democracy frightened the ruling elite.
The Canadian Senate is a legacy of that; it is a counterbalance. A few weeks ago, the Senate agreed to the decisions made by the House of Commons. Now, the Conservative-controlled Senate has decided to block bills adopted in the House by the majority of the members elected by the people. This is totally unacceptable. This only further proves the importance of getting rid of this archaic institution.
We have been in favour of abolishing the Senate for a very long time. However, let us not forget that the Senate is part of a constitutional agreement. We can certainly hold a consultative referendum on abolishing the Senate—and I hope the yes side wins—but there will have to be constitutional negotiations with Quebec and the provinces to determine how the Senate will be abolished and what will replace it.
The second element, a proportional voting system, or some of its aspects, will also require constitutional negotiations with Quebec and the provinces. Naturally, the special committee could make a certain number of recommendations and outline some options, but all decisions would require constitutional negotiations. As I have said from the beginning, we have one immutable condition: Quebec's political representation cannot be lowered, and Quebec must maintain its current political weight, at about 25%.
The House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation some time ago. Unfortunately, none of the federalist parties has wanted to implement measures to give tangible expression to this recognition. I introduced a bill on the application of the Charter of the French Language to the corporations and the 250,000 workers under federal jurisdiction in Quebec. We wanted Bill 101 to apply to these 250,000 workers. But once again, all the Liberals and Conservatives opposed this measure. The NDP was divided, but the majority of its members voted to not apply the Charter of the French Language to Quebec corporations under federal jurisdiction.
Although the Quebec nation has been recognized by the House, all federalist parties have always banded together to prevent this recognition from having a tangible expression. For me it is just a symbolic gesture. However, it will prove to be extremely useful when we win the referendum, which should happen soon with the election of the Parti Québécois in Quebec. Because Canada has recognized the Quebec nation, it will have no choice but to recognize Quebec's decision to embrace sovereignty. Although the recognition is symbolic, it is extremely important to Quebec and the sovereignist movement.
The federalist parties have not yet wanted to give tangible expression to the recognition of the Quebec nation. However, the political representation of Quebec regions in the House of Commons, and in any future institution, will have to be 25%. Although this does not appear in the motion, I am opening a door, I am engaging in fictional politics. The special committee could decide to establish a second chamber with different representation from, for example, the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairie provinces and British Columbia. We believe this is imperative and it must be even clearer because the House of Commons has recognized the Quebec nation.
This is an important debate. In my opinion, the Liberal member raised a very important issue. In the debates that were held in Quebec, we discussed at length the difference between members who would be elected on the basis of their ridings and those who would be elected on the basis of the lists suggested by the political parties. There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. What would be best is a combination of the systems in which proportional representation would be used but the regions and ridings would also have a say in the choice of members.
Personally, I see a problem in having some members be accountable to their constituents on the basis of their riding and others chosen on the basis of a party list. That is why I would prefer, particularly in a sovereign Quebec, that there be both proportional representation in the National Assembly and another chamber where the regions are represented to ensure that the voices of the smallest regions are not completely drowned out by the proportional representation. We could easily have a chamber with proportional representation, like the National Assembly, and another with more regional representation but still chosen via an electoral process. Such a system would ensure that representatives of that chamber would be linked to a region—in my case it would be the Lanaudière region—a little bit like in the American system.
I would like to close by saying that, for us, the best way to guarantee higher democratic standards in Quebec would be for Quebec to become a sovereign nation with full authority. That is our first priority. The Bloc Québécois has proven time and time again that it is not here to reform Canadian institutions or to prevent reform. However, we want it to be understood that our priority is certainly not to work toward the abolition of the Senate or toward a system of proportional representation across Canada but rather to work toward Quebec sovereignty.