Madam Speaker, it will be difficult to follow my colleague from Saint-Jean because I found her to be very eloquent.
If, from the age of Saint Augustine to the modern period, the relationship between political and spiritual power was at the forefront, the challenges of the present era are of a different nature. The state must treat with equal respect all core beliefs and commitments compatible with the requirements of fair social cooperation. That is called inclusion. Moral and religious diversity is a structural and—as far as we can tell—permanent characteristic of our democratic societies.
It therefore seems to be consistent with these words to point out that state neutrality is ensured when it neither favours nor disfavours any religious conviction; in other words, when it respects every position with regard to religion, including the position of not having one, while taking into consideration, of course, the competing constitutional rights of the people involved.
Nova Scotia finally abandoned the daily prayer in October 2021, opting instead for a moment of solemn reflection. That is what the Bloc Québécois is proposing. It is good to be inclusive, and all three political parties in the Nova Scotia legislature, the Conservatives, the Liberals, and the NDP, were in favour of eliminating the prayer. I hope the same thing happens here at the federal level.
Is daily solemn prayer outside the role of the state? Does reciting a prayer come without any repercussions? Is it unworthy of the attention we are giving it today? Certainly not.
For example, when the Ontario legislature studied the issue of prayer in 2008, some 25,000 petitioners weighed in, and it was sent to an all-party commission for study. Even the Supreme Court of Canada was seized of the issue in 2015, so we are not completely off base in moving such a motion.
Simply put, does the prayer recited in this place reflect the beliefs of the population?
Far from promoting diversity, does this practice reflect a tendency to favour one particular religious tradition and give precedence to religious beliefs over non-religious ones? I think we can all agree that the prayer said here has a very strong Judeo-Christian leaning.
The Bloc Québécois believes that the best way to ensure state secularism is not to introduce as many different beliefs as possible, especially since there are so many. Instead, we believe that individual religious beliefs should be kept in the private realm and should not be on display within public institutions.
Between 2015 and 2019, my colleague moved a motion that the Conservatives and the Liberals voted against. In response, I gave interviews on the radio, and the Bloc Québécois's news release was widely reported in our local papers. Our constituents are very interested when this topic comes up.
Authors of an article who studied the more than 870 prayers read out in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia between 2003 and 2019 concluded that other legislatures would do well to adopt Quebec's approach to prayers. They said:
The prayers could be replaced with a time for silent reflection, similar to the practice in the Quebec National Assembly.
The most straightforward step would be to abolish the practice of legislative prayer completely.
We are being used as a model.
There is no question for Quebeckers and Canadians that elected officials are not chosen by a divine power but rather by a democratic process in which voters have their say.
The ideal of a free and democratic society requires the state to encourage everyone to participate in public life, because that is what democracy is all about.
Furthermore, in the process of recruiting and encouraging participation in active politics, all the parties represented here call upon citizens from all walks of life, and this clearly illustrates the progress made by society as a whole. This is very good.
The times have changed. Moreover, the Supreme Court ruled, in a unanimous judgment in favour of the Mouvement laïque québécois, that the “state's duty of religious neutrality results from an evolving interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion”. That is what the Supreme Court wrote.
What the Bloc Québécois finds strange is that Parliament, which presents itself as an institution that advocates for the preservation and promotion of multiculturalism in Canadian society, chooses to recite a prayer at the opening of each House sitting, and that it chooses a certain prayer rather than one from another religion. When it makes that choice, it does so at the expense of other religions or atheism. It fails to consider the rights of cultural minority religions and inclusion in Canadian society.
The Parliament of Canada is no place for proselytizing. No religious belief should be promoted in this place. We need this place to be a neutral public space, free of coercion, free of pressure and free of judgment. This is how, in matters of spirituality, we manage to protect everyone's freedom of religion and conscience.
A little further on in the same Supreme Court ruling, it states, and I quote, “the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard, which means that it must neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief.”
There are believers, but there are also non-believers. Notwithstanding what was just said, I also want to add that spirituality does exist, but it is specific to each individual. It is private. It should be experienced and expressed somewhat privately. That is what the Quebec National Assembly did in 1976. Every session begins with a moment of silent reflection. That is what the Bloc Québécois motion is proposing, nothing more and nothing less. It is a time to listen to one's conscience. It is an opportunity for members to collect their thoughts and harness their energy, to get in touch with their feelings about the challenges they face or to think about loved ones. It is personal.
I will now share a quote from Clément Richard, a former speaker of the Quebec National Assembly. On December 15, 1976, he confirmed the adoption of a new rule.
Out of respect for the members of this Assembly, who are not all necessarily of the same religious denomination, and out of respect for the Assembly, I have chosen to allow every member to pray as they see fit. During the moment of reflection, each member will have the opportunity to say a prayer to themselves, and it is out of respect for the Assembly that I have made this decision.
Our motion is quite simply about respect.
Spirituality is not a synonym for religion or even confession. The growing number of non‑believers in Canada could speak at length about that. The separation of church and state is a fundamental principle that cannot be ignored. Secularism is a system for organizing and ensuring equality among the principles of freedom of conscience, the separation of church and state, and equality among citizens. These principles are absolutely essential parts of democracy, and we must not forget that.