Madam Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to respond to the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, who is putting forward Motion No. 382.
The motion asks:
That a humble Address be presented to Her Excellency praying that, following the steps already taken by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, she will intercede with Her Majesty to cause the British Crown to recognize officially the wrongs done to the Acadian people in its name between 1755 and 1763.
I humbly suggest that this motion contains a major flaw. It has to do with Canada's sovereignty. Canada is no longer a colony and the wording of the motion is quite shocking for anyone who has some knowledge of constitutional law. I will explain.
In 1926, the Balfour Declaration set out that the dominions were equal in status and equal to Great Britain. Then, in 1931, the Statute of Westminster made Canada a sovereign state. The recognition of its sovereignty was finalized when, at the request of Canada, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Canada Act 1982.
Under this act, legislation passed by the British Parliament after the Canada Act 1982 is not part of the laws of Canada.
The member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes does not understand that. The constitutional status of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II and of the Governor General is not similar to that of the Queen of the United Kingdom.
The Governor General of Canada represents the Canadian Crown and not the United Kingdom Crown. It would be totally iappropriate for a representative of the Crown in right of Canada to make representations to another country's institution, the Crown of the United Kingdom.
If the Government of Canada were to intervene, the initiative should come from the federal cabinet. It is the government that could then ask the head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, as Queen of the United Kingdom, to take appropriate measures.
Consequently, Motion 382 is seriously flawed as to its form, which in itself would be sufficient to oppose it. But there are other reasons relating to the evolution of our country and the Acadian community that compel me to not support this motion.
The deportation of the Acadians is obviously one of the darkest chapters of our history. The Acadian people was made to suffer greatly. Our historians recognize that. They all recognize it. The former Governor General of Canada, His Excellency Roméo Leblanc, himself an Acadian, said:
If there is one group of Canadians whose past could have poisoned their future it is the Acadians. In the middle of the Eighteenth century they were wrenched from their homes and deported to distant shores.
Some managed to escape this deportation with the aid of friendly native people. But they were refugees in their own country, stripped of their land and their voting rights and then later, three years after Confederation, stripped of their schools. When it came to the Acadians, the Fathers of Confederation had nothing to say!But the Acadians did not give up. We survived.
Also, during the ceremony at the University of Moncton to present him with an honorary doctorate in May 1969, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau said:
Some two centuries ago, New Brunswick seemed destined to become an exclusively English-speaking province. After the deportation of the Acadians, there was nothing to suggest any other outcome. The Acadians, having been eliminated in one fell swoop...were simply swept off the map...But you reclaimed your place in the sun, and refused to let the bitterness and resentment of old quarrels and inequities linger on.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage also stated in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia:
Disturbing as it may be, the deportation has also shown the courage and determination of a community that wanted to survive against all odds. This is what contributes to the strength and success of the Acadian community today.
The Acadians are a people, and a people in tune with the modern world. They are a community with a sense of belonging. They are brothers and sisters by their language and their heart.
She made this speech when she announced the cooperation agreement between Parks Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Société de promotion de Grand-Pré to develop the Grand Pré tourist site.
What should our attitude be toward this failure of the past? Should we keep going over the deportation and all the suffering it entailed? Should we try to quantify all the suffering inflicted on the Acadians? Should we blame those responsible or simply take stock of what happened and learn from this experience? No apology could ever erase this tragedy, but we should focus our energies on our present and our future.
What disturbs me also is not only the message that is being sent, but also the messenger.
The hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, well meaning as he may be, belongs to a political party that promotes independence for Quebec. We cannot ignore the fact that his party wants to make an irreparable change in the Canadian political landscape.
Fortunately, we have so far been able to spare Acadians “le grand dérangement” that Quebec's independence, Quebec's separation from the rest of Canada, would have caused. But let us never forget, when we consider that my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois has a seat in this House, that his party is committed to a cause that is not about the survival of this country.
The separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada that the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes seeks would have resulted in the immeasurable tragedy of severing the physical links between Acadians and other residents of the Atlantic provinces and the rest of Canada. This is an indisputable fact, and all Acadians know it.
This reality cannot be wiped out. And even though the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes is well-intentioned today because he has discovered, among other things, that his family has Acadian roots and he now travels in Acadia, this does not take away from the message. He is the messenger of a party that does not believe in the cause of francophones outside Quebec, that does not believe in the cause of bilingualism in Canada and that would not hesitate to isolate Acadians if this would allow it to fulfill its dream of having Quebec achieve independence. Will we allow him to spend the rest of his political life bragging that he had this motion passed?
I invite the hon. member to consider his change in attitude toward French Canadians outside Quebec and the Acadians, a people we love and who are in tune with the modern world to paraphrase the Minister of National Heritage. I ask the hon. member to have the courage to admit that he has changed his mind about Quebec's independence, for the greater good of the Acadians he is now trying to help.
If the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes wants to honour Acadians and all other French Canadians with this gesture of respect and clearly state that his party must abandon plans for Quebec's independence, only then will I consider supporting him.
For the moment, I think that his actions are clearly inconsistent, and this must be pointed out, his personal qualities notwithstanding.
So, I anxiously await this statement from him. In the meantime, I want to add that Canadians are experts at managing tension between different groups. We have proven this in the past. It is by focusing on this ability that Canada will move forward, not by dwelling on past mistakes.