Mr. Speaker, contrary to most members who have spoken previously, I am not pleased to participate in the debate today. I do so out of a sense of duty not to my party but to my country.
Today I will probably give the most difficult speech of my political career. I understand fully the predicament we have put the Speaker in with the so-called flag issue. I too feel caught between a rock and a hard place. My heart is torn apart.
On the one hand I would like to support the motion, as I have previously been adamant about my right to place a flag on my desk. On the other hand, because of the manner in which members of the Reform Party have conducted themselves on this issue, I cannot and I will not support the motion. I will try to explain why to the best of my ability.
Before getting to the heart of the matter, let me remind the House of the events that led to this dilemma. I feel that after doing so I will have managed to upset both the separatists and the Reformers. In any case, it is important to set the record straight.
The separatist member for Rimouski—Mitis made some comments at the Nagano Games that upset Canadian parliamentarians, and in fact all Canadians. We could not let her get away with this. We had to respond to the member and to proudly defend the use of the Canadian flag, and we did. We did so spontaneously and with pride.
The Chair ruled that the way we did it was against the rules. I respect the decision. However, I am warning separatists that whenever they attack our flag, I will be there to defend it.
I have a suggestion for the member for Rimouski—Mitis and all her separatist colleagues: if they are offended by the Canadian flag, if they cannot loyally represent Canada at international events, then they should stay here and leave that opportunity to other members who will represent our country with pride and dignity.
Let me now address the motion of the Reform Party. Let me say from the outset that I favour having a Canadian flag on my desk. Two weeks ago I would have supported such a motion. I hope that through the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs or through a private members' bill we will one day be able to do so. However, to bring such a motion today in light of the recent events is divisive, disruptive and plain low politicking.
It would be a lot easier for me to grandstand today and be the lone Liberal hero by supporting this motion. But when one is elected to the Canadian Parliament, one must not ask himself what is best for the party, one must not ask himself what is best to be re-elected, one must ask himself what is best for Canada. That is a lot harder to do.
The manner in which the Reform Party conducted itself on this issue, and other facts which I have learned in the past week, has led me to reconsider my position. Here we are in the House of Commons saying that we want to promote the Canadian flag and teach respect for the flag. What does the Reform Party do? It throws the flag on the floor. It took a very serious issue and turned it into a circus. I have too much respect for the Canadian flag to support and witness such disrespectful acts.
Where was the Reform Party when we had the flag rally in Montreal on October 27, 1995? We were there. The Reform Party opposed the fly the flag program brought forward by the Minister of Canadian Heritage. We supported it. Yet, it comes into the House pretending to be holier than thou and somehow making the impression that it is more patriotic than we are.
We on this side of the House have no lessons to learn from the Reform Party on patriotism. We want the flag to unite Canadians, not divide them. By forcing this issue now, today, they are playing right into the separatists' hands. They are pouring gasoline on the fire.
I have done some research in the past week. In other legislatures around the world, the use of flags on MPs desks is not permitted in the British Parliament, Australia, the American Congress or the American Senate. Maybe we could set a precedent in this House and become the first parliament to do so, but today is not the time. We must put this issue to rest for now by referring the matter to a committee. We have important matters and bills to debate in this House. It is time for us to move on with the business of governing this country.
I suspect that most Canadians would agree with MPs having a flag on their desks. I also suspect that first and foremost they demand and expect that we conduct ourselves in a civil manner and that we do the job that we were elected to do, which is to help create jobs, improve our social programs and pass legislation for the betterment of all Canadians.
The Reform Party is saying that it wants change. I too want change. I challenge the Reform Party to show that it is not just playing politics with this issue. I challenge the Reform Party to give unanimous consent to the House to an amendment that I am prepared to put forward. The amendment is:
That the motion be amended by inserting immediately before the words “this House” the words “the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to prepare a report by June 15”.