Mr. Speaker, when I rise in this House, I usually say I am pleased to do so. I am not in the habit of rising in this House without any pleasure.
I must admit that it is with some sadness and a great deal of frustration that I rise now, at the end of this day, after we have debated the proposed amendments to this bill for the past few days.
I chose to become a member of this parliament where I was elected, together with my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois—those who were elected in 1993 and those who were in 1997—to adequately represent the citizens who elected us to this place, and to do so with a democratic mandate to act and speak up in this House on behalf of our constituents who elected us to defend their interests and promote sovereignty, a plan very dear to a great many Quebecers.
Throughout this debate, I noticed that we were dealing not only with foes of sovereignty, but also with people, members and ministers on the government side, who had become foes of Quebec democracy. Through their comments and reactions regarding our plan to turn Quebec into a sovereign state, they were not trying to respect neither this plan nor the citizens who elected sovereignist MPs.
The whole process surrounding Bill C-20 has demonstrated how little respect there is in this country, in this Parliament, for what we stand for in this House and for the people we represent.
Bill C-20 is undemocratic. We will keep on repeating it. We will have many opportunities to do so after it has been passed by the House and the Senate and given assent by the Governor General. We will no doubt have an election campaign where Bill C-20 will be a major issue and where Quebecers will have a chance to pass judgment on the conduct of a majority, the Liberal Party, that did not show even the most basic respect for the members of this House and the citizens they represent.
On behalf of my colleagues, I would like to tell you how sitting in the House of Commons, whose traditions, customs and practices we have always respected, has become difficult and will probably be made more difficult yet by the introduction of Bill C-20 and its possible passage by the Parliament of Canada.
When one thinks about it and in spite of the assurances, guarantees and suggestions by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, with the passage of Bill C-20, this country is becoming a pioneer in the area of secession, a democratic country unrivalled anywhere in the world.
If members look very carefully at this bill, at its provisions and at its purpose, if they read the speeches that the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs made when he appeared before the committee, they will realize that this bill is ultimately an instrument to prevent, and I quote the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, “a separation threat from Quebec”.
We do not need a bill telling us that we are a threat to Canada. That is not what it is all about. We have the right, and the supreme court recognized it in its opinion dated August 20, 1998, to promote sovereignty for Quebec. This is a legitimate initiative according to the supreme court. To pretend that we pose a threat to Canada, that we are threatening it with secession or break-up, as mentioned in the preamble of this bill, does not respect this legitimacy recognized by nine justices of the supreme court.
But more than anything, it does not respect Quebecers who consider the sovereignty project as an option for the future, an option they are entitled to consider and to support when consulted on this matter.
During the committee hearings, there was a striking testimony that left the Liberal members of the committee quite lost and disappointed, which the minister quoted earlier in the debate, and that is that of Mr. Claude Ryan, a previous leader of the opposition in Quebec's legislative assembly.
While debating or discussing with some of us, here is what he had to say regarding the behaviour of the Liberal government, of the ministers and of the government members of this House:
He said “You know, in Quebec, sovereignists and federalists are adversaries, but they respect each other. Here in Ottawa, however, sovereignists and federalists are enemies. They do not respect each other”.
I have always believed that those who do not necessarily think as we do and who promote federalism and its renewal deserve our respect. As far as I am concerned, I have always respected those who propose or would like to propose this project to Quebecers, a project which, if it were renewed, could promote a greater following than the present federalism. But theses views are not shared by all.
It seems that respect for the sovereignists that we are does not exist here in this House since we are considered as enemies of the Canadian democracy, when we are in fact, by our mere presence here, participating in this democracy.
We are undoubtedly the ones who have the most respect for parliamentary democracy in this House. We have so much respect that we try to protect not only our rights—and we had to do so repeatedly during debate on Bill C-20—but we also want to ensure that the rights of all the parliamentarians in this House are respected.
When we see before us enemies of democracy in Quebec and enemies of those who, in the name of democracy, promote sovereignty, it is difficult not to consider those who make such a harsh and dangerous judgment on what we represent here as enemies of democracy in Quebec.
Bill C-20 is an eloquent example of the fact that this government tries, as the minister said earlier in his speech, to protect Quebecers against themselves or against sovereignists, their representatives and their independentist leaders.
Quebecers do not need to be protected against themselves or against their independentist leaders. They vote for independentist leaders and they put their confidence in them. They have done so on numerous occasions in the past by electing successive governments of the Parti Québécois. They have put their trust in independentist leaders by electing, in the last two consecutive federal elections, a very clear majority of members of the Bloc Quebecois to this House.
To think that this House can stand in for independentist leaders and the national assembly, where sovereignists have the majority, and that it can ignore the opposition of the members of the Bloc Quebecois shows a lack or even an absence of respect for Quebec's democracy.
Bill C-20 would stand in for our institutions and give the House of Commons the power to decide on something that has always been determined by the national assembly, namely the question and its clarity in a debate which might take place and which has actually taken place in the National Assembly during two previous public consultations on sovereignty. The House of Commons will never be able to substitute itself for the National Assembly when time comes to formulate a question.
This House will never be able to impose on the national assembly and its members a question which would exclude a partnership, a question which would prevent us to ask for a mandate to negotiate, a question which would be imposed because the issue here is about the future of Quebec as it is promoted by members who were elected to the national assembly by Quebecers.
Bill C-20 precisely purports to give members of the House of Commons, of which a large majority comes from English Canada, the power to decide on the clarity of a question asked by the national assembly.
Furthermore, the bill is unacceptable and undemocratic to the point where it would allow the House to make a judgment on the clarity of the question even during a referendum campaign. The House of Commons could say, while the campaign is under way, that the question is not clear. Would this not be a totally unacceptable intrusion in a democratic process that was launched by the national assembly and the elected representatives of the Quebec people?
The provisions concerning clarity in this bill are undemocratic, despite what the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs thinks, because they give the House a right of disallowance on a decision made by the national assembly.
Claude Ryan, to quote him again, thought this was somewhat a trusteeship system. It was giving the House a trusteeship over the National Assembly when it came to the question and the assessment of its clarity.
Not only does this provision on the question and its clarity reveal the undemocratic nature of this bill, but the provisions on majority infringe even more adversely upon Quebec democracy as it was developed and fashioned by many generations of people who have exercised the highest political functions in Quebec.
The minister claims that the 50% plus one rule has not been applied or considered applicable during the referendums on sovereignty association or sovereignty partnership, because it is not written in the Referendum Act.
Undoubtedly it was not included because it was so clear and obvious that it was the applicable rule. In fact, that rule had never been generally challenged by Canadian leaders. It is universally accepted. Since that rule no longer seems acceptable to the Government of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada, it must be enshrined in Quebec legislation, which is the purpose of Bill 99 now before the National Assembly.
The 50% plus one rule is acceptable and accepted. The Liberal government did not have the courage to include it in this bill despite the insistence of the opposition parties. Three of the opposition parties thought this bill should have contained a reference to the clear majority rule of 50% plus one vote. This lack of courage shows fear on the part of the government with regard to the 50% plus one rule.
There is a fear that Quebecers will make the decision because sovereignty is an option that can be negotiated, that must be negotiated as soon as a majority of voters have decided to choose that option. So it has been suggested that this is an irreversible and serious decision, because we are told that these majorities are unstable. But that is supposing and stating that they are, that is supposing that any decision on a people's future is irreversible and is binding on future generations, and that is prejudging the decision future generations will make.
Bill C-20, which will be enacted, is unacceptable to Quebecers, as it should be to all Canadians. Moreover, Canadians in other provinces abide by the rule of 50% plus one; it is the case in British Columbia and Alberta for example. That rule is universally applied.
Even if the minister and others claim that the last few accessions to independence, whether in a colonial or non colonial context, were accomplished with considerable majorities, we must not forget that the rule that applies to accession to sovereignty is still the 50% plus one rule.
That rule is universally accepted. It is accepted by the United Nations, it was accepted during the 1980 and 1995 referendums and, even if we were told repeatedly that Prime Minister Trudeau and the present Prime Minister claimed that it was not the applicable rule and that it was not sufficient for them to feel bound to negotiate after a vote in favour of sovereignty-association or sovereignty-partnership, we must recall that these prime ministers were deceiving the public. As they were saying this rule did not apply or would not bring them to negotiate, they were also telling Quebecers “You must understand, either you stay or you leave.”
Just a few days before the May 20, 1980 referendum, Mr. Trudeau put the seats of all his MPs at stake. Quebecers, who are said to be confused by the questions of sovereignists, understood the question quite well. We called on the intelligence of Quebecers with complex questions, not confusing ones, as several witnesses before the legislative committee on Bill C-20 pointed out.
Prime Ministers Trudeau and Chrétien themselves confused Canadians when they told them that a no vote in the referendum meant yes to the renewal of federalism. It was not clear. The no vote of Quebecers in 1980 and again in 1995 was not clear. Maurice Pinard, a colleague of mine from McGill University, had to admit he himself had not conducted any study or analysis on the possible confusion created in the minds of Quebecers by prereferendum promises made by federalist leaders. Odd, is it not?
The only confusion around is supposed to be in the sovereignist camp. But what about the confusion created by generations of federalist leaders claiming this federation can be renewed, can be changed to meet Quebec's demands and expectations? They have never been able to carry out their plan to renew the federation.
When they tried to carry out a reform, be it the one proposed in the Meach Lake accord or in the Charlottetown accord, they were defeated by Canadian public opinion, in the case of the Meech Lake accord, or by people or provincial leaders who refused to ratify the accord. They were again defeated in 1992 by the Canadian people, who refused to change the Canadian federal system because of irreconcilable differences of opinion on federalism both in Quebec and Canada.
The minister will never really persuade Quebecers that they did not understand the questions in 1995 and 1980, because they understood them perfectly well. They voted to maintain the federation and we, as democrats, respected their decision, but that decision is not immutable.
Quebecers who keep their options open witnessed and examined what was going on in the House. They will be persuaded that Bill C-20 curtails their freedom, and is some kind of yoke, or a new padlock act, passed by Ottawa this time. They will also realize how this government and the Liberal Party of Canada wanted this legislation to be passed in a hurry, even if that meant ignoring the most basic rules of parliamentary democracy.
To create an artificial and partisan deadline for the benefit of one political party, the Liberal Party of Canada, showed a total lack of respect for this House. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Prime Minister want to go before not all Canadians, but their own party members with Bill C-20 in their pockets. They want to stand tomorrow in front of the members of the Liberal Party of Canada and say “We have succeeded in bringing Quebec to heel. We have managed to pass legislation that will give us the last word on the question and on the majority”.
According to the government majority party, Quebec should no longer be master of its own destiny. That party shall rule Quebec. And Quebecers will never agree to that.
Since the Bloc Quebecois was created, Quebecers have not trusted the Liberal Party of Canada. I should remind those who are watching the debates that, in the 1993 federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada had only 19 candidates elected out of the 75 members representing Quebec in this House. In 1997, only 26 Liberals were elected to the House.
The Liberal Party of Canada does not represent Quebecers. It does not represent the interests of Quebec. Today, with Bill C-20, it is showing it clearly. What it does with Bill C-20 is trample on the democratic rights of Quebecers.
Quebecers saw how eager it was to flout not only Quebec's democracy and democratic institutions, but also the rules of the parliament in which it is abusing its majority. That is what it has been doing since the day in December when the minister used a trick to introduce a draft bill, flouting right from the beginning of the consideration of Bill C-20 the rules of the House and parliamentary traditions.
It flouted them again following a few interventions in the House in December and February. It imposed closure and allowed only seven members of our party to speak to this bill.
The Liberal Party limited to 45 the number of witnesses the legislative committee could hear and the committee was able to hear only 39 of those witnesses.
It also imposed closure to end debate and stop the hearings all opposition parties would have liked to continue. These parties all wanted the committee to travel throughout Quebec and Canada and the Bloc was more than willing to hear the views of other Canadians on the bill.
But the committee was not to travel. It had to hear 45 witnesses here in Ottawa. What was the minister afraid of? Why did he oppose the committee travelling around Canada and Quebec with his Bill C-20? Was he afraid to be told in all the cities of Quebec, in Quebec's national capital, in Montreal, the metropolis, and in all the regions that we from the Bloc represent that his bill was antidemocratic? He did not have the courage of his convictions.
If he was convinced that Bill C-20 was an acceptable bill, why did he refuse to go to Quebec to defend it? Why did he refuse to go to Quebec to hear those who are in favour of it, those he talks to when he goes to chambers of commerce and elsewhere, but also to hear those in the civil society, the unions, the teachers, the young and the students who oppose it?
While claiming to be afraid of nothing, he did not have the courage of his convictions. He told the committee he was afraid of nothing, yet he was afraid to go to Quebec. He was afraid to hear Quebecers tell him that this bill is an undemocratic legislation.
He was afraid of the opposition parties, which wanted a full and meaningful debate to take place, instead of cutting it short on the eve of a Liberal Party convention, putting a premature end to testimonies and actually preventing dozens if not hundreds of people from appearing before the committee. There are people who sent in briefs but were not heard, in spite of the fact that they had contacted the clerk to indicate they were interested in testifying before the committee. No, debates had to be limited.
Actually, the proceedings of that committee had to be made very partisan. There were witnesses for the Liberal Party and witnesses for the Bloc Quebecois and the other parties. My colleague, the minister, believes, I suppose, that meaningful and in-depth debates are necessary, and that bills require proper consideration if we want good legislation. According to many of the people who came to talk to us about the rules that should apply if we were to go ahead with the sovereignty plan for example, legislation should reflect consensus. They said there should be a consensus to hold a referendum on sovereignty.
The minister has often said “Do not organize a referendum if there is no consensus to that effect in Quebec. Unless there is a consensus, do not hold a referendum even if you were elected with a mandate to organize one and the possibility to hold one, if this was the choice of the democratically elected party”.
I suppose this requirement should apply even more to a bill aimed at regulating referendums which are required to be based on a consensus before being organized. There is no consensus in Quebec concerning Bill C-20. Three political parties from the National Assembly are against this bill. The minister knows it. He has made representations to political parties that see more eye to eye with him, and they have said this project is unacceptable.
The civil society of Quebec is clearly opposed to this bill. When we rise later to vote on Bill C-20, presumably 49 out of the 75 members from Quebec will be against it. Over 60% of the members of parliament will vote against this bill.
This bill will have no legitimacy. It will not stop Quebec from deciding its own future. Contrary to what the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs thinks, it will not be binding on the Quebec government. The minister was caught in a contradiction when Minister Facal appeared before the committee. Mr. Facal said that the government would not feel bound by this illegal bill, after having heard the minister and all those promoting this bill say that it only concerned the federal government and the federal institutions. And yet the minister has said that the Quebec government would have to comply with this bill, a contradiction eloquently brought to light by the editorial writer for Le Soleil , Michel Venne.
The debate will not end here. It will continue as long as Bloc Quebecois members sit in this House, and they will be here for a long time to defend the interests of the people of Quebec and of democracy in Quebec. This is our mandate, one that we must take more and more seriously, because there are people in this House who want to hold this democracy hostage.
In closing, I would like to add this on behalf of Bloc Quebecois members. We Bloc Quebecois members having been democratically elected to represent Quebecers in the Parliament of Canada, holding the majority of Quebec seats and defending the interests of the people of Quebec and of democracy in Quebec, affirm that Bill C-20 is undemocratic and that it has no legitimacy whatsoever on the territory of Quebec.
We affirm that the Prime Minister of Canada wants to deprive Quebec of its freedom to choose its own destiny and we condemn him for it.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois accuse the architect of plan B, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, of wanting to force Quebec to stay in Canada.
We, members of the Bloc Quebecois, deplore the fact that the majority of the members of parliament from the rest of Canada have sided with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs in their desire to restrict the freedom of the Quebec nation.
We, members of the Bloc Quebecois, consider that passage of Bill C-20 fits within a history marked by full-fledged attacks against the Quebec nation, particularly the Union Act of 1840, conscription in 1918 and 1944, the War Measures Act of 1970, the patriation of the Constitution in 1982 and the 1999 framework agreement on social union.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois reaffirm our allegiance to Quebec and to its best interests alone.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois recognize that sovereignty belongs to the Quebec nation and is exercised within Quebec's National Assembly.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois point out that Quebec is a land of pride, brotherhood, tolerance and social justice. We affirm that the most precious collective treasure of Quebecers is freedom and that no authority, including the Parliament of Canada, can deprive their nation of the right to control their own destiny.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois are convinced that our struggle will serve future generations and will aim at preserving their freedom and the territory of their culture.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois affirm that the Quebec nation has no allegiance to any other nation and never will have.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois are committed to continue to fight for Quebec's freedom to democratically decide its own future and to freely determine its political status.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois invite all democrats from Canada, Quebec and the international community to join the Quebec nation in its fight to preserve its freedom.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois affirm that the Quebec nation is sovereign.
We members of the Bloc Quebecois affirm that Quebec is free.