Madam Speaker, I will try to keep my contribution to this debate as relevant as possible to the subject before the House: Bill C-18, am Act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
I had some trouble following the train of thought of the hon. member for Waterloo, since his speech covered a variety of topics, including some criticism of the behaviour of Reform Party members. That is not the intent of my speech today.
First of all, I must say, it is always distressing to see a government using a motion for time allocation, for closure, to put an end to debate.
It is always, or nearly always, a distressing moment for parliamentarians to see this desire to gag a democratic debate. We did not support the motion, because it is the very essence of our parliamentary system that debate should take place without undue haste, and with as much for reflection and consideration as possible.
In the case of Bill C-18 before the House today, the debate started on Monday this week, after notice given Friday last week. And after one day of debate, they imposed closure. Why the hurry, when the government could easily have scheduled the tabling of this bill a week or two earlier?
I have somewhat mixed feelings when I speak to Bill C-18, because I strongly object to restricting the debate on a bill in this House, especially after only one day of debate. It is not a matter of life and death, and the government could have taken steps to avoid this.
On the other hand, and this is why I have mixed feelings about the substance of Bill C-18, I share a number of views held by members of the government majority. Bill C-18 asks us to suspend the current process for electoral boundaries review and would refer the issue of representation in this Parliament, including section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs; but more about this later.
Madam Speaker, 1867 was a landmark, an historic date, since on July 1, 1867, the constitutional system in this country changed and became a so-called Confederation, although it was actually an extremely centralized federation, witness the constant debate and struggle, every day and every moment, to ensure that provincial legislatures are able to operate in their fields of jurisdiction. Before 1867, Quebec had half the seats in the Legislature of the Union Parliament; 65 out of 130 for Lower Canada, and of course the remaining 65 for Upper Canada.
It was a dramatic change, and no wonder the Liberal government never consulted the population. Why did the government that was in power just before the Union-and I must make a correction here, because it was not the Liberal government, since it was the Liberal Party which requested a referendum-why did it not conduct a referendum in Quebec, in Lower Canada, on the institutional changes in 1867? Because, according to most historians, the referendum would have been a lost cause.
We started our journey into the institutional desert in 1867, when we lost the equality between two nations: Quebec and English Canada, which itself was seeking its own identity. And as we went on, decade after decade and decennial census after decennial census-since the present Constitution requires a census every ten years-we saw Quebec's political power being eroded.
Seventy-five members out of 181, and now, 75 out of 295. If the proposed redrawing of the map now before the people, as submitted by the provincial commissions, is approved, we would hold 75 of the 301 seats. Our representation would continue to be eroded!
Over the years, there has clearly been a collective loss of memory in some circles. Yet, we must constantly remind people that in 1867, Quebec held half of the seats in Canada's parliament. What could be more legitimate than to seek a status that would allow us to manage our own affairs, according to the wishes of the majority of our people. In fact, just prior to Confederation in 1867, the Parliament of the united Canada of 1840 operated according to the double majority rule, which meant that decisions made required the backing of a majority of the members representing Upper Canada and a majority of the members representing Lower Canada. Quebec enjoyed de facto a veto over all decisions affecting it. On this score, we have certainly lost ground.
I can speak openly about Bill C-18 without any ulterior motives since I campaigned right up until October 25 as a candidate who was seeking to become the last federal member of Parliament for Bellechasse. And this has continued to be my position. Therefore, I can allow myself great latitude when it comes to this bill to readjust or redraw electoral boundaries.
During my speech the other day, I mentioned that the Bloc Quebecois, which is dedicated to defending Quebec's interests and to promoting Quebec sovereignty, will never support the empty chair policy or the scorched-earth policy, regardless of what the future holds for Quebec, and that the decision ultimately rests with Quebecers and with Quebecers alone. In this regard, we must see to it that our future is protected, regardless of the decisions that will be made.