Just wishful thinking. And even the House is not bound by this resolution. If the House passed the resolution, with the Bloc voting against it, of course, if the House, on the strength of its majority, were to impose adoption of the resolution, the very next morning the resolution would not be binding. The House could do anything at all. Imagine if the government were to change. What would our Reform Party friends do with the resolution and the so-called veto? We will talk about that one tomorrow.
It is just a mirage. This resolution is a mirage. Not smoke and mirrors, that would be too strong a term, because it implies there is more than meets the eye, and in this case, when you read the resolution, it is all there. So this is not a case of smoke and mirrors but a mirage.
It demonstrates a complete failure to appreciate what Quebecers want. I think that when people have been in Ottawa for a few years, and it might happen to me because I have been here for some time-they tend to become a little isolated from what is happening in Quebec. It is almost inevitable. Being on the Hill is like living under a glass dome, and because we always breath the same oxygen, see the same faces, listen to the same voices, read the same newspapers and talk to the same reporters who are listening to us, we finally lose touch to some extent-not altogether, of course not-with what is going on out there.
Remember what it was like in the House the night the Charlottetown resolution was adopted. I remember. It was a very solemn occasion, of course. The whole House rose to adopt Charlottetown, all parties, all members. There were only six or seven members- The member for Beaver River was with us, members of the Bloc, in the corner, along the curtain, and we voted against the resolution. We almost felt embarrassed to do so. I told myself that evening: Could it be that the Bloc, having been in Ottawa for too long, has lost touch with reality, that it has failed to understand that Canadians and Quebecers want the Charlottetown accord? Could I be wrong? Could we, the dissident minority, the outcasts along the curtain, be wrong? Could we be wrong or could all these intelligent people who fly to their ridings every day, who meet everybody, who know the issues, who are advised by people who are extremely bright, people from the Privy Council, be wrong?
They were wrong indeed. The people proved them wrong. So I was saying that there is something in Ottawa that makes people lose touch with reality, at least with Quebec's reality. How can the Prime Minister think that Quebecers will be pleased to hear him say that he recognizes the fact that they are a distinct society? How can he think that this will make us, Quebecers, happy? We certainly know that we are a distinct society and we have known it for quite some time.
What we want is the means to make our own decisions, to plan Quebec's future based on our differences. That is what we want, but we are not getting it. There is nothing to that effect in the resolution.
What I am saying basically is that the Prime Minister and his colleagues are burying their heads in the sand. By constantly refusing to face reality, they eventually sink into some kind of surrealism. This is evident from the fact that, from Meech 1 to Meech 2 and from Meech 2 to Charlottetown, Quebec was always
offered less and less. Maybe they offered a little less each time because they were tired by their previous effort.
They tried Meech 1, it did not work. They offered Quebec a little less in Meech 2 and, of course, it did not work either. They offered even less in Charlottetown, which was rejected by the people in a referendum. So what are they doing now? They are trying again, offering less than in Charlottetown this time. And they think that Quebec will go for it. They even think that Quebecers are fascinated by this debate. Well, they are not. I am sure they will not be listening to us today or tomorrow. I am convinced that they have now moved on to other things that are of greater concern to them.
It has now become the debate of the Prime Minister, who is just discovering the distinct society clause, who wakes up at night thinking about Quebec's distinct nature. Too late, Mr. Prime Minister, it is over. You can sleep at night and dream of other things that Quebec's distinct nature. It is a thing from the past, from the political past.
When I said that the government's approach borders on surrealism, let the people be the judge. On the one hand, as I have just shown, the federal government's offers are less and less meaningful, ever shrinking.
At the same time, and moving in the opposite direction, Quebec's demands are growing and are more attuned to the reality of the people of Quebec. Why? We have only to look at events in recent years. In May 1980: 40 per cent of Quebecers give their support to a soft question on something that ended up simply being a mandate to negotiate, to try to negotiate sovereignty-association. Charlottetown, 1992: the Accord reached by all parties and governments, including the Government of Quebec under Mr. Bourassa, is rejected. In 1995: sovereignty on a hard question, that is, the legal and political ability to proclaim sovereignty following a yes vote, 49.4 per cent vote in favour.
While Quebec, on the move toward sovereignty, is ever increasingly achieving its status as a people and wanting to assume this status with means that are rightfully its own, the federal government offers less and is surprised when the offer is refused. Is this surprising? Not to the people in Quebec, at least.
What I am saying in fact is that the whole debate on Quebec's distinct nature has largely lost its immediate relevance.
Why? First, because, in Quebec, everyone knows that it is impossible for English Canada to get its act together enough to propose something acceptable to Quebec on this point. This House is an example of English Canada, for once. I was talking about the other House, which is disconnected from the people of Quebec and Canada. At least this House shows us that, in English Canada, there are a lot of differences in opinion on the Prime Minister's vision.
Therefore, Quebecers who see all this, know what happens in English Canada and have lived through 30 years of useless efforts know full well that nothing positive will come in response to their basic expectations about the recognition of Quebec's distinct nature. It is also out of date, because it must be understood that the phrase "Quebec's distinctiveness" was a compromise right from the start. It is a phrase that Mr. Bourassa used out of political courtesy, out of political correctness, I would say, to avoid using the actual phrase "the people of Quebec".
He knew that to recognize the people of Quebec would scare the federal government and English Canada and that it would never go over. So Mr. Bourassa, who has a way with words, who must have read the old reports of the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, found this phrase, included it in his speech, and ended up making it one of the conditions for Quebec's joining the 1982 Constitution.
But English Canada saw right through it. People have great instincts. I think that people in both Quebec and English Canada have very sound political instincts. English Canada realized, perhaps more or less consciously, that behind the phrase "Quebec's distinct society" lurked the phrase "the people of Quebec", and that is why they rejected the agreement. That is why they will always refuse to recognize Quebec's distinctiveness, as they have done so far. If we ask them, and if Quebec does not act to secure this recognition, they will always refuse. They will never let a Prime Minister of Canada turn this recognition into a legal reality.
I just said that I urge the Prime Minister to be realistic. I would also like to tell him that I want to preach by example and that we in Quebec now intend to face reality. First of all, everyone in Quebec is tired of talking about the Constitution. Everyone is sick and tired of hearing these phrases that keep changing year after year and month after month: special status, asymmetrical federalism-that one was quite a find; we never found out what it meant but it will probably be explained to us some day-, equitable federalism, cultural sovereignty, distinct society, and also "equality or independence" and then "masters in our own home", all this to go around in circles.
The people of Quebec know that we have tried everything, that we have gone through the dictionary, and that all these efforts have led nowhere. It is time for a reality check; the people have had enough of these debates. Second, we in Quebec have more pressing priorities like government finances. In Quebec, the integrity of our public finances-which, incidentally, are in better shape that the federal government's, but that is none of my concern since I am not
responsible for managing federal affairs, while the Parti Quebecois may entrust me with the public finances of Quebec-is a basic requirement, not only as a matter of correctness or sound management practice.
No, in Quebec-and it is the same in Ottawa, I am sure-putting our fiscal house in order is a matter of restoring our ability to choose. Unless the government's financial base is restored, no one will have any choice any more. There is no point in holding debates on the environment, the Constitution, the future of political systems, export policy, social assistance or any other issue, if steps are not taken to ensure that the government will be able to make choices.
Any government that is in a financial squeeze has no room to breathe and can no longer carry out its basic function. That is why we in Quebec, if the Parti Quebecois puts its trust in me, will address this problem. I will not waste any time reading constitutional proposals made by the Prime Minister if they look anything like this. There are other priorities, but these will be dealt with in greater detail in Quebec City. We may participate in discussions. After all, we are still part of the federal system. I can see where the Prime Minister is coming from. I heard his plea the other day, when he said he was prepared to discuss in the interest of the people of Quebec and Canada. But in the meantime, anything that may be in the interest of Quebec will not fall on deaf ears if the Parti Quebecois puts its trust in me.
What Quebec wants, when all is said and done, with respect to the Constitution-a discussion that may continue tomorrow again, for the Prime Minister has yet another proposal to make to us tomorrow; the Prime Minister is suddenly becoming very active, hyperactive even, in connection with the Constitution-let us be clear right from the start, what Quebec wants, what we need, with respect to the Constitution, we know we cannot expect from either the federal government or English Canada. We know that we are the only ones who can give it to ourselves, take it for ourselves, and to the extent that our future as a people, the remedy for our present problems, the flowering of our economic, social and cultural identity, is linked to our status as a people. We now know, from the message we are receiving from English Canada, particularly after today's inadequate resolution, that it is up to us to give ourselves the status of a people.
We have nothing to ask for, nothing to beg for from the federal government and English Canada. We do not mean this arrogantly; we are merely speaking as adults. We have attained a sort of political maturity which comes from all of the conclusions we have drawn from all of those years of empty discussions, of going around in circles. English Canadians are also familiar with this; they are just as tired and disillusioned as we are. So Quebec knows that its rendezvous with the future is a rendezvous with itself, that it will involve a referendum, that it will address Quebec's sovereignty so that Quebec may come into its own as a people.
I would like to say to the Prime Minister that it might happen, perhaps not here in this House but one day-whether I take over the responsibilities I shall be seeking shortly or someone else does-that whoever becomes the Premier of Quebec might face him across the table. I hope that this will come to pass. My personal wish, in the interests of Quebec and of Canada, although I am aware that it is harder to convince Canada of this than Quebec, is that one day a premier of Quebec will find himself across the table from his federal counterpart, precisely for the purpose of discussing political systems.
But I would not want this Premier to stand alone like his predecessors, those who failed, who paid a high personal price and sometimes made Quebec pay a high price as well and caused strong tensions in relations between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Not that we did not send good negotiators. Not that the people who came here to negotiate on behalf of Quebec, as Premiers, were not competent. I would say we sent our best people. No one could be better than René Lévesque to negotiate for Quebec.
But from now on, the situation will be different, because the Premiers who will come to talk about the Constitution and political arrangements will come with a mandate from the people of Quebec. They will not be out to retaliate, to be aggressive, to be negative. No. They will come with respect but confident, with the confidence of a prime minister, a head of state, who has received a mandate for sovereignty from the people. In other words, we will negotiate as equals, and then we will be able to agree, and only then. As long as Quebec comes here as a province like the others, we will never be able to agree, because those who came here and failed when they represented Quebec were not always separatists, as the Prime Minister said. Very often, and I would say in most cases, they were federalists. But success escaped them as well.
Why? Because Quebec federalists are Quebec nationalists, first and foremost. They realize that Quebecers cannot develop their potential unless they do so as a group, and as such they must have the resources and the capability to define their own policies.
I am not saying we will no longer speak to each other. We will have to, all the time. We are neighbours and partners through our history and all kinds of connections. We are practically doomed to talk to each other. That being the case, and I offer this advice in all modesty to the Prime Minister, he will have to be careful not to waste the capital of good will that is left. If we keep tossing resolutions back and forth and discussing the kind of futilities we have before us today, it will create more false hopes and perhaps fuel feelings of resentment. Let us be careful.
Let us call some kind of truce where we can address our primary concerns. I just mentioned what we have to do in Quebec. I do not know when we will be able to come back to this discussion. It may be sooner than the Prime Minister thinks. Who knows? This time we will not let him know one year in advance. Let us create the climate that will have to prevail when we have this real meeting, this real discussion, where we will have to and, for the first time, be able to look realistically and lucidly, but with a chance at succeeding, at defining a new partnership between Canada and Quebec.