Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise on this somewhat eventful afternoon. In a few minutes, the Minister of Finance will deliver his budget speech. I hope all members will have the opportunity to listen to what I have to tell them, because the message that the Bloc Québécois wants to convey about Bill C-12 is very important.
Madam Speaker, I see that you are concerned. Sure, you can call members to order and tell them to listen to me. Go ahead, that is fine with me.
Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), is a bill that reduces Quebec's political weight within Canada. Unlike the Liberal member who just spoke, I do not think that is acceptable. Reducing Quebec's weight within Canada is yet another attack by this government—and the previous Liberal government—against Quebec.
The Bloc Québécois, which stands up for Quebec's interests, cannot accept this legislation, and it is asking the House to refuse to give second reading to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because it would reduce in an unacceptable fashion the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons.
In the Charlottetown accord of 1992, all the partners of the Canadian federation had agreed to guarantee Quebec 25% of the seats in the House of Commons. Even though the accord was rejected through a referendum, the specific needs of Quebec, the only province with a francophone majority, were highlighted. That specific issue had been recognized by all the partners of the Canadian federation. Not only was the issue recognized, a solution had also been found. Indeed, Quebec was guaranteed 25% of the seats in the House of Commons.
A few years later, after the referendum was lost, people began to say that this was a minor issue, that it was not important and that what really mattered was that elected members should express their views in the House.
Last Sunday, I watched a television program on Radio-Canada. I know that 75% of the members of this House do not listen to Radio-Canada on a Sunday evening, but that program is watched by over one million people in Quebec, somewhere around 1,2 million, 1.3 million or 1.5 million, depending on who the guests are. The ratings for last Sunday have not yet been released, but the TV show Tout le monde en parle is very popular in Quebec.
Jean Lapointe used to be a Liberal senator. Do you know what he said? He was reminiscing about his experiences as a senator and he was clearly not too proud of himself or of what he had seen and heard. He said this: “Since I left the Senate, the federalist in me has died a bit. I am not yet a separatist or a sovereignist, but it would not take a very big push to make me one.” Of course, he said that in his own characteristic manner. We understand that to mean that federalists who come here to Ottawa to this House or the other one and who see all the injustices against Quebec and all the attacks by Quebec and who care about Quebeckers are a lot less federalist when they leave here or the other place. As Jean Lapointe said, “it would not take a very big push” for them to become sovereignists.
But do not worry, Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will give him that little push. As a senator, Mr. Lapointe witnessed many injustices against Quebec. He saw those injustices up close and he saw Canada attack Quebec, try to take away its place, try to impose its values on Quebec and ignore its needs, as is the case with Bill C-12. That bill is a good example of an injustice against Quebec. It shows once more that Quebec and Canada are two distinct countries in one, two solitudes. We do not talk to each other or if we do talk, we do not say much. Anyway, the conversations are often difficult because we do not speak the same language. When we talk to each other, we do not understand each other. Bill C-12 is proof of this.
Quebec federalists arrive in Ottawa with a romantic image of Canada as a great bilingual country with beautiful Rocky Mountains. The reality in Ottawa is quite different; the reality is Bill C-12, and there is nothing romantic about it.
This Conservative government is multiplying its injustices, aggressions and attacks. Yesterday morning, I was speaking to someone in my riding I did not know at all. She was determined to talk to me. She could not understand why the Conservative government is so aggressive towards Quebec. She wanted to know why the government was rejecting tax harmonization and refusing to pay the $2.2 billion it owes Quebec. It would only be fair since it paid compensation to Ontario, British Columbia and the maritime provinces, but not to Quebec. We have been pushing for this for years. For the past year, we have been asking questions every week and demanding that the government pay Quebec $2.2 billion as compensation for the sales tax harmonization it implemented several years ago, but the government is not responding. It is not giving us the real reasons. If we knew the real reasons, perhaps we could do it. Is it a matter of negotiation? Do they think we do not deserve it? We are not getting any answer. Once more, this is an unjustified attack against Quebec. Quebeckers do not understand why this government is always attacking Quebec.
While the Bloc Québécois is defending Quebec's interests, the Conservative government is attacking Quebec. Quebeckers cannot understand why this is happening, and yet there have been countless attacks. We can try to understand the government's attitude, but it is beyond comprehension. In November 2007, this House recognized Quebec as a nation, which was only fair since it is indeed a nation. In French, we call this a lapalissade, which means stating the obvious. La Palice was a man who used to say obvious things. For instance, he would say that a man was dead because he was not living any more. This is a lapalissade. For those who are watching, I am very pleased to enrich their vocabulary with this word. Recognizing Quebec as a nation was therefore a lapalissade, a truism. Yet Quebec's numerous claims remain unanswered.
Quebec has been asking for a long time that the responsibility for arts, culture and communications be transferred. Even the Conservative Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he was the Liberal Minister of Communications in the Quebec government, asked that the responsibility for telecommunications be transferred to the Quebec government. On March 23, 2009, Quebec Minister of Culture Christine Saint-Pierre asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage to set up a negotiating committee to transfer the responsibility for communications, arts and culture.
On June 19, 2010, Claude Béchard, the former Minister responsible for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs who is now deceased, said to the daily Le Devoir:
... we are working on “a new approach” to conduct successful bilateral negotiations with the federal government in order to obtain certain constitutional amendments...These amendments would deal with “culture and communications”...“It might also be interesting to include the whole issue of the nation in the constitutional talks.”
Those words are from Claude Béchard, the former Quebec Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs and MNA for Rivière-du-Loup, who is now deceased. He was stating, on behalf of the Quebec government, his intention to continue to ask for the responsibility over arts and culture, because it is normal, because we are a nation, because those are our values, because in Quebec we respect our artists, our culture and particularly—because these days this is very important—we respect the value of the work done by artists. In its Bill C-32, this government did not add insult to injury, it added contempt to injury by depriving artists from $126 million in copyright revenues annually.
We are not talking about subsidies but copyrights. This is money that artists deserve. It is their salary. However, the bill introduced by the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages is going to deprive artists of $126 million every year. Such an attitude is totally mind-boggling. As I said, it is not an insult to artists. To deprive people who earn an average of $23,000 annually of the money that they used to get is showing contempt towards them. Bill C-32 is totally unacceptable. It is another attack on Quebec, as is Bill C-12.
In conclusion, Bill C-12, which is against a fair representation for Quebec in the House of Commons, should be withdrawn.