Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Jean.
About two months ago, I organized a lunch meeting in my constituency as I do regularly. It usually takes place on a Sunday. Constituents are invited, not just party members. The topic for discussion at that meeting was the Globe and Mail article at the time that looked at the question of the increase in the number of seats for the three provinces where the population had grown the most.
The participants were extremely interested and extremely shocked at the same time. It must be said that, for Quebec, this is another in a series of irritants that Quebec has been dealing with for some time.
Of course, the apparent recognition of the Quebec nation by the government put a little salve on the wounds that these irritants have caused, but this bill rips open the biggest gash once more. Yes, Canada has finally recognized the Quebec nation. But what does that recognition mean? It means that, in a measure as specific as the number of seats in the House of Commons, Quebec finds itself not only disadvantaged at this point in time, but disadvantaged forever, given that the population increase in the three western provinces shows no sign of slowing down.
For reasons that are easy to understand and to accept, Quebec cannot expect such a rapid growth in its population. The Quebec nation cannot be recognized if that unique situation is not recognized. To do otherwise is to freely admit that the intent was to deceive people, and I use the word deceive advisedly. What is more important than political weight in trying to preserve the French language and culture of Quebec at the federal level?
I listened to the arguments on representation by population. I understand its significance in the history of various countries. I also know, and it must have been repeated today, that the intellectuals who work for the parties and those who teach university students have a different understanding of representation by population than the Conservative party. At the time of Confederation, it was agreed that representation by population did not mean a strict representation based on the population, but a representation based on the population as it was recognized at the time of Confederation.
I want to stress the conditions that make it so that Quebec's population cannot increase as quickly. You know why, as do the members across the way from Quebec. It is necessary, in my humble opinion, to recognize, as the members of the National Assembly of Quebec have done unanimously, that Quebec, whose culture is deeply rooted in its French origins and whose doors have been opened wide to immigrants, still has a serious problem: getting its many immigrants who come from various countries and who have settled in a country next to the United States, whose population overwhelmingly speaks English, to adopt its French-language culture.
We know—and it needs to be stated and recognized today—that in world history and for some time, the dominant language was French, especially in terms of diplomacy. Today, the lingua franca, that used to be French, is said to be English.
Not only are the immigrants arriving in British Columbia and Alberta predisposed to learn English, but they often already speak it because they learned it in their home countries. It is extremely easy for them to integrate, even though we do not agree with Canada's multicultural policy as it tends to lead to ghettos.
But in Quebec, even though Quebeckers are extremely open, this is clearly harder for them. They need to find appropriate ways to help immigrants integrate—I am not saying “assimilate”—into Quebec's culture and learn French. When I say that Quebec has to find ways to do this, I should point out that the government thought Bill 101 was one way to help immigrants integrate. But what happened was that people and parents got together with foundations or wealthy people to take advantage of a provision of Bill 101 that allowed children who had gone to English-language private schools to then be educated in the English public school system, at no cost. People would pay tuition in the English private school system for one, two or three years to ensure that not only one child, but his or her brothers and sisters and their descendants could go to school in English. That is significant.
It means that, to increase its population, Quebec has to attract immigrants that it must try hard to integrate into the French language and culture, but it faces some major obstacles.
Is it normal that despite Quebec's openness to immigration and despite the recent rise in the birth rate that everyone is so happy about, population growth in Quebec is slower? No, but it is not surprising.
I am very sad in one way and very angry in another that we are being forced into this fight, because there is no other way to resolve this issue.