House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was position.

Last in Parliament October 2000, as Progressive Conservative MP for Sherbrooke (Québec)

Won his last election, in 1997, with 60% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply February 10th, 1998

They want it to work. The hon. member knows as well as I do—and we are going to tell it like it is—that the majority of constituents in his riding would like Canada to work. That would be their first choice. He knows it and I know it. It is important to point it out and it is important for those outside Quebec to hear this because we do not want to leave them with the impression that having a sovereignist government in Quebec means that a majority of Quebeckers are in favour of Canada breaking up. They are not.

Let us be more specific. The great majority of francophones in Quebec, those who vote and are concerned in this debate, feel profoundly attached to Canada and want the Canadian system to work.

I disagree with the hon. member for Joliette, however, in that I do not assess my country on the simplistic basis of the Constitution. I think of my country, Canada, with 300 years of history behind it and 300 more ahead, as more than a bunch of constitutional amendments. It is a partnership that was established between English and French-speaking Canadians in the early days of our country. That is how our language and culture were able to live on. That is how the British Empire at the time was able to keep this piece of land in North America. This is a partnership that evolved into a federation, an economic and social partnership reflecting the values shared by everyone who live here, whether French-speaking or English-speaking. That is the context in which I set my assessment of my country.

That being said, I will conclude by saying that, as I see it, regardless of our constitutional failures, anglophones and francophones alike view Canada as a great success that I care for, both for myself and for my children.

Supply February 10th, 1998

He says that is right. He may well be reflecting the views of many Quebeckers who want this country to work, who want Canada to work.

Supply February 10th, 1998

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to reply to the hon. member for Joliette and debate with him. First of all, not to flatter him, I think I can detect in his remarks a cri du coeur from someone who does not want Canada to break up.

Supply February 10th, 1998

One of the members said that he was a student at the time and did not work for the party, so we are getting some denials which is important. Mr. Levant said:

Such a divorce would be painful. But after a year or so of realignment, things would probably be better than they are today. Here are 10 reasons why Alberta would be better off.

I will quote three of them:

Eliminate bilingualism and multiculturalism—.If we kicked out Quebec, we might then have the fortitude to tackle Canada's other ethnic separatists: Natives demanding their “First Nations”. Next would be the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Then the radical environmentalist groups.

The fourth reason he gives to kick Quebec out is to end corruption in Parliament. Is it any wonder that we are where we are today.

In conclusion, we have no problem with this motion. It is the consequences surrounding it and what is not said in the motion that we have great difficulty with.

Supply February 10th, 1998

The Reform member says how profound. I can only regret that he and the people in his party have been an instrument of division on this issue. I quoted an article from the principal adviser of the Reform Party of Canada and its leader.

Supply February 10th, 1998

You find that funny, but Quebeckers have to suffer the consequences and I do not think they find it as funny. That is the problem.

In international law, we have to say things like they are. I cannot help but laugh when I hear people right and left, people from both sides, refer to the fundamental principles of international law. What I would like to know is who is going to enforce the decisions made in international law? Who are we going to refer to? On what authority will we decide to implement those decisions?

In international law, there is no rule. I am sorry, but the way we see it, I will try to be accurate—one cannot say that there is no rule, because there are some, but the way we see it, where someone would say: “Here in a legal principle, a decision, which we will implement”, that is not how things work. There is a sea of principles in which we could swim for ever and ever.

There is another rule. Ultimately might is right, the strongest wins out. That is the plain truth. I will not elaborate on that because, needless to say, that is not a scenario anyone would wish for. It is simply a question of common sense. The Supreme Court could come back to us with that option.

What upsets me the most, however, is that with this kind of reference to the Supreme Court we tend to recognize, to say publicly that the breakup of our country is so likely that the head of the Government of Canada and the government itself have come to the conclusion that it is a possibility to be considered.

We have to be honest and realize that, in every type of relationship, if we keep talking about a breakup, it will eventually happen.

The same thing holds true for a country, spouses, or business partners. I think that the current government is not keeping the referendum commitments made in 1995 when it focuses on the breakup scenario.

We have brought forward a number of ideas to help move the debate along.

Since the 1995 referendum we have made it very clear that we oppose this supreme court reference. We think it is a bad idea. By the way, we certainly acknowledge that there are great number of Canadians outside of Quebec who think this is a good idea and I know that. However, I just think a lot of people are living under the illusion that this is going to solve a problem when it will not. It is a political problem.

There are a number of things we can do. I have written to the prime minister and the premiers at least twice in the last year making some constructive suggestions on behalf of my party and the men and women in my party who believe there are solutions and a consensus at hand.

In fact, we feel frustrated because we happen to know that there is a very real will for change in the country. It is reflected in all parts of the country, in Alberta, Ontario, the Atlantic and Quebec. This will for change is compatible with what governments in Quebec have also been seeking for the last 30 years. It is within our reach if we have a leadership that is able to understand it and seize that opportunity.

Among the things I have written about to the premiers and the prime minister are rebalancing the federation and limiting federal spending power. I have recommended some institutional changes. Our country has matured to the point where we can change some of our institutions.

My party and I believe there should be a covenant, that we should renew the social and economic union of Canada. Under a new institution, a covenant, we could agree to national standards in health care for example. We could make a commitment to delivery of services to people. We could put the focus on the services we are rendering rather than on the governments that deliver the services. Through such an agreement we could install predictable financing.

Health care is probably the most important example. Over the last few years our health care system has been slashed in its funding. It is broken and needs to be fixed. Here is a good place to start for the sake of our parents, our grandparents and our kids who deserve a good health care system.

Senate reform and the recognition of Quebec are among the ideas we put forth. We have had the worst of debates on these issues. The Reform Party has gone out there cynically and for 10 years it has lived off of denouncing Quebec and the idea of distinct society. It ran on that issue during the last election campaign.

Now the concept of unique character is on the table. The minister and the Liberal government have said that unique character and distinct society mean exactly the same thing. It is intriguing to us how the Reform Party will swallow itself whole on this issue.

Supply February 10th, 1998

Madam Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure for me to join in this debate on the opposition motion moved by the Bloc Quebecois on an issue that has taken up much of the time and energy of Canadian politicians for the last 30 years.

I first want to deal with this motion. The motion reads as follows:

That this House recognize the consensus in Quebec that it is for Quebeckers—

—and for them alone to decide their own future.

This is an issue that my party has already dealt with several times. It was the subject of two referenda in our recent history, in 1980 and 1995. Madam Speaker, I have no problem in telling you that my party, my caucus, can support this motion.

It does not create a major problem for us. But I also want to be very frank because, on this issue, the important thing is that the truth be told. The problem in this debate is not what the motion says, but what it does not say.

It is not the words in the motion that people might object to. It is everything surrounding the motion, including its impact and how some people would want to proceed in the event of a break-up. The real problem is there. Yes, the motion is fine and we can support it. We do not have any problem with it in principle. It does not create a major problem for us.

But at the same time, it leads us to ask other questions and we can say right away, because we do not want to give the wrong impression, that we have few answers. This is part of the problem. And this also must be said frankly. This is always in the spirit of portraying things as they are. It is commonly known that we are opposed to a Supreme Court reference as proposed by the federal government.

First of all, it bears repeating that a reference to the Supreme Court by the federal government, or to a court of appeal by provincial governments, is always an exceptional measure. It is very seldom used, and with great caution, by governments.

And for good reason. Dragging the courts into political debates is not without consequences. There will be very real consequences for the courts and for Canada if we privatize, if I may be a bit ironic about this, if we privatize political issues by referring them to the Supreme Court.

The reason why we never thought this is a good idea is that the Supreme Court will not be in a position to tell us anything we do not already know on the substance of the matter. Legally, since we are always in a society that abides by the rule of law, the Canadian constitution does not provide for the breaking-up of the country.

From the legal standpoint, if we ever have a scenario of separation, we will be confronted with a legal vacuum, a kind of black hole. I keep repeating this, and it bothers quite a few people. My friends in the Bloc are already reacting to this. Whenever I talk about this, people laugh, but it is just the plain truth.

Supply February 10th, 1998

Madam Speaker, we welcome this opportunity to debate this motion in the House of Commons.

I want to take the opportunity to ask a few questions of the leader of the Reform Party to understand clearly where he stands on some issues.

I would like to quote an article written in the Calgary Sun on October 30, 1995 by his principal adviser, a Mr. Ezra Levant, whom we see here almost on a daily basis in the House of Commons. He wrote an article entitled “Ten reasons to vote yes”.

I would like to offer the opportunity today to the leader of the Reform Party to clarify the position because I understand this is the position of the Reform Party of Canada. And if it is not, then the leader of the Reform Party has a choice. He can either fire his principal adviser who is presenting this position and has not backed down or it is the position of the Reform Party.

Let me quote what Mr. Levant says in the name of the Reform Party on why they should vote yes in the referendum. His second reason is to end bilingualism and multiculturalism. In paragraph 3 he states “If we kicked out Quebec, we might then have the fortitude to tackle Canada's other ethnic separatists, natives”—natives are ethnic separatists according to him—“demanding their First Nations”. He then goes on to say “Next would be the National Action Committee on the Status of Women” and then radical environmentalist groups.

Mr. Levant in the name of the Reform Party goes on. In paragraph 4 he states that we should “end the corruption of Parliament. For decades, Quebec's largest export to Ottawa has been politicians who bring old style patronage to Parliament. We won't miss the politics of road paving”. I see the Reform members agreeing with that. That is the attitude they have shown.

I have a second short question. The leader of the Reform Party in 1990 at the opening of Reform's offices in Montreal said “If Reform Party MPs were elected in Quebec, they would work for separatism if that is what their constituents wanted”.

Could the Reform Party leader explain to us how he conciliates his position of populism that says they represent strictly the views of their MPs? How can he explain that he would accept that there would be Reform MPs in Ottawa representing separatism?

I will quote from the July 21, 1994 Toronto Star : “In our view the wishes of the constituents ought to prevail in determining how the members vote. If we get a member of Parliament in Quebec, that member will be expected to represent Quebec's interest”.

Those are two straightforward questions for the leader of the Reform Party.

Middle East February 9th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, we are very keen to finally have a debate this evening in Parliament on a decision that is a very solemn one in the life of a country, a decision that weighs heavily on the shoulders of those who must directly or indirectly make decisions putting other people's lives at risk.

We in the Progressive Conservative Party are very concerned by the developments in this conflict, especially since over a week and a half or so ago the American president had a conversation with the Prime Minister of Canada. As soon as the parliamentary session resumed, I called on the government to permit this Parliament, and through it the people of Canada, to participate fully in the debate and in the decision on Canada's role in this potential conflict.

I wrote to the Prime Minister over a week ago requesting a statement in the House of Commons to the members and to the people of Canada on his government's position. I wanted him to share with us not only the information available to his government, but also the positions held by our allies and, to be very specific, the statement made by the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who was repeating at every opportunity, and I quote: “Time is running out”.

Those familiar with diplomatic language and the way governments work were left with no choice but to wonder what these words meant and to try to understand their impact.

I therefore took the trouble not just to write to the Prime Minister, but also to telephone him on Sunday, the day before Parliament resumed, to ask him for two things: my first request was that his government make a statement in the House of Commons, and my second request, consistent with the recommendations of a parliamentary committee, was that a joint committee of the House and Senate be created so that we could hear from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Defence, and the individual responsible for the military direction of Canadian troops, the Chief of Defence Staff, in an appropriate context. Unfortunately, we met with a blank wall, a flat no.

Today, I regret to say, we find ourselves in a situation I can only describe as ridiculous, in which the government tells us it cannot take a position until it has heard from the Parliament of Canada.

Are we to conclude from this that the Government of Canada therefore had no position on this conflict, and still has none? Have things become so absurd that the government elected by the Canadian people, which has traditionally played an important role in these matters, has no position on this particular matter so far? If that is the case, things have reached a sorry pass. We have certainly slipped in our international stature.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada would much prefer a peaceful and diplomatic solution to this international crisis. It is not repetitive to say it today. It is not insignificant to say that. We should say that and repeat it as many times as we feel necessary, as a country and as citizens of this planet.

If this proves impossible because of Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow the UN to perform its duties, then we believe that Canada should fully support, under the authority of the United Nations, military action by our traditional allies to destroy Iraqi weapons capable of killing millions of people. That is the position we take.

The President of the United States spoke with the Prime Minister more than a week and a half ago. I asked the Prime Minister at the time to make a full statement to the House of Commons, to explain the position of his government, to share with us the information that he had, to go further, to actually help us interpret the position of other countries that play a major role.

For example, Madeleine Albright, the American secretary of state, has said repeatedly “Time is running out”. For any sensible person familiar with diplomacy and with the means at the disposal of countries, this was a very significant statement. Yet we were left in the dark as to its significance. Even now this government has not offered any light in regard to what exactly the Americans meant.

The government has waited to this day to make its position clear. We have reached a point of total absurdity. If I understand the government correctly, the government has said it wants to hear from the House of Commons before it takes a position. If we understand it correctly, Canada in this whole conflict has had no position, no position until this day? In international affairs it is a very sad moment for Canada to discover that, given the leadership role Canada played in 1991 in influencing the American administration to work under the authority of the UN, we have now abandoned any attempt at influence.

More than a week ago, I asked the Prime Minister, through a letter and a phone call, whether he would not make a statement to the House and whether he would not strike a parliamentary committee to hear from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Defence and the chief of defence staff. We even made this recommendation because it is consistent with the committee report filed in 1994, supported by a majority of Liberals on the committee, that stated very clearly that in these circumstances there should be a standing committee to whom the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Defence and the chief of defence staff should report. This is nothing new. This report was in 1994. The government just thumbed its nose at this Parliament and its own majority on the committee and chose to break another promise.

There are many questions in regard to this whole debate. We have to ask what is at stake. What is the best way of dealing with this dangerous situation? What forces and facilities are needed in the event of military action? What is the objective of a military strike and how long will it take to achieve? Is parliamentary support necessary?

I would like to take the opportunity to address some of these issues, first on what is at stake. What is at stake is a moral imperative, that of peace and security for this world, peace and security not only for those who are living peacefully in countries such as Canada and are privileged by our citizenship but also, as other leaders have said in this House today, the peace and security of other human beings with whom we share this world.

What is the best way of dealing with this situation? As I have made clear, the position of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada is that diplomacy of course must be the preferred option. However, should diplomacy fail then the use of force would then become justified.

In our opinion diplomacy is not a success if Saddam Hussein agrees only to the inspection of a limited number of sites. Security council resolution 687 sets out the terms that Iraq must comply with under the gulf war ceasefire. It is clear in that resolution that the ceasefire is conditional on UN sanctioned inspection of Iraqi weapon sites.

I want to quote from paragraph eight of resolution 687 because it spells it out very clearly:

—decides that Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of all chemical and biological weapons and all stocks of agents and all related subsystems and components and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities.

The resolution goes on at length but it is very clear.

It is clear from the ceasefire agreement that should Iraq continue to violate UN security council resolutions regarding inspection of Iraqi weapon sites, the use of force against Iraq to destroy its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons is justified.

However, it is not clear, given the answers the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have offered today in the House of Commons what diplomatic efforts they have undertaken to resolve the rift that currently exists between members of the UN security council.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs made a very troubling admission today in the House of Commons when asked whether or not we should renew our efforts on the UN front. The Minister of Foreign Affairs had to admit to this House today that if we did that we ran the risk of establishing and defining a rift within the UN security council itself.

Pretending this problem does not exist is not going to make it go away. This is a very serious admission on behalf of the minister and one that this House and Canadians need to know before we make a decision with regard to the future of the men and women who will be involved in this conflict.

What would be the position should Russia and China continue to hold the view that there should be no intervention? Will we provide support for military action by our traditional allies or would we be opposed?

What forces are needed and what can Canada provide is another question. It is unclear at this point what exactly is being asked. Currently only Britain and the United States have committed to military participation while Germany has pledged full political support and the use of air bases.

Of course the world cannot be held hostage by Saddam Hussein and his arsenal of biological weapons.

However, it must be clear to all countries involved what the objectives of a military strike in Iraq are and what the strike will accomplish. Now is the time to be clear on this.

There are those who may not think it is significant. History is full of examples of countries that got themselves involved in conflicts they thought were temporary, regional, limited in time and space but could not get out of them. I do not have to remind members of what the Vietnam experience was for the Americans. Yet some seem already to have forgotten. Why? Because it must be clear from the outset what objective we are pursuing. We have yet to hear exactly what it is. The joint committee would help to establish and clarify that position. I am still hoping the government will come to its senses and establish that joint committee.

What will we offer in terms of capacity? This government has reduced Canada's forces by about 25% since 1994. It is not any coincidence that the American president would not ask for more. He knows full well that Canada cannot offer more than what he is asking. What is the state of Canada's military equipment? These are all questions we have to ask.

What objective will we pursue? I see two obvious objectives. Iraq's air defences and many weapons we have identified would need to be destroyed.

We need to know what position our government will take if military bombing is taken and is extended to a vast area. These are all questions that need to be answered. We also know that time is running out.

I want to know whether or not Canada's Parliament will be involved in this debate. In 1991 there were 71 hours of debate and three debates in the House of Commons. We learned a great deal from the experience of 1991.

I hear the Minister of Foreign Affairs heckling me from the other side of the House of Commons. This is a happy coincidence. Let me quote from Debates of 1990. One member in the House at the time said: “If all of a sudden we are beginning to deploy troops and give them rules of engagement or a mandate that extends beyond the clear definition provided by the UN, then we may also be in danger of undermining the opportunity of the UN to show it must be the place where decisions are made”. That was said by the member who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs. That is what he thought then.

Let me quote again. A member of the House of Commons said: “Do individual nations, whether they be large or small, have the right to decide when to use force for invasionary purposes? It should not be a unilateral decision”. That was the same minister recorded in Hansard on September 24, 1990. I can only regret that he does not seem to be as forthcoming today.

This is a very important moment in the life of our Parliament and Canadians deserve that many questions be answered. Our party will continue to push so that we have as much information as possible.

We will continue to push the government to answer these questions and put an end to this absurd situation, which I must say I have trouble understanding. I do not understand what this government has to hide.

Why not strike a committee? Why not make a statement in the House of Commons? It is not as though partisan issues were involved. We have just been through a crisis. In such times, neither the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, the leader of the Reform Party, or the Leader of the New Democratic Party engage in partisan politics. Yet the government is stuck in some kind of rut that is frankly difficult to explain.

Given the extraordinary circumstances we are in and the fact that the government has not been forthcoming on this matter, I would like to close my remarks by asking for the unanimous consent of the House of Commons to put the following motion:

That the proceedings be interrupted at this time to permit the Prime Minister to answer questions from members of all parties for the next thirty minutes.

Iraq February 9th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister speaks about respect for the opposition and the other parties. Basic respect would start by informing the House of Commons and its members of what is happening and offering briefings on what is happening.

The Americans are ready to offer briefings to members of this House on what is happening. Our own government has not even done that yet. Respect starts by explaining to this House what the Canadian position is, not group therapy in the House of Commons.

Would the prime minister have the decency of informing the House today whether or not he told President Clinton that he prefers actions under the auspices of the United Nations rather than seeing the Americans act alone? Will he at least inform us of that today?