Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Bill C-12 and more specifically to the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Joliette.
The amendment states:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because the Bill would unacceptably reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons and does not set out that Quebec must hold 25 percent of the seats in the House of Commons.”
When we look at this bill from the angle of the amendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois, it is very clear that every MP from Quebec, whether they are Conservative, Liberal, NDP or Bloc, is going to vote in favour of the amendment, at least I hope so. This is a fundamental issue for Quebec society and for the nation of Quebec.
It was almost five years ago, on November 22, 2006, that the Conservative government moved a motion calling on the House to recognize the nation of Quebec. This motion was adopted. Since the House of Commons recognized that Quebec formed a nation, we thought this motion would be followed by other positions or policies to strengthen this concept, for example by strengthening culture and communications. Furthermore, a bill was introduced on the matter. I was the sponsor of the bill to recognize that Quebec could control its own culture and communications and could create a Quebec radio-television and telecommunications commission. The federalist parties voted against that bill and made themselves perfectly clear on the matter, even though this decision was in direct contradiction to their vote recognizing the nation of Quebec.
We also expected more support for the French language, the language of Quebeckers and the official language of Quebec. French is a language that must be protected, since Quebeckers are a minority within Canada. The culture and language of that minority must be protected.
We might have thought that the Conservative government would introduce bills that would strengthen this protection. For example, it could have recognized Bill 101, which has protected the French fact in Quebec since 1977 or 1978, since the first Parti Québécois government came to power. We would have thought that the government would introduce a bill to do that.
Far from introducing a bill to strengthen the French language, the government and the Liberals voted against the bills we introduced that put in place a structure that would have brought people in establishments where there are workers under federal jurisdiction, like banks and airports, under Bill 101. That was rejected.
In addition to not taking the initiative themselves to strengthen the recognition of the Quebec nation, every time we gave the federalist parties an opportunity to support us, they did not do it and they sidestepped it.
Today, Bill C-12 proposes to change the democratic representation. This bill could have been acceptable if it had been to strengthen the idea of the Quebec nation, but the opposite is true. They are presenting a bill that reduces the political weight of Quebec, of the Quebec nation. This is completely unacceptable.
Since that motion was passed, in November 2006, the Conservatives have systematically attacked the Quebec nation. They recognize the Quebec nation, but they attack it. They have rejected any proposal that was intended precisely to give tangible expression to the recognition of the Quebec nation, whether in terms of language, culture or communications. By introducing Bill C-12, which will marginalize the Quebec nation even further within the broader whole of Canada, the Conservative government clearly intends to diminish the political weight of Quebec in the House of Commons.
In 1867, 36% of the seats were assigned to Quebec. With Bill C-12, Quebec’s representation will fall to 22.4% of the seats in 2014. We have before us a government that recognizes the Quebec nation and that promised open federalism, but in fact it practises a muzzled and closed federalism. This is the complete opposite of what it says.
In Quebec in particular, this bill, this measure, this intention has never been, is not and never will be a matter on which there is consensus; the opposite is true. Twice, all of the members of the National Assembly of Quebec have passed motions calling on the federal government to withdraw bills that reduced Quebec’s political weight. If we add the 125 Quebec members of the National Assembly, all parties combined, to all of the Bloc Québécois members of Parliament, who account for nearly two thirds of the seats representing Quebec in the House of Commons, that makes 175 out of 200 Quebec representatives who reject that position. The Conservative and Liberal members and the New Democrat member from Quebec absolutely must support our efforts and the amendment brought forward by the Bloc Québécois, to have this bill completely withdrawn. That is the form in which our amendment is presented.
All elected representatives from Quebec, in both the National Assembly and the House of Commons, represent 87% of the elected representatives of the Quebec nation and are calling for the bill to be withdrawn. That percentage must be increased, and it is up to the other members to make sure it is. They absolutely must take up the defence of the Quebec nation, starting now.
The former Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs of Quebec, Benoît Pelletier, in fact stated his government’s position on May 17, 2007:
I appreciate that the House is based on proportional representation. But I wonder whether there might be special measures to protect Quebec, which represents the main linguistic minority in Canada, is a founding province of Canada and is losing demographic weight...Why could Quebec not be accommodated because of its status as a nation and a national minority within Canada?
That is the question. In their speeches, my colleagues were saying that it was not simply a matter of numbers or proportion.
This bill seeks to raise the number of MPs in those provinces where the population is increasing more significantly than elsewhere. However, Parliament also has a duty to assess all the factors. The number of people living in a riding is not the only criterion to determine how many MPs a province should have. For example, if I am not mistaken, Prince Edward Island has four ridings. However, the population in these ridings is less than one quarter of the national average. In Prince Edward Island, we apply a principle whereby a province with a somewhat smaller population should still be represented by a minimum number of MPs. A certain degree of strength is necessary. However, the government refuses to grant this protection to Quebec, which is one of the founding nations of Canada. Political weight is important to Prince Edward Island, but it is also important for the Quebec nation.
Other bills have been introduced regarding this issue. In fact, after the Conservatives and the Liberals voted against the Bloc Québécois' motion, the Quebec National Assembly passed a third motion on April 22, 2010, almost one year ago, reaffirming that Quebec, as a nation, must be able to enjoy special protection for the weight of its representation in the House of Commons. In that motion, elected members from all political parties in Ottawa were asked not to enact any bill that would diminish the weight of the representation of Quebec in the House of Commons.
That is basically what I deemed important to point out. We should not look strictly at the numbers and figures when the time comes to establish a degree of proportionality with the number of members in the House. We must also be mindful of other commitments made by the House of Commons, including those that have to do with the representation of certain provinces. We must not look merely at the numbers, but also at the moral aspect of the decision and ensure that it is consistent with the fact that the House of Commons has recognized Quebec as a nation.