Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to take part in this debate because that way, I, like my colleagues, am fulfilling the mission for which Quebeckers sent us to the House, which is to defend unconditionally the interests of the Quebec nation.
I would like to begin by saying that Bill C-12 on “democratic representation” is a direct attack on the Quebec nation. I am here to say that the Bloc Québécois, as we have been saying for months, will oppose this bill and do everything in its power to prevent the bill from passing. We currently have a minority government, and an election could be called in the next few weeks or the next few months. Our goal is to make this proposed marginalization of the Quebec nation a key issue in Quebec during the next election.
On November 22, 2006, the Conservative government moved a motion recognizing the existence of the Quebec nation. As a nation, we did not need this recognition to exist, but it was nonetheless interesting to see that almost all the parliamentarians in the House recognized the existence of this nation; that was a first. The government should have followed through on this recognition, should have walked the walk by introducing a series of measures.
Naturally, Bill C-12 does not walk the walk when it comes to recognizing the Quebec nation. On the contrary, this bill denies the existence of this nation and marginalizes its representation in federal institutions here, in the House of Commons.
The proportion of the population cannot be the only factor in determining the representation of each of the regions of Canada. If that were the case, Prince Edward Island, which currently has four members of Parliament, would certainly not have as many. Prince Edward Island has approximately the same number of people as a Montreal borough, which generally does not even have one member of Parliament. We understand that, and it is absolutely fine.
We have the same thing with the Îles de la Madeleine in the Quebec National Assembly. We understand that no democratic institution, including the House of Commons, can be an exact mathematical representation of the proportion of the population. This means that an important factor in the debate right now should be that the recognition of the Quebec nation must give it the political weight it requires in federal institutions to ensure that its voice be heard.
Unfortunately, Bill C-12 does the complete opposite. This was mentioned earlier by an NDP member. He said that with Bill C-12, the proportion of members from Quebec in the House will be less than its demographic weight. We believe that Quebec should always have at least 25% of the seats, as was the case at the time of the Charlottetown accords. We should all agree on that. My colleagues know that we are far from agreeing on that.
In Quebec, there is strong, virtually unanimous, opposition to Bill C-12. The Quebec National Assembly has, on several occasions, taken the stance that this bill should be withdrawn. Previously, before the September 2008 election, Bill C-56 gave 26 additional seats to the Canadian nation.
As of the moment the House of Commons acknowledged the existence of the Quebec nation, there have been at least two nations within the Canadian political landscape. In fact, there are more if you consider the first nations, but that is a separate acknowledgement or another way to handle nation-to-nation relationships. In this case, the Canadian political landscape is made up of two major nations: the Canadian nation and the Quebec nation. Bill C-56 would have given the Canadian nation an additional 26 seats, and we were opposed to that. We now have even more reason to object to Bill C-12, which would give it 30 seats.
It should also be mentioned that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party did not act on Quebec's concerns about Bill C-56. What is worse, Bill C-12 is, in some ways, more reprehensible than Bill C-56. It is clear that this bill is about winning Canadian and Conservative votes. Not only did they not try to find a compromise and a balance to ensure that the Quebec nation is heard in federal institutions, but they introduced a bill that gives more to Ontario, at the expense of the Quebec nation, to ensure that they have more support in the next election in order to perhaps, eventually, win a majority government.
Bill C-12 is even more reprehensible because it adds four seats, which is a slap in the face to the Government of Quebec and the National Assembly after all the submissions they made. I want to remind this House that the 47 Bloc Québécois members and the 125 members of the National Assembly of Quebec are opposed to Bill C-12. That makes 172 out of 200 elected representatives in Quebec who are opposed to this bill, just as they were opposed to Bill C-56. More than 85% of MNAs and MPs from Quebec are opposed to this bill.
Canada should listen to the elected representatives of the Quebec nation and withdraw this bill. In addition, it should keep the proportion of MPs from Quebec at 25%. If the political will is there, formulas will always ensure that the democratic representation in the House reflects Canada's demographic reality, just as it does Quebec's demographic reality. There are other criteria that must be considered, because representation cannot be based on population alone. We can agree on formulas.
For example, if we increase the number of representatives from Canada in the House, we also have to increase the number of representatives from Quebec to keep the proportion at 25%. Quebec would be quite open to this solution, which might make it possible to reflect the demographic realities of faster-growing provinces in western Canada, such as British Columbia and Alberta.
We could also base our approach on what is done in the National Assembly of Quebec, where there are 125 seats and the chief electoral officer of Quebec regularly makes changes to reflect population movements. These are not easy debates. In this case, they take place in Quebec. Sometimes, some regions gain ridings while other regions lose them. But the National Assembly still keeps 125 seats. We could come up with a different breakdown of the current 308 seats in the House, while reserving 25% or so for members from Quebec.
It is not that we do not wish to allow Canada to change its representation to reflect the changing Canadian reality, but rather that this cannot be done at the expense of the interests of the Quebec nation. Benoît Pelletier expressed this very idea, on May 17, 2007, with regard to Bill C-56 which, I will remind members, was the forerunner of Bill C-12, although the latter is even more reprehensible because four more seats are involved. I will thus read what he said when he was intergovernmental affairs minister in the Government of Quebec.
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?
It should be noted that Benoît Pelletier is not a sovereignist but a federalist. He clearly understood the essence of a true confederation.
I would also like to remind members that in 1840, when the United Province of Canada was founded, the population of Lower Canada was much larger than that of Upper Canada. At that time, there was more talk about the French-Canadian nation than about the Quebec nation. The political leaders of the French-Canadian nation made the argument with French Canadians, with the population of Lower Canada, for an equal division of seats between Upper Canada and Lower Canada in the central legislature at that time. From the beginning, it was understood that political arrangements were needed to ensure that the two nations could talk to one another as equals.
The spirit that existed in 1840 should have guided us in 2010. Unfortunately, we are forced to acknowledge that we have lost that spirit because the sense of confederation no longer exists. We have a government that is increasingly centralist and, in reality, this is a confederation in name only. It is a political system where the central government, the federal government, has more and more powers, especially because of its pseudo-spending power in provincial areas of jurisdiction.
In this regard, I would like to remind the members of the House that this winter, during this session, the Bloc Québécois introduced a motion to eliminate the federal spending power in areas under the jurisdiction of the provinces and Quebec. The Prime Minister promised that this would be done and the hon. member for Beauce suggested that this action be taken several days before we introduced the motion. Unfortunately, all the Canadian federalist parties opposed the motion. This is yet another sign that the existence of a Quebec nation is not actually recognized.
This lack of recognition is particularly true on the part of the Conservatives, as we later saw. The Conservatives recognized the Quebec nation for opportunistic electoral reasons. They were trying to show Quebeckers that they were more open-minded than Jean Chrétien's Liberal government. However, this recognition and open-mindedness was merely a symbolic gesture—like a rose in someone's lapel—with no concrete meaning.
We have seen other examples of the government's refusal to eliminate the federal spending power. I remind the members of the House that I myself introduced a bill to apply the Charter of the French Language to companies under federal jurisdiction in Quebec, companies such as banks, interprovincial and international shipping companies, and broadcasting and telecommunications companies. We proposed this bill so that the 225,000 workers in Quebec who are not currently protected by the Charter of the French Language could be. With the exception of the NDP members, who were divided on the issue, all of the Canadian federalist parties opposed the bill. This just goes to show the lack of recognition of the Quebec nation and its common language and one official language, French. Once again, the parties wanted to perpetuate the myth of bilingualism when we know full well that, in the rest of Canada, the French-Canadian minority is, unfortunately, gradually being assimilated, despite the laws that, in theory, are supposed to protect francophones.
This is also quite obvious when it comes to the national culture of Quebec and Quebeckers. The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages once again introduced Bill C-32, which has been denounced by all creators, artists and singers in Quebec. This government has shown nothing but complete indifference. I must say, Quebec is not the only place that abhors Bill C-32. Many Canadian artists are also denouncing it, but Quebec's voice has been much louder than that of anglophone artists in Canada. So, once again, a direct attack is being launched on Quebec culture. This is another example of the failure to give tangible expression to the recognition of the Quebec nation. Very clearly, the bill before us is meant to favour the major broadcasters and the major Canadian and American producers, to the detriment of artists' copyrights.
Once again, this all proves that tangible expression will never be given to the recognition of the Quebec nation—not under the Conservatives nor under any federalist party.
If the government had really taken the Quebec nation into account, it would never have introduced Bill C-12. Something else would have been arranged, like what was agreed upon in Charlottetown, that is, 25% Quebec representation in federal institutions.
The old Constitution, the 1867 Constitution, contained provisions whereby the French-Canadian nation, which was based in the Lower St. Lawrence region and in Lower Canada as a whole, had accepted that the English-Canadian nation should have equal representation. Things have changed since then.
French-Canadians who live within Quebec's borders now identify themselves as Quebeckers. Everyone who lives in Quebec considers themselves part of the Quebec nation. People no longer talk about a nation based on ethnicity. The same is true of the Canadian nation. It is not a nation made up of English-Canadians or people only of British, Scottish or Irish origin. Now everyone agrees that people who live in Quebec, those who are permanent residents, who have citizenship, regardless of their place of birth, their religion or their mother tongue, are Canadians or Quebeckers.
We also have to recognize that in that context, Quebec remains the heart of the Francophonie, not just in the Canadian body politic, but in all of North America and even the Americas. Except for Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe, where French is spoken, the only place where French is the primary language is Quebec.
We have to take this reality into account in order to make the political voice of Quebec heard in the House. Mr. Gérin-Lajoie made the same arguments when he was education minister in the early 1960s under the Liberal government of Jean Lesage in Quebec, during the quiet revolution. He said that Quebec's domestic jurisdictions should be extended to the world stage. He was particularly interested in the issue of education. He said that since Quebec was responsible for education, which is central to the development of a nation and its culture, then Quebec should be heard with its own voice on issues of education and culture in international institutions. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Let us not forget that at UNESCO, we were offered a small ejection seat. If there is no agreement within the Canadian delegation between the representatives from Quebec and those from Canada, then Quebec has to keep mum, and Canada gets to speak on behalf of Quebec even if their positions differ.
This bill is insulting to us. It has to be withdrawn and I will amend it in the following way: I move, seconded by the hon. member for Laval, 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.
I am moving this amendment.