Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Yellowhead.
The importance of today's motion on national unity is like no other. As this country approaches the beginning of a new millennium, we are increasingly being faced with growing concerns of global proportions, and now more than ever Canada is being asked to play a leadership role in many international organizations and treaties.
From our peacekeeping missions to banning land mines, Canadians have often been hailed for showing leadership. Just yesterday in the House we showed how this country can work together when we dealt with the land mines issue. There was unity within this House.
All these great accomplishments will lose their significance if we are unable to keep this country united. The world has often looked to Canadians for help in restoring peace to troubled nations. But we will be risking this international profile if we cannot manage to put an end to divisive thinking and begin reshaping our federation with one goal in mind, national unity from coast to coast to coast.
Since the signing of Confederation the dynamics of our federation have been tried and tested many times. Our system of federalism has served us well over the last 100 years. However, dynamics change over time and, like the old family car that has safely carried us on many long cross-Canada trips, an overhaul is needed. Keep in mind that the body of this old car is classic and irreplaceable. We have been emotionally attached to it but it is unable in its present condition to get us where we need to go.
Long overdue is the time for tune-ups. In fact, we know we were wrong to not fine tune the old jalopy on a regular basis and now we are faced with two choices. We can put it out to pasture and watch it rust or we can rebuild the framework, overhaul the system to get it running smoother and better than ever.
Last September nine provincial premiers and two territorial leaders started rebuilding the framework of that irreplaceable classic. The work of the provincial premiers is a good first step toward real progress on national unity.
Meech Lake and Charlottetown rejected equality of citizens and provinces and did not solicit the genuine input of grassroots Canadians.
The Calgary declaration, on the other hand, puts the equality of citizens and provinces and the need to engage Canadians in national dialogue front and centre. The Calgary declaration is not carved in stone but rather is open to changes that may emerge from extensive consultation.
In the past the differences between the provinces and the people have been magnified and we have forgotten some very crucial similarities. For example, regardless of culture and language we all want the best for our children. We all want them to grow up in a country free of political division.
It is a shame that the separatists in Quebec are trying to keep Quebeckers from participating in this meaningful consultation process. This is a great disservice to our fellow Canadians in Quebec. Their input is vital to the process and we want to hear what Quebeckers have to say as we begin this renewal of federalism.
Obvious is the reason the separatist Government of Quebec has chosen not to participate. Any constructive means to solve our unity disputes would douse the fire of separatism, leaving the separatists without a mandate.
Now is the time for Canadians to reach out to one another and embrace our diversity. Unique, yes. Distinct, yes. Equal, yes. We have always accepted that Quebec is unique. However, we believe that all provinces are unique in their own right. We favour a rebalancing of federal-provincial powers to ensure that each province is allowed to nourish its distinctiveness while the federal government's powers are strengthened in the areas of national concern.
In the past politicians have shortchanged Quebeckers with one word phrases in an attempt to appease their dissatisfaction with the federation. Why not give them the tools they require to strengthen their culture? The only stipulation we request is that those same tools be made available to all provinces to use in areas that matter most to them.
Let me emphasize that granting provinces more control over the development of their distinctiveness and the concept of equality are not on opposite ends of the spectrum. In the process of rebuilding the federation, just as the old classic family car needs an overhaul, a realignment of powers of the federal and provincial governments is needed. Instead of focusing on purely symbolic one word phrases which politicians time and again refuse to accurately define, we should focus on presenting provinces with the tools needed to develop that which makes them unique.
The concept of equality does not mean that everyone is the same. At the risk of oversimplifying the situation let me use another analogy. In a classroom if a teacher hands out identical boxes of supplies to each student and tells them they are to make a project using those supplies, it stands to reason that no two projects will be identical. The creative processes vary from student to student as each places different importance on how to use the supplies based on each student's vision of what their project will encompass.
In the federation equal does not necessitate identical. It would be unrealistic to expect the provinces to exercise their powers uniformly. Rather, the provinces will have equal powers to try what is best suited for their traditions, their character, their education, social services, and the list goes on, all the while keeping in mind adherence to national standards guidelines. Canadians need to feel free to come forward and offer solutions and ideas on how to improve the federation and how their province should diversify and nurture its distinctiveness.
It would be wise for all levels of government to view the separatist movement in Quebec as a wake-up call to improve our federal system. In the spirit of co-operation that was demonstrated in the Calgary declaration, respecting differences and allowing provinces more power to develop their unique societies will foster unity in this country.
Earlier today a member of the Bloc stated that western Canada could not handle Quebec's distinctiveness. I encourage the member of the Bloc to listen to what we are saying. We are well aware that the Bloc and the Parti Quebecois are determined to undermine any national unity plan because that would put an end to their singularly divisive political agenda. I encourage that member of the Bloc to visit our province. He will be pleasantly surprised to find out that we embrace our differences. Perhaps he might like to visit some of our francophone communities.
In my constituency of Lethbridge our school system has a very strong French immersion program. It began in 1975 and continues to teach children the beauty of distinctiveness, distinctive culture and the value of learning new languages, including French.
I recently received a letter from the mayor of Lethbridge regarding a set of resolutions formed by the city council of Lethbridge on the issue of the possibility of Quebec's seceding from the federation. The Lethbridge municipal council has taken an interest in this issue because its sister city is Saint-Laurent, Quebec.
The positive relationship between Lethbridge and Saint Laurent has steadily grown over the years, highlighted by youth, cultural and linguistic exchange programs. As we face the possibility of yet another referendum it is now more significant than ever to reach out to our respective sister cities and remind our fellow Canadians how much we cherish their friendships and the friendships that have developed from these exchanges.
With most of this discussion of separatism focusing on our differences it is imperative that we regain perspective and remember how much we share in common.
The responsibility of conveying this commonality must also be shared by federal, provincial and municipal representatives as well as with individual Canadians who wish to help keep this great country united.
I commend the city council of Lethbridge for presenting such positive resolutions and for acting to help its fellow Canadians in Quebec who wish only for improvements to the federation and not for separation.
In a recent poll in my constituency over 80% of respondents believe that making federal institutions more accountable is the best route to solving Canadian national unity problems. Nearly two-thirds who responded agreed that realigning more powers to the provinces, precisely what Quebec has long asked for, is the key to keeping this country together.
I feel strongly that if we persevere to keep Canada united we will indeed enter the 21st century with new found confidence and prosperity.
I urge all Canadians to contact their municipal, provincial and federal representatives and to continue communicating with our sisters and brothers in Quebec. Let us keep our Canadian family together once and for all.