Mr. Speaker, having had the honour of being elected by the citizens of Saint-Laurent is particularly relevant to what I am about to say in my maiden speech in the House of Commons.
I will never be able to express my gratitude sufficiently to the constituents of Saint-Laurent-Cartierville for having chosen me to represent them. This diverse and harmonious community inhabited by over 50 different nationalities fully integrated into Quebec society intends to exercise its right to remain in Canada.
I dedicate what I am about to say to all the young people I met during my election campaign last March. Sometimes speaking in French, sometimes in English, and often in one or two other languages, a sign of how well equipped they are for the next century, these young people sadly told me that they were not sure their future lay in either Saint-Laurent or Montreal. They belong in Montreal and to the surrounding area, that is their home.
And rather than leave, they must convince their fellow Quebecers that belonging to more than one group is a source of strength, not a contradiction. They must convince their fellow Canadians in other provinces that recognizing the distinct nature of Quebec is not a threat to Canadian unity, but, on the contrary, a wonderful way to celebrate one of Canada's fundamental characteristics.
The theme of this first speech will be democracy, which the opposition invites us to consider this May 16, 1996, by presenting the following motion:
That the House endorse the declaration of the Prime Minister of Canada, who stated in Straight from the Heart , in 1985, ``If we don't win, I'll respect the wishes of Quebeckers and let them separate''.
This quotation is taken out of context by the official opposition. It goes back to 1970, and was repeated by Mr. Chrétien in 1985. In the same passage, the current Prime Minister also said: "We'll put our faith in democracy. We'll convince the people that they should stay in Canada and we'll win". We'll put our faith in democracy. This reliance on democracy is an invitation to us to consider the meaning of the word, and to ponder the teachings of the classics.
Let us begin with that great prophet of democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, and I quote: "I consider unjust and ungodly the maxim that, in matters of government, a majority of the people
have the right to impose their will". De Tocqueville is saying that democracy cannot be limited to the rule of the majority, because it also includes the rights of minorities, and of the smallest minority of all, the individual, the flesh and blood citizen.
The second classical author I call on is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I will quote him in English.
The more important and serious the decisions, the closer the prevailing opinion should be to unanimity.
What Rousseau is setting out here is not obviously the rule of unanimity, which clearly is impracticable. What he is showing us is that the more a decision threatens the rights of individuals, the more irreversible it is and the more it involves future generations, the more stringent must be the procedure democracy selects for the adoption of this decision.
This brings me to the fine quote of Montesquieu linking democracy tightly with universal solidarity. And I quote: "If I knew of something that could serve my nation but would ruin another, I would not propose it to my prince, for I am first a man and only then a Frenchman-because I am necessarily a man, and only accidently am I French.
Tocqueville, Rousseau, Montesquieu. With these three French authors, no one can accuse me of distancing myself from francophone tradition. In fact, however, the principles these three set out are universal and have guided constitutional democracies in establishing their rules of law. These principles are the reason that the supremacy of law is a vital component of democracy.
Let us apply these principles to the issue dividing us in Canada: secession. It is defined as a break in solidarity among the citizens of a common country. This is why international law in its great wisdom extends the right of self-determination in its extreme form, that is the right of secession, only in situations where a break in solidarity appears de facto to be incontrovertible.
Let us quote, in this regard, the five experts who testified before the Bélanger-Campeau Commission. I quote: "Legally, Quebec's eventual declaration of sovereignty cannot be based on the principle of the equality in law of peoples or their right to self-determination, which permits independence only to colonial peoples or to those whose territory is under foreign occupation".
The secessions that have taken place to date have always arisen out of decolonization or the troubled times that follow the end of totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. It is not simply a matter of chance that no well established democracy with a minimum of ten years of universal suffrage has ever faced secession. Such a break in solidarity appears very hard to justify in a democracy. International law and democratic principles encourage the people to remain united, not to break up.
While democracy infers that a group of people cannot be forced to remain within a country against their will, it also sets strict rules, which, under the law, maximize the guarantees of justice for all. That is what we learned from near-secessions that have taken place in stable democracies. It may be a good idea to review the procedure by which Switzerland, a fine example of democracy, managed to separate the Jura from the canton of Berne while being fair to all. We could also look at how the U.S.A. intend to consult the Puerto Ricans on their political future. Closer to home, we might consider the approach taken recently by Canada to transfer title, in all fairness, on lands in the north.
Now it the time to calmly set, under the law, mutually acceptable secession rules. Not two weeks before a referendum. The Government of Canada does not deny in any way the right of Quebecers to pull out of Canada, if such is their explicit wish. However, the Government of Canada does object to the Quebec government's plans to unilaterally set and change as it pleases the procedure according to which this right will be exercised and expressed. A unilateral declaration of independence would fly in the face of democracy and the rule of law.
What is not known is whether the secessionist leaders are able of entering into a calm, level-headed and reasoned discussion process. The coarse language used recently by the Premier of Quebec, who compared Canada to a prison, or Quebec's Minister of Finance, who compared the Canadian government to former totalitarian communist governments, is an insult to the memory of the East German and North Korean people who were killed trying to escape totalitarian prisons. Independentist leaders must take a grip on themselves and make responsible statements. Otherwise, they should be prepared to call every constitutional democracy a prison, as well as the separate entity they want to make of Quebec, whose territory they consider indivisible and sacred.
With mutually consented rules in place, Quebecers could then examine with some clarity the argumentation used by secessionist leaders to try to convince them to break their ties of solidarity with their fellows citizens of the maritimes, Ontario and western Canada. It is my belief that Quebec will find this secessionist argumentation very shaky.
Exploitation cannot be used as an argument to justify secession, when the Canadian federation is one the most generous for have-not regions. Neither can self-determination, or the lack of it, be used as an argument, as few other federal components in the world benefit from as much autonomy as Quebec does within the Canadian federation.
The only argument secessionist leaders could put forth is the fact that, according to several established criteria, Quebecers could be considered as a people and that each people must have its own state. This idea that any group of people that is different from the others must have its own state is terribly untrue.
The flawed equation "one people, one country" would blow up the planet. Experts have estimated at around 3,000 the number of human groups with a recognized collective identity. But there are fewer than 200 states in the world.
Quebecers and other Canadians should reflect on this fine statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and I quote:
If every ethnic region or linguistic group claimed statehood there would be no limit to fragmentation, and peace, security and well-being for all would become even more difficult to achieve.
Canada is the last place in the world where identity-based fragmentation should be allowed to prevail. In the eyes of the world, this country symbolizes better than any other the ideal of how different people can live together in harmony in a single state. In this regard, let us listen to President Clinton, who said, and I quote: "In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that literally tear nations apart, Canada has stood for all of us as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity and understanding. Canada has shown the world how to balance freedom with compassion".
Many others have said the same thing about Canada. I will give just one other quotation:
Canada is a land of promise and Canadians are people of hope. It is a country celebrated for its generosity of spirit, where tolerance is ingrained in the national character.
"A society in which all citizens and all groups can assert and express themselves and realize their aspirations". These words, which have the ring of truth and could have come from Sir Wilfrid Laurier or Pierre Trudeau, were pronounced on July 1, 1988, by the then Secretary of State, the Hon. Lucien Bouchard.
The Canadian government's priority is to help Quebecers and other Canadians reconcile. They must speak to one another, stay in closer contact, clear up misunderstandings, find ways to make their federation work better, and celebrate Quebec's distinctiveness within Canada. They must reconcile, not only as fellow citizens but also as inhabitants of this poor planet. Let us bet on democracy.
Therefore, if the amendment put forward by the hon. member for Berthier-Montcalm is deemed to be in order, I, seconded by the hon. member for Simcoe North, move:
That the motion be amended by deleting the words "in 1985" and by substituting for those words the following:
"in the 1970s and in 1985 as outlined on page 150 of his book Straight from the Heart : ``We'll put our faith in democracy. We'll convince the people that they should stay in Canada and we'll win''.