April 2, 1998

?

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
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PC

Jean Charest

Progressive Conservative

Hon. Jean J. Charest

I have never seen so many faces change so rapidly.

Today I am confirming to the House the decision I announced last week to resign my position as the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. This resignation is to take effect on April 3. I shall be retaining my position as MP for the federal riding of Sherbrooke for several weeks and shall inform you in writing of the effective date of my resignation from that position.

I had the privilege of being elected to the House of Commons for the first time in 1984 and was re-elected in 1988, 1993 and 1997.

Upon my arrival in the House of Commons I was appointed to the position of Assistant Deputy Speaker. I held several ministerial portfolios, including Minister of State for Youth, to which was later added the responsibilities of Minister of State for Amateur Sport and deputy House leader.

In 1990, I headed a House of Commons special committee on a resolution to accompany the Meech Lake agreement.

I held the position of Minister of the Environment for over two years. For a short time I was also Minister of Industry and Deputy Prime Minister.

During those 14 years I was actively involved in one leadership race and two referendums. I will be leaving the House of Commons for a new political arena.

During my years in federal politics I was a participant in two great events. The first was one of the greatest victories in Canadian political history. The other was one of the greatest defeats in Canadian political history. I am grateful to be able to stand here today in front of my peers and to say to them that I actually survived both.

As a minister of the crown I applied a simple test to the policies I sought to implement. I would ask myself whether any given initiative would be meaningful enough to actually be around and withstand the test of time long after I would have departed.

As minister of youth I attempted to implement a national youth strategy that resulted in two meaningful initiatives: the stay in school program, which was directed at young Canadians who needed help and encouragement to pursue their studies; and a major youth initiative in the province of New Brunswick.

When I was Minister of State for Youth our government quadrupled funding for co-operative education through what was known as the co-operative work education program. We also implemented several literacy initiatives.

I must note that I became concerned with this problem when, as a young criminal lawyer I noticed that a lot of young people who ended up in court did not know how to read or write. I was shocked and told myself that one day we would have to deal with this problem.

As minister of sport I assumed the portfolio at a very turbulent period. The Dubin inquiry into the use of drugs in sport had become a most significant inquiry in the world of amateur sport.

As minister of amateur sport, there are two initiatives of which I am very proud. In 1989 Canada's ministers of sport decided to formally include sports for physically handicapped athletes in the Canada Games. We also made representations in this regard for the Olympic Games and for the Commonwealth Games in 1990. We were encouraged in this initiative by two great Canadians, Rick Hansen and André Viger who is from my riding of Sherbrooke.

The second initiative of which I am very proud is my contribution to the first Francophone Games, a sporting and cultural event that is different from all others, especially since these games are held alternately in the northern and southern hemispheres.

As minister of environment I experienced one of the most fulfilling mandates of my political life. I was minister of a department that was at the cutting edge of science, law and public administration.

We proceeded to implement one of the world's only plans of sustainable development, the green plan. I was also privileged to lead Canada's delegation to the earth summit in Rio. The summit was a high point for Canada and for then Prime Minister Mulroney whose leadership broke the G-7 logjam on the issue of the biodiversity convention and a convention on climate change.

In all my endeavours, today if there is one thing I would like to say, it is how privileged we are as a country to be served by what is undoubtedly the best public service in the world. In all the years I have worked in government, I have been impressed day after day. I am sorry to say that there are not enough opportunities for us in this House to share with other Canadians how the men and women who work in our public service do it with a great deal of rigour, with a great deal of energy. When we compare the level of service that we get here in Canada to any other country in the world, we are privileged and lucky to have what I think is the best public service bar none.

In my 14 years of service I have had the opportunity to serve five prime ministers: Mr. Turner, Mr. Clark, Mr. Mulroney, Ms. Campbell, and the present incumbent, the member from Shawinigan. All these prime ministers are, without exception, exceptional individuals. There is no doubt in my mind that they had only one goal and that is to serve their country well. I want to recognize that today for all those in this House and for the present incumbent.

Most of my years in federal politics were served under former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. His government began the difficult task, an unrewarding task, of spending restraints and deficit reduction.

The policies brought forward between 1984 and 1993 set the stage that allowed the current government to attain a balanced budget. Canada's influence on the world stage was significant. I was part of a government that fought for free trade and NAFTA. I am honoured to have served in a government that I believe history will judge as being one of the best.

As the first French Canadian leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, I am leaving the party of Confederation. I leave behind a young and dynamic caucus, colleagues in the Senate. Most of all I will miss my friend and trusted companion, the member for Saint John.

I leave behind all those who work in the House of Commons. Today I want to spill the best kept secret in the country. This is the best place to work in Canada. Pages, messengers, bus drivers, security staff, all of them, it has been a privilege to have worked with them.

I want to thank my political staff who for 14 years has always supported me in my work.

I especially want to thank the fantastic team in my Sherbrooke office. I want to thank all these people who have served me so well.

We live in a country which, better than any other country, is preparing its citizens to live and work in the new area of globalization. Our diversity demands that we respect differences and espouse the virtues of a society which values tolerance.

Canada is based on a partnership between anglophones and francophones, which has grown to include first four provinces, then ten provinces and two territories, soon to become three. This partnership has evolved toward social and economic solidarity. This partnership, which originated in the 1774 agreement, has allowed us to do great things together in Canada.

Our destiny is calling us to even greater things, to renew our commitment, this 1774 partnership, to reconfirm it because we are presently in a state of doubt in this regard. But this partnership calls on us to do more by including our western fellow citizens in our institutions and doing more to include our native peoples.

I know of no other country in a better position to prepare the next generation to live, work, travel and create in the new millennium.

I have often said that my most important title was member for Sherbrooke. I am giving up this title at the federal level in favour of the same title in the Quebec National Assembly. I am answering a call, and after listening to people in Quebec I chose to listen to my own heart. Today Quebec is profoundly divided, therefore in a weakened state.

However, I do know that when Quebeckers are united and pursue a common goal, as they did in the early sixties under Jean Lesage, they can do great things. I also know that they need neighbours who are not strangers, especially not adversaries, neighbours who are fellow citizens and allies, people who share the same values. It is to go back to these people—

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
Permalink
PC

Jean Charest

Progressive Conservative

Hon. Jean J. Charest

I am leaving for Quebec to protect and promote Quebec's interests, to find a kind of solidarity that rises above the interests of political parties so that we can head for a future where we will join those elsewhere in Canada who want the same things as Quebeckers. It is in that spirit that I am embarking on this new journey.

I want to conclude here today by thanking those who supported me the most in my work: my family, my in-laws, all those who were with me every day.

I have shared my life with two women since 1993, with Elsie, here in the House of Commons and with my wife, Michèle, who deserves my admiration and, above all, my love, for all she has done for me, for our children and for the party since we both became actively involved in politics. I want to thank them.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
Permalink
PC

Jean Charest

Progressive Conservative

Hon. Jean J. Charest

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the few minutes you have given me, and to all my colleagues in the House of Commons, I am looking forward to meeting you again. Thank you.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
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LIB

Jean Chrétien

Liberal

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I want to salute the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and member for Sherbrooke.

I know today must be extremely difficult for him because, when you have been in the House of Commons for 14 years, you have learned a lot of things and made a lot of friends. I once voluntarily left my seat in the House of Commons and it was almost a tragedy for me. I missed it so much that I could not stand it and had to come back.

I want to salute the member for Sherbrooke because he is still a very young man who has a lot of experience. First he was a young MP. Then he held very important positions in the House of Commons and in cabinet. Then he became Deputy Prime Minister. He took the reins of his party under very difficult circumstances.

The last four years must have been very difficult for the leader. He must have been going around the country eating a lot of rubber chicken for the good of his party. He has done very well. Now that he is leaving we are sad to see him go because he has made a great contribution to this House. I know he will carry on making a great contribution to this country.

He must be quite an athlete because he likes to give it and he can take it. Many times we have been hot under the collar as they say in English. I admire his great commitment to this institution.

I had the privilege during the referendum of 1995 to see his commitment to this country. I will always remember talking to him in the rain one night in Montreal. We knew we would have to give a last effort to make sure Canada would stick together. I was very impressed by the depth of his commitment to making sure this country would carry on. We do not belong to the same party but his commitment to the values of Canada was very evident whenever he spoke. The notions of tolerance, diversity and sharing were always present.

He has touched a lot of Canadians in this land. He has been a great example to young people. We are members of the House of Commons. It is one of the greatest institutions. Democracy came to Canada a long time ago. We are one of the first democracies where responsible governments were established. We have managed to build a country that is an example to the world.

I hear a baby in the gallery. He is applauding you already. He or she is in the Liberal gallery.

I know the hon. member for Sherbrooke is embarking upon a tough journey, but he can rely on the support of the members from Quebec in this House, for we know that the future of our country and our future, our prosperity and our place on the world stage depend on our association with Canada.

The leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, the hon. member for Sherbrooke, announced that he had chosen Quebec, because he wants Quebec to be part of Canada, because Quebeckers founded this country and because French speaking Canadians have been elected to this House of Commons ever since the birth of our country.

The hon. member for Sherbrooke has set for himself an enormous task, but we all are aware of his enthusiasm, of his devotion to public life and of his desire to ensure that all Canadians can benefit from being citizens of this great country of ours.

I want to tell him that we are all very sad to see him go. He was an excellent member of Parliament and he worked very hard at it.

I also want to pay tribute to his wife, because we often forget that the family members of those involved in public life are the ones who suffer the most and who have to make all the sacrifices. I understand how terrible it must be to sell a house one has not moved into yet and to set aside all the plans you had made, but I think she has understood that her husband is a great Quebecker and a great Canadian.

The whole country congratulates him for the initiative he has undertaken. We wish him good luck. Long live Quebec and long live Canada.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
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REF

Preston Manning

Reform

Mr. Preston Manning (Leader of the Opposition, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise to join the Prime Minister and other members of the House in extending best wishes to the hon. member for Sherbrooke as he departs the House for his new role in provincial politics in Quebec.

As parliamentarians we tend to look at decisions and changes of this nature from a political standpoint. But as all of us know, the people most directly affected by our career choices are our spouses and our families. So we also want to extend our best wishes to the hon. member's wife and children, to Michèle, to Amélie, Antoine and Alexandra, and to express the hope that this decision and change will open up new and exciting possibilities for them as well.

The hon. member for Sherbrooke has sometimes expressed the suspicion that Reformers dislike Tories, especially Tories from Quebec. I do not know where he got that idea. As he departs I want to take this opportunity to assure him that this is not the case. In fact, over the next few months we plan to be especially kind to Tories no matter where they are from and to inquire after their welfare and even to invite them home for dinner.

On a more serious note, the hon. member is leaving the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative Party to join the Quebec Liberal Party for a principled reason. That reason is to create a stronger federalist alternative in Quebec and a better future for Quebec within Canada.

Federalists throughout the country, including the official opposition in the House, wish to offer our encouragement and best wishes to the hon. member as he undertakes this important task.

As the member for Sherbrooke will know, every defender and advocate of federalism in Quebec encounters the argument, invariably from sovereignists but also from sceptical and weary Quebec voters, that no one outside Quebec really wants to fundamentally change the federal system to make it work better.

If it will be of any help to the hon. member in laying that argument to rest, I want to assure him on behalf of official opposition members, all of whom come from west of the Manitoba-Ontario border, that Quebeckers who want to change the federal system, in particular to rebalance the powers, will find allies in our part of the country. If he assures Quebeckers that changes in the federation are coming he should know that we will do our part to ensure that change actually occurs.

To the hon. member for Sherbrooke, I say thank you, goodbye and good luck.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
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BQ

Gilles Duceppe

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, it is rather odd for a sovereignist, leader of the Bloc Quebecois to boot, to say farewell to the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, who is seeking the leadership of the Liberal Party of Quebec to fight the Parti Quebecois.

After 14 years in this House, the member for Sherbrooke and leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has decided the time has come for him to do something else and move on to another political party.

The member for Sherbrooke, who came to Ottawa in 1984 at a very young age, is leaving today a seasoned politician. He will be remembered as having held several positions in the federal government, namely Minister of State for Youth, Fitness and Amateur Sports, Minister of the Environment, Minister of Industry and Science, and even Deputy Prime Minister during the last month of the Conservative government.

It should also be remembered that, in a sense, he was instrumental in the creation of the Bloc Quebecois. Indeed it was after the Charest report was tabled that Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec left their respective parties to create the Bloc Quebecois.

Nevertheless, I will remember the member for Sherbrooke as a strong political adversary. The leader of the Conservative Party has always shown respect and professionalism during our exchanges and debates. I am convinced he will still behave the same way in his new position in a different political theater. I trust he will carry out his new responsibilities with the same dignity he has shown here in Ottawa for 14 years.

Moreover, on some fundamental issues, I have appreciated his party's support for our position, especially with regard to the $2 billion in compensation Quebec is entitled to for harmonizing its sales tax with the GST. I hope he will keep bringing this up.

I would also like to mention the support the hon. member for Sherbrooke and all members of the Conservative Party in this House recently gave the Bloc's motion recognizing that Quebec alone should decide its own future. As a result, yesterday's enemies and tomorrow's allies, the federal Liberals, found themselves isolated.

Encouraged by his support on this issue, we are nonetheless looking forward to the future leader of the Quebec Liberal Party answering a number of fundamental questions in the new political arena he is about to jump into.

For example, now that he is leaving for the Quebec National Assembly, will he recognize that Quebec is a nation? Will he recognize, as the Quebec Liberal Party has always done, the territorial integrity of Quebec? Does he still believe that the federal government should interfere in areas of provincial responsibility such as education?

Does he still believe that gun control legislation is inappropriate, when a consensus to the contrary has developed in Quebec on this issue since the tragedy at École Polytechnique?

These are but a few of the essential questions the future leader of the Quebec Liberal Party will have to answer.

Now that his career is taking a new direction, I suggest that the hon. member for Sherbrooke always keep an eye on Ottawa and be on his guard with his new allies.

The inflexibility of the federal Liberals, their inability to adjust to new realities and to make the necessary changes to bring Quebec and Canada into the next century are likely to follow the Conservative leader and soon to become Quebec Liberal leader to Quebec like a millstone around his neck.

Having chosen between remaining leader of the Conservative Party and running for the leadership of the Quebec Liberal Party, the hon. member for Sherbrooke has another decision to make, the implications of which may be much greater for Quebec.

He has to decide whether to adopt the federal Liberals' constitutional status quo or to fight their do-nothing attitude from within Quebec's Liberal ranks.

I shall not dwell on this point today, as the Conservative leader is leaving and will now have to answer all these questions in Quebec.

I would therefore like to pay tribute to the hon. member for Sherbrooke for his career in federal politics which is coming to an end. As he prepares to embark on a new career with the Quebec Liberal Party, I want to wish him good luck, but not of course every success.

Farewell to the hon. member for Sherbrooke.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
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NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

Mr. Bill Blaikie (Winnipeg—Transcona, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to return to the federalist tone.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
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NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

Mr. Bill Blaikie

It is obvious that some of our colleagues are more concerned than others about the return of the hon. member.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
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NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

Mr. Bill Blaikie

On behalf of my colleagues and my leader I would like to wish the hon. member for Sherbrooke well in his new career as a Liberal. I wish him well more as a federalist than as a Liberal.

We all know the dilemma that he must have found himself in, but I think he did what all good people do in the end. He responded to the call. He responded to the duty that he saw was his in this historical moment. We congratulate him for that.

It must have been difficult, wondering whether or not the call was stronger to go to Quebec to fight the separatists or to stay and be a major player in the “unite the right” or whatever it is called. I have to say to him that from our perspective the right has been united in the country for along time. It has never been more united than it has under the banner of the Liberal Party since 1993.

The member for Sherbrooke has said that he needs to enter into this new time in his life and this new time in the political life in Quebec, knowing as we all should know that no one person can save the country by himself or by herself. We all need to do this together. We need to work together.

As a veteran of many constitutional debates in the House and in that context I would specifically like to add the best wishes of my colleague from Qu'Appelle, formerly the member for Yorkton—Melville, who fought alongside and debated alongside the member for Sherbrooke in many of those debates.

There was a tendency in all those debates and in all those times for political parties to hold up one member, a prime minister, a leader or someone else, as the one person who could save the country. We will never save the country if anybody is interested in getting the credit for saving the country. We need to save the country, no matter who gets the credit, and that I hope is the sense that the hon. member will take into the struggle he is about to embark upon in Quebec.

Our view is that the country cannot be saved apart from recovering the social democratic consensus that has existed for a long time. John Ralston Saul states in his most recent book that the success of the partnership between Quebec and the rest of Canada has been in part because it was always governed somewhat to the left of centre.

I would ask the hon. member for Sherbrooke, because he not I mentioned first the first trade agreement and NAFTA, to reflect on whether or not some of the policies that have been adopted over the last 10 to 15 years have not indeed worked to weaken the fabric of the country and to weaken the role of government in Canada.

It was through government that we built the partnership between French speaking Canada and English speaking Canada. It was through the power of government that we created this distinct society we call Canada, a place very different in North America where we have a different set of social and economic values.

It is in recovering those values that I think we will be able to once again invite all Quebeckers to abandon the failure of imagination that we see here among our Bloc Quebecois colleagues and to begin once again to build a great country, not just through the marketplace but through the things we do together in the public sector and through the power of government.

Godspeed.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
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PC

André Harvey

Progressive Conservative

Mr. André Harvey (Chicoutimi, PC)

Mr. Speaker, I need hardly tell you and the members of this House that during the last election campaign my colleague and friend, the hon. member for Sherbrooke, never told me I would have to make a speech like this one today.

It is with a great deal of emotion that I rise to pay tribute on behalf of my colleagues in the Progressive Conservative Party to a remarkable man and a dynamic leader, the member for Sherbrooke.

As you know, it is not easy to lose a leader and to see a friend go. We have been colleagues since 1984, when we were first elected to this place. Over the years we developed a true friendship. Incidentally I was proud to support him during the 1993 Conservative leadership race.

His political career is impressive. Regardless of the position he held, he was faithful to his friends, his voters, his party and his country. Following the 1993 election he accepted the challenge of the leadership of our party under particularly difficult circumstances.

He knows Canada and Canadians very well. A number of them discovered him during the 1995 referendum campaign. His passionate speeches not only moved people but made him the most credible spokesperson for national goodwill in Quebec, and this is still true today.

The hon. member for Sherbrooke was able to find the words to say to Quebeckers because he is like them and because of his deep convictions. During the referendum campaign he called himself the keeper of change. He talked about a modern, strong and confident Quebec.

The member for Sherbrooke enjoys such credibility is because he gave the Progressive Conservative Party a new constitution, a new platform. He reconnected it with its grassroots.

During the last election campaign we had a huge gathering in my riding of Chicoutimi. People were drawn to his message and to his genuineness.

Many Quebeckers trust the member for Sherbrooke because of his political opinions and his strong convictions. Last week he told me “I am choosing Quebec”. I understand his choice.

How could he not answer the call of Quebeckers who, I am sure, will answer the challenge he made on May 6 last year in Chicoutimi where I come from: “I invite Quebeckers to again win the heart and soul of this country, this continent they founded, explored and shaped”?

First you will become the leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec and then, I hope for us, he will become Premier of Quebec.

In choosing their premier Quebeckers make an important decision. They place their trust in someone who will defend their interests.

We know Quebec is profoundly divided and weakened. This is why I am hoping he wins for the sake of Quebec and Canada.

He proposed a partnership during the campaign where Quebec would participate rather than endure, where it would express its opinion and not just its opposition, where it would share in discussions instead of opting for confrontation. I believe in this sort of partnership. I believe in his ability to bring people together.

My colleagues in the Progressive Conservative Party and I want to express our deepest gratitude for his years of indefatigable service to our party and for having put this party back on the road to recovery in these tumultuous and trying times.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the sacrifices made by his family, his wife, confidant and constant ally and his children, Amélie, Antoine and Alexandra. I want to thank them for sharing him with us and with all Canadians.

I would especially like to thank the voters of the riding of Sherbrooke. Without them, the Progressive Conservative Party would not be here today, in which case we would have been deprived of his leadership and his vital contribution to democratic life in our country.

The member for Sherbrooke has done much for our party and we thank him for it. We thank him and his family. He has served well, and we offer him our best wishes and the best of luck.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   The Hon. Jean J. Charest
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REF

Ken Epp

Reform

Mr. Ken Epp (Elk Island, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to fill the position of our House leader to ask the traditional Thursday question to find out whether the government has any agenda for the next little while and, if so, what it is.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Business Of The House
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LIB

Don Boudria

Liberal

Hon. Don Boudria (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon the House will continue with the marine liabilities bill, Bill S-4, which will be followed by Bill C-12, the RCMP bill, and then, time permitting, we will start the debate on Bill C-38, the amendments to the National Parks Act. Tomorrow we will continue with Bill C-38.

There have been consultations among the parties with respect to the debate on the rules, pursuant to Standing Order 51, and it would appear to be more convenient for some hon. members to have that debate on April 21, rather than the previously announced date of April 20. Consequently, I would like to redesignate that debate for April 21.

On April 20 we shall call Bill C-39, the Nunavut bill, and we will continue with that bill, if necessary, on April 22.

Thursday, April 23 shall be an allotted day.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Business Of The House
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April 2, 1998