December 14, 1999

REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Val Meredith

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that Bloc members are concerned about the government being here, but I think it is more important that the Bloc members be here to understand how the rest of the country feels about their intent on removing Quebec from Canada.

I spent three months travelling in the province of British Columbia listening to how concerned the people of B.C. were that Quebec was thinking of leaving the country. It is not too much to ask that the people from Quebec who are talking about taking Quebec out stay to hear the debate and to hear the emotion and the concern that the rest of Canada has that they reconsider the direction in which they want to go.

There are those of us in this country who feel that there is a better federation and that we can establish better working relations between provinces and the federal government. Yes, it may take a change in government, but it is possible for the provinces to find a better way of working within the federation.

It is equally important that the people of Quebec understand that there is no certainty of the rest of Canada that in the event that Quebec leaves, they cannot depend on the rest of the country remaining intact, they cannot depend on this nice cozy relationship with the rest of Canada. They cannot depend on the 75% of Canadians who live outside Quebec treating them as equals. If they honestly believe that, they are fooling themselves.

It is important that they take reality checks to the province of Quebec so that the people who have to vote on a clear question and the people who have to make up the clear majority, whatever that might be, clearly understand the repercussions of deciding to leave the country.

I do not think that the Bloc members have been honest with the people of Quebec. I do not think that their intent is to be honest to the people of Quebec, because I do not think the people of Quebec would accept the reality that a clear question would put them in.

It is important—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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BQ

Michel Bellehumeur

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Bellehumeur

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If I understood the interpreters correctly, it would seem that the member said that the members of the Bloc Quebecois have been dishonest with their voters. If that is what she said, I would like her to withdraw that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I believe what we have here might be a slight problem with the translation. In my view, the word “malhonnête” in French is a lot stronger than what the member said in English.

I can have a look at the blues if the member so desires, but this is what I think.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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BQ

Michel Bellehumeur

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Bellehumeur (Berthier—Montcalm, BQ)

Madam Speaker, am I to understand that from now on the word “malhonnête” will be acceptable in this House? If the word “malhonnête”, be it in French or in English, is acceptable, say so now, because we will use it on a regular basis both for the Reform Party and the Liberals.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

We are going to have a look at the blues to see exactly what was said in both languages. We will get back to the House with a ruling in a few minutes.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Val Meredith

Madam Speaker, I guess it is a touchy issue as to whether there is a clear message being delivered.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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BQ

Stéphane Bergeron

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Stéphane Bergeron

Madam Speaker, with all due respect, the member might be willing to admit she used this word, and consequently to withdraw it.

We might not have to wait until we read the word in question in the blues, if the member recognizes she did indeed use it.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

At this point, I really want the blues to be read.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Val Meredith

Madam Speaker, if I used the word dishonest, I meant misleading, that the Bloc Quebecois has been misleading the people in Quebec with regard to what the ramifications of a clear question would be.

This legislation would help the Bloc in making a clear question and putting a clear question before the people of Quebec. Let them decide if they agree with the direction the Government of Quebec and the Bloc Quebecois want to take the people of Quebec, which is out of Canada, away from the things we share as Canadians and to have a new nation.

This legislation is a beginning. It does not go far enough. Certainly the government should do more to clarify it.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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BQ

Ghislain Lebel

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Ghislain Lebel (Chambly, BQ)

Madam Speaker, I find our friends in the Reform Party and those across the way, the Liberals, do not have very thick skin. They are rather thin-skinned.

The member said earlier that the morning after Quebec's secession Air Canada could find itself with a majority of shareholders, maybe more than 25%, who would be Quebecers.

This, however, is what the member for Vaudreuil wanted for the Americans a few days ago. He said we should not allow the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec or the Société générale de financement to become majority shareholders in Air Canada; that it would be better to raise it to 50% and sell to the Americans.

For a Quebecer to say that, he must really hate himself.

As for the clear question, I remember these people opposite in 1980—thank God, I was young but I was there—who were saying “A yes means a no and a no means a yes”. They were the ones who did everything they could to make the question unclear and who made all kinds of false promises. We saw the results.

Our Prime Minister, just as a sow bug—you know those small bugs you find in damp places—ran all night through the hotel corridors during the “night of the long knives”, as it is called, to stick his longest knife in Quebec's heart.

It is strange that the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and all members opposite were not offended by that.

In the 1995 referendum Quebecers could just as well have been asked if they liked apple pie. Everybody would have known what the question meant. Then the federal government sent its bigwigs to Quebec to say that a yes meant separation from Canada and a no—same song, same tune—meant a renewal. Everybody knew and understood the stakes.

Do Reformers think that Quebecers are somewhat lost today and that they do not understand the true meaning of the decision they will be called upon to make someday? I hope they will make the right one.

They must come back to earth. I saw how Reformers treated the Nisga'a. I have no illusions about the way they will treat us, whether we vote yes or no. If our fate depended on the Reform Party it would be even worse than what we have seen so far. It would be horrible. They have absolutely no consideration for people in their own province, let alone for Quebecers.

I ask the hon. member to rethink her position, to look at the person in front of her straight in the eye. He can do the dirty work. She should ask him whose interests he is defending when he does that to Quebec. That is the sense of my question.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Val Meredith

Madam Speaker, I do not think it is up to the government to tell the people of Quebec what it is planning to do. The Prime Minister has laid out in the legislation the expectations of a clear question.

The Bloc should, through a clear question put by the Parti Quebecois, the Government of Quebec, ask the people of Quebec whether they wish to leave Canada and start a new country. Instead of playing around with the business of sovereignty association and the warm and fuzzy relationship with the rest of Canada, it is not being clear. The issue is about putting the question clearly to the people of Quebec and letting them decide.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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BQ

Pierre De Savoye

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Pierre de Savoye (Portneuf, BQ)

Madam Speaker, this is totally unbelievable. How could the Liberal members, English speaking Canadians for the most part who do not read Quebec's French newspapers, who do not watch Quebec's French television or listen to Quebec's French radio stations, manage to understand the question better than the people who live in Quebec, who watch television every day, read the papers, listen to the radio and have followed this debate for many generations now?

How can the people in the rest of Canada have the gall to believe that they are smarter than the average Quebecer and are in a better position to interpret and understand the meaning of a question?

Do they consider the people of Quebec to be idiots who are unable to understand the meaning of a question? Should we have to answer on the ballot the question “Do you understand the question you have just answered, yes or no?”

This is exactly what the people across the way want us to do. After the referendum, they are going to try to determine if the average Quebecer knew what he or she was doing when answering the question. Do they think we are stupid or what?

They should think it over for a moment. This is not a clarity bill, it is a bad faith bill, and I would like the Reform member to tell us how she reacts to the fact that this bill makes me feel isolated from the rest of Canada.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Val Meredith

Madam Speaker, alienation from the rest of Canada is not unique to Quebec. The hon. member should try living in British Columbia on the other side of the Rockies to know what real alienation is all about.

If the Bloc members feel so strongly about the people of Quebec knowing what the issue is, why would they argue about putting a clear question before the people? Why would they feel that there is something wrong with saying to the people of Quebec “Do you want to leave Canada or do you want to stay in Canada?” If they do not have a problem with the discussion they are having with the people of Quebec, then why not put a clear question that everybody can live with?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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BQ

Paul Crête

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Paul Crête (Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, BQ)

Madam Speaker, I am a bit, quite a bit, astonished, surprised, shocked—I am not sure what—when we are told that Quebecers are not capable of understanding a question, when we are told that the questions they were asked on two occasions, to which they replied in very great numbers, 93% in the 1995 referendum, were not clear.

How can the rest of Canada be allowed to say that it will show us what a clear question is, that it will explain it to us because we are unable to understand?

Do people realize where this view of society can be found? It can be found in Alfred Memmi's Portrait d'un colonisé . What I have against all the federalist members here is that they think they can ask the questions, define the debate and set all the borders, and determine how things should be done for Quebec's native peoples. They are saying that they will set the conditions for Quebecers and that we will not be allowed to decide on the question.

The question is not an easy one. Quebecers have to come up with a blueprint for a country, a society, that may include an offer of partnership with the rest of Canada. We must set out a course of action so that we can finally leave this constitutional debate behind, and Quebec and Canada can live side by side.

The present federal government is proposing to limit us to one vision: the status quo or this unhealthy obsession with separation, as the Prime Minister of Canada sees it.

Can the members of other parties not understand that Quebecers are adults and are able, through their national assembly, to put an intelligent and carefully considered question on the table? This question will resolve the constitutional problem in Canada and will allow Quebecers, as a founding people, to become a nation. They are fully capable of making their own decisions. They possess the intelligence required to do all these things. In no way do they need a framework from the outside created by people who are dead set against letting them leave Canada.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Val Meredith

Madam Speaker, I do not think the proposed legislation is imposing a question.

It is quite clear that the province of Quebec can place a question on a ballot. The question this deals with is whether or not negotiations will follow the question and the referendum. I believe it has to be clearly stated as to what question is acceptable.

If the courts have said a clear question and a clear majority, then we have to determine in advance what a clear question is. It is based on the supreme court decision of a clear question that negotiations would begin with the rest of Canada and the province of Quebec or any province that chooses to leave.

This legislation, to my understanding, does not prevent the province of Quebec from drafting its own question. It is a question of whether it will be clear about the question it puts before—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hon. member for Mount Royal.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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LIB

Irwin Cotler

Liberal

Mr. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I am glad to intervene in this debate on the bill that would give effect to the principle of clarity described by the supreme court in the reference regarding Quebec's right to secede because I want to talk about the clarity of the principles described in this bill. I will try to deal with five or six of these principles.

The first principle is the following: Mr. Bouchard says, and I agree with him, that it is the prerogative of the national assembly to prepare the referendum question and to decide on it. The prerogatives of the national assembly must be respected.

However, that referendum question must also respect the principle of clarity, that there must be a clear question on secession. In other words, constitutional rights carry with them constitutional responsibilities. Nor is the principle of clarity a matter of constitutional law theory or a narrow technical requirement. Rather, it is a principle that goes to the core of the rule of law.

It is the principle of the rule of law that has to be respected. He was saying, and I quote “I am all for the principle of the rule of law. Rights must be respected”.

The clarity of the question is a condition of due process of procedural and substantive justice necessary for the referendum process and without which the referendum process would itself lack basic legitimacy. And more, the principle of clarity is at the core of the democratic principle.

Unless the question is clear, the people of Quebec cannot give authentic expression to their democratic will. Unless the question is clear, the people of Quebec cannot give expression to their right to self-determination. Unless the question is clear, the people of Quebec are denied the right to pronounce themselves on this most existential of concerns.

As Mr. Bouchard said, and I quote “The question must be clear so that we receive a clear answer, a significant answer. I do not like the idea of an ambiguous response to an ambiguous question, which would lead to a new debate on the meaning of the answer”.

The national assembly has the constitutional right to frame the referendum question, but it also has a constitutional responsibility to respect the principle of clarity. The litmus test of democracy will be determined by whether Quebecers will have a right to express their democratic will on a clear question of secession.

The second principle: Mr. Lucien Bouchard has said, and I agree, that as a result of the supreme court reference, “there is a duty on the federal government to negotiate secession, and that duty has constitutional status”.

However, that duty to negotiate has constitutional status only because the judgment of the supreme court as a whole has constitutional status. That judgment stated unanimously that the duty to negotiate presupposes that two conditions of constitutional obligations have been satisfied: one, that there is a clear question on secession; and two, that there is a clear majority in favour of a clear question on secession.

As the supreme court put it:

The referendum process, if it is to be taken as an expression of the democratic will, must be free of ambiguity in terms of the question asked and in terms of the support it received.

This projet de loi du gouvernement fédéral is nothing more and nothing less than an attempt to give effect to the supreme court judgment, to the principle of clarity, to the rule of law, to the democratic principle. For Mr. Bouchard or anyone else to call this projet de loi “an affront to democracy” has the effect of impugning the very supreme court decision which Mr. Bouchard has rightly said has constitutional status and should be respected.

The third principle is as follows. Mr. Bouchard said, and I quote “that the doors will be wide open for a unilateral declaration of independence, based on the authority of the supreme court”.

The point is that there is no support in the supreme court decision for any unilateral declaration of independence. On the contrary, the supreme court has said, unequivocally and unanimously, that there is no right to a unilateral declaration of independence either under Canadian constitutional law or under international law.

In other words, even if the two principles and conditions of clarity and democracy are met, this does not authorize or legitimize a unilateral declaration of independence. What is affected by respecting the principle of clarity is the right of the secessionist party, whatever it may be, to negotiate terms of secession but not to treat secession as if it is already a matter of fact and a matter of law. Secession is not self-executing. A clear majority in support of a clear question on secession triggers a right to negotiate and a duty to negotiate, a duty that the federal government has said it will respect if the principle of clarity is respected, both in the question put and in the majority secured.

The fourth principle is that Quebecers may be said to constitute a people historically, culturally, politically. As a people Quebecers have a right to self-determination, but that right to self-determination, as the supreme court put it, does not include a right to secession under international law unless there exists, also as the court put it, a situation of colonial domination or gross violations of the rights of Quebecers, something that the Supreme Court of Canada and Mr. Bouchard himself have acknowledged is not the Quebec reality.

On the contrary, where there exists a free and democratic society like Canada, albeit with its imperfections, albeit with its inequities, the international law principle, as the court put it, is organized around the protection of territorial integrity, not its dismemberment.

This has emerged not only as a foundational principle of public international law but of international human rights law in particular. Indeed, not only does international human rights law not authorize secession in the absence of a state of colonialism or repression of fundamental rights, but it considers that secession from an existing free and democratic society may itself breach the foundational principle of our constitution, the principle of the rights of minorities and in particular the rights of aboriginal peoples.

The fifth principle is that if the Quebec people are permitted to democratically give expression to their will and if there is a clear majority in favour of secession, that will give rise to a right to negotiate and to a corresponding duty on behalf of the federal government to negotiate. However, that negotiating process as the supreme court put it, and as it appears to be forgotten in this debate, will be governed by four basic principles.

The issue will be settled by the four basic principles. These principles are: federalism, democracy, constitutionality and the rule of law, and protection of minorities.

Again, secession is not self-executing. The negotiating process, if it even gets to that, will not only be governed by these four foundational principles but it will involve protracted and painful discussion of final status questions: borders, the debt, assets, the rights of minorities, the rights of aboriginal peoples, and the like.

The sixth and final principle, as the supreme court put it, is “any attempt to effect the secession of a province from Canada must be undertaken pursuant to the constitution of Canada or else violate the Canadian legal order”.

In a word, the right road to secession presupposes that a legitimate, democratic, constitutional referendum process has taken place as follows: first, that the right of the national assembly to formulate the referendum question is respected; second, that the referendum question respects the principles of clarity enunciated by the Supreme Court of Canada; third, that the Quebec national assembly respects the constitutional role as authorized by the supreme court of other political actors just as other political actors must respect the rights of the National Assembly of Quebec; fourth, that constitutional rights come with constitutional duties; fifth, that, as the supreme court put it, there is no right to unilateral secession either in domestic or international law; and, sixth, that if there is a clear majority in support of a clear question on secession that gives rise only to a right to negotiate pursuant to the four fundamental principles I enunciated earlier.

The secessionist outcome can only be reached, if it is indeed reachable at all, after a protracted and difficult process in juridical terms and a painful and wrenching process in human terms. If the threads of a thousand acts of accommodation are the fabric of a nation, it would take a thousand cuts to dismember it. Accordingly, Quebecers and Canadians are entitled, if the referendum process proceeds, to express their will on a clear question on secession.

That is what the principles of la primauté de droits, la justice fondamentale et la démocratie as enunciated by the Supreme Court of Canada require. This is what is required for the authentic expression of the democratic will of Quebecers.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Toronto Centre—Rosedale, Culture; the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester, Airline Industry; and the hon. member for Halifax West, National Defence.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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BQ

Benoît Sauvageau

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Benoît Sauvageau (Repentigny, BQ)

Madam Speaker, during his speech, the member repeatedly talked about a clear question, a clear question.

I would like to ask him a very clear and brief question. Does he recognize the existence of the people of Quebec?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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LIB

Irwin Cotler

Liberal

Mr. Irwin Cotler

Madam Speaker, as I said in my remarks, I recognize the existence of a Quebec people historically, culturally and politically.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference
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December 14, 1999