Mr. Guy Lauzon (Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying how proud I am to take part in this important debate on the motion that is before us. The motion reads:
That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
That tells me that we are trying to unite Canada by this motion, even more than it is united now.
Today, I would like to give several examples of administrative and constitutional measures that have been taken over the years to recognize Quebec's specificity and take it into consideration within the Canadian federation.
These tangible examples demonstrate that Quebec's specificity is already very much a reality that is taken into consideration within Canada's federal institutions and that the federal system contributes to Quebec's development by taking account of its unique characteristics.
Our government has also undertaken a series of measures since we took office. I believe it is important today to present the real Canada, which is a work in progress but which has from its founding taken Quebec's specificity into account.
I would first like to list some of the most important examples of how Quebec is recognized in the Constitution. Let me first turn to examples of existing recognition of Quebec in the Constitution of 1867.
The province of Quebec was created in 1867 out of the former united colony of Canada. A federal system was chosen in 1867, rather than a unitary system favoured by many, largely in recognition of the fact that federalism fit Quebec's aspirations best.
Section 92 reserves property and civil rights to the provinces in order to protect Quebec civil law. Section 93 protects denominational schools in Quebec and the 1997 constitutional amendment now protects schools organized along linguistic lines.
Section 94 provides for uniformity of laws relating to property and civil rights procedure, but it does not apply to Quebec in recognition of the fact that these matters are dealt with in the Civil Code of Quebec and the Code of Civil Procedure of Quebec.
Section 98 provides that Quebec judges shall be selected from the Quebec Bar.
Section 101 allowed Parliament to create Courts of Appeal for Canada, including the Supreme Court, under the Supreme Court Act. The law and conventions regarding the Supreme Court of Canada have always reserved a prominent place on the court for Quebec judges. Section 6 of the Supreme Court Act reserves at least three places on the court for judges from Quebec.
Section 133 protects the use of the English and French languages in the federal Parliament and Quebec legislature and the Official Languages Act provides a more expansive protection for the French language.
All these examples clearly show that Quebec's specificity is already taken into account in many ways in Canada's Constitution.
Canadian federalism is flexible enough to meet the needs of Quebec and Quebeckers. Federalism is an asset to Quebec's development, not a barrier, as the Bloc Québécois would have us believe.
For the Government of Canada, the issue goes beyond partisan considerations.
The two parties that have formed successive federal governments have signed a number of agreements with the Government of Quebec over the years, in order to recognize Quebec's specific character and to address Quebeckers' specific needs and concerns.
In 1964, the Canadian and the Quebec student loan programs were established. In 1966, the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan were established.
In 1991, the Canada-Quebec accord relating to immigration and temporary admission of aliens was signed, giving the government of Quebec a range of powers. In 1997, the Canada-Quebec labour market agreement was signed.
In 2005, an agreement was reached on establishing Quebec's parental insurance program. In 2006, under the present federal government, an agreement was signed on Quebec's role at UNESCO.
All of these agreements were signed to respond to Quebec's specificity, for the benefit of its entire population.
In sum, by virtue of these agreements and the powers conferred on Quebec under the Constitution, the government of Quebec controls major economic and social levers to assist its development.
The government of Quebec plays a predominant role in the fields of health, education, culture and social services. In addition, Quebec, in cooperation with the federal government, has been able to increase its presence in such fields as immigration, taxation and international relations.
Over the years, Canada has promoted Quebec's distinctness, and federalism continues to serve Quebec's interests. Quebec also plays a significant role in the Canadian federation and is present and active in all federal, provincial and territorial forums.
Our government is determined to work closely with all its partners in the federation. The open federalism we practise calls for a pragmatic approach.
Les Québécois, like other Canadians, are calling on us to work to strengthen our federation, while respecting the specificity of each region of the country by working more closely with our partners, fully respecting the jurisdictions of each. Among other things, this approach involves clarifying the roles of both orders of government, setting limits on the federal spending power and restoring the fiscal balance.
We are making progress and our relations with our partners are productive on many fronts. We are taking tangible measures to respond to the ever evolving needs of Canadians in all regions of the country. In the specific case of Quebec, we have already given tangible expression to our desire to highlight the unique place it occupies within Canada by concluding an agreement on its role at UNESCO and supporting the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Quebec City.
Under an agreement signed by the Government of Canada on May 8, 2006, the Government of Quebec will be fully represented, as it sees fit, in Canadian delegations at debates, meetings and conferences of UNESCO. This agreement not only shows that the current government is making good on its promises to Quebec, but it also shows clearly that open federalism is producing tangible results, and it illustrates the excellent relations between the governments of Canada and Quebec. These two government are determined to work together.
In light of these constitutional and administrative examples, whereby Quebec's specificity is recognized in Canada, I am sure the House will agree that the Canadian federal system already reflects the recognition that the Québécois form a nation and our approach makes Canada more united. As I said at the beginning, this motion is all about promoting the unity of Canada.
Subtopic: The Québécois