Donald James Johnston
Hon. Donald J. Johnston (Saint-Henri-Westmount):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my hon. friend. I do seek the indulgence of Members if I run slightly over the time, but I do not expect to be much in excess.
The 1987 Constitutional Accord, which like others I refer to as Meech Lake, has been with us now for almost one year. Despite the conspiracy of silence, one might call it, established among our so-called political leaders and some of our aspiring political leaders, Canadians are slowly becoming aware of what is truly at stake in Meech Lake. The result of that awareness was predictable. The more Meech Lake is understood, the more it is being rejected by Canadians. Some Canadians see it only as a problem for themselves, and that is understandable. For example, the native peoples, women, representatives of the Yukon and the Territories, and so on, have pleaded their cases eloquently at every opportunity.
The proposed constitutional amendment is invasive in that it affects every aspect of our economic and social fabric, even our political geography. When we talk about Meech Lake, we are talking about the future of Canada, the Canada we have known for 121 years, the Canada we love and the Canada where we have prospered.
Mr. Speaker, my concerns about Meech Lake aren't restricted to a single issue: whether we are talking about the future of Anglophones in Quebec; whether we are discussing the sad plight of our Native people, the weakening of sexual equality, the restrictions that would apply to federal spending powers, the absurd suggestion regarding appointments to the Senate or the dangerous proposal for appointments to the
Supreme Court, my concerns rise from the proposed amendment as a whole.
Thanks to Meech Lake Canada is to be partitioned into two distinct societies based on language and territory: Quebec will be French, the rest of Canada English, albeit with each agreeing to preserve the existence of those whose tongue is alien to the particular society in which they find themselves.
Linguistic genocide, therefore, is not proposed, but neither is a bilingual nation where public services would be available in French or English from coast to coast.
Quebec will have a special status, authority to promote its distinct identity at home and abroad, with additional powers not available to other provinces. What authority remains to the federal Government to deal with the social and economic challenges of Canadians is also being removed.
Canada is to become an association of provincial fiefdoms with semi-annual meetings between First Ministers to coordinate national objectives and policies, and strip Ottawa of whatever other authority the provinces might cherish. Meech Lake is very clearly the beginning of that process.
At Ottawa's expense, the provinces acquire powers in immigration, social and economic areas, appointments to the Senate and the Supreme Court, and a veto for each over all major changes, including the creation of new provinces. To make those gains secure, there is an amending formula that puts Canada's evolution on a one-way street to more and more decentralization and the potential break up of the federation.
You might ask, Mr. Speaker: Why do so many accept Meech Lake? Well, most accept it looking through rose-coloured glasses, hoping that the various scenarios implicit in Meech Lake do not unfold. Having listened to the Prime Minister (Mr. Mulroney) and the Leaders of both opposition Parties here today, I believe that they are wearing the rosiest glasses of all. They rationalize away what concerns they may have on the ground that Quebec's moral adherence to the Constitution is worth the price. They hope the price is not too high, but they do not know. Some, even our Prime Minister as a matter of fact, admit that they do not know what the price is. What is the meaning of the distinct society clause? "Some day the Supreme Court of Canada will tell us", he says. Yes, indeed, the courts will one day tell us what we have done to Canada through Meech Lake, should it move forward. If we do not like it at that time, too bad. It will be too late to change directions.
Others, of course, embrace Meech Lake because they covet a further reduction of federal authority. If a form of sovereignty association with a unilingual French Quebec is necessary to achieve that reduction, well so be it. Quebec nationalists want it because they will finally have created the long dreamed of deux nations, and the extreme nationalists in Quebec see Meech Lake as a solid stepping-stone to Quebec's independence.
June 14, 1988
When the Prime Minister, and the Leader of the NDP Party (Mr. Broadbent), say: "We now know the answer to the question: 'What does Quebec want?'" I would say we have a vague idea of what the current Quebec Government wants. The two are very different. We have heard all leaders, and we just heard the Member for Etobicoke-Lakeshore (Mr. Boyer) say that Quebec has said "Yes" to Canada and now Canada must say "Yes" to Quebec. In fact, the Prime Minister said very specifically Quebec-
"Quebec said yes twice". That is not true, Mr. Speaker. The people of Quebec said yes in 1980, but the Parti Quebecois Government said no to Canada.
The two are not the same. What the population said and what the Government said are two entirely different things.
In 1980 the Quebec Government said "No" to Canada, and we are not hearing from the Quebec people except through the Quebec Government which replaced the Pequiste Government of Mr. Levesque.
What does this adherence mean? We hear that it will allow Canada to move forward with constitutional evolution, that Quebec will now come to the negotiating table on a regular basis, that this is the Quebec round that has been finished. We have heard all of this, Mr. Speaker. Where do we see any of this in Meech Lake? As a matter of fact, when I look at Mr. Bourassa's comments in the National Assembly, I hear him say, or I read that he has said that Quebec has not lost anything through Meech Lake, that there has been no step backward.
In fact, the Liberal Party, and I quote: "recognizes Quebec's right to determine its internal constitution and to express freely its desire to either maintain or terminate its membership in the Canadian federation". That was a resolution passed by the Liberal Party in 1980, and it has in no way been changed or affected by Meech Lake.
I am not so sure that the attributes of this adherence that are being given to Quebec's signature by Members in the House, and by the Leaders of the Parties, are really those that Mr. Bourassa gives. I see no guarantee that the Quebec Government in future will come to the table, if it does not suit its purpose.
Where are the defenders of Canada in this debate? [Translation]
Today, Mr. Speaker, I am here as one of Canada's elected representatives, and I am ashamed, because our elected politicians have done a disservice to the 25 million Canadians they are supposed to represent. Mr. Speaker, this is a sad moment in our history. It is a sad time for our political system,
Constitution Amendment, 1987
and I think it is even sadder for those in whom their constituents have placed their trust.
Mr. Speaker, this constitutional debate, the most important one of our time, and its effects that will determine the very nature of our federation, of our national, political and economic institutions, and even the future of our country, this debate will go down in history without any expression of dissent from the Opposition parties in this House.
What have some of our political Leaders said about the Meech Lake Accord? In recent weeks, and I will come to some of the comments made today, I heard Premier Bourassa ask: "Who has found a serious flaw in Meech Lake?" The answer to that is: "Who has not?" We can begin with 80 per cent of the lawyers polled by the Canadian Bar Association who responded with various degrees of concern about Meech Lake. The list of flaws and critics is virtually inexhaustible. Only our so-called political Leaders have chosen to duck the issue.
The Prime Minister stood in this House again this morning claiming that no one had found an egregious error. That is simply nonsense and the Canadian people know it. Mr. Lucien Bouchard, who supported the separatist aspirations of Rene Levesque and the Parti Quebecois, is now an unelected Minister of the Government. He is reported in the May 18 edition of Le Devoir as saying:
"What we must tell English Canada is that Quebec's aspirations can no longer be kept out. There is a very simple solution-the Meech Lake Accord."
What aspirations is he talking about? Something like the sovereignty-association that he fought for in 1980. It is quite obvious, as my colleague from Davenport (Mr. Caccia) has just said, that the Accord could provide a way to attain it. And like the Meech Lake Accord, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Bouchard divides the country into two language groups, French Canada in Quebec and English Canada elsewhere.
And my colleague, the Hon. Member for Laval-des-Rapides (Mr. Garneau), who is in the House this afternoon, talks in the same way. In an interview in La Presse on May 18, he accuses us, that is Jean Chretien, Pierre Trudeau and myself, whom he considers the old guard, of completely misunderstanding the Meech Lake Accord:
"I said that I was going to Ottawa to defend Quebec's interests, not to defend Ottawa's interests in Quebec."
My friend from Laval-des-Rapides also seems to divide Canada into two territorial linguistic communities. Here we find a fundamentally different view of Canada and even of the role of Members of Parliament. Mr. Bouchard and my friend from Laval-des-Rapides are no doubt sincere in their belief
June 14, 1988
Constitution Amendment, 1987
that they are here to defend the interests of Quebec. However, by that they clearly mean the interests of the Quebec Government. Clearly they have no better mandate to speak on behalf of the people of Quebec than I do. Or, would they say an Anglophone MP cannot speak for people of Quebec? If so, would they say that the Hon. Member for Ottawa-Vanier (Mr. Gauthier), a Francophone, cannot speak for people of Ontario? Or, the Hon. Member for St. Boniface (Mr. Duguay), also a Francophone, cannot speak for Manitobans? I do not think they mean that. Therefore, when my friend from Laval-des-Rapides refers to Quebec, I believe he refers to the provincial Government of Quebec and sees this House as a kind of brokerage house for provincial interests which he believes he has a mandate to defend.
I say to you and to him that if we in this House adopt that attitude, who in this Chamber is going to speak for Canada? Who is going to defend the national vision? I would add that I have enormous respect for my friend from Laval-des-Rapides, whose sincerity, dedication and integrity are beyond reproach. That is a healthy and welcome contrast to what I sometimes see elsewhere in this Chamber.
I did not come to Ottawa to defend the interests of the Quebec Government. Premier Bourassa does a good job of that. We here are elected to a national Parliament and we must never forget it. Our duty is to defend the national interest. In doing so, we must be accountable to those who elected us but not to provincial Governments. While we defend and promote the interests of our communities and our regions, we must do so within a national context.
Meech Lake is very much in keeping with the other view, namely that the federal Government and this Parliament are simply delegates of the provinces, like the manager of a condominium project with the responsibility delegated by the owners to take care of the common property, cut the grass, remove the snow, and clean the lobby and hallways. That is not my vision of Canada. It was not the vision of the vieille garde and all those who preceded them, from Sir John A. Macdonald to Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I want to say, judging by the volume of mail I have received and the reception I have received across this country on many speaking engagements, that this vision of the old guard is strong, healthy and growing every day.
During the past year I have addressed the subject of Meech Lake on many occasions in all the provinces of Canada with the exception, regrettably, of Newfoundland. That experience tells me that Canadians believe in one nation, one society, and when informed they overwhelmingly reject Meech Lake.
I respect the fact that some sincerely believe that the federal Government should be, as it were, a condominium manager and Canada should be divided into two nations, one French speaking and one English speaking. I profoundly disagree and I will fight to defend my vision of the country. I do respect those views, but I do not respect those, and we heard from the three Leaders in this House today, who would have us believe
that Meech Lake is not changing the nature of our federation. Some even pretended, for goodness' sake, that it promotes national bilingualism even in the Province of Quebec. I refer to the earlier speeches of the Minister of Justice (Mr. Hnaty-shyn), my friend from York Centre, and the Hon. Member for New Westminster-Coquitlam (Ms. Jewett), and the speeches again given today by the Prime Minister and the Leaders of both opposition Parties. If I may say so, those speeches are replete with naivety, inaccuracies, and even legal stupidities.
Subtopic: THE CONSTITUTION ACT, 1867 CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT, 1987