Hon. Maxime Bernier (Minister of Industry, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, it is with pride and emotion that I speak today to acknowledge the historic motion that the Prime Minister tabled in this House last Wednesday.
November 22, 2006, is a day that will be indelibly marked in my memory and that of Quebeckers.
I am from the Beauce region of Quebec, and I was touched by the Prime Minister's comments. By acknowledging that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada, he has shown, once again, that he is a great Prime Minister, one of the greatest prime ministers Canada has ever known. Our party has always been at the centre of the great moments and great challenges that have marked the history of this country. Last week was no exception.
It took the members of the Bloc Québécois three long days to finally see the light and support our motion. What an about face! Last Wednesday, as hon. members know, the leader of the Bloc Québécois expressed outrage in this House and harshly criticized our motion recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation. I listened to him very carefully and I had a hard time understanding his point of view. I do not think I was the only one in the House who felt that way at the time. I wondered: how can he be against the idea of the government recognizing something so obvious? How can he be against this recognition he has been calling for loud and clear for so many years? I was thinking that several of his colleagues must disagree with him, but no, I was wrong: all the members of the Bloc Québécois gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech last week.
I was stunned, and even more so the next day when I heard the House leader of the Bloc Québécois talking about a black afternoon. According to the comments by the House leader of the Bloc, it seemed that this motion was the worst thing that could happen to Quebec. However, it seems that on Friday, the leader of the Bloc Québécois received some telephone calls, perhaps from André Boisclair and even Bernard Landry, and this made him change his mind since even in sovereignist circles, some had to admit this was a step in the right direction.
Now all Canadians can celebrate the Bloc's decision to support the Prime Minister's motion to recognize Quebec's historic role within Canada and strengthen Canadian unity. We can only hope that the Bloc, which changed its mind on this issue three times in three days, will continue to support it until the vote.
Our motion is important for all Canadians because it is a gesture of reconciliation. It is important to recognize that Quebeckers have succeeded in preserving their unique language and culture while remaining part of the Canadian federation.
Our government truly believes that Quebec society will have better opportunities for development, progress, prosperity and reaching its full potential as part of the Canadian federation than as the independent Quebec advocated by the Bloc Québécois, the hypothetical benefits of which are merely unfounded speculation.
Quebeckers know who they are. They know that they helped found Canada and helped build the great country it is today. They know that they have protected their language and culture while promoting their values and interests within Canada. They know that they can be both Canadians and Quebeckers, that they can be proud Quebeckers and proud Canadians, and that they do not have to choose between the two, as the Bloc would have them do.
Since becoming Canada's new government, we have advocated open federalism, and that has brought about concrete results for both Quebec and Canada. We have invited Quebec to participate actively in UNESCO debates and we respect provincial jurisdiction. We have also brought about many changes. We promised to fight corruption. We have done that by introducing the accountability act, which will restore the atmosphere of trust that is so vital between the people and their government.
We promised to put in place a real national child care program, and we have done so. Parents are receiving a cheque for $100 a month for every child six years of age or younger. We promised to gradually reduce the GST, and we have kept that promise. We have reduced the tax burden on Canadians, and we will continue to do so. We promised to settle the softwood lumber dispute, and we have done so. That is what Quebeckers want. They want action, they want a government that respects the Constitution and honours its commitments.
This motion, which was proposed by our government, shows once again that it is the Conservatives who best defend Quebec's interests, not the Bloc Québécois. And we are achieving these results with just 10 members from Quebec. Just think of what we could do if we had far more.
The Bloc members have decided to support a motion that strengthens Canadian unity. The Bloc no longer has any purpose in Ottawa. I repeat, the Bloc has decided to support a motion that strengthens Canadian unity, and it therefore no longer has any purpose in Ottawa. My honourable colleagues opposite, who advocate Quebec's separation, should follow the example of their former colleagues, who decided to get jobs in the National Assembly. They are totally useless here, in Ottawa, in this House. It is the federalists who recognized that Quebeckers form a nation, and the Bloc members had to follow our lead.
In nearly a decade and a half in Ottawa, the Bloc has never achieved anything tangible for Quebeckers. The Bloc members are wasting their time in Ottawa. They are hampering the development of Quebec society.
For nearly 30 years, the Parti Québécois and its allies, the Bloc Québécois, have been trying to convince Quebeckers to become a nation separate from Canada. Quebeckers rejected this option during two referendums. Why? Because they are proud of their historic role in this country's development. The federalist forces, led by the Prime Minister, are taking action in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois, on the other hand, is pulling back. It has not made any concrete decisions that would have any real consequences for Quebec. It will never be able to make any such decisions, since it will always been confined to the opposition benches.
During its last convention in Quebec City, the Bloc said that its mission was to introduce new ideas. That is not what Quebeckers want. Quebeckers want real results, concrete results. They want their federal representatives to take concrete action, not just spout rhetoric.
As the Prime Minister said in his famous speech in Quebec during the last election campaign, he wants to build a strong Quebec within a better Canada. The motion he moved in this House last week aims to do just that. It will help to strengthen Canadian unity and Quebec can only gain from this. The time for bickering is over. It is time to look forward and build a strong economy. It is time to overcome the challenges before us. Federalism has much to offer for Quebeckers.
Quebeckers, just like the citizens of the other provinces, reap considerable benefits from this type of government. By creating a unified market, federalism allows greater movement of goods and services, labour and capital. This market has allowed all regions of Canada, including Quebec, to specialize in areas in which they most excel and to do business in world markets. Federalism gives us a common currency, which facilitates trading and the circulation of capital. It helps ease economic shocks, thus ensuring greater economic stability for all Canadians thanks to risk sharing, regional transfers and the pooling of this country's riches. It gives less fortunate regions a higher quality of life, and better health care and education services than they could otherwise enjoy.
Our federalism improves our ability to negotiate with other countries. We are not alone against the rest of the world. Together, we form a strong, united Canada.
The size of our market is such that we have considerable economic power and bargaining power on an international level. Canada is a member of the G-7, an influential member of the World Trade Organization and plays a key role within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD. Canada has an important place on the world stage. It is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, the Organization of American States and NATO. Geographically, Canada is open to three of the world's most significant economic markets, namely Europe, the Americas and Asia.
The advantages Quebec draws from Canadian federalism are also political in nature. Canadian federalism is a form of government that takes into account differences by fostering cooperation and compromise. Canadian federalism was not imposed on Quebeckers. They have been instrumental in its creation and development. Its key advantages are its flexibility, its vibrancy, its pluralism, its emphasis on diversity and its adaptability to modern challenges. Federalism is not rigid. It divides up the political jurisdictions in a way that responds to the common needs of the public, while taking individual situations into account.
Quebec controls a number of jurisdictions, including natural resources, education and so forth. It has its own Civil Code, which makes its legal system unique in North America. It has its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms and it collects its own taxes. Canadian federalism is constantly proving its effectiveness. As I was saying earlier, the primary reason is that Canadian federalism adapts to change and to the major issues affecting this world. Federalism allows countries like Canada to redefine intergovernmental relations as they develop. Canadian federalism has demonstrated that it can be innovative and respond to the legitimate interests of Quebec within our constitutional framework.
For example, since the 1960s, a series of agreements between the federal government and the Government of Quebec have allowed the province to extend its activities into jurisdictions traditionally held by the federal government. As hon. members know, in immigration, Quebec selects its immigrants and has its own integration programs. In foreign affairs, the federal government has developed a series of mechanisms in order to integrate the interests of Quebec and allow it to take part directly in international activities. The summit of la Francophonie and, more recently, the announcement of Quebec's new role within the Canadian delegation to UNESCO are good examples of this.
Quebec enters directly into agreements with France and Belgium, and is a member of several international Francophonie organizations, as I stated earlier. It opens offices abroad to promote its interests in various areas. In short, federalism is advantageous for Quebeckers and for the rest of Canadians.
In closing, I would like to thank all the members of the national caucus of our party, the Conservative Party, for unanimously supporting this motion and hence recognizing the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada. I know that it may be somewhat difficult for some of my colleagues to understand what this recognition means to Quebeckers. I would like to thank my colleagues opposite, the Liberal members, and all the federalists in this House who unanimously supported this motion, both my Liberal and my NDP colleagues. Last week, it was very moving to listen to the speeches of the interim leader of the Liberal Party as well as of the leader of the NDP. I was filled with emotion and pleased to see that this Chamber and this government have the support of my federalist colleagues in the House. That is why I said earlier that we made history in the House last week.
I know that it may be somewhat difficult for some of my colleagues to understand what this recognition means to Quebeckers. As I mentioned, I would like to reassure them. With this gesture, my colleagues who represent the other provinces of Canada have contributed to strengthening the ties that unite us and reinforcing Canadian unity. This is a stand that we should all salute and I am very proud to be a member in this House in order to vote in favour of this motion.
Subtopic: The Québécois