Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to join with my colleagues in support of the motion presented by the Conservative government. This is a historic occasion for our country. It is a time for all of us to reflect on who we are and to express our dreams for this country. In this context, the NDP supports the motion that recognizes the Québécois people as a nation within a united Canada.
For clarification purposes, I want to also indicate that the NDP will be opposing the original motion presented by the Bloc Québécois which very simply suggested that the Quebec people form a nation. Given all of the developments over the last few days, it is important to explain exactly why we feel this way and what is important about this occasion.
When this issue erupted on November 22, at first we felt considerable joy that there was this unity in the House over a longstanding matter that had to be resolved, that being the question of how to recognize Quebec within the federalist family within Canada. That soon turned into a heated debate between politicians, through the media, and among premiers and other leaders in this country.
I am not sure the debate filtered too far down into our community level, but it certainly took on a whole new dimension, especially when the Prime Minister, over the course of this weekend, chose to start muttering out loud about further developments on the constitutional front. He suggested that he was prepared to look at opening up the Constitution to address spending powers. Canadians suddenly started feeling a sense of déjà vu.
We have had Meech; we have had Charlottetown. We have had numerous other federal-provincial meetings and discussions, and heated debates. And here we go again with another attempt to open the door, so that this country could actually start to lose its unity of purpose because the hidden agenda is one of ceding federal powers to the provinces. This debate has taken on a whole new set of values and a heck of a lot of interest on the part of Canadians because they truly are wondering what this means in real terms.
I want to start by saying what it means to New Democrats and what it does not mean to New Democrats. I want to ensure that the House knows how we address the questions of our aboriginal people in the context of this motion and how we celebrate the ethnocultural diversity of this land given this motion.
The unease and concern of Canadians has to do with definition. For me and for some folks who have worked and talked, and thought about the issue of the unique status and the distinct nature of Quebec society, it might be clear. We therefore have little trouble putting down on paper that we see the Québécois people as a nation within Canada. For us it is a description that defines a people. It reflects a history. It is imbued with all kinds of meanings and values. It is important.
It is important for people like me to stand and say it is long overdue that we resolve this historical impasse and that we come to some resolution that will not open the door further to any thought of devolving federal powers or opening the door to the Québécois people to separate. That is what we must be absolutely sure about today.
We in the NDP support this motion on the basis of recognizing the role, the culture, and the people of Quebec throughout our history. We have done this since our party began. Whether we are talking about Stanley Knowles, who was a member of Parliament from my area for many years, or David Orlikow, who also was part of this place for 25 years, or going back to David Lewis and Tommy Douglas. Our leaders, our politicians, and our representatives have always tried to recognize that which is unique about Quebec and to stand proud in describing our country in those terms.
More recently, we have grappled with this notion in the context of federalism and how we define federalism while recognizing that status of Quebec. We as a country have debated that and we have come to recognize that asymmetrical federalism is probably a doable approach, that it can in fact lead to that which we all desire, which is a united Canada that recognizes the uniqueness of Quebec.
Under no circumstances have we, at any point, intended that to mean the debate is wide open for further diminishment of our federal government in the nation state, or for further encouragement to the Québécois people to consider separation or sovereignty. No, our debates have been on how to ensure a united Canada, how we can accommodate the demands and the place of history in this country without putting us on a path of losing something which is absolutely important. We come today to say that we support this notion that Quebec people constitute a nation within this country.
The NDP has long supported appropriate recognition of Quebec's national character. We know, and it is important to say so with respect to the Bloc motion, that the Bloc is playing political games. In our opinion, that is the case. The New Democratic Party will not play these games.
Since this discussion evolved on Wednesday, we have seen and heard statements from both the leader of the Bloc and the leader of the PQ suggesting that this was just the beginning. They began to put a spin on the debate that this was the wedge, the lever by which the forces for sovereignty and separatism would be able to gain further support and make inroads in this direction.
It became pretty clear in the course of the last couple of days that in fact we were part of this bidding war. There was an attempt on the part of forces to actually distort the concept that was part of the resolution, when we talk about Quebeckers being a nation within a united Canada, or just dealing with it on its own, Quebeckers forming a nation.
The members of the Bloc and the leader of the Parti Québécois are only interested in the sovereignty agenda. We have decided to reconsider our position on their motion.
We support the present motion because we are recognizing the historical fact that Quebeckers form a nation and we have done so for decades.
We are a proud federalist party. We have worked over the decades to find a solution to this fundamental question: what constitutes a united Canada and how do we recognize the unique nature of Quebec?
We do not for one second consider the nation state as divisible or an entity that can be weakened gradually over a period of time by changing the powers and looking at the question of the role of the federal government. Nor for a second do we accept any wording, any notion, any rhetoric, any policies, or any programs that will take us down the path to a separate Quebec, to a Quebec as a sovereign nation, because we consider ourselves as part of a great nation. We will fight to the end to ensure that Quebec never has reason to leave this country.
That does not mean we disregard the notion of self-determination and the right of the Quebec people to have a say in their future. Obviously, that is all tied up in this debate, but we have a role as federalists, we have a role as parliamentarians to ensure we have addressed all those questions and concerns. We have a role to ensure that we have taken away the debate, the arguments, the excuses, and the raison d'être to even consider a separate nation for Quebeckers. It seems to us that is what is fundamental here, why we support this debate and this motion, and why we cannot now support what the Bloc is proposing.
The objective of the Bloc and the Parti Québécois is clear: they want to see Quebec leave the great Canadian family. We will oppose this option.
We believe that ordinary Quebeckers will be better off staying in Canada. That is why we believe that despite our differences as federalists, we have to work together to create winning conditions for Canada and Quebec.
That explains why we support the motion, but we also understand what this debate is not even tapping into and that is our identity as a country. We are talking a lot about the identity of Québécois and Québécoises, but what does that leave in terms of this country? Part of this task rests in terms of identifying the original peoples.
Today we actually should have been amending this motion to reflect what first nations want, but we could not. We could not because the Liberals brought forward a deleterious motion and cut off all further amendments. We should be doing what the Assembly of First Nations has requested, which is to amend this motion with respect to ensuring that it in no way derogates from, diminishes or modifies “the unique status and rights of First Nations and their unique place in the past, present and future of this land”.
That would clarify, would it not? That would ensure that through this process we were not leaving any impression that we were diminishing the significance of the people who were originally here, notwithstanding the fact of the founding nations later on who came to develop this country, the French and the English, and not to even touch on the waves and waves of immigrants who came to this country to build this country and to create a great future.
Let us be clear, I say, that when we support this motion we in no way apologize for the ethnocultural diversity of this great land. Instead, we celebrate it. Let us be clear that when we look at this whole complex issue we stand in the context of our recognition for Quebec saying that we celebrate Canada as a diverse nation, as a model to the world.
How many people have actually described this country as the window on the world? Others have said that we are the world in one nation. Those are beautiful sentiments reflecting a beautiful notion about this country, sentiments that we have to celebrate and stand up and say on a day like today.
The biggest worry the NDP has about this whole debate is that in fact it might be used as a way for the federal government to open the door wider, to devolve powers from the federal government, to review the spending powers under the Constitution and in fact weaken our nation-state.
It is certainly a legitimate concern after listening to what the Prime Minister had to say over the weekend when he talked about limiting federal spending powers in exclusive areas of provincial jurisdiction and when he talked opening up the Constitution, which requires two-thirds of the provinces and territories and half the population. There is every reason to be concerned.
So while we stand today in support of this motion, we do not for one second give any legitimacy, credence, credibility or validity to an agenda that the Conservatives may have to use this as an opening to slip in changes to the Constitution that would weaken our nation-state and change the very nature of federalism.
We only have to look to last week, when the Minister of Finance gave us his economic update. In his document entitled “Advantage Canada”, he states:
To this end, the Government is committed to:
--Limiting the use of the federal spending power.
It is a fairly upfront, open agenda. We only have to look back to the federal budget address of May 2, 2006, when in fact the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance reflected on the issue of federal spending power.
The 2006 budget stated that initiatives may “have expanded the use of the federal spending power” and were “launched in areas of provincial responsibility” and:
Concerns have been raised that these initiatives have often imposed new conditions and cost pressures on provincial and territorial governments.
It is interesting to note that the government then used that as a legitimate argument for not advancing a national child care or early childhood development plan. It used that to argue why the federal government should not be involved in housing and homelessness issues. It used that, in fact, to explain why it should not be doing anything about literacy in this nation.
There are ominous signs on the horizon about which we must be very vigilant. We will not let the government take advantage in any way of unanimity and harmony in the House today around finally coming up with some wording that will address a longstanding historical unanswered issue.
Today we need to reflect on where we have come from and where we are going. I want to wrap up and say that we accept, as we have done throughout history, the notion of Quebec as a distinct society, and that, we believe, is reflected in this motion. We also recognize that there are many important influences in this country that have to be also acknowledged, whether they be aboriginal peoples or the many waves of immigrant populations who have come to develop this country.
We also recognize that hidden in this motion there in fact may be a power grab, as some have commented in the media, and that there may be a tendency on the part of the government to set the stage through this motion to open the door to a dismantling of this country.
We are left today with wanting to ensure that all members agree on the need to establish very clearly the unique identity of Canada, one that recognizes the uniqueness of Quebec as a nation within this country on a united basis but that also understands what has built this country and has contributed to our greatness: that is, those values of cooperation and compassion, the desire among Canadians to care about one another and to share wealth and resources, those values that actually led to the creation of medicare, the best health care program in the world, one that defines who we are as a nation, and those values that led to numerous programs that bind us together and ensure that no matter where we come from, whatever region we are from, whatever ethnic group we are part of, whatever language we speak, we are part of this nation, and we are one people, strong and united.
Subtopic: The Québécois