Ms. Judy Bethel (Edmonton East, Lib.)
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion presented by the hon. Minister of Justice proposing amendments to Bill C-110 to add a regional veto for the province of British Columbia.
The amendments to Bill C-110 reflected in this motion are not only a step forward for the province of British Columbia, but recognize the importance of the province of Alberta within Canadian federalism. These amendments show that Canadian federalism is flexible and dynamic. It is an example of our commitment to make federalism work for all Canadians.
With Bill C-110, the motion on distinct society for Quebec and the recognition of the essential provincial role in labour market training, our government has taken the initial steps to respond to the aspirations of Canadians within our local communities for change. It is change to make our national institutions more responsive to the diverse regional interests and on the basis of our unique federal state and change to deliver on the commitments made by the Prime Minister to the people of Quebec and to the people of Canada to involve Canadians at the grassroots level in building bridges of accommodation and mutual respect for diversity that will serve to bind our nation together in a common purpose as we approach the 21st century.
The unity package is a recognition that the province of Quebec is a vital part of our Canadian identity, an identity which has as its basis the principles of understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity.
The motion on distinct society reflects an important part of the Canadian reality, the unique character of Quebec within our federal state. The Government of Alberta has recognized the unique nature of Quebec's language, culture and civil law traditions. The March 1992 report by the special select committee of the legislative assembly of Alberta advocated recognition of Quebec as a distinct society with recognition to include matters of language, culture and civil law.
Leadership candidate Ralph Klein was a member of the provincial government in 1992 and campaigned in favour of the Charlottetown accord which contained the principle of distinct society within Canada. Premier Klein has acknowledged that the province of Quebec is distinct within Canada: "There is something distinct in terms of civil law, language, tradition and culture that makes Quebec distinct". That is from the October 24 Calgary Herald .
The regional veto formula contained in Bill C-110 is in accord with the Reform Party's vision as expressed on October 15, 1995 in its 20 measures to modernize Canada. The Reform Party supported the concept that all future constitutional amendments be approved by majorities in all regions of Canada through a referendum. I would remind the Reform Party that Bill C-110 leaves the regions with an option as to how they would apply their regional veto as an expression of the will of the people. As an Albertan I would expect the province of Alberta would use the referendum act passed in 1992 to reflect the will of Albertans.
The residents of my constituency of Edmonton East may not have developed consensus on the nature of changes required to renew Canadian federalism but make no mistake: passion for this country and the resolve to ensure its unity is felt by all in Edmonton East. Residents in Edmonton East share with Quebecers the same values of seeking constructive and positive changes to build a more effective Canada for the 21st century.
Let me stress for the record that this package is the first step and only a first step. The next step must involve Canadians in defining the change. Dictating the 20 terms of secession from Confederation from the political backrooms as Reform did without the active involvement or participation of Canadians in our local communities is not consultation. We must begin the process by sitting down with Canadians in our cities, in our towns, and in our communities to come to a better understanding of our similarities and our differences as Canadians and how we can work together to meet the aspirations for positive and constructive change that will make Canada work more effectively and efficiently for all Canadians.
We are a better nation when we pull together, building on our common aspirations for change and respecting our diversities. We are a better nation when we work for the common Canadian interest rather than the narrow regional or provincial self-interest. History proves it. Over the past 128 years Canadian federalism has shown an amazing resiliency. While federalism may have bent at times, it has never been broken. That is a tribute to the generosity of the Canadian spirit to adapt to changing circumstances through creativity and innovation.
We have successfully met all the challenges over the past 128 years. Our network of social programs are the envy of the world. Medicare, the Canada pension plan, support for the disadvantaged and the disabled; these were all implemented through the process of consensus and agreement among Canadians.
We can meet the challenges of renewing Canadian federalism as long as we work together as Canadians in a spirit of mutual respect, understanding and co-operation. That is the genius of our federal system.
I welcome constructive dialogue with the people of Alberta on the implications of change. I believe it is important that Albertans be able to speak out on change. That is the basis of our economic and parliamentary democracy.
Our Prime Minister has acknowledged the need to involve Canadians in the process of defining change. That is why he has indicated that Bill C-110 will serve only as a bridge until the formal review of the amending formula which is required by April 1997. As we lead up to that formal review, our government is receptive to new proposals by Canadians that will better reflect the principles of regional equality and equity in the process of constitutional amendment.
I will be consulting with the people in the communities of Edmonton East as to what steps we can take as a government to better reflect the principle of provincial equality within the amending formula and what steps we can take to build bridges of
accommodation between the people of Quebec and all regions of Canada.
I would like to talk about a series of unity initiatives that were held in Edmonton East two weeks ago. The purpose of the forums and the round tables was to develop a better understanding of the issues of distinct society and regional veto and to provide Edmonton East constituents with an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings on Canadian unity, to define the desired changes to federalism and to develop actions that individuals, our government and groups can take within our communities to enhance Canadian unity.
These forums involved a wide range of participants within Edmonton East: school children, families, the business community, francophone Albertans and representatives from our multicultural communities. I invited the member for Vaudreuil to discuss with the constituents of Edmonton East what the people of Quebec want and need from Canadian federalism and to explore the changes that are required to respect and value our distinctiveness and to enhance our shared aspirations for change within a strong and united Canada.
We examined four questions: How are you feeling and what are you thinking about the Quebec referendum and Canadian unity? When we talk about language, culture and institutions, how are the people from Quebec and Alberta different and how are they similar? Given our differences, what changes to our Confederation do we need to make to accommodate the needs and aspirations of both the people of Alberta and Quebec? What can you and I as individuals who live, work and go to school in Edmonton East do to enhance Canadian unity? It would be useful and interesting for us to ponder some of the responses to these four questions. I would be happy to share the report with anybody who is interested.
On the Quebec referendum and Canadian unity: "There is a great anxiety as to what is going to happen next. Canadian unity is fragile. The referendum was a real wake-up call for all Canadians". A second quote: "We must explore comprehensive change to Canadian federalism. We cannot continue to apply band-aid solutions".
To the question of how people of Quebec and Alberta are different and how they are similar: "The differences between us are well known. We have diverse cultural aspirations. The real test is whether Canadians are prepared to accept these cultural differences and aspirations in a spirit of respect and understanding".
To conclude, these are not the comments of people who are preoccupied with secession and separation as are the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois. These are the comments of people who want to be involved in a process of defining changes that are necessary to respect our distinctiveness, value our diversity and reflect our shared aspirations for a strong and united Canada.
Frankly, Canadians are tired of the politics of discord and division that seem to be the agenda of the Reform Party and the Bloc. I can give my assurance to the residents of Edmonton East that I will continue to take their suggestions for constructive and positive change to Ottawa, to our Prime Minister and to the unity committee.
Let us acknowledge what the unity package is, that it is the first step. Let us move on to the second step, to build bridges between our communities, between our provinces and between our regions. Let us build the case for Canada by involving all Canadians.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Constitutional Amendments Act