Mr. Speaker, four minutes is not very long, but I will use what time I have.
Before question period, I was saying how flexible Canadian federalism had been. In addition—and I am dating myself a little here—for those who have followed the constitutional issue and remember what we went through with the Meech Lake accords, each of the concepts has gradually resurfaced in the past 20 to 25 years. In recent years, we have witnessed another expression of this flexibility with the development of the concept of asymmetrical federalism.
During the term of the government led by the hon. member for , we witnessed the signing of an agreement on health that the current government is forever boasting about. This Conservative government constantly wants to take credit for this wonderful agreement on health, which provided for a major transfer of $41 billion over 10 years. When the agreement was signed, we saw that the government was able to play a national role, with what I would call jealous respect for the provinces' jurisdictions.
I want to pay tribute to my colleague from , who presided over the signing of many agreements with Quebec.
I will never forget the day we signed the agreement on parental leave, a long-awaited agreement that, once again, enabled Quebec to provide more generous parental leave for our fellow citizens, within the Canadian model, Canadian federalism, and at the same time respected Quebec's jurisdictions.
There was also an agreement on child care, which recognized the major progress Quebec had made and its leadership on that issue. Quebec was the inspiration for many other jurisdictions.
Again, this was a model of the flexibility of Canadian federalism, and here again, provincial jurisdictions were respected. Unfortunately, given the ideology of the party opposite, that party did not see fit to continue the program. This is now going to cost the province of Quebec $800 million, and that is regrettable. It is regrettable because for a party that supposedly wants to restore the fiscal balance, it has dug an $800 million hole. If we add another $328 million hole, to bring us up to date in terms of the Kyoto protocol, that makes a hole of over $1 billion. For a party that has made major commitments regarding the fiscal imbalance, its record cannot be said to be especially glorious. But with this we must recognize that federalism has evolved somewhat. We have managed to sign infrastructure agreements, once again amounting to over $1 billion, while respecting provincial priorities.
So it is evolving, although too slowly for some. I too have had my impatient moments, but ultimately, I have to say that, today, this is the end result of a lot of discussion. It is the end result of a broad political will that has been expressed in various terms. Sometimes we have talked about distinct society; other times, we have talked about the Quebec people; and now we have come to the concept of nation.
At some point, when we may one day be ready to consider constitutional talks, who knows what terminology we will want to use to recognize Quebec’s difference? Because basically, we can play semantics all day, but ultimately, the intention is to recognize Quebec’s difference, a difference that can be reconciled with Canada’s differences. Basically, it is the sum of our differences that makes this country a country respected throughout the world and a country where each one of us can be comfortable with our own personality, with our own history.
That is why I said at the beginning of my speech that this is not a debate we would have wanted, because basically, asking someone else to define one’s identity is not necessarily the best thing to do. And it is surprising that it should be the Bloc Québécois asking for that identity to be defined. The most disappointing thing has been to see that the Bloc Québécois, which thinks that it has a different definition of Québécois identity from ours, would decide to come to the rest of Canada seeking that identity. It has been hoist on its own petard, and today, the three federalist parties find themselves offering their hand and saying that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada—
Mr. Speaker, this feels wrong to me. It felt wrong when the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party passed its resolution and it felt wrong when passionate worried debate rose up across the country.
It felt even worse last week when the Bloc tabled its motion.
It did not feel less wrong but it felt more hopeful, as if the worst might pass, when the government then presented its counter motion.
However, the disease reached its incurable, treacherous peak when the Bloc announced that it would support the government motion—
--saying that Canada will become the first country to officially recognize the Quebec nation and that there will be many other countries that will recognize the nation of Quebec and the country of Quebec.
My country is more than this. Canada is centuries and centuries of aboriginal peoples, their respectful relationship to the land, their culture and history.
Canada is the French and the English struggling to survive in a new world filled with difficulties in order to build new lives for themselves. They were different in their languages, their cultures, their religions and their legal systems, but they were committed to the same struggle, to live together; and they succeeded in doing that.
Canada has people from almost everywhere coming here, changing us and themselves in ways exciting and unknown. Canada has immense resources and unimaginable possibilities. Our future is still in the making and still in the becoming.
Canada is a great global experiment, a true global society that works in the only way our global world of the future can work. Canada matters. It matters to me. It matters to us. It matters to the world. Therefore, when we deal with constitutional change, with things that lay out what we are and shape our future, it matters and it matters a lot.
Meech Lake and Charlottetown, agree with them or not, we examined, we debated and we took time. Meech Lake and Charlottetown felt serious.
This feels wrong because it does not feel as serious as it must be. It feels like games, bad, manipulative, opportunistic games, political games. Box somebody into a corner so they say or do something they do not want to say or do just to get out of the corner, just to save face, for them to box the other guy into say and doing just the same. We all save face and all get into a bigger box, a bigger box called the future, except that box belongs to someone else.
All these games and manipulations are not for us. They only create a slippery slope for later on.
The public has learned to accept most things political but not this. The stakes are too high. The public is saying that this is their country. The government got itself into this but why should they join it. Canadians want to know why they should let the government do this to them when this is their country.
This is pure politics. All this started with the ludicrous concept of having a debate fundamental to the country based on understanding different understandings of the word “nation”. In the last few days it has deteriorated into the ludicrous reality of such a debate in practice.
For those who want to engage in the debate honestly, seeking definitional clarity, they can forget it. Other parties to the debate want none of it. They want to say “nation” means whatever they want it to mean now and to change definitions whenever they decide they want it to mean something different. They can then go to the public and argue, spin and try to achieve by misunderstanding what they cannot by understanding.
When I first arrived in Montreal, what impressed me most was the pride of Quebeckers. The English language and American culture had invaded the whole world. The Quebeckers had no chance of survival. However, they said “No; not us, not here”. They know who they are and who they will be, forever.
Quebeckers know who they are. They have had to. They could not have made it if they had not. They do not need any official definers to tell them who they are. Some day all Canadians will get down on paper what Canada really is, what Quebec really is and what together we have made ourselves to be. However, it will not happen this way. It cannot happen this way.
Does the Bloc really want to convince Canadians outside Quebec to accept Quebec as a nation.? Not at all.
The Bloc wants the process to be so inappropriate that all such Canadians will reject the question. It wants to grease that slippery slope so that Canadians inside Quebec will reject those outside Quebec and the Bloc's cause of independence will be advanced.
The pawn in this game is the public. As Canadians, we feel deeply about our country. Politicians and political advocates for decades have been playing games with our emotions, manipulating them for their/our own purposes. They/we have completely poisoned the well of discussion and debate on this question. No side trusts the other and no citizen trusts any politician.
Though it does not seem this way, the problem is not really the languages of French and English. It is the language of spin, manipulation and bigger agendas. Neither the government's motion nor the resolution of the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party will do anything except create greater division and distrust.
My country Canada is more than this. For me, the motion has no precise language, no precise depth of understanding, no time and mechanism to work this through, no clarity and no support. The government motion should be defeated.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to take part in this historic debate in this House.
I know that the members of all parties in this House have stated their positions with great emotion and passion for this issue, like the member who has just spoken. It is true, and he was right to do so, because this debate is so important and so fundamental to the future of our country.
This motion goes to the very heart of what makes up a country, what makes up a nation, what it means to be Canadian and what it means to be Québécois. The motion is perhaps an opportunity to remind ourselves how lucky we are to live in Canada and what is at stake when we embark on such a discussion. The motion is perhaps an opportunity to remind ourselves of what is at stake for not only the Québécois but for the entire country.
Many think of Canada as a young nation, a country that has, as has often been said, more geography than history, and yet it is more than a bit ironic that this young country should be one of the most respected, with one of the oldest democracies and one of the oldest and most successful federations on the planet.
As stated by the and the Leader of the Opposition, the support of this motion is a generous showing of solidarity. To paraphrase them both, it is a beacon of hope for other nations and a shining example of humanity and harmony. Those are weighty words from current federal leaders which, I think, are quite representative of the dominant view of this House and rare. It is in fact far too rare an instance in which we see a convergence of support in this chamber.
If there ever were such an important cause to rally around I would suggest this is it. National unity and the preservation of Canada are surely something all members of Parliament should agree upon without equivocation or qualification.
While I might take a position contrary to the member opposite from York, no one doubts anyone's loyalty to Canada and no one doubts anyone's passion for what they believe is important to this country.
While this debate may invoke emotions and, in some cases, the inkling of partisanship, we need to bring it back to the fundamental issue of how we preserve this great nation, this incredible fabric woven together over our country's history that is reflective of two founding nations.
The truth is that Canada is a federation that works. The success of our country has not been achieved by accident, and is not something that can or should be taken for granted.
The Fathers of Confederation chose a form of government that was particularly well suited to the inclusion of regional, linguistic and religious diversity. The best example of that diversity is unquestionably the existence of two major linguistic groups. The presence of Quebec is one of the main factors that led to the creation of Canada as a federation. The founders wanted to build a country that would make room for our diversity.
Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, stated emphatically:
I have no accord with the desire expressed in some quarters that by any mode whatever there should be an attempt made to oppress the one language or render it inferior to the other; I believe that would be impossible if it were tried, and it would be foolish and wicked if it were possible.
Georges-Étienne Cartier stated in the Confederation debates of that time:
We could not legislate for the disappearance of the French Canadians from American soil, but British and French Canadians alike could appreciate and understand their position relative to each other....It is a benefit rather than the inverse, to have a diversity of races.
Let us not refute the intentions of the founders of the Canadian federation. They were all too aware of the need to recognize diversity, differences and specificities of all partners of the federation. They made it work, most important, and they did it under more trying and demanding circumstances than exist today.
Let us not give way to the politics of convenience or short-sightedness. Let us instead demonstrate the same characteristics of our founding fathers, perseverance, fortitude, honourable compromise and most of all, tolerance and mutual respect.
For their part, these traits have been bread in the bone, in the very marrow, in the DNA of Canada's genetic makeup. Canada was premised on the concept that diversity is a permanent characteristic. As the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney said:
Our approach to sustaining that prosperity is, first of all, an inherent flexibility in our Canadian federation that allows us to live together, to celebrate our differences and to understand, in a living way, that to be different does not mean that we are not equal, and to be equal does not mean that we must all be the same.
Mr. Mulroney further added:
Equality in Canada simply means that no one has the right to discriminate against us because of our differences.
From a historical standpoint, we learned long ago that we have to be mindful of the accommodations needed in a society where there are two major linguistic groups. Quebeckers have always exhibited a constant determination to advance and defend their rights and to preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage. They have achieved fantastic success, and all of Canada, the whole world in fact, is the richer for it.
Federalism has served us well. Today, it is hard to imagine other arrangements that could have served us as well. A federalism that, 140 years later, is still a model for the rest of the world to follow.
The challenge of accommodating diversity is perhaps one of the most difficult facing the world today. The recent debate in Quebec on what constitutes reasonable accommodation for religious minorities is echoed in similar debates around the globe.
Diversity is a modern reality. Most states in Europe, Asia or Africa contain a variety of languages, religions and cultures. Many of the most successful in dealing with this diversity have chosen the federal system of government.
Looked at from a contemporary world viewpoint, it is apparently homogenous states that are the exception. The nation state, which implies the parallel occurrence of state and ethnic nation, is extremely rare. In fact, there are no ideal nation states. Existing states differ from the ideal in two ways: the population includes minorities; and, they do not include all national groups in their territory.
Today's Canada is a prosperous, politically stable country because we have made diversity an asset rather than a problem or an issue. We embrace and celebrate that diversity rather than refuse it or repel it.
In fact, the economic and fiscal update recently released by my colleague, the , is a positive signpost in this continuum marked by strong economic growth, focused government spending, lower debt and reduced taxes. All of this prosperity is for the benefit of all Canadians.
The advantage Canada plan will further help Canadians build a strong economy by creating the right conditions for Canadians and Canadian businesses to organize, thrive and prosper.
Canadians are able, as a result, to make democratic choices based on respect for human rights. Today, more than ever we understand that accommodating pluralism is not merely a political necessity, it is also a source of price and enrichment which reflect Canadian values.
Our capacity to adapt as a society, to build institutions that respond to demands of its citizens has served us very well. Federalism is a natural response to governing a large, demographically and regionally diverse country. With 10 provinces, 3 territories, 6 time zones and bordering on 3 oceans, Canada's regional diversity and geographic diversity is obvious.
Our diversity is also reflected in our two official languages. Almost all Canadians speak English, 85%, or French, 31%, and one in five also speaks a non-official language. These diversities do not reflect the intangible benefits of language and culture in our nation's rich fabric. It goes beyond far beyond language and culture. These are things cannot always be grasped, or seen or felt, but they are there and they breathe in every community throughout the land.
Canada is increasingly urban and multicultural. In 2001 nearly 80% of Canadians lived in cities of over 10,000. In today's Canada, immigration represents 41% of the growth, a 2004 figure, and new Canadians tend to settle in our major urban centres, including Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to mention a few.
There is also no denying the enduring contributions of our earliest people, our first nations, Canada's aboriginal people.
As well, in many areas of the country, we have the contribution of the original pioneers who came to make their homes in this vast and often harsh land, the Prairies, the communities that dot our coastline and our majestic north.
Canada is made up of much more than large city centres. The small towns, communities, rural life in our country continues to be an important part of the fabric.
Ours is an enormous and awesome country in size and soul, one of governance and getting along, of balance, of benefit, of being benevolent, all Canadian personality traits.
Beyond accommodating regional preferences and diversity, Canadian federalism has provided an environment in which contemporary national, provincial and cultural identities have flourished. Federalism allows and encourages experimentation in political, social and economic matters.
The open federalism approach of the is in keeping with that modern nation state, mature and confident in the overall desire to succeed in a united and strong Canada. The willingness to succeed with les Québécois as a nation of people among others within a strong and united Canada is the abiding and unbending part of the equation.
Canadian federalism is not—as the Bloc Québécois would have us believe—a yoke that has hindered the development of Quebec. Rather, it is an open and flexible system that is constantly evolving. Quebec is inextricably bound up in the Canadian dream.
Canadian values derive from the fact that we have to understand one another and adapt, with courage, generosity and sensitivity, to the presence of two linguistic communities.
All of the succeeding generations of Canadians have had to meet this challenge. The choices we have made attest to our common aspirations for the future of this vast country, choices that are the envy of the whole world.
Anyone who has travelled much outside Canada knows that Canada is still one of the most favoured nations. Our prosperity and our public-spiritedness have been achieved through hard work, but can never be taken for granted.
Canada is a pluralistic society, not just because of the diversity or the makeup of the population, whether linguistic, cultural, ethnic or regional, but, more important, because we have come to understand that these differences contribute greatly to our national community and our very identity. To use the symbolism of our great river system and source of natural clean water, of life itself, all the vast rivers of nationhood flow to one sea.
Across the country, Canadians work together in a variety of ways to build a better nation with no group building in isolation. As a result, Canada has become a model for other countries. In a world with some 6,000 languages and only 200 states, pluralism is the norm, not the exception. Its success requires a uniquely Canadian talent, the ability to work together and transcend that diversity.
This vision of Canada as a nation, inspired by generosity and tolerance, has repeatedly triumphed over narrow ethnic tribalism. Canadians in Quebec and across the nation are proud of our success. Our Canada includes a strong, vibrant francophone Quebec, les Québécois. We would not have it otherwise.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
As you know, Wilfrid Laurier said that if we want to defend our ideas and principles, we have to fight for them, we have to let people know about them. This is an important historic moment today that transcends all partisanship. We must define ourselves and send a message defining what we want to be, who should be recognized as Canadians and what Canada is. I am really extremely proud to be part of this debate, on behalf of my colleagues and my constituents in the riding of Bourassa.
I have been a member of the Liberal Party for 25 years. I have been through seven election campaigns. I have fought to make sure that Canada remains united within this Confederation. I have fought to ensure that in Quebec we can show the importance of this value added, the way Quebec is a catalyst and a reality within this Canada, and what the development of this province has also meant in making that Canada is what it is today.
As a minister of the Crown, I have always worked very hard to make sure that we can in fact preserve this common tie, but always with respect for the specificity of each region. Today I salute all those taking part in this extremely important debate. I think it was appropriate for the government to put forward this motion in response to the manoeuvre by the Bloc Québécois. This motion, which recognizes that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada, sends a clear message, namely that the word nation does not mean the creation of a country within the country.
I urge all my colleagues, when they vote this evening, to take up the defence of this discourse. Because I truly think that at some point we have to face the facts and realize what is happening on the ground.
Quebec is a nation. However, that does not have a detrimental effect on other French-Canadians. I am French-Canadian and proud of it. The reality of the Quebec nation has meant added value for Canada. My nation is inclusive; it is not ethnic. It is a civil society and a sociological fact; it is the essence of Canada: a national plurality. We have first nations, the Acadian nation and the French-Canadian nation. Thanks to the first nations, we have a richness that enables us to epitomize Canada.
We must not try to make this motion say something it does not. That is why we have to be so careful. Quebeckers want that clear message: they want Canada to hold out the olive branch. The vast majority of Quebeckers want to remain in Canada. Twice, they have said no to referendums, in 1980 and 1995. Regardless of how people want to interpret them—we will not play politics on this—there are real numbers and a clear percentage. Quebeckers want to remain in Canada.
They have been told that they feel somewhat left out because they did not sign the 1982 Constitution, so they want some kind of recognition. Personally, as a Quebecker, I have always thought that we are a people, but that does not mean we define ourselves as a country. I have fought for 25 years to ensure that Quebec is and will remain in Canada.
We have recognized certain things: we have often boasted of Quebec entrepreneurship, Quebec culture, and Quebec literature and film. There is even a Quebec advertising market.
So acknowledging a fact and recognizing reality mean that Quebeckers will feel more included in Confederation. It is a sign of love. This is more than a symbol; it is recognition, which is essential for our country's well-being. Nobody is losing anything. We do not want to get caught in that trap like the Bloc did. Clearly, the Bloc introduced a motion in answer to that need and tried to divide us. This week, we will have the great pleasure of selecting a new leader.
I am very happy to be part of the team supporting the member for in the race for the leadership of my party. He is someone who talks about the real issues. He has dared to act so that we can break out of this vicious circle and find a solution together.
By this, I do not mean a new round of constitutional talks. When the time is right, we will do what has to be done, but today, we will examine and vote on a motion that recognizes what Quebec is, what Quebeckers are: a nation.
As I have said, that does not take anything away from the rest of the country. I believe that, by being inclusive, by recognizing that complementarity, we will be able to show that this is open federalism and it is growing and evolving.
When I was Minister of Immigration, we held the first-ever federal-provincial-territorial conference, a historic event. We did our utmost to ensure that we could respect regional specificity. We said that in Canada, there is a common link and a union of complementarity. For example, although we wanted to set policies on francophone immigration or regional immigration or policies that applied to certain regions, we also had to recognize every region's specific character. We said that Canada was more than Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. It is also Moose Jaw, Flin Flon, Gander and Chicoutimi.
What I mean is that we have a wealth of talents and knowledge. When we pool those talents and recognize what we are, we have a magnificent Canada.
Today, I salute the Conservative government's motion. It was a singular moment when the and then the spoke. There were ovations. This heartfelt cry from all the federalist parliamentarians said that we would not fall into the separatists' trap.
We will make sure that this country, the greatest country in the world, will stand. And if we have to recognize what we already know, that Quebec is a nation and my Quebec is inclusive, the notion of nation does not take anything away from anybody else in any region of the country. It is just to recognize what we know already: that this is a tremendous catalyst to make this country work even better.
Members know as well as I do that self-esteem is what it is all about. If we recognize something that we know, and if we are inclusive, more people will come to us. We have had this taste in our mouths in Canada, this taste that we have the separatists who wanted to create another country and the only thing for us was the status quo, and that the only way to make sure this country works is to do nothing. I am talking about recognition. That is why it is so important.
Some people are saying that it is dangerous to talk about these things because we have failed in the past. Like the member for used to say, one does not define one's future on the experience of the failures from the past. Canadian federalism is a tremendous concept that evolves all the time and it is all about being inclusive. I urge all fellow members and colleagues to vote in favour of the motion because it is all about what we knew already: recognition and self-esteem.
I urge all my colleagues from Quebec and elsewhere to send this heartfelt message of recognition to all Quebeckers. Being inclusive like that does not take anything away from anyone. We are only ensuring that this country shows once again that it is the most beautiful in the world.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise today.
A former prime minister, indeed, Mr. Chrétien, once told me that politics is about making tough decisions. Today we are asked to address a question and for some the answer comes easily: oui, Québec est une nation dans le Canada. For others, the question is much more difficult to answer.
An adequate response to today's matter requires more contemplation, consideration and consultation, which in an ideal world should be done over weeks and months. Today we are asked a question of highest national importance and we are given 72 hours.
For the sake of embarrassing the Bloc Québécois and the member for , the has led all of us down a very precarious path. We are faced with it in Afghanistan and here again today.
The in recent times called the debate of the Québécois as a nation a semantic debate. I would suggest that he knows better than that.
It is obvious that any people declared a nation within a country could easily be called a distinct society. We all remember those words “distinct society”. We remember the divisive results of those two words. We remember Meech. We remember Charlottetown. We remember Elijah Harper, and indeed, a historic day at the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba, when I was present. We remember 1995. We remember 50.6% saying no and 49.4% saying yes. Canada won that day, but for the sake of game of one-upmanship, we have embarked on a slippery slope that could well lead us back to 1995. Who knows the results this time?
There is another group of people who have their own language, culture and history. They have been on this land for longer than the English and the French, yet despite their own unique way of life and their distinctiveness we have heard nothing out of this debate about the nation status of the aboriginal people. Anyone who has witnessed this government's attitude toward our first nations and aboriginal peoples may not be surprised.
On this, the first anniversary of the Kelowna accord, this government once again appears to be passing by the aboriginal peoples, the first nations of this country. Two words: first nations. No debate there despite the seeming to overlook the people who inhabited this land before the English and the French came ashore.
On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and the hon. Leader of the Opposition, I ask the , if the Québécois are a nation, why are aboriginal Canadians not afforded the same recognition by his government?
What are the similarities? Unique languages for both? Yes. Unique traditions for both? Yes. A long and storied history on this land for both? Yes. The first nations of Canada are being left out of the debate again despite the obvious parallels that exist between their situation and that of the Québécois.
Did we not learn or hear anything in the outcry when aboriginal Canadians were given short shrift at Meech Lake? Why are we not addressing this again? Let me cite the premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, who said today:
Canada's First Nations, Metis and Inuit people should not be further marginalized by dint of this effort to unite Canada, which leaves them noticeably out of the picture. It is high time we formally acknowledge Canada's “third solitude”—the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. We should do that formally, proudly, and emphatically in a similar resolution that embraces our heritage as a nation of many nations.
Will the consider the words of Premier Campbell? Will he make it clear that declaring the Québécois a nation in no way derogates from and does not in any way diminish or modify the unique status and rights of first nations and their unique place in the past, present and future of this land? Will he affirm the first people to inhabit this land, develop this land, and govern themselves on this land as a distinct and vital nation unto this day?
Will the affirm that the status and rights of first nations have the inherent rights of self-governance recognized under the laws of Canada and international law, recognition and safeguarding of aboriginal, treaty and constitutional rights, and the right and capacity to continue to live on their traditions and treaty territories and to develop their own distinctive languages and cultures?
I speak on behalf of my leader and indeed the Liberal Party of Canada when I say that these are questions the must answer. They are matters that we support.
The first nations of Canada have never begrudged the Québécois their desire to be declared a nation. All they have asked for is equal consideration, an acknowledgement of their distinct languages, traditions, culture, and notion of collective rights.
What has the government done for first nations recently? It has cut funding for indigenous languages. It has said no to the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. It has begun to plant the seeds of private ownership on reserve land. It scrapped Kelowna. It cancelled the procurement strategy for aboriginal businesses. It cancelled aboriginal literacy programs. The government cancelled aboriginal stop smoking programs. It has forced aboriginal business centres to close. It has cancelled capital projects to build schools. The government does not appear to recognize the uniqueness of the collective. It has exhibited disrespect for aboriginal peoples and placed the honour of the crown in peril.
There is that word “unique”. That is what this debate is all about. It is about the unique qualities of the Québécois. No one denies that they exist. But as they exist for the Québécois, they exist for the first nations of Canada. To grant the Québécois a unique distinction in this country without doing the same for our first nations, the first inhabitants of this country, is to repeat a mistake that this country has already made once during the debate on the Québécois as a nation question.
I have outlined my concerns regarding this motion. I am troubled by the fact that we are doing this at the tip of a bayonet, without proper time to fully understand and analyze the consequences of our actions. I am concerned with the impact it will have on the historical status, recognition and rights of first nations. I am concerned about the lack of knowledge about the ramifications of our actions. I am concerned about the potential this motion has for the devolution of powers to the provinces. I am concerned about the potential divisiveness of this debate.
Having said that, after much contemplation and after much consideration, I will be reluctantly supporting the motion. I will do so because I believe that the Québécois have always been able to reconcile their identity as Quebeckers and Canadians. This resolution recognizes the Quebec reality and rejects the Bloc's attempt to divide us. I will be voting for the resolution with the understanding that it clearly affirms the principle of a united Canada.
In supporting this motion, I do remind the on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada that we will be watching closely to ensure the historical status, recognition and rights of first nations will in no way be harmed by the adoption of this motion. In fact, we strongly urge the Prime Minister to recognize the nation status of Canada's aboriginal peoples and to ensure that there are no adverse effects for first nations as a result of this motion.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pride and understanding that I take part in today's debate on a motion introduced by the , which reads:
That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
What a historic gesture, in more ways than one!
It recognizes a fact that history has made indisputable. It constitutes the fair recognition of the specificity of a people, the people of Quebec, which is distinguished by its language, its culture and its own institutions, and the fact that Quebec is indeed one of the two founding nations of this country, Canada. As a member of the governing party, I am pleased that it was our who had the courage to acknowledge, through the motion before us, a reality that is an irrefutable fact, a recognition that leaves no one indifferent and that affects each and every one of us in this Parliament.
Not only do Quebeckers form a nation, but over the years we have shaped our own identity within this country, Canada, that we and our ancestors have contributed to building. This historical reality is nothing new. It is part of the history of Quebec society, of a community of 60,000 inhabitants who, scattered along the shores of the St. Lawrence in 1760, were able to assemble to make the most of a heritage of traditions that have been passed down over the centuries.
Every Canadian, from every region, benefits from this tenacity in developing that heritage because the country we live in is enriched by it in many ways. Canada would not be Canada without Quebec and Quebeckers would not form a nation within Canada without these generations of men and women who passed on to those who came after them a passion to develop the unique identity that is ours in North America.
As I was saying a moment ago, recognition under this motion does not change the socio-political landscape of Canada and Quebec, but it marks a change and a major evolution, in that the other nation that gave birth to this great country, Canada, now recognizes what we are. However, I am disappointed by the reaction from sovereignists in Quebec, and particularly our Bloc Québécois friends. They obviously did not expect the to table this motion. Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister had barely finished talking when the Bloc Québécois leader got going in one of his typical rhetorical outpourings, trying to explain to the House that Quebeckers form a nation and that there can be no condition attached to this reality.
In short, the Bloc Québécois showed its true colours last week, and the was right when he said the following, in his speech delivered on Wednesday:
It is to recognize not what the Québécois are, but what the sovereignists would like them to be. To the Bloc, the issue is not that Quebec is a nation—the National Assembly has already spoken on that subject; the issue is separation. To them, “nation” means “separation”.
What has happened over the past few days in this House? The Bloc Québécois tabled a motion in order to set a trap for us, in order to create a real disturbance in this House, in order to get us into a lobster trap, as we said.
The objective was to put us, ministers from Quebec, in an extremely difficult situation and to perhaps force us to take a sidestep toward the recognition of Quebec as a nation. However, our showed foresight. He is close to Quebec and aware of its expectations. It is in this context that the Prime Minister quickly took that motion and put in its proper context by saying that Quebec forms a nation within a united Canada.
What saddens me today—and this is unfortunately what the Bloc Québécois tried to provoke among us—is to see that one of our colleagues, the , faced this difficulty today and had to decide not to acknowledge this reality. I speak about my hon. colleague with great respect because he is a man I like. What I find shocking is to see the members of the Bloc succeeding once again in sowing trouble in the House of Commons. That is always what they are over there for, to make sure that things do not work, to try to break up Canada instead of building it.
I know that, this evening, the overwhelming majority of the House will recognize the obvious fact that we Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada. That is why I am here in this House trying to build this country.
When their trickery was exposed through their reaction to the 's motion, great nervousness spread through their ranks and the real face of the Bloc Québécois emerged. That is what we saw, the sight of the Bloc Québécois as it really is. The mere mention of the words “a united Canada” provoked a violent reaction from this party. Most Quebeckers, on the other hand, do not respond in this way at all.
Our government, like the majority in Quebec, has a deeply held conviction that the development, advancement, progress and prosperity of Quebec society are better assured within the Canadian federation than in an independent Quebec, as preached by the Bloc, whose hypothetical benefits are just baseless speculation. Recognizing “that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada” is just recognizing a historical fact.
I had a chance to say this to some journalists a little earlier. Today is a great day for us Quebeckers. It is not the first time that Quebec has tried to have certain things recognized by this House. We had Meech Lake, which certain people managed to torpedo, but now Quebec is taking another step forward. We Quebeckers are managing to get our colleagues and all the parties in the House to recognize that we form a nation within a united Canada.
Quebeckers know very well that their interests are not served by isolation, semantics and symbolism. Contrary to what the Bloc Québécois says, it is not despite Canada that Quebec has become a strong society, richly diverse, and turned to the future. Our federation enables Quebeckers to be themselves in their country, alongside Newfoundlanders, Ontarians, Albertans and the inhabitants of all the other provinces.
Quebeckers know who they are. They know they took part in the founding of Canada, and that they helped shape this country in all its grandeur. They know they have protected their language and culture, while promoting their values and interests within Canada. They know that, in the end, they can be Canadians and Quebeckers, and that they need not choose between the two, as the Bloc would have them do. They know they are at the heart of Canadian identity.
The flexibility of our federalism has allowed Quebeckers to grow, and our distinctiveness has given us the development tools we need to prosper, to be present on the international scene and, above all, to create a modern state that could be considered in many regards the envy of other countries that have achieved full political sovereignty, as the former sovereignist premier Bernard Landry recently suggested.
No, this evolution is not pure happenstance. Just like the other partners in our federation, Quebec benefits from the advantages of an economic union, which is the guarantee of our current and future prosperity. It also benefits from a social union, which, despite its many challenges, is still the envy of many countries. Lastly, it also benefits from a political union that binds together a country that shines on the international scene, strengthened by an enviable reputation and its associated values of generosity and solidarity.
Canada represents a winning combination and federalism has helped us become one of the most prosperous countries on the planet. Over the years, federalism has proven to be flexible and effective. It has allowed us to consistently achieve enviable results in terms of collective wealth, individual revenue and job creation.
Federalism serves us well. By creating a unified market, it makes possible a great mobility of goods, services, workers and capital.
Federalism provides a common currency, which facilitates business dealings and the flow of capital. It helps moderate the impact of economic shocks, and in doing so ensures greater economic stability for all Canadians through the sharing of risk, regional transfers and the pooling of the riches of our country. It ensures that less prosperous regions have a higher standard of living and better health care and educational services than they would otherwise be able to provide.
Our federalism also improves our ability to negotiate with foreign countries. We are not alone against the rest of the world. The size of our market means that we have considerable negotiating power on the international level. Canada has a seat at the table of the G-7; it is an influential member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and plays an important role in the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development (OCED).
We are a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Organization of American States (OAS), and NATO. Because of our geography, Canada has open access to the world’s three biggest economic markets, Europe, the Americas and Asia.
The benefits that Quebec derives from Canadian federalism are also of a political nature, because federalism takes account of differences by encouraging cooperation and compromise. Federalism was not imposed on Quebeckers. They, in fact, are the chief artisans of its creation and its development. The main benefits of federalism lie in its flexibility, its vitality, its pluralism, its development of diversity and its ability to adapt to modern challenges. Federalism is not rigid. It distributes political jurisdiction in ways that respond to the common needs of our population, while recognizing particular situations.
Quebec has control of several jurisdictions, among which are natural resources and education. It has its own civil code, which makes its legal system unique in North America. It has its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It collects its own income tax.
Canadian federalism consistently demonstrates its effectiveness. The main reason, as I emphasized previously, is that it is able to adapt to the changes that great modern issues demand. Federalism allows those countries that embrace it to redefine intergovernmental relations in the light of their development, as has been the case since the 1950s.
Canadian federalism has proven that it can innovate in order to respond to the legitimate interests of Quebec within our constitutional framework. For example, since 1960, a series of agreements between the federal government and the Quebec provincial government has enabled the province to expand its spheres of activity into areas traditionally reserved for the federal government. In the area of immigration, Quebec chooses its immigrants and has its own integration programs. In the area of foreign policy, the federal government has developed a series of mechanisms to integrate the interests of Quebec and enable it to participate directly in international activities. The Sommet de la Francophonie, and more recently the announcement of a role for Quebec within the Canadian delegation to UNESCO are good examples of this, and are part of a growing trend.
Another benefit offered by federalism is that it protects collective freedoms through the mechanism of autonomy. It permits communities to benefit from comparable services throughout the country while maintaining a degree of autonomy enabling them to express their differences.
Federalism represents one of the political structures that can best deal with the modern challenges facing present-day societies. The Canadian political and economic union, the appreciable influence of Canada on the international scene, its solid credit reputation on international markets, its quality of life and its ability to realign resources are all essential benefits enabling Quebec to retain control over its destiny without compromising its future.
Bombardier, SNC-Lavalin and Cascades—to name but three—are all Canadian companies that have penetrated international markets. Céline Dion, Robert Lepage, Robert Charlebois, Denys Arcand and Cirque du Soleil were able to develop their talent and to be equally successful on the international scene.
It is important to remember that the advocates of separation have never been able to prove that Quebeckers would be more prosperous and in a better position were they to separate from Canada.
That is the fundamental dilemma of Quebec sovereignists. They are unable to convince us that Quebec would be better off, more prosperous or even happier. They are determined to break up this country that has served us so well instead of building it and helping it grow with respect for its two founding nations. On the other hand, Quebeckers know what Canadian federalism has to offer. That is why most of them remain opposed to separation and that is why they want to remain both Quebecker and Canadian.
Canada is prosperous, technologically advanced, economically and politically stable, a place where wealth is shared and respect and tolerance are common values. Our two nations are complementary and enrich each other.
The current debate is undeniably useful. It shows the true face of the Bloc Québécois, to whom the term “nation” is equivalent to “separation” rather than “potential to develop within Canada”. It sheds light on the need for a united Canada, a country in which Quebeckers have prospered by contributing significantly to the development of our country.
Since Confederation, Quebec's identity has been one of Canada's historical and political characteristics. As I was saying at the beginning of my speech, the purpose of this motion is simply to recognize an irrefutable fact: Quebeckers indeed form a nation, which has developed and flourished and continues to do so within a united country called Canada. Furthermore, Quebec's National Assembly recently affirmed that Quebeckers form a nation.
I want to remind this House, all parliamentarians, that it is up to us today to learn from the wisdom of our ancestors and recognize this step, and that our future within this country called Canada is a promising one. I want to say again to the Bloc Québécois: leave this House. You no longer belong here. You want to break up this country, while a majority of Canadians and Quebeckers want to stay in it. Leave this House. You no longer belong here. You are sowing provocation and discord in this House when we should be moving forward and building this country.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is with pleasure that I stand in this place to discuss the future of our country, a country that is the envy of the rest of the world, a country that has welcomed wave after wave of immigrants to its shore, a country that other countries hold as a beacon to follow.
Our country is made up of four pillars. The first pillar is the aboriginal peoples. The second and third pillars are the two founding peoples, the French and the English. The fourth pillar is the immigrants who have come to our country to establish themselves and to start a better life. Wave after wave of immigrants have come to the shores of Canada either fleeing religious and/or political persecution or just wanting to start a better life.
The rest of the world watching this debate today is perplexed. The rest of the world is asking why are we even discussing this issue? However, before we go down this avenue, I want tell member what Canada means to me.
When I was just 11 years, old one day my father came home and said that we were emigrating to Canada. I thought my world was coming apart. Why did my father want to uproot us and take us to a country, which I did not even know how to pronounce its name? I did not have an idea on which continent it was. It was a few weeks later that I saw a movie at school about Canada and I fell in love with the country and could not wait to get here.
I will not say that the beginning was easy, however, our country grows on people. It grew on me. It became my country. I see this effect on many new immigrants who arrive on our shores. I see the same effect on every new Canadian who takes the oath of allegiance to Canada when he or she becomes a Canadian citizen. I see this effect on people when I travel to other parts of the world and tell them I am Canadian. I see smiles on the faces of people and I sense they envy me because I live in the best country in the world.
For years Canada has been the best place in the world to live. To this day it continues to be the best country in the world of which to be a citizen. Our country has had successive leaders who led us from one milestone to another: Lester B. Pearson and his peacekeeping initiatives. It was his dream for a better world, which made Canada a beacon for the rest of the world to imitate. Every country wants to send peacekeepers to troubled parts of the world to be beside Canadian peacekeepers.
However, today we are discussing the future of Canada. We are here to discuss the word nation and how it relates to Canadians. We are asked by this Conservative to acknowledge that there are a number of nations within a united Canada. We are asked to discuss the particular nation, the Québécois, within a united Canada. Tomorrow the Prime Minister will ask us to discuss other parts of the country as nations, yet again within a united Canada.
It is at the expense of political expediency that this is playing Russian roulette with the term nation. To him and others who want to get votes from the separatists, they play around with the word nation as if it were like being in a restaurant and dividing a pizza. The word nation is not like a $5 bill and we decide how to divide it. The word nation is not like discussing how to mix and match different ingredients when ordering takeout at McDonald's.
To many of us, the word nation has a great meaning. To many of us it means the country of Canada. The word nation means from coast to coast to coast and north of the 39th parallel. The word nation means from St. John's, Newfoundland to Victoria, B.C., to the North Pole. The word nation means Canada, one nation, and not a number of nations. The word nation is what men and women of our armed forces give their lives for.
This fall I had the opportunity to visit the Battlefields of Vimy Ridge. I read the words of Brigadier-General Alexander Ross, commander of the 28th Battalion of Vimy Ridge, who said:
It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.
I realized that the struggle for the freedoms we enjoy today began there. I thought of the young Canadians on that cold and wet Easter Monday fighting together for the first time. They forged the nation; they forged our nation. I later visited the cemeteries where rows upon rows of young men were buried fighting for our country, fighting for a nation.
Three years ago I visited Afghanistan and saw firsthand the work which our troops are doing fighting for freedom in Kandahar. Today, the remains of two of our soldiers will be sent home from Kandahar with Canadian flags draped over their coffins. Our nation owes them gratitude. A nation owes them gratitude, not a number of nations. The Canadian nation owes them gratitude.
Yet, we are putting all this aside and we are playing politics in order to win seats away from the separatists in the next election. I cannot help but remember how in 1987 yet another Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, brought back from France his friend and got him elected after spending millions of dollars buying the byelection in Quebec. It was that individual, Mr. Bouchard, who started the Bloc Québécois.
It is another Conservative today who is also playing with fire and wants to appease the separatists and brings us to this discussion that we are having today.
In the last few days since we have started this debate, I have received thousands of letters, faxes, emails and phone calls from my riding and right across Canada. People are expressing their support for the position which I have taken. A constituent told me that Mr. Trudeau would probably be rolling in his grave after hearing what we are discussing right now.
Many people are upset with the way this is being handled. Many people are saying that this is yet another political milestone, how this minority Conservative government disrespects Canadians and their view of what makes Canada a nation.
Let us be perfectly honest with ourselves. This is not a discussion about the future of our country. It is simply a discussion of who gets the most votes away from the separatists in Quebec. Many Quebeckers themselves are not impressed with what we are doing here today. Many are asking, why are we tinkering with the best nation in the world?
I will not be supporting this motion put forth by this Conservative as he plays politics with my country. When the Prime Minister is ready to have a serious discussion about the nation of Canada, I will be there to listen and participate. However, today he is failing us. Canada is a nation first, Canada is a nation last and Canada is a nation always.
Mr. Speaker, today, we the members of the House of Commons are debating an important motion tabled by the :
That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
I find this motion troubling. I have studied it over the past few days. I have spoken to some voters—there are many francophones in my riding—and to lawyers, professors of Canadian history and my colleagues, and I continue to be troubled.
I believe that the fusion of the culture, history and language of French-speaking Canadians is a special characteristic unique to Canada. I think that the motion on a “distinct society” that was accepted by this House in 1996 shows the respect of Canadians for French-Canadians who played a major role in the history of our nation.
While I agree that past contentious debates on the Victoria charter, the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords highlight the need for recognition of the founding contributions of the two colonial powers and aboriginal people, a sign of respect for our history and a symbolic testament to our beginnings, the motion on the floor does not do that. Its very ambiguity makes it dangerous.
Across Canada arguments over the interpretation of the word “nation” have already begun. The Council of Europe struggled to find a definition of the word “nation” and it eluded it. In fact, the ambiguity of this motion has created division, threatening the social cohesion of this very diverse nation.
Some respected political scientists like Michael Bliss and Tom Axworthy believe that this motion can put in place conditions that will lead to the breakup of Canada. Yet, there are those who shrug off the very mention of any unintended consequences that could arise from this motion. In fact, the has insisted that his motion, by referring only to Québécois and not to the province of Quebec, cannot be seen as a basis for extending more powers to Quebec's provincial government. Yet, within 24 hours of the tabling of his motion, the delighted premier of Quebec, a purported federalist, stated:
It changes the way our laws are interpreted. It changes the way Quebeckers will see their future. Because the recognition of Quebec as a nation is a way for us to occupy the place that is owed us in Canada and elsewhere in the world.
Already, the premier of Quebec has interpreted the word “nation” as more than mere symbolism. He sees it as the beginning of a new deal for his province, for new and expanded powers specific and different from other provinces.
This two nations theory has always been espoused by Conservative federalists from Stanfield to Mulroney and now our current . Indeed, the current premier of Quebec comes from that same political ideology, so why should we be surprised at his interpretation?
When we do not clearly define what we mean, others will do it for us. If a professed federalist premier can so interpret the word “nation”, how much more will the Bloc Québécois or the Parti Québécois which are political entities dedicated to an autonomous, self-determining, independent Quebec? Yet, there are those who say “Nonsense, we did not say Quebec would be a nation. We said Québécois”. I ask the House to consider the meaning of the word “Québécois”.
To those living in Quebec who are not francophone, the word refers to ethnic French Quebeckers exclusive of francophone immigrants and other linguistic and ethnic groups. Therefore, the word “Québécois” has sparked a semantic debate that now divides the people of Quebec. I thought our Charter of Rights and Freedoms had dispelled that notion of different rights for different groups but let me read what a Quebec resident wrote to me two days ago. He said, “There are many other languages and cultures in Quebec besides the French. We live, work, pay taxes, not only to Quebec but also to Canada. We do not wish to be treated like 'second class citizens' nor made to feel subordinate or inferior to another linguistic nor ethnic groups who, in their right mind, supports the castration of the hopes, dreams and freedoms of some Canadian citizens in Quebec who were under the impression that they were protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.
There are others who say that the word “Québécois” really refers to all residents of Quebec, regardless of language and ethnicity. If that is true, what makes Quebec different from other provinces? Each can claim unique histories, multicultural demographics and various languages. Therefore, according to that definition, other provinces also have a valid claim to nation status.
When the designation of nation applies to territories or to geographical areas, we begin a slippery slope. As well, if we mean to confer by this motion a respectful symbolic distinction to French Canadians, then why have we left out the Acadians in New Brunswick, the Métis or the francophones living outside of Quebec for one or two generations? In fact, one such francophone living in British Columbia recently said to me, “What are we, chopped liver?”, or as another more eloquently put it, “Please amend the motion to include all of the Francophone nations of Canada: Métis, Acadian and Francophones outside of Quebec”.
Why have we not as well similarly recognized the aboriginal people of this land who played a historic role in the origins of Canada? They are now seeking this designation.
When this motion divides, with clever words, province against province, francophone against francophone and ethnic groups against each other, the unintended consequences of a hastily conceived motion, a short term solution, a quick fix, a political gotcha, then we are in trouble.
Am I mollified by the fact that the Bloc Québécois now supports this innocuous motion? No. I am even more suspicious.
Am I reassured by the protestations of the ? No. This is the same person who wrote papers and theories on firewalls, who mused about the separation of Alberta and who advised that province to follow Quebec's clever example.
What will future parliamentarians make of this ill-defined and ambiguous motion? Will they define it according to their own agenda? What if they favour a weak central government and more powerful provinces? Will they use it to balkanize the nation of Canada? We have already heard the muse about placing limits on Ottawa's powers, even if it means reopening the Constitution.
What would be the ramifications of this motion if the chooses to open the Constitution? What would be the legal consequences when future courts are asked to rule on the special privileges and powers of nationhood by a separatist Quebec provincial government?
When a motion raises more questions than it answers, as this one does, when the answers are as conflicting and ambiguous as they seem to be and open to interpretation, and when a solution that seeks to unite has more potential to divide, then the long term side effects pose too great a risk for the future of Canada.
As an immigrant, I was drawn to Canada, a strong Canada envisioned by George-Étienne Cartier in 1865 during the Confederation debates when he said:
If we unite, we will form a political nation, independent of the original nation and of the religion of the individuals....As for the objection that we cannot form a great nation because Lower Canada is mainly French and Catholic, Upper Canada is mainly English and Protestant...I see [that as a futile argument].
I support the Canada of Sir Wilfrid Laurier who, 25 years later, said:
We...wish to form, a nation composed of the most heterogeneous elements, Protestants and Catholics, English and French, German, Irish, Scottish, each...with its own traditions and prejudices. In...a common point of patriotism...toward a unified goal and common aspirations
I support the Canada that embraces one nation in which the French-speaking and the English-speaking peoples, aboriginal peoples and minority groups of Canada are enshrined in the bilingualism and multicultural provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Today this motion has been successful in resurrecting old fights and old controversies, clothed in the guise of symbolism. By its very vagueness and ambiguity, it raises more questions than solutions and it divides more than it unites. It seems to me to be nothing more than a piece of political artifice, with the dangerous long term side effects of a fragmented Canada and endangering its future cohesion and integrity.
I have no choice but to vote against it.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
The debate that the Bloc Québécois has initiated in this House has special importance, in my view. That is why I wanted to take part.
The motion we have proposed asks the House of Commons to recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. We have been allotted a few hours to discuss the unique place that Quebeckers hold within our country.
The history of Quebec is distinguished by the desire, reaffirmed by successive generations of women and men, to build a better society while defending their rights and to preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage. Quebeckers can be proud of the society they have built and their extraordinary contribution to building Canada.
Quebeckers' distinct character is already recognized in several ways in Canadian institutions. For example, Quebec controls its own education system; it has its own Civil Code, which makes its legal system unique in North America; it has its own charter of rights and freedoms; it collects its own income taxes; it selects its immigrants and has its own immigrant integration programs; and it has a presence on the international stage.
Quebec has numerous delegations and offices abroad. It sits, with Canada, as a participant in the Francophone Summit and on other bodies of la Francophonie. It is part of the Canadian delegation to UNESCO. In addition, under framework agreements between Canada and foreign powers, Quebec can sign agreements directly with those foreign governments in certain areas.
Quebec has put in place its own pension plan, a deposit and investment fund, a general investment corporation and Hydro-Québec—key strategic tools in its economic development. It created its own television network, Radio-Québec, which is now known as Télé-Québec. It has its own student financial assistance program. It has passed its own language laws, enabling it to protect and promote the French language.
There can be no doubt that the assets I just listed are not characteristic of a paralyzed society incapable of taking charge of its own development and promoting its culture around the world. Rather, these assets are proof of a flexible federalism that takes into account and develops differences across the country. Quebeckers themselves can form a nation within a united country called Canada.
Quebec benefits from Canada's political and economic unity in many ways, including the following: the movement of goods and services across internal borders is facilitated by our common currency and significant harmonization of the laws, regulations and tax systems affecting businesses; interprovincial mobility of labour is guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; mobility of capital between regions is supported by federal regulation of the financial sector and by the existence of a common currency; free movement increases the flexibility of regional economies; unemployment rates are lower because Canadians can look for work where there are a lot of jobs; free movement of goods and services contributes to the short-term stability of businesses because they can gain easy access to markets and resources across the country; and our economic structure's long-term adaptability is supported by the free movement of capital, which can flow to regions experiencing economic growth.
Interprovincial trade is a fundamental part of Canada's economic reality, and Canadian enterprises make the most of the special advantages offered by Canadian economic unity.
As illustrated by the agreements signed between the provinces, the remaining challenge in this area is precisely to eliminate the barriers that slow down this commercial activity, and to prevent the creation of new obstacles that could impede it.
The important thing here is that all these economic tools available to Quebec under the Canadian federation have allowed it to strengthen its specificity and to promote conditions that help it preserve its language, culture and institutions. Far from impeding their march towards progress and prosperity, the benefits of the Canadian federation have helped Quebeckers collectively move forward.
As members of the House of Commons, we are privileged to take part in this debate, which is unquestionably of historical significance.
Today's achievement is a source of pride, but there are other issues currently confronting us that also require our attention. These challenges involve Quebec, like the other regions of the country.
At a time when international relations are influenced, among other things, by a globalization of the economy, it is important to establish a plan and a strategy that will allow Canada and Quebec to face this demanding reality. This is why, last week, our government released its economic plan entitled Advantage Canada. At a time when the world economy is changing, when new stakeholders are emerging as economic powers and when baby boomers are preparing to retire in large numbers, thus jeopardizing our ability to maintain our quality of life, we must collectively face this new force which will test our ability to adjust like never before.
Our long term economic and strategic plan aims at improving our country's prosperity, now and for generations to come. It will strengthen our country and show to the world a modern, ambitious, dynamic, diverse and united Canada.
The very strength of our political system rests on our country's unity, which will also bring progress and prosperity. Another strength lies in our flexibility and ability to recognize the differences that exist between the various groups that make up the Canadian population. I am fully confident that recognizing Quebeckers as a nation within a united Canada will contribute to this objective of national unity, which we must never lose sight of, and which is deserving of all our efforts.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to rise today to speak to a motion that goes to the heart of what it means to be a Canadian and a Québécois. Today's motion is an opportunity to remind ourselves of what is at stake for the Québécois but also for all Canadians.
The success of our country did not happen by accident and it is not something that can or should be taken for granted. We think of Canada as young country, a country, as has often been said, with more geography than history. It is therefore ironic that this young country should also be one of the oldest democracies and one of the oldest federations on the planet.
Canada represents a paradigm shift from the nineteenth century nationalism of a nation-state based on cultural, linguistic and ethnic homogeneity. Canada was premised on the concept of diversity as a permanent characteristic.
The Fathers of Confederation chose a form of government uniquely suited to expressing and accommodating regional, linguistic and religious diversity. The most important example of this diversity was undoubtedly the existence of the two major language groups. One of the major factors in the creation of Canada as a federation was the presence of Quebec. The founders of our country wanted to build a country that embraced our diversity.
Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, said emphatically:
I have no accord with the desire expressed in some quarters that by any mode whatever there should be an attempt made to oppress the one language or to render it inferior to the other: I believe that would be impossible if it were tried, and it would be foolish and wicked if it were possible.
George-Étienne Cartier stated in the Confederation debates:
We could not legislate for the disappearance of the French Canadians from American soil, but British and French Canadians alike could appreciate and understand their position relative to each other...It is a benefit, rather than the inverse, to have a diversity of races.
From a historical perspective, we have a long tradition of dealing with the accommodations necessary in a society with two important language groups. The federal structure is perhaps the most obvious, but is by no means the only one.
In the context of a North America that is overwhelmingly English speaking, the Canadian federation has had to provide the framework for an effective commitment to the continuity and survival of the French speaking society centred in but not limited to Quebec. Today it is hard to imagine any other arrangement that could have served us so well and which, 140 years later, is still a model for the world.
The challenge of accommodating diversity is perhaps one of the most difficult facing the world today. The recent debate in Quebec on what constitutes a reasonable accommodation for religious minorities is echoed in similar debates across the globe.
Diversity is a modern reality. Most states in Europe, Asia or Africa contain a variety of languages, religions and cultures. Many of the most successful in dealing with diversity have chosen a federal system of government.
Looked at from a contemporary world viewpoint, it is the apparently homogenous states that are the exception. The nation-state, which implies the parallel occurrence of a state and an ethnic nation, is extremely rare. In fact, there are no ideal nation-states. Existing states differ from this ideal in two ways: the population includes minorities, and they do not include all the national groups in their territory.
Today Canada is a prosperous, politically stable country because we have made diversity an asset rather than a problem. Canadians are able, as a result, to make democratic choices based on respect of human rights. Today more than ever we understand that accommodating pluralism is not merely a political necessity but also a source of pride and enrichment, which reflects Canadian values.
Our capacity to adapt, as a society, and to build institutions that respond to the demands of its citizens has served us very well. Federalism is the natural response to governing a large, demographically and regionally diverse country. With 10 provinces, 3 territories, 6 time zones and bordering on 3 oceans, Canada's regional diversity is obvious.
Our diversity is also reflected in our two official languages. Almost all Canadians speak English, approximately 85%, or French, 31%, and one in five also speaks a non-official language. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 98% have English as their mother tongue. In Quebec 81% have French as their mother tongue. In Nunavut 79% speak Inuktitut, a language spoken by less than one in a thousand Canadians.
Today, nearly one million Canadians report an aboriginal identity. This is also a rapidly growing segment of our population.
Canada is increasingly urban and multicultural. In 2001 nearly 80% of Canadians lived in cities of more than 10,000 people. In today's Canada, immigration represents 41% of the growth, in 2004 figures, and new Canadians tend to settle in our major urban centres. Between 1996 and 2001, Toronto received more than 445,000 immigrants, 180,000 settled in Vancouver and 126,000 settled in Montreal.
Beyond accommodating regional preferences and diversity, Canadian federalism has provided an environment in which complementary national, provincial and cultural identities have flourished. Federalism allows and encourages experimentation in political, social and economic measures.
Quebec is inescapably at the heart of the Canadian dream. Canada's values have been shaped by the challenge of understanding each other and responding to the presence of two major language communities with courage, generosity and sensitivity. Each successive generation of Canadians has had to face this challenge.
The choices we have made express our shared hopes for the future of this vast land and have made us the envy of the world. Anyone who has travelled extensively outside of our borders knows that Canada remains one of the world's most favourite nations. Our prosperity and civility are the product of much hard work and cannot be taken for granted.
Canada is a pluralistic society not just because of the diversity in the makeup of the population, whether linguistic, cultural, ethnic or regional, but, more important, because we have come to understand that these differences contribute to our national community.
Across the country, Canadians work together in a variety of ways to build a better nation than either group could build in isolation. As a result, Canada has become a model for other countries. In a world with some 6,000 languages and only 200 states, pluralism is the norm, not the exception. Successes require a unique Canadian talent, the ability to work together and transcend our diversities.