That the House remind the government that it is solely up to Quebec and the provinces to decide on the use of the notwithstanding clause.
He said: Mr. Speaker, rest assured that I am excluding you from this argument, but I get the impression that Quebec does not have many friends in the House. This has been made particularly evident by what seems to be—and this may seem harsh—the Liberal government's descent into hell. The government is essentially the only one to blame, and it is useful in this context to revisit—and, again this may sound harsh—a recent debacle. I will let you be the judge of that. Speaking of judges, we will, once again, have to refer to the Supreme Court of Canada on this matter.
I have made a little list. Bill on gun control was a lesson in clumsy backtracking, an unruly fiasco and a retreat that was anything but strategic. There was not even a whiff of them admitting to an error—an implicit error—and no recognition of the fact that, indeed, one must consider the safety of civilians and women while also preserving the legitimate privileges of sport hunters.
One example is the electoral map. I remember going to the Gaspé region last summer, just a few days after the , when the first new version of the electoral map had been considered and the riding of my colleague from was disappearing. The Prime Minister was in the region and had not said a single word about the fact that the regions in Quebec were being weakened. There might even have been a threat regarding the expressed desire of the member for to keep the file. The Prime Minister, however, never said a word; again, the government is essentially its deputy minister.
There is Medicago, a company, a flagship in technology research that, due to a kind of negligence perpetuated over time and interventions that were often too late, risks seeing the achievements of Quebec engineering go to Japan, subject to the good will of Mitsubishi, which will certainly be a major loss for Quebec and Canada.
There is the acquisition of Resolute Forest Products by Paper Excellence, which is owned by Sinar Mas. That represents 25% of cutting rights in public forests in Quebec and does not qualify in the new Bill , which does not even protect it. Good heavens, if that is not protected, what will Bill C-34 protect?
There are obviously the health transfers. That is really very interesting. Of everyone here, we see that only the Bloc Québécois is both speaking for Quebec and representing the provinces' common front. The Bloc Québécois is the only party to stand up for Yukon, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Alberta. We will wait for the thanks from the benches next to us. Only the Bloc Québécois is standing up for the will of the provinces, the territories and Quebec, while the others are being opportunistic or lazy. We will be told that what we are doing is a waste of time. It is not a waste of time; it is very revealing of how things work.
There is the McKinsey case. I do not have time to go through everything about McKinsey. There would be far too many secrets to be brought to light, like McKinsey and ethics, McKinsey and lobbying, McKinsey and defence, McKinsey and standing offers, and so on. McKinsey's former boss himself—who is surely not as naive as he tried to make us believe in committee—said that, if he had been the client, he would not have signed the contract that the Government of Canada signed. That is interesting. There is also McKinsey and immigration, as well as McKinsey and Century Initiative. One hundred million Canadians, how nice. That is quite a lot, given Quebec’s inability to absorb, over time, in French and with our values, the number of immigrants that that requires. I asked Mr. Barton whether he had considered Quebec. They did not consider it at all. It was not even on their radar.
Based on the ignorance expressed, my word, I want to be the boss at McKinsey. He does not work that hard and says he does not know anything. Also, I suspect the pay is not too bad. McKinsey has a role to play in border management and, of course, in language and identity.
There is also the exploitation of Roxham Road. As my colleague from mentioned, according to recent revelations, not only do we have criminal smugglers, we now have an all-inclusive package on offer, on both sides. A bus ticket is provided and migrants are openly and brazenly sent to Roxham Road. No one likes handcuffs. However, a brief moment of discomfort from being handcuffed is worth it for migrants, who are very happy to have reached Quebec; of course Quebec is paying the costs of welcoming them in a humane manner.
There is the appointment of Ms. Elghawaby. I will not repeat the whole speech and I do not want to make this personal. That said, it was clear that the government has an extraordinary ability to isolate and protect itself. If our homes were as well protected as the government, we would not need insulation.
Of course, there is also the referral of Quebec’s secularism law to the Supreme Court of Canada in the hope of overturning it.
Beyond that, the divisiveness over Bill is quite dramatic. I would not want to invite myself to a Liberal caucus meeting, and I think its members would not like that either, but there must be some very passionate conversations within that caucus. It must be just as fascinating as the Conservatives’ conversations about abortion. There may be a few little things that need to be resolved. For our part, everything is going very well. The federal government may also go to the Supreme Court over Bill 96, which deals with the French language.
We have now come to the motion on the notwithstanding clause, which may also go before the Supreme Court of Canada. I would like to speak about a very interesting aspect. In principle, Trudeau senior said that the will of Parliament had to ultimately prevail. That is why the 1982 Constitution, which we consider to be a despicable document, includes this principle of ensuring the primacy of the democracy of parliaments. Let us keep in mind that we have never signed on to that Constitution. We have been pointing that out for a few weeks now.
That was quickly tested. In 1988, the Ford decision established, on the one hand, that the use of the notwithstanding clause was legitimate and, on the other hand, that the role of the court was not to engage in pointless discussions, but to rule on the substance and wording of things.
Let us not forget that Mr. Lévesque firmly invoked and inserted the notwithstanding clause in all of the laws passed by Quebec’s National Assembly. Many fits were had, but Canada survived.
It is important to understand the current government’s legislative or judicial approach—or flight of fancy. By invoking federal documents such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Constitution, and by appointing new judges as old ones leave, the hopes to replace the decisions of the provincial legislatures and of the House of Commons with those of the Supreme Court of Canada in order to modify by interpretation the Canadian Constitution. As we said earlier, the Constitution is much more theirs than it is ours.
Having had the opportunity over time to appoint judges, the Prime Minister is confident that he has a Supreme Court of Canada whose constitution, pardon the pun, will be favourable to him. He wants to modify the Constitution by having it interpreted by judges he has appointed. This happens elsewhere in the world, and it is rarely an honourable procedure. A Parliament is always sovereign, otherwise any one Parliament could impose its will on another.
Quebec’s National Assembly is sovereign in its choices and its votes. Quebec’s Parliament is, in a word, national. Now, more than ever, Quebec’s National Assembly needs the notwithstanding clause, which guarantees the prerogative and primacy of parliaments and elected members over the decisions of the courts. Courts are there only to interpret, despite the fact that we have learned, particularly over the course of Quebec history, that interpretations can, over time, and without casting stones, be nudged in a certain direction. We do not want government by judges, but government by elected members, government by the people.
As I said at the beginning, it is important to mention that the notwithstanding clause is the legacy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I remember a question period during which we were told that it was awful, that they were not against the notwithstanding clause but against its pre-emptive use.
Of course, as it is wont to do, it is when the government runs out of arguments that it starts spouting the worst nonsense. That was a good one. If the notwithstanding clause is not to be used pre-emptively, what is the point?
The notwithstanding clause is like a COVID-19 vaccine. People get vaccinated to avoid getting COVID-19, not after they get it. The notwithstanding clause protects Quebec’s laws. We could say “the laws of Quebec and the provinces”, but let us be clear: Aside from a recent notorious case in Ontario, the notwithstanding clause is mostly used in Quebec, particularly when it comes to national identity and jurisdiction, precisely so that we do not have to hear the courts say that we cannot apply our own legislation, that it is being challenged, and that we now have to use the notwithstanding clause to fix a situation that, in the meantime, has had a deleterious effect.
Clearly, that is not how we want to or even how we should use the notwithstanding clause. Too often, harm would be done, and the same courts would have to suspend the application of the law. The notwithstanding clause is a small piece of sovereignty. “Sovereignty” is a word that frightens people. Using it inspires strong feelings and cold sweats. Sovereignty, however, is merely exclusive jurisdiction held by any party. This Parliament claims sovereignty, except in the case of Chinese spy balloons.
It is essential to recognize that, by invoking the notwithstanding clause, a jurisdiction that is a parliament, which by definition is sovereign, is claiming a small part of its sovereignty in jurisdictions which, logically speaking, should be exclusive to it.
This logical relationship between identity, the fact that Quebec is a nation begrudgingly recognized by this Parliament in a very specific context on June 16, 2021, and the fact that Quebec is the one that must resort to this clause is because Quebec is a nation, and its parliament is a national Parliament. Allow me to say that, in my opinion, this is too little.
It is too little because, of course, we want Quebeckers—in their own time, obviously, but we will encourage them—to think about sovereignty as a whole, a nation with a single national Parliament, which, as Mr. Parizeau said, would collect all taxes—we are capable of doing this and we would be having an entirely different conversation about health transfers—vote for all laws applicable in Quebec, sign all treaties and honour all existing treaties, as necessary.
Usually, people do not think about being normal. It goes without saying. We embrace normality, we seek normality and we assume normality. Quebec just needs to think about it right now, and for some time, and observe how its national identity is treated in a Parliament that should at least be a good neighbour if it cannot be a good partner.
This remains an essential reflection, but given the current context, it may no longer hold tomorrow or the next day. The game of cat and mouse, the jurisdictional stonewalling, the encroachments, the interference are anything but progress, efficiency or instruments for the greater good.
Until that necessarily deeper reflection occurs, we certainly need, in this Parliament, to solicit the good faith of colleagues and elected officials in recognizing that Quebec and the provinces have a legitimate right to use the notwithstanding clause. We are not requesting a change to the way things are done. We are asking that it be acknowledged. We simply wish to state the truth and are calling on Parliament to say that it does indeed reflect reality.
Voting against this truth would be akin to challenging the Canadian Constitution itself. This temptation was evident in the Prime Minister's comments. That raised some eyebrows, given the legacy. We are calling on the House to recognize a literal truth, if only out of respect.
In the meantime, and regardless of today’s vote, the Quebec nation and its representatives have only one true friend in this place. Only one political party raises the issues of language, identity, immigration, health care funding and the preservation of the notwithstanding clause in this House. Its members have just as much legitimacy as those of every other party. They are the members of the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc Québécois is proud to stand once again, without compromise, but with a sense of responsibility and with courage, to raise, defend and promote the interests of Quebec, which we hope will accomplish even more.
Mr. Speaker, I get the sense that the Bloc Québécois members did not like the question I asked their leader. I will continue my speech.
Our charter also inspired many other countries around the world, who drafted their own similar constitutions. I am proud that, as a society, we decided to adopt this instrument 40 years ago.
Section 33 of the charter, better known as the notwithstanding clause, made a political compromise possible among the disparate entities that made up Canada at the time of its adoption. Section 33 authorizes Parliament or the legislature of a province to derogate from certain sections of the charter, namely those protecting fundamental freedoms, legal rights and equality rights. Simply put, it is a tool that allows governments to short-circuit charter protections.
What is clear is that legislation that invokes the notwithstanding clause is violating fundamental rights. Using the notwithstanding clause is allowed, of course, even though the intention was always for it to be used rarely and in exceptional cases.
However, in my opinion, the pre-emptive use of the clause is very problematic. By pre-emptively invoking the notwithstanding clause, a government is basically saying that it knows it is violating Canadians' fundamental rights but that it is going to go ahead anyway, without giving the courts a chance to weigh in.
Let us be clear. By pre-emptively invoking the notwithstanding clause, a government is saying that it knows it is violating Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms, that it knows it is doing so but that it is going ahead anyway, without giving the courts a chance to weigh in.
The , our and other members of cabinet have been clear that our government is concerned with the pre-emptive invocation of the notwithstanding clause, and our federal government is firmly committed to defending the rights and freedoms protected by our charter.
This charter is an expression of some of the most fundamental values of Canadian society. It guarantees our rights and freedoms. I dare say that it represents what it is to be Canadian. These rights and freedoms are the very foundation of our country and of our democracy. However, even with these crucial rights, the charter recognizes that they are not absolute, and that is why section 1 exists.
Section 1 of the charter provides a workable, pragmatic framework for balancing different rights and freedoms, and it is there because sometimes a government can justify limiting constitutional rights and freedoms. Through decades and decades of jurisprudence, Parliament and provincial legislatures have been engaged in this ongoing dialogue with our courts.
The pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause ends that dialogue. It short-circuits the dialogue that is necessary to ensure that our charter is functioning as it should.
Our constitutional tradition is one marked by dialogue, mainly between the legislator and the courts. The pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause limits that dialogue by limiting legal debate.
When the notwithstanding clause is used pre-emptively, this dialogue and debate become mainly theoretical, because the courts are not given the opportunity to order remedies.
It is also important to remember that a strong, independent judiciary is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. The pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause limits the work of our courts, which cannot fully assume their role under our Constitution.
Between 2001 and 2017, section 33 was never invoked. The political norm of rare use seemed to prevail and the notwithstanding clause was treated as an exceptional measure.
Since 2017, however, there has been a huge rise in provinces invoking the notwithstanding clause to pre-emptively shield their legislation. This has happened in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and there have been threats of its use in Saskatchewan.
What is lost in a pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause? Transparency, engagement and accountability. The charter was not intended to save a government from these requirements. On the contrary, the imperative to justify limitations on rights and freedoms serves these very purposes. Proper use of the notwithstanding clause may be consistent with them, but pre-emptive use is contrary to the values that the charter was designed to protect.
In the past, the notwithstanding clause was treated as an exceptional measure, but its use is becoming more frequent. I repeat that, although the use of the notwithstanding clause is legal, it is not something that should be taken lightly, because it has the effect of suspending legal protections guaranteed by the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights and freedoms.
I believe that a government that uses a remedy of this magnitude must set out the exceptional circumstances that justify the suspension of these legal protections.
In closing, I want to point out that all members of the House should consider themselves very lucky to be Canadians and to be able to rely on the rights recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is up to all of us in the House to protect those rights.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by talking about this big, beautiful country we call Canada, a country blessed with a diverse abundance of riches that make us the envy of the world.
Take hydroelectricity from Quebec, for example. It not only meets our energy needs and heats our homes, but it also supplies energy to our neighbours in Ontario and New York State, in the U.S. We also grow wheat and other crops that help feed our planet. We even produce oil that is used to manufacture medical supplies and that continues to heat our homes during our transition to a cleaner, greener economy. Lastly, our waterways nourish our ecosystems and serve as transportation routes for our resources and our intermediate and finished products headed for markets in North America and overseas.
However, a country's real strength lies in its citizens' values. Here in Canada, Canadians, including Quebeckers, value community spirit and co-operation. They also espouse democratic values. These values translate to, among other things, a profound attachment to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Constitution. Whether in British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec or Ontario, Canadians across the country are tenacious about asserting their rights and freedoms, regardless of what governments may do from time to time.
Consider, for example, the late Nicole Gladu, who invoked the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Constitution to assert her right to medical assistance in dying. I must point out that it was a Quebec court that granted her that right under the charter. I believe that we should thank and honour Pierre Elliott Trudeau for his decision to devote his political life to patriating the Constitution and adding the charter, which is one of the most modern laws in the world, in that it recognizes community interests.
The charter also includes a notwithstanding clause. It should be noted that this clause cannot be used to violate the rights of official language minorities. I want to stress that point because many people often forget that this notwithstanding clause cannot violate every right, because some are guaranteed by the charter and the Constitution Act, 1982.
Since being elected, and even before that, I have never been in favour of invoking the notwithstanding clause, which, by the way, Parliament can do under the Constitution. People seem to forget that. This clause exists and it has a clear objective, namely to allow the federal government or a provincial government to take the time to consider and adjust to a court decision that would invalidate one of its laws in whole or in part. Its application is time-limited, so it is not a blank cheque nor open season. In fact, the use of this notwithstanding clause has to be renewed every five years.
There are several aspects of this clause that we could view as democratic. For example, it is not quite the final word, because the clause must be re-invoked every five years. It allows a legislature to temporarily derogate from a court decision.
Obviously, this matter is open to debate, but, in my opinion, the notwithstanding clause was intended to allow courts to render judgments and provide opinions based on our legal system's judicial traditions. Moreover, the notwithstanding clause was intended to create a requirement to have an open political debate every five years on the merits of using the notwithstanding clause.
In both of the cases that are before the court right now, namely Bills 96 and 21, the Legault government in Quebec used the clause pre-emptively. This pulled the rug right out from under the court. In fact, the court's hands are tied. It cannot do anything. We know that, in the case of Bill 21, the Superior Court of Quebec discussed some aspects of the bill that impede certain rights. However, it admitted that it could not do anything because of the notwithstanding clause.
What is problematic about the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause is that not only are the court's hands tied, but we cannot have a full debate on the use of the clause, a debate in a legislative assembly in front of the cameras, a debate whose every detail could followed by our media. I find that extremely problematic, and it adds an anti-democratic element to a provision that is undeniably democratic and perfectly legal.
When governments use this provision pre‑emptively, whether it is New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec or any other province, one question comes to mind: What are those governments afraid of? Are they afraid of their legal experts, their courts or their citizens? Are they afraid that their citizens might watch the debate on a measure that will take away their rights and that they will change their minds about the measure that the government has put in place with its law? Are these governments afraid of both the lawyers and the public?
I will stop there, and I am ready to answer questions.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
After eight years of the 's dismal governance, he is now trying to turn attention away from his record, the cost of living crisis of his own making, the highest spikes in inflation in 40 years and the doubling of the price of rent and the cost of mortgages. He wants to turn Canadians' attention away from the record use of food banks, the record credit card debt and the fact that he tripled the carbon tax. He wants Canadians to forget that violent crimes have increased by 32%, that gang-related homicides have increased by 92%, that he has close ties to lobbyists who cost a fortune and that he has violated ethics rules.
The Prime Minister is trying once again to sow division in Canada. He is also trying to create a fake constitutional crisis. That is his latest attempt at dividing people and turning attention away from his failures.
The Bloc Québécois has no solutions for Quebec's real problems. On June 15, 1991, more than 30 years ago, in protest at the failure of the Meech Lake accord, Lucien Bouchard and a few other MPs founded the Bloc Québécois for a “temporary” period. Would I have been part of that group? Perhaps. However, the temporary Bloc Québécois of 1991 in no way resembles the Bloc Québécois of 2023. In any case, this was not what Lucien Bouchard intended at the time.
Today, we understand why the Bloc Québécois, like the Liberal Party of Canada, is completely out of touch with the reality of Quebec residents. It is using a full day, an opposition day, to talk about the Constitution, when there are so many other matters that are more important to Quebeckers.
As the Quebec lieutenant for the Conservative Party of Canada, I am trying to understand where the Bloc Québécois is going with its sometimes nebulous strategies. I want to make it clear that I am not criticizing the duly elected members, but rather the political party, which only cares about Quebec sovereignty and which, despite the rhetorical flourishes of its leader, has only one thing in mind: to bring down the Canadian federation.
This is why I question its strategic decision to devote a full day of debate to a subject that does not interest Quebeckers: the Canadian Constitution. Are there no topics that are more important to Quebeckers nowadays?
Despite its grand patriotic speeches, I sense that the Bloc Québécois is only focused on the Liberal government and its leftist agenda.
In the last eight years, we have seen a disoriented Bloc Québécois trying to score political points on various issues, but the people of Quebec expect their federal members of the House to work for them.
Article 070 of the main proposal prepared for the Bloc Québécois' upcoming national convention in May states: “We have the right to make mistakes, rethink our positions and change our minds”. That being the case, it should take this opportunity to course correct.
I can think of several examples of questionable choices made by the Bloc Québécois. Was it a good idea to support the Liberal government's Bill , the infamous bill that allows street thugs to avoid prison time and sex offenders to serve their sentence at home instead of in jail where they belong? Was it a good idea to vote with the Liberal government in favour of Bill , which allows the worst criminals to be released on bail when they are still a threat to society? Was it a good idea to punish hunters and indigenous people by supporting the Liberals' Bill ?
The Bloc has a very leftist agenda. It is the Liberal government' best ally. Are Quebeckers aware of that?
I hear members laughing. They can go ahead and laugh all they like, but facts are facts.
When Lucien Bouchard formed the Bloc Québécois, he clearly indicated that the party was meant to be a temporary measure. Over 30 years later, we are really seeing the wear and tear. Paragraph 018 of the Bloc Québécois's main position paper states, and I quote, “We, like the vast majority of Quebeckers, naturally think of the Quebec National Assembly when we talk about our government.” We see here a party that is still trying to find itself.
This political party claims to support the Quebec National Assembly and the Government of Quebec. However, during the most recent Quebec election campaign, the Bloc Québécois put all of its energy and resources into supporting the Parti Québécois and working against Coalition Avenir Québec, the party that won the election by a landslide and now forms the government. How can the Bloc claim to be an ally of the Quebec government when its objective is to get PQ members elected? Also, how can it be recognized as an effective voice for Quebec when it only managed to get three PQ members elected?
An hon. member: Not enough to play cards.
Mr. Pierre Paul-Hus: Mr. Speaker, that is very true.
At paragraph 018 of the Bloc's main position paper, we read the following: “We are opposed to censorship, cancel culture, intimidation, humiliation and people's courts that take over for the justice system, especially on social networks and under the cover of anonymity. We subscribe to open conversation and a society based on the rule of law.”
Bill , will come back to the House of Commons after being amended by the Senate. Conservative senators did all they could to have the amendments adopted in order to prevent the CRTC, or the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, from having excessive control over algorithms because of an authoritarian government having decided to impose certain rules. With respect to Bill C‑11, Conservative senators did everything they could to prevent any government from exercising additional powers to control algorithms for any digital environment. Independent Liberal senators refused. The bill will be sent back to the House.
The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-11. This bill does contain some positive aspects, but there are also some very harmful elements that we must absolutely oppose. Once again, I do not understand why the Bloc is supporting the Liberals on a bill that will result in more federal control over what Quebeckers can listen to and watch online. Is this consistent with the Bloc Québécois's original mission in 1991? I do not think so.
What we have here is a disconnected party, a leftist sovereignist party, walking hand in hand with the Liberals. It is unbelievable. The Conservatives, meanwhile, will work to fight inflation, repeal the carbon tax, end government waste and get rid of expensive consultants. The Liberals are creating division, but I have to agree with the who often says that the Bloc just wants to pick a fight.
Bloc Québécois members are very condescending. Unfortunately for them, they do not have a monopoly on the truth when it comes to Quebeckers. On our side, we want to work to enhance unity and respect among all Canadians, and that includes all Quebeckers.
Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the fact that the member of the Liberal Party does not like what I am talking about, the fact remains that we are here on an opposition day motion debating a constitutional issue when there are so many other issues that Canadians care about. If the member wants me to talk more about the Constitution and the history of our Constitution, and how we got to the point where we are, I am happy to do that, but I would need his unanimous consent to give me a full hour and a half so that I can debate it in the House in full and at extensive length.
However, I will go back to where we are as a country and why we are seeing constitutional divisions being stoked, and why we are seeing issues like this being brought forward in the House of Commons. It is not because Canadians are happy with the status quo; it is quite the contrary. Canadians are concerned about where their country is going when we see violent crime up 32%, and gang-related homicide up 92%. We are seeing highly connected Liberal lobbyists getting rich while everyday, normal Canadians are dealing with 40-year-high inflation and a tripling of the carbon tax. That is the problem we see here in Canada.
Let us talk about where Conservatives stand on the rights and freedoms of Canadians. The Conservative Party has always been a champion of the rights and freedoms of Canadians. We need to look no further than the late, great John Diefenbaker, who had that famous quotation: “Parliament is more than procedure—it is the custodian of the nation's freedom.” It falls to us as parliamentarians to stand and defend the rights and privileges of Canadians. Let us remind ourselves that when John Diefenbaker brought in the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Liberal Party members were reluctant supporters of it.
If we think back to the late Jack Pickersgill, he was indeed a fervent adversary of John Diefenbaker. Diefenbaker once said, “Parliament, without Pickersgill, would be like hell without the devil.” However, if we reflect on Pickersgill's comments at the time and read one of his quotations, the Liberal Party in fact had to be dragged kicking and screaming to support Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights. In fact, he said, “Human rights, I believed, are likely to be protected more effectively by an elected Parliament than by appointed judges. Despite the misgivings of a few members, we decided in the Liberal caucus we could not afford politically to oppose the principle of a Bill of Rights.”
Let us not let the Liberals have a monopoly on protecting the rights and privileges of Canadians. We on the Conservative benches have always stood for the rights and freedoms of Canadians.
In fact, our founding principles as a country have recognized the freedoms of Canadians. The freedoms of Canadians did not magically appear in 1982. We were not all of a sudden granted the rights, freedoms and privileges of Canadians magically on that spring day in 1982. We come from a long evolution of constitutional principles in our country, beginning with the Magna Carta and stretching to the current day.
When we are talking about the motion before us, when we are talking about the divisions that are being stoked, let us remember where we stand as parliamentarians. We stand in this place on behalf of all citizens, on behalf of all Canadians in this country as part of a unified country, recognizing that there are differences within our country.
Let us not forget that it was under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper that it was recognized, by a motion in this place, that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada, recognizing that special history, that special, unique culture the Québécois bring to our country, and celebrating that culture, but nonetheless recognizing and reaffirming that it is within a united Canada, a united country. That is part of the history of our Conservative movement: recognizing that there are differences, but that those differences contribute to our country.
I would like to quote George-Étienne Cartier, one of this country's founders. Monsieur Cartier said:
Distinctions of this kind would always exist. [Diversity seems] to be the order of the physical world and of the moral world, as well as in the political world.
But with regard to the objection...that a great nation could not be formed because Lower Canada was in great part French and Catholic, and Upper Canada was British and Protestant, and [the maritime provinces] were mixed, it was [completely] futile.... In our [Confederation] we should have Catholic and Protestant, English, French, Irish and Scotch, and each by his efforts and his success would increase the prosperity and glory of the new Confederacy.
That is what this House ought to represent. It ought to represent a diversity of opinion, a diversity of background and a diversity of thought, but together as a Parliament representing Canadians. We must now and always stand for the rights and freedoms of Canadians. We as Conservatives will always stand on the side of the hard-working Canadian families that are working hard each and every day to provide for their families.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from .
First, in the wake of yesterday's tragedy in a Laval day care, I would like to take a moment to express my thoughts for the children who were victims of a senseless and horrific act, as well as for their parents and families. My thoughts are also with the employees of the day care. I think we need to reflect collectively on the numerous mental health issues. Finally, I hope we will have more details in the next few days.
With that said, I want to start by saying something that may surprise many. I want to thank the Bloc Québécois for introducing their motion on this opposition day. This is not something I usually say, and some may find it a bit funny. However, I think this is a fundamental debate, in the first sense of the word, since we are talking about the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens we represent.
This allows us to have a debate about our vision of democracy, a legal, constitutional and political debate, almost a philosophical one. It is important to have this kind of debate in Parliament, and it is also a discussion and a debate for the whole civil society to have. It is a reflection on the actions of our legislatures which also have very tangible consequences in people's lives. We are not building castles in the air or having a disagreement about opposing views. This debate is about the use of a legitimate provision that exists, but that has consequences for people. We must not forget that and we must take it into consideration.
The notwithstanding clause is a compromise. We know about Quebec's exclusion during the night of the long knives. We are not going to dwell on that. It was appalling, especially for René Lévesque and all of Quebec. There were negotiations concerning the notwithstanding clause. There is no denying it, it is true. However, as is the case for any measure, its use can be good or not.
I think that in the past, it was put to good use in the case of Quebec's Charter of the French Language, which, following challenges, was able to benefit from the notwithstanding clause. This also resulted in public debate and review by some courts of the use of this provision. In this case, the notwithstanding clause was used for a common good that stood above others: defending the French language in Quebec in a minority situation in North America. I believe that what is known as Bill 101 has been broadly accepted in Quebec 40 or 50 years after it was passed, no matter who we talk to.
Does this mean that the notwithstanding clause can be used for anything and everything? There is no such thing as absolute. Just as freedom of speech is not absolute, the use of the notwithstanding clause should not be absolute. That is the NDP's view, as progressives.
Besides, it is not up to nine Supreme Court judges alone to decide what the criteria or conditions for its use should be. That is why I want to emphasize that this must be a public debate that occurs within our society as a whole. Determining when this provision should be used is part of a healthy and legitimate democratic discussion.
Let me remind the House that it was initially meant to be used exceptionally, almost as a last resort. Today, we see several legislative assemblies, not just the Quebec National Assembly, using it repeatedly, perhaps even abusively, systematically—my colleagues in the Bloc will not necessarily like that last word—but also preventively, which is extremely troubling.
We must ask ourselves whether legislators can, at any time and without ample justification, suspend most rights and freedoms, which are supposed to be protected. Should legislators not be required to give very good reasons to justify its use and to ensure that they can successfully face a court challenge?
Otherwise that would mean that a majority Parliament could do anything and everything, in terms of violating fundamental rights, at any time and without justification. That is something to think about. I know this drives my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois crazy, but French philosopher Albert Camus said, “Democracy is not the law of the majority but the protection of the minority.”
It is a conception of the fundamental rights that must be a bulwark against a wholesale, unrestricted use of a notwithstanding clause that suspends the rights of citizens. It is a bulwark that was used in the past as a legal and permanent protection and has played a role in favour of the right of association, women's right to abortion and the rights of same-sex couples.
We have two extremes. On the one hand, we have Parliament, which is an expression of democracy, and on the other hand, the rule of law and charters that protect citizens. There is a dialogue between the two. These charters are not just the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is also the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which came before the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Let us not forget that. Then there is civil society and the media.
We have to remember that the clause is to be used in exceptional circumstances. It was not intended to be used pre-emptively.
I want to quote some of the judges in Ford. Justice Jacques said that the exercise of the section 33 power must come within the basic principles that define our society. He said that its use deprives the citizen of constitutional legal recourse against encroachment on a right guaranteed by the Constitution, thereby limiting the citizen to only political recourse, meaning that if the people are unhappy, they just have to oust the government. This is a bit of a tautology, because it is the government itself, through its majority, that brought in the notwithstanding clause. This means that more than just political recourse is needed.
In the case of Quebec, it should also be noted that the Superior Court recently wrote that by definition, in a society concerned about respecting the fundamental rights it grants to its members, the notwithstanding clause should be used sparingly and with caution. It added that some may think that its use by the Quebec legislature in this case trivializes it, especially since the clause was used even before there were any legal arguments as to its constitutionality. Pre-emptive use shuts down all discussion and debate and hinders the court's ability to defend fundamental rights.
Justice Blanchard of the Superior Court went on to say that since this involves overriding fundamental rights and freedoms, basic respect for those rights and freedoms should be an argument in favour of a more targeted use of this power, which, after all, should remain exceptional.
It should remain exceptional when used to suspend people's rights and freedoms, but it should also be used exceptionally when it comes to attacking workers' rights.
We have seen Saskatchewan and, more recently, Ontario pre-emptively use the notwithstanding clause to suspend the rights of workers to use pressure tactics and freely negotiate their working conditions and employment contracts. In Ontario, we are talking about 55,000 poorly paid professionals in the education sector who have every right to demand better working conditions and wages. We saw a Conservative government come in and attack the labour movement, trying to break the rights of these workers with what we believe to be a misuse of the notwithstanding clause. I think this discussion is important because we see this slippery slope and how things are sliding. As a union activist, as a leftist, as a supporter of workers' rights, I think we have to ask ourselves whether the notwithstanding clause can be used to attack workers' fundamental rights, their working conditions and the fact that they are demanding a better life.
I think it has been the aim of the social movement for many years to promote the best possible working and living conditions, and to fight poverty and injustice. The improper use of the notwithstanding clause in this area undermines workers' fundamental right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. It is good to question the conditions for the invocation and implementation of this clause, because it is not just limited to Quebec issues; it is an attack on the labour movement, citizens and all workers. That is why we should be asking this fundamental question.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to talk about the broader topic, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and I will eventually, after a bit of a diversion, come back to the motion before us.
It is important to note that at the time of its adoption, the Canadian Charter of Rights was controversial. At the time of the patriation of the Constitution, we were not used to the idea of a written charter, something that comes from a civil law tradition, because our institutions had been founded on the British system, which revered the supremacy of Parliament. A compromise was reached when the Constitution was patriated, and the national Parliament and provincial parliaments agreed to limit themselves with a written Constitution and written Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I would argue that, at the time, this was exercising parliamentary sovereignty and a voluntary restriction. We recognized that we had to agree on the basic rules by which we work together and that those should be difficult to change, so we have a written Constitution. We also recognized that even in a British system, a written Charter of Rights and Freedoms would help preserve the rights and freedoms of Canadians.
As an aside, my own enthusiasm for the charter at the time was tempered by what was often called the omission of sexual orientation from a section of the charter, as if it was somehow unknown or forgotten at the time. That is not the case, and I knew this well. I was very fresh out of university and working here at the House of Commons for Ed Broadbent at the time. When the Constitution Act was before the House in committee, New Democrat MP Svend Robinson moved to add sexual orientation to section 15 as a protected ground against discrimination.
This was at committee stage. There was a debate and vote on whether sexual orientation should be one of those protected rights. The proposal to add sexual orientation was defeated 22 to two, with only Svend Robinson and Lorne Nystrom of the NDP voting in favour. It took a series of court cases following the adoption of the charter to affirm that sexual orientation was a prohibited ground for discrimination analogous to the enumerated grounds listed in the Constitution.
Members will see in a moment where I am going with this. I am going to tie it to the notwithstanding clause.
Members of LGBTQ+ community continued to fight for recognition of equality rights. There was a series of court cases starting in 1992 with Haig and Birch v. Canadian Armed Forces, continuing in 1995 with Egan v. Canada and culminating in 1998 with the case of Vriend v. Alberta. All of these cases served to make sure it was understood that just because a right like citizenship or the prevention of discrimination against sexual orientation was not listed, it was a still a protected ground.
In 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada noted the omission of sexual orientation from the Alberta Human Rights Act. We should remember that this is the Supreme Court deciding on Alberta legislation. What the court found was that it violated the equal protection of the law guaranteed in the charter not to list sexual orientation. In other words, the Supreme Court of Canada at the time ordered Alberta legislation to respect the Constitution and the charter by protecting against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Immediately after, there were calls in Alberta for the use of the notwithstanding clause. It was immediate. Why did the Alberta government not proceed? It was because there was a public outcry against the use of the notwithstanding clause. It was very strong at that time because the Alberta government, just months before, had brought forward a bill to use the notwithstanding clause. In that case, there had been a decision against the government, which had proceeded with forced sterilization of those with intellectual disabilities. They had won a large settlement against the Alberta government, so the Alberta government brought in a bill that proposed to use the notwithstanding clause to limit compensation for those who had been forcibly sterilized.
There was a huge public outcry about the attempted use of the notwithstanding clause to prohibit payments that had justly been won in court for this discriminatory treatment. That precedent, just a few months before, led to the same kind of debate about the use of the notwithstanding clause to get around the Supreme Court decision that forced the Alberta Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation.
This is the way those who adopted the Constitution and charter thought the notwithstanding clause would work in response to court decisions or legislative decisions that were controversial. It was not pre-emptive but in response to developments within the legal system. Ultimately, who would decide whether the use was legitimate? It was the Supreme Court of Canada, because we have a country that operates on the rule of law.
We see a motion that says, in quite simplistic terms, that it is up to the provinces if they want to use the notwithstanding clause or not, and that is clearly not true legally. It is also not true in a political sense. It is not clearly just up to the provinces. It is up to Canadians to decide what is appropriate action and to judge their governments.
I will go back to Alberta. Two years after a series of court decisions recognized the right to same-sex marriage, Alberta added to its Marriage Act a notwithstanding clause to allow it to say that marriage is only between a man and a woman. In a reference case in the Supreme Court in 2004, the Supreme Court found that, on jurisdictional grounds, Alberta could not use the notwithstanding clause. In other words, it said that because marriage is within federal jurisdiction, Alberta cannot use the notwithstanding clause to get around it. It is exclusively a power of the federal government to make this decision.
Once again, we have an example where it is not up to a province to decide if it wants to use a notwithstanding clause. There were jurisdictional reasons for why the Supreme Court found it could not do so.
After this very long detour through issues that are very important to me personally and to a large number of Canadians, we come back to where we are with the motion before us, which says, “it is solely up to Quebec and the provinces to decide on the use of the notwithstanding clause.” Clearly, the arguments I made today show that is not the case. It is not something that a government can decide to do.
We have the Constitution and we have the rule of law. However, most importantly, the three examples in Alberta illustrate how those who designed the charter and the Constitution thought it would operate. Public opinion plays an enormous role in deciding what governments can and cannot do when it comes to the use of the notwithstanding clause. That is why I think the pre-emptive use is problematic.
This is before we have had any public debate, before we have had any court decisions and before we have done anything on an issue, so for a province, and it is the provinces that have tried to do this, to insert a notwithstanding clause pre-empts all those things that should take place. It presumes outcomes. It indicates an attitude where rather than trying to find a solution to the problem in front of them, it becomes simpler to pre-empt the debate altogether and say we will not talk about this and will just go ahead and do whatever we want to do. Unfortunately, I think the Bloc motion reinforces the kind of idea that this would be appropriate in Canada in the democracy we have.
If we look at when the notwithstanding clause has actually been used, it has been most frequently used for expedience when collective bargaining fails. The 1986 use of the notwithstanding clause by the Conservative Devine government of Saskatchewan was to implement back-to-work legislation after it failed to reach an agreement with public employees.
Most recently, we had the 2022 use of the notwithstanding clause by the Ford government, which pre-emptively made it illegal for education workers to strike and imposed a contract on them. I would argue there is a right to collective bargaining, and pre-empting that right through the notwithstanding clause meant the government simply did not want to sit down and bargain fairly with the workers.
Between 1990 and 2018, there were only four uses of the notwithstanding clause, and many of us believed it was fading away. The fact that we are debating it today, as if it is an unlimited power of the provinces, is disturbing. As I have said, we already know it is limited. It is limited in time, as it can only be used for five years. It does not apply to certain sections of the Constitution. It is limited by Supreme Court decisions on the question of jurisdiction.
Hopefully, the use of the notwithstanding clause will always be limited by public opinion in this country and by the part of our political culture and our political values that say we are very proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and suspending any part of those rights and freedoms should not be taken lightly.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for . I have only one river and he has three, but we will still share the time equally.
Today's motion states, and I quote, “That the House remind the government that it is solely up to Quebec and the provinces to decide on the use of the notwithstanding clause.”
The notwithstanding clause refers to section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It gives elected representatives of the people in the Quebec National Assembly, the federal Parliament and the provincial and territorial legislative assemblies the ability to pass legislation that could contravene one or more provisions of the charter.
Section 33 reads, and I quote:
Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.
Then it goes on to say that the effect of the act in question is independent of the provisions of the charter, that the act will have to be renewed every five years or it will expire and that all of this is legitimate.
Others will tell me that that is obvious. They may say that all that has already been settled, that it has been enshrined in our legislation since 1982, so for 41 years now, and that, ultimately, in principle, we are now speaking to no purpose. I wish this motion did not have to be moved in the House today, because I too believe the matter has been settled.
However, we have heard the suggesting for some time that the notwithstanding clause can only be used after the courts have overturned a law.
This Prime Minister is suggesting that we allow people to waste their time and money pursuing needless legal proceedings only to ultimately be told that, win or lose, they have lost. They will have to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars seeking a judgment from the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. If they are lucky enough to win, the government will say too bad, because with the notwithstanding clause, even when they win, they lose. That seems totally illogical to me.
Our courts are currently overloaded. They are so backed up that it can often take years before a trial begins. Who would want to make the backlog even worse? I have no clue. We should ask the Prime Minister why he is saying that. It seems so absurd to me. However, I would say that it is a fascinating position in some ways.
First, the Supreme Court ruled in Ford in 1988 that the National Assembly of Quebec is perfectly free to include the notwithstanding clause in any law it passes, if it wants to. It can do so pre-emptively, without waiting for a court to overturn the legislation first. The court does not have authority to judge the substance of the legislation or the legitimacy of invoking the notwithstanding clause. The court's only role is to determine whether the notwithstanding clause adheres to the prescribed form. In other words, it must be explicit and indicate the section of the charter from which it intends the legislation in question to derogate.
As we all know, the government of René Lévesque enacted the Act respecting the Constitution Act, 1982, which introduced, again in a pre-emptive manner, notwithstanding clauses for all Quebec legislation. In short, the act is clear, it has been in force for 40 years, and it has faced few or no challenges.
The Supreme Court has upheld the interpretation, but for some reason, the Prime Minister does not seem to be aware of it. I cannot wait to see how our Liberal colleagues will vote on this motion, especially the Prime Minister.
In a 2016 research note, University of Sherbrooke law professor Guillaume Rousseau counted 41 laws passed by the Quebec National Assembly that included at least one mention of the notwithstanding clause.
At least 11 of those laws are still in force. Furthermore, nine of the total 41 included exemptions from both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
In total, there were 32 exemptions from the Quebec charter and 18 exemptions from the Canadian charter. These are all statistics.
It is interesting to see some of the examples, including the Act respecting La Financière agricole du Québec, which provides for financial assistance to be granted to young farmers aged 40 and under. We agree that this is discrimination based on age. It is terrible from the point of view of the charter, but it makes sense to Quebec society. Therefore it was decided that the act would apply despite the provisions of the charter. The notwithstanding clause was invoked without any shirt rending whatsoever.
The employment equity act directs the government to give preference to people from under-represented communities. Again, this violates both charters; it is a form of discrimination. However, since Quebec society thought it made sense, the act was passed despite the provisions of the charter, by invoking section 33, the notwithstanding clause.
I also want to talk about small claims court, which was set up to ease the court process in cases that are less financially significant, with claims of $15,000 or less. The idea was that it does not make sense in a case with a $10,000 claim, for example, for people to have to wait years in court and pay a lawyer $20,000 or $30,000 to maybe get a ruling for $15,000 or $10,000. In small claims court lawyers are not authorized to represent clients. People represent themselves. The court makes a decision after having heard all the parties and looked at all the evidence. This goes against the charter, which recognizes the right to a lawyer. As a society, we thought it made sense. It was adopted with the use of the notwithstanding clause.
The Court of Quebec's youth division protects children's anonymity. In Quebec, this was considered important. I believe that it is the same everywhere in Canada. However, anonymity goes against the charter because trials are public. Recently, we saw a case that proved otherwise, but I will not talk about it, because I only have 10 minutes, and it would take me 20 minutes to talk about it. I was saying that under the charter, trials must be public. The youth division was created using the section 33 notwithstanding clause.
These are all choices made by the Quebec National Assembly. It had the opportunity to do so because of one thing. Although the federal government decided to pass the Constitution Act, 1982, behind Quebec's back, without Quebec's sign-off, it still had the decency to allow Quebec to get out of it using the section 33 notwithstanding clause. That was the agreement reached in 1982 between the Prime Minister of Canada and the premiers of the nine other provinces, without Quebec.
I would like to point out that in 1982, our current Prime Minister's father was there. Although he was not always considered to be a decent person in some ways, he did have the decency to say that even though he was doing this behind Quebec's back, he would give it an escape hatch.
Why is the current Prime Minister now questioning decisions made by his father back then? Why is he trying to undermine the autonomy of the provinces and of Quebec? I think that is appalling.
I was listening to my colleagues talk about various pieces of legislation in Canada that they do not agree with. I might not agree with decisions made elsewhere either. The fact remains that democracy is all about the right to pass legislation, and that includes the right to be wrong. We must not forget that.
A democratic state does not pass laws that suit the citizens of other states. A democratic state passes laws that suit its citizens, who are the subjects of that democracy.
I want to respect the democracy that allows the Ontario government or any other government to pass laws that may not suit us Quebeckers. I respect that. It is up to their citizens to decide. They hold elections there as well.
In Quebec, we want to avail ourselves of our right to democracy. We want our government and our National Assembly to pass laws that fit with our values and reflect who we are, without having to impose standards that the federal government has decided to impose on everyone, once again behind Quebec's back, without our consent.
Madam Speaker, when I began studying philosophy in 1992, the first problem we learned about was the notion of government of judges. Ten years after the charter was imposed on Quebec, we were talking about whether, ultimately, judges and unelected individuals should be making decisions, so this is not a new debate.
Raise the subject of the notwithstanding clause in Parliament, and one can cut the silence with a knife. I know a French author who would have a lot to say about that.
Let us start with a history lesson.
Cicero explained that the verb derogare, which means “derogate”, is made up of the prefix de—to take away, as in “demystify”, “decommission” and “deodorize”—and rogare, which means “to ask”. The word “derogate”, strictly speaking, means “un-ask”. In other words, to get out of something.
Oresme, another Latin-speaking philosopher who was also an astronomer, mathematician, economist, musicologist, physician, translator and theologian—rather like the members opposite—lived in the 1300s. He left us two legacies: the famous quote, “I know therefore that I know nothing” and the use of the word “derogatory”.
One of the most difficult matters in all controversy is to distinguish disputes about words from disputes about facts. If we want to resolve the dispute about facts, let us first examine the words.
I often say in the House that a word is a construct of sound and meaning and that sometimes that leads to confusion. Take for example, the word “secularism”. I know everyone will believe me when I say that, in the House, that word can have at least two meanings. When we use words like “secularism” or “derogation”, it is important that we be clear about what we are talking about.
The word “derogation” refers to the repealing of an act or some of its provisions. We more commonly refer to the “notwithstanding clause”, which basically means the same thing. The Latin term non obstare means “to not stand in the way of”. The notwithstanding clause prevents the federal government from standing in the way of the provincial government, in this case the Government of Quebec. In every case, the notwithstanding clause constitutes a protection granted by the legislator, the original drafter, so as not to stand in the way of the future, society's progress or changes that occur over time.
As soon as it was enshrined in the 1982 Constitution, which, as my colleagues will hear 32 times today, Quebec never signed, Trudeau senior himself thought that adding the provision in question was a good idea having foreseen the possibility of a government of judges. He even said the following, with a style that I will not even attempt to imitate, and I quote:
I must be honest and say that I don’t fear the notwithstanding clause very much. It can be abused as anything can, but the history of the Canadian Bill of Rights Diefenbaker had adopted in 1960, it has a notwithstanding clause and it hasn’t caused any great scandal. So I don’t think the notwithstanding clause deters very significantly from the excellence of the Charter. It is a way that the legislatures, federal and provincial, have of ensuring that the last word is held by the elected representatives of the people rather than by the courts.
From day one, the notwithstanding clause has given governments in the federation a window to express their choices, their preferences. It enshrined their right to do one thing rather than another without that choice affecting other members of the federation.
I will now say the following to head off the question I am sure my colleague from is going to ask.
The notwithstanding clause allows the partners to compromise, strike a balance between individual rights and the collective rights of the different cultures in the federation.
Let us take the high road without talking about the Chinese balloon.
In terms of geography, Canada is a vast country. We all agree on that because it covers approximately 10 million square kilometres. If we were to move this immense territory to Europe, for example, which has an area of 9.9 million square kilometres, we would see that Europe has 56 sovereign entities. As members know, the area of Quebec is six times greater than that of France. In France's regions, in Burgundy or Alsace for example, the culture is different. The lifestyle and identity are different. Europe is made up of 56 entities. France is not Germany, Germany is not Finland and Finland is not Italy.
In Canada, without the notwithstanding clause, everyone living in the 10 million square kilometre area would be treated the same way. It makes no sense. This does not recognize everyone's particular characteristics or at least those of certain areas.
In my opinion, geographically speaking, Canada is a historical mistake. Following the European logic, some members would have come together and others would have separated. Quebec would be a sovereign state in the vast landscape of North America. The notwithstanding clause has somewhat made up for this mistake by providing a remedy when necessary. This provision makes up for the inherent imbalance or unfairness of a legislative text, which is a text frozen in time. It provides flexibility for members of a government, or of the federation, in cases not foreseen by the legislator.
The opposite of inequity is equity, which is said to be a more perfect form of justice because it takes exceptions into account. Equity is like a line drawn according to everyone's concerns, while equality is a straight line. The notwithstanding clause creates equity, and it also ensures that we do not have a so-called government of judges. The elected are in control, rather than the appointed.
Quebec is first and foremost about diversity and tolerance. It has a distinct history, culture and identity.
A Polish philosopher I like very much, Maria Ossowska, argued that in relations between nations, one should be open-minded, courageous, intellectually honest and critical. One should speak responsibly—which is sometimes lacking in the House—and have a sense of humour. Above all, one should be decent and treat others as one would like to be treated.
I conclude with this anonymous quote: “A treaty is an eternal commitment, but experience shows us that it is often convenient to renege on a commitment. The first time paves the way for the second, until there is nothing left of the word given.”
That is kind of what we want.
Madam Speaker, throughout this historical overview, I hope to bring out two main points.
The first point is who used the notwithstanding clause in a particular political and historical context. The use of the clause was exceptional until very recently, in the case of Ontario, where it was used pre-emptively. The political cost was simply too high to do otherwise.
The second point is that the frequent practice of provincial legislatures was to invoke the notwithstanding clause in response to a court decision. In my opinion, the only potentially legitimate recourse to section 33 necessarily involves the courts. Our constitutional tradition is marked by dialogue. The pre-emptive recourse to the derogatory clause eliminating legal debate is contrary to our traditions and must be decried.
The legislature of Quebec, for a time, included a standard notwithstanding provision in each of its new laws; this practice continued until the 1995 election.
Afterwards, the notwithstanding clause was used only a few times by the provincial legislatures. The Saskatchewan legislature passed back-to-work legislation invoking the notwithstanding clause in the mid-1980s. The legislature did this in response to a decision by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that declared an earlier version of the law unconstitutional and did not include an overriding provision. The Supreme Court eventually cited the Saskatchewan legislature, ultimately concluding that the law did not infringe on the charter. Therefore, the recourse derogation clause was not necessary in this case.
The third province to use the notwithstanding clause was Alberta. In 2000, the Alberta legislation passed the Marriage Amendment Act, 2000. With this act, the province's Marriage Act was amended to declare that a marriage could only be between persons of opposite sexes.
Apart from the initial and particular example of Quebec immediately after the patriation of the Constitution in 1982, it can be seen that recourse to the notwithstanding clause was relatively exceptional. Prior to 2018, only three provinces had laws in effect invoking the notwithstanding clause, and they did so only a few times.
Since 2018, we note a renewed interest in the use of this clause. The Ontario legislature almost invoked the notwithstanding clause in 2018 in response to the Ontario Superior Court decision that a law to reduce the size of the City of Toronto's council was unconstitutional. Legislation invoking the notwithstanding clause was not passed, however, because of the intervention of the Ontario Court of Appeal.
Subsequently, the Ontario legislature passed, for the first time, legislation invoking the notwithstanding clause in the Protecting Elections and Defending Democracy Act, 2021. The notwithstanding provision was invoked here in response to the decision of the Ontario Superior Court, which declared certain provisions relating to third party election expenses unconstitutional.
This new bill from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario therefore follows a worrying recent trend. As I mentioned, while the use of the derogation clause was exceptional then, this seems to be less and less the case now. One could add to these examples the failed attempt by the New Brunswick legislature in 2019.
This provision should not be taken lightly. There was never any question when it was included in the charter that it should become a tool to be used routinely. Rather, it should only be used in the most pressing cases where no other option could be considered and there is a strong public policy consideration. What is the point of adopting a charter incorporating fundamental rights and values into our Constitution only to derogate from it at the slightest inconvenience?
A healthy democracy should not be based on majority rule. It must respect and protect all Canadians by giving them the chance to question the decisions of the government in place. The charter is an instrument for challenging decisions made by governments by applying clear guidelines. It is not normal for a government to be able to make decisions without submitting to scrupulous evaluation by its population. However, this is what section 33 is for: to avoid any debate and exchange of ideas about a measure. This is a way for a government to hide behind the notwithstanding clause in order to avoid questioning itself. I do not think that allows us to live in a healthy democracy.
In addition, the time of use of the notwithstanding clause should also be considered. Indeed, when used pre-emptively and preventatively, it has even more negative repercussions on our parliamentary system since governments can pass laws without worrying about the impact on the fundamental rights of their citizens. Its preventive use risks upsetting the fragile balance that exists between the protection of fundamental rights and the effective functioning of a parliamentary system.
I would like to conclude by saying that I take a dim view of this frequent pre-emptive use of the derogation clause. This practice trivializes our most basic protections, and I am happy that we have the opportunity to discuss this important matter for all Canadians across this country.
Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today as the member of Parliament for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill to speak to this very important issue. The Canadian Charter and Rights and Freedoms is such a fundamental part of who we are and Canadian values.
I wanted to start by reading a few quotes from the origins of the Bills of Rights, with John Diefenbaker, up until now. The Hon. John Diefenbaker said:
I am Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.
That was in 1960, as we know, when the Bill of Rights was first introduced.
The right hon. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, back in 1981, prior to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, said:
We must now establish the basic principles, the basic values and beliefs which hold us together as Canadians so that beyond our regional loyalties there is a way of life and a system of values which make us proud of the country that has given us such freedom and such immeasurable joy.
More recently, on the 40th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, April 17, 2022, our current eloquently stated:
The Charter protects the rights and freedoms that define who we are as Canadians, allowing us to express our individuality and celebrate our differences. Built around our shared values of equality, justice, and freedom, it brings us closer as a country and as a people – and it makes Canada a place of choice for people from across the globe to raise a family.
I know that so many of the constituents in my riding value these rights and freedoms and the fact that they are enshrined in our Constitution.
It is with concern that I hear this opposition motion, and I am concerned that we are talking about the use of the pre-emptive resort and the increasing use by provinces, certain provinces, of the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in an attempt to short-circuit our courts from determining whether provincial legislation violates constitutionally enshrined fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as to avoid public debate on the issues.
We have recently seen in Ontario the Keeping Students in Class Act, which is not very aptly named in my mind, but which would, if enacted by the legislature, effectively remove the right to collective bargaining, a right protected by section 2 of the charter, which guarantees freedom of association. That is the use of the notwithstanding clause.
Many of the speakers today have talked about the increase in the use of this clause. When the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched as part of the Constitution Act of 1982, Canadians were proud to see fundamental rights and freedoms constitutionally guaranteed and protected, including freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.
It includes legal rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person; rights guaranteeing the quality before and under the law; and rights guaranteeing equal protection and equal benefit of that law. Of course, these rights are subject to such reasonable limits proscribed by law, as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. That is provided in section 1 of the charter.
The advent of the charter 40 years ago was a milestone in the protection of fundamental rights in Canada, and I believe that it put Canada on the map for human rights protection. Part of it was the inspiration of the Bill of Rights, as I have already mentioned, pioneered by the Hon. John Diefenbaker.
It was a quasi-constitutional statute, deserving of a large and liberal interpretation, but it was simply a federal statute nonetheless, and the courts were cautious in applying it, particularly in a context of parliamentary sovereignty, where a future parliament could undo the handiwork of an earlier parliament by enacting new legislation inconsistent with the earlier legislation.
The tension between protecting fundamental rights and recognizing the continued sovereignty of Parliament was reflected in section 2 of the Canadian Bill of Rights, which provides:
Every law of Canada shall, unless it is expressly declared by an Act of the Parliament of Canada that it shall operate notwithstanding the Canadian Bill of Rights, be so construed and applied as not to abrogate, abridge or infringe or to authorize the abrogation, abridgment or infringement of any of the rights or freedoms herein recognized and declared
In other words, the Bill of Rights stated that laws enacted by Parliament were to be interpreted and applied in a manner that would not abridge or infringe on the rights and freedoms recognized and affirmed by the Bill of Rights, unless Parliament expressly declared that the law should operate notwithstanding the Bill of Rights.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms goes much further in the protection of human rights and establishes a better balance between such protection and legislative action. By section 1, the charter constitutionally guarantees the rights set out in it, subject only to the reasonable limits clause. It ensures a respectful democratic dialogue can take place between Parliament and the provincial legislatures, on the one hand, and the courts of justice, on the other, within the scope and limits of guaranteed rights and freedoms.
However, in the political compromise that led to the final form of the charter in November 1981, a notwithstanding clause that echoed section 2 of the Canadian Bill of Rights was grafted onto the charter in section 33. That clause provides:
Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.
Those are the provisions guaranteeing fundamental freedoms, legal rights and equality rights.
Many commentators have noted, and I agree, that it was a heavy price to pay to achieve substantial consensus among the provinces to move ahead with the patriation of the Constitution and the entrenchment of our Charter of Rights. However, politics is the art of the possible, and this was what was possible and necessary to achieve the consensus.
Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, declares, “The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada”. Parliament and the provincial legislatures derive their powers and authority from the Constitution and from no other source, as the Supreme Court underscored in the secession reference in 1998. We have constitutional supremacy rather than parliamentary supremacy in Canada, as well as a political culture that values fundamental rights, democratic debate and the rulings of our courts as guardians of the Constitution. Parliament and the legislatures are sovereign within the spheres of authority allocated to them by the Constitution and within the limits of the charter's guarantees.
Section 33 of the charter was conceived as a tool of last, not first, resort. It was rarely invoked for many years, but it has become much more common. However, it should only be contemplated in the most extraordinary circumstances.
Our government has made it consistently clear that it has serious concerns with the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause by provincial governments, and we are considering various options. We are firmly committed to defending the rights and freedoms protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the dialogue between Parliament and the courts, the first word should not be the last.
Although the use of the notwithstanding clause is legal, it has serious consequences because it has the effect of suspending legal protections guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and these are basic values that I believe all Canadians share.
We believe that a government that uses a remedy of this magnitude must set out the exceptional circumstances that justify the suspension of these legal protections. Our government is concerned when governments use it in a pre-emptive manner before the debate has begun or the courts have ruled. This is not, in our respectful view, in keeping with Canadian values of democracy and the rights of the individual.
Madam Speaker, let me begin by saying that I am not the star of this part of the show. I am merely opening for my colleague from , and I am honoured to do so.
I love Quebec. I had the good fortune and great privilege to travel the continent in my previous job, and I have visited places around the world for pleasure. Everywhere we go, when we say we are from Quebec, people are curious. What is the deal with Quebec, anyway? Why will it not just melt into the English sea of North America? What is up with that place, where people do not eat the same foods or wear the same clothes as people in the rest of Canada? Just look at the member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert. He toned it down today, but he usually dresses to impress.
What is going on with this province, where the vast majority of artists would rather work in their own language than tap into the riches of the anglophone market at their doorstep? The entire nation steps up to demand that Quebec's artists get the space they deserve on our radio stations, on TV, in our theatres and on streaming platforms.
Bill was briefly discussed earlier. My colleague from talked about it in his speech this morning. Bill C‑11 really highlighted the difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Whereas the cultural industry and community in Quebec mobilized to defend the distinct nature, specifically, of French language and culture, the rest of Canada had other concerns and opposed the bill for different reasons, reasons relevant to the rest of Canada. That is fine, but it proves once again that there are major differences.
I will continue to talk about those differences. What about this nation where women marry without taking their spouse's name? That is, when they do get married because fewer people in Quebec marry than in the rest of Canada. It is not because we are not beautiful or not in love. It is simply that we do not think the same way. It is a nation where parents, increasingly, give their children their mother's last name. That is quite new.
Abroad, people ask us what everyone thinks about the fact that Quebec rejects the exploitation of fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy and that it prefers electric cars to pickup trucks that are too large for our needs.
How does one manage a nation that wants to protect its language and culture, its fundamental values and its societal model at all costs? That is often the crux of the issue. We have differences of opinion on what integration should look like, on what society should look like. Quebec is open, but it also requires openness from those who want to integrate. We are not talking about openness to the point of forgetting oneself and melting into a homogeneous lump. No, that is not what we want at all. What we want is an openness to the fundamental values that form the bedrock of Quebec's society: equality between men and women, the separation of church and state, and French as the official language and as the common language.
Some members of the House may not know this, but Quebec has a declaration that immigrants who want to settle there must agree to abide by. It reads as follows:
Québec is a pluralist society that welcomes immigrants who come from the four corners of the earth with their know-how, skills, language, culture and religion.
Québec provides services to immigrants to help them integrate and participate fully and completely in Québec society in order to meet the challenges of a modern society such as economic prosperity, the survival of the French fact and openness to the world. In return, immigrants must adapt to their living environment.
All Quebecers, whether they are native-born or immigrants, have rights and responsibilities and can freely choose their lifestyle, opinions and religion; however, everyone must obey all laws no matter what their beliefs.
The Québec state and its institutions are secular; political and religious powers are separate.
All Quebecers enjoy rights and freedoms recognized by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and other laws and have the responsibility of abiding by the values set forth in them.
It then goes on to talk about common values. I named three of them earlier.
The principal values set forth in this Charter, which are the foundation of Québec society, are as follows:
Québec is a free and democratic society.
Political and religious powers are separate in Québec.
Québec is a pluralist society.
Québec society is based on the rule of law.
Women and men have the same rights.
The exercise of human rights and freedoms must respect the rights and freedoms of others and the general well-being.
Québec society is also governed by the Charter of the French language, which makes French the official language of Québec. Accordingly, French is the normal and usual language of work, instruction, communications, trade and business.
These are important reminders that should be made as often as possible in the House, because we have noticed that people tend to forget. It is not us who forget them. We remember them all too well.
It is no secret that the reason behind the resurgence of the current debate on the notwithstanding clause has a lot to do with Quebec's recent use of section 33 in the case of a bill that deals with the French language and state secularism. Public debate often comes back to the path Quebec has taken over the past 75 to 80 years. In fact, it was in the 1960s that the differences really started to be more strongly felt.
The affirmation of Quebeckers, the affirmation of their values, is the desire to have their values and their vision of society recognized without embarrassment, without shame. We broke free from something. It was a long process, but we broke free. We wanted a secular society with religion on the sidelines, because the Catholic Church held sway over Quebec society for far too many decades. We wanted a society where the Church did not meddle in everything.
I am a child of that generation. I studied in a religious school in the 1960s. I was an altar boy. We went to church every Sunday, sometimes more often, depending on my mother's mood, so I completely understand why Quebec society evolved the way it did, an evolution that led to the removal of religion from the affairs of the state. I am not talking about people rejecting religion. People have the right to practise their religion. In Quebec, everyone thinks that everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but these beliefs and religious convictions are practised in private. It is not something that is practised in any public services offered by the government.
When we understand and clearly explain this evolution, we also understand Quebeckers' vigorous protection of the separation of church and state. The problem is that as the years go by, those who have witnessed this evolution are being heard less and less. Therefore, it is even more pertinent today not to fall into the trap of wedge politics. This seems to be the Prime Minister's approach. I will cite an example from yesterday, when we heard him say that the Bloc Québécois does not give a damn about francophones outside Quebec. How shockingly insulting.
I will come back to Bill , the former Bill , a bill that the Bloc Québécois worked on with francophone associations across Canada, Acadians from New Brunswick and francophones outside Quebec across the country, to present with one voice the importance of promoting all of Canada's francophone culture in our broadcasting system. Hearing that yesterday was an unacceptable insult.
Let us not fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to be divided. Avoiding that is the only way to build a society in which we can collaborate despite our differences. We certainly have differences. Regardless of the kind of society we develop over time, whether it is within a somewhat functional Canada or within an independent Quebec that will be a good partner and a good neighbour, we will have to learn to keep the lines of communication open, to talk to one another, understand one another and respect one another if we want to work in a productive and intelligent way. Failing that, it will be a constant battle.
To hell with populist rhetoric, and to hell with misinformation. As I said, the notwithstanding clause, although not there to be used all the time, is an important tool for preserving Quebec's vision for a secular society and for preserving and protecting Quebec and its core values, values that may offend some people who might not understand Quebec's reality.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this topic today.
I just want to take a few seconds at the beginning of my speech to send my best wishes to the families affected by the tragedy in Laval yesterday, as this is the first time I have had the opportunity to do so in the House. My heart goes out to them.
The motion today is much simpler than many parliamentarians seem to think. It is a reminder of how this provision is written and what function it has served for the last 40 years or so. It works.
The intent of today's motion is not to change anything, it is to remind the government that there is only one part of the Constitution—which we are forced to live with—that we can rely on when we need to protect our uniqueness. I ask members not to fall into the ridiculous trap of asking me to recognize this Constitution today. Everyone already knows the answer. We are simply asking that this part, at least, be respected. That is what we are doing today.
I am going to go back to a couple of comments that were made today. The member for wonders why the Bloc is still here. It is because we are hard-working people and we do not give up on our cause. Of course, we would have liked it to take less time, but it has not happened yet. Until it is done, we need to be here to salvage what we can. We are doing an excellent job and we will keep doing it wther they like it or not. What I think is a little more outdated is Conservative populism. I would encourage them to come up with constructive solutions rather than sloganeering all day long.
As for our colleague from , who was referring to what a beautiful, great country Canada is, I could not agree more. It is a great country. However, I regret to inform him that it is not mine, and I will explain why.
Today we are talking about the Constitution, which we have to live with even though the people of Quebec never agreed to it. Governments of Quebec never agreed to it. This is not a new thing. It has been going on for some time. I think this is yet another attempt to weaken Quebec and its ability to protect its social integrity, its unique society and its pursuit of true community, which is stronger than individualism. These are conflicting visions. If that is not the intention, I would like to hear it from government members.
I would sure like to give a little history lesson so people here can see that every constitutional law ever passed was not approved by Quebec. Anytime such a law benefited Quebec a bit, it was only because people wanted to use us. In this Confederation, one government is dominating another, and that does not always work for us. Actually, it never works for us. It should not even be called a confederation. If it really were a confederation, we might have far fewer problems.
The Constitution contains the notwithstanding clause, which allows us to pass reasonable laws collectively. Later on, I will share some examples of reasonable laws so my colleagues can see that this is of vital importance to Quebec, contrary to all the other anti-francophone laws that have been passed in Canada's history and to the federal government's determination to always block Quebec's emancipation.
I would also like to remind the House that Quebec's relative weight within Canada is constantly—
Madam Speaker, regarding the bill on farm succession, as a society, Quebec has decided to give young people a leg up as they are starting out in agriculture. This is certainly discriminatory, because it provides them with financial support that we are not offering to older people. The notwithstanding clause is being used. It may come as a surprise, but we are talking about ordinary laws.
The notwithstanding clause in the Employment Equity Act has been used to encourage the hiring of women and visible minorities. As my colleague from mentioned earlier, lawyers are not allowed in small claims court, so that people can avoid having to mortgage their homes to defend cases involving smaller amounts of money. Otherwise, someone could say they have a right to a lawyer and scrap the whole system. It is used in intelligent ways like that.
Is it really unreasonable to protect children's privacy in cases involving the rights of youth? I think the Quebec government has demonstrated that it is reasonable.
As I was saying earlier, today we are seeing a clash of cultures. The 1982 Constitution was imposed on us. We live with it because we do not have a choice and because a court decided that it was all right. Now we are being asked to give up the opportunity to use the notwithstanding clause and to give this power to those same judges. Seriously?
We are talking about the power of elected members to get elected, to make collective choices and to present their vision of society to their voters. Today individualism is being pitted against collective values. In Quebec, we decided that we live together with shared values, and we want that to continue to work.
The federal government constantly obstructs the work we have to do as administrators. We saw it again this week. We cannot get our own damned money back so we can manage our hospitals. Federal laws constantly interfere with Quebec's laws. There is constant duplication of legislation, especially in immigration, which was mentioned by someone earlier, and horrible delays are created by the federal government. That is a constant.
When we do get a reasonable measure we can use to create our own laws and protect them, we are told that we cannot use it unless we spend 10 years in court first. Let us be reasonable.
The motion is not revolutionary. We are calling on the government to acknowledge the contract it made behind our backs and have a modicum of decency and respect it.
Quebec needs it to protect our language. Who could blame anyone who arrives in Quebec from anywhere else from opting for English, when they realize that using English is no problem and there is a pool of 400 million anglophones around? That is why we need legislation.
As far as religion is concerned, it was mentioned earlier, people are pitting Canada's model of religious neutrality against the model of secularism that we have chosen in Quebec. Quebec has a history with this. One day we finally had enough and said everyone can have their own religion, but not in the government. Individual rights get mixed up when we have these debates. My individual right ends where the rights of others begin. If I represent a government, then I should not be imposing my personal symbols on people I welcome or serve. It is as simple as that. It is not discrimination, but because of the Constitution, which we did not sign, we have to use this notwithstanding clause. We need it. It is a democratic tool.
I want members of the House to stop with the rhetoric about the big beautiful country where everyone is different. I would like them to try for just 30 seconds to stop trampling over and muzzling Quebec. Any time the least little thing happens, the government lets a bit of time go by and then finds another way to try to once again bury Quebec and deprive it of its tools.
Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois is still in Ottawa after all these years. It is a good thing we are here to hold down the fort. Today, Quebec is faced with a choice. It can assimilate into the Canadian model or retain its differences and become independent. I think the choice is becoming more and more obvious. Long live independence.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to start my debate contribution today by addressing one of the more recent points from the Bloc member who spoke before me. He said that this Constitution has been forced upon Quebeckers. I would remind the member that Quebec has decided, not once but twice, not to leave Canada. As recently as 1995, which would have been after the 1982 Constitution came along, Quebeckers chose not to leave. Despite the fact that the Bloc will come into the House and assert a degree of sovereignty over Quebec, I would remind him that the majority of Quebeckers have decided to stay within the country of Canada.
Quite frankly, as a member from Ontario, I am very grateful for that. I think our country is so rich and diverse because of the incredible contribution we have from Quebec, the culture and the diversity. It is a relationship that no doubt has been difficult from time to time over the years, but a relationship that has made this country a better place. It has not just added to the cultural vibrancy and diversity, but it has encouraged us to tackle the challenging issues around this relationship and it has made Canada a better country.
My issue with this particular motion today is not that I see the notwithstanding clause as being a problem when it was originally put into our Constitution years ago. I see it as a problem now because of the pre-emptive nature of the way in which it is being used. I will focus my comments primarily on the use of it in Ontario recently; however, it definitely links back to some of the comments that the member for made earlier, and I will address those in a moment.
Let us talk about Doug Ford's pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause. Right after Doug Ford was elected premier, one of the first orders of business, oddly enough, was to determine the makeup of the Toronto city council. Do not ask me why he did that, as a new premier of Ontario, one of the largest provinces in the country. I do not understand why that had to be a job for day one, but it was. He put into his legislation the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause.
The problem is that, when people use the notwithstanding clause in a pre-emptive fashion like this, they are basically saying, “I don't care if the law I am making is constitutional. I don't care if the court will uphold it. I am not even interested in arguing my case with the court to try to prove that what I am doing is right.” What they are basically saying is that they do not care about any of that because they do not care about the law or the Constitution. That is effectively what is happening when the premiers are trying to use it in a pre-emptive fashion.
On day one, Doug Ford did that. He then did it again, in 2021, with the Protecting Elections and Defending Democracy Act, which ultimately received royal assent, on June 14.
The most recent time Doug Ford utilized that clause, which I brought up in one of my questions, he used it as a pre-emptive tool to prevent teachers from having the ability to negotiate in good faith. Imagine that. Teachers, like all organized labour, have the right afforded to them in our country to negotiate their union's position in a collective manner. That is a fundamental right with organized labour in our country, and I would argue in most developed countries, especially ones that operate under a democratic system like ours. Here we have a premier saying he does not really care about their ability to negotiate. He does not care about whether they want to do that. He is just going to supersede it before even bringing in a law and determine that they do not have the right to do that.
I found it most interesting when I brought this up a little while ago and asked the member for what I thought to be a very legitimate question. I have concerns about that. I believe in the collective bargaining process. I believe in union rights. I believe that unions should have the ability to negotiate in good faith. I always thought that Bloc Québécois members felt the same way. They have always come in here and talked about unions, the strong labour movements and the need to have a strong labour movement, so I asked the member for Drummond a very simple question: Does he believe that Quebec should have the right to trample on those union rights the same way Doug Ford did? The member for Drummond just attacked my question and basically said that the provinces should have the right to use it in their own way, which is a de facto way of saying he supports it.
I am left to believe that the Bloc Québécois is okay with a province, including Quebec, using the notwithstanding clause to strip away the rights of a union to negotiate. That leaves me with the conclusion that the most important thing to the Bloc Québécois, above any rights out there, is power and ensuring that the province has the power to trample over top of any legislation. That is effectively what they are saying by not answering that question and not coming clean by at least saying Doug Ford went above and beyond. They could have said that. The member for could have stood up and said that maybe Doug Ford went a little too far, but the member did not do that, because the Bloc is afraid of giving an inch on this. Bloc members do not ever want to suggest that there might even be a time when it is not appropriate to use it.
I think anybody out there who is watching this debate, or considering the disregard the Bloc has for those rights in an attempt to ensure that power is retained, should be concerned because, as my NDP colleague from B.C. said earlier, we live in a country based on the rule of law. We live in a country based on a Constitution that affords certain rights and responsibilities. We are required to ensure that those are upheld, and one of them is the right of organized labour to negotiate, and, in particular, unions.
I will end where I started this, which is by saying that I am extremely concerned when provinces start to pre-emptively use this tool, because what they are saying is that they do not care if what they are doing is unconstitutional; they are doing it anyway, and that is problematic. That should concern every citizen, because Doug Ford has maybe done it only three times, but it pretty much had never been done in Ontario before that.
Doug Ford and the Conservative government in Ontario are just testing the waters. They are banking on the fact that eventually people will not really care about it, because it will have happened a bunch of times and life still goes on. We have to be careful about this. We have to protect this, and we have to ensure that people's rights that are afforded to them under the Constitution are not infringed upon as a result of the abusive use of the notwithstanding clause.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and address this particular motion brought forward by the Bloc.
I am not surprised by Bloc members bringing forward this motion, because, after all, from the Bloc Party's perspective, they want to cause division, even though when we look at their attempt this time around, the member for is correct in his assumption.
If we think through the logic, what the Bloc is actually proposing is to say that the federal government plays no role and that it should be silent when a province wants to invoke, in a pre-emptive way, the notwithstanding clause. The best example I can use offhand is the Province of Ontario, which is the largest province by population in the country. When the Province of Ontario makes the statement that it wants to take away labour rights, all of us should be concerned as it affects thousands of people. The Bloc tries to give the false impression that it is sympathetic to the labour movement or the working person, but this motion contradicts that. However, I am not surprised by the Bloc. I expect that.
I can tell members that Canadians would be very disappointed in the official opposition, which is what I would like to pick up on. I would suggest that one of the greatest values we have as Canadians that we treasure, besides health care, which is a debate for another day, is our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We understand how important that is. In terms of values, we like to share our values around the world, and there are countries around the world that have adopted Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Canada has demonstrated leadership for 40 years on the issue of human rights and the protecting of freedoms and rights for the individual. One would think that the Conservative Party of Canada would care about that when it applies here in Canada, but that is not the case.
In reference to the teachers' and union issue in Ontario and the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause to walk all over the rights of thousands of people in Ontario, here is what the had to say:
Canadians themselves should be extremely worried about the increased commonality of provincial governments using the notwithstanding clause preemptively to suspend their fundamental rights and freedoms. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms cannot become a suggestion.
Since 2017, we have had Ontario, New Brunswick, Quebec and, to a certain point, the Province of Saskatchewan, entertain or use pre-emptive notwithstanding, which I would suggest is a form of threats, to take away rights. The , demonstrating leadership, makes statements in regard to it.
However, the current leader of the official opposition is nowhere to be found. If members watch the debate today and take a look at the debates that have been occurring on this very important issue, they will find a vacuum of leadership coming from the Conservative Party. Liberals will stand and defend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and recognize how—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!