That, given that the House respects the beliefs and non-beliefs of all parliamentarians and of the general public and it is committed to the principle of the separation of religion and the state, the diversity of views and freedom of conscience while upholding the secularism and religious neutrality of the state and out of a desire for inclusiveness, the reading of the prayer at the opening of a sitting be abolished and replaced by a moment of reflection; and that, accordingly, Standing Order 30 be amended, in paragraphs (1) and (2), by substituting the following: “(1) A moment of reflection be observed every day at the meeting of the House before any business is entered upon. (2) Not more than two minutes after the moment of reflection, the business of the House shall commence.”
He said: Madam Speaker, I am very proud to move a motion today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois regarding the House tradition of saying a prayer before the doors are opened every day that the good Lord allows.
I want to clarify something before we get started. I know some people will see this motion as an ill-intentioned, malicious, low-down move, but that is absolutely not the case. I am not here to set a trap in any way, shape or form. Today, we are calling for a healthy debate about a sensitive subject. Some people in the House may feel we are interfering with their beliefs, attacking them even, but I really want to make it clear that that is not what this is about.
What we are asking members to do today is reflect on whether this practice has perhaps outlasted its usefulness and may not be as relevant as when it was adopted. This is a sensitive subject, which may explain why nobody ever thought it was quite the right time to put it out there for a frank and honest conversation, as I am doing now. That may be why nobody ever dared do it. Nobody ever had the nerve to raise the issue of prayer, but I humbly submit that it is the right thing to do. This is the right thing to do today, and it is always a good idea to re-examine our practices and traditions from time to time.
Following our deliberations, the House will decide whether it is appropriate to continue reciting the prayer before we begin our proceedings or, as I believe, it would be more reasonable, appropriate and inclusive to abolish this ritual and replace it with a moment of personal reflection.
I want to assure members of the House that our goal is not to disrespect anyone's religious beliefs, and I can confirm that our remarks will reflect this position throughout today's debate.
We do respect religions, but I also believe it is important to respect those who do not belong to any religion, and that is what this motion is all about. I am in favour of inclusion that also takes into account those who are non-believers.
As I said earlier, today's context is different from the one in which many such parliamentary traditions were established. Although it pains me a little to do so, I will quote a certain John A. Macdonald who, in 1877, justified his motion to read the daily prayer in the House by saying that all Canadians were Christians.
Let us say that this were true, which I doubt, even in the context of the time; it nevertheless shows that the context then was very different from what it is now. No MP in the House would dare claim that all Canadians are Christian. On the contrary, ever since Pierre Trudeau and his multiculturalism, there are some who insist that every religion is equal and should be welcome in the public sphere. Is that not another argument for opening the debate on the issue?
Years go by and customs change. Our institutions have a duty to adapt to the reality of the people, the constituents and the public they serve and, in order to do so, to agree to take stock from time to time.
To illustrate the importance of this motion being moved today, I will cite some data from a poll published by Léger in October 2019, which showed that only 51% of Quebeckers reported believing in God. In the rest of Canada, the numbers are just as telling, although they vary from region to region. The fact remains that there is a significant percentage of people in Quebec and Canada who say that they neither believe in God nor belong to any religion.
At a time when we are trying to be as inclusive as possible, can anyone in the House honestly claim that the prayer read before the House starts its business respects every single person's beliefs and non-beliefs?
For example, right now, a member who is an atheist and feels that their personal convictions are being undermined by the prayer has the choice to sit and wait for the prayer to be over or to wait until the prayer is done before entering the chamber. I think that this member's conscience rights are being violated.
This same atheist member might appreciate our proposal for a moment of reflection, during which they could meditate or reflect on upcoming business, their grocery list or their weekend plans. It would be their time for reflection. The current prayer does not even reflect all religions. It is a Christian prayer read out in a chamber made up of people of different faiths, including Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus. Does everyone truly feel that this prayer reflects their beliefs?
I am being genuine. I honestly want to know. I think we will get an idea of where people stand throughout today's debate.
The biggest advantage of our proposal is that if we replace the prayer with a moment of reflection, we could all use this time in accordance with our own personal beliefs. My colleagues do not need me to be able to pray. They do not need me to hear them. They can do so in private, in their heads, in silence. I think that would be just as good for the God they worship. One of the fundamental principles of secularism, as I see it, is that the state must never favour one religion over another. The best way to treat all religions equally is to avoid endorsing any religion.
The principle of the separation of religion and state is not new. There have been debates about it in the past, at various times. Its actual integration into the practices of various Canadian legislatures has happened at different paces. For example, in the British Columbian legislature, prayer was abolished in 2019. In Nova Scotia, MLAs had been saying the prayer for longer than members in any other Canadian legislature, specifically since 1758. In October 2021, the Nova Scotian legislature abolished the prayer. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives moved a motion to this end, and all three sitting parties—the Liberals, the Conservatives and the New Democrats—supported that motion. The premier of the province, Tim Houston, explained that this change sought to ensure that Nova Scotians felt represented in the legislature, regardless of their race, gender, sexual preference, language or religion. Here, I would point out that Mr. Houston is a Conservative premier, and I never thought I would see the day when I would quote a Conservative to support my argument about secularism, but these are extraordinary times. We have to be open and expect all kinds of surprises.
Interesting fact, in Newfoundland and Labrador the prayer has never been recited at the start of the sitting. In Quebec, the National Assembly decreed in 1972 that the prayer should be abolished and replaced by a moment of reflection. It was not until December 15, 1976, just one month after the election of René Lévesque's government, that the prayer was officially abolished in practice. I want to point out, as this may be a good time to honour him, that the speaker of the National Assembly at the time was Clément Richard. He passed away a little earlier this year in March.
In Quebec, this occurred in the context of significant social change and at a time when Quebeckers were deciding—after generations of control by the Catholic church, which had a stranglehold on almost all aspects of civil society and our lives—to restrict religion to the private sphere and keep it out of the affairs of the state. I grew up in a practising Catholic family in the 1970s in Quebec City. My family went to church and I was an altar server. However, I was fortunate to have parents who always encouraged me to reflect, analyze and form my own opinions. Over time, I created my own spiritual comfort zone, far from religion. I said far from religion, but it is also closely related to it, because some of the values conveyed in religious teachings are values that I hold dear, such as respect, love for one's neighbour and sharing. Although some associate these values with religious teachings, I believe that they are basic human values needed to live in society.
I will end with something my late grandmother said. She was woman of faith, but she terrorized the parish priests with her free spirit and her nonconformist attitude. Grandma was the one who had talked back to the parish priest, who suggested that she should have more children than the nine she already had and she should heed his sermons. She told him that he could start giving advice on children when when he had some of his own, and in the meantime he could go preach somewhere else because she was having none of that. She put several sanctimonious parish priests in their place. At home, when Grandma passed away, we thought that two or three parish priests in heaven must have been gritting their teeth, knowing that she was coming.
My grandma used to tell me that spirituality is like a very personal possession, that it is not something to be showed off, and that only gestures can have an impact. In that spirit, I am proud to move our motion today, and I look forward to the debate.
Madam Speaker, my first love as a student, as a teacher and even as a child was literature. In a way, literature was my alma mater.
Through literature I perceived—or glimpsed, to be more accurate—the letters themselves, because letters both voluntarily and involuntarily encompass all of human knowledge.
That may be why I have always had a grateful admiration for and insatiable curiosity about the 18th century, and in particular the 18th century in France: That was the century of Enlightenment in England and the Erklärung in Germany. It was the century of reason, knowledge and intelligence.
The Enlightenment was the century of encyclopedias and rational dictionary of the sciences, arts and trades, the century of philosophers, of Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, the century that cried loud and clear, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.
It was the century of man guided by the light of the spirit, of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, but also of woman and the citizen with Olympe de Gouges, the century of democracy, access to knowledge, science, the ideal of progress, of tolerance and humanism, of equality. It was the century of the French Revolution, as well as the American Revolution.
It was a century of emancipation. It was the century that began the long separation of church and state in France. After the French Revolution, in little more than a century, people had to win the fight for the right to govern themselves by taking power from those they peered up at from below. That century marked the dawn of the people.
These men and women left us a great legacy. That all men, not God, decide for all men. This is the legacy that gives me the legitimate right to stand here today, before the members of the House of Commons, to represent some 100,000 citizens in the riding of Manicouagan.
Members will then understand my astonishment when, in fall 2015, more than three centuries after the French Revolution, when I was about to take my seat in the House, I heard the following words resound before the opening of the sitting:
Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the Governor General. Guide us in our deliberations as Members of Parliament, and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as Members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen.
I was being forced to pray to the Christian God. I looked around and almost everyone was doing the same, whether they were Christian or perhaps Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, agnostic or atheist. I could not understand then, and I still cannot now, why Parliament should impose any faith, let alone its faith, on all parliamentarians, employees of the House and, by extrapolation, Quebeckers, of course, and Canadians, even if it is with the noblest of intentions, unless it is being done unconsciously. I felt the House of Commons was depriving me of my freedom of conscience.
Clearly, the Canadian Parliament has not yet finalized the divorce between church and state, which I believe is necessary, because every belief system carries with it its own sense of supremacy.
As a thinking being, capable of reasoning and blessed with freedom of conscience, the idea of relying on a higher power that has the ability to grant me “wisdom, knowledge and understanding” and that would be able to “guide me in my awareness of my duties and responsibilities” smacks of offloading my responsibility.
The blessings bestowed on Canada do not depend on some divine Christian will exercised through Christian members of Parliament.
The gifts Canada enjoys are preserved by the choices made by the representatives of the people, based on the will of the people. The government is responsible, and elected members are accountable.
I believe that this prayer obviously creates an insoluble conflict between freedom of conscience and empowerment, as well as between responsibility and accountability.
No one really believes something they are forced to believe. All they can do is pretend. No one takes part in a healthy debate if the conclusion relies on an intrinsic prior truth that they cannot understand. That is what this daily prayer symbolizes. These are essentially the two reasons that led me, on June 12, 2019, to try to table a motion on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to replace this prayer with a moment of reflection.
With all due respect for all religions, and in all humility, because I have no delusions of stealing heaven's fire like the mythological figure Prometheus, I have to say that taking part in a prayer that requires me to yield my freedom of conscience and reason to the invisible hands of a god, the Christian God, is something that is, in all good conscience, viscerally impossible.
To paraphrase Étienne de La Boétie, spiritual servitude can only be voluntary. I refuse to allow anyone to think for or through me. I refuse to have my thoughts dictated for me. I make my own choices, and I take responsibility.
My colleagues may have deduced that, in my opinion, religion is a private affair. Faith is a conscious and deliberate choice, and some people choose to adhere to the precepts and values of a theistic belief system in order to determine their existence, but that is a private and personal choice.
Faith is an individual decision, not a societal one. Beliefs cannot be imposed. Society cannot be forced to act according to imposed individual beliefs. The state must be neutral. It must be secular.
I will therefore not reveal to my colleagues what religion I belong to, whether or not I practise, whether I am an atheist or an agnostic, or what I think about the religion of the gods or of humankind. I will simply reiterate that I respect these belief systems. They all preach love, peace and sharing, and their core values have been shaping the world since the dawn of time. They are aimed at transcendence, and they are what separates us from the animals, along with our intelligence and our humanity.
In closing, this explains why I stand behind the curtain during the prayer. I believe I am not the only one to do so, whether out of respect for ourselves or for others, for our beliefs or our intellect, whether discreetly or perhaps even ostentatiously. Religion is private. Like me, it should remain behind the curtain, to be practised only in our homes and our places of worship.
Let us all, as parliamentarians, gather together in a genuine moment of free reflection during which some may choose to consult their conscience or God. When that happens, I will step into the House, and the House will step into the 21st century.
Madam Speaker, I am not too sure exactly what to think in rising to address this particular debate today. I asked the member from the Bloc whether or not they have even raised the issue at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The response was no, it is an important debate and every member should be able to contribute to the debate. Does the member not realize all the discussions that take place in our standing committees, and all of the different issues that we could apply that very same principle to?
My colleague from made reference to issues in the province of Quebec today. However, for some reason, with my number of years as a parliamentarian, I do not quite understand the reasoning behind bringing forward a motion of this nature.
There are many other options the Bloc members could have taken. This tells me that they are making themselves absolutely and totally irrelevant to the issues in the province of Quebec and Canada as a whole. In the last six years, let alone the last two years, I have not had one constituent ever approach me to say this is an issue that has to be dealt with.
Canada has just gone through, and we are still at least in part in, a pandemic. In fact, the province of Quebec still has mandatory masks. Can members imagine what is in the minds of the people of Quebec and the members of Parliament for the Bloc? The member even stood in this place and said they only get two opportunities in a session, yet they choose such a topic as this.
It goes far beyond the pandemic. We could talk about what is happening in Europe. People are dying in Ukraine. They are the heroes of Ukraine today, and we in Canada could talk about what is taking place in Europe. However, the Bloc say that they are not interested in the pandemic, what is happening in the province of Quebec or the war that in Europe or Ukraine. What about some of the other issues that I know the people of Quebec are interested in?
The party that claims to represent Quebec and its people's interests is not the Bloc. It is the members who are sitting across the way who are representing the interests of Quebec. Those are the individuals who I see stand in their place and talk about the environment. I can inform and remind my colleagues in the Bloc that the people of Quebec are concerned about our environment. I know that even though I am not from Quebec, but I listen to the Liberal members of the Quebec caucus, and I know the environment matters. Conservative members of Parliament will often raise the issue. We might at times disagree, but that is an issue in the province of Quebec. There is a genuine concern there. Why would the Bloc members not want to talk about the climate crisis, or other environmental issues the province of Quebec is facing today?
We often hear Bloc members ask questions on health care. It is an issue I am very passionate about. In fact, I have brought in petitions that talk about how important it is that we have a national presence in the issue of health care that goes beyond just dollars. The Bloc will just argue to give them money. Their justification for that has never been clarified in the House. Why would they not talk about health care? Canadians from coast to coast to coast in every region of our country are concerned about issues such as mental health and long-term care.
These are issues on which it does not matter where we are from in Canada; there are MPs who are talking about it, unless, of course, they are from the Bloc, because today they are saying that it is not an important issue. It is not important enough, but rather they want to talk about prayer—
Madam Speaker, I can assure the member I am going to be talking about faith and I am going to be talking about motions. I am really frustrated, because there are so many other opportunities. That is why I started off by posing a question for my friend across the way: Has the Bloc raised the issue at PROC?
Let us remember that what we are talking about is changing the Standing Orders. Which standing committee deals with changing the Standing Orders? It is the procedures and House affairs committee. It meets twice a week. The Bloc has representation on that committee. If it is such an important issue, why have the Bloc members not at least addressed the issue or tried to bring it up at PROC? I think they are really off base on this.
There is a list of questions that we all have about the Standing Orders. In fact, there is a rule that says that every so often we have to debate the need for changes to our Standing Orders, and that is actually what the Bloc members are trying to do today. The month of June is when it comes up. We are actually going to be dedicating a day of the House to talk about changing the rules. Why would the Bloc not seriously raise the issue at that particular debate? If they are not happy with that because they say they cannot move a motion, why did they not raise it at the PROC committee? They say they want a full, wholesome debate here inside the House of Commons, but I can say there are many issues before our standing committees for which ultimately the very same argument could be made. I think they are using it as a justification.
When I was thinking in terms of the different types of issues on which I would have liked to contribute to the debate today, I made reference to the pandemic and to the war. I made reference to the environment and climate change. I talked about health care. What about the issue of seniors? Seniors in Canada are looking for strong political advocacy. We have seen a government that has been very proactive and progressive in dealing with sound policies around seniors. When we are talking about changing a standing order versus talking about what is happening in our communities with respect to our seniors, I would have put a whole lot more weight on that issue.
Let us think in terms of faith. Two weeks ago, I was at Kalgidhar Darbar Gurdwara. After visiting that Sikh gurdwara, I went to the Sikh Society's gurdwara on Mollard. My campaign co-chair, Ashas, actually has the entire Quran memorized. I had just recently given greetings for the 30th anniversary of Falun Gong, which is actually taking place later this week. I have a dear friend, a friend of 30 years, who brought me a while back to a Buddhist temple.
I say this because Canada is a great nation with a great deal of diversity. I understand the importance of spirituality and the role that it plays in society, and I am very respectful of that. Yes, I am of Christian faith, and St. Peter's Church is a growing church, with over 5,000 parishioners who attend it in Winnipeg North. I understand the multitude of different faiths and the important role they play in society, and I can say this: Whether I am visiting a gurdwara, a temple, a church or even someone's living room where we are talking about faith, no one, not one person in the last 10 years, has raised the issue of a prayer in the House of Commons. To me, that says a great deal.
In the last little while, I have stood in my place and talked about how important it is that we try to enable debate on a wide variety of issues that are having an impact on the lives of Canadians, day in and day out. It is one of the reasons, as a government, we are trying to say that we understand there is a limited and finite amount of debate that can take place inside this chamber, and we were prepared to extend the hours. With the support, not of the Bloc but of the New Democrats, we were actually successful in passing a motion that enables more debate on the issues that Canadians are facing day in and day out.
I am not too sure, but I believe the Bloc voted against it. Members can correct me when I get my questions and answers, but I believe they actually voted against it. Then, on the other hand, they often say from their seats that we should not be trying to speed through legislation, because they want more debate time. That tells me that they recognize the importance of the debate, which is a good thing.
In the past we have seen that the Bloc seems to recognize the value of a standing committee. This issue could go to the PROC committee just as easily; in fact it would be easier than bringing it to the floor of the House of Commons. I think they understand that. After all, when it came to the MAID legislation, Bloc members were advocating that we sit past the summer months, and because we have demonstrated as a government that we are listening and working with the opposition where we can, we are in fact sitting well past the summer on the MAID special committee. That in itself shows that the Bloc, or at least its House leadership, understands the process.
If that is the case, why would the Bloc be bringing forward this motion today? One can only speculate. Sometimes, when we speculate, we get into trouble. I believe that at the end of the day, the Bloc is trying to be a little mischievous here, as opposed to dealing with the issues of the day, and there are many.
Prior to getting into this debate, I brought forward a petition. I stood in my place and I presented a petition that was signed by residents of Winnipeg North. The essence of that petition was to say how important the old age supplement and the guaranteed income supplement are. It highlighted the government's New Horizons program and made reference to organizations like Age and Opportunity. It kind of brought them all together to say that as parliamentarians, we should be advocating for our seniors.
This is the part where I think the Bloc would be really interested. As part of the petition, it said that when it comes to seniors and talking about prayers, it is important—
Madam Speaker, I just raised the issue of the petition, only because I was talking about the petition earlier. I presented it earlier today, and I might have spent maybe a minute on it, but I think there is some relevancy to it, because federal versus provincial jurisdiction is an issue that the Bloc often talks about as being important. A part of that petition was calling on all parliamentarians to advocate for seniors and for governments of all levels to work together. It is a novel idea that I would suggest to my colleagues in the Bloc. This is something that is a reflection of many of the constituents I represent, some of whom actually signed that petition.
That is the point I am really trying to hammer home. It is the fact that we have a very finite amount of time to debate important public issues. The Bloc is in a very good position in the sense that, as the second opposition party, it is provided the opportunity to bring up opposition day motions. However, I truly believe that at the end of the day, the motion the Bloc is proposing that we debate and vote on today is very much off the topic of what is on the minds of Canadians.
When we talk about changing the Standing Orders, and that is what I would encourage my colleagues and others to contribute to when they are standing up and contributing to this debate, it is to broaden them. We can talk about the priorities, but we can also talk about the changes to the Standing Orders, because I believe there is a need for us to look at ways in which we can improve the functionality of the House of Commons.
As this is a motion that would change the Standing Orders, I would like to share a few thoughts in regard to what we could have been talking about, and no doubt what we will be talking about come June, because that is when the debate on the Standing Orders is going to be coming up.
There are some very simple changes that I would like. An example of that is that I like the idea that we should have some sort of digital time clock, so that members can look at the time clock and do their own count, in terms of time, so we know how much remains. That is a thing I think we would get universal agreement for.
I like ideas that might enable more members to participate in debates. There are many members of the House on both sides, for example, who would ultimately argue that we should work on Fridays, and others who would say that those should be constituency days. I would argue that we should start at eight o'clock in the morning and go until eight or nine o'clock in the evening, but with a bit of a condition: that the member of Parliament notify the Speaker in advance, let us say by the Wednesday, that he or she would like to be able to address a particular non-votable issue and allow it to go to debate. That member of the House could choose what he or she would like to debate, such as something that is in second reading, which would enable that person to provide his or her thoughts on important legislation. We might even expand that into Private Members' Business.
The point is that there are many standing order changes that would improve the functionality of this House, and that debate will be coming up in June. I would encourage my friends in the Bloc to take into consideration the motion we are talking about today, on the issue of prayers, and maybe bring it back into that debate. I would be happy to give leave for the Bloc to change the topic, and we could talk about our environment, housing, the war or the pandemic. There are many other issues we could talk about today, and we can continue this debate when the debate—
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to once again rise in the House to speak on behalf of my constituents in Barrie—Innisfil. I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
Today is an opposition day, which means that one of the opposition parties gets to decide the topic of conversation here in the House. This is one of two Bloc opposition days this spring, when we get to discuss some matters that are important to the Bloc and I expect to the people of Quebec. With great respect to my colleagues, and I mean that sincerely, we should be discussing issues that are having a profound impact on Canadians and Quebeckers, such as affordability, the RCMP investigation into the fraud of the and his lucky break with regard to that, the Liberals' conduct on foreign relations and government mismanagement with regard to accountability. We have a passport crisis, a fiasco, that is happening in this country that should be discussed. There is also the increasingly sketchy justification shown by the government for invoking the Emergencies Act. That is just to name a few.
This country has never been more divided than it has been in the last six and a half years, along regional, racial, ethnic and faith lines. The division we have seen in the last six and a half years is a result of the wedging, stigmatizing and dividing Canadians. We have been hearing a lot of disinformation in the House from the government side, and it is, quite frankly, disturbing. It relates to the invocation of the Emergencies Act. Talking today about Standing Order 30 will not, I suspect, gather much attention across this country, perhaps with the exception of the House.
I do not know about anyone else, but when I was in my riding this weekend, as I am every weekend, not a single person came up to me and asked what my position was on Standing Order 30. What is Standing Order 30? In short, it directs the Speaker to read a prayer at the start of the day's sitting before the TV cameras are turned on. No one sees this. It is a private moment of reflection for the 338 of us who sit in the House. That is why the Speaker always follows the moment of reflection with “Let the doors be opened”. The doors are opened and the public comes in.
Only on the rarest of occasions has the public ever actually been privy to it. My staff told me, and some staff have been here for more than 40 years, a long time, that the last occasion the prayer was read in public was October 23, 2014. That is the day after the terrorist attack at Centre Block and the National War Memorial. That was the day that Kevin Vickers, the Sergeant-at-Arms who downed the armed gunman in the Hall of Honour, led the Speaker's parade into the House.
Mr. Vickers was rightly greeted with a sustained three-minute standing ovation by a packed chamber that morning. The prayer was read, and I can say that I understand the moment and the incidents of that week really put into perspective the prayer's call to “give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy.”
After the prayer, the House erupted into a very emotional and heartfelt rendition of O Canada. Mr. Vickers, the true hero he was, did not gloat in arrogance or beam with pride. Rather, he struggled valiantly to keep his tears to a minimum, much as we might expect any genuine Canadian hero to be: modest in demeanour and deeply humbled by displays of gratitude.
All of that was visible to Canadians that day because the hon. member for , who was then the Speaker, made the executive decision to allow Canadians into the galleries and for the TV cameras to be turned on so we could witness it. The House needed it and the nation needed it, especially after a very distressing day in Ottawa, when no one really quite knew what or how much was happening.
The video of that morning of raw emotions when the prayer was open to the public can still send chills down one's spine. That procedure of a prayer normally read in private is rooted, as I mentioned, in Standing Order 30, which traces its origins to 1927, when our rule book went through a significant update driven by a special committee chaired by the Speaker. That amendment was a simple codification of a practice that began in the 1870s after the adoption of a recommendation from another special committee.
The current prayer read daily was developed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in 1994 under the chairmanship of Peter Milliken, with a view to having a short prayer reflecting the diversity of religions embraced by Canadians. Do we see a pattern here? It is that committees and consensus drove these decisions.
Canada's Conservatives have long held and long observed the importance and necessity of amending our internal rules and procedures through consensus. It is an important point when we are talking about the rules that regulate the balance between governments and oppositions, especially when we consider the fact that Canadians ask Conservatives and Liberals to swap sides of this chamber every few years. Another switch, I am sure, is coming pretty soon.
The approach is just as relevant when it comes to matters of conscience such as prayer. On top of that, we are required by our own rules to conduct a review of our procedures after every election. The motion would have been a natural suggestion to raise then.
Standing Order 51 requires the House to hold a day-long discussion sometime between the 60th and 90th sitting day of the Parliament. The results of that conversation are then referred to the procedure and House affairs committee to consider.
Today is the 68th day the House has sat since the election. Based on our calendar, the 90th sitting day will be on June 16. Quite literally, we are going to be holding a comprehensive discussion about changes to our procedures sometime within the next five weeks.
A member of the Bloc could have used a few minutes of his or her 10-minute speaking slot to make the suggestion and then seen where the committee goes with that idea. Perhaps a consensus would form around the proposal in today's Bloc motion. Maybe the consensus would back the status quo, or possibly even recommend some third approach we have not thought of yet. That speaks to the power of parliamentary committees and of consensus-based rule-making, and it should be happening in this case, as well.
Therefore, I will be voting against the Bloc motion, because I sincerely believe that permanent changes to our procedural rules, and especially on a subject matter like this, really ought to come from a Standing Order review process, be deliberated upon by a committee and be implemented as the result of a consensus-based recommendation coming from that committee of MPs, as they always have been.
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, the House leader for the official opposition, for his very informative speech on parliamentary procedure, which is what we are talking about today.
Today we are debating a change to Standing Order 30 from the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. This standing order, which has been around since 1927, provides for the Speaker to read a four-sentence prayer. This has been a tradition in the House since 1877.
Yesterday I timed how long it takes to read the prayer. It took exactly 28 seconds. If I stumbled in reading it, it took 31 seconds. That is what we are debating today.
Allow me to give a little context.
Right before the doors open to visitors coming into the House of Commons and before the debates start being broadcast on TV, the Speaker enters the House and sits in the chair. The discussions happen in camera. The Speaker reads a prayer that, as I just pointed out, lasts about 30 seconds. The prayer is then followed by a moment of reflection. That is the tradition. Once that is done, the doors are opened.
I have been present for this procedure hundreds of times. I cannot recall anyone ever taking issue with it. The House reflects the Canadian mosaic in all its glory. We have people who are atheists and others who are Christian, Muslim or of any other faith. I do not recall anyone ever feeling uncomfortable during that ceremony. That is how I see this.
I have focused my attention on two aspects of the Bloc Québécois approach. The Bloc Québécois is suggesting that we abolish prayer and replace it with a moment of reflection. That would be like running headlong into an open door to try to open it. We already have a moment of reflection. The Bloc Québécois is suggesting that we replace something with something that we already have. It is not exactly a minor factor in the equation.
The other factor is that changing the Standing Orders of the House of Commons usually has to be done through the committee of the office of parliamentary operations, which meets once a week and is made up of all of the House leaders, the whips, the security teams and the Speaker. This committee meets in camera to debate certain proposals and traditionally makes decisions by consensus. This is a well-established standard procedure.
I am not saying that the Bloc Québécois is going against the rules. On the contrary, the Bloc has the right to do what it wants on its opposition day, but I will get back to that later.
As my colleague, the House leader for the official opposition, mentioned earlier, the proper course of action is to debate this topic in the appropriate forum, every week that the committee meets. The committee of the office of parliamentary operations favours consensus and lets all political parties express their opinion. The Bloc Québécois decided to do things differently.
In my opinion, there are two somewhat surprising points of view. First, I find it surprising that the Bloc Québécois chose to use such a procedure, since this decision should be made by consensus. Second, it suggests replacing the prayer with a moment of reflection, when there already is one. I find that a little surprising.
There is something even more surprising, though. I have had the great privilege of being in politics, of having been elected to represent the people of Louis-Saint-Laurent, for almost seven years. Before that, I was an member of Quebec's National Assembly. Since I was also a journalist, I have been following political news for years. I can honestly say that no one has ever mentioned the prayer in the House of Commons to me. Some people may be concerned about it, and I certainly do not want to trivialize their concerns. In my 35 or 40 years of following politics, as a journalist and an elected member, I have never had anyone tell me that there was something wrong with saying a prayer in the House of Commons. That never happened, but that does not mean it is wrong to consider the matter. Now, the Bloc Québécois has introduced a motion.
However, there is one concern we hear about often. In my opinion, the one thing all Canadians are concerned about is inflation. Everyone is affected by it.
I would have liked to see a motion moved by the hon. member for , who is an influential Bloc Québécois recruit from the last election and a major asset for his team. We could have debated concerns about inflation, problems caused by inflation and solutions proposed by the Bloc Québécois, but that is not what happened. Rather than talking about inflation with a motion moved by the hon. member for Mirabel, we are talking about prayer in the House of Commons.
We could have been discussing housing prices, which are continuing to skyrocket and which are a concern for Canadians. Young people do not have access to the dream we have all had in our lives, the privilege we had to be able to purchase a property when it was affordable. That time has passed. What solutions would the Bloc, the governing party, the official opposition and the NDP have proposed? We could have debated the subject all day, but instead we are talking about the 28-second prayer in the House of Commons.
We could have been talking about the carbon tax or the surging gas prices. Today, Quebeckers woke up to the news that gas prices are now over $2 a litre. Who would have believed it? The hon. member for has been sitting in the House since 2015 and is doing a good job. He could have raised this issue, and we could have debated it today. However, the hon. member for Joliette cannot talk about the cost of gas or inflation, despite that fact that he is a financial expert, because today we are talking about prayer in the House of Commons.
We could have discussed the 76th day of the war in Ukraine following the Russian invasion. Our , the and the travelled to Kyiv this week, so it is a topical subject. We all want this war to end but, unfortunately, the ogre in the Kremlin has decided to continue attacking Ukrainians. We could have debated that in the House, but instead, the Bloc decided to talk about the 28-second prayer that is recited in the House of Commons.
The hon. member for has asked dozens of genuinely interesting questions about Ukraine, specifically about how to get refugees to Canada. He has been asking these questions non-stop for weeks and weeks. The Bloc could have taken the opportunity today to dedicate its entire opposition day to addressing the topic that the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean has brought up from every angle since the very start. Instead, we are talking about the prayer.
We could have addressed this issue but, unfortunately for the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean and for the entire House of Commons, we did not. It would have given us an opportunity to explain how the government mishandled the issue. Are my colleagues aware that, yesterday, Newfoundland received Ukrainian refugees who landed here in Canada, in Newfoundland, thanks to the government of that province? The federal government is dragging its feet when it comes to letting refugees in, as the hon. Bloc Québécois member for Lac-Saint-Jean brings up every day, but Newfoundland managed. It would have been interesting to hear the Bloc Québécois talk about that all day, but instead we are talking about prayer in the House of Commons.
There is not one member of Parliament in Canada right now whose riding office is not being flooded with calls from constituents having problems with their passports. We are constantly asking questions about it here in the House, and we talk about specific cases in each of our ridings. That is a topic we could have discussed, as we did yesterday, when we brought up the problems with ArriveCAN that are affecting Canadians with travel plans.
The tourist season is almost upon us. Tourism is important in my region in Quebec City. ArriveCAN has to be flexible and ready for all Canadians, but that is not the case. That is a topic we could have discussed, but, unfortunately, we will not be discussing it today.
Interestingly, yesterday during question period, two members rose, namely the Bloc Québécois and the hon. member for . They asked questions about anglicization and the evidence that the French language is in danger. We could have debated that today in the House, but the Bloc decided otherwise.
What about the hot topic that is sadly affecting young people in some regions of Quebec, namely gun violence? Yesterday during question period, the hon. member for raised the issue because there had been a shooting in the Laval region. There was another shooting yesterday in Villeray. That is a topic that the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord, a veteran MP who has served since 2015, could very well have raised in the House for debate, so that we could get to the bottom of the issue and suggest ways to improve the situation. Instead, the Bloc decided to talk about something else entirely. That is its choice.
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by saying that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague, the member for . I am very eager to hear what he has to say about the motion we are debating today.
My speech is divided into two parts. First, I will talk about how important state neutrality is for all leftist men and women and for all progressives. The role of the state is not to promote a particular religion or belief. It must even respect non-believers.
On a personal note, I have been a member of Parliament for 11 years. I have the honour of representing the people of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. I must admit that, when I first came to the House, to Parliament, and I heard the morning prayer before the start of the day, I was a little surprised. I did not think there was a prayer. I did not think it was still current practice. There is a very clear religious connotation. It begins with “Almighty God” and ends with “Amen”. For an atheist like myself, there is a Christian connotation that can come as a shock to members of the House who are non-believers. It is an important message, since it links the Canadian parliamentary institution with religion, and with one religion in particular.
I am old enough to have had religion classes in school. There was a Catholic school board and a Protestant school board. I am very glad that the Parti Québécois government took religion out of the school boards in 1999. I think the separation of church and state was important for the neutrality of institutions. The NDP differentiates between institutions and workers. We can discuss that subject some other time.
Important things have been done. In his first inauguration speech, President Barack Obama acknowledged the presence of non-believing Americans for the first time. I thought that was an important gesture. It was an important symbol. Symbols are important. We agree on that. The separation of church and state is a major symbol.
Is this a topic worth spending an entire opposition day on? That is a valid question. It is a question worth asking. If the Bloc Québécois wanted to raise this perfectly valid question, it had a variety of tools to choose from. I think the motion makes sense, but our time in this institution is precious and limited. A unanimous consent motion takes about a minute after question period. My colleagues in the Bloc Québécois often take advantage of that procedure. A unanimous consent motion has the same effect as an opposition day motion. It is a declaration of Parliament's intent. If the Bloc Québécois wanted to talk about the matter at hand, it could have moved a unanimous consent motion.
If it wanted to change the House's internal rules, it could have addressed this matter to the Board of Internal Economy. The board meets after every election to review and revise the House rules. It should be meeting between now and mid-June. We could have had this discussion to determine whether we want to continue reciting the prayer or to replace it with a moment of reflection. With a view to a clearer separation of church and state, we could have had this discussion and potentially reached a consensus among all members.
We are taking a whole day to discuss something that may make me personally uncomfortable, but that does not change much in the lives of the Quebeckers and Montrealers I represent. I more or less agree with my colleague, the hon. member for . I have been an MP for 11 years, and no one in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has ever mentioned the prayer to me. I may have an opinion on the subject. I may think it is important. I may not want to enter the House because I am uncomfortable during the prayer. I wait in the lobby and I enter once the prayer is finished. The prayer is not even televised, so it is not public. This is an internal administrative matter, so we should discuss it among ourselves.
In the House, we should discuss things that have an impact on families' lives. Right now, we are talking about ourselves. We will spend an entire day talking about ourselves to find out whether we agree or disagree, feel comfortable or uncomfortable.
A lot of people in my riding are asking for things. They are suffering, they are hurting and they are desperate because the federal administration is not working or because the wrong decisions are being made. I wrote to the employees at my Montreal office this morning and asked what people talk about when they call in.
There are a number of things we could have discussed today in order to find solutions, but the first thing callers talk about these days is the huge mess with EI. The processing times for EI cheques are horrendous right now. Dozens and dozens of people call the office to complain. These are not small delays. People who have just lost their job apply for EI because they need money to make ends meet, to pay their rent and and pay for groceries, but they are being asked to wait three months, three and a half months or even four months. What kind of agreement can someone make with their landlord if there is no money coming in for four months?
I would have liked to talk about that today, because that is a priority for people in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie right now. That is what they are concerned about this morning as we speak. They are desperate and they are panicking. That is not to mention the wait times for passports and everything to do with immigration, such as student visas, work visas, permanent residency, and citizenship. Wait times have soared in the past two years. It is crazy. People are living in uncertainty. They are being told that they will get a decision in two or three months but, in some cases, two or three years go by and they still do not have an answer. We recently learned that it can take 10 years to get the official document stating that they are allowed to build a life here in Montreal or Quebec. Right now, the federal government is conspicuously absent. For Canadians, not getting an answer can have serious consequences. Where will they live? Will they have to go back to their country of origin? Are they allowed to work here or not?
However, the Bloc members do not want to discuss these things. They want to talk about the prayer. They do not like the prayer, and neither do I, but that is not what Quebeckers talk to me about in real life, on the ground. They talk about their living and working conditions.
Let us discuss EI. We are still awaiting EI reform. Let us not forget that the program was dysfunctional even before the pandemic. We knew it was ineffective. We need to prioritize EI reform, because most workers who pay into the program cannot get a cheque because the number of hours needed to qualify for EI benefits is too high, and it is even worse in some regions and in the case of seasonal workers. Workers who pay into EI cannot get a cheque, and that is not taking into account those who are not even entitled to contribute. Self-employed workers, freelancers and gig workers do not have a social security net and cannot even participate in the system, even if it worked, which it does not. I would have like to able to discuss this, to be able to say to the government, “This is the reality for workers and the unemployed in Quebec. How can we make it better?”
Let us talk about housing. There has been a housing crisis in Montreal and Quebec for years, and it is only getting worse. For both individuals or families, rent is always the largest household expense. During the election campaign last fall, people constantly brought the subject up in the streets, in parks, and when I was going door to door. They said they were afraid they would have to leave their beloved neighbourhood because they could not find housing that would not plunge them into debt or stretch their finances to the limit. A growing number of people are spending more than 30% of their income on housing. In my riding, there are people spending more than 50% of their income on housing. Until recently, the definition of affordable housing in Montreal, according to the Liberal government, was $2,225 a month. Fortunately, the NDP was able to get the definition of affordable housing changed. For Montrealers, affordable housing will cost a maximum of $730 a month. That is going to change people's lives. We changed the definition. It is established and paid for by the CHMC. That means $1,500 less per month for people to have access to these housing units. These are investments in the rapid housing program. There is a shortage of housing units on the market, and we negotiated with the government to change the situation.
There is a lot more. We succeeded in getting money for housing co-operatives. This had not happened for 20 years. Housing co-operatives are an excellent system because the housing units are not affected by the market, market logic or profit. These are initiatives that make a difference in people's lives and that we would have liked to discuss, because there is still so much work to be done.
I could also talk about the climate, the climate crisis, the cost of prescription drugs or the safety of cyclists in Montreal and other cities. There are a lot of things I would have liked to discuss today instead of talking about my discomfort in certain situations.
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his speech. Our opposition day is clearly not useless since it has allowed the NDP to reel off its accomplishments. At least that is something.
Several thoughts came to mind during his speech. First, in 2019, we sought the unanimous consent of the House to adopt a motion with similar objectives, but it was defeated.
An opposition day is purposely designed for proposing subjects that are not necessarily front-page news but that are nevertheless important to various parliamentarians. It is well within the Bloc's right, and it is our choice. I take some exception to the fact that some parties are now questioning our “editorial” choice for opposition day. In the end, it is our choice.
I have also noted that the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP do not seem to want to discuss the issue itself but are more likely to simply criticize our choice of topic.
The NDP is saying that we do not want to debate important issues, yet it is going to support a gag order on a bill that is over 500 pages long, that contains some 60 measures and that will amend 37 laws. It feels we do not need to debate that bill, unlike the motion we are discussing today.
I do not really have any other questions. I simply wanted to comment and invite my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie to respond.
Madam Speaker, I would ask you to please let me know when I have one minute left because I have an amendment to present later.
I have no problem with the motion, and I will probably vote in favour of it. However, I agree with my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite‑Patrie, whose speech I really enjoyed and who spoke so well earlier, and with my colleague from .
A day is set aside for the Bloc Québécois to present motions. The Bloc only gets one day for the entire spring session, during which it can discuss any important topic. This time, it chose to move a motion to amend Standing Order 30, concerning prayer.
As members know, I have lived in Saguenay—Lac-Saint‑Jean, the Eastern Townships, Montreal and, of course, the Outaouais region. In all my years in Quebec, no one ever spoke to me once about prayer at the opening of a sitting of the House of Commons. People talk to me instead about other topics, which are important. That is why I am sad that the Bloc has chosen the motion it is moving today, instead of choosing a topic that really affects Quebeckers.
The housing crisis is affecting all parts of Quebec, including Drummondville. In some cities, the vacancy rate is now less than 1%. There is an affordable housing crisis everywhere in Quebec.
The vacancy rate in Drummondville is 0.3%. In Mirabel and Granby, it is 0.1%. There is currently a housing crisis in cities like Rimouski, Rouyn‑Noranda, Blainville, Vaudreuil, Boucherville, Salaberry‑de‑Valleyfield and all across Quebec. However, the Bloc did not choose to talk about that on its only opposition day in the spring session.
Like most Quebeckers, I think the climate crisis is an extremely important issue because we see how that crisis is affecting people across Quebec and around the world.
What happened to the people in the greater Vancouver area last summer is a good example of the effects of the climate crisis. New Westminster and Burnaby were among the areas hit by a heat wave that killed 600 people, including about 60 in New Westminster and about 60 in Burnaby. The heat reached record highs in British Columbia. Some people, particularly seniors and people with disabilities, were stuck in their small apartments with no air conditioning or fan. These people were hit hard by this crisis.
When I see the effects of climate change, I wonder why the Bloc Québécois chose to spend an entire day debating the prayer in the House of Commons on its only supply day in the spring session. There are so many much more important topics that we could have been discussing today.
Madam Speaker, some members are talking very loudly. Could you call them to order, please?
Madam Speaker, looking at what is happening in the United States with respect to women's right to abortion, it would seem that this crisis has crossed the border. Some women in Canada also face limited access to abortion. In many parts of the country, women do not have access to this aspect of health care, which is so important. It is so important, in fact, that we could have spent an entire day debating it in the House of Commons. It would have been an important and vigorous debate.
Additionally, as everyone is well aware, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing an international crisis, and democratic structures are crumbling in several countries. More and more, dictatorships are taking over. This also has an impact throughout the world, including in Canada and Quebec. Today's debate could have been about the crises that we are experiencing on the international scene.
There is also the crisis related to children's health. We know very well that today, on a global scale, we are going to lose 30,000 children. This affects pretty much all children around the world, and could have been part of today's discussion.
I am also thinking of the pandemic, which is affecting Canadians. People are still dying. All the issues related to the pandemic and the response to the pandemic are important, and we could have been talking about that all day.
An opposition day is a day when we should be talking about the real issues, in other words, things that affect people, that affect our constituents. As I said at the beginning of my speech, in all the years I spent in Quebec, no one ever said to me that the prayer at the opening of each sitting of the House of Commons was important to them.
As other speakers have already said, this issue could have been addressed in the debates on the Standing Orders of the House, which are set to begin in a few weeks in any event. I think the motion is acceptable and I see no problem with it, but I just want to point out that all these issues related to the prayer will be addressed in a few weeks anyway.
As far as today's motion is concerned, I think that we should talk about indigenous land acknowledgement, which is something we should have had for years. That is why, in closing, I propose an amendment, seconded by the member for . I will read it.
That the motion be amended:
(a) by adding, after the words “abolished and replaced by”, the words “an indigenous land acknowledgement and”;
(b) by deleting the words “(1) A moment of reflection be observed” and substituting the words “(1) An indigenous land acknowledgement and a moment of reflection be observed”.
Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the motion today. I am not going to repeat the text of the motion, since we have been discussing it quite a bit for the last two hours.
I was elected not by God, but by voters. My job is to represent the people in my part of the country. I obviously do not bring up religion when I go knocking on doors. I am no better or worse than any other member. As members of Parliament, our job is also to meet with the people we represent. I have never asked anyone what their religion is. I have too much respect for people's beliefs. Religion is a personal matter and nobody else's business, especially not the government's.
Personally, I try to do a good job of representing the people and representing them to the best of my ability. I have looked up the statistics, but I am not going to talk about numbers or what the beliefs of various individuals are. I will not share with the House all of the comments that I had in mind when I saw the extremely broad range of beliefs.
Let us start with atheists. Atheists do not believe in God. Are they good or bad? I could not care less. The fact is that there are atheists, that is, people who do not believe in God. However, we are praying to God. The atheists must feel that they are not well represented.
Then there are the agnostics, that is, people who question whether God exists or not. These people do not care if God exists. They say to themselves, “Who am I to know?”
There are also people who believe in one god, namely the monotheists. Many religions identify with monotheism. This is the case with the most popular religions, if I may put it that way.
However, there are also religions where there are several gods. The prayer does not say “Gods”, but “God” in the singular. Those who believe in multiple gods must feel that the prayer does not reflect who they are, even if they are citizens of Canada. They must wonder why parliamentarians in a democratic institution are talking about a belief that is not their own. They must feel excluded.
Finally, some people do not have religious beliefs, but other beliefs.
As soon as we incorporate anything religious, we lose representativeness. We like to go on about how we have a duty to represent the people, the community and all of its diversity. It does not matter where someone falls on the spectrum of belief, because that is none of our business.
If we want to have a government that respects religion, that respects beliefs and that is inclusive, which is the operative word here, we need to come up with a solution.
For example, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario reads a rotating selection of prayers. One day, they read a prayer to one god. The next day, they read a prayer to another god, and so on. This puts the religions in a hierarchy. Some will say that various religions are included in the rotation, but not their own. That means this does not fulfill the objectives that the government should be pursuing.
Guess what? The best way to respect religion is for the government to stay out of it altogether. I am choosing my words carefully: The government must be secular and not display any religious symbols, at the risk of excluding a whole segment of the population or voters. This is really not what we should be doing.
Personally, that is what I say and what I think. Do people agree or disagree? We are going to vote on this.
Now let me read a few brief quotes along these lines. I want to show that I am not an outlier and that people have thought about this before me.
Sometimes we wish that we had said this or that, or we wish that we were the one who came up with such and such a quote. I do not want to take credit for these quotes, because that would be plagiarism.
In their book Secularism and Freedom of Conscience, Charles Taylor and Jocelyn Maclure provide a conceptual analysis of the principles of secularism. Here is what they have to say:
Although it is generally assumed that the aim of a regime of secularism is still to find the appropriate relationship between the state and religions, its broader and more urgent task at present is to make it possible for democratic states to adapt adequately to the profound moral and spiritual diversity existing within their borders. The state must treat with equal respect all core beliefs and commitments compatible with the requirements of fair social cooperation.
They are therefore calling for state secularism.
Marie-Andrée Chouinard had this to say in Le Devoir, on June 1, 2013:
...state neutrality is assured when the state neither favours nor hinders any particular religious belief, that is, when it shows respect for all postures towards religion, including that of having no religious beliefs whatsoever...
Thus, the idea of prayer is inconsistent with religious neutrality.
I was a member of Quebec's National Assembly for six years. As someone mentioned earlier, the National Assembly has a moment of reflection. That is the solution for us.
As of December 15, 1976, prayer was no longer part of the daily routine in the National Assembly. I would like to read an excerpt that will really enlighten us. This is what Clément Richard, Speaker of the National Assembly at the time, said:
Out of respect for the members of this Assembly, who are not all necessarily of the same religious denomination, and out of respect for the Assembly, I have chosen to allow every member to pray as they see fit. During the moment of reflection, each member will have the opportunity to say a prayer to themselves, and it is out of respect for the Assembly that I have made this decision.
We can discuss this at length, but everyone has their own religion. A moment of reflection will give these people a chance to reflect and pray if they so choose. Those who are atheist, agnostic or other will do other things, but I do believe that a moment of reflection will motivate them to do an even better job. We hope so at least.
In 2015, the Supreme Court said:
...the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard, which means that it must neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief.
I believe that everything is in place for us to achieve that.
When I arrived in the House of Commons in 2019, I was surprised that there was a prayer. I was really astounded. Honestly, I did not expect it. In Quebec, when people learned that this was the subject of our opposition day, they were shocked. They did not know that a prayer was recited in the House of Commons, and they thought it was absurd.
When I am told that no one sees us reciting the prayer, I answer that these are symbols, that we represent Canadian and Quebec democracy and that we must be respectful of these people. Setting aside the symbols, there are the people, and we must have absolute respect for them. The only way to do that is for the state to be neutral.
Madam Speaker, I will start over.
As legislators, nothing we do can be taken lightly. Every day, we have to make decisions. We have to choose. We have to opt for one thing over another. Making a choice means accepting the risk. It is about being willing to take action as much as it is about being willing to not take action. It is difficult.
Of course, when we make our decisions, we are thinking about our constituents who voted for us, elected us and sent us here to represent them. However, we also have to think about the general public. Most importantly, we need to think about the future of our nation and the common good.
For us as legislators, nothing is simple, and it is not easy. Sometimes, we need a light to guide the way. Some of us are moved by personal convictions. Others draw inspiration from certain schools of thought. Still others prefer to turn to prayer or the teachings of one of many religions.
Prayer has been part of the rituals of the House of Commons since 1877. The House, like many other parliaments in Canada and around the world, long ago chose to recite a prayer before the start of its debates. This practice, indeed this tradition, is still followed in many legislatures.
Coming to terms with prayer and making choices is a highly philosophical question. In philosophy, there are three questions: Who am I? What can I do? What can I hope for? These three questions are the very essence of philosophy. If we apply the essence of our philosophy to our motion, what should we think of it and what should we do with it?
First of all, what is a prayer? A prayer is a request. We always call upon someone to ask for something. Often, we will say that we are asking for God's grace. That is often what is invoked in the texts. Which god are we talking about, though: “gods” or “God”?
In a world that is becoming increasingly less religious, where more than half of Quebeckers say they do not believe in God, prayer seems to have lost some of its popularity. Yes, the world has changed since the 1800s. It has become more diverse. It has been enriched by an otherness, often thanks to newcomers. Please believe me when I say that this diversity is a treasure. Learning from others is essential to our own understanding. Learning from others is also the way forward if we really want to talk about living together.
This country has long recognized everyone's freedom of belief, which is protected under the law. The legislator has clearly affirmed that in matters of religion, each person is autonomous and free to determine what he or she chooses to believe in. In short, belief is up to the believer.
This brings us to today's motion. Like my colleague earlier, I will not reread the motion, as I am sure that our critics and those around us have read it carefully. We are asking that a moment of reflection be observed each sitting day before the House begins its work. We further request that the business of the House begin no later than two minutes after this moment of reflection.
According to researcher Martin Lanouette, in order to meet the challenge of contemporary state neutrality, parliamentarians who have modelled their practices on those of Westminster have three choices when it comes to addressing the issue of prayer.
The first choice is the status quo, to remain as is. The second choice is an openness to making prayer more universal by alternating between various denominations and having a moment of silence and reflection. I believe that this second choice chooses not to choose. The third choice is to eliminate the practice from the public space in the name of the principle of separation of church and state, and in the name of the principle of each individual's freedom to believe in whatever they please.
In Canada, the various legislative assemblies have adopted one of those three options in one form or another. A study of the various existing models tends to show that the option that is most inclusive and respectful of the diversity of people's beliefs is the option to abandon the practice of prayer.
To take it a step further, I will cite some numbers. According to an October 2019 Léger-Le Devoir poll, when asked “Do you personally believe in God?”, 51% of Quebeckers answered yes and 49% answered no. Among francophone Canadians and Quebeckers, the majority are already non-believers. Another poll conducted online last fall among 1,545 Canadian respondents revealed some telling numbers from coast to coast.
Two out of three people in Ontario and Alberta and approximately one in two people in British Columbia say they believe in God.
A significant portion of the Canadian population no longer believes in God. The daily prayer in the House of Commons completely ignores the non-belief of this large proportion of the population. That is a good reason to replace the prayer with a moment of reflection. That is the first argument.
Second, belief aside, there is the matter of religious affiliation in Quebec. Again, according to a study conducted by the Quebec Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse in 2006, 83.4% of the population was Catholic, while 5.8% did not belong to any religion. This is a rather old study, but I am sure that, if were were to do it again now, we would see that the presence of other beliefs is growing. Non-belief and the proliferation of religious beliefs are growing global movements.
As the previous speaker just did, I too will quote Clément Richard for another reason, in order to put what happened in 1976 into context. He said:
Out of respect for the members of this Assembly, who are not all necessarily of the same religious denomination, and out of respect for the Assembly, I have chosen to allow every member to pray as they see fit.
Members could choose to pray or reflect. He made that decision out of respect for the individual.
The fundamental premise of our motion is the certainty that the government should treat all religions, convictions and core values that are compatible with life in society equally. I believe that the prayer does not respect non-believers.
While I recognize that each individual is free to choose their own beliefs and convictions or lack thereof, I believe that the practice that is most inclusive and that would be the most respectful of diversity would be to abandon the prayer and replace it with a moment of reflection.
Our decision today, which we will vote on later, must be based on respect itself, not on respect for a belief or a conviction, but simply on respect.
If we were to play with words a little bit, it is interesting to see that the word “respect” has two parts. The first is “re”, which means “twice”, as in “recollection” and “reflection”. The second is "spect", which means “look”. Respect means to give a second look so as not to unnecessarily offend. This is the very definition of reflection: giving a second look, taking the time, not offending anyone unnecessarily.
This is our duty as legislators. We should be guided by recollection, reflection and respect, given that the population is made up of non-believers and believers who do not all share the same beliefs. Not unnecessarily offending anyone should be what leads us to abolish the prayer.
If we truly want to talk about living together in harmony, we need to start by granting everyone the freedom of thought based on one’s own principles and convictions. I urge the members to vote with the Bloc Québécois and to unanimously agree to this motion.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I rise today to speak to the Bloc Québécois opposition day motion to stop the non-denominational prayer that we have at the beginning of each day in this House.
This month, the Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with Cardus, published a report that offers a comprehensive and first-of-its-kind look at the faith journeys of Canadians, not just among majority religious communities, but across the religious spectrum. Nineteen per cent of Canadians, or one in five, are classified as non-believers. However, four in five have some openness to God or spirituality. The cultural mosaic in Canada is ever-shifting. While those born in Canada continue to shift further into areligious identities, being raised in a religious tradition is common in Canada, with 72% saying that they grew up with religious teachings.
As a Hindu Canadian, I concur that Canadians who are raised in the Hindu faith tend more toward the privately faithful. With that said, the prayer that we have, in my view, is more a tradition that is part of the fabric of the society in our Christian majority Canada, and I support that we continue the current practice.
Many Hindu Canadians during Christmastime have lighted a Christmas tree in their homes. It does not mean that Hindus are practising Christianity; it is about embracing the culture and heritage of the society we live in. The prayer that we have every day, while reflective of the different religions embraced by Canadians, also represents the culture and heritage of our country.
Let us look at the practice of the prayer that we have from a historical perspective. Although the practice of reading a prayer at the start of each sitting was not codified in the Standing Orders until 1927, it has been part of the daily proceedings of the House since 1877. Much later, suggestions were made to rewrite or reword the prayer in a non-sectarian form. Until 1994, no major change to the form of the prayer was made, aside from references to royalty. At that time, the House concurred in a report recommending a new form of prayer, more reflective of the different religions embraced by Canadians. This prayer, which we use now, was read for the first time when the House met to open its proceedings on February 21, 1994.
Sir Gary Streeter, a member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, on a similar motion in the U.K. House of Commons in 2019, said:
The crux of the argument for abolishing Parliamentary Prayers is that by taking all references to religion and God out of politics and public life, we will then have a truly neutral public square. However, that would just be to replace one worldview and set of beliefs with another. As human beings, we all bring a set of beliefs about the world and the nature of human life to any debates around pursuing the public good. Secularists might argue that their worldview is the best on which to base society, but they cannot do so by claiming neutrality. Rather than striving for a ‘neutral’ public square, we should instead recognise that we are increasingly becoming a pluralistic society, where a multitude of different beliefs and worldviews coexist. In a pluralistic society, freedom of belief is vital, yet this is not achieved by forcing all references to religion and God in public life to be pushed to one side.... For those who do object, for whatever reason, there is no obligation to participate in the prayers.
In an article published in the Canadian Parliamentary Review in 2009, Martin Lanouette said:
...the form and content of the prayer recited in parliamentary legislatures is part of a debate that seeks to pit the special relationship each legislature has with its religious heritage, against the desire to adapt this heritage to contemporary cultural realities.
He went on to say:
So why does the need for prayer persist despite this secular storm and all the unending controversies? As stated in Marsh v. Chambers, traditions are often seen as “a part of the fabric of the society,” and at a time when contemporary societies are tending to become more diverse, the argument for tradition continues to occupy an important place in the collective imagination. A defensive reaction? Quite likely. A bastion of identity? Most definitely. All of which has not stopped many parliaments from wanting to take matters even further, not to weaken the “old” identity but to breathe new life into it.
If it is to be practised, this ritual must be an act of recognition that focuses on uniting rather than dividing people. Simply eliminating the prayer is another option, but it is not a more impartial one, since the adherents, who have the same rights, will feel they are victims of discrimination as well.
There is a growing trend in our society to identify and amplify the things that divide us, rather than the things that unite us. The intolerance that is being propagated today by those on the extreme left of the political spectrum is the same intolerance that was the cornerstone of the extreme right. In the name of political correctness, voices are being shut down, books are being banned, and any view or opinion that deviates even an inch from the far-left ideology is immediately drowned out.
The practice of praying does not mean that the state is in bed with religion. None of the issues we discuss and debate and none of the legislation we pass here in any way or form connect any religion to the state. Let us continue the practice of the prayer we have out of respect to over 80% of Canadians who practise one religious faith or another.
As a politician, I go to temples, mosques, synagogues, churches, etcetera, but it does not mean I associate the state with religion. Since 2019, I have seen the Bloc Québécois opposition day motions, and never once have I seen them propose anything that is of importance to Canadians' economic realities. Today we are facing challenging times; the energy transition is going towards the battery, and Quebec and Canada could become leaders in the world in this technology. We have not seen the Bloc Québécois present any motion on anything that is of economic importance.
Madam Speaker, today I have the opportunity to speak to an opposition motion regarding the text of the religious prayer we say before starting our business in the House.
I must admit that I was surprised when I received the text of this motion last night. As other members of the House have said before me, there are many problems in the world, such as the war in Ukraine, the importance of fighting and addressing climate change, and the importance of ensuring that our social programs meet Canadians' needs.
My hon. colleague from has put forward a motion that I do not think addresses a very important problem today.
I had the opportunity to review the text, and let me start by saying it also gave me the opportunity to look at the history of our daily prayer. If nothing else, the motion has allowed me to look at some of the history of this place, and again, kudos to the House of Commons team that helps provide some of the history. I thanked them for their work on electoral boundaries and, when we were having a conversation on Bill , the extensive history of the House in this place. I will also give a tip of the cap to them in terms of their history and understanding of how the daily prayer has come to pass.
It is important for the House and for the Hansard to reflect the fact that this is a practice that was started in 1877. This is something that parliamentarians decided was important at the time, and pardon me but I think that tradition in this place carries a lot of importance. Yes, we have to look at ways we can modernize and meet the realities of today. We will undoubtedly have a conversation about the nature of virtual Parliament, the ability for parliamentarians not just to do their work here, physically, in this place, but indeed to use some of those tools virtually, to make it more modern and perhaps even more friendly for our colleagues, particularly for under-represented groups in the House.
It is important to note that the prayer has evolved over time. It has not stayed static since 1877. It is something that has constantly evolved when parliamentarians have had the opportunity to make it better reflect the variety of religions that we worship and respect here in this country, and that is extremely important. The member for touched upon that just before me, about that particular dynamic.
At the end of the day, the House of Commons has to balance those members in the House who might have religious beliefs and those who may not believe in a particular god or follow a particular religion. When I had the time to reflect about how we conduct ourselves in the House, my thoughts were as follows. When we actually look at the text in question, as I mentioned it has been amended over time through the PROC committee to try to reflect the broad range of religious diversity, but it is also relatively short.
The speakership therefore has about 30 seconds to say the prayer in the House. That is very little time. After that, we have a moment of silence and reflection.
I feel that doing it that way in this place, we can recognize people with certain religious values, while also showing respect for those who would rather think in a non-religious way.
The text of the motion talks about diversity and inclusion. The way the House of Commons works right now is that we have a short prayer for those who might have religious beliefs, and then we have a moment of reflection for all members, such that they are able to reflect and perhaps give strength to whatever might drive them in their daily pursuits. By getting rid of it, I do not think we are giving that same respect for those who might actually hold religious beliefs.
Let me add this. I do not want to seem discomforting or saying that this is the only fashion in which we can work, but if someone is really disrupted by the fact that we have a 30-second daily prayer, perhaps they could step outside of the House and not be part of it for the short 30 seconds it takes, then reconvene and stand here for the minute in which we all reflect in silence, such that they do not have to be part of the prayer. I think that right now there is a healthy balance between the two.
Let me also say that I started my speech speaking in French intentionally, because I dare say there are very few Quebeckers, indeed very few Canadians, whose top priority is the prayer right now. With respect to my colleague from , who brought this forward, which it is well within his right to do, this is an entire day that we are going to spend on this subject, when there are very pressing, important problems of the day and opportunities that we as parliamentarians should be working collectively to encourage the government to pursue. We are going to be spending time, as I am doing right now, trying to find 10 minutes to rationalize some type of argument on something that I think is quite frivolous.
Let me also say that this is not the place for this debate.
My hon. colleague has the opportunity to present this idea and change to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is responsible for the parliamentary work essentially involving review the actions of the House.
Why is my hon. colleague not presenting his motion to the committee?
Why is it that we are having this debate here, when that could already happen at PROC if it was the will of a majority on the committee to move forward with a particular study? I know there is already a lot of good work that goes on to talk about the issues of the day and how we can improve aspects of this place.
I am going to wrap up with this. We have the war in Ukraine; we have climate change; we have affordability for Canadians, and we have a whole host of issues on the heels of a pandemic. Indeed, we are not completely through the pandemic. I am a little disappointed, I will use that word, that the member for chose this forum to move this forward. I recognize that it is his parliamentary privilege and that the Bloc Québécois has chosen this forum to bring this forward, but I think that most Canadians, indeed most Quebeckers, if they are watching this, are scratching their heads and asking why this is a good use of parliamentary time. I think most would come to the conclusion that it is not a great use of parliamentary time; it is not the best method; it is not the place where this should be introduced and, unfortunately, we have lost time to discuss and debate other issues that are prevalent to Canadians and more pressing. I will leave it at that.
Madam Speaker, I am a bit puzzled by everything that I have heard this morning. I am puzzled and perhaps angry as well.
I have heard people question the appropriateness of having this debate today. There are great democrats in the Liberal and Conservative parties who are eager to tell us how we should be using our opposition day, not to talk about an issue that deals with secularism, but to talk about issues that relate to current events.
I would remind my colleagues that we do this all the time and that it is rhetoric that I see in the House. I am thinking, for example, of the . If we bring up the French language, if we bring up Quebec's place, or if we bring up immigration, he tells us that the Bloc Québécois is trying to pick a fight. Talking about issues that affect Quebecers in this assembly is tantamount to picking a fight. I have heard that many times.
Our colleague from asked us why the Bloc members are not talking about health transfers or seniors. I would point out to him that we had two opposition days on these issues, which resulted in motions. However, I have yet to see any action by the government.
I would also like to point out to my Conservative colleagues that, in the middle of the truckers' blockade in February, there was an opposition day about Canadian Pacific in Saskatchewan. That is not my issue, but I have no say in what the Conservatives choose. I participated in an NDP emergency debate on the pandemic in Alberta. The Alberta health care system is none of my business, and it is not the business of the House either. That is what they wanted to discuss, so good for them.
The worst thing I heard today is that the prayer is a wedge issue. That is a convenient way to avoid taking a stand on something. Why would it be a wedge issue? I have a lot of trouble understanding my colleagues' logic when they say that prayer here is a wedge issue. Reciting a prayer before we meet for question period is complete nonsense. It is the opposite of what we see in the modern world, which is a neutral state.
Yesterday, I was talking to a former French academic colleague who could not believe that we still do a prayer in the House of Commons before we begin our sittings. In his opinion, it is totally archaic and completely unthinkable.
A number of people have come to us to ask why we have not considered this issue on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, or why we were even asking this question today. We put forward a motion about it in 2019. We never reached unanimous consent in the House. However, this is the kind of debate we need to have, and it has to be in the public eye.
I want to hear what the Liberal Party has to say on how religious differences should be accommodated in this House. How our Parliament, the institution of institutions, can be neutral. I want to hear from the Liberal Party on that. I want to hear from the Conservatives. Their response is quite different. They say that this debate is a point of contention, perhaps because they want to charm certain religious communities in their ridings, for they feel that talking about this picks up on an obvious fact that no one wants to talk about.
I am going to talk about the elephant in the room, namely the debate on secularism. There are people in the House who are having a very hard time with the debate on secularism. I would like to address it head-on. Earlier, the hon. member for Winnipeg North told us that no one in Quebec was interested in this topic. I have been observing Quebec politics for the past 30 years. Over the past 30 years, there has been a lot of talk in Quebec about the issue of religion in the public sphere. There was the Bouchard‑Taylor commission on accommodation. What was the cornerstone of that commission's mandate? The place of religion. How can ethnocultural minorities be accommodated in the Quebec context? What will be the place of the sacred in the Quebec context? These questions were examined by the Bouchard‑Taylor commission in 2008, as I recall. We spent more than 15 years going over this in Quebec. It led to Bill 21, which provides clear guidelines on the place of religion in the public sphere in Quebec.
I suspect that the conflict between secularism and identity is what scares my Liberal, Conservative and NDP colleagues, who do not want to take a stand on this particular issue.
However, there is a great deal to discuss. As I recall, one thing the Bouchard-Taylor commission explored is how to accommodate community identities in relation to their religion.
To define secularism, the commission's report outlined four main principles.
The first principle is the moral equality of persons. Whether one is a believer or thinks that Platonism, Neo-Platonism or Aristotelianism is what gives meaning to life, everyone is equal.
The second principle is freedom of conscience and religion. This is actually an expression of the next principle, the separation of church and state.
The third principle, as I just said, is the separation of church and state.
The fourth principle is state neutrality towards religions and deep-seated secular convictions.
I am trying to understand how saying a prayer at the beginning of one of our sittings meets the four principles outlined in the Bouchard-Taylor report.
Now I would like to talk about something that seems essential to me but that has not yet been brought up.
Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean was confronted with the issue of the prayer within its institutions for three years. I am not sure if my colleagues are familiar with the 2015 Supreme Court ruling entitled Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City).
I want to focus on two key aspects of the ruling.
First, the definition of neutrality, found at paragraph 74:
By expressing no preference, the state ensures that it preserves a neutral public space that is free of discrimination and in which true freedom to believe or not to believe is enjoyed by everyone equally, given that everyone is valued equally. I note that a neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals. On the contrary, a neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person's freedom and dignity.
Is that not what is at issue today, namely protecting every person's freedom and dignity? That is the Supreme Court's answer to what neutrality means.
Another essential aspect is the Supreme Court's definition of discrimination.
Paragraph 64 reads as follows:
Sponsorship of one religious tradition by the state in breach of its duty of neutrality amounts to discrimination against all other such traditions. If the state favours one religion at the expense of others, it imports a disparate impact that is destructive of the religious freedom of the collectivity.
The debate we are trying to have today is about whether our institutions are neutral with respect to religion, is it not? That should be the underlying principle. The easy answer, which everyone fell back on today, is that the prayer happens before the doors are opened and does not inconvenience anyone. This is not about inconveniencing people. It is about sending a clear message that our institutions are neutral.
Personally, what I want to hear in my colleagues' questions over the next few minutes, what I want to know from them, is what secularism means to them.
If they think this debate is old news and unimportant, I have only one thing to tell them. They are out of step with what the people of Quebec think. I look forward to hearing my Conservative colleagues from Quebec comment on this subject.
The last thing I want to say is that when the 's ethics are at issue, the Liberals tell us they do not have time to talk about it and this is not the right time to talk about the Prime Minister's ethical irregularities.
Last week, when people talked to the Conservatives about abortion, they said the same thing: now is not the time to talk about abortion; they have other problems to deal with.
I hope they do not play the same card here. That is an outdated argument in politics.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today. I did not know where to start, so I decided to start by talking about myself, which is not something I often do.
I grew up in a small town of a few thousand people in northern Quebec, north of Abitibi. Religion was a big part of this town, the community and my family. As a child, I had to go to mass every Sunday. It was not all bad. I do have some wonderful memories of the highly constructive conversations we would have when Bishop Drainville, who was the bishop of Amos, came over for dinner.
Of course, there was religion at school. In elementary school, we had religion classes a few times a week. It was part of the curriculum. In May, the month of Mary, some of my teachers would start the day with a dozen or so rosaries.
In high school, we had Catholic religious classes. In a class of 30 or 32 students, there were always three, four or five oddballs who were not of the same religion as the others. They would leave and go to moral education class. We looked at them as if there were aliens.
When I was partway through high school, the Quebec government did away with these classes and took religion out of schools, deciding to leave religious education to families and communities.
What happened when the schools became secular? God, religion and the priest did not leave the village. People continued to worship in private, at church and in their own private spaces. For me, that is exactly what secularism means.
I believe that secularism means respecting every individual's religious observance. For me, secularism means going to Mirabel, passing by the magnificent Saint‑Benoît church, but not being obliged to go to mass there if I do not want to. The same thing goes for the Oka church. It means going for a walk in Outremont and passing by a synagogue but not having to participate in the service, even though I fully respect the Jewish community. It means helping out the Muslim community in Sainte‑Marthe‑sur‑le‑Lac, which teaches the Quran and gives Arabic lessons, as I do regularly without necessarily inviting myself to participate in their prayers.
That is the kind of openness we should be aiming for. By extension, secularism does not mean transforming a school into a church, or making a court look like a synagogue. It means having the the assurance, in both appearance and substance, that the laws of the secular state are above those of any god. This is a principle that is extremely important to me.
I am going to say something that I truly believe. I became a Catholic without consenting to it. I was baptized without anyone asking my permission. The first few times I went to church, I entered without really consenting to it. One day, for personal reasons, I decided that I would no longer go to church services, but that I would respect those who did. I was at peace with that.
However, the day I walked into the House of Commons in 2021, that feeling that my freedom of thought and freedom of conscience were being violated came flooding back. When I walked in at the beginning of the sitting day and it was explained to me that there was a denominational prayer, I realized that I was not welcome. I experienced that feeling that I had hoped I would never have to experience again in my life.
That is why secularism is important. It is a question of respect for everyone's beliefs. This debate has been held at every judicial level, right up to the Supreme Court, in a case that put an end to the prayer at Saguenay city hall.
The debate is still very relevant and important in Quebec. As Justice LeBel said, “the evolution of Canadian society has given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs...It requires that the state abstain from taking any position and thus avoid adhering to a particular belief.”
The final ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, a Canadian court that struck down sections of Bill 101, states that because of the state's duty of religious neutrality, it may not profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others.
Some members will say, as the Liberals did earlier, that we can modernize the prayer, add denominations, make it more neutral and so on. However, the fact remains that it is a prayer.
The problem is the ruling itself. It recognizes atheism as a personal religious belief that must be respected just the same as any other.
The issue is not whether the prayer is appropriate in the House; it is not. The issue is how to replace it. We take that very seriously. We could have joked about it and proposed a prayer that would make the Liberals happy, something like, “Lead us not into the temptation of going to the Aga Khan's island on vacation, but deliver us from the Ethics Commissioner. Amen.” We could have also proposed one for the Conservatives, such as, “Hail Suncor, full of gas. The pipeline is with thee.”
We could have proposed replacing the time for prayer with something more useful, like a training session for ministers on how to answer questions in the House instead of reading the Prime Minister's notes. We could have proposed that the member for take a course on how to give a speech in the House in under 300 minutes.
We took this seriously. We are saying that we must move forward. It is true that some legislatures still recite the prayer. It is true that not everyone is ready to embrace secularism. Quebec is not perfect either. We know that there is more to be done. However, major advances have been made. In 1976, the Quebec National Assembly made a decision to replace the prayer with one minute of reflection. I am going to read an excerpt from the proceedings of the National Assembly. This is what the Speaker stated on December 15, 1976. I remind the House that Quebec society was predominantly Catholic at the time.
Out of respect for the members of this Assembly, who are not all necessarily of the same religious denomination, and out of respect for the Assembly, I have chosen to allow every member to pray as they see fit. During the moment of reflection, each member will have the opportunity to say a prayer to themselves, and it is out of respect for the Assembly that I have made this decision.
Now the Conservatives are getting up and saying that this is not on the agenda and it is a question of freedom. They were talking about freedom yesterday, the day before yesterday, and they talk about it every day. The member for spends his time travelling from coast to coast to coast, saying that he is going to make Canada the freest country in the world. Freedom is always important to the member for Carleton. However, freedom of religion and freedom of conscience also apply to the religion of others. They also apply to the conscience of others. It is embarrassing to see the Conservatives invoke the right to say a confessional prayer. When these folks go around talking about freedom, they defend the convoys in the name of freedom and they use their opposition day to talk about the same thing as us. It is shameful.
I am thinking of people like the member for who pointed out today that many of our towns and villages have the word “saint” in their names, such as Saint‑Lin, Saint‑Clin‑Clin and Saint‑Meuh‑Meuh. There is a very clear line between what heritage is and the neutrality of the state.
For example, in Quebec, there are concerns that a police officer who wears a religious symbol might be implying that their religious beliefs change the way they do their job. That is the concern. It is not about whether a police officer who is not wearing a religious symbol hands out more tickets on Saint-Jean Street or Saint-Paul Street than on Park Avenue. These names are our heritage. It is really important to understand that. Anyone who makes that argument to counter the issue of state neutrality is ill-intentioned.
I will conclude by saying that it would be inclusive to turn this prayer into a minute or two of reflection, although some members would do well to take three or four minutes. Hardly anyone comes into the House during that period because so many people feel uncomfortable, yet that is the only non-partisan part of the day. It is the only part of the day when everyone has the opportunity to be together. Everyone has the opportunity to reflect together. Everyone has the opportunity to come together and rise above the partisanship that can sometimes ruin our days, our weeks, our work and our democracy.
We need to take advantage of this time. This motion would allow us to do just that, which is why I will be very happy to vote in favour of it.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for . I know the member for is disappointed to hear that I will be speaking for only 10 minutes.
I must say that I was quite perplexed when I saw yesterday the notice go out with the opposition day motion that was scheduled for today. I am in no way trying to suggest that the content is not an important discussion to have: the Bloc members feel very passionately about this particular subject. I just cannot understand how it takes precedence to some of the things that are going on in the world right now, and indeed in our country and in Quebec.
I listen to the Bloc members ask their questions routinely during question period with great passion and bring up very important issues. I have never heard the Bloc ask a question during question period about the prayer, which is 30 seconds long and happens at the beginning of each day in the House.
The prayer, which I might add is very generic in nature, certainly does not support one religion or another. It is about 30 seconds long, and is followed by a moment of silence and personal reflection. If the Bloc had said that the motion was to remove O Canada, I think I would understand where their passion was coming from a little more. Indeed, the fact that the members have chosen to be extremely critical of a 30-second-long prayer without addressing the fact that we sing the National Anthem, of which they do not want to be part, and which they actively stay outside of the chamber for during the time we are singing it every Wednesday, would be more germane, at least from my perspective, in terms of the priorities of the Bloc.
Nonetheless, there are very important issues going on right now. Inflation, housing and the war in Ukraine are issues that should be dealt with. Opposition parties have very limited opportunities to come before the House and present motions for the House to consider. As a matter of fact, the Bloc Québécois only has two opportunities between January and June in this session, yet members have chosen to use one of those opportunities on this motion and I just cannot understand it. Again, I can appreciate the Bloc's interest in this issue. I just do not understand how it supersedes everything else that is going on right now.
Perhaps what is even more confusing for me is that when I have asked the Bloc about this, and a number of us, including Conservatives, have asked over the past couple of hours why this is so important and why it is more important than everything else going on in the world right now, the reaction from the Bloc is to become extremely defensive and upset with us and say, “It is our right. We can bring whatever we want forward.” Of course, the Bloc members can bring whatever they want forward. It is their prerogative to bring forward a motion that they see fit, but they are not answering the question. They refuse to answer the question. The question is why. What is so important about this particular issue that takes precedence and trumps all those other issues that we are dealing with in the House right now?
The member for said it, and I could not agree with him more. In the almost seven years that I have been around here, I have never once had this topic brought up with me. Not a single constituent has ever called me and said, “I want to talk to you, MP Gerretsen, about the prayer that is being said every morning when the House starts at the beginning of the day.” Not a single constituent has brought that forward to me. However, there are a lot of areas that we know that the Bloc and indeed the Conservatives go off from time to time on what is going on—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Madam Speaker, I can really get the passions of the member for going from time to time. I think that is where this comes from.
There are issues that come up on a daily basis in the House during question period that Bloc members are extremely passionate about, and I do not understand why they would not use one of their two opposition days to bring forward one of those issues. I actually want to apologize to the Conservatives, because I usually stand here and criticize Conservatives for bringing forward motions that are not of substance. I quite often reference the NDP and the Bloc as parties that do bring forward motions of substance. I stand corrected, because the motion we are seeing from the Bloc today is by far one of the most outlandish attempts at politicizing an issue that I have seen. I do not understand the angle of it. I do not understand what exactly the Bloc is hoping to accomplish here.
If this is so important to the Bloc, which I believe it is because it has used one of its days for it, the proper place to bring this would be to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I sit on that committee, and have sat on that committee for the past three years. A Bloc member has been sitting on that committee since 2019, and never once has a member of the Bloc Québécois brought this issue up at PROC. Never once has a Bloc member said, “We need to study this issue about the prayer that we have at the beginning of the day and make a recommendation to the House.” For it never to come forward, and then for the Bloc to suddenly introduce it in one of its two precious opposition day motions, I find to be very perplexing. I do not understand where it is coming from on this.
The member for earlier made reference to the fact that Quebec used to have a prayer and then got rid of it. I thought that was a very interesting comment. I wish he would have provided the text of that prayer so we could compare it with the one that is said in this House at the beginning of the day. I wonder if there was a much more denominational undertone to it, toward a specific religion, or whether it was much more generic, like the one we have. It would have been great had he said that.
My understanding is that although the Quebec National Assembly got rid of the prayer, the cross still exists in the National Assembly. If I understand correctly, and I could be wrong so I hope members in the Bloc would correct me, the cross used to be in the chamber. People would not move it outside of the building: they just moved it outside of the chamber, so the cross still exists. Even within the National Assembly, Quebec continues to have religious symbols.
At the end of the day, in addition to the opportunity to bring this up at the proper committee, the Bloc could also have raised this during the standard procedural debate we are going to have. There is a requirement after every new Parliament is formed that, within a certain number of days, we have a debate on the standing procedures in the House. If my memory serves me correctly, not that I was here, but I heard that it was former prime minister Paul Martin who made sure that happened. It has not happened yet, and it has to happen before we recess in June.
Therefore, there will be a whole day when Bloc members can bring up this particular point about the Standing Orders and how they are concerned about this particular part of the Standing Orders, in which case I would encourage them to do that. They are blowing an entire day today: an entire opportunity to bring forward the very important issues of Quebeckers that the Bloc Québécois, particularly, is passionate about. All they are really giving me is an opportunity to not pick on my Conservative friends across the way for one day. I see a number of them are clapping.
In conclusion, I just cannot see the level of importance. I cannot understand why it was decided that this had to be debated and waste an entire day on it, rather than move forward on some of the very important issues that I know the Bloc Québécois cares about. I hope that later on during this debate, I will get an answer to that question.