Six weeks after the tabling of
Ottawa's constitutional proposals they were debated in the Quebec National Assembly
by Premier Robert Bourassa and the Leader of the Official Opposition, Jacques
Parizeau. The debate took place during the course of an
"Interpellation" provided under the rules of the Assembly. Mr.
Parizeau and Mr. Bourassa were both allowed ten minutes to make opening
statements. This was followed by a period of rebuttal and questions from other
members. Finally both the Premier and Leader of the Opposition made closing
statements. The following is an unofficial translation of their opening statements
and rebuttals. For the original text see the Journal des Debats, Commission
permanente des institutions, November 8, 1991, pp. Cl-1 to Cl-18.
Jacques Parizeau (Leader of the
Opposition): I intend to
examine three main subjects in these constitutional proposals from the federal
government. There are others, but three seem to me to be fundamental and must
First, with respect to Quebec, do
the federal proposals offer less than Meech, about the same as Meech or more
than Meech? Almost all of the constitutional experts who have given an opinion
acknowledge that they offer less than Meech. I am thinking here of such
different experts and political scientists as Daniel Proulx, Henri Brun, Léon
Dion, Alain Gagnon, Claude Morin and Patrice Garant.
This is an important subject. I
remind you of what the Premier said not so long ago about this Meech Lake
Accord and the clauses it contained. For example, on May 17, 1990: "I do
not see how, in light of all that has been said and in light of the resolutions
that have been adopted in this National Assembly, I could accept a reduction of
the powers we obtained with the Meech Lake Accord." In La Presse of
November 10, 1989: "The Premier of Quebec has warned English Canada that a
government of Quebec could never agree, even in a distant future, to seeing the
minimum requirements contained in the constitutional agreement revised
downward." Hence the importance of the issue.
Are the proposals on the table
worse than Meech or not? I will shortly have the opportunity to demonstrate,
that they are decidedly less than Meech. I will add a word here about Meech.
You will understand that, being a sovereigntist, I am not upset by the fact
that the conditions of Meech were not satisfied. I have always felt that, in
many respects, the Meech Lake project was more a bauble than anything else. But
since the present government has made its bed with regard to Meech, has sought
to convince Quebecers that it was important not to negotiate beneath Meech, you
will understand why I raise the point.
Secondly, for a very long time,
Quebecers have been asking Ottawa, and various Quebec governments have asked
Ottawa, first, to recognize the exclusivity of Quebec's powers in certain
areas, and second, to agree to transfer powers from Ottawa to Quebec. The two
most recent manifestations of this have been the brief by the Quebec Chamber of
Commerce to the Bélanger-Campeau Commission, seeking a massive transfer of
powers from the federal government to the Government of Quebec, and of course
the Allaire report, now the official constitutional platform of the Liberal
Party, signed by the Premier of Quebec. It demands a massive devolution of
powers from Ottawa to Quebec.
I have said in the past that I do
not see how a country could accept that a province should have the powers that
the Allaire report wants recognized. But since this has become the official
platform of the Liberal Party's program, the question must be asked: What is
there in the federal proposals that satisfies the Allaire report or meets the
demands of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce?
My conclusion is that there is
nothing, or next to it. Ottawa proposes to transfer workforce training to
Quebec? But the federal government wants to keep a foot in the door, and for a
few days now we have been seeing the size of the foot. Ottawa will recognize
Quebec's exclusive powers over mining and forestry? But it seems to me that all
Quebecers have always known that we have sole jurisdiction over natural
resources. I will recognize Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction over
municipalities? That has been around since 1867. There is nothing in these
federal proposals, or almost nothing, that addresses the Allaire report.
Mario Dumont, President of the
Young Liberals, said on September 25, 1991:
"There is almost no
correspondence between Ottawa's document and the Allaire report. In fact there
is little correspondence between Ottawa's document and the minimum that Meech
represented." Michel Bissonnette, ex-chair of the youth commission and
member of the Allaire committee he said: "In the proposals of the Allaire
report, Bélanger-Campeau and even Meech, there was a guiding theme: the
necessity for a new order of government. Now, on the contrary, Ottawa is
proposing a centralizing vision. Clearly they have not gotten the
message." Mr. Fernand Lalonde, former minister and, in many respects, the
moving force behind many things that have occurred in the Liberal Party, said
on September 25, in Le Journal de Québec, that "The federal plan
offers little in the way of transfer of powers."
The third issue I would like to
raise is the centralization of economic power. In its proposals, the federal
government gives itself such extensive new powers that it has been maintained,
rightly I believe—in almost all sectors of Quebec, particularly in business
circles, that they amount to a form of centralization that is likely to pose
serious risks to the operation of a number of Quebec institutions, and serious
risks to the distinctive character of the economic policies of the Government
of Quebec. No right to opt out for three years, for example, will be able to
correct something that is tainted at its source.
We are therefore faced with a
situation where, to a lesser extent than Meech, there is almost nothing in the
way of transfer of powers, and furthermore an attempt at economic
centralization by Ottawa which may mean the end to the originality of the
economic policies that Quebec has gradually acquired over the years. It is the
very principles of these proposals that I am challenging. You may now say to
me, as the Premier said not so long ago, that the principles are acceptable.
But what is not acceptable is the terms or expression of those principles. I
say it is the principles themselves that are corrupt, and I believe it is necessary
to draw certain conclusions from this.
Robert Bourassa (Premier): We know that, historically, the Government
of Quebec has always refused the patriation of the Canadian constitution unless
the Constitution of 1867 were, so to speak, brought up to date. Quebecers and
their governments felt that this constitution, which had been accepted in 1867
needed to be modernized, to meet the new challenges of contemporary or modern
That is why, in 1964, the
government which preceded mine, that of Mr. Lesage, did not in the end
accept an agreement on this question. That is also why Mr. Johnson and Mr.
Bertrand adopted the same position. That is why, in 1971, because we considered
that the division of powers accompanying the proposed patriation of the Constitution
– was not adequate to meet Quebec's traditional demands, that we opposed
unilateral patriation. This was one of the themes of the 1976 election, as you
The Parti québécois was elected and
promised to hold a referendum. The referendum was held, with no assurance of
victory, and the PQ lost. The result was the unilateral patriation of the
Constitution, against the almost unanimous opposition of the National Assembly.
Even though this patriation was the work of eminent Quebecers, the Government
of Quebec was the only one that was not taken into consideration when the
decision was made.
The referendum defeat led to
unilateral patriation, placing Quebec in a position of weakness. What more
eloquent illustration of its weakness after the referendum defeat than its
government's offer to negotiate for the veto that it had. For Quebec had a
political veto, which it had used in 1964 and 1971.
When we assumed power in 1985, we
decided to try to normalize the situation. Even though the economic challenges
were particularly pressing, even though my party had been elected on the
promise to give priority to fiscal and economic questions, even though public
opinion at that time, for all practical purposes, was not very strong on
dealing with constitutional matters, my government decided to assume its
historical responsibilities and do everything possible to remedy the injustice
It therefore drafted proposals, the
five Meech Lake proposals, which derived in very large part from the proposals
that had been adopted by the militant wing of the Liberal Party. We were not
able to approve all of the Liberal Party's proposals, but our package reflected
them in very large part. We negotiated for several years to have these
proposals accepted. We succeeded in getting them approved at an initial stage
in 1987 and again in 1990, but in the end, the constitutional process prevented
us from seeing them ratified and becoming the law of the land.
As in 1971, I refused to accept the
patriation of the Constitution because from my point of view, the point of view
of the government and my party, it was not in line with the movement of
history. In 1990 I acted similarly, that is, I refused to accept a rejection of
proposals that had been ratified on two occasions. So we are now trying, with
Bill 150 which has received almost unanimous approval in Quebec, to gain
reparation for the injustice of 1982, as for the injustice of 1990.
I would point out that when my
honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition invokes the Allaire report and
the Meech Lake Accord, his credibility is not particularly impressive. When we
proposed the Meech Lake Accord, his party denounced it, saying it was less than
nothing. Today he makes it a point of reference, admittedly for purposes of
discussion, but he deems it sufficiently important to use it as a point of
reference. As for the Allaire report, the Leader of the Opposition remembers
full well that when this report was made public, he interpreted it as an
underhanded attack from the direction of English Canada, and yet today he is
using it as a benchmark to evaluate the proposals that could be accepted by the
Government of Quebec. I raise this matter simply because I find the premises of
the Leader of the Opposition, in his discussion, somewhat infirm. But this is
not the crux of the debate. The crux of the debate is whether the federal
proposals can serve as a basis for discussion, whether they can permit the
Government of Quebec to continue the dialogue.
In an initial evaluation last
September 25, we said that the document seemed to us very incomplete, that in
the particular case of the economic union we could not accept the wording as it
stands, that it was possible to arrive at the necessary co-operation between
the various partners of Canada, and to do so without constitutional change, and
that the kind of authoritarian federalism implicit in the proposals does not
seem very convincing when one examines the central government's economic
management for the past 20 or 25 years. Over a third of the federal revenue
charges goes into servicing the debt. That is twice the amount in Quebec, and
much more than in most of the other provinces...
Jacques Parizeau (Leader of the
Opposition): In summary, the
Premier is saying: I cannot commit myself on these proposals right now, because
there is a committee created pursuant to Bill 150, that is supposed to look
Mr. President, may I point out that
you yourself, have said that no recommendations regarding these federal
constitutional proposals would be made to the National Assembly, since your
committee's mandate does not allow you to make recommendations in the case of
proposals that are not binding on the federal government and the provinces.
Therefore, if the Premier is using
this pretext in order not to commit himself, he may have to wait a long time,
because it is understood in any case that this committee created under Bill 150
will not make any recommendations. It is going to be necessary at some point
for the Premier himself to make some recommendations as to what he wants to see
or not see in the federal proposals.
In this connection, does the
Premier agree that in limiting the scope of the distinct society to language,
culture and the Civil Code, even while adding the word
"particularly", the scope of the term is substantially reduced, and
in fact is almost non-existent with respect to the Charter and totally
non-existent with respect to the other provisions of the Constitution? Does the
Premier continue to think that he needs a veto that does not appear in the
The latest issue of the journal of
the International Economic Law Society contains an interview with the Premier
of Quebec, in which he says the following: "It is therefore clear why
Quebec, a French state in the Canadian common market, must have all the powers
necessary to protect and promote its distinct character, such as a veto in
I am not the one who is asking for
a veto. What do you expect? I want Quebec to become a country. It is the
Premier who says he wants a veto, and the constitutional proposals say he will
not get it. Is he prepared to sign federal constitutional offers that do not
contain a veto right? Let us hear him say whether this is fundamental, in his
view. That would mean that if there is no veto in these proposals, he will not
sign. Am I interpreting him correctly?
What does he think of the
provisions of the Meech Lake Accord that do not appear in the federal
proposals, such as the appointment of the three Supreme Court justices on which
he was to make recommendations? This specifically has disappeared, for the
Government of Quebec. What does he think of this? The Meech Lake Accord
provided for Senate appointments on recommendations of the Government of
Quebec. Now we are told that Senators will be elected and that the distribution
of seats will be more equitable. At present, Quebec has 25 per cent of the
Senate seats. More equitable means fewer seats. What does the Premier think of
that, of seeing Quebec's influence in the Senate weaker in comparative terms?
We have been speaking about Meech.
All of this is clearly less than what Meech offered, and yet the Premier has
said that he would not negotiate beneath Meech. Ottawa says: You are going to
have less than Meech. Is the Premier still saying: I want at least as much as
Meech? If that's what he is thinking, let him say so. I was going to say that
it is important, even for the people in Ottawa, to know that the Premier still
wants to negotiate at the level of Meech and will accept nothing less. But I
think that it is the responsibility of the Premier of Quebec, the man who wants
the federal system to work, to say this to Ottawa.
Robert Bourassa (Premier): I understand very well that the Leader of
the Opposition is emphasizing those elements in the proposals that are not to
be found in the Meech Lake Accord. The Leader of the Opposition knows very well
that in its proposals, the federal government has accepted the process of Bill
150. It is true that the formulation of the distinct society clause is
different. But it is also true that the interpretations are different as well.
On the one hand, there are those who say that the clause is stronger than in
the Meech Lake Accord: in fact, that hypothetically, it could lead to some
dramatic action on the part of the Government of Quebec. Others have said that
it has less scope than in the Meech Lake Accord.
We are not here this morning to
conduct a legal analysis; it is the commission's specific task to examine this
concept. I think that if the Leader of the Opposition is serious, he does not
today expect the Premier to improvise as a legal expert and issue a final
verdict on the concept as such, on the scope of the concept, which was widely
debated during the Meech Lake Accord and continues to be debated in various
One has to admit that, despite
opposition in English Canada to this concept, whatever its formulation, it is
to be found in the application of the Charter. One has to admit that those who
opposed this concept, I am thinking of the Premier of Newfoundland, who said
last year that there was no question of taking collective rights into
consideration in interpreting individual rights in Quebec, that he would never
accept a consideration of collective rights. Today he is recognized as being in
agreement with the consideration of collective rights. We could discuss this
issue of the legal meaning of the distinct society for a long time.
I see learned scholars coming to
lecture us on the loss of the veto, when it was they themselves who advised the
leader of the government to put it on the table. What nerve! It is not enough
to have a taste for publicity. Such people should be just a little consistent
So regarding the veto, it is
important that all sides, particularly those who made the tragic error of
making it negotiable, realize that our government is trying to regain it. It
had regained a portion of it, on institutions. As I have said, this remains a
fundamental objective of the Government of Quebec. But initially, since it
presupposes unanimity, and since it is referred to in the proposals as an
objective, we are insisting on other aspects that seem to us equally important
for the future of Quebec: the transfer of powers and the issue of spending
authority. Curiously, the Leader of the Opposition did not mention the proposal
on spending authority. For thirty years, every government in Quebec has been
asking for a limit to spending power. Here is one which has been offered.
Perhaps it is not perfect, but for the first time and in an extended manner we
have an official, legal acknowledgement by the federal government that it will
limit its spending authority, which has been the source of countless overlaps
and wastage of public funds. This is one aspect of the proposals that,
curiously, the Leader of the Opposition did not point out. Immigration, a power
fundamental to the cultural future of Quebec, is in the proposals. No mention
of that either, on the other side.
Jacques Parizeau (Leader of the
Opposition): I do not
understand the Premier when he tells us that opinions are divided as to the
meaning of distinct society in the federal proposals. I have read practically
all of those who wrote on the subject, and there is a long list of them. I
believe he will find only one exception among the constitutional experts I
mentioned a while ago, that being Mr. Patrice Garant. In his testimony before
your commission, Mr. Patrice Garant contradicted the written text he had
submitted to the commission. That is about all that can be found. Everyone else
agrees that what has been offered is less than Meech.
For six weeks the Premier has told
us he has been waiting for legal opinions. I would imagine he has received
them. So let him give me one case of a constitutional expert who says that the
concept of distinct society, as it appears in the federal proposals, is broader
than that which appeared in Meech. On the contrary, it is more limited. It is
so limited, that I would like to quote in this regard a remark by Senator
McEachen to the Castonguay-Dobbie committee. Seeking an indication as to the
meaning of distinct society from the Deputy Minister of Justice, Mr. Tait, in
Ottawa, Mr. McEachen said: "Mr. Chairman, I take it from the answer
that it is the view of officials that the inclusion of the distinct society
clause in this particular section or part of the Constitution would not affect
the scope or content of any right currently guaranteed in the Charter. That is
the clarification and it is very helpful." Mr. Tait, the Deputy Minister
of Justice, said: "I would accept that way of putting it." So it is
clear why Mr. Clyde Wells has accepted the distinct society clause. It no
longer means anything! It is easy to understand Mr. Wells' reaction to the
press on October 23, when he said that he had never rejected the concept of
Quebec as a distinct society, only the premise that the entire Constitution
could be interpreted in light of that concept. It no longer exists. He agrees.
Of course he agrees. Is this what the Premier is marshalling to his support?
But he has assigned so much importance to this distinct society clause!
Remember his words in this House that if the distinct society clause did not
take precedence over the Charter, it would be worse than the status quo. But
let him at least repeat this, just so we can be quite sure that he is still of
Regarding the veto, there was no
mention of specifics, that is, of attempts to gain a veto power. I never heard
the Premier mention this. Once again, he should not use our positions to
justify himself. We want a country. You will understand that we would not know
what to do with a veto, from our perspective. A veto with respect to whom, when
you have your own country? It is the Premier who wants a veto, but today he
seems to be saying that this will be an initiative rather than a requirement?
Spending power was also mentioned.
Be careful. The spending authority provision in Meech was quite specific. We
have moved backward from that, because now there is the matter of objectives of
national programs that have to be satisfied.
In Meech, there was the
possibility, through a vote of the federal Parliament and Quebec, of settling
the problem of immigration between the two governments. Now we find, in the
federal proposals, that this will take the federal government, seven provinces,
and 50 per cent of the population. Are you telling me this is not a step
backward from Meech? From what we have seen this morning, the government is in
Robert Bourassa (Premier): The Leader of the Opposition says he is
fighting to have a country. Well, they held a referendum and lost it. With the
result that we have had to negotiate from a position of weakness. You have to
draw a distinction between your objectives and the risks you assume in trying
to attain them when the people are not behind you. If today we have to fight to
recover the veto—and it is for this reason that I do not see why one cannot
cite the past to prepare for the future it is because you put Quebec in a
position of weakness. That is a fact that you cannot get around.
On the precedence of the Charter, I
do not believe that, in the time allotted to us, we should discuss all the
legal subtleties that a constitutional clause may contain, but I cite one point
raised by the Leader of the Opposition when he quoted me, as saying: that if an
amendment is made that specifically reduces the application of the Charter, it
is worse than the status quo. We are obliged to point out that the amendment
made is specifically designed to ensure that interpretation of the Charter
takes into account the fact that Quebec is a distinct society, that when judges
have to interpret the statutes of Quebec that protect culture. And we have been
able to get legislation passed that protects culture. I do not think one can
talk about the danger of Quebec not having powers to protect culture... It
acquired such powers with Bill 22, Bill 101 and Bill 178, without which Quebec
would not be recognized as a distinct society. But here we have additional
protection to the extent that application of the Charter is taken into
consideration. So I do not see why the Leader of the Opposition cannot admit
that, in this context, those who will have to interpret Quebec law will be
required to take account of the fact that Quebec is a distinct society. This is
important, because when the Blue Paper was proposed with its twenty-two
demands, my predecessor Mr. Lévesque said that the most important thing was
recognition of Quebec as a distinct society. Everything else can eventually be
negotiated, but that has to be very important.
So I say to the Leader of the
Opposition that there are legal opinions, but they are not yet complete. I do
not see the usefulness, with all of the economic and financial questions to
deal with, of prolonging a debate on a legal concept when the legal opinions
and analyses have not yet been completed. When the Leader of the Opposition
quotes me as saying that this should not dilute the interpretation of section 1
of the Charter, I would simply refer him to the text which states that, from
now on, judges will have to take into account not only reasonable limits to
human rights, but also the fact that Quebec is a distinct society.
On spending authority, I repeat
what I said earlier. At least, for the first time, we have something... and God
knows how the Leader of the Opposition, as advisor to Mr. Lesage and other
premiers, and how we ourselves for decades and decades tried to obtain a limit
on this spending power which has thrown out of balance the division of powers
between the levels of government.
It is because of this spending
authority that we have to fight today to recover powers that were granted us by
the Constitution of 1867. So let us openly admit that the formula is
perfectible, and that the desire to limit spending power is for the first time
thus specifically contained in the principles of a federal proposal...
Jacques Parizeau (Leader of the
Opposition): We are now
going to deal with the third aspect I announced, namely the constitutional
proposals of an actual economic nature. I would point out straightaway that, in
this area, just about everything in the federal document is drafted in legal
terms, and is very specific, very precisely defined.
I think that the person who has
best summarized the content of these economic proposals, and indeed of the
federal constitutional proposals as a whole, is the Deputy Premier and Minister
of Energy and Resources, who on September 27 said: "The federal government
has allowed Quebec the emotional elements, such as the distinct society clause,
but has kept hold of the rational ones, such as the economy. I think this is
unacceptable. Quebec has prospered with the economic model it has acquired and
is going to need it in order to continue."
This is remarkable: I think it says
it all. The federal government claims three powers. The first is the power to
legislate in all matters it sees as useful to the effective operation of the
economic union. The economic union is defined in such terms that, at bottom,
any policy of the Government of Quebec that would address Quebec and Quebec
companies, as compared with other companies elsewhere, could be prohibited both
in practice and in law. That covers a rather wide spectrum.
I can tell you right now that this
would mean that the Société de développement industriel, (SDI), which is the
object of constant praise from our beloved Minister of Industry and Commerce,
would become unconstitutional because its entire mode of operation consists in
promoting Quebec companies over those from outside Quebec. There are a
multitude of other examples of this type.
But the federal government also
gives itself the power to declare federal or provincial laws of national
interest. This means that it assumes the power to do all it deems useful for
the economic union, but also the opposite, the power to do all it deems useful
that is contrary to the direction of the economic union. You may remember the
Borden line, the famous border between Quebec and Ontario which led to the
disappearance of half of the oil refineries in Montreal and created terrible
risks for the petrochemical centres. Well, that would be constitutionalized.
The federal government may do one thing and do its opposite too, if it sees fit.
Third, the federal government
reserves the right to adopt guidelines intended to improve the co-ordination of
budgetary and fiscal policies. The Premier did not say much about the first two
powers. Indeed, he tried to downplay their scope. But he spoke out on the
third, and I must say that I do not understand him when he says: these budget
guidelines may be going too far. I do not understand him because for years the
Premier has been telling us that when there is a common currency, there has to
be a common fiscal policy, or in any case a compatible one, and that that
requires a common political structure.
We have a common currency in
Canada. The federal government says it is going to harmonize budgetary
policies, and to assume the means to do so. The Premier of Quebec says he
cannot go along with that. I say I do not understand. It would seem to me to be
in line with the Premier's convictions, both economic and federalist, to accept
this federal initiative as precisely consistent with what he means by a
well-directed economy and policy.
It is clear that all of us, as
Quebecers cannot accept these federal proposals on the economy, this
centralization, this extraordinary gesture of economic centralization by the
central government. We cannot accept it. May one ask the Premier to clearly
state this, with regard not only to the third clause, but to the three powers I
have just spoken about?
Robert Bourassa (Premier): I am very happy to at last be dealing with
the economic issues, which I see as retaining a priority role in all of this,
even if the other aspects remain fundamental.
Quebecers have three choices: the
economic union proposed by our friends opposite, about which I shall say a few
words; the economic union proposed by the federal officials, in a form of
authoritarian federalism I have described as unacceptable; and an economic
union that places the accent on intergovernmental co-operation.
Briefly, I pointed out earlier that
the federal government's credibility in imposing its economic objectives was
weak. When I speak of the federal government, I am not referring solely to the
government now in power. Those that preceded it, in fact, could be more
relevant targets, because it was they that triggered our spiral into debt. So
they cannot say to the provinces that have succeeded, some by dint of great
sacrifice, in managing in a more productive fashion, you are going to give us
the power to tell you what to do. Budgetary co-operation can be arranged
between governments by means of proposals (obviously), an initiative, or a
We read the same things, the Leader
of the Opposition and I. It was reported in an economic journal with which he
is very familiar that discussion is ongoing between Italy and the Common Market
on reducing Italy's deficit. They are saying that if there is a common
currency, the deficit levels cannot be too dissimilar, too far apart. So we
believe in a Canadian economic union. We have taken certain steps, as I said
earlier in responding to the member for Westmount and the member for
D'Arcy-McGee. We have taken certain steps, as a government, to reduce tariff
barriers, and that is what we prefer in the way of economic union. In this I
have the support of all of the business and labour circles, not only in Quebec
but outside Quebec.
But let us discuss the economic
union of our friends opposite, which is the third choice: this economic union
by treaty where they are prepared to totally abdicate or to assume a minority
role. Because currency and interest rates remain a vital element. They are even
prepared to use the Canadian currency against the wishes of our partners. That
was what the Leader of the Opposition said. He said that Liberia does this. You
cited Mr. Laidlier, who referred to Liberia.
The Leader of the Opposition
mentioned a number of countries that accepted such an arrangement, Panama among
them. I say to him, how does he expect to remain credible. We are talking here
about the well-being of all citizens. A shaky economic union has repercussions.
It may have disastrous repercussions, as he well knows. How can he remain
credible in his criticism of the economic union when he proposes a formula that
cannot function in any acceptable way? Does he think because he sees everything
with rose-coloured glasses, they will agree, there will not be any problems, it
will cost nothing, the Americans will fall in line? How does he expect to
But I am nonetheless pleased that,
with respect to the federal proposals, he has decided to support the Government
of Quebec so as to prevent this form of federalism which, as I see it, would be
contrary to the interest of the great majority of Canadians.
Jacques Parizeau (Leader of the
Opposition): I think that
the Premier has just opened a new door in desiring to discuss the form that
sovereignty-association might take. It is clear that these matters are not
going to be dealt with in a few minutes at the end of a debate. But if he is
disposed toward another debate such as this one, I will gladly accept, and I
place the offer before him.
Yes, it would be interesting to
discuss the maintaining of the Canadian economic arrangement, as desired by
almost all those who came before the Bélanger-Campeau Commission. I believe
there was unanimity on the subject. I believe it is important that, in the
event of Quebec's sovereignty, existing ties with Canada be continued. It is
important to make it clear that many of these ties will in fact be maintained
I am thinking, for example, of the
free circulation of capital. A recent study by the C.D. Howe Institute was very
clear on this subject. There is really no reasonable method whereby the
Canadian government could prevent the free circulation of capital. With respect
to the free movement of goods and services, there are a number of present-day
requirements known as GATT and the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement which are
going to ensure that the existing economic ties will be maintained. But from
there to give constitutional recognition to federal economic powers that are
absolutely exorbitant, and which in practice would be a means to thwart much of
what has made the originality of Quebec's economic and financial policies for
years. What a yoke around our necks that would be for the future!
We often hear the response from
Ottawa that they are going to be reasonable in applying these powers. Yes, they
are reasonable one day and not the next. Also, nothing is written in stone in
politics. The people change. Finally, we are told that these powers could be
But I return to what the Premier
was saying about the federal proposals. The principles are acceptable, it is
the formulation that is not. For us, the very principle behind the powers that
the federal government wants is unacceptable. There is a multitude of things
that would have been impossible had these powers existed, ranging from
deregulation of financial institutions to co-operative housing to a whole
series of business development policies. I therefore again ask the Premier: You
understand these things as well as I, you understand very well the effect these
powers would have on the agricultural products marketing boards in Quebec, on
dairy products in particular. Why do you not say no?
Robert Bourassa (Premier): I will be very brief because we are
ultimately in agreement on the economic union. We understand that the federal
government may wish to promote a stronger economic union, but we are not in
agreement on the means, notably the use of the Constitution, to arrive at this
end. So we are in agreement. Let us get back to the other options. There is no
purpose in prolonging the debate when we are in agreement. But we can discuss
the economic union, because the Leader of the Opposition, curiously, is
proposing one currency, but two citizenships.
This must be examined. We must see
how one can have an economic union that can function, that can be credible. How
can one have an economic union by treaty? Here is a fundamental difference. I
acknowledge that the Leader of the Opposition and I are working in the interest
of Quebec, that we are old allies in defence of the interests of Quebec, but we
do not have the same methods of calculation.
I say to the Leader of the
Opposition that if he wants to look Quebecers straight in the eye and assure
them of the viability of the economic union, it would be intellectually
dishonest for him to deny that a political structure is necessary to support
such an arrangement. I could cite many people whom he respects. I could cite
the Chancellor of Germany who again in recent weeks. If we want more common
powers, we have to increase the powers of the Parliament now elected by
We are agreed that the issue here
is not the status of being a nation-state, nor is it patriotism. The issue is
simply effective management. The Leader of the Opposition was unwise to cite
the C.D. Howe report, because it states that this monetary union between two
sovereign countries would be in danger of having no credibility, of allowing
for a different currency, with a flight of capital. The Leader of the
Opposition has been Minister of Finance; he knows that Quebec has to borrow $10
billion to $12 billion per year, including Hydro-Québec. He knows the premium,
the interest rates that have to be paid if there is a climate of uncertainty
and instability. As ex-Minister of Finance, he also knows that the per capita
income of Quebecers is below the Canadian average, and therefore fiscal
transfers are automatically made to Quebec. He knows all this. So what does he
still need for his conversion? He has already been converted to a common
currency. He used to be in favour of a Quebec currency. What more does he need
to be converted to political union so as to bring about the blessed economic
Jacques Parizeau (Leader of the
Opposition): Just one thing
in passing, to deplore a bit the fact that the Premier is not better informed.
I am not demanding, as he says, double nationality in the event that Quebec
becomes a sovereign country. This is part of Canadian law.
I would refer the Premier to this
little brochure from the Department of the Secretary of State of Canada, which
states that, contrary to the Citizenship Act in force in Canada until 1977, the
current law permits the acquisition of a foreign nationality by a Canadian
citizen without automatic loss of Canadian citizenship. I suggest that if he
has any questions to ask, he put them to Mr. Mulroney, not to me.
This being said, the Premier still
wishes to discuss sovereignty, and I thank him for his interest in this
question. But I think he still does not understand that these connections
between a common currency, an economic union and a political structure for it
all, are not automatic. In some cases they are not even desirable, and in
others frankly impossible.
I will offer some examples. Ireland
became independent in 1922, after the Irish and the English had been shooting
at each other for a hundred years, if not more. The atmosphere was poisoned.
What did Ireland do about its currency? It adopted the English sterling. The
English were furious, but could do nothing. This is how things operated for 20
years. I would like to have seen the Premier of Quebec at that time, if he and
I had been born, pay a visit out there and tell them: You know, you want the
same currency as Great Britain, but you need a common political structure. Just
as they were trying to get out of it.
We have just made a free trade
agreement with the United States. Did Canada decide to transport Ottawa to
Washington, to abolish the Parliament in Ottawa and move it down there? Does
Canada want a superstructure on top of Congress, then the House of Commons? No.
They have established a great free-trade area across North America, at least,
across the two countries and now possibly North America, perhaps Latin America,
one day. But there are still no plans to set a government on top of all of
Where does the Premier get these
principles of his, which incidentally he is the first to violate, as I
indicated earlier? Taking him at his word, the federal government says to him:
You have always said, Mr. Premier, that a common currency meant a sort of
common fiscal and budgetary structure? Well, we are offering it to you. And
then the Premier of Quebec shows his true colours. No thank you!, he says. I
repeat: Where does the Premier get some of his ideas?
But I return to my original
question. And, once again, I think that the Premier ought to give us an answer.
Is he for or against these economic powers that the federal government wants to
assume? Does he find them acceptable or not? And if he does not want to make a
statement today, when? Listen, we are talking about food on the table, about
jobs, about implications for personal income. When is the Premier of Quebec
going to say that these economic powers that the federal government wants are
Robert Bourassa (Premier): The Leader of the Opposition is somewhat
inattentive. It seems to me that I have been clear on the government's position
that the constitutional changes were not necessary, that we could act more
effectively through intergovernmental co-operation. Why ask me to repeat what I
have said two or three times?
A word about citizenship. He cites
the Canadian law. I see that the member for Lac-Saint-Jean is perplexed. How is
it that his friend, Lucien Bouchard, is not aware of the Canadian law, since he
did not demonstrate agreement with the Leader of the Opposition on double
citizenship? Who is more knowledgeable of the law: Lucien Bouchard or the
Leader of the Opposition?
The other point of the Leader of
the Opposition is that we have free trade with the United States: why not have
a political union? I was asked the question. The Leader of the Opposition was
absent at the time. I am surprised that he was not given the answer. Free trade
must not be confused with monetary union. Free trade is the minimal form of
economic union, and monetary union the maximal. There is free trade, a customs
union, a common market, and monetary union, and that is why it leads to
political union, in particular a union of integrated economies. Integrated
economies such as those of English Canada and Quebec.
Ireland in the twenties was
mentioned. Ireland held about seven per cent of the British population,
and international trade was not dominant in its economy. Whereas Quebec in
1991, exports 40 per cent of its production. That is why I have always held
that if you want an economic integration as thorough as a monetary union, you
must accept a political union in order to avoid what I call the democratic
deficit. Because on the one hand you have a political system where democracy
has the upper hand, and on the other you have technocrats replacing the
people's elected representatives. Therefore, in simple terms of economic
management, fiscal security and democratic legitimacy, the link must be made
between monetary union and political union. Otherwise, as political leader of
Quebec, I cannot accept from the very start the assumption of such risks. To
adopt a currency without the consent of Canada is to create a climate of
monetary instability from the start, and the Leader of the Opposition knows how
all this is very volatile, or can become so. In this regard, creating a climate
of monetary instability may result in substantial financial costs for the population