Canada, Senate Debates, “Motion for Address in Reply—Debate Continued”, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (14 May 1980)
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, Senate Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1980 at 283-290.
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SENATE DEBATES — May 14, 1980
SPEECH FROM THE THRONE
MOTION FOR ADDRESS IN REPLY—DEBATE CONTINUED
The Senate resumed from yesterday, consideration of His Excellency the Governor General’s Speech at the opening of the First Session of the Thirty-second Parliament, and the motion of Senator Rousseau, seconded by Senator Hays, for an Address in reply thereto.
Hon. Maurice Riel: Honourable senators, to be true to the tradition of our chamber, and to follow my own personal feelings, I wish first of all to congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your appointment as Speaker of the Senate. Considering that you have been a fiery fighter all your life, you will probably need to force upon yourself a more philosophical and moderate disposition of character to assume the role of patient listener of the daily speeches of senators without ever taking any part in their discussions. By remaining above our debates, you will dominate them as you have dominated all situations all your life because of your intellectual stamina which gives those rare few who possess it a sense of proportion.
I also congratulate Senator Yvette Rousseau—and I stress the name “Yvette”—the mover of the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, and her seconder, Senator Hays. Both of them dealt eloquently with the most critical aspects of the present Canadian situation; Senator Rousseau, when she dealt with Canadian unity and Quebec, and Senator Hays, when he dealt with energy and the west. I hope that their speeches will be distributed throughout the country because they contain much to reflect upon while giving us hope for the future, for we must not look to the future without hope.
For us Canadians, and especially for those of us from Quebec, the future at this time does not seem very clear. Why? Probably because the future must be built day in and day out and because at some time in the past all of us here and Canadians everywhere have failed to contribute towards building the future of our country. It is indeed frustrating to have come to a point where we must recognize that, in my own province, a large part of the population has decided that there can be no common future for Quebec and the other provinces within a united Canada. After 100 years, we Canadians have not succeeded, in my opinion, in creating a Canadian dream in which all Canadians may share, and we have not developed in our country a national consciousness and a shared sense of a common nationhood.
We French Canadians have grown up in the nostalgia of our Catholic and French mission in North America, and those other Canadians, who were called in my time the “Superior Race,” the “Canada Firsters,” certainly did not have any time to lose to include us in the “manifest destiny” that they foresaw for our country and for themselves and with which we obviously did not have much to do. Moreover, it must be said that for a long time we wanted no part of it. We have survived without them, and they have developed without us.
This created the “two solitudes,” which became the title to a well-known novel. Consciously or not, an economic apartheid was practised against French Canadians. As for us, our education and frame of mind prevented us from entering the field of business which forms the basis of any civilization and any culture. Indeed, it is a historic fact that only the rich nations, at the time of their wealth, have produced the culture which ranked them among the builders in civilization. I can for an illustration think of Renaissance Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, France during its great century, England at the time of Elizabeth or during the 18th century.
In this period of doubts and jolts that plague aging civilizations, new forces begin to ferment and shake social or ethnic groups which had been until then withdrawn within themselves. In Quebec, these factors include, but are not limited to, the following:
(1) the wave of post-war immigrants who chose the English language, thus imperilling the already shaky balance of power between the two nations in Montreal;
(2) the push of the Quiet Revolution for the vertical integration from the bottom to the top of French Canadians within major corporations, and the establishment by the Quebec government of public organizations to develop our natural resources under French Canadian executives and managerial staffs;
(3) the decline in the sixties of the Catholic Church as the prime mover of our day-to-day life and education;
(4) the emergence of labour unions as an organized force and pressure group;
(5) the abrupt decrease of the birth rate among French Canadians;
(6) the development of means, old and new, of communication and the taking over of their effective control by a progressively separatist-minded intelligentsia;
(7) the consequent drift towards leftist political activism of many labour leaders.
Then came the foundation of a separatist party known as the or péquiste party, headed by mass communication specialists. This was followed in turn by the formation in November 1976 of a government in Quebec by that party, such government self-described as a social democrat government with the publicly declared goal of obtaining the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada. This series of events is now reaching its peak with the referendum to be held in Quebec on May 20.
Nothing is completely true and nothing is completely false in life and especially in politics. Nothing is completely good and nothing completely bad. There is even an expression to the effect that today’s heresy is tomorrow’s truth. Provided, of course, that we do not kill the patient.
Despite the errors, the ostracisms and all the adverse conditions which in the past have overwhelmed the small francophone community in North America, we cannot but acknowledge the fact that we have survived, that our language has survived and that it is our political system which has made this possible, that the autonomy enjoyed by the provinces has been beneficial to Quebec, that our fathers and predecessors, fine Normans that they were, used it sensibly and cleverly to preserve our language, our rights and our traditions. Also, we cannot but acknowledge that it is as a result of our own and sole efforts that we have survived after having been abandoned on the shores of the St. Lawrence in the wake of a war between two European powers.
But, upon reflection, which one of us wants to go to another country? Where have the people who left Quebec gone to in the past ten years or even in the past hundred years? To Cuba, Haiti, Martinique, China, Poland, Russia or even France? All our Quebec emigrants, 100 per cent of them I should think, have invariably gone to the United States and will continue to do so. An emigrant, you see, is looking for a country where he will possibly improve his lot, and nowhere else in the world is the average standard of living as good as in Canada and in Quebec. The only other place in the world where the standard of living is just as good as ours and which is likely to tempt us at times is the United States.
That is why I say to you all, my fellow citizens of Quebec, that the future of Quebec lies nowhere else but in North America and it is a part of Canada’s future: Canadian solidari ty is to Quebec the guarantee of its economic and political stability. The oil crisis of the past few years gives testimony to this every day!
Quebecers, let us not drift away from those that are close to us, from what has been our best chance of success, from what is known best to us, only to jump into the unknown. There is a proverb that says:
The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
We were saved by our forefathers’ judgment and perception, but also by their prudence. We have a sacred heritage to transmit to our descendants, so let us not forget that we are but a link between two generations. We have a duty to leave our children a larger and better rather than a diminished inheritance. We are the heirs of everything that is best in western civilization. We received from the Roman Catholic Church the religious teachings that still support us, even though we forget it too often, and at the same time the Church gave us the tradition of Greek classicism and the Latin genius. France gave us a lively and gay spirit, a gracious language to which we have kept the accent of the 16th and 17th centuries and the idiom of the old provinces of France, but nonetheless the language of Bossuet and Molière, the civilization of the Grand Siècle and the Code civil. We are also the beneficiaries of the English political and administrative system, imposed upon England by our Norman ancestors after 1066, but of course refined by the English over the centuries, and which finally evolved into our parliamentary system.
Finally, we have grown on the shores of the St. Lawrence, where we conquered the forest, tilled the land, shaped the environment while being shaped by it, and so becoming an integral part of the North-American continent that witnessed the most fabulous industrial revolution and economic success in the world.
That is where we came from. This is what we belong to. These are our traditions. This is our heritage.
On these foundations we have built in the past and must build in the future. These are solid materials that were proven through centuries of both effort and toil, joy and the fulfillment of duty well done. This is all we have, but if we use them taking full advantage of our brain power, we fully and wisely, taking full advantage of our brain power, we shall have a full share in the design, the building and the achievement of the great “Canadian Destiny” in North America: we shall build for ourselves in continuity.
This is why we must never abandon any part of our heritage. Let us keep what our forefathers gave us, what we ourselves have acquired on our own, and let us in turn do our bit. Each generation of French Canadians and Canadians must go for-
ward. Our duty is to build, not to destroy. The work of centuries of patience can be wiped out in a single day of folly.
Canada is a country in course of construction. We must not give up and leave the site at a time when we take an active part in the management of the work. To abandon any part of our heritage would be an irreparable loss. Language, tradition, rights are a monument that will resist the worst storms. What has been so solidly established over three centuries is not exchangeable, it is not negotiable, and indeed we are not sellers. We distrust trumpery, by nature we go always for something solid.
I will not relinquish my language. I will not relinquish my North American position. I will not relinquish my administrative system or any of my foundations, because in there lie my country’s identity, my environment and my way of life. And what is it that would replace those serious and proven features I know so well and that have served us so well until now?
Are we, Quebecers, going to cut ourselves off from the mainstream of North America, give up its spirit and its way of life, which we have shared up to now? Because separation from Canada is separation from North America. In order to go where, to join what? Only to go adrift in the Atlantic, try to join Cuba, the West Indies and what not? Castro, Mao, Lenin, Karl Marx—our tradition is not there. Our economic, industrial, labour traditions are North American. Social democracy as referred to in Quebec and proposed by Mr. Lévesque and associates? Our tradition is not there. Why look for a foreign model, when the North American one has been good to us? It is our best model, and it is unsurpassed in the world.
Canada not only links the Canadian provinces together, it also links Quebec to North America. Our Canadian solidarity, as embodied in our Confederation with its headquarters in Ottawa, integrates us into the strongest economic system in the world, while leaving us with the widest administrative, cultural and economic autonomy. I find it strange that the leaders of so-called international unions—that is, American unions headquartered in the United States—should endorse Quebec separation from the rest of Canada, and therefore from North America, because on the one hand, by joining the international unions they seek the American trade unionist and economic umbrella and, on the other hand, by supporting the YES they are trying to take us out of the North American mainstream.
Here I am, honourable senators, participating in the Quebec referendum debate, which I pray God not to let degenerate into those fratricidal struggles that Honoré Mercier was already urging Canadians to stop 100 years ago, In Honoré Mercier’s sentence, the word “Canadians” meant “Quebecers”, because, at that time we in Quebec were just calling ourselves Canadians. We considered ourselves as the only real Canadians and we reserved that name for ourselves. Later, I think it must have been with the teachings of Father Groulx, we called ourselves French Canadians. Now, according to the vocabulary of the day, we call ourselves Québécois. I say this only to shed light on an historical semantic question, and in passing.
Coming back to our fratricidal struggles, about which the old radio and TV serial “Séraphin” talked so much, I hope that all participants in the referendum debate will manage to keep their sense of proportion and that the media will not add to the dispute so that our present non-shooting war of seces- sion—to pastiche an expression of Alain Peyrefitte in the “Mal francais”—will not degenerate into worse, deeper and endless conflicts. Conflicts and division do not spell progress or success.
I, for one, want to express my choice and give the reasons for it. I think that I am only doing my duty as a citizen and a parliamentarian by trying to bring an unbiased opinion based on clear and positive considerations in the midst of the present confusion. During a recent trip in the south of France, in a small old village of Provence, I noted a Latin sentence above the window of a tumbledown house: Post tenebras, lux—which means “After darkness, light”—with the date 1571. I have been told that those words were written there during the wars of religion, that it is a message of hope. I wish each one of us in Quebec had that attitude, and that after this time of turmoil we would return to a climate of fraternity among “gens du pays”. I wish to quote Péguy, a poet dear to our Speaker:
La foi que j’aime le mieux, dit Dieu, c’st l’espérance.
Let us follow Montaigne’s philosophy: let us keep our sense of proportion. So let us consider with a cool head the separa- tion mandate sought by the present Quebec government, elect- ed by a minority of 41 per cent of the popular vote, which was as everyone knows, a vote of protest against a government rather than an ideological vote. We must remember those two facts. Am I ready to give a blank cheque to a group whose only admitted goal is to cut Quebec off from the rest of Canada? But who will benefit from this separation, I wonder?
What good would separation do for education in Quebec? What good would separation do for farmers, workers, teachers, firefighters, civil servants and labour leaders in Quebec? What good would separation do for businessmen, industrialists, the unemployed in Quebec? What good would separation do for engineers, doctors and other professionals or trades?
I am not convinced that separation would bring anything more to any one group of Quebecers. Quite the contrary, I think everyone’s standard of living would be lowered. When you do not progress, you regress.
If the Parti Québécois really has devised sure ways of improving the lot of Quebecers, to bring them a so far unknown happiness, a standard of living they have not yet reached, and can assure them that by voting YES they will come out ahead, why did they not put that clearly in a charter like the French language charter? Is it not because they cannot do it? Surely that is the reason. They know that with separation, Quebecers will find themselves in a position to exchange at best four quarters for a dollar, not more and more probably less. It is impossible for the Parti Québécois to guarantee Quebecers a higher or even as high a standard of living after it separates than before. So one must conclude that
the referendum is a pointless, divisive and costly exercise, the ultimate manifestation of a dream and a temptation.
Our traditional position has always been that previous governments of Quebec have always steadfastly and constantly maintained its autonomy and reacted most energetically against any proposition or situation they considered an attempt upon our traditions, language and rights.
That autonomist position has been adhered to since 1867 up until. the P.Q. took over. The P.Q. government elected the position of total refusal and of the point of no-return. Such a position is not only contrary to our tradition up until and including the Quiet Revolution, two former premiers of Quebec, Messrs. Lesage and Bourassa, have joined the NO side, this position is also contrary to any common sense. In politics, as in business, people do not start off by placing themselves in a position of no-return; they keep room to manoeuver. In short, what the P.Q. is doing is turning its doctrine into a dogma—it is setting itself up as a church and proclaiming, ex cathedra, “Without me there is no hope of salvation.” They are the only ones to have the whole truth, like the Ayatollah. There is absolutely no room in their minds for the smallest possible margin of error, or even manoeuver. Yet they did not for a single moment wonder whether they could be wrong, as an English statesman suggested to his opponents:
I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.
As past experience teaches us, dogmatism breeds fanaticism. You know as well as I do the saying attributed to André Gide: Souvent la foi nuit à la bonne foi.
Autonomy, YES; separation, NO—such has always been the traditional doctrine of Quebec. That is our tradition. But the present P.Q. government wants us to break with tradition.
Autonomy as a doctrine has never been restricted to any one party in Quebec. It has been defended and promoted continuously by all political parties of the province. It has also been maintained in the other provinces of Canada.
The P.Q. government has not drawn up a charter for the economic future of Quebec. The P.Q. government, which would give us a new political system, has not put out a charter on that political system. The P.Q. government, which has been in power for three years and a half, which has spent half its time promoting separation in Quebec, and elsewhere in the world, the P.Q. government, which professes to save Quebecers, is not even aware that the number one problem in Quebec is the dreadful drop in the birth rate of Quebecers.
The greatest resource of a people is its population.
Now, we have survived as a people thanks to one simple recipe: we had large families. It may be pointless to say that from 60,000 that we were when France ceded Canada to England, through the Treaty of Paris in 1763, we have grown into almost 6 million, excluding the two to three million, at the very least, in the United States and the other Canadian provinces. Our population multiplied tenfold in every century. There were 60,000 of us in 1760, 600,000 in 1860 and 6 million in 1967. Imagine: if the population of France had multiplied at that rate, in 1960 General de Gaulle would have. been the leader of two billion Frenchmen!
Suddenly, we are now faced with the brutal reality: in the last 25 years, our birth rate gradually fell from the highest rank among the provinces in Canada to the lowest. Not only is our population not growing, not only is it not stationary, but it is receding.
The public enemy in Quebec is the low birth rate. The P.Q. Government should have addressed itself to that problem since it took over, instead of spending its time peddling around its own dreams. The economy of a country is above all its population, quantitatively and qualitatively. If we were 20 million French Canadians in Quebec, we would have a large domestic market, our sheer volume would affect to a greater extent the affairs of Canada and North America.
There is talk about increasing our population with an influx of francophone or potential francophone immigrants. But if we have to set up a mass immigration scheme to replace the children we are not bearing or that we will not have borne to follow in our footsteps, one may easily realize the large number of incoming foreigners that this will represent, with the implied problems of integration. Either we integrate them to be our successors by limiting their number to a percentage that we can integrate or assimilate, or we allow them to come in very large numbers and then run the risk of being assimilated by these newcomers who may do to us the very same thing we did to our native people. So all the sacrifices made by our forefathers to preserve the French heritage, to protect our cultural heritage, our traditions, our efforts—all that will become part of the folklore of a minority group. We should think about that.
In its issue No. 396 of April 21-27, 1980, the Paris weekly Le Point describes the tragic situation caused by the fall in the birth rate in Quebec, which has been the most pronounced in the whole of Canada. What is most alarming is that the aging population will not be replaced and that there will even not be enough people to contribute to our pension fund. Le Point says that “experts have figured out that the pension scheme deficit will reach $36 billion in 2025,”and it goes on to say that “Already the educational structures are feeling the impact. Schools are emptying, others risk being closed.”
Historian Pierre Chaunu expressed the same view a year or two ago in a radio interview, which was never repeated, of course. Essentially, he said:
You cannot consider establishing an independent state with a diminishing population. That is deluding oneself.
That is borne out in history. Economic historian René Sédillot wrote in his Survol de l’Histoire du Monde at page 265, that population supremacy equals economic supremacy. That same historian also wrote in that same book, dealing with 19th century France:
D’où vient que la France a perdu son hégémonie? Sa régression tient au recul de sa natalité, aux discordes qui troublent sa politique intérieure, aux fautes qui grèvent sa politique extérieure.
Those are words to meditate.
We could have given and can still give progressive and increased allowances to Quebecers with three or more children, special assistance for education, for housing, and proportionate maternity allowances. Instead of driving out a number of our fellow citizens, who had been in Quebec for a long time, some for generations, with the French language legislation— because to speak our language we had to stop others from speaking theirs—instead of stopping Italian or other immigrants from teaching their children English, we could have in a positive way given concrete incentives to those who would have learned French in a given time. There is no doubt that the mothers of our immigrants and others would have been pleased to rush over and collect these bonuses and would have taught their children French. But that was not done and yet, when you compare that to what each immigrant is costing us, that would have been a relatively minor, but, I believe, very efficient expenditure.
We have precedents for that. One hundred years ago Honoré Mercier passed legislation in Quebec-the ten-children legislation—providing that the Province of Quebec would give 100 arpents to ever head of family with ten children.
We cannot force people to have big families but we can encourage them to do so with serious incentives, and really help them bring up their children. Indeed, the reason most cited by young couples for not having children is the lack of financial means. I appreciate that the present Government of Quebec does not have any propensity to help the “Yvettes” but they should realize that without the “Yvettes” we are going to be short of people the day we need them. Because what is a nation which does reproduce itself? It is a nation doomed to extinction.
Also, I never believed that by prohibiting the teaching of English to the children of immigrants we could stop them from learning English, as the repeal of the Edict of Nantes in France in 1685 drove away the Protestants from France but did not result in many of them changing religion.
We should know, and should have known for a long time, that to try and regulate religion, races and languages by legislation is a chimerical endeavour. People always find a way around such legislation or else its implementation can result in persecution and possibly in effects that are entirely unexpected and contrary to those that are sought. For the good such legislation can bring there is an enormous danger that its implementation will lead to racism or bigotry.
Montesquieu says in L’Esprit des Lois:
Lorsqu’on veut changer les moeurs et les manières, il ne faut pas les changer par des lois.
An American reporter put in this way:
No noble crusade is simple, once it gets started into law.
I seem to ramble on, honourable senators. I am just expressing out loud thoughts that come to my mind. In short, I am in my own way weighing the pros and cons while considering the referendum issue. To those who would be tempted to say that I am dealing with various matters that are not all connected with the present issue, I would reply that everything I am saying belongs to the same spirit.
I should like to tell you a brief story. In 1917, the member of Parliament for Laprairie, where I was born, Roch Lanctot, my grandmother’s cousin, was speaking in the House of Commons against conscription. He threw in some remarks about the notorious Regulation 17 that prohibited the teaching of French in the Public School System of Ontario. Called to order by the then Speaker, who told him that those matters were not related and that his remarks should be relevant, he replied: “It is all the same!” Because the spirit was the same. Allow me, honourable senators, to borrow the reply of that man from my part of the country.
Coming back to our situation, I see that the present Government of Quebec, which advocates separation, has not made a charter for the economic future of Quebec. Also, it has not made a charter for the political future of Quebec, nor has it made a charter for the demographic future of Quebec; that is to say, in simple words, a family charter for Quebec.
Soon after being elected in November 1976, they drafted in no time a charter of the French language, brandishing the flag of victory as if they were the saviours of the language. But by the time they came into office, the French language had long been saved in Quebec. For 300 years others had fought and won that victory.
They want to take credit for it, jumping on the bandwagon and talking their heads off. We had not been waiting for them to save the language, but now the Péquistes are trying to capitalize on it. We had not been waiting for them to establish a department of cultural affairs, to open a Maison du Québec in Paris—for which my good friend, Georges Lapalme, now forgotten, must be given credit—and to promote the aggiornamento of the French culture and language, and to establish new trade contacts of our own.
Nobody waited for them to prepare and launch the program of the Quiet Revolution which they abandoned to promote social democracy.
Others such as Roger Lemelin, Gabrielle Roy, Antonine Maillet, Grignon, Panneton, Brother Marie-Victorin and so many more did not wait for them to make our writers renowned in the world’s French community.
Nor had we been waiting for them to give our country and province famous men in every field, such as Alphonse Desjar- dins, founder of the caisses populaires; Bombardier, inventor of the snowmobile; the Vachons from Beauce, who bake cakes by the ton; Jean-Louis Lévesque, who regrouped many of our medium-sized industries into a large Quebec organization; General Jacques Dextraze, a war hero, a distinguished officer and former commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. We gave to various Quebec governments and to the government in Ottawa as well, under various Prime Ministers, a Roland Giroux, to whom many appealed for financial advice. It is fitting to mention Paul Desmarais, who built the largest Canadian financial empire since the last war; Michel Bélanger, President of the National Bank, who has set up a great
financial institution, with true Quebec components, which is holding its own on the national level. Those are only a few examples of Quebecers who have done well, and there are many others. I could mention the Steinberg brothers who did not have to separate or wait for a referendum to develop their chain of supermarkets and shopping centres. All those people did not have to separate to reach success in business.
We did not have to separate to create Hydro-Quebec or to have the Bourassa government decide to start the James Bay project and to erect some of the largest hydro-electric complexes in the world under the leadership and management of such competent people as Robert Boyd, one of us. But we did need Americans to finance them.
As we are entering the post-industrial period of which the favoured Canadian territory is the west, why would people, claiming they want to help us, cut us off from the closest and most accessible areas of development for our competent Que- becers: Alberta gas and oil, Saskatchewan gas and uranium, the Beaufort Sea, the Arctic Islands, Newfoundland and what have you—obviously including all the developments that the tapping of these resources entails?
At a time when our technical abilities are sought after all across Canada as were those of Dr. Gilles Cloutier, whom I met in Edmonton and whom the Alberta government found at the Hydro-Quebec Research Institute to make him Director General of the Alberta Research Council; at a time when our Canadair planes built in Montreal are sold in every country around the globe to fight forest firesl at a time when our Quebec engineers are taking part in high technology projects in western Canada, in which they are doing as good a job as those from large American firms; at a time when these engineers are exporting their abilities, their technology and our products to Africa, Asia and South America with the help of the federal government and of our Canadian banking system we would be pulling the rug from under their feet if we were to vote for separation in the referendum. Without our opportunities for national and international competition, not only would we be depirved of the benefits we are entitled to with the expected spin-off for our population, but our people would be forced into exile as they were in the past, resulting in a drain, which could be fatal, of our more active and progressive talents.
After having missed out on the 19th century industrial revolution because of our historical withdrawal within our selves at that time, we would now be prevented from taking part in the 20th century post-industrial revolution by closing off to the outside world. This would be suicide.
If you take the trouble to check the list of the 350 or so Quebec leaders and industrialists who have been selected as men of the month by the Chambre de Commerce de Montréal since 195 , you will realize that they did not wait for the P.Q. government, the referendum question or the separation to be successful in business, with benefits for all in Quebec. Our farmers did not wait either for separation or a referendum to set up the Cooperative fédérée, the Cooperative de lait de Granby, or the Catholic Farmers’ Union of Quebec—which has become since the Union des producteurs agricoles—nor did our workers wait for the referendum question or the separation—our Speaker is aware of this—to set up labour organizations such as the Confédération des travailleurs catho liques du Canada, which has since become the Confederation of National Trade Unions.
The federal government did not wait for the P.Q., the referendum or separation to create Radio-Canada, which has saved and given a chance to most of media to show people in Quebec, the same people who today most actively advocate and spearhead separation. That is called biting the hand that feeds you. It is a fact, on the other hand, that Radio-Canada appears sometimes eager to let them bite its hand—volenti non fit injuria.
Senator Denis: Right on!
Senator Riel: You agree with me, senator?
Senator Denis: Sure.
Senator Riel: As lawyers will say, volenti non fit injuria.
Senator Asselin: You are preaching to the converted.
Senator Riel: We agree.
No, those people are inclined to forget. The members of the P.Q. forget that before them there were generations of great French Canadian political leaders: Papineau, Lafontaine, Car tier, Mercier, Laurier, Bourassa, St. Laurent, Duplessis, to name a few of our most illustrious departed. They forget that the province existed before them and that it will not end with them, that French Canadians survived before them and will survive after them.
Of course, theoretically everything can be justified—the Corsican, Breton or Occitan separatist movements in France, the Catalan or Basque separatist movements in Spain and even the Scotch or Welsh separatist movements in Great Britain. I imagine that almost all countries of the world have seeds of local separatism.
Separatism is an emotional feeling, not a political system Whatever may be our inclination towards separatism in Quebec, we do not know what system it conceals but in the present case we can suspect. What surprise would a victory of the YES at the referendum hold? What would be the fate of people under social democracy coupled with separation? It is a complete mystery. Instead of listening to the voice of the highest common dividing factor, instead of listening to false prophets, to manipulators of public opinion and mass media, let us listen to the voice of tradition, the voice of continuity, and also to the call from the future of Quebec, the call of realism and reason. Let us keep our options open, let us stay federalists. We need a crusade to expand our presence in the business world; they want to force upon us a social-democratic system. We need opportunities; we are offered ideologies. We need bigger families; the “Yvettes” are laughed at.
Indeed, we are taught by experience and by the study of world history that men do not find their happiness in constitutions or systems; rather, human beings make their own happi-
ness, their success or their failure, and also the success or failure of the system under which they live. The institution of marriage does not by itself ensure the success or failure of a conjugal union, its success or failure is determined by the qualities and failings of both parties.
Of course a time comes when it is necessary to revise constitutions. In England, this is done quietly, continuously, because their constitution is not written. In France, 22 constitutions were made over 200 years, through coups or revolutions or replacement of regime. The United States has an amending procedure which is long but which works, the basis of the constitution remaining unchanged.
In Canada, particularly as we have never been able, so far, to devise a mechanism for amending the Constitution which is acceptable to Quebec, some imaginative and adventurous minds found the referendum device. I do not believe very much in its legality; in fact, I do not believe in its legality at all, but once it is done it will be a precedent which each province will be able to use. I do not know whether it constitutes a right to self-determination; once again, I do not believe so, but it is going to be very tempting for everyone in the future, so much more so that now the other provinces have developed their own reasons of confrontation with the federal government, reasons that are deep and serious. We can imagine the mess in which we would find ourselves in such circumstances.
In my opinion, no long-term solution will derive from meetings of first ministers of the country and provinces since these meetings give rise to constant personality and regional conflicts and since they might have, in the future, to be submitted to provincial and national referendums. Until now it seems to me that most of these meetings have produced only protracted wranglings. We seem to be living a continuing constitutional guerilla war.
This, of course, cannot go on. The patient can have just so many heart attacks!
Canada is at a crossroads. The prairies speak of alienation; the Pacific coast speaks of alienation; the maritimes and the Atlantic coast speak of alienation; Quebec speaks of alienation. We are going through an era of divisions, of clamors, of conflicts, all of which are inflamed and exaggerated by the media and used by various lobbies. The gospel says that any house divided against itself will perish.
I believe that the people are tired of confrontation, polarization and delays in developing our natural resources and that they want peaceful times to enjoy the good living that our country can and does provide for all its citizens. I think that everyone wants to see an end to this.
Personally, I would not be against the use of the device of a constituent assembly to arrive at a new Constitution. It would be up to the federal government to take the necessary measures to convene and hold such an assembly, to which the delegates of each of the electoral ridings of the country would be elected by absolute majority after two ballots—I think that would be best—and where representatives of the native population would be invited. The Americans held a Constituent Assembly from I776 to 1783, and the Catholic Church convened general synods or councils from time to time through the centuries. For example, Vatican Council II, under Pope John XXIII, which lasted two years, and the Council of Trente we talked so much about in college, which sat eighteen years from 1545 to 1563, and which, according to Websters:
—undertook Catholic reform, and defined Catholic doctrines.
Such a constituent assembly could, in my humble opinion, give us a truly Canadian home-made Constitution drafted by fellow Canadians and tailored to our times and situation. The research suggestions and the task forces alluded to yesterday by Senator Lamontagne could provide very serious working material for such an assembly. I am sure that common sense would eventually prevail. We might even decide to keep the present Constitution! In any case, I suggest that it should contain a mechanism for revision every ten years, just as in the case of the Bank Act, and also a provision creating an intergovernmental arbitration body, which would be empowered to bring about temporary solutions and decisions, or even final ones, depending on the case, with regard to disputes between the central government and the provinces or even between the provinces themselves. As a matter of fact, such an arbitration system based on that of the United Nations could, I think, he established and made to work immediately without our having to wait for the convening of a constituent assembly.
You all know as well as I do that there is no such thing as an infallible system in politics. You cannot buy solutions to social or political issues at the drugstore like aspirin. Politics is not an exact science like mathematics. It may even not be a science at all, but rather an art and, even at that, an approximate and inaccurate art. Perhaps that is why politics is said to be the art of the possible. Daydreamers will never be satisfied, but reasonable people know all too well that no one can spontaneously provide a country with happiness simply by inserting a clause in a document called a constitution or a contract.
By the way, the term “contract” makes me wonder what Mr. Lévesque wants, a constitution or a contract? Is he contemplating a limited term association commitment or a commitment forever?
Paul Valéry wrote this sentence after World War I:
Nous autres civilisations, nous savons maintenant que nous sommes mortelles.
If civilizations pass away, how could constitutions and systems possibly avoid the same fate? This is why reality must always remain the measure of our thoughts, govern our feelings and guide our judgment.
Having used earlier the words “to keep our sense of proportion,” I believe it is best explained in the light of the above sentence. But “to keep our sense of proportion” should not preclude the use of “our sense of humour” to lighten the tensions that may and do arise in relations between Canadians.
The French Canadians mocking wink and cunning smile are our own typical traits, just as the British composure and gift of understatement are part of our Anglo-Saxon countrymen’s character. This also is part of our heritage and way of life.
It is to keep all that, in addition to all the reasons I have given earlier in my balance of inconveniences, that I shall give a NO vote to the referendum. Because, I too, want to help save our heritage, our traditions, our language, our rights. I want to see again on Quebecers’ faces, after the current storm, the smile that seems to have vanished now for some time.
On motion of Senator Guay, debate adjourned.
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