Under Jean Chrétien’s leadership, I had the honour of sponsoring the Clarity Act which was adopted by the House of Commons 13 years ago, on March 15, 2000, and by the Senate on June 29 of the same year. This law protects the rights and interests of all Canadians, particularly Quebeckers.
We, Quebeckers, are just as Canadian as those living in other provinces and in the territories. We have a right to the full benefits provided by Canadian citizenship, the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have a right to the full protection provided by Canadian laws and government assistance wherever we might be located, in Canada and abroad. Like all Canadians, we have the right to participate to the fullest in the building of the nation.
Nobody can take these full citizenship rights away from us. No premier, no government, no politician. Nobody! Not unless we, Quebeckers, clearly give up those rights.
If we Quebeckers clearly gave up on Canada with a clear majority in response to a clear question on secession, governments would have the obligation to enter into negotiations on secession. These negotiations would have to be held within Canada’s constitutional framework in order to conclude a separation agreement that is fair for all. If there were clear support for secession, there would be negotiation. If there were no clear support, there would be no negotiation, and without negotiation there would be no secession. That was the case the Government of Canada pleaded before the Supreme Court. That was also the court’s 1998 opinion to which the Clarity Act gave effect in 2000.
The Clarity Act prohibits the Government of Canada from entering into negotiations on secession before this House is convinced that there is clear support for secession. Who can oppose this fundamental principle? Who can argue that the Government of Canada should undertake to take Canada away from Quebeckers without being sure that this is what they truly want? Whether we are for Canadian unity or Quebec independence, we all have to agree on a fundamental principle: clearly expressed consent.
In no democracy in the world can a government proceed with something as serious as the break-up of the country, and abdicate its constitutional responsibilities toward one-quarter of its population, without having the assurance that this is what that population truly wants.
Quebec’s separatist movement has given itself a very difficult task: convincing us, Quebeckers, that we would be happier if we were not Canadians; they want us to abandon the country we have built with other Canadians, the country that makes us the envy of the whole world. The secessionist leaders are well aware that it would be very difficult for them to win in clarity; but this does not give them the right to try to do so in confusion. Clarity has virtues for everybody.
Liberal Critic responsible for Democratic Reform and Intergovernmental Affairs