(Published in today’s Globe and Mail)
The Clarity Act protects the rights and interests of all Canadians, especially Quebeckers. It guarantees that Quebeckers will never lose their membership in Canada unless they clearly intend to do so. It guarantees all Canadians that the break-up of their country will never be negotiated unless the population of a province has clearly stated its desire to withdraw from Canada.
Enacted in 2000 to give effect to the Supreme Court opinion concerning Quebec’s secession, the Clarity Act establishes that the House of Commons must ascertain the existence of a clear majority in answer to a clear question before the Government of Canada may begin secession talks. It also provides that the Government of Canada, during such talks, should follow the principles set out by the Supreme Court, including the principle of minority protection.
Under the leadership of Alexa McDonough, the New Democratic Party supported the Clarity Act at the time, along with Ed Broadbent, Roy Romanow and Gary Doer. Now, however, the NDP under Thomas Mulcair wants to replace the Clarity Act with a bill full of holes, and whose main weaknesses deserve mention.
Sponsored by the NDP MP for Toronto-Danforth, Craig Scott, Bill C-470 “respecting democratic constitutional change” would apply to all constitutional requests that the Government of Quebec may seek to support through a referendum. Thus, secession – the splitting apart of Canada – is treated as merely one issue among others.
The bill enacts these rules for the Province of Quebec only. Would a referendum be more or less valid depending on the province in which it is held?
No federation on the planet is governed through provincial referenda being held on issues under federal jurisdiction. That would be politically untenable. And what would we do, should two separate provincial referenda yield constitutionally contradictory results — on equalization, for example?
The bill provides that the Government of Canada will have to re-evaluate the clarity of the referendum question on the secession. The Clarity Act gives this role to the House of Commons.
It is more democratic for the latter to make that assessment. Since when has the NDP wanted the government to act without the approval of the House on critical issues?
This bill contradicts the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada by giving the Quebec Court of Appeal the role of deciding the clarity of the question. In its opinion on Quebec secession, the Supreme Court assigned the responsibility for assessing clarity to politicians.
This bill also violates the Supreme Court opinion by setting a threshold in advance for evaluating the clear majority. And yet, the Court issued the opinion that a clear majority had to be determined “in the circumstances under which a future referendum vote may be taken.”
The bill sets this threshold at a single vote difference. The NDP, which requires a two‑thirds majority to amend its own constitution, is prepared to dismantle Canada on the basis of a recount. If 50%+1 is a clear majority, than what would be an unclear majority? The NDP requires a two-thirds majority to modify its party constitution yet it does not hesitate to consider breaking up Canada on the basis of a judicial recount.
Moreover, contrary to the Clarity Act, this bill does not use the turnout rate as a criterion for evaluating a clear majority.
Unlike the Clarity Act, the bill says nothing about the principles that should guide the Government of Canada when negotiating on secession, in particular, the protection of minority rights.
The NDP’s bill deprives Canadians, and Quebeckers especially, of the guarantees provided by the Clarity Act. It shows the extent to which the NDP is sinking into intellectual confusion by trying to please the “indépendantistes” at the expense of the rights of Quebeckers and of all Canadians.
Stéphane Dion, MP
Liberal Intergovernmental Affairs critic