Thursday, January 31, 2013

Memo to Mulcair: Pull Scott's bill C-470

The Clarity Act of 2000 spells out the mechanism by which Quebec, or indeed any other province, may secede from Canada. It gives the federal House of Commons the right to decide whether a referendum question on secession is clear.

It also gives the Commons the right to determine whether such a referendum has been approved by a “clear majority” of the province’s voters.
Finally it requires the seceding province to negotiate terms of the divorce not just with Ottawa but with all other provinces.
Scott’s Bill C-470 would let the Quebec court of appeal determine the clarity of the referendum question, remove the reference to “clear majority” and eliminate the requirement that other provinces be involved in any negotiations. (from "Thomas Mulcair’s NDP caught in Quebec conundrum: Walkom" by Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, January 30, 2013, excerpted below)
Sometimes, new to the responsibility and complexity of power, or even the potential to take full power, a leader, or a party wobbles under the weight of that burden. Here is one example when, paying the price of mollifying Quebec will prove far too high for the NDP, should they actually be serious about their future prospects of forming a government.
Not only is the Scott proposal unworthy of serious consideration for far too many Canadians, both inside and outside Quebec; it is another indication that the NDP has some serious developmental work to do across the country, should it ever even dream of governing the whole country.
Carrier pigeons freed from their roost at 24 Sussex this morning, are gleefully flying east and west with the laughs and toasts coming from the prime minister's breakfast of champions inside, cackling loudly over the vast land, and all its towns and cities. And there is no mistaking the exuberance in that sound!
It is the sound of the drums of "four-more-years" beating on the breakfast porridge pots of the PM should the country pay full attention to the Scott proposal. (And he will take special care to make sure that happens!) Mulcair will be saddled with this plunge into the shallow end of political naivety in the swimming pool of national debates where the carcases of other equally light-headed, and perhaps even empty-headed political proposals and their proponents have drowned.
Canadians are not the least bit interested in a national divorce, or even in the therapeutic sessions designed to prepare the mind for such a cleavage. We do not appreciate the Parti Quebecois' perpetual whining about their national, cultural victimhood, based on the thin veneer of evidence of unfair play from Ottawa and the other provinces. We also do not appreciate the PQ's chant of "Maitre chez nous!" that has been heard, in between power outages, corruption commissions, sponsorship scandals and referenda for nearly half a century. We are interested neither in appeasing the Quebec independentiste wing of Quebec politics, nor are we seeking to offend the legitimate aspirations of a unique, creative, dynamic, and animated culture and its people.
The Scott proposal has the potential to render an incipient national political party (the NDP) self-emasculated through its eagerness to appease a minority of the Quebec electorate. The country needs a healthy, vibrant and visionary contribution from the NDP and on so many files, there is evidence that it is fulfilling its role as Official Opposition satisfactorily, if not better than expected. For Mulcair to pull the Scott proposal off the parliamentary agenda would undoubtedly infuriate both Scott and some Quebec NDP MP's, it would be preferable to letting the bill onto the House of Commons agenda where it will be voted down anyway, and the only impact will be a lingering and untreatable, and self-inflicted, political hematoma on the face of the NDP and its leader.


Thomas Mulcair’s NDP caught in Quebec conundrum: Walkom

The NDP's attempt to revisit the constitutional file isn't likely to play well outside Quebec.
By Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, Januqry 30, 2013
Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats are in caught in the Quebec bind.

On the one hand, they’ve made a specific and, in their view, necessary pitch to the Quebec electorate.
On the other, they are trying to woo voters in the rest of Canada who are not always sympathetic to positions that, in Quebec, seem common sense.
The fuss over the Clarity Act has brought the NDP’s Quebec contradictions back to the surface.
Specifically, a private member’s bill from Toronto—Danforth New Democrat MP Craig Scott would repeal that act and replace it with something significantly weaker.
The Clarity Act of 2000 spells out the mechanism by which Quebec, or indeed any other province, may secede from Canada. It gives the federal House of Commons the right to decide whether a referendum question on secession is clear.
It also gives the Commons the right to determine whether such a referendum has been approved by a “clear majority” of the province’s voters.
Finally it requires the seceding province to negotiate terms of the divorce not just with Ottawa but with all other provinces.
Scott’s Bill C-470 would let the Quebec court of appeal determine the clarity of the referendum question, remove the reference to “clear majority” and eliminate the requirement that other provinces be involved in any negotiations.
That Canada recognizes the right of secession at all is remarkable. The Americans fought a bloody civil war over secession. The United Kingdom only recently accepted the notion that Scotland might break away.
Most countries, from France to Nigeria to Mali guard their territorial integrity jealously. When Chechnya tried to secede from Russia, Moscow sent in the troops.
Still, the Clarity Act has never found much favour in Quebec, particularly among sovereigntists.
In the rest of Canada, breaking up the country is viewed as an event that affects everyone. In Quebec, it tends to be seen as a matter for Quebecers alone to decide.
In 2000, the NDP supported the Clarity Act. But in 2005, as part of an effort by then leader Jack Layton to make inroads into Quebec, the party reversed itself, arguing instead that a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one in a referendum should be enough to authorize secession.
The shift played well in Quebec among both separatists and federalists. Historically, Quebec had been a desert for the NDP. Sherbrooke helped to bring the party into the province’s mainstream.
Under Layton, the NDP also shifted its stance on electoral democracy, supporting the idea of giving Quebec more seats in the Commons than its population warrants.
I once asked Layton how he reconciled this with the party’s simultaneous support of proportional representation, “It’s a complicated country,” he answered.
Indeed it is. As long as the NDP was Canada’s third or fourth party, few cared about its views on any of this.
Now, however, the New Democrats are the official Opposition. Their position on national unity does matter. Eventually, voters in places like Moose Jaw and Kitchener will pay attention.
On the one hand, many in the rest of Canada are bitterly opposed to the notion of treating Quebec differently. That’s one big reason why the Charlottetown referendum on constitutional change failed in 1992.
On the other, when forced to think about Quebec secession (and after the usual “good riddance” barroom bravado is out of the way), a good many Canadians are horrified by the idea of a fractured country.
That’s why the Clarity Act played well in the rest of Canada: it gives all of Canadians some say in such a momentous event.



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