Rift emerges in Harper cabinet over rules for Quebec secession - Macleans.ca

Rift emerges in Harper cabinet over rules for Quebec secession


MONTREAL – A split has emerged in the Harper government over a fundamental principle: the rules governing the potential breakup of Canada.

The Conservatives’ senior Quebec minister has declared in two media interviews today that a 50-per-cent-plus-one vote for separation is enough for a province to secede.

That comment by Denis Lebel flies in the face of longstanding federal policy under the Clarity Act, which declares that the federal Parliament would require a clear referendum question and clear result for any province to secede.

It also comes after the Conservative government has repeatedly scolded the opposition NDP — with its heavy contingent of Quebec MPs — for being wishy-washy on the Clarity Act.

The NDP gleefully circulated transcripts of Lebel’s remarks in a TV and radio interview.

In those interviews, Lebel was being asked about a court case over secession rules in which the feds are siding against the Quebec government.

A Montreal radio host repeatedly asked Lebel, who was trying to change the subject, whether as a Quebecer he believed 50 per cent plus one was enough.

Finally, Lebel bit at one point, when he was asked whether he considered 50 per cent plus one “clear” enough: “We’ve always said we’d leave that to Quebecers but, yes, it is for me,” he said.

“The Government of Canada has a responsibility there to defend the rights of Canadians. And for sure, I’m a Quebecer who wants to work with Quebec, but I knew right off the bat that the Marois government would use this file to advance her ‘sovereigntist governance’ strategy.

“It’s not necessarily great timing — the week where we deliver a throne speech everyone liked, and we signed a deal (on free trade with Europe) that we believe will mark history.”

He later repeated the remark in a TV interview with former politician Mario Dumont. Lebel told Dumont that he was “comfortable” with the 50-per-cent-plus-one standard.

The province’s Parti Quebecois government quickly pointed out the glaring contradiction in federal policy.

The PQ is believed to be mulling an election call for Dec. 9 and pundits in Quebec have suggested the court case, in which federal lawyers are siding with Anglo-rights activists against the PQ, could prove to be an electoral godsend to the pro-independence party.

However, support for independence is low and the PQ usually avoids drawing attention to referendum talk during an election campaign.

In fact, in the last election where the Clarity Act was a major issue, the sovereigntist side suffered at the polls. In 2000, the Bloc Quebecois lost six seats.

The election result was so disappointing to sovereigntists that, weeks later, Lucien Bouchard resigned as premier and declared that he’d failed to revive the independence cause.

“I accept my share of the blame for failing to rekindle the flame and to impress upon our fellow citizens the gravity of the situation,” Bouchard said in a solemn farewell address in January 2001.

“(Quebec voters) remained stunningly impassive despite federal offences.”

This is now the second time in just over a month that Lebel finds himself squeezed between his cabinet colleagues and Quebec nationalist viewpoints.

In September, he said there was nothing that upset him in the PQ’s religious-clothing plan — which has raised the ire of some other cabinet colleagues.

He later added that, because the so-called values charter has not been tabled in the legislature yet, there are no specific details to get exercised over.

The PQ has signalled that it could be planning to mount an election campaign with identity as a central theme. The party’s opponents, meanwhile, suggest it’s only a diversionary tactic to make voters forget a lacklustre economy.


Rift emerges in Harper cabinet over rules for Quebec secession

  1. The article is incorrect in its statement that 50% +1 is a violation of the Clarity Act. There is an interpretation of the Clarity Act which claims this is the case, but it is in no way settled law.

    • To echo Stephane Dion: if 50% +1 is a clear majority, then what’s an unclear majority?

      • Dion’s wordplay was clever for his time, but most discussion in Re- Secession of the term “clarity” talks about interpretable results rather than a percentage number (which the court states it will not set, and does not demand any type or style of majority). Although neither re:Secession or the Clarity Act sets a clear number, there is just as much evidence (if not more) that 50% +1 will meet secession requirements as a higher number, as long as the 50+1 is interpreted to mean outside the margin of error.

        • I’m not understanding. How could 50% + 1 *ever* be considered to be outside the margin of error? For example, the somewhat arbitrary decision of whether a single ballot is spoiled or valid could make the difference.

          • Absolutely. you would have to calculate the margin of error and then have the 1 extra vote be the vote that takes 50% and one outside the margin of error. it is true that 50% +1, if it were not outside a margin of error, likely wouldn’t meet the Re:Secession requirements, but the opposed crowd tend to view it as 50% not being enough, not as outside the margin of error.

  2. Again Ottawa is talking angels on the head of a pin. Any new nation will simply announce it’s existence and not worry about rules from a previous nation.

    Quebec will decide. No one else.

    • If it expects UN and general international recognition, it will need to do so in a somewhat orderly fashion, however. If they pull out without a negotiated plan, they will take down the economies of both their new nation and the one they left behind – and with that will come bloodshed.

      • They will be recognized and there won’t be any bloodshed…..this is neither the US nor 1861.

        • Name one country that has unilaterally secceded (i.e. without negotiating terms) without bloodshed. I’m not talking war here; I’m talking terrorist acts (or acts of retribution, as the perpetrators will likely view them). Or groups within Quebec determined not to leave Canada with the rest of Quebec (think natives). I can’t think of any such country that has achieved this. That’s not to say there aren’t – but if there are, they would be extremely rare exceptions.

          • I’m not going to argue about this or any other topic with you Bram.

            It’s been done before and will be again. Canadians believe too much Hollywood hokum.

            Czechoslovakia. Yugoslavia. USSR. Austria…..many others.

            The world is currently pushing for Tibet. Has done for Taiwan….and even Canada formally recognized Kosovo.


          • Czechoslovakia came into being out of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of WW1. I do believe there was bloodshed. Further, the situation is hardly analogous, as the country it came from had ceased to exist. Czechoslovakia itself ceased to exist and became two separate states via an act of parliament. Again, no UDI.

            Yugoslavia was similarly formed, and dissolved in a series of wars. There may have been bloodshed but I’m open to being proven wrong on that score. If, you know, you can demonstrate all that news coverage, peacekeeping missions, etc was an elaborate hoax.

            The USSR dissolved; no one state unilaterally separated.

            I have no idea what your reference to Austria is about; it has a convoluted history but it never voluntarily joined a bigger union and then unilaterally separated from it.

            No bloodshed in Kosovo? Seriously? Peaceful separation?

            Taiwan is a rather bizarre situation where the government of the Republic of China was supplanted by the communist government after a civil war (no blood there) everywhere except Taiwan. The ROC (Taiwanese government) claims to be the government of all China – and the PRC claims to be the true government of Taiwan. When each claims ownership of the other, it is hardly a case of one separating from the other.

            Tibet: They want to be separate but the PRC won’t allow it.

            So… wrong on each and every count.

          • If you can’t be civilized, be gone. I’m not interested in attempted bullying or misogyny.

            I already said Ciao

          • You made a statement that was utterly false; I countered with truth (I can provide links if you don’t believe me). How is that bullying or misogyny? Snarkiness is not bullying – and your nonsense has nothing to do with your sex so hardly misogyny. I’d say the same thing to any male who posted such tripe.

            Oh, and sayonara.

          • No, you play stupid, like you always do….trying to prove yourself right all the time.

            If some other country didn’t make a ‘UDI in Quebec city’….your ‘literal’ view…..well then I’m wrong. LOL

            Sorry…I’m not playing games with you or wasting time on something you could look up on Wiki

            Hasta la vista baby.

          • Show me where I’ve been stupid. You said there were plenty of instances where a country had made an UDI without bloodshed – and then provided a series of false examples, thinking I’d be too stupid to know the difference.

            If anyone is being stupid here, she’s staring back at you from your mirror.

      • Not sure about the bloodshed part, but a UDI would indeed wreak economic havoc in both Quebec and Canada, with, IMO, Quebec getting the majority of it.

        • I think you’re both exaggerating. if Quebec suddenly says it is an independent country, every other major country (with the possible but unlikely exception of France) will say “no you’re not” and that will be that.

        • ‘Quebec’s economy has undergone tremendous changes over the last decade.[152] Firmly grounded in the knowledge economy, Quebec has one of the highest growth rate of gross domestic product (GDP) in Canada. The knowledge sector represents about 30.9% of Quebec’s GDP.[153] Quebec is experiencing faster growth of its R&D spending than other Canadian provinces.[154] Quebec’s spending in R&D in 2011 was equal to 2.63% of GDP, above the European Union
          average of 1.84% and will have to reaches the target of devoting 3% of GDP to research and development activities in 2013 according to the Lisbon Strategy.[155] The percentage spent on research and technology (R&D) is the highest in Canada and higher than the averages for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the G7 countries.[156] Approximately 1.1 million Quebecers work in the field of science and technology.[157]

          Quebec is also a major player in several leading-edge industries including aerospace, information technologies and software and multimedia.
          Approximately 60% of the production of the Canadian aerospace industry are from Quebec, where sales totaled C$ 12.4 billion in 2009.
          Quebec is one of North America’s leading high-tech player. This vast sector encompassing approximately 7,300 businesses and employ more than 145,000 people’

          • And all that would serve the new country of Quebec in good stead in a stable environment. However, IMO what would follow a Quebec UDI would be anything but a stable environment.

          • No reason for it to be anything BUT stable.

          • A sample of things that would be up in the air in the event of a UDI:
            – Quebec’s borders
            – Quebec’s share of the assets and liabilities
            – How much say Quebec would have in the management of the CAD (answer would be none)
            – How well Quebec aboriginals would accept being part of the country of Quebec
            – Dealing with expiring passports (short term Quebec problem)
            – Getting a EI system up and running (short term Quebec problem. But Canada would likely immediately stop sending EI cheques to Quebec)
            – The stock market (actually it would be down in the dumpster as people sell Canadian companies and the CAD like crazy).

            And that’s assuming neither side gets snitty.

            Examples of Canada getting snitty:
            – Order the shut down of all federally regulated banks located in Quebec.
            – Stop sending OAS, GIS cheques to Quebec
            – Go mental and put the armed forces on alert on the border

            There would be so many unknowns that it would be impossible to say with any certainty how unstable things would get.

          • This may be your view of things ‘up in the air’…..but a simple take-over….as in all other secessions….solves them

          • Hardly. They would no longer be signatories on any trade agreements, to start. An angry Canada could easily block shipment of goods in all directions but south (vessels exiting from the St. Lawrence have to pass through domestic Canadian water). I can pretty much guarantee they will lose a chunk of hydroelectricity as someone will take down the power lines at the border between Labrador and Quebec.

            It might settle down after a few years, but those first years would be very rough. And they’d find it a lot harder to retain their French language when they are alone and without protection in NA.

          • Good point. Quebec would likely have to negotiate its way into NAFTA. Since it would be bargaining from a position of weakness, I imagine the US would take full advantage of that. And the most Quebec could hope for from Canada would be for it to not join the US in demanding major concessions (e.g. supply management, French language wording on goods sold in Quebec).

  3. What… Quebec is “threatening” to “separate”… again. Does this charade actually work anymore. Too bad the ;threats” weren’t real. Oh well, let the charade continue, some people seem to really enjoy it.