Clarity, Quebec and the NDP -

Clarity, Quebec and the NDP

Stephane Dion scolds the New Democrats for their Unity Bill


Stephane Dion scolds the New Democrats for their Unity Bill.

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 per cent plus one is a clear majority, then what would be an unclear majority? 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 federal government when negotiating on secession – in particular, the protection of minority rights.

Emmett Macfarlane questioned the NDP bill last week.

Craig Scott, the bill’s sponsor, defended his side in an interview with Postmedia.

“Everybody knows that the Clarity Act was anything but clear,” Scott told Postmedia News. He said the act is “arbitrary and unclear” and offers a “muddy set of ground rules.”

Uncertainty over the acceptable threshold for victory could even backfire on federalists, he said, because some Quebecers might vote for sovereignty to send a “signal” — only then to unhappily realize it helped secure a referendum victory for hard-core separatists. Scott said the NDP’s plan accomplishes two things: It respects basic democratic principles, and it provides clarity. “The fact of the matter is we have put forward a clear number. Everybody knows what the stakes are when they go to vote.”


Clarity, Quebec and the NDP

  1. Hypocrisy thy name is NDP :)

  2. Fifty percent plus one vote is not a clear number in a vote where 5 million secret ballots are counted, and a number of ballots will be disqualified. In 1995, there were some 86,000 ballots that were rejected. Fifty percent plus one vote in a ballot, when 80,000 ballots rejected would be a foolish thing to go with to break away from a federation. The decision would be contested here and abroad.

    Basic democratic principle is not 50 plus 1 vote. You could say that for a vote in the HoC but there are only voting 307 MPs, they stand up for a recorded vote, witnessed by colleagues and visitors and TV and any citizen who wishes to watch – no ballots are rejected, etc. What the NDP is admitting here is that it is by their own definition an undemocratic organization, for its constitution requires two thirds of delegates’ approval – it’s not even open to the whole membership at 50 plus 1. The NDP has no lessons of democracy to give to anyone.

    • Your first sentence is correct and deserves attention. In fact, i would go as far as to say that is the answer (or at least one of many acceptable answers) to Dion’s famous question about what an unclear majority would be – the vote would have to be 50% +1 once the number of disqualified and irregular ballots were taken into account.

      I feel taking into account the number of people who did not bother to count votes is a bit silly, though, and on that point the Unity Act is probably an improvement over the Clarity Act.

      • But 50 + one would be contested, as have the results of the 1995 referendum. I have heard too many numerous claims to count, that the last referendum was stolen by federalists and that ballots were rejected that should not have been rejected. Eventually the contested ballots were destroyed.

        I think the NFLD precedent is a good one – two percent.

        • But there’s nowhere to contest the vote – the Supreme Court said they wouldn’t examine that issue and it was solely for the politicians to decide.

          • oh wait, you mean the results as in the actual validity of ballots NOT the actual accepted % range of the vote. yes that is definitely concern but it goes to oversight and process not fundamental principles of democracy. FWIW, I would certainly say if there is relatively good evidence that there are sufficient ambiguous, falsfied or wrongly discarded ballots that a threshold of 50% +1 might not be met, negotiations should not be entered into, under the Clarity Act, Unity Act, common law or any other matter.

          • I love your FWIW – wanna bet that at 50 % + 1 vote with tens of thousands of discarded ballots the relativity of ‘good evidence’ would be disputed on the one and the other side, as it was in 1995, and to this day.

            IMO and from memory, a ballot where 5 million votes are counted always has between 1 and 2 % of the votes that are rejected, no matter the oversight and process.

            Therefore, 50% plus one vote is not a clear result that should trigger negotiations on the secession of a province from Canada. BTW, why is the NDP only putting this measure on Quebec and does not apply it to all provinces as does the Clarity Act ?

          • Indeed, it would make sense for the “one vote” in the clarity act to be one vote above the margin created by rejected or otherwise tainted ballots. This would also be in line with the definition of clear as synonymous with “unambiguous” the court used at one point in the secession decision. If your scenario did indeed play out I think that would be the likely result.

            Regarding your second point I have wondered that as well but I think the interpretation is that it is the prerogtive of the people who may wish to separate to open negotiations by holding a vote. The other provinces wouldn’t participate in the vote itself or hold their own vote. If the vote of the potential separatists passed, THAT is the trigger for negotiations, which all the provinces would be required to enter into with good faith, but which might not result in a successful bid for the constitutional amendment necessary to achieve separation.

            I hope this is a useful clarification.

          • When has the people of Quebec expressed a valid desire to separate ? Canada has set the conditions for secession of a province with the “Clarity Act” and applies it to all provinces and I see no reason to segregate Canadian citizens according to their province of residence in this matter.

            BTW, if 50 % plus one vote is so valid, what happens if it is 50-50 ? Who’s going to cast the decisive vote, please do tell? Maybe the NDP needs to write that into their bill, don’t you think? If one vote is so important, it would be one hell of an important vote !

          • You may hold any opinion you wish on what the legal method of secession SHOULD be, what they ARE is outlined above. Each province would have a large say – in fact a de facto veto – in secession negotiations and some even require a vote before they would approve a constitutional change, but the vote of the potential secceeder (?) is all that is required to begin the negotiations. Additional requirements would violate the terms of the Supreme Court’s decision, which takes precedence over the Clarity Act (or any other regular statute on the matter).

            It stands to reason a true 50-50 vote would be a tie and not a majority. Unlike an election a specific candidate does not have to be elected so no deciding vote need be cast.

            Again, I hope this is helpful

          • I have a different view of the judgment, yours may be right. I am not a lawyer, though in every case two lawyers hold different views!

            From my understanding, the Court leaves it to the politicians to determine what is a clear majority on a clear question, and in the event of a demonstrated majority, puts in the hands of the political ‘la conciliation des divers intérêts’. But I am not as sure as you seem to be that the Court would refuse to hear a citizen or a group of citizens who would contest the political decisions thus taken. We are not talking here about a negotiation that would take part of an afternoon. These would be complex. It would seem to me that it would be easier to obtain a hearing on political decisions affecting the rights you’ve enjoyed since birth when 0.000002 % of the population has decided so at one given moment in time which is now unproven since the said fifty percent plus one vote is only valid until there is one declared death or one person who reaches voting age! That’s why 50 plus one vote is unclear.

            2013/2/5 Disqus

  3. Better to define the terms before a vote than after a vote, IMO. I don’t think the NDP have it right just yet, but this is a step in correcting the problem. The Liberals probably should’ve called their Clarity Act the Moving Goalposts Act.

    • Not necessarily. If there was a vote and it was really high or really low, you would never have to address that difficult thorny question. Sometimes you don’t need to know where the line is exactly, as long as you know which side the ball landed on!

      • Sometimes you don’t need to know where the line is exactly, as long as you know which side the ball landed on!

        Sure, but if you move the goal line to where the 20 yard line is now, it makes it easier for the other team to score. Not knowing where the line is makes it an awful lot more difficult to determine whether or not the line is in the right place.

        • Not setting the number is maybe preferable if the end result turns out to be clear, worse if it is closer.

          • Perhaps. I think I’d argue that in cases where the result is close to the line, it’s too problematic if no one knows where the line is, and therefore that ought to be dealt with ahead of time. If it’s 60/40, no one CARES where the line is, because it’s clearly been crossed. I certainly don’t personally think that an unqualified “one more vote than 50%” standard should be all that’s needed, but I do understand the need for clarity. There surely is (should be) a line in the sand, on one side of which is an independent Quebec, and on the other side of which is a united Canada. Refusing to clarify where the line is BEFORE a vote doesn’t seem at all beneficial to me in any case. It’s just a recipe for arguments during and after the vote.

      • Agreed, but to my cynical eyes the Clarity Act’s language looks like it was intended to set the goal line up after the seeing the results of the vote. So if a clean referendum (no pet/graveyard votes, a clear question on separation) resulted in a clear majority of Quebec voters choosing separation (let’s say 55/45, which is often considered a landslide in electoral politics), the Government of Canada of the day could come back with a higher threshold (56/44 in my example) and refuse to acknowledge the will of Quebec voters. Or worse, a federal party of mixed nut-bar Quebec-haters/Bloc separatists could decide that the threshold could be lower than 50%.

        Not that I think either scenario is likely (I don’t think a majority of Quebecois would choose to separate, and I don’t think a nut-bar/separatist governing coalition is possible or would have the chutzpah to choose a lower than 50% threshold), but the Clarity Act does nothing to prevent goalpost moving _if_ a clear majority were to vote for separation.

        • let’s say 55/45, which is often considered a landslide in electoral politics

          And that’s the interesting conundrum. 55% of the vote is indeed often considered a landslide in an election, yes. Then again, the first B.C. electoral reform referendum garnered 57% voter support, and failed, because making such a major change to the province was deemed to require a super-majority of 60%. Which isn’t to say that I think that 60% is where the number should be for separation, but it would seem odd to me if in one case one requires 60% popular support in order to move away from FPTP, while in another case less than 60% popular support is deemed sufficient to break up the country.

          • Didn’t they game the system on that BC referendum by creating a three-way ballot (with two choices for PR and just one for FPTP) and then claim that the FPTP ‘won’ when the two PR choices split the 57%? Or am I thinking of something completely different?

          • You’re thinking of something else.

            The first B.C. referendum (the one that got 57% support) basically just asked if the province should move to the new system that the Citizens Assembly recommended, or stick with FPTP. I believe that it was basically a “Yes or No” question.

  4. Dion is emperor with no clothes after he tried to usurp government and install coalition of losers with separatists acting as puppet masters.

  5. Get Dion to tell his joke about Bam the Dog………………heh

  6. I am curious indeed….

    Mr. Scott, please do tell…. If one vote can be so decisive (50% plus one vote) what happens in the case of a tie? Who would cast the decisive vote? And it can’t be the Queen!

    • Or voter fraud.

    • answer is above. No secession, a majority of any sort was not reached. A tie is not a majority.

  7. “Uncertainty over the acceptable threshold for victory could even
    backfire on federalists, he said, because some Quebecers might vote for
    sovereignty to send a “signal” — only then to unhappily realize it
    helped secure a referendum victory for hard-core separatists”

    Then maybe Quebecers should stop sending signals this way?

    Scott is really all over the place on this.Now having uncertainty could backfire While only the other day he was claiming that since previous voter TOs were so high having an overall threshold wasn’t necessary at all. Why is the uncertainty factor now so dire if everyone turns out for these referenda anyway Mr Scott? Sucking and blowing a bit, aren’t we?
    Surely on the day no voters can find their way to the polls as well as those inclined to vote yes?

  8. “The bill enacts these rules for 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 referendums
    being held on issues under federal jurisdiction. That would be
    politically untenable. And what would we do, should two separate
    provincial referendums yield constitutionally contradictory results – on
    equalization, for example?”

    This was the kicker for me…that and the fact that as Dion makes clear the CA was designed not to just protect the RoC, but to protect the rights of Canadians everywhere – including within QC itself. Old fashioned idea that one.

    “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.”

    But what does this mean?

    • I hadn’t noted until now the wording of the Unity Act only mentions Quebec. But the NDP point guy has said the decision complies with the secession reference, so that would mean the 50 +1 threshold is for each province.

      I have always thought Dion a very honourable man and I think it unfair he didn’t point out the issue and give a chance to respond before stating that as a conclusion.

      • I hardly think Dion is responsible for such an omission on the part of this bills authors. Are you saying the NDP had it covered before Dion brought it up…like he should have been aware they had acknowledged their error

        • Well, I feel a a “what does this part mean, then?” would have been in order. if the reply is “50% +1 is the standard and it’s in line with the secession reference, the bill is worded that way because Quebec is realistically the only province likely to be having a vote”, then the other parties can comment on that if they wish, but jumping to another conclusion, that Quebec may separate on a lower threshold than another province, wasn’t necessarily warranted.