The NDP, Quebec and the constitution


Photograph by Jessica Darmanin

Yesterday on a campaign swing through Quebec, Jack Layton was asked whether as prime minister he would accept the result of a Parti Québécois referendum on sovereignty. “La réponse est oui,” he said cheerfully. That seemed to me a bit short.

The Supreme Court has had quite a bit to say on the matter. Other provinces have legislation on the books requiring a referendum to ratify constitutional amendments affecting those provinces, and constitutional amendments would be required for secession to be legal. And there is, of course, the Clarity Act, which calls on the House of Commons to judge the clarity of any referendum question, and then again of the referendum result. The NDP voted in favour of the Clarity Act after Alexa McDonough learned, in very late innings in 1999, that there is real and substantial political cost outside Quebec for trying to be as insouciant about all these matters as the Parti Québécois likes to be.

But as Joan Bryden of CP pointed out last night, the NDP’s record on these matters under Jack Layton’s leadership has continued to be a bit of a mess.

I take these issues pretty damned seriously. I covered the 1995 referendum, the Supreme Court hearings on Clarity, the release of the ruling, and every step of the process that led to the passage of the Clarity Act. So I was pleased last night when Brian Topp contacted me and offered to clear all this up. Topp is a former NDP campaign director from earlier elections who has been less directly involved with the Layton campaign this year, but he told me he was speaking with the approval of the Layton campaign and for the record. After we spoke he sent me an email summary of his main points, which matches the substance of the notes I took during our phone conversation. Here is Topp’s own summary of his points, with parenthetical additions by me to help make it all more comprehensible.

I believe this all leaves Layton with pretty serious questions left to answer before he will be worthy of anybody’s trust on fundamental questions of constitutional stewardship. But I have to say that until the other national leaders get over their own games of peekaboo on the same questions, it’s hard to be sure that Layton is the worst of the lot. In particular, the silence of Stephen Harper, who is still today the Prime Minister of Canada, speaks volumes.

Topp’s summary of his remarks:

• The Quebec National Assembly has not ratified the 1982 amendments. This is an issue that will have to be addressed at some point. The time to address it is when we can be fairly sure we will succeed.

• A necessary precondition is a federal government francophone Quebecers see themselves in, working on priorities they support.

• In the 1998 reference case, the Supreme Court wrote the rulebook on any future referendum, should there be one, which hopefully there won’t be. Both Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Chretien welcomed this ruling at the time.

• Issues about whether a future question is sufficiently “clear”, should these issues ever end up in dispute, would presumably ultimately end up in front of the Court.

• Mr. Layton is not calling for repeal of the Clarity Act.

• Fewer BQ MPs in Parliament is good for Canada (including Quebec). Working to re-involve Francophone Quebecers in the governance of Canada is the kind of work Canadians hope an aspirant for PM will do. Acknowledging this issue as we are doing is respectful of the views of Francophone Quebecers, and is good nation-building.

• Michael Ignatieff said essentially the same thing in 2006.

• It’s not surprising that in the last week of a campaign our opponents are mis-stating our views on these issues.

• With regard to Guy Giorno’s tweets [the Conservative national campaign director spent part of Tuesday morning asserting on Twitter that Layton wants to make re-opening the Constitution a “priority” – pw]: Mr. Giorno had little to contribute to federal politics other than tactics when he was in the PMO, and this hasn’t changed during this election.


The NDP, Quebec and the constitution

  1. The problem with the SCC decision and the Clarity Act is that it assumes secessionists would actually respect the law. That's a huge assumption and one that history generally doesn't support. In other words, if Quebec wanted out, baby they're going to leave law or no law. SCC decision or no SCC decision.

    • But its legality, or lack thereof, would affect negotiations with Canada afterwards, wouldn't it? From a larger perspective, the Canadian unity issue has always seemed different from others around the world. We've have very civil referendums. Canada has accepted the legitimacy of these referendums. Even Quebec separatists have been very careful of at least appearing to be playing by an established set of rules. So, I think the rules do matter for both sides.

      • I respectfully disagree. We like to think there is respect for the law, but the law cannot contain the will of the people if the momentum to separate is strong enough. The Clarity Act is based on a lot of untested assumptions. We assume the won't unilaterally declare independence. We assume they would come to the table and negotiate. We assume a lot of things but you know what they say about the word "assume".

        Don't bet the bank on the Clarity Act. If Quebec wants out, they're not going to do it within the narrow confines of a law that was drafted by Federalists in Ottawa.

        • Must agree with Dennis and respectfully disagree with you. In my mind (and heart) actions speak louder than words. The Bloc and PQ have so far been very respectful and have both played by the rulebook. In your defence I would point out the disturbing tendancy of 'Yes' scrutineers to attempt to nullify 'No' votes in 1995- that was indeed very widespread. However, if the separatists had wanted uprising and forcing of the issue, they had the ammunition in 1995- was it not 75% of 'pure laine' Quebecois who voted Yes? Instead all we got was a semi-drunken rant about 'l'argent et les ethniques'.

        • Presumably if there is an overwhelming groundswell for independence, the result of the referendum will be clear.

          Unilaterally declaring independence in circumstances of a narrow win would be devastating for Quebec, Canada, their relations, and the minorities in Quebec. It would be a mess.

    • "….Clarity Act is that it assumes secessionists would actually respect the law."

      I agree. If Quebecers wanted to separate, they could do so tomorrow and Canada would not do anything about it but knash our teeth. Canadian government is not going to put tanks on front lawn of National Assembly or somesuch if Quebec decide to separate on their own terms and not ours.

      How big an issue is Quebec not signing '82 constitution deal within Quebec? Aren't separatism and signing constiution similar causes but different. How much pressure is there within Quebec to re-open this and why bother if only a few are worried about it.

      • Another thing to consider is that Quebeckers probably don't consider themselves to be Canadian. Canada to Quebec is essentially a function of paying taxes and a transfer of revenue from Ottawa to the province and nothing more. Canada is an accountant, a bank account, a notary public – the very idea of Canada likely doesn't even rest on the minds of most Quebeckers because they don't see themselves the way we see ourselves.

      • But, if they want anything from Canada, then they had better leave on terms that had been agreed on previously.

        I would assume that at the very least, there are many financial reasons why Canadian cooperation would be necessary to a newly independent Quebec.

        • "But, if they want anything from Canada, then they had better leave on terms that had been agreed on previously"

          I suspect that what they would want from Canada is for us to piss off.

          • "I suspect that what they would want from Canada is for us to piss off."

            That may be what they want, but it would mean that they would be starting a new nation from the bottom of a big hole. Establishing a new currency, collection of taxes, securing international investment and trade relations would be big big issues that would be a lot easier with Canada's help. What would happen if Quebec just left and Canada (as it should in that case) immediately stopped all transfers from the federal gov't? Being a few billion dollars short should encourage some cooperation on Quebec's part.

          • I'm bringing up all these scenarios after having watched the dance between federalists and separatists all my life. The points I am making are the issues that have never been asked publicly – the issues that have been missing from the national dialogue (or lack thereof.) It's almost as if federalists and the English media have been terrified to ask them out of fear of what the answers might be, or worse, the very act of asking the questions would inflame separatist sentiment.

            But they are questions that need to be asked and answered. No politician from Ottawa has dared ask them in a meaningful way and our news media has never bothered to ask them either.

    • The decission in fact addresses this very issue.

      • But Quebec could flip the bird to the decision. Just sayin…

        • Following the terms of the decision is Quebec's easiest route to secession. It's going to be nearly impossible to get international recognition from other countries without observing it.

          • I can see you need a little research on the concept of international recognition.

          • Yes, because Stephen Harper is Muammar Gaddafi.

            If the government of Canada attacks civilians in Quebec with tanks and fighter jets with the intention of wiping them off the face of the Earth then I'll be calling on the international community to recognize Quebec as independent.

            Bringing up Libya as an example here is the height of idiocy.

          • My argument is why should we assume separatists would respect the law? They have not yet won a referendum on Quebec independence and that is the true litmus test of whether they would come to the table to negotiate or simply tell Canada to stuff it.

            LdKitchener's refusal to acknowledge the "what happens if" factor is an example of remarkable naiievety. The winning vote changes everything and it is our refusal to consider the likely scenarios should that actually occur that gives separatists an advantage.

          • I think you're not quite understanding the process here. The supreme court was quite clear that if Quebec illegally separates then it is acting in a supra-legal manner – which prompted my first reply, that the court was well aware of your objection and addressed it.

            Practically, then, the question would be who is willing to recognize a Quebec which makes a unilateral declaration of independence. And then you went all LIBYA! LIBYA! lIBYA!

          • It might as well be Libya Libya Libya because it's anything can happen day if Quebec flipped the Court, Canada and the Clarity Act the bird. People are making wild assumptions that everyone is going to act rationally and respect the will of law were independence unilaterally declared. History tells us otherwise and history is generally an accurate prediction of future likelihoods.

          • Even with a unilateral declaration of independence there are only ways Quebec becomes independent: they take up arms and beat back advancing forces, if any, or they get international recognition.

            It's definitely a tricky situation for Canadian politics if Quebec unilaterally declares independence, but it's far from an independent Quebec.

          • Bingo! And it's our collective refusal to talk about the "what if" factor that makes the entire debate about Quebec separatism a farce. Seeking independence is a serious bit of business that deserves the kind of scrutiny our national leaders and media have failed to provide.

          • I am glad you agree, but it runs contrary to your original post.

          • My argument is why should we assume separatists would respect the law?

            Actually, I believe your argument was that because France recognized the opposition forces in Libya as the legitimate government of Libya, therefore a Quebec which declared independence unilaterally would receive international recognition.

            My argument is that that entire premise is idiotic, beginning with the part where France did not actually recognize the unilaterally declared independence of one part of Libya from the rest of Libya.

          • Better to look at, say, Abkhazia or South Ossetia in Georgia, where practically no one other than Russia has recognized independence. If Canada did not recognize de jure Quebec independence, it would be a while before other countries (other than maybe France) granted recognition. A lot of countries (e.g., US, UK, probably Haiti, etc.) would be very concerned about the state of minorities in Quebec.

          • Even in cases where a LOT of countries recognize independence, getting international recognition in a "here's your seat at the UN" sense is very difficult. Kosovo STILL isn't recognized as independent by the UN writ large, and they declared independence more than two years ago. The International Court of Justice was then called upon to rule on the legality of the declaration, and THEIR judgment didn't come until 2010 (they ruled that the declaration didn't violate international law, but that's it, and it was a non-legally binging decision).

            If a country we sent fighter jets to defend still isn't technically independent THREE YEARS after declaring independence, what makes anyone think that Quebec could get international recognition so fast?

    • Whether the secessionists respect the laws or not, is not the principle factor. The fact that we have laws and Supreme Court rulings on these matters is extremely important. In the event of a close “yes” vote, the legitimacy of Canada’s position in negotiations with Quebec and more importantly in the international community, will be significantly strengthened if Canada is seen to be playing by fair rules and Quebec not.

      For example, if Quebec unilaterally declared independence on the strength of a very close and dubious vote, Canada would hopefully initiate a strong diplomatic campaign to have other countries and international organizations not recognize Quebec. The existing laws and jurisprudence would help bolster Canada’s case significantly in this regard.

      If Quebec were not seen as legitimate in the international community Canada could take all kinds of actions to stymie their actual independence, such as freezing assets, cutting off access to credit, federalizing provincial industries etc.

      In short, it matters a great deal.

      Of course, the strongest case for independence or unity will be based on the result of the referendum. A 60% yes vote on a clear question, would not be able to be ignored.

    • Only Canada should have the right to break other countries, Quebecois must accept Anglophone Rule to eternity.

  2. Working to re-involve Francophone Quebecers in the governance of Canada

    Oh good grief. Francophone Quebecers are involved in the governance of Canada via their Bloc, Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat representatives in Parliament.

    • As is usual, it takes Robert McClelland to cut through the chaff to get to the heart of the matter.

    • Absolutely. This is one of the reasons I have trouble with the demonization of the Bloc MPs as members/supporters of a coalition. That position effectively says that they aren't *really* part of the governance, which furthers their argument for separation IMHO.

      • The best way to understand the role the Bloc plays in Parliament is to understand the point J Teller makes above—he says Quebecers do not think of themselves as Canadian. Bloc MP`s do not think of themselves as Canadian. They think only as Quebecers. That is a fundamental flaw in the mission of the Bloc MP as a Canadian MP.

        I can understand why you would not want the Bloc demonized but it is wrong to soft-sell their role as Canadian Parliamentarians. A wishy-washy NDP led coalition would be a dream for the separatists. If you don`t believe me, ask Jean Chretien–ask Pierre Trudeau, if you could, —hell, even ask Bob Rae.

        • LOL

          A wishy-washy NDP led coalition would be a dream for the separatists. If you don't believe me, ask a Liberal!

          • Har!

  3. "A necessary precondition is a federal government francophone Quebecers see themselves in, working on priorities they support."

    74 out of 75 Quebec seats were held in 1982 by the party that proposed the Constitution, and a similarly large majority of Quebec seats held by the last party to propose serious amendment.

    What pray tell, is the indicator by which francophone Quebecers will be deemed to "see themselves" in a future federal government?

    When you ask a Tory a question, they'll at least offer you up a lie in response. You can't even get that much from a dipper these days…

  4. Re: Stephen Harper's silence speaks volumes.

    Why in the world would Harper want to open his mouth on the matter when Quebeckers aren't clamoring for a referendum and separatism is waning? Sounds like a smart thing to do – sometimes you just have to keep your trap shut.

    • Very much like the nation debacle in 2006.

      Harper didn't weigh in until he absolutely had to, in order to pull the other guys' chestnuts out of the fire.

    • He's happy enough to "open his mouth" and tell us that only a Conservative majority will keep separatism at bay "when Quebekers aren't clamoring for" separatism "and separatism is waning".

      • I dread the thought of Layton negotiating on my country`s behalf knowing that a large chunk of his caucus owe their position to the votes of separatists in Quebec.

    • I think the question here is why do we ask Layton these days and not the current and most likely future prime minister of Canada.

      • Because he said it without being asked.

        • "Yesterday on a campaign swing through Quebec, Jack Layton was asked…"

          You were saying…?

      • I think people are afraid that if they ask 2011 Stephen Harper about national unity that it will create some sort of temporal rift, and pre-2006 Harper will re-emerge from whatever other dimensional prison he's been confined to for the past five years and he will battle 2011 Stephen Harper to the death, possibly resulting in the annihilation of the universe.

    • Why in the world would Harper want to open his mouth on the matter when Quebeckers aren't clamoring for a referendum and separatism is waning?

      Separatism is waning is it? Not according to Stephen Harper it isn't. To the extent that Harper HAS opened his mouth on the matter it has been to declare that the separatist threat is advancing, and the only way to avoid giving the separatists the ability to destroy the country is to elect a Tory majority.

      • There is appealing to your base and there is the sheer idiocy of Layton's musings yesterday. It is one thing to say "give me a majority and I save Canada" (rhetoric) and another thing entirely to say "let's reopen the constitutional debate so that we can get Quebec to sign on" (lunacy). Most people can distinguish between the two, but then you are a Liberal partisan and you see things through the filter or your partisanship. How's that working out for you now that your party is about to get its ass handed to it next Monday?

        • So Harper didn't actually mean what he was saying, when he said it? Or he did mean it, but it was only intended for the "right kind" of Canadians?

        • Don't get me wrong, I realize that Harper's fear-mongering about separatism is just crass politics and base-pandering, it's just that that's actually what I don't like about it.

          Also, I haven't voted for the Liberals in either of the last two federal elections, so I'm not a very good "Liberal partisan".

    • Perhaps because Pauline Marois recently — and inexplicably, to my mind — won high-90s support of her PQ leadership, and another part of that convention not only restated their active determination to push for another sovereignty referendum, but also to end open access to English CEGEPs and even to roll back the language law to re-ban English on commercial signs (the latter of which was passed by vote, and then only retracted after a closed-door meeting in which party leadership convinced the sponsors what bad optics it would create)?

  5. Re: In particular, the silence of Stephen Harper, who is still today the Prime Minister of Canada, speaks volumes.

    I think it was the right thing to do (no matter who was the Prime Minister). Layton's position needed to be flushed out first. There is still plenty of time to address this. Why stir up a debate re the Clarity Act etc? Wouldn't that only support the separatists' cause?

    • Passing the Clarity act didn't stop Jean Chrétien from winning 36 seats in Quebec in 2000. Bet that looks pretty good to Harper right now.

      • The Clarity Act has nothing to do with "show me the money" and that, Paul, is the true nature of Quebec's relationship with Ottawa.

      • Isn't Harper on record as supporting the Clarity Act, Paul?

        I presume he has sufficient background on this issue as his own thinking during his Reform years on the rules for secession were very much in line with what eventually went into Chretien's Supreme Court reference and Clarity bill.

      • that fact that the basic premise and framework of the Clarity Act was written and created by Stephen Harper didn't stop Chretien from using it either. Of course, Chretien simply handed it off to Dion for a basic re-write so he could claim it was a Liberal idea shouldn't really matter here.
        (Ask Chantal Hebert if in doubt Paul)

  6. I disagree with the importance of Topp's first point, and I am pretty sure the Court would refuse to rule on the Clarity Act.

    • Why would the Court refuse to rule on a question of statutory interpretation? Particularly one relating to the potential dissolution of Canada? In any event, the government can refer the matter to the Supreme Court, and I don't think the Court can refuse such a reference.

      • Because in the decision the court specifically says it wouldn't make rulings on most of what forms the substance of the Clarity Act.

        • Thanks. I don't have time to read the decision today, but does this mean essentially that the "clarity" of the question and response are left to the federal government of the day to decide?

          • I wish they'd been that clear on it. It's more of a "these are political questions it's not proper for us to address" kind of thing. Which is odd considering they are setting out the framework in the first place.

  7. The voting habits of Quebecers don`t seem to be grounded in any type of principled response, but rather, it appears they park their votes with the party that they believe will be in the most strategic position to help Quebec.

    There may be lots of reasons why Quebec can go solidly Liberal in 1980, then all the way over to Mulroney in 1984, and then swing to the Bloc since 1993, but it seems a lot more strategic then principled.

    If there is a swing to the NDP by the separatist vote in Quebec, I don`t think it would be too cynical of me to suggest that the reason why may be that they believe that giving power to " a do anything–say anything–for power man like Layton " may be the best strategic move available move for those separatists who might be negotiating a referendum question and possible separation with a fractured federal NDP-Liberal gov`t.

    • The "do anything say anything for power/no principle" approach hasn't helped Harper in Quebec though.

      I think it is a protest vote. Quebecers (outside of Montreal) are still dislike the Liberals strongly and are fed up with and don't like Harper's Conservatives. Quebecers political memories linger for a long time. They were willing to give Harper a chance but now have totally turned on him.

      The Bloc has been since the referendum merely a parked protest vote, but they are now tired of Duceppe (who is acting tired and dialling it in) and see that he can't get things done for them. So why not go orange with it's Montrealer leader (who is a natural populist) and it's #2 a former Quebec provincial cabinet minister.

      A similar thing is happening in BC and a little bit in the prairies. Less so in Ontario because of the 1990-1995 years.

      • I hope you and Dennis down below are right in your estimation that the election of NDP`ers in Quebec is just a parked-protest vote—-whatever the results of this election, nobody would like to see separatist momentum leading up to a probable PQ gov`t in Quebec.

        • I think the flatlining of the Bloc tells you all you need to know and worry about "separatist momentum" in Quebec.

          Remember, Quebecers only have two provincial alternatives and one is proving to be corrupt and incompetent.

    • I don't think voters in Quebec or anywhere else are nearly that calculating. Some are sick of the Bloc. For now, they like what they're hearing from Jack. So, they might vote for him. Simple. Just as they voted ADQ in a recent provincial election, and then decided not to in the last one. Yet to be seen if same fate awaits NDP.

      • I would like to commend you for a thoroughly unobjectionable post.

      • Excellent post, Dennis_F. I wonder what the age distribution of Bloc support is vs NDP? Perhaps the BQ is viewed as an anachronism, something a voters parents or grandparents would have supported, and maybe on their way out?

        We can only hope.

        • That might well be true. I know that my own perception of separatist supporters is that of mean old white guys who open their mouths from time to time to spew all kinds of bile – similar to Parizeau's rants after the last referendum.

          • Partly yes, but Quebec also has an army of young, activist idealists who are very interested and engaged in Quebec politics and specifically in the sovereignty issue, and who don't share (for the most part) the uglier aspects of the nationalist roots of the movement. That's going to make the separation issue much larger again in the near future, IMHO. So it can be avoided now, but there will be a lot of interest to pay when that bill comes due later.

    • Quite predictable. They like the guy with a cane.

    • The main reason I hear for voting NPD is that it's a vote for Jack is a vote for a positive change, for someone who shows enthusiasm for the future. Duceppe is viewed as always being caught in 'chicanes de clochers' – perpetually fighting in bad faith the same little wars. Harper is the least popular in the QC polls, also for his negative politics, negative ads. Ignatieff is boring and the LPC is still paying for the sponsorship scandal, and for being the other side of the 'chicanes de clochers'.

      The swing towards the NDP is a swing against negative ads, negative politics. It's spring. People want hope and enthusiasm and Layton embodies this at the moment.

    • "The voting habits of Quebecers don`t seem to be grounded in any type of principled response, but rather, it appears they park their votes with the party that they believe will be in the most strategic position to help Quebec. "

      Albertans should take a page out of their book

  8. I wonder if Harper would still support a referendum on partition held on the same day as a referendum on secession.

    • I guess, but that's a non-issue given that the partition movement is dead and there's really nothing to part anymore.

    • Interesting Question on partition…. but which partition and who are they asking?
      1) Question to Quebecois: If separation question is answered YES, are you willing to partition Quebec to achieve that?
      2) Question to Canadians: If separation question is answered YES by the Quebecois, are you willing to partition Canada in order to let Quebec to achieve that?

      • I am referring to Stephen Harper's proposal, tabled as C341 which included the following propositions:

        Parallel referendum
        5. (1) If the Governor in Council issues an order under subsection 3(1), the Governor in Council shall order the Chief Electoral Officer to issue a writ of referendum for a referendum to be held, in Quebec, under the provisions of the Referendum Act, on the same day as the referendum or plebiscite is held by the government of Quebec.

        (2) The ballot at the referendum held under subsection (1) shall bear the following two questions:
        (a) should Quebec separate from Canada and become an independent country with no special legal ties to Canada – YES or NO?
        (b) if Quebec separates from Canada, should my community separate from Quebec and remain a part of Canada – YES or NO?

        • Didn't Dion/Chretien wisely ignore this suggestion? More or less taking it to be a call for bloodshed?

  9. I`m not sure the hockey analogy works–I can`t imagine a Quebecer cheering for the USA in that Olympic game.

    And even though many Quebecers think of themselves as Quebecers first and Canadian second, I do believe there is a real connection between them and the rest of Canada, especially when they think with their heads rather then their hearts.

    And I still believe that it is not wise to soft-sell separation by assuming that Bloc MP`s have the interest of the country just like any other MP.

    • Wasn't the National Post headline after the 2002 Gold Medal game- "Canada's defence weak in 5-2 win over US- Chretien refuses comment"


  10. Which party would reject the results of a referendum on separation? Are we just supposed to be upset that Layton didn't repeat that he'd like to avoid the referendum and it would have to be clear etc ect?

  11. .
    You are asking the wrong question, but at least you got a straight answer: "oui".

    But no, having gotten a straight answer, you want to parse the whole historical development of 'answers' to one of the trickiest problems for any politician to deal with.

    Would you have been satisfied with a long, complete, nuanced answer? No you have the thrown that also into old stewpot, stirred it around, and happily displayed to us another example of journalistic cuisine.

    I'm sure longer answers will be forthcoming; long enough to set about him with a lynch-mob.

    • It's actually the other way around Dan. Layton has given the long answer with his 2006 Declaration. No one really pressed him on that because he was never going to be near power. Now he is so now he's getting pressed. And the long answer not only is at stark odds with what he has said, but it includes some very concerning positions. Like a 50% +1 in the referendum is enough for Layton to accept separation (even if that is less than a majority of the population as the SCC said). Like the separatists get to decide on all the rules and questions without question from the Government of Canada. etc.

  12. The necessity of a new Quebec currency will be an issue in any new Quebec referendum. The sovereignists will NOT be able to say the loonie, the euro, or the US dollar can be used.

    See Ireland, Portugal, and Greece. A country is NOT sovereign without its own currency. Ireland, Greece, and Portugal are having severe austerity imposed on them by Germany, the EU, and the IMF, and the taxpayers of those three countries are paying to bailout French and German banks.

    The state of the global economy is such that any serious discussion of another referendum would be economic suicide for Quebec, and Canada.

    The credit worthiness of sovereign debt all over the world is being challenged. Quebec AND Canada would not be able to handle credit downgrades without severe impact on our economy and on the deficits and debt of our governments.

    • Sure, they can. Other countries use the US dollar as their currency or use currency boards to similar effect. And lots of countries with their own currencies have had IMF austerity programs (including the UK).

    • It's definitely an issue, but I don't think not having their own $ and using Canadian dollars, at least for the first while, is the absolute bar you claim it is. It IS a little unusual to use a currency you have no governmental control over, however.

    • And this argument here is why I'm currently not terribly worried about Quebec separating.

      When the sovereigntists start making the moves to create a barter currency in Quebec, then I'll know things are getting serious. So long as they're happy to use Canadian money, however, you can be pretty sure their heart really isn't in it.

        • Indeed.

        • Given that we're an export driven economy, that's a *good* thing.

  13. Didn't you just write to me that partition is dead?

    It's only dead when separation is dead. But the minute you talk about separation, partition comes to life, doesn't it?

  14. Why are we even talking about Quebec separatism?

    As far as I'm concerned, whether Canada ends up with one national government, or two, or ten, ought to be a secondary consideration. As long as the people living in the Northern part of North America remain free, and can prosper, should the constitutional status of the country (or any future countries) really be a primary concern for us?

    • are you actually quoting or simply channeling our Dear Leader? (circa 1995)

  15. I think we can all be very greatful that civil war is far from the only alternative.

    • Well, it's usually the outcome when one part of a country unilaterally secedes from another.

      That's what caused the American civil war. That's what happened not long ago in Spain, Ireland, and lots of other places. I agree that it's unlikely to reach that point here.

      But once people start ignoring the law, anything can happen. To secede peacefully, the rule of law needs to be respected.

      • I am glad you no longer hold the position that it is the "only" alternative.

        • Yes, that's true, it's not the only alternative if Quebec unilaterally secedes. The other alternative, which is probably more likely, is that the ROC allows it to happen. Who knows, maybe there would be civil unrest in Quebec. That's also hard to imagine, since the federalists in Quebec always seem to accept whatever is dished out.

          • There is also the option of an uneasy detente even more tense the one we have now.

          • Or a period of de facto independence, where Quebec operates on its own without Canada, but does not have recognition. If you look at places like Abkhazia or South Ossetia, they were de facto independent for about 15 years before Georgia decided to try to reassert authority. Or, better yet, Taiwan.

  16. I can see how this is helping the NDP in Quebec. But the rest of Canada should know what the NDP is saying to Quebecers, and Quebecers should know what they're saying to the rest of Canada. Since the NDP would obviously not want that to happen (surely they don't want to talk about constitutional issues with English Canada), then it's up to the media to get the word out. I suppose this job falls to the bilingual reporters out there like PW.

  17. The time to address it is when we can be fairly sure we will succeed

    That's a load of BS. Just like you can't be sure of the election result until the election is done. There is no way of knowing whether you can succeed before you've opened up the can of worms. Ask Mulroney re Meech Lake.

  18. In particular, the silence of Stephen Harper, who is still today the Prime Minister of Canada, speaks volumes.

    No it doesn't. Layton is the one who opened up this can of worms. If Layton intends to siphon off BQ votes by essentially becoming a clone of the BQ on these issues, then it's up to Layton to explain it all to us.

  19. ok, I'd say that now is the time that many "business" Liberals (ie. a basic knowledge of economics and finance) are considering holding their noses and voting Conservative.
    Secondly, if the Liberals do finish a distant third behind Jack and his Dippers….I can't see the Liberals wanting a coalition that they wouldn't command. Hmm…how many Liberal MP's will defect to the Tories to give Harper his majority?

    • We're talking about the parties as they exist in reality, not the ones in your head.

  20. Why are Quebecers now voting NDP instead of BLOC? Well, the Bloc are always whining about want more more more……..

    But who do you think is in a position to actually provide it? Well, a resurgent NDP who wants to hold their newly gained Quebec seats would probably transfer more wealth from the rest of Canada to quebec than the Bloc ever managed to do.

    • Okay thats scary for me to hear

    • and that would be sooo different from Harper buying gazebos and outhouses with border security money to make sure Tony Clement gets re-elected … and wait, hasn't Harper specifically told Atl Cda and others that you don't get the pork unless you vote for me and my blue boys?

      I think Que are voting NDP instead of Bloc b/c (a) tired of separtists and (b) can't stand Libs or Cons. But I'm from Sask and live in T.O. so, what I think is just a guess, I'd really like to hear the Que/s who are changing answer your question.

  21. Amazing how ambition comes first before love of country.

    • I know…just what was SH thinking of when he proposed the nation resolution?

  22. Would that the Canadian press grill Harper as intensely for HALF the fraud he's perpetrated upon Canada.

  23. This comment was deleted.

    • Cut it out. Downthumbs and reporting for spam from here on out.

  24. Two things. One is that by invoking certain articles of the Constitution when convenient, Quebec has effectively ratified it. That's a time worn legal principle.
    Secondly, if Quebec actually wants less Canada, let's give them exactly that. Cut off all federal transfers of equalization funds and you'd shut down the province and shut up the separatists pretty quick. After all, separatist sentiment and $1.64 will still buy you a large double-double. Let Canadians who want to be Canadians keep the $8 billion that goes down the Quebec equalization rabbit hole every year. Make the move pre-emptive instead of post, and you can put the issue to bed for all time.

  25. I note your point, Mr. Wells that you say Jack Layton has some "serious questions to answer before he can be trusted with constitutional stewardship". I think there are serious questions, but I would really like to know what your serious questions are … cause I'm having a hard time figuring it out.

    As for the SCC and the Clarity Act, and I say this as a lawyer, a law has exactly the amount of force that people are prepared to give to it … and so if I were a Que separatist and you told me that the laws of Canada told me how I could frame my decision to leave and the conditions upon it would be accepted, I would tell you that that only applies to Canada – and since I have decided to be not-Canada, it means sweet diddly squat to me. Not my country, not my laws.

    The constitutional legal wrangling is all just a game. It has some effect, but practically speaking if Que was really determined to leave, they would no matter what the nine old people in Santa Claus suits say. You can't tell rebels how to rebel … they'll just rebel …

    But that aside, I remain puzzled about the media's concerns about Layton's Quebec policy vis-a-vis separation … Uhmmm, the vast majority of switching to NDP is coming from those switching AWAY from the Bloc and thus away from separatism, aren't they? … These are the same people who would be voting in a separation referendum after all, so isn't this an indication that lots of Que would rather have Jack … in Canada? Or at least, want to defuse the separatist bomb for the time being? Or, am I missing something …

    I am as federalist as you could possibly be, and I suspect there would always be cracks in any principled review of the NDP Quebec policy, but for me (a) at least Layton has a policy; and (b) whatever he is doing seems to be working, and well, that is good enough for me.

  26. Mr Layton's ludicrous constitutional posing is not what should worry Canadians and elate Quebecers. The man is a socialist and will, imho, ruin the country, if elected, a la Bob Rae in Ontario. Please, Canadians, don't go there.

    • People who think the NDP are socialists need to get out more. I shudder to think what would happen if they met a real socialist.

  27. Canadians, don't buy the FEAR…

    The New Democratic Party in the year 2011 are a CENTER-LEFT party, if you want to talk political spectrum. NOT an "EXTREME-LEFT", "FAR-LEFT", "SOCIALIST", 1902 un-democratic cut off your head if you don't comply, party…

    In the year 2011? in our DEMOCRATIC country? where the politicians are accountable to the PEOPLE?, NOT the other way around…(like Harper would have) The 1902 FEAR MONGERING catchphrases are just ridicules American style babble.

    The CENTER-left NDP will do whatever it takes to stay in power, no differently then ANY other political party, & WOW?! if they make mistakes? like EVERY other party in history?!, then VOTE them out. Back in the CONTEXT that these FEAR MONGERS are trying to use them in today?, they had NO VOTE.

    All I know is JACK is a SAINT compared to Harper. BY FAR the hardest working MP in Parliament for the PEOPLE, not to mention his team. The only thing any Canadian who cares about what's LEFT of Canada should FEAR is the Harper Regime.

    Anyone tells you different?, they are just trying to SCARE you into not voting for JACK, Boo!…

  28. katie smith wrote:
    “a) at least Layton has a policy; and (b) whatever he is doing seems to be working, and well, that is good enough for me.”

    Yes, katie….jack has a policy. But so does the Marijuana party and the Marxist Lennist Party. You seem to think having a policy is an end unto itself, regardless of where it would take us. As for Jack’s actions apparently working…..well, yes…it works for Jack. Sadly, his policies and ideas are outdated and proven reckless and harmful wherever they have been tried.

    If you are a lawyer, you seem to have very little regard for the law. Let me guess….you handle house sales right?

  29. Ever watch a politician talk to a Quebec audience? Ever watch Quebec TV programs?

    It's as though the speakers are addressing a bunch of children. Listen to how many times you hear the translation, "Delivering the goods to Quebec"…….

    Pathetic really.
    Quebec culture… have it, I want it…gimmee or I won't like you any more.

  30.  I am Québécois. History recalls that, in 1867, there were no referendum at all when anglos force us to merge in their Canada. We never had the choice to say yesm or no. In fact, we were against it. But they needed us to pay a huge part of their debts with our money, resources and cheap labor. They also wanted to control our territorie. Anglos boomed us, they took possession of our infrastructures, lands, facilities and resources. They burned our houses down and our fields. We staved. And when we rebelled, they raped our womens and hanged our mens. Then they tried to assimilate us.  For centuries they took control over our economy. But in the sixties, we got rid of the stupid religion and we enjoyed a certain amount of freedom. We slowly took back possession of a part our economy.  And in 1982, They fooled us and changed the constitution witout our consent. Since then, we are technically free to go because we are no more part of this constitution. We never been part of you country anyway! Except as economic slaves. And, today, you want us to act according to your federal laws? ha! ha! ha! ha!  Lets be serious for a moment. We will become independent sooner then you can imagine. Its always better to be good neighbors then bad room mates. Canada will become much more like your taste without us and Québec will become much more the way we want it, without you. Let’s shake hands and goodbye, peacefully. Canada is a creation of the provinces. Canada exist only because of the provinces, not the other way around. Now we say its over. Enough is enough.