The Unity Bill gambit

by Aaron Wherry

Greg Fingas considers the NDP’s Unity Bill.

Of course, there may be other strategic thoughts behind the introduction of Scott’s bill. Maybe the hope is to lead the Libs’ leadership candidates even further down the same path to allow Mulcair to frame them as remaining out of touch (in which case, mission accomplished). Or perhaps the intention is to present a single bill now as a marker to point to when the subject is raised later, while planning to turn attention back to more substantive issues at the first available opportunity.

Even if so, I’d still have some timing questions as to why that’s being done right this minute, rather than after NDP members have had a chance to shape the party’s direction under Mulcair. But more importantly, while the NDP certainly needs to think about how to position itself compared to its competitors, it also needs to keep its own priorities in order – meaning that the true test for Mulcair may be whether he keeps the NDP’s focus on the issues he knows to be more important.

Justin Ling considers Justin Trudeau’s reaction. And Nick Taylor-Vaisey notes that the country’s editorialists are displeased with Mr. Mulcair.




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The Unity Bill gambit

  1. 52.3% – The percentage of the “Yes” vote in the Newfoundland Referendum of 1948 agreeing to Confederation.

    A bare majority for entrance; a “clear majority” for exit. Or is Newfoundland some kind of special case where only we’d be able to leave on 52.3%? Why doesn’t this make the discussions for secession? Does no one care for precedents anymore?

    The idea being, “Jeez, have we ever had a province leave or enter via referendum?” What about when Nova Scotia returned an anti-confederate party that wanted secession directly after confederation? Where are the discussions of those instances? They’re ignored, because they don’t easily fit into the Ontarian paradigm of, “Anglos want in, French want out” that they’ve constructed.

    • Surely it is human nature for the majority stake holders in a country to more readily allow something they want in [NL] but not permit those who want to walk[QC] back out?
      I’m not saying it’s fair as you point out. But this is politics right! When has fair ever really entered into it? Just ask the FNs.

  2. 50% +1 is deemed a majority in virtually every other context. And in Canadian elections, something in the order of 38% is apparently good enough to form a majority government.

    So why is everyone getting all huffy and sanctimonious about that criterion when applied to a separation referendum? Or any other referendum?

    • Because we are talking about the end of Canada. And we have far more of a lock and key on our constitution and what it takes to change it than we have on our country and what it means to leave it. And as i said below…since they the separatists can’t ever seem to take no for an answer perhaps Canada should insist on something like a real hurdle to clamber over, since they seem determined to keep on trying…perhaps 50+1 of the electorate of the province should be a suitable challenge?

      • So who, then, will establish this new, arbitrarily-defined “majority”? If we reject the logical, conventionally-accepted definition of a majority (i.e., 50% +1), why not just make the threshold something like 99% and make the whole project virtually impossible? At least, legally impossible.

        Any attempt to rig the numbers against the sovereigntists will, almost undoubtedly, stoke their resentment and lend credence to their claim that their “rights” are being trammeled by the RoC.

        And they’d have a point.

        • Ling makes a strong argument on that point. But the optics are completely nuts. We can’t open the constitution for any thing as simple as seat allocation or senate reform, without a coast to coast consensus[ including QC] but we can consider allowing the country to break up on a simple majority vote. I wonder what the legal eagles are going to come up with in defence of the CA? Is it a fact that only the party leaving the constitutional federation has a say? There will have to be negotiations, 50+1 or no. How do you think that will go in a rilled up RoC? Ling or the NDP seem pretty clueless about the on the ground realities of such a result.
          Perhaps the attitude by then will be let the bast#$ds go then if they really want to!

          • Unless I misunderstand the Clarity Act, it doesn’t come close to “allowing the country to break up on a simple majority vote.”

            It empowers or requires the two sides to begin negotiating the question and such negotiations would be a long, long way from a done deal for sovereignty. The inclusion of First Nations in the process, not to mention the settling of Quebec’s share of the national debt, rationalizing of currency, national defence, trade, and myriad other issues would involve years of negotiating and, I have no doubt, the 50% +1 who voted for the process would soon reject the probable outcome.

            That said, I don’t think any country can arbitrarily stack the deck against a people who see their sovereign identity as something that is being imposed on them. We got all got justifiably angry and indignant on behalf of the many small countries who were denied their sovereignty in the old Soviet Union and who are still confined by the dictates of modern Russia.

            What would be different if we did the same thing here?

          • And remember it’s not TWO sides, it’s more than 10.

          • No, but it offers aid and comfort to separatists and triggers negotiations, and needlessly so at this point in the great game.

          • Of greater aid and comfort to their side would be a seemingly-arbitrary formula for “majority” that they could use to foment anger and resentment against the RoC for “stacking the deck”.

            I believe that a demonstrated tolerance for at least debating the question under a “fair” formula has the paradoxical effect of blunting any felt need to do so on the part of way more than 50% +1 of Quebecois.

            I suspect Mulcair probably feels the same way.

          • But Mulcair isn’t doing that. This bill seeks to codify 50+1, not negotiate it. Others are pointing out ( NP) that this simple majority is arbitrary, not an internationally excepted standard. Some countries require 2/3, some (US) and France wont even countenance it. Again, why is ok for QC to set the standard for exit? But not for Canada to demand a higher threshold?

          • It’s a private member’s bill that Mulcair knows full well won’t ever get to third reading. It’s safe way for him to solidify a segment of the Quebec vote on an issue that will never move beyond the realm of the hypothetical, probably as significant as Harper’s “Quebecois are a nation” thingy a few years ago.

          • That’s a fair summation , but I’m afraid an unsafe one IMO . First off the bloc will paint this as pandering – no real harm there probably. But I think Mulcair is really going to pay for this in the RoC. He goofed big time.
            Here’s Dion’s speech in the House if you’re interested. He’s as trenchant as ever.
            https://stephanedion.liberal.ca/files/2013/01/clarity-C-4571.pdf?cda6c1

          • I dunno’. IMO, the Bloc is pretty much a spent force, politically. As for the RoC, Harper paid no price among his base for “conferring nationhood” on the people of Quebec. (That was pandering!)

            I actually think most politicians are careful about flogging these issues in the RoC because of the blowback in Quebec. I believe Harper’s meltdown in the House about the “separatists and socialists” did damage to his brand in Quebec from which he may never recover.

            With instantaneous news reporting and omnipresent social media, the days are gone when a politician can castigate Mulcair in western Canada for “selling out to the separatists”, secure in the knowledge that his/her comments won’t be heard in Quebec.

            Unless a party (and, in truth, the Cons might be that party) decides they can survive without Quebec, I don’t think a wise politician will use Mulcair’s stance on this for points elsewhere.

            Quebec is watching.

          • I remain unconvinced. Trudeau for instance will riff off of this, and his audience will mostly be federalists. This seems like a big price to pay for a few soft separatist votes if it costs him say in BC. And all the major papers have jumped on this, whereas that wasn’t the case for Harpers pandering in QC. I’m frankly baffled by this. The timing was odd too. It’s not as if the bloc motion was going anywhere at all. Unless they can get a strong legal opinion that a simple majority is just the norm in such a case I think( hope to be honest) that he’s going to have to wear this one. So far Ivison is the only MSM guy to side him.

          • I’ve always felt the Clarity Act did not go nearly far enough. The federal government should set out clearly the expectation of what any province (not just Quebec) would have to meet in terms of debt assumption, recompense for economic damage to the rest of Canada, etc, so that those voting will have as clear a picture of the cost of leaving in advance of voting to do so.

          • I agree, although it’s probably impossible to anticipate, in legislation, the myriad and complex issues involved in decoupling a province from a nation. Off-shore and Arctic resource rights would even get thrown into the hopper.

            The Montreal Canadiens would have to change their name.

            The mind boggles.

        • Is that a reason to codify 50+1 then, as the NDP are trying to do? Leave sleeping dogs lie. Mulcair has absolutely no idea where this gambit might take the country. Luckily it wont succeed. But now they have nailed their colours to the mast and lord only knows what is in store for us. Mulcair just passed the separatists some bullets for a gun that looked pretty empty for a while there.

          • IMO, Mulcair hasn’t given the separatists bullets for a gun, he’s given them musket balls for a mussel loader and most contemporary Quebecois know that.

            Separatism has been an undercurrent in Quebec society since 1759. It ebbs and flows and will, in all probability, arise someday in the future, whether we quibble about 50% +1 or any other arbitrary formula.

          • Maybe! That’s a more realistic look at it considering how little real support there is for leaving these days…Marois couldn’t even get an audience with a fellow Scots separatist for cripes sake!
            I’m not a big fan of editorials, rarely bother to read them. But this one raises some troubling questions about Mulcair’s timing with this motion.
            http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/editorials/Sovereignty+gambit+exposes+Mulcair/7889572/story.html
            So, is he playing politcs on the backs of federalism? Looks like it. As the opposition party he should have a tad more restraint, no?
            My guess is this is going to go down, as did his Dutch disease ploy, like a lead balloon outside of QC.

          • Interesting editorial. It forgets, however, that all the federalist parties have “played footsy” with the separatists when it suited their political ends, including Mulroney’s Cons (Bouchard was his Quebec lieutenant) and Harper, with his “Quebecois are a nation” (or some such idle gesture).

            Mulcair will probably see this as capital in his Quebec bank account and hope it gets forgotten in the 24 hour news cycle elsewhere in the country.

  3. “The act, in broad strokes, states that any effort to introduce a third
    referendum in Quebec would need to get a rubber stamp from Ottawa.
    Canada would have to approve a clearly worded question, determine what
    constitutes a ‘clear majority’ (left, ironically, undefined within the
    FRIGGIN’ “CLARITY ACT”)”

    I salute Mr Lings salty effort. It is really amusing. Although it isn’t at all amusing how as he says a SCoC that is dealing with the clarity act could be so obtuse as to not actually clarify it.
    That said i think some of his barbs thrown at JT miss the mark. Despite looking slightly goofy for now putting on his father’s cape after musing about exiting stage left from Harper’s Canada, should it get any meaner, he never actually said 50+1 would be good enough for that slightly farcial putative exit either. Cheap shot missed the mark JL.
    As for whether the CA is a paper tiger we shall have to see what the law dogs say. But surely the concept of referencing a clarification on the question to the QC big house rather than CANADA’s bigger house is a losing one? They are as of this moment still Canadians eh!!

    And that in a nutshell is where i part company with Mr Ling’s droll little ode to the rights of QCers to do as they darn well please. If it is wrong to now question 50+1 then it was wrong of QC to not take NO for an answer in 80…or 95…or any damn time they don’t get the answer they like.

    Sorry Mr Ling, you see this as an argument for Mulcair’s pragmatism and common sense over Trudeau’s dogmatism and hypocricy. But to this Canadian your argument reeks of defeatism and cowardice ie., mushy headed soft federalism. Where will you draw the line for Canada sir! Do you even have a line.

    • I suspect the reference to the Quebec courts is because the Supreme Court specficially said they would not set a number and a case could not be brought before it to do so (it may be obtuse, but in that respect it’s clear, and not setting a # was not a mere oversight). Now it could very well be that the Quebec Court cannot do by statute what the Supreme Court has said it will not do – I suspect this is a unique question with no precedent and maybe no easy answer.

      • I thought Scott’s bill was meant to refer the clarity of the question issue to the QC courts? Surely Canada has a say in that at least?

        • Quite right, my mistake as regarding the number (still too hung up on Mr. macFarlane’s piece elsewhere on site today). I believe the same principle applies as well regarding clarity – I think the SCC said it wouldn’t entertain the issue on the matter, leaving it as a matter between politicians only.

          • Do you have an opinion on Ling’s principal assertion – that the CA is simply unenforceable. Canada has no potion but to swallow a simple majority?

          • That’s a good question. I’ve spend years just thinking “no the SCC couldn’t rule on that”, so I am without a ready answer.

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