An Act to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Secession Reference

This bill was last introduced in the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in October 2000.


Stéphane Dion  Liberal


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(This bill did not become law.)


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

January 28th, 2013 / 11:05 a.m.
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André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

moved that Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, as a new session of Parliament gets under way, I would like to begin by wishing all of my colleagues and everyone who works here in the House of Commons the very best for 2013. I hope our debates will be positive and as democratic as possible.

Without further delay, I would like to discuss my bill, Bill C-457. Every MP should introduce a bill for debate and make sure that Canadians understand all of the issues involved. That is of course the whole point of the democratic process in this House: we are here to represent our constituents and to communicate what they want, especially what they want in a bill like this one.

All bills are of equal importance, but to me, this bill is particularly important, because achieving Quebec's sovereignty and independence was why I entered politics in the first place. Without a doubt, the implementation of the Clarity Act in 2000 was, and remains today, a sword of Damocles threatening Quebec's right to self-determination.

I think it is important to point out here today that my bill is really quite simple. It contains only a few “whereas” statements and just one clause, which, Mr. Speaker, I would like to read to the House.

Whereas the Québécois form a nation;

Whereas that nation has been formally recognized by the House of Commons;

Whereas the decision on its future within Canada lies with the Québécois nation, not the federal government;

And whereas the Québécois nation has laws that give its government both the right to consult the people of Quebec by means of a referendum on the subjects of its choice and the right to determine the wording of the referendum question;


1. The Clarity Act, chapter 26 of the Statutes of Canada, 2000, is repealed.

In French I often refer to the “Loi de clarification” as the “loi sur la clarté” because that is what it has been known as in Quebec since it was passed.

When we introduced this bill, many people asked us why now. I jokingly said because it was my turn to do something about this. There is obviously more to it than that. We speak for Bloc Québécois members. Because the BQ is a sovereignist party, its members have always asked us to focus, here, in Parliament, on Quebec's sovereignty and to defend Quebec's interests, of course. Members brought forward this request at the last Bloc Québécois general assembly. I should add that my colleague for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia worked on and also seconded my bill.

November 2012 marked the six-year anniversary of the recognition of the Quebec nation, right here in the House of Commons. We have also had the election of a sovereignist party in Quebec City led by the first female Premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois.

As I was saying, last March, at our party's general assembly, our members instructed us to be even more focused on the future of the Quebec nation and the issue of Quebec's sovereignty. It was crucial that we introduce a bill to abolish the Clarity Act, which denies the Quebec nation the right to determine its future, especially since the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation on November 27, 2006, after having recognized Quebec as a distinct society in 1995.

If you want my opinion—which is definitely not shared by many federalist members in this House—these are just empty words. Furthermore, the right to self-determination allows a people to make its own decisions. This is an inherent aspect of any nation and an inalienable right. Anyone who is the least bit democratic would agree.

Like all parties in the National Assembly, the Bloc Quebecois never accepted the idea that the Clarity Act would take precedence over Quebec's laws. The National Assembly is sovereign and must be able to consult its people on anything it chooses and as it sees fit.

Now, it is important to remember the impact of the Clarity Act. The House of Commons used this law to give itself the power of disallowance with regard to the results of a referendum on Quebec's sovereignty. The House of Commons wants to determine, retroactively, whether the question is clear and whether there is a clear majority, including by taking into account the views of the governments and legislative assemblies of the other provinces. In short, the Clarity Act places conditions on the federal government's recognition of the validity of a referendum on Quebec's independence. In fact, the sole purpose of this law is to prevent Quebeckers from freely deciding their own future. That is why it is important to repeal it.

Clearly, people reacted when this law, which was introduced by the current member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, the then Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, was passed.

Henri Brun, a constitutional expert, eminent lawyer and professor of constitutional law, said that the Supreme Court's ruling would require the federal government to negotiate should a Quebec referendum end with a victory for the yes side, while the Clarity Act imposes obligations on the Government of Quebec. Mr. Brun said that the Clarity Act is an intimidation tactic that the federal government is using on the people of Quebec to make it clear that the federal government remains free to negotiate regardless of the democratic choice Quebeckers make. He also said that there is a contradiction between the Supreme Court's opinion and the Clarity Act, which is unconstitutional.

Joseph Facal, who at the time was the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville's counterpart and Quebec's Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, also spoke out about this law. He said:

Let us remember that nowhere in the reference does the Supreme Court confer upon the federal Parliament the right to oversee the content of a referendum question by authorizing Parliament to rule upon the clarity of the question even before the National Assembly has adopted it. Nowhere in the reference does the Supreme Court give the federal Parliament the right to impose, on the pretext of clarity, a simplistic question that must expressly exclude any reference to an offer of political or economic partnership. Nowhere does the Supreme Court give authority to the federal Parliament to determine a posteriori and of its own accord the required majority. Nowhere does the Supreme Court give authority to the federal Parliament to dictate the content of post-referendum negotiations.

If we take a look at federalists in Quebec, Claude Ryan is respected by all Quebeckers—federalists, sovereignists and those who have yet to decide which camp they are in. Mr. Ryan was the leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec and also a well-known editorial writer and journalist. He said:

The bill also lists a number of criteria that Parliament is to rely on to come to a decision concerning the clarity of the question. By making these criteria into law, Parliament and the federal government would be interfering, at least indirectly, in the process of drafting the question. This is not true federalism but a trusteeship system.

Such comments from someone like Claude Ryan are nothing to sneeze at.

Jean Charest, who until recently was Premier of Quebec and leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec—he was when this law was passed—held a press conference immediately after the one held by the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who was, I repeat, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs at the time and the sponsor of the Clarity Act, then known as Bill C-20. He reacted quickly. He was joined by his intergovernmental affairs spokesperson, his house leader and his deputy leader, now the member for Outremont and the leader of the New Democratic Party. I will quote what Jean Charest said at the time:

This bill is called the clarity bill, but I have read it and have listened to what people have to say about it, and from what I can see, things are far from being clear...

He went on to say:

...we want to point out that the Quebec National Assembly must determine the conditions surrounding any potential referendum. As Quebec parliamentarians, we will not allow another parliament or government to diminish the powers, authority, sovereignty or legitimacy of the National Assembly.

Clearly, in those quotations, Mr. Charest and Mr. Ryan are both professing their federalist beliefs. They are saying they oppose this. They would rather not have a referendum and, of course, would prefer that Quebec decide to remain in Canada, which is completely legitimate and democratic. However, on that particular point, clearly, even Quebec federalists were definitely not thrilled with the Clarity Act as it was written at the time by the Liberal government.

I am going to share a quotation in English, because at the same press conference, a journalist asked the deputy leader at the time, who I repeat, is currently the member for Outremont and leader of the NDP, what he thought of the partition of Quebec. The journalist was Robert McKenzie and his question, in English, was this:

I would like to know what the [current member for Outremont] thinks of section 3, subsection 2 of the federal legislation, which would make Quebec's borders subject to negotiation following a “yes” vote in a referendum.

Here is how the NDP leader replied:

“I read the section, Mr. McKenzie, and I can only repeat what we've always said. As far as we're concerned, the current borders of Quebec are what they are and shall remain thus, and the best way to ensure that is to stay within the current constitutional framework. But, as far as we're concerned, it is something that we have always fought for and that we will continue to fight for.”

These people were part of the federalist camp who were speaking out on Bill C-20. There was also a former Prime Minister of Canada and former leader of the Conservative Party—at the time, the Progressive Conservative Party—Mr. Joe Clark, who is also well-known. He appeared in committee when Bill C-20 was being discussed and had this to say:

The government itself is unclear about the clarity bill. In Toronto on January 25, the minister said the question of the majority should not be decided now, in what he called a quiet Canada like today, but should wait until what he called a crisis situation, when members of Parliament would assess it under the circumstances.

Well, sir, the very logic and justification of clarity is to set out the rules in advance so everyone knows where they stand well before a crisis situation. If the minister says the question of what constitutes a majority will not be known in advance, that it will be decided at the time, in the crisis situation, sir, that sabotages clarity. That confirms the suspicion that the rules will be subjective, written at the time, designed to discredit whatever a referendum decides.

Joe Clark cannot be accused of being pro-independence or of being a sovereignist or even a Quebec separatist. However, he is a great democrat, as these words demonstrate.

These days, comparisons are often made between this situation and what is currently happening in Scotland. I heard it on TV just this morning. There is a big difference between the clarity bill and what is currently happening in Scotland with regard to a planned referendum on Scottish sovereignty, since the Scottish government came to an agreement in advance with Westminster, the British government, regarding the procedure for such a referendum. Now that the two levels of government have reached an agreement, it would be very inappropriate for one of the parties not to abide by the results of the Scottish referendum.

In this case, the Clarity Act does exactly the opposite. Quebec can hold as many referendums as it wants, ask whatever question it wants and get the result it wants, but one thing is certain: the government retains the latitude to reverse any democratic result after the fact because the term “clear majority” is not clearly defined. This bill does not provide a number that defines what constitutes a clear majority. Would a federalist party in the House of Commons define a clear majority as 55%, 60%, 66%? We do not know because it is not set out in the legislation.

By invoking Bill C-20 after a referendum, whether that referendum was held in Quebec or elsewhere—I do not think any other provinces want to hold a referendum, but the Clarity Act also applies to them regardless—the government could state, after the fact, that the question or the result was unclear. Yet, before the 1995 referendum, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who was then the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, wrote the following in the papers on September 21, 1995: least the referendum in which Premier Parizeau is inviting us to participate clarifies the issue: do we want Quebec to no longer be part of Canada, yes or no? Do we want Quebeckers to stop being Canadians?

That member of Parliament and all the other federalists knowingly participated in the referendum. It is important to remember that they even spent more than the allowable limit in 1995 and in 1980. After the fact, these people introduced a bill saying that they were going to participate and do everything to win but that, no matter what happened, they were going to overturn the results because a sword of Damocles was hanging over the heads of Quebeckers.

I am pleased to respond to any questions and comments, but I urge my colleagues, particularly those from Quebec, to vote in favour of Bill C-457 to recognize Quebec's right to govern itself and particularly its right to decide for itself what it wants to do and how it wants to do it in accordance with its own laws, which were passed by the National Assembly of Quebec.