Bill C-457 (Historical)
An Act to repeal the Clarity Act
This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.
André Bellavance Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduced, as of March 6, 2013
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment repeals the Clarity Act.
- March 6, 2013 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to a legislative committee.
The Quebec Nation
Statements by Members
March 6th, 2013 / 2:05 p.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, tonight's vote will be telling. On November 27, 2006, the House formally recognized the Quebec nation. The time has come to recognize all the powers that come with nationhood, including the inalienable right to self-determination. In passing the Clarity Act, the federal government unilaterally claimed the right to interfere in the democratic process by determining what question and what majority are acceptable and on what terms Quebec can be master of its own destiny.
Under René Lévesque, Quebec's National Assembly passed the Referendum Act, which paved the way for the referendums. The “yes” and “no” sides voted in those referendums, and no one questioned the act's legitimacy. None of the parties in the National Assembly, sovereignist or federalist, accept the idea that the Clarity Act takes precedence over Quebec's laws. No one accepts the idea of a trusteeship or a veto.
This evening, the members who recognize the Quebec nation should be voting in favour of Bill C-457.
Private Members' Business
February 28th, 2013 / 5:35 p.m.
Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act. First of all, I must say that the NDP team is working very hard to restore Quebeckers' faith in politics.
In introducing this bill, the Bloc Québécois is trying to resuscitate old debates and is proposing nothing new. In view of the fact that Quebeckers have overwhelmingly rejected parties that have disappointed them in the past and those that took them for granted election after election, my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois should be ashamed.
The NDP's approach is different. We believe the federal government should be an ally to Quebeckers, as a nation, as acknowledged in the House, and that it should co-operate with the provinces in a way that respects them. This shows once again that the Bloc does not really want to help people build bridges or bring them together from sea to sea. We know that people are prepared to move on to something else in good faith and to set aside the old debates. That, moreover, is the message they sent in the last election.
The NDP has even tabled its own bill, which follows from the Sherbrooke declaration and its positive vision of federalism, which turns the page on the old debates. We believe that the leader of the official opposition is the person who can best bring together the people of Quebec and the rest of Canada to work together to build a more just, greener and more prosperous Canada. The NDP's team and leader are the only ones who really want to establish winning conditions for Canada in Quebec in a manner respectful of democracy.
Speaking of democracy, allow me to point out that, in an election, members solicit votes under a political banner with ideas and promises from the party they wish to represent. Once elected, members have a duty to respect the people's choice and be accountable to their constituents throughout their term.
I introduced a bill to that effect last year. Its purpose was to make the people's representatives more accountable and to enhance the image of the country's political institutions. That bill provided that a member's seat would be vacated and a byelection called for that seat if the member, having been elected as a member of a political party or as an independent, changed parties or became a member of another party. However, the seat would not be considered vacant if the member, having been elected as a member of a political party, chose to sit as an independent.
In other words, my bill proposed that byelections would be called when a member elected as a member of a political party chose to change political parties during his term. It proposed that byelections would also be called. That is respect for democracy.
Private Members' Business
February 28th, 2013 / 6 p.m.
Nycole Turmel Hull—Aylmer, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to debate Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act.
I should say at the outset that we will not be supporting this bill. In May 2011, 4.5 million Canadians voted for a more inclusive, greener and more prosperous Canada. Some of those Canadians live in Quebec. For the first time since 1988, Quebeckers elected a majority of federalist MPs to the House of Commons, thanks to the NDP.
Quebeckers placed their confidence in our progressive, federalist vision. They voted for a party that believes there is a place for Quebec in the federation. The message Quebec voters sent to the Bloc Québécois was very clear: we want to go in another direction; we want to work together to build a better Canada; we want to look towards the future, not the past. The Bloc does not seem to have understood the message, however.
In tabling its Bill C-457, the Bloc is clearly demonstrating its limitations. It obviously has little to offer Quebeckers. Rather than talk about the economy, combatting poverty, the social housing crisis or job creation, Bill C-457 talks about referenda.
In 2013, Quebeckers and many Canadians expect their elected representatives to work tirelessly to find solutions to such problems as the rising cost of living. They want their representatives to pressure this government to put more money into health, abandon its employment insurance reforms, ensure security in retirement for our seniors, and stop cutting the services for which they pay taxes. They also want the government to step up and ensure that big corporations pay their fair share of taxes. They do not want to hear any more talk of secession.
As our fellow citizens watch the Conservative government perform, they wonder how the next government will manage to clean up the mess it leaves behind. The NDP has practical solutions to improve the lives of all citizens.
We are fighting every day to establish a balanced 21st-century economy based on sustainable development, an economy that generates wealth, not just for a handful of industries and regions, but for every part of this country.
The NDP champions respect for democracy and for voters. On this subject, at the beginning of this Parliament my colleague from Pontiac tabled Bill C-306, the main purpose of which was to require members wishing to change sides in the middle of a legislature to run in a byelection. Unfortunately, the bill was rejected by the Conservatives. This is nevertheless the kind of commitment to respect for democracy that Canadians expect. They no longer want members of Parliament who get elected under one banner, and then change sides.
As we prepare to form the next government in 2015, the Bloc is limited to talking about referenda. Our goal is to get the Conservative government out of power, instead of trying to get Quebec out of Canada. An NDP government will implement the progressive policies that millions of Canadians supported in the last election.
With regard to federalism, our position on Quebec’s place in Canada is clearly set out in the Sherbrooke Declaration we adopted in 2006. Our approach has the merit of being firmly positive and inclusive. We want to build bridges between people, not divide them. Unlike some, we refuse to believe that secession is the only solution available to Quebeckers.
Anyone reading Bill C-457 will realize at once that it disregards the opinion of the Supreme Court, as set out in its opinion in the Quebec Secession Reference. The Supreme Court was very clear in formulating its opinion: if a majority of Quebeckers chose secession in a referendum, both parties would be obligated to negotiate.
The federal government would thus be obliged to negotiate, but so would Quebec. Now, in order to trigger an obligation to negotiate, there must be a clear question and a clear result.
Bill C-470, An Act respecting democratic constitutional change, sponsored by my colleague from Toronto—Danforth, responds to the Supreme Court opinion and the federal government’s obligation to negotiate if a majority of Quebeckers answer a clear question in a referendum.
Bill C-470 does not deal with secession, but opens the door to any question about constitutional change, because the NDP believes that Quebec’s right to decide its future may also be exercised within Canada.
Among other things, the Bill refers to the integration of Quebec into the Canadian constitutional framework, the limitation of federal spending power in Quebec, and the Government of Quebec’s opting out with full compensation from any programs if the Government of Canada intervenes in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
Bill C-470 is designed not to prevent negotiation between the federal government and the Quebec government, but to provide genuine clarification of the conditions that trigger the obligation to negotiate referred to by the Supreme Court. It also provides examples of clear questions, while recognizing the right of the National Assembly to draft its own question.
My colleague from Toronto—Danforth has introduced an excellent bill, and I wish to congratulate him on it. I should add that the entire NDP caucus is behind him in the introduction of his bill.
Unlike Bill C-470, Bill C-457 has the merit of proposing a constructive solution that moves us forward, rather than back. That is what Canadians expect: that we propose solutions for the future, rather than be content to live in the past.
We should be looking towards the future, and that is what Bill C-470 proposes.
Private Members' Business
February 28th, 2013 / 6:05 p.m.
Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to all of the debate on this issue. Clearly, this debate is in Quebeckers' genetic makeup. This is a key issue that is not always easy to address.
I listened to the comments made by the member of the Bloc Québécois who gave his speech a few weeks ago. Like many Bloc members, he is always trying to give the impression that only members of the Bloc Québécois or the Parti Quebecois can be proud or respectful of Quebec. As the member for Gatineau, what I often hear in what these members are saying is that, if we are not with them, then we are against them, and we are not sticking up for ourselves.
As a proud Quebecker, I think that, sometimes in life, there are issues that are even more important, such as respect for the rule of law. Everyone—at least everyone in the NDP caucus, since they supported the Sherbrooke declaration—recognizes that Quebec has the right to self-determination, that Quebec is a nation and that, as a nation, Quebec certainly has the right to determine the statute under which it wants to operate. However, even if Quebec is not a signatory to the Constitution, despite what the hon. member for Papineau thinks, Quebec signed administrative agreements and operates under a very specific legal framework.
Much has been written about the issue of a Quebec referendum. Often, it seems that people are walking on eggshells because they are so scared to talk about it. Yet, Quebeckers, the people of my nation, are more open than people may think. It is wrong to think that dotting the is and crossing the ts, or trying to see how Quebec operates will cause mass hysteria.
As the hon. member for Trois-Rivières was saying earlier, when I talk to the people of Gatineau, this is not the first question that I am asked, nor is it the second or the third. Frankly, I am rarely asked anything about it. However, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-457. I am not surprised. That is also part of their genetic makeup. It was time it was done. Given that the Bloc Québécois held the majority of seats for Quebec in the past, I am surprised that the party waited for the mass influx of NDP members and the positive, optimistic offer that Jack Layton made to Quebeckers before it finally woke up and decided that it wanted to repeal the Clarity Act. The party took its time. If this is how the Bloc Québécois takes care of Quebec's interests, then I have some news for them. They introduced the bill, but now it is in our hands.
Bill C-457 is very simple and calls for the “Clarity” Act, introduced by the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, to be repealed. The word “clarity” is in quotation marks because this bill is anything but clear. It was drafted hastily and in a panic.
In 1995, the day after the last referendum in Quebec, all of Canada woke up and realized that the results were very tight. Oddly enough, no one was talking about 60% or 65%. Throughout the night, I was providing commentary on the results for a television station in my region. No one was asking me what would happen if the results reached the majority of 51%. Although we sensed that the results would be tight, no one told me that we had to wait for them to reach 60% or 70%.
There was already a sense of normalcy. We waited to see which side would get the majority at the end of the day. The federalists ended up being successful. However, we cannot forget history. In the House and in Canada and Quebec we often forget our history, which means that we repeat the same mistakes.
What happened? There was a wave of panic, because people realized that they could end up in the middle of a serious constitutional crisis. They were wondering what to do. People were wondering if it would be acceptable had the results been reversed.
Then came the brilliant idea that any government with no backbone, no sense of leadership and no idea what to do would come up with: it sent the issue to the Supreme Court to ask the court to rule on the subject. The Supreme Court rendered its decision in 1998 in the Quebec Secession Reference. What it said was very clear. It had to answer three questions. Under the Canadian Constitution, could the National Assembly, legislature or Government of Quebec effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally? Could they do so unilaterally under international law? Which would take precedence between domestic and international law?
In response to the first question, the Supreme Court said that, yes, negotiations would have to take place if a clear answer were given and if the result were clear. That would force the federal government to sit down with the province that wanted to secede. An obligation would be created.
The Supreme Court was extremely clear. The members of the House will have to decide how they are going to vote on Bill C-457 and how they are going to vote on Bill C-470 introduced by the member for Toronto—Danforth, who has the courage of his convictions and is very faithful to the constitutional law established by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Supreme Court was very clear in its response: Canada's constitutional law forces the federal government to negotiate once a clear question receives a positive response and a clear result. That question is clearly defined in Bill C-470, so we would have no choice. But what did the Liberal government at the time—that great defender of democracy, values and respect for the charter, the party that cloaked itself in the flag—do? It passed the Clarity Act. I challenge anyone, even those with a law degree, to tell me, with a straight face, that the Clarity Act is a clear piece of legislation.
What it says is very clear: we might negotiate with you but we will look at the results and the question after the fact and then we will decide whether to sit down and negotiate.
Yet that is not at all what the Supreme Court of Canada told the partners in the federation. There must be some form of respect. Things start to get off track when people start to get worked up about Bill C-470. First, this bill does not impose a specific question on Quebec; however, it has the courage to warn Quebec. That is a good negotiating approach. When I negotiate under labour law, I do not tell the opposing party that I will see what I feel like discussing and, if I feel like it, I might talk about something, but then again I might not. Instead, I provide an agenda and I announce how the items on it will be dealt with.
Bill C-470 simply gives the other side, namely, the Quebec nation, two examples of questions that have been deemed appropriate. Those questions could not be overturned and the results could not be called into question.
As others have already mentioned, Canada agreed to allow Newfoundland to enter into the Constitution based on the 50% plus one principle. I am asking those who are telling me that the NDP's constitution requires two-thirds of the votes to leave me alone. If my Gatineau riding association wants to change the NDP's constitution, then a majority has to pass a resolution. Then, it can go to the next level. It is the same thing for Canada.
Once again, for those that think that this bill is not at all democratic, I would like to say that the Clarity Act is undemocratic. What is more, the legal vacuum that the Bloc Québécois is trying to create is even more undemocratic.
As a proud Quebecker, I would be pleased to vote for Bill C-470 and to vote against Bill C-457 and would like to tell Quebeckers that they were right to democratically elect all these people to represent them.
Private Members' Business
February 28th, 2013 / 6:25 p.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to conclude the debate on Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act.
Liberal and Conservative MPs both delivered their usual speeches. They stuck to their guns, which was to be expected. The Liberals brought forward the Clarity Act after being shaken by how close we came to a yes vote in the 1995 referendum. They came up with a plan B. This plan B was the Clarity Act.
I heard some fairly unbelievable things in those speeches, which is why I should inform all my colleagues that the Clarity Act was condemned by the whole of Quebec's National Assembly. By that I mean that every member of every party, federalist and sovereignist alike, rejected this ignominious law called the Clarity Act.
As for the Quebec Liberals, we know that the former leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, Claude Ryan, said that the Clarity Act placed Quebec under trusteeship. We know that Daniel Johnson, the leader of the “No” side and also the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party at the time, criticized the Clarity Act, just like Jean Charest who, when this legislation was passed here in 2000, said that Quebec was the master of its destiny. All these federalists felt that Quebec was the master of its destiny regarding its decision to become sovereign, or to remain part of Canada.
As for the leader of the NDP, he was the most surprising in this House. He too arrived here and criticized the Clarity Act. Like all NDP members who spoke to my bill, he said that the Liberal Party's Clarity Act passed in 2000 had no reason to exist and that it was disrespectful of Quebeckers' rights. He also said that the debate was useless—that was also mentioned this evening—that there were other priorities, that this was an old issue, an old quarrel, and that the Bloc Québécois was only looking for trouble.
In short, he used a bazooka to kill a fly. He said he would introduce Clarity Act No. 2. He said the Clarity Act should be abolished because it deals with an old issue, it is a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of Quebeckers, who want a democratic process to decide whether or not they want Quebec to achieve sovereignty. However, he comes up with Clarity Act No. 2. The first one is useless, but Clarity Act No. 2 is so useful. So, he perpetuates the old debates by introducing this legislation.
Bill C-470, introduced by the previous speaker, the member for Toronto—Danforth, is just a bill which, like the present Clarity Act, imposes trusteeship on Quebec regarding its perfectly democratic right to decide its own future in the Canadian Constitution.
Clarity Act No. 2—that is what it is—is not simply about oversight in Quebec's affairs. It gives the federal government—the Conservative government in this case —the right to decide whether a referendum question is clear. It is written in black and white in the bill. It even goes further and unilaterally provides the wording of two questions that the NDP considers to be clear. According to the NDP, the Quebec National Assembly and the people of Quebec do not have the last word on the question to be asked in a potential referendum. The NDP has the last word in its Bill C-470.
Even if the National Assembly agreed on the wording, with this bill, the federal government could oppose the question and send it to the courts, which would certainly bring Quebec's referendum process to a standstill.
I think this comes down to trading four quarters for a dollar. The speeches we are hearing from the NDP make no sense. They are all saying that the Clarity Act should be repealed, but they do not want to vote in favour of my bill, even though the only thing my bill would do is repeal the Clarity Act.
In conclusion, I want to reach out to all members of Parliament, especially those from Quebec. I urge them to do some soul-searching, to look at themselves in the mirror and say, like Robert Bourassa and a number of federalists said, that Quebec has the right to its own destiny, the right to choose its own future, and that these decisions should happen in Quebec, not in the federal Parliament.
Private Members' Business
January 28th, 2013 / 11:05 a.m.
André Bellavance 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:
...at 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.
Private Members' Business
January 28th, 2013 / 11:20 a.m.
Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services
Mr. Speaker, I too would first like to wish all my colleagues in every party a happy new year.
It proposes to repeal an act that was intended to give effect to the requirement for clarity in referendums relating to secession by a province of Canada. I think it is unfortunate that the member for Richmond—Arthabaska is using every means necessary to revive debates from the past. Moreover, when Bill C-457 was introduced, my Bloc colleague stated that the purpose of his bill was “to right an historical wrong for the Quebec nation, because this federal Parliament created conditions meant to tell the Quebec nation how to go about exercising its self-determination“.
As a member from Quebec, I understand that this act has always been a sensitive issue for Quebeckers. However, the way ahead does not lie in trying to revive debates like this one, particularly in the current economic climate. Bill C-457 takes us backward, to the constitutional debates of the past. Our government is looking ahead, toward the future of Canada, and in particular toward what is most important to Canadians: job creation, growth and economic prosperity.
The opposition’s priorities are not what is important to Canadians. From coast to coast, Canadians have spoken clearly: they want a government that focuses on the economy, and that is what we are doing. Thanks to our government, Canada’s debt is by far the lowest and our job creation record is the strongest in the G7, with more than 900,000 net new jobs created since July 2009.
In Quebec alone, our government has created over 200,000 net jobs since July 2009. The principle of federalism recognizes the diversity of the constituent parts of our country and the autonomy of the provinces in building our society, acting within their own jurisdiction and using the powers granted to them under the Constitution.
Federalism is a political system that enables a society to progress and prosper as long as the federal and provincial governments abide by the constitutional division of powers and clearly understand the function of each level of government. Our government is well aware that a strong federal government has to focus on its fundamental responsibilities. That is what we have done since 2006, and that is what we will continue to do.
Since our government first came to power it has practised open federalism, which respects the division of constitutional powers, limits the use of the federal spending power and encourages co-operation among all levels of government. Canadians, including Quebeckers, have benefited from our vision of open federalism.
Our successes include the adoption of a motion by the House recognizing Quebec as a nation within a united Canada, the representation of Quebec within the Canadian delegation to UNESCO, and the co-operation of all of our federal partners in the economic action plan. In addition, Quebec will be receiving more than $17 billion in federal transfers this year, representing a 44 % increase over the previous government.
Bill C-457 is a step backwards, but we are firmly focused on the future. Let us be very clear: in introducing this bill, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska was trying to reopen old debates. Our government does not believe that Quebeckers and other Canadians want to reopen constitutional debates from days gone by.
Like the rest of Canadians, Quebeckers have shown that they want to move forward and want the focus shifted to other challenges. Our government is committed to doing just that, by focusing on what is most important to Canadians—job creation, growth and economic prosperity.
Private Members' Business
January 28th, 2013 / 11:40 a.m.
Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC
Mr. Speaker, I once said that Bill 101 was a great Canadian law. Today, I say that the Clarity Act is a great law for Quebeckers. This act, which I had the honour of sponsoring under Jean Chrétien's leadership, was adopted in the year 2000 to give effect to the 1998 opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada regarding Quebec's secession.
The Clarity Act protects the rights of Quebeckers within Canada. We, Quebeckers, are just as Canadian as those living in other provinces and in the territories. We have a right to the full benefits provided by Canadian citizenship, the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have a right to the full protection provided by Canadian legislation and by the duty to assist that the Canadian federation governments have toward us wherever we might be located, in Canada and abroad. Like all Canadians, we have the right to participate to the fullest in the building of the nation.
Nobody can take these full citizenship rights away from us. No premier, no government, no politician. Nobody! Not unless we, Quebeckers, clearly give those rights up.
If we Quebeckers clearly gave up on Canada with a clear majority in response to a clear question on secession, governments would have the obligation to enter into negotiations on secession. These negotiations would have to be held within Canada's constitutional framework in order to conclude a separation agreement that is fair for all. If there were clear support for a secession, there would be negotiation. If there were no clear support, there would be no negotiation, and without negotiation there would be no secession. That was the case the Government of Canada pleaded before the Supreme Court. That was also the court's 1998 opinion to which the Clarity Act gave effect in 2000, and that is also the stance all members of this House should take in 2013, by voting against Bill C-457, a bill to repeal the Clarity Act.
The Clarity Act prohibits the Government of Canada from entering into negotiations on secession before this House is convinced that there is clear support for secession. Who can oppose this fundamental principle? Who can argue that the Government of Canada should undertake to take Canada away from Quebeckers without being sure that this is what they truly want? Whether we are for Canadian unity or Quebec independence, we all have to agree on a fundamental principle: clearly expressed consent.
No attempt at Quebec's secession should be made until Quebeckers have clearly expressed their support for it. That is why we must all support the Clarity Act. In no democracy in the world can a government proceed with something as serious as the break-up of the country, and abdicate its constitutional responsibilities toward one-quarter of its population, without having the assurance that this is what that population truly wants. But this is exactly what my colleagues from the Bloc are asking for when they propose to repeal the Clarity Act: they want the Government of Canada to consider helping a secessionist government secede without Quebeckers having clearly expressed their support for secession.
The Bloc argues that the Clarity Act has been rendered obsolete because in 2006, this House recognized that we, Quebeckers, form a nation within a united Canada. But in no way does that recognition weaken the rights to which Quebeckers are entitled when dealing with their governments. In no way do those governments have the right to make arrangements to negotiate our expulsion from Canada against our will. Taking the Clarity Act away from us, Quebeckers, would weaken the protection we enjoy with respect to our rights. In its 1998 opinion, the Supreme Court states that:
...whatever be the correct application of the definition of people(s) in this context, their right of self-determination cannot in the present circumstances be said to ground a right to unilateral secession.
Accordingly, a secessionist government would have no right to take Canada away from Quebeckers unilaterally. It could not claim this right for itself by arguing that Quebeckers form a people or a nation. It would have no such right, either under Canadian law or international law. The only procedure that can lead to secession is described in the Clarity Act.
It is a simple one. Firstly, the referendum question must be clearly about secession. The Government of Quebec can ask whatever question it wants but only a question on secession can lead to secession. It is easy to imagine what such a question might be: “Do you want Quebec to separate from Canada?” “Do you want Quebec to cease being a part of Canada and to become an independent country?”
Secondly, the response to a clear question on secession must show that a clear majority supports that option. The Supreme Court does not encourage us to predetermine what the majority threshold should be. To quote the court:
...it will be for the political actors to determine what constitutes “a clear majority on a clear question” in the circumstances under which a future referendum vote may be taken.
In other words, determining the level of clarity of a majority has a qualitative aspect, which requires that a political assessment be made with full understanding of the concrete circumstances of the time.
Contrary to the Supreme Court's opinion, the New Democratic Party professes that it would establish a majority threshold in advance of a referendum. In its 2005 Sherbrooke Declaration, the NDP set the threshold at 50% plus one vote. Yet, in its opinion, the court insists often and strongly that a clear majority vote for secession is a must for this option to be considered. If 50% plus one is a clear majority, what constitutes an unclear majority?
The NDP requires a two-thirds majority to modify the party's own constitution, yet it does not hesitate to consider breaking up Canada on the basis of a judicial recount. The NDP says it is open to Quebeckers, yet it wants to impose on Quebeckers such a radical upheaval as secession on the basis of a majority that would be so flimsy that it could easily turn into a minority as soon as the first implementation problem arose. The NDP has no qualms about imposing on Quebeckers, their children and future generations such a serious and irreversible decision as secession on the basis of a majority so uncertain that the referendum result could have been the opposite if the vote had been held one day before or one day after.
Like my colleagues from the other parties, the NDP MPs would be well advised to vote against Bill C-457. They would thus confirm the support given to the Clarity Act by such great New Democrats as Ed Broadbent, Alexa McDonough, Roy Romanow, Gary Doer and Bill Blaikie.
Along with my NDP and Bloc colleagues, we should all encourage Premier Pauline Marois, Bloc leader Daniel Paillé and other separatist leaders to adopt the only position that is fair and responsible: that they will hold the referendum on secession only when they have reasonable assurance of a clear win.
Such a crucial referendum cannot be decided on the roll of a dice; it cannot be allowed to split Quebeckers into two camps. It must only be held if it constitutes an opportunity to confirm clearly, officially and with no ambiguity that Quebeckers wish to reject Canada and have Quebec become an independent country.
Thirdly, secession can only happen—following a clear question and a clear majority—after a separation agreement has been duly negotiated within the present constitutional framework, in accordance with the four constitutional principles identified by the Supreme Court. It goes without saying that these negotiations, “a period of considerable upheaval and uncertainty”, would inevitably “give rise to many issues of great complexity and difficulty”—to quote the Court's own words. Achieving secession would be an inherently difficult task; that is why it should only be considered within the rule of law and on the basis of a clear support for secession.
That is the only way to achieve secession—the dream of my Bloc colleagues—while respecting everybody's rights, including those of Quebeckers. That is why my Bloc colleagues must also support the Clarity Act.
My own firm conviction is that we, Quebeckers, will never let go of Canada. However, neither the Clarity Act nor the Supreme Court's opinion take sides on the issue. The act does not say whether it would be advisable or not to secede. It simply indicates what the only legal, fair and feasible way of doing it would be.
Quebec's separatist movement has given itself a very difficult task: convincing us, Quebeckers, that we would be happier if we were not Canadians; they want us to abandon the country we have built with other Canadians, the country that makes us the envy of the whole world. The secessionist leaders are well aware that it would be very difficult for them to win in clarity; but this does not give them the right to try to do so in confusion. Clarity has virtues for everybody.
So it is as a proud Quebecker, determined to defend my Quebecker rights anywhere and anytime, notably in this House, that I invite all my colleagues to vote against Bill C-457—and in the same breath, to reaffirm the House of Commons' support for the Clarity Act.
Private Members' Business
January 28th, 2013 / 11:50 a.m.
Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all my colleagues for their speeches, and particularly my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who has done a lot of work on this issue and was the architect of the Clarity Law, which we are debating again today.
First, I would like to say that I have a great deal of respect for my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska and for all of my Bloc Québécois colleagues. The work done by all members of the House is of equal value. However, I obviously do not share the opinion held by the Bloc Québécois on this issue. The Green Party therefore cannot support Bill C-457.
I will explain. The Green Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois support the principle that, as a people, the population of Quebec has the right and the power to make decisions regarding its future. Only the Quebec people can make decisions of that kind.
The question is how an amazing, democratic country like Canada can make clear and just decisions about sensitive, fundamental issues raised in the past, such as Quebec sovereignty and the rights of Quebeckers.
The bill introduced by the member for Richmond—Arthabaska revisits the motion moved in the House of Commons recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation. The Green Party is the only party in the House that did not agree to that motion.
When it came out that the Prime Minister had decided to put forward a motion that Quebeckers are a nation, there were a lot of questions as to what this would mean. At the time, and it may be a bit in our history, the current member of Parliament for Wellington—Halton Hills was the minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs. He could not agree with the position and he had not been consulted by the Prime Minister. It is unfortunate in this particular administration that the Prime Minister presumes to run all portfolios. The member, who was minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs at the time, did something quite extraordinary and with great integrity: he chose to leave cabinet and sit on the backbenches voluntarily because he could not agree with that position.
I agree with the member for Wellington—Halton Hills that when a motion is put forward, it either means something or it does not. This particular private member's bill rests on the reality that the motion did not mean anything. If it meant what it said, then this Bloc Quebecois private member's bill would have to pass. If all members of Parliament in the House who voted for the motion that Quebeckers are a nation really meant it, then this private member's bill would have to pass.
We all recognize there is very little support in the House for this private member's bill because we want the Clarity Act. We want to make sure that in the process of coming up with a question on an issue as important as another referendum on the question of Quebec leaving Canada, which we all hope will never occur, the Clarity Act will be followed.
As a political ploy, as a convenient motion which in effect meant nothing, every other party in the House, other than the Green Party, supported a motion that Quebeckers are a nation. Today those members are all hoist with their own petard. The reality is that if the motion meant anything they would have to vote for this private member's bill being put forward by the member of Parliament for Richmond—Arthabaska. It would be a shame to turn a vote on anything as important as touching on the sovereignty of Quebeckers and Quebec as a nation into a political point that means nothing.
Evidently, the motion that Quebeckers form a nation, in principle, has had no effect. If it had, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska would be perfectly correct: it would not be reasonable for a clarity act to require clear questions and assign this kind of role to the Parliament of Canada.
We obviously need the Clarity Act. It is essential for the people of Quebec and for all Canadians who respect the rights of Quebeckers that there be a clear question. I hope that everyone will honour that principle. It is essential that there be a clear question regarding the future of the people of Quebec. This is a very important issue for the future. For that reason, the Green Party supports the Clarity Act. Unfortunately, the motion stating that Quebeckers form a nation has no real meaning.
The Green Party will not be voting for Bill C-457, but I thank the member for Richmond—Arthabaska for demonstrating very clearly that the motions supported by all the other parties in this House in the past are not effective. It is unfortunate for Quebeckers that such a motion was passed.
I am sorry to say that the motion that Quebeckers are a nation was, as I always suspected, a bit of political theatre without effect. I thank the member of Parliament for Richmond—Arthabaska for pointing it out so clearly.
October 25th, 2012 / 10 a.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise here in the House today to introduce this bill. People, and Quebeckers in particular, understand what this bill means. The bill aims to right an historical wrong for the Quebec nation, because this federal Parliament created conditions meant to tell the Quebec nation how to go about exercising its self-determination. It is unspeakable, unjustifiable and unwarranted.
At the time, in 2000, when the bill was passed by everyone except the Bloc Québécois, of course, no party in the National Assembly of Quebec—whether federalist or sovereignist—agreed with this bill.
This injustice still persists today. My bill is very simple: it repeals the Clarity Act. No federal Parliament should be able to tell Quebec, or any other province for that matter, how to go about exercising its self-determination. That is why I wish to discuss the matter here and debate it with my colleagues in order to correct this injustice, as I said.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)