Yesterday, Claude Patry, MP for Jonquiere-Alma, crossed the floor from Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to join the beleaguered Bloc Quebecois. His move from the NDP to the Bloc will not change the Party numbers in the House of Commons in any significant way, yet his move is a big deal for the NDP, the Bloc and for all Canadians.
After joining the Bloc, flanked by BQ Leader Daniel Paille and the rest of the Bloc’s caucus, Patry announced to Quebecers that he had, in fact, always been a “nationalist” (read: sovereigntist or separatist here), despite having run under the NDP’s banner. Patry claimed to have voted “Yes” in the two Quebec referendums on independence (or sovereignty-association or whatever). These facts were known to former NDP Leader, Jack Layton, when Praty’s nomination papers appeared before him for sign-off, yet for some inexplicable reason, Layton let the guy run for the NDP.
The Sherbrooke Declaration and the Clarity Act
The current NDP Leader, Tom Mulcair, continues to assert that his Party is a federalist political party, willing to represent the interests of all Canadians, including Quebecers. Certainly no one can challenge Mulcair’s own commitment to Canada, as his record during past referendums speaks for itself. Yet, Mulcair has inherited a political party whose Quebec strategy has been based on attracting soft-separatist Bloc Quebecois supporters to the NDP banner. Through its adoption of the politically toxic and legally naïve Sherbrooke Declaration in 2006, the NDP has positioned itself as a reasonable alternative to the Bloc in the minds of separatist-minded Quebecers, at least as far as the “federalist” parties go.
The Liberals, Conservatives and Greens appear content to keep the Clarity Act, which sets out that a “clear majority” is needed in a referendum on independence before Quebec can legally leave the federation. Before adopting the Clarity Act, the Liberal government of Jean Chretien had put the question to the Supreme Court of Canada regarding what threshold of votes should trigger a dissolution of the union, and it is from the Supreme Court that the words “clear majority” come.
In contrast, the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration, on which Toronto-Danforth MP Craig Scott’s private member’s bill is modeled, calls only for a “simple” majority (50% plus one). Critics have pointed out that the NDP itself requires a two-thirds majority of voting party members in order for the Party to change its own constitution, yet it seems content to allow Canada to dissolve as a nation based on a simple majority of votes cast in a single province.
(In fairness, the Clarity Act, Sherbrooke Declaration, and Scott’s private member’s bill demand a clear question be asked of voters - which was something that did not happen either in 1980 or 1995).
NDP Paves an Easy Road to Quebec Separation
Why are we now having these discussions about Quebec sovereignty? Doesn’t our parliament have bigger fish to fry? I certainly think that there are far more important issues on the table which our parliamentarians should be dealing with. However, this matter is very important, thanks to the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration. The NDP continues to poll quite well, and it may very well be that Canada’s next Prime Minister will be Tom Mulcair. Canadians need to know what they might be voting for should they be thinking of casting their ballots for an NDP candidate in the next federal election. Quite simply, they may be voting for the end of Canada as a federal entity as we know it, thanks to the NDP’s dangerous embrace of separatist parliamentarians and the Sherbrooke Declaration.
Quebecers interested in independence have clearly grown tired of voting for a group of federal parliamentarians which, because of their small numbers, have never been able to do better than form the Official Opposition. The Bloc Quebecois, in a very real way, has proven to be a toxic political party for all other federalist parties to work with, at least on the question of Quebec’s role in federation. Quebec voters almost completely turfed the Bloc in 2011 for a host of reasons, but clearly one of those reasons had to do with the Bloc’s ineffectiveness with the independence file.
If you were a separatist in Quebec, might it not be better to vote for a political party which actually had a chance of forming government one day, and which promised a go-easy approach on a future independence referendum? Certainly, it appears that not only did many Quebec separatists think this was a good idea when they voted for the NDP, many others decided to put their name forward and stand as candidates for the NDP, including former NDP interim Leader Nicole Turmel, and current NDP Deputy Leader Alexander Boulerice (see: “NDP seats occupied by separatists”, QMI Agency, May 15, 2011).
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s labeling the NDP “the Bloc-Orange” yesterday might have been nothing more than a sound-bite-of-the-day for our national media, but dig a little deeper and there is clearly abundant evidence that the NDP caucus in Ottawa is riddled with former and current card-carrying members of separatist political parties at the provincial level (most especially the ultra left wing Quebec Solidaire).
Keep in mind that should Tom Mulcair become Prime Minister, it is quite likely that some of these individuals currently in his caucus will find themselves in his cabinet, and at any future negotiating table with the government of Quebec after a simple majority votes to exit Canada in a referendum. Now ask yourself: if this is the case, which government is more than likely to let Quebec go on its own terms than the NDP?
My Canada Includes Quebec
So Quebec leaves the federation. Many Canadians probably think that this is no big deal (and some of those might actually think that Canada will be better off without Quebec). Well, Quebec’s attempt at departure will most assuredly be a “big deal”. It’s not as if Quebec, as we think of it when we open up an atlas, will be able to just one day simply declare its independence, and whammo, a new nation is born. It’s not going to happen (not even with a soft-on-separatist NDP government in Ottawa).
Our federal government has made a lot of investments in Quebec. What about those federal facilities (which include everything from post offices to military bases)? Will Quebec be ok with the notion that all of that infrastructure belongs to Canada, and they must either give it back (in the case of military hardware) or compensate Canada for past investments (in the case of bridges, highways and buildings)? What might the rest of Canada’s expectations be?
And then there’s Quebec’s share of the federal debt. How will that be apportioned? Will there be a treaty or something like it put in place to compel an independent Quebec to pay Canada its fair share toward debt reduction?
What might separation do to the Canadian dollar? Almost certainly, Canada will be plunged into a constitutional crisis which is liable to impact on our fragile economy. I actually think that Canada’s dollar might begin to grow stronger should Quebec decide to separate, which may be good for resource-based provincial economies such as Alberta’s, but will almost certainly negatively impact the manufacturing sector. What we can expect is a significant degree of uncertainty – politically and economically.
And I haven’t even touched on the very real First Nations issues yet. What if Quebec asserts that independence applies to the province as constituted by its current political boundaries? Remember, much of Northern Quebec is comprised of First Nations territory, originally governed as territorial departments by Ottawa, and ultimately given to Quebec by Canada to administer (in the same way that Ontario and Manitoba grew to their current political boundaries). Even putting historic issues aside, what will Canada’s obligations to First Nations through treaty and native rights be, should Quebec decide to leave the federation? What might happen if the Cree want to remain in Canada? Does a referendum of Quebec voters constitute the Crown’s “duty to consult and accommodate” First Nations?
Constitutional, Political & Economic Turmoil
In part, the Clarity Act sought to keep a lid on this nation-destroying, economically devastating can of worms. But the NDP seem quite keen on embracing this doomsday scenario for Canada, in the misguided name of “self determination”. The NDP wants to pretend that Quebec’s departure from Canada will not adversely impact the rest of the nation, as long as vigorous negotiations resolve all issues. Although Canada is already one of the most decentralized federations in the world, let me tell you that no matter how vigorous those negotiations might be, the issues in play in a scenario where Quebec threatens to leave Canada on the basis of a simple majority vote will destabilize the rest of the nation – from St. John’s to Sudbury to Surrey. There is no escaping it.
Yet, by electing an NDP government in 2015, Canada may very well find itself one step closer to this doomsday scenario. Clearly, with separatists in its midst, and with its legally questionable Sherbrooke Declaration as a starting point for the next referendum, the NDP continues to prove itself unfit to lead our nation.
Claude Patry’s departure from the NDP was a good start. Good riddance to a bad apple, as far as I’m concerned. But if the NDP wants to prove itself to Canadians that it is ready to govern in 2015, it must abandon the misguided Sherbrooke Declaration, axe the current private member’s bill before the House, and purge itself of soft-separatists like Patry. Until the NDP does so, it will remain both unready and unfit to govern. Voters in Quebec, like those in the rest of Canada, who care about our federation should take note of the dangerous and destabilizing path that a future NDP government could set us all on.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
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