Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Clarity Act muddles NDP caucus retreat

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Liberal mischief-makers set a political cat loose among the NDP pigeons Thursday, forcing opposition New Democrats to defend their position a bare-majority Yes vote would be enough to trigger talks on Quebec leaving Canada.

NDP MPs gathered for the final day of their caucus retreat in St. John's found themselves facing questions about a a media report that said the Liberals were contemplating a motion asking Parliament to reaffirm its support for the Clarity Act.

The act stipulates the federal government would require a "clear" majority to vote in support of a clear referendum question on Quebec independence before it would consider negotiating the terms of a divorce.

The NDP supported the Clarity Act when it was introduced in 1999 by the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien, in response to the country's near-death experience in the 1995 Quebec referendum.

However, the NDP adopted its own policy on Quebec in 2005 -- the Sherbrooke declaration -- which Liberals believe is inconsistent with the act.

It says, among other things, the NDP would regard a vote of 50 per cent plus one to be sufficiently clear to trigger secession talks.

Few federal politicians believe there will be another referendum on Quebec's future any time soon, given the Parti Québécois received such a weak mandate in Tuesday's provincial election. A Liberal motion, if any, would do little beyond sow dissension in NDP ranks and raise doubts among Canadians outside Quebec about the NDP's commitment to national unity.

One Liberal MP, who spoke anonymously, confirmed some Liberals want to flush NDP Leader Tom Mulcair "out of the bushes or make him browbeat his own caucus into submission" on the issue.

Other Liberals fear the move could stoke near-dormant separatist fires and backfire on the party, which likes to portray itself as the party of national unity.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said seeking parliamentary reaffirmation of support for the Clarity Act is "a matter for consideration" but it was not discussed during the party's three-day caucus retreat in Montebello, Que.

Nevertheless, he took the opportunity to jab at the NDP's alleged confusion on the subject.

"I don't know what the position of the NDP currently is on that," Rae told reporters at the conclusion of the caucus retreat.

"The Sherbrooke declaration that they've talked about clearly doesn't speak to it, seems to go against it.

"There are some current members of the NDP in the House who voted in favour of the Clarity Act and I don't know where Mr. Mulcair and others stand.

"But I know where we stand very clearly."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2012 A15

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