Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Clarity Act gambit is craven politics

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Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is skirting questions about his position on an NDP private member's bill to repeal the Clarity Act. Craig Scott, formerly a law professor, wants to replace it with legislation that respects a simple majority vote for Quebec separation.

Mr. Mulcair's discomfort with the Toronto MP's political gambit is understandable: this is all about craven political interest, not a response to a pressing national question. There is no groundswell of support for separatists or for separation in Quebec. The election of the minority Marois government last fall was evidence only of palpable dissatisfaction with the Liberals.

The emergence of this hopeless bill is sheer gamesmanship. Mr. Scott tabled his bill to one-up a Bloc Quebecois motion to rescind the Clarity Act. The 1999 federal law, written in response to a Supreme Court judgment that rejected a simple majority as a condition for federal negotiation on separation, demands a clear majority on a clear question to trigger such talks.

The NDP bill is a superficial bid to entrench party support in Quebec. Mr. Scott's justification for 50-per-cent-plus-one reveals little thought went into the matter. The Supreme Court, he noted, did not define what would be an acceptable threshold nor did it say only a substantial majority was needed to compel the federal government to negotiate terms of separation.

He is right, because the court refused to usurp what it declared to be the role of Parliament. Yet, Mr. Scott would have difficulty convincing anyone other than separatists that a simple majority qualifies as an unambiguous expression of the democratic will. Indeed, it invites what most Canadians regard as unfathomable and indefensible: rewriting the national status and rights of 49 per cent of Quebecers against their will.

This is why the Supreme Court stated that democracy "means more than a simple majority." An acceptable threshold would show Quebecers solidly behind separation, something the very term "sovereignty association" defies. Only the most obtuse or intellectually dishonest of law experts would miss the clarity of the statement.

The NDP, which in 2005 passed support for simple referendum majority, seems prepared to forsake support in the rest of Canada to solidify its foothold in Quebec. Mr. Mulcair should caution his members against pressing the thorn of disunity into the national consciousness again. He does a disservice to Canada and the hard won peace that prevails by promoting policy that would grease the gears for breaking up the federation.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 A14

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