So, as you may have heard, Prime Minister Harper stood up in the Commons yesterday and announced that he believed Quebec was a nation within Canada.
"Our position is clear. Do the QuÃ©bÃ©cois form a nation within Canada? The answer is yes. Do the QuÃ©bÃ©cois form an independent nation? The answer is no and the answer will always be no."
A motion had been put forth earlier by the Bloc Quebecois that called for Parliament to recognize Quebec as a nation, period. All three federalist parties within Parliament gave Harper a standing ovation and agreed with calling Quebec a nation within Canada. The Bloc denounced the move, and put forward another motion today (Nov. 23) that attempted to recognize Quebec as a nation by itself.
"It isn't up to the prime minister to decide what Quebecers will choose as an option. It's up to Quebecers. The refusal to recognize the Quebec nation, the refusal to acknowledge an obvious reality, is something that we could call a blockage in Canada. Never will I accept that the only condition to be a nation is to recognize the right to remain in Canada."
Now, all this comes on the heels of a controversial statement made by Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff. He's the Harvard intellectual and Iraqi war apologist who came back to Canada to try his hand at federal politics. He stated awhile ago (a week? two weeks? I can't remember) that we should recognize Quebec as a nation and enumerate it within the Constitution.
"Other candidates have said â€¦ recognizing Quebec as a nation in the Constitution is too difficult. Yes, it's difficult, but we must do it."
Along with Ignatieff's statements earlier, the Quebec wing of the Liberal party is apparently preparing a resolution (to be voted on at the Leadership Conference) that would have the Liberal party officially recognize Quebec as a nation (not unlike Rene Levesque's motion so many years ago).
Now, nearly 20 years ago, Prime Minister Mulroney (complete asshole that he was) sought to erase the ill-will Quebeckers had felt since the Night of Long Knives, when Quebec was abandoned by the Gang of Eight. He proposed the first constitutional amendment since repatriation, under Trudeau. This was called the Meech Lake Accord. It wasn't very extensive, but included five or so major reforms:
* a recognization of the province of Quebec as a "distinct society";
* a restoration of Constitutional Veto;
* increased provincial powers with respect to immigration;
* extension and regulation of the right for a reasonable financial compensation to any province that chooses to opt out of any future federal programs; and
* provincial input in appointing senators and Supreme Court judges. #
The most important bit in there is the "distinct society" clause. This would, in essence, recognize that Quebec was not only a province, but is distinct in character and responsibility (regarding language and culture). The Accord failed when Newfoundland and Labrador pulled out, and then retired Prime Minister Trudeau spoke publicly against it.
Well, Mulroney tried again. This time, there was a much more comprehensive package of reforms. This was called the Charolettetown Accord, and included most things in Meech, but also had more substansial moves on Senate reform and native and women's rights. This time, Mulroney called a national referendum (only the second in Canadian history). It was rejected in all provinces except PEI. The failure of the Accord helped to started two new major regional parties - the Bloc Quebec ois lead by Lucien Bouchard, and awestern populist party, the Reform Party (which had been founded in the 80's) lead by Preston "Reeeeefooooorrrmmmm!!!" Manning.
Everything came to a head during the second Quebec referendum on sovereignty in 1995 (the first being in 1982). Quebeckers voted 50.6% in favour of staying in Canada, with 49.4% against. On the eve of the vote, Prime Minister Chretien went on national television and guaranteed 'constitutional renewal' to the people of Quebec, and Canada at large. That resulted in the Clarity Act
- the legislative embodiment of a hypothetical question referenced to the Supreme Court
by Chretien. I won't go into the details here, but it basically states that on a clear question, and with a clear majority (both of which aren't defined), the Government of Canada would have a 'moral obligation' to negotiate with the Government of Quebec, but not a legal one (it also ruled that Quebec could not unilaterally secede).
Now, up until a few weeks ago, politicians (except Andre Boisclair and Gilles Duceppe) stayed the hell away from any talk about Quebec as a distinct society or 'constitutional renewal'. It's becoming more of an issue now with the looming provincial election in Quebec, where federalist premier Jean Charest is expected to be defeated by the newly minted leader of the Parti Quebecois, Andre Boisclair. Boisclair has stated publicly that he will ignore the Clarity Act, and have a referendum during his term, if elected.
So, fellow PA Forumers...What do you think? Do you think that Canada should recognize Quebec as a nation or distinct society within Canada? If so, why?
For my part, I struggle with a very strong feeling of Western Canadian (and British Columbian specifically) nationalism (Republic of Western Canada forever!), but also a very Trudeau-like conception of federalism. I do not think Quebec should be recognized in Canada as a nation - not when there are other, legitimately sovereign peoples without such recognition today (First Nations, Metis, Inuit...). I am against giving any special status to any province. I believe that the legal repercussions of having Quebec as a distinct society are immense, and could lead to the disintergration of the Confederation.