False choices: all Quebecers can agree on a framework for secession

False choices: all Quebecers can agree on a framework for secession

The “National” Assembly does not have the jurisdiction to call a referendum on the sovereignty of Quebec, choose and dictate the parameters and question unilaterally, and usurp the jurisdiction of the federal government by a simple majority vote of Quebecers.

The truth is, in the event of a ‘YES’ majority in 1980 and 1995, the Rest of Canada (ROC) and the federal government could have shrugged their shoulders and thanked Quebec for their over-hyped opinion poll.

Quebec is not a mythical, indivisible or homogeneous entity which has always existed in space and time; a French-speaking Garden of Eden. Quebec did not exist until it was a created by the British colonial administration in 1763, and its rights, jurisdictions and existence stem from Canada’s Constitution. It has no right to hijack the powers of the federal government on its territory, which belong to all Canadians.

The secession of a Canadian province must take place within the context of the Constitution. A formal amendment, negotiated between all provinces and the federal government is the only legal route available to leave Canada. Federalism, democracy, respect for the rule of law, constitutionalism and the respect for minorities must be taken into account. This is the framework for secession was ruled upon in 1998 by the Supreme Court, and partially legislated upon federally with the Clarity Act which mandates for any such negotiations to take place, there must be a clear answer to a clear question from a province. The territorial boundaries, populations, financial obligations, Aboriginal populations, and rights to waterways and resources would likely not resemble their current forms on the landmass now called Quebec. Quebec could not demand, as Mme Marois’ suggests, Canadian currency, a seat at the Bank of Canada and open borders.

As well, federalists should be careful with calls for the divisibility of Quebec: ‘NO’ voters in sufficient concentrations could remain Canadian, they say. It would not be so simple. Municipalities have no constitutional status outside whatever their provincial governments allow, and linguistic minorities shape-shift overtime. Where the English-speaking population of the historical Eastern Townships had over twice the population of Toronto at Confederation, they now comprise only one-one hundredth the population of Canada’s largest urban centre and are spread out over a landmass the size of Belgium.

The fate of Canada, the rule of law, our constitution, the legacy of the 118,000 men and women whom lost their lives in wars since Confederation, and the millions of Canadians whom just so happen to live in Quebec are at stake.

Yet all provincial political parties have reveled in the obscurity and ambiguity of the future of our country. It must come to an end.

Sometimes, I look a bit further down the road in Cookshire, to a small white bungalow where a man named Pierre Bourgault lived. When his family first moved to town, largely English-speaking at the time, no one would rent to his family because they were French. He felt excluded and despised because he was French-Canadian in an English town. My father remembers him picking fights with kids at the same English school I later attended. Pierre went on to co-found the PQ with René Lévesque in 1969.

Such linguistic tension and memory still buoys the current movement for separation. When will we escape this cycle of vengeance in Quebec, for wrongs perceived or real? When will our individual and collective catharsis come? Or, will the victim and victimizer simply reverse roles: a circle of revenge and retribution… self-defeating and illusory.

Whether a federalist or separatist, all Quebecers can agree that a clear and comprehensible framework for the possible secession of a province is necessary.

The rules need to be established, firm, fair, and take into account all viewpoints and perspectives. No ‘cheats’ allowed and no one likes a bully demanding what isn’t theirs. Those were the schoolyard rules. Certainly, the future of our country deserves fair play as well.

The rules for provincial secession are complex and belie simple explanations, yet the solution can be as easy as childs play.

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Editorials and opinion pieces represent the opinions of their authors.  LifeinQuebec.com maintains a socially and politically neutral ground for exchange of ideas.

Categories: Opinion, Politics

About Author

Colin Standish

Colin Standish has a law degree from Université Laval in Quebec City and a history and politics degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Colin was born and raised in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and is currently a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in Compton-Stanstead. He has learnt French in order to be able to study his chosen degree subject in the language.

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