Saturday, 28 May 2011

The NDP, The Quebec Question and 50% + 1

Much has been made of Jack Layton's "controversial" comments on a possible Quebec sovereignty referendum.

The fact is that it is a very rational and defensible position. Based on the closest precedent, the entry of Newfoundland into Confederation, Quebec has followed the same rules, keep on holding referendums hoping to get the result you want with 50% + 1 required for passage. After all, otherwise we have a minority deciding Quebec's constitutional status.

That position, however, has it's problems. Other constitutional precedents require greater than 50% + 1 to make constitutional changes. As well, if support is that close the results of a referendum can vary from day to day.

That is why I tend to support requiring something like 60% support for such changes in constitutional arrangements, to ensure that the new constitutional arrangement will have continuing support. However that position also has it's flaws because in the case of, for example, a clear and continuous 55% support for sovereignty, the minority that opposes the change in status would effectively decide the fate of Quebec.

That is why the real focus needs to be on maintaining strong support for federalism in Quebec, support that has just recently been very effectively expressed by the people of Quebec in choosing a federalist social democratic party over a sovereignist one. We need to work on building and strengthening a strong federalist consensus in Quebec.

This will not be done by "giving Quebec whatever it wants" but by giving Quebec respect and building a strong Canadian community. This starts with recognizing Quebec's nationhood and it's right to decide it's own fate. Can we have a country within a country. It seems to work well enough for England, Scotland and Wales, within a unitary state. When have you ever heard Scots refer to themselves as "United Kingdomers" but their loyalty to both their country of Scotland and their nation state of the United Kingdom does not seem to be in conflict.

We have the best opportunity ever to set aside separatism in Quebec and build a strong Canada that includes Quebec. Quebec has spoken in the election and chosen federalism. All we have to do is work with the Quebecois to build a strong united Canada with them.

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