Thomas Mulcair’s Clarity problem
At about the midpoint of last night’s debate, during an otherwise necessary chat about the state of democratic institutions, things veered into a constitutional abstraction of the sort that has obsessed this country’s political class for a half century. It lasted about five minutes and was prompted by Justin Trudeau, who looks younger than his 43 years but, at that moment at least, could have passed for pater Pierre Elliott circa 1968, shaking his fists at the evil Quebec separatists in our midst.
“One of the things that really frustrates a lot of people is when they see politicians pander, when they say one thing in one part of the country and a different thing in another part of the country. One of the things that unfortunately Mr. Mulcair has been doing quite regularly is talking in French about his desire to repeal the Clarity Act, to make it easier for those who want to break up this country to actually do so. And in doing so, he is actually disagreeing with the Supreme Court judgment that said one vote is not enough to break up the country.”
The Clarity Act was wrought by Jean Chrétien’s government in 2000 to try and address the question born in 1995’s Quebec referendum, which the No side won by all of 54,288 votes: would it have been enough to separate the country had the Yes side won by as many (or fewer) votes? The Supreme Court’s answer was no: a province would need a “clear majority.” Except no one defined what, exactly, constituted this clear majority. The resulting lack of clarity has obsessed Canada’s political class and legions of its journalists ever since.
Three things usually happen whenever this issue is brought up in a federal campaign. First, chest puffed, each leader will say what good Canadians they are. Then the others will say how irrelevant it is to talk about separatism, because Quebec’s sovereignty movement is stuck somewhere between cryogenic sleep and outright death. Finally, they do exactly that—talk about an apparently irrelevant issue. For over 50 years, it’s been our political quicksand: impossible to avoid, and even harder to escape. (Continued: MacLean’s)