Monday, September 5, 2011

Layton’s Separatist Slip-Up

This week Jack Layton clarified that the NDP remains a federalist party, despite sweeping the Bloc Quebecois from their seats across Quebec. At the same time he’s also saying that it would take only 50% + 1 to warrant the breakup of Canada.

One person – only one person – beyond the 50% mark would be the deciding factor in whether Canada as we know it would be politically, economically, and geographically divided. Who would want to be the unlucky person to cause such horrific and unnecessary change?

In making such a statement Layton misreads landmark decisions such as the Secession Reference as well as the Clarity Act, which built upon the Reference.

The Reference states that a clear majority of Quebecers must vote on a clear question of secession. A clear majority, Mr. Layton. Not just a simple majority. As I noted above, it hardly seems appropriate that one person alone could be the deciding factor between whether Canada remained intact or was broken apart. A much higher threshold must be reached, and this is exactly what the Supreme Court suggested by stipulating a clear majority had to be reached.

On a clear question, it remains up to parliament to determine what a clear question on secession would be. It’s safe to say, however, that shrouding a secession question in political-speak is hardly allowing the Quebec electorate to vote on whether or not they want to remain a part of Canada.

There are also multiple foreseeable logistics issues. Let’s say 80% of Quebecers vote to separate, and that is considered a clear enough majority. What happens to the other 20% of Quebecers who didn’t want to separate? Do they get shoved into their newfound Quebec country? Do they get to move to Canada?

Further, even if this 80% mark is made, where is the dividing line? Separatists would be spread throughout the province, and dividing chunks of Quebec into the new country and the remaining Canada would make for an awfully weird looking map, with a largely-remaining Canadian Quebec and small pockets of Quebec country.

Do Canadians get to have a say on whether our country should be broken up? I think they should.
Although part of me would love to see Quebec separate just so that we could stop all of this secession bickering (or, as Brian Crowley crowned, the “neverendum”), I would be more concerned about the ramifications for the remaining Canadian state should Canada’s federal government allow one province to secede.

Alberta is rich and can make it on its own? Separate. Ontario’s auto industry is doing great? Separate. Our great country would quickly and continually be broken up and divided into smaller and smaller chunks on the precedence that a province could leave the confederation.

How merited is the statement that Quebecers should be allowed to secede because they are their own special culture? Not very, according to the statistics. Quebec families live with kids, without kids, and in single-parents households in roughly the same proportion as the rest of Canada. Approximately 50% of Quebecers have origins other than strictly “French” or “French origins.” The total percentage of the population which is married is almost the same in Quebec as it is nationwide. The same percentage of Quebecers as Canadians live in urban versus rural homes. The crime rate per capita is the same. The average wage in Quebec is only sixty cents lower than the national average.

Perhaps the largest difference is that 80% of the Quebec population’s mother tongue is French, compared to 60% of Canada’s mother tongue being English. Quebec is also dominated by 83% of residents identifying as Catholic, compared to 43% of Canadians. But can we base an entire special status on language and religion alone? Such an assumption is entirely without merit.

Even if there were some differences, as we should expect to see from province to province, that does not mean any one group is any more or less Canadian. Every province joined our country, either at confederation or at some point thereafter, because of the enormous benefits that could be reaped by maintaining a federal government and federal state. One of those benefits was immigrants, coming from across the globe, identifying themselves as Canadians. And although some provinces were more stubborn than others in admitting they’re Canadian, they agreed to join our country and are thus Canadian. This is not a status that should be allowed to be shattered by one person.

Canada is here to stay. Although our constitution does not explicitly address secession, it should be clear that it is not in the interests of any province, citizen, or government to break off parts of our country, especially when one group believes it is entitled to do so because it believes it’s different or special.

But why are we even fixated on this question of which party will become the new separatist party for Quebecers? Secession is dead. That should be self-evident based on the Bloc being defeated in a great majority of their ridings, including Gilles Duceppe’s riding. Two referendums on whether the people of Quebec want to secede have failed. Polls regularly show Quebecers want to move past the separatist bickering of the 1970’s and live happily in the country we have now.

Secession is dead. Why is the NDP still focusing on defining how Quebec could separate, when it should be focused on demanding that the government raise taxes?