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Rex Murphy: Justin Trudeau takes a knee to the 'nation' of Quebec
Quebec can unilaterally alter the Canadian Constitution, the prime minister says. So who speaks for Canada?
Rex Murphy May 21, 2021
The past few days have been very enlightening. Especially around Quebec’s Bill 96 and the attempt to unilaterally alter the Canadian Constitution.
After the bill’s introduction in the Quebec legislature, Prime Minister Trudeau almost breathlessly announced that it was “perfectly legitimate” for one province to alter the Constitution of the entire nation. In particular that Quebec, which did not sign the Constitution Act, is nonetheless endowed with the singular privilege of the power to amend it.
From which I derive a new principle of constitutional law — herewith: that the only province which did not and has not signed the Constitution Act has the right to, unilaterally, amend the Constitution.
And the corollary to that principle is that any and all provinces which have signed that act cannot unilaterally or otherwise amend the Constitution.
There’s a boatload of words to describe this state of affairs. There’s odd, strange, arcane, puzzling, illogical, oxymoronic, mind-numbing, and believe me I could add 20 more and still have a full supply left over.
However none or all of them together captures the strange beauty of hearing the prime minister of Canada publicly endorse the “right” of a province officially offside of the Constitution of Canada, to change that Constitution on its own and unilateral say so.
Neither the Senate, the provinces, nor the House of Commons need be consulted when a great change is to be made in the country’s prime document. It summons the question: Who speaks for Canada?
It calls for another question. Does Mr. Trudeau’s eerie obeisance to the Quebec government’s radical manoeuvre have any connection with political advantage for his party in an election many think may come before the end of summer? Is he “taking a knee” to the Quebec premier for the dividends that will accrue to the Liberal party, in Quebec?
Under this legislation, Quebec will declare French “the only official language of Quebec” and that “Quebecers form a nation.”
So here’s what we are left with if these propositions hold.
Canada consists of nine provinces, three territories and the Nation of Quebec.
Secondly, Canada is officially (and ever so proudly, especially by those in the Liberal camp) a bilingual country. Except in Quebec which will legislate monolingualism in its territory. The rest of the country will continue to follow the laws and practices of bilingualism, which policy was originally introduced and subsequently enforced to placate French-speaking Quebec. French-speaking Quebec, in return, will nullify bilingualism, and go officially unilingual. You may return now, dear Reader, to the parade of adjectives above (and add your own) starting with “odd.”
Other questions, only some of which are rhetorical: Can our good friends in Alberta be granted like privileges and powers? Can Premier Jason Kenney propose, and get support from Mr. Trudeau for an amendment to the Constitution that reads — “Any province vetoing a pipeline from Calgary to Nova Scotia will be stripped of all ‘equalization’ revenues? This amendment will apply equally to all officially bilingual provinces and officially unilingual nations within Confederation.”
Another question attends the matter of bilingualism more generally. Can all the provinces where English is absolutely the main language, follow Quebec’s example and go officially for a “one-language only” — a majority language policy? May they put their own amendments to the Constitution forward, and await easy endorsement that their say-so and their say-so alone is necessary for Constitutional change?
Incidentally, can this new procedure — the premiers propose, the prime minister endorses — be formalized, or is that necessary?
Away from the questions now, though there are so many more.
It is more than provoking, with so much of Canada in the midst of an ill-managed COVID crisis; in the brutal experience of tens of thousands of businesses, now dead or dying; in reckless financial expenditures; with a Parliament that mimics more a neighbourhood takeout than a deliberative assembly — pickup or delivery for all major announcements; with scandals galore from WE to military harassment allegations; with pending internet censorship legislation; is it not more than provoking that this fundamental and core assault on the country’s Constitution is being so complacently received?
With a wave of the prime ministerial hand we see the Constitution itself being made a toy. We see Quebec abandoning a prime characteristic of modern Canadian governmental policy — bilingualism — and the son of the prime minister who brought that policy to life, airily giving it a pass.
We see — or rather will see — a storm of disapproval from every other province that understands what’s at stake. We will see even deeper and angry dissent from the Western provinces which witness, once again as always, Quebec receiving deluxe treatment from the federal government –– while they are being gutted, their main industry hobbled and made a target for shutdown by a green Liberal government.
We have a very careless and frequently clueless federal government, one which on all major files — emphatically on COVID vaccines — is shallow or incompetent. There are mock high-school parliaments with better performance.
Finally, on the Quebec bill itself, it is compliance and electoral cowardice on all sides. The NDP supporting it cannot surprise. Jagmeet Singh has been playing Robin to Mr. Trudeau’s Batman since the election. The Bloc — well, that speaks for itself.
But Erin O’Toole? What are you thinking? First your green plan. And now a quick and supine endorsement of this measure. Have you forgotten your title and position — Leader of the Opposition?
Does any party in this lame Parliament “speak for Canada?”