Prince Arthur Herald | Huffington Post

PAH: No Need to Worry About a Referendum Just Yet

Throughout the 2012 Quebec Election, Anglophones and Francophones alike must have wondered what they would do if the Parti Québécois formed the next government. Numerous stories circulated about Quebecers putting off home ownership for fear of another referendum and an ensuing housing-market crash. Some said they would leave simply because they were fed up with separatist threats. But rest assured, Quebec independence is very unlikely in any circumstance.

Pauline Marois, the Premier-Elect of Quebec, had roused fears after suggesting that if 850,000 Quebecers –or 15% of the population– signed a petition demanding a referendum on sovereignty, she would call one.

She could easily launch a referendum, but that’s where the ease stops. Canada has learned its lesson from the 1995 referendum that almost saw the country split apart. Numerous laws, a Supreme Court reference, and existing constitutional requirements make it almost impossible for Quebec to separate now.

Mme. Marois has said she would call a referendum tomorrow morning if she could. That’s a big IF, considering the latest polls show the support for a sovereign Quebec dwindling to around 28%. Before calling a referendum, she would need to rally the troops and double that number.

Were she able to get support for a referendum at around 50% she would need to settle on terms for a referendum, including what question to ask Quebecers. This is where the Clarity Act comes in, a piece of legislation passed by Jean Chrétien’s government in 1999. The act gives the House of Commons the power to override the results of a referendum if Parliament feels the referendum question was not clear to the population, including if secession from Canada wasn’t directly mentioned. This is the first firewall preventing Marois from getting her Republic of Quebec.

If the question is deemed clear, the House of Commons can still reject the results of a referendum if they believe that the vote for sovereignty lacked a clear majority. What constitutes a “clear majority” is completely subjective and the Clarity Act does not state a specific percentage. This clause was added to address fears that only a minute percentage of the population could decide the fate of Quebec, similar to 1995. It also puts enormous pressure on the federal government to act in favour of Canadian unity despite upsetting Quebec.

Now, assuming Pauline Marois had enough support and her question was clear and she won a clear majority, would she be in the clear? No. The Constitution does not recognize the legal power of a referendum and thus it is not binding. The Constitution also does not provide a mechanism for dealing with the secession of a province and so it could only happen through an amendment. To propose a constitutional amendment declaring the secession of Quebec, the province would need to get the support of the five Canadian regions – Quebec (obviously), Ontario, British Columbia, two Prairie provinces with fifty percent support and two Atlantic provinces with fifty percent support – which gives any of the four non-Quebec regions veto power on Quebec’s future. Since none of the regions have anything to gain from Quebec independence – and Atlantic has much to lose– they’re unlikely to dedicate much time to such a cause.

Assuming the five regions did comply with Quebec’s demands, constitutional negotiations would then begin between the provinces and the federal government, but they could break off at any time. If the negotiations were finalized, the vote would go back to the people.

In the final constitutional vote, the proposed amendment would need the support of seven provinces and fifty percent of the Canadian population. It goes without saying that this too is extremely unlikely.

If all the stars line up perfectly, Quebec could one day separate. The process would be extremely long, full of bureaucratic hurdles, and could get very ugly when Ottawa and the rest of Canada inevitably use their constitutional and legislative powers to prevent de-unification.

In any case, it is pointless to talk about a referendum at this time. The PQ only won a slim minority in the September 4 election, narrowly beating the Liberal by 0.7% of the popular vote. The PQ does not currently have a mandate to launch a referendum and if Mme. Marois tried to, the Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec would send us into another election to prevent her.

So relax and put your suitcases down, Quebec isn’t going anywhere.

Prince Arthur Herald | Huffington Post

PAH: Option Nationale, but no Option Fédérale

Federal politics are fairly easy: right-wingers vote for the Conservative Party, left-wingers vote for the Liberal Party and the NDP, and separatists vote for the Bloc Québecois – or the NDP. Alas, Quebec politics will never be that simple, at least not for English federalists. Our choice comes down to two of the five major parties in the election set for September 4: The Liberal Party of Quebec and the Coalition Avenir Québec, and they are anything but perfect.

The Parti Québecois, Québec Solidaire, and Option Nationale can be ruled out for the simple reason that they are separatists. Those parties may have some good ideas and other aspects to their platforms unrelated to autonomy, but an English Quebecers voting for a separatist party would be akin to mice voting for a hungry cat. It is irrational self-destruction. Pauline Marois, the leader of the PQ, weakly attempted to court English voters this election by claiming that hers has been “the party which has been open to the English community, which has respected the English community,” but then turned around and refused to take part in an English-language debate. Jean-Martin Aussant, the leader of Option Nationale, has run ads in English and in Spanish arguing in favour of creating “Our Country,” as if there would be room in an Aussant Quebec for Anglophone rights. Québec Solidaire is the crazy uncle of the separatist movement. The radical group has made no attempt to soften their image with English voters and instead ran a cartoon ad displaying a beaver in a Mountie hat getting kicked by a separatist. Separatism is federalism’s kryptonite; anyone loyal to Canada would do well to stay away from these parties.

François Legault, a former minister in Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government and leader of the right-of-center Coalition Avenir Québec, has made headlines after a very successful and momentous week. The CAQ has touted itself as the party ready to tackle corruption in the construction industry with an incorruptible team and ready to restart the Quebec economy. On the federalism-separatism issue, the party has remained neutral. Mr. Legault has said that there are more pressing issues and that sovereignty would not be an issue for his party. However, the CAQ remains a nationalist party that would follow the PQ’s approach to limiting the use of any language other than French in the province. Mr. Legault has agreed to take part in an English-language debate, but only if Mme. Marois does too. Effectively, this is the political equivalent of declining to debate while shifting the blame on to someone else. The CAQ is a federalist-friendly party compared to the three previous parties mentioned, but its views on nationalism are enough to make an Anglophone uncomfortable supporting them. All this is reinforced by the fact that they still don’t have an English website or platform as of this date, a clear indicator that they don’t feel it is necessary to attract Anglophone voters.

Finally, we have the Liberal Party of Quebec, for generations the only party of choice for English Quebecers. They are still the only major Federalist Party in Quebec with policies that will not discriminate against the English. In the past, federalists of all political stripes have put their differences aside to support the centrist party for lack of a better choice, but this year doing so may feel a little harder. The Liberal Party is not without sin. After accusations of corruption, out of control spending, and social unrest, many feel it is time for a change. Jean Charest has been Premier since 2003 and his campaign so far has been relatively uninspiring. During his time in office, Quebec has become the most indebted province in Canada and would rank as the fifth most indebted nation in the world relative to GDP. Our infrastructure is crumbling and our quality of services is declining, all while we’re being taxed more than any other jurisdiction in North America.

So what is an English federalist to do? There is no clear answer. Some will bite the bullet and vote for the Liberals, some will move to the CAQ and hope everything works out. But there is also the possibility of voting for smaller parties. This year the historic Conservative Party of Quebec has made a comeback after eight decades out of the political equation, but it will likely run very few candidates in the election and hasn’t made a splash in the news. The progressive Quebec Citizen’s Union will also be competing for federalist seats in the National Assembly, but voting for a small party comes with the understanding that they will definitely not form a government or even win any seats. If you feel that no one can represent you in this election, you can still spoil your ballot. A protest vote shows that you care enough to act on your civic duties while telling the world that you feel alienated by the current political climate.

English federalists may lack political weight in this election, but we are not disenfranchised. Make your voice heard; go out and vote on September 4.

Prince Arthur Herald | Huffington Post

PAH: Forget Bill 78, Quebec students should be outraged at Bill 71

For over a hundred days now, angry Quebec students have been marching in the streets of Montreal protesting over the plan to increase tuition by $325 every year for five years. The recent passage in the National Assembly of Bill 78 has provoked even more outrage among a minority of students who fear that Quebec is trampling on our rights and freedoms, yet these claims are mostly empty and hyperbolic. If Quebec students wanted a real violation of freedoms to rally against, they would look no further than Bill 71.

Bill 71, also called An Act to amend the Highway Safety Code and other legislative provisions, is the law passed in December 2010 that barely made the news when it was implemented in April 2012. Under the new law, anyone who is 21 years old or younger is prohibited from driving a road vehicle if they have even a single drop of alcohol in their body. Similar laws have been implemented elsewhere in the country. A violation of the law will result in a loss of four demerit points, a suspended license for 90 days, and fines of between $300 and $600. The overwhelming majority of people I have heard react to this new law – including the young people affected by it – seem to support it without any need to think further. After all, we’ve been repeatedly exposed to the stark statistics: young drivers ranging from 16 to 24 years old represent only 10% of license holders but account for a quarter of fatal accidents. Young drivers are often discriminated against because of their inexperience and reckless driving. But while many do fit the stereotype, the majority are as responsible behind the wheel as everyone else.

The case against young drivers is often made based on the statistics, and yet those same statistics can show the exact opposite argument. Here’s how I see it based on the statistics provided by the Montreal Police and the Quebec government:

–          24% of fatal car crashes are caused by 20-24 year olds.

–          54% of the drivers in those crashes had blood alcohol in their blood while 47% were over the legal limit of 0.08 BAC (showing that only 7% of them were driving legally).

Therefore, only 1.68% of all fatal car accidents are caused by young people with blood-alcohol levels below the legal limit. Not as impressive anymore, is it?

In addition, 479 reportedly died on the roads in Quebec in 2011. Thus, an estimated 8 people die a year in Quebec as the result of young drivers who have alcohol in their blood but are below the legal limit. Yes, the number is still too high but to put it in perspective, there are about the same number of fatal accidents involving wildlife each year. And even at that, there is no guarantee alcohol would cause any of those accidents.

The government is punishing a whole age bracket, representing close to 800,000 people, because of the bad choices made by a few. It fails to distinguish between those who like to sit on one of Montreal’s famous terraces and enjoy a single pint of our world-class beer and those who recklessly decide to drive after a night of heavy intoxication – already a felony in and of itself.

If the government actually wanted to solve the problem of drinking and driving, it would opt for a scalpel instead of an axe. There have already been talks of lowering the drinking limit universally from 0.08 to 0.05, a change that has already taken place in British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. This less extreme approach wouldn’t single out any group of people and it would actually have the potential to save lives instead of pretending to.

Many of the problems associated with young drivers have already been addressed recently. To lessen the impact of inexperience, the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec has increased the amount of material and length of courses necessary before a student can get their license. Texting and driving has been banned, talking on the phone is prohibited, and the speeds on some streets have been reduced to ridiculously low levels. These have the potential to reduce the risk of automobile accidents.  Eliminating a young adult’s freedom to have a drink responsibly like everyone else won’t reduce any risks.

Bill 71 is a violation of freedom. It punishes those who are capable of enjoying a beer – or even a liquor chocolate; as eating one before driving would cause you to be in breach of the draconian law – responsibly because of a few bad apples. Bill 71 should be receiving more attention as a blatant display of inequality and violation of freedoms, but people have already forgotten about it. To their credit, the FECQ, one of the student groups supporting the student strikes, has come out against Bill 71 and plans to take legal action against it, but now it’s on the back burner for as long as the student strike continues. Until then, the government won’t let you have your rum cake and eat it too.