ontario news watch

The province-wide results will not be officially announced until October 26.

But it was clear from municipal reports that on October 18, 2021 a majority of Alberta voters said yes to the question : “Should section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 — Parliament and the government of Canada’s commitment to the principle of making equalization payments — be removed from the constitution?”

According to the Alberta government website: “A ‘yes’ vote means that Albertans are calling upon the federal government and other provinces to enter into discussions on a potential amendment to the Constitution of Canada in respect of equalization.”

Meanwhile, not long before the Alberta vote, on October 7, 2021 a committee of the Quebec National Assembly finished nine days of public hearings on the provincial government’s Bill 96.

This proposes that the government of Quebec unilaterally amend the Constitution of Canada to declare Quebec a nation, with French as its sole official language.

Back when Bill 96 was introduced this past spring, Liberal PM Justin Trudeau noted how the Canadian House of Commons had already recognized that “the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada,” in a late 2006 motion tabled by Conservative PM Stephen Harper.

Yet former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s chief of staff, Eddie Goldenberg, has expressed grave concerns about Bill 96. In a late May 2021 opinion piece he argued: “By allowing Quebec to change the Constitution, Trudeau is opening up a Pandora’s box.”

The box has now been opened wider by the Albertans who voted against federal equalization payments to some provinces, to ensure Canada-wide minimum standards of public services.

Canadian politics today involves still more issues with strong constitutional implications. One example is Indigenous policy — in the current limelight through the first Truth and Reconciliation Day this past September 30.

Another broad constitutional issue cluster looming quietly in the Canadian air as the autumn leaves of 2021 start to fall could be called “Democratic reform and the Monarchy.”

The same October 18 elections in which Alberta voters pronounced on the current federal constitutional commitment to provincial equalization also offered an opportunity for voters to “select 3 Senate nominees who may be summoned to the Senate of Canada, to fill a vacancy or vacancies relating to Alberta.”

This raises the ancient constitutional question of the still unreformed Senate of Canada (notwithstanding the recent related tinkering of both PM Harper and PM Trudeau).

At this point Canadian political leaders addicted to Eddie Goldenberg’s advice against opening up the Pandora’s box of the Constitution of Canada really start to raise their eyebrows.

They especially remember the late 1980s and early 1990s, when federal and provincial (and ultimately even Indigenous) leaders actually managed to agree on a diverse constitutional reform package, only to have their hard work rejected in a popular referendum in the fall of 1992.

In the fall of 2021, almost 30 years later, the Alberta equalization referendum and Bill 96 in Quebec at least quietly raise the prospect that it is time to reassess the Canadian constitutional lessons of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The deeper long-term message may not be that constitutional change of any serious sort is all but impossible in Canada, and constitutional debate is best avoided.

In fact there remain a number of serious Canadian constitutional issues. Ultimately doing something sensible about them is important for the country’s long-term future.

What happened in 1992 is that hard-won agreement among federal and provincial governments (and Indigenous leaders) was defeated by the Canadian people. In retrospect it is highly arguable that this had a lot to do with the “top down” process of “executive federalism” involved.

The fact that the process failed as a result of a popular referendum similarly suggests that some more “bottom up” approach could stand a much better chance of success.

In any case, in 2021 two provincial governments are arguably pointing to a growing need for some new constitutional debate in Canada.

Other governments may not want to wade into this problematic pond any time soon. But a debate from below or the “bottom up” — somehow involving the Canadian people from the beginning — could get the ball rolling more constructively than 30 years ago.

A few big questions do remain. Is this kind of debate possible in Canada today? And if it is, just what would it involve, and how might it unfold in a new digital age?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Who will speak for Canada?

That is a question you have probably heard before. Every few years, it gets asked in Canada.

It’s a fair question, to ask what sort of country we are. What kind of nation we aspire to be.

A country is more than some lines on a map. It is more than a piece of fabric with some design on it. It is more than that.

During a pandemic, as with everything else, it is difficult to get people to ponder the meaning of nationhood. With thousands dead, and many thousands more seriously ill, debates about constitutions – never popular at the best of times – are unwanted.

Canada‘s Prime Minister, and Québec’s Premier, are counting on that. They are counting on the fact that you are likely distracted and disinterested in Québec’s Bill 96.

But you should be. Running some 100 pages, Bill 96 claims to be an effort to further protect the French language in Quebec. In reality, it is a bill that will reduce Québec’s English-speaking minority to the status of serfs.

And it will gut Canada‘s constitution, and the notion that no person – and no province – is more important then the rest.

That is why Bill 96 must be stopped. It will constitutionalize the notion that Quebec is better than the other provinces – and that anyone who lives there, and does not speak French, is a lesser being.

Government officials breaking into your cell phone, to see if you are using English. Government officials taking control of computers at work, to assess whether enough French is being used.

Government officials refusing to give services to those who do not speak French –  and tearing up contracts if the grammar or syntax is wrong.

Justin Trudeau is fine with all of that. Francoise Legault, formerly a proud separatist, wants all of that. Should we then shrug, and let that happen? Should we – as some have said to me – help Quebec pack?

The last time Quebec made a serious bid for independence, I was a chief of staff in the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien. It was 1995. It looked like we could lose the referendum on making Quebec a separate country.

We asked one of our deputy ministers what that would mean. As he cried, he told us that the separatists planned to seize every federal building in Quebec, arguing that their tax dollars had paid for them. They were going to immediately establish armed border crossings into Quebec.

They were going to take control of the St. Lawrence seaway, upon which our country‘s economy depends. And they were going to seek a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada that the country of Canada no longer existed. They were likely to win, in what would be the high court’s final decision. Chaos would ensue.

Bill 96 puts us on the road that will almost certainly end with that. If we go along with it, the separatists will never be satisfied – and demand yet more. If we refuse, they will screech that they are humiliated and demand yet more.

That is the Pandora’s box that Legault and Trudeau have now opened. Already, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney – formerly a federalist – is applauding Quebec’s move, and promising to emulate it.

As TS Eliot wrote, and as no less than Justin Trudeau‘s father agreed, sometimes things do not end with a bang. Sometimes, they end with a whimper.

We cannot, we must not, let Canada as we know it end with a whimper.

We are more than squiggles on a map. We are more than a flag. We are more than what Trudeau and Legault and Kenny would reduce us to. Aren’t we?

We live in difficult times, yes. We face many other challenges, yes. We don’t need this, yes.

But when your country is at risk, it is fair to ask:

Who will speak for it?

Kinsella was special assistant to Jean Chretien.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The government official isn’t in uniform, but his authority can’t be questioned. He extends a hand.

As your boss stands at the door to your office, looking away, you slowly hand over your cell phone to the grim-faced government official.

The official repeats the words of the legislation that brought him to your office. He has the power to take your cell phone, he repeats.

“Verify, examine, process, copy or print out data,” he says, quoting directly from the statute. He turns to your boss, and asks if there are any other computers that haven’t been accessed yet. Your boss nods, slowly, and he and the government official leave.

When the government official arrived at your workplace, word spread fast. Someone had called a snitch line. The wording on the door to the office was unacceptable, apparently, and someone had complained.

So the unsmiling plain-clothes officials showed up. That was all the pretext they needed.

Along with going through documents and data on computers in the office, the officials had taken some cell phones from those they suspected were not obeying the rules. Like you.

The night before, you had heard from the mother of that nice immigrant family who moved in down the street. Her son had registered for some courses at the college your kids had gone to, but his registration was rejected. By the same government officials.

“They’re giving us six months to do what they want us to do,” said the mother, upset. “And if we don’t do it, we will be cut off.”

The rumours had been flying at work and at home for weeks. Everything was going to be affected: schools, businesses, courts, municipal governments. Businesses that were headquartered somewhere else: those had been caught by the powerful new law, too.

Because your boss has more than 25 employees working for him, he was going to have to set up a “special committee” at work. The committee would have to ensure that everyone is obeying the law, he said.

Contracts all had to adhere to the new rules. Same with any communications with government. Those had to be acceptable, too, or the government would simply stop responding.

Businesses with fewer employees were also hit, you had heard. If they didn’t satisfy the dour officials, they were going to have “special services” imposed on them by the government.

Permits would be revoked if someone breaks the rules. Even retroactively.

Contracts, real estate purchases, all of that: all would need to carefully reflect the government’s wishes. If they didn’t, they would be torn up, and new conditions imposed. Big fines for wrongdoers.

No exceptions.

A new government agency had been created to enforce the changes, and given vast powers. Including police-like powers, to enter any place and demand answers. And take peoples’ property.

As the nameless government official had done with your cell phone. The phone containing pictures of your kids, and love texts to your wife, and innocuous emails to and from your office colleagues.

He didn’t really care what you were saying, the official said.

He cared how you were saying it.


The above is a story, of sorts. It hasn’t happened just yet. But it will.

It’s coming.

The story is about the Canadian province of Quebec, and the changes that are coming in the Quebec government’s recently-tabled Bill 96. The Bill will change the Constitution of Canada, and render Quebec “a nation.” The Bill will impose the changes described above to “protect” the French language, too.

And Justin Trudeau has approved it.  And none of the federal Opposition parties oppose it.

Bill 96 is more damaging, more far-reaching, than the Meech Lake or Charlottetown accords.  It will actually ruin lives in Quebec – and radically change Canada in the process.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.