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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.


Erin O’Toole has a very simple question he must ask himself: was it worth it?

Throughout his unsuccessful campaign to usurp the governing Liberals, O’Toole made every promise in the book to woo Quebec nationalists over to the Conservatives.

In his party’s platform, he vowed to do anything and everything from eliminating all restrictions on federal health and social transfers, to giving Quebec greater control over immigrants and refugees. He also pledged to “negotiate with the Québec government to simplify tax preparation and work towards a single income tax return for Québec taxpayers” while remaining “open to the development of new administrative agreements with the government of Québec to promote decentralized federalism.”

Let’s be clear about the repercussions of these proposals.

By handing over billions of dollars, no-strings-attached, in health and social transfers to the provinces, O’Toole was effectively pledging to relinquish Ottawa’s role as enforcer of the Canada Health Act. That wouldn’t have boded well for the future of national standards in Canada’s public healthcare system. Nor would it have boded well for Ottawa’s already limited influence in Quebec.

Speaking of limiting Ottawa’s influence, O’Toole’s other Quebec-centric promises to surrender Ottawa’s jurisdictional right over immigration and tax administration would have had similar, damaging consequences.

Worst of all, though, was O’Toole’s pledge to “respect the jurisdiction of the Québec National Assembly by neither intervening in nor providing federal funding to support legal challenges to Law 21.”

That’s right.

If elected Prime Minister, O’Toole would never challenge, let alone even consider challenging, Quebec’s discriminatory law which bans certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols.

This marked a particularly low point in the campaign; one that rightfully offended all citizens who take pride in Canada’s (albeit flawed) history and reputation for being a country that stands up for and promotes the ideals of multiculturalism and religious and ethnic diversity.

Perhaps seeking to blunt the criticism levied his way for failing to stand up to the rights of minority Canadians, O’Toole bizarrely stated that it was not just Bill 21 that he would never intervene against – it was all provincial laws he would never challenge, whether they be from the National Assembly of Quebec, or any other provincial legislature.

Absurd, I know. It’s like O’Toole forgot he was campaigning to be Prime Minister of Canada – not the best friend of Quebec separatists, or the “headwaiter of the provinces” as Pierre Trudeau once memorably quipped.

O’Toole was so accommodating to Quebec nationalists, so capitulating to their every demand, that he even earned the endorsement of Quebec Premier (and former separatist) Francois Legault.

During the final days of the election campaign, Legault lambasted all three of Canada’s progressive parties, going so far as to call them “dangerous” before stating that “The Conservative party has been clear: they want to increase health transfers with no conditions, they want to transfer immigration powers, and Mr. O’Toole has committed to not funding opposition to Bill 21. For the Quebec nation, Mr. O’Toole’s approach is a good one.”

One can agree to disagree with Legault on whether O’Toole’s platform would have been beneficial for Quebec. But it is much harder to argue how O’Toole’s decentralizing policies would have been anything other than crippling for the Canadian federation.

Fortunately for Canadians, though, O’Toole’s dreams of forming the next government of Canada were dashed; his aspirations for becoming Prime Minister, put on hold, perhaps indefinitely, once it was clear that the Liberals had swept a plurality of seats on election night.

Not even in Quebec were O’Toole’s hopes for a breakthrough realized. By the time all the ballots were counted, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebec emerged the clear winners in the province, winning 33 and 34 seats, respectively. In contrast, the Conservatives won a measly 10 seats. The same amount, in fact, that they won in 2019.

Put simply, O’Toole’s strategy of appeasement failed, in both Quebec and the rest of Canada, as was only right. It would not have been fitting to have a Prime Minister as weak-kneed and placating as O’Toole had been in dealing with Quebec, or any other provincial government. Canadians want more from a leader.

And so, as he nurses his electoral wounds, O’Toole must ask himself again: was his complete capitulation to Quebec nationalists worth it?

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.



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Apparently we’re back to debating how many Canadian politicians can grovel on the head of a Quebec nationalist pin. But before we decide whether Quebec is a nation, perhaps we should give a bit of thought to whether Canada is. And while we’re at it, what a nation actually is.

I realize talking about reality now marks you as something of a clod, or oppressor. After all, it’s about what you identify as, right? Up to a point, which you could test by wearing a Babylon Bee “I identify as vaccinated” T-shirt. But apparently Quebecers identify as a nation, or possibly a bunch of politicians identify them as one, and what’s the difference between acknowledging and stereotyping?

I’m glad you asked. Because in his magisterial if eccentric The Story of Philosophy Will Durant says Socrates drove people insane by insisting that before launching a lively endless hair-pulling argument they define their terms. For instance “justice”. Or, here, “nation”. You can’t really tell whether “Quebec” is a nation, as the CAQ now insists, or the “Quebecois” are as Stephen Harper insisted in one of his cunning plans to make the Tories the natural governing party, or neither, until you know what a nation is.

Of course Socrates and Aristotle and that crowd are long-dead white males so oppressive they didn’t even have the decency to be white so we’d know who to hate. But they had a point. Namely “You keep using that word. I do not think it means anything.”

Which to post-moderns is a feature not a bug. They say words don’t mean anything so it’s all a power struggle (which deconstructionist professors win on the salary and parking pass clauses in their employment contracts). Thus the issue may not be whether Quebec is a nation so much as whether they can make us all say so. As with whether Taiwan is one, I might add.

In the PC minefield that is Canadian politics, and public affairs, it’s also fraught because of our “First Nations”. If you say they’re not nations, you’re cancelled. And if you say as sovereign entities they should pay their own bills and go through Customs to enter another nation known as Canada, you’re cancelled. But if we don’t know what we’re talking about, we may not make a lot of sense.

So the first step in determining whether Quebec is a nation is to determine what nations are. Following the classic syllogism “All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal”, whose acarpous formalism was tested empirically by making him drink hemlock, if you didn’t know what a man was you couldn’t check Socrates for relevant attributes. Which we might also struggle with now. But I digress.

When it comes to defining “nation”, the two major contenders seem to be “a sovereign entity” and “people with shared culture”. Stephen Harper tried to defuse this issue by making the Quebecois, not “Quebec,” a nation in the sense, I suppose, that they eat poutine, like the Habs and speak coherent English to customers if they feel like it. But the CAQ has in mind political implications like making people subject to the Quebec government not speak English to customers even if they feel like it. So we need to know: Is a nation a sovereign entity? A culture? Or the former defined by the latter? And Canada before Quebec please. Because one important issue is whether you can have nations within nations or they are mutually exclusive.

Another, to dwell on definitions so persistently that like Socrates’ hapless interlocutors we never get anywhere except into a rage, is that cultures do exist or there wouldn’t be forbidden jokes like the European heaven/ European hell gag or Max Weber’s permitted and forbidden jibe. But they are not uniform; there are German engineers whose bridges collapse and Frenchmen whose béchamel is inedible.

As you recall from high school history, people once thought homogeneous states helped avoid war. For instance in 1648. And 1919, at least if you were Woodrow Wilson. Then something happened to convince people excessive emphasis on ethnicity could also generate conflict, so we all became good multiculturalists. Without deciding whether to define that term as “it’s OK to eat garlic” or “it’s imperialist to oppose female genital mutilation.”

It matters, because when people go around claiming to be a nation, they generally don’t mean “Try this dish.” They mean “Our region should be a country because you’re stifling our core values.” And people who say “You’re not a nation” generally mean “You’re fine in the country you’re part of now.” Which is usually untrue; most secessionist movements are right about what they oppose but wrong about what they propose.

Canada is different. We are one of the world’s few truly great nations, free, prosperous, dynamic and open. And when I was young, proud of being bilingual not bitter about it. (We mostly weren’t actually bilingual, but we had the cereal boxes.) And proud of being the True North Strong and Free. Free from secret police, from high taxes and from rules against “Hello bonjour.”

Now we’re the world’s first post-modern nation with no core identity, a Charter of Loopholes, a swollen state and a grovelling elite that can only apologize. And in the process of losing our identity, or deliberately throwing it away, we apparently lost the capacity to assert our sovereignty, to the point that one province can now amend the constitution as if it were, what’s that word, a nation.

If we had a culture it would not be homogeneous. Some among us wouldn’t even eat maple shawarma. Or serve visiting dignitaries such a monotonous diet that, with Prince Phillip, they blurt out “If I have to eat any more salmon I shall swim up a river and spawn.” But the swimming pool joke would still be funny, and our victories at Vimy and Juno still reflect the steely competence beneath our modest exterior. And we’d still be a nation.

Instead, who speaks for Canada today? Who says no, Quebec is not a nation, it’s a province in Canada which should be good enough for anyone? Would one federal leader declare Canada a nation without a paper bag on their head, or its?

If not, you know why Quebec is slipping away. And Canada. We forgot to be a nation, because we forgot what they are.

Photo Credit: The Tyee

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.



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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.