Moment of the Decade: #8 The Clarity Act

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada’s top political moment of the decade. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be counting down the top 10 vote getters.

When I first announced this contest, one of the e-mails I got argued against the inclusion of the Clarity Act on the list. The argument was that the Clarity Act was the conclusion to the national unity crisis that dominated the 90s, and really had little to do with the aughts.

But I think it’s a worthy finalist.

The Clarity Act, along with Jean Charest’s 2003 victory (which would have been my only addition to the Top 10 had I just done this list up myself) took the national unity card off table for much of the decade. Ha ha. OK, it didn’t take the card out of play because, this is Canada, a country where Paul McCartny concerts and the roster of Team Canada become national unity debates. But it did help shift the nature of the debate away from separation – even in the hay day of Adscam, no one really saw separation as a real possibility.

I’d like to think it also showed a tough-love approach vis-à-vis Quebec could work, but the 2004 Health Care Accord, 2006 Tory election platform, and the Nation debate make me question this. Still, these changes didn’t come about because there was a knife at Ottawa’s throat and, in the long run, that’s a healthier environment to be having the debate about federalism in.

Still, as far as how it affected the decade, the direct cause-and-effect relationship is a little, shall we say, unclear. So how about this for a more direct link: Stephane Dion’s 2006 leadership win and, par consequence, the coalition crisis, would not have happened if not for the Clarity Act. Because, if not for the Clarity Act, no one would have ever taken Stephane Dion seriously in the 2006 Liberal leadership race. Yeah, I know everyone thought it was cute that his dog was named Kyoto, and that might have still gotten him past Dryden, but sans clarity, he simply doesn’t win.

So maybe Stephen Harper still rides out the decade as Prime Minister and the only thing that changes is that the tag line in the attack ads goes from “Not a Leader” to “Bob Rae: Can we afford him again?”. But I do think the last half of this decade would have looked a lot different without Dion, who for better or worse, left his mark.

The Clarity Act, more so than the other two policies that cracked the top ten (Iraq and SSM), will probably go down as Jean Chretien’s greatest legacy. And, yes, by now, the Conservative commentators are already thinking of just how they will tell me to go shove it in the comments section because, as we all know, Stephen Harper was the real father of the Clarity Act. But, regardless of whose idea it was, it’s hard to deny the Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation we’ve seen over the past 20 years.

Maybe the Clarity Act had little to do with the 00s – maybe it was the conclusion to the national unity crisis that defined Canada throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But if it actually was the conclusion of our long national unity nightmare, well, I’d say that certainly means it’s an event worthy of inclusion in the history books and worthy of inclusion in this list.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Political moment of the decade

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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