50% + 1

After dancing around the issue for several years, it appears the NDP finally has a clear position on the Clarity Act:

On Monday, the NDP introduced legislation to allow Quebec to secede with a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one. The party also wants to impose a tougher question in the event of a third referendum in the province, such as: “Should Quebec separate from Canada and become a sovereign country?”

The NDP bill aims to replace the 2000 Clarity Act, which was passed by the previous Liberal government after a tight referendum on Quebec sovereignty five years earlier. While it does not include an exact threshold, the Clarity Act calls for a “clear majority” and sends a signal that Ottawa would require a convincing victory by sovereigntists to launch negotiations on Quebec secession.

So there you have it. The NDP supports a clear question but not a clear majority. Which is certainly their prerogative, even if it’s one I disagree with.

Also disagreeing is one Justin Trudeau (and I’d imagine most other leadership candidates), so you can expect this to be a key line of division between the Liberals and NDP in the next election.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Federal Politics

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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30 Responses to 50% + 1

  1. Jim R

    And thus one of the next LPC and CPC federal campaign ads virtually writes itself.

    • Marc from soccer

      Yeah this is where the NDP’s ideological bent forces a party into rare positions of intellectual honesty that are of course politically unpalatable.

  2. Christopher

    50%+1 is a larger majority of popular vote than any majority federal government has had since 1984. post WW2 there are only 2 governments that actually garnered that level of support at the polls

    given the level of clarity in the way governments of the past 70 years have acted with less popular support I’m inclined to think that 50%+1 is more than clear enough to at least get the ball rolling

    • sharonapple

      50% + 1 … is that of the entire voting population, or just 50% + 1 of those who bother showing up?

      … And if the First Nations vote overwhelmingly to stay as they did in 1995, can they succeed from Quebec?

      • sharonapple

        Sorry, it’s clear from your post it’s 50% + 1 of the people who bother to show up.

    • Luke

      I get your point, but I think this yes/no type of question is not comparable to the results of general elections. In general elections, there are more than two options (i.e., parties), whereas here it is one or the other. It is much easier to envisage 51% or more going one way or the other in a two-outcome scenario than it is in a three (or more)-outcome scenario. If we were in the (nominally) two-party USA I would fully agree with your comparison, but then again in that case it is easy to find results that exceed 51% for one side and it would not make your point.

      • Marc from soccer

        I’d say there are some pretty bid decisions made by Parliament based on the results of general elections. Free Trade, regardless of being for or against, was pretty nuts and the majority of Canadians voted for parties that campaigned against it.

        Entering into WWI or WWII are decisions that would have a greater impact on the lives of Canadians than a Québec vote to separate. The decisions to go to war were made by a 50%+1 body of representatives elected based on local pluralities.

        It’s funny that they didn’t need a supermajority to get in, but seemingly the rest of Canada is telling them that they need one to get out.

        Whether the result is 51% or 50.1%, they’re gone. Everyone knows that. This is just partisan posturing to win vote blocs.

        • Luke

          You are certainly right about governments having a great deal of power with far less than 50% of the vote, but comparing a two outcome scenario to a four+ outcome scenario still doesn’t really seem valid to me.

          This is more fundamental than a trade deal. And I don’t think the world war example is really the right kind of comparison. Whether to go to war is, and should be, a matter for the government to decide. I think national unity is a matter for the people. If just 51% of people that Quebecois voters decide to separate, it hardly seems fair to me that the federalists and indifferent people are suddenly having their country taken apart.

          I would also presume Quebec separation would have implications for Atlantic Canada, but do Atlantic Canadians get any say? Other than border porosity and the like I’m not sure how much this might matter, but I throw it out there because I don’t know when to stop typing.

          • Marc from soccer

            I think you raise good points and appreciate that, like me, you don’t know when to stop typing. :)

            We’ll have to agree to disagree because I think the two-vs-four outcome makes my point stronger but I might be wrong :) It’s not as if separation will be decided with 33% of the vote. Valuing the will of the 50-1 is over the will of the 50+1 is not something supported by our current system. It is inherently anti-democratic. If we want to avoid the hanging chad scenario, there are was we can do that while still respecting the choice of the majority.

            If you think it’s unfair for the 50%-1 in a separation vote, think of how unfair it is to the 60% on average (or more) in each riding that didn’t vote for the elected representatives that made decisions that ended their livelihoods, or sent their kids off to die at Ypres or Sicily.

    • Vancouverois

      The separation of Quebec would be a huge constitutional change. The standard for constitutional changes in most countries is AT LEAST 67% (two-thirds) of the ENTIRE country’s population. Not 50%+1 of a subdivision of it.

      That said, I’m sure 50%+1 would certainly get the rest of the country fed up enough to initiate negotiations to throw Quebec out – on Canada’s terms. But the PQ has no intention of negotiating. They’re quite clear that they would try to use that 50%+1 as an excuse for making a unilateral declaration of independence, negotiations be damned – and that is, quite simply, unacceptable.

      • CalgaryGrit

        Hell, the standard of constitutional change in NDP CONSTITUTION is two-thirds.

        And that’s simply because significant change requires a clear majority.

        • Dave Young

          Even the PQ requries 2/3 to change thheir constitution

        • Marc from soccer

          No that’s because if 50%+1 of party members want to quit and start their own party they don’t need to do anything but rip up their membership cards to do so.

  3. Art

    If the LPC and CPC are going to run on this than:

    a) they will maintain their current status in Quebec, and

    b) they better be prepared to answer the question ‘what is a suitable majority’ which to date they have danced around.

    • CalgaryGrit

      Fair enough. Everyone should be clear on this.

      I personally think a 2/3 majority is the norm for constitutional change, but 60% could likely be construed as a clear majority, so that the country doesn’t break up on hanging chads or anything.

    • Marc from soccer

      The Cons won’t run on this because they are smart enough to know it’s not a vote-getter.

      – separation is not on the front burner and is not a vote-getting issue

      – it’s a nice esoteric debate to let the Libs/NDP fight over, while the Cons look like they’re dealing with everyday Joe issues

      – there is no answer for the suitable majority question that makes enough people happy to bother dealing with it

      – it has no hope of winning them any Québec seats; if anything, staying out of it could get them more votes than wading in

      – half their existing voters just wish Québec had left already anyway; you’d be surprised the support for 50%+1 in and outside of Québec, just for very different reasons :)

      • Luke

        I like this analysis. I think you are bang on.

  4. Luke

    Well, I don’t so much agree with the NDP on this, and it seems pretty clear that it is plainly undressed political strategy. I am usually on the Liberal-NDP fence during general elections, and this noise could well push onto the Liberal side.

    That said, I always found Dion’s choice of name for the Clarity Act to be rather doublespeak-ish. Where is the clarity? There is no definition of or criteria for (i.e., clarity) for the required majority or the nature of the question. (I am pro-Dion otherwise, and agree with the principle of the act.)

  5. Vancouverois

    The media should now insist that Mulcair state a clear position on whether or not he would respect the right of the Cree (and other aboriginal peoples) in Quebec to have their territories remain part of Canada after a Yes vote.

    • hazzard

      Considering the events of the past couple weeks regarding First Nations peoples, it’s fascinating that so many Canadians assume the “Cree (and other aboriginal peoples) in Quebec” would be so eager to stay in Canada and bring “their territories” with them.

      It’s almost like you can hear ROC whistling, expecting First Nations peoples in Quebec to come running like a well trained dog. Are we still that smug and naive?

      • sharonapple

        Considering the events of the past couple weeks regarding First Nations peoples, it’s fascinating that so many Canadians assume the “Cree (and other aboriginal peoples) in Quebec” would be so eager to stay in Canada and bring “their territories” with them.

        Gee, I wonder what Romeo Saganash had to say about the situation.

        Separatists have long maintained that Quebec is indivisible.

        “That’s their claim. I don’t think it works that way,” Mr. Saganash said.

        He pointed out that the Cree held their own referendum in 1995. While Quebeckers overall rejected separation by a razor-thin margin, an overwhelming 96 per cent of Cree and Inuit voted to remain part of Canada.

        And he noted that the Supreme Court pointed out that disposition of the northern territories would be one of the difficult issues to be resolved in negotiations.

        “I think people have to start thinking about that aspect as well. Thus, that issue is going to be very complex and difficult if it does come back. If Quebec decides to try to secede from Canada, they’ll have to deal with a lot of issues, including the right of self-determination of indigenous peoples.”

        Complicating matters further, Mr. Saganash pointed out that the Cree, Inuit and federal and Quebec governments are all signatories to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Under the Constitution, he said any fundamental change to such a treaty can not be made without the consent of all parties.

      • Vancouverois

        In spite of your inflammatory rhetoric, it isn’t a question of anybody “running like a well trained dog” at anybody’s beck and call.

        While I do indeed believe that the Cree and others would never be stupid enough to trust the goodwill of the rabid ethnic nationalists of the Quebec separatist movement, that’s really beside the point.

        The point is that the Cree DO have a right to stay Canadian should they choose to do so, and the NDP has an obligation to recognize that right openly. Whether the Cree choose to exercise that right when the time comes is up to them – but the fact that such a right exists is not up for debate.

        • Marc from soccer

          The issue isn’t about staying Canadian at all.

          It’s about them having treaties with the Crown, and how those treaties would be reflected and fulfilled in a newly-divided Canada.

          No Canadian government has a good track record on Indian affairs, but you’d be surprised that one of the ‘best’ (and I use that super loosely) is Québec, who have in general acted far better than the federal government.

          • Vancouverois

            …so the Cree have the right to stay a part of Canada should they so choose. Right?

          • Marc from soccer

            That’s my point. It’s not that simple. It’s not an issue of just citizenship. Reducing it to that is at worst specious, at best ignorant.

            We’re talking citizenship, we’re talking reserve land rights, we’re talking resource rights to traditional but non-reserve lands, we’re talking treaty obligations. It’s entirely possible that solutions include retention of Canadian citizenship and some association of reserve lands to Canada but non-reserve lands and associated rights, revenues and treaties with a newly independent Québec.

          • Vancouverois

            …but all these things depend on the consent of the Cree (and other aboriginals), correct? And they have every right to make decisions other than what the separatists want, right?

            That’s the main point I’m getting at. The Quebec government maintains that it would have the right to dictate the situation regardless of what the Cree wanted. That’s absurd, and we all have a duty to make it very clear that the separatists will not be allowed to run roughshod over the rights of aboriginals (and other Canadian citizens) simply on the pretext of a 50%+1 vote.

  6. Art

    I think it’s up to Quebec to decide what’s a suitable number, and that’s really Mulcair’s point.

  7. Teddy Boragina

    Never been sure what a “clear” majority is anyway. is it:
    50% +2
    50% +3

    Frankly, if I were the NDP, I’d have made it 50%+1 of all eligible voters, not all voting voters.

    • Marc from soccer

      Agreed – eligible voters would have been clearer, though its not like turnout would be low for an independence referendum.

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