Some con­di­tions that led to the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Spain are also reunited here.

StarMetro Toronto - - Views - CHAN­TAL HÉBERT Chan­tal Hébert is a na­tional af­fairs writer. Her col­umn ap­pears in Metro ev­ery Thurs­day

If Que­be­cers were asked again to pro­nounce on their fu­ture in a ref­er­en­dum, Canada and Quebec would hardly be im­mune to a stale­mate of the kind that is pit­ting Cat­alo­nia against Spain.

The his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal con­texts may be dif­fer­ent, but some of the con­di­tions that have led to the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that has over­taken Spain are also reunited in this coun­try.

But first, a brief re­cap: Spain’s govern­ment con­tends that the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion does not al­low for one of its re­gions to se­cede. In that, it is backed by court rul­ings. On that ba­sis, Madrid de­clared the plan of its Cat­alo­nia re­gion to hold a ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence this fall il­le­gal.

When the lat­ter re­fused to de­sist, po­lice forces from other re­gions of the coun­try were sent to forcibly pre­vent its ci­ti­zens from vot­ing. Fortytwo per cent of them still man­aged to do so and they voted to sep­a­rate from Spain by a pro­por­tion of 9 to 1.

On Tues­day, Cat­alo­nia’s par­lia­ment is­sued a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, but sus­pended its ap­pli­ca­tion in the hope of en­ter­ing into ne­go­ti­a­tion with Madrid, but also be­cause no ma­jor Euro­pean coun­try has stepped for­ward to rec­og­nize the re­gion’s self-de­clared sta­tus. As of Wed­nes­day, there had yet to emerge com­mon ground.

In con­trast, the Cana­dian fed­er­a­tion is con­sti­tu­tion­ally di­vis­i­ble. The Supreme Court con­firmed as much in a 1998 rul­ing. On two oc­ca­sions, the fed­eral govern­ment cast a Quebec ref­er­en­dum vote.

But af­ter the last ref­er­en­dum, a fed­eral law was adopted that for the first time spells out con­di­tions un­der which Ottawa would re­spond to a pro-sovereignty out­come.

Among those con­di­tions, there is the re­quire­ment to ask a clear ques­tion ap­proved both by the Na­tional As­sem­bly and Par­lia­ment.

In its 1998 rul­ing, the Supreme Court also listed the need for a “clear” ma­jor­ity as a pre-con­di­tion for Canada to en­ter into post-ref­er­en­dum ne­go­ti­a­tion, but it did not put a per­cent­age on that con­cept.

There is not a con­sen­sus on the is­sue. All Quebec par­ties agree that a sim­ple ma­jor­ity should be enough. The fed­eral be­lieves it should be higher.

Out­side Quebec, many see the fed­eral clar­ity act as a de­ter­rent to an­other ref­er­en­dum or as an in­sur­ance pol­icy in the case of a close prosovereignty re­sult. But in the prov­ince, the act has about as much le­git­i­macy as Spain’s con­sti­tu­tion in Cat­alo­nia.

It is not in­con­ceiv­able that a fu­ture Quebec sovereign­tist govern­ment would set out to hold a ref­er­en­dum with lit­tle con­sid­er­a­tion for some of the fed­eral le­gal pre­scrip­tions.

Un­der such a sce­nario, Ottawa would find it­self in a predica­ment that would par­al­lel that of Spain. It could refuse to cam­paign, but could not nec­es­sar­ily pre­vent Quebec’s fed­er­al­ist forces in the Na­tional As­sem­bly from do­ing so. Short of pre­vent­ing the vote from tak­ing place, it could warn that it would refuse to ne­go­ti­ate on the ba­sis of its out­come. None of th­ese al­ter­na­tives would make a pros­e­ces­sion ref­er­en­dum re­sult go away.

But Quebec’s sovereignty move­ment would likely be no less boxed in than Cat­alo­nia cur­rently is. Faced with a re­fusal on the part of Canada to ac­knowl­edge a re­sult favourable to se­ces­sion, its fall-back po­si­tion would be to uni­lat­er­ally de­clare the prov­ince’s in­de­pen­dence.

In the past, that op­tion has rested on the as­sump­tion that France would quickly sup­port Quebec’s move. Whether that sup­port would have been forth­com­ing in 1995 is open to de­bate. But it is far from clear that France is still in­ter­ested in any role in a Quebec UDI sce­nario.

In the Spain cri­sis, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has stead­fastly re­fused to in­ter­vene, call­ing the is­sue of Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence an in­ter­nal mat­ter.

As for Canada, it has so far stuck to a generic de­nun­ci­a­tion of the vi­o­lence that has at­tended the state-or­dered re­pres­sion of the Cata­lan vote.

The push for na­tional in­de­pen­dence is not like chick­en­pox. Ottawa needn’t fear that Cat­alo­nia’s ex­am­ple will rekin­dle sovereign­tist fer­vour in Quebec. But in the un­likely event that it beats the con­sti­tu­tional and le­gal odds and an ane­mic ref­er­en­dum turnout and achieves its in­de­pen­dence, the prece­dent would not be lost on Quebec’s sovereign­tist lead­er­ship.

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