Sovereignty gam­bit ex­poses Mul­cair

Ottawa Citizen - - EDITORIAL -

A fun­da­men­tal re­quire­ment of the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Op­po­si­tion is to al­ways act in ways that demon­strate he or she is ca­pa­ble of be­ing the prime min­is­ter. This week, New Demo­crat leader Thomas Mul­cair showed him­self lack­ing in that qual­ity.

On Mon­day, Mul­cair threw his sup­port be­hind NDP MP Craig Scott’s pri­vate mem­ber’s bill re­quir­ing only a 50-per-cent-plus-one ma­jor­ity to de­cide a ref­er­en­dum on Que­bec sep­a­ra­tion. The bill seeks to counter a Bloc Québé­cois mo­tion to re­peal the Chré­tien-era Clar­ity Act.

Scott’s bill re­quires a more straight­for­ward ques­tion — “Should Que­bec sep­a­rate from Canada and be­come a sov­er­eign coun­try?” — than the near­in­co­her­ent ques­tions asked in the 1980 and 1995 ref­er­en­dums. Nev­er­the­less, the bill also be­trays the NDP’s will­ing­ness to play self­serv­ing po­lit­i­cal games with the fate of the na­tion.

The New Democrats are the of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion only be­cause the Lib­er­als suf­fered a neardeath ex­pe­ri­ence in the 2011 elec­tion. More­over, their el­e­va­tion in the Com­mons de­pended on Que­bec vot­ers who’d grown weary of the Bloc. Re­cent polls sug­gest the party’s sup­port is slip­ping in favour of the Bloc. Is Mul­cair’s en­dorse­ment of 50-plus-one leg­is­la­tion a gam­bit to shore up the party’s for­tunes?

The re­al­ity is, a 50-per-cent­plus-one vote would not demon­strate that a clear ma­jor­ity of Que­be­cers wanted to sep­a­rate. There are too many vari­ables to read­ily ac­cede to such a sce­nario. What if, for ex­am­ple, the voter turnout in a ref­er­en­dum was, say, 40 per cent. Even if a slight ma­jor­ity sup­ported sep­a­ra­tion, would it be le­git­i­mate to there­fore claim a ma­jor­ity of Que­be­cers as a whole wanted to break up Canada? In 1995, the an­ti­sep­a­ratist “No” vote pre­vailed against the sep­a­ratists’ “Yes” vote by a ra­zor-thin mar­gin — 50.58 per cent to 49.42 per cent. At the time, there was some ev­i­dence of elec­toral fraud when it emerged that there’d been a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort to de­clare many “No” votes as spoiled.

Do you break up a coun­try on the ba­sis of a few thou­sand votes, some of which may be fraud­u­lent? Mul­cair ap­pears will­ing to do so.

The Clar­ity Act of 2000 re­quires a “clear ma­jor­ity” in favour of sep­a­ra­tion. What con­sti­tutes that ma­jor­ity is not de­fined, but in ac­cept­ing a much lower thresh­old Mul­cair has played into the hands of the Bloc, re­veal­ing not only his party’s weak­ness, but also him­self as a politi­cian will­ing to place par­ti­san in­ter­ests ahead of the na­tional in­ter­est.

And that, by def­i­ni­tion, is an Op­po­si­tion leader lack­ing prime min­is­te­rial qual­i­ties.

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