January 31, 2013

Talking secession … again … and again … and again

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:28

Paul Wells has a few thoughts on secession:

The reason we have spent nearly 40 years debating the effect of referendum results a few points this side or that of 50 per cent is because we have all known for nearly that long that any separatist “victory” in a referendum will be a close thing. If there ever were such a vote, 50 per cent plus a bit on a confusing question, then a sovereignist Quebec government would run into difficulties that don’t have much to do with the text of the Clarity Act and would not be eased by Tom Mulcair’s attempted compromise.

The Supremes sing the hits better than anyone. In their opinion on the Secession Reference, the top court got everyone excited with Paragraph 88, which identifies (Andrew Coyne and many others have said it “invents”) an “obligation on all parties to Confederation to negotiate constitutional changes to respond” to “the clear expression of the desire to pursue secession by the population of a province.” Every six weeks ever since there has been an op-ed in Le Devoir invoking the “obligation to negotiate” as Quebec secessionists’ trump card after a future third-time-lucky majority referendum vote.

It would be so lovely if somebody read more than one paragraph. Having discerned an obligation to negotiate where few had seen one before, the Supremes then ask the obvious question: “What is the content of this obligation to negotiate?” That’s a hell of a question, and since it comes precisely one paragraph after the one that gets everyone so excited, it’d be swell if a few people followed what comes next. The justices promptly “reject two absolutist propositions.” The first is “that there would be a legal obligation on the other provinces and federal government to accede to the secession of a province, subject only to negotiation of the logistical details of secession.” To anyone who says a Yes vote must lead to secession on Quebec’s terms, “we cannot accept this view.” Make the Yes vote as big as you like — Quebec could still not “dictate the terms of a proposed secession to the other parties: that would not be a negotiation at all.”

[. . .]

So a secession attempt would be just about infinitely more complex than the conventional wisdom usually assumes. I haven’t even considered the near-certainty that local secessionist, purely dissolutionist, or U.S.-annexationist movements would pop up across Canada if Quebec began a secession attempt. But surely governments of good will can overcome dissent? Well, maybe, except that the last time Canada’s governments attempted a coast-to-coast set of constitutional amendments — the Charlottetown process of 1992 — the unanimity and best efforts of every head of government in the land wasn’t enough to ensure passage.

There’s a powerful narcotic quality to any conversation that mentions the “Charlatan Accord” for most Canadians over the age of 40: you can see eyes glaze over and lids get heavy the instant that process enters the discussion.

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