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An Opportunity or a Challenge

Posted in Featured, View Point

Published on June 11, 2021 with No Comments

Quebec that accounts for almost a quarter of the 338 seats in the federal House of Commons has always been a political battleground. With leaders of the ruling  Bloc Québécois trying to pass a motion recognizing Quebec’s right to unilaterally change the Constitution in line with proposed reforms to the province’s language law. For other parties including Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP it poses a challenge of a new kind.

Known as Bill 96, Quebec rolled out a proposed legislation that seeks to amend the country’s supreme law to enshrine Quebec’s status as a nation and its official language as French.  This obviously has stirred up debate. It not only would mean handing greater provincial powers to Quebec but also may also push courts to interpret laws differently in Quebec.  No doubt, this constitutional amendment would require approval from the House of Commons and Senate. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau based upon an input from Justice Department concluded that Quebec can go ahead with changes.  

Premier of Quebec Francois Legault has a strong reputation of being a nationalist; simultaneously he does demand more rights for Quebec and is strong about its linguistic and cultural heritage on a continent with hundreds of millions of English speakers.  Quebec has been facing tough opposition for Bill 21 that was adopted in June 2019 and prohibits public sector workers who are deemed to be in positions of authority, including teachers, police officers and judges, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and turbans on the job. Now, his government is working to amend Canada’s constitution to recognize French as Quebec’s only official language and call Quebec as “nation”.  For the language and the “Nation” status, there is nothing news. These have been discussed comprehensively over the years and there have been little objection to the Quebec’s efforts.  

For using, “nation” as a description for the province, it has been reduced to issue with no significant value other than in the minds of some who consider “nation” to be of larger importance than  province.  On November 22 2006, a Québécois nation motion that was a parliamentary motion was tabled by Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper and was approved by 265-16  with support from all the parties in the House of Commons. Leaders of three national parties seem to support Premier Francois Legault.

The heads of Canada’s three national parties all seem eager to shrug it off.  . Conservative leader Erin O’Toole reminded Canadians that the previous Tory government already passed a parliamentary resolution declaring “the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.”  New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh, has called it “not in any way controversial.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called  the idea that the Québécois compose a nation “a historical fact, a sociological fact, a fact of daily lives.”   It is apparent as an election nears that political parties are trying to strike the emotional chords of the Quebecers. In addition to Premier Francois Legault, if anyone can draw the maximum advantage its Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Prime Minister know this and he will do what it takes to keep Quebec happy and in the end securing votes.

Leaders need to look at the recent history. Liberal Leaders Michael Ignatieff had declared that the “future of Canada includes the recognition of Quebec and Aboriginals as nations in our Constitution.”  Ignatieff’s subsequent political career was brief thereafter; and Prime Minister  Stephen Harper who was instrumental in getting Quebec declared a “nation within a nation” had won three mandates but his party was never able to do well in Quebec.  Leaders may go all out to support the motion, though it has run into a  heavy weather when Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould marred the unanimity required for a motion tabled without official notice.


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