Inside Politics

Dion offering clarity again

As minister of intergovernmental affairs in the Chrétien government, Stéphane Dion led the government's response to the 1995 Quebec referendum that nearly granted the Parti Québécois government the mandate to pursue some kind of independence or secession from Canada.

The ambiguity of the near-miss for Canada prompted Dion to pose three questions to the Supreme Court with regard to Quebec secession: did the Canadian constitution allow Quebec's National Assembly to effect secession unilaterally; did international law on self-determination allow for unilateral secession; and in the case of conflict between the two, which would take precedence. The Court's ruling in 1998 formed the basis a year later for Bill C-20, known as the Clarity Act, which was passed by Parliament in 2000.

The process was a contentious one seen as provocative by some, but it staked out the government's position on negotiations in the wake of a successful referendum and the power to set a clear question for future referenda. And it was Dion's signature achievement before becoming Liberal leader five years later.

We know how that turned out.

But Dion was one of just 34 Liberal MPs to survive the recent election, so he's still in Parliament and he's still concerned with pushing for clarity over the rules and tools for Canada in confronting the possibility of Quebec secession.

With a Quebec election on the horizon, and considering the recent secessionist case of Sudan, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute has released a commentary by Dion arguing again that unilateral secession has no legal foundation in Canada and that negotiation would be the only way forward.

Secession and the Virtues of Clarity
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