Montreal

Bloc fails to muster unanimous support for Commons motion backing Quebec's constitutional changes

A Bloc Québécois motion seeking support for Quebec's proposed constitutional amendments failed to pass unanimously in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

The Quebec-based party will now force MPs to record whether they agree with province's proposals

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A Bloc Québécois motion seeking support for Quebec's proposed constitutional amendments failed to pass unanimously in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

In order to pass without debate, the motion needed to face no vocal opposition from MPs. Former Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, now an independent MP, yelled out a "nay" after the motion was read out.

"Dismaying how political partisanship/pandering leads MPs to abandon core legal norms (+ common sense) & try to avoid debate on critical constitutional matters," Wilson-Raybould said on her Twitter account.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet said he would use his party's upcoming opposition day to force a debate, and a recorded vote, on the federal aspects of recent Quebec legislation aimed at strengthening protections for the French language.

Along with reforming Quebec's language laws, Bill 96 seeks to unilaterally amend the 1867 Constitution to include two new articles.

One would recognize that Quebecers form a nation and the other would recognize French as the nation's sole common and official language.

While constitutional experts are divided on whether Quebec can make these changes without consulting Ottawa, or the other provinces, the leaders of the major federal parties have indicated their support for the initiative.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, left, speaks during a news conference after tabling a reform on language law, Thursday, May 13, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, responsible for language law, right, looks on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Blanchet's motion asked the House of Commons to support Quebec's ability to re-write part of the Constitution by itself.

Speaking to reporters after Question Period, the Bloc leader said it was a "near certainty" the motion would eventually be backed by a strong majority of MPs.

He maintained there is nothing controversial in the substance of Quebec's desired amendments.

"The motion could have simply passed [on Wednesday]. People could have just said the sky is blue. But now we know there are people who might want to contest the colour," Blanchet said.

A delicate position for some MPs?

Despite having the approval of party leaders, Quebec's proposed amendments appear to have left some MPs uncomfortable and a recorded vote could place them in a delicate position with their party.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner expressed her misgivings about the amendment process Quebec has chosen in a tweet last week.

"So ... by the same token, Alberta should be able to unilaterally amend Section 36 of the Constitution Act?" she said, referring to the section of the Constitution that covers equalization payments.

Liberal MPs representing heavily anglophone ridings in Montreal may also be under some pressure. The largest advocacy group for Quebec Anglos is headed by Marlene Jennings, a former Liberal MP, who is adamantly opposed to Bill 96's constitutional changes.

In opposing the unanimous motion, Wilson-Raybould indicated she was hoping to force MPs to debate the constitution issues at stake more extensively. 

"Silence=cowardice not leadership," she said in her tweet. 

At Blanchet's new conference on Wednesday afternoon, a reporter raised Wilson-Raybould's refusal, while she was justice minister, to defer prosecution of Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin on fraud charges.

Blanchet was asked if her opposition to the Bloc motion helped illustrate why she was also unwilling to grant SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement.

"I want to be convinced that Mrs. Wilson-Raybould has the same recognition, and the same affection, for the Quebec nation that the Quebec nation has for all Indigenous nations. I can't imagine it being otherwise," Blanchet replied.

"There could be legal arguments behind her actions. It will be up to her to make them known."

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