Harper government joins fight against Quebec's anti-Clarity Act legislation
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, (left) has offered his government's support to an effort to nullify a Quebec law passed under Premier Lucien Bouchard that intended to counteract the federal Clarity Act. (CP file photos)
Published Saturday, October 19, 2013 6:27PM EDT
The Harper government has quietly decided to join a challenge to Bill 99 launched years ago by the defunct Equality Party.
The legislation, passed by the PQ government under Premier Lucien Bouchard in 2000, was meant to contradict the federal Clarity Act passed under Premier Minister Jean Chretien.
The Attorney General of Canada is asking the Quebec Superior Court to invalidate the provincial law which gives Quebec the right to separate from Canada with a 50 percent plus one majority vote.
The Quebec law passed under Bouchard, known as Bill 99, states that the “Quebec people have the inalienable right to choose the political system and the legal status of Quebec."
However, under the Constitution of Canada, Quebec could not unilaterally decide its fate, say the authors of the challenge.
The Prime Minister at the time, Jean Chretien and his successors took no legal action to challenge the provincial law.
However in 2003 the Equality Party, under leader Keith Henderson and lawyer Brent Tyler, did just that.
In December 2012, Tyler and Henderson filed a request for a re-amended declaratory judgment to strike down Bill 99.
The Attorney General of Quebec in a statement dated 15 May 2013, rejected the request and confirmed the constitutionality of the disputed items.
Quebec Superior Court is preparing to hear the case in 2014.
Henderson and Tyler were happy with the new involvement of the Harper government.
“Our position has always been that it is not the role of a private citizen to lead the way. It is the role and even the duty of the federal government,” said Tyler.
On October 16, the Attorney General of Canada joined Henderson and Tyler in their challenge of sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 13 of Bill 99.
“If the court cannot strike down (the articles), it should declare that they are ultra vires of the Legislature of Quebec and they are void,” read the statement.
“We'll see how the court will react but with the involvement of the federal government, it obviously helps us. I'm sure the court will conclude that these provisions are invalid under the constitution,” said Tyler.
The federal government confirmed that they are now involved in the case.
“We have no intention of reopening the constitutional debate. The traditional position of the Government of Canada in this case is well-known. Given that this matter is now before the courts, we cannot comment further, “ said Marie- Josée Paquette, Press Secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Denis Lebel.
The federal government’s intervention has already started ruffling some feathers in Quebec, as Bloc Quebecois leader Daniel Paille denounced the new intervention as, “a vicious and totally unacceptable attack."
“In Quebec we are accustomed to democracy. In 1995, we accepted the result of the referendum on sovereignty that was 50 percent minus one. It's part of the game and then suddenly, the federal government says that Quebecers are not big enough to decide for themselves,” he said.
Others in Quebec also shared a negative reaction to the news, as CSN union Treasurer Pierre Patry denounced the move as “hypocrisy.”
“In 2006 the House of Commons passed a motion under Harper recognizing that the Quebecois form a nation, seven years later we see that it was a political hoax,” he said.
The Quebec government did not issue a reaction, saying that they are still studying the issue, although Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier, announced on his Twitter account that he will hold a press briefing at the National Assembly on Sunday.