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NDP leader Tom Mulcair addresses party members at a national caucus strategy session ahead of the upcoming Parliamentary session Friday January 18, 2013 in Ottawa. (CP)
NDP leader Tom Mulcair addresses party members at a national caucus strategy session ahead of the upcoming Parliamentary session Friday January 18, 2013 in Ottawa. (CP)

Globe Editorial: First Take

NDP bid to repeal Clarity Act is a bad move for Canada Add to ...

The NDP opposition has been taking a hit in the polls lately, dropping below 30 per cent support on a regular basis. As well, the party was strangely silent during Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, leaving an opening seized by Liberal Party leader Bob Rae. Now, suddenly, comes party leader Thomas Mulcair with a plan to repeal the Clarity Act as a way to shore up sagging support in Quebec, the province that is key to the party’s electoral success. It is a risky move for the NDP, and a bad one for Canada.

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The NDP surged into Opposition in 2011, carried there by unprecedented support in Quebec, where the party won 59 out of 75 seats. But Mr. Mulcair knows that, politically speaking, Quebec giveth and Quebec taketh away. The NDP’s success there in 2011 was a combination of many factors. The question for the NDP has always been, now that we have it, how do we keep it?

Repealing the Clarity Act, as Mr. Mulcair is now making a bid to do, is not the answer. The act, passed in 2000 by Jean Chretien’s Liberal government, states Ottawa will only negotiate sovereignty in the wake of a clear majority for the yes side in a referendum (without stating what the threshold for a clear majority actually is), that the question posed must be simple and direct, and that an amendment to the Constitution is required before Quebec can secede. The bill has never been popular in Quebec, for obvious reasons.

Mr. Mulcair’s proposed bill would also require a precisely worded question, but it would allow Quebec to secede with a simple referendum majority of 50 per cent plus one. It is in, in short, a step backward that will reopen old wounds and divisions for no reason other than to protect the NDP’s gains in Quebec. Worse still, it is by no means guaranteed to work, given the fickle nature of Quebec voters.

Mr. Mulcair leads a federalist party that represents all of Canada and should act accordingly. His proposed bill does not meet that standard. His naked gambit was best exposed for what it is when he defended his support of a simple majority by saying, “The side that wins wins.” If he truly believed that, the previous two referenda would have settled the issue for him.

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