A top Parti Québécois leadership contender is suddenly embracing “clarity,” after coming back from a trip to Scotland with a thirst for a simple question if Quebeckers are once again asked whether they want to separate from Canada.
After spending two weeks on holidays in Scotland, PQ MNA Bernard Drainville said he has been inspired by the short question – “Should Scotland be an independent country?” – that will be asked in a referendum in September.
The six-word query is a far cry from the convoluted questions asked by the PQ in 1980 and 1995, and Mr. Drainville’s stand marks a clear shift from the party’s recent efforts to keep its referendum strategy as vague as possible.
“People have to know what they are voting on,” Mr. Drainville said in an interview. “Having a clear question makes it easier to focus the debate on the real issues.”
In 2000, the federal Chrétien government passed the Clarity Act, which called for a “clear question” and a “clear majority” before Ottawa would launch secession talks with a province. While Quebec sovereigntists have always opposed the legislation, Mr. Drainville is now stating that “clarity is a winner.”
He added that much of the blame for his party’s defeat to the provincial Liberals in April can be pinned on then-leader Pauline Marois’s obfuscations when she was asked whether there would be a referendum on sovereignty in the next mandate.
“We paid a price for our lack of clarity,” Mr. Drainville said. “In Scotland, I am seeing the benefits of being clear.”
Mr. Drainville said he is still exploring an entry in the leadership race to replace Ms. Marois. He is seen as one of the three top contenders for the job, along with businessman Pierre Karl Péladeau and former journalist Jean-François Lisée.
Mr. Drainville, a well-known former television reporter and host, rose to prominence in Ms. Marois’s government as the lead minister in charge of the proposed “charter of values.” The controversial proposal would have banned provincial officials from wearing highly visible religious symbols at work.
The issue of “clarity” has long divided federalists and sovereigntists, especially the call for a “clear majority” that many federalists feel would mean at least two-thirds of voters.
Mr. Drainville still believes that a majority of 50 per cent plus one would suffice to create an independent Quebec, and that the National Assembly in Quebec would remain the supreme authority to determine the province’s political future.
Liberal MP Stéphane Dion, known as the father of the Clarity Act, said in an interview that Mr. Drainville’s suggestion for a clear question is welcomed after the “manipulative questions” that were asked in the two previous instances.
Mr. Dion added “it would be very hard to hold negotiations in the event of an uncertain majority. … I hope that Mr. Drainville will continue to evolve in his thinking.”
In the last election, Ms. Marois refused to close the door to holding a referendum on sovereignty if she won the election. Her rivals pounced on the uncertainty.