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national unity

The NDP’s Craig Scott, seen here campaigning last spring in Toronto, is spearheading a private member’s bill aimed at replacing the Clarity Act.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The Liberal Party of Canada is slamming an NDP bill that would allow the breakup of Canada with a simple majority vote in Quebec, accusing its rival of kowtowing to the province's nationalist electorate at the expense of Canadian unity.

The NDP is replying that its constitutional position has allowed it to become the main federalist force in Quebec, and that it is simply building on the long-standing policies that allowed the party to take so many seats in Quebec in the last election.

The battle between the Liberal Party and the NDP is playing right into the agenda of the separatist Bloc Québécois, which fostered the controversy by tabling a bill to repeal the 2000 Clarity Act.

In response to the Bloc proposal, the NDP tabled a bill on Monday to replace the Clarity Act with new legislation that would allow Quebec secession with a victory of 50 per cent plus one vote in a referendum as long as the question is straightforward and simple.

Both are private members' bills and are unlikely to pass, but allow the parties to position themselves on the issue.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the NDP needs a two-thirds majority to amend its own constitution, yet would allow Quebec secession with a minimal threshold.

"It adds confusion where there was clarity," Mr. Rae said. "It's not helpful, it really takes us in the wrong direction, and in my view, it's a recipe for a lot of complications."

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, who is widely seen as the front-runner in the Liberal leadership race, said the bill further reduces the possibility of an electoral pact with the NDP in a bid to defeat the Conservatives.

"You cannot be half pregnant on the question of Canadian unity," Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Calgary. "For me, it's absolutely unacceptable and yet another example of where co-operation between the Liberals and the NDP in the coming years is out of the question."

The Conservative government is trying to stay out of the battle among opposition parties, but Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said on Twitter that the NDP legislation would be "making it easier for provinces to secede from Canada."

However, the New Democratic MP who is sponsoring the legislation said the Supreme Court of Canada, in a 1998 decision on the matter, did not call for a majority that would be greater than 50 per cent plus one.

"We're introducing clarity where there wasn't any in the Clarity Act," Craig Scott said. "The Supreme Court never once hinted that when they were talking about a clear majority, they meant a substantial majority."

Mr. Scott said the NDP proposal actually favours Canadian unity, by ensuring that Quebeckers feel respected inside the federation.

"By showing respect and a spirit of engagement, this bill actually makes it far less likely that we will ever see a separation scenario," said Mr. Scott, the NDP critic for democratic reform.

Still, Bloc Leader Daniel Paillé slammed the fact that the NDP legislation is being shepherded by a Toronto MP. "It adds insult to injury," he said. "It's not up to an MP in this Parliament in Ottawa to decide the referendum question that the Quebec government will eventually be asking."

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