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PQ minister: Ottawa can’t dictate referendum question

Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Alexandre Cloutier is shown in January 2012.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The federal NDP is going down a slippery slope if it thinks it can interfere with the referendum process aimed at achieving Quebec sovereignty, says the Parti Québécois government.

Quebec's Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Alexandre Cloutier, says the federal government has no authority to determine the referendum question and what constitutes a clear majority to achieve sovereignty.

"In the past, Quebec has given itself all the tools to decide alone its democratic future," Mr. Cloutier said. "There is a consensus in Quebec and in the National Assembly that we have the power to decide, alone, the referendum question and the majority needed."

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The debate on Quebec sovereignty was reignited by an NDP private members' bill that allows Quebec to secede from Canada with a simple majority vote in a referendum – a position adopted by the party in 2005 and viewed by all parties in Quebec as the acceptable threshold for achieving independence. The bill drew criticism from federal Liberals: "It really takes us in the wrong direction, and in my view, it's a recipe for a lot of complications," interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said this week.

But the bill also calls for a straightforward referendum question on secession, and seeks to determine what constitutes a clear question.

The PQ government said any efforts at dictating the question would to amount to unacceptable interference by Ottawa in the referendum process and Quebec's right to self-determination. The PQ harshly condemned the NDP initiative even though the bill seeks to address certain "ambiguities" in the Clarity Act, adopted by the federal Liberals in 2000, which sets the conditions for another referendum on sovereignty.

The PQ supports the Bloc Québécois' repeated efforts at repealing the Clarity Act altogether. The federal legislation challenges the contention by Quebec sovereignists that the province could unilaterally secede with a simple majority of 50-per cent plus one vote.

The NDP bill has sparked yet another controversial debate over Quebec sovereignty just as the PQ is making new efforts to promote independence.

The PQ government is working on a series of demands it intends to take to Ottawa as part of Premier Pauline Marois's "sovereignist governance" agenda. The PQ was holding a two-day special caucus meeting in the Laurentian region just north of Montreal, coming on the heels of Ms. Marois's meeting with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond whose government is preparing to hold a referendum on Scotland's secession from the United Kingdom in the fall of 2014.

With a minority government, Ms. Marois has all but given up on wrestling more powers away from Ottawa. But the PQ still hopes to gain control over federal spending programs in areas such as infrastructure, culture, youth training initiatives and venture capital projects.

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Ms. Marois will likely make her demands known during a private meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Lévis on Friday after the two leaders unveil a joint local infrastructure project. It will be the first meeting between the two leaders since they crossed paths last fall at the Francophonie Summit in the Congo.

With files from Daniel Leblanc

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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