Quebecers and the rest of Canada deeply divided on Quebec's proposal to modify Constitution: poll

Quebec Premier François Legault raises his glass to Quebecers during a happy hour drink with his wife Isabelle Brais on a patio in Montreal on Friday, May 28, 2021, when patios were allowed to reopen across the province.

OTTAWA – A large majority of Quebecers support the right of provinces to unilaterally amend parts of the Constitution, whereas a similar majority of Canadians outside Quebec reject the proposal, according to a new poll that illustrates the deep divide in the country about Premier François Legault’s recent proposal.

In total, 62 per cent of Quebecers agreed that provinces are allowed to use  section 45 of the Constitution to amend parts that apply only specifically to itself, whereas 64 per cent of Canadians outside the province disagree, according to the Léger poll.

There is a similarly stark divide between Quebec and other provinces (colloquially referred to as the Rest of Canada) about if the Constitution should recognize Quebec as nation, with 67 per cent of Quebecers agreeing against only 15 % in the rest of the country.

The poll surveyed 1,623 adult Canadians via a web panel for the Quebec Community Groups Network and the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) from May 21 to May 23, 2021.

It was conducted after Legault introduced Bill 96, a sweeping language law reform that includes adding two new subsections to Section 90 of the Constitution proclaiming Quebec a “nation” and “affirm that the only official language of Québec is French.”

The proposal has received the approval of all major federal parties, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already said the province’s move is “perfectly legitimate”, insofar as it does not affect the rights of the Quebec’s English-speaking minority.

For Jack Jedwab, head of the ACS, the major gap between opinions in Quebec and the rest of the country on Legault’s proposal came as no surprise and illustrates how confusing the issue has been for all Canadians, particularly when it comes to defining the idea of a Quebecois nation.

“There is a lot of confusion and when there’s confusion, people are not inclined to say yes easily unless there’s greater clarity,” Jedwab said in an interview. “People aren’t necessarily rejecting anything, they’re just wanting greater explanation of what the meaning is of these constitutional changes.”

Jedwab says even the Quebec government’s own website admits that there is “no common definition of a nation, people, or distinct society” and that each of those concepts still “must be clearly defined, in terms of both their scope and legal consequences.”

When he announced his bill earlier this month, Legault argued that his government’s intent is to solve a 50-year Constitutional gridlock by proposing a new way of recognizing the Quebec nation (which the federal government already did in 2006) and the importance of French without the painstaking process of formally reopening the Constitution.

He argued that the unilateral change is legal because it only modifies “Quebec’s constitution” and that the proposed additions only impact the province.

Experts across the country have argued about the legality of Quebec’s proposal as well as the potential consequences, which could range from purely symbolic to potentially very legally impactful.

But in an interview with Le Devoir last week, Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette bluntly admitted he hoped that recognising the Quebecois nation in the constitution would push judges to recognize the province’s specificity on certain issues, such as language rights or immigration.

“It is possible that the Quebec government, the Quebec nation, could use these provisions to assert its specificity in the Canadian environment; its ‘distinct social values’,” he told the Montreal daily.

The unknown consequences of Quebec’s unilateral constitutional amendments are driving fears across Canada of the province’s proposal, Jedwab says. He thinks the solution is for more thorough political analysis before any major provincial or federal party signs off on Legault’s proposal.

In an analysis published in Public Policy on Friday, Erin Crandall, an associate professor of politics at Acadia University, argued that Legault’s proposal should be subject to a “full parliamentary study” of Section 45 of the Constitution.

“While the Constitution of Canada should not be so difficult to amend that it is frozen in amber, it is critical that we proceed with careful, public consideration of what amending procedure is required here. Anything less would service politics to the detriment of the Canadian Constitution,” she wrote.

Experts and critics throughout Canada have accused the federal government and all other party leaders of pandering to Quebec as a potential election looms. And any hesitancy to question Legault’s motives could lead to long-term harm to the country, they argue.

“These early reactions by elected officials underline the already well-known fact that constitutional amendment is an inherently political process. The risk, of course, is that short-term political ambitions, like the Liberal Party’s performance in Quebec in a not-so-distant federal election, may have long-term, potentially negative consequences for constitutional amendment in Canada,” Crandall wrote.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques