Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lies, crimes and referendums

The Clarity Act's main purpose is to prevent a fraudulent secessionist referendum. In 1995 (and to a lesser extent, in 1980), the Parti Québécois presented a trick question to confuse Quebecers as to what exactly they were voting for. Exit polls in 1995 showed that many 'Yes' voters in particular thought they were voting for renewed federalism, a new partnership with Canada, and other distortions and misinformation 
Is that how you want to create a country, on lies and innuendo? 
In 1995, we know Mr. Parizeau was aiming for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) all along. His so-called "partnership" offer to the ROC was not sincere. Next time, Quebecers will know that the proverbial cart will not be put before the horse. 
Thanks to the Clarity Act, Quebecers - all Quebecers - can decide their fate in confidence. If we must have another referendum it will be done under the rule of law without ill-defined terms like "sovereignty" and "sovereignty-association" muddying up the debate. To those who advocate a separate Quebec, produce your arguments and let the people decide.

These are the words of a typical federalist. The premise underlining all this is the idea that evil separatists want a completely separate and independent Quebec in order to create some kind of racially pure country. However, they know that if they told everyone about their diabolical plan, the vast majority of Quebecers would reject it (you see, most Quebecers are nice enough but they aren't too bright and so can easily be fooled by the separatist villains). So instead of clearly stating their intentions, the separatists use deceit to achieve their goals...

Thankfully, the good people in Ottawa have found a solution. It’s called the Clarity Act. Now if those evil separatists try to have another referendum, Ottawa will decide if the question was clear enough for the simple-minded Quebecer. And even if a majority vote YES, you have to assume that a good portion of them were unable to understand the question so 50% + 1 is nowhere near enough. What is enough? Well, that’ll be decided later.

This typical federalist also claims that there were 85,000+ stolen NO votes in the 1995 referendum. Never mind that the total number of spoiled votes in the 1995 referendum was 86 501 (1.82%), which is pretty average in any election. He assumes that they were all NO votes without any evidence. The 1992 pan-Canadian referendum had a 2.18% spoiled vote rate and a far more cryptic question but strangely enough, it was the federal government calling that referendum, not the evil separatists.

It’s true, there were a few incidents in 1995 of vote counters showing a bias against NO votes when judging their validity but that issue was addressed diligently and thoroughly by the Chief Returning Officer immediately after the referendum. Former Quebec Chief Justice Alan B. Gold's report, vetted by three respected law professors from three different universities, concluded that the spoiled ballots resulted from the reprehensible but isolated actions of a few individuals working independently and that no evidence was found indicating a widespread plot to take away people's right to vote. Moreover, the law was changed shortly thereafter to prevent recurrence. Nonetheless, the myth of the stolen NO votes lives on. I believe it lives on because it is a way of countering the accusations of true criminality that took place during that referendum.

The reality is that the majority of the sleaze, corruption and dishonesty has clearly come from the federalist side in our referendums and it has been so egregious that I don’t consider that we've had, so far, a clear referendum on the issue of Quebec’s political status. 

These referendums must be seen within the context of the constitutional battles of the time. Most Quebecers basically wanted more autonomy for Quebec and constitutional recognition of Quebec's status as a distinct nation. The debate was about how to achieve this. Some argued that this could be done by reforming Canadian federalism and others said that we needed to first declare our sovereignty and then to negotiate a partnership with Canada. In the end, neither side got what they wanted. The winners were the minority in Quebec who deny the very existence of a Quebec nation and want to keep Quebec subordinated to Ottawa at all cost. And their great victory was achieved through deceit and criminality. 


The 1980 referendum was to give René Levesque’s Parti Québécois government a mandate to negotiate Sovereignty-Association which would create a sovereign Quebec within a Canadian framework. It was not proposing a complete break with Canada and would have been followed by a second referendum to decide the final status of Quebec. This was the question asked to Quebecers:

"The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations; this agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, levy its taxes and establish relations abroad — in other words, sovereignty — and at the same time to maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency; any change in political status resulting from these negotiations will only be implemented with popular approval through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?"

The campaign seems to be remembered mainly for a couple of rather insignificant gaffs committed by the YES side e.g. the Yvette comment by PQ cabinet minister Lise Payette. Mrs Payette denounced women supporters of the "No" side as Yvettes (the name of a docile young girl in an old school manual). She went so far as calling Claude Ryan's wife, Madeleine, an Yvette. This backfired spectacularly as the Yvettes, led by Madeleine Ryan, held a number of political rallies in response to her remarks.

Another gaff was an off-the-cuff remark made by Lévesque himself. Lévesque had made the error of telling a group of Mexican journalists that the referendum was showing Trudeau's “Elliott side”. By this he meant that Trudeau seemed more preoccupied by the interests of English Canadians than by the interests of French Canadians. This was depicted as an ethnocentric remark which infuriated Trudeau or at least he feigned outrage and used this remark to paint Lévesque as someone who only considered people of French ancestry as real Quebecers. Trudeau made an emotional speech in which he named prominent Quebecers with Irish, English or Aboriginal names and asked "Are they not Quebecers?”.

What is usually forgotten is that the campaign was not between Sovereignty-Association and the status quo. The NO side knew that a majority of Quebecers were not happy with the constitutional order in Canada, so they made this a fight between Sovereignty-Association and Renewed Federalism. What this renewed federalism meant was not entirely clear but this was something the Quebec Liberal leader, Claude Ryan, had been going on about for a while. At first, it was a sort of asymmetrical federalism with a special status for Quebec but later morphed into a more decentralized federation after realizing that English Canada was not going to go for the special status idea. What is clear is that it meant more power for Quebec.

Pierre Trudeau said on several occasions that he had no intention of negotiating Sovereignty-Association with René Lévesque making a YES vote possibly pointless as a victory for the YES side would only give Lévesque a mandate to negotiate. But the clincher was when Trudeau said in Montreal's Paul Sauvé arena a few days before the referendum that he would interpret a NO vote as a mandate for a renewed federalism. He knew what Quebecers would understand by those words and he knew that he had no intention of giving them anything of the kind.  

Instead they got the unilateral repatriation of the constitution in 1982 without Quebec’s consent. This was a complete betrayal of Trudeau's promise to Quebecers. The Canadian government imposed on Quebec a substantial reduction in the powers of Quebec’s National Assembly. Quebec also had imposed on it an amending formula that has turned out to be a constitutional straitjacket. The unanimous consent of the provinces is now required for certain fundamental changes to the constitution (like changes to the amending formula). It's ironic how Quebec's consent was not required for adopting such a rule in the first place. This constitution was viewed in Quebec as a complete break of the "dualistic" pact of 1867 between the two founding nations and a denial of Quebec's existence as distinct nation.

Trudeau even ignored the recommendations of his own national unity task force. In 1979, the Pepin-Robarts task force on national unity released its report. The Pepin-Robarts report said this: "Quebec is distinctive, and within a viable Canada it should have all the powers necessary to maintain and develop its distinctive character. Any other solution short of this would lead to the rupture of Canada." The Pepin-Robarts report said that in 1979. Three years later, we got a Constitution that paid absolutely no regard to those statements.

Ryan, with his ideas about a renewed federalism, was left out and betrayed, as were all Quebecers who had voted NO expecting an answer to some of Quebec’s longstanding demands. Some Liberals, like Claude Forget, the provincial Liberal spokesman on constitutional affairs would try to rewrite history and claim that no such promises were ever made. However, Ryan would later write the following about Trudeau’s actions: "When he committed himself a few days before the referendum, in a speech delivered at Montreal's Paul Sauvé arena, to reform of the Canadian federal system, several people, including the author of this book (i.e. Claude Ryan) had understood that what he had in mind was an operation that would be designed and carried out along with his referendum allies. ... But Trudeau had his own agenda, which was not that of the Quebec Liberal Party."

The federalist that I quoted at the beginning of this article stated that in 1995 many YES voters believed they were voting for a renewed federalism, a new partnership with Canada… I don’t believe that for a second but it is irrefutable that many NO voters in 1980 were voting for a renewed federalism along the lines stipulated by Claude Ryan but that was certainly not what they got. Is this not deception?


"To hell with the rules"
In the 1995 referendum, when polls were showing that the YES side was leading, the federal government decided that Quebec referendum laws did not apply to it and that victory had to be achieved at any cost. In the words of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien

"In Canada two weeks before the referendum in 1995 Yes were suddenly eight to 10 points ahead. It was more difficult for us because it was a provincial issue and the federal government I led could not get involved. But in the last nine days I said to hell with the rules and organised a huge meeting in Montreal in which thousands of people flew in to send a message that we wanted Quebec to stay with us."

This attitude of laws-be-damned on the part of the federal government not only led to the well-known but legally dubious Unity Rally, it also led to the creation of the mysterious Option CanadaOption Canada could be described as an illegal electoral slush fund. It was created and managed secretly - Quebec's Chief Returning Officer learned of its existence when a Montreal daily broke the story in March 1997. It was granted money under the false pretext of supporting linguistic duality. The accounting documents show that those who dreamed it up had the clear intention of violating the Quebec Referendum Act by funneling some $5 million into the NO campaign and thereby almost doubling that side's resources. Most of the money went into the ad campaign, foreshadowing the ad scam that rocked the Liberal government years later. The secretive pay rolling of campaign "volunteers" also foreshadowed the wads of cash used for similar purposes as Judge Gomery revealed.

Option Canada thus differs from other slush funds in that it was a creation of the Government of Canada run by the Liberal Party. That is the crux of the problem because it is a case of the government secretly and illegally funding an organization in order to defeat a legitimate and democratic political movement. Some might shrug that off saying that it was done to save Canada. If so, what principle will they be able to raise to oppose similar underhanded manoeuvres aimed at defeating other legitimate democratic movements elsewhere in the country?

This network of corruption would later be the same corrupt network behind the sponsorship scandal (ad scam). Those crimes were investigated to some degree during the Gomery inquiry but the scope of the investigation was limited. What was done during the referendum, which is a far more serious crime against the people of Quebec and democracy itself was never properly investigated.  Yet the people behind these crimes are the same ones who would later impose their anti-democratic Clarity Act with its ill-defined terms ostensibly to prevent separatist tricks and deceptions. Orwell would be impressed!


Quebec has gone through many changes to its political status throughout its history. In 1759, it was done through military force and conquest. In 1840, it was forced into a union with Upper-Canada after its rebellion was brutally crushed. This union was made with the expressed intention of marginalizing and assimilating francophones. In 1867, the province of Canada joined Confederation by a simple act of parliament. It's true that a slim majority of Quebec representatives voted to join Confederation but it was as the Courrier du Canada was to put it at the time: "la moins mauvaise des choses dans un monde fort mauvais" (the least harmful thing in a world of harmful things). Independence was never on offer. Confederation at least gave us our state back: The Province of Quebec. There was no referendum as the Rouge party was calling for, there was no clear question and there was no clear majority.

In recent decades, Quebecers have chosen a more democratic route for deciding their political fate: the referendum. There should be clarity and honesty in Quebec's next referendum on sovereignty but Ottawa has no place in dictating its terms or policing its honesty as it has absolutely no credibility in the matter. It would be like Bernie Madoff policing Wall Street.