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After Brexit, Trudeau Ducks Question On Quebec Referendum

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to weigh-in Tuesday on whether 51.9 per cent — the level of support for the "Leave" vote in last week's Brexit referendum — would be a clear enough majority for Quebec to separate from Canada.

"As we know, it's very difficult to transfer referendum lessons from one jurisdiction to another," the prime minister responded during a press conference with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

"We respect the totality of rules of the game that Great Britain put forward for this referendum, and to make links or parallels with a situation in Canada, I don't think it is particularly useful," he said in French.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to greet Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday June 28, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

Trudeau strongly defended the Clarity Act during the election campaign last year. That Act sets out Parliament's right to determine whether a referendum question is clear and gives the House of Commons the responsibility to decide whether a vote resulted in "a clear expression of a will by a clear majority of the population." The size of the majority of valid votes cast, the percentage of eligible voters, the views of all political parties in a provincial legislature, and of Aboriginal peoples in the province, as well as any other circumstances judged to be relevant must be taken into account.

The Clarity Act was introduced after the 1995 referendum when Quebecers nearly voted to separate from Canada. The "No" vote won by only 50.58 per cent.

Trudeau has so far refused to say what percentage he thinks would constitute a clear majority. He was asked about it by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair last August during the first election debate and responded his number was nine.

"We respect the totality of rules of the game that Great Britain put forward for this referendum, and to make links or parallels with a situation in Canada, I don't think it is particularly useful."

"Nine Supreme Court justices said one vote is not enough to break up this country, and yet that is Mr. Mulcair's position," Trudeau said at the time. "He wants to be prime minister of this country, and he's choosing to side with the separatist movement in Quebec and not with the Supreme Court of Canada."

The NDP believes 50 per cent plus 1 vote should be enough for Quebec to secede from Canada.

'Very clear decision'

Last week, however, British Prime Minister David Cameron deemed 51.9 per cent "a very clear decision."

More than 33 million people in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar had had their say in "a giant democratic exercise," he said.

"The British people have voted to leave the European Union, and their will must be respected," Cameron said. He added that "there can be no doubt about the result."

Tuesday, Trudeau tried to stay clear from making any potential parallels.

"Obviously, making parallels between referendums in different jurisdictions is always troublesome," the prime minister told reporters.

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