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Daniel D. Veniez

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Should Canada's Break-Up Be Under Discussion?

Posted: 05/31/11 10:00 AM ET

Under pressure from Quebec sovereignists the NDP, now Canada's official Opposition, has defined what it will take for Quebec to legitimately declare its sovereignty.

Jack Layton has confirmed the NDP's policy on the terms of Quebec's separation from Canada. Last Thursday in Montreal, he said that a simple 51 per cent of Quebecers who voted to separate from Canada in another referendum would be enough.

In an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen on Saturday, Stephane Dion said, "To be open to Quebec is to insist on a clear majority for secession." Others have followed suit and cited the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada that stated that that a 'clear majority' would be required, without indicating what that would be.

A few years ago, without much meaningful debate in the House of Commons, MPs of all parties voted in favour of Stephen Harper's motion to recognize Quebec as a 'nation' within Canada.

No one can accuse Layton, Dion, and Harper of being anything but committed Canadians who love their country. But their statements are all predicated on calculations that embrace the political status quo that has held since the death of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords.

Since the early 1970s, the threat of Quebec's separation from Canada has been like a "knife to the throat" of Canada, as the political scientist Léon Dion (former Liberal leader Stéphane's father) once said. The country -- including most of Quebec -- is tired of it being there.

Let us declare an end to these perpetual and energy-sapping contortions. It is time our parliamentarians reject unequivocally and without reservation or defensiveness the destruction of Canada as a legitimate option. It is not. The integrity of Canada should never be up for negotiation. Any national leader that suggests that it is or there is an acceptable formula for the dismemberment of the country is unfit to occupy high national office.

At the same time, that does not mean that renewal is not needed or even desirable. It surely is and we must not fear doing so by modernizing our constitution.

Inter-provincial arrangements of all kinds are urgently needed in the areas of national productivity, energy, transportation, infrastructure, health care, labour mobility, inter-provincial trade, the environment, post-secondary education, and Canada Pension Plan reform.

Our social and economic union is weak. Trade and labour mobility between provinces are far from free. Jurisdictional overlap is cumbersome and an impediment to investment and efficient government. Our system of equalization is outmoded. The current formula rewards provinces that waste money and penalizes the fiscally responsible. That makes our country less equal. It fuels regional animosity and does not foster unity.

The only way to fundamentally improve and update the basic arrangements of our Confederation is to renew our Constitution. Quebec's exclusion from signing the Constitution Act of 1982 is a dormant, gaping hole in our national life.

The unelected and unaccountable Senate remains the most egregious illustration of a profound and untenable democratic deficit in our country. It is blight on our democracy. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's legislated term limits won't fix that. Neither will appointing senators after provincial elections. The Senate can only truly be reformed by constitutional change.

It is high time that our political leaders stop chipping away at the very essence of our national soul. Ignoring the urgent necessity of modernizing our constitution is holding us back from our true promise and potential as the great nation we can be in the 21st century.

Mr. Veniez is a Vancouver-based businessman.

 

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