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Media Bites: The Clarity Act Is Looking Mighty Murky

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A certain macho swagger tends to overtake the Canadian editorial pages whenever talk of Quebec independence makes the headlines. Though polls suggest the Canadian public has never been more indifferent to this issue, pundit indignation remains just as fiery as it did in the age of exploding mailboxes.

Much fuss has been made lately about a proposed NDP motion to water down the rules of Quebec seccession via a couple edits to Mr. Dion's famed "Clarity Act." Whereas the original thing, spurned by a landmark Supreme Court ruling, stated that only a "clear majority" of Quebec voters casting ballots on a "clear question" would be enough to begin separation negotiations, the NDP bill softens demands for the former while strengthening the latter.

A "clear majority" can be just 50 per cent-plus-one, it says, but a "clear question" has to be something like "do you agree to leave and never come back," as opposed to Jean Chretien's famous caricature of the preferred separatist wording, "Do you like apple pie?"

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Before we proceed any further, however, some clarity of our own is needed.

Despite the fact that all the thunderous editorials (and many hard news stories) speak of "Thomas Mulcair's" traitorous proposal, in reality these attempted crimes against Clarity originate in a private member's bill from no-name Toronto backbencher Craig Scott. And since no one has heard of Mr. Scott, reports the Globe and Mail (albeit at the very bottom of the story), it's "unlikely" Craig's bill "will be up for debate in the near future."

And even if it did make it all the way to final reading or whatever, Scottie's thing still has about a cheese curd's chance in gravy of becoming law. You may recall that a fellow named Stephen controls the majority of votes in the House of Commons, and while his government has been inconsistent on a lot of issues over the years, not passing the motions of NDP backbenchers into law remains one realm in which their record's pretty solid.

Still, that's no reason to deny Canada's editorialists an opportunity to flex their patriotic muscles! And like most muscle-flexing, it's not very attractive.

What a shameful "step backward" for the NDP "that will reopen old wounds," scolds the Globe and Mail editorial board, mixing metaphors with righteous outrage. A treacherous "stain on this nominally federalist party," nods the National Post. An atrocious effort to "gut the Clarity Act and fly in the face of the Supreme Court ruling by letting Quebec secede on a wafer-thin vote," piles on the Toronto Star.

Basically, all the major papers analyze the situation using words so similar one wonders if they'd be able to pass through plagiarism-detecting software at some crappy community college.

They all see Mulcair as an opportunistic monster, for example, be it through making a "naked gambit" for Quebec voters (Globe) putting "Quebec first, and Canada second," (Toronto Star) or simply "lacking prime ministerial qualities" (Ottawa Citizen).

In short,  summarizes Postmedia's Michael Den Tandt, ol' beardo has the "instincts of a provincial leader" -- someone who panders to the esoteric hangups of a single region of the country, while ignoring the consequences such brown-nosing will wreak everywhere else.

And rest assured, say the papes, there will be consequences.

Canucks don't take too kindly to politicians who make "breaking up the country," easier, warn the Starites. So beware Dippers, this "could cost the New Democrats support across the country."

Totes, chirps the Globe, it's "a risky move for the NDP, and a bad one for Canada."

Yeah Tom, adds the National Post's bossy hydra head, pandering to separatists may win you couple French votes in the short term, but bashing them (like brave Justin) "likely would gain many times that number in the rest of the country."

But would it, really?

There's a persistent fantasy in this country (spread most enthusiastically, I notice, by journalists who live or work in close proxy to the province itself), that rumblings of Quebec nationalism are a Pavlovian noise capable of stirring patriotic counter-revolution from St. John's to Surrey. It's a belief that presumes an unwavering loyalty to the static borders of the Canadian nation-state and and an almost religious faith in the "two founding nations" interpretation of of Canadian federalism, whereby the loss of Quebec represents an existential failure -- nay, "break up" -- of the whole Canadian project itself.

Trouble is, there's no longer much evidence to suggest this "we-all-hang-together-or-hang-alone" theory -- as opposed to the theory that Canada could probably shed a province or two and still retain its core Canadianness -- has enough dedicated believers to trigger the sort of voter backlash our papers boldly assume could, no, will, no, must, occur in response to the NDP's separatist pussyfooting.

I can only speak for myself, of course, but here in the west, the only really irritating thing about Quebec separatism is that it makes a lot of powerful, important people waste a lot of time clarifying the ground rules of a theoretical crisis that every sane observer agrees isn't actually likely to happen within the next, oh, century or so.

Far from some furious groundswell of border-loving nationalism, if the NDP is to suffer any genuine voter backlash from Mr. Scott's bill, it will probably be this -- bored irritation towards a party unduly obsessed with solving a non-problem.

And a press that expects us to care.