01/28/2013 12:10 EST | Updated 03/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Bloc Quebecois Bill Takes Aim At Clarity Act

The NDP will oppose the Bloc Québécois bill to repeal the Clarity Act, the law that mandates a clear question and clear majority in any referendum in Quebec on secession.

Instead, New Democratic Party MP Craig Scott is tabling a private member's bill Monday that would amalgamate the Clarity Act and the NDP's own Sherbrooke Accord.

Debate began Monday on a private member's bill sponsored by the BQ that seems designed, in part, to embarrass the NDP, which wrested away most BQ seats in the last election.

Bill C-457, an Act to Repeal the Clarity Act, was introduced in October by Bloc MP André Bellavance. In support of the bill, Bloc Leader Daniel Paillé wrote a letter to all the party leaders except the Green's Elizabeth May, arguing that since they voted to recognize the Quebec people as a nation in 2006, they must realize that a nation has the right to decide its own destiny in its own way.

In debate Monday, Elizabeth May said, "Every party, other than the Green Party, supported a motion that Quebecers are a nation, and today you are all hoisted with your own petards."

Speaking in the House of Commons Monday, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said his party would not support the BQ-backed bill to repeal the Clarity Act, but would propose its own new bill.

The Clarity Act, passed in 2000, was the government's response to the knife-edge margin in the 1995 referendum in Quebec that saw the province come close to beginning the process of splitting from the rest of Canada.

The Clarity Act gives Parliament the authority to decide whether any new referendum on separation contains a clear enough question, and whether any vote is the expression of a clear majority of the will of the people of a province. It further states that secession cannot take place without negotiation with the federal government and the other provinces, as well as First Nations.

The NDP voted in favour of the Clarity Act in 2000, although NDP MPs Libby Davies and Sven Robinson voted against it.

NDP backs '50-plus-1'

The party is on the hot seat now because in 2005 it adopted its Sherbrook Declaration, which states the NDP would recognize a 50-per-cent-plus-1 vote in a referendum on the political status of Quebec. The declaration was part of the NDP's attempt to make significant inroads into the province of Quebec, which it saw as its path to eventually forming government.

Speaking in defence of the Clarity Act, its author Liberal MP Stéphane Dion asked if 50-per-cent-plus-one is a clear majority, then what could be an unclear majority?

In the 2011 general election, the NDP won 58 of Quebec's 75 seats, and the Bloc was reduced to just four. It was a stunning transferral of power from one party to another, but the Bloc has been buoyed lately by the Parti Québécois' minority victory in the recent Quebec provincial election.

The introduction of a bill that has no chance of passing may be its first shot in flushing out the views of the NDP on whether it backs its own Sherbrooke Accord or supports the Clarity Act.

Although the Sherbrooke Accord firmly states that a majority is 50-plus-1, the Clarity Act does not define what a "clear majority" means.

The new bill tabled Monday by the NDP will state that 50-per-cent-plus-one is a clear majority, if the vote count has been done correctly.

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