Quebec’s separatist law must be defeated at the Council of the Federation | Editorial

Next month will see the constitutional issues surrounding Québec’s Bill 21 come back into the limelight as Canadians gather in Ottawa for the annual meeting of the Council of the Federation, the country’s leaders meeting. The Intergovernmental Conference, as it is known, will be the first large-scale gathering of provincial and territorial premiers since Quebec’s Bill 21 was tabled in October 2017.

Bill 21 is the legislation designed to deal with the existential threat that Quebec’s “sovereignty initiative” poses to Canada. It is the latest effort by the Quebec government to translate the ambitions of that initiative into political reality. But it has already sparked clashes in Quebec and prompted fears of a province filled with fear, suspicion and division. The bill seeks to neutralize its effects by changing the history curriculum in the province and bringing Quebec under the jurisdiction of the Canadian federalism commission.

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It has also provoked the ire of the federal government. And the debate has occupied the attention of many Canadians, including many in Quebec.

Though the Council of the Federation will only discuss the details of Bill 21 during its annual meeting, many of the premiers are already raising concerns and offering their opinions in advance of the meeting. Though some premiers have chosen to steer clear of the discussion, those who have commented have become loud voices in favour of opposition to the legislation.

Perhaps the most forceful opposition has come from the federal government. Prime minister Justin Trudeau expressed his frustration that no politicians in Canada had raised the issue of the changing history curriculum, saying it was the general belief of Canadians that educators should be making decisions about what is taught in the classroom. He did not mince words, referring to Bill 21 as “unethical” and pointing out that Ontario Premier Doug Ford had explicitly declared his opposition to the legislation.

Many have also come out against the province’s plan to subvert the country’s democratic institutions. Quebec’s premier, François Legault, has countered that “those that want to form a referendum, to hold referendums, to activate a constituent vote to decide their fate, need only press a button.” He then took aim at every elected representative in Canada, suggesting that they want to pull the bill’s pins from the ceiling.

The Quebec legislature has advanced Bill 21 to the third reading in a few weeks, which would allow it to become law in January. But that approval would do little to settle the debate. As the real fight over the bill takes place in the fall, more Canadian MPs have decided to speak out against it. Canadians know that Bill 21 stands for what Canadians oppose. That’s because we all want Canada to be stronger, more united and more resilient. We want all our members to stand up for what is right, and to tell the rest of the country why Quebec’s bill is so wrong. We should be speaking out to tell Quebec’s government that they have been acting against Canada’s common values.

In the last century, many leaders from both sides of the House of Commons rose up to defend our constitutional system. But this is the first time that all members of the House of Commons have taken a stand against a piece of legislation that is so clearly intended to directly challenge the federally elected government of Canada. It’s a beautiful thing to see our great senators take an assertive stance, as well. It was great to see 10 of them march to the House of Commons this week to show their solidarity with Canadian democracy. It’s even better to see politicians and leaders in Montreal who organized a public discussion on the province’s school curriculum in front of students, who were encouraged to speak up by the various leaders who spoke out against Bill 21.

So I encourage all Canadians to join the chorus of voices in opposition to Bill 21, and tell our politicians that we don’t want Canada to be fractured, divided or in jeopardy. If Quebec wanted to play this card, they’d have used it much earlier. But they didn’t. So they must be aware that as long as that card remains untapped, it can easily become the province’s undoing. Let’s make sure our politicians remember that.

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