Jean-François Lisée makes federal Liberals stumble

La Presse – February 23, 2000
By Vincent Marissal

After annoying the Parti Québécois establishment for the past two weeks, Jean-François Lisée was at it again yesterday, this time with the federal Liberals. He made them stumble on the rule of 50% plus one.

Reversing the roles normally played by people appearing before parliamentary committees and the Members of Parliament sitting on those committees, Mr. Lisée asked the Liberal majority several questions and received some astonishing replies.

The MP for Broadview-Greenwood, Dennis Mills answered, contrary to his party’s line, that the federal government would have to negotiate with Québec after a YES if the question was clear. « Personally, I would say that if the question was clear, we would begin the process of negotiations, » Mr. Mills responded to the former adviser to Premiers Bouchard and Parizeau. Mr. Mills subsequently sided with the official position of Prime Minister Chrétien and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Stéphane Dion.

Mr. Dion said later that he didn’t know what his colleague Mr. Mills meant to say. Prime Minister Chrétien repeated that in his opinion, the debate on what constitutes a majority will not take place if sovereignists ask a clear question (on secession). « We want to have a clear question, » he said, « and if we have a clear question, the question of the majority will probably never be raised. »

On the substance of the « clarity » bill, Jean-François Lisée succeeded in demonstrating that negotiations between Québec and the federal government would be virtually impossible, even with the agreement of the Canadian Parliament. Bill C-20, the former journalist pointed out, stipulates that any agreement on the secession of Québec must be validated by a constitutional amendment. Before agreeing to amend the Constitution, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia would have to get the backing of their respective populations by referendum.

« If the Canadian government, supported by the House of Commons, negotiated and signed an agreement and adopted, in principle, the amendment on the Constitution of Québec, how many of you will campaign for the YES in Kelowna, Edmonton and Mississauga? » Mr. Lisée asked the members of the committee.

Stéphane Dion, the sponsor of the « clarity » bill, tried to minimized the impact of the critical comments made by former [Québec] Liberal [Party] leader Claude Ryan, who considers Ottawa’s undertaking useless and abusive. « There’s not a great deal of disagreement, » Mr. Dion stated. « He says that federal authorities would have to evaluate the clarity, he wants this to be after the referendum vote, and that’s what the bill provides, except for the question, which would be known before the referendum. You can’t run an entire campaign without telling the people whether you find the question clear. That would be absurd. »

Mr. Ryan’s opposition comes precisely from the fact that the federal government wants to decide before the referendum.

« The power to judge the clarity of the question that would be assigned to the federal Parliament would bring about Parliament’s obvious intrusion in a referendum campaign that was already underway, » he maintained Monday evening at the legislative committee hearings.