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Bloc Québécois fails to pass motion on Quebec nationhood, constitutional change


OTTAWA — The Bloc Québécois failed to unanimously pass a motion recognizing Quebec's right to unilaterally change the Constitution in line with proposed reforms to the province's language law.

Leader Yves-François Blanchet tabled a motion Wednesday in the House of Commons asking lawmakers to recognize that right, but confronted a single, critical "nay" from a lone member of Parliament.

Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould scuppered the unanimity required for a motion tabled without official notice.

In a Twitter post minutes later, she said political partisanship and "pandering" have led lawmakers "to abandon core legal norms" and debate on constitutional issues.

As a "proud (First Nations) woman I'm always ready 2 discuss Nationhood & language," she wrote, calling the parties' deference to the Bloc "dismaying."

Blanchet's motion sought to clear a path for House recognition of Premier François Legault's move to amend the country's supreme law by affirming Quebec as a nation with French as its official language.

The legislation, known as Bill 96, has stirred up debate as experts fret that constitutional acknowledgment of a distinct society would push courts to interpret laws differently in Quebec or hand it greater provincial power.

Experts say constitutional tweaks require approval from the House of Commons and Senate, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said an initial Justice Department analysis concluded the province can go ahead with the changes.

Despite Wednesday's hiccup, Blanchet said he still believes a vast majority of parliamentarians support the motion.

“We must not always say that somebody who does not agree with one or another does so only on a partisan basis," Blanchet said in response to Wilson-Raybould's comment.

“Protecting French and promoting French and acknowledging the fact that Quebec is a nation is something healthy for everybody.”

The motion looked to both pave the way for a parliamentary thumbs-up and suggest such approval was not required. The wording called on legislators to "take note of Quebec's desire" to inscribe its status as a French-language nation in the Constitution.

"I am not asking permission from anyone," Blanchet said in French.

He plans to retable the motion for debate and a recorded vote on the Bloc's next opposition day. It has one left before the House rises for summer on June 23.

Earlier on Wednesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Quebec's proposed changes to the Constitution are purely "symbolic" and will not impact Canadians outside the province, calling the modifications "important" but uncontroversial.

In the House, Trudeau cited former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's motion in 2006 recognizing that Quebecers form a nation within a united Canada, "and that remains our position" — though more than a dozen Liberals voted against the motion 15 years ago.

The reform bill comes at a particularly sensitive time for fraught issues like cultural identity in Quebec, a key battleground for all five parties ahead of a possible election this year.

Federalist leaders remain wary of alienating French speakers, who make up roughly 80 per cent of Quebec's population, while Blanchet aims to tap into French-Canadian nationalism to bolster his third-place standing in the Commons.

On top of its constitutional provisions, Bill 96 includes tougher sign laws and stronger language requirements for businesses, such as those in federally regulated industries, as well as for governments and schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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