Before the year ends, we owe both our premier and Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan, a debt of gratitude for forcing us to examine what this country is all about politically and constitutionally. There is today a notion that very little binds our provinces together as a country except the agreement that we are better off together than apart. Clearly, the Quebec government will go along with that sentiment.
Well, what are we? Ever since the agreement between the Province of Canada (Upper and Lower), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to join together in political union with a senior political body located in a remote lumber town called Ottawa, we have referred to ourselves as a Confederation. That definition no longer applies.
In contemporary political theory, a ‘Confederation' means an association of sovereign states. Presently, Canada fits under the definition of a ‘Federation’— a political union of partially self-governing provinces, states and regions under a central federal government. Under this definition, we have a political system similar to other geographically large multi-ethnic countries such as USA, India and Brazil. This is distinct from France which has been a Unitary State for centuries.
The closest we come to a statement of intent and commitment by and for all our citizens is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This has supplanted the British North American Act of 1867 which limited itself to the distribution of powers between the federal Parliament and the provinces. The Charter is now the supreme law in Canada and gives the Supreme Court of Canada power to protect people and companies from unacceptable actions of federal and provincial governments and their agencies. No other law can violate the Charter Rights — except, of course, those rights which can be excluded under Section 33 Notwithstanding Clause.
The issue then is what rights can be violated by invoking this clause. Quebec has recently enacted legislation which strips the Çharter’s language rights protection of its English speaking citizens. This action is in direct contravention of the Charter as the Charter specifically excludes language rights sections 16 to 23 from the application of the Notwithstanding Clause.
When the Charter was adopted, Prime Minster Pierre Elliott Trudeau envisioned Canada as a multinational federal state. In his view ‘a nation is the guardian of certain very positive qualities; a cultural heritage, common heritages, a community awareness and historical continuity. (A province) did not need absolute sovereignty to cultivate its national character’ He opposed a Quebec nationalism that sought political sovereignty.
Notwithstanding that conceptualization, the limits of Quebec sovereignty remain an issue that our present federal government has allowed to fester despite two House of Commons motions recognizing that ‘the Quebecois form a nation within a united Canada’. It is a portion of Quebec citizens (the descendants of Les Filles Du Roy) that was recognized as a nation, not the province.
And so we come to the future of Canada. If the fundamental rights of Canadians become ultimately subject to individual Provincial governments’ laws and regulations, we will no longer be a country. Rather we will revert to being a Confederation — a rather loose Common Market Alliance.
That might suit the political ambitions of Premiers’ Legault, Moe and Smith. But is this what Canadians lying in Flanders’ Fields gave their lives for?