Quebec’s Bill 99

Quebec’s Bill 99 was passed in the year 2000 by then Premier Lucien Bouchard under the title, “An Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State.” The intention was to repudiate, overrule and annihilate within Quebec the federal Clarity Act, passed that year to set conditions that Quebec must meet before the federal government could agree to enter into negotiations on the secession of Quebec. The Clarity Act gave legal effect to the advisory opinion on secession delivered on August 20, 1998, by the Supreme Court of Canada, in response to a reference from the Government of Canada.

Chairman of The Special Committee, Keith Henderson launched a challenge to Bill 99 in the year 2001. The Attorney General of Quebec immediately presented a Motion to Dismiss which the Courts later rejected. In October 2013, in a landmark decision, the Federal Government intervened in the case, prompting a separatist motion of censure in the Quebec Assembly which all provincial parties approved. Henderson v. Attorney General of Quebec, was heard March 20 - 27th, 2017. Decision expected in August, 2017.

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The Pretensions of Bill 99

The pretensions of Bill 99 were described in the “Explanatory notes” accompanying the text of the bill: “This bill reaffirms the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State. The bill specifies, in particular, that the Québec people has an inalienable right to freely decide the political regime and legal status of Québec, and that the Québec people, acting through its own political institutions, shall determine alone the mode of exercise of that right. In addition, the bill establishes that no other parliament or government may reduce the powers, authority, sovereignty or legitimacy of the National Assembly, or impose constraint on the democratic will of the Québec people to determine its own future.”

Contravening the Supreme Court of Canada

Bill 99 obviously spurns the clear conditions set by the Supreme Court: that secession, to be legal, must be authorized by an amendment to the Constitution of Canada, ratified by both Houses of Parliament and by the provincial legislatures (according to the constitutional and federal principles). The amendment must be preceded by an agreement concluded by those partners of the federation. The agreement must reconcile the rights of Quebec with the rights of minorities, and notably with the special constitutional rights of the First Nations. A unilateral secession, violating these bedrock conditions, would constitute the overthrow of the Constitution.

Bill 99 contains clauses that clearly contravene these conditions. Section 3 states: “The Québec people, acting through its own political institutions, shall determine alone the mode of exercise of its right to choose the political regime and legal status of Québec.” That is unilateralism. Section 4 asserts: “When the Québec people is consulted by way of a referendum under the Referendum Act, the winning option is the option that obtains a majority of the valid votes cast, namely fifty per cent of the valid votes cast plus one.” This flaunts the Court’s requirement of a clear answer to a clear question.

Section 8 makes this misleading claim: “The French language is the official language of Québec.” This obscures the fact that English is also one of Quebec’s two official languages, as established by Section 133 of the British North America Act and confirmed by the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 9 is also misleading: “The territory of Québec and its boundaries cannot be altered except with the consent of the National Assembly.” That statement is true while Quebec remains a province of Canada. But that guarantee does not apply to the boundaries of a seceding Quebec, as the Supreme Court suggested in two crucial sentences of its decision:  “Nobody seriously suggests that our national existence, seamless in so many aspects, could be effortlessly separated along what are now the provincial boundaries of Quebec. …Under the Constitution, secession requires that an amendment be negotiated.”

Why Bill 99 Must be Overturned

Bill 99  threatens the national unity and the peace, order and good government of Canada, and not only in the event that a Quebec government should eventually hold a referendum on secession, as continues to be the foremost aim of the Parti Québécois. No, it erodes the unity of Canada every day, by maintaining the Québécois in the unfounded illusion that they have a right to secede from Canada subject only to one condition – that they gain one vote more than 50 per cent, in a referendum conducted unilaterally by a Quebec government that sets the timing, the question, the rules, and the interpretation of the result. That illusion keeps the separatist movement alive, motivated and threatening. It feeds the hope and the passion of the separatists by making the attainment of independence seem easy, simple, cost-free.

That unqualified assumption is subversive and reckless. But, with Bill 99’s reassurance that independence is in easy reach, hinging solely on the outcome of a single referendum on a single day, the secessionists are incited to conduct a constant campaign of denigration of Canada, in pursuit of that elusive majority vote which almost materialized in the 1995 referendum.
 
The point is that these campaigns to vilify Canada in the minds of the Québécois will now intensify as the new Parti Québécois government strives to create the “winning conditions” for secession. They will press on as long as the illusion thrives in Quebec that a no-cost secession awaits just around the corner, if only enough people can be turned against Canada. The illusion can and must be demystified.