What Is Quebecs Influence Over Canadian Politics Politics
Quebec's regional power and obvious ability to influence Canada's national agenda have always been existent in Canadian politics. This power has been demonstrated in numerous instances throughout the history of Canada's Constitutional Reform and continues to impact the nation today. However, Quebec's political power has transformed over time and now faces new opposing regional power of the West. The West has evolved into a threat of Quebec's regional power due to its goals and national agenda as the population increases, economy expands and western alienation comes to an end.
Regional Power is a state that has power within a geographic region. This state has power over political issues and national identity. In this case, Regional Power refers to a province that has political power within Canada. This province is then able to impact the State's National Agenda. The National Agenda is the government's plans and goals for said nation including the most important items up for discussion and in need of political attention.
Canada was once a province divided into two regions, Ontario and Quebec, so that each linguistic group (the English and the French) may have its own region. The differences in language and culture have bestowed a barrier between Quebec and the rest of Canada through-out history and remain a current and constant issue in Canadian Politics. In the early 1960s Québec began its campaigning to separate from Canada and establish a French-speaking nation during the Quiet Revolution. French and English were both declared the official languages of Canada in 1969 and French became the official language of Québec in 1974 (Morin, 1976).
In 1976 a party pledged to Québec separatism won the 1976 provincial election and passed numerous measures to forward the movement. The charter imposed French as the language of businesses, judiciary manners, government policies, and public establishments and organizations.
Despite power being retained by the separatist party, Québec voters rejected a referendum to establish the province as an independent and sovereign country in 1980. The Québec government did not sign the 1982 constitution, which included a provision for freedom of language in education, and unsuccessfully sought a veto over constitutional change. In 1984 the Supreme Court ruled against Québec's schooling restrictions.
In 1985 Québec proposed "Québec's Five Conditions" in which it would sign the Constitution. They included; recognition as a distinct society within Canada, increased jurisdiction over immigration, participation in Supreme Court appointment, veto on constitutional amendments, and opting out, with compensation, from shared-cost programs (Thomlinson, 2010).
In 1987-1990 the Meech Lake accord recognized Québec as a "distinct society" and provided a division of new powers to each of the provinces. Québec guaranteed that it would acknowledge and accept the 1982 Constitution if the Meech Lake accord was accepted by all of the provinces. The House of Commons approved the Meech Lake accord on June 22, 1988, but the accord died on June 23, 1990, after Newfoundland and Manitoba withheld their support. The Québec Premier, Robert Bourassa, refused to attend future constitutional conferences and would only negotiate bilaterally with Ottawa (Thomlinson, 2010).
The "Canada Round" Charlottetown Accord was a new set of constitutional proposals thought-out by a parliamentary committee and agreed upon in 1992. It called for a division of powers, an elected Senate reform, shared cost programs, and recognition of Québec as a distinct society. The Charlottetown Accord was not passed during the referendum.
Shortly after, secession from Canada was just narrowly rejected by Québec voters in a 1995 referendum with a margin of just 1.2%. Extra-constitutional initiatives were formed by Jean Chrétien through-out 1995-1996 including; distinct society, constitutional veto and decentralization (Young, 1999)
The Calgary declaration was an agreement made in 1997 between most premiers in Canada concerning how to handle future amendments of the constitution following the constitutional debate and the collapse of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. The framework of the declaration is that all provinces are equal in rights and status and "If any future constitutional amendment confers powers on one province, these powers must be available to all provinces" (Thomlinson, 2010). Consequentially, all provinces except Québec signed the Calgary declaration. This was just the beginning of the rise of the West.
The Calgary declaration was followed by the Clarity Act (1999-2000), a legislation passed by parliament which recognized the circumstances under which the Government would penetrate negotiations that may be followed by secession after such a vote by one of the provinces. In order to lead to separation negotiations, province with a referendum on independence would have to clearly frame its question to voters and the result would have to be a "clear majority" in favour (Canada, 2010).
The Québec Rights & Prerogatives Act was adopted in 2000 to make certain that Quebec's political fate could result only from decisions made by Québec residents, even if absent a referendum. However, the constitutional legality and authenticity of both the Clarity Act and the Québec Rights & Prerogatives Act has been contemplated in regards to the Constitution Act 1867's distribution of legislative powers between the provincial and federal government (The Gazette News Paper , September 1, 2007).
Back in 1896 Quebec held 30 per cent of the population of Canada and Sir Wilfrid Laurier began a century of liberal dominance and Quebec's obvious regional power. The west of Canada as a whole made up less than 10 % of the population. In 1980 Quebec held nearly as many people as the four western provinces combined and held half of seats in Pierre Trudeau's majority government. In 2006 the collective population of Alberta and British Columbia had risen above Quebec's but the west still had 11 fewer seats. The west once contained have-not provinces but it is apparent that today all four provinces have growing populations, faster than the national average. Statistics Canada predicts that by 2031 the West will have virtually one third of the population of Canada; and Quebec, one the other hand, as little as 20 per cent (Wells & Coyne, January 20, 2010). Today Quebec remains the second most populated province in Canada, next to Ontario.
For the most part Quebecers believe that they have the right to negotiate constitutional change directly with the Federal government and claim veto over any proposed amendment that does not meet Quebec's needs. The Supreme Court and the remaining provinces reject this claim and refuse to believe that Quebec deserves special status. However, "given that parliamentary institutions are designed to be highly responsive to the majority, Ottawa would naturally follow the wishes of the English majority" so the Quiet Revolution "led the demand for a transfer of powers from Ottawa to Quebec city, a demand that has dominated Quebec politics and shaped the national institutional landscape ever since" (Ellis & Maclvor, 2008 ). This has been one of Quebec's primary influences and methods used to reach political goals. Today, judges from Quebec must occupy three of the nine positions on the Supreme Court of Canada to ensure that at least three judges have adequate experience with the civil law system to deal with cases concerning Quebec laws and provide representation of Quebec.
Nevertheless it is more probable to view the West as a unified entity than ever in the past. The Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement between Alberta and British Columbia will soon extend into Saskatchewan and include this province; a province with a per capita GDP that now exceeds Ontario's and whose economic and political culture, "more and more resembles Alberta's" (Wells & Coyne, January 20, 2010).
This growing population may suggest that Canada is shifting west leading to the possible decline of the liberals. A supporting case may be that during the entire century from Laurier to Chretien, it was uncommon for a party to win a majority without the support of Quebec. In the future one may predict that this may hold true to the West. However, this may be a correlation between the rise of the West and the decline of the Liberals rather than a direct relationship. Liberalism since Pierre Trudeau has meant a several things "a very urban perspective on social issues, a belief that a strong federal government is synonymous with the vigorous defence of the national interest... the Chrétien decade, based on a divided and perfectly conquered opposition in Ontario, masked the longer-term divergence between the way Liberals conceive the country and the way the West does" (Wells & Coyne, January 20, 2010).
Perhaps Quebec has achieved such an impact in Canada's national politics and excessive regional power due to the fact that Quebec's politicians are able to provide one voice and ideology to the rest of the country based cultural unity. The West may be too diverse too dominate the national agenda without a strong idea and basis of what that agenda ought to be and concern that it would further decentralization.
The West has however furthered a long-term goal of Conservative according to Maclean's magazine that stated, "In 10 elections since 1979, the West has only once given the conservative parties, singly or combined, less than 48 per cent of the popular vote; they have averaged more than 50 per cent. That dominance has only become more pronounced of late: in 2008, the Conservatives took 75 per cent of the seats west of Ontario and 52.5 per cent of the vote" (Wells & Coyne, January 20, 2010). Up until this present day the western block has not been adequate enough to determine the government of Canada, but as the Western population, wealth and its regional power grow, it just may. This is the end of western alienation as the "have" provinces of the West begin to dominate Canadian politics. If this Western domination takes place, perhaps the national agenda may include issues regarding Aboriginal matters as opposed to the issues of the French, and a new approach to equalization payments.
It is clear that regional power and influence may potentially shift in Canada based on population, provincial wealth, and changing political issues. Quebec maintains regional power, alongside Ontario, through legislature and its founding French culture in Canada as it is recognised as a distinct society within Canada. Although Quebec has proven its regional power to the neighbouring Ottawa, the West is on the rise and may have a national agenda of its own. The Clarity Act has put limits on Quebec's further motions or hopes for referendum so some may argue its power is diminishing due to its lack of ability to impose that threat upon Canada. Quebec's political power has transformed over time and now faces new opposing regional power of the West. The West has evolved into a threat of Quebec's regional power due to its goals and national agenda as the population increases, economy expands and western alienation comes to an end. With the rise of the West, Quebec now has competition for power on the national agenda and future of Canadian politics.
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