50 Percent Plus One Vote Insufficient
50 Percent Plus One Vote Insufficient
Bit by bit some of the hard questions about the Quebec government's secessionist option are forcing their way into the federal election --- but always in a context in which the interests of the Aboriginal people are treated as though they don't really exist.
The latest flare up of this kind is around the statement Monday by Prime minister Jean Chr?tien that a simple 50 per cent plus one vote in favor of separation would be insufficient to break up Canada. Predictably, this has brought out the separatist leaders huffing and puffing about democracy. BQ leader Gilles Ducepppe thundered that this was an assault against Quebec, and added: "What Mr. Chr?tien is saying is clearly undemocratic... the rules are being changed.... it is the end of democracy."
Chr?tien in response said there had been two referendums and the people of Quebec had indicated clearly that they wanted to stay in Canada..."So when they talk about democracy they should start to respect the wishes of the people of Quebec."
Chr?tien has an even more telling argument at hand to expose Duceppe's hypocrisy, but he failed to use it: if the separatists are so wedded to concepts of democracy, how come they have not recognized the 95, 96 and 99 percent votes of the Crees, Inuit and Innu people in Quebec against being forced to secede from Canada? Surely, that is a clinching argument. But Chr?tien shrank from using it probably because to do so would suggest that the federal government, in face of an illegal declaration of Quebec independence, would have to recognize Canada's legal and treaty obligations to the Aboriginal peoples of Quebec.
The separatist leaders have repeated many times that other Canadians can have no say in Quebec's decision, as Lucien Bouchard made clear in 1995:"The Quebec people do not have to ask the permission...of anyone, to decide its own future." Yet as Professor Peter Russell has pointed out,"(Aboriginal peoples) are not nations that can be yanked out of Canada against their will by a provincial majority.... With few exceptions (they)wish to enjoy their right to self-government within Canada, not within a sovereign Quebec." International human rights expert Erica-Irene Daeswarns that to deny the right of self- determination to indigenous peoples"will leave the most marginalized and excluded of all the world's peoples without a legal, peaceful weapon to press for genuine democracy..."
Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees Matthew Coon Come has already dealt with the separatist arguments about the simple majority: "I find it totally hypocritical," he said in 1994, "that Mr. Bouchard and the separatists can say these things, and at the same time deny the democratic rights of all Aboriginal peoples in Quebec to determine their own future."
In this as in so many other issues, the separatists depend on a bewildering range of fallacious arguments, which would be open to public attack if this question of the simple majority were to be thoroughly debated in the election campaign.
Here are some of the reasons put forward by the Grand Council of the Crees for challenging the validity of the simple majority:
- How can it be democratic or legitimate when it denies the self-determination rights of Aboriginal peoples?
- Even if there had been an affirmative vote in the 1995 referendum, most of the important questions would have remained unsettled. No one even yet has any idea of the conditions for separation, and no attempt has been made by Quebec to address the self-determination of Aboriginal peoples.
- Quebec separatists indignantly rejected a pan-Canadian vote on the issue of separation, because they say they will not be bound by any decision except one taken by themselves. "This isn't an approach Quebec would tolerate (for itself), if proposed by Canada," Coon Come has said. "So why should we?"
- Even if most Qu?becers favored it, separation would still require a constitutional amendment demanding the consent of the federal Parliament, the provincial legislatures, and the Aboriginal peoples concerned. The only alternative to such an amendment is an insurrection by Qu?becers, which would be illegal, illegitimate, and would probably have disastrous consequences for all Canadians.
- Unilateral secession based on a simple majority vote is particularly unfair to Aboriginal peoples, and violates their fundamental human rights. Comments Aboriginal lawyer Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond: "...Aboriginal peoples' self-determination rights would be overridden, as (they) may simply be outvoted by larger populations in non-Aboriginal regions of Quebec. This kind of referendum could not be upheld internationally as supporting accession to sovereignty, because of its implications for Aboriginal peoples."
- In the past, a simple majority vote alone has not been considered sufficient justification for secession from a federal State. Secession movements in Nova Scotia in 1868, and Western Australia in 1934, though supported by a clear majority of the citizens, were not allowed to secede because the request did not emanate from the federal government.
- There are many precedents for requiring more than a simple majority. Many democratic countries, including Canada, the United States and Germany, have modified their constitutions in their effort to find balanced compromises between a simple majority and unanimity. Amendments to the Canadian Constitution require, as a general rule, approval of the federal Parliament along with two-thirds of the provincial legislatures. In other cases unanimity is needed. In corporations, issues of particular importance can call for a two-thirds or three-quarters majority vote.
- Even many Quebec jurists who favor secession have admitted that "an incontestable consensus...a clear and strong mandate from the Quebec population" would be required. Different ideas have been put forward to overcome the inadequacies of the simple majority. Some suggest "an absolute majority", that is, a majority of all registered voters, not merely of those who vote. Others suggest that 60 to 65 per cent of affirmative voters should be required, or that a "double majority" be required, that is an overall majority plus a majority vote in different regions in the province.
- There is no set principle or rule dictating that a simple majority vote is sufficient to carry an entity into secession.
- Since Quebec is not oppressed, and enjoys full political freedom and control within Canada, secession on the basis of a simple majority vote would be unprecedented, and not a normal application of the rules of either democracy or international law.
- The recent secessions of Balkan and Baltic states are not a relevant precedent. For one thing, there was overwhelming public support for secession in plebiscites (94 per cent in Croatia, 88.5 per cent in Slovenia, 74 per cent in Macedonia, 99 per cent in Bosnia and 77, 79 and 90 percent of votes cast in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), a far cry from Quebec's proposed 50 per cent plus one vote.