Quebec plans to reopen constitutional debate, launch coast to coast discussion

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Quebec wants to reopen constitutional debate
WATCH ABOVE: The Quebec government says it plans to reopen the constitutional debate and will launch a vast coast-to-coast discussion in the coming months. Global's Raquel Fletcher reports – Jun 1, 2017

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is calling on the prime minister to read his plan on eventually launching new constitutional talks before closing the door on the matter.

Speaking at the provincial legislature, Couillard said the plan is to reach out beyond the government in Ottawa and talk to citizens across the provinces and territories.

READ MORE: Premier Philippe Couillard wants Quebec to sign Constitution

The consultations would be done with an eye to creating favourable conditions that could lead to the eventual reopening of constitutional negotiations and to Quebec finally approving the 1982 Constitution.

Couillard says what he is proposing is a process of resuming dialogue and understanding between the peoples who formed this country.

But Prime Minister Trudeau threw cold water on the Quebec government’s plan to reopen the constitutional debate Thursday even before Couillard could formally present it.

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WATCH: Could this reopen old wounds? David Akins reports.  
Click to play video: 'Quebec wants to reopen Constitution talks'
Quebec wants to reopen Constitution talks

Responding to a Canadian Press report that Quebec is embarking on a broad national discussion in the coming months in the hopes of having the province’s distinct character officially recognized, Trudeau dismissed it as a non-starter.

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The Canadian Press obtained a copy of Couillard’s thinking on Quebec’s place within Canada, a 200-page founding document entitled, “Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadians.”

When he became leader of the Quebec Liberals in 2013, Couillard — a staunch federalist — promised to reopen constitutional “discussions” with Canada in order to help the province “reintegrate into the Canadian family.”

READ MORE: Quebec asks Ottawa for Constitution documents

Above all, Quebec hopes to break the taboo that has surrounded discussion of the Constitution since the 1995 sovereignty referendum, according to the document, which notes “Quebec and Canada seem ready for a paradigm shift” on this subject.

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According to the document, which is being released in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, any successful talks must include Canada’s official recognition of Quebec nationhood.

The document states the famous “five conditions” for approval first set out by former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa in 1986: recognition of Quebec as a distinct society, limits on federal spending power, guaranteed Quebec representation on the Supreme Court, a constitutional veto right and increased control over immigration.

“While the political and constitutional context has changed since (the conditions were written), they remain a concrete illustration of the constitutional guarantees which must flow from an adequate recognition of the Quebec nation,” Couillard says, some 30 years later.

But while the demands may be similar to those of previous governments, the approach is expected to be radically different.

The current government hopes to avoid the power struggles that characterized previous decades of Quebec-Ottawa relations by rediscovering the spirit of openness that prevailed between the two founding groups at Confederation, according to the document.

“We must work to re-establish what Quebecers have always wanted since 1867: a Canada that accepts them for who they are,” reads one passage from the text, which was prepared by several people under the supervision of Jean-Marc Fournier, the minister responsible for Canadian relations.

READ MORE: Quebec parties ask for Constitution archives

The coming discussions could also include the demands of First Nations as well as other topics.

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The government will promote asymmetrical federalism as well as “interculturalism,” Quebec’s alternative to multiculturalism which proposes celebrating diversity while maintaining a distinct francophone culture.

While the dialogue could eventually lead to a new round of constitutional negotiation, that is viewed as an end goal rather than a point of departure.

“The Quebec government is still determined that its demands may be eventually discussed and that we arrive at a win-win constitutional solution for all federal partners,” reads the document.

To reach its aims, the Couillard government plans to build a “sustained presence” in the rest of Canada by participating in discussions with political groups, universities, business and social groups and by increasing its presence in both traditional and social media.

As a sign of the coming changes, the government is expected to make some structural changes and create Quebec-Canada units in some departments to ensure they participate in as many activities as possible in the rest of Canada.


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