Bloc Québécois fails to pass motion on Quebec nationhood, constitutional change

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet holds a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Bloc Québécois failed to unanimously pass a motion recognizing Quebec’s right to unilaterally change the Constitution in line with proposed reforms to the province’s language law.

Leader Yves-François Blanchet tabled a motion Wednesday in the House of Commons asking lawmakers to recognize that right, but confronted a single, critical “nay” from a lone member of Parliament.

Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould scuppered the unanimity required for a motion tabled without official notice.

In a Twitter post minutes later, she said political partisanship and “pandering” have led lawmakers “to abandon core legal norms” and debate on constitutional issues.

As a “proud (First Nations) woman I’m always ready 2 discuss Nationhood & language,” she wrote, calling the parties’ deference to the Bloc “dismaying.”

Blanchet’s motion sought to clear a path for House recognition of Premier François Legault’s move to amend the country’s supreme law by affirming Quebec as a nation with French as its official language.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Business community concerned about Quebec’s language reform bill

The legislation, known as Bill 96, has stirred up debate as experts fret that constitutional acknowledgment of a distinct society would push courts to interpret laws differently in Quebec or hand it greater provincial power.

Experts say constitutional tweaks require approval from the House of Commons and Senate, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said an initial Justice Department analysis concluded the province can go ahead with the changes.

Read more: Quebec tables sweeping bill to reinforce and protect French language

Despite Wednesday’s hiccup, Blanchet said he still believes a vast majority of parliamentarians support the motion.

“We must not always say that somebody who does not agree with one or another does so only on a partisan basis,” Blanchet said in response to Wilson-Raybould’s comment.

“Protecting French and promoting French and acknowledging the fact that Quebec is a nation is something healthy for everybody.”

The motion looked to both pave the way for a parliamentary thumbs-up and suggest such approval was not required. The wording called on legislators to “take note of Quebec’s desire” to inscribe its status as a French-language nation in the Constitution.

Story continues below advertisement

“I am not asking permission from anyone,” Blanchet said in French.

Click to play video: 'Quebec can unilaterally modify part of the Canadian Constitution, Trudeau says' Quebec can unilaterally modify part of the Canadian Constitution, Trudeau says
Quebec can unilaterally modify part of the Canadian Constitution, Trudeau says – May 18, 2021

He plans to retable the motion for debate and a recorded vote on the Bloc’s next opposition day. It has one left before the House rises for summer on June 23.

Earlier on Wednesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Quebec’s proposed changes to the Constitution are purely “symbolic” and will not impact Canadians outside the province, calling the modifications “important” but uncontroversial.

In the House, Trudeau cited former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s motion in 2006 recognizing that Quebecers form a nation within a united Canada, “and that remains our position” — though more than a dozen Liberals voted against the motion 15 years ago.

Read more: Quebec’s push to amend Constitution could impact all Canadians, experts say

Story continues below advertisement

The reform bill comes at a particularly sensitive time for fraught issues like cultural identity in Quebec, a key battleground for all five parties ahead of a possible election this year.

Federalist leaders remain wary of alienating French speakers, who make up roughly 80 per cent of Quebec’s population, while Blanchet aims to tap into French-Canadian nationalism to bolster his third-place standing in the Commons.

On top of its constitutional provisions, Bill 96 includes tougher sign laws and stronger language requirements for businesses, such as those in federally regulated industries, as well as for governments and schools.

Read more: Quebec language reform aims at capping English CEGEP enrolment

Sponsored content