Motion on Quebec nationhood, constitutional change gets green light from MPs

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet holds a press conference on Parliament Hill amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Federal lawmakers are acknowledging Quebec’s right to unilaterally change the Constitution in line with proposed reforms to the province’s language law.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, a motion from Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet that asked lawmakers to recognize that right passed 281-2 with all-party support.

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

READ MORE: Bloc Québécois tables motion on Quebec nationhood, constitutional change again

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.

Blanchet said Tuesday Quebecers need to know where the parties stand ahead of an election that could come this year.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said an initial Justice Department analysis concluded the province can go ahead with the changes, but some experts disagree, saying constitutional tweaks to language use require a parliamentary green light.

Click to play video: 'English-rights group QCGN sounds the alarm over Quebec’s Bill 96'
English-rights group QCGN sounds the alarm over Quebec’s Bill 96

Anthony Housefather, Liberal MP for Mount Royal in Montreal, said Tuesday that passage of Blanchet’s motion does not amount to an agreement by the House to a constitutional amendment, which would require legislation, public consultation and extensive debate.

The Bloc failed to pass a nearly identical motion three weeks ago, which required unanimous consent and was scuppered by a single “nay” from independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, who also opposed this week’s motion along with Independent MP Derek Sloan.

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