By: Emerson Vandenberg

In a move that has surprised many Canadian politicians, Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the NDP, has proposed changes to the 1999 Clarity Act that will potentially make it easier for Quebec to secede.

The original bill was spearheaded by Stéphane Dion in the late 1990s, with the intent to give a clearer picture of separatist ambitions within Canada. Among its principal policies, the Clarity Act gave local MPs the power to judge whether a clear majority of Quebecers actually wanted to separate, raising the bar above fifty per cent plus one to some unknown threshold. Mulcair, having picked up the separatist mantel, has vowed to try and revert the approval bar back to this original base majority.

Among the act’s various prognosticating policies, it has further demanded that separatists pose a clearly worded question to voters. According to the National Post, the 1980 Quebec referendum question was 114 words in length, with vague and romanced rhetoric. The 1995 poll was shortened to thirty-six words, but still contained confusing vagaries. The Post went on to compare these antics with Scotland’s upcoming 2014 referendum question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

According to U of T Politics Professor David Cameron, who specializes in Quebec nationalism, the NDP’s decision to champion the separatist agenda is because Mulcair “does not want to be outflanked on the nationalist front… he believes he can consolidate his position if he can make some changes along the lines he has proposed.”

Cameron went on to question whether this change would actually make it easier to secede because “if Quebecers knew that the bar was that low, it would affect their voting behaviour, driving the uncertain and the hesitant into the ‘no’ camp, for fear of inadvertently putting the ‘yes’ side over the top.”

Conversely, keeping the bar high would consolidate the ‘yes’ camp, ensuring any mildly nationalist voters got out to the polls to support their cause.

The Premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, has ambitions of a similar nature to Mulcair’s. Marois was in Scotland this past week, where she met with nationalists who will soon seek a referendum decision on whether to secede from Great Britain. Cameron, in assessment of the interest Marois may have in Mulcair’s politics, stated that “anything that stirs conflict between French and English [parts of Canada] is good from Marois’ point of view.”

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