Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demonstrated the right reflexes when asked on Thursday about Quebec’s desire to reopen the Constitution. “We are not reopening the Constitution,” he said.
We will grant that it wasn’t the most polite response. After all, it was only afterward that Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard released a 200-page document, entitled “Being Québécois: It’s our way of being Canadians,” that he hopes will resurface the “taboo” subject of constitutional negotiations in a kinder, gentler way.
He insists that there is no ultimatum involved, or even a schedule. And the document shows a real openness to diversity, while reinforcing Quebec’s French fact. “It seems to me that the least [Mr. Trudeau] could do is read the document,” Mr. Couillard said.
Ottawa will no doubt read it. It has no choice, ultimatum or not. But Mr. Couillard is being disingenuous about where it will all lead.
He himself says the “ultimate goal” is to get the provincial government’s signature on the Constitution. And his document makes the same demands that Quebec made in 1986: recognition as a distinct society, limits on federal spending power, guaranteed representation on the Supreme Court, a constitutional veto and increased control over immigration.
In other words, everything is on the table. We know what that means: Once the Constitution is opened up, the other provinces and Indigenous leaders will want to have a peek inside, too. On Thursday, Brad Wall of Saskatchewan was the first ROC premier to say that, if Quebec wants to renegotiate the constitution, his province has its own demands.
The opportunity to relive Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord is not welcome at all. And, in practical terms regarding Quebec, completely unnecessary. Quebec has three legislated seats on the Supreme Court, and more control over immigration than any other province. Separation is at a record low ebb. If not exactly thrilled about it, Quebec has grown comfortable being distinct without having it set in constitutional stone.
And in any case, there is no need to negotiate Quebec “back in” to the Constitution, since it is not currently “out.”
There was no good reason to open this can of worms. It could be too late, though. Mr. Couillard has revived a lingering Quebec grievance. Ignoring it may well only make it more sharply felt. Here we go again?