Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Moment of the Decade: #8 The Clarity Act

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the next two weeks, I'll be counting down the top 10 vote getters.

When I first announced this contest, one of the e-mails I got argued against the inclusion of the Clarity Act on the list. The argument was that the Clarity Act was the conclusion to the national unity crisis that dominated the 90s, and really had little to do with the aughts.

But I think it’s a worthy finalist.

The Clarity Act, along with Jean Charest’s 2003 victory (which would have been my only addition to the Top 10 had I just done this list up myself) took the national unity card off table for much of the decade. Ha ha. OK, it didn’t take the card out of play because, this is Canada, a country where Paul McCartny concerts and the roster of Team Canada become national unity debates. But it did help shift the nature of the debate away from separation – even in the hay day of Adscam, no one really saw separation as a real possibility.

I’d like to think it also showed a tough-love approach vis-à-vis Quebec could work, but the 2004 Health Care Accord, 2006 Tory election platform, and the Nation debate make me question this. Still, these changes didn’t come about because there was a knife at Ottawa’s throat and, in the long run, that's a healthier environment to be having the debate about federalism in.

Still, as far as how it affected the decade, the direct cause-and-effect relationship is a little, shall we say, unclear. So how about this for a more direct link: Stephane Dion’s 2006 leadership win and, par consequence, the coalition crisis, would not have happened if not for the Clarity Act. Because, if not for the Clarity Act, no one would have ever taken Stephane Dion seriously in the 2006 Liberal leadership race. Yeah, I know everyone thought it was cute that his dog was named Kyoto, and that might have still gotten him past Dryden, but sans clarity, he simply doesn’t win.

So maybe Stephen Harper still rides out the decade as Prime Minister and the only thing that changes is that the tag line in the attack ads goes from “Not a Leader” to “Bob Rae: Can we afford him again?”. But I do think the last half of this decade would have looked a lot different without Dion, who for better or worse, left his mark.

The Clarity Act, more so than the other two policies that cracked the top ten (Iraq and SSM), will probably go down as Jean Chretien’s greatest legacy. And, yes, by now, the Conservative commentators are already thinking of just how they will tell me to go shove it in the comments section because, as we all know, Stephen Harper was the real father of the Clarity Act. But, regardless of whose idea it was, it's hard to deny the Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation we've seen over the past 20 years.

Maybe the Clarity Act had little to do with the 00s – maybe it was the conclusion to the national unity crisis that defined Canada throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But if it actually was the conclusion of our long national unity nightmare, well, I’d say that certainly means it’s an event worthy of inclusion in the history books and worthy of inclusion in this list.

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  • It is interesting that this was really the first decade without a separatist scare since the 60s.

    By Anonymous Islander, at 10:09 a.m.  

  • I'm still not convinced the Clarity Act was a key moment for the decade, even if it was key long term.

    Once Charest won (which you mentioned), separatism was off the table.

    Maybe the Act will impact future decades once the PQ get back in, for it didn't change canadian politics at all this decade.

    By Anonymous Sean, at 10:43 a.m.  

  • ".. regardless of whose idea it was, it's hard to deny the Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation we've seen over the past 20 years..."

    AGREE totally.

    And in the same spirit, the attempt to eliminate $1.95 vote subsidy a year ago was/is a potential game-changer.

    Liberals see it as an attack on them. Truth is that it shuts down the Bloq -- the Liberals can always re-invent their game but the Bloq cannot. They are a one-trick pony.

    Why in God's name would/should Canadian taxpayers subsidize a political party bent on destroying Canada. A party that uses its federal funding to subsidize a provincial party bent on withdrawing from Canada any possible way it can.

    Why reward destructive behavior?

    Interested voters should provide the funding of political parties. Period.

    Michael St.Paul's

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:08 a.m.  

  • Michael, the $1.95 a vote subsidy is not the only public subsidy of political parties in Canada. And public subsidies such as these have created a far less tainted political system than what one sees in the U.S., for example.

    As for the Clarity Act, I believe it was an important event not for just the previous decade but for the previous century as well. It took a lot of courage to bring that through Parliament. When it was first table in 1999 Paul Martin for days refused to indicate whether he supported it or not, until polls in Quebec showed Quebecers liked it.

    And finally, the Clarity Act did not end separatist support in Quebec. Just as the quiet revolution was the product of a new generation in Quebec so to is its demise. Those under 40 in Quebec are just as nationalist as their forebearers but do not believe separatism is a required element of being a nationalist. And even those of the new generation who are separatists are less likely to rank it as an important goal (unlike the generation who preceded them who sometimes seemed to think it was the only goal).

    By Blogger Liberal Justice, at 11:51 a.m.  

  • Separatism is far from dead, but at least the Clarity Act ensures that if the mood does increase, the country won't die because of a sham question and dirty tricks.

    By Anonymous LS, at 12:27 p.m.  

  • I think fixing the CPP is Cretien's greatest legacy, even if it is too boring to remember and the media would prefer to give Martin the credit.

    The Americans have been flailing at that one for more than 25 years

    By Anonymous DR, at 2:32 p.m.  

  • "... I think fixing the CPP is Cretien's greatest legacy, even if it is too boring to remember and the media would prefer to give Martin the credit."

    That + not going to Iraq + political party fund raising reform.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:36 p.m.  

  • The cool thing was that in the end, in spite of cold feet from Joe Clark and some Liberal MPs, polls in Quebec showed significant support for the Clarity Act.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:23 a.m.  

  • I believe that the clarity act was the most significant document to come out of the Chretien years. To me it means that when Alberta pulls the plug on confederation we won't be faced with a series of rule changes designed to impede that decision.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:20 a.m.  

  • By Blogger John, at 7:11 a.m.  

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