The World Today for February 09, 2023


Rumbles in the Household


French-speaking Canadians concentrated in the province of Quebec have long sought more autonomy from the central government in Ottawa and the rest of the mainly English-speaking North American country – to the point of wanting to secede from the union and create a new, independent nation.

But few people outside of Canada might know that conservative populist movements that flirt with independence are also strong in Canada’s central-western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, wrote Queens University law professor Bruce Pardy in a Financial Post op-ed.

Now Canada’s liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing legal fights with these rivals that could determine the future of the country.

Quebec’s Premier François Legault, for example, is now evoking the infamous “notwithstanding clause” of the Canadian constitution in order to enact a law, called Bill 21, that would prohibit some public servants from wearing religious garments or symbols – like a hijab or a crucifix – at work. Critics include the Catholic Church. Others say the proposal erases the province’s heritage, or even call it xenophobic, citing Islamophobia in particular, the Montreal Gazette noted.

As the Canadian Press explained, the notwithstanding clause allows federal and provincial lawmakers to overrule parts of the constitution. It’s not used often. The framers saw the clause as a way for elected officials to annul overactive judges, explained University of New Brunswick law professor Kerri Anne Froc and University of Ottawa professor of law Carissima Mathen in the Conversation.

But when officials cite it, they tend to stir controversy. Last year, for example, Ontarian Premier Doug Ford used the clause to overrule provincial teachers’ rights under the constitution to collective bargaining, preventing them from going on strike, for instance, the Economist wrote.

Trudeau is expected to argue against the use of the notwithstanding clause when the country’s Supreme Court hears arguments over Bill 21. Legault has blasted Trudeau, saying the prime minister is trying to undermine the fundamental rights of “Quebec’s democracy and people,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Meanwhile, Albertan Premier Danielle Smith is pursuing the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act. Its proponents claim they wrote the act so it wouldn’t flout the Canadian constitution even though it appears designed to cause a constitutional crisis in the country, argued Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne. The act would allow the province to cherry-pick which federal rules apply there.

Even one of the act’s designers, University of Calgary political scientist Barry Cooper has written that “the whole point” of the act is to force a revision of the Canadian Constitution.

Similarly, lawmakers in Saskatchewan are drafting the Saskatchewan First Act with the goal of making sure that they, and not federal officials, have the final say on their province’s oil and other natural resources, reported Global News.

Trudeau looks like he might have his work cut out for him getting the members of his household to stay together and play nice.

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