Quebec shouldn’t seek ‘sovereignty by the back door,’ says Julius Grey

Is disturbed neither National Assembly opposition nor Ottawa have questioned Bill 96

In Bill 96: The perils of ‘pensee unique’ published in the Toronto-based Lawyer’s Daily on May 26 this year, Montreal constitutional lawyer Julius Grey wrote that “Those who consider the proposed Quebec constitutional amendment to be purely declaratory with no effect are confusing the content of the amendment with its insertion into the Constitution.”

Pensée unique?

Perhaps not everyone is familiar with the term pensée unique. When Grey uses it, he is, according to an online encyclopedia, referring to a disparaging expression for mainstream ideological conformism, which is invariably opposed to the views of a dissenting individual.

The expression apparently was popularized by French editor and journalist Jean-François Kahn in the early 1990s, perhaps as he was trying to describe what his English-speaking counterparts had come to refer to as “political correctness.” This, in turn might be understood as a very narrow state of mind that dominates all of an individual’s or a society’s thoughts and actions.

No one questions Bill 96

In his piece, Grey maintains that “we have become a society of pensée unique on controversial questions,” as illustrated by some of the pieces of legislation tabled in the National Assembly lately, and he finds it “disturbing that none of the opposition parties in the National Assembly or the four major federal parties has questioned Bill 96 or even its constitutional change.”

While suggesting that under these conditions some really serious crisis could break out without there being so much as a debate, he said it was to be hoped that Quebec’s and Canada’s judiciary would feel less constrained by “pensée unique,” or political officials’ need to win seats in elections, so that they might “strike down the amendment and declare that the Constitution of Canada continues to apply in its entirety.”

No one disputes ‘nation’

Noting that the House of Commons in Ottawa and the National Assembly in Quebec City both now are in agreement on the idea that Quebec is a “nation” and no one (except perhaps, we might add, a certain English-language school board official) is seriously disputing it, Grey goes on to suggest that Quebec society now does indeed resemble such national states as Denmark or Poland.

‘Bill 96 and its Constitution amendment may well be one of the instalments’ leading towards Quebec sovereignty, says Julius Grey

Although he says one advantage that “nation” status might confer on Quebec is the right of self-determination, he added that “by itself, the recognition of national status adds nothing concrete.” He says that “Support for nationalism is rooted in ‘identity’ not in logic. Whenever ‘national’ concessions are granted they bring no real advantage to those in thrall to nationalism, except perhaps some leaders.”

The Bill 96 instalment

He theorizes that many Quebec sovereignists “now see independence as possible only on the instalment plan,” and that “Bill 96 and its Constitution amendment may well be one of the instalments.”

Finally, while noting that Canada obtained its independence similarly in stages, spaced many decades apart at each stage, he speculates that “if such is the goal of the Quebec government, it should state it frankly and openly and not seek sovereignty by the backdoor. All Canadians of both languages deserve that.”