While yesterday's press conference by Mike Duffy's lawyer further ensnaring the Prime Minister's Office (beyond the departed Nigel Wright) into the Senate expense drama and Stephen Harper's transparent evasions in question period will dominate today's clips and political chatter, it's obscuring a more serious and concerning issue: an apparent rift in Harper's cabinet over sovereignty.
At issue is Bill 99 which, in essence, was the Quebec government's response to the federal Liberal government's Clarity Act, which sought to lay out the terms under which the federal government would consider a vote on succession by a province. Bill 99 essentially rejected the Clarity act and was challenged in the courts, a process which is just picking up steam now, many years later. For all the background on this, please read this post by Paul Wells.
As Wells notes, the federal government has decided to intervene in this case with its own brief, largely supporting the position of the last Liberal government as expressed in the Clarity Act. However, at least one Quebec member of the Harper government appears offside with this position: Denis Lebel.
Lebel was being asked about a court case over secession rules in which the feds are siding against the Quebec government.
A Montreal radio host repeatedly asked Lebel, who was trying to change the subject, whether as a Quebecer he believed 50 per cent plus one was enough.
Finally, Lebel bit at one point, when he was asked whether he considered 50 per cent plus one "clear" enough: "We've always said we'd leave that to Quebecers but, yes, it is for me," he said.Lebel's comments were quickly disvowed by the Prime Minister's Office, which noted curtly that "the position of the Federal Government is reflected in the factum submitted to the court last week."
Lebel isn't just another member of the Conservative caucus though. If so, while his opinion would be unfortunate, his veering from the government line would be noteable, but not troubling. But Lebel is in cabinet, and is Harper's senior minister for Quebec. As such, he is required to represent the government line in the province, or resign from cabinet. Michael Chong had to take the same step for a less serious transgression than this.
The government cannot be of two positions when it comes to as serious an issue as the unity of the country. Lebel needs to resign from cabinet or Harper needs to fire him. Chong took the honourable path; we'll see what Lebel does.
Perhaps Lebel could join the NDP, as they also have no problem with breaking up Canada on a slim vote of 50 per cent plus one. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers