A warning from Canada: don’t let the elite take back control

After the Quebec referendum, Canada’s elite drew up new constraints on democracy.

Michael Scott


For many Canadians, the word referendum still brings back memories of frightening days from 1995, when Quebec held a referendum on independence. We had no idea what was going to happen. In the end, we narrowly avoided a divorce. The ‘Remain’ side won 50.58 to 49.42 – mere decimal points away from catastrophe.

The powers that be wanted to make sure this couldn’t happen again. The fate of the country would no longer be decided by the people, but by the elite. And so a newspeak piece of legislation called the Clarity Act was passed in the Canadian parliament. It gave the House of Commons the power to determine whether or not a clear majority had expressed itself after any future referendum vote – implying some sort of supermajority might be required to overturn the status quo. MPs were given the explicit power to override referendum results, if any tenets of the Clarity Act are violated.

In other words, the House of Commons could simply decide after a vote is held and a decision is delivered that there was an insufficient majority and scuttle the whole thing. There is no clarification of how large a majority would be needed. The only clarity is that it wrestles the power from voters and puts it in the hands of the House of Commons.

Recently, I tuned in to watch the shenanigans in the British parliament. I was particularly taken aback when I heard Scottish MPs trying to cancel Brexit and asking for another Scottish independence referendum. Hypocritical, sure. But I was shocked at their complete lack of foresight.

From a practical point of view, the SNP is laying the very groundwork for any future independence referendum to be thwarted, should it ever succeed. Sure, more people in Scotland voted for Remain than Leave. But should Scotland vote to leave the UK one day, the very same arguments could easily scupper a victory for independence. Surely, the question will be asked: what exactly does independence mean? If any unforeseen financial issues crop up after the vote, the familiar refrain will return: did Scottish people know what they were voting for?

British voters, especially those in Scotland, should be very wary of what might result from a second EU referendum or the cancellation of Brexit. In Canada, the ability of the elite to thwart the results of future referendums was codified in law. Overturning the Brexit vote will set a dangerous precedent for democracy.

While I am a staunch unionist and don’t support Quebec independence, it is not up to me. The people of Quebec should be the ones to decide whether or not they want to be part of Canada. It should not be decided by the thumbs up or thumbs down of the elite after the vote has happened. If Britain follows Canada down this path, then voting in referendums will become a pointless exercise.

Michael Scott is the editor of an upcoming book on Canadian Confederation.

Picture by: Getty.

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Korla Plankton

15th October 2019 at 8:44 pm

Yeah, the clarity act is unclear. But completely upending the status quo with a simple majority is crazy. If 50% +1 people want everything to change, well too bad because tomorrow the result could very well be 50% -1. Drastic changes should require a drastically more clear signal from the electorate.

Chauncey Gardiner

20th October 2019 at 1:35 pm

I agree. There is something to applying super-majority rules to radical proposals.

The US Constitution imposes super-majority requirements on a host of radical proposals. Specifically, a lot of proposals would require amending the Constition. But amending the constitution involves a sequence of super-majority voting (in the Senate) and a super-majority ratification (across the states).

Pedro Dias

14th October 2019 at 9:26 pm

I am ecstatically delighted and disproportionately bewildered with enormous gratification and appreciation for the dispensation of such a tendering and mesmerising information in which the prestidigitation of the concurrent and subsequent matter is thoroughly demonstrated through the nuances alluding to literal and metaphorical context. It is highly imperative to note that, such is the significance of the aforementioned, distortion in any shape or form will result in catastrophic ramifications to which will be the outcome of epic proportions. Thanks for your perusal and God save us from Brexit.

Mister Joshua

14th October 2019 at 7:31 pm

“– mere decimal points away from catastrophe.”

WTF? Seriously?!

What catastrophe? Quebec becomes its own country, and the rest of Canada moves on. How exactly is that a catastrophe?

If that was supposed to mean “catastrophe” from the standpoint of the political elites and the political class then make that clear.

I, like many other Canadians, found nothing even remotely “frightening” about 1995. Many, in not most, of us would have been happy to see Quebec leave as we would no longer have to bankroll this enormous political parasite any longer.

The only “catastrophe” was that the separatists lost. That it was so close made it hurt all that much more.

A Game

19th October 2019 at 5:48 am

M Joshua:
Going from an answer down the page, Qebec wanted sovereignty paid for by Canada. How luxurious.

The idea would be states wanting independence hold their referendum and the rest of the country hold theirs – do we support their independence financially or not? That must be part of the decision.

James Knight

14th October 2019 at 7:18 pm

The SNP clearly believe that Scotland is incapable of self government.

Does anyone think they would be arguing for a 2nd referendum if they had won the first one?

Brian Williams

14th October 2019 at 6:59 am

There seems to be some confusion is this article as the Quebec separation referendum and the Brexit referendum are not even close to being similar. The Clarity Act was written to prevent a province (or provinces) from breaking away from Confederation and potentially destroying the country. Quebec was and still is a very willing participant in Confederation, with the exception of a few hot heads. Compare that to Britain who was dragged into the EU by PM Heath without the consent of British citizens. Secondly, Quebec was pushing for what they called sovereignty-association. Basically they wanted to be a sovereign state, dividing the country physically in half, while using the Canadian dollar and still be supported by the rest of Canada. It was essentially the equivalent of an 18 yr old seeking their “independence” by living in mommy and daddy’s basement while mooching off of them. As such, the Clarity Act was born to prevent Canada from being torn apart by regionalism. Brexit is an act to leave a corrupt, anti-democratic organization that Britain was dragged into, against its will. The UK leaving the EU will not create a physical separation between Britain and Europe that isn’t already there, ie; the English Channel and North Sea. The UK also doesn’t expect to continue sucking on the teat of the EU, in fact it’s the EU that has demanded a “divorce” settlement from the UK. Having said that, what the leftists are doing in Britain is damned inexcusable. Canada’s Clarity Act was an attempt to head-off any future grumblings of separation. What’s happening in Britain is an all-out subversion of democracy because the referendum didn’t go the way the leftists wanted it. They have this messed up mind-set that if they don’t win an election/ referendum/whatever, that something is wrong with the democratic process so they need to “fix” it and change the result. In other words, if you don’t agree with them, then your vote shouldn’t count.

Neil John

14th October 2019 at 12:18 pm

The Quebec and urban Ontario (Toronto) lieberal elites have been quietly distancing their wants and needs from the rest of Canada, the Western Canadian states have suffered massively as a result. And whilst the French-Canadian Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet plays the anti-English speaking card and like a petulant child refuses to answer a legitimate, as decided by a Federal Judge, reporters questions the real division in Canada seems to revolve as here and in the USA around the virtuous rich urbanites versus the rural and poor plebiscite. The warning however should be heeded, as we’ve seen the E.U. are just as manipulative and will probably require similar legislation enacted throughout the E.U., not just within the UK, thus avoiding repeating referenda ad nauseum until the ‘right’ answer is extracted.

A Game

19th October 2019 at 5:53 am

I think your separation of the differences are correct, but definitions rest in the hands of each individual. How many people would disagree with your definition and description of why the UK joining the EU was done so badly? And you know they’d pull something out of their asses… usually with “democracy” front and centre. Or, representative democracy, when it suits them.

I think the article is more about what the petulant dictators like to do to rig the odds in favour of their “right to rule” mentality. That Brexit being the result the establishment emphatically disagree with, the warning is don’t let the muthas start legislating new rules re referendums in future. UK, it might be more along the lines of MPs being protected from their constituents if they act contrary to their election manifestos. You know… something like, 3 chances for every MP before you are allowed to hold it against them. They’d be thinking about it…

Ian Baxter

14th October 2019 at 6:05 am

Why would the rest of Canada not have a say in dismembering their country through Quebec independence? Ditto with Scottish independence where the rest of the UK should be entitled to their view.

Trudi Hauxwell

14th October 2019 at 8:01 am

I agree, and I suspect the ScotNats would get their way if they let the English vote. I’d be quite happy to cut them loose.

Jane 70

14th October 2019 at 12:12 pm

The trouble is Trudi, many of us up here do not want to be cut loose, and left to the mercy of the Nats.

Gareth Edward KING

14th October 2019 at 12:41 pm

Here in Spain it’s a similar situation with Catalonia. This region held an (illegal) referendum in October 2017 with all the resultant repression. Since then it’s been bubbling away with ‘independance’ at c. 39% out of 6.2 million Catalonians. There have been calls for a nation-wide referendum too. The issue itself is wrong-headed but it does need to be dealt with democratically.

Jane 70

14th October 2019 at 4:36 am


This is what we have to endure north of the border: Blackford’s bespoke take on democracy: overturn Brexit and hold yet another independence neverendum.

Throw out the union, abandon the Barnett Formula-presumably- and then go cap in hand to Brussels, while stuck in no man’s land.

Ven Oods

14th October 2019 at 1:44 pm

…while starting a new currency until you can join the Euro.

Jane 70

14th October 2019 at 3:14 pm

Not if I can help it, being a regressive supporter of the union.

Jane 70

14th October 2019 at 3:19 pm

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