Bill C-20 also defines in article 3, under what prior conditions the federal government is subject to political obligation to negotiate succession resulting from a referendum that has satisfied the requirements for clarity as defined in articles 1 and 2 of the Act.
Adopted in less than two weeks by the House of Commons, the bill faced tough resistance in the Senate, who debated it for more than three months. Opposition was strong in both ranks of the governing majority, who aimed to recognize in law the principles of the indivisibility of Canada, the right of the Canadian people to reach a decision before negotiations leading to the dismantling of the country could be undertaken, the right of official language minorities to be consulted on the clarity of the question and the majority, the right of Aboriginal peoples to participate in negotiations, and the obligation to obtain prior assent from a majority of provinces.
These amendments were blocked following the Prime Minister's hasty nomination of four new senators to fill vacant seats, and by discrete pressure put on several senators in the government majority.
According to Bill C-20, only the House of Commons has the power to vote on the clarity of the question and the majority; yet the exclusion of the Senate's power to hold a vote on these issues calls into question the principle of the two chamber system entrenched in the Constitution. As to the government's refusal to recognize the right of Aboriginal peoples to participate in negotiations on territorial division - this directly affects ancestral rights and treaty issues that were recognized in the Constitution.
Legal opposition could conclude the bill invalid. Concerned groups, including the Québec Cree, had already expressed their intentions of bringing the debate before the courts.
Although the Québec government had expressed strong and clear opposition to Bill C-20, and had countered with Bill 99 to deny the legal and political impact of the federal bill, public opinion in Québec remained deaf to the rallying calls of the sovereignist forces.
Bill C-20 was rather favourably received across the country. Nevertheless, the federal government preferred to defend the country's integrity by making the conditions of a province's succession especially difficult rather than affirming the unity and indivisibility of Canada through the constitutional route, like several Western democracies.
See also QUÉBEC SUCCESSION REFERENCE (1998).
Links to Other Sites
This site provides a detailed description of the bill, its passage, its objectives and the final version of the Clarity Act. From the Privy Council Office.
Besides hockey and the maple leaf, there is little as symbolically Canadian as the CBC – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It grew out of a developing nation's need to express its identity and find its voice.