Quebec’s Law 99: Don’t wait up

The court battle over Quebec’s future goes into extra innings

A small update.

I’ve been thinking about Quebec politics today, so I sent an email to Brent Tyler, the lawyer who is challenging Quebec’s Law 99 in court and has been for nearly 14 years. You may recall that last autumn, I caused a few days’ uproar in Quebec City by noting that federal Justice Department lawyers are preparing to intervene legally in the challenge. This matters (if it does) because Lucien Bouchard once called Law 99 “more than simple law; it is more like a charter of political rights for the people of Quebec.” Law 99 was Bouchard’s rebuttal to Jean Chrétien’s Clarity Act, and it is a portentous thing indeed: “The Québec people is the holder of rights that are universally recognized,” it says, and “The Québec State derives its legitimacy from the will of the people,” and “No other parliament or government may reduce the powers, authority, sovereignty or legitimacy of the National Assembly.”

It’s a period piece, I suppose. You kind of had to be there.

Anyway, a bunch of hardcore Montreal federalists led by Keith Henderson, former leader of the now-defunct Equality Party, with Tyler as counsel, set to work trying to get Law 99 struck down, on the theory that “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin” does not actually constitute sound law. They led a lonely struggle for much more than a decade, until last October, when the feds announced that they had had enough of the Quebec government lawyers’ odd attempts to defend the law, and would enter the trial to make arguments rebutting the Quebec government’s argument. This led to a hasty news conference by Quebec’s intergovernmental-affairs minister, whose name escapes, and to some blog posts by his illustrious predecessor, arguing that the feds have no right to attack a Quebec law which states that the feds have no right to attack Quebec laws. This is turning into a long story with limited payoff, it’s only fair to warn you. The PQ and its alumni club saw in the federal Justice Department’s move an indication of a nefarious Plan B which Harper had inherited from Chrétien and Stéphane Dion. Sabres were rattled.

Anyway, if anyone is still reading this, you must be wondering what happens next. I sure was. Maybe a coup d’éclat (that’s French for something exciting) during the current high-stakes election campaign? I emailed Tyler. He wrote back: “A 7 day trial has been scheduled beginning on September 14, 2016. The date is not a typo.”

This matches the pace of this case until now. Readers are free to speculate on whether Stephen Harper will still be prime minister long enough to see Stephen Harper’s nefarious plan to its conclusion. Apart from that, well, as you were.