Can Quebec really separate?
With respect to what constitutes a clear expression of will (i.e., what percentage of a Yes vote would be acceptable), the Clarity Act remains deliberately silent. For ultimate flexibility, of course, this determination would be left to the House of Commons, with the assistance of provincial governments, the Senate and Canadians themselves, if need be. Any referendum question, then, would have to first have the endorsement of Parliament.
What it does say in bold type is that the Canadian government will refuse to negotiate the dismantling of this country unless the House of Commons determines “that there has been a clear expression of a will by a clear majority of the population of that province that the province cease to be part of Canada.”
Whatever the election result is on Sept. 4, Canada now has in place very clear guidelines setting parameters around which the next referendum — if it does come — will have to be fought. Indeed, Ottawa sees the Clarity Act as tantamount to game, set, and match. By securing a veritable constitutional checkmate, the law has effectively boxed the separatists in and placed the referendum issue in a semi-permanent deep freeze.