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What does Quebec actually want? Andrew McDougall on the state of the province’s sovereignty movement

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Podcast & Video

This episode of Hub Dialogues features Andrew McDougall, a political science professor at University of Toronto Scarborough, about his new book, Sleeping Dogs: Quebec and the Stabilization of Canadian Federalism after 1995.

You can listen to this episode of Hub Dialogues on Acast, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Spotify. The episodes are generously supported by The Ira Gluskin And Maxine Granovsky Gluskin Charitable Foundation and The Linda Frum & Howard Sokolowski Charitable Foundation.

SEAN SPEER: Welcome to Hub Dialogues. I’m your host, Sean Speer, editor-at-large at The Hub. I’m honoured to be joined today by Andrew McDougall, a professor of politics at University of Toronto Scarborough who studies Canadian Constitutionalism, Federalism, and Quebec nationalism. His latest book, Sleeping Dogs: Quebec and the Stabilization of Canadian Federalism after 1995, aims to understand the factors that stalled the momentum of the Quebec sovereignty movement in the years following the 1995 referendum. I’m grateful to speak with him about those factors, including generational change, the rise of identity politics in Quebec, and even globalization, and how they influenced Quebec’s place in the country, and whether the stabilization he refers to in the book’s title is ultimately durable. Andrew, thanks for joining us at Hub Dialogues, and congratulations on the book.

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Thanks so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

SEAN SPEER: Let’s start with the referendum itself. Remind listeners what factors contributed to the rise of Quebec nationalism in the early 1990s and the nature of the debate during the referendum campaign. What were the main ideas and arguments that animated this fraught period in the modern history of the sovereignty movement?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: So it was a long time ago now, but it’s important to bring yourself back to what was going on in the 1990s to really understand what was happening when the second referendum occurred. The second referendum was really the culmination in a very vigorous sovereignty movement at the time in Quebec that was following on the heels of a number of fundamental changes in Canadian politics that go back really to the 1960s. It was really at that time that you saw a major, major change in Quebec during the “Quiet Revolution”, where you saw this rise of the Quebec identity and real questioning about whether or not Quebec was better inside of the country or perhaps outside of it, maybe with some kind of an agreement.

And at the same time as this was going on, you saw Canada going through what’s usually called the “mega-constitutional era,” that really begins with the patriation of the Constitution through the 1980 to 1982 period including Quebec’s exclusion ultimately from the final settlement in that process.

What happened right before that was, of course, the first referendum where Quebec had voted and voted fairly strongly no to stay in Canada when they were voting on this option. But in the immediate aftermath, there was an attempt to patriate the Constitution and find an agreement that all the provinces could agree with that Quebec, ultimately, found itself excluded from and saw itself as having been essentially ostracized by the rest of the country. And then, throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, you saw a series of attempts to try to get Quebec back in through the Meech Lake Accord that ultimately collapsed—and then with a real spike in sovereigntist sentiment following that—and then the Charlottetown Accord in the early 1990s, which also failed to find any kind of an agreement.

So, by the time you reach the ’95 referendum, this was really a vote on a lot of perceived failure of Canadian federalism in Quebec. It was really playing to the belief of a lot of people that Canada was never going to find a way to bring Quebec into the Constitution. It was time, in the view of a lot of people, to see if they could find some kind of a situation outside of Canada, preferably with an agreement where it would be essentially independent, perhaps with, again, some kind of an agreement. That was really what the vote was on. And although a lot of people in English Canada went into that thinking that it was actually going to be another no, it became very, very clear over the course of the referendum campaign that there was much more support for sovereignty than they thought. The final result was a lot closer than the 1980 vote, within a half a percentage point.

There was a great deal of panic, I think, throughout Canada, that the next third referendum was coming very soon in the wake of that. That something had to be done very quickly, if something could be done at all, to try to convince Quebecers that they should stay in Canada.

SEAN SPEER: In reading the book, I was reminded that the Parti Québécois actually wins another election in 1998. What was the main feeling of the separatist movement in the aftermath of the referendum result? Did its leaders believe that it had missed its shot? Or was there a reason to think it was making incremental progress towards an eventual successful separation vote?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: I think a lot of people were surprised by how close that it was. I think there were a lot of different views on what to do next in both the federalist and the sovereigntist Camp. There was a limit on how many referendums they could hold, though. So, because Jacques Parizeau, who was the premier during the ’95 Quebec referendum, decided to move very early after he won a mandate to hold that referendum, the PQ was constrained for a couple of years on any possibility of holding another one. So there was a necessary delay that was going to be built into that. Now, he left very, very quickly and, of course, was replaced by Lucien Bouchard, who many saw as really being the one who had been the most effective at conveying the sovereigntist message. So, I think there was—a lot of people suspected that the next referendum was going to happen very, very fast, but there was going to have to be a period there. So I think it was a little bit of a free-for-all in terms of what was going to happen next, no matter who you were talking to.

SEAN SPEER: Let me ask the opposite question, Andrew. What was the reaction of the rest of the country, particularly national politicians? How did the close result influence how national politicians thought and talked about federalism in general and Quebec’s place in the country in particular?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: There was a lot of shock. I mean, nearly all the accounts of what was happening at the time relay a picture of a federal government that was caught quite off guard by the sudden surge in support for the yes vote. They did not anticipate that it was going to be close. It was, and they weren’t really sure what to do about it. In the aftermath, there were two real strains that people have described that happened. There was plan A and plan B. Which was, the plan A was basically to try and bolster the Canadian image in Quebec. It was to try to make some legislative concessions on some things that Quebec had asked for in the past, around things like distinct society and so forth, and really try to play up the benefits of the country to Quebecers.

But there was also a Plan B as well, which really had as its focus this idea that one of the reasons why they’d been caught off guard in the view of the federal government was this idea that what they were really voting on was sovereignty association. And that a lot of Quebecers were voting with a belief that there was some kind of an agreement that they were going to come to with the rest of the country that might include things such as the dollar or other things that they might like. That was not really on offer. And there was a sense that—and there was also a lot of discussion on the question about whether or not the question that had been asked was really clear on what the implications here were.

So there were a couple of legislative changes which came in the form of—well, initially, there was a reference case that was sent to the Supreme Court, the reference recession on Quebec, which essentially asked whether or not Quebec had the right to a unilateral declaration of independence and whether or not there was a conflict between Canadian and international law and which would prevail in that event. With the belief that the court would say, “No, Quebec has no right to leave and they couldn’t declare a unilateral declaration of independence.” The court actually didn’t quite give them what they wanted. They said that in the event of a clear question and a clear majority, there was a duty to negotiate. Which was then followed by a Clarity Act that many people thought as being maybe a little bit further than the federal government had to do. But it was their effort to try to say, “Look, in the event there’s a yes vote, there are going to be certain conditions underway that have to be met in our view to vote to recognize that fact.” And of course, Quebec historically has rejected this with its own legislation, saying Quebec can do what it wants. But that was the two tracks that the federal government took to try to get ahead of what they thought might very well be a third referendum happening very soon after.

SEAN SPEER: That’s great, Andrew. That brings us now to the book’s main thesis. Which, of course, is that the referendum ultimately proved to be something of a high watermark for the sovereignty movement. Not only did the movement itself subside, but an introspective focus on issues of constitutionalism, federalism, and even national identity, were themselves subordinated to new and different issues in the coming decades. You outlined several key factors based on your research that have some explanatory power for this outcome, which as we’ve discussed, was not necessarily self-evident in the aftermath of the referendum. I want to unpack these different factors, but before we do, let’s start with a big-picture idea that you put forward called “constitutional abeyance”. What does it mean, and what’s its significance in your telling of the story?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Yes, that’s the theoretical perspective that I take of what the condition of this issue is right now. And it’s not—I can’t take credit for the idea; it comes out of the Anglo-American literature around constitutionalism. But essentially, it refers to a subject where there’s clearly a fundamental disagreement on first principles between different constitutional actors. And to hold it in abeyance is not the same thing as to agree to disagree. Which is what I think some people mistake it to mean. It means that the two parties, for their own reasons, decide not to bring it up at all. Because they know that if they do that, they’re going to create a crisis. And they may otherwise be relatively satisfied with the constitutional arrangements or the way things are going. But they know that if they decide to push into this issue, that it could have explosive consequences and ultimately bring down the whole constitutional house.

And this is essentially where I see the current issue really—and this is the key thing—between Quebec Federalists who disagree. It’s less really with the committed sovereigntists, who are very much still part of the scene and still enjoy a considerable support and would be willing to go. But there are fundamental disagreements between federalists on ideas about Quebec’s place in the country, about what it’s entitled to. And these have never been resolved since 1982. Since the Patriation Agreement. And a lot of the politics of the 1980s was driven by attempting to find common ground on these questions. And what ultimately really came out of that is that they really couldn’t find a satisfactory result. And I think there were a lot of people that felt that just the process of talking about it was driving the crisis.

It was exposing how far apart people were. And that was feeding into the politics of secessionism and nationalism. And one of the lessons that a lot of people, I think, drew from that after 1995, is maybe we shouldn’t tackle the so-called mega-constitutional questions any longer. Now, that doesn’t mean that they’re solved. That just means that the people that are—the Canadian federalists—have decided that this is just not something that they would like to discuss. Because otherwise there are other issues that they can get on with that they can’t agree about. Generally, things are going okay. So maybe let’s just put this aside. And I think that’s generally characterized the position of differing Quebec federalists since the 1995 agreement, or since the ’95 referendum, I should say.

SEAN SPEER: Now, we’ll unpack some of the different specific factors that the book attributes to the diminishment of the sovereignty movement in the years and decades after the referendum. The first one you cite, Andrew, is what you call “constitutional fatigue.” Talk a bit about what you mean by constitutional fatigue. And does it mean that the constitution has become effectively unamendable? And if so, what does that mean for our politics?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Yeah, I mean, I think the book goes through a number of explanations that have been offered over the years and assesses them. And one of the first ones that was proposed for why the secessionist forces had stalled after 1995 was this idea of constitutional fatigue. And the idea here was that people were really just tired of this. They had been fighting this fight really through the ‘70s and the 1980s, and into the 1990s. There was a whole constituency that said, “Look, there’s other issues that we should be focusing on that are more important economic considerations, and so forth.” A lot of people in English Canada were sick of talking about the Quebec question and felt that it was a bit of a distraction from what was going on. And so this got offered up really—you really start seeing it in the early 1990s and really after 1995 as being something that the entire country was suffering from after Meech Lake, after Charlottetown, that really nobody wanted to talk about this.

And the argument was, this is something that was holding back the PQ and the BQ in this project, was that the voters were simply no longer interested for the moment, at least, in talking about this. And now, I think you can see that makes a little bit more sense right after the 1995 referendum. I think it becomes a little more challenging to see now. If you take a look at the polls again, there is strong support. If a referendum were held, there would be a lot of people that would vote yes. So I think becomes a little complicated, more common to say whether or not that’s still something we’re suffering from. But it’s certainly something that I think was present right after the mega-constitutional era. Now, does this mean that the Canadian constitution is amendable?

I don’t think it’s unamendable on some issues which don’t touch on the fundamentals of Quebec’s place in Canada. On things that are more peripheral to that or really have really nothing to do with that, I think you can do that. And obviously, the Constitution goes through amendments, through things like court rulings, and other things like that. But the really big issues that touch on the fundamental Canada-Québec relationship. Things for example, representation in the Senate, or things like that. I think there’s a deep unwillingness to go near the Constitution on these big, big issues because there’s a sense that there is no agreement really to be had and that if you don’t get it right, you’re going to set off another crisis. Basically, you’re going to start spiralling into the politics of the ‘80s and the ‘90s where you’re going to upset the status quo that we have now, where there’s a period of quiescence on the national unity question. And so I think that it is, I think, a little bit of—I think calculations are made by political leaders. It’s a price to be paid on some of these issues. Even though there are things in the Constitution they might like to change or tackle, I think there’s just an unwillingness to go after them because there’s a fear of what might happen next.

SEAN SPEER: In another chapter, you write about what you call “non-constitutional accommodation”. Critics might argue that successive federal governments have, through a combination of decentralized federalism in general and asymmetrical federalism in particular, essentially given the sovereigntists much of what they want except for separation itself. What do you think of that argument, Andrew? And if you agree, what are the trade-offs? Did we get a weaker Quebec sovereignty movement in exchange for a weaker national government?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Well, I’m not sure it was necessarily making concessions so much to either federalists or sovereigntists. I think that’s a little simplistic, actually. I mean, the question of what exactly Quebec wants is a really big question, and it’s one that’s haunted Canadian politics for a very long time. And that can change really quite a bit depending on who’s in power in Quebec and who’s allegedly speaking for Quebec. But to the extent, you really had any answer to that question, it tended to be the things that touched around the Meech Lake Accord, where that did seem to be the one time it almost went through. And if it did, there’s an argument that that might’ve actually settled the question that Quebec would’ve joined the Constitution if had it gone through.

Although that was never formally ratified in the decades after that, we’ve seen some non-constitutional moving in that direction. So, I mean, if you take maybe one of the classic examples, “distinct society” that never made it into the Constitution. But there were legislative recognition of this at the federal level. There was a statement in ‘97 by the premiers, the Calgary Declaration, about the unique character of Quebec and so forth. And then there have been other agreements around things like immigration and other areas of concern that have traditionally been Quebec priorities. You can make an argument that, when you really look over the past couple of decades since the Meech Lake Accord failed or we were trying to find agreement, a lot of this stuff has incrementally moved towards the Quebec position. And that there’s less and less on the table really to fight over.

If you really go back and say, “What is it that Quebec wants or needs for institutional security from the rest of Canada?” To a large degree, some of this has already been answered. Now, it’s not complete enough, for sure. I think everybody would agree Quebec is not ready to sign the Constitution. And that would require going a lot further. But it might take an edge off of some of the politics where you start reviewing what exactly does Quebec need to feel secure. If you start looking at what some of these benchmarks were, there’s been some progress that’s been made. And that might just make some of what’s left on the table a little bit smaller.

SEAN SPEER: You also write about the role of so-called “elite accommodation” as well as generational change. What do you mean by the former? What’s been the strategy, and what have been its consequences, including across generational lines?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Well, in terms of elite accommodation, I mean, one thing that the mega-constitutional era was really known for was these federal-provincial intergovernmental agreements. Executive federalism, as it’s called. This was really where the premiers and the prime minister would get together and hack out some of these things, right? And that was the style that was done from Meech Lake and was widely criticized after that. There was a sense that this was undemocratic and that Canadians had been excluded from it. Certainly, after the failure of Meech Lake there was a sense that if there was ever going to be a mega-constitutional change, it would have to be a referendum. And that’s what we saw in Charlottetown, which, of course, did not go through.

But in terms of now, we’ve certainly seen a little bit less—we saw less of that certainly during the Stephen Harper era, where he had very little interest in talking to the premiers. He felt that they would only really make him look bad if he did. And so he refused to really engage. We’ve seen a move away from that. In terms of the argument about generational change, that’s one of the oldest arguments to explain this. And that goes back really to a Quebec scholar named Bartholomew, who said that the Quebec really, the liberals, but also really the PQ as well, were products of a single generation, that of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. And they really voiced the concerns of that generation. But he predicted that they would be in trouble later as generations came and altered their priorities.

And this has been one of the arguments that have often been pointed to in Quebec as holding back the sovereigntist movement. And you can see some evidence for this. If you think about 1995, one of the hallmarks of it was how young many of the people that were involved, right? You saw a lot of people saying, well there were arguments of well, we should lower the voting age to 16. I mean, these are the people that are really the strong supporters. And it was the generation that came of age of the ‘60s that was very much in the driver’s seat at that point and was really driving the politics. More recently, we’ve seen some tension around whether or not the sovereigntist movement though is really just a reflective of an older generation of past concerns.

The Parti Quebecois, I don’t know if it still is the case now, but at one point the average age of membership was starting to move into the 50s and 60s. Now they may have made some progress on that since then, but—and they’ve also—it has been pointed out by their youth caucus as being something to keep an eye on about whether or not this is really sort of an older person’s game. So this—and the Liberals may be suffering from some of this as well, but because they’re not behind a project quite the same way it’s a little less apparent to people watching from outside of Quebec. But it’s a concern that I think people have pointed to and suggest may very well be one of the reasons why this has declined. Now, there could be an argument, of course, if there was a referendum today, who’s to say how young people would vote, right? That maybe it’s just a function of not having the opportunity to do it. But some of the demographic indicators would seem to suggest that there may be a little bit of a shift along generational lines from these issues.

SEAN SPEER: Yeah, I want to stay on the subject of demography and your chapter on what you call “changing identity politics in Quebec.” How are the evolving cultural and demographic dynamics in Quebec itself influencing the political salience of sovereignty ideas and arguments?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Are you talking about the identity debates?

SEAN SPEER: Yeah.

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: So I mean, one of the chapters looks at some of the change towards state secularism or interculturalism. This has been something that’s obviously been top of mind in Quebec politics for the last couple of years. And it’s certainly something I think that most people outside of Canada are—oh, sorry, outside of Quebec—have been paying attention to from the sidelines. When I was looking at this, I was interested to see whether or not this was having a role on what the conversations were about Quebec’s place in Canada and so forth. And I think to the extent that the interculturalism debate, the Bill 21 discussion, when something touches on it, it is very much a discussion that the rest of Canada’s not so much involved in.

What it’s effectively done, or I think you can make an argument, what it’s done is, there’s been a shift where there’s been exploration about Quebec identity and what Quebec needs that’s taken place with reference to its place in federalism to a more inward-looking debate about what are the proper accommodations within Quebec, what do Quebecers owe to outsiders? What are the language politics on Quebec?

But these are all topics as much as English Canadians sometimes struggle with them, that really don’t involve the federal system in the same way that the mega-constitutional era did. Where that demanded constitutional change. Where that demanded certain recognition of Quebec as a nation, for example, from the rest of the country being entrenched or distinct society along these lines. These are much more introspective debates. And to the extent that these have been top of mind, it’s arguably had an effect of removing some of these identity conversations from a discussion with other Canadians to a more inward-looking debate. That’s arguably had a bit of a stabilizing influence on the national unity question.

SEAN SPEER: I recently spoke with high-profile Quebec nationalist Mathieu Bock-Côté about the state of Quebec nationalism, the province’s place in the country, and so on. He has a large following, and, of course, Premier Legault himself is described as something of a Quebec nationalist. Has the sovereignty movement evolved into a form of Quebec nationalism that’s less focused on separation per se, and more on protecting and promoting the province’s distinct language and culture within Canada? And what does this trend towards cultural nationalism mean for these bigger questions at the root of the book?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Yeah, I think a lot of people have come down on that. That it’s not that Quebec nationalism has gone away or anything. It’s become a little bit maybe more nationalist but perhaps a little less separatist in terms of its outlook, and perhaps a little bit more conservative in some ways. But it certainly hasn’t disappeared from the scene in any way. I mean, Quebec nationalism is still a very strong force in Quebec. And again, there are still a lot of people that would vote yes if a referendum were presented.

So I think what Bock-Côté is putting his finger on is that that’s a direction where some of this nationalism was taken in a little bit more of a conservative nationalism direction that you see under Legault, where the outlet is a little bit less separatist in terms of its expression. It doesn’t quite look to changes in the federalist system to define itself in the way that it perhaps it once did.

SEAN SPEER: One unified field theory type-argument that you sometimes encounter about Quebec and the rest of the country is that the latter is rooted in a basic liberalism and the former’s politics is instead rooted in its collective identity, and that these subtle yet important differences have come to manifest themselves in some of the issues that we’ve been talking about, including questions of the accommodation of minority cultural religious practices, the tendency for Quebec politicians to more actively challenge the rise of identity politics and so-called “wokeism.” How should we think about the basic normative foundations of Quebec politics relative to the rest of the country? And how important are they for understanding Quebec’s similarities and differences to the rest of the country?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Yeah, I think that’s a terrific question, and I think that’s very much where the conversation is right now. Which is what exactly—what does Quebec politics look like right now? I think this has really come to the fore on the sidelines of some of the discussions around Bill 21, Bill 96, and so forth. I mean, there’s been a growing willingness, shall we say, maybe not necessarily a growing one, to use, for example, the notwithstanding clause to bring about some of these projects.

The argument from Quebec is like, :look, this is a disagreement between Quebec and the Quebec government’s policies, and perhaps the position that might be taken by the courts, but the notwithstanding clause is there to allow this kind of thing to happen, and we’re going to go ahead and use it.”

Of course, others would come back and say that that means that it’s fundamentally in tension with the liberal ideas that you see in the Charter that Canada, and generally Canadians, even inside Quebec, are huge supporters of the Charter and the outlook that it takes, and by using the notwithstanding clause, really, isn’t this fundamentally different? This has been, I think, a lot of the conversations that people have been having for the last four or five years, right, about the direction that Quebec is taking. What does that look like? How far does it go? And what are the implications for the rest of the country?

At the end of the day, the notwithstanding clause is arguably there for this kind of thing, right? But there are a lot of people that say, “This just does not work with things like Canadian multiculturalism as we define it,” and it would be struck down. And to what extent are people willing to accept that?

Right now, it looks like Legault remains quite popular. He has the support of Quebecers; he’s still leading in the polls, so it seems he’s got a lot of support there. It seems like people in the rest of the country are a lot more skeptical of this. But whether or not they can do anything about it, they’re just watching from the sidelines at this point. So I think these are the kind of conversations that people who watch Quebec politics closely are going to be having for the next couple of years.

SEAN SPEER: It seems to be one tension, Andrew, that politicians in the rest of the country have struggled with. While on one hand, as you say, there are legal and policy limits to their ability to intervene in the name of minority rights in the province of Quebec.

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Yeah.

SEAN SPEER: On the other hand, is there a moral or normative reason for them to, at least, express their opposition to these types of policies? We’ve seen that tension run straight through many national political figures, including the prime minister himself. As someone who studied the rise and then the stalled momentum of the Quebec sovereignty movement, what would be your advice to a national politician as he or she deals with these tensions?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Well, I think they don’t think they really need my advice. But I think what I see coming from it would be a recognition that this is a very dicey issue, right? I mean, if you look at where Trudeau is on this, right? He’s had people push him to say, “Look, you need to do more to speak up for minority rights in Quebec. You need to do something about that.”

But I think there’s also a recognition on his part that this is a tricky subject. This is getting into internal Quebec politics and what the role of the Quebec government is. And, as being somebody who will have been very aware of the mega-constitutional era, I think he’s going to be careful to try to be able to express some of these concerns. But what I don’t think he wants to do is set off another national unity crisis at the same time.

And there’s a question about what exactly, really, he can do as well, which is also part of the discussion. I mean, that’s what the notwithstanding clause is there for. So the extent to which he has any levers to pull anyway is a question.

SEAN SPEER: I want to ask about whether you think that the trends that you describe in the book are durable, or do you think that there are certain developments or factors that could reinvigorate the sovereignty movement, including the topic we’ve just discussed?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: Oh, I absolutely think that the sovereignty movement could come back. I mean, Quebec politics has an endless capacity to surprise me. Just when I think that I know what’s going on, it’s shown to me that I very much often do not. I mean, for right now, the national unity debate has subsided. But as I continually see in all of the polling data, that’s not to suggest that there’s not a huge number of people that would vote yes in another referendum if they were given the option. Now, if you look at the long sweep of Canadian history, you do see periodic crises between English and French Canadians pop up in very explosive ways going all the way back to Confederation. And there’s every possibility that something like that along the lines could easily happen.

So I would not be the type of person to say that this debate is completely over. It remains the case that Quebec has never signed on to the Constitution. And this is something that everybody’s very much aware of. It might be a matter of finding a policy leader that gets the right message. It could be some huge debate between Ottawa and Quebec that boils over. It could be any number of things that could happen. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet is like, I think, living in an earthquake-prone zone where it hasn’t had one for a while. You know that something like that could easily happen. You don’t know if it’s going to be in your lifetime. You don’t know if you’ll be around to see it or not, but it’s a possibility. And I think that this is one of those areas where there’s always a possibility that the issue could come back.

SEAN SPEER: Final question: bear with me. I’m just going to set it up for you. At The Hub, we’re publishing early next week [the week of September 11] a series of ideas from different contributors, including those with different political backgrounds and interests, and so on, about what, if anything the current federal government might do to reinvigorate its own political standing after several years in office and a consistent set of polls that show that it’s underperforming the official opposition. As I was thinking about different options for a government in such circumstances, I wondered whether a new round of constitutional reform might be it. Obviously, it comes with a lot of risk, but it’s a type of issue that would galvanize the country, the government’s supporters, and possibly serve as something of a major legacy for the Prime Minister. What do you think about that idea?

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: I could see people thinking that. I could see how some people might see that as appealing. That wouldn’t be me, to be honest with you. I think that might be the type of thinking that politicians in the 1970s and 1980s had about constitutional politics. That this would be a unifying factor and that had some force to it. Canadians do rally around the Charter, if you look at the polls. That was seen as a major, major achievement. But I think I look at this much more skeptically, and I would suggest that if there was a real attempt to push back into mega-constitutional politics, you’re opening a door that you don’t know where that goes, and there’s a very real risk that you could bring this particular issue right back to the surface.

SEAN SPEER: Which is a good way to wrap up our conversation. The book’s title is Sleeping Dogs: Quebec and the Stabilization of Canadian Federalism After 1995. Andrew McDougall, thank you so much for joining us at Hub Dialogues.

ANDREW MCDOUGALL: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

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