Quebec Premier François Legault criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday for what he described as an attack on “Quebec’s democracy and people” by proposing to limit the use of the notwithstanding clause.
In a Tweet posted on Saturday morning, Legault said that this expressed desire by Trudeau is a “frontal attack” on the Quebec nation’s ability to protect its collective rights.
“Quebec will never accept such a weakening of its rights. Never,” Legault said.
Legault was reacting to an interview the prime minister gave to La Presse in which he noted his intention to better regulate the use of the notwithstanding clause, which permits provincial and territorial governments to override certain provisions of the Constitution.
“There should be a political consequence to such a decision. But we are experiencing a certain trivialization of this suspension of rights,” he told the newspaper. “And when you combine that with the rise of populism around the world, you can see that there are concerns about what might be done.”
Trudeau told La Presse he’s also considering referring the matter to the Supreme Court.
“Our Minister of Justice, David Lametti, a former dean of the Faculty of Law at McGill University and a proud Quebecer, is thinking about the avenues open to us in this regard,” he said.
In response, Legault argued that no Quebec government has ever adhered to the 1982 Constitution Act, which he said “does not recognize the Quebec nation.”
“The Parti Québécois, the Liberal Party and the Coalition Avenir Québec governments have all used the notwithstanding clause, notably to protect the French language,” the premier wrote
Legault then quoted Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who saw the clause as a means for the federal and provincial governments to ensure that elected representatives rather than the courts have the final say. He advised the prime minister to consider his father’s words.
“It is up to the National Assembly to decide on the laws that govern us as a nation,” Legault said.
Representatives for the Prime Minister did not immediately respond to request for comment on Legault’s response.
Since first coming to power in 2018, Legault’s government has invoked the notwithstanding clause twice to protect a recently introduced secularism law and language law reforms from potential legal challenges.
This is not the first time Trudeau has voiced concern over recent invocations of the clause. In November, he told Ontario Premier Doug Ford that his government’s pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause in legislation intended to keep education workers from striking was “wrong and inappropriate.”