A recent survey found that most Canadians want the “notwithstanding clause” abolished, except for Quebec.
On Thursday, Angus Reid released a survey, which said 55% of Canadians would scrap the clause.
The notwithstanding clause, Section 33of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, permits provincial and territorial governments to override specific provisions of the Constitution when bringing in new legislation.
According to the survey, Ontario Premier Doug Ford attempted to use the clause to undermine an education workers’ strike, which six-in-ten Canadians considered “unacceptable.”
Ontario passed and then quickly repealed Bill 28, which imposed a contract on education support workers and circumvented their right to strike for four years with the clause.
Among Ontario residents, opinions of the clause strongly correlate to political leaning. Those who voted Conservative in the province’s 2022 election viewed Ford’s move as “acceptable” nearly six times more than Liberal and NDP supporters.
Despite considerable opposition to the notwithstanding clause in much of Canada, 63% of Quebecers viewed it favourably.
Quebec recently used the notwithstanding clause to restrict English-speaking in the province, which its residents considered “acceptable” roughly six times more than Canadians from other provinces.
Federal Conservative voters expressed nearly twice as much support for the clause compared to Liberals and said it does not damage national unity.
For nearly half (48%) of Canadians, the worry is that the notwithstanding clause weakens the rights and freedoms of their fellow citizens.
Moreover, most (58%) Canadians find its frequent use “concerning,” with Ontario and Quebec using the clause to push legislation otherwise considered illegal.
In January, Quebec Premier François Legault condemned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for suggesting limits are needed to the notwithstanding clause. Trudeau said he would consider referring the matter of regulating it to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Legault considered the prime minister’s remarks an “[attack on] Quebec’s democracy and people” and said he would protect his province from the “frontal attack” on its collective rights.
Since 2018, Quebec has invoked the notwithstanding clause twice to protect Bill 21, a ban on religious symbols for public employees, and language law reforms (Bill 96) from potential legal challenges.
Seven in ten (71%) who voted for Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec in the 2022 election believe Bill 96 is considered an “acceptable” use of the notwithstanding clause.
Legault said only Quebec’s national assembly could dictate provincial law and that his government would never accept federal encroachment into how the province governs its people.
Since 1992, the opinion of the clause has moved the most in Quebec. The proportion of the population in that province who would keep the clause has grown by 10 points, from 53% to 63%.
Sentiment on the notwithstanding clause remains relatively unchanged in the 30 years since Angus Reid first asked this question. In February 1992, 59% wanted to abolish the notwithstanding clause, and 41% wanted to keep it.