Bernard Grenier, a retired Quebec Court Judge, says Quebec needs tighter controls on campaign and pre-campaign spending in any future sovereignty referedum. He's right, but his report only scratches the surface of the whole profoundly unreasonable referendum rulebook.
At the end of Canada Day weekend, as the Parti Quebecois stops talking about another referendum, the whole question of referendum spending rules may seem, right now, far too tedious and abstract to bother considering. But Quebec political life is nothing if not volatile, and there's never a wrong time to make sure the rules are fair.
Grenier, assigned by the Quebec government to look into furtive federal spending in the 1995 referendum, delivered a second chapter of his report last week, proposing ways to improve campaign "fairness" next time.
He made some reasonable points but blithely ignored the elephant in the voting booth: the preposterous assumptions in the law governing the referendum process. Example: since only a PQ government would call a referendum, what about controls on government (as opposed to Yes committee) propaganda?
Example: Why must all supporters of each side be forced into the mould of one umbrella committee which controls spending? What does that have to do with free speech?
Example: who can seriously claim that the rest of Canada has no stake in a referendum and must remain mute?
We could go on. We will, whenever the issue warms up again. The referendum law is a stacked deck, and should be re-written.