Yes, a referendum on secession will suck. Passions will be stirred. Whatever the outcome, people will be disappointed and angry. But a citizen-generated referendum on other topics could be what Quebec needs in 2012. Why not let the citizens decide on:
- Removing restrictions on access to public schools, as French-speaking parents have been demanding, or allow English-speaking immigrants to attend English-language schools.
- Allowing English-immersion programs in French-language schools, as French-speaking parents have been demanding.
- Repealing the parts of the French language charter that even the French-speaking population think is overkill.
These are just a few language-related ideas. There is a whole range of finance-related ones that could help strip away some of the nanny-state or "gouvermaman" in French.
In the United States, 24 states allow citizen-initiated referendums. In fact, they distinguish between at least two types of measures:
- A ballot initiative is a proposal to change or create a law at a local or state level. Instead of relying on the legislature to make all of the laws, citizens can use the ballot initiative process to implement laws on their own.
- A referendum places a law that has already been passed by the legislature to a popular vote.
Also, there are rules about the clarity of the question, which is not decided by the government but by a bipartisan committee. The timing of the vote coincides with the set election dates, not the day after an election as is the expressed desire of Marois.
In Quebec, we only ever talk about a referendum on one topic. But referendums and ballot initiatives don't have to be about just that.
So, if the PQ wins, let's flood the government with non-secession ideas.