Layton stirs controversy with referendum comments

NDP Leader Jack Layton told reporters Thursday his party believes that a simple majority, 50 per cent plus one vote, is enough to decide a future Quebec referendum.

Layton was attempting to clarify comments made two days earlier, when he said he supports the Supreme Court decision that led to the Clarity Act, which sets conditions for Quebec independence and ultimately gives Ottawa the right to decide what constitutes a clear referendum question.

"We believe that the decision made by the Supreme Court and accepted by both sides that talks about an important majority...we can be moving ahead with that framework," Layton said Tuesday.

All three Quebec political parties were quick to denounce the comments Wednesday, declaring in a uniform voice that Quebec has the right to set its own conditions for a referendum.

The NDP voted in favour of the Clarity Act, which states Ottawa can decide if a referendum question is clear or not, but the party's 2005 Sherbrooke Declaration, which summarizes the NDP's Quebec policies, appears to contradict that position.

That declaration states "the NDP would recognize a majority decision (50% + 1) of the Quebec people."

On Thursday, Layton once again referred to the party's Sherbrooke Declaration.

"The Supreme Court decision says you need a clear majority and our Sherbrooke Declaration put a number to what a clear majority means," Layton said.

"Fifty per cent plus one, that's been our policy for a long time and it remains so."

The Parti Québécois was quick to denounce Layton's initial remarks on Wednesday.

"I think Layton is revealing his true face and it's very worrisome for Quebec," said Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois.

Pierre Moreau, the Liberal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, also took aim at Layton, saying that any future referendum will be decided by Quebecers.

"As far as we are concerned, this decision will be taken here in Quebec and the answer is 50 per cent plus one," Moreau said.

"If Mr. Layton has a different opinion he's free to express it. But that won't change the rule that applies here," Moreau added.

Layton's new caucus is largely made up of Quebec MPs, after many voters in Quebec turned their backs on the Bloc Québécois in the May 2 election.

The PQ has said it will work towards holding a referendum if the party wins the next provincial election, which will be within the next two and a half years.