What is Canada's Clarity Act and what does it have to do with Catalan independence?

President's Quebec-style proposal shot down by Spain and questioned by junior cabinet partner

Catalan president Pere Aragonès in parliament during the general policy debate on September 27, 2022
Catalan president Pere Aragonès in parliament during the general policy debate on September 27, 2022 / Job Vermeulen
Cristina Tomàs White

Cristina Tomàs White | @cristinatomasw | Barcelona

September 28, 2022 07:07 PM

"I want to propose a Clarity Act to Spain," Catalan president Pere Aragonès told the parliament on Tuesday during the general policy debate held amid the pro-independence coalition's deepening crisis.  

This would be "an agreement that identifies when and how Catalonia can once again exercise its right to decide [on independence] as was done in Canada and Quebec," the Esquerra Republicana politician explained.

Aragonès' proposal, however, was quickly shot down by the Spanish government and questioned by Esquerra's junior partner, Junts, as well as members of the opposition.

But exactly what would a hypothetical Catalan Clarity Act entail? Check out our explainer below.

What is the Clarity Act?

The Clarity Act was a law approved by the Canadian parliament in 2000.

In the words of Daniel Cetrà, a professor of political science at Barcelona's Pompeu Fabra University, it was passed "to establish the conditions under which the result of a future Quebec referendum would be accepted by both sides" – that is to say, both the Quebec and federal governments.

How does Catalonia's political situation differ from Quebec's?

The Canadian Clarity Act was passed after Quebec had already held two referendums on the question of independence, one in 1980, where it was rejected by 60% of the population, and another in 1995, where it was defeated by a narrow 1% margin. Although both were tolerated by Canada, Quebec has not put the matter to a vote since then.

While Catalonia held an independence referendum in 2017, it was deemed illegal by Spain and much of the international community. Spain has consistently rejected all and any attempts to vote on the issue.

And unlike in Canada, where it is Canada and not Quebec that put the measure forth, in Catalonia, it is the party seeking independence that wants a Clarity Act-like deal. Other pro-independence campaigners fear such a deal would only hinder Catalonia's chances of becoming independent if it ever were to materialize. 

Why does Pere Aragonès want this?

Aragonès believes a Clarity Act-style agreement would help the idea of an independence referendum gain legitimacy in Catalonia and beyond.  

"This strategic decision by the Catalan president to try to assemble a significant majority of Catalans who support self-determination and people beyond the pro-independence group," Cetrà said.

He wants to do this to show "the international community that they are putting forward proposals to the Spanish government to find a solution to the political crisis."

Is this a new idea in Catalonia?

No. Most recently it was proposed by the former parliament speaker and current business minister, Esquerra's Roger Torrent, in 2019 – and, as was the case this time around, also rejected by Spain.

Before that, in 2018, anti-Austerity Catalunya En Comú Podem's Jéssica Albiach put forth a resolution to reach an agreement most political forces in Catalonia could get behind that would establish how the vote would be carried out as well as how the results would be interpreted. A year later, the party's Jaume Asens, who is now an MP in Spain's Congress, campaigned on the issue too. 

Interestingly, in 2016, Spain's current sports and culture minister and then head of the Catalan Socialist party Miquel Iceta supported putting a Clarity Act-like deal on the table, as was discussed by his party. Yet, the party never ended up greenlighting the draft proposal. 

What are the odds of a Catalan Clarity Act?

They seem quite slim for now. Not only did the Spanish government swiftly reject the idea in under an hour, but it was questioned by Esquerra's own coalition partner, Junts, and criticized by the opposition

Junts, which has long adopted a more confrontational stance with Spain and is yet to participate in the so-called dialogue table talks on independence, suggested such an agreement would be impossible in "democracy-phobic Spain."