RIMOUSKI, Quebec -- The Parti Québécois government has reacted furiously to the Supreme Court judgement gutting a portion of Quebec's referendum law.
Premier Lucien Bouchard and three of his top cabinet ministers said the judgement imperils the democratic legacy left by the PQ's founder, the late premier René Lévesque, and endorsed by his federalist contemporary, the late Liberal premier Robert Bourassa.
``The fundamental legacy of René Lévesque and of Robert Bourassa are at stake here'', Bouchard told reporters at a meeting of the PQ's Quebec National Assembly caucus in this Lower St. Lawrence port.
Bouchard was reacting to a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada that said Quebec's referendum law goes too far in restricting spending to the official Yes and No committees.
Bouchard said the PQ cabinet won't decide what to do until Justice Minister Serge Ménard has analyzed the decision. But he said the judgement ``has created a very grave problem'' for Quebec.
``The judgement is demolishing something which is a fundamental piece of legislation of our National Assembly.''
Guy Chevrette, the veteran PQ minister responsible for the province's election and referendum legislation, said the government won't hesitate to use the Constitution's notwithstanding clause to overrule the judgement if no better method can be found.
By using the clause, a government can keep in force for five-year periods a law that would otherwise be ruled invalid as a violation of the Charter of Rights.
In one of several veiled references to the current investigation into federal Liberal party funding, Chevrette said Quebecers are proud of the fact that ``ideas prevail over money'' in the Quebec political arena.
``We won't get down on our knees . . . in front of a Supreme Court whose judges are appointed only according to their political allegiance'', Chevrette said.
Chevrette said the government will take all steps necessary to protect Quebec democracy.
PQ Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Jacques Brassard pointed out that Bourassa used the notwithstanding clause several times to overrule Supreme Court decisions.
The federal government didn't initiate yesterday's case, but Brassard accused it of using the courts as part of its hardline approach to Quebec independence.
The federal government's referral to the Supreme Court of the question of Quebec secession and the various court actions taken by separatist-turned-federalist lawyer Guy Bertrand are also ``part of Plan B and are designed to discredit the Quebec democratic process'', Brassard said.
``The aim is to discredit Quebec's democratic institutions. It is clear that an attempt is being made in the federalist camp to use the courts to undermine the very foundations of Quebec democracy.''
Deputy Premier Bernard Landry joined in the denunciation of the Supreme Court.
The Quebec referendum law is ``a legislative masterpiece, a jewel of our legal framework, and nine non-elected individuals in Ottawa, chosen and designated by the Canadian government decide to cast aside what, for us, is a jewel.
Landry said the recent referendum in Scotland underlines the trouble English Canadians appear to have in recognizing Quebec as a nation.
``If the British can consider Scotland as a nation, why don't they try that in Toronto?'' he asked. ``If Scotland is a nation, Quebec is more so in a sense because we also have a national language.''
In Quebec city, Liberal MNA Christos Sirros said his party would not support use of the notwithstanding clause.