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Quebec Secession Revisited

Bouchard campaign stoking dangerous separatist sentiments

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Canada is once again peering into the abyss. Quebec's premier, separatist Lucien Bouchard, has called elections for Nov. 30 and has announced that if his Parti Quebecois defeats the Liberal antisecession candidate, Jean Charest, he will call for a referendum on sovereignty if and when the polls show a pro-sovereignty majority. In the last referendum, in 1995, the separatists came within a point of winning.

The threat of Quebec's secession is a sword of Damocles over Canada, and the threat weighs heavily on the national psyche. The province of Quebec separates New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island from the rest of Canada. Should Quebec secede, Canada would look like East and West Pakistan did before East Pakistan became the sovereign Bangladesh. The Canadian federation could disintegrate.

One possibility: The economically depressed Atlantic provinces might seek to become a part of the United States (New Brunswick shares a border with Maine).

Few Americans appreciate how important our relationship with Canada is, in part because, as "children of a common mother" (the words on the Peace Arch at the British Columbia-Washington border), the relationship is generally tranquil, trusting, close, and constructive, occasional spats notwithstanding. Canada is by far our most important trading partner (averaging $1 billion daily), and we invest more in Canada than in any other country - more than in all of Latin America. We cannot take any threat to Canada's integrity lightly.

But the sword of Damocles may well be two-edged. The Quebec separatist leaders are telling Quebeckers relationships with the US will not skip a beat should the province become sovereign. They are almost surely wrong, as they are in their expectation of a harmonious post-secession partnership with Canada.


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