Dealing with Quebec

March 28, 1991

President Bush wisely says he wants to stay out of Canada's domestic turmoil as our neighbor to the north wrestles with the problem of Quebec and its push for secession.

Yesterday a special legislative committee recommended that a referendum on independence be held next year. The way things look now, there seems little doubt the separatists would win.

Quebec has offered an alternative to independence. But it demands so many concessions from the central government that it would leave Ottawa little more than a shell and would lead residents of the other provinces to become more like Quebec in thinking of themselves as provincials first and as Canadians a distant second. That option, to many Canadians, would seem to be destroying their country in order to save it.

The major hope for a united Canada would be a change of mind by the people of Quebec. As long as they think they are going from a not-bad situation now to the catbird seat, there is little incentive for them to reconsider. But if the economic and political consequences of the change were brought home, maybe a different mood would prevail.

National leaders could be more forthcoming in spelling out just what a separate little nation-state would face politically in the world. Business leaders could, and some finally are starting to, tell what the change would mean to Quebecers' standard of living.

Until recently, Washington chose total silence on the issue, saying it did not want to interfere in Canada's domestic problems. But this meant the United States actually was siding with the separatists by giving Quebecers the impression that relations and economics would not be adversely effected.

Would they stay the same? Would a separate Quebec automatically be entitled to the benefits of the U.S.-Canadian free trade agreement, to pick one important area.

To stay truly neutral, the United States should spell out what would happen to bilateral relations if Quebec bolted. Then let all Canadians interpret those facts before they make their decision.

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