Canadian Jitters

January 15, 1992

The recession blues make Americans wonder if the United States will remain a superpower. They make Canadians wonder if Canada will remain a nation. Polls show that the percentage of Canadians believing their country will become part of the United States is rising. Americans should understand that these are the pessimists.

In a Gallup Poll, 37 percent of Canadians believe their nation will merge with the U.S., up from 25 percent in 1988. But 67 percent said that the United States has too much influence in Canada now, up from 58 percent in 1985.

Ontario is Canada's most populous province and the one most like the U.S. in economy and culture. It is where Canadian nationalism (a desire not to be Americanized) is strongest. It also turns out to be where pessimism is highest. So 41 percent of Ontarians surveyed believe that Canada will become part of the U.S. and 74 percent believe that the U.S. exerts too much influence there now.

This pessimism is partly a response to events in Quebec, where a federalist-minded government has promised a referendum on independence by Oct. 26 unless the rest of Canada agrees to amend Canada's constitution in a way satisfactory to it. This seems unlikely, even if federal Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, an unpopular fellow these days, is doing his best. Now that Quebec has proven it can thrive with French-speakers newly dominant in business, those same confident professionals and entrepreneurs are having second thoughts about independence. It looks bad for business.

Nonetheless, much of English-speaking Canada has ceased to care, hence the gloom. Los Angeles Times reporter Mary Williams Walsh reports a new debate in the Maritime (or Atlantic) provinces -- Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island -- about what to do if Quebec separates. These are the poorest parts of Canada, depending the most on federal aid, separated by Quebec from the English-speaking engines of wealth in Ontario and the West. They would be the children orphaned by divorce.

The alternatives are to federate as a poor, immense country of only two million souls; to join the U.S. as New England North; to remain in Canada non-contiguously (a la Pakistan before Bangladesh); or even to federate with Quebec. The news is that every option is thinkable, even the last. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick both have official panels asking what their citizens think.

What more and more Canadians ought to realize is that hanging together in federal Canada -- redefining it as necessary -- is the best idea. They have only to look at the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia for alternatives to avoid.

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