U.S. hearing on divided Canada is hit up north, yawn down south House hearing was aimed at warning U.S. citizens of perils in Quebec going solo

September 26, 1996|By BOSTON GLOBE

MONTREAL -- It is an article of deepest faith among Canadians that Americans know little about this country, and care less.

So it was with emotions ranging from astonishment to outrage that Canadian TV viewers yesterday found stations cutting live to a U.S. congressional hearing on this country's political future, or lack of one.

There were no really new developments in Canada's unity crisis. But in a strange sort of way the severity of that crisis was driven home to Canadians as they heard a panel of U.S. experts testify in Washington that Canada could be headed for meltdown and perhaps mayhem.

"If this doesn't drive home how serious our situation is, nothing will," said Bob Mills, member of Parliament from Alberta. "The Americans are paying attention."

And the view from south of the border was grim: Four leading experts on Canadian affairs warned Congress that the secession of Quebec from Canada might transform America's largest trading partner and close ally into an unstable collection of Balkan-style states, with severe consequences for trade and defense treaties in North America.

"If Quebec secedes, English Canada would unravel into many parts -- how many parts, nobody knows," Charles Doran, director of Canadian studies at the Johns Hopkins University, told members of a congressional subcommittee on international relations in Washington. "Americans should be uneasy."

"Ever-louder rumblings north of the border should not be dismissed as another Canadian nonevent," stated Doran.

The unusual congressional hearing was meant to rouse American interest in Canada's deepening political problem.

"It is our business to ask how a possible partition of Canada might affect the viability of the North American Free Trade Agreement, our own national defense and the status of Canadian bonds held by U.S. citizens," said Republican Rep. Tom Campbell of California, a member of the House subcommittee.

Although the hearing was followed closely across Canada -- where it was broadcast live by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and dominated discussions on TV and radio talk shows from Newfoundland to British Columbia -- it was virtually ignored in the United States.

Nearly all the reporters crammed into the hearing room were from Canada.

Many analysts believe that Quebec will mount another push to quit Canada before the end of the century. Polls show that a majority of French-speaking Quebecers now favor some form of independence.

English-speaking Canadians, meanwhile, are mostly opposed to granting Quebec a unique political status that might convince Quebecers to stay within the confederation.

"The country has reached an impasse," Joseph Jockel, professor of Canadian studies at New York's St. Lawrence University, told the subcommittee.

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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