Dividing the House:|
Planning for a Canada Without Quebec
by Alan Freeman, Patrick Grady,
Turmoil in the Peacable Kingdom:
The Quebec Sovereignty Movement & Its Implications for Canada & the U. S.
by Jonathan Lemco,
Post Your Opinion
by Clive Cocking
IT WAS ENJOYABLE WHILE it lasted -- our holiday spent blissfully ignoring every reference to the Quebec crisis - - but now we have to pay attention again. More closely than ever before, in fact, now that the long-running confrontation appears to be coming to a head. It's not unthinkable that the PQ could win a majority Yes vote in its referendum and that the process of Quebec's separation would then inexorably begin.
Quebec has got its strategy ready. The rest of us haven't really considered what we should do if this happens -including the federal government, whose official position is that it will deal with the issue if and when it arises. But we can't afford not to face that looming reality, say the authors of Dividing the House. "Like the reluctant partner in a divorce, Canadians are still stuck in the grieving stage of denial or anger," write Alan Freeman, an economics reporter with the Globe and Mail, and Patrick Grady, president of Global Economics, an Ottawa economic consulting firm. If we're going to defend our essential interests, they argue, we've got to prepare a strategy now. It will be too late after the referendum passes; events will move too swiftly.
This book is a call for citizens to take charge of the Quebec separation issue. The authors' presumption -- which seems correct -- is that the federal government, dominated as it is by Quebec MPs, would not be seen as having the legitimacy to negotiate with a secessionist Quebec government. It would probably have to be reconstituted as a national unity government, with the inclusion of Reform and NDP members, to gain renewed authority to speak for the rest of Canada. Provincial governments and aboriginal people would also have to participate in any negotiations. But first, the authors suggest, Canadian citizens themselves must face the issue and develop a consensus on what the federal position should be on the many tough questions that will immediately face us should Quebec opt for separation.
Dividing the House is
aimed at helping develop that consensus. It examines tough questions -- division of assets and debt, trade, currency, borders, citizenship, bilingualism, and aboriginal rights -- considers the Quebec separatist positions, and proposes hard-headed responses to protect the interests of the rest of Canada. It exposes the absurdness of the PQ's dream world of painless independence: skipping away with a minimal share (if any?) of the debt, free use of the Canadian dollar in a monetary union, free movement of goods in a customs union, and free movement of people thanks to retention of Canadian citizenship. The reality, as the authors show, is that Quebec would begin independence with heavy economic burdens; Canada's setback would be manageable and short-term.
Noting the inevitability of Canadian anger should Quebec separate, the authors sensibly maintain that a policy of retribution would only make the tragedy even more costly all round. The use of force either to keep Quebec in, or to secure Canada's claims, is also flatly rejected. They conclude, I think rightly, that most Canadians would "recoil in horror" at such a prospect. Faced with a majority decision on a clear referendum question, Canadians expect to sit down and peacefully negotiate separation. Freeman and Grady clearly believe cool heads will prevail -- that we'll not slide into violence through stupidity or anger -- and surely we all hope they're right.
Some Canadians may worry that Canada may end up being the loser from this nicey-nicey approach. On the contrary, the authors maintain that we have strong bargaining levers and need only use them with determination. They start with the constitutional reality that Quebec has no legal right to separate: an agreement is needed. An independent Quebec will need international recognition, and most other countries will not act until Canada extends recognition. Quebec cannot continue using Canadian dollars -- to escape the major economic repercussions that would occur if it launched its own currency -- without Canada's approval and partial control of its monetary policy. Quebec is heavily dependent on trade with the rest of Canada, but our trade is much less of a two-way street. On the biggest issue -- sharing the debt -Freeman and Grady are confident an independent Quebec will listen to reason (and not try to dodge it, or stick to their mooted 20 percent) and will agree to pay 25 percent based on share of population. If Quebec doesn't, the new state's credit rating will be zilch.
Dividing the House
is an excellent, informative, and thought-provoking guidebook for concerned citizens. Well-organized and easy to read, it combines solid research, credible analysis, and a welcome absence of rhetoric. In comparison, Jonathan Lemco's book on the same issue, Turmoil in the Peaceable Kingdom: The Quebec Sovereignty Movement and Its Implications for Canada and the United States, is
so ill-organized, poorly written, repetitive, and frustrating as to be of little use.
Lemco is a political scientist who has recently returned to Montreal after serving many years in the United States as both senior fellow with the National Planning Association in Washington and as adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. Unlike Freeman and Grady, Lemco does not present a coherent argument or a synthesis of views based on the copious studies and polls he cites, but rather an annoying "on-the-one- hand-yet-on-the-other-hand" review that confuses rather than enlightens. In many ways this book reads as though it were written outside the country, so out of touch does Lemco seem with the current mood of Canada. For example, he relentlessly flogs the possibility of Quebec achieving "sovereignty-association," despite the fact that -- as Lemco is aware -- the beast has never been defined and Parizeau himself has said "il est mort" (not to mention that Canadians as a whole have flatly rejected it as a fantastical chimera). And he repeatedly touts a decentralized
Canada as "the accepted vision of the nation," when the defeat of the Charlottetown Accord was a striking rejection of such a vision. No, a strong federal government is still favoured by most Canadians, but what is sought today is a new balance short of outright decentralization: this is the great challenge.
At this critical point in our history, concerned readers will likely find Dividing the House to be the more useful book. Its starting point is a recognition that "Canadians have had enough of Quebec's incessant flirtation with separation" and that it's time for Quebec to decide. The end-point is a confident conviction that, if Quebec opts for separation, this will not be the end of Canada. "We will mourn the loss," the authors write, "but Canada can and will survive. With good leadership and hard work, it will not merely survive but prosper."