MANY CANADIANS are at prayer this year, imploring the country to heal itself. We are led in these devotions by our first minister of the Church of Holy Unity in Ottawa. It might be rude to interrupt, but here are two books well worth the trouble of getting up off our knees and facing some inconvenient realities.
The Collapse of Canada?, intended for an American audience, introduces this country's current political predicament in four thoughtful, thorough, and well-documented essays. I envy those lucky Americans who have been spared the several thousand front-page and op-ed articles the rest of us have slogged through over the past 20 years. It's all here, neatly abridged, an intellectual aspirin for anyone down there who happens to have a Canadian headache. And there are some useful nuggets for Canadian readers, too. In his intelligent piece on Quebec nationalism, Stephane Dion, a political-science professor at the University of Montreal, points out that Quebec already has "the most powerful subnational government in all of the OECD countries in terms of its share of resources and its scope of intervention." He believes that for most Quebeckers language policy, rather than any massive jurisdictional power grab, is and always will be the key to satisfying French-Canadian aspirations. And in an essay on the possible restructuring of Canada, Keith Banting, a professor at Queen's University, discusses what some people have been saying over dinner for years, but which most commentators have been avoiding - the misguided notion that any Canadian province could have American statehood for the asking. As Banting suggests, with the Free Trade Agreement in place, there are now few economic incentives for the Americans to take us in, and plenty of political disincentives, particularly for Republicans wary of all the Democrats Canadian provinces would probably send to Congress.
Canada Remapped examines another issue we've all largely ducked: the partition of a post-independence Quebec. Many journalists and politicians have dismissed this as a preposterous possibility best left to the lunatic fringe. Scott Reid thinks not. His book, which isn't loony at all, offers an impressively researched and intelligent argument, though I disagree with some of his conclusions.
Reid believes that because so many Quebeckers would feel disinherited by an independence referendum that deprived them of their Canadian citizenship, pressure for partition would build. Referring to a broad international range of examples of secession, he selects as most suitable for Canada the Swiss model of a double referendum - one vote to determine whether to secede, and a second, with local majorities the determining factor, to decide whether each locality wishes to join the new jurisdiction or stick with the old. With some refinements to minimize enclaves, this is how the Swiss canton of Jura separated from the canton of Berne, more or less peacefully, in 1979.
Reid believes the federal government should enact partition legislation now, both to deter Quebec sovereignists and to avoid appearing desperate or punitive in the event that Quebec independence became inevitable. But he doesn't feed into his political calculus the enormous freight that such a bill would add to the federal government's burden this summer. At the very least the appointment of a special minister would be required to hustle the law through parliament. One could reasonably argue that a simple act of homicide would be kinder to the MP in question.
Reid has written an important book, but I'm still unconvinced that partition would be the answer for Canada. When Jura split from Berne with some enclaves remaining legally attached to the old canton, both jurisdictions were still part of Switzerland. You didn't have to cease being a Swiss national, in other words, when you chose sides. But citizenship may be the crux of the matter for hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Canadians, should Quebec separate. Wouldn't it be easier simply to guarantee all of them their Canadian citizenship? Non-resident Canadians, many with dual citizenship, live all over the world. Why shouldn't a million or more of them live next door in Quebec? We like to think ourselves a generous people. This would be the least we could offer our compatriots in a neighbouring sovereign state.