Column

It's high time for a national 'refer-end-it'

Canada is like a bad marriage with the spouses arguing about the symptoms rather than working on real solutions

Diane Francis September 16 1996
Column

It's high time for a national 'refer-end-it'

Canada is like a bad marriage with the spouses arguing about the symptoms rather than working on real solutions

Diane Francis September 16 1996

It's high time for a national 'refer-end-it'

Column

Canada is like a bad marriage with the spouses arguing about the symptoms rather than working on real solutions

Diane Francis

Like all sick marriages, the only way Canada’s unhappy union is going to work is if the participants have the courage to confront the issues directly and clearly. That’s why the government of Canada must immediately stage a referendum across this country with the simple question: “Do you want to keep your Canadian citizenship? Yes or No.” This is the only way around the badly mishandled unity question that has dominated Canadian politics for 30 years and injured Canada’s economy, reputation and morale.

I call it the “refer-end-it” and I have little doubt that a huge majority of Quebecers, and virtually all non-Quebecers will vote Yes to keep their Canadian citizenship. That would spell the end of separatism because it would pre-empt another referendum based on lies, omissions, propaganda, revised history and a trick question.

The citizenship referendum is valid because it will bring home to all Canadians, inside and outside Quebec, that there would be no sugar-coated way to secede from Canada.

If all or a part of Quebec leaves, the residents of that portion that has left will forfeit their Canadian citizenship and passports. This is something that Lucien Bouchard, Jacques Parizeau and other separatists have lied about to Quebecers.

Faced with the choice of Canadian citizenship or no Canadian citizenship, I would wager that the lion’s share of Quebecers would vote Yes to keeping their birthright. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the plurality on a direct question would end up as high as 90 per cent. I chose that number because that is the percentage of Canadians who, in a poll, said they thought Canada was the best country in the world.

But that’s just a guess and it’s as good as, or as useless as, anybody else’s guess. By asking for the answer to a direct question, the separatist bluff about leaving will finally be over, once and for all. If the outcome was an overwhelming Yes to keeping citizenship, then the separatist threat would disappear. True, the separatists could stage another referendum with another trick question (as they have twice), but its results would be meaningless. Also, Quebecers could, down the road, change their minds. But the precedent would preempt separatist efforts in the immediate future. The Parti Québécois would become the francophone version of that Canadian labor party, the New Democrats.

A clear mandate to remain Canadian citizens would eliminate the misguided perception that the separatist goal of secession is achievable without consequences. It means Bouchard could not use the separation threat to blackmail Ottawa to give Quebec more concessions than it deserves.

Unfortunately, we have had three Quebec-born prime ministers

for three decades who have fallen victim to the blackmail game. They have all behaved like Neville Chamberlain and tried to co-opt, bribe or ram through unnecessary constitutional deals to satisfy the insatiable separatists. The politics of bribery and blackmail never works because it merely encourages the extortionist to increase demands.

The refer-end-it, however, may yield some unexpected results. They may reveal that a few localized portions of Quebec want to leave, mainly the rural area between Montreal and Quebec City. If these people do not want Canadian citizenship, then they could open negotiations with Ottawa and the provinces to take their small part of the province out of Confederation. This is the partition option.

On the other hand, if there is no critical mass of separatists in a defined geographic area, those who don’t want to be Canadian citizens should leave the country—and do everyone a favor. In other words, those who feel Canada is not a marriage that can be saved should divorce or divorce themselves.

Of course, the refer-end-it would not mean that Canada’s marital troubles were over. Obviously, Frenchand English-speaking Canadians must continue to work hard to understand and appreciate each other’s distinctness. And on top of all of that, Canada’s governments must be restructured and reformed, taxes lowered, regulations reduced, deficits eliminated and essential services improved. Trade must be enhanced, interprovincial trade tensions eliminated, and the creation of wealth encouraged in order to create jobs.

The point is that Canada is like a bad marriage where the spouses are arguing about the symptoms of marital breakdown rather than working on real solutions. The politicians in this country have yet to admit that the underlying cause of separatism has nothing to do with constitutions, clauses, commas and ancient historical grudges. Even loyal Canadians vote for the separatist Parti Québécois because it is the party of protest in Quebec, and many Quebecers, like many Canadians, are fed up with the fact that most of our governments and politicians are second-rate, manipulative, wilfully reckless with our tax dollars, greedy, and deaf to their demands.

That is what has to be fixed. But nothing can be fixed until the separatist leaders, who claim to represent the spouse who wants to move out, establish the credibility for their claim in an outright referend-it with a blunt question about citizenship. Until that happens, Bouchard will be able to control this country’s national agenda and our lame current Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien. Bouchard will also be able to continue to misrepresent the October, 1995, referendum results to the detriment of every single person living in this wonderful country. The marriage should not end in divorce. But the sick games, such as the separatist blackmail and the incompetent leadership, must stop.