Canada

PQ mud for troubled waters

David Thomas November 12 1979
Canada

PQ mud for troubled waters

David Thomas November 12 1979

PQ mud for troubled waters

Canada

David Thomas

As the Quebec government piously presented its high-sounding white paper on sovereignty-association last week, Quebec City homes were being penetrated by a different Parti Québécois document—one designed to rouse the baser instincts of nationalism. Though the government’s white paper promised that a sovereign Quebec would share a single customs tariff with Canada, a cartoon in a party

tabloid newspaper, aimed at housewives, made the existing common tariff policy look like a plot between greasy English Canadians and Orientals, a scheme to deprive husbands of their jobs by suffocating Quebec under a load of cheap imported textiles in return for wheat sales.

That contradiction in Péquiste persuasion was perhaps the most glaring but not the only one to belie Premier René Lévesque’s pledge that the white paper would clear the air of confusion.

Instead, it introduced yet another set of euphemisms and doubletalk. What it describes is indisputably the complete independence of Quebec, but the word “independence” itself is banned from the document as though it were an epithet. In PQ Newspeak, separation has become “a new deal.” With Orwellian logic, Lévesque explained the deletion of the word indépendance from the PQ lexicon: “People have succeeded

through propaganda, distortion and intellectual terrorism in turning a very beautiful French word into a scarecrow.”

The white paper—Quebec-Canada: A New Deal—is the work of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Claude Morin (see page 6) and the steepest slippery slope yet in his scheme to lead Quebeckers timidly, but inexorably, along the path to independence. Appropriating the past as justification for Quebec’s separation, the white paper turns a dazzling somersault of doublethink to make secession sound like a time-honored tradition: “Sovereignty-association, a contemporary expression of Quebec’s continuity, in brief, a new deal.”

The essential contribution of this layman’s guide to sovereignty-association is its description, for the first time, of the agreements and institutions of economic association between a separate Quebec and English-speaking Canada. Although there would be joint bodies to administer the association, the actual link itself would be by a simple treaty that would “bind the parties in a manner and for a term to be determined.” In other words, as with all international treaties, the Quebec-Canada association could be dissolved by either side—without having to hold another referendum.

Quebec Liberal leader Claude Ryan sees even more sinister attempts at deception in the document. A government victory in next spring’s referendum on sovereignty-association could permit it to declare Quebec sovereignty even without economic association, Ryan said Friday. Picking at the white paper’s ambiguities like a party pooper puncturing balloons, Ryan demonstrated convincingly that the official government scenario could mean the irrevocable attainment of Quebec independence before the conclusion of negotiations on economic association. The government promises to negotiate the economic treaty but, significantly, it

does not promise to delay accession to sovereignty until the economic association is in place. In fact, the white paper suggests that Quebec independence could well be proclaimed by the National Assembly while economic talks are still going on: “It could happen that issues relating to the transfer of powers and resources will be solved more rapidly than the others.”

Ryan warned a gathering of Englishspeaking corporate executives meeting in Quebec City the day after the white paper appeared that, despite the risk of a referendum victory, many Quebec federalists will vote “yes” in a desperate hope that, at last, the rest of Canada will compromise by agreeing to work out a new federal structure in which Quebeckers could feel equal. A few hours earlier, former Ontario premier John Robarts told the same assembly that official recognition of Canada’s English-French “duality” is essential if federalists are to counter the PQ’s white paper line that renewed federalism is an impossibility because federalists themselves cannot agree. That obvious truth is one of the Quebec government’s most powerful arguments, and Robarts was plainly perplexed by the rapid fading away of the much-acclaimed report last January of the Task Force on Canadian Unity which he co-chaired. Task force recommendations that the “distinctiveness” of Quebec be recognized by a new constitution and the strengthening of provincial power in federal institutions were first shelved by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and then ignored by his successor, Joe Clark. Asked why, Robarts shook his head: “Good question. I don’t know.”

Unless there is a sudden revival in the spirit of courageous change embodied by the task force report, chances are that, eventually, Canadians will be forced to consider the Parti Québécois alternative. Quebec, according to the white paper, would have “complete autonomy, in the sense that the state enjoys full legal freedom in all fields: its authority exercised to the exclusion of any other within the limits of its territory.”

While the rest of Canada would be left to fend for itself in the revision of its internal constitution, the QuebecCanada association would be limited to four flimsy institutions: a community council made up of Quebec and Canadian ministers delegated by their governments to argue out difficulties in application of the treaty; a commission of experts to administer the treaty’s nuts and bolts; a court of justice to arbitrate the treaty; and a monetary authority, in which Quebec would have one-fourth representation, to issue a common currency and control the rate of exchange. All of the institutions would evaporate

should either side abandon the treaty of association.

One of the few things crystal clear in the Quebec white paper is that it can be used both to reassure Quebeckers at referendum time with the promise of economic association and then, afterward, to justify an eventual, unilateral grab for full independence, devoid of any links, political or economic, with Canada.^