WORLD

Storm warnings over Quebec

MARCI MCDONALD April 12 1982
WORLD

Storm warnings over Quebec

MARCI MCDONALD April 12 1982

Storm warnings over Quebec

FRANCE

Flying back from a whirlwind tour of France’s southwest in his official Caravelle last December, Premier Pierre Mauroy waxed more than usually optimistic. Settling his good-natured bulk beside a reporter from Montreal’s La Presse, he declared that under his Socialist government’s new wing, the turbulence that had so long stalled Quebec-France-Canada relations was now a thing of the past. But last week as his aides negotiated the diplomatic fine-tuning of his proposed six-day city-hop from Moncton, N.B., to Toronto at the end of this month, he could have been forgiven for wondering if a state visit to Canada wasn’t as perilous as charting a course through the Bermuda Triangle. Before the dates of his trip had even been announced, Mauroy found himself at the storm centre of federal-provincial crosscurrents that promptly blew into front-page Paris headlines.

The squall swept onto the fine print of Le Monde last Monday when, in an interview heralding his own first official pilgrimage to France, Quebec’s new minister of intergovernmental affairs, Jacques-Yvan Morin, accused Ottawa of throwing a monkey wrench into the Mauroy visit. The federal government,

he charged, was insisting that one of its cabinet ministers chaperone the French premier through Quebec. The paper went on to leave no doubt about its feelings on the subject in a page 1 editorial which huffed: “The hotheaded federal

Morin charged that the federal government is insisting that one of its ministers chaperon Mauroy's Quebec visit

prime minister appears all the more determined to carry out his plan for the destabilization of Quebec.” Although the Canadian Embassy in Paris promptly denied demanding any such chaperone and Morin later backed down, Le Monde published no follow-up denial.

Indeed, France’s most influential editorial board seemed bent on provoking the new Socialist regime into veering onto a more pro-Péquiste flight path. The next day it gave over another halfpage to the Ottawa-Quebec squabble,

this time in the form of a letter signed by none other than the hothead himself. In painstaking legal and academic logic, Pierre Elliott Trudeau responded to a February commentary on Quebec’s fate in the recent constitutional debate by French political scientist Maurice Duverger under the inflammatory title A CHAINED PEOPLE. But while he argued that Quebec had given away its veto rights “for a plate of lentils,” the paper left Duverger with the last word by reprinting his polite retort beneath it.

Le Monde, however, wasn’t the only provocateur’s voice in the affair. Morin’s outburst followed a tempest stirred up under the gilt boiserie of the France-Canada Chamber of Commerce late last month when Quebec’s economic development minister, Bernard Landry, publicly labelled federal Liberal cabinet ministers from his province as “collaborators.” Brandished in France, which remains sensitive to its own divisive history under the Nazi occupation, the insult was doubly tainted.

What both incidents illustrate is Quebec’s growing nervousness about the warming diplomatic climate between Paris and Ottawa since the Socialists came to power. The government of François Mitterrand seems more concerned about pumping up Franco-Canadian trade than with heating up the cold war over Quebec begun by Gen. Charles de Gaulle and his loose tongue from the balcony of Montreal’s city hall 15 years ago.

In fact, as the storm over Mauroy’s visit swept through Paris last week, French Foreign Trade Minister Michel Jobert was trekking from Edmonton to Ottawa trying to drum up Franco-Canadian business schemes. Among the projects in his kit bag was a $700-million aluminum complex for Quebec planned by the newly nationalized conglomerate Pechiney-Ugine-Kuhlmann and which Mauroy hopes to unveil on his official visit.

In anticipation of that, the French premier’s office kept a discreet silence throughout the whole affair, protesting that its first knowledge of problems with the Canadian trip came from the newspapers. In fact, Mauroy’s aides seemed more concerned about another hitch that may mar his trip. The premier is scheduled to be the first French leader to set foot on the tiny French territories of St. Pierre and Miquelon floating off the coast of Newfoundland. He has been warned, however, that the prime ministerial plane is too large to fit the local runway. Instead, he is now slated to take a mini-detour from the Canadian coast to those two chunks of France so long forgotten in the mists constantly being churned up between Quebec, Ottawa and Paris.

-MARCI MCDONALD