COLUMN

It is time for English Canada to speak up

Increased support in the polls for Quebec separatism is already causing a departure of jobs and investment dollars.

DIANE FRANCIS December 10 1990
COLUMN

It is time for English Canada to speak up

Increased support in the polls for Quebec separatism is already causing a departure of jobs and investment dollars.

DIANE FRANCIS December 10 1990

It is time for English Canada to speak up

COLUMN

BY DIANE FRANCIS

The distance between the Montreal offices of Charles Bronfman and of separatist leader Jacques Parizeau is only six blocks, but it might as well

be millions of kilometres. Bronfman, in a recent interview, told me he and the Seagram Corp. he heads would leave a separated Quebec. Later, in another interview, Parizeau scoffed: “Bronfman said that before. Those who wanted to leave have left.”

Parizeau can scoff, but he doesn’t convince. Bronfman would lead a paradé of tens of thousands of head-office jobs out of Quebec. It would be impossible for major chartered banks, Crown corporations like Canadian National Railways or defence contractors to be headquartered in a “foreign” country. And I suspect that increased support in the polls for separation is already causing a quiet departure of jobs and investment dollars. Despite the damage, Canada’s silent majority confers legitimacy to Parizeau’s economically dangerous, and naive, independence credo.

The situation is upsetting, but, on the other hand, the marriage is not working. Canada suffers from some fundamental flaws which desperately need correction. But before those can be addressed, remedial action is needed to stop any silly notion of out-and-out independence as an option. Ottawa should make it clear that it will refuse to let anyone else use the Canadian dollar and the Bank of Canada. It should also ask Washington to refuse to negotiate free trade arrangements with any breakaway province. And last but not least, Quebec must be told that if it separates it must assume its 25-per-cent share of the national debt, roughly $88 billion of the current $352 billion owed. This 25-per-cent share is based on the fact that Quebec accounts for one-quarter of Canada’s population. Likewise, Ottawa should immediately include a clause in any entitlement—loan or grant—given to any company that all moneys must be repaid immediately if the province it is located in separates. Independence is kamikaze economics and would reduce

Increased support in the polls for Quebec separatism is already causing a departure of jobs and investment dollars.

everyone’s living standards overnight.

Parizeau says not and has glib answers for every threat. He says that Quebec will only assume the difference between Quebec’s $88billion share of the debt and the multibilliondollar value of Quebec’s share of federal assets, such as Crown corporations, government office towers or airports. Point is, who says that we must agree to buy these back from an independent Quebec, and at what price?

Parizeau even threatens to rescind the St. Lawrence Seaway and NORAD defence treaties if attempts are made to economically isolate Quebec. “What we want is everything to have a third, Quebec, signature,” he says. “What if the Americans don’t want a third signature and push Quebec out of the Free Trade Agreement? Then Quebec must have the right to look at each treaty signed in our name. NORAD, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and dozens more. Either Quebec countersigns all these treaties in one afternoon, or we renegotiate them one by one. It’ll be one incredible mess.”

Parizeau says that he would prefer Quebec to use the Canadian dollar and central bank, but only if interest rates were pegged to within two percentage points, higher or lower, than American ones. He adds that Ottawa has little

choice. “We could have our own currency, but it would be more comforting to keep the Canadian dollar,” he says wryly. “It would be bad for the rest of Canada if we did not have the same currency. Quebecers currently have $100 billion in bank deposits and bills. If that amount was floating outside the system, it would be like having another $100 billion in foreign debt to be repaid. So, that being the case, we’ll probably agree to a single currency.” Conversely, if Quebec creates its own currency, there would be an even greater “overhang” of “foreign” currency to contend with.

What surprises is the absence of any virulent criticism of Parizeau’s treasonous policies. But divided, English Canada has conquered itself. So emboldened by the silence of others, Parizeau and his followers seem bent on independence merely because the opportunity to become so exists. There is not a single compelling reason for Quebec to leave. Language rights are a red herring, and Parizeau can only point to past grievances. For example, he says now, francophone geologists were unable to find jobs in Canada until the 1970s. But that’s no longer the case and besides, I ask him, isn’t it true—as the world hurtles towards a single global economy—that every ambitious Quebecer, whether an engineer, academic, researcher, businessman or politician, must speak English? “Yes,” he says. “And I’d like them to speak a third language, too.”

Consider the facts. Outside Quebec, French language rights are enshrined constitutionally. Ottawa is bilingual, and a disproportionate number of meaningful civil service jobs in Ottawa are held by bilingual francophones. For the past 22 years, with two brief lapses, Joe Clark and John Turner, the prime minister of Canada has been a Quebecer. Inside Quebec, French has become its official language and principal workplace language. Francophones, thanks to commercially oriented education, now lead Quebec’s business world. What more could be wanted?

Parizeau says that Quebecers only trust their own provincial government in Quebec City. “No one says that what was done at the federal civil service [in terms of bilingualism] was puny or ridiculous,” he adds. “But more often than not, when our own [Quebec] government opened the doors, intense conflict resulted on the so-called language front [by EnglishCanadians]. Language rights would not have been given to us. Doors were opened only by the Quebec government. Federal bilingualism came too late. We’re not mad, and we understand fully well you don’t operate in international markets without English.”

Regurgitating past grievances is no way to hold together a marriage that makes economic sense. What really is going on here is a thinly disguised grab for power, a waste of energy, money and time which could be better spent putting our collective heads together to restructure our political and economic institutions to allow us to prosper and, at the same time, look after the less fortunate—in both official languages. Instead, we are 26 million solitudes.