COLUMN

Quebec must pay the price of independence

Junior must realize that if he wants to break up a home, he cannot rely on familial generosity. It’s not war—it’s just fair

DIANE FRANCIS May 21 1990
COLUMN

Quebec must pay the price of independence

Junior must realize that if he wants to break up a home, he cannot rely on familial generosity. It’s not war—it’s just fair

DIANE FRANCIS May 21 1990

Quebec must pay the price of independence

COLUMN

Junior must realize that if he wants to break up a home, he cannot rely on familial generosity. It’s not war—it’s just fair

DIANE FRANCIS

It happens to families all the time. Junior wants to leave home, move into his own place and be his own boss. One parent agrees and the other does not, and the three argue constantly. Junior irritates both parents by purposely creating situations that lead to arguments. One parent finally capitulates and together both tell him that he may leave home, but only if he pays what he owes them—about 20 years of room and board and other expenses he incurred. Not surprisingly, ►he realizes he cannot afford to leave.

Junior, in case you haven’t guessed, is a metaphor for Quebec. But Junior, in reality Parti Québécois Leader Jacques Parizeau, has ‘ said that if Quebec leaves Confederation it will assume payment for its share of the national debt. He has also said that Quebec would keep 4the Canadian dollar as its currency and let the Bank of Canada manage the economy and banking system. Seemingly a concession, the cunning Parizeau knows that an independent Quebec without Bank of Canada backing or the Canadian dollar as the medium of exchange would be made into monetary mincemeat. Equally cunning, he has said that Quebec will assume 25 per cent of Ottawa’s debt in return for Ottawa’s giving Quebec 25 per cent of the value of all federal assets, in acknowledgment of Quebec’s contribution to Confederation. In other words, the rest of Canada may end up owing Quebec, if the assets exceed the debt.

The grim truth is that Quebec, like Junior, cannot afford to leave home without incurring a huge drop in living standards. That is why, if separation actually takes place, Ottawa would be well within its rights to hold an economic gun to Quebec’s head to prevent it from happening, in order to protect all Canadians. Quebec, or any other breakaway province, must be made to realize that it must repay immediately its debts. It must also be denied the opportunity to use the Canadian dollar, to rely on the international reputation of the Bank of Canada or to forge a separate economic union with the United States. As well, Canada should ask the

United States to promise this, in light of American support for unity. These actions sound like threats but are enlightened self-interest. Junior must realize that if he wants to break up a home he cannot rely on familial generosity any longer. It’s not war—it’s just fair.

Even Parizeau must know that Quebec cannot leave behind Canada, its currency or its central bank. That aside, Quebec still must be given what it wants, which, in my opinion, is the implementation of the Meech Lake accord. The accord is not particularly enlightened or necessary, but must be approved because Quebec and all the important, economically successful provinces want it. Besides, if the June 23 deadline for Meech Lake approval is not met, Junior may continue to threaten to leave, a posture that is already adversely affecting our livelihoods and economy.

In March, Germany’s Deutsche Bank branch in New York City joined a list of those recommending that its clients reduce the proportion of Canadian bonds they hold, because they fear that uncertainty about Canada’s future will reduce the Canadian dollar’s value. As a result of some foreigners bailing out of our currency, the Bank of Canada is forced to nudge interest rates upward to entice other foreigners to

invest in an otherwise shaky Canadian dollar.

Of course, separatists love the Meech Lake impasse. They engineered it back in 1981 when Quebec’s governing Parti Québécois refused to sign the original constitutional and charter pact. Quebec’s abstention was mischievous, according to a book by Claude Morin, a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister who wrote that the Parti had no intention of signing a deal designed to bind Canada together.

The 1981 deal, which came into effect in 1982, was also sabotaged by its “notwithstanding” clause, which undermines Supreme Court of Canada decisions relating to certain rights under the charter. Quebec invoked the clause in 1988 to flout a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Quebec law banning all nonFrench signs. Equally flawed, anti-bilingual forces would argue, is the unevenness of the notwithstanding clause, which cannot be invoked in another case by Alberta, which was ordered by the Supreme Court in March to turn over control of provincially funded French schools to francophone parents. The difference is that the Alberta decision was rendered under the sacrosanct “education” provisions of the charter while the sign-law battle was fought under the charter’s “freedom of expression” provisions, considered less important by the architects of the 1982 Constitution. Clearly, all court decisions should have been binding, and there should not be firstand second-tier rights in a charter.

The unevenness of the 1982 agreement has single-handedly escalated the family feud. Banning English store signs was ill-advised and hypocritical because it is language suppression, something the French have criticized, and suffered, outside of Quebec. It also belied the fact that Quebec’s Anglo minority enjoy far more rights to services in their language than do francophones outside Quebec.

As the Meech deadline looms, Canadians are caught in a fight waged by spokesmen from the two founding groups that continue to dredge up old grudges and ancient history. Conspicuously absent is that huge proportion of Canadians who came here as immigrants, as I did. Immigrants chose Canada because it is a superior society with a relatively rewarding economy. We also accepted its strange, anachronistic British monarch and the special privileges awarded to the two founding groups, even though in some regions they are widely outnumbered.

Reality now is that the two founding races are becoming outnumbered. Compared with French-Canadians, there are more GermanCanadians in Calgary, more Italian-Canadians in Toronto and more Chinese-Canadians in Vancouver. Canada is not bicultural, it is multicultural.

Like other families in crisis, Canada can only stay together if the parties involved want to make it work. The sheer economic dependency, as well as the dire economic consequences of separation, are the most compelling arguments for setting aside differences. Canada with its disparate ethnic groups may never be the Waltons, but there is absolutely no reason we cannot learn to share a roof together.