The chain of events that led to last week's first-ever congressional hearing on the future of Canada began last December in an unlikely
spot: a restaurant in Palm Beach, Fla. Harry
Bloomfield, a Montreal lawyer and businessman, was having dinner with Patrick Henry, a fellow member of the board of the Vermont
Telephone Co., and Henry’s wife, Heather. It was just a few weeks after the narrow federalist victory in the Quebec referendum, and Bloomfield was telling his companions that “what we need is more informed Americans to come up and find out what’s going on.” As it turned out, Heather Henry had a brother, Tom Campbell, who was in a position to do exactly that. She put Bloomfield in touch with Campbell, a Republican congressman from California. A few months later, Campbell visited Montreal at Bloomfield’s invitation, became convinced that Americans should stop ignoring Canada’s constitutional woes—and started to push for the hearing. “He really felt it merited more attention,” Bloomfield recalled. And so for the first time, American congressmen gathered to ponder the potential breakup of a country that they agreed is of vital significance to the United States—but
that, until last Wednesday, had received less attention on Capitol Hill than Albania or Zaire. Not that they gave it a tremendous amount of time. Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who chairs the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House international affairs committee, presided over the session for exactly 21 minutes before excusing himself to do an interview with the CBS News program 60 Minutes. That left Campbell,
two other congressmen and a hearing room packed mainly with Canadians listening to four American academics warn that the secession of Quebec is a very real possibility that threatens U.S. trade, economic and defence interests. One of them, Earl Fry of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, cautioned that the United States has already
lost billions in trade because of uncertainty in Canada, and the disruption unleashed by Quebec independence would cost “tens of thousands of additional U.S. jobs.”
Among those listening was a gallery
of committed anti-sovereigntists, including English-rights activist Howard Galganov, lawyer Guy Bertrand and a delegation of Cree Indians from
northern Quebec. Also discreetly present was Bloomfield, who could claim to have at least partly inspired the entire episode. After meeting Campbell’s sister, he hosted the
congressman in Montreal last March, introducing him to Quebec Liberal Leader Daniel Johnson, Quebec Tourism Minister Rita Dionne-Marso-
lais, and members of grassroots unity groups. The message Campbell received was that the referendum had settled nothing, and that Canada was in danger of breaking up. Bloomfield, a wealthy 52-yearold lawyer and onetime Tory candidate against Pierre Trudeau in Montreal’s Mount Royal riding, was well satisfied that a
prominent American had come to hear that. "The separatist leaders of Quebec have a healthy respect for the good opinion of Americans," he said. Campbell, a fiercely intelligent economist and Harvard-trained lawyer who represents a district just south of San Francisco, re turned to Washington determined to take up the issue. As a specialist in international trade at Stanford University, he was con cerned that Quebec independence vould create uncertainty in the North American Free Trade Agreement, and for U.S. defence agreements that involve Canada, including NATO and NORAD. Bloomfield also intro duced him to Galganov, who met the con gressman in Washington on Sept. 11 as part of his attempt to win American support for his English-rights campaign. Some Que becers who followed the visits closely even speculated that Bloomfield orchestrated Galganov's American foray. But Bloomifleld says he is not involved in Galganov's cam paign. "He's completely his own man," Bloomfield said. As it turned out, last week's hearing did
not turn into the kind of confused free-for-all that some Canadian officials had feared. Campbell invited only American witnesses, avoiding the controversy that would in evitably arise by choosing some Canadians over others. And the state department de clined to send a witness, continuing the long-standing policy of both Democratic and Republican administrations of avoiding com ment on Canada's constitutional strains as much as possible. Instead, Fry of Brigham Young University, Charles Doran of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore,
Christopher Sands of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Joseph Joekel of St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., urged Americans to take the Canadian situation more seriously. “If we are caught as unprepared as we were in the last referendum,” said Sands, “we will have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Under persistent questioning from Campbell, all four academics agreed on one thing: that Quebec would not automatically become a member of NAFTA after independence. That is crucial because Premier Lucien Bouchard’s Parti Québécois government has assured voters that the province would continue as a free trade partner of the United States, and that as a result the economic disruption of secession would be minimal. In contrast, the American experts argued that the United States would have to agree to any new state joining NAFTA, and that it would be up to Congress, not the administration, to make that decision because it has jurisdiction over trade law. “While the accession of an independent Quebec to NAFTA makes sense,” concluded Jockel, “there’s nothing automatic about it.”
Canadian officials watching the hearing were pleased at that unanimous conclusion—which was featured in a front-page headline in Quebec’s most influential newspaper, La Presse. And they were heartened that all the experts underlined the obvious: that the United States has a strong interest in seeing its most important trading partner remain united and stable. Quebec officials were left with little positive to report home. They took some comfort in the experts’ conclusion that if Quebec did declare independence, the United States would be welladvised to cultivate close relations with the new country. And they pointed to Jockel’s more controversial argument that if Quebec declared sovereignty unilaterally, the United States could play a role in persuading an angry English Canada to accept the new reality for the sake of stability throughout North America.
Still, federal and Quebec officials in Washington could agree on one thing: they were not eager to see Congress take up the subject of Canada again anytime soon. For both sides, such hearings are too unpredictable and fraught with danger. But more hearings are exactly what Campbell has in mind: he promised to pursue the issue after the November elections, possibly by trying to have Congress spell out more clearly the U.S. conditions for accepting a new state into NAFTA. Bloomfield does not intend to let the issue lapse, either. Last week, he and other Montrealers launched a group called the Citizens Committee for Democracy in Quebec, with the aim of continuing to seek publicity in the United States over the sovereignty issue. All that could leave Canadians yearning for the time when they were blissfully ignored on Capitol Hill. □
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