Unity rally—the sequel. About 2,000 people braved a blustery day to gather in Montreal’s Place du Canada to mark the anniversary of last year’s 11th-hour giant referendum rally. That gathering, held on Oct. 27 during the final days of the referendum campaign, drew up to 100,000 participants who listened to speeches by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Quebec Liberal Leader Daniel Johnson and federal Tory Leader Jean Charest. By comparison, last week’s event was a subdued affair. “It certainly is not the same,” said Vancouver mortgage broker Albert Palombo, who also attended the giant unity rally. “When I came last year, it was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life.”
But if the commemorative rally failed to fuel federalist sentiment in Quebec, there are signs that separatism may also be on the wane. Last week, an opinion poll by Groupe Léger &
Léger of Montreal showed that support for sovereignty is slowly eroding. Among the findings: 48 per cent of Quebecers would vote against separatism if there was no chance of negotiating sovereignty, compared with 38.5 per cent who would vote Yes. Chrétien, meanwhile, waded into the debate during a twoday visit to Montreal. In a speech to 900 local
business leaders, he bemoaned the effect of separatist policies on the city’s economy. “There remains one element which continues to undermine the investment climate in Quebec,” Chrétien declared. And the Prime Minister played up the federal government’s role as a champion of the local economy: the high point of his visit was an $87-million federal loan to Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. to help the company launch a new 70-seat Regional Jet.
LAW AND ORDER
Under the gun
Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Perreault appointed Lawrence Poitras, the recently retired chief justice of the Quebec Superior Court, to head an inquiry into the activities of the Sûreté du Québec. The provincial police force has long faced allegations of brutality, corruption and mishandling investigations—most recently in 1994 during the Montreal trial of seven men charged with drug smuggling. That case was thrown out of court after the presiding judge ruled that four SQ investigators had tampered with evidence. And although the four were subsequently acquitted of charges arising from that case, one of three other inspectors appointed to look into the SQ’s handling of the investigation was allegedly subjected to intimidation by superior officers—and then suspended for disloyalty to the force. The inquiry is scheduled to submit its report by Nov. 1, 1997.
Harmony and discord
Federal Finance Minister Paul Martin announced the finalization of the tax harmonization deal between Ottawa and three Atlantic provinces. Under the terms of the agreement, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland will meld their provincial sales taxes with the seven-per-cent federal Goods and Services Tax for a single 15-per-cent levy. The new tax will be incorporated into the listed price of goods and services—although it will be clearly marked on sales receipts. In return, the three provinces will receive $961 million in compensation for lost revenues from provincial sales taxes (all currently 11 per cent or higher). At the same time, Martin unveiled a surprise: Ottawa has decided to eliminate the GST on books bought by Canadian universities, schools, libraries and charities. The finance minister added that the tax reprieve on books—in the form of a rebate—would cost the federal government $25 million a year in lost revenues. Critics reacted with scorn to the harmonization deal, focusing once again on the Liberals’ 1993 campaign promise to scrap—not harmonize—the GST. “I hope they will go the extra distance and announce a plan that will see the eventual abolishing of the GST,” said Liberal MP John Nunziata, who was kicked out of the caucus April 22 for his criticism of his own party on the GST issue.
Myles Morin, a former chairman of the Saskatchewan Conservative caucus, testified in court that Grant Devine, premier from 1982 to 1991, approved a plan to transfer $455,000 in government-granted caucus research funds into an investment account. The money was later used for party activities. Devine has denied any knowledge of the criminal activity in his caucus that has led to fraud charges against 11 former Tory MLAs.
Cpl. Stéphane Dostie told the Somalia inquiry that during a March, 1993, incident involving suspected looters at the Canadian compound, a fellow sentry equipped with night-vision goggles told him that a Somali civilian had been shot at “point-blank range.” The disturbance left one Somali dead and another wounded—both of them shot in the back.
The federal government introduced legislation to cut election campaigns from 47 days to 36. The bill would also create a permanent voters’ list. Meanwhile, a private member’s bill by Vancouver East MP Anna Terrana called for staggered polling-station hours across the country. In the past, B.C. voters often knew which party had won an election before they even cast their ballots because of reports about vote tallies in Ontario and Quebec before B.C. polling stations closed.
The federal immigration department implemented tougher screening procedures for Taiwanese investor-class immigrants. The department said concerns had been raised over the use of false information to secure entry into Canada, and that some Taiwanese entrepreneurs were not investing in Canada the money required by law. The department’s actions follow recent reports by Maclean’s on shortcomings in Ottawa’s immigrant-investor policy.
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR
At Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack, Cigar, the star entry in horse racing’s richest day, finished third in what was billed as his final race. It was the first time the $11-million Breeders’ Cup was held outside the United States.
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