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Copyright 1996 FDCHeMedia,
Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Clearing House Congressional Testimony
September 25, 1996, Wednesday
SECTION: CAPITOL HILL HEARING TESTIMONY
LENGTH: 3933 words
HEADLINE: TESTIMONY September 25, 1996 JOSEPH T. JOCKEL PROFESSOR OF
STUDIES ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY HOUSE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS WESTERN
SITUATION IN QUEBEC
JOSEPH T. JOCKEL
Professor of Canadian Studies
St. Lawrence University
Canton, New York
For hearings on Quebec separatism and the U.S., 25 Sept.
House Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
1. At the moment, events point in the
direction of, within a few years, Quebec's
and becoming a sovereign state.
2. Most Americans would no doubt deeply regret or
even be shocked at Canada's
breaking up. Nonetheless, the Quebec
independence movement deserves our respect (although not our support) because
of its commitment to non-violent change to be achieved only at the ballot
3. If Quebec
becomes independent, we can expect what remains of Canada to hold together in the
short run. There is very good reason to believe, as well, that it will
hold together in the long run.
4. The official approach of the U. S., which has been based
on staying out of the Canadian debate while gingerly signalling the hope that
remains united, has been a foreign policy success shared by all
that of President Carter. The Clinton
administration's "no assurances" modification makes sense. It
has obliquely signalled that Quebec would not "automatically" be admitted to several
accords with the U.S.,
above all NAFTA.
5. There is inherent tension between the interests
of the U.S.
independence (should that enter occur) and thereafter. U.S. interests today are clear: they lie with Canada's
remaining united. But after Quebec
independence it surely then would be in the interest of the U.S. to pursue warm and close relations with Quebec (which would pursue a reciprocal policy towards the
U.S.) while retaining them
It would also be in the interest of the U.S.
for Canada to pursue close
ties with Quebec.
6. A vote for independence by the Quebec
electorate would necessitate numerous new decisions being
reached in Washington.
The administration could very well face the immediate decision of how
to respond to a Quebec
of independence that was issued in violation of the
Constitution of Canada, over the objections of the Government of Canada.
The terms under which Quebec
were to be admitted to NAFTA and other economic
accords would have to be negotiated by the administration and approved by
Congress. NORAD and other bilateral defense
arrangement would have to be adjusted and Quebec"s admission to NATO considered. Perhaps the
most difficult decision for Washington would
be how much it would want to encourage Canada
to pursue a close economic relationship with Quebec.
1. THE OUTLOOK, CANADA/QUEBEC
Right now, the outlook is not good for Quebec's
remaining in Canada after the
independence referendum, expected within a few years. To be sure, a
Majority of Quebecers seems prepared to vote to stay in Canada if
there are significant constitutional changes; but the rest of the country
("English Canada") has not yet been able to bring itself to agree
to such changes. Underlining these constitutional differences between Quebec and English Canada is an evert deeper one about the very nature of the Canada
Most Quebecers now see Canada as a country with two
major cultures, societies,
peoples, or nations, their own and English Canada's. Many Quebecers, of
course, have also already drawn the conclusion that their society now merits
its own sovereign state. Still, most would be content to remain in Canada if it were constitutionally adjusted to reflect what they see as
its fundamentally binary character. This would entail such steps as
constitutional recognition of
the distinctiveness of Quebec society,
limitation of Ottawa's powers, and transfer of
powers to the Quebec
English Canadians shy away from this binary conception of
the country, preferring to see it as inhabited by one Canadian people, some
of whom speak English, some of whom speak French, who come from many
cultures, and all of whom have the same rights. In this context Quebec
seems to them to be asking for special, undeserved rights.
There are additional obstacles to English Canada's
agreeing to Quebec's
constitutional demands. over the past decade there
have been two spectacular, failed attempts at constitutional revision that
have left English Canada constitutionally exhausted." During the last
attempt, the constitutional agenda grew beyond just Quebec's demands to include those of other
groups, especially aboriginals, while the precedent was
firmly established that any proposed changes would be referred to
popular referendum. Many Canadians have thus concluded that their
Constitution is, for all attempts and purposes, unamendable.
There is, as well, another critical reason for many
English Canadians to resist constitutional change that would involve
transferring power from Ottawa: it might make Canada
already is one of the most decentralized federations in the world. In
short, in a point that will be returned to below,
many English Canadians are, in effect, saying no Quebecers that they are not
prepared to turn the country constitutionally inside out to meet Quebec's demands.
Nonetheless, someone just might find the magic formula that
could satisfy both English Canadians and Quebecers. The federal
government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien has thus
far avoided formal federal- provincial negotiations on
the constitution, although recently two provincial premiers,
and the leader of the federalist forces in the Quebec legislature have called for such
talks. In selling any potential constitutional solution to Quebecers,
though, the federal
government and other federalists will face a handicap: the separatist (government
Parti Quebecois government will brand just about
any potential constitutional solution as insufficient.
2. THE QUEBEC INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
The sympathies of most Americans (if they think of Canada at
all) go, no doubt, with the Canadian federalist side. Perhaps at the
deepest level we automatically apply to the Canadian case the lesson of our
own civil war:
national integrity is precious. (This is not to suggest in any way that Canada faces
its own civil war.) As well, many Americans, just like many Canadians, find
it very hard to believe that the future of Canada, a country with the
second-highest level of material welfare in the world and perhaps the highest
standard of living in the world, is very much in doubt.
Many Americans are also troubled at the thought that the
Canadian lesson in tolerance may fail. President Clinton reflected this
sentiment last year when, during his visit to Ottawa, he quoted President Truman. "Canada's
position today," Truman said, "is a tribute to the patience, tolerance,
and strength of character of her people. Canada's notable achievements of
national unity and progress through accommodation, moderation and forbearance
studied with profit by sister nations."
It may also be the case that many Americans are suspicious
of the Quebec
independence movement because they identify with English Canadians who speak
the same language and, trying to draw parallels with the American domestic situation they see Quebecers as an upstart linguistic
minority. In reality, Quebecers are, to use somewhat older Canadian
parlance, not recent immigrants at all but one of the country's
"founding peoples"; while French-speaking Quebecers constitute, far
from a minority, about 80% of the province's population.
But whatever our sentiments (and,
as, will be discussed below, our interests) we can respect the Quebec
Independence movement. It is committed to nonviolent
change to be achieved only at the ballot box, in the
elections and referenda. Not only is the independentist
Parti Quebecois (PQ) in power at the provincial
level but its sister party, the Bloc Quebecois holds most of the seats from Quebec in the federal
House of Commons.
It cannot be said, though, that
the independence movement is committed solely to change in accordance with
the Canadian Constitution. The PQ envisaged issuing a unilateral
declaration of independence, in apparent violation of the
Canadian Constitution had there been a "yes" vote in the 1995.
This could very well again be the party's strategy for the next
referendum. As will be discussed below, this would pose a problem for
independentists assert that whatever such a
declarations status under the Canadian Constitution, it would be legal under
the relevant provisions of international law.
The PQ is, of course, the author or defender of Quebec's language legislation favoring
French, which has drawn some attention in the U.S.,
intensifying an impression of Quebec
"intolerance." This is not the place to go
extensively into such a complex issue. It can be
briefly said, though, that as regrettable as Quebec's current legislation regulating
public signage is, English-speaking Quebecers are very far from an oppressed
minority. There is, for example, in Quebec a complete English-speaking school
system, extending through the university level, supported by public funds.
There is a similar network of publicly funded English-speaking social
services. It is hard to imagine any U.S. state financially supporting
similar services for a linguistic minority group.
FURTHER FRAGMENTATION VS.
If Quebec becomes
undoubtedly would be a geographically awkward country. So the idea
cannot be dismissed out of hand that, in the long run,
Canada, without Quebec would divide
into further fragments.
Yet it is equally likely that what would then just be
English Canada would hold together as one country. At the very least,
the large majority of English Canadians simply do not want to become
Americans and holding Canada
would remain the best way to accomplish this. In fact, the history of Canada is a
history of not wanting to become American.
Beyond this it simply is not the
case that the only thing that distinguishes Canada
from the United States is Quebec. There are
values, which constitute the basis of a national culture,
that English Canadians want to protect. Perhaps
Americans can be forgiven for overlooking this, for even two Canadian prime ministers,
Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney, both notably from
Quebec, have implied that Canada does not exist without Quebec, and English
Canadians tend to spend a good deal of time agonizing over their national
Yet any American who travels across the Canadian border
notices not only the similarities with his own country, but the sometimes striking differences as well. Briefly put,
English Canada, across its geographically far-flung parts,
is a more organized, calmer, less individualistic and less violent place than
the United States,
although at the same time it is less economically and culturally dynamic and
In one sense, holding Canada
together will become easier if Quebec goes,
for it has been the province most consistently pushing for the decentralization
of federal authority and resisting Canada- wide standards and
programs. As pointed out above, many English Canadians have been saying, in
effect, to Quebec
that they like the country the way it is. In other words, Quebec nationalism has
been encountering English Canadian nationalism. This latter nationalism
could very well be the glue that holds Canada
together in the long run, despite the trauma of Quebec's leaving and
the geographic awkwardness of what would remain.
Regardless of Canada's
long-term future, there is very little reason to believe that English Canada
would divide into several pieces in the short run, i.e. ,
shortly after Quebec'
s departure. (Indeed, far from splitting up, many Canadians are determined to
hold on to as much territory as possible and are insisting that Quebec could take into sovereignty less territory than
it now possesses as a province
of Canada.) So the foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. across its northern border on the eve of Quebec independence, and for years thereafter, would be
determining and pursuing the kind of relationship it will want to have with Canada and Quebec,
and the kind of relationship the U.S.
will want to encourage Canada
to have with one another. In the longer run, should any tendencies
toward further fragmentation begin to appear in Canada,
it would be in the interest of the United States to discourage them,
favor of stable, well-known North American
4. RECENT U.S. POLICY
Official U.S. policy concerning the possibility of Canada's breaking up has largely remained
constant since the Carter Administration, although it was significantly
altered, in part, by the Clinton Administration during the lead-up to
the 1995 Quebec
The policy has consisted, in essence, of a firm
determination to stay out of the debate in Quebec
and :he rest of Canada over the country's future.
In form, it has consisted of two elements. The first has been a
formulaic public statement, often called the "mantra", the exact
wording of which has changed over time. A recent version of the mantra
has run, "The United States enjoys excellent relations with a strong and
political future is naturally for Canadians to decide." The second element
has been a refusal on the part of U.S.
officialdom to enter into hypothetical discussions of how the U.S. would react if Quebec moved decisively toward
independence or actually became sovereign.
officials altered the U.S.
government's public pronouncements in reaction to assertions made in 1994 and
1995 by Parti Quebecois leaders to the effect that Quebec "automatically"
would enter into several important international arrangements, NAFTA among
them. For example, the original draft Sovereignty Act
introduced by the PQ government in 1994 and mailed to every household in the
province included the assertion that "in accordance with the rules of
international law, Quebec shall assume the obligations and enjoy the rights
set forth in the relevant treaties and
international conventions and agreements to which Canada or Quebec is a party
on the date on which Quebec becomes a sovereign country, in particular, NAFTA
Such an interpretation, of course, is not at all shared in Washington, especially not in Congress.
officials, constrained by the mantra, could not at first
openly respond to the assertions of "automaticity."
Nonetheless, they soon hit upon the formulation, used by then-Ambassador Jaries Blanchard and Secretary of State Warren Christopher
that "no assurances had been given the Quebec
government about the nature of future ties with the U.S.
This long-standing U.S. policy, as modified by the
Clinton Administration, continues to make sense. Above all, Canada is a democratic
country that has the right to decide its own future without the interference
of the U S. government.
The "no assurances" modification has severely limited the
opportunity of some in Quebec to, in effect, take advantage of the official U.S. silence.
There is another important reason to continue with the
current official policy of staying out of the debate in Quebec
and the rest of Canada.
As will be discussed in the next section, there is inherent tension
interests of the U.S.
becomes independent (should that ever occur) and thereafter. As a
result, the more the U.S. government were openly to discuss the exact nature
of the relationship which it would be in its interest
to pursue with a sovereign Quebec, the more likely Quebec independence would become.
5. U.S. INTERESTS BEFORE AND AFTER QUEBEC
There is inherent tension between U.S. interests before Quebec becomes independent (should that
ever occur) and after independence.
It is clearly in the interest of the United States that Canada remain
purchases more U.S.
exports than any other country and is the most important location of U.S. foreign
investment. It is (more or less) a single economy and market, under the
authority (again more or less) of one federal government. The division
of that Canadian market between several sovereign states can only create new
uncertainties and risks for Americans. Since Americans also hold a significant
amount of the debt incurred by the Canadian federal and provincial
governments here, too, the country's breakup could
only lead to unhappy uncertainties.
During the first few decades of the Cold War, Canadian
territory and airspace played an essential role in the defense
of North America against nuclear attack.
This has become far less important with the shift in
the threat away from manned bombers towards ballistic missiles, since
Canadians operate none of the missile detection systems, none of which is
located in Canada.
More recently, the demise of the Soviet Union
has led to a further relaxation of
concerns. So Quebec
independence would pose no fundamental security threat to the U.S. Still,
if Quebec became independent there would be issues concerning the vestigial
North American defense tasks that are still
necessary which the U.S. would much rather not have to renegotiate. Moreover,
a Canada that had lost
independence a substantial portion of its population and GDP would have
trouble playing a major, constructive role in world affairs.
In addition to economic and military concerns, Canada and the U.S. share responsibility for the
protection of the North American environment. Several environmental
agreements between them would have to be renegotiated.
So would a
host of other functional arrangements between the two countries. According
to the Canadian government's count, there are 220 treaties and other
agreements between our two countries.
Nonetheless, it would be in the interest of the U.S., if Canada
did in fact break up, to pursue close relations with both Canada and Quebec,
as well as for Canada and Quebec themselves to establish as close a relationship as
Faced with an irrevocable Canadian breakup,
the U.S. would have every incentive
to continue to pursue the free flow of goods, capital, and services in North
America and to put in place the international arrangements necessary between
it and the countries to its north, including Quebec membership in NAFTA. To the extent
that the Canadian economic "space" could be
retained by Canadians and Quebecers, the U.S. would also benefit. The U.S. would also have every
incentive to foster Quebec's membership and active, constructive
participation in North American security and world affairs and to enter in
discussions with Canada and Quebec providing for the continuity of that host
of other North American trans-border arrangements, involving, just to name a
few, environmental protection, taxation, telecommunications, transportation,
law enforcement, agriculture, health, and pensions.
In other words, Americans, including
officials of the U.S.
government, have to hope fervently that the Canadian federalist
forces will prevail. But if they do not the arguments
of the Quebec
separatists for the establishment of close
Canada-Quebec-U.S. relations should become
convincing from the U.S.
point of view. Quebec would be eager
for close relations with the U.S.
As a result, the most problematic aspect of Quebec
independence for the U.S.
could very well be convincing English Canadians who would be angry at the breakup of their country -- of the benefits of close
Canada-Quebec economic ties within a broader North American framework.
6. IMMEDIATE POLICY CHOICES
If the Quebec electorate does vote "yes" in the
next independence referendum that is expected in the next several years, the
policy of non-involvement that has served the U.S. government so well for
twenty-years obviously would five to be abandoned. Some major decision
areas are outlined below:
- The administration might face the Immediate and
potentially very thorny decision of how to respond to a unilateral
declaration of independence issued by Quebec, in violation of the Constitution
of Canada, and over the formal
objection of the Government of Canada. The ramifications could extend
beyond North America if (as hoped for by Quebec
sovereignists) swift recognition were
granted by France
and pressure exerted by the French government on other EU countries.
- The administration and congress would have to determine
the terms under which, from the U.S.
point of view, Quebec
would be admitted to NAFTA and other economic
accords. Several matters would have to be negotiated
in such areas as agriculture, textiles, and cultural industries.
- Quebec's departure from
would probably precipitate an overhaul of the formal institutions of
Canada-U.S. defense cooperation, probably leading
to less formal arrangements. Quebec sovereignists have been eager to assure the U.S. of their
interest to cooperate in defense matters, including
joining the North American Aerospace Defense
Command (NORAD), now maintained as a joint Canada- U.S. entity.
But even before the end of the
Cold War, Canada, quite
simply, was becoming less and less important to the physical security of the United States.
As pointed out above, not only had the manned bomber threat declined, but no system
to detect ballistic missiles was located in Canada or operated by the
Canadian Forces. Should the U.S. ever
decide to construct a BMD system, Canadian territory would not be necessary
for any of the technologies presently envisaged. NORAD, no longer
necessary as a command for the protection of either country has been retained
not only to provide for the bilateral coordination of vestigial defense and sovereignty protection efforts, but also as a
channel for Canada-U.S. cooperation in space surveillance and other military
space-based efforts. The Canadian Armed Forces, already hard-hit by
recent budget cuts, would be financially devastated by the impact of Quebec independence.
Under these circumstances it would be easiest
for the U.S.
to do away with NORAD altogether, and enter into more informal arrangements
with the Canadian and Quebec Armed Forces for North American aerospace defense and Sovereignty
There probably would be Quebec Armed Forces, very limited
in number and capability, and maintained for domestic roles, UN peacekeeping
operations and for potential deployment as token contributions to
multilateral peace enforcement operations. Quebec would in all
probability want to joint NATO. The U.S. would want to lend its
support, unless in the unlikely event the issue became
heavily entangled with that of NATO membership for eastern European states.
Finally, it bears repeating that the most difficult issue
for the U.S. , should Quebec become independent, could very well be deciding
how much it should attempt to encourage Canada to enter into a close
relationship with Quebec,
especially an economic relationship within a broader framework of North Americans
ties. Some English Canadians hope that if all else fails, the U.S. might prevent the establishment of an
state. Yet it may well be that the U.S.
will decide to exert the bulk of its persuasiveness not on Quebec,
but on Canada.
LOAD-DATE: September 27, 1996