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Copyright 1996 FDCHeMedia,
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Clearing House Congressional Testimony
September 25, 1996, Wednesday
SECTION: CAPITOL HILL HEARING TESTIMONY
LENGTH: 2631 words
HEADLINE: TESTIMONY September 25, 1996 CHRISTOPHER SANDS RESEARCH
COORDINATOR, CANADA PROJECT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS WESTERN HEMISPHERE SITUATION IN QUEBEC
Research Associate and Coordinator, Canada Project
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 25, 1996
United States House of Representatives
Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
It is an honor to be asked to
testify before you today on U.S. interests in
the future of Canada and Quebec, and the
efficacy of current policy to safeguard
The Timing of this Hearing
This hearing is a useful opportunity to evaluate the
subtle repositioning of U.S.
policy on the issue of Canadian unity, and Mr. Campbell and the subcommittee
should be commended for undertaking this first step
in exercising congressional oversight over U.S. policy in this area.
Now is an appropriate time to review this aspect of U.S. policy regarding Canada. Why?
* First, because there are actions which
can be taken now that can improve the U.S.
policy position before this issue returns to the fore in Canada.
* Second, we cannot become complacent because there is
reason to believe that the next Canadian unity crisis could come more quickly
than in three years, as many now expect.
Today, nearly a year after the 1995 Quebec
referendum as this year's congressional calendar will permit,
it is prudent that the United
States take stock of its current position.
U.S. Policy Changed During the 1995 Quebec Referendum
foreign policy regarding Canadian unity, and specifically the possibility of Quebec independence, has
traditionally been summarized by a phrase that has become known as the
Mantra: "The United States
enjoys excellent relations with a strong and united Canada.
The future of Canada,
however, is for Canadians to decide."
This position of mildly pro-unity Public detachment was sharpened during the referendum by several statements
by senior U.S.
officials. President William Clinton praised Canada's
tradition of respect and tolerance for cultural
diversity and toasted a united Canada
during his February 1995 state visit to Ottawa.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher remarked in the heat of the referendum
campaign that the complex architecture of U.S.-Canada relations,
based on numerous treaties and agreements, would be very difficult to reconstruct
in a bilateral relationship between the United
States and an independent Quebec. In so
doing, Mr. Christopher acknowledged the position of most U.S. experts on
international law and U.S. diplomatic practice, that Quebec is not likely to
be treated as a successor state to Canada if it became independent, and would
therefore be required to negotiate access to existing treaties if it wished
to retain the benefits it enjoyed as part of Canada. Ambassador James
Blanchard stressed publicly that the United
States had offered and would offer no assurances
regarding membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for
an independent Quebec.
However, debate in Canada
and Quebec over the possible U.S. response to Quebec's
independence continued, despite the changes made to the U.S. public line.
Voters in Quebec have become as
cynical as those elsewhere in North
America, and many dismissed the statements of our policymakers
as threats or "politics-as-usual" attempts to affect the outcome of
the referendum. This is not the case -- these statements by U.S. officials simply acknowledged the limitations
on our ability to respond should Quebec
become independent. Therefore, while the subtle but real shift in U.S. policy is a step forward, it is necessary
to go further, to be explicit, on those issues where U.S. flexibility
The National Interest and U.S. Policy Objectives
The United States must begin by defining clear political
and economic objectives for our Canada
policy, or the substantial U.S.
interests in Canada will fall prey to the
negative effects of drift. The U.S.
will not be the victim of decisions made in Canada
unless we abdicate responsibility for the protection of U.S. interests to decision makers in Canada.
The U.S. national interest in Canada's unity is
fundamentally economic, as Canada is by far our largest trading partner,
responsible not only for purchasing more U.S. goods and services than any
other country in the world, but also for the co-production of many of the
goods we ourselves are making. Canadians
are not just our best customers, but in strategic sectors like the auto
industry, they are our co-workers. A domestic crisis that interferes
with Canadians' full participation in the North American economy will affect U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) directly,
and seriously damage the immediate prospects for the U.S. economy.
Secure, free and prosperous Canadians are the best neighbors
we could have ever hoped for. Keeping
Canadians secure, free and prosperous is, and will always be, in the U.S. national
It follows from this that the U.S.
also has a political interest in how the debate over Canada's
First, the U.S.
interest ties in a democratic decision process because nothing less can bring
about a final resolution to this dispute that will be acceptable to all
policy must seek to assure the Canadians that the United
States is informed about the
situation in Canada
and that it is prepared to react responsibly.
officials must explain to Canadians the limitations on our ability to respond
should become independent. We cannot expect that ordinary Canadians
understand our system of government any better than we
understand theirs, and so it is worthwhile to draw attention the roles that Congress
and the administration must play in U.S. policy. For example,
as any member of Congress knows, the President of the United States
extend trade benefits to even our best trading partners. We must make
clear that we cannot automatically continue to grant NAFTA treatment to Quebec if it leaves Canada, and that this is not
negotiable in advance of congressional
authorization. When all Canadians understand the fixed aspects of the U.S. position,
they will be better able to make informed decisions about their future be it
together or apart.
The status quo of U.S.-Canada relations has been
enormously beneficial for the citizens of both countries. If there is
to be change, the primary objective of U.S. policy must be to promote a
smooth transition process involving the minimum amount of deviation from the
status quo acceptable to Canadians on all sides. Some of the possible,
but not yet probable, scenarios discussed today should
be taken primarily as warnings, to reinforce the importance of fostering
the quickest possible return to stability. The United States should do everything in its
power to reassure Canadians outside Quebec
and to dissuade them from abandoning Canada
in the potentially traumatic aftermath of Quebec's
With these policy objectives in mind, I will now address
some specific steps that can be taken soon to
improve the U.S.
policy position in advance of the next crisis for Canadian unity. These
include making our current position more
clear to Canadians, and planning to respond in
support of a stable, smooth transition n the event of change.
Before Another Crisis
To strengthen our current policy position the event of
another Canadian unity crisis, whether prompted by a referendum or other
measures the United States should consider taking the following specific
* The United States should clarify its position on whether
Quebec would be considered a successor state to Canada, inheriting Canada's
rights and obligations under treaties and agreements with the United States.
Secretary of State Christopher's statement during the 1995
referendum campaign that the complex architecture of the U.S.-Canada
relationship would be difficult to reconstruct suggested that the United States might not grant an independent
Quebec successor state status, consistent with
diplomatic practice elsewhere. This is not a small consideration for
Canadians living in Quebec, and unless the
State Department considers this point negotiable, it should send a stronger
signal that an independent Quebec would not be considered a successor state to Canada.
States should, in
concert with its partners, issue a clear statement on the process by
which a country will be considered for accession to NAFTA. Many Quebec voters are under the mistaken impression that
NAFTA is a
kind of "safety net" that would preserve the preferential access
they now enjoy to the U.S.,
Canadian and Mexican markets.
influence should be employed privately Bilateral moves by responsible parties
on all sides which might attempt to impose a
solution. The U.S.
will benefit from the end of the instability and tension generated by the
Quebec's status and Canada's future, whether it comes
as a result of a successful negotiation or popular
resignation. However, we must not simply adopt a "peace at any
price" position that could lead us to place pressure on the parties to
come to terms that would later prove unacceptable to the wider publics in Canada and Quebec.
All of these steps are best taken
before another referendum is called or some other measure is taken to bring
this issue to the fore in Canada.
Otherwise, such moves will not be credible in the eyes of Quebec nationalists, who may suspect that
they are being taken in support of the federalist
cause. The objective of U.S.
policy in this case is not to scare Quebeckers, but to level with them, so
that they can make any future decisions about their place in the world fully
aware of the potential consequences.
Should Quebec Establish Independence
It is not yet certain that the majority of Quebeckers will
find it impossible to reconcile their differences with the rest of Canada.
However markets and ordinary citizens often
react to rumor when faced with a frightening degree
of uncertainty. Should Quebec resort
to independence, however, the United States
must be prepared to repair the breach in its trade relations with Quebec, and to provide any assistance necessary to aid
Canadians during the transition, including supporting the unity of the rest
Several concrete steps should be considered by U.S. policymakers in
preparation for this potential crisis, for example:
* The president should request authority from Congress to
negotiate a limited, bilateral trade agreement covering only those sectors
where U.S. investment and commercial interests have been seriously hurt by
the break. This would be a provisional arrangement to protect U.S. interests only, not an attempt to extend
broad new benefits to Quebec, nor an attempt
to restore NAFTA-equivalent access for Quebec
to the U.S.
market. As a second step, the U.S.
should consider sponsoring Quebec
admission to the WTO to allow for a broader framework for bilateral trade and
investment. NAFTA membership, while not inevitable,
could be considered at some point in the future if it would be of benefit to U.S.
interests, and the support of other NAFTA members was likely.
* The United States
should signal that the remaining Canadian provinces should continue to deal
with the United States
through the federal Government in Ottawa,
and discourage any province that might seek its own independence. In
this respect, U.S.
officials should caution Canadians outside Quebec
that by seeking a bilateral trade agreement with Quebec,
the United States
does not commit itself to the same for all provinces that seek recognition as
countries. Each such negotiation will require separate authorization
* The United States
should signal that it does not favor changes in the
present boundaries of Quebec
that might severely damage its economic viability as an independent country.
Some in Canada have
suggested that northern Quebec remain part
of Canada, which poses
little risk to U.S.
interests. The status of all or part of Montreal,
however, would directly affect the economic prospects of an independent Quebec, and set up a region of political and economic
instability close to the borders of New York
state that could pose serious issues for the United States.
* The United States, working with international financial
institutions and other major allies, should be prepared to refinance Canada's
international debt, to allow it to continue debt service while Quebec's
contribution is uncertain
and/or under negotiation. This will reassure bond markets that the United States will not permit the collapse of
the Canadian economy in the Aftermath of Quebec independence, and further
discourage other provinces from abandoning
States should be prepared to lead an
international effort to support the Canadian dollar, which is important in
the short run to Canadians and Quebeckers, who will continue to hold Canadian
dollars in the days after independence.
Why Change Now
The traditional U.S.
position kept U.S.
policy in the shadows. Some will argue that it was better for the U.S. to
operate in this way, as we have in the past. The Clinton
administration took U.S.
policy on Canada
partially into the daylight, by strengthening its statements in support of a
united Canada and hinting
at some of the consequences of Quebec
separation. Unfortunately, this shift has left U.S. policy
exposed to misinterpretation by Canadians on all sides of the unity debate.
Today, the United States
faces a strategic choice between a retreat to the shadows
and taking a step further into the light of day by clarifying the core of the
U.S. position should Quebec separate.
Retreat to the shadows of our former position is probably
impossible. U.S. statements
during the referendum clearly reflected U.S. interests and constraints on
our policy options. To suggest now that we are truly indifferent, or to
attempt to withdraw our concerns over trade agreements the rest of the
infrastructure of the U.S.- Canada relationship
would not be credible in Canada.
Of course, it Is also possible to attempt to continue the
current balancing act in the hope that we can escape paying a price when
Canadians misunderstand our intentions. The problem with this option is
that its weakness will not become widely apparent until we are
once again faced with a crisis of Canadian unity, and then our policy
options will be limited. Our current position leaves U.S.
interests vulnerable to misunderstanding.
The fact is that something profound happened during the
referendum. The United
States for the first time became publicly
engaged in the Canadian unity debate. Canadians, especially Quebeckers,
began to debate the
role in resolving this crucial question. If we fail to articulate our interests
and the goals of our policy on this matter, Canadians and Americans will be forced to guess, and may assume the worst -- that
the United States
cannot be relied upon in this crisis -- and they, and the international financial
markets, will act accordingly.
When that happens, every American who works for a company
that does business in Canada,
and every American with family and friends there, will share in the suffering,
all of it unnecessary.
We have nothing to fear if we will be forthright. Canadians
are our friends, whether they live in Quebec
or elsewhere, whether they vote for the independence of Quebec or not. The future of Canada is for
Canadians to decide.
Our obligation to them, and to the American people, is honesty about both our
intentions and our limitations.
LOAD-DATE: September 27, 1996