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50 per cent, plus 1
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, September 25, 2015 – Page A14

Gatineau, Que. -- Re Mulcair In The Crosshairs (Sept. 24): As the Supreme Court made clear in its response to the reference on Quebec's secession, a clear answer to a clear question is only the first step: The critical action begins when the federal and provincial governments meet to reconcile Quebec's wish for sovereignty with the rights of the other provinces (the "federal principle"), the rights of minorities and aboriginals; and, to be legitimate, do it in accordance with Canada's Constitution.

There was nothing arbitrary about the terms for legitimate secession spelled out by the court. It was and is the rule of law.

But those terms were repudiated by the Sherbrooke Declaration, adopted by the NDP in 2005. This year, Thomas Mulcair stated the declaration was official NDP policy. He then said: "This political offer remains at the heart of our approach to the Québécois."

What the NDP has promised Quebeckers is that, with Mr. Mulcair as prime minister, if they snag a 50 per cent plus one oui vote in a referendum controlled by a separatist Quebec government, they are guaranteed an unconditional, unqualified passport to independence. That is revolution on demand. Nothing could more re-energize the separatist movement for the Quebec elections of 2018, with the PQ led by Pierre Karl Péladeau, the billionaire with the raised clenched fist.

William Johnson, Gatineau, Que.


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Independence referendum? Scotland has it right
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Monday, November 5, 2012 – Page A13

Former president of Alliance Quebec

The referendum on independence to be held by Scotland in 2014 differs dramatically from the two referendums Quebec held in 1980 and 1995. The issue in Scotland will be clear: independence. Equally clear will be the referendum question, just 10 words long: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

In 1980, Quebec asked a question that ran to 109 words, but still left the outcome uncertain and confused. The question began: "The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations." Who could object to such an agreement? There followed many words on sovereignty and association. Then the question concluded on this promise: "No change in political status resulting from these negotiations will be effected without approval by the people through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?"

The 1995 referendum question would be shorter - 43 words, but still tendentious. It stressed "partnership" and "agreement," not secession or independence: "Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?"

The question didn't explain that the June 12 "agreement" was between three separatist parties, not between Quebec and Ottawa. And, as in 1980, it raised the prospect of an "economic and political partnership" with the rest of Canada - but the scope, the terms, even the possibility of such a partnership were left hypothetical. Call it bait and switch. But this time, unlike 1980, there would be no second chance with a follow-up referendum if the "partnership" did not materialize.

Scotland's referendum will be held under terms and conditions that were entirely negotiated between the two governments. Their Oct. 15 agreement covers nine pages of text detailing what can, can't and must be done, before, during and after the referendum campaign.

By contrast, René Lévesque's Parti Québécois, elected with 41 per cent of the vote, unilaterally dictated all the terms of the referendum over the objections of the opposition parties.

Jacques Parizeau created a huge mobilizing process in 1994 building up to the 1995 referendum. His Liberal opposition boycotted it, while Jean Chrétien rejected the referendum question as illegitimate.

The fundamental difference is that Scotland's referendum will be held under the rule of law. David Cameron and Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond signed an agreement that states: "The governments are agreed that the referendum should have a clear legal base; be conducted so as to command the confidence of parliaments, governments and people; and deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect."

No PQ leader, no Quebec Liberal leader, has acknowledged the rule of law on the issue of secession. On Sept. 8, 1995, Superior Court Justice Robert Lesage declared Mr. Parizeau's referendum bill "manifestly illegal." Unperturbed, the premier replied two days later: "That Constitution of 1982, that the judge reproaches us for not following in all its provisions, we never signed it. That Charter was refused by René Lévesque, then it was refused by Pierre-Marc Johnson when he was prime minister, it was refused by Robert Bourassa; it was refused by Daniel Johnson; it is refused by me."

All the parties at the National Assembly support Lucien Bouchard's Bill 99, adopted in 2000 to negate the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling on conditions for a legal secession. It remains on the books, a sword of Damocles hanging over Canada.

Canada is a federation, unlike the United Kingdom. There, Parliament is supreme. We are ruled by a written Constitution that defines the powers of federal and provincial governments and gives every citizen recourse against unconstitutional acts of federal or provincial governments. A province can secede only by fulfilling the conditions set in the Constitution and explicated in 1998 by the Supreme Court. Otherwise, secession is revolution, a coup d'état.

Scotland's referendum should make all our governments think twice - and act accordingly.


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The fragmentation of Quebec
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The province's political culture is contradictory and ruled by fairy tales, William Johnson argues
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, August 26, 2011 – Page A15

Why is Quebec fragmenting politically?

Consider. Four parties have members in the National Assembly. A fifth, sixth and possibly a seventh party are at various stages of formation. All this in a province with a "first past the post" electoral system. The more parties running, of course, the more distorted the outcome.

A recent Léger Marketing poll showed that Quebec's two most popular politicians are François Legault and Pierre Curzi. Mr. Legault, a former Parti Québécois minister, resigned his seat in 2009 but emerged this year as principal founder of a political movement, Coalition pour l'avenir du Québec, that proposes to unite people on the basis of a deal to set aside the issue of secession for 10 years.

Mr. Legault's intentions to form a party are clear. On Thursday, he held a fundraising cocktail party in Gatineau where attendees contributed $250 each. A CROP-La Presse poll published the same day showed that a party headed by Mr. Legault would win the next election with a majority.

Mr. Curzi, a former actor, was elected as a Péquiste in 2007 but resigned in June, along with PQ icon Louise Beaudoin and Lisette Lapointe, wife of former premier Jacques Parizeau. Both Mr. Curzi and Ms. Lapointe spoke at Sunday's inaugural public meeting of another movement that could morph into a party: le Nouveau Mouvement pour le Québec.

It was launched in early July by former Radio-Canada reporter Jocelyn Desjardins, who also resigned from the PQ. Last week, the movement issued a manifesto - Brisons l'impasse (Let's break the deadlock) - signed by 77 personalities. It outlines a process leading to independence based on holding multiple "constituent assemblies" where citizens would offer their proposals for the province's future status. These would then be passed into law by the National Assembly, and Quebec would become an independent country.

Jean-Martin Aussant, another MNA who resigned from the PQ in June, also attended Sunday's political powwow. But he's registered the name of another new party: Option Québec. That invokes the title of René Lévesque's 1967 manifesto proposing "sovereignty association."

Why are Quebec's political institutions fragmenting? Because its political culture is contradictory, unrealistic and ruled by impractical myths that lead to deadlock.

The NMQ's manifesto says: "It was conditionally on the promise of autonomy that Quebec adhered to the 1867 Constitution." The myth is that Confederation, initially decentralized, became increasingly centralized as Ottawa appropriated powers from the provinces. The reality is precisely the opposite. Ottawa had the power to disallow or hold in reserve any bill passed by any province and did so 68 times in the first decade - but never since 1943. Originally, more than half of all provincial revenues came as transfers from Ottawa. No longer. The combined provinces now spend more than the federal government, the reverse of 1867.

The manifesto proposes "to have adopted by the Quebec government a constitutional law establishing the primacy of the Constitution of Quebec, freely chosen, over the Constitution of Canada, imposed arbitrarily." That propounds two myths: that Quebec can overthrow the Constitution by a vote of the National Assembly or a plebiscite, and that the 1982 Constitution Act was illegitimate. In 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Quebec could only secede by obtaining the consent of the rest of Canada - that is, a constitutional amendment that incorporates an agreement that reconciles the rights of all the provinces and the rights of minorities. Otherwise, secession is revolution.

Even La Presse columnist Vincent Marissal notes: "Thirty years later, it has to be admitted that the idea of seeing Quebec enter into the Constitution some day by the main door is good and dead." He assumed that Quebec is outside the Constitution, repeating the myth propounded by Brian Mulroney and Robert Bourassa. But the Supreme Court declared in 1982 that the Constitution Act was legitimate. Quebec was never outside the Constitution.

Moreover, the Trudeau government had abided precisely by the conditions for patriation set by the Supreme Court in its 1981 ruling that required provincial consensus. Nine provinces assented, but Quebec has flouted ever since the ruling it had sought from the courts.

Yet another myth was articulated by Mr. Marissal: "In Ottawa, as in all the provincial capitals, the constitutional recognition of Quebec is the least of their concerns." On the contrary, the distinctiveness of Lower Canada was recognized constitutionally in the 1867 act by creating a federation rather than a unitary state and giving the provinces control over education and civil rights. But the myth persists that, unless Quebec has more powers than other provinces, its distinctiveness has not been recognized.

Until Quebec demystifies its political culture and resolves its contradictions, no constitutional solution is possible. And fairy tales will prevail.

William Johnson is an author and former president of Alliance Quebec.


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The torture of Question Period
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Monday, April 11, 2011 – Page A13

Author and former president of Alliance Quebec

There's one gaping hole in the Conservative Party's election platform: It overlooks the rot infiltrating the culture of the House of Commons that all MPs have come to recognize and lament.

Last May, Conservative MP Michael Chong introduced a motion that deplored the nastiness and futility of exchanges in the Commons, particularly during Question Period. He proposed that the parties develop a program of reforms. In October, by a vote of 235-44, his motion was adopted in principle and referred to a committee. But that committee met only once and broke down in disagreement. The Bloc Québécois, in particular, seemed to be against making Parliament more functional.

The comportment of parliamentarians might seem to interest only Ottawa insiders. But former British prime minister Tony Blair, in his memoirs published last fall, illustrated how a parliament's cut and thrust has national consequences. "Prime Minister's Questions was the most nerve-racking, discombobulating, nail-biting, bowel-moving, terror-inspiring, courage-draining experience in my prime ministerial life, without question," he confessed with disarming candour.

In opposition, he had noticed that the prime minister devoted almost two days preparing for those 15 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays when he was peppered with questions, then doing postmortems. To save time and anguish, Mr. Blair resolved to reduce this to one 30-minute session on Wednesdays. He announced it in his 1997 election platform and, once elected, swiftly made the change.

But even that was harrowing. "The fear never abated for an instant. Even today, wherever I am in the world, I feel a cold chill at 11:57 a.m. on Wednesdays, a sort of prickle on the back of my neck, the thump of the heart. I used to call it the walk from the cell to the place of execution." He took a sleeping pill Tuesday nights so he could face the Wednesday ordeal.

And yet, Canada's Question Period is incomparably more gruelling. A prime minister can be questioned five times a week. And all cabinet ministers can be questioned daily, without notice. In Britain, all questions except those to the prime minister must be submitted three working days in advance. The ministers know when their ministry is on call, so have the leisure to prepare their answers.

It's inhuman to expect every minister to answer any possible trap question about his or her responsibility. This fosters the culture of fear and evasion that now rules our Commons.

For Canadians, Question Period, televised, is the most visible and defining political activity of our parliamentarians. Journalists love it because the sparks fly. It offers totally partisan and antagonistic theatrics, a game of cat and mouse, a cockfight, a shootout between gunslingers that diminishes and demeans every politician.

More seriously, it defines Canadian political culture, which hoards information rather than delivering it. It creates a pervasive atmosphere of caution, of fear that any information will be used against one. The MPs engage in constant demagogy rather than in the respectful exercise of ministerial responsibility.

John Diefenbaker used to say, "Never ask a question unless you already know the answer." So of what use is Question Period? Here is Mr. Blair's view: "In truth, the whole thing is a giant joust, a sort of modern, non-physical duel. The weapons are words, but my God they can hurt, and to devastating effect. For those 30 minutes, the prime minister is essentially on the 'at risk' register."

But there's a ray of hope. The Liberal platform says: "Many observers believe a model closer to that of the British Parliament would be better, with more time for both questions and answers, scheduled themes and rosters of required ministers, and a weekly Prime Minister's question period (though the Prime Minister should still be expected to attend all days possible)."

The one way to redeem our disgraceful political culture is to do what Mr. Blair did. The Conservatives must announce before May 2 that the Chong reform motion is part of their electoral platform. Then, together, the Conservatives and Liberals can bring about desperately needed reforms.


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If you love your country, quit
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, December 10, 2010 – Page A19

A former president of Alliance Quebec

What should Captain Canada do now?

In 1998, Jean Charest was pressed to leave Ottawa and leap to Quebec to lead the foundering Quebec Liberal Party. He alone, so the chorus chanted, could save Canada after the fright of the 1995 secession referendum and Lucien Bouchard's accession as Quebec's premier. Mr. Bouchard, after a near-fatal attack from flesh-eating disease, rose from his hospital bed, and it seemed he could walk on water. He threatened to achieve Quebec's independence after Jacques Parizeau's near miss.

Mr. Charest was Canada's last best hope, agreed The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Financial Post and the Montreal Gazette. The call to duty was intoned by Don Martin, Jeffrey Simpson, Richard Gwyn, Paul Wells, Robert Fife, Sean Durkan, Douglas Fisher, David Crane, Don Macpherson ... When he actually made the jump, Gazette editorial page editor Jennifer Robinson wrote: "Jean Charest has taken Quebec by storm. ... At least for now, thanks to l'effet Charest, separatists are in full retreat." She warned against federalist "extremists": "Over-heated rants and polemics from the [Howard] Galganovs, [Keith] Hendersons and [William] Johnsons of the English community are not needed now that Charest is on the scene."

That was then. Now? A petition on the National Assembly's website calls for Mr. Charest to resign. A quarter of a million Quebeckers have signed. A Dec. 2 Angus Reid poll pegged him as Canada's most despised premier.

As Quebec's news media daily report suspicions of corruption involving the construction industry, labour unions, municipal politicians and even Canada Revenue Agency officials, Quebeckers have lost trust in their institutions. The call for a commission of inquiry became general, but Mr. Charest refused, insisting on letting the police do their work. The conviction spread that the Premier had something to hide.

When he appeared last Sunday on Radio-Canada's most popular TV program, Tout le monde en parle, host Guy Lepage greeted him: "The most recent polls reveal that three Quebeckers out of four want you gone." Mr. Charest was then upbraided by writer-performer Louis Morissette: "What we perceive is corruption in the Liberal Party. It's only normal that we reach a point where we have lost all respect. I can't understand your stubborn refusal to appoint a commission of inquiry into the construction industry." The studio audience repeatedly applauded.

The problem goes deeper. Although he impressed many during the 1995 referendum campaign, Mr. Charest usually clothed himself in ambiguity, playing to the separatists as well as the federalists. He repeatedly asserted: "Quebec alone has the right to decide its future," thereby subverting the Supreme Court's ruling that secession constitutionally requires the consent of Quebec's partners in the federation.

He constantly undermines the legitimacy of the Constitution as amended in 1982 by claiming Quebec didn't sign it then and he won't sign it now. And he picks fights with Ottawa, demanding Quebec be given control over communications and all cultural expenditures in the province.

Quebeckers now perceive him as a leader with strategies but no firm principles, a man who covets power and will do anything to ensure his survival.

In 1998, he was urged to save Canada by going to Quebec. Now, he undermines not just the Quebec Liberal Party but also, as leader of the province's sole federalist party, the very reputation of Canada. If Jean Charest cares for his country, he will announce his resignation.


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Spinning the fairy tale of secession
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, October 29, 2010 – Page A23

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

Have our leaders learned nothing? On Oct. 30, 1995, Quebeckers voted 49.4 per cent for secession. Had the vote tipped 50 per cent, Jacques Parizeau was set to declare Quebec's independence.

Prime minister Jean Chrétien failed to challenge the myth that Quebec could secede unilaterally after a majority vote for sovereignty. No major federalist defended the constitutional order despite the legal opinion of five eminent international law experts that "the Quebec people effectively exercises its right to self-determination within the framework of the Canadian whole and is not legally entitled to invoke it to justify a future accession to independence."

A scorched Mr. Chrétien sent a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada. The court replied that secession was a legitimate aspiration but only if enacted according to the Constitution.

Mr. Chrétien and Stéphane Dion then passed the Clarity Act. But, both before and after the reference, Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Dion declared that Quebeckers would be allowed to secede if they clearly wanted to. This undermined the court and reduced the Clarity Act to a paper tiger.

Fifteen years later, Quebec's political class still maintains that any majority in a consultative referendum guarantees the unconditional right to secede. Premier Jean Charest defends in court Lucien Bouchard's Bill 99 asserting Quebec's unfettered right to secede.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe leaves no doubt in a just-published book, Gilles Duceppe: Entretiens [Interviews] avec Gilles Toupin: "We have the democratic power to change things. We can, overnight, govern ourselves. All that's needed is to say 'yes.' "

The Clarity Act? Not to worry. It's just a bluff. "The fact is that the Clarity Act was intended, at the time, to reassure the Canadians. Chrétien wanted to show that he was doing something."

The Supreme Court's insistence that Quebec must obtain the consent of the rest of Canada to secede, otherwise it's revolution? Mr. Duceppe insists Quebec is bound neither by the court nor the Clarity Act.

"I tell my people not to get all worked up over the Court's opinion or over the Clarity Act. We will carry out our business in accordance with the National Assembly, and they will decide how they intend to negotiate." So Quebec alone will decide.

Mr. Duceppe recognizes only half of the four conditions set by the court: that the question be clear and the answer clear. He argues that the arcane questions in the 1980 and 1995 referendums were clear. A clear question is whatever the National Assembly decides.

The answer will also be clear: "The acceptable percentage is 50 per cent plus one." Why? "In Quebec, the Liberal Party, the PQ, the ADQ and Québec Solidaire all agree. It's 50 per cent plus one." Quebec has the last word, not the court.

While Quebec is not bound by the court's decision, other Canadians are. "They will have to take into account the advice of the Supreme Court, which says that they are obliged to negotiate in good faith on condition that we have offered a clear question in the next referendum. And our question will be clear, of that I have no doubt."

Mr. Duceppe, Pauline Marois and Mr. Parizeau spin a fairy-tale secession. They build castles on the St. Lawrence. Their magic thinking, never refuted convincingly, is generally accepted by Quebeckers. It will be too late, in the next referendum campaign, to challenge their revolutionary screed.

Wake up and smell the danger. Otherwise, silence will be mistaken for consent.


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Quebec's English-language-education bill is everyone's villain
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, September 17, 2010 – Page A19

Author; former president of Alliance Quebec

It's supposedly about equity. What's really emerging is a confrontation between Quebec's French majority and English-speaking minority.

At the National Assembly, leaders of both communities appear daily before the parliamentary committee studying Bill 103. It restricts children from gaining a right to subsidized English schooling by first attending an unsubsidized private English school.

All condemn Bill 103 unanimously, but for totally opposite reasons. The anglophone witnesses warn the bill will block a constitutionally recognized route to English schooling, even while the English-speaking community declines.

The francophones decry Bill 103 as opening the door to English schooling for the rich. They demand that unsubsidized private English schools also be prohibited to all except those whose parents studied in English in Canada.

The debate in committee remains decorous. But the real action starts Saturday in Montreal at a monster rally convened by the Coalition Against Bill 103, which "promises a hot fall" unless the government embraces its demands. To bring out the crowds, Quebec's most popular stars of song, stage and screen are trumpeted in publicity on Twitter, You Tube, multiple websites - even Bloc Québécois MPs' mass mailings.

Among organizations sponsoring the demonstration, Quebec's intelligentsia will be represented by the unions speaking for the writers, the actors, the teachers, the public service, as well as the labour federations, the four separatist political parties and even the NDP. The supposed issue is equity, under the bannered slogan: "Our language does not have a price tag: Bill 101 is not for sale!" Indeed, tuition at unsubsidized English schools costs thousands.

But almost all 32 sponsors pursue secession and a strictly French Quebec. The Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) contained no restricted access to unsubsidized private English schools when adopted in 1977. No one complained.

But, in 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms extended the right to English schooling to the children of Canadian citizens who had studied in English anywhere in Canada, not just in Quebec. It also granted French or English minority schooling to the children of all parents whose mother tongue was English or French. This now applies to French-speaking parents outside Quebec, but Quebec was allowed to postpone promulgating this avenue to English schooling.

The Charter also contained this: "Citizens of Canada of whom any child has received or is receiving primary or secondary school instruction in English or French in Canada, have the right to have all their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in the same language." That gave new meaning to unsubsidized English schools.

Twice, in 1993 and 2002, the National Assembly voted to restrict or eliminate this access to English schooling. Twice, in 2005 and last October, the Supreme Court of Canada declared each unconstitutional as written.

Now, the Charest government tries again with Bill 103. It requires three years minimum attendance for the right to English schooling to be considered, then sets conditions for bureaucrats to ponder before the right can be granted. The anglo community feels that a constitutional right has been made meaningless.

The French political class now clamours Quebec's favourite myth to eradicate this constitutional right: French in Quebec, they say, is frail and could disappear unless English is further repressed.

Between 1966 and 2006, Quebec suffered a net exodus of 28,210 people of French mother tongue, but 428,245 people whose mother tongue was not French. Between 1996 and 2006, people of French mother tongue increased by 175,410, people speaking French at home increased even more, by 255,075.

During that same decade, people of English mother tongue declined by 14,695 - their smallest loss in 40 years. Since 1867, the proportion of English-speaking Quebeckers has declined at every census. Since the 1970s, they also declined in absolute numbers at every census. But still French is threatened?

The solution to stabilize their schools and their community is finally to promulgate the right of all English-speaking parents to send their children to English schools. At present, only 49 per cent of children of English mother tongue are in English schools.

But in Quebec, myth is stronger than fact. Whether the coalition or the government wins, the anglos lose. That's heartless, but that's Quebec.


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The Bloc's / silent partner
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The Quebec Liberal Party is complicit in separatism's continued appeal to Quebeckers
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010 – Page A13

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

The separatist movement turned out jubilantly on Sunday in Montreal to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that day - Aug. 13, 1990 - when Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe was first elected to Parliament.

There was reason for the festive mood. In all six federal elections since 1993, the Bloc swept a majority of Quebec's 75 seats - as it would again were an election held tomorrow.

Then, an opinion poll in Saturday's La Presse had the Bloc's Siamese sister, the Parti Québécois, leading the Liberals 39 per cent to 31 per cent. Among French speakers, the gap was 45 per cent to 24 per cent, portending a majority PQ government. And 66 per cent wanted Premier Jean Charest to step down.

The Bloc can be proud. But credit for impressive separatist performances should also go to the Bloc's silent partner, the Quebec Liberal Party. The Liberals, under Robert Bourassa, Claude Ryan, Daniel Johnson Jr. and now Mr. Charest, created the conditions for the separatist parties to surge.

Anyone who doubts this symbiotic relationship need only consult the QLP's website. There, the Liberals explain the eight values that define their party: individual freedoms, identification with Quebec, economic development, social justice, respect for civil society, democracy a hallmark of political action, intergenerational equity, and ties to Canada.

So one might expect a celebration of federalism as a fundamental value that distinguishes the QLP from the separatists, not to mention an appreciation of Quebec's participation in Canada, the country recognized as among the most socially developed on Earth. But there's not a single word of praise for Canada or federalism in the 2,260-word essay. Nowhere is Canada recognized as the country of Quebeckers.

The section Ties to Canada deals exclusively with the QLP's conflicts with the Canadian government. Here are examples of the party's boasts: "In 1970 [really in 1971], under Robert Bourassa, it refused to endorse the Victoria Charter because it did not respond to the proposals put forward by Quebec concerning the division of jurisdiction in areas of social policy. ... In 1997, it opposed the reference to the Supreme Court by Ottawa on secession, arguing that the constitutional future of Quebec was above all a political question that must be resolved in Quebec. In 1998, it opposed Bill C-20 [the Clarity Act], which imposed on Quebec rules that excessively restrained the province in the area of constitutional referendums."

In other words, the QLP asserts the right to secede unilaterally from Canada. The Supreme Court be damned when it finds otherwise. And the QLP perpetuates an urban myth: "In 1981, in extremely difficult circumstances, the Liberal Opposition in the National Assembly joined with the PQ government of that time to say no to the unilateral patriation of the Constitution that was being planned."

It's been endlessly repeated by politicians and pundits that the National Assembly voted unanimously to oppose the 1982 Canada Act that patriated the Constitution and created the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's totally untrue.

Three votes were held in the National Assembly on the issue. In November of 1980, after the referendum on sovereignty association, when Pierre Trudeau proposed to ask Westminster to patriate the Constitution, René Lévesque proposed a motion asking the U.K. "not to follow through on this unilateral undertaking." The Liberals under Mr. Ryan voted against.

In September of 1981, after the Supreme Court had found it legal but unconstitutional in a conventional sense to patriate the Constitution with only the support of Ontario and New Brunswick, Mr. Lévesque again presented a motion of opposition. This time, the Liberals supported the motion.

Mr. Trudeau convened the premiers and obtained the consent of all but Mr. Lévesque. He then proceeded with the Canada Act, meeting the Supreme Court's test of provincial consensus. Mr. Lévesque again moved to oppose patriation. This time, when the National Assembly voted on the actual patriation bill, 38 Ryan Liberals voted against Mr. Lévesque's motion.

The Supreme Court would rule in December of 1982: "The Constitution Act, 1982 is now in force. Its legality is neither challenged nor assailable. ... Even assuming therefore that there was a conventional requirement for the consent of Quebec under the old system, it would no longer have any object or force."

But the QLP constantly claims that the Canada Act is illegitimate, that Quebec "is not in the Constitution," and that the patriation is an open sore, rejected by the entire National Assembly. Quebec, aggrieved, is above the law.

On April 18, 2002, the 20th anniversary of patriation, Mr. Charest's Liberals backed this motion by then-premier Bernard Landry: "The National Assembly reaffirms that it never adhered to the constitutional law of 1982 that resulted in diminishing the powers and the rights of Québec without the consent of the Québec government and of the National Assembly and that it is still unacceptable to Quebec."

No wonder that the Bloc and the PQ continue to prosper.


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In Quebec, meanwhile, the Queen is still Wolfe in sheep's clothing
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, July 16, 2010 – Page A13

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

The difference is arresting. David Johnston's appointment as governor-general was greeted across Canada by an effusion of congratulatory editorials, columns and blogs. But not in Quebec.

All major English-language dailies ran several news stories, columns and at least one editorial last week discussing Mr. Johnston, his qualifications, his remarkable family and the process undertaken by a search committee that led to his selection. Major French-language dailies each carried a single news story, usually on an inside page. But not a single editorial commented on the appointment, and not one columnist devoted a full column to exploring its significance.

On Sunday, Le Journal de Montréal's Richard Martineau did raise the subject in the top third of his column. But it was to contrast Mr. Johnston, a consistent federalist, with the couple now ending their tenure at Rideau Hall. Mr. Martineau, an avowed separatist, attacked Jean-Daniel Lafond and Michaëlle Jean twice in a week for having supposedly spoken favourably in the past about Quebec independence, then turning around and denouncing separatism. But Mr. Johnston himself was of little interest to Mr. Martineau and the tribe of political commentators.

This different treatment in Canada's two official languages was not incidental. It reveals one of Canada's fault lines.

In English Canada, the role of governor-general, despite its ambiguities, has assumed increasing significance over the decades. In constitutional theory, the governor-general is merely a stand-in for the absent Queen. In reality, though, under the tenure of Adrienne Clarkson and Ms. Jean, the governor-general has increasingly been perceived as personalizing the country. When Ms. Jean met a rapturous reception in Haiti or Africa, all Canadians felt proud; but the enthusiasm she elicited was not intended for the official "Queen of Canada" but for this vibrant and gracious woman seen as the embodiment of Canada.

Not in Quebec, however. A different sensibility still perceives the governor-general as the lieutenant of the monarch, and the British monarchy as the continuing legacy of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

English-speaking Canadians can sing with pride, "In days of yore,/ From Britain's shore/ Wolfe the dauntless hero came/ And planted firm Britannia's flag/ On Canada's fair domain." In Quebec's sensibility, Britannia's flag wasn't just planted firm, it was planted bloody, by relentless bombardment and a country set afire. Je me souviens.

Wolfe also planted firm Britannia's Crown and sceptre. Elizabeth II is, in reality, Wolfe in sheep's clothing, diadem and all. And Britannia's Crown is with us still, a vestige of colonialism.

In Asia and Africa, all former colonies of the British Empire repudiated the British Crown. Only the majority white former British colonies retained the reflected glimmer of a borrowed absentee Crown. Canada conferred a purely nominal Canadian citizenship on Britannia's Crown. After experiencing colonialism soft, we cling to the foreign Queen's transoceanic train.

In Quebec, you find no such sentimentality for a relic of empire. The governor-general, as stand-in for the Queen, is an embarrassment. Nothing can be done about it, so silence is the appropriate comment.

For federalists, though, Mr. Johnston could be called on to play a significant constitutional role. Recent federal leaders such as Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Stéphane Dion each implied that Quebec might be allowed to secede even if it contravened the Constitution. Their groundless reassurances aimed to placate the multitude in Quebec who consider unilateral secession a right.

But the 1982 Constitution Act makes clear that no prime minister, or even Parliament, can legally assent to secession except under the conditions laid down by the Supreme Court in its reply to the reference on Quebec's secession. Every single citizen of Canada has recourse against illegal secession, as Section 24 of the Charter of Rights makes clear: "Anyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances."

David Johnston, or some future governor-general, could some day overrule a prime minister complicit in illegal secession by refusing to put his or her signature to an unconstitutional document of surrender.


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One referendum, three decades of misrepresentation
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Nobody enshrined a secession standard of 50 per cent plus one in 1980 - not even the Parti Québécois
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Thursday, May 20, 2010 – Page A17

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

No major event in our history has been so consistently misrepresented as Quebec's referendum of May 20, 1980. Its significance has been twisted by politicians and pundits for 30 years now.

When the Parti Québécois won the 1976 elections promising a referendum on sovereignty, The Globe and Mail shifted me from Parliament to Quebec's National Assembly. What a privilege to have witnessed first-hand this challenge to Canada's existence.

The referendum followed the decolonization movements that freed Asia and Africa from their imperial conquerors. New France was also conquered and Confederation was passed without consulting the people - many claimed that Quebec remained a colony like Algeria, with the right to secede.

The 1980 referendum, with 60 per cent rejecting secession, ended Quebec's claim to be a colony. But in the months before the 1995 referendum, many leading politicians and journalists claimed that 1980 confirmed Quebec's right to secede.

Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard: In 1980, attorney-general Jean Chrétien and prime minister Pierre Trudeau "both participated fully in Quebec's referendum campaign and they submitted themselves to Quebec's democratic will."

Liberal premier Daniel Johnson: "It seems to me perfectly clear that in Quebec, we already exercised in 1980 the right to self-determination. So I can't see why that right would suddenly have disappeared."

His PQ successor, Jacques Parizeau: "The prominent financial and personal participation of federal authorities, notably Messrs. Chrétien and Trudeau, during the 1980 referendum, constitutes a precedent and establishes the legitimacy of the process."

Globe columnist Lysiane Gagnon: "For 30 years or so, the whole political class of Canada, including the leaders of the federalist camp, has recognized as valid a majority of 50 per cent plus one. This is what Pierre Trudeau - and Jean Chrétien - were willing to recognize in 1980, and it hasn't been challenged since then. It's too late now, in the midst of a referendum campaign, to change the rules unilaterally."

Other prominent federalists such as Jean Chrétien and Jean Charest have made statements suggesting much the same over the years.

In fact, though, neither side maintained in 1980 that the referendum result would be binding. Neither side enshrined a 50-per-cent threshold.

Before the vote, Quebec's government published a white paper recognizing that the vote could be consultative only, "and therefore it would serve no purpose to include in the law special provisions regarding the majority required or the required level of turnout."

Pierre Trudeau, in his great speech of May 14, 1980, addressed premier René Lévesque on the consequences of a Yes majority vote, saying: "If you knock on the door of sovereignty-association, no negotiation will be possible."

He also refuted the argument that democracy meant Canada must be bound by a majority Yes vote: "It's as though I were to say to Mr. Lévesque: 'The population of Newfoundland has just voted 100 per cent to renegotiate the electricity contract with Quebec. You are therefore obliged, in the name of democracy, to respect the will of Newfoundland, no?' It's clear that this reasoning doesn't work. Democracy can express the wishes of the Québécois, but that can't bind the others - those in the other provinces who did not vote - to do what the Québécois decide."

The 1980 referendum couldn't establish Quebec's right to secede because the question asked only for a mandate to negotiate secession. Mr. Lévesque promised that a Yes vote would not necessarily lead to secession, only to negotiations on secession. And he gave the rest of Canada a veto over that secession by promising it would take place only if Canada agreed to an "association." Without that, there would be no sovereignty.

And if Canada did agree to an association, Mr. Lévesque promised, then Quebec would be sovereign only if Quebeckers voted Yes in a second referendum on that agreement.

In the last weeks of the campaign, he never mentioned secession, independence, sovereignty or even sovereignty-association. He spoke of pride, of equality, of giving Quebec more negotiating muscle.

Hard-line separatist Pierre Bourgault later recalled: "I remember that I was the only one to speak of independence. The Parti Québécois did not speak about it and, three weeks before the referendum, Lévesque ordered his troops to speak only about association."

The 1980 referendum established in fact, rather than in myth, that Quebec could no longer claim to be a colony with a right to secede. The prime minister repudiated negotiating sovereignty-association, regardless of the result. And he proclaimed that a vote held only in Quebec was in no way binding to Canada.

The real precedent from the 1980 referendum was the use of a trick question referring to "the new Quebec-Canada agreement," when there was no agreement and none was likely. It established that Quebec's government would resort to smoke and mirrors, rather than the voters' true preference, to elicit a semblance of consent to secession. These precedents would be followed in 1995, with a reference to an "agreement" and the mirage of a "partnership" to follow secession.


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The scandal that keeps on flying
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Harvey Cashore explores a labyrinth of lies, denials, deceptions and Swiss accounts
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Saturday, May 1, 2010 – Page F13

THE TRUTH SHOWS UP

A Reporter's Fifteen-year Odyssey Tracking Down the Truth about Mulroney, Schreiber and the Airbus Scandal

By Harvey Cashore

Key Porter, 536 pages, $34.95

Harvey Cashore, as a young investigative journalist with CBC's the fifth estate, received a tip in 1994 that a European consortium, Airbus Industrie, had paid bribes in 1988 to win a $1.8-billion order from Air Canada for 34 passenger jets. He would spend the next 15 years sleuthing after the story.

Rumours had circulated. The break came after two partners fell out over money. Karlheinz Schreiber was business agent for Franz Josef Strauss, chairman of Airbus Industrie. Giorgio Pelossi was Schreiber's Swiss accountant.

Schreiber charged Pelossi with pilfering his secret Swiss account. Pelossi retaliated by leaking to Der Spiegel explosive documents revealing a scheme to bribe businesses and politicians in Germany and Canada. The documents led to officials being jailed in Germany. In Canada, no one would be held to account. A number of lawsuits erupted. Brian Mulroney won a $2.1-million settlement and an apology from Ottawa. Schreiber launched a $35-million libel suit against CBC and Cashore. Frank Moores sued for $15-million.

Cashore explores the labyrinth of lies, denials, deceptions, coded names, Swiss accounts and concealed actors. His book, a personal account of his long quest, reads like a whodunit.

He follows the German connection. When Mulroney undermined leader Joe Clark at the 1983 Winnipeg Tory convention, money for his Quebec delegates' travel expenses was contributed by two protégés of Strauss, Schreiber and Austrian-Canadian businessman Walter Wolf. Both were committed to penetrating the powerful inner circle around Mulroney in early 1980s Montreal, Cashore writes.

On Sept. 17, 1984, Mulroney became prime minister. On Nov. 11, an intriguing internal document celebrating the event was written by Kurt Pfleiderer, vice-president of MBB Helicopter - one of three firms that financed Schreiber, along with Airbus and armaments-maker Thyssen Industrie.

Pfleiderer wrote: "The working together with members of the new Canadian government was already tight before their election victory and among other things has contributed to the winning of the Canadian helicopter call for tenders." He credited "Mr. KH Schreiber" and "Frank D. Moores" for their efforts.

Pfleiderer also explained why MBB's Canadian branch would appoint to its board Mulroney's university friend, Bob Shea: "The Minister [of Defence, Bob Coates] explained that it was the personal wish of the Prime Minister to engage Mr. Bob Shey [sic] from Boston, an American industrialist."

Pfleiderer wrote that MBB would "seal a consulting contract with Alta Nova Associates (Mr. Frank Moores) for c.a. $72,000 Cdn a year with charges for later success fees."

On March 13, 1985, an ultra-secret contract was concluded between Airbus and Schreiber's shell company, International Aircraft Leasing, with only one signed copy, held in Switzerland. It stated that IAL would receive $500,000 for every Airbus plane bought by Air Canada, but only if IAL had secured the sale. Another condition, Cashore explains: "The contract stated the deal would be terminated 'automatically' if there was a major political change in Canada. In other words, if Mulroney was no longer in power, the agreement was null and void."

March, 1985, was also when Mulroney fired the entire board of Air Canada and replaced it with friends and Tory loyalists, including former Newfoundland premier Frank Moores, leader of his campaign to dump Joe Clark.

Two months later, Schreiber wrote to another MBB executive: "I would like to bring a very important point to your attention: of course use the contact through GCI (Frank Moores), also for other projects which are connected to the Canadian government. ... The use of this contact not only makes sense but is expected from the other side for many reasons."

Those close to Mulroney who joined Government Consultants International as lobbyists, notably Moores, Gary Ouellet and Gerald Doucet (brother of Mulroney's chief of staff Fred Doucet), all denied business dealings with Schreiber or his boss, Strauss. But Cashore cites documents proving otherwise.

And Mulroney? When questioned under oath for his 1996 suit against Ottawa, Mulroney minimized his meetings with Schreiber while prime minister and evaded any hint of the stacks of thousand-dollar bills he received in three meetings afterward, as he was later forced to admit.

"When he was going through Montreal, he would give me a call. We would have a cup of coffee, I think once or twice."

The government's lawyer asked: "And was he [Schreiber] known to you as a friend of Franz Josef Strauss?" Mulroney replied: "He was not known to me as that, but I subsequently read that he was known to Mr. Strauss. I did not know Mr. Strauss myself, nor did I know any of his family."

He was asked: "Is it not a fact that Franz Josef Strauss was the chairman of Airbus?" Mulroney replied: "I knew of Franz Josef Strauss; I didn't know him personally, I never met him, but I knew of him as the premier of Bavaria and as a minister of finance in the Federal Republic. I had no idea what his other occupations may be." So he had never heard of the chairman of Airbus.

Mulroney hired his friend from university, Pat MacAdam, as the prime minister's appointments secretary. MacAdam recalled Schreiber meeting Mulroney with Strauss's son Max. "I was the gate-keeper then, and kept the appointments, and he'd come in with Max Strauss and say hello and leave." And how often did Schreiber meet Mulroney back then? "Oh, maybe five, six, seven times a year."

MacAdam also stated: "The father, Franz Josef Strauss, was a good friend of Mulroney's in years gone by."

A commission of enquiry called in 2008 under Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant is scheduled to report at the end of May. But nothing conclusive is expected: Its terms of reference excluded investigating any connection Mulroney might have had to the Airbus deal. That's staging Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.

Cashore's book makes a valuable contribution to Canadian historiography. He exposes sordid facts that are generally unknown or ignored. But his work remains unfinished. The book cries out for a convincing answer to the enigma of the Airbus scandal: Where did that $20-million in shmiergelder (grease money) money go?

Journalist William Johnson first wrote of Brian Mulroney in The Globe and Mail in 1974. He is also author of the biography Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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Politics from both sides of the track
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Two men could not have come from more different backgrounds, yet both forged successful public careers
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Saturday, February 27, 2010 – Page F11

MADE IN CANADA: A Businessman's Adventures in Politics

By Alastair W. Gillespie with Irene Sage

Robin Brass Studio, 269 pages, $40

"GO TO SCHOOL, YOU'RE A LITTLE BLACK BOY": The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander: A Memoir

By Lincoln Alexander with Herb Shoveller

Dundurn Press, 256 pages, $26.99

***

These Canadian life stories, of two men both born in 1922, could hardly be more contrasting. Alastair Gillespie was born to a silver spoon. Lincoln Alexander was born black, in an era when race governed destiny.

"I was here when things were really tough," Alexander recalls. "I mean, you couldn't go anywhere. You couldn't get a job. You were spat on. You were discarded like an old shoe."

And yet he delivers a portrait that inspires. He took up his mother's challenge to stay in school, against all odds. History took a dramatic turn in his time. He witnessed it; he exemplified it in Canada as he broke through the impediments of race. The first black to be elected to the House of Commons, the first black Canadian privy councillor when sworn in to the federal cabinet, he became a model and a challenge to visible-minority youth when he assumed vice-regal functions as Ontario's lieutenant-governor.

He seized that bully pulpit - he, the son of a Pullman porter and a maid, both immigrants from the Caribbean. His message to youth is relayed again in his book: "He [himself] made it. I can. I will." And he tells his story with a cheerfulness that conquers all obstacles: "I don't look back. I look to the future because the future starts with us. I'm very optimistic."

Alastair Gillespie, by contrast, was born into West Coast aristocracy. His ancestor, George Gillespie, came from Scotland as a fur-trading partner of Alexander Mackenzie and was admitted in 1794 to Montreal's exclusive Beaver Club; the family displays the medal with name and date to prove it. Down the generations, the family tree included luminaries of business, ranching and politics, in Scotland, England and Canada.

Alastair's father donated to British Columbia as a provincial park his inherited 1,000-acre property, Matheson Lake. Of his mother, he writes: "She never went to school and was raised by a governess." Alastair, true to family tradition, attended private schools.

Meanwhile Alexander learned at the school of hard knocks. His parents separated; his mother took him from home in Hamilton to live for three years in Harlem, New York, where he learned to survive the mean streets with a switchblade. He grew to six foot, three inches, which that helped him maintain respect. But he soon dropped out of high school.

War caused their divergent paths to converge. Both served in the Canadian armed forces: Alexander attained the rank of corporal while Gillespie soared as a fighter pilot with officer's rank. After the war, on veteran's benefits, Alexander returned to complete high school and eventually earned a bachelor's degree from McMaster University, then a law degree from Osgood Hall. Gillespie, meanwhile, returned from the war to study commerce and economics at McGill University and then went on to Oxford for two years as a Rhodes Scholar.

Each was smitten on first meeting with the woman who became the love of his life. Alexander's wife, beautiful and dignified, was of modest attainments. Gillespie married into a rich family and went into business. "My friends, and especially my father-in-law, Christie Clark, were very helpful in making the connections that are often critical to business success." Soon he was a millionaire.

In 1968, the year of Trudeaumania, Gillespie won election as a Liberal from Etobicoke while Alexander, as a Progressive Conservative, braved the wave to represent Hamilton West. Both served as cabinet ministers, respectively under Pierre Trudeau and Joe Clark. Alexander would be re-elected four times. Gillespie, after re-election in 1972 and 1974, would go down to defeat in the anti-Trudeau elections of 1979. He then resumed a successful business career.

As witness to political history, Gillespie offers the more provocative argument. He was close to Walter Gordon and a charter member of the Committee for an Independent Canada. The 1972 elections made the minority Trudeau government dependent on NDP support. Gillespie became, as minister of industry, trade and commerce, the voice of economic nationalism, responsible under the Foreign Investment Review Act to screen foreign investment, requiring that it provide "significant benefit to Canada." He regrets bitterly that later governments, Progressive Conservative and Liberal, "emasculated" FIRA. The book's greatest contribution is his passionate plea that the federal government use its powers of intervention to develop and retain multinational head offices in Canada.

"Foreign-controlled companies do little research in Canada. In the seventies, the automobile industry was our largest industry, but it did no research in Canada. ... Had we more business people in government and fewer theoreticians and free-market ideologues, Canadian business would stand on stronger feet today."

Lincoln Alexander sat long in opposition and served as minister of labour only in the brief government of Joe Clark. His story engages for his personal testimony rather than political perspectives. His constituents kept re-electing him for what he was as a human being rather than for his party label or political doctrines. They voted for a humanist, a man committed to the dignity and equality of all humans, whether black, Jewish, oriental, aboriginal or homosexual.

His autobiography, more readable than Gillespie's too-often-meandering prose, is also history, because he documents through his own life how racial attitudes oppressed but also relented over time in Canada. His is a captivating book, revealing not so much about politics as it does about our human condition.

****

Political journalist William Johnson is the author of the biography, Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.

In 1966, he marched through Mississippi with Martin Luther King.


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The PQ's dead-end road
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Quebeckers have more pressing problems than redefining their collective identity
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, February 19, 2010 – Page A23

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

***

Lucien Bouchard hasn't lost his mojo. Nine years after he resigned as Quebec's premier, he managed to shock all Quebeckers this week into talking about what he said at a scholarly symposium on the province's past 100 years. People have been sounding off around the kitchen table, on open-line radio programs, in editorials, columns, letters to the editor, and even daily in the National Assembly.

Mr. Bouchard said that, though he remained a sovereigntist, he did not expect another referendum on sovereignty in his lifetime. So he suggested that, rather than spending effort on redefining Quebec's identity, Quebec should deal with its pressing problems of school dropouts, underfunded universities, too low tariffs for electricity and dangerously unbalanced public finances.

A chorus of denunciations immediately assailed him from the ranks of the Parti Québécois. He was accused of being tired, defeatist, of never having been a true believer in Quebec's independence.

But, for the general public, what registered most was his denunciation of a current movement, led by PQ Leader Pauline Marois, to oppose "reasonable accommodations" granted to religious minorities. The PQ is preparing a Charte de la laïcité, a charter of secularism, that will limit severely the accommodations for religious values. Ms. Marois proposes, for example, that wearing the burka in public be prohibited.

Mr. Bouchard charged that the PQ was trying to replace the Action Démocratique du Québec in exploiting the "niche of radicalism," and would lead to the creation of a "veil police." In the 2007 Quebec election, the ADQ had surged to official opposition status by opposing "reasonable accommodations" and embracing Hérouxville, the municipality that enacted regulations against decapitating women and wearing the veil in public outside of Halloween.

When Ms. Marois became leader of the PQ, she reinstated the definition of French Quebec's identity as a top priority. She spoke again of "nous," "us," meaning the French majority, as the standard to which immigrants must conform. That expression had fallen into disrepute after Jacques Parizeau used it in his concession speech after the 1995 referendum: It was considered discriminatory and divisive. But no more. Now, the definition of "nous," of Quebec's identity and fundamental values, has become the party's priority, as Ms. Marois said this week.

"To defend our values, our identity, the French language, equality between men and women ... to defend access to secular public schools, these, I think, are part of our collective consensus for our shared life."

The current high-profile issue, attacked daily in the National Assembly by Ms. Marois, is an announcement by Education Minister Michelle Courchesne that school regulations will be relaxed to permit regular instruction on Saturdays and Sundays. The obvious beneficiaries of the change will be seven ultra-religious Jewish schools that failed to fulfill all the curriculum requirements in the prescribed weekdays because they offered Jewish religious instruction during the prescribed hours. By permitting instruction on Sundays, these schools (and perhaps others) will be enabled to fulfill the requirements of the Ministry of Education.

But an outcry followed the announcement. On Tuesday, hours before Mr. Bouchard spoke, Ms. Marois was on the attack in the National Assembly. "Obviously, the significance of this latest episode is that the government worked in secret and gave in to a lobby. The teachers, the school boards, the parents, all are denouncing the minister's decision to reconstruct the school calendar for the sake of a few schools. ... Will the Minister of Education finally withdraw her draft regulation that has provoked unanimous opposition?"

Where is the harm in allowing schools to teach more than five days a week? When I was a student at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in the 1940s, we had school six days a week, including Saturday, with recreation on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. But even on those afternoons, we had to remain on school premises and be present in the study hall from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. And Brébeuf was considered one of Quebec's best schools.

Defining one's collective identity is a perilous undertaking. Quebec's intelligentsia has been engaged in that pursuit ever since the Quiet Revolution broke the previous consensus over an identity defined especially by religion. Decade after decade, it provided a kaleidoscope of constitutional visions, but none that could achieve a consensus.

President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a debate last year on France's identity but soon called it off when it led only to divisions and strife.

An opinion poll in yesterday's Le Devoir showed that 75 per cent of those surveyed found the Quebec government "too accommodating" toward "requests for reasonable accommodations for religious reasons." Moreover, 57 per cent favoured "the prohibition against wearing religious signs by public service employees."

Lucien Bouchard has now launched the prophetic warning: Don't go down that dead-end road. Will Quebec listen?


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The Pied Piper of Quebec
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009 – Page A21

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

***

It's a con job, titled La souveraineté du Québec: Hier, aujourd'hui et demain. Its climax, the happy ending foretold, is achieving Quebec's independence demain.

Jacques Parizeau's latest pitch for secession is dishonest and reckless. He took the country to the brink with the close call of the 1995 referendum. Now he issues this new clarion call to launch the Québécois once more unto the breach.

But something has changed since 1995, and it's not the former premier. The Supreme Court pronounced itself on the conditions for secession in its reference response of Aug. 20, 1998. It clarified the confusions and evasions that made possible Mr. Parizeau's 49.4 per cent of the vote in a referendum where the stake, despite rhetoric about a negotiated "partnership," was a unilateral declaration of independence unless Canada accepted Quebec's terms.

He made no bones about it: A single Yes vote above 50 per cent would have led to secession regardless of what Canada did. He said so plainly in his 1997 book, Pour un Québec souverain, causing some consternation in separatist ranks. He repeats it now in his new book. Perhaps his clearest statement was made in an interview on CPAC, when he contrasted his referendum with the 1980 vote, when premier René Lévesque promised that there would be no sovereignty unless Canada agreed to an economic association.

"The first great difference between 1980 and 1995 is that we were holding [in 1995] a referendum to achieve sovereignty, and not to negotiate it. There are still analysts who have not caught on to the fact that the difference between 1980 and 1995 is that in 1995, we went for keeps. If we had won by 26,000 votes in the other direction, I was going for it, I would have done it."

In his account of 1995, the happy ending would have come if 26,000-odd people had changed their No to a Yes. But prime minister Jean Chrétien stated clearly after the vote that he would not have considered a close result as a mandate to secede. A confrontation would have certainly ensued, with devastating consequences for the economy and civil peace.

Today, we have the elucidation of the Supreme Court, but Mr. Parizeau twists and distorts it shamelessly. He ignores the onerous conditions set by the court for a legal secession. The court recognized that two paths could lead to Quebec's independence: a legal secession, enabled by a constitutional amendment preceded by an agreement respecting the rule of law, the federal principle and the rights of minorities. Or independence could be achieved de facto by revolution, setting aside constitutional order by a unilateral declaration of independence, then obtaining recognition of Quebec by the international community.

This is the course that Mr. Parizeau again proposes, recognizing that Quebeckers could never agree to the sacrifices required for a legal secession. But he never acknowledges that his unilateral declaration would be revolutionary. It would pit the government of Canada, committed to the rule of law, against the revolutionary government of Quebec, and lead to court challenges and serious conflicts among Quebeckers. The easy international recognition assumed by Mr. Parizeau is most unlikely in a United Nations established on the sovereignty of existing states.

He lures Quebeckers with a Pied Piper's melody. But his spin on reality shows when he quotes selectively the report of five eminent experts in international law consulted in 1991 by the Quebec government. "The unanimous conclusion of their legal opinion is quite clear: The frontiers of a sovereign Quebec would be those of current Quebec."

But Mr. Parizeau seems to forget that he published a letter in which he accused the Supreme Court of favouring the partition of a seceding Quebec. And he omits more pertinent quotations from the five experts: "The right to secession does not exist in international law." And this: "The Quebec people exercises effectively its right to self-determination within the framework of the Canadian whole and is not legally authorized to invoke it to justify its future accession to independence."

On May 19, 1994, Mr. Parizeau told the National Assembly: "There is the law. We are a law-abiding state. Canada and Quebec are not banana republics. There is the Constitution. There is international law. And we have been elected to defend the law." After that beginning, he argued that Canada was divisible but Quebec was not. The law be damned.

Mr. Parizeau's flights of mythology would be amusing but for the ascendancy he holds as Quebec's most influential separatist. The crowds at his book launch Monday proved that. As such, he is more dangerous than ridiculous.


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'Just watch me'? How could we not?
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Pierre Trudeau's first election campaign was truly a love affair with Canada, when politics came alive, were glamorous - and mattered. Canada seemed poised for a golden age
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Saturday, October 31, 2009 – Page F9

JUST WATCH ME The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau 1968-2000

By John English

Knopf Canada, 789 pages, $39.95

***

Lucky biographer. Pierre Trudeau, the subject of Waterloo University historian John English's two-volume study, was the most provocative, controversial, flamboyant and yet intellectually profound prime minister in Canada's history.

He saved the country from Quebec's secession. He rewrote and patriated the Constitution, vesting in Canada a logic that withstood all attempts to inflect it with the vision he had fought and vanquished, that of "two founding peoples."

As a bonus, Trudeau's mother, then Pierre himself, collected every personal scrap of paper that ever left his hand. English obtained full access to the treasure trove when he was approved as official biographer by Trudeau's trustees. He had proved his competence in his award-winning biography of Lester Pearson. A Liberal since student days, he served in Parliament from 1993 to 1997. Jean Chrétien made him minister of intergovernmental affairs. No ivory tower academic, he.

English takes a broad approach, devoting nearly as much scrutiny to Trudeau's personal life as to his political one. He examines Trudeau's close relationship to his mother, Grace Elliott, and his tempestuous marriage to Margaret Sinclair.

And did I mention the love letters? They provide the most striking revelation of this second volume, which takes Trudeau from his capture of the Liberal leadership on April 6, 1968, to his funeral in October, 2000.

Trudeau had remained a virgin until his mid-20s, inhibited by his eight years of indoctrination as a student of the Jesuits. But when he broke free, how he made up for lost time.

We glimpse what is to come on the very evening of Trudeau's convention victory. "Before long, Trudeau spotted Bob Rae's striking young sister, Jennifer, across the room, and fastening his penetrating blues eyes on her, he came close and whispered, 'Will you go out with me some time?' She later did, but he also remembered the fetching teenager [Margaret Sinclair] who had spurned him in Tahiti the previous December but had willingly accepted his eager kiss that afternoon as he left the convention floor."

Trudeau would appear in public sporting stunning young women on his arm. We didn't know that his secret life, with the connivance of his RCMP guards, included clandestine trysts with a series of women at 24 Sussex and Harrington Lake.

Unlike John Kennedy, he pursued more than a quick fix, engaging deeply with his conquests, sometimes over many years. It seems that only with women - first his mother, then all the others - could he truly reveal himself unguarded. He exchanged letters with his lovers, actually proposed to Carroll Guérin while he was courting Margaret and, after the breakup, to Barbra Streisand.

Trudeau's first election campaign was truly a love affair with Canada. After the dreary Diefenbaker and Pearson years of quarrels and scandals, suddenly politics came alive, glamorous - and mattered. Canada seemed poised for a golden age. The youth responded with Trudeaumania.

English spins well the tale of that enchanted season, and the torrent of lows and highs that cascaded afterward. He did due diligence, interviewing the story's principal characters and guiding his students' research on Trudeau. From both private and published sources, he culled anecdotes that spice the account and relieve sometimes dry explanations of policy.

A period of high drama began on Oct. 5, 1970, with the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross, and intensified the following week with the kidnapping and execution of deputy premier Pierre Laporte. "The October Crisis became the watershed for Trudeau's supporters and opponents, and his words - 'just watch me,' 'bleeding hearts,' and 'go on and bleed' - became texts for future debates," English writes. Trudeau's firmness in resisting the demands of the Front de Libération du Québec was in contrast to the insistence of Claude Ryan, René Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau and others that the government negotiate the release of FLQ "political prisoners."

On a personal note, Richard Doyle, then editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, wrote an editorial much to the same effect, though without the shameless reference to "political prisoners." I, then a Globe reporter, argued with him. He replied: "James Cross must be got back safe, whatever it takes." I replied: "Then none of your reporters are safe when they are in Quebec."

In the event, despite recriminations that continue to this day, Trudeau's response put an effective end to terrorist outrages, while they continued in countries that negotiated deals with terrorists. English's account of the episode is full and fascinating.

We live through Trudeau's purgatory, grappling with stagflation during the 1970s and imposing the wage and price controls he had ridiculed during the 1974 election. His popularity plummeted. He alienated Bay Street by his left-wing past and his musings: "We haven't been able to make it work, the free market system."

But his greatest failure was to alienate Western Canada. His priorities - imposing bilingualism nationally and rewriting the constitution - went against the grain. In 1968 Trudeau won 27 out of 68 western seats. By 1980, only two of 77.

English corrects the hostile misunderstanding of the famous sentence, "Why should I sell your wheat?" But he also documents Trudeau's bitter struggles with Peter Lougheed, as Alberta was made to pay for the lower-than-world oil prices enjoyed in Eastern Canada.. The National Energy Program haunts Alberta still.

When he was defeated by Joe Clark in 1979 and announced his resignation, he had failed to achieve the main objectives that, in 1965, drew him to office.

But Joe Clark's miscalculation saved him. Again prime minister for the 1980 referendum on sovereignty-association, Trudeau was able to outgun René Lévesque and, later, outwit him at the 1981 first ministers conference on patriating the Constitution. He achieved at last the happy ending to his major obsession, chaining Quebec's nationalist demons in a made-in-Canada constitution that consecrated the equality of English and French in all federal institutions andensured the right to French schooling across the country. That, rather than a more powerful Quebec government that would turn Quebec's members of Parliaments into eunuchs because they could not vote on issues that were federal in the rest of the country but provincial in Quebec, was where the true interests of French Canadians lay.

English, recalling Trudeau's speeches before the referendum, disproves the myth still propagated by Quebec's politicians and pundits that Trudeau set a precedent in 1980 by accepting that a bare majority Yes vote would legitimate Quebec's secession. Trudeau, in fact, said that even 100 per cent would not do: "The wishes of Quebeckers may be expressed through a democratic process, but that cannot bind others - those in other provinces who did not vote - to act as Quebec decided." He stated categorically that he would never negotiate sovereignty-association.

This book now becomes the standard biography of Trudeau for the sheer scope and thoroughness of the research on all major aspects of Trudeau's life. English is even-handed, rarely praising, blaming or psychologizing, but he explains and invokes all the different views on the events recounted. And it's a good read.

But it does have one important flaw. English deals episodically but not analytically with Trudeau's struggles with Quebec nationalists. He never defines sharply Quebec's specific nationalism and the common denominator that underlies its many manifestations, namely the doctrine that Canada was founded as a compact between two founding peoples: the French Canadians and the English Canadians. Its logical corollary was that Quebec must be reconstituted as an ethnic state, the French-speaking people's homeland.

Trudeau the dialectician drew a sharp line between his vision and his opponents'. The true cleavage was not between federalism and separatism, but between federalism and the incompatible concept of Canada as a pact between two founding peoples.

Trudeau defined the difference most clearly in 1971 as he announced his policy of multiculturalism: "There cannot be one cultural policy for Canadians of British and French origin, another for the original peoples and yet a third for all others. For although there are two official languages, there is no official culture, nor does any ethnic group take precedence over any other. No citizen or group of citizens is other than Canadian."

This shocked Quebec's political class. But Trudeau knew that ideologies are like railway tracks: Once committed, you are driven toward a specific destination. He knew where recognizing two founding peoples led because he had been there as a young separatist. It meant demanding ever more powers for Quebec's government until, logically, all powers were recovered. When such demands were refused, Quebec festered in resentment.

Political scientist Stéphane Paquin traced the history of "two founding peoples" in his 1999 study, L'Invention d'un mythe: Le Pacte entre deux peuples fondateurs. Without foundation in 1867, it came to full flowering in the 1956 report of Quebec's Royal Commission on Constitutional Problems. Then, from Jean Lesage to Jean Charest, through Daniel Johnson Sr., Robert Bourassa, René Lévesque, Claude Ryan, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, all Quebec's leaders have embraced the myth. And separatists have invoked its non-realization as a breach of contract, justifying secession.

English, because he fails to probe deeply the dialectics of Quebec nationalism, is at a loss to explain Trudeau's virulent reaction to Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord.

Trudeau knew that if the whole Constitution was to be interpreted in the light of Quebec's mandate to "promote its distinct society," it would vest in the Constitution precisely what he had always attacked: the premise of Canada as two founding peoples. As Gil Rémillard, Quebec's constitutional point man, explained the Meech Lake game plan, "the Quebec government wanted to establish on a solid basis the foundations of a comprehensive constitutional reform to come in a second stage of negotiations." Quebec's empowerment would follow the assertion of the principle.

All in all, though, John English has delivered a biography that rises creditably to the challenge posed by his formidable subject.

William Johnson covered Pierre Trudeau as reporter and columnist for The Globe and Mail. As researcher and translator, he shared in the 2007 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for Young Trudeau: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada 1919-1944, by Max and Monique Nemni.


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The Supreme Court must face facts: French is thriving in Quebec
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, October 23, 2009 – Page A23

OTTAWA -- Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

Once again, part of Quebec's language law has been found to be unconstitutional and a violation of the Charter rights of Canadians. The legislation struck down unanimously yesterday by the Supreme Court of Canada had been passed unanimously in 2002 with the support of both the Parti Québécois government and Jean Charest's Liberal opposition, to further restrict access to publicly supported English schools.

At issue was Section 23(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which reads: "Citizens of Canada of whom any child has received or is receiving primary or secondary school instruction in English or French in Canada, have the right to have all their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in the same language."

The purpose was to ensure continuity in the language of schooling, so a child would not be forced to transfer from one language to the other. It was also to ensure that, within the same family, children were not separated by attending schools in different languages.

But the wording of the Charter allowed a practice that grew up in Quebec of sending a child to an unsubsidized English school, permitted under Quebec law even to those ineligible for subsidized English school because neither parent had been educated in English in Canada. Sometimes, after taking Grade 1 in such a school, the child was transferred to a subsidized English school, claiming the right under the Charter.

In 1993, Quebec passed an amendment to the Charter of the French Language allowing otherwise ineligible children to attend subsidized English schools only if "the major part" of their instruction had been in English. This the court repudiated in the 2005 Solski judgment, where it found the criterion too indiscriminate. The court insisted that a "qualitative" as well as a "quantitative" evaluation must be made of a child's entire "educational pathway" to determine the child's eligibility.

In 2002, the National Assembly went further. Henceforth, no period of study in an unsubsidized English school would give a child or its siblings access to a subsidized English school. Moreover, otherwise ineligible children who, for special reasons, were given a minister's permit to attend a subsidized English school (for example, because of learning difficulties or a temporary stay in Quebec) could no longer extend the right to their siblings.

Yesterday, the court found both provisions unconstitutional. It ordered that the brother of a girl who had received a special ministerial permission also be admitted to a subsidized English school. It also suspended for a year the practical effect of its declaration of unconstitutionality to give Quebec time to rewrite a law that, without a blanket disqualification of unsubsidized English schooling, would conform with the quantitative and qualitative evaluations ordered by the court in 2005.

There are two problems with yesterday's decision. It opens the door to numerous time-consuming and costly evaluations, case by case. Without clearly defined objective criteria, the Quebec government will invoke subjective judgments to refuse admission. It has amply proved its bad faith, outrageously throwing up every obstacle, every delay, to restrict the number of children in English schools.

The second problem is deeper. This judgment, as did Solski, invoked the court's 1988 Ford decision, according to which the language law could restrict freedoms in Quebec because "it was a response to a pressing and substantial concern - the survival of the French language." The very existence of French was supposedly threatened.

The court based its judgment on evidence from before the Quiet Revolution. Yesterday, it invoked a 2008 government document which again claims that the durability of French in Quebec is not assured.

But what are the facts? Objectively, a language is threatened when younger generations abandon it. But according to the 2006 census, between 1996 and 2006 the number of Quebeckers whose mother tongue is French increased by 175,410 (from 5,741,430 to 5,916,840). The number who gave French as the language spoken most often in the home increased even more: by 255,075 (from 5,830,080 to 6,085,155). This shows French thriving, not disappearing. Moreover, other figures from the census show that a majority of those whose mother tongue is neither French nor English now speak French more often than English in their homes.

But it's an article of faith in Quebec that the language is threatened. That justifies a regime of repressions. What's needed now is for the court to reconsider the Ford decision and its implications in light of the facts, not opinions. Freedoms might be restored when the mythical state of emergency is past.


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What if Montcalm had won?
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009 – Page A13

Author adn a former president of Alliance Quebec

What if, 250 years ago, the Marquis de Montcalm had defeated James Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham? Would French-speakers today be more numerous on this continent, more socially and culturally developed, more prosperous and secure? Would the Québécois be happier?

That assumption has been cherished by generations of nationalist weepers. Their lamentations will fill the air this weekend on the anniversary.

But is it justified? On the contrary, if you study the fate of each of France's American colonies in the years after 1759, it emerges unquestionably that only Quebec has prospered, and in French.

Of course, tragic myths die hard. None is more seductive than that of Paradise Lost. Laval University historian Jocelyn Létourneau asked 3,000 students to write, in 45 minutes, an overview of Quebec's history. Overwhelmingly, they saw New France as a golden age, followed by a fall into the struggle for survival and emancipation, until the rebirth of hope with the Quiet Revolution.

And the reality? New France was a stunted two-dimensional society kept as "une colonie à fourrures," according to historian Marcel Trudel, the foremost expert on New France. France followed a mercantilist philosophy. So the King of France decreed in 1704: "Whatever could create competition with the manufactures of the Kingdom must never be done in the colonies." While beaver pelts were welcomed, the King ordered closed a nascent colonial industry to manufacture beaver hats. Similarly, a local industry to fabricate linen cloth was outlawed.

And the colons were ordered, under severe penalties, not to trade with nearby New Englanders, whose prices were lower. So a diversified economy, or even a commercial agriculture, could never develop in New France.

Demographers Réjean Lachapelle and Jacques Henripin estimate that, during the entire period of New France, it received on average fewer than 70 immigrants a year, while the British colonies received on average 1,400 immigrants a year - although France, in the 17th century, had three times the population of England. The New England colonies were fairly concentrated geographically, while New France soon extended over an area larger than Europe, from Acadia to Hudson's Bay to beyond the Great Lakes and down to Louisiana. The British colonies thrived in numbers, in trade, in commercial agriculture, in wealth, in complexity. New France remained overextended, underdeveloped, authoritarian, primitive. It never published a newspaper. Literacy was scarce.

That 160-year contrast, not the Plains of Abraham, determined that North America must eventually speak English.

Nationalist historian Lionel Groulx recognized that the fall of New France was inevitable because, a century before 1759, Louis XIV chose to starve the colony in order to pursue his continental ambitions. For Groulx, not just Louis XV, but especially Louis XIV "renounced America," starving it of immigrants and investment. "New France, nourished by all too little blood, was destined to become like a member that, deprived of blood, must some day be amputated." The inevitable happened in 1759.

But what if Quebec had not fallen then? Look at what happened to France's other American colonies, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Louisiana, Sainte-Lucie, French Guyana. In none is French today the first language spoken by the majority of the population. Even where French is the official language, some form of Creole is the language of the people.

Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803. Guadeloupe revolted against the French Revolution and refused the governor sent by France. Napoleon sent an army to quell Guadeloupe's uprising and thousands were slaughtered.

Haiti was ravaged first by wars between French and occupying British armies. Then the slaves revolted and Haiti gained independence in 1804, but only after tens of thousands of its people had been slaughtered.

Sainte-Lucie, between 1793 and 1815, changed hands seven times in the battles between the French and the British. St. Lucia was finally ceded to Britain in 1814. Martinique also swung between French and British rule until Napoleon's downfall.

Meanwhile, Quebec's French population soared in the 19th century as it never had under French rule. Starting from a low base, Quebec developed politically, culturally and socially. Almost everything recognized today as characteristically Québécois emerged after 1763.

In January, when plans were revealed to recreate the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, nationalists exploded. Réjean Parent, president of the federation representing 180,000 teachers and other public-sector employees, declared: "It is as unreasonable to ask the Québécois people to commemorate the worst defeat in its history as to ask the French people to do likewise to underline their defeat against Nazi Germany."

In January and February, Guadeloupe was paralyzed by a general strike. Do Quebeckers truly envy the fate of Guadeloupe? It was not defeated on the Plains of Abraham.


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A new chief, a new mood
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Phil Fontaine preferred negotiation. But assertiveness is increasingly seen as the best way to restore nationhood
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, July 24, 2009 – Page A13

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

You can bet on this: The Assembly of First Nations, under newly elected national chief Shawn Atleo, will be far more demanding, provocative, denunciatory, muscular and pre-emptive than it was under Phil Fontaine.

That theme recurred during the three days that brought 553 chiefs to Calgary from across Canada. Mr. Fontaine notoriously preferred negotiation to confrontation, and the chiefs recognized that he had made important gains for first nations people with his diplomatic ways.

But now, the mood of the chiefs requires a different approach. Expectations in recent years have soared, fuelled by the benevolent recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples - most of which have remained a dead letter.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly expanded the recognition of aboriginal title, treaty rights and human rights. The chiefs feel the Harper government hasn't followed up. Then there's the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada refuses to sign.

A telling moment occurred at Tuesday's all-candidates meeting when a Quebec chief, Gilbert Whiteduck, said: "We're telling each other what we already know. We're telling each other that we own the land. What we need is action. And I ask all of the candidates: Are you thinking about the poorest of the poor, of our men and our women and our children who are suffering? Is your message just wait and see, I have a vision for change, while they're suffering now, tomorrow, the day after? When will we rise?"

He was applauded. Mr. Atleo replied: "When will we rise? Now. That's why I believe so strongly, Chief, that it is our time." Candidate John Beaucage suggested direct action might be required to resist a federal government diminishing aboriginal rights. "We have to do whatever we can, and maybe it's the day of action, only maybe it's the month of action, maybe it's the year of action, that we need to do, to get rid of these things that are hurting our people."

The chiefs' vision for the future has become increasingly consensual. They agree on the need to rebuild and restore an authentic aboriginal identity, the spirituality, culture, values, symbols, ceremonies and languages that were so badly mauled and degraded by Canadians for a century and a half. The wounds cut deep still, and the distrust remains. It drives a second objective: to create the maximum insulation between themselves and the Canadian state by acquiring the greatest possible sovereignty for first nations communities.

The restoration of nationhood is perceived as essential to cure the many dysfunctions in the communities: suicide, substance abuse, poverty, school dropouts, domestic violence and criminal acts. In parallel, the chiefs see modern education as a first priority for the acquisition of pride and dignity and to combat poverty.

Economic development, through partnerships with industrial leaders and governments, is also part of the new canon. Likewise, it is accepted that first nations have been despoiled of the value of the resources extracted from the lands in which they claim an interest.

What this amounts to is that the chiefs and the leaders of the AFN have taken on themselves the task of nation-building - or rather rebuilding what had been systematically plundered. Few Canadians can appreciate the scope of the duty to reconstruct one's society from the ground up to the sun.

First nations leaders increasingly summarize their quests under one single concept - that of sovereignty. In March of 2005, a special committee of chiefs and advisers formulated their vision in great detail in a paper, "Our Nations, Our Governments: Choosing Our Own Paths." One key paragraph declared: "All levels of government must recognize the full jurisdiction of First Nation Governments over all areas promoting the development of First Nations as peoples, especially with respect to lands, resources, culture, traditions and citizenship; federal and provincial governments must vacate jurisdiction over all matters required by First Nations to effectively exercise their full legal authority."

That is jurisdiction on demand, and the right to sovereignty is presumed in each of the 633 reserve communities, some with fewer than 100 people. That is an octopus-like grasp of government powers, difficult for any federal government to negotiate.

Moreover, the royal commission proposed a quite different understanding of the issue of self-government: "The right of self-determination is vested in Aboriginal nations rather than small local communities. By Aboriginal nation we mean a sizable body of Aboriginal people with a shared sense of national identity that constitutes the predominant population in a certain territory or group of territories. Currently, there are between 60 and 80 historically based nations in Canada, compared with a thousand or so local Aboriginal communities."

The follies of the past mean that Canada itself has to be reconstructed, and that can only be done when both sides of the divide meet with the intention to redeem the past and prepare the future.


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Indians and the just society
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Forty years after Jean Chrétien's 'white paper,' we still struggle to reconcile the Canadian square and the aboriginal circle
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Thursday, June 25, 2009 – Page A17

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

A bombshell. No, a mega-magnitude earthquake. The tectonic plates underlying Canada collided against each other. To this day, the aftershocks continue their eruptions.

Forty years ago, on June 25, 1969, Indian Affairs minister Jean Chrétien proudly presented his Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy. Known since as "the white paper," it pursued Pierre Trudeau's concept of a "just society" by rescinding all of the Crown's policies and commitments made toward Indians since the 1763 Royal Proclamation.

Its logic was summarized in two sentences: "The policy rests upon the fundamental right of Indian people to full and equal participation in the cultural, social, economic and political life of Canada. To argue against this right is to argue for discrimination, isolation and separation."

For most Canadians, that seemed only fitting after a decade marked by immense struggles worldwide against segregation and for equality. But it also meant that Indians would lose their centuries-long unique status. Treaties would be scrapped. Indian lands, long owned collectively under the trusteeship of the Crown, would be privatized and distributed to Indians individually. The Indian Affairs bureaucracy would shut down. Indians, like other Canadians, would receive services from provincial governments and federal ministries serving the general population.

"The government hopes to have the bulk of the policy in effect within five years," was the forecast. After 40 years, none of it has occurred.

The white paper caused an explosion of outrage and existential anxiety. The reaction of Indians was forcibly expressed by Harold Cardinal, a Cree from Alberta who had studied sociology at Ottawa's St. Patrick's College and, just the year before, been elected, at 24, as president of the Alberta Indian Association.

"The history of Canada's Indians is a shameful chronicle of the white man's disinterest, his deliberate trampling of Indian rights and his repeated betrayal of our trust," he charged in his riposte, titled The Unjust Society: The Tragedy of Canada's Indians. "Once more the Indians of Canada are betrayed by a program which offers nothing better than cultural genocide."

For this voice expressing a new Indian generation, the "white man" had proved himself a liar, a cheat, a swindler, a racist, a colonizer, a tyrant, a brute who spoke with a forked tongue. The solemn promises and contractual obligations of the treaties were betrayed.

What he then articulated prophetically would become the countervision to the 1969 white paper. He expressed the main themes of a native renaissance that flowered across the country beginning in the 1960s, after the half a century of virtual silence since Pauline Johnson wrote. It would include such notable figures as Norval Morrisseau, Duke Redbird, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Maria Campbell, Tomson Highway, Alanis Obomsawin, Richard Wagamese, Eden Robinson, Joseph Boyden and innumerable others.

Then the Supreme Court of Canada, in judgments such as Calder (1973), Sioui (1990) and Delgamuukw (1997), would repudiate the Trudeau vision of a single standard of citizenship, and would assert the continuing validity of historic commitments made to Indians by the Crown.

Mr. Trudeau came to recognize the error of the white paper. His repudiation would be expressed by Section 35 of his 1982 Constitution Act: "The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed. ... For greater certainty, 'treaty rights' includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired."

History has left Canada as a jigsaw puzzle of fault lines running between regions and communities with varying commitments and many unfulfilled obligations. The task of defining and mending them has only just begun.

Some principles to guide current and future negotiations in fulfilment of Canada's obligations to Indians were spelled out by the court in Badger (1996):

"First, it must be remembered that a treaty represents an exchange of solemn promises between the Crown and the various Indian nations. It is an agreement whose nature is sacred. ... It is always assumed that the Crown intends to fulfill its promises. No appearance of 'sharp dealing' will be sanctioned."

And the court laid this obligation on the government: "Any ambiguities or doubtful expressions in the wording of the treaty or document must be resolved in favour of the Indians. A corollary to this principle is that any limitations which restrict the rights of Indians under treaties must be narrowly construed."

The racism of the past left Canada a legacy of multitudinous debts to Indians that must eventually be acquitted. At the same time, the court recognized that third parties - most Canadians - have also acquired rights over the centuries that must be respected. And the entire financial structure of the country must not be destroyed in the process of pursuing a justice long delayed.

Can the Canadian square and the aboriginal circle somehow be reconciled?


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Where does the 'true patriot' really stand on national unity?
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Thursday, April 30, 2009 – Page A15

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec

Speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee.

- from Melville's Moby-Dick

Much will be expected this weekend when Michael Ignatieff climaxes the Liberal Party convention with his acceptance speech. The man with the head of a sphinx has much spoken and written in the past about what he calls the first priority of the party he now leads: maintaining the unity of Canada.

But, in his current book, True Patriot Love, where he explores patriotism as the enduring family preoccupation of (according to the subtitle) "four generations in search of Canada," he, the spokesman for the fourth generation, remains strangely elusive.

He recognizes that Canada has a problem of unity with its fragmented national founding myths: "We cannot create a single myth, like the United States, because we have three competing ones, English Canadian, French Canadian and Aboriginal. Three peoples share a state without sharing the same sense of the country at all. It is small wonder, then, that we have never been sure we can continue to imagine a common future."

So what solution does he offer? He's at his best when identifying the national vision declared by aboriginal leaders and the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. "Our treaty relations with aboriginal peoples presuppose that we reason together, nation to nation, across the divide of history. The treaty relationship says Aboriginals must be treated as constituent peoples. They cannot be treated just as individual citizens. They were here first. They had their own laws and institutions. The rest of us came as conquerors. Aboriginals accept the new country, but we must deal with them as a people."

He also recognizes that the three main founding mythologies are not only different, they are incompatible - unless formulas of reconciliation can be identified. That's why Quebec's successive governments declare the 1982 patriation of the Constitution to be illegitimate. It's why the royal commission's main recommendations have remained dead letters.

"Our histories are many, and the histories of French, English and Aboriginal conflict with each other," Mr. Ignatieff writes. But, unlike Pierre Trudeau, who offered a formula of reconciliation in "one Canada with two official languages," Mr. Ignatieff barely goes beyond recommending empathy: "To be a citizen of Canada is to imagine the feelings of those who do not believe what we believe. We have to enter into these feelings if we want to keep the country together."

But empathy isn't always possible, nor will it do. Few Canadians can enter into the minds, the world views, of aboriginals. And it will not suffice to grasp where the "other" is coming from to proceed to a resolution.

When Mr. Ignatieff, as a Harvard professor, gave the keynote speech to the Liberal convention in March of 2005, he defined the party's first priority: "As I see it, the Liberal Party has three essential purposes. The first, to protect and to enhance the national unity of our country."

He spoke when the hearings on the sponsorship scandal were daily discrediting federalism. The Parti Québécois rode high in the polls and proposed as its first order of business after taking office to hold a referendum on unilateral secession.

Mr. Ignatieff warned the minority Liberal government: "Liberals know that there are times in politics, and they try our souls as a people and they try our souls as a party, when politics means saying a clear no, and a clear yes.

"So, my friends, the word is 'no,' no to national division, no to the nationalist blackmail, no to the mean-spirited gaze of the Bloc Québécois. No, no, to the false utopia of the separatists, no to separatism, no, no, forever. But my friends, yes, a big yes, yes to the renewal of federalism, yes to the updating of our national institutions, yes to Canada."

The surge of separatism has since abated, and the threat of a referendum went into remission. But the fundamental problem of two conflicting myths remains while Quebec Premier Jean Charest refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the 1982 Constitution and repudiates the Supreme Court's pronouncement on the conditions for secession by defending Lucien Bouchard's law claiming the right to secede unilaterally.

In his 1993 book, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, Mr. Ignatieff wrote: "For me, Trudeau remains the champion of federalism I have wanted to believe in all my life." Where does he stand now?

He now writes: "How do we make this place worthy of our dreams? How do we fix what is so obviously wrong? Those questions became my own. It's why I came back. It's why I entered politics. It's why I'm here."

This weekend, Mr. Ignatieff must provide a much clearer answer to those questions. Anything else will be mere pirouettes.


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Sarkozy? Or Marois, Duceppe and Charest?
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009 – Page A21

Now, at last, there's no ambiguity. On Feb. 2, French President Nicolas Sarkozy removed the last illusion that sustained Quebec's separatism since 1967: that France would ensure international recognition for an independent Quebec. His speech, after conferring the Legion of Honour on Quebec Premier Jean Charest, spurned separatism as "sectarianism," "division," and "the need to define one's identity through fierce opposition to the other."

Ouch.

Quebec's secessionists took it as a declaration of war and they retaliated. Last Thursday, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe summoned the media to deliver their riposte. "The statements of President Sarkozy about the sovereigntist movement are unacceptable."

Ms. Marois used a term loaded with diplomatic significance, "unacceptable." When Charles de Gaulle shouted his "Vive le Québec libre!" prime minister Lester Pearson declared that as "unacceptable," and the General cut short his visit.

The duo made public a four-page letter to Mr. Sarkozy that recalled the actions of previous presidents. Indeed, in 1995, Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau had wrung from French president Jacques Chirac a secret promise to recognize Quebec's sovereignty the morning after the referendum, if it carried by a single vote. So Mr. Parizeau later claimed, and the two leaders invoked the precedent.

"The Canadian prime minister [Jean Chrétien] maintained that, even after a majority vote for sovereignty, Quebec would have been unable to leave Canada. We know, however, that, at the same time, your predecessor, president Jacques Chirac, would have recognized the political decision of the Québécois, thus placing himself on the side of democracy and accompanying Quebec in its choice. Several francophone countries would have done the same, and we know that democracy would have prevailed."

They assumed that Mr. Sarkozy would be shocked to learn that Canada's prime minister could refuse to accept unconditionally a unilateral declaration of independence on the strength of a referendum held in Quebec alone. They did not recognize that no country on Earth accepts secession on those terms, and certainly not France.

"La France est une République indivisible," states Article 1 of France's constitution. So partitioning France is prohibited from the start. Article 3 states: "National sovereignty belongs to the people who exercise it through their representatives and by way of referendum. No section of the people and no individual can assume its exercise." Not even Corsica could secede by holding a referendum. Article 89 further bolts the door: "No procedure to revise [the constitution] can be initiated or pursued that threatens the integrity of the territory."

Previously, France's politicians and diplomats colluded freely with Quebec secessionists. But that was when opportunistic prime ministers like Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien failed to draw a line in the sand. Since 1995, we have the clear statement of the Supreme Court of Canada that future prime ministers will have to enforce.

The court stated that Quebec can become independent legally only through an amendment to the Constitution of Canada. That requires the consent of the federal government and the provinces. A pre-condition must be a negotiated agreement settling a host of issues, such as the borders of the ex-province of Quebec. All secessionist leaders after René Lévesque have rejected this condition, which would almost certainly entail Quebec's losing the territories of the aboriginals.

But the court recognized a second route to independence: revolution. It means overthrowing the Constitution, eliminating all federal governance over the territory of Quebec, and gaining international recognition. This is the path that separatist leaders claimed would be guaranteed by France. That claim has just lost its credibility, hence their fury.

And Jean Charest in this? He bolstered the separatists' claim by assuring everyone that, if another referendum were held, France would return to its previous implicit guarantee under the "ni ingérence, ni indifférence" formula that Mr. Sarkozy had just repudiated.

And the Premier again repudiated the Supreme Court's doctrine on secession, by saying: "What I know is that the Québécois, regardless of the circumstances, will themselves decide their future. It will always be like that."

Mr. Charest, the supposed federalist, has never accepted the court's decision that the rule of law and the federal principle prevent Quebec from separating legally without the consent of the federation. He repeats what he stated in 1995, both before and after the court's decision: "Quebeckers alone will decide their future." Gaullism has just been buried, but Premier Charest remains closer to president de Gaulle than President Sarkozy.

Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec


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Why the kingmaker can't stop laughing
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Thursday, December 4, 2008 – Page A23

There is a Quebec political syndrome. It inspired the decision of Stéphane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe to seize power, dumping the Conservatives.

Is it coincidence that all three are from Quebec? Even Mr. Layton was born and bred there, graduating from McGill University. His father was a Quebec MP in the Mulroney government.

The Quebec political syndrome includes a permanent resentment over past wrongs and past humiliations. It's premised on being under existential threat in North America, where its language is different and outnumbered. It displays a fortress mentality. And the syndrome assumes that, whatever Quebec wants, it must get. Or it's aggrieved. Quebec doesn't accept give and take, just take. Reciprocity's out, unilateralism's in.

So Quebec elected a majority of Bloc Québécois MPs in six elections since 1993. The Bloc's bare-faced principle is to be guided by Quebec's interests and Quebec's interests alone. "I'm here to act for the Quebec nation," Mr. Duceppe said on Monday as the three signed their agreement. And Quebec is hypersensitive to insult. Nationalists burned the Canadian flags routinely. But when expatriate Anglos trampled the Quebec flag in Brockville, all of Quebec was aroused. It was added to Quebec's carefully tended list of historic slights.

So what precipitated the triumvirate's power grab? The casus belli was Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's announcement that he was ending the $1.95 subsidy to parties for each vote they receive. It was a provocation, most unwise. The strong negative reaction from opposition parties, press and public caused Stephen Harper to recant.

But our Quebec trio couldn't forgive or forget. Mr. Harper must be destroyed. The revenge of the nerd for all past indignities would be terrible: Mr. Dion must become prime minister.

Mr. Duceppe understood that the measure was aimed at the separatist movement. The Bloc gets the same money per vote as the other parties, though it campaigns only in Quebec and buys TV advertising only in one language. The Bloc is the rich sister of the Parti Québécois; in Quebec, the parties get only 50 cents a vote. So the Bloc does almost no fundraising, letting the PQ collect from separatist supporters. And the Bloc uses its financial power to spread the PQ's message. The two parties are joined at the hip, and Ottawa finances separatism.

Mr. Duceppe wants Mr. Harper gone. In 2005, support for secession soared so high that the confident PQ adopted its most radical program: unilateral secession, no association. But Mr. Harper cajoled Quebeckers, even recognizing the Québécois as "a nation within a united Canada." Separatism vanished as an issue in Quebec's election of 2007 and the one on Monday - until this week.

Now Pauline Marois, who won the PQ leadership on a promise to drop the commitment to a referendum, points to the turmoil in Ottawa and the outrage in Western Canada: "We are [now] more sovereigntist because we see that that country doesn't function. That federation denies the reality of Quebec. ... The reactions in the rest of Canada are demonstrating that, deep down, they have not much respect for Quebec and don't want really to recognize us as a nation."

True, there is outrage west of Ottawa. People voted for a leader and a party, not a three-headed bait-and-switch substitute. The Conservatives won more seats than the combined opposition in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick. In Ontario, the Conservatives won 13 more seats than the Liberals, 34 more than the NDP. Now the people see their victory snatched from them under obscure rules that supposedly justify an illegitimate outcome.

The country is polarized between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Mr. Dion claims "the Bloc accepted to have 18 months of political stability in Canada." The 18 months have only just started. Mr. Duceppe, the kingmaker, must be happy.


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Marching in Mississippi in 1966: We have overcome
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Thursday, November 6, 2008 – Page A23

The miracle has happened. The United States has fulfilled at last the long-delayed founding promise of 1776 in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

The unalienable right of liberty for all was achieved only at the price of a civil war and hundreds of thousands of deaths in battle. Equality was longer in coming. I witnessed the last throes of desegregation.

In 1966, the black man who had desegregated the University of Mississippi, James Meredith, decided to march from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., in what he called a "march against fear." He wanted to inspire Mississippi's blacks to overcome their fear of lynching, dare to sit at the front of the bus and dare to vote in elections.

At Ole Miss, he'd been protected day and night by federal marshals. But now he set off unprotected on June 5, 1966, with a few companions. The next day, at Hernando, just inside Mississippi, a sniper with a shotgun hit him in the back with birdshot. Mr. Meredith, wounded, was taken to hospital.

I was travelling with my wife and three-year-old son when I caught the news in a bar in Selma, Ala. Though a Canadian, I felt personally involved. I had been a student at the University of California at Berkeley for three years. My son was born there. We immediately drove to Hernando in our VW van to join any protest. In fact, the leaders of the civil-rights movement, Martin Luther King and others, gathered in Memphis and then headed to Hernando to take up the march where Mr. Meredith had fallen.

So we marched through Mississippi, singing freedom songs. "And before I'll be a slave/ I'll be buried in my grave/ And go home to my Lord and be free." The first night, our family was put up in a black family's home in the ghetto of Hernando, along with a black university professor who had come from California to join the protest. He had been born and raised in Mississippi. The next morning, at breakfast, he told us: "I woke up at 4 o'clock thinking, if they're going to bomb the house, it will be now." That was my introduction to black life in Mississippi.

Local black communities and some white sympathizers gave us food. Our family slept in our van, which was equipped as a camper. But most slept in huge tents while guards patrolled the outskirts. Dr. King would be spirited away at night to a motel in Memphis - the same Lorraine Motel where, two years later, he would be assassinated. But Stokely Carmichael, head of the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee, and other radical leaders would be roaming around in the dark, talking, discussing, urging the new slogan of "Black Power" - competing with Dr. King's "Freedom Now."

During the day, some of us with vehicles would go out in the cotton fields to urge black workers to register to vote. In my VW, I would then pick them up after work and drive them to the registration bureau. There was a pervasive sense of fear whenever we were away from the main body of the march. All it would take was one cracker.

In Canton, Mississippi state troopers ordered everyone to vacate the big park where the tents had been pitched. When we refused, they fired tear gas, then charged, swinging their batons and hitting everyone they could reach. About 50 people were sent to hospital.

On June 26, the marchers arrived in Mississippi. The day before, Mr. Meredith, released from hospital, joined the march, the speeches, the freedom songs of defiance, notably We Shall Overcome. I felt I had taken part in history.

In the United States, anyone with the slightest trace of black pigmentation is considered to be black, with all that has implied. On Tuesday, a black man was elected America's president, the most powerful person in the world. Today, we can all sing, "We have overcome."


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The perils of Julie
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Saturday, October 11, 2008 – Page D4

MY STORY

By Julie Couillard

Translated Michael Gilson

McClelland & Stewart,

319 pages, $29.99

Femme fatale? Hell hath no fury like Julie Couillard's scorn for former lover Maxime Bernier. It burns through the 319 pages of My Story: "He ruined my life." This is her revenge. She depicts him as weak ("You really have no balls at all"), lazy, vain, superficial, two-faced; a compulsive skirt-chaser who badmouths Stephen Harper and his own constituents in the Beauce. She even has Canada's minister of foreign affairs predicting Quebec's separation as inevitable: "It doesn't frighten me at all, that's where we're headed. And I have no problem with that, I'm ready. I'm expecting it."

The woman seduced and betrayed is a commonplace of literature. But when it happens again and again and again? Julie Couillard is no Anna Karenina. She's unlikely to have read Tolstoy's novel and would certainly prefer that Bernier, and not she, be thrust under the wheels of a train. A closer fit is Justine, the constantly abused heroine of the novel of that name by the Marquis de Sade; she never learns from her calamities. Before she met Bernier, Couillard had been mistreated by almost all the many men in her life. The exception, Gilles Giguère - "the love of my life" - ended up dead with six bullets in his back.

Her father: a drunken bum, never home, a philanderer with creditors constantly hounding his family. Later he almost made her lose her house, which she had loaned to him; he didn't pay the taxes. "I felt utterly betrayed by my father," she writes. "I haven't seen or spoken to him since.

The first man she lived with defrauded her, when she was 19, of $20,000. The second, a bouncer at a strip club, tried to strangle her, stalked her and threatened any man who approached her. She had a mafia acquaintance speak to him. "Norman got the picture."

She married a full-patch member of the Rockers motorcycle club who, lazy, always drunk and high on pills, bilked her for many thousands of dollars before he became a police informer. "He never understood me," she says of this "small-time bum."

She founded a construction company, but a property manager defrauded her of $40,000. Another business partner absconded and left her owing $25,000. Another lover-cum-business-partner turned against her, drove her out of business, then committed suicide.

She had a five-year business-and-sex relationship with a millionaire entrepreneur who had a wife and children. "Sylvain wasn't even my type"; he was stingy, but he kept promising to divorce and live with her. He never did.

She had an abortion; she declared personal bankruptcy. All this and more before meeting Maxime Bernier.

While taking a course to renew her long-lapsed real-estate agent's licence, she was picked up in a bar one evening by Philippe Morin, the co-chairman of a real estate development company called Kevlar. They chatted, drank, danced until four-thirty. After more meetings, "we soon took things to the next level." He claimed he was separated and leaving his wife, but soon reconsidered: "Maybe there's still a chance I can save my family after all."

Through another bar acquaintance, she met Bernard Côté, the senior special assistant to then-public works minister Michael Fortier. Côté called her on her cellphone as she was sitting in a bar with Morin and his Kevlar co-chairman, René Bellerive. When the two businessmen understood whom she was chatting with, they were impressed. They were then bidding for a big federal real-estate development project in Quebec City: "Bernard Côté is the guy who handles all that. So it would be great for us to have someone who's on good terms with a guy like him." They offered her a contract to represent Kevlar on the project.

That led to her meeting Bernier. Kevlar sponsored a small reception to which the minister was invited. The partners made sure she was there early to meet him, along with "four young women whom Philippe had brought along. They were very pretty, rather scantily clad, and quite alluring." You get the picture. They got along so well that Maxime kissed her, and then invited her for a last drink at the bar of his hotel.

The rest is history. They almost immediately became lovers and his "proposal" - that she commit to being his companion for a year, no matter what, for appearances' sake - was hardly a declaration of true love. But she accepted. She became an instant celebrity as the curvaceous beauty on his arm at his swearing-in ceremony. She got to chat with Laura Bush and have her picture taken with George Bush, and consorted with dozens of ambassadors and their wives. Meanwhile, she earned her living promoting economic development projects. She doesn't say whether her new prominence brought her important clients.

But it all came crashing down. Bernier kept chasing other women. His ardour seemed to cool. When the revelation of her previous amorous links to criminals became public, he dropped her. She insists he could have protected her from the storm of publicity and scurrilous gossip. He did nothing but try to distance himself from her.

Her problem? She's a woman: "If this story had been about a man in a relationship with a female cabinet minister, no one would ever have said the things that were said about me." Oh?

Fortunately, Bernier left behind "secret" papers in her kitchen. Rather than return them to him, she consulted a lawyer, who told her that he would be sacked as minister if it became public. She announced her finding on TV, he was fired and she now had standing to publish a book, ghost-written by former TV journalist Serge Demers (the French title is Mon Histoire). "Here I had a chance to show the world the real me," she writes.

For those concerned about the future of Maxime Bernier, this book is a must. Those who relish pulp fiction and soap operas will find it a treat. But if you have read Anna Karenina, it's definitely not for you.

Journalist and author William Johnson ghost-wrote The Informer, the memoirs of Carole Devault, the woman who infiltrated the Front de Libération du Québec in the 1970s as a police informer.


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The rise and fall of the Harper majority
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Friday, October 10, 2008 – Page A19

What happened? When Stephen Harper called an early election Sept. 7, it looked like a sure thing for him and his party. The Conservatives were alone on the centre-right, while four parties divided the centre-left vote.

As to which leader would make the best prime minister, polls showed Mr. Harper exceeding the combined scores of the opposition leaders. Stéphane Dion, leading a party in debt and disarray, was even outpolled by Jack Layton.

Mr. Harper had led a steady government in good times, surprising those expecting a right-wing gorilla, and the financial crisis suggested returning an experienced leader, an economist to boot. But the Prime Minister's greatest accomplishment was most unexpected: The outsider, the Westerner, had so disarmed Quebec's nationalist animosity that secession, a prominent threat in 2005, had fallen off the agenda.

So why have the Conservatives fallen in the polls to within the margin of error of support for the Liberals?

In 2005-06, Mr. Harper was seen as dangerous, so his campaign focused on a sharply defined program offering populist goodies. He won a minority with 124 seats, 36.3 per cent of the vote. In Quebec, he surprised by winning 10 seats and 24.6 per cent.

This time, he centred the campaign on himself. He forgot that his high approval rating rested on his performance as a minority leader. In late September, when a majority appeared likely, he was reconsidered. All the old suspicions came tumbling back.

Mr. Harper had created a nasty image by his ultra-partisan treatment of political opponents. His brutal attack ads against Mr. Dion were not just unfair, but dishonest. The puffin defecating on his rival symbolized a deeper corruption. When the real Mr. Dion appeared in debates and speeches, his presence so bettered the caricature that his support rose.

The ultra-partisan control freak who let few ministers shine and kept Conservatives out of local debates reinforced the disquiet left by the manipulation and paralysis of Commons committees investigating controversies, such as the in-and-out campaign-financing affair of 2006. What would he do with a majority?

True, Mr. Harper was sideswiped by the sudden worldwide panic over crumbling financial markets. But the impact needed not be negative, had Mr. Harper established a congenial rapport with voters.

Another factor has been the surge in the politics of radical chic that followed cuts announced in cultural support programs. These cuts should have been discussed in the context of major increases in grants to cultural agencies such as the Canada Council for the Arts. But the arts communities reacted as though the entire subsidies structure had been burnt to the ground.

In Western societies, intellectual and artistic communities share a pro-Bohemian and anti-bourgeois political culture. In English Canada, radical chic means being anti-American, defending a left-wing Canadian nationalism that favours a quasi-independent Quebec, and demonizing conservatism. In Quebec, it means being anglophobic, secessionist and demonizing conservatism.

In 1988, during debates over the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, Barbara Frum began a television program: "Writers like Pierre Berton and Margaret Atwood insisted that the deal would destroy Canada - kill our culture."

Ms. Atwood suggested this week that cutting funds to artists was the first step toward dictatorship. And she raised eyebrows last Friday by asking Quebeckers to vote for the Bloc Québécois. But no surprise there. Years ago, Ms. Atwood confided to journalist Francine Pelletier her disappointment that Quebec voted No in the 1980 referendum on sovereignty-association. "Many of us were in favour of Quebec's right to self-determination. And you voted No."

"The result of the referendum disappointed Canadians?" Ms. Pelletier asked. "The intellectuals, at least. There was a rather widespread feeling that one has to stand up and affirm one's identity," Ms. Atwood said.

In Quebec, the debate has been far more virulent. There, the cuts in cultural grants have been presented as an attack on the province's very identity. The incredibly effective campaign has been symbolized by a spoof video in which popular songwriter Michel Rivard is turned down for a grant by ignorant anglophone panelists because his song La complainte du phoque en Alaska is interpreted as using a four-letter word.

Anglophobic, anti-Canadian, untrue. It has supplanted the issue of secession by one of cultural persecution, even genocide. It has saved the Bloc Québécois and sunk the Conservatives.


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National unity - then and now
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In the fall of 2005, as we awaited the election call, there was deep foreboding in the land over the threat of Quebec secession
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Monday, September 8, 2008 – Page A17

How Canada has changed in just three years. Can this federal election spring as many surprises, trigger as many reversals of fortune, as did the last? Will our country be unbelievably different?

In the fall of 2005, as we awaited the election call that would come on Nov. 29, there was deep foreboding in the land over the threat that Quebec was on its way to seceding. Federalism had then been discredited week after week, month after month, by Mr. Justice John Gomery's hearings on the sponsorship scandal. In Quebec, Premier Jean Charest set records for the unpopularity of his government. The Parti Québécois was so confident of taking power and acceding to sovereignty that, at its convention that June, it scrapped any commitment to a partnership or association with Canada. Instead, it promised an early referendum on sovereignty alone, with all negotiations to come only after a unilateral declaration of independence, between two sovereign countries.

Four days before the election call, pollster Michael Adams wrote a piece in this newspaper under the headline: "Look out! Quebec's winning conditions have arrived." He pointed to the growing support for independence and to the just-elected PQ leader, "a young, handsome, gay, and postcocaine André Boisclair." The pollster warned: "A Conservative government in Ottawa, indeed any government in Ottawa, with no seats in Quebec would be unprecedented in Canadian history. This would be a surefire formula for constitutional disaster."

The smart money knew that Stephen Harper could never become prime minister. That October, a Strategic Counsel poll showed that 58 per cent of Canadians viewed him unfavourably. Pollster Allan Gregg said: "[Voters] just can't get a feel for him at a personal level. It's very tough. It's going to be very, very tough." Three days before the election call, the Toronto Star bannered an Ekos poll: "The Liberals are heading into the election campaign with a majority victory in sight and a lead of almost 10 percentage points over the second-place Conservatives."

So what happened? Mr. Harper became Prime Minister with 124 seats, to 103 for the Liberals, 51 for the Bloc Québécois and 29 for the NDP. It was assumed he would win no seats in Quebec, as in 2004. Instead, he took 10 seats, and 25 per cent of the vote. After his election, he worked hard to win over Quebec, beginning his speeches in French, giving a voice for Quebec in the Canadian delegation to UNESCO, delivering bundles of money under the guise of settling the "fiscal imbalance," and recognizing "the Québécois" as a nation within a united Canada.

The success of his wooing was written in the most credible poll to date, published in La Presse on Aug. 27. It was done by CROP, Quebec's most reputed firm, with a sample of 1,003 people, all in Quebec. It showed the Conservative Party in a dead heat with the Bloc, with 31 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. The Liberals of Stéphane Dion trailed at 20 per cent, the NDP was at 14 per cent and the Green Party at 4 per cent.

Asked who would make the best prime minister, 35 per cent chose Mr. Harper, 24 per cent Jack Layton, and only 15 per cent Mr. Dion. Support for sovereignty was at 36 per cent, with 64 per cent opposed.

The poll had the Conservatives leading the Liberals everywhere except on the Island of Montreal. They equalled or bettered the Bloc everywhere except Metropolitan Montreal.

The poll showed the Liberals of Mr. Harper's resurgent ally, Mr. Charest, leading the PQ 42 per cent to 32 per cent, with the Action Démocratique du Québec trailing at 17 per cent.

The national unity scene at this time is calm. The PQ, in third place in the National Assembly, has put off any referendum on secession. The Bloc, which three years ago had been expected to sweep Quebec, received 42 per cent of the vote and has now fallen 12 points below that.

Eloquent was the Strategic Counsel poll published Sept. 2: the issues that now concern voters are the economy, the environment, health care, war and security. The issue of national unity, so dominant in 2005, does not get even a mention.

Can this election return a Copernican revolution on the same scale? This time, Stéphane Dion has replaced Stephen Harper as the leader least likely to succeed.


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Still speaking with forked tongues
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Politicians have misrepresented the ruling for years
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008 – Page A17

Chief justice Antonio Lamer considered it the most important decision in the history of the Supreme Court of Canada. For this country, it could mean the difference between life and death.

Ten years ago today, the court delivered its response to the reference on whether Quebec had the right to secede unilaterally. The court's advisory opinion was complex but clear. Why, then, has it been constantly misrepresented across Canada and ignored in Quebec?

The court rejected the pretension by Quebec's politicians that the province had the unconditional right to secede with its current territory intact if it won the merest majority on a referendum question chosen by Quebec alone.

The court did recognize that the vote - the democratic principle - must be treated with respect if the referendum question was clear and produced a clear answer revealing the will of Quebeckers to secede. But a vote, the court insisted, was not decisive. Three other principles had equal importance: the rule of law, meaning that secession must be enacted in accordance with the Constitution; the federal principle, meaning respect for the rights of the federal government and the other provinces in negotiating the breakup of Canada; and the rights of minorities, especially aboriginals and official language communities.

"The democratic vote, by however strong a majority, would have no legal effect on its own and could not push aside the principles of federalism and the rule of law, the rights of individuals and minorities, or the operation of democracy in the other provinces or in Canada as a whole. Democratic rights under the Constitution cannot be divorced from constitutional obligations."

The court displaced the focal point from the referendum to the subsequent conclusion of an agreement as a prelude to the constitutional amendment allowing Quebec to secede.

Not surprisingly, the Parti Québécois rejected the constraints enunciated by the highest court. Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard had both denied that the courts had jurisdiction over secession. When the Clarity Act was passed in 2000, Mr. Bouchard countered with Bill 99 reaffirming Quebec's constant unilateral claims.

More surprising was the reaction of Jean Chrétien, who had initiated the court reference after the near death of the 1995 referendum. He had instructed his cabinet in 1996: "Our message has to indicate that if a clear majority of Quebeckers vote on a clear question to leave Canada, the country will not be held together by force." In other words, the vote alone was decisive, regardless of what the court would eventually rule.

So what did Mr. Chrétien say in his memoirs last October, long after the court had determined that the vote was not enough? "Should they ever win a clear majority on a clear question ... I would say, 'OK, the people have spoken clearly. It's a crying shame and will set us back 20 years, but it's not the end of the world.' "

Stéphane Dion, as minister for national unity, had also reassured Quebeckers they could have separation on demand. On Sept. 18, 1996, on the RDI television program Maisonneuve à l'écoute, he said: "If the Québécois, very clearly, in accordance with a procedure that is very clear, decide to leave Canada, we cannot retain them against their will." Then, on Sept. 29, interviewed on Radio-Canada's Point de presse, he went further. "No one challenges the right of the Québécois to stay in Canada or to leave it. ... A Canada-wide referendum cannot block the clearly expressed will of the Québécois."

So did Mr. Dion change his attitude after the court's decision, after the Clarity Act? On June 16, 2007, he addressed his party's general council in Drummondville: "If, some day, we Quebeckers no longer want to be Canadians, and it is clear that we no longer want to be Canadians, well, then, we will be able to commit the future generations to this fundamental choice and it will happen, there is no one who will hold us in Canada against our will."

On Sept. 9, 2007, Brian Mulroney was interviewed by TVA's Paul Arcand: "If the Québécois should some day vote for sovereignty, how will you react?" The former prime minister replied: "If it is a decision freely consented, being a democrat, profoundly a democrat, I accept it." Only the vote counts.

Jean Charest, as leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives in the 1997 election campaign, opposed the reference to the court and promised to rescind it if he became prime minister. In the House of Commons, on Feb. 2, 1998, he voted for this Bloc Québécois motion: "That the House recognize the Québécois consensus according to which it belongs to the Quebec people alone to freely decide its future." He repeated that commitment after the court had spoken, as leader of the Quebec Liberal Party during the leaders' televised debate during the election campaign.

He has maintained that position ever since. He now defends before the Quebec Court of Appeal Mr. Bouchard's Bill 99, which rejects all the conditions for secession imposed by the Supreme Court.

Only one major political leader has defended the true sense of the Supreme Court's ruling: "Any act of secession on the part of any part of the country must be done within the confines of the current Constitution, which includes the rule of law and clear democratic consent." That was Stephen Harper in January of 2002 - four years before he became prime minister.


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Toujours la France, toujours de Gaulle
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Monday, July 7, 2008 – Page A11

French Prime Minister François Fillon showed more charm and subtlety, but he recalled Charles de Gaulle in his speech Thursday commemorating the 400th anniversary of Champlain's landing in Quebec.

The general, in 1967, referred constantly to "les Français du Canada" and "les Français du Québec." Mr. Fillon found in Quebec not only "les Français," but la France itself:

"France expanded herself without dividing herself; she stretched out without breaking herself apart. Ladies and gentlemen, there is but one France and it is she that, over the past four centuries, has been present in America. I salute the extraordinary political adventure that a fierce will drove here. I salute the prodigious flowering of your prosperity, the cultural and spiritual fervour that the French presence caused to flower here."

A surprised Simon Durivage, a host for RDI television, commented: "Is he saying that we are still a colony of France?"

Was all that just a mystical metaphor for the spread of French culture? That innocent interpretation flies against the history of recurrent French interventions to promote Quebec's secession, from de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac.

The general never veered from his purpose, both before and after his cry of, "Vive le Québec libre" from the balcony.

In a secret letter to premier Daniel Johnson on Sept. 8, 1967, delivered by hand, he wrote: "It truly seems to me that the great operation of the accession of Quebec, such as you pursue it, is now on the right track ... Solutions are needed. It can hardly be doubted any longer that the evolution will lead to a Quebec that is self-determining in every respect."

At a press conference on Nov. 27, 1967, he said that the resolution of the question "will result necessarily, in my opinion, in the accession of Quebec to the rank of a sovereign state, master of its national existence."

With that background - France has never apologized - one might have expected Mr. Fillon to choose his words carefully. And he did - to recall and praise de Gaulle: "The French fact never died in America. Forty years ago, a great voice, a historic voice, uttering an expression that is yours, drew it from hibernation in the minds of my compatriots."

What did he mean? Quebec's Quiet Revolution began in 1960 and its hibernation was in the past when de Gaulle spoke. He stirred up separatism in Quebec and a lobby in France - including in its diplomatic service - that worked with separatists and nationalists to give Quebec the greatest possible international presence.

Mr. Fillon spoke as if Quebec owed all good to France and the "civilisation française," although he acknowledged it was "enriched by contact with the Indian first nations" and "pressed by the British conquest to make itself more assertive and more tenacious."

The French Prime Minister should, instead, have delivered an apology on behalf of France for letting Champlain down and botching New France. France, in fact, was a wretched colonizer. With three times Britain's population, during the entire period from 1608 until 1760, the mother country sent an average of fewer than 70 immigrants a year - while the American colonies received 1,400 a year.

France was interested only in the fur trade, not in creating a normal society. It spread its few settlers over immense distances to provide raw resources, but forbade the development of industries that could compete with the mother country. All the governors after Champlain were military officers and Quebec a walled fortress, while Boston, a centre of agriculture, had no walls. New France never produced enough food to feed itself.

By 1663, New France had a total of about 3,500, including Acadians under British rule, according to the pre-eminent historian of New France, Marcel Trudel. New Netherlands (later New York) had 10,000. Combined, the British and Dutch colonies of North America had 80,000.

France never showed much interest. The cost of maintaining it was greater than the returns. After the final defeat, during negotiations in 1761, France offered Canada to Britain in exchange for Guadeloupe, which the British had conquered. Canada, with its fur trade, brought £140,000 a year while the sugar trade from Guadeloupe was worth £300,000. So France chose Guadeloupe over Canada in the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

The "conquest" was a catastrophe? French civilization was all? Look at all the former French colonies and compare them with all the former British colonies, including the United States. Only one is rich, peaceful and respectful of the rule of law: Quebec-Canada. Is it a coincidence?


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Why Fête Nationale is really Fête Nationaliste
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Quebec invests millions in celebrating a shared national identity - too bad the organizers are separatists
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Thursday, June 26, 2008 – Page A21

What a chance to teach Quebeckers the meaning of their history. The Fête Nationale of June 24 was traditionally called La fête de la Saint-Jean until the secessionist Parti Québécois took office in 1976 and changed the name to exclude French Canadians outside Quebec from the festivities. But it was and is a truly popular revelling in a shared national identity.

Take the celebrations on Tuesday in Montreal. In addition to neighbourhood parties, a grand parade filed through the streets in the afternoon, while, in the evening, a grand "spectacle" put on stage many of Quebec's best-loved musicians and singers.

Who organized these two huge events? A committee headed by Jean Dorion, president of the separatist Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal. Almost half of the funding is provided by the provincial government.

Mr. Dorion, in his televised opening speech for the concert, offered a sombre sketch of Quebec's experience from the fall of New France to the present: "This French presence survived the Conquest, foreign occupation, the breach with the mother country, repression, unemployment and poverty. Throughout the darkest periods, the feast of Saint-Jean continued to be celebrated each year, in what was truly a national and cultural battle of résistance."

The afternoon parade, Mr. Dorion told me, was attended by 125,000 people, while the evening event drew 250,000. The parade was called défilé des géants, and 13 giant figures were its centrepiece. Most represented figures from history: Quebec founder Samuel de Champlain, Jeanne Mance, who helped found Ville-Marie (Montreal), and explorer and fighter Charles Le Moyne d'Iberville. There was Ludger Duvernay, who founded the Société Saint-Jean Baptiste, and Antoine Labelle, the priest who promoted colonization of northern Quebec under the slogan "Let's occupy the land." There were only two figures from recent history, both separatists: singer-composer Félix Leclerc and René Lévesque. No one represented English-speaking Quebec, unless one counts St. Patrick.

The evening concert was dominated by a popular trio of rappeurs called Loco Locass. Their repertory is known for its ardent advocacy of secession. One of their raps is called Résistance, a word associated with the Nazi occupation of France. "We have come to speak to you about résistance, because the history of Quebec is marked by the history of the résistance ... résistance after the Conquest ... résistance is at the centre of Quebec's identity and defines us and makes us taller. It is a word that is essential for the Québécois. And so we have come to speak of résistance, and to resist further, sooner or later we must have sovereignty." They invoked the memory of René Lévesque as the figure who showed the way to sovereignty.

Their call was soon echoed by poet, musician and songwriter Raôul Duguay, who shouted: "Vive le Québec libre!"

Loco Locass came back with perhaps its most popular rap piece, Libérez-nous des Libéraux, in which the trio rants at great length against Jean Charest and the Liberals as the destroyers of everything that is good and sacred in Quebec. When they mentioned the Premier, the audience booed.

No prominent federalist politician could be spotted at the concert, though some had taken part in the parade. But standing in the front row were PQ Leader Pauline Marois and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe.

The highlight of the celebration is le discours patriotique. On Tuesday night, it was written and rapped by Loco Locass, though the first half was recited against a musical background by actor Emmanuel Bilodeau, who played René Lévesque in a three-part 2006 biopic shown on the CBC.

Here is an example of some of the lines.

They conquered our territories, pillaged our history and stole our memory

With their mad theses they told us:

[The following was spoken in a sinister tone by a member of Loco Locass draped in a floor-length red cloak and a red and white fool's bonnet evoking the Maple Leaf flag.]

"Shut up! You're not worth 10 sous

You are not you, you are us

You are dissolved

Our substrate subsumes and consumes you. ...

But are we going to die as dwarfs when we were born giants? ...

All told, we are unique supermen

Generated by the genetic genius of Europe and of America

Ineluctably, we are sailing toward annihilation

But are we going to die as dwarfs when we were born giants? ...

But beware of the cardiac arrest

Between death and life

The arrival of a man as at the time of a referendum

A people oscillates between being nothing and being everything that shines.

The rap ends with poetry acting as midwife with forceps

Who draws from limbo a world to be born ...

The poet names at last the one whose head he sees emerging:

QUEBEC! QUEBEC! QUEBEC!

Quebec invests millions in celebrating its Fête Nationale and, in nearly every part of the province, its organization is put in the hands of separatists.


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A new harmony?
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For the Quebec of the past, the report will come as a shock
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Friday, May 23, 2008 – Page A19

MONTREAL -- Am I my immigrant brother's keeper? The answer came thundering yesterday in the report of Quebec's Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

For the Quebec of the past, which lingers tenaciously outside the metropolitan centres, the report will come as a shock, an act of subversion, even a provocation. Consider. The report proposes that official Quebec become resolutely secular. The crucifix must come down from the wall of the National Assembly. All municipal councils must cease opening their sessions with a prayer. The law cannot prohibit businesses opening on Sunday. Witnesses must no longer be asked to swear upon the Bible. However, the illuminated cross on Mount Royal can be spared as an archeological, rather than religious, relic.

Individuals, though, can go to school or work wearing a medal, a hijab, a kippa, a cross, a turban - with the exception of those who represent the authority of the state, such as judges, police, prison guards, the speaker of the National Assembly. Teachers may wear their faith on their sleeve, but will no longer be able to teach religion as belief in public schools. The commission endorses the new curriculum to be introduced in the elementary and secondary schools in September called Ethics and Religious Cultures, which surveys the principal world religions, as subjects for respectful study but not indoctrination. The commission recommends Quebec elaborate a white paper in which Quebec's model of secularism will be defined.

The report is encyclopedic in its exhaustive detail. The co-commissioners are eminent academics who have written prolifically exploring Quebec's identity. Gérard Bouchard, historian and sociologist, had developed a vision of Quebec purged of ethnocentrism, in which people of all ethnic origins, including French Canadians, recognize each other as sharing equally a common inclusive state defined by the French language. For example, the aboriginal Indians now become "the first Québécois." He sees independence as the "absolutely necessary" condition for Quebec to realize itself. But his embrace of all ethnicities without a hierarchical order privileging old-stock French-speakers raises controversy among nationalists. It opposes Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Maurois's recent emphasis on nous, the quintessential French-speaking majority, as defining the needs of the state.

Charles Taylor, the world-reputed philosopher, identifies the demand for equal recognition by individuals and collectivities as a defining feature of modernity. Collectivities demand not only equality, but also recognition of their differences. In polemics against Pierre Trudeau, he defended Quebec's right to enforce the Charter of the French Language so as to restrict access to English schools, to enforce French as the language of work and banish English from commercial signs, as justified by its need to survive.

The commission recommends a plethora of studies, training programs, subsidies to a multitude of employment positions, groups and institutions, all related to fostering "conciliation" between immigrants and mainstream society. If the government follows, it will spend a fortune to create a whole new national "harmonization" industry. The commissioners go all out to reverse Quebec's past attitudes of suspicion toward immigrants.

Is this the multiculturalism of the Canadian Charter of Rights? Mr. Trudeau enunciated the policy of multiculturalism with two objectives: to win acceptance in Western Canada for conferring national status on the French language, but also to counter the mythical vision of Canada as "two founding peoples," with two official cultures. That was inscribed in the very mandate of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, namely "to recommend what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian Confederation on the basis of an equal partnership between the two founding races ..."

Mr. Trudeau delivered his counterattack on Oct. 8, 1971:

"There cannot be one cultural policy for Canadians of British and French origin, another for the original peoples and yet a third for all others. For although there are two official languages, there is no official culture, nor does any ethnic group take precedence over any other. ... A policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework commends itself to the government as the most suitable means of assuring the cultural freedom of Canadians."

Quebec's leaders - Robert Bourassa, René Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau - all condemned the policy of multiculturalism as downgrading Quebec's pretension to be recognized as a quasi-sovereign state. But, by 1990, Quebec's birth rate had fallen below the replacement level. It must rely on much higher immigration or face demographic decline. And so, in 1990, the Bourassa government proposed a new policy of "interculturalisme." It announced a new openness toward immigrants, but demanded in return that they accept "a moral contract" to integrate into the French-speaking community by accepting that Quebec "is a society which has French as the common language of public life." There is an official culture, Québécois culture, mediated by the French language. But, in return, the host community will be open to exchanges between cultures.

That is what the commission accepted and amplified yesterday. They went much further, though, in making the intercultural exchanges more reciprocal, less one-sided. But it will not be an easy sell in Quebec, where generations of students memorized the voice of the land of Quebec from the novel Maria Chapdelaine: "All around us, outsiders came whom we please to call barbarians. They have taken almost all the power. They have acquired almost all the money. But, in the land of Quebec, nothing has changed. Nothing must change."


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Awaiting Stéphane Dion, the next iteration
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Friday, May 16, 2008 – Page A21

Stéphane Dion has been counted out before - several times. When, after the near-disastrous 1995 referendum on secession, he was introduced by Jean Chrétien as the new minister-saviour for national unity, Quebec was in disbelief. Him? The professor who had urged that Quebec did not need and should not have extensive new powers? He rebuked Robert Bourassa and Daniel Johnson after Meech Lake failed, for saying that the status quo was worse than secession. Dion? Get serious.

But he went on to gain respect. His Clarity Act, shepherded through a queasy Commons, proved so successful that a discouraged premier Lucien Bouchard soon resigned.

Paul Martin, prime minister at last, tried to get rid of the minister hated by Quebec nationalists. But Mr. Dion, when dropped from cabinet and shown the door, refused to quit. It was Mr. Martin, reduced to a minority in 2004, who called for help and appointed him minister of the environment. He again performed impressively.

After the Liberal defeat in 2006, Mr. Dion confounded pundits and party establishment by winning the leadership. But he faced a perfect storm. He and his party, in debt, floundered under new rules that cut them off from corporate donations. The Conservatives, adept at grassroots financing, raised much more money and used it on a vicious air war of killer TV ads branding him as puppet, wimp: No leader, he.

Ghosts from past battles came back to haunt him. In 2006, the Liberal Party's Quebec wing voted for a resolution supported by Michael Ignatieff: "Whereas history recognizes the three founding peoples of Canada, Aboriginal, French and English ... the Liberal Party of Canada recognizes the Quebec nation within Canada."

Mr. Dion fought the resolution as a threat to national unity. The myth of two - or three - founding peoples had always fuelled the demand that Quebec have quasi-sovereign powers.As Liberal Leader, in his first 17 months, Mr. Dion has appeared ineffective. Did he reach a bridge too far, attain his level of incompetence? That's the consensus. The party is restless, undisciplined. The leader is faulted for his awkward presence, inadequate English, poor political instincts, his rejection by French Quebec, his lack of vision.

Earlier, as minister and leadership candidate, he showed clear original thinking and the courage of eloquently articulated convictions. But now he's enmeshed in the daily partisan Commons skirmishing, a sight repellent to behold. Trailing the Conservatives in the polls, he does not dare confront the government directly in a pitched battle to bring it down. Forcing an election, he would likely lose.

So, looking weak, he adopts guerrilla tactics, ambushes, personal attacks, character assassinations, daily suggestions of scandal. Rather than projecting a clear, strong vision, he spits out names: Mulroney-Schreiber, Chuck Cadman, Larry O'Brien, NAFTAgate, Maxime Bernier, Julie Couillard. In-and-out. His constant innuendo: "There is a cover-up somewhere. The Prime Minister has a lot to explain. What did he know? When did he know it?"

Is he a dead man walking? Despite that conventional wisdom, the polls show a citizenry that has not definitively decided. They prefer Mr. Harper, but do not trust him with a majority.

Yesterday, the old Stéphane Dion was on display at Toronto's Canadian Club. Will it also be the new? He spoke of vision rather than scandal: "I have good news. We Liberals have a vision for a richer, fairer, greener Canada. A vision that will bring together the economy, the environment and social justice." It was a bold, optimistic, ambitious message, recovering the vision that won him the Liberal leadership.

"We need to make polluters pay, and put every single penny back in the hands of Canadians through the right tax cuts."

Will Canadians believe him, see him as the prophet of a new golden age? Or as an ineffectual dreamer?

On that will hinge the outcome of the next election.


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Vive le Canada!
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Nicolas Sarkozy plans to undo the diplomatic charade and fully embrace the country
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008 – Page A17

Amazing Nicolas Sarkozy. After four decades during which France's presidents expressed ambivalence toward Canada, even sometimes conspiring to promote Quebec's secession, President Sarkozy is proving to be Canada's staunch friend.

He supported doubly Canada's policy on Afghanistan at the NATO summit last week in Bucharest. He not only offered 700 soldiers beyond the 1,500 that France already had there, making it possible for the United States to meet Canada's demand for 1,000 additional fighters in Kandahar. At a press conference Thursday with Germany's Angela Merkel, he passionately defended the commitment to defeating the Taliban insurgency. "If we want to leave Afghanistan one day, we must win [there] today," he said.

In both France and Germany, opposition to posting French and German troops in Afghanistan is widespread. So the President's commitment cannot be dismissed as opportunistic or as subordination to George Bush. That is an important message to Canada, and especially to Quebec. For the President of France to endorse the war in which Canadian troops are engaged softens opposition to it. So it was in 1991 with the Gulf War against Iraq.

Mr. Sarkozy breaks with vested traditions. He declared himself a friend of the United States on a visit to Washington, though the French, particularly since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, have been anti-American. Visiting Britain in March, Mr. Sarkozy proposed an entente amicable, seducing the very country (with the help of his new wife, Carla Bruni) to which Charles de Gaulle had, in 1967, refused admission to the European Economic Community.

For Canada, the best is yet to come. In Paris, former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, now heading France's participation in the 400th anniversary celebrations of the founding of Quebec, made statements that have set Quebec's political class abuzz.

He told journalists that, when Mr. Sarkozy comes to Quebec in October for the summit meeting of the 55 members of la Francophonie, he will say "something that is very important." On what subject? On France's relations with Quebec and with Canada. "I think that Nicolas Sarkozy hopes to maintain the privileged relation with the province, but obviously within a strategy of non-opposition to Canada," he said.

Then, came the contentious words: "Nicolas Sarkozy is against the 'neither-neither,' and he will express himself clearly on the subject."

There was immediate consternation in nationalist circles. The "neither-neither" formula has been the cover for French politicians' relations with Quebec ever since the Parti Québécois came to power in 1976, on a promise to hold a referendum on secession.

The formula was coined by Alain Peyrefitte, who had been de Gaulle's justice minister and, above all, his personal emissary in his manoeuvres to promote Quebec's secession. After de Gaulle stepped down in 1969, French interest in the Quebec issue faded, but revived forcefully when René Lévesque came to power. "Victory of the white niggers" was the headline in France's Le Monde newspaper. Then-president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing invited Mr. Peyrefitte to join his cabinet and put him in charge of the Quebec file.

At a press conference with Mr. Lévesque in 1977, Mr. Peyrefitte explained that when it comes to Quebec and Canada: "La position de la France se situe entre la non-ingérence et la non-indifférence." France positions itself, he was saying, between non-meddling and non-indifference.

Thereafter, the formula of "neither meddling nor indifference" was repeated over and over, often shortened to "neither-neither" or "ni-ni".

The formula's virtue was its masterful ambiguity. In fact, leading up to the 1980 Quebec referendum, French politicians and diplomats worked behind the scenes trying to help the PQ win its referendum. The "non-meddling" was a diplomatic lie. President Giscard treated René Lévesque as an honoured head of state when the premier visited France in 1977 (I covered that trip for The Globe and Mail). He promised him that France would "accompany" Quebec wherever it chose to go. When prime minister Pierre Trudeau visited, he was ostentatiously slighted.

Frédéric Bastien has documented the recurrent moves by the French to promote Quebec's secession. In 1995, premier Jacques Parizeau was counselled on how to ensure international recognition by former president Giscard. President Jacques Chirac had prepared a statement in the event a bare majority voted Oui: "The sovereignty of Quebec is a fact, all that it lacks is its juridical expression." He proposed to rally states of la Francophonie to recognize Quebec's independence.

As recently as last year, Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate for the presidency, met with then-PQ leader André Boisvert and declared "the values that we share, that is, the sovereignty and liberty of Quebec." Challenged on television the next day, she replied: "I displayed neither meddling nor indifference."

Mr. Sarkozy, will apparently dismantle the misleading negatives and bring forth a policy toward Canada that can stand the light of day.


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Good Lord, what an uninspiring bilingualism report
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Monday, March 24, 2008 – Page A15

Yes, the recognition of two official languages is a bedrock condition for the continued existence of a united Canada.

That came some four decades ago, after the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism had warned: "Canada, without being fully conscious of the fact, is passing through the greatest crisis in its history." Pierre Trudeau, on the strength of his status as Quebec's most respected son, headed off the demands of Quebec's provincial leaders for "special status," "two nations," "associate states" and "sovereignty-association." He offered, instead, a truly national status to the French language and vested this in the 1982 Constitution Act. It remains as a foundational commitment, but one that must evolve with changing times and circumstances.

In 2003, Jean Chrétien and Stéphane Dion, then minister responsible for official languages, unveiled an "Action Plan for Official Languages." It pledged $751.4-million over five years to such programs in the minority mother tongue as early childhood development, health care and justice. One new thrust would ensure that the federal public service really operated in both English and French in designated bilingual regions such as the National Capital Region, New Brunswick and parts of Ontario and Quebec. It proposed a five-year education plan to double the number of young bilingual Canadians to reach 50 per cent.

That plan ends March 31. What will replace it? In December, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord to carry out a cross-country consultation and deliver recommendations for a successor plan. Yesterday, Mr. Lord's report appeared unobtrusively on Canadian Heritage's website - there was no press conference to explain or defend it.

I had much anticipated this report, both as the son of a Franco-Ontarian mother who, in the 1920s, gave a public speech attacking Ontario's notorious Regulation 17 restricting French schooling, and myself who, as a former president of Alliance Quebec, defended English rights under attack. I expected Mr. Lord, after heading a bilingual province, to bring fresh vision and innovative proposals to develop our dual national identity.

Instead, I found bureaucratic prose and hortatory generalities. Not a word to indicate he had reflected deeply on his experience at the language front. He gave no analysis of the success or failure of the expiring five-year plan. Are 50 per cent of Canadian youths now bilingual? Can federal officials now work in their own language in Ottawa and Quebec? If not, what caused the failures? What are the remedies?

Since December, when census statistics revealed that fewer than 80 per cent of Quebeckers and 50 per cent of Montreal islanders were now of French mother tongue, a kind of hysteria has seized Quebec's politicians. Yesterday, Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre unveiled a new program for tightening the screws on English in the province.

So much might have been possible. Mr. Lord could have pleaded for a reinstatement of the court challenges program to help official language minorities regain their constitutional rights threatened by provincial governments. This week, both Quebec's Education Minister and Ms. St-Pierre made threatening comments against English-language school boards that were putting up money to defend before the Supreme Court of Canada the right to English schooling recognized last August by Quebec's Court of Appeal. The Charest government appealed that judgment and ensured that the children in the winning decision are still prevented from attending English schools.

Mr. Lord could have pointed out Quebec's interest in promoting French immersion across Canada, and the harm done when Quebec is perceived as petty and mean-spirited toward English in Quebec.

He could have argued that recognizing English and French as two equal official languages logically requires that the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean in Quebec should have the same university status as the Royal Military College in Kingston. Then, not only would French-speaking youths be able to prepare for a military career in a French environment, but non-French youths aspiring to command could go there to learn French while they study the military arts.

Mr. Lord failed to come through, but that doesn't entitle the government to now unveil an equally uninspiring plan. What is proposed in the coming weeks must be worthy of Canada, an effervescent country with two equal official languages.


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OK, Ottawa: Seize the moment and clear up the secession confusion
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Thursday, February 21, 2008 – Page A17

Will the international recognition of Kosovo's secession - like Montenegro's in 2006 - create a precedent favouring the secession of Quebec? That's the assumption behind the jubilation in Quebec's secessionist circles since Kosovo's parliament proclaimed a unilateral declaration of independence.

The Parti Québécois was quick to claim a parallel, notably through Daniel Turp, a long-time pro-separation professor of constitutional law and now a PQ MNA. "Quebeckers continue to give significant support to the idea of having Quebec attain political sovereignty, as Kosovo just did," he said, adding: "After Montenegro, Slovakia as well as the ex-republics of Yugoslavia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Kosovo thus attains national independence and counts among more than 20 new countries that attained sovereignty since 1990."

Among pundits of separatist persuasion, a similar association was claimed by Bernard Descôteaux, publisher of Le Devoir, in an editorial on Tuesday: "Now, if Canada were to recognize this new country, it would do so as a result of the democratic expression of the will of the Kosovar population. It would bring added weight to the legal argument which also prevailed on the occasion of the independence of Montenegro. This is the very argument of the Quebec independantists."

Le Devoir columnist Christian Rioux also cited the case of Montenegro, which seceded from Serbia after a referendum: "Shortly after, Canada had no choice but to recognize the new republic without a fuss. ... By letting the Slovaks go without throwing a tantrum, the Czechs had grasped as early as 1992 that neither the principles of international law nor all the clarity acts in the world can hold back a people which has decided to become independent."

The confusion about the realistic conditions for secession continues despite the Clarity Act, which is largely ignored in Quebec. This supports the wisdom of the federal government in not rushing to recognize Kosovo: To do so would reinforce the assumption that Canada would be a pushover if Quebeckers voted for secession.

But Ottawa must go further. This is the perfect opportunity for the federal government to lay out its position on secession in the form of a white paper. It would not only make clear on what grounds it would eventually recognize Kosovo, but also spell out the grounds for secession that it would repudiate. The conditions would apply equally to attempts at secession abroad or within Canada.

Fundamental as a condition for recognition would be acceptance of the rule of law. Take the case of Montenegro and its referendum. Far from establishing that a majority in a referendum trumps the rule of law, it shows exactly the opposite. And it repudiates almost every assumption made by Quebec separatists.

After the breakup of Yugoslavia, a new federation of Serbia and Montenegro was created in 2003. Its constitution stipulated: "Upon the expiry of a three-year period the member state shall have the right to initiate the procedure for a change of the state status, i.e. for withdrawal from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro." It was this constitutionally recognized right that Montenegro exercised by holding a referendum and seceding.

The European Union spelled out in advance its conditions for recognizing Montenegro, in accordance with a study by the EU's own European Commission for Democracy Through Law. There must be clarity, and it recommended this question that was, in fact, adopted: "Do you want the Republic of Montenegro to be an independent state with full international and legal personality?" It proposed the "organization of the referendum by impartial electoral commissions," and called for an objective referendum campaign: "The authorities must provide objective information; the authorities must not influence the outcome of the vote by excessive, one-sided campaigning."

The commission recommended a 55-per-cent threshold: "The issue at stake is possibly the most important decision that a political community may take by democratic means: its independence." It pointed out precedents, for example: "In Lithuania, a constitutional amendment affecting the position of the state as an independent democratic republic must be approved by 75 per cent of the electorate (Article 148.1 of the Constitution)."

It even invoked our Supreme Court. "In its ruling on constitutional aspects of the possible secession of Quebec, the Canadian Supreme Court held that democracy means more than simple majority rule. Hence, if a referendum were to be conducted, a clear majority in favour should exist."

Once and for all, our government should clear up the dangerous confusion surrounding secession, confusion that has kept the separatist movement alive. The opportunity is now.


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The latest target: anglophones
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Le Journal's 'exposé' taps into fears the English peril is eroding Montreal's very heart
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Thursday, January 31, 2008 – Page A17

First, we had Hérouxville. Now we have Montréalville.

The witch hunt in both cases was ignited by a newspaper, the low-brow mass circulation Le Journal de Montréal and its twin, Le Journal de Québec. Before last year's Quebec elections, Le Journal published provocative reports about so-called "reasonable accommodations" reached in deference to the sensibilities of Muslims and ultra-Orthodox Jews. It tapped into a nativist outrage surging through the boondocks over foreign ways, deemed to threaten Quebec's pure laine identity.

Le Journal's recent crusade is different. Where the earlier disgruntlement targeted recent non-Christian immigrants and was reproved by the elites, the new target is the English language amid fears the English peril is eroding Montreal's very heart. Anxiety was fuelled by recent census reports showing that less than 50 per cent of Montreal Island's inhabitants now cite French as their mother tongue.

Anglophobia has a long tradition in Quebec, going back to the century before the Quiet Revolution when a conservative ultra-Catholic faith was fused with the French language. That distinctive sacred society was perceived as threatened by the Protestantism and pluralism conveyed by the English language. The resistance to English survived the Quiet Revolution in a secularized form. Now the English threat is to a dominant French language culture.

Over three days in January, Le Journal devoted 15 pages to an undercover operation in which a female reporter, Noée Murchison, passed herself off as a unilingual English-speaking woman who sought a job as a waitress or a clerk . The story of her adventures in the six weeks before Christmas was treated as a shocking journalistic exposé of disregard for the French language in Montreal. But it was, in fact, an incendiary mix of hype and hoax.

The real story was that this attractive woman in her thirties, well dressed and well mannered, sent a job application in English to 95 commercial establishments. The jobs were at the minimum wage - $8 an hour. She was turned down by all the big downtown department stores, such as The Bay, because of her inadequate French. But, instead of telling the real story in proper perspective, Le Journal focused on the supposedly shocking fact that she was hired by 15 of the 95 firms despite speaking only English during interviews. Only one of her 15 employers kept her from dealing directly with customers.

The theme of the series was framed on Jan. 14 on the front page, which showed an apron-clad woman at the cash register of a convenience store. These words, superimposed on the picture, were splashed over most of the page:

Difficult to be served in French in Montreal

'SORRY, I DON'T SPEAK FRENCH'

Our journalist finds 15 jobs while speaking English only.

If the paper had truly set out to test whether or not one could be served in French in Montreal, it would have sent around a reporter pretending to understand only French, not someone pretending to speak only English. Moreover, the fact that no department store would hire her debunked the claim it was difficult to be served in French. But this provocative misrepresentation was highlighted as the message of the three-day series.

The first seven pages, that day and the next, were entirely devoted to the scandal. There was also a column by columnist-in-chief Benoît Aubin and a cartoon on the opinion page showing a gleeful Stephen Harper carving up a tongue on his plate while on the table beside him was a jar crammed with tongues with a label saying: "FRENCH LANGUAGE in vinegar. Made in Canada."

On Jan. 15, the front page ran again in miniature the entire front page of the day before, with again the same "Difficult to be served in French in Montreal" hoax. But now the page was dominated by a picture of Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois and these words:

Pauline Marois wants to strengthen Bill 101

'WE ARE TOO ACCOMMODATING'

On page 2, the main headline was a quote from Ms. Marois: "We no longer have any self-respect," meaning that francophones fail to insist on respect for the French language. Then the first paragraph of the story conveyed the essential dishonesty of this whole series: "Saying that she was 'completely outraged' by the English unilingualism that prevails in Montreal's commercial services industry, the leader of the Parti Québécois demanded amendments yesterday to Bill 101 to tighten up the criterion of francisation."

Not everyone condoned Le Journal's coup. Several columnists at La Presse, notably Lysiane Gagnon, protested that the picture painted was inaccurate and unfair. But it remains that such provocations, such incitement to anglophobia, have been recurrent.

Most effective of all was the 1968 poem, Speak White by Michèle Lalonde, that captured the supposed fundamental attitude of English-speaking Canadians toward French speakers in those two contemptuous words. "Speak white" recurred like an incantation and depicted the English-speaker as colonizer, oppressor, heartless boss, and ultimately as killer. That poem has been republished countless times in anthologies and reproduced on posters. The words, "speak white," are frequently uttered by francophone pundits such as Michel Vastel and Richard Martineau to express how they perceive English-speaking Canadians they don't like. It's now passed into Québécois folklore.

And yet, it is a total fabrication. Never in my life have I heard those words spoken by an English-speaking Quebecker. They're simply not part of the language. But such fabrications have their effect. In 2005, a public opinion poll demonstrated the tolerance of Quebeckers: More than 80 per cent of Quebeckers would find it acceptable to have as their premier a black man, a woman or a homosexual. But there was a limit: Forty per cent of francophones said they would not accept that their premier be an anglophone.


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No Queen at the fête? Good
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007 – Page A25

So the Queen will not be invited. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided that Quebec City will celebrate the 400th anniversary of its founding without Her Majesty. Right decision or wrong-headed slight?

La Presse broke the story on Sunday based on Access to Information documents. Joël-Denis Bellavance wrote: "Fearing polemics between sover-

eigntists and federalists, the Harper government resisted pressures from the Government of Quebec, the City of Quebec and from its own officials, who all wanted to invite Queen Elizabeth II to the festivities celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the capital next year. And that, despite the fact that Ottawa insists on giving the event a national significance."

How far we have come in the past 100 years. When Quebec celebrated its third centenary, a guest of honour was the Prince of Wales, the future George V. As University of Montreal historian Jacques Rouillard recalled that event, the prince received heartfelt eulogies from Georges Garneau, the mayor of Quebec, and Adélard Turgeon, a cabinet minister representing the Quebec government. Prof. Rouillard said: "These politicians reflected the widely dominant attitude at a time when the people had a high regard for the monarchy and British institutions because they had made possible the democratic system of government, a degree of political autonomy for Quebec, and the preservation and development of French Canada."

So why the radical turnaround in attitudes toward the monarchy? A century ago, Canada was still, constitutionally, a colony of the United Kingdom. But during the peace treaty negotiations after the First World War, with the 1931 Statute of Westminster and the 1982 patriation of the Constitution, Canada acquired full independence. And yet, implanted in the Constitution, is a vestige of colonialism: the role of the British monarch as Canada's head of state.

For most French Canadians, that is a symbolic affront, the recall of a painful past conquest, a display of the inability of Canadians to liquidate the last remaining institution of colonialism and to accept the country as fully adult, fully independent, fully itself.

A cross-country poll by Léger Marketing in 2002 probed attitudes toward the monarchy. In Quebec, only 29 per cent favoured its retention and 65 per cent were opposed. Should the Queen be replaced on the Canadian dollar by other historical figures? Yes, replied 76 per cent of Quebeckers and 78 per cent of francophones across the country. Should the positions of Governor-General and Lieutenant-Governor be abolished? Yes, said 64 per cent of Quebeckers and 66 per cent of francophones across Canada.

A memory from my childhood in Montreal in the 1940s: My family had good friends, the Labbés. Every May 24, Madame Labbé would send a son out on the balcony with a Union Jack to spit on it. Most French Canadians do not feel that strongly. But, all my life, I observed resistance to celebrating "the Queen's birthday." In my youth, we called May 24 "la fête de Dollard," after a hero of New France. In 2002, the Bernard Landry government passed a decree making the third Monday in May "la Journée nationale des patriotes," in honour of the rebels of 1837. And a Léger poll this past May found 74 per cent of Quebeckers backed the name change.

Symbols have immense power. The defeat of the "distinct society" clause of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords was taken as a grievous refusal to recognize Quebec's identity. The recognition of the "Québécois" as a nation did much to cure that wound.

The celebration of the founding of Quebec, beginning next month, as the symbol of the very founding of Canada, and hence an event for all Canadians to celebrate as part of their national identity, will make an important contribution toward nation building, toward the construction of a more consensual Canada. The Queen, had she come, would have brought too many ghosts from the past. She is not needed at the family feast.


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Federalists in Quebec find their voice
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Fourteen personalities come together, each proposing a vision of Canada as an opportunity to be grasped
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007 – Page A27

In Quebec, a commonly shared vision of our history was expressed by then-Bloc Québécois MP Suzanne Tremblay: "There are two founding peoples," she told the Commons. "We arrived here before you. You conquered us in 1760, you reconquered us in 1980 by the first referendum, and you reconquered in 1995 by the second referendum. But we will conquer you with the third referendum."

A book published last week titled Reconquérir le Canada: Un Nouveau Projet pour la Nation Québécoise, speaks of reconquering to express an opposite vision. Instead of presenting the Québécois as constantly victimized by Canada, 14 Quebec personalities come together and each proposes a vision of Canada as an opportunity to be grasped.

"We owe it to ourselves, as francophone Quebeckers, to conceive differently our relation with the rest of Canada," writes Frédéric Bérard, of the University of Montreal's law faculty. "We must emancipate ourselves from the stumbling blocks of our past and, above all, from the climate of resentment, paranoia and bitterness that has driven us."

Journalist Lysiane Gagnon once observed that, around the table when politics are discussed, those who fall silent are Quebec's federalists. This plea for a more receptive attitude toward Canada is an event. The writers include former justice minister Martin Cauchon, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Benoît Pelletier and former astronaut Marc Garneau.

The instigator was André Pratte, La Presse's chief editorial writer, who contributes the most stimulating essay. To read him is to experience a blast of fresh air. He blows away consecrated myths that populate Quebec's countryside with bogeymen and mirages.

"Few federalists dare to state publicly that being part of Canada offers Quebec unquestionable advantages," Mr. Pratte writes. "The rare few who say so loud and clear are mostly active in federal politics; they're considered by their fellow citizens as, at best, oddballs, at worst as 'vendus' [sell-outs]."

He dares to excoriate all three parties at the National Assembly: "Members of the provincial Liberals, the Parti Québécois and Action Démocratique du Québec sing in chorus that Quebec needs more powers to develop, that all actions by the federal government are necessarily damaging for Quebec and must be resisted by our [Quebec's] national government." Their real problem, he maintains, is their faulty vision. "That, and not federalism or the 'Anglais,' is what prevents modern Quebec from advancing; it leads to sterile debates, to shirking responsibility and it feeds a victim complex."

Martin Cauchon was a bright light of Jean Chrétien's government. Paul Martin feared a potential rival so Mr. Cauchon resigned his seat in 2004. But he will likely stage a comeback.

He analyzes how the Constitution evolved from 1867 to now, with a growing recognition of the provinces, even since the 1982 patriation of the Constitution against a vote in the National Assembly. For its three parties, that was an intolerable affront.

"In my opinion," Mr. Cauchon writes, "the fact that Quebec did not sign the Constitution resulted mainly in feeding political debate, often to the delight of the sovereigntists. As for myself, I consider it imperative for Canadian unity that Quebec adhere fully to the 1982 Constitution." Quebec should sign.

Jean Leclair, University of Montreal professor of constitutional law, dissects the myth of exclusive nationalism that demands a total, undivided adherence. "From this perspective, a people can have only one common culture. Culture, and more specifically cultural identity, encompasses all the elements of human activity, be they social, religious, linguistic, political and economic." To claim plural identities, such as Canadian and Québécois, would be considered a heresy.

Benoît Pelletier, in his essay, clearly espouses exactly the myth of cultural identity decried by Mr. Leclair. "The identity of a society is what makes up its very essence," he writes. "The nation is at once soul and body." He inherits the tradition of Quebec's previous ultra-Catholic era that considered the nation to have a "collective soul."

Marie Bernard-Meunier was successively Canada's ambassador to UNESCO, to Holland and Germany. She draws on her experience with another federation, Germany, and a partial federation, the European Union, to critique the Canadian federation. Canada lacks an upper house that really represents the constituent states of the federation. "In Canada, the provinces have no institutionalized role at the federal level." A solution, she suggests, would be for senators to be elected. Stephen Harper presently proposes exactly that.

She criticizes the provincial Liberals. "Quebec's federalists are unlikely to convince their fellow citizens to commit to federalism if their sole obsession is to appear as nationalistic as the PQ or as autonomist as the ADQ, or even more nationalist or autonomist than they are." And she cites a condition for a federation to succeed: the commitment of the constituent states to the whole: "What will not work is to claim to want to remain within Canada while at the same time pursuing only one's own interest."

This book needs to find a publisher who will bring it out in English. It opens a whole new vista for a neo-federalism in Quebec after almost five decades of unremitting deadlock.


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Why Quebec is spurning Dion: the compact myth
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Tuesday, September 25, 2007 – Page A19

No, it's not possible. Can the federal Liberals have plunged so low in their once impregnable Quebec fortress? Some finger Stéphane Dion. Others smell poison lingering from the sponsorship scandal. But another factor, more fundamental, goes ignored: "the compact between the two founding peoples."

Brian Mulroney described it in his senior-college-year essay, according to his biographer, L. Ian MacDonald: "To the French, [Confederation] is a pact between French and English, which guarantees each group an equal right to its own faith, language, laws and customs." In fact, this compact theory is a myth. It was first enunciated in 1904 by nationalist icon Henri Bourassa; its progression is traced by political scientist Stéphane Paquin in his 1999 book, L'invention d'un mythe: Le pacte entre deux peuples fondateurs.

Soon taken up by nationalist historian Lionel Groulx, this invention spread among historians, then politicians. By the 1950s, it was articulated as the foundational fact of Canada by a royal commission launched by Maurice Duplessis. It's been the doctrine of every Quebec premier since, turning into an axiom, a historic grievance and a vision for reconstructing Canada. And every premier's duty is to rewrite the Constitution to make Quebec as equal as possible to English Canada.

Jean Lesage: "Today's Quebec must possess and control ... the economic, social, administrative and political levers that will enable it to realize its legitimate aspirations as an adult people." Daniel Johnson Sr. threw down an ultimatum: "Égalité ou indépendence." Under Claude Ryan, the Quebec Liberal Party published its constitutional policy, Une nouvelle fédération canadienne: "This reform aims above all at inscribing in the fundamental law of Canada the principle of the equality of the two peoples that founded modern Canada."

That included the right to secede at will, the abolition of the Senate, the transfer of all residual powers to the provinces and the repeal of the federal power "to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada." Such was the constitutional policy on which Robert Bourassa's Liberals were elected in 1985.

But the platform cautioned: "The current context is not favourable to a comprehensive reform of Canadian federalism. And so we must adopt a pragmatic approach and proceed in stages." And so Mr. Bourassa put forward five conditions for recognizing that Quebec was bound by the 1982 Constitution Act. Meech Lake was only to set the stage for later, as Mr. Bourassa's justice minister signalled, "the Quebec government wanted to establish on a solid basis the foundations of a comprehensive constitutional reform to come in a second stage of negotiations."

The "two founding peoples" doctrine clashed with the political culture of Canada. And so a constant tug of war emerged as Quebeckers voted simultaneously for politicians in Ottawa and Quebec City who were at odds with each other. Mr. Duplessis fought with Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson with Mr. Lesage, Pierre Trudeau with Daniel Johnson Sr., with Mr. Bourassa and René Lévesque. And this paradox was an accepted part of Quebec's political culture. The political class pushed for two founding peoples, and ordinary Quebeckers kept voting Liberal federally.

Mr. Trudeau patriated the Constitution against the Péquiste majority in the National Assembly, but all remained quiet. Polls showed support for secession dropping between 1980 and 1987, the year of Meech Lake. But everything changed after Mr. Mulroney thundered against patriation - and so the Constitution - as leaving Quebec betrayed, humiliated, isolated. The magician's conjuring proved so effective that ordinary Quebeckers converted to his view that the federal Liberals were guilty of high lèse-Québec.

Eventually, Mr. Mulroney and his Conservatives were discredited across Canada. But, instead of turning back to the Liberals, Quebeckers drew the logical conclusion of Mr. Mulroney's revisionism and voted for the Bloc Québécois.

The rest of the country turned the page on the Mulroney era after Stephen Harper reunified the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives. But, in Quebec, his influence lives on.

Quebeckers had accepted patriation, had accepted Mr. Trudeau's rejection of "two founding peoples," of special status, "distinct society," and his refusal in 1980 to be bound by the results of the referendum on sovereignty-association. But now, thanks to Mr. Mulroney, the Liberals are distrusted in Quebec, and Stéphane Dion is spurned for his Plan B and the Clarity Act.

Quebec will fit uneasily in the federation so long as it is governed by the myth of the two founding peoples.


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It's all about Brian, Brian, Brian
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Saturday, September 15, 2007 – Page D4

MEMOIRS

1939-1993

By Brian Mulroney

McClelland & Stewart,

1,121 pages, $50

'There is nothing like the revenge of a prime minister writing his own memoirs," Brian Mulroney confided to Peter Newman in The Secret Mulroney Tapes.

This outsized monument of a book is larger than life. Just like its author. I counted 1,162 pages altogether. Brian Mulroney must have started early to save the materials for his memoirs. Everything is here. Like Pierre Trudeau, he glimpsed his destiny to be a great man and so hoarded every scrap of paper that recorded his thoughts, essays, speeches, greetings to friends, advice to leaders, successes and failures - and every mention of Brian Mulroney on a printed page.

This is like three books in one. There's the seductive story of a boy from Baie Comeau, one of six children of an electrician in a remote company town, rising to fortune, power and international celebrity thanks to ability and strength of character. What other Canadian could boast of a biography so spectacular?

Then, he chronicles half a century of political history that he witnessed as an insider. In 1955, when he landed as a freshman at St. Francis Xavier University, he was a political innocent. It stood to reason that the Catholic from Quebec attending a Catholic university would vote Liberal. Liberals then had reigned in Ottawa since 1935, in Nova Scotia for almost 40 years. But he was quickly recruited by an upperclassman, Lowell Murray, for the campus Progressive Conservatives. "I had always considered myself a bit of an underdog," Mulroney explains, "and was impressed by Lowell's spiel about the tremendous opportunities we would enjoy together when our party defeated the Grits both in Halifax and Ottawa."

Miracles did happen. The very next year, Robert Stanfield became Tory premier of Nova Scotia. Then, not eight months later, John Diefenbaker was prime minister. And young Mulroney had actually supported Diefenbaker at his leadership convention, putting up posters. The Chief had called him "Brian" and thanked him for his "great help." That was it. "Bones," as he was nicknamed, was hooked on Diefenbaker for years and on Conservative politics for life.

The Memoirs provide enough personal and biting anecdotes to satisfy any political junkie. Thousands of those who knew Mulroney will scrutinize the index with hope or fear to see what he says about them. He remembers them all, has forgotten nothing: his extended family, the boarder who was taken in to make ends meet, a roster of Baie Comeau citizens, his school and university chums, his business associates, Mila, whom he decided to marry at their first encounter, hordes of political co-conspirators and enemies, and an honour roll of the great of this world, including Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, François Mitterrand, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul II.

Mulroney, our most adroit master politician of the past century, describes the peculiarly feudal world of politics structured by personal relations and networks of interlocking loyalties. He teaches by example how to make friends, keep contacts, win committed supporters, draw the interest of people in high places, discipline a caucus - and how to choose a personal cause to give the aspiring politician a comparative advantage and make one indispensable.

Mulroney's cause was French and French Canadians. When, at 17, he spoke in a model parliament, he presented himself as the member for "Three Rivers," Quebec, and spoke first in French, "not a common thing in 1950s Nova Scotia." He chose as the topic for his senior year essay, The Politics of Quebec, 1933-58. Later, as a law student at Laval, he sent memos to Diefenbaker and agriculture minister Alvin Hamilton, urging them to hire and promote French Canadians. Among his suggestions to Dief: "A distinctive Canadian flag," "an announcement of the adoption of 'O Canada' as our country's national anthem" (this would occur in 1980) and "a declaration that bilingualism will be progressively established in all branches of the federal civil service and Crown corporations."

Eventually, the prospect that he could deliver Quebec would be his winning card for the PC leadership. He fulfilled his promise in 1984 and triumphed right across the country.

His book illustrates the power of personality in politics. He was gifted with a truly prodigious charm and magnetism, with the baritone voice, the quick mind and flashing humour, the vivid turn of phrase, the salty and profane language, the exchange of gossip, the confiding manner. He left some memorable phrases, such as "there's no whore like an old whore" and "you dance with the one that brung ya."

Personality was his great strength, but personalizing everything was his great weakness as prime minister. And the flaw of this book is that he personalizes the greatest issue on which history will judge him: his attempt to rewrite the Constitution governing Canada.

Obsessively, he assails Pierre Trudeau, returning to the attack again and again, even stooping to the mean and petty. His crowning achievement, to rank with that of John A. Macdonald, would be national reconciliation achieved through the Meech Lake accord. He was foiled by Trudeau, for no better reason than vanity and jealousy. "While the country was responding with generosity and goodwill, a former prime minister was secretly planning an attack designed to sabotage Meech Lake. And why? 'Simple,' said Francis Fox, one of Trudeau's former ministers, later. 'He couldn't stand to see Brian Mulroney succeed where he had failed.' "

Mulroney reconstructs his previous violent attacks against Trudeau's patriation of the Constitution as a national trauma that left Quebec wounded, isolated, humiliated and outside the Constitution. The country's very existence was endangered. The Meech "accord" would repair that intolerable injury. As Mulroney said when the first ministers agreed on April 30, 1987: "What you have now is a whole country as opposed to a part of a country."

Sounds good, but the facts don't figure. When René Lévesque died in 1987 - the year of Meech Lake - the cause of secession looked hopeless, as his widow Corinne Côté-Lévesque testified: "In 1984-85, he was pessimistic. Even in 1987, on the eve of his death, it was depressing. There wasn't anyone any more who wanted to talk about that [sovereignty]. It had become the subject to avoid in Quebec." In 1986, the year before Meech Lake, Laval political scientist Louis Balthazar wrote a sorrowing book on the decline of nationalism. "Since the beginning of the 1980s, nationalism has ceased to inspire the bulk of activities of the society. ... The State of Quebec is no longer glorified. The nation Québécoise is no longer the privileged point of reference. So we must acknowledge the end of a period of Québécois nationalism."

Separatism did revive - but only after 1987, under the dynamic launched by Mulroney. The polls show dropping support for secession after 1980, then a sharply rising curve after 1987, reaching a paroxysm in 1991. But Mulroney fabricates. He writes about the patriation: "Quebeckers - federalists and separatists - almost unanimously voted it down in the National Assembly." False. The vote was held in the National Assembly on Dec. 1, 1981. The resolution stated: "The National Assembly of Quebec ... declares that it cannot accept the plan to patriate the Constitution unless it meets the following conditions ..." That vote was supported by 70 PQ members, led by René Lévesque, but opposed by 38 Liberals led by Claude Ryan. Not one federalist voted for it.

By personalizing, Mulroney trivializes the fundamentally opposite visions in contest. He misrepresents the Meech Lake package as the answer to "What does Quebec want?" In fact, Meech was only Robert Bourassa's precondition for admitting that Quebec was bound by the Constitution. It was to set the stage for what was to come next, as his chief negotiator, Gil Rémillard, signalled on May 14, 1990. By Meech Lake, Rémillard said, "the Quebec government wanted to establish on a solid basis the foundations of a comprehensive constitutional reform to come in a second stage of negotiations."

Meech was merely the prelude to achieving the Quebec Liberal Party's true vision, developed at length in the 1980 Beige Paper, A New Canadian Federation, which was to reconstruct Canada on the basis of "two founding peoples." Trudeau had fought that vision in 1967, when it was articulated by premier Daniel Johnson Sr. He campaigned against it during the 1968 elections. He fought it when it reappeared under the sponsorship of Mulroney.

Mulroney's diatribes against Trudeau and the patriation are not only misleading, they were and are still subversive. They tell Quebeckers that the Constitution of Canada is illegitimate, "not worth the paper it is printed on," as he once said in the House. They imply that Quebeckers have been betrayed, are left outside the Canadian family and that isolation will continue until a new Meech Lake accord is put in the Constitution. That is unlikely to happen, ever.

These Memoirs are a good read and a valuable historical record, if only because they lay out so fully Mulroney's witness to his age. But Mulroney might not be happy with the ultimate verdict on the book - and on himself.

William Johnson is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada. Young Trudeau, which he translated, won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing this spring.

Related Reading

TRANSFORMING THE NATION

Canada and Brian Mulroney

Edited by Raymond B. Blake, McGill-Queen's University Press, 456 pages, $29.95

A wide range of scholars and politicians reflect on the major policy debates of the Mulroney period, and offer new and surprising interpretations and conclusions.


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It's back to the 'nous' in Parti Québécois land
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Tuesday, September 4, 2007 – Page A21

There is a new political dynamic at work in Quebec. Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois demonstrated it last week at her nomination meeting for the Sept. 24 by-election in Charlevoix. In her speech, she never once mentioned Premier Jean Charest. But she did train her artillery on Mario Dumont, leader of the Official Opposition.

That figures. In the March general election, the once proud party of René Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard was cut down to third place, behind both the Liberals and the upstart Action Démocratique du Québec. What hurt most was that the ADQ actually won more votes than the PQ among francophones, the PQ's core constituency. So vanished the decades of polarization between the PQ as the party of us - nous - and the Liberals as the party of them - les autres. The PQ had stricken the word "nous" from its vocabulary, as Ms. Marois explained.

"For the past decade, we were overcome by a troubled conscience that kept us from saying 'nous.' It was as though the word 'nous' was taboo. It was as though to speak or act in defence of our identity had become a synonym of racism or intolerance."

When Mr. Lévesque published the separatist manifesto, Option Québec, that led to his founding of the PQ, he titled the first chapter "Nous autres" - us, ourselves - and he meant it to define a special identity.

"To be ourselves means essentially to maintain and develop a personality which has lasted for three and a half centuries. At the heart of this personality remains the fact that we speak French. Everything else is attached to this essential element, or derives from it, or brings us back to it infallibly."

But ethnic nationalism fell into disrepute over the years. When Mr. Bouchard visited Washington in 1994, he was quick to assure the Americans: "Our nationalism is not ethnic, our nationalism is territorial."

Mr. Parizeau delivered the language of "nous" a memorable setback on the night of the closely run 1995 referendum, when he declared before the world: "It's true that we were beaten - by what? By money and ethnic votes, essentially." He did not then speak as the premier of all Quebeckers, or even as a Quebecker. Instead, he was the militant leader of Quebeckers who spoke French, promising that, next time, this nous would be victorious: "We are - look, enough of talking about 'the francophones of Quebec,' do you hear? We will speak of nous. By 60 per cent, we [nous] voted yes. We [nous] fought. We [nous] fought and, nous, we succeeded in showing clearly what we [nous] wanted."

That was too much of nous to stomach, and the word went out of style. But now it's making a comeback, as Ms. Marois made clear. She explained the party's defeat in March by the fact that the PQ had ceased to talk about the French identity.

"Our fellow citizens told us, in their own way, that they no longer recognized themselves in our project. They got the impression that our party, which did so much in the past to assert and defend the Québécois identity, had no longer anything to say on the subject. That is why Mario Dumont was able to present himself so easily as the defender of that identity, even while his speeches went no further than denouncing, without much substance, a few excesses linked to reasonable accommodations."

So Ms. Marois promised that her party would be talking much more about identity, and teaching why that identity required Quebec to become an independent country. For example, on Aug. 22, the Quebec Court of Appeal struck down as unconstitutional a bill passed in 2002 with the support of all three parties to further limit access to English schooling. The court found that these new restrictions on English schooling violated a right contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In this new atmosphere, where all three parties are vying to proclaim their Quebec nationalist credentials, all three parties denounced the court's judgment. Mr. Charest immediately announced he would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ms. Marois defended the restrictive language laws as necessary, even if they are currently unconstitutional: "They were adopted precisely because our francophone identity is fragile in America, because it demands an unremitting vigilance, because it cannot suffer any reverse without the threat of its disappearance."

Nous is once again the most important pronoun.


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Can Pauline Marois change the PQ's spots?
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007 – Page A15

Can the Parti Québécois change its spots? Can its newly crowned leader, Pauline Marois, deliver on her promise to "modernize" the party's fundamental tenets, presently consecrated in its revered program?

Ms. Marois was acclaimed last Wednesday as the PQ's seventh leader when no one else submitted a valid candidacy. From the time on May 13 when she announced she would be running, her constant theme has been that the PQ has lost touch with Quebeckers.

"Since 1994, we have witnessed a constant decline in the popularity of our party," she repeated. Among the reasons she cited was that Quebeckers "no longer recognize themselves in certain dogmas that have prevailed in Quebec since the Quiet Revolution, and for which we appointed ourselves as the voice."

Indeed, the PQ was a creation of the Quiet Revolution. The political leaders of the 1960s lost confidence in their society, and resolved to reconstitute it radically in accordance with "modern" understandings. They saw themselves as throwing off "la grande noirceur," the great darkness, and bringing Quebec into the light.

The political class embraced an explanation of what had gone wrong: Quebec had been colonized. This explained the low levels of education of French speakers, their pre-modern educational system, their domination by a reactionary Catholic clergy, their large families, the myths that had committed them collectively to a vocation as farmers and a divine mission to evangelize North America. The theme of the Jean Lesage Liberals in the 1962 election was "libération."

Because English-speaking capital controlled mining, the forestry industry and manufacturing, they would use the state - the Quebec government - as the instrument of emancipation. "The state is one of us, and the one with the biggest muscles," René Lévesque would claim. Sociologists and political scientists identified French Canadians as "an ethnic class" in a Marxian matrix of class struggle.

The colonization model had a corollary: Those who were colonized had a false consciousness and were blinded to their own reality. It was up to those who were emancipated to enlighten their benighted brethren to the servility of their state. That is why Mr. Lévesque agreed to call his party "le Parti Québécois" - the party of Quebec, the only party that carried Quebec's true identity. The Liberals were "the party of the others," often led by a former federal MP (Georges-Émile Lapalme, Jean Lesage) or someone of mixed French-English heritage (such as Daniel Johnson Jr. and John Charest).

These are the "dogmas" that Ms. Marois proposes to attack. "In our wanting to do what we thought was best for the people, we forgot to listen to what they thought would be best for themselves."

Before the 1995 referendum on unilateral secession, Jacques Parizeau had boasted about how "astucieux" - cunning - was the plan he had developed to sell independence to the people. Then, at its convention in 2005, the PQ adopted a radical plan to hold a referendum on secession - without association - and to declare independence immediately after winning the barest majority.

Ms. Marois draws a contrary conclusion from the party's electoral setback. "The people told us that they did not feel ready to reopen now the decisive discussion on Quebec's sovereignty, and they were put off at seeing themselves confined to a sterile debate over the date, the day, the hour of the referendum - in a word, in machinery. But, at the same time, they showed us that they wanted without further delay to see their identity and their values asserted loud and clear."

She addressed the PQ's other foundation stone, social democracy, with more delicacy. She did not repudiate it. That would be suicidal in a party that has as its president Monique Richard, former president of the Quebec teachers' union; that depends on union organizers as election candidates and campaigners, while the Bloc Québécois is led by Gilles Duceppe, a former union organizer.

Instead, she redirected social democracy away from its distrust of private enterprise, its emphasis on state-controlled enterprises and unionized monopolies in the public service.

"We must cease to fear doing things differently," she said in her acceptance speech. "To fear wealth. To fear taking avenues on which we never explored in the past."

The party, which had tanked in the polls, has returned to competitive scores since she announced her return to political life. She enjoys a honeymoon for a brief time. So far, she has spoken in allusive terms. But should she attack directly "the Quebec model," she will learn that she is attacking the very identity of the Parti Québécois.


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Another leader denied the promised land
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It's been down, but never has the Parti Québécois fallen so low
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007 – Page A19

When André Boisclair sprang his surprise by resigning as Parti Québécois leader, there was a telling moment. He chose to end his speech on an uplifting message: "I'd like to conclude on a note of hope for those millions of Québécois . . ."

But there he choked up. For 30 long seconds, he fought for control while the audience waited, then broke into applause to cover his paralysis.

He had been able to speak fluently, until he tried to project hope. Then he broke down. His party, he knew, was founded on hope, was fuelled by a messianic faith and hope that a promised land lay just over the horizon. The PQ leader was Quebec's Moses, charged with leading his people to the New Jerusalem by the shores of the St. Lawrence. But woe to the failed Moses if the people wandered back toward Egypt.

The PQ has had six leaders since its founding in 1968 by the charismatic René Lévesque. When he became premier in 1976, the euphoric celebrations verged on delirium. But he lost the 1980 referendum on sovereignty-association then, outmanoeuvred by Pierre Trudeau in 1981, he and his government were isolated and the Constitution was patriated. Mr. Lévesque never recovered his previous reverence. When he put the pursuit of sovereignty in hiatus to take up Brian Mulroney's invitation (the "beau risque") to renew federalism, his leading ministers, including Jacques Parizeau, resigned from the cabinet and Mr. Lévesque was soon forced out. He left a bitter man.

Pierre-Marc Johnson won the leadership with 58.5 per cent of the vote on the first ballot. But, like his predecessor, he thought it counterproductive to put secession at the top of his agenda. He proposed "national affirmation" - a pursuit of greater autonomy. Decried by Jacques Parizeau, undermined in his own caucus, he resigned within two years.

Mr. Parizeau, the constant hard-liner, followed on a promise to make no compromise in pursuit of sheer independence. But Lucien Bouchard, then Bloc Québécois leader, threatened to stay home unless the referendum question was watered down by evoking a "partnership" and he was backed by Bernard Landry, who refused to lead the brigade to certain defeat. So the 1995 question, too, was tortuous. Mr. Parizeau took a back seat to the charismatic Mr. Bouchard. The result was a cliffhanger, but still a loss. Mr. Parizeau resigned.

Mr. Bouchard won the leadership unopposed. But, a former federal minister, he was viewed with suspicion by the hard-liners. As premier, he chose to tackle the government's chronic deficit rather than rush into another referendum. He won the 1998 election against Jean Charest, but with fewer votes than the Liberals. When Jean Chrétien brought forth the Clarity Act, premier Bouchard launched a full-press campaign against it. When he failed to arouse the people, discouraged, he resigned.

Bernard Landry was fortunate: Mr. Charest proved uninspiring as opposition leader. But still, Mr. Landry, without the allure of his predecessors, lost the 2003 election. The sponsorship scandal and the revelations of the Gomery commission then shot up support for the PQ and the Bloc. In 2005, the PQ adopted a radical program of a referendum on independence without association, with the proclamation of independence to follow immediately. But Mr. Landry resigned, offended by an inadequate vote of confidence at the party's convention.

Mr. Boisclair, fresh from Harvard, became leader on the first ballot. At 39, he was to represent a new generation, rallying the youth of Quebec on a final drive to the promised land. After he became leader, the polls projected a future PQ landslide against the unpopular Charest Liberals.

But the regions of Quebec were in revolt against Montreal, its easy moral values and its accommodation of alien religious and ethnic cultures. Mr. Boisclair was the very incarnation of what offended "le Québec profond." During the leaders' debate, he dominated by his slashing style. But he came across as arrogant and hard. He lost, badly.

Never has the PQ fallen so low. In its early decade, it carried a sense of representing Quebec's destiny: Independence was inevitable, only a matter of time. When it lost to the Liberals - the party of les Anglais - the Péquistes still knew that they represented Quebec's true identity.

But now, the PQ is supplanted by the Action Démocratique as the voice of French Quebec and the official Opposition. History, in its view, has gone into reverse, perhaps irremediably. The PQ could become marginal. Mr. Boisclair had to go. But who, credibly, can pick up the staff of Moses?

WILLIAM JOHNSON

A former president of Alliance Quebec, he is writing a biography of Stéphane Dion


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Quebec's long identity crisis
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With the Quiet Revolution, Quebec lost one identity and went in search of another. It never quite found it, says author WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Tuesday, April 17, 2007 – Page A21

For nearly half a century, Quebec has mystified the rest of Canada with a kaleidoscope of shifting visions and conflicting demands. What does Quebec want? That was the question du jour during the 1960s. And now?

Today marks the silver anniversary of the patriation of the Constitution, making Canada fully sovereign. Conducted on Parliament Hill, in the presence of the Queen, Quebec refused to celebrate on that day. Will its response now be different? Will the seismic wave provoked by Mario Dumont in the March 26 election bring a change of heart? Not likely.

Five years ago, on the 20th anniversary, Quebec's National Assembly unanimously proclaimed that it "never adhered to the Constitution Act of 1982, which had the effect of diminishing the powers and the rights of Quebec without the consent of the Quebec government and of the National Assembly, and that it remains unacceptable to Quebec."

That resolution repudiating Canada's constitutional foundation was moved by Bernard Landry, the premier of the day, and supported by opposition leader Jean Charest and Benoît Pelletier, the architect of the Quebec Liberals' current constitutional policy. The vote was 106 to 0. Nineteen members were absent, including Mr. Dumont, Leader of the Action Démocratique du Québec.

Ironically, it was the Liberals, in their 1960 election manifesto, who first proposed the "patriation of the Constitution." A succession of Quebec premiers forced the issue, and a prime minister from Quebec brought it about. So why does official Quebec sulk?

Something happened, called the Quiet Revolution.

Before 1960, French Canadians had a coherent identity encompassing all aspects of life, with religion providing its organizing principle, its arch. Eminent historian Marcel Trudel, summarized it:

"French-speaking Canadians were inculcated with exalting theses that placed them above the other nations. You have been chosen, they were told repeatedly, to propagate the civilization of Christ; unlike your neighbours, you are inspired by spirituality rather than the passion for material riches; you constitute a human entity without foreign elements, you are a white population, with you the family is the most beautiful in the world; as a highly moral society, you have respected the rights of others and you have accomplished extraordinary feats. In a word: if one goes looking for perfection in a human collectivity, it will be found in your midst, French of America, and it will be found there because you are of the French race."

This identity was triumphalist, but also ultra-conservative, defensive and "autonomist." French Canadians had a mission from God to radiate their sacred values through the new world. But that world was mostly Protestant, liberal and materialistic, so they had to protect from contamination the virtues inherited from their ancestors, and this was best achieved outside the sinful and corrupting cities. They had a "vocation" for agriculture rather than trade. As the bishop of Trois-Rivières, Louis-François Laflèche, famously counselled: "My friends, know your French, but as for English, don't learn it well."

A 1956 royal commission chaired by Judge Thomas Tremblay attributed the distinct French-Canadian identity to its faith.

"Its way of life, its various traditions, its laws, its institutions all emerged from an identical general understanding of existence, which owes its highest inspiration to the religious faith from which derives this philosophy, this form of common wisdom that is lived daily and with respect to which the facts of ordinary life are spontaneously interpreted and integrated in the modes of being and acting."

As pure Catholics with a French soul, French Canadians suffered a tragic fate: They were subjected to domination by alien and therefore oppressive institutions. They "were forced to accept the political structure and the mode of social organization of the new masters of the country, and so subject themselves to an institutional regime created by a mentality different from theirs and the spirit of which they neither possessed nor shared. And it is by this subjection that the conquest of 1760 produced its most tenacious of effects, to such an extent that even after almost two centuries, and despite immense progress in some areas, the French Canadians have still not succeeded in overcoming them."

The two cultures co-exist, us and them, but they cannot be equal and they are in conflict.

The royal commission insisted that French Canadians would always be at a disadvantage as a minority in Canada. The obvious solution, consistent with its analysis, would have been to recommend that Quebec secede from Canada. But none of the witnesses proposed that. And so the commission fell back on the next best thing: the greatest autonomy possible for the government of Quebec.

The commission's religious premises were soon to be made obsolete by the Quiet Revolution. But its conclusions were to inspire Jean Lesage and every subsequent Quebec premier down to Jean Charest.

Initially, the objective of Mr. Lesage's Liberals was called rattrapage -- catching up, or modernization. It was an admission that French Quebec was backward, not the light of the world, as the Tremblay commission depicted.

Education was the site of the most spectacular rattrapage. René Lévesque, in his memoirs, recalled the impact of the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Education, appointed in 1961: "I remember the collective shock caused by the frightful picture drawn by the Parent Commission on education. In 1964, four-fifths of our adults had never gone beyond elementary school or, in many cases, even completed it!"

The province then took control of education from the clergy and the whole system was revamped. But change quickly took on a momentum of its own and soon extended to all sectors of life, including the foundations of the state. From rattrapage, the new catchword became dépassement -- surpassing. Quebec, from backward, would leap into the future, leaving behind the rest of Canada. All that was needed, under Quebec's enlightened new leadership, was the right plan. And so, in 1963, Mr. Lesage established a bipartisan committee with the mandate "of determining the objectives to be pursued by French Canada in the revision of the Canadian constitutional regime and the best means of attaining these objectives."

The committee soon eliminated the constitutional status quo as an option. It investigated four alternatives: decentralized federalism, special status for Quebec, associate states of Quebec and Canada, and outright independence.

The committee sat from 1963 until 1966 but was never able to concur on a report prescribing Quebec's future identity. To choose would mean rejecting alternative identities.

Before 1960, Quebec's sacred religious values made it resistant to corrupting influences from "the other." It was "autonomist," in that it sought to keep to a minimum British influence on Canada, federal influence on Quebec and personal contact with English-speaking non-Catholics, above all through marriage. Entering a Protestant church, or even swimming at the YMCA, was forbidden. Even the influence of the Quebec government was resisted in the areas of education, health and welfare. The Catholic Church must be autonomously in charge of most sectors of life.

With the Quiet Revolution, the state replaced the church and it was the provincial government that would be the rampart against the threat of les autres, keeping the federal government at a distance, legislating to constrict the English language, taking control of industry and replacing les autres with Québécois. True national solidarity and co-operation, which should have become possible when Quebec society secularized, remained impossible because of ingrained reflexes of distrust. Autonomy -- or rather autarchy -- was once again Quebec's only consistent policy.

The clash of past and present led to contradictory behaviour. Mr. Lesage had wanted Canada's total independence from Britain and had called for patriation of the Constitution. In 1964, he concurred with the other first ministers on an amending formula and patriation was imminent. But, a year later, he reneged. The new amending formula did protect Quebec from the rest of Canada by giving it a veto over major constitutional change. But it gave other provinces the same veto over Quebec.

Similarly, in 1971, after three years of negotiations, the first ministers agreed in principle on a package of constitutional changes as part of patriation. Quebec would have a veto, but only Ontario would have a similar veto. In Atlantic and Western Canada, only combinations of provinces would have a veto. Also, seven and possibly eight provinces would be committed to making French an official language forever.

The first ministers met in Victoria to ratify the "Victoria Charter," but Robert Bourassa, who had personally negotiated and assented, withdrew his consent: It did not give Quebec enough autonomy.

After the 1980 referendum on sovereignty association, Pierre Trudeau proposed to patriate the Constitution with the support of just Ontario and New Brunswick. The issue went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the proposal violated a constitutional convention requiring a substantial consensus of the provinces.

Mr. Trudeau convened the provinces and achieved the consensus of nine. That did not satisfy René Lévesque, who went back to court to claim that Quebec had a veto over constitutional change. He lost in the Quebec Court of Appeal; he lost at a unanimous Supreme Court. "The Constitution Act, 1982, is now in force," the court ruled. "Its legality is neither challenged nor assailable." Quebec did not have a veto.

But although patriation conformed in every respect with the legal conditions set by the court at Quebec's insistence, Quebec has continued ever since to spurn the patriation as illegitimate and "unacceptable." Quebec still believes it holds a veto that is above the Constitution.

Before the Quiet Revolution, the Tremblay commission placed sacred values above any constitution and evoked the authority of the Pope. Today, the government, the political parties and a majority of the population insist that the Quebec people, when they speak in a referendum, trump the Constitution.

Until Quebec fully exorcises its past and secularizes its politics, it will be unable to accept Canada as a legitimate partner, an asset rather than a threat. Quebec has suffered from a long identity crisis resulting in paralysis. Its alienation will continue until it can cure itself.

William Johnson, a former president of Alliance Quebec, is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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The autonomists' threat: death by a thousand cuts
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The federalists, in turn, must insist on a full, final disclosure of all the new powers and money that Quebec will demand, says author WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Saturday, March 31, 2007 – Page A23

As of Monday's election in Quebec, a referendum on secession is off the agenda, perhaps forever. Now comes the hard part.

For three decades, Quebec's political class raised the referendum to the status of a myth. The referendum founded an all-or-nothing proposition. You won or lost the referendum, there was no in-between. You won or lost sovereignty, depending on the referendum vote. The Constitution? The rights of aboriginals or other Canadians? They vanished when the magic wand of a referendum was waved.

The all-or-nothing posture led all Quebec parties except Robert Bourassa's Liberals to oppose the 1987 Meech Lake accord. Eighty-five per cent of the briefs submitted to a legislative committee opposed it. Then, in the 1992 referendum, Quebeckers voted down the Charlottetown accord, which, among other "gains," would have guaranteed their province a quarter of all Commons seats in perpetuity. The nationalists preferred nothing to not enough.

But now, that has changed. "Sovereignty is still desirable, but in the short term it is obviously not attainable," Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair confirmed Tuesday. What? Sovereignty is only "desirable," rather than "absolutely, imperatively necessary"? PQ true believers will burn Mr. Boisclair at the stake.

But more important was Mr. Boisclair's hint as to where he will now push his party: He will call the bluff of the "autonomist" Action Démocratique du Québec and the less hurried but also autonomist Quebec Liberal Party. He will propose that the three join in demands or ultimatums delivered to Ottawa. The other parties will either join the coalition of the autonomists or be exposed as lapdogs.

Mario Dumont also spoke Tuesday of a coalition: "What I would hope for is that we could rally some kind of unanimity at the National Assembly around an autonomist vision."

In the past, there were times when the parties joined together for a unanimous resolution in the National Assembly, as a common front against the federal government. One such resolution demanded that Paul Martin's government resolve "the fiscal imbalance" between Ottawa and Quebec. Mr. Martin ignored it at his peril. Stephen Harper embraced it.

The new situation -- a frail minority government with the balance of power held by two opposition parties committed to autonomy -- sets the stage for concerted action. All three parties ran on a central policy of wresting more from Ottawa. Premier Jean Charest said Tuesday that "the status quo is unacceptable." The other two parties will soon put him to the test.

The campaign for autonomy could take the form of a Quebec referendum demanding a specific power. As opposition leader, Jacques Parizeau suggested holding such "sectoral referendums," but backed off when his hardliners insisted on the principle of all or nothing. Now, a sectoral referendum could prove a weapon of war whose time has come.

The new approach will threaten Canada's stability as much as did the all-or-nothing referendum practice. It would threaten death by a thousand cuts -- or even just a few. Quebec's nationalist militancy of the early 1990s could be revived, reigniting interregional confrontations.

Federal politicians must develop a strategy to counter this new threat. Since 1960, the pattern of Quebec parties has been one of relatively moderate initial demands for more money and more autonomy that became precedents for more radical demands for more money and autonomy. Each party, facing elections, now devises new ways of standing up to Ottawa, saying: "Damn you, sir, I want some more!"

Mr. Dumont's election policy of s'affirmer sans se séparer -- asserting ourselves without separating -- is unlikely to remain an empty slogan. The second verb is what federalists heard loudly. But Mr. Boisclair emphasized the first: Mr. Dumont's autonomist assertiveness will be put to the test between now and the next Quebec election, likely within 18 months. He proposed "to promote and defend the autonomy of Quebec by conducting bilateral relations with Ottawa as between equals." D'égal à égal. The two-nations theory makes a comeback.

The tactical federal response should be to demand, as a precondition to negotiations, a full, final disclosure of all the new powers and new money that will be demanded. The list must include a commitment to make no further future demands. This would have the effect of breaking up the common front of what Pierre Trudeau called "the blackmailers."

The PQ could never limit its demands for autonomy to what is reasonable in a successful federation.

The ADQ would be forced to renounce its determined ambiguity and declare the full scope of its "autonomism." Would it be the entire slate of Jean Allaire's report, adopted as the constitutional policy of the Liberal Party in 1991? That would have transferred 22 powers to Quebec and left Ottawa as a skeleton. Mr. Dumont urged its adoption at the convention. The following year, as president of the Young Liberals, he stormed out of the party when Mr. Bourassa accepted that the Charlottetown terms be put to a referendum rather than the far more stringent Allaire report. Mr. Dumont then helped create the ADQ with Mr. Allaire because the Liberals did not demand enough. Nothing, in preference to not enough. Challenged by Mr. Boisclair during the leaders' debate to reveal what powers he would reclaim, Mr. Dumont named the Allaire report and evoked some of its indicative items.

The Quebec Liberal Party would also have to choose at last between its constant practice of escalating demands and its commitment to federalism. Since the 1960s, the party's position has been that Ottawa must revise the Constitution and its governmental structure to recognize Quebec as a nation more or less equal to the rest of Canada; then, when Canada has remade itself, the QLP defends the right of Quebeckers to secede at any time by a mere majority referendum vote. That, clearly, is a non-starter.

The times call for clarity -- at long last.

William Johnson, a former president of Alliance Quebec, is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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It's Boisclair. No, it's Dumont. No, it's Charest. No, it's ...
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Thursday, March 8, 2007 – Page A19

The Quebec election campaign has so far unfolded as a dramatic personal tragedy for the tall, handsome, usually broadly smiling André Boisclair. The 40-year-old leader of the Parti Québécois carries in his person not just the darkening fortunes of his party, but also the dream of Quebec's independence.

And so the PQ members have been extraordinarily demanding of their leaders since the party was founded by René Lévesque in 1968. The one chosen to lead Quebec into the promised land must be personally exemplary, but also successful. As Bernard Landry said in happier times, "the sovereignty movement always moves forward, it never falls back."

Under Mr. Boisclair, the PQ has been falling back. It's too early to predict the vote's denouement on March 26. The leaders' debate on Tuesday could still turn things around. But recent polls have shown the PQ trailing Jean Charest's Liberals in almost every region. Even in its heartland of the Saguenay-Lac St-Jean region, the PQ is threatened by the Liberals and the suddenly competitive Action Démocratique du Québec.

Especially damning was a poll of 3,101 respondents by Léger Marketing for The Gazette and the Journal de Montréal. Published last Friday, it showed the Liberals at 36 per cent, the PQ at 29 per cent and the ADQ at 25 per cent. Worse still, when asked which of the leaders would make the best premier, Mr. Boisclair came third, chosen by only 19 per cent, bested by Mr. Charest at 30 per cent and the ADQ's Mr. Dumont at 26 per cent.

Other issues in the campaign have come and gone. This week, the newsworthy item was Mr. Charest's suggestion that Quebec could be partitioned if the province tried to secede. The Supreme Court of Canada had said as much in 1998 in the secession reference. Stéphane Dion had raised the same likelihood when he was appointed to the federal cabinet in 1996. But for a Quebec Premier to state the obvious during an election campaign is considered a "gaffe," even a scandal, by opposition politicians and journalists alike.

This is mostly theatre. The real campaign issue is Mr. Boisclair.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Mr. Boisclair, elected leader in November of 2005, was the Teflon man. He had made no secret of his homosexuality, and had admitted to snorting cocaine while a minister in the Quebec government. But now these lifestyle realities have returned to haunt him.

He was the golden boy, elected to the National Assembly at 23, a cabinet minister at 29. When the party lost the 2003 election, he quit to pursue a master's degree in business administration at Harvard. He was about to move to Toronto for a position with a financial firm when Bernard Landry resigned. Mr. Boisclair made his move and won.

An opinion poll showed him leading the Liberals by 19 points. Mr. Charest was setting unpopularity records. The Martin Liberals were scorched by the sponsorship scandal, and federalism in Quebec was in disgrace. The Bloc Québécois was set for a sweep. Stephen Harper's Conservatives were unlikely to win one Quebec seat.

But the Conservatives took office and 10 Quebec seats on an offer of "open federalism." Federalism became respectable again after Mr. Harper gave Quebec a forum at UNESCO, recognized the Québécois as a nation and promised to solve the "fiscal imbalance" in a budget that will come down, conveniently, a week before the Quebec election.

The Bloc, stunned, ordered an internal investigation. The "mystery of Quebec," the report said, was really a revolt against Montreal, its dominance, its priorities, its style. (The Montreal-bred Mr. Boisclair epitomized its very values.)

Then came Hérouxville's revolt against "reasonable accommodations." Mr. Boisclair, who had appeared in a televised parody of Brokeback Mountain and who had proposed removing the crucifix from the National Assembly, became the very personification of Hérouxville's disquiets.

He shocked conservative Quebeckers and, by criticizing his own party for having been "buddy-buddy" with union leaders, also angered the left. As his support dropped in the polls, prominent Péquistes, including Mr. Landry, seemed intent on replacing him.

Mr. Charest had said he would not call an election until after the federal budget. Instead, he pounced last month to catch the PQ in disarray. "The choice is between unity and separation," he proclaimed. Indeed, the PQ platform, adopted at its 2005 convention, calls for a rapid referendum on independence, with a clear question and no association.

Mr. Boisclair is hampered by the hard-line program on secession. But the more important question has been over his maturity and reliable judgment. And so, much of the PQ support has shifted to Mr. Dumont, who just a few months ago seemed headed to oblivion.

Many are predicting a minority government. Quebec has had only one, in 1878. More likely, Quebeckers will float until the last stretch, then move to one of the parties. They love dramatic politics.

William Johnson, a former president of Alliance Quebec,

is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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Quebec: the endless debate
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Saturday, March 3, 2007 – Page D9

French Kiss:

Stephen Harper's Blind Date

with Quebec

By Chantal Hébert

Knopf Canada, 279 pages, $32,95

The provocative title, French Kiss: Stephen Harper's Blind Date With Quebec, suggests cross-cultural seductions to be revealed by Chantal Hébert as she explores the wiles and ways that Harper used for his shocking breakthrough of January, 2006, when he captured 10 Quebec seats and a quarter of the vote.

Hébert delivers, instead, 30 short chapters, each an essay on the multiple facets of Canadian politics, rather like a collection of columns expanded into a book. The central figure is not Harper at all, though he provides the paradoxical starting point. Far more important roles are played, through their failures, by Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

But the real subject of the book is Quebec. Quebec's distinctive character and identity explain the failure of federal Liberals and New Democrats to seduce Quebec, as also the success of the Bloc Québécois and Harper's Conservative Party. The two centralizing parties violated Quebec's most fundamental aspiration, its autonomy. The latter two came to its defence.

"The reality is that Quebec is a political ecosystem operating under rules that are largely foreign to the rest of Canada," Hébert writes. "Its climate has been shaped by the different forces of the debate over the province's political future."

For Hébert, the long Liberal decline began with Pierre Trudeau's patriation of the Constitution: "In 1982, 74 Liberal MPs from Quebec had stood behind the patriation of the Constitution while their 122 colleagues in the National Assembly had unanimously denounced it." But Hébert is sometimes careless with the facts. On Dec. 2, 1981 (not in 1982), 68 Liberal MPs from Quebec voted for the patriation, four abstained and two -- Louis Duclos and Warren Allmand -- voted against patriation, as did Progressive Conservative Roch LaSalle. The day before, at the National Assembly, a resolution was adopted which stated: "The National Assembly of Quebec . . . declares that it cannot accept the plan to patriate the Constitution unless it meets the following conditions. . ." That vote was not supported by all 122 members, but by 70 members of the Parti Québécois. It was opposed by 38 Liberals.

Brian Mulroney tried to rectify the blunder with the Meech Lake Accord, but the Chrétien Liberals further alienated Quebec by opposing it. "The federal Liberals bombed their own pipeline into the francophone reservoir of talent with the patriation of the Constitution. Their role in the Meech Lake debate then poisoned the well for all federalist parties."

Had Meech Lake passed, Hébert implies, that would have ended the threat of secession: "The concept of Quebec as a distinct society . . . was one that the vast majority of Quebeckers could easily embrace, then and in the future. Fortunately for the sovereignty movement, Canada dropped the Meech ball before the federalist camp managed to kick it into the net and score a decisive goal."

Instead, the Liberals brought calamity on a country stuck with obsolete and dysfunctional institutions that conflict with modern Quebec. "Beyond the addition of Pierre Trudeau's cherished Charter," Hébert writes, "the purpose of patriating the Constitution in 1982 had been to allow Canada to bring institutions conceived in colonial times into the twenty-first century. Instead, the federation ended up with a political Chernobyl."

The Liberals became a party controlled by Ontario. Ontario became schizophrenic, taking a turn to the right provincially under Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution, while its MPs in Ottawa reacted by pressing for intervention in social programs -- under provincial jurisdiction. The book's best pages describe the failed attempt by Quebec ministers, notably Jean Lapierre and Stéphane Dion, to turn Martin away from running his campaign on provincial issues: health care, child care and financing municipal governments.

Hébert writes: "If the most prominent Quebec members of the Liberal government had trouble with Martin's approach to federalism, who in Quebec would not? The answer -- when it came in January, 2006 -- would reduce Paul Martin to a footnote, and shrink the Liberal Party to its Ontario bones."

As a journalist, Hébert's experience is unique. A Franco-Ontarian whose father was a journalist with Ottawa's Le Droit, then with Radio-Canada's Toronto station, CJBC, she was educated in French and then worked in both French and English, in television and radio, for Le Devoir, La Presse and now The Toronto Star, where she is a full-time columnist while also writing a weekly column in Le Devoir. She has worked in Queen's Park as well as the federal Parliamentary Press Gallery. She won awards while bridging the two solitudes and is in great demand for commentaries in both languages.

And yet, her book left me disappointed. I expected more, and better. She delivers a multitude of opinions, often provocative and paradoxical. But the book is disjointed in its organization, leaping about in time and topic, without any apparent organic plan. This reader soon found it hard going.

More seriously, she favours prophetic statements that are not backed up by careful analysis. She declares that patriation alienated Quebeckers from the Liberals, but no such alienation emerged in the polls until the debate over the Meech Lake Accord, when Mulroney and Robert Bourassa constantly portrayed the patriation as the betrayal, isolation and humiliation of Quebec. The Constitution was not worth the paper it was printed on. Hébert never adverts to this factor.

Similarly, she offers no analysis of the Meech Lake Accord and what its implementation would have meant. She misrepresents the significance of the Supreme Court's reply to the reference on secession.

Provocatively, she declares that the language wars of the past are now at an end, and goes further: "The Quebec sovereignty movement, at least as we had known it since its inception in the sixties, died on the bloody fields of the country once known as Yugoslavia."

Sweeping declarations are not enough when careful analysis goes lacking. The book is not up to the reputation of its author.

William Johnson is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada. This week, Young Trudeau, which he translated, won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing.


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Tories' shameful ads set a new low for uncivil discourse
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Saturday, February 17, 2007 – Page A21

Make no mistake, the French television assault ads targeting Stéphane Dion launched this week by the Conservative Party are astute and deadly. They are also dishonest, and set a new Canadian standard for uncivil discourse.

In one of the three ads, a door is sealed by four yellow police tapes. Each carries an imprint: Sponsorships, Fiscal Deficit, Centralization, Pollution. Someone rattles the door from behind. Soon, two green Stéphane Dion campaign signs slide into view followed by a cutout Dion head, then a cutout Chrétien head. A voice intones: "Today, this past comes back to haunt you. Counselled by the phantoms of the party, Stéphane Dion wants to take you back. He says that Jean Chrétien taught him everything. Whoooo, that is scary. Why open the door to Stéphane Dion?" This is a crime scene;

Mr. Dion is a puppet of Mr. Chrétien,

who wants to reinstitute the scandals

of the past.

Another ad is titled: TV Sale. Mr. Dion's head is surrounded by red stickers: No Guarantee, Incredible! Sold As Is. Then a shack appears with a sign: For Sale Liberal. A background voice: "For sale. The

Liberal Party of Canada." On the screen flash several fictitious newspapers

with headlines like: Allegations Of

Influence Trading In The LPC. The

RCMP Investigates . . .

The storyline is that a crooked shack is for sale -- it's the Liberal Party of Canada. A voice recites: "Recently subjected to numerous inspections, it was discovered that the foundations were crooked. Old ghosts come to haunt you in the bedroom. Not to mention the skeletons in the closet. On the grounds, because of the neglect of Stéphane Dion, the environment is not very healthy [a picture appears of a filthy garbage barrel, with refuse strewn about]. It's under his governance that the greenhouse gas emissions rose [the message appears: Poisonous Gases Up 27%], and he refuses to recognize the imbalance. The word of Stéphane Dion is an Incredible offer.

The ads have been described as humorous. Perhaps, but only in the sense that two of the three assume the style of caricatures. Their message, though, is anything but a joke. What they say, plainly, is that Stéphane Dion is a liar, Stéphane Dion is a puppet, Stéphane Dion is part of a so-called criminal conspiracy that governed the country in the past and wants to govern it again.

The attack is directed at the Liberal leader, but its intended audience is primarily the constituency of the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc captured 51 of Quebec's 75 seats in last year's election, and those are the seats the Conservatives are coveting to give them a majority in the next election. They see them as vulnerable.

Since the Conservatives took power last year, the Bloc has been in an awkward position. Its founding attitudes, its gallery of villains, its folklore, its anthology of treacheries and deceit, all feature the Liberals. It has not yet learned how to retool its artillery against the Conservatives. At times, it has been outflanked by Stephen Harper, as with its resolution on recognizing Quebec as a nation and, Tuesday, its motion to give Quebec $328-million to achieve its Kyoto aims, when Mr. Harper had travelled to Sherbrooke on Monday to deliver the promise of $350-million.

And so, the Conservative ads take over and repeat even more stridently the constant themes of the Bloc Québécois: The Liberals sold out the interests of Quebeckers in order to gain and retain power; the Liberals centralized and intruded on Quebec's jurisdiction; the Liberals cheated Quebec taxpayers by running up huge surpluses in Ottawa when the needs were in Quebec ("the fiscal imbalance"), the Liberals stole the 1995 referendum by underhanded investments, notably the sponsorship scandal. The ads throw out familiar words like "A Return To Arrogance, To Quarrels And To Scandals." They feature the return of Jean Chrétien.

These themes have been dinned so constantly by the Bloc that each can be evoked by a single slogan. That is precisely what the three ads do: They evoke all the Bloc's grievances against the Liberals. Their strategic implication is clear. The ads say: You hate the Liberals? We hate them even more. You denounce them? We denounce them harder. But all you can do is denounce; we can put them in their place.

Take, for instance, the third ad, and its sticker, Vendu Tel Quel. Traditionally, separatists have stigmatized as "vendus" -- sell-outs -- French-speaking Quebeckers such as Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien who fought separatism in Ottawa. Centring one ad on "For Sale" was not innocent.

The ads are effective. But Mr. Justice John Gomery made not the slightest criticism of Stéphane Dion. Is it acceptable to treat an "honourable member" and the leader of a vital national institution like the Liberal Party with such dishonesty, such demagogy?

William Johnson, a former president

of Alliance Quebec, is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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Ségolène's Québec libre
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Vive le Canada libre! Gone are the days, says WILLIAM JOHNSON, when we tolerated French officials meddling in our domestic affairs
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Friday, January 26, 2007 – Page A17

How times have changed. Ségolène Royal did no worse Monday than previous French dignitaries when, after meeting visiting Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair, she declared that her "affinities" were "in conformity with our values that we share, that is, the sovereignty and the liberty of Quebec."

Initially, the news media in France didn't even report this statement by the Socialist Party's candidate for the presidency in France's upcoming elections. But then the unusual happened. That day, Canada's Prime Minister issued a statement of rebuke: "Experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country." Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion also denounced immediately any encouragement for "dismantling Canada." Premier Jean Charest, less explicit, remarked pointedly that Quebec's future would be settled by Quebeckers.

In France, Ms. Royal's statement became a campaign issue and was widely reported as another "diplomatic gaffe." On the defensive when interviewed on Radio Europe 1, she insisted: "I displayed neither interference nor indifference," repeating the decades-old mantra of France's policy toward Quebec. "What I said, which I confirm, is that, as in every democracy, the people who vote are sovereign and free."

So, she cloaked her previous comment in a generality: In Quebec, as in every other democracy, the voters are sovereign and free to determine their future.

Oh? France's constitution states at Article 1: "France is a Republic that is indivisible . . ." Article 3 states: "National sovereignty belongs to the people, which exercises it through its representatives and by way of a referendum." But it then eliminates any regional population (like Corsicans? like Quebeckers?) from exercising sovereignty: "No section of the people nor any individual can assume its exercise."

Article 89 explicitly invalidates any law or any referendum that could alienate part of France's national territory: "No procedure of amending [the constitution] can be undertaken or pursued where the integrity of the territory is affected."

Ms. Royal, saying what she did, displayed her ignorance of France's own constitution and those of other democracies. Not one on Earth permits secession through a referendum held by one part of the population. That's considered undemocratic -- contrary to the sovereignty vested in all the people.

An important lesson emerges. Recurrently, since 1963, French officials have intervened in Canadian affairs, openly or clandestinely, to support the secession of Quebec. In 1963, Charles de Gaulle told his information minister, Alain Peyrefitte: "French Canada must become independent and, consequently, must shake off, violently or otherwise, the state of dependence in which it finds itself."

But not since 1967, and the general's summons of Vive le Québec libre! has a French politician suffered for subverting Canada. The current President, Jacques Chirac, before the 1995 Quebec referendum on unilateral secession, said on Larry King Live that he would "recognize" a majority yes vote. He also plotted with then-premier Jacques Parizeau to issue a declaration the next morning if the Yes gained a majority. He had prepared a press release that stated: "The sovereignty of Quebec is a fact, it lacks only a legal form."

Ottawa said nothing.

In 1997, premier Lucien Bouchard emerged ecstatic from a visit with President Chirac. "The President told me in as many words that, 'Whatever path Quebec chooses, France will accompany it. Quebec can count on the friendship and solidarity of France.' " The President's spokeswoman confirmed the account. But the Chrétien government, far from protesting, minimized its implications. Then-intergovernmental affairs minister Stéphane Dion claimed that the Chirac statement did not mean what Mr. Bouchard said it meant; why, he maintained, Canada itself could say the same thing as Mr. Chirac had said.

Our ambassador in France at the time, Jacques Roy, agreed. Why, he said, this was no more than France's traditional policy toward Quebec of non-ingérence et non-indifférence -- neither meddling nor disinterest. "If they say -- and we have to take them at their word -- that they have not interfered, then they have not interfered . . ."

Now, it's different. Canada at last has laid down the law with the Clarity Act. Now, we have two leaders, Messieurs Harper and Dion, who will not let this country be bullied. The days are now past when Ottawa said: Le Général de Gaulle is dead, vive le Général de Gaulle!

William Johnson, a former president of Alliance Quebec, is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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Recognizing the elephant in Confederation
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By adding a few simple words to a Bloc Québécois motion, Stephen Harper may have changed the course of the country, says WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Thursday, November 23, 2006 – Page A25

Now there's a turnaround. It was only on June 23, the eve of the Fête Nationale, there on the battlements of Quebec's Citadel overlooking the St. Lawrence River, that Stephen Harper stumbled when asked whether he recognized that Quebec was a nation. He would only go so far as to recognize that the National Assembly had declared that Quebec was a nation. As for himself, he chose not to pronounce himself on what he considered was only a question of semantics.

That answer was trumpeted in the Quebec news media: Prime Minister Harper refuses to recognize Quebec as a nation. It was his first setback in his campaign to seduce Quebec. Earlier in June, polls had placed the Conservatives on a par with the Bloc Québécois.

Yesterday, in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister had no trouble joining together the two words, Quebec and nation. In fact, he hammered them home, but in a new context that utterly changed the meaning and reformulated the debate: "Our position is clear. Do the Québécois form a nation within Canada? The answer is yes. Do Québécois form an independent nation? The answer is no, and the answer will always be no . . ."

Strategically, it was a masterstroke. The Prime Minister placed this resolution on the agenda of the Commons: "That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada." The decision was precipitated when, the day before, the Bloc Québécois announced the wording of its resolution that will be debated today: That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation.

The Bloc motion was canny. It was meant to embarrass the Conservatives, recalling Mr. Harper's reluctance to pronounce himself on the issue in Quebec City. It was also meant to embarrass the Liberals, whose leadership race has been polarized on the question ever since the Quebec wing voted overwhelmingly last month for a resolution, that "the Liberal Party of Canada recognizes the Quebec nation within Canada."

Liberals felt caught on the horns of a dilemma: If their convention next week rejected the resolution, the Liberals would be stigmatized as insulting Quebec and would lose ground to the Bloc. But if they adopted the resolution, they would be drubbed in the next elections in other provinces for needlessly precipitating another wrenching existential debate. The Conservatives would be the gainers.

By his motion yesterday, by his qualified acknowledgment of Quebeckers as a nation, Mr. Harper has pre-empted the debate from both the Bloc and the Liberals. To the Bloc motion, he has added the words, "within a united Canada," so curbing its separatist implications. And, unlike the Liberal motion, Mr. Harper's wording ascribes nationhood to a people, "the Québécois," rather than to a political entity, Quebec.

But, above all, the Prime Minister relocated the debate to an entirely different realm by coupling the acknowledgment of Quebeckers as a nation with that firm statement in the Commons that Quebeckers would never constitute an independent nation outside of Canada. That was new and portentous.

It was a statement that Mr. Harper was conscience-bound to make, sooner or later. As a conservative by conviction, he could not indefinitely allow Quebec politicians -- such as the Bloc's Gilles Duceppe, the PQ's André Boisclair and Premier Jean Charest -- to speak and act as though a mere majority in a future referendum would authorize Quebec to secede from Canada. The rule of law is a bedrock conservative principle and Mr. Harper had made crystal clear before and after the 1995 referendum on secession that there could be no secession without an amendment to the Constitution of Canada -- one that would require the consent of the other provinces. He had even introduced a private member's bill to that effect. In 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada, in its response to the reference on secession, confirmed precisely the position taken by Mr. Harper, as opposed to the laissez-faire response of Jean Chrétien and the Liberals, whether in Ottawa or Quebec.

By making his statement now, in the context of recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation, the Prime Minister attenuates the impact of surprise and shock on a Quebec population that has been encouraged by politicians and the media to believe in the illusions that secession was a right, and that a referendum is its sufficient instrument. Moreover, Mr. Harper's contrary statement was firm and clear, but it was not part of the official motion.

By his action, Mr. Harper differentiates himself from the muddling Liberals, who yesterday morning had still been searching for a way out of their own lobster trap. Now the Liberals, and especially Michael Ignatieff, can breathe more freely. Given the context the Prime Minister has created, the Liberals can go ahead and adopt their resolution on recognizing Quebec as a nation: It has ceased to be threatening.

Yesterday's resolution comes as a prelude to a debate in the House, which could now come as early as Friday or Monday. During that debate, a further clarification must be made: What is the meaning of Quebec as a nation, and what political, legal and constitutional implications, if any, does that recognition have?

In the past, a constant ambiguity was maintained, both on the definition of nation -- or distinct society -- and on what that would imply. The Council of Europe, in a statement in January, concluded that no unambiguous definition of "nation" was possible. As for the forms of recognition for minority nations proposed by the council, Quebec already exercises more self-determination than the council proposed.

William Johnson, a former president of Alliance Quebec, is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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Paul's fall: not Greek tragedy
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Saturday, November 4, 2006 – Page D7

Right Side Up:

The Fall of Paul Martin

and the Rise of Stephen Harper's

New Conservatism

By Paul Wells

McClelland &Stewart,

336 pages, $34.99

Blessed are the chroniclers of kings and nations who witnessed the end of an era. Others write books on routine elections. But to see a prime minister self-destruct in 25 months from an apparently unassailable ascendancy; to watch as the disdained upstart supplants the emperor, then begins taking the country in a new direction -- that, surely, is felicity.

It's the stuff of opera, and Paul Wells structures Right Side Up like a libretto. The title conveys the theme, a story of fall and rise. The epic narrative of a struggle for national power turns into a cautionary tale of two duellists. And this opera bouffe has a happy ending: the dawn of a new beginning.

Both villain and hero are clearly etched. Wells's Paul Martin is by far the more fully articulated. A single passion possesses him, to which all is subordinated: to grasp the prime ministership that eluded his father. So he feigns reluctance to enter politics, despite his father's memoirs documenting his constant yearning. Wells comments: "It takes real effort to deny the published record. Not for the last time, Martin was up to the task."

Wells, a witty Maclean's columnist, began as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. His concern for the country after the near-death 1995 referendum led him to offer his services to finance minister Martin, whom he saw as the leader to save Canada. The offer fell through, as eventually did Wells's admiration. "It was the last half of 1999 before the finance minister's behaviour became so disingenuous and shaky that I finally had to bail out of the Ottawa consensus that he was a great leader made to wait too long."

The author is a natural satirist with an ear to catch the hypocrisies of Martin's demeanour and his rhetoric. "Paul Martin does indignation well." And again: "Martin became the most doggedly likeable man in Canadian politics." He describes the televised appeal to the nation in May, 2005, to avert defeat: "Paul Martin decided to address the nation on the topic that seemed consistently to inspire his boldest moves: his own survival. . . . The most powerful techniques of public pedagogy were reserved for one objective: to save his own political hide."

Wells's account of Martin's last press conference as prime minister becomes his epitaph: "Martin was ending his term as Liberal leader more or less as he had begun it: in a fog of obfuscation and denial."

Wells's treatment of Harper is more tentative. "I had seen him before, of course, but I didn't really know him. Even today, more than a decade after I met him, I still don't." In fact, he portrays Harper as essentially the antithesis of Martin. "He would not speak until ready. He would speak quietly and carry big ambitions. He would be flexible in method -- surprisingly, almost maddeningly so at times -- but he would never lose sight of the long game, which was to transform Canada, if it would let him, into a profoundly different place."

The latent message: Harper measures his words where Martin was grandiloquent; Harper was steady in setting and pursuing his objectives where Martin was flighty and had supported both sides of every major issue. Harper is essentially inner-directed, policy-directed, where Martin negotiated deals in return for love.

This Harper is not perfect. He has temper tantrums. He suffers from a touch of paranoia. He controls the agenda when he follows a pre-ordained script but, when the script runs out, as it did before the end of the 2004 and 2006 election campaigns, Harper improvises to his peril. He commits damaging errors of judgment.

Wells treats various controversies, such as Harper equivocating later over his unqualified support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He deals at length with Harper's petulant tug-of-war with the parliamentary press gallery. He concurs with Preston Manning's judgment that Harper had a tendency to criticize everybody else and quit in the lurch -- but only before his 2001 decision to run for the leadership of the foundering Canadian Alliance. He writes: "The Harper of Act II is less acerbic, less biting, less grandly weary of every other political action in Canada. . . . But he is also incomparably more mature, sophisticated -- and much more politically formidable."

(What Wells fails to note is that, before 2001, Harper wanted to be a public intellectual, never an elected politician. His election in 1993 was unexpected and soon terminated. Public intellectuals are notoriously critical.) Wells, like most observers writing in the early summer, was much impressed with Harper's early performance. "If his first five months as prime minister were a success -- and they were more than that, they were not far from a triumph -- it's because he kept his darker instincts in check. No, not just in check. He overwhelmed his darker instincts with some of the finest instincts any Canadian leader has shown in a generation: strategic genius, careful planning, discipline, a constant desire to expand his coalition and to reward voters' faith with concrete and demonstrable results."

He qualifies that praise with awareness that things deteriorated in July. But still, this was his final comment: "You underestimate Stephen Harper at your peril."

In sum, this is a most readable book by one of the country's most original journalists. He did his homework, spoke to more members of the political class than anyone had, and provides a wealth of new information. Not fair to Martin, but then politics is rarely fair.

Veteran journalist William Johnson is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada. An updated paperback edition was published in September.


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The inherent dangers in recognizing Quebec as a nation
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Friday, October 27, 2006 – Page A23

Pierre Trudeau, back in 1962, got it right: "It is not the concept of nation that is retrograde; it is the idea that the nation must necessarily be sovereign."

So it is today with last Saturday's resolution adopted by the Liberal Party of Canada's Quebec wing. It is not the fact that "the Liberal Party of Canada recognizes the Quebec nation within Canada" that is dangerous. Rather, as Mr. Trudeau understood, you can't extricate the concept of nation from Pandora's box without releasing a terrifying flock of birds of prey.

First, there is the assumption that a nation, to be normal, must be sovereign -- one of the United Nations. This has been dinned by separatists for decades: a non-sovereign nation is unnatural, a cripple that has failed to fulfill its destiny. It is the duty of every citizen emancipated from a colonial mentality to press for independence.

And so, when Gilles Duceppe was asked by reporters Monday to comment on the Quebec Liberal resolution, he replied: "That's fine if people recognize that Quebeckers form a nation. Now we'll have to see what that will mean. Because the NDP has recognized that for decades, but then at each referendum, they act in contradiction to the positions they have taken." In other words, if the NDP recognizes Quebec as a nation, they should recognize its right to secede by a referendum vote alone.

A second assumption is that to oppose constitutionalizing the recognition of Quebec as a nation (or a distinct society) is to commit an intolerable affront -- lèse-Québec. In 1867, the Fathers of Confederation recognized the distinctiveness of Lower Canada by giving that territory its own provincial government while enshrining the French language in Quebec's legislature and courts and in the federal Parliament. Since then, the Quebec government's power has swollen immensely beyond anything envisaged in 1867. But this essential recognition is now considered paltry. When the Meech Lake accord was debated in the National Assembly in 1987, all the political parties except the Liberals were opposed, and 85 per cent of the presentations before the committee studying the package condemned it. But when two other provinces failed to pass it, the outrage in Quebec reached cataclysmic ferocity.

These past few days, editorialists and columnists in Quebec have multiplied the warnings against the "affront" to Quebec if the Liberal convention next month votes the resolution down.

Thirdly, the assumption among Quebec federalists and separatists alike is that the recognition must not remain "an empty shell." It must have far-reaching consequences, never precisely spelled out. The Robert Bourassa government considered the Meech Lake package simply as a first stage, "the foundations of a comprehensive constitutional reform to come in a second stage of negotiations."

A fourth assumption is that the recognition of Quebec as a nation must be constitutionalized to reconcile Quebec with the 1982 Canada Act. It patriated the Constitution and introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, over the objections of the National Assembly. This argument restores the constant rhetoric of Mr. Bourassa and Brian Mulroney that Quebec was "left outside" the Constitution and must somehow be reintegrated by new constitutional amendments. Michael Ignatieff, interviewed Wednesday on CPAC's Revue politique, asserted: "Quebec is not in the Constitution." In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada settled that issue unanimously and definitively in 1982: "The Constitution Act, 1982 is now in force. Its legality is neither challenged nor assailable." A refusal to recognize its legitimacy means asserting nationalist mythology over reality and the rule of law.

Last Saturday's Liberal resolution rests on a foundation of sheer myth. Its first sentence states: "WHEREAS history recognizes the three founding peoples of Canada -- Aboriginal, French and English . . ." Now, the notion that Canada was built on "two founding peoples" has been demolished by historians such as Ramsay Cook and Stéphane Paquin. A creation of the 20th century, it was totally unknown to the Fathers of Confederation. As for aboriginals, even designating them as one single people is ludicrous. I still recall the summer of 1960 I spent conducting sociological research at Great Whale River: The Crees would speak to the whites; the Inuit would speak to the whites. But the Crees and the Inuit would not speak to each other.

Quebec, like Canada, contains several nations. To define them in the Constitution means throwing open Pandora's box.

William Johnson, a former president of Alliance Quebec, is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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Charest's a federalist?
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Quebec, according to the Premier, is bound to Canada by nothing more than its own self-interest, says WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Tuesday, July 11, 2006 – Page A13

Just how federalist is the Liberal Party of Quebec? Prime Minister Stephen Harper is prone to praise Jean Charest for his federalism. "This is the strongest federalist premier in my lifetime," he has repeated.

Oh? So what has Mr. Charest done lately to earn that endorsement? On Friday in Paris, the Premier taped an interview with France's TV5. His statement on secession earned him big headlines in Saturday's newspapers, including Montreal's La Presse: "A surprising statement by Jean Charest on French TV: 'Quebec has the means to become independent.' " Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair declared triumphantly: "It is a definitive victory for the sovereigntists." Former premier Bernard Landry added that Mr. Charest "has just sterilized all the economic fears and panics that some federalists agitated and abused."

The Premier was moved by the outcry to send a letter to La Presse that was published on Sunday. There, he outlined his conception of the federal bond with respect to Quebec: It simply doesn't exist. "Quebec possesses the means of choosing its destiny and is free to do so, but it is not in the interest of Quebeckers to turn its back on Canada to become a separate state." So Quebec, according to the Premier, is bound to the federation and to Canada by nothing more than its own self-interest. It has no obligation toward this country and enjoys total freedom to remain or to leave.

He explained again, in his letter: "We have always recognized that Quebeckers could and should exercise freely their right to pronounce themselves democratically on the question of the political status of Quebec. On the other hand, whether it be Robert Bourassa or myself, we have never recognized the pertinence of separation, from either an economic or political point of view."

That unqualified freedom of choice was also asserted, even more clearly, on July 2 by Benoît Pelletier, Quebec's minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, and a former professor of constitutional law: "Within Canadian federalism, Quebec remains 'free to chose its destiny,' as Robert Bourassa used to say. Moreover, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized, in 1998, that the secession of Quebec, even if it were unilateral, was possible. Quebeckers may quite properly decide to take collective responsibility for themselves in the framework of a sovereign state, just as they may -- just as legitimately -- seek to do so within the Canadian federative bond."

Both Mr. Charest and his minister said the direct opposite of what the Supreme Court ruled in its 1998 advisory opinion on the secession of Quebec. Far from asserting that Quebeckers were equally free to secede or to remain in Canada, the court found that Quebec was bound by the rule of law, the Constitution of Canada and the principle of federalism. "The democratic vote, by however strong a majority, would have no legal effect on its own and could not push aside the principles of federalism and the rule of law, the rights of individuals and minorities, or the operation of democracy in the other provinces or in Canada as a whole. Democratic rights under the Constitution cannot be divorced from constitutional obligations."

Two paths could lead to Quebec's secession, the court found -- either a revolution successfully carried out against the law, or an amendment to the Constitution that allowed Quebec to secede under the rule of law. This would not be up to Quebec alone to decide, as Mr. Charest has maintained, but would be a decision taken by all Canadians under the terms of the Constitution. A condition for the enabling amendment would be a negotiated agreement in which the rights of all Canadians were secured. "Negotiations would need to address the interests of the other provinces, the federal government and Quebec and indeed the rights of all Canadians, both within and outside Quebec, and specifically, the rights of minorities."

Mr. Charest is, at best, a quasi-federalist. He acknowledges all the advantages that Quebec derives from its participation in the federation. But he denies Quebec's corresponding obligation to abide by the Constitution of Canada. He perpetuates an entirely unfounded and subversive myth: that Quebec is free as a bird to fly the coop at will.

In a speech in Montreal in January of 2002, Stephen Harper, then a candidate for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance, said: "Speaking of not fanning separatist flames, let me also state unequivocally that the Canadian Alliance, while it must defend legitimate provincial jurisdiction, must never defend those who interpret provincial power as including a right to unilateral secession. Any act of secession on the part of any part of the country must be done within the confines of the current Constitution, which includes the rule of law and clear democratic consent."

What does Mr. Harper think now of his friend Jean Charest, who fans the separatist flames by claiming that Quebec holds a right to unilateral secession?

William Johnson, a former president of Alliance Quebec, is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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A reality check for separatists
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Last week's manifesto by eight prominent sovereigntists goes partway to demolishing the PQ's 'mad illusions,' WILLIAM JOHNSON says
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Monday, May 15, 2006 – Page A13

Now there's a breakthrough. Eight prominent Quebeckers, committed to Quebec's independence, published a manifesto last Thursday that calls for "realism," while cutting to pieces the Parti Québécois's official program for achieving secession. They also demolished the PQ's approach to its 1980 and 1995 referendums. "What energy we are wasting with chimeras, mad illusions, wrong tracks and phantasmagorical deadlines."

Can realities finally overtake perennial magic thinking? The eight have ideological credibility among separatists. Marc Briére, 77, helped René Lévesque found the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association, then the Parti Québécois. He later sat as a judge. Jean-Roch Boivin was premier Lévesque's chief of staff and later an adviser to premier Lucien Bouchard. James Walkins was Bernard Landry's director of communications. Claude Jasmin is a prize-winning novelist, filmmaker and journalist. Guy Lachappelle, Henry Milner and Jacques Beauchemin are prominent university professors. Beauchemin won a prize in 2002 from the pro-separatism publication, L'action nationale.

Their manifesto was titled, "A realistic approach to sovereignty and to put an end to certain sophistries." The "sophistries" denounced are precisely the secessionist movement's main postulates.

Constantly, PQ leaders from Lévesque to Landry insisted Quebec has the right to secede unilaterally because the United Nations recognizes the right of peoples to self-determination. But the eight realists reject that argument as a sophistry: "Under current international law, the right of peoples to self-determination does not mean a right to independence, except for peoples colonized by imperial powers or oppressed by the state of which they are part and in which they constitute national minorities that are deprived of reasonable autonomy. For other peoples, the right to self-determination means only the right to internal autonomy." Quebeckers could hardly convince the international community that they are oppressed, the authors conclude.

They skew another "sophistry," that it is only "normal" for a people like the Québécois to have their independent state. (This was René Lévesque's constant refrain.) The realists counter: "In the world, there are more nations which cohabit in the same state than there are sovereign nations . . . The argument for normality is a demagogic sophistry that must be driven out of democratic debate."

They argue that any referendum question on secession must be clear and must bear only on independence. They propose: "Are you in favour of Quebec becoming a sovereign and independent country?" They recognize that, in 1980, the question proposed "sovereignty-association," and, in 1995, sovereignty with a proposal of a partnership with Canada. Logically, they point out, if Canada were to refuse the double proposal, Quebec could not claim a right to secede unless it then won a second referendum dealing with independence only.

The current PQ program adopted last June and embraced by new leader André Boisclair -- who dismissed the manifesto as "quibbling over commas" -- commits the party to hold a referendum early in its mandate after elections and to pass a unilateral declaration of independence right after a victory, even one with the barest majority. Negotiations over the terms of settlement would take place strictly between two independent countries, Quebec and Canada. The eight realists argue that 50 per cent plus one would merely lead to a dangerous impasse. They propose, instead, the 55 per cent that will be required on May 21 for Montenegro's referendum on secession. They also condemn the proposed UDI as futile and suicidal.

The eight offer, instead, their interpretation of the Supreme Court of Canada's 1998 advisory opinion on secession which "has interpreted Canadian constitutional law as recognizing the right of every province to secede . . . if that is the clear will of a clear majority of its citizens, expressed in a referendum followed by good faith negotiations which precede the implementation of the secession and the declaration of independence."

For all their realism, the eight short-changed the Supreme Court's sophisticated ruling. They claim that the court had declared secession a right. Not so. The court stated that unilateral secession was not a right, neither under Canadian nor international law. It was legitimate to aspire to secession, but any attempt must abide by the four fundamental principles of the Constitution: the democratic principle (an unambiguous clear majority), the rule of law (an amendment to the Constitution that follows the amending procedure), the federal principle (the other provinces must assent) and the rights of minorities.

The eight defenders of realism took account of only one of the four principles, the requirement for a clear majority. They ignore the court's clear assertion that the new frontiers of a seceding Quebec would be set by negotiations, not given by current boundaries. They ignore the obvious implications: The lands of the aboriginals would not be up for grabs.

By ignoring the full reach of the Supreme Court's ruling, the realistic eight encouraged Quebeckers to waste more time struggling with chimeras, mad illusions, wrong tracks and phantasmagorical deadlines.

William Johnson's biography, Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada, is a finalist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.


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Stephen Harper: a man in a hurry
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Making his debut as PM in the House today, he is in a rush to create a record, says biographer WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Monday, April 3, 2006 – Page A15

No Mr. Dithers, he. The Stephen Harper who meets Parliament today for the first time as Prime Minister is better known than the man who won a plurality on Jan. 23. Since then, he has gored some sacred cows -- including a whole parliamentary press gallery stocked with them. He established himself as extraordinarily focused and rather a control freak. He knows what he wants, pursues it single-mindedly while imposing an iron discipline on caucus and staff.

At his first postelection press conference, he rebuked U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins undiplomatically -- for restating that the United States does not recognize Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Passage. "The Canadian government will defend our sovereignty. . . . It is the Canadian people we get our mandate from, not the Ambassador of the United States." On Thursday, in Cancun, he won from President George W. Bush words to die for: "I appreciate his steely resolve to get something done." He also made Canada the first country after Israel to break ties with the new Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority.

In choosing his cabinet, he passed over faithful supporters such as James Rajotte and James Moore, and the iconic Reformer of the first hour, Diane Ablonczy, while appointing the unelected Michael Fortier. He turned around the anti-Conservative fire-breather, David Emerson, just re-elected as a Liberal. When Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro announced an investigation, Mr. Harper attacked him contemptuously and sought his replacement. Even when Mr. Shapiro exonerated him and Mr. Emerson, the PM curtly criticized him for investigating at all. He also fired his director of communications, William Stairs, when they disagreed on how to deal with the controversy.

He's a man in a hurry who won't waste a moment in his rush to create a record by passing the five priority promises of his election campaign. That means wasting little time or deflected attention by responding to the unquenchable, ephemeral questions of journalists. It means putting a clamp on the ministers unless they have his permission to wander from the script.

It's all been a culture shock for the parliamentary press. Here a Stephen-come-lately breaches their established tradition of waylaying ministers emerging from a cabinet meeting. When summoned to explain, he answered coldly: "I am here to answer the questions." Where is the deference accumulated over past prime ministers? One columnist compared Mr. Harper's obsession for control to that of Joseph Stalin. Twice, the president of the press gallery fired off letters of protest: "Switching the location of the availability of ministers would roll back decades of tradition and impede the freedom of the press to have access to our country's top decision-makers." Instead of backing down, the PM decreed the timing of cabinet meetings could henceforth be confidential.

To TVA interviewer Claude Charron, he insisted that any government "that is going to succeed" must "speak with one voice and the ministers must know what other ministers have said before they speak to the newspapers." He also pointed out that Parliament would shortly meet and "the actions of the government and our decisions will be up for democratic debate in the House of Commons." He was invoking the British tradition of answering in the House to the elected representatives of the people rather than the American tradition of answering to journalists.

While polls showed most Canadians averse to a military engagement in Afghanistan that entailed casualties, he flew to Camp Julian, ate and slept with the soldiers at the desert base, visited the insecure city of Kandahar where Canadians were rebuilding, and refused to hold a vote on the mission lest it suggest a wavering political will.

Single-mindedly, he cultivated Quebec from the time he became Conservative Party leader in 2004, investing time, attention and money despite warnings that he was wasting all three. As late as Dec. 20, in mid-campaign, a CROP/La Presse poll showed the Conservatives at only 9 per cent. But he persisted and the breakthrough followed, with 10 seats and 25 per cent of the Quebec vote. Now Mr. Harper aims higher: to displace the Liberals as the party of national unity, to change the terms of the national unity deadlock, and cut the Bloc down to size.

So he is relentless in his wooing. He not only begins his news conferences in French; he appointed five Quebeckers to the cabinet, gave his first televised interview to a French network, promised a Quebec voice at UNESCO, and met Premier Jean Charest three times, once travelling to Quebec City. He signalled his seriousness about redressing the fiscal imbalance when, on March 23, he appointed economist Louis Lévesque, then associate deputy minister of finance, as his deputy minister for Intergovernmental Affairs. Mr. Lévesque, a graduate of Laval University, replaced University of Ottawa graduate Marie Fortier, a specialist in health administration. Paul Martin had appointed her because his priority was health. Mr. Harper's is federal-provincial finances.

Another message to Quebec was cancelling the $12-million annual subsidy for the Canadian Unity Council. Established in 1964, the CUC had defended Canada during the 1995 referendum by propaganda and shady deals involving the clandestine Option Canada. It had failed to assert the constitutional order. Instead of propaganda and flags, Mr. Harper will unveil in tomorrow's Throne Speech proposals for a "Charter of Open Federalism," promised during the campaign in the pivotal Dec. 19 speech in Quebec that turned the campaign around.

This new government has a different vision on such issues as the Kyoto treaty, aboriginal government, elected senators, child care, health care, defence and Canadian sovereignty. Its approach will be populist rather than elitist and statist. Its Accountability Act alone will change the face of Canadian politics, eliminating all corporate and union donations and reducing annual individual political donations to $1,000.

As a minority government with only 125 seats out of 308, Mr. Harper's position is numerically precarious. But his political position is strong. The Bloc Québécois, holding the balance of power with 51 seats, will not defeat the government because its priority is not in Ottawa but in supporting the Parti Québécois in elections that are likely next year. Federal elections would reduce its numbers and influence.

The Liberals will be preoccupied until December with choosing a new leader. The plethora of candidates will drain the party's resources. Until they learn the art of grassroots fundraising, they will be too financially crippled to provoke an early election.

William Johnson is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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The Harper stereotype is all wrong
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A moralist? A stern figure of rectitude? In fact, Stephen Harper has always been an economic conservative, not a social conservative, says his biographer WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Wednesday, January 25, 2006 – Page A21

Stephen Harper won the election, but can he govern successfully?

That he won, even with a minority, is a wonder. The man has no charisma. An introvert, he has resisted doing politics as theatre, refused to ingratiate himself with the pundits, and tended to disappear for weeks from the public's sight.

But there was a sense in the country that something was rotten, that Canadians were disgraced by their government, that punishment and banishment must be meted out for the rot to be purged and the country restored to moral health.

Mr. Harper, a stern figure of rectitude, appealed as the leader to clean house. He set as his first priority an almost revolutionary package of measures to bring "accountability" to the capital: Businesses and unions will be prohibited from making political donations. Individuals will be restricted to donations of $1,000 a year -- the rich will be stripped of their long domination over politics.

Mr. Harper the moralist is well suited to this redemptive role. But can the same man, with his limited people skills, hold together a diverse caucus, negotiate support for his legislation with jealous opposition parties, sustain the daily assaults in the Commons, meet with the premiers and reconcile their contradictory demands, all while maintaining the confidence of the Canadian people?

One recalls the care that Brian Mulroney lavished on his backbenchers, inviting them for meals at 24 Sussex, never missing their birthdays or events in their families. Jean Chrétien took his caucus members for granted. He lost them to Paul Martin.

On the face of it, one would expect a turbulent caucus. Mr. Harper, the public intellectual, never wanted to be an elected politician, much less prime minister. And yet, there are different ways for leaders to establish their ascendancy. Mr. Harper, against all expectations, reunited the Canadian Alliance that had fragmented under Stockwell Day. He fused the Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives and, during the election campaign, kept discipline in the ranks, pre-empting the outbreaks of jarring declarations that undermined his 2004 campaign. His intellectual depth and strategic canniness won him the confidence of his troops.

His performance in the leaders' debates, though he spoke softly and without the emotional outbursts of other leaders, revealed a thoughtful man who detailed his policies without posturing. He came across as prime ministerial.

Stephen Harper carries many nasty stereotypes to overcome. To some, he is the emanation of the American extreme right, with a hidden "radical right" agenda. To others, he is the man who would prevent women from obtaining abortions and would abolish the right of same-sex couples to marry. All in all, he was depicted as a kind of scarecrow, supposed to frighten voters away.

In fact, Mr. Harper has always been an economic conservative, never a social conservative. But he reasoned that, to achieve power, a coalition must be formed of economic and social conservatives. So, on same-sex marriage, he proposes to ask the House whether it wants a bill to redefine marriage, giving gays all the rights of heterosexual couples except the name. This is the identical position recently adopted by the United Kingdom and, earlier, by France.

He will not pressure his caucus to vote with him. The vote will be a free one. He defined clearly his position on moral issues in 1994 as a Reform MP, when he voted against a Reform convention resolution: "that the Reform Party support limiting the definition of a legal marriage as the union of a woman and a man, and that this definition be used in the provision of spousal benefits . . . "

The resolution carried with 87-per-cent support, but Mr. Harper argued: "Those are not partisan issues. Those are moral issues. People have to be able to belong to political parties regardless of their views on those issues. I think it's perfectly legitimate to have moral objections as well as moral approval of homosexuality, but I don't think political parties should do that."

When the vote is taken on whether to introduce a bill defining marriage -- and it's not on his priority list -- his caucus will split; the Bloc Québécois and the NDP will vote solidly against. The Liberals, though divided, will mostly oppose. The issue will die.

On abortion, the scare tactic waved so effectively during the campaign, his party voted at its March convention against introducing legislation in this matter. Mr. Harper promised to use his influence against any such initiative. The rules of the Commons give each party a veto against bringing private members' bills to a vote. That issue, if it arises, will die.

And the rest of his program? The other leaders claimed it offended the values of Canadians. In reality, it cannot be called conservative. It is aptly described as populist.

Mr. Harper decided that, to win, he had to match the Liberals' cornucopia of spending promises. That caught the Liberals by surprise. What he unfolded, day by day, was so far from the expected conservative parsimony that Paul Martin complained it would entail a $22-billion deficit. Mr. Martin's credibility, though, was weakened by a similar claim in the 2004 election campaign that proved wildly wrong.

The defining Harper promise was to cut the GST by 1 point immediately -- a reduction of 14 per cent -- and a second point later, for a tax cut of 28 per cent. That means most to the 32 per cent of Canadians who pay no income tax and would receive no benefit if income tax was reduced. That's populist. So is the promise to support child care to the tune of $1,200 a year for every child under the age of 6. It means most to stay-at-home moms and poorer people who usually can't get a child in scarce government-subsidized child care.

Populism means power to the people, as in the many accountability measures that Mr. Harper promised to introduce first, so as to bring all government agencies under close scrutiny. Populist, too, are the measures against crime and the replacement of a bureaucratic gun registry by police boots on the sidewalks, which mean most to those who live in poorer areas where violent crimes thrive. The promise to let provinces have their senators elected also gives power to the people. It was long sought by western Canadians.

Mr. Harper supports provincial autonomy by reflex as well as conviction. That is why he struck a chord of sympathy with Quebeckers, surging to 25 per cent of their vote and 10 seats, starting from nowhere. As a conservative, he believes in respecting the order laid out in the Constitution, where Mr. Martin used the huge federal surpluses to impose his priorities on the provinces, in their areas of jurisdiction. In Quebec, provincial autonomy is sacred. That is why the Conservatives have now supplanted the Liberals in Quebec as the party of national unity. With his provincialist instincts, Mr. Harper has a shot a rebalancing the federation, not just in Quebec, but across the country.

And, should a referendum occur on his watch, he would enforce the Constitution.

Mr. Harper is a conservative by conviction. But he knows that he can't impose his views, he must bring the country along with him. He can win the acceptance of more conservative values gradually and consensually -- conservatively. Now, as prime minister, he has

the opportunity to emerge from

the scarecrow and show who he

really is.

William Johnson is the author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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Tell Quebec la vraie question
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Paul Martin plays the nationalist in English. Why, when talking to francophones, does he underplay the threat to this country's survival? demands WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Wednesday, December 21, 2005 – Page A23

After Friday's English language leaders' debate in Vancouver, Prime Minister Paul Martin issued a truly Churchillian challenge to Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, saying he was "ready to meet him on every street corner, in every city and in every town and village in Quebec." No Mr. Dithers, he.

Oddly, however, just the evening before, the French language debate had offered Mr. Martin precisely the opportunity to fight the separatist leader on the beaches, on the hills, fields, streets and landing grounds of Quebec, courtesy of the television networks. But Captain Canada was strangely restrained when addressing the country's French-speaking population.

He did say, "Monsieur Duceppe wants to set in motion a process leading to another referendum, and put an end to this Canada that generations of Quebeckers built with other Canadians, and which is the envy of the world." He also, later in the debate, accused the secessionist leader of "wanting to divide Quebec's families." And he added this fighting defence of Canada: "Our competitors are not within our frontiers. Together, Canada can take on the Chinese, can take on the Indians. And we will do it, as a country."

Later, he accused Mr. Duceppe of causing national instability by making a pact with Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair to start the process for a new referendum, and by "putting sand in the gears so that Parliament would not function." Mr. Duceppe parried that "on the 60 bills that were adopted in Ottawa, the Bloc voted with the Liberals 82 per cent of the time."

In his final statement in the French debate, Mr. Martin warned that Mr. Duceppe "wants to set us on the path to a referendum. He wants to waste our energies while our competitors take advantage of our divisions. My choice is to build Canada, a country that has everything to succeed."

And that was it.

Oddly enough, Mr. Martin turned far more articulate, flamboyant and patriotic the next night when he spoke in English. Then, he bared his teeth and raised his voice. "Mr. Duceppe, let me say to you that the Supreme Court, the Constitution of Canada and international law all make it very, very clear that you cannot have a unilateral declaration of independence. Let me say, also, that I am a Quebecker and you are not going to take my country away from me with some trick, with some ambiguous question . . . This is my country. And my children were born and raised in Quebec."

That one burst of patriotic rhetoric, far too long for me to quote in full, said far, far more than the sum of what he had said in French.

Why the difference? Especially when only French Quebec threatens Canada's existence?

And there was more: "Sovereignty is a question of international recognition. You're not going to get international recognition if what you do is violate the Constitution of Canada, if you violate international law . . . And certainly, and as Prime Minister of this country, I will defend the unity of our land."

In June, the Parti Québécois committed itself to holding an early referendum on secession -- and, with a Yes majority, to a unilateral declaration of independence. The PQ is going for broke, and Mr. Boisclair endorsed the revolutionary plan. But neither the Prime Minister, his minister of justice nor any other federal party leader attacked a plan that clearly meant the overthrow of the Constitution.

That silence was maintained over the six months since.

Quebeckers, as a result, are totally misinformed about the implications of the secessionist plan. It is significant that not one question was raised about it in the French debate. It is now taken for granted.

Mr. Duceppe spoke the truth when he said in the English debate: "The Clarity Bill was unanimously denounced at the National Assembly in Quebec, not only by the PQ -- the sovereigntists -- but also by Mario Dumont's ADQ. Jean Charest also denounced the Clarity Bill."

A would-be prime minister has an obligation to set the people straight on the meaning of the Supreme Court's decision, and hence the strict obligations of the federal government to satisfy the fundamental principles governing secession.

Most people -- even journalists -- think that clarity in the referendum question and its answer is the main issue in determining whether Quebec can secede. But that deals only with the first of four principles that must be satisfied, according to the court. Clarity is a condition for the democratic principle to come into play. A trick question or an unclear answer would violate democratic legitimacy.

But the three other principles, equally important, must be brought into play: the federal principle, meaning the consent to secession by the provincial legislatures and the Houses of Parliament; the rule of law and the constitutional order, meaning that secession requires an amendment to the Constitution; and the rights of minorities, meaning that the boundaries of a new Quebec would be set by negotiations as part of the settlement preceding the constitutional amendment.

Mr. Martin has turned the defence of national unity into a partisan issue, a personal duel of champions between himself and Mr. Duceppe. That undermines Canada, weakening the real case for federalism.

He must, instead, instruct all Canadians about the real implications of a vote for secession -- above all, he must do so in French.William Johnson, the former head of Alliance Quebec, is the author of several books on Quebec politics.


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No silly walks in Quebec
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Tuesday, November 8, 2005 – Page A19

Is Governor-General Michaëlle Jean still standing?

Last week, Ms. Jean was pummelled in Quebec's French press for a satirical speech she gave on Oct. 22 at the annual dinner of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. She was accused of dishonouring her high office, of meddling in politics by attacking Parti Québécois leadership front-runner André Boisclair, of attacking prominent journalists, of ridiculing separatists and generally making a fool of herself.

The climax came on Saturday when her own sister, Nadège, and her sister's husband, made the front page of Quebec's French-language newspapers by including all of the above charges in a "Dear Sister" letter that was also published on the op-ed pages. The attacks were repeated on every radio and television station.

And thereby hangs a tale. Every year, at the Press Gallery dinner, the governor-general, prime minister, opposition party leaders and some journalists give speeches to laugh at themselves and each other. Each tries to outdo the other. The event, previously off the record, was broadcast live by CPAC.

Ms. Jean entered into the spirit and satirized herself. She revealed she had been selected for the post, not as a woman, an immigrant or a black, but "because I am hot."

Mr. Boisclair's admission that he had sniffed cocaine was in the news, and his poll numbers shot up as a result. Ms. Jean joked that he "followed the party line" and that, if he came to dinner, she would serve "sandwiches and coke."

She also said she had role models: "The incomparable Lysiane Gagnon, the inimitable Nathalie Petrowski -- you would have to invent her if she did not exist -- and the great, the very great Denise Bombardier. Hang on, Denise, I am keeping the throne warm."

Now, all three columnists had attacked Ms. Jean over her installation speech. Ms. Gagnon, in La Presse, called it a "spectacular surrender" and added: "After having lied by declaring solemnly that her husband had never belonged to the independence movement, she now proclaimed 'the end of the two solitudes' as if her nomination suddenly erased 450 years of history and 40 years of constitutional debates. She erased the historic French-Canadian nation."

In contrast, the G-G's slight irony about the three was gentle and funny. The audience included most of Canada's best-known journalists and none took offence or wrote an angry review. Though the speeches had all been broadcast live, and parts replayed on Radio-Canada TV, there was no outcry in the following week.

But, on Oct. 31, a Canadian Press reporter in Quebec City who had not attended that dinner, wrote a story that touched off a tsunami of indignation. It was picked up by Le Devoir, La Presse, Radio-Canada, TVA, TQS and countless radio stations, websites and blogs. Martin Ouellet, without describing the tongue-in-cheek context of Ms. Jean's speech, wrote that she had announced "her intention to settle scores once and for all with those who had criticized her nomination or cast doubt on her loyalty to Canada. Her words had pretty much passed unnoticed until now." And this: "Madame Jean openly mocked the misfortunes of PQ leadership candidate André Boisclair, whose past use of cocaine was discussed in newspapers."

After Mr. Ouellet's piece was endlessly recycled, her speech was denounced by Mr. Boisclair, by fellow candidate Pauline Marois, and countless others. Le Devoir's Paris correspondent, Christian Rioux, devoted a column on Friday to the claim that Ms. Jean had dishonoured Canada. The headline was "Shut up, Madame . . ." He wrote: "All those who observe Canada from abroad rightly consider that, every time Madame Jean speaks, it is Canada that speaks and its reputation is at stake."

Fortunately, Mr. Ouellet did not catch on TV Prime Minister Paul Martin's speech in which he spoke like a breathless teenager writing a diary on how he got Belinda Stronach to switch parties, nor Jack Layton's song where he claimed to be for sale if the Liberals' price were right. Imagine what he would have made of that.

William Johnson was president of Alliance Quebec from 1998 to 2000. His most recent book is Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.


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Still seeking the '95 referendum's lessons
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Chrétien was irresponsible, Parizeau reckless and a CBC documentary just propaganda, says WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Monday, September 12, 2005 – Page A15

The twin mountains of Radio-Canada and the CBC joined together in close embrace and produced an elephant. Rather they produced identical twin elephants named in French Point de rupture, in English Breaking Point, both after the 1995 Quebec referendum on secession.

For two hours on Wednesday and two on Thursday, viewers relived in detail the twists and turns leading to that near-fateful Oct. 30, 1995, when Canada's fate seemed settled by the luck of the draw. For those who crave still more events and more testimonies, a 487-page book now lays out most of the research done for the series. Written by former Radio-Canada ombudsman Mario Cardinal, it is also titled Point de rupture: Le référendum de 1995.

The networks treated us to a tale of two cities, Ottawa and Quebec, and a clash of two protagonists, Jean Chrétien and Jacques Parizeau. There were, of course, other characters, notably Daniel Johnson and Lucien Bouchard. But the basic storyline was of the epic struggle of Mr. Parizeau to realize his dream of an independent Quebec, and how it was ultimately defeated -- barely -- by a desperate Mr. Chrétien.

The plot carries an operatic pathos. The story begins with the sad outcome -- for Mr. Parizeau -- of the 1980 referendum when René Lévesque asked too soft a question, making Quebec's sovereignty dependent on the rest of Canada's acceptance of an "association." Pierre Trudeau triumphed, a weakened Quebec had the patriation and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms imposed on it against its will. It refused to sign the new Constitution. The Parti Québécois split between hard-liners and beau risque takers. It looked as though the dream of independence was shattered.

But wait. Attempts to redress the wrong, like the Meech Lake accord, were spurned. Nationalism revived. Mr. Parizeau took over the PQ leadership, was elected premier, and prepared to hold a referendum on independence.

Mr. Parizeau is depicted as rather a heroic figure, though with a fatal flaw -- he is too single-minded and too candid. Mr. Chrétien, as in all good opera, is his mirror opposite. He has no great dream but is guided by down-to-earth practicalities. While Mr. Parizeau works skillfully to build support for Quebec's secession in France as well as Quebec, Mr. Chrétien is too arrogant and complacent to dignify Mr. Parizeau's adventure by taking it seriously.

The best part of the documentary is how completely it reveals the ineptness, the improvidence, the lack of political vision, the absence of statesmanship of the Liberals, led by Mr. Chrétien, Paul Martin, Allan Rock and Lucienne Robillard. From the time Mr. Parizeau revealed his referendum policy in December of 1994, it was obvious that he would accept the slightest majority in the referendum as a mandate to secede unilaterally, if the rest of Canada did not accept his unlikely terms. But Mr. Chrétien's constant riposte was only to claim that Mr. Parizeau was framing the wrong question. The federal government would not deign to consider the possibility of a Yes victory.

The Constitution? The rule of law? A mere formality that didn't count, according to Mr. Rock, whose prime responsibility as justice minister was to uphold the Constitution. Even when a Quebec judge declared Mr. Parizeau's draft bill on sovereignty an overthrow of the Constitution, both Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Rock refused to enforce the court's decision.

Finally, after Mr. Bouchard took over the secessionist campaign and the Oui surged past the Non in the opinion polls, Mr. Chrétien panicked, and cried before his caucus. But, as several ministers testified, he had no plan to deal with a Yes victory.

A pathetic scene describes Mr. Rock gathering a few ministers and constitutional experts the very day before the referendum, to consider what they would do if the Yes side won -- whether that vote would be binding, what majority would be persuasive, and what the Constitution required. Mr. Rock explains: "These are questions that we had not had to ask ourselves until mid-October, but for which, on Oct. 30, we had no answers." Incredible. Such naiveté is frightening.

Where the documentary fails is in never taking seriously the issue of the rule of law, or Mr. Parizeau's assumption that he could overthrow the Constitution and declare a unilateral declaration of independence without serious consequences. In a developed country, the Constitution lays down the equivalent of railway tracks on which flows the multitude of contracts and legally permitted actions of the citizens. Remove the tracks, as Mr. Parizeau proposed, and chaos follows.

The Chrétien government, too late, did consult the Supreme Court on the conditions of secession, after the referendum. Its advisory opinion of 1998 dealt in a sophisticated reasoning with all the rights and principles to be applied. It shone a retrospective light on all that the major players said and did and failed to say and do, before the '95 referendum. It made evident how irresponsible was Mr. Chrétien, how reckless Mr. Parizeau.

The documentary, at the close, recalled the Clarity Act, the sponsorship scandal, the Gomery commission. It made no mention of the Supreme Court's illumination of the issues. For that reason, the documentary shows stunning irresponsibility. Where it should have drawn the lessons from the '95 referendum -- especially now that the PQ officially committed itself in June to a UDI, and its candidates for the leadership are currently debating the conditions of secession -- our public broadcaster chose to sustain the confusions and illusions of 1995. As such, it rates as propaganda rather than a serious documentary.

William Johnson was president of Alliance Quebec from 1998 to 2000. He covered the 1980 referendum for The Globe and Mail, and is author of A Canadian Myth: Between Canada and the Illusion of Utopia.


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L'affaire Lafond: Forget it
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Monday, August 15, 2005 – Page A13

Will it work? The radical fringe of Quebec nationalism has launched a campaign to unseat Michaëlle Jean as governor-general by outing her husband, filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond, as a separatist and an admirer of FLQ terrorists.

The strategy, according to its propagandist René Boulanger, is to create such a wave of shock across English-speaking Canada that Ms. Jean will be driven from office and she and her husband will be forced to flee back to Quebec. "I know that the entire English-speaking press will leap on this story and will begin to cut to pieces the princely couple. . . A beautiful angel [Jean] was ravished from us and tomorrow will be fed to the vultures," writes Mr. Boulanger.

The spite of the extremists is warranted. A Decima Research poll indicates the appointment is favoured by 79 per cent of Canadians, 89 per cent of Quebeckers, 88 per cent of French-speakers and, worse, by 86 per cent of Bloc Québécois supporters.

Ms. Jean is extremely popular in Quebec and her husband, a leading documentarist, is highly respected in intellectual and artistic circles. That these two would defect to the seat of federal power is taken as a betrayal of their class, their friends, of the secessionist cause which they were expected to support.

Is it true that Mr. Lafond befriended and admired some former FLQ terrorists? Yes, unquestionably. Mr. Lafond is an intellectual engagé, committed to changing the world. What he admired in ex-FLQ leaders like Pierre Vallières and Charles Gagnon was not their violence -- he actually directed a film, Le Temps des barbares, denouncing violence across the Earth, and he dedicated it to Mr. Vallières -- but their restless unwillingness to accept injustice, poverty and discrimination.

That film condemned the trivialization of violence and human misery in the mass media. "That is why I dedicated my film to Pierre Vallières," Mr. Lafond confided in a 1999 interview in Voir, shortly after Mr. Vallières's death.

A previous Lafond film, from 1994, is now thrown up at him. La liberté en colère brought together (among others) Mr. Vallières and Mr. Gagnon, who led the FLQ in the mid-1960s. The participants included Francis Simard, from the FLQ cell that captured and strangled Pierre Laporte. They recalled their careers and analyzed their past conduct. Though the title suggested some romanticizing of their careers, in fact, the main characters acknowledged that their violence had been a mistake and their revolutionary movement had failed. It was anything but an invitation to future violence.

Mr. Lafond, in an interview with Voir shortly after Mr. Vallières's death in December 1998, paid tribute to Mr. Vallières, who had become a pariah to his former companions for publishing a book in which he argued that the federal government, not the FLQ, had executed Pierre Laporte. Mr. Lafond commented: "You know, that book cost Pierre dearly. He was treated as a lunatic by people that he cared for. . . Pierre felt like a stranger in his own country. I found him in a state of exile, I who was no longer in exile and who had found a new country, a new belonging, thanks to his writings."

The controversy over Mr. Lafond's career should stimulate a public debate over a fundamental issue. There is no evidence that Mr. Lafond ever endorsed violence or illegal actions. Whether he favours a separate Quebec or a united Canada is not an issue on which he is required to declare himself. As the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in its 1998 decision on the secession of Quebec, to favour an independent Quebec is legitimate, as long as it is pursued in accordance with the Constitution.

Despite the confusion entertained by politicians and journalists alike, the fault line in this country lies not between separatists and federalists, but between those who accept the Constitution, the rule of law, and those who would overthrow it.

We have a right to expect Mr. Lafond in his new role to defend the rule of law. We have no right to demand a public profession opposing an independent Quebec.

William Johnson was president of Alliance Quebec from 1998 to 2000.


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The elephant at the PQ convention
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To overthrow the Constitution, as the delegates seemed set to do, or to call it into question invites chaos, says WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Tuesday, June 7, 2005 – Page A19

They have seen the future and it works. That -- with the resignation of Bernard Landry -- sums up the Parti Québécois's weekend convention.

Mr. Landry's announcement on Saturday night that he would immediately vacate the party leadership stunned the convention and amazed both the news media and the public. But, on Sunday, in the great hall of the Centre des Congrès de Québec, the 1,500 delegates debated passionately their vision of the future, just as if the leader's departure were a bump on the road to sovereignty. For this party, the transcendent goal of independence takes far more importance than the person who, for a time, leads the party in its march to the Promised Land. And so the delegates gave greater significance to defining the new program -- the party's very bible -- than to the vote of confidence on the leader and its consequence.

Canadians should also pay close attention. The delegates met to drastically rewrite the program elaborated at 14 previous PQ conventions. The convention was given a significant motto: un projet de pays, un nouveau parti (a proposal for a country, a new party). The idea was that, unlike previously, the renewed PQ would put forward a plan for governing an independent country rather than "a good government" for a province. Now there would be no "association" or "partnership" with Canada -- instead, only an international treaty providing for the free flow of people, goods, services and capital between Quebec and Canada. It means a radical secession compared to the past.

It also proposes a shift that is psychological as well as political and constitutional. Now the Péquistes -- and, it is hoped, Quebeckers -- must think, plan, proselytize, prepare and act as a people who are about to take on their independence. The Péquistes must treat the period beginning the very day after the convention as the time to develop strategies for attaining independence and convincing all Quebeckers that this is their only future. When the next election campaign arrives, it must focus on electing a government that will prepare for independence. Once elected, the PQ government will create a Quebec citizenship, adopt an "initial" constitution that will assert the right of the Quebec people to self-determination, and pass a law to ensure that a legal system will be in place post-referendum, immediately after the National Assembly passes a declaration of independence.

Then the PQ government will call a referendum "as soon as possible." It will go all out, including spending public money on propaganda and creating media committed to secession, to convince Quebeckers that they must vote Yes to a simple, clear question on sovereignty. Assuming the referendum won, Quebec will be free, it will join the United Nations and develop a country that will express the true values of the Quebec people.

Many Quebeckers have been held back by fear of the unknown. The new program proposes to allay their fears by making clear the character of the independent country to be created, and describing the process for getting there. So the program now begins with a litany defining the characteristics of a sovereign Quebec: It will be "democratic . . . pacific . . . francophone . . . centred on education . . . creative . . . inclusive and separating church and state . . . a promoter of human development and sustainable development . . . prosperous . . . social democratic . . . decentralized . . . open to the world."

When I was a boy in Quebec before the Quiet Revolution or the Second Vatican Council, I attended a collège where all my teachers were priests and they trained us daily to live in this land of exile so as to prepare for our true life in our true home in heaven. At that time, though, there was a transition you had to pass through before attaining eternal happiness: It was death, and a spell in purgatory.

Now things are simpler. The site of the Promised Land has been relocated from the sky to the banks of the St. Lawrence. To reach it, all you have to do is vote Yes in a referendum. Then the National Assembly will declare the sovereignty of Quebec, adopt laws declaring that only the Quebec government is authorized to raise taxes in Quebec, and Quebec will negotiate with the federal government "the division of assets and other questions relative to the transition." See?

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1998 that Quebec can attain independence in two ways: legally, by obtaining an enabling amendment to the Constitution, following a negotiated agreement on the conditions of secession that respects the rights of all Canadians; or by overthrowing the Constitution, establishing exclusive control of the territory and gaining international recognition. There is no third way. So which way is the PQ now proposing? By the rule of law, with all its difficult concessions, or by revolution?

This is the one most ineluctable question for the future security and well-being of the people of Quebec. A modern complex state can only function smoothly under the rule of law. To overthrow the Constitution, as the delegates seemed prepared to do, or even to call it seriously into question is to invite chaos, to provoke the flight of people and capital.

The convention avoided entirely recognizing this elephant in the hall. It thereby committed an intellectual and political fraud that is more scandalous and infinitely more dangerous for Quebeckers than the Liberals' Adscam itself.

William Johnson, political analyst for Cable Public Affairs Channel, was president of Alliance Quebec from 1998 to 2000.


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No meant no
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Twenty-five years after Quebeckers voted to accept their place in Canada, their province remains on a slippery slope to secession, says WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Monday, May 16, 2005 – Page A13

What a contrast between that memorable May 20, 1980, when federalism triumphed in Quebec's first referendum, and federalism's fallen state now, 25 years later. Then, Canada was headed by Quebec's most admired son, Pierre Trudeau, who, in elections just three months before, had received 68.2 per cent of the Quebec vote and 74 of the 75 seats. Last June, Paul Martin's Liberals took 21 seats, with 33.9 per cent of the vote. The coming elections promise a collapse of the Martin Liberals in Quebec, followed two years later by a crushing defeat for Jean Charest's Quebec Liberals. The separatists will control almost all of Quebec's political space in time for the next referendum. We are in for the perfect storm.

Pierre Trudeau was admired by Quebeckers for passing the Official Languages Act, for promoting "French power" in Ottawa, for defending the right to French schooling across Canada and the right to use French as well as English in air traffic control at Quebec airports. He gave French a new prestige and French immersion spread across the country. Today, it's the Liberal Party's stench of corruption that rivets attention.

The 1980 referendum followed the historic postwar era of decolonization. Colonies, half the Earth's population, acquired independence. Their right became recognized internationally. Prominent intellectuals defined Quebec as a colony because, conquered by 1763, it had been incorporated into Confederation without giving its consent in a preceding referendum or elections. Even Canada had a quasi-colonial status, with its Constitution still enacted and amended at Westminster. And so, not only separatists such as René Lévesque, but federalists such as Jean Lesage, Daniel Johnson Sr. and Claude Ryan assumed that remaining in a restructured federation or seceding was up to Quebec's free choice.

The 1980 referendum destroyed the only recognized argument for Quebec's right to secede. By voting for Canada, Quebeckers repudiated claims to colonial status. Mr. Trudeau followed up by Canadianizing the Constitution. When René Lévesque challenged it, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld it unanimously: "The Constitution Act, 1982, is now in force. Its legality is neither challenged nor assailable. It contains a new procedure for amending the Constitution of Canada which entirely replaces the old one in its legal as well as in its conventional aspects. Even assuming therefore that there was a conventional requirement for the consent of Quebec under the old system, it would no longer have any object or force."

So the legality of secession was clarified: Quebec had no right to secede under international law and, under Canadian law, such a change to the legal order could only be accomplished under the terms of the Constitution, as Section 52 made clear: "The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect."

But Quebec's political class maintained the dangerous fiction that Quebeckers were still free to choose any constitutional status that was ratified in a referendum held in Quebec, under rules set unilaterally by Quebec's government. Federal politicians, out of opportunism -- and most journalists, out of ignorance -- supported the illusion.

The 1980 referendum's lessons were misrepresented. It supposedly created a precedent recognizing Quebec's right to secede. Untrue: Mr. Lévesque asked merely for a "mandate to negotiate" sovereignty-association, not for secession. And he recognized Canada's veto by promising there would be no sovereignty if Canada refused an association. Secession itself, if Canada agreed, would be the subject of a second referendum.

Pierre Trudeau had supposedly recognized the right to secede if the referendum carried with 50 per cent plus one vote. Doubly untrue: Mr. Trudeau, in his great speech of May 14, 1980, warned Mr. Lévesque, "If you knock on the sovereignty-association door, there is no negotiation possible." He also repudiated the referendum, whatever the result, as binding on the country: "The wishes of Quebeckers may be expressed through a democratic process, but that cannot bind others -- those in other provinces who did not vote -- to act as Quebec decides."

Moreover, Mr. Lévesque's white paper, La Consultation populaire, announcing the Referendum Act, stated that the referendum could only be consultative and there was therefore no point in defining a threshold of victory. Nor did the Referendum Act establish one.

Conservative leader Brian Mulroney, in a 1984 campaign speech written by Lucien Bouchard, described Quebeckers as traumatized by the 1980 referendum results. As prime minister, Mr. Mulroney would later describe the patriation of the Constitution -- which he had supported -- as a betrayal of Mr. Trudeau's prereferendum solemn promise of constitutional change to accommodate Quebec. Instead of its fulfilment, Quebec, Mr. Mulroney said, had been mocked, humiliated and isolated, and was now outside the Constitution, which was "not worth the paper it was written on." By implication, Quebec was free to secede. (Mr. Mulroney's own Meech Lake initiative was supposedly intended "to bring Quebec back in" to the Constitution.)

Quebec premier Robert Bourassa passed Bill 150 in 1991, asserting that "Quebeckers are free to choose their own destiny, to determine their political status and to ensure their economic, social and cultural development." It proposed a referendum on sovereignty the following year. Mr. Mulroney's response: His party passed a resolution at its next convention declaring "Quebec's right to self-determination."

Jean Chrétien wrote in his 1985 memoirs that "I would have let them go," had Quebec voted for secession in 1980. To the 1991 Bélanger-Campeau commission on Quebec's constitutional future, he stated: "It seems obvious to us that the Québécois will have to decide whether they become independent or they remain in Canada." As prime minister, when Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau prepared for a unilateral declaration of independence, Mr. Chrétien insisted only that the referendum question refer clearly to separation. When lawyer Guy Bertrand went to court to challenge the legality of Mr. Parizeau's draft bill on sovereignty, Mr. Chrétien refused to take part and wrote: "The real question is not how separation could eventually come about, but whether Quebeckers still want to be part of Canada." When Mr. Justice Robert Lesage then ruled that the draft bill "constitutes a grave threat to the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," is "manifestly illegal" and "The court cannot condone a violation of the constitutional order," Mr. Chrétien lay low and refused to comment, saying that it was "hypothetical."

Mr. Chrétien, after the 1995 referendum, finally sent a reference to the Supreme Court on the legality of secession. The court replied that secession was not a right, but it could be carried out legally by amending the Constitution, following a negotiated agreement in which the rights of all were respected and which would establish the frontiers of ex-Quebec. If the negotiations failed, Quebec would not be legally authorized to secede.

The court's opinion made obvious that secession, legally enacted, would be most unlikely. No Quebec government would accept a negotiated agreement that gave aboriginals the choice to go with Quebec or remain with Canada. Yet, any agreement without that clause would betray Ottawa's fiduciary responsibility for aboriginals and their lands. So, from the start, the government of premier Lucien Bouchard asserted it would not be bound by the Supreme Court's terms, reserving the option to separate unilaterally, just as Mr. Parizeau had done before and Bernard Landry did this very month.

The Chrétien government passed the Clarity Act, which set conditions for Ottawa to negotiate secession. But the act failed to deal with the most likely scenario: a unilateral declaration of independence. And both the Chrétien and Martin governments refused ever after to defend the act in Quebec, where all the debate is carried out, as if the Supreme Court had not spoken and the Clarity Act did not exist.

This month, the Parti Québécois published a study of the supposed financial situation of an independent Quebec -- which hypothesizes that Quebec will become independent following a referendum as easily as it changes government following elections. The only difference will be that Quebec is independent and richer than before.

The country's best newspapers misrepresent the court as saying that Quebec has a right to secede if the question is clear and the answer also clear. And so public opinion is grievously misled on an issue that threatens Canada's very existence, as well as its peace, order and good government. Jean Charest defends before the Quebec Court of Appeal Quebec's Bill 99, which asserts Quebec's right to secede unilaterally, with its territory intact. And the federal government is too nice, too Canadian, to say out loud that it will defend the constitutional order, that a unilateral declaration of independence would violate the rule of law and is out of the question.

Where is Pierre Trudeau when we need him?

William Johnson, political analyst for CPAC, was president of Alliance Quebec from 1998-2000. He covered the 1980 referendum for The Globe and Mail, and is author of A Canadian Myth: Between Canada and the Illusion of Utopia.


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No right to secede
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Tuesday, April 20, 2004 – Page A16

Gatineau, Que. -- Your editorial of April 15 (The Distance Between Tibet And Quebec) declares: "Both the Supreme Court and the federal government have acknowledged Quebec's right to secede, given a clear majority vote on a clear question."

Not so. The Supreme Court, on Aug. 20, 1998, stated clearly that Quebec does not have a right to secede, either under Canadian law or international law. Although not having such a right, Quebec can legitimately aspire to secession, but only after obtaining an enabling amendment to the Constitution, according to the terms for constitutional amendment laid out in the Constitution Act, 1982.

This would require the consent of Quebec's partners in Confederation: both houses of Parliament and either seven or all 10 of the provinces. And any such amendment must be preceded by negotiations leading to a settlement on the rights of official-language minorities, of aboriginals, as well as settling the frontiers of an independent Quebec.

What the court said, and what seems to have misled you, is that a referendum would trigger the right to negotiations. But those negotiations are most definitely not guaranteed to succeed, as the court recognized. And should the negotiations fail, Quebec would have no right to secede.


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Canada's kidding itself
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Whatever Stéphane Dion says, Canada shows little talent for dealing with separatist threats, says WILLIAM JOHNSON
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Monday, November 3, 2003 – Page A13

What a crazy country. Last Tuesday, the respected pollster CROP revealed its findings that 46 per cent of Quebeckers now say they are favourable to Quebec becoming a sovereign country, and 47 per cent would vote yes in a referendum on sovereignty that included a partnership with the rest of Canada.

The week before, we learned that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was in utter panic in the final days of the 1995 Quebec referendum on unilateral secession. And Lawrence Martin claims in the second volume of his Chrétien biography, neither the Prime Minister nor his cabinet would have permitted Quebec to secede on the strength of a bare majority yes vote. Too bad he didn't say so before the cliff-hanger vote.

Undeterred, Intergovernmental Minister Stéphane Dion travelled to Britain on Oct. 15 to give a speech in which he offered "the Canadian approach" to Quebec separatism as a model for the world.

If Mr. Dion wanted a model, he should have told his audience of prime minister Pierre Trudeau's hard-line approach in 1980. Mr. Trudeau stated publicly that he would never negotiate sovereignty-association. He declared that a referendum vote in Quebec -- even were it 99-per-cent Yes -- could not bind Canadians in the other nine provinces.

When he left office, the Constitution had been patriated and separatism seemed dead. But two prime ministers who followed him, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien, played footsie with separatists. Mr. Mulroney gave a speech written by separatist Lucien Bouchard, who became his Quebec lieutenant, in which he denounced the patriation of 1982 as a betrayal; the onus was on Ottawa to win Quebec's acceptance with "honour and enthusiasm."

In 1991, when support for separatism had spiralled upward dangerously, Mr. Mulroney had the Tory convention recognize "Quebeckers' right to self-determination." He left Quebec dangerously alienated, Canada divided, his party smashed.

Jean Chrétien was no Trudeau. In his 1985 memoirs, he repeated a reckless statement made in the early 1970s: "We'll convince the people that they should stay in Canada and we'll win. If we don't win, I'll respect the wishes of Quebeckers and let them separate."

During the 1995 referendum campaign, Mr. Chrétien danced around the issue when asked whether he would "respect" the referendum outcome. "Don't worry, be happy," was his attitude.

When a private citizen, prominent ex-separatist lawyer Guy Bertrand, challenged in court then-premier Jacques Parizeau's process aimed at unilateral secession, the Prime Minister and then-justice minister Allan Rock refused to join him. Even after Mr. Justice Robert Lesage confirmed that the proposal was unconstitutional, both ministers took a dive.

After the shockingly close call of Nov. 30, 1995, the federal government sent a reference to the Supreme Court asking whether Quebec could legally secede unilaterally. The answer was unambiguous: Quebec could legally separate only by an enabling amendment to the Constitution according to the 1982 Constitution Act. Such an amendment, the court ruled, would first require a negotiated agreement respecting the rights of aboriginals and national minorities, and which would determine the frontiers of an independent Quebec.

Mr. Dion then piloted the Clarity Act, specifying the conditions for Ottawa to negotiate secession. These included a clear answer to a clear question on secession -- without "association" or "partnership" to confuse the issue. The agreement must also cover all the rights and obligations raised by the court.

Yet recently in London, Mr. Dion praised "the Canadian approach," which "rejects the use of force, of any form of violence. It emphasizes clarity, legality and justice for all. While it may appear idealistic . . . it could contribute, in my view, to peace and enlightened state practice."

Such sweet reasonableness. But in fact, all the recent Quebec premiers --- Messrs Parizeau, Bouchard, Bernard Landry and even Jean Charest -- have repudiated the constraints defined by the Supreme Court and incorporated in the Clarity Act. On Dec. 7, 2000, the National Assembly adopted Bill 99, a licence to secede unilaterally, even without a referendum, by a National Assembly proclamation: "The Québec people, acting through its own political institutions, shall determine alone the mode of exercise of its right to choose the political regime and legal status of Québec . . . ."

So Mr. Dion's much-vaunted Clarity Act could be a Maginot Line. It doesn't deal with the only likely scenario: A future Quebec government, winning a referendum, would proclaim its independence first, offer negotiations after.

What would the federal government do then? Mr. Dion doesn't raise the possibility. Nor does he mention Bill 99, now Quebec law. Ottawa could have disallowed the subversive act, but did not. It's now being challenged before the courts by private citizens. Ottawa has not contributed one cent to the defence of the Constitution.

As in 1995, the government shows a dangerous complacency. Public opinion in Quebec is systematically misinformed, with the same old assumption that winning a referendum means automatic independence; ignorance of secession's real constraints is general. Separatism is once again in remission, as it was in 1985, and our opinion leaders think it is dying despite polls showing 47 per cent support in Quebec. No need to be raise distressing subjects.

But the future is long and history can be cruel. Canada is showing the world how not to deal with an entrenched separatist threat.

William Johnson is a Quebec-based writer and former head of Alliance Quebec.


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Sign language makes noise at the UN
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Friday, October 3, 2003 – Page A29

The Lyon and The Wallrus rides again. It's an antique shop in Quebec's Eastern Townships, and its owners, Walter Hoffmann and Gwen Simpson, went to court five years ago to defend the store's bilingual sign, which contravenes the province's language laws. On Monday they will appeal to the United Nations to determine that Quebec's sign law violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Back in 1999, Quebec Court Judge Danielle Côté acquitted The Lyon and The Wallrus of the charge of having two signs displaying French and English in equal size, contrary to the law requiring French to be twice as prominent as all other languages combined.

Judge Côté ruled that the law violated the shopkeepers' freedom of expression. She agreed with lawyer Brent Tyler that breaching constitutionally protected freedom required demonstrating that the breach was justified in a free and democratic society. The prosecution had failed the test of the burden of proof.

So she declared the sign law unconstitutional and struck it down.

A bombshell. Top-of-the-page headlines. Pundits prophesied a language war. Open-line radio shows shrieked. The National Assembly was in an uproar.

Jean Charest, then leader of the opposition, accused the government of deliberately throwing the case so as to promote secessionist rage.

The sign law symbolized a clash of identities. At Confederation, the fathers placed French and English on an equal footing in Quebec. But the Quiet Revolution was aimed at making Quebec a French state, suppressing English by measures both constitutional and unconstitutional. Camille Laurin's Charter of the French Language (1977), like Robert Bourassa's Official Language Act (1974), was designed to transform Quebec's identity.

The original sign law said it all: English was to disappear. Only French would be on public signs. The message: Only French is the legitimate language of Quebec.

Anglo Quebeckers knew that the sign law targeted their identity as legitimate, equal Quebeckers. It meant adverse consequences in other institutional areas of life, especially employment. Hundreds of thousands of people left Quebec. Polls showed that, despite the compliance of their elites, some 80 per cent of Anglos rejected the sign law.

But despite Judge Côté's ruling, euphoria over a victory quickly faded. The Quebec government appealed. The Côté judgment was overturned in Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case.

So, having exhausted all legal remedies in Canada, The Lyon and the Wallrus is now taking the route that succeeded so brilliantly before: A decade ago, three anglos complained to the UN that the 1988 sign law, which allowed no language but French on outside signs, violated freedom of expression under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Covenant states: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

In 1993, the UN's Human Rights Committee agreed, and condemned Quebec's sign law: "A State may choose one or more official languages, but it may not exclude, outside the spheres of public life, the freedom to express oneself in a language of one's choice."

That judgment had immediate impact. Within months, Quebec amended its sign law. Bill 86, still in force, allowed other languages, while requiring the "marked predominance" of French.

Can the amended law withstand a similar challenge? In 1988 the Supreme Court struck down the prohibition of all languages but French. But, in an obiter dictum, it opined that requiring the "marked predominance" of French on signs could be justified because of the threatened state of the French language. The threatened state of the French language had not been raised in the lower courts, but the Quebec government presented the Supremes with data from before the Quiet Revolution to argue that French vulnerability justified overriding freedom of expression. At the time, the argument didn't receive proper adversarial scrutiny, nor did the judges explore the practical implications of their statement on predominance.

Now The Lyon and the Wallrus will argue before the UN Human Rights Committee that "This right [to freedom of expression] is infringed when the State imposes the use of any particular language in any private commercial activity."

The International Covenant has stringent requirements for tolerating restrictions on freedom of expression. These can only be laws that are "necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others; [or] for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals."

The UN is once again being called to the rescue of freedom and respect in Quebec.

William Johnson is a Quebec-based writer and former head of Alliance Quebec.


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Inching forward: the Canadian way on church and state
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, August 22, 2003 – Page A13

No wonder Liberal members of Parliament meeting in North Bay were of two minds and conflicting passions over same-sex marriage. Canadians are similarly torn. Same-sex marriage forces to consciousness and to public dispute an underlying Canadian double vision regarding the relations between church and state. Our Constitution speaks with two contradictory messages.

In the Constitution of the United States, the separation of church from state is explicit: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That proscription has acquired increasing scope through court judgments over the years.

Yesterday, eight of the Alabama Supreme Court's justices overruled their own chief justice by ordering that a 5,280-pound monument to the Ten Commandments be removed from the courthouse rotunda where it had been installed by Chief Justice Roy Moore.

A federal judge had ordered the monument removed, saying the twin stone tablets, dubbed "Roy's Rock," violated the separation of church and state. Wednesday, Judge Moore refused to comply. The federal judge threatened to impose a $5,000 fine for every day that the monument remained on public view.

The issue has rallied the religious right. Some Christians profess they are ready to lay down their lives to keep the monument in place. Alabama's Attorney-General has declared that the monument must go, but yesterday, Judge Moore remained unbowed: "The fight to acknowledge God will continue. . . . To do my duty, I must acknowledge God."

In Canada, our Constitution contains no such order of separation. The Constitution Act of 1982 begins with these words: "Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law . . ." God and the rule of law are thereby placed on an equal footing as conjoined foundations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The 1867 British North America Act referred to a somewhat different founding principle, that of monarchy. It stated at Section 9: "The executive government and authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen." It escaped no one that Queen Victoria was head, not only of the state, but also of the Church of England. Her religious and state functions were conjoined. Even today, by law the monarch of Canada cannot be a Roman Catholic, as a court in Ontario recently confirmed.

The most explicit link between state and church lay in the guarantees offered by Section 93 to maintain denominational schools and "all the powers, privileges, and duties at the union by law conferred and imposed in Upper Canada on the separate schools and school trustees of the Queen's Roman Catholic subjects . . . and the same are hereby extended to the dissentient schools of the Queen's Protestant and Roman Catholic subjects in Quebec."

Over the years, church and state remained commingled in Canada. The biggest public holiday of the year is Christmas -- made up of two religious words, Christ and Mass. Another major holiday still is Good Friday, commemorating the Crucifixion of Jesus. I still remember when the Lord's Day Act in Ontario prohibited movie theatres from showing films to the public, and municipalities from allowing competitive sports in the parks on Sunday. In Montreal, my Jewish friend Harvey R. attended Baron Byng High School, where most of the students were Jewish. They began each school day by reciting the Lord's Prayer.

Religious strictures often became legal prohibitions. The sale of contraceptives was long illegal. So was obtaining or performing an abortion. In the Quebec of my youth, it took an act of the Senate to grant a divorce: The province wouldn't touch it. The classic French film, Les Enfants du Paradis, was banned because that masterpiece was deemed immoral.

But the Charter of Rights and Freedoms brought two powerful principles into the Constitution. The fundamental one was humanism: Upholding the dignity of the human being became the principle that the state was to place over every other. The second principle was that the state was to exercise restraint and refrain from coercing individuals unless the well-being of other individuals required it.

These principles, asserting themselves in Canada and in the entire Western world, have slowly, gradually, been pushing back the enforcement by the state of religious strictures when they result in discrimination or coercion unjustified by humanistic principles.

In 1999, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights ruled that Ontario violated an international covenant by fully subsidizing Catholic schools but not other religious schools. Ontario has not complied, but the condemnation stands.

The judgments of courts in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario condemning the exclusion of same-sex couples from the right to marry is another small step, made in the gradualist Canadian way, toward recognizing the distinction between the City of God and the cities of mankind.

William Johnson is a Quebec-based writer and former head of Alliance Quebec.


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We're forgetting someone
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Canada's issues with Quebec and aboriginals both date back several centuries, says WILLIAM JOHNSON. The Council of the Federation resolves neither one
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Wednesday, July 16, 2003 – Page A15

The premiers of Canada met in Charlottetown last week and decreed a council of premiers, which they called, grandiloquently, the "Council of the Federation."

They declared "a new era of co-operation." In fact, it's merely a resumption of the new era launched by Quebec's Jean Lesage in 1960 when he inaugurated the annual premiers' conference. Since then, the premiers have acted like a union facing management, uniting their efforts to wring money and powers from the big, bad federal government.

Whatever the label, all the premiers consorting together don't add up to one national vision.

Today, the Indian chiefs assembled in Edmonton will elect the new leader of the Assembly of First Nations. But all three leadership candidates -- Matthew Coon Come, Phil Fontaine and Roberta Jamieson -- oppose the First Nations Governance Act, the centrepiece of Ottawa's strategy for resolving aboriginal issues. It's meant to set standards for accountable government and political rights in Indian communities where often there's no countervailing power to the dominant family.

These two events, apparently disparate, both illustrate Canada's failure to resolve adequately two items left on the national agenda from the 17th and 18th centuries: the integration of the aboriginal peoples and the integration of the descendants of New France.

Canada, since the 1960s, has invested immense time, thought, money, careers, dreams, myths, passions, frustrations and resentments into resolving either cleavage. Both remain and will not vanish with the accession of a new prime minister, consult and smile as he might.

There's irony in the First Nations leadership campaign ending today. Three years ago, Matthew Coon Come won the AFN leadership against incumbent Phil Fontaine by accusing him of being in bed with the Liberal government. The challenger promised to bring a "nation to nation" approach in dealing with the feds. The night before that vote he summed up his confrontational style with the cry: "I am not a Canadian!"

Mr. Fontaine had become leader in 1997 after a turbulent period under national chief Ovide Mercredi, who had practised the "nation to nation" approach in negotiations preceding the 1992 Charlottetown Accord. But Mr. Mercredi lost credibility when Indians voted down what he had negotiated.

Ron Irwin, the federal Indian affairs minister at that time, had marginalized the AFN by dealing directly with individual chiefs.

Mr. Fontaine restored relations with Jane Stewart when she became minister. They negotiated several agreements and the AFN emerged from debt. Now Mr. Fontaine attacks Mr. Coon Come for accomplishing little by his denunciatory approach while the AFN lost half its budget.

Mr. Fontaine has just resigned as chief commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission and he promises tangible results for the reserves in housing, sanitation, education and the resolution of land claims.

But, beyond differences in approach, all three candidates are bound by the vision that triumphed among Indian leaders in the 1980s and for which Georges Erasmus was the chief proponent. It owed more to Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth than to Indian traditions. An alumnus of the radical Company of Young Canadians, Mr. Erasmus portrayed Indian communities as nations colonized by Canada, with an inherent right to sovereignty within Canada, just as African and Asian colonies achieved independence. The fundamental solution to the ills afflicting Indians was to achieve their "inherent right to self-government."

Mr. Erasmus became leader in 1975 of the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories, and changed its name to Dene Nation. Later, on becoming leader of the National Indian Brotherhood, he changed its name to the Assembly of First Nations.

In 1991, he was appointed head of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. A few months later, before the commission had held a single hearing, it issued a statement affirming the inherent right to self-government as fact.

"It is essential that the right of self-government be explicitly identified in the Constitution as inherent in nature. No other word can do justice to the fact that the right springs from sources within the aboriginal nations, rather than from the written Constitution . . ."

Consequently, "an aboriginal government has the power to legislate within a certain sphere without the possibility of being overruled by any other level of government, whether federal or provincial."

That's now the official ideology of the AFN. It was expressed by the third candidate in today's elections, Roberta Jamieson, chief of the Six Nations Reserve, on March 21 before the Commons' standing committee on Aboriginal affairs.

"History and law sustain us in our position that we are allies of the Crown," she said. "We are not subjects of the Crown. We are a sovereign, self-determining people.

"To those who will say we cannot be sovereign in Canada, the fact is, we are . . ."

This vision leads to an impasse. The government of Canada cannot accept a power on Canadian soil that's above the Constitution, nor can Canada forego sovereignty over half its territory in submission to a doctrine that no modern state can accept. Besides, if Indians are not truly Canadian citizens, what's their claim to the benefits of citizenship?

The vision of "first nations" is mere verbal sleight-of-hand. The typically small, fragmented, totally dependent Indian communities can't accurately be assimilated into modern nations' welfare states. Of the 629 Indian communities in Canada, 235 have fewer than 500 people, including children. The average community has a population of 1,120.

As for the Council of the Federation, it was proposed in the 1979 report of the Pépin-Robarts Task Force on Canadian Unity, following the shock to the country of the 1976 election of the separatist Parti Québécois and the expectation in 1980 of a referendum on secession to placate Quebec nationalists. Pépin-Robarts proposed that residual constitutional powers should be transferred to the provinces from the federal government and that bilingualism be required only in federal jurisdiction with all provinces free to choose unilingualism.

The Council of the Federation was to replace the Senate, with its members named by the provincial governments and acting under their instructions.

Pierre Trudeau rejected so provincialist a rebalancing of the federation in favour of his Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Will Pépin-Robarts now return?

Could the federation function?

William Johnson is a Quebec-based writer and former head of Alliance Quebec.


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The death of an enfant terrible
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Wednesday, June 18, 2003 – Page A21

It's a sign of the times that Quebec separatism's former enfant terrible, Pierre Bourgault, died quietly Monday at the age of 69, his death followed by a chorus of eulogies and adulation.

René Lévesque, when he was founding the Parti Québécois, feared like the very devil the firebrand president of the radical Rassemblement pour l'Indépendance Nationale (RIN).

He associated Mr. Bourgault with rabble-rousing harangues, street-fighting and extreme positions likely to put off the common people of Quebec, such as total independence from Canada and the closing down of all English-language public schools.

Mr. Bourgault was the very public face and voice and fist of the RIN. He called a demonstration against Queen Elizabeth's visit to Quebec City in 1964. It ended in a riot.

He led a demonstration against Pierre Trudeau's presence on the reviewing stand for the St-Jean-Baptiste parade of June 24, 1968, the evening before the new Liberal leader's first elections.

The rock-throwing riot that ensued showed the Prime Minister from coast to coast shrugging off the Mounties and holding his seat while others fled the stand. Mr. Bourgault helped elect Mr. Lévesque's most dangerous opponent.

So Mr. Lévesque refused to have the RIN merge with the PQ and he did everything he could to prevent Mr. Bourgault's election to the PQ's governing council. And he vetoed the word "independence" from being featured in his party's title or among its policies.

He explained in his memoirs: "Indépendance had so walked the streets with the RIN, picking up from demonstration to demonstration an absolute and hardened character, as if it were an end in itself, that the word had become, alas, nothing but an invitation to a blow from a truncheon." Times change, even though Mr. Bourgault scarcely did, even as he grew older.

He opposed tempering the PQ's early policy of declaring Quebec's sovereignty upon forming the government. He was opposed to the promise of a referendum and an "association" with Canada as a condition for secession. He called for Mr. Lévesque's resignation as PQ leader when the premier, after losing the 1980 referendum, proposed to run for re-election on a platform of "good government" rather than secession.

Mr. Bourgault remained always attached to his fundamental vision: Quebec was a colony of Canada. Canada was the oppressor. You didn't "associate" with the enemy, you declared your independence.

"There is an enemy within," he told college students in one speech. "It is the English-speaking minority of Montreal." I felt that I knew where Pierre Bourgault was coming from. We were both resident students at the same time, before the Quiet Revolution, at the same institution, Montreal's Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, run by priests. Though I was ahead of him, we both experienced the compulsory daily mass, the recurrent prayer sessions throughout the day, the strict, all-pervasive discipline, the constant threat of sin and heresy.

We both experienced, too, the teaching of history as paradise lost with the fall of new France, the constant struggle against the English serpent, and the latent hope of a paradise regained. We all had to memorize the "Voice of the Land of Quebec," from the novel Maria Chapdelaine, in which the voice makes a solemn statement: "All around us the foreigners came, whom we choose to call the barbarians.

"They have taken all power; they have acquired almost all the money. But in the Land of Quebec, nothing has changed. Nothing must change . . ." Pierre Bourgault revolted against the Jansenistic culture which condemned him, a homosexual, to torment while stifling his intellectual freedom by placing most stimulating authors on the Index of Prohibited Books. He became an atheist and a rebel who could never brook any restrictions on his freedom of thought or speech or deed.

But in another sense, he was true to the ethos of Collège Brébeuf. We were indoctrinated with a sense of "vocation" to defend the interests of French Canada, which included a fusion of conservative Catholicism with humiliated and resentful nationalism. The heroes of history were those who fought for French Canada and the French language, on the battlefield against the English, or in the Legislative Assembly -- or in everyday life.

Pierre Bourgault rejected the Catholicism, but he retained the sense of a vocation, retained the religious commitment to a vision of the Land of Quebec. He expressed his view in the words he supplied to a popular song, put to music and sung by singing star Robert Charlebois, Entre deux joints (Between two joints of marijuana): "Don't crouch down like a dog, And don't let yourself feel guilty, I'm telling you that you can do it.

"This country belongs to you."

William Johnson is a Quebec-based writer and former head of Alliance Quebec.


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Hey Tories, what about the elephant?
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Monday, June 2, 2003 – Page A13

Since 1967, the Progressive Conservative Party has been shackled to an elephant. That elephant, in the just-ended Tory leadership contest, was the embarrassing presence none of the contenders chose to notice.

No wonder: When the Tories overthrew John Diefenbaker and voted for Robert Stanfield in Canada's centennial year, they committed themselves to a new openness toward Quebec nationalism that has haunted them ever since.

Until that time, the Tories had been viewed -- especially in Quebec -- as the party that was pro-empire, pro-monarchy, pro-conscription, pro-English and pro-Protestant. As a result, the Tories were rarely in power.

Mr. Diefenbaker sealed the breach with Quebec when he battled against a flag to replace the Red Ensign. Seven of the 10 Quebec Tory MPs broke with their leader to vote for the Maple Leaf. Léon Balcer, the Chief's Quebec lieutenant, said he he was quitting politics because, "There is no place for a French Canadian in the party of Mr. Diefenbaker."

The Tories, just before the 1967 convention that chose Mr. Stanfield, held a policy conference at Montmorency Falls to mend the rupture with Quebec. The year before, Daniel Johnson Sr.'s Union Nationale -- really a renamed Conservative party -- had been elected. His manifesto, égalité ou indépendance, demanded that Canada be reconstituted as two equal nations, failing which Quebec should separate.

So the thinkers' conference adopted a resolution, later adopted by the Tory policy committee, and enshrined in the Tory campaign policy handbook for the 1968 elections: "Canada is composed of two founding peoples (deux nations), with historic rights, who have been joined by people from many lands; the constitution should be such as to permit and encourage their full and harmonious growth and development in equality throughout Canada."

The Liberals, meanwhile, chose Pierre Trudeau. He ran against the deux nations policy that Mr. Stanfield's Quebec lieutenant, Marcel Faribault, was trumpeting across the province and across Canada, with the support of the Quebec premier.

The Tories' national campaign director, Eddie Goodman, flew to Montreal to demand that Mr. Faribault be kept from travelling outside Quebec and that he tone down his message. Mr. Goodman complained, "Trudeau, a francophone, speaks the language of the anglophones, while we play up to the separatists."

That set the pattern. Mr. Stanfield's Quebec representative, Brian Mulroney, rebuilt the party in Quebec around ultranationalists and separatists. When Joe Clark became became prime minister, he adopted as his constitutional adviser Arthur Tremblay, an ultranationalist who later voted Yes in the referendum on secession. While Mr. Trudeau said he would never negotiate secession regardless of the result of a referendum, Mr. Clark promised: "Whether it's Yes or No, I will be there to negotiate."

Mr. Mulroney had criticized his leader, Mr. Clark, for being soft on separatism and urged him to support Mr. Trudeau's efforts to patriate the Constitution. On becoming leader himself, Mr. Mulroney denounced the patriation as an infamy. During the 1984 election campaign, he uttered the words of his speechwriter Lucien Bouchard, promising to gain Quebec's assent to the 1982 Constitution Act. He was elected with the active support of the Parti Québécois machine and a roster of candidates packed with separatists.

The rest is history. As prime minister, Mr. Mulroney's partiality toward Quebec -- giving the contract for CF-18 aircraft maintenance to a Quebec firm over a lower, better bid from Manitoba -- alienated Western Canada and helped provoke the birth and progress of the Reform Party, especially when the Meech Lake accord would have ended any hopes of the West to obtain a Triple-E Senate. The Charlottetown accord would have granted Quebec 25 per cent of all Commons seats in perpetuity, another outrage. Mr. Mulroney's legacy was a dangerously polarized country and a shattered party.

Mr. Clark, regaining the leadership in 1998, ensured there'd be no healing of the schism in the conservative family or the country. He opposed the reference on secession to the Supreme Court of Canada, and then opposed the Clarity Act, which he promised to rescind.

The country utterly lost faith in the PC party and its trustworthiness in dealing with Quebec.

Now, Jean Charest, a former Tory leader, is Premier of Quebec. Though he changed his party label, he's still fundamentally a Tory, believing firmly in special status for Quebec. He will shortly be renewing, from his provincial perch, the campaign to wrest power, jurisdiction and tax room from Ottawa.

What is the new Tory leader's stance, the new direction of the Tory Party? We just don't know. The subject is too sensitive.

William Johnson is a Quebec-based writer and former head of Alliance Quebec.


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In search of a happy ending: It takes only two people
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Monday, May 5, 2003 – Page A15

Is a "happy ending" out of the question for homosexuals? Or does it apply exclusively to a man and a woman in each other's arms?

The B.C. Court of Appeal went to the heart of human happiness last week when it ruled that Canada's long-standing common-law definition of marriage as "the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others" violates the equality rights of gay couples wishing to marry. The court proposed this non-discriminatory definition: "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others." Parliament has been given until July of 2004 to change the Marriage Act accordingly.

This comes as a shock to many Canadians, particularly to the major churches. Intervening in the case against same-sex marriage was the Interfaith Coalition for Marriage made up of the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, the Islamic Society of North America, the B.C. Muslim Association, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Catholic Civil Rights League and the B.C. Council of Sikhs.

They argued that both the law of God and the well-being of society required that marriage be restricted to two people of the opposite sex. For them, the defining function of marriage was procreation, and only a couple of the opposite sex meets the criterion. They also maintained that the sanctity of marriage would be debased if the institution were extended to same-sex couples.

A secularized version of the same argument was presented in these pages on Friday. Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson of McGill's faculty of religious studies insisted that "the essential function of marriage has always been to provide the necessary cultural framework for straight couples and their children." Recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry, they warn, and "we would lack even the ability we still have to provide public cultural support for heterosexuality. It would become, at best, nothing more than one more 'lifestyle choice' among many, and could then no longer be propagated in the public square."

Nonsense. Even if the state legislates to extend the legal status of "married" to homosexuals, the great religions will continue to teach that only heterosexual marriage is sanctified. Most will continue to teach that homosexual acts are sinful. Such acts "are intrinsically disordered," states the official Catechism of the Catholic Church. "Under no circumstances can they be approved."

Romeo and Juliet will still be staged, Jane Austen will still be read. The vast corpus of love songs, love poems, novels and movies tell stories of heterosexual love. The happy ending will continue to be sought as one of life's major goals -- and for most, that will conjure the vision of love between a man and a woman.

But in a country that, in principle, separates church and state, the state has a secular objective in legislating marriage. Its concern is to promote public order and general welfare, not religious doctrine. Religions can continue to promote their respective views of marriage. The state will ensure their religious freedom, while also pursuing other values, including the equality of citizens, the dignity of all individuals, and the better public health that comes from encouraging more stable sexual relationships.

According to Genesis 2:18, accepted by Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God said: "It is not good for man to be alone." Must the secular state limit that universal statement of a condition for happiness to heterosexual couples?

For both Judaism and Roman Catholicism, the essence of the marriage ceremony is the consent of the couple to each other before witnesses. Around that grew secondary conventions and rituals.

According to the book Judaism,edited by Arthur Hertzberg, "Jews are essentially married by consent. The passing of a ring, or any object of value, from groom to bride represents a contract which is valid if it is witnessed by two other adult male Jews."

In the Catholic tradition, marriage is considered a sacrament, but it is conferred by the spouses on each other, not by the priest. In fact, in the early church, Christians accepted the Roman custom of marriage simply by a public declaration of the intention to live together as man and wife. It was only 1,500 years later that the church made a requirement of weddings officiated by a priest.

All this is to say that the court judgment, while departing from traditional religious teachings about marriage, maintains the most essential condition: that marriage is a legally enforceable contract of commitment between two people. And it only takes a step further the recent evolution of doctrine in the Catholic Church that marriage is about much more than procreation. It is about love.
Jesuit-trained William Johnson is a Quebec-based writer.


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The nerve that Jacques Parizeau hit, again
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Friday, April 4, 2003 – Page A13

Jacques Parizeau had to go. The man's dangerous. He lets too many cats out of too many bags.

This week, the former premier withdrew from the current Quebec election campaign. "Parizeau's head cannot become an election issue," he said. "With the kind of role I'm playing, you take part only as long as you're useful. When you no longer are, you drop out."

Premier Bernard Landry obviously breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. Parizeau brought back memories of his 1995 referendum speech in which the then premier spoke as the leader of the Nous, "us," deploring that "three-fifths of Nous, of who we are, voted Yes," only to be beaten "by money and the ethnic vote."

Until Monday's debate of the three party leaders, Mr. Landry was cruising toward an easy victory on April 14. The usually garrulous and gaffe-prone Premier read his lines, seemed stiff, tense, humourless, without spontaneity or self-confidence. But he kept out of trouble until Mr. Parizeau's head appeared.

Jean Charest, accusing the Premier of hiding his separatist intentions, evoked a speech given that very day by Mr. Parizeau. "You remember his famous statement? Did you agree with that statement? . . . Mr. Parizeau judges that, having come so close, it is obvious that the referendum process must be started up again. Are you telling us that you agree with his regrettable statement of referendum night, which he repeats this very day, Mr. Landry?"

It was superb theatre, the debate's defining moment. Caught unawares, the Premier stumbled, tried to avoid answering. But Mr. Charest kept coming back, interrupting him: "You're not answering the question. Do you agree with Jacques Parizeau?"

It's become politically incorrect in Quebec to display tribalism or ethnic nationalism. But it wasn't always so. When Mr. Parizeau launched his referendum campaign in 1995, his opening speech contained the words nous, nos, les nôtres and similar expressions of French Québécois identity 153 times.

To vote Yes, he said then, meant "to decide no longer to be a minority in the country of our anglophone neighbours, but to be a majority in our own country. To affirm once and for all our language and our culture, which is francophone of America. In a word, at last to be ourselves, quite simply."

On election night in 1966, Daniel Johnson and his Union Nationale won a majority of the seats with only 40 per cent of the vote -- fewer votes than were cast for the Liberals. But he declared himself satisfied. "If you subtract the anglophone vote in Montreal, if you take away all that is English, Jewish, I am certain the Union Nationale has a strong majority of the francophone vote."

In 1967, the Parti Québécois's René Lévesque published his separatist manifesto, Option-Québec. The first chapter was titled "Nous autres" -- "us." As Mr. Lévesque defined Nous, it did not include all Quebeckers, only those who shared the same "collective personality" that began with the settlement of New France, continued with the heroes of French-Canadian history and finally encompassed all who had the "obstinacy" to remain French. Nous didn't even include all French-speaking Quebeckers, only those who identified with that collective personality. "Whoever does not feel it, at least on occasion, is not or is no longer one of nous."

In 1973, after his second defeat at the polls, Mr. Lévesque bitterly called the victorious Liberals "the party of les autres," as opposed to the party of nous.

After he won the 1976 election with 42 per cent of the vote, Mr. Lévesque told me in an interview that he had received a "national" mandate. "One of the rather unprecedented aspects is that it is clearly a mandate which came nearly exclusively from the French-speaking majority in Quebec. In that sense, it's a sort of national mandate from our point of view."

Mr. Landry himself, late on referendum night in 1995, checked into a Montreal hotel where a woman from the Philippines served him at the reception desk. He launched into a tirade, upbraiding her because she was an immigrant and the immigrants had voted No. She complained to the Human Rights Commission, and Mr. Landry, after early denials, finally apologized when he realized that the exchange had been caught on a security camera.

The words have changed since 1967. The cover story is rather different. But the underlying reason for wanting to secede is still the same. It is Nous. Just ask Jacques Parizeau.

William Johnson is a Quebec-based writer and former head of Alliance Quebec.


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Bilingualism: classic doublespeak
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Want to enhance your legacy, Jean? Appoint a royal commission on Canadian unity, says WILLIAM JOHNSON
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Thursday, March 13, 2003 – Page A17

A familiar Canadian drama was staged yesterday.

In Quebec City, Premier Bernard Landry called an election for April 14, his objective being still to take Quebec out of Canada. His means: relentless propaganda presenting Canada as keeping the "Quebec nation" in a state of inferiority, while he pretends that a velvet secession is to be had simply by wanting it.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien returned to the central theme of his first two decades in politics -- the promotion of two official languages, English and French, as the alternative to Quebec's secession. The "new departure" announced yesterday in his presence by Stéphane Dion, minister responsible for official languages, includes a five-year education plan to double the number of young Canadians able to speak both languages so as to reach 50 per cent.

All told, the "Action Plan for Official Languages" commits $751.4-million over five years to such programs as early childhood development, health care and justice in the minority mother tongue. One important new thrust is to ensure that the federal public service really operates in both English in French in designated bilingual regions such as the National Capital Region, New Brunswick, and parts of Quebec and Ontario. Treasury Board President Lucienne Robillard pledged to change the culture of the public service so federal employees "will be able to work in the official language of their choice in the bilingual regions."

Mr. Chrétien was elected to the House of Commons in 1963 amid the turmoil of Quebec's Quiet Revolution. That year, the bombs of the FLQ targeting symbols of Canada and Jean Lesage's threats to lead Quebec out of Confederation persuaded Lester Pearson to appoint the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. Its 1965 interim report warned: "Canada, without being fully conscious of the fact, is passing through the greatest crisis in its history."

In response, the Liberals led by Pierre Trudeau rejected the demands of Quebec leaders for "special status," "two nations," "associate states" or "sovereignty association." They offered, instead, a truly national status to the French language. The Official Languages Act was passed in 1969, and the Constitution Act of 1982, for which Mr. Chrétien played such a central role, vested the right to minority official language schooling across the country.

But the long struggle pitted region against region and kept Quebec at the centre of national negotiations for an entire generation, to the resentment of other regions. The legitimacy of the enterprise was undermined when Robert Bourassa's Liberals passed Bill 22 in 1974, declaring French Quebec's only official language; then the Parti Québécois imposed more stringent restrictions on English in 1977. A dismayed Mr. Trudeau said: "You can't demand that French be equal in the rest of Canada and insist that it be superior in Quebec."

But that double standard became the policy of Brian Mulroney. He supported French rights in Manitoba and restrictions on English rights in Quebec. He rebuked Saskatchewan and Alberta for striking down a language law unused since their Northwest Territories era but was silent when Quebec banned English on signs in 1988, after the Supreme Court of Canada had declared it a violation of rights. He appointed as commissioner of official languages former Quebec minister Victor Goldbloom, who turned a blind eye as the right to work in English in the federal public service in Montreal was violated.

The double standard was accepted, at least until now, by Mr. Dion and Pierre Pettigrew. As for Paul Martin, I wrote in 1990: "I interviewed Mr. Martin for two hours in 1988, before he entered politics, and was unable to learn from him where he stood on Bill 101, the law restricting the use of English in many areas of Quebec life."

If the new language policy is to be endorsed by the country rather than be seen as another Liberal sop to Quebec, the double standard must be ended. There can be no more Meech Lakes. And the vital interests of the rest of the country must also be addressed.

Western alienation is real and well-founded. Ralph Klein was right on in his February Throne Speech: "Alberta's ability to be a partner in Canada is compromised by the current federal government, which often does not listen to the people of this province."

Alienation is compounded by our obsolete electoral system that allows a plurality of votes in central provinces to deliver majority governments with negligible representation from Western Canada. Western resources have been exploited shamelessly. The West wants the Senate to act as intended by the Fathers of Confederation, as protector of the regions. Only an elected Senate can restore legitimacy.

The endemic poverty of the Atlantic provinces since the end of the First World War is unacceptable. Since 1968, the proposed solution of government-run regional development grants has not worked.

The legitimate demands of aboriginals must be seriously addressed. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples took so one-sided an approach that its recommendations have proved almost useless. In 1992, before it had held a single hearing, it published a report that begged the fundamental issue: "It is essential that the right of self-government be explicitly identified in the Constitution as inherent in nature." A new approach must be defined.

The country must also settle the issue of discrimination in the public schools against religious adherents other than those recognized in 1867. The United Nations Committee on Human Rights ruled that Ontario's publicly supported Catholic and Protestant schools violate the rights of Jews and others, contrary to Canada's obligations under international law.

Mr. Chrétien can enhance his legacy by appointing a royal commission on Canadian unity. It could address the needs of the country as a whole with a modern approach after four decades of stalemate.
William Johnson is a Quebec-based writer and former head of Alliance Quebec.


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Pierre Bourque: He's back
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The former mayor of Montreal is by far the most attractive political figure in Quebec today, says WILLIAM JOHNSON
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
  
  

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Tuesday, February 11, 2003 – Page A17

Is Pierre Bourque for real?

Think of it. There he stood, on the last day of January in the city of Montreal that he'd ruled for eight years as mayor. He announced that he'd be a candidate in this year's Quebec election -- not for the separatist Parti Québécois, but for the upstart Action Démocratique du Québec, led by a 32-year- old country boy, Mario Dumont.

What's going on?

Remember, Pierre Bourque has a history. In the 1960s, freshly back from Belgium where he'd obtained an engineering degree in horticulture, the 23-year-old joined the radical separatist and socialist Rassemblement pour l'Indépendance Nationale led by firebrand Pierre Bourgault. Then, when René Lévesque broke with the Liberals and published his separatist manifesto, Mr. Bourque switched to the new separatist party.

In 1970, the PQ ran in a provincial election for the first time, and Mr. Bourque helped elect Claude Charron, one of the original eight PQ members. Then, in 1976, Jacques Parizeau won in the election that first brought the PQ to power. The president of his riding association was Mr. Bourque.

So he has a reputation. Years later, as Montreal's mayor, he urged that the city should be amalgamated with the 28 other municipalities sharing Montreal Island. "Une île, une ville" was his slogan. One island, one city. Though scoffing at first, the PQ government eventually came around and, for the past 13 months, the island has been one city.

The visionary's dream came true, and he was one of the revolution's first victims. In the first island-wide municipal election, Mr. Bourque handily carried the polls within the old city limits, but the former suburbs ganged up against him. He was demoted to opposition leader in the new city. But he'd made history.

So where was Mr. Bourque's gratitude toward the government and the party that had let him achieve the dream that failed even legendary mayor Jean Drapeau?

Mr. Bourque not only joined the PQ's most dangerous rival. At the same press conference to declare his candidacy, he handed journalists a stunning manifesto, A Quebec that is United and Open to the World,in which he renounced his past separatist views, urged Quebeckers to plan for a future within the Canadian federation, and even asked them to view English favourably as a means of communicating with other peoples in every part of the planet.

This text, he said, explains why he is joining the ADQ and "outlines my vision of a Quebec with a thousand faces, integrated harmoniously within Canada and the rest of the world."

In perhaps the most telling passage, he says that Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language, was necessary to establish and consolidate the fundamentally French identity of Quebec. But, at the same time, it alienated much of the non-French population. "Bill 101 provoked the exodus toward Ontario of 200,000 to 300,000 of our fellow citizens and weakened as a result the intellectual and economic strength of Quebec."

The breech between the French and the non-French communities must be healed, he said, if Quebec is to have a future. "If Quebec cannot succeed, by its strengths and its will, in integrating a community of 800,000, which expresses itself mostly in English and is concentrated in Montreal, then I would not bet on the survival or the fulfilment of Quebec itself."

For Mr. Bourque, creating a single encompassing municipality of Montreal where all must work together was an important step toward that healing. But another essential step is to accept Canada. "Quebec must accept to be a state within the Canadian whole and it must turn away from fantasies of independence and sovereignty. That is a fact that seems harsh, but I think it is inescapable."

He compared separatism to a stage of adolescence when a young person emerges from dependency and feels the need to assert forcefully a new individuality and independence. That stage often involves excesses. But with maturity comes a recognition of others and of one's need for interdependence. "As opposed to independence, therefore, I propose interdependence, which will be the choice of progressive societies in this new century."

The shock wave shook not only the PQ, but also the Quebec Liberals. Mr. Bourque's profession of faith in the Canadian union, his acceptance of the English language as essential for Quebec's social cohesion and cultural development went far beyond anything heard from a Robert Bourassa or a Jean Charest. The Liberals were outflanked in the appeal to their own core constituency, the English-speaking West Island and the ethnic minorities.

Louise Beaudoin, the PQ Minister for International Relations, and Benoît Pelletier, the Liberal critic on the Constitution, both criticized Mr. Bourque for accepting that English was the international language for cross-cultural communications. That meant giving up on French, both scolded.

Mr. Bourque's manifesto should be studied, especially by Quebec's English-speaking and ethnic minorities, so long serfs at the service of the Quebec Liberal Party. Mr. Charest, the least popular leader among francophones, constantly proves his loyalty to French Quebec by hiding the Canadian flag and shunning any concessions to English.

Mr. Bourque, 60, is assumed to become the grey eminence of the ADQ if it forms the next Quebec government. He is by far the most attractive major figure on the Quebec political scene, with a likelihood of some day becoming premier.

His stance breaks through the decades-long deadlock over language and Quebec's place in the federation. He offers a new approach and fresh thinking, a promising new attitude. His record shows a man who has always grown, a man who never betrayed his principles and relentlessly pursued his vision against all obstacles.

Quebec could be flowering when spring comes.
wjohnson@globeandmail.ca


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Making the gun registry look good
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Thursday, January 16, 2003 – Page A19

What a mess. Ottawa's handling of claims for compensation by "survivors" of the native residential schools will produce years of bitter conflict and billions of dollars in costs. The gun registry will compare as thrifty.

Last month, Public Works Minister Ralph Goodale, who is responsible for resolving the claims, announced a program to deal with the matter swiftly, at less cost than going through the courts.

Currently, some 12,000 alumni of 130 former residential schools are suing for compensation. They claim for physical or sexual abuse, loss of language and culture, and other ills from their enforced boarding-school experience.

So far, Mr. Goodale said, only 12 cases involving 21 claimants have gone through the courts to judgment. There were also 560 out-of-court settlements.

"Estimates show that if we carry on in the same way and at the same pace as we are doing now, it will take more then half a century to get through the caseload. And it will cost more than $2.3-billion just for administrative and legal costs alone, not to mention the value of actual settlements," Mr. Goodale said.

So what does he propose? A seven-year program involving a scrutiny and settlement of claims outside the more rigorous adversarial court system. Qualified adjudicators, such as retired judges or people with appropriate experience, would render the decisions.

This, Mr. Goodale estimated, would cost about $750-million in legal, administrative and related costs, while the settlements would cost "in the range of $950-million or perhaps a bit more," for a total cost of $1.7-billion. But all who preferred the court route would be free to choose it.

Mr. Goodale's deputy minister, Jack Stagg, explained that they expected about 18,000 to 20,000 claimants, with 10,500 to 13,000 claims ruled valid. That would work out to an average settlement of about $75,000. These figures, big as they are, could prove wildly out of line, as happens in government.

The alternative program requires claimants to forgo all claims except for physical or sexual abuse, and to make a commitment not to go to court if they are dissatisfied. But, National Chief Matthew Coon Come pointed out, 90 per cent of claims demand compensation for loss of language and culture. Saskatchewan lawyer Tony Merchant, who represents about 5,400 claimants, recommends that his clients not participate in the alternative process. So does a national consortium of residential school survivors, which is bringing a class action suit against the government that includes a claim for loss of language and culture.

The forecasts of costs are likely to prove low because there are 90,000 living alumni of the residential schools. In his judgment in Blackwater v. Plint, Chief Justice Donald Brenner of the B.C. Supreme Court pointed out that he was required, in effect, to create a biography of each claimant. He found that the "expert witnesses" -- psychologists and social workers -- were credulous and believed the stories of the claimants, which were often disproved by the facts. He also pointed out that, in most cases of sexual abuse, there was no third-party witness. All depended on the credibility of the claimant.

So the alternative process, if rapid, will invite a flood of claimants to get their share of easy booty; if stringent, the administrative and legal costs will be monstrous.

The residential schools were part of a total process intended to assimilate Indians. Parliament should have legislated a comprehensive settlement that avoided courts and adjudication.

So much money will just be wasted in arbitrary awards that could have been used to help rebuild the wounded Indian nations.
wjohnson@globeandmail.ca


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