Secessionist Crisis in Canada

Article excerpt

WHEN George Shultz became American Secretary of State, reporters asked him which foreign flashpoints he would visit first.

He told his incredulous listeners that the first foreign countries he would go to would be Canada and Mexico.

When the reporters wanted to know why not Beirut, or Moscow, or Johannesburg, Shultz explained that in his view these two neighboring countries were the most important to the United States.

And so, Shultz's first trip was to Canada, a trip on which the press tagged along complainingly, arguing that it was all so dull they could not sell it to their news editors back home.

True, the relationship between the United States and Canada might not be sensational and might not regularly make the headlines. But it is important and it has suffered from neglect and ignorance on the American side.

Now Americans ought to pay attention to what is happening in Canada.

This huge country that confronts America across a long and undefended border is in the midst of a political crisis of which most Americans are unaware.

It is a crisis whose worst implications could be the fragmenting of Canada into several pieces.

French-speaking Quebec could secede. Ontario and the Western provinces and the Atlantic maritime provinces could each go their separate ways. One scenario even has New Brunswick and perhaps others of the maritime states becoming part of the United States.

At the heart of the crisis is the Meech Lake Accord, an accord hammered out in 1987 on the shores of Quebec's Meech Lake. Intended to defuse Quebec's separatist tendencies, it recognized Quebec as a "distinct society." To go into effect it must be ratified by all 10 of Canada's provinces by June 23. But Manitoba, New Brunswick and Newfoundland have balked, declining to ratify the accord as presently drafted.

They argue the special license for Quebec could permit the six million French-speakers in Quebec to draft laws and impose regulations that would discriminate against the nearly one and a half million English-speakers in the province. …