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Canada Toughens Stance on Quebec, Human Rights Foreign Minister Emphasizes Stronger Foreign Policy. INTERVIEW

Article excerpt

WARNING of the harsh repercussions Quebec faces if it secedes from Canada, the Canadian government has switched from coaxing Quebec to stay in the fold to laying down a tougher line.

Barbara McDougall, Canada's secretary of state for external affairs, acknowledged in a meeting with Monitor editors Nov. 21 that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's government has shifted its approach on Quebec sovereignty.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mrs. McDougall - who was named secretary of state by Mr. Mulroney in April after serving six years in other ministries - was asked about the effect on Canada's global influence if Quebec splits off.

"That's not going to happen," she replied, then added: "Or it will happen over my dead body and the dead body of the prime minister."

Saying it is "not in anyone's interest that this country split apart," she affirmed that "a lot of the messages that we are delivering across Canada are much tougher." She also said Canada's influence in the world if separation took place "would simply disappear" and that "it would not be a friendly parting." Her words echoed the hard line taken by Mulroney during a visit this month to his home turf of Charlevoix, Quebec.

The shift, analysts say, appears designed to more strongly counter the separatist Parti Qucois argument that Quebec would encounter only mild transitional problems if it breaks away.

McDougall contends the government is simply pointing out cold truths, but others say it further tinges the debate with emotion.

"Which way things go on the sovereignty issue and Mulroney's proposal will have mostly to do with political atmospherics," says Charles David, a professor of international relations at the Royal Military College of St. Jean, Quebec. "Economics, too, are important since a bad economy usually plays to the federalists. But atmospherics in the form of loud speeches, misplaced comments could still take over."

Beyond the domestic hard line, Canada has in the past few months become more assertive in foreign policy. In mid-October, Mulroney surprised the 49-member Commonwealth by saying Canada would cut foreign aid to countries with poor human rights records. …