Western Canadians Bitter over Quebec Separatism Indian Rights, Painful Split Top Concerns

Article excerpt

QUEBEC'S restless yearning to be a country unto itself is once again sending ripples across Canada's western provinces, where sympathy for such aspirations is at an all-time low.

With only months to go before a Quebec provincial election that many believe will be won by the separatist Parti Qucois, westerners have been wrestling with whether to speak their minds or silently watch a process many view as the dismantling of Canada. The dam of silence burst last week.

Western premiers, native groups, and Canada's minister of Indian affairs bluntly questioned whether a Quebec split from Canada would be amicable, as separatists have suggested, and whether natives in Quebec could remain part of Canada.

The first to speak was Michael Harcourt, the normally low-key premier of British Columbia. "Frankly, the position I'm taking is that Quebec and B.C. {British Columbia} are natural allies in a renewed Canada and would be the best of friends," Mr. Harcourt told The Globe and Mail newspaper, speaking in unusually tough terms about Quebec separation.

"But if they decided to separate, we wouldn't be the best of friends; we'd be the worst of enemies. The anger that would be felt by British Columbians to the people of Quebec wanting to destroy this great country would be immense," he said.

The flash point for Mr. Harcourt was a trip to France by Lucien Bouchard, leader of Canada's official opposition party in Parliament. An ardent Quebec separatist, Mr. Bouchard met French President Francois Mitterrand in Paris, hoping to gain France's blessing on an Independent Quebec and a promise of official recognition.

While the meeting resulted in no overt commitment to recognize Quebec, Bouchard was scowled at for assuming a role as the international harbinger of Canada's breakup.

"The whole thing is really illogical, to have the leader of the opposition - Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, if that phrase means something still - being in other parts of the world talking about the breakup of the country," Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow told the Canadian Press May 17. …