Grateful Eastern Canada Keeps Its Link to West, Clout for French Series: THE QUEBEC QUANDRY

Article excerpt

THE relief was palpable in New Brunswick after neighboring Quebeckers turned down a sovereignty bid by a razor-thin margin.

"The agony of the referendum experience is over," New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna told reporters early yesterday morning after the votes were counted. Canada has "been given a second chance for life."

For New Brunswickers, an independent Quebec would have physically cut off their own province, along with Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island, from the rest of the nation. It also would have reduced federal aid, which now accounts for 40 percent of funding for social programs in Atlantic Canada.

"I had constituents coming to me with tears in their eyes, afraid that they would lose their pensions," said the province's finance minister, Edmond Blanchard, in an interview after the vote. "Others ... didn't want to see their province cut off."

For many here, the Quebec vote also invoked a sense of emotion and even betrayal. Many interviewed compared it to a divorce: Even if the parties reconcile, the experience can leave a mark.

"The vote was scary for a lot of people," says former textile worker Frank Vail, who lives on a family farm about 40 miles from the Maine border. "Quebeckers have been unhappy for a long time, and it can't go on like that."

Nearly 34 percent of New Brunswickers are French-speaking, and New Brunswick is Canada's only officially bilingual province. While Canada mandates bilingual federal services, New Brunswick extends the principle to provincial services too.

Bilingual graffitti

Here every document and speech in the legislature is translated in both languages. Even graffiti painted on rocks along the highway is often bilingual.

"One of the strong points of the Canadian nation has been its ability to compromise. But I'm not sure that will continue," says Conde Grondin, professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. "The relations between French Canada and English Canada will be very changed. I expect that people will be less willing to cooperate with Quebec. …