English Canada Ponders Future Sans Quebec 'PLAN B' - JUST IN CASE

Article excerpt

AT first they snickered. But after two years of struggling to convince Canadians that they need a "Plan B" - just in case Quebec secedes from Canada - Lorne Caughill says people now are listening.

What the retired high school principal from Kitchener, Ontario, is pushing with his grass-roots "Canada First" group is a fall-back plan for an English-speaking country of nine provinces - sans Quebec.

Quebec separatists are known to have their own detailed plans on how to approach talks with Canada over borders, pensions, maritime boundaries, use of the Canadian dollar, and trade relations, to name a few points that would have to be negotiated.

Mr. Caughill says Canada needs a plan of its own to define its post-breakup priorities, from how much federal debt Quebec should assume to whether Quebeckers will turn in their Canadian passports.

Canada has no Plan B because "thinking the unthinkable," as many English-speakers call this national lifeboat drill, has been seen as defeatist and unpatriotic. In Canada's 30-year travail with Quebec separatism, secession always has seemed a remote possibility.

But Canadian attitudes may be changing. Five weeks ago a referendum on Quebec secession failed by less than 50,000 votes. Since then, signs are emerging that citizens in the nine provinces outside Quebec are reluctantly pondering a future without Quebec.

Many Canadians don't want to think about it, Caughill says, but now feel that they must.

Canada has had no plan for how to handle separation. Such thinking has been seen as defeatist and unpatriotic.

"I used to get the feeling people felt I was just rabble-rousing," he says. But since the narrow federalist win in the Oct. 30 Quebec referendum on secession "I haven't been getting the same negative response. People are asking me what they can do."

Others agree.

"There is a growing feeling we should be ready - that there should be ideas in place," says Donna Dasko, vice president of Environics Research Group, a Toronto-based polling firm that has done national surveys since the referendum. "Before, there was a sense that, if you came up with such a plan, you were betraying Canada. That argument doesn't work anymore."

Tuned into this low-level rumble is the western-based Reform Party led by Preston Manning. Last week Reform Party officials issued a list of "20 Realities of Secession" that spells out the tough terms the party proposes that Canada adopt should Quebec secede.

One of the benefits of a public Plan B, Mr. Manning and his fellow Reform Party members in Parliament argue, is that it may put to rest some illusions that Quebeckers might have drawn from separatist leaders.

One example: Before the Oct. 30 referendum vote, three-quarters of Canadians outside Quebec opposed the continued use of Canadian passports by Quebeckers after secession. Yet 70 percent of Quebeckers thought that their continued use of a Canadian passport would be a workable idea.

If Quebec leaves, the proposal outlined by the Reform Party would have Canada deem Canadian citizenship incompatible with Quebec citizenship, require Quebeckers to surrender their Canadian passports, and "insist" that Quebec assume 25 percent of the federal debt.

It would also remake Quebec's borders if native groups, such as the Cree Indians of northern Quebec, vote to stay in Canada.

Hard-nosed self-interest

Stephen Harper, a Reform spokesman, says the party's plan will help Canadians think about their future and put Quebeckers on notice that rosy scenarios such as an economic and political union between Canada and an independent Quebec are nonstarters. …