X-Archive-With-Date: Sat, 09 Oct 1999 23:14:01 PDT
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Wed Jun 28 16:28:40 MDT 2000
Clinton Jolts Canadians With a Plea on Federalism
Clinton Opens Embassy in Canada as Relations Between Neighbors Remain Warm
(Oct. 9, 1999)
By JAMES BROOKE
TTAWA, Canada -- Canadians on both sides of the nation's deep linguistic
divide say they were stunned by President Clinton's unexpectedly passionate
appeal here for national unity and federalism.
President Clinton traveled to the flashpoint of separatism in North America
and without once mentioning Quebec nationalism argued on Friday that "the
United States and Canada are among the most fortunate countries in the world
because we have such diversity."
If every major "racial and ethnic and religious group" won independence, "we
might have 800 countries in the world and have a very difficult time having
a functioning economy," Clinton said, addressing a forum on federalism that
earlier in the week had become a platform for complaints by Quebec
separatists. "Maybe we would have 8,000 -- how low can you go?"
"The great irony of the turning of the millennium is that we have more
modern options for technology and economic advance than ever before, but our
major threat is the most primitive human failing -- the fear of the other,"
he said at Mont Tremblant, north of Montreal.
"We must think of how we will live after the shooting stops, after the smoke
clears, over the long run," the President said. National independence, he
warned, is often "a questionable assertion in a global economy where
cooperation pays greater benefits in every area than destructive
American leaders traditionally sidestep the hornet's nest of the separatist
aspirations of many Quebecers, the central political quandary of Canada for
the last three decades. In turn, Canadians put extraordinary weight on the
words of the President of the United States, the nation that dominates
Canada's foreign trade and investment.
Canada's widely read weekend papers, English and French, viewed the speech
as a strong argument for Quebec's remaining inside Canada.
President Clinton made "a powerful argument in favor of federalism, which he
describes as the political regime of the future," Vincent Marissal wrote in
La Presse, a Montreal daily that bills itself as the largest-circulation
French newspaper of the Americas. "But his message on the merits of
federalism went much further, questioning even the usefulness of the
nationalist projects in the era of globalization."
The English-speaking media were less restrained.
"Clinton Sings Praises of United Canada," read a banner headline in The
Montreal Gazette, one of only two surviving English-language daily
newspapers in Quebec.
The National Post, a conservative newspaper, hailed Clinton's "historic
speech" with a banner headline: "Clinton Takes a Swing at Separatists."
The Globe and Mail, Canada's other nationally circulated newspaper,
declared, " Clinton's speech was the most powerful and subtle argument in
favor of the federal idea heard in Quebec in years."
Quebec separatists sought to make the best of the speech, noting that
Clinton had praised the European Union, which they see as a model for future
ties between an independent Quebec and "English Canada." Separatists also
noted that after the speech, Clinton met with Quebec's Premier, Lucien
Bouchard, the first such meeting between an American President and a
But Clinton did not allow photographs, kept the meeting to 15 minutes, and
rushed off to a photo opportunity and golf with Canada's Prime Minister,
On Oct. 30, 1995, Quebec voters came within a whisker of approving a third
nation for North America. In a referendum with a huge turnout, the yes vote
for an independent Quebec was 49.4 percent.
But austerity policies adopted by Bouchard's Parti QuébÀcois government seem
to have contributed to a fall in separatist support, currently said in
opinion polls to be around 40 percent. Consequently, Bouchard has been vague
about holding what would be a third referendum on the issue since 1980.
About 70 percent of Quebec voters do not want another referendum, according
to a Sondagem poll conducted for Le Devoir, a separatist daily in Montreal,
early last month. This position is shared by Quebecers opposed to
independence and by nationalists who fear they would lose for a third time.
Early last month, the Bouchard government was hit with the resignation of
its top secession strategist, Jean-François Lisée.
"It's a departure that says out loud what everyone in Quebec City is
whispering and doesn't dare say yet," Michel C. Auger, wrote last month in
Le Journal de Montréal. "Unless there is a miracle, there will not be a
referendum on sovereignty during the P.Q. government's current mandate."
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