Not any more

D.C. audience skeptical as Duceppe pitches sovereignty

In Canada on October 15, 2010 at 20:58

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe stirred up skepticism Friday in Washington as he declared the end of the "Canadian dream" with Quebec moving "quite quickly" toward becoming a sovereign country that would put the U.S. at the heart of its foreign policy.

In a prepared speech to an audience of a few dozen people from a pair of influential U.S. public-policy think-tanks, Duceppe predicted the defeat of the pro-Canada government of Liberal Premier Jean Charest, opening the door for a Pauline Marois-led Parti Quebecois regime with a "core objective" of separating from Canada.

"One thing is certain: Our relationship with the U.S. would be the focal point of a sovereign Quebec’s foreign policy," Duceppe said at the event co-hosted by the Canadian Institute of the U.S.-government-funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Hudson Institute.

"The United States already has a very solid ally in Canada. Should Quebec become a sovereign state, the U.S. would have two very solid allies for the price of one."

The trip is part of a Bloc campaign promoting awareness of the demise of the Meech Lake constitutional accord in 1990 that led to Duceppe’s election in the same year as the party’s first representative in Ottawa.

David Biette, director of the Canadian Institute, said that the crowd knew that Quebec "makes Canada interesting" and recognized Duceppe is an important political leader, but they don’t expect the U.S. government to do any favours for the sovereigntists.

"If the United States is going to have to make a choice between Canada and Quebec, I think the answer is pretty obvious," Biette told Postmedia News. "I don’t think the United States would like to be put in that position and the American government will do anything it can to avoid being put in that position."

But the Bloc leader added he was "counting on the United States to be a decisive player" that would "push for negotiations and a quick and orderly resolution" following a referendum victory by the sovereigntists.

"It will be in everyone’s interest to resolve this political situation quickly and smoothly," Duceppe said. "A sovereign Quebec will be a win-win outcome for Quebecers, Canada, the U.S. and the world for everyone except those who are nostalgic for a Canadian dream that no longer exists in reality."

Duceppe has sent out 1,600 letters to decision-makers and elected officials from around the world urging them to prepare for a sovereign Quebec, which he believes is inevitable since no federalist leader in Canada is prepared to make the province a concrete offer to sign on to the Constitution.

He noted the failure of constitutional talks in the 1990s led to an extremely close vote in a 1995 referendum on sovereignty in which the federalists barely managed to get more than 50 per cent of the vote, following a much stronger referendum victory for the No side in 1980.

Meanwhile, Duceppe said the low approval ratings of Charest, now in his third mandate, indicate the premier’s departure is imminent leading up to the next election, which must be called before 2013.

"There are many reasons to think that events may begin moving quite quickly and that Quebecers will be making a decision on their political status for the third time," Duceppe said.

He indicated the U.S. stands to benefit both economically and environmentally from the change with a government that has the freedom to set its own policies.

"We will be able to interact much more directly with U.S. officials and elected people when we are a sovereign nation," he said.

Already, he noted, Quebec does more business, in terms of exports, with the U.S. than with the rest of Canada. In 2008, he said, Quebec had $51 billion in exports to the U.S. versus $35 billion in the rest of Canada.

Biette said the audience wasn’t really convinced that the U.S. would embrace the new country as a partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement, since U.S. lawmakers are already having trouble accepting other trade deals with partners in the Americas such as Panama and Columbia.

"I think he was optimistic about what the United States would do," said Biette in an interview. "People don’t remember (Quebec’s role in supporting free trade in the 1980s) and there’s a different mood in the United States right now."

Meantime, Quebec Conservative MP Steven Blaney broke into laughter when informed about Duceppe’s remarks, suggesting that the Bloc leader was insulting Quebeckers by not supporting the government’s economic stimulus plan and focusing on the economy at a time when the country is facing its worst slowdown since the 1930s.

"I am really stunned that Gilles Duceppe is trying to sell a concept (on the international stage) that he can’t even sell to Quebeckers themselves," said Blaney, MP for the Quebec City-area riding of Levis-Bellechasse. "He should concentrate on the priority of Quebeckers which is the economy. Fortunately there are Conservative MPs in Quebec who have understood this."

On security issues, Duceppe said that Quebec would also be an asset with a military that could help bring stability on missions in French-speaking nations such as Haiti.

He also said that Quebec and the U.S. could co-operate on environmental matters by imposing a new green tariff on products from large emerging countries, such as China, if they refuse to sign on to binding targets in international agreements to reduce pollution.

"This could be called a Tariff on Imported Polluting Products, a TIPP," Duceppe said. "We would simply ask China or others to pay a ‘tip’ for doing the job."

He added this would also help benefit the economy and encourage development that reduces dependence on oil

"This would be a good way to take up the climate-change challenge while maintaining our economic competitiveness."

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette


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