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“A Rational Response to Sovereignty,” Tony Manera, Ottawa, ON

A RATIONAL RESPONSE TO SOVEREIGNTY
by
Tony Manera
Published in the Ottawa Citizen on January 2, 2006

Although there is now a federalist provincial government in power in Quebec, the resurgence of support for the Bloc Quebecois and for sovereignty in Quebec have placed “National Unity” on the nation’s agenda in the current federal election campaign.

Unfortunately, the issue of national unity is being used by leaders of the Liberal and Conservative parties to score political points. I believe that this is wrong, in principle and in practice. It is wrong in principle because the issue is so important that it demands a unified federalist position. Is it too much to ask that Messrs. Martin, Harper and Layton, agree on a common strategy? Surely, if we had a major natural disaster such as an earthquake, flood, or terrorist attack, we would expect all political leaders to quickly establish a united front to tackle the emergency without regard to partisan political considerations. If we cannot achieve unity among our federalist leaders, how can we successfully deal with an increasingly sophisticated sovereignty movement in Quebec?

It seems to me that Quebec sovereigntists are on the threshold of realizing the “winning conditions” that have so far eluded them. It’s really quite simple. They don’t talk very much about how bad Canada is; in fact, Gilles Duceppe has gone out of his way to say nice things about Canada. Their strategy is to emphasize the positive, in order to attract “soft” nationalists who do not hate Canada, but feel that a sovereign Quebec would be better able to protect the French language and culture.

Aside from establishing a united front, the federalist leaders should also adopt the following strategy:

  1. Stop demonizing the sovereignty movement. After all, the soveregntists have pledged to reach their goal through democratic means. By demonizing the sovereignty movement, you are attacking millions of Quebeckers who support sovereignty. It’s wrong and bad political strategy to attack such a large part of the population.
  2. Remind Quebeckers that a “Yes” vote to a clear question in favour of Quebec separation will not authorize Quebec to declare itself a sovereign country. Quebec will still be a part of Canada until negotiations with the rest of Canada have been concluded. Of course, in accordance with the Supreme Court decision, both parties will have an obligation to negotiate the terms of Quebec’s separation in good faith. No one should be under any illusion that these negotiations will be easy, but at the same time, we should not be telling Quebeckers that a vote for separation will necessarily result in catastrophic consequences. It isn’t true, and Quebeckers won’t buy it anyway.
  3. Quebec and the rest of Canada can achieve more by remaining together than by splitting up. What would a sovereign Quebec do to preserve the French language and culture that being part of Canada prevents it from doing? After all, one of the most important contributors to the development of Quebec’s distinctive culture is Radio-Canada, a federal institution.
  4. What kind of example would we set for the rest of the world if an advanced, civilized, democratic, and modern industrial society like Canada is unable to accommodate differences in language and culture? A positive message, delivered consistently by all three federalist parties, could go a long way to achieve winning conditions for a strong and unique Quebec identity within a strong and united Canada.

Tony Manera is a former President of CBC-Radio Canada