Will Canada Unravel? Plotting a Map if Quebec Secedes

Ever-louder rumblings north of the border should not be dismissed as another Canadian nonevent. Potentially, they portend much greater consequences for American interests than many nationalist breakups around the world. Canada's dilemma, typically put, is the separation of Quebec. At least since the abortive rebellions of 1837-38, Quebecers seemingly have been revolting against Canada. The question has always been, "Will Quebec separate?" After a recent referendum in Quebec almost answered yes, Canadians have begun to ask other questions in more heated tones, such as, "Should Quebec be partitioned?" "For other Francophones and the rest of us," wrote Diane Francis, editor of The Financial Post, "[partition of Quebec] would rid this country of troublemakers who do not value Canada or its citizenship and who play fast and loose with the rule of law and minority rights." Quebecers, for their part, call partition dangerous, nonviable, undemocratic, and contrary to law. They regard it as a precedent that would threaten the geopolitical balance in North America. So the tensions increase.

From the perspective of the United States, the right question is: What would follow separation? This deeper question contemplates a Canada that may not only split into two parts -- Quebec and the rest of Canada -- but that may continue to fragment. This view of the problem is much broader, and it holds consequences in political, economic, and security terms that immediately draw the United States into a far more dramatic set of developments. Continuing fragmentation potentially involves powers outside North America in special treaties and coalitions. What starts as simple secession, or breakup, could end in a complex process of redefining the entire Canadian polity, rooted in nationalist stresses that turn out not to be restricted to former communist states and poor Third World countries but to affect all multiethnic states in the post-Cold War order. This more complicated picture of Quebec's separation and its consequences may be described as a worst-case scenario. But is the thesis of continuing Canadian fragmentation after Quebec's secession plausible? Could North America unravel? The United States must take the possibility seriously enough to draw up plans for a form of supranational affiliation with the remnants of Canada.

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