Courtesy Reuters

Canada's Time of Troubles

Foreigners must find it hard to believe that the Canadian people, among the richest and most fortunate on earth, should solemnly consider the destruction of their vast estate sprawling across half a continent. But the crisis now facing them in many forms - constitutional, political, economic and, above all, emotional - has deep roots and lessons for free peoples everywhere.

Canada became a nation, or its embryo, on July 1, 1867, when four weak, quarrelsome British colonies between the Atlantic and the Great Lakes, fearing the newly powerful American republic on their flank, were united by Queen Victoria and her Parliament at Westminster and allowed to govern themselves. The rudimentary union, whose survival looked dubious, to say the best of it, quickly spread to the Pacific and embraced the second largest national territory in the world.

After 110 years of growth, its population numbers some 23 million, basically divided into two separate communities of British and French descent, the former including about 44 and the latter about 28 percent of the total. Various smaller fractions make Canada a nation of racial minorities, always difficult to govern, simple, serene and rustic in tourist advertisements, complex, restive and urban in truth, but managed so successfully on the whole that it now stands with the Western world's Big Seven at their summit conferences.

Given such a record, which most nations would envy, why has Canada encountered a time of wrenching trouble? Why is Quebec's provincial government (but so far only a small minority of its voters) determined to withdraw from the union and dismember it?

As foreigners may see them, these threats have appeared suddenly, overnight, but their seeds were planted more than three centuries ago when, in 1608, Samuel de Champlain, the first recognizable Canadian, built his rude habitation on the banks of the St. Lawrence and unwittingly seized the central gateway to North America. His brutal raid on the Iroquois, beside the lake that still bears his name, roughly defined the later bisection of the continent. The 49th parallel

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