Foreign observers are often incredulous that Canada, with its long history of domestic tranquillity, heroism in war, and solidarity in the Western alliance, is again threatened by the secession of Quebec after 128 years of confederation. Astonishingly, a land that is almost as immaculate as Scandinavia and is almost the only serious country in the world whose general level of prosperity approaches that of the United States now faces the possibility of constitutional dissolution.

Canada's well-being is obvious. Almost none of its 28 million people live in what would qualify in the United States as a slum dwelling. The population is homogeneous: almost 90 percent of European origin. Polls consistently indicate that about 90 percent of both English- and French-speaking Canadians believe they live in the world's most pleasantly habitable country, and the United Nations has recognized Canada's quality of life as the highest of any country in the world for the last two years.

Yet in the autumn of 1994, Quebec, which is over 80 percent French-speaking and has about a quarter of the country's total population, narrowly elected a government pledged to achieve Quebec's independence through a subsequent referendum. The present federal leader of the opposition, the federalist turncoat Lucien Bouchard, heads a bloc of Quebec separatists in the parliament of the very country he wishes to sunder. Quebec's new premier, Jacques Parizeau, served in the only previous avowedly separatist government of Quebec, which held office from 1976 to 1985 and was defeated 60 percent to 40 percent by the voters of Quebec in a 1980 referendum to authorize negotiating Quebec's independence.

The issue of Quebec's continued participation in Canada has been bandied about in influential Quebec circles since the British conquest of that province in the Seven Years' War, and Quebec's independence has been an explicit political option endorsed by one or another of the province's political parties for more than 30 years. Parizeau himself, a jovial and florid 64-year-old former haut fonctionnaire and university professor, seems less the torch-bearing awakener of a new nation than the ultimate Molièresque bourgeois. He scrupulously avoids the word "independence," and has pledged instead to have the provincial parliament (which has called itself the National Assembly of Quebec for 25 years) declare Quebec a sovereign state and to ask the voters' approval of this step by this summer. Parizeau's extremely fuzzy definition of sovereignty includes retention of Canadian passports and money, as well as membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization, and even the British Commonwealth. The federal government's participation in this constitutional minuet is so far confined to the humbug that it has no legitimate authority to negotiate the secession of a province.

Parizeau and his separatist predecessors have generally tried to sell a version of sovereignty that essentially combines all the advantages of Canadian confederation with the exaltation of soul sought in independent statehood. Though he is studiously vague on the point, he would presumably seek to issue Quebec passports and currency after a decent interval of adjustment. Polls at the end of 1994 continued to show a modest majority against sovereignty, but it remains to be seen whether the attempt to sugarcoat such a drastic step in gradualism and ambiguity will sedate or alarm the province.


Historically, Canada was a collection of people who were not Americans: French-Canadians abandoned by France in 1763 after the British military victory; British Empire Loyalists who fled the American Revolution; immigrants and fugitives from Europe and recently other places, including the United States; immigrants who could not gain entry to the United States; Newfoundlanders who narrowly elected to become a Canadian province in 1949 after going bankrupt as an autonomous dominion. Though Canada has been very successful by most criteria, it has not thus far succeeded as a politically coherent entity whose institutional permanence or even durability could be assumed. Until the last 20 years or so, there persisted a self-conscious aura of the secondary and the derivative and a spirit of envy and insecurity, especially vis-à-vis the United States.

For most of its history, the rationale for the country was provided by the British connection and the French fact -- Francophones made up a third, though more recently only about a quarter, of the population -- as well as by a diffuse but not normally antagonistic fear of the United States. As the British connection slackened under the weight of years, immigration from central and southern Europe, and the pervasive American influence, the French population flirted ever more explicitly with outright independence as the Holy Grail waiting at the end of nearly 400 years of their history.

Over the last 20 years or so, the federal government, through grants to many cultural institutions, strong influence on public broadcasting and the National Film Board, and a strenuous emphasis on national symbols and festivals, has successfully promoted a more self-confident view of Canada, at least among the English-speaking population. Great folkloric stress has been placed on the physical grandeur of the country, on the million lakes, rivers, and streams of Canada that provide 30 percent of the world's fresh water. What was once less solemnly described as "the cry of the loon and the dip of the paddle" has assumed considerable mythic proportions. Parallel to the awakening of Quebec, the rest of Canada has undoubtedly become less self-conscious about its status as an entity distinct, if not always easily distinguishable, from the United States. This effort has not been notably successful in rallying Quebec to a pan-Canadian view, but it has elevated English-speaking Canada's view of itself.

Like medieval theologians in arcane dogmatic debate, Canadians have constantly redefined the national mission. The basic chore is to distinguish the country from the United States, which gently asserts a benign but "overwhelming contiguity," as Canada's longest-serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, once described it to Charles de Gaulle. The identity problem is accentuated by the ease with which Canadians can integrate into the United States. Canada is surpassed only by the British Isles, Germany, Italy, and Mexico as a source of immigrants to the United States. Among the 4.4 million Canadians who have made this easy trek are Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander Graham Bell, Saul Bellow, John Kenneth Galbraith, Peter Jennings, Dean Acheson's father, and many screen personalities -- including one of America's principal images of Abraham Lincoln, Raymond Massey, and "America's sweetheart," Mary Pickford. Apart from a habitual difference in pronunciation of a handful of words, English-speaking Canadians are almost impossible to distinguish from people of the neighboring American states.


Any definition of Canada's purposes as an independent country must be based on advantages that could not be found in a union with the United States. In these circumstances, Canada's political, academic, journalistic, and bureaucratic elites -- who tend to be rather pallid and unoriginal beside their American counterparts -- spontaneously devised the new national mission of being "more caring and compassionate" than the Americans.

This endeavor to promote Canada as a more generous and peaceable country began innocuously enough, with universal medical care, rigorous gun control, and a larger public sector share of GNP than the United States. But the notion of government as friend was central to the British colonization of central and western Canada. In the statute establishing Canada's autonomy in 1867, "peace, order, and good government" are the stated objectives that roughly correspond to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.

British and succeeding Canadian authorities had generally less difficulty with North American Indians than the United States did, and Canada's less complex sociology and strict gun control rules, on the British model, have undoubtedly made Canada a more peaceable country than its neighbor. (Sociology has surely had more to do with it than the Canadian gun control laws, which almost amount to a constitutional prohibition against bearing arms.) American per capita murder rates are four times Canada's, and the United States has nearly three times as many imprisoned people per capita as Canada. Successive generations of Canadians have been fascinated but horrified by the U.S. Civil War, Southern lynchings, gangland struggles, race riots, and more recent variants of U.S. urban violence, none of which has had easily discernible Canadian counterparts.

With this comparative gentleness, Canada's unsuccessful receive a good deal more from the state, and the most accomplished are less appreciated and more highly taxed than in the United States. Not coincidentally, significant numbers of successful Canadians steadily move to the United States, with little flow of people in reverse. The gap is made up, to some degree, by immigration to Canada from abroad.

Canada has adopted a notion of public policy more like the protective model found in climatically and ethnically similar Scandinavian countries, rather than the individualism of the more temperate and diverse United States. The Canadian social safety net has become a hammock relative to the American one (except for the elderly; America's Social Security system is more generous than its Canadian counterpart). Canadian tax levels have gone as far above American levels as they can without causing a human wave of economic refugees to cross the famously unguarded U.S. frontier. Prior to recent reductions in tobacco and sales taxes and the most recent decline in the relative value of the Canadian dollar, there were tremendous binges of cross-border shopping and smuggling by Canadians.

A conservative definition of Canadian public sector debt (excluding unfunded pension liabilities and the debt of state-owned companies) yields a total about equal to the GNP, which is around $700 billion in Canadian dollars. The federal government elected in 1993, unable to dodge altogether the implications of elementary arithmetic, has made purposeful noises about reducing the federal deficit from its recent 13 percent rate of compound growth to about three percent, so that the ratio between public sector debt and GNP would cease to deteriorate. The seriousness of its commitment to this goal is still unclear, and currently rising interest rates aggravate the problem. Most of the ten provinces, including Quebec, also have chronic debt problems and lack influence over monetary policy.

With public-sector wage settlements showing the way, the wage component of primary and secondary industries' production costs have steadily increased for more than 30 years compared to those in the United States and other developed nations. Despite declining relative productivity, "competitiveness" has been maintained by devaluing the Canadian dollar by about 30 percent in the same period relative to the U.S. dollar, and by over five percent in 1994 alone. Wage settlements have belatedly responded to recessionary conditions. The latest economic growth and productivity figures are favorable, but a slow erosion of the relative value of the Canadian dollar has remained the principal contributor to the current trade surplus.

Ontario, which provides half of Canada's GNP, added to the country's problems in 1990 by electing a camp socialist provincial government led by Bob Rae of the New Democratic Party. This regime has raised taxes, institutionalized political correctness, and delivered the commanding heights of the economy over to the Luddites of local organized labor, who still have the effrontery to profess that the provincial government's concessions have been insufficient. All indications are that the electors will liberate Ontario's incumbent legislators to spend more time with their families after the provincial election later this year. The NDP government has made a deathbed effort to conform to economic realities as perceived by most others, including the principal bond rating agencies. (It has added an average of $33 million per day for over four years to the province's debt.) In the provincial public sector, salary caps have been imposed in exchange for job security, and encouraging noises have finally been made to the long-suffering private sector. This remedial course correction came, however, after Ontario had already become the unwitting author of one of the United States' greatest job creation programs since the New Deal. Approximately half a million Ontario jobs were lost from 1991 to 1993. Many were lost due to the recession, and about a third have now been recovered, but a large number permanently decamped to more employer-friendly jurisdictions in the United States.


The theory of Canada's superior generosity as a society, which in practice means more socialism and less violence, conveniently encompasses the system of interregional transfers designed to keep Quebec in the country as Canada wrestles with its identity crisis. Since 1982, Canada has had the dubious distinction of being the only country in the history of the world to establish regional economic equality as a constitutional raison d'être. In order to give the Danegeld paid to Quebec as equalization payments some intellectual uniformity while emphasizing the tangible virtues of federalism, a formula for transferring money from "have" to "have-not" provinces was established in the 1950s. In 1982, this quest for regional economic equality was elevated to a constitutionally entrenched national objective, although there is no successful precedent for transferring resources to people rather than the other way around. (The only way for Newfoundlanders to achieve a living standard comparable to Alberta's is for large numbers of them to move to Alberta.)

Canada has massaged an inordinate proportion of national resources from the most to the less wealthy regions, especially to Quebec, which has happily accepted tens of billions of dollars of "equalization payments" and other preferments and now threatens to secede without being altogether convincing about shouldering its per capita share of the national debt. Western Canada, which has long felt underrepresented in a federal government it considers obsessed with placating Quebec, has become almost as disenchanted with that government as Quebec. In the 1993 federal election, the region voted almost as regionally as Quebec did, electing mainly M.P.s from the western-based Reform Party. This new movement wants to revisit many of the bilingual and redistributive assumptions of modern Canadian federalism. The whole process of taking money from those regions and individuals who have earned it and redistributing it to those who have not has saddled a fundamentally rich country with a backbreaking debt.

Quebec's most successful political leader, Maurice Duplessis -- who governed Quebec almost without interruption from 1936 until his death in 1959 by persuading conservatives and nationalists to vote together for him -- used to say that Quebec nationalists were like a "ten-pound fish on a five-pound line. They have to be reeled in and let out with great care." His successors have generally lacked Duplessis' dexterity. English Canada has responded to Quebec's relentless jurisdictional demands with unflagging goodwill. Canada possesses a considerable natural talent for endless good faith negotiations producing occasional minor agreements. (Canada's interregional discussions may have contributed to its flair for international peacekeeping; it has provided about ten percent of the United Nations' peacekeepers.) A well-known Canadian historian described the country as "strong only in moderation and governable only by compromise."

In the 1950s, the regional economic equalization program was promulgated by the federal government of Louis St. Laurent. In the 1960s, full concurrence of Quebec in direct taxation was conceded by Lester Pearson's government. In the 1970s, Pierre Trudeau promoted official bilingualism throughout the country in packaging, broadcasting, access of individuals to the federal government, and organization of the federal civil service. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Brian Mulroney's government unsuccessfully attempted a constitutional devolution that would have enhanced the authority of all the provinces. Except for Switzerland, Canada was already the most decentralized advanced country in the world. The provinces controlled property, civil rights, education, almost all welfare programs except unemployment insurance, most natural resources, and much of taxes. Under Mulroney's plans, they would also effectively have taken over the nomination of Supreme Court justices, directors of the central bank, and members of a strengthened upper house of Parliament, and at least concurrent jurisdiction in matters of immigration and radio and television licensing.

Despite the fact that the last of Mulroney's constitutional schemes was supported by all three federal political parties and all ten provincial governments -- who tried prodigiously to mobilize support for it in a national referendum in October 1992 -- 54 percent of Canadians voted against it. There was an apparent majority of both English- and French-speaking voters against the so-called Charlottetown accord, though for different reasons. English Canada effectively said to Quebec that it would not countenance any further jurisdictional dismemberment of the federal state. Quebec apparently rejected the Charlottetown accord out of pique at the failure of Mulroney's first attempt at constitutional reform, the Meech Lake accord, which several other provinces failed to ratify. Their distaste for Meech stemmed from Quebec's earlier use of the provincial right to overturn Supreme Court rulings in matters of civil rights, which let Quebec ban bilingual commercial signs and legislate that commercial signs could only be in French. For a country that is 75 percent English-speaking, deluges billions of dollars of federal largesse annually on its French-speaking compatriots, and has a long and admirable commitment to freedom of expression, this was an unacceptable provocation. The constitutional dialogue broke down in 1992 and has not resumed.

Quebec was clearly not rejected or treated disrespectfully in the referendum on the Charlottetown accord. The English-speaking federalist majority of Canada, however, was unwilling to further strip its government to appease the sovereigntist appetite of Quebec -- abetted, as is the Canadian pattern, by the premiers of the other provinces. If constitutional powers are being dispensed, they all happily queue up behind Quebec.

On the heels of this remarkable repudiation of the political class, Canadians eliminated two of the country's three historic national political parties in the general election of 1993. The governing Progressive Conservative Party emerged with just two M.P.s. The social democratic NDP was whittled down to six percent of the vote from their normal position of around 20 percent -- partly in response to the inanities of their colleagues in the government of Ontario. Not since the collapse of the British and American Whigs in the mid-nineteenth century has an advanced country with a history of strong and continuous party affiliations eliminated an established political party. For so placid an electorate as Canada's to banish two-thirds of its parties to the dustbin of history was a seismic change. Unlike the United States and some other countries, Canada has no history of referendary revolts, taxpayers' strikes, or midterm electoral recall of high public officials. The Western world's most successful party of government, the Liberal Party of Canada, which has been in power for nearly 70 of the last 100 years, won a strong mandate in 1993, with the opposition split between the Quebec separatists of Bouchard's Bloc Québécois, running implausibly in a federal election, and the western conservatives of the Reform Party. The Progressive Conservatives had been a coalition of regionally discontented elements, but Mulroney's well-intentioned gambles on constitutional reform provoked the desertion of the west on allegedly excessive concessions to Quebec. In turn, the Tories' inability to secure western approval of those concessions alienated Quebec.

In the gentlest, most quintessentially Canadian way, English Canadians have invited Quebec to adhere to Canada or go from it, but to stop implicitly threatening secession in the absence of further concessions. It is neither an ultimatum nor a rejection, but a fatigued statement in a spirit many Quebeckers share. After Meech and Charlottetown, what Duplessis described nearly 50 years ago as the federal-provincial "circonférences" cannot continue. Canada has now reached the point where neither of its two distinctive missions -- socialistic welfare statism and coddling Quebec -- is tenable. Tax levels are excessive, debt levels are unsustainable, the brain drain to the United States has not abated, and Quebec has again elected an avowedly separatist government -- albeit with a paper-thin plurality and absolutely no mandate to secede.


Canadians and, for once, the world are curious to know whether the country will make itself whole, sunder, or muddle through as it has so often before. Before, when Quebec nationalists contested with the sober bourgeois spirit of Quebec's Breton- and Norman-descended people for the province's destiny, prudence has prevailed. Few Quebeckers have any real interest in Canada other than as a matter of economic convenience. Quebec demonstrated during the 1988 debate over free trade with the United States that it considers English Canada's attempts to distinguish itself from the Americans to be completely spurious. This judgment may be a little harsh, but such distinctions are at least as subtle as those that separate Texans from Oregonians or Californians from New Englanders.

While Quebec was pushing on an open door and accepting preemptive concessions from English Canada -- whose elites, at least, attached considerable credence to Quebec's well-rehearsed grievances about having been treated as the second-class descendants of a conquered people -- secession seemed logical enough. Yet the federal government has been led by Quebeckers for all but 11 of the past 47 years -- under Prime Ministers St. Laurent (1948-57), Trudeau (1968-79 and 1980-84), Mulroney (1984-93), and Jean Chretien since 1993. English Canadians have lately made a huge effort to accommodate and promote the French language, filling French-immersion schools across western Canada. Despite pervasive efforts by Quebec's nationalist demagogues to unearth Francophobic incidents in English Canada, such as one school where French- and English-speaking children were supposedly but improbably assigned different lavatories, there is minimal French-English social friction. Such discrimination as exists is now more often practiced by Québécois on the English-speaking minority in that province, as in the notorious banning of bilingual commercial signs -- even sidewalk chalkboards describing the daily specials of restaurants in French and English. This parochial imbecility has even attracted the disapproval of the United Nations, but has probably helped to satisfy bloodlessly French Canada's long-repressed lust for self-assertion. The late Northrop Frye, one of Canada's most distinguished academics, once dryly said of Quebec, "The more separatist its policies, the more inevitably provincial their characteristics."

Yet this sort of authoritarian retribution has probably reached its limits, even in a country where almost everyone is endowed with an officially recognized grievance by virtue of geography, ethnicity, gender, sexual proclivity, or physical or psychological challenges. (In Canada, government-designated victims outnumber the entire population because of the possibility of accumulating conditions of victimization like food stamps.) Canada became one of the world's most "politically correct" countries, but there are signs that it is outgrowing the victim culture, such as the recent refusal to compensate some ethnic groups for alleged slights upon their ancestors at the time of World War I.

English Canada has done a full and costly penance for two centuries of ignoring and perhaps slightly condescending to the French. The French Canadians have an unbroken record of canny political attention to their self-interest. By any reckoning, Quebec's independence would be complicated, costly, and at best an exhilarating and frightening voyage into the unknown. There is a powerful body of opinion throughout Canada that wishes to bring the long-standing uncertainty over Quebec's future to an end. Most Canadians agree that the process of having a plebiscite on the future of Canada conducted in Quebec alone every 10 to 15 years must stop.

Because the rest of Canada is no longer prepared to make concessions of authority to appease Quebec, Quebec will finally have to decide whether it really wishes to be part of Canada or not. I expect that Parizeau's attempt to back into independence via a spurious referendum on sovereignty within Canadian confederation will be rejected as a scam, probably by the Québécois or, if necessary, by the countries with which Parizeau would seek to exchange embassies.

A narrow plurality for his version of sovereignty, while it would aggravate existing instability in Canada, would not be believable to anyone as the birth of a nation. The English-speaking majority in western Quebec and the native peoples of the vast northern regions of the province, to which Canada would have a serious legal claim, would immediately announce their continued adherence to Canada. The fledgling state of Quebec could not resist these developments, no matter how much sovereignty it had purported to confer upon itself.

Parizeau, Bouchard, and the other separatist leaders are unwilling to present independence as anything other than the painless and almost imperceptible conclusion of an inexorable natural process. In fact, most Québécois should know that a sovereigntist majority is more likely to lead to an economic and political shambles, at least temporarily, than to a brave new world. In Parizeau's promised referendum on Quebec sovereignty, the sophisticated Quebec voters, who have played their hand so astutely for all of Canada's 155-year democratic history, will probably give the separatists no more than the 40 percent they won in the 1980 referendum. Since almost all parties are determined to resolve this issue once and for all, and because the federalists will make no more concessions, such a defeat for the separatists should mean that the option has been finally rejected and is closed.

If this prognosis is correct, the political insecurity that has so tortured Canada throughout its history could swiftly recede, leaving Canada a far more vigorous and self-possessed nation. If by some confluence of circumstances the separatists were to prevail, however, their victory would also open interesting possibilities for the rest of the continent.


Deprived of the principal source of its distinctiveness opposite the United States, post-Quebec English Canada would doubtless profess a determination to carry on without its reluctant and gangrenous French partner, like Churchillian Britain in 1940. In fact, truncated, debt-ridden, demoralized, mired in the Ozymandian constitutional wreckage of a binational country, defining itself in large part through (overrated) social programs, and prone to regional centrifugation only slightly less jarring than Quebec's, it would finally have to put its raison d'être, as one distinct from that of the United States, to the supreme test.

The only real differences between English Canada and the United States are political and ideological. The Empire Loyalist forebears of English Canada believed in the hierarchical imposition of peace and order by legitimate authority. They fled the democratic republic where all unallocated powers reside with the citizens, and their descendants are still frightened and enthralled by the fermentation of the American political process. The loyalty of the original English-speaking Canadians was to the sovereign. They were, by definition, statists, and so, relatively, have their descendants remained. The founders of the United States were individualists, and the nation that has just elevated House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tx.) has also remained essentially faithful to that intent.

Despite the best efforts of the "caring and compassionate" school of Canadian nationalism, the only believable rationale for a Canada separate from the United States has been the principle of a distinctive bicultural nationalism -- that is, if English- and French-speaking Canadians feel fortunate to share a country with each other. Be it ever so hackneyed and abused, bonne entente was the only formula that was ever going to work, and, despite all the vicissitudes, it will work. Only the French Canadians, not hosts of social workers and tax collectors, really distinguish Canada from its neighbor. Only the English Canadians can prevent Quebec from being an insignificant French postage stamp on the northern marches of the United States: a large, cold, resource-rich Puerto Rico.

The Empire Loyalists founded English Canada to preserve part of North America for the British Empire and to demarcate spheres of influence with the American republic in the new world. Their descendants tried to make a country with the French Canadians. If that endeavor finally fails, the whole original enterprise will ultimately probably fail.

Without Quebec, the four Atlantic provinces and the far west would have occasion to reappraise their membership in what would have become an incoherent confederation. The continuing provinces and territories -- about 21 million homogeneous well-trained, rather law-abiding people living in a narrow ribbon along the American border of a vast, rich land -- would still almost qualify as a member of the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrialized economies. After the secession of Quebec and the retrenchment of Canada, the unabated might of the United States, the world's only superpower, would probably be more magnetic to its kindred and intimate neighbor than ever -- assuming crime rates continued to decline and America appeared to be solving some of its gravest urban problems. Especially in a world where the principal alternate civilizations might eventually be oriental and Islamic militancies, the assembling of English-speaking, North American, liberal democratic capitalism in one country instead of two would have considerable appeal to both countries.

Mere annexation would be too demeaning to be acceptable to Canadians. But an American proposal of federal union, promising debt and tax reduction for Canada, and at least a transitional retention of control of residential immigration so all America's chronic welfare cases did not descend overnight on the comparatively generous Canadian social welfare system, might be acceptable.

For the United States, it would mean 21 million industrious, easily assimilable people and a colossal accretion of almost every natural resource. For Canada, after the painful collapse of the long bicultural experiment, adherence to the world's foremost nationality would mean security and identity at last while retaining regional individuality. In the abstract, English-speaking Canadians could undoubtedly make a more advantageous arrangement with the United States than they have had with Quebec. The United States could make an attractive offer even if different Canadian provinces, on a staggered and unpredictable timetable, responded with varying and evolving levels of enthusiasm.

The United States, which in less than 200 years became the greatest economic, military, and cultural force in the history of the world and is likely to remain so for some time, would eventually embrace a fragmented Canada -- either by satellization, partial absorption, or outright fusion, whichever the Canadians wished. And, un-Canadian though this opinion might be now, no amount of spontaneous or orchestrated histrionics about compassion and the caring state would have much impact on the timetable, however enviable the perceived quality of life or keen the patriotic fervor in what would then be left of Canada.

That denouement would be a more important geopolitical phenomenon than the reunification of Germany. Even without Quebec, Canada has more people and infinitely more resources than East Germany had. Even in the most rabidly anti-American circles, it would be at least 50 years before there was any more wishful talk about the decline of the United States. There would be an immediate five percent increase in U.S. GNP, a virtual doubling of territory, and the instant replenishment of all the resources Americans have consumed or wasted in this century. Geopolitically, America would almost be born again.

The likelihood, to be arbitrary, is about two to one that the secession of Quebec will not occur. However, under either scenario -- as an unambiguously united and sensibly bicultural country or an important component of a greatly reinforced United States -- Canada will play a role in the world considerably more important than any it has enjoyed in its two centuries as, in the famous words of a British colonial official in the 1830s, "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state."

A Canada no longer subject to Quebec's endless threats of secession, where Quebec's permanent adherence had been effectively exchanged for an entrenched official status from sea to sea, as Trudeau originally proposed in the 1970s, would be a steadily more important G-7 country. It would fully occupy the political role available to one of the world's ten or twelve most important countries. If English-speaking Canada coalesced with the United States, the impact on America would be immensely positive and reassuring, and Canadians would be a stabilizing influence in America's complicated demography.

The first, more likely, and most desired scenario is the fulfillment of Canada's dreams. If it becomes impossible because of Quebec's antics, however, the second is not a completely unpalatable fate: one great country or, eventually, a number of important states in or affiliated with the world's principal country. What is an unpalatable fate is the perpetuation of the ancient and present uncertainties, and it is seen as such by almost all Canadians, English and French.

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  • Conrad Black is Chairman of Hollinger Inc., which is responsible for publishing numerous newspapers including London's The Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post, the Fairfax newspapers in Australia, and the Southam newspapers in Canada. He is the author of two books.
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