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The Article

Canada and Quebec could both benefit from separation

I had just finished watching the enchanting French movie Les Choristes—rush out and buy it on DVD—when Antoine Robitaille phoned from Montreal.

Now, Antoine, who turned out to be a very charming fellow indeed, is a journaliste on the influential newspaper Le Devoir and wanted to talk about two recent columns, “Divided we stand” (May 1) and “Friendly adieu” (May 8), in which I suggested we accept the coming of an independent Quebec as inevitable and let Quebecers go without rancour.

Robitaille writes a weekly review of what newspapers in English Canada are saying about Quebec and asked how I came to my conclusions, and what the mood was in Alberta towards Ottawa and whether there was any semblance of a separatist movement arising here.

On the last question I told Antoine if Paul Martin’s Liberals win the next election the few squeaks of separatist sentiment now in Alberta will be heard more distinctly, and if the Grits make another grab for our energy resources, as with the 1981 National Energy Program and John Turner’s 1974 budget, those squeaks will turn into a roar.

My chat with Antoine then basically followed the lines of the two columns saying we should stop exhausting ourselves trying to bribe Quebec to stay, accept it is a province with a vastly different language and culture and let Quebecers build their country while we rebuild ours.

As Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe said in Calgary a month or so ago, Quebec would be happier as a separate country and so would English Canada. We’d both get on far better than we do now.

We would still have some relationship, like the nations of the European Union. To ease Quebec’s exit, we should even write off its roughly 25% share of the $500 billion national debt.

Without the free-spending Liberals—without Quebec, and with the Bloc in command of that province, the Grits would be finished—and we could quickly turn Canada into an economic powerhouse.

I told Antoine of all the phone calls and e-mails in response to the columns, I received only one that was anti-French Quebec in the stereotypical way, and only one that was obnoxious towards me. The rest accepted the premise separation is inevitable so let’s get it over with.

Actually, while not liking the hotheaded radicals in the Quebec separatist movement I do understand—and quietly admire—why French Canadians have been so determined to safeguard their culture and traditions. The sham of multiculturalism is nowhere to be seen in Quebec. Anyone who emigrates to Quebec better understand they adapt to the Quebecois culture, not the other way around.

The ruinous Pierre Trudeau, much despised by the majority of Quebecers, once assured immigrants in urging them to come to Canada they didn’t even need to become Canadians. They could keep their cultures and languages—the taxpayers would even pay for them to do so—and they had no need to assimilate.

The result? I’m pretty sure it was my favourite Canadian author, Peter C. Newman, who said the only thing remaining of what was English Canada is roast beef. Unlike Quebec, we have given away the foundations of our nation. We should have listened to former MP Don Mazankowski who said if a culture is worth saving it will save itself—which is what Quebecers have done—and to Calgary North MP Deepak Obhrai who openly says if anyone wants to keep their culture alive they should pay for doing so themselves.

After Robitaille’s column appeared in Le Devoir I got a stack of e-mails and phone calls from his French-Canadian readers in Montreal. All were polite and supportive, and all were interested in Alberta’s stance on separation and on its attitude towards meddling Ottawa.

Of course, in each reply or chat I spoke of my love of Paris music stars such as Edif Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Charles Trenet (La Mer) and of French cinema, particularly ‘film noir’ movies such as 1953’s Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) and 1955’s Rififi. (Non-translatable).

One very nice correspondent, Andre Langlois, even offered to send me some French music of which ‘Les Quebecois’ are extremely fond. Merci, Andre, I’m looking forward to it.

The conclusion from all this is that Quebec is definitely determined to go, but we can work things out in an orderly way, and, as Duceppe said, we’ll all be better off for it.

Copyright ? 2005 Paul Conrad Jackson.

Click here to read Paul Jackson’s full and fascinating biography.  Paul Conrad Jackson is one of Canada’s most distinguished and thought-provoking journalists.  He is currently senior political commentator for the Calgary Sun and other related newspapers, after being both Editor and Associate Editor for a number of years. Mr. Jackson has interviewed such world famous political figures as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, John Diefenbaker, Brian Mulroney, Pierre Trudeau, Yitshak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu.

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