Sean Scallon’s analysis of Quebec sovereignty (Cultural Revolutions, June) misses the point.  In Reference on certain Questions concerning the Secession of Quebec from Canada (1998), the Supreme Court of Canada held that the people of Quebec have a constitutional right to press for independence by all means allowed in parliamentary democracy; that the people of Quebec have a constitutional right to a peaceful referendum, at public expense, on independence from Canada; that a clear vote on a clear proposition for independence cannot constitutionally be rejected by the government of Canada, which will have a constitutional duty to negotiate differences or grant independence in such a case; and that, if the government of Canada fails to negotiate in good faith, Quebec may proceed unilaterally to independence, which will become lawful as soon as the nations of the world recognize the new country, it being understood under international law that such recognition should be accorded as soon as the new regime successfully establishes a civilized legal order with the support of the population.

The separatist movement then and there began to die, because the right of secession made a termination of Anglo-Canadian hostility against Quebec a patriotic duty, whereupon French Canada immediately felt more comfortable within the union.  The right of secession has greatly strengthened Canada, which is now united and loyal to the crown.

The defeat of the Parti Québécois in the spring 2003 election was not at all because of disgust over separatism as such.  The Parti Québécois was defeated because a group of pseudointellectuals in the party leadership decided that the French Revolution must have been good because it was French and started to govern accordingly.  That turned everybody off.  

The new Liberal premier, Jean Charest, is as devoted a French patriot as has ever led a government or the opposition in the history of Quebec.  Before him was Liberal premier Robert Bourassa, who gallantly fought for a special status for Quebec under the Meech Lake Accord proposed in 1987.  Before Bourassa was Claude Ryan, who led the Liberal opposition when René Lévesque was premier in the late 1970’s and early 80’s and filed before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998 an elegant statement affirming the right of Quebec to secede.

The other reason Quebec voted out the Parti Québécois is that the Liberal Party of Canada finally showed Jean Chrétien the door.  Soon, he will be gone as prime minister, and everybody in Quebec feels a sense of relief.  With the assistance of Stéphane Dion, Chrétien stirred up more ill will and resentment between Anglo-Canada and Quebec than any other politician surviving the age of Pierre Eliot Trudeau.

What the United States did wrong in 1860-65, Canada did right in 1995-2000.

        —John Remington Graham
St-Agapit Quebec

Mr. Scallon Replies:

Who gets to decide what is a “clear vote on a clear proposition for independence?”  Since 1996, Ottawa does!

Many Canadian federalists believe that one of the reasons the 1995 referendum almost succeeded was that the question was deliberately made vague in order to attract the broadest possible support.  The Canadian parliament pushed through the Clear Questions Act in 1996 to prevent this from happening again.  This was upheld in the Canadian Supreme Court, as Mr. Graham stated, in 1998.

Pierre Trudeau declared martial law in Quebec in order to break up the terrorist cells of the FLQ (Fronte Liberation du Quebec) in the early 1970’s.  I am convinced that Trudeau’s protégé, Jean Chrétien, would have done the same to keep the separatists from reaching power.  He would have been no different from Lincoln in this regard.  The disaster of 1861-65 would have been repeated in Quebec.

That disagreement aside, Mr. Graham has stated in previous letters to Chronicles that the Québécois have used secession the way a good poker player uses a bluff.  Far from missing the point in my article, I agree with Mr. Graham that Quebecers never hated Canada and viewed secession as more of a threat to get something from Ottawa than as something actually to be carried out.