BY BEVERLY BERNARDO
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Taking the lead from the federal government in Ottawa, several groups across Canada have begun to organize a campaign to deny the oppressed Quebecois nation its right to self-determination.
On January 29, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien raised the threat of partitioning Quebec should the majority vote for independence in the future. Two days later, the Vancouver Sun ran an editorial headlined "Carving Quebec." The subhead aptly summed up the thrust of this piece. "If French-speaking Quebecers can claim self-determination, so can others," it read.
Opponents of Quebec's right to separate from Canada have also begun to organize public meetings as part of their efforts to build a mass campaign to deny the Quebecois their right to independence. On February 2, more than 600 people, including a small number of young people, attended a meeting here in Vancouver sponsored by B.C. Citizens for Canadian Unity and Citizens Concerned About Free Trade (CCAFT). According to the meeting's chairperson, Connie Fogal, about 7,000 posters advertising the meeting on the topic "Canada After the Referendum - What Now?" were put up all over the lower mainland.
B.C. Citizens for Canadian Unity is a new group that handed out a "preliminary policy statement" to those in attendance. "The near victory of the separatists in last October's Quebec referendum gave all Canadians a wake-up call. We came within several thousand votes of losing our country, a country that is the envy of millions around the world." The statement does not recognize Quebec as a nation; rather it says the people of Quebec "are very much wanted and needed" as part of the Canadian nation. The next meeting of the group will be held at the home of Harry Rankin, a former Vancouver alderman and a lawyer known for defending civil liberties.
David Orchard and Guy Bertrand were the two speakers at the event. Both were active in campaigning for a "no" vote during last year's referendum on Quebec sovereignty. Orchard is a Saskatchewan farmer, the national chairman of the CCAFT, and author of the widely-read book The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism.
During the referendum last year Orchard was in Montreal speaking and writing about what he described as "the danger to both Quebec and the rest of Canada from the separatist movement."
Bertrand is a Quebec lawyer who won a court injunction to block the 1995 referendum, but the judge then said he had no power to enforce his decision. Bertrand, a founding member of the Parti Quebecois, has founded a new organization called Citizens for a Democratic Nation to campaign against Quebec's right to independence.
Canadian nationalist rhetoric
Figures like Orchard and Bertrand try to convince working people that they have a stake in defending the Canadian state against its imperialist competitors. Independence for Quebec would be a blow to Canadian imperialism.
Canadian nationalist rhetoric
Orchard argues that the real threat to all of Canada, including Quebec, is being absorbed by the United States through the provisions of the 1988 Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Orchard rejects the idea that Quebec is an oppressed nation within Canada that has the right to self-determination. In fact, in answer to a question during the discussion period, Orchard gave credence to the notion that the "Americans" created the Quebec nationalist movement to weaken Canada.
Orchard opposed giving any more powers to the provincial governments "in a vain attempt to appease Quebec," because it would "Balkanize" Canada by weakening the federal government. The CCAFT leader urged all those present to read Federalism and the French Canadian by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who sent the Canadian army into Quebec in 1970 in an attempt to crush the rising Quebecois nationalist movement. Trudeau recently wrote an article published in major daily newspapers accusing Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard of betraying Quebec by allegedly misleading people during the campaign around the October 1995 referendum.
In his speech, Bertrand said that by not challenging the legality of the referendum, federalist forces had set a precedent for accepting the results of a future vote. He called for a referendum to be held across Canada before the end of the year on the question: "Do you want to remain a Canadian citizen?" Bertrand predicted that such a question would win a yes vote by a 65 percent majority within Quebec.
Bertrand also maintained that any referendum on secession in Quebec must have a "double majority." He said that in order to separate there should be a vote of 70 percent or more in Quebec as a whole plus a vote of 50 percent plus one in each region in order for it to separate - raising the specter of Quebec's partition. Bertrand's final appeal for Canadian unity received loud applause.
Socialist views get a hearing
In their overwhelming majority those attending the meeting supported Canadian unity and opposed Quebec's right to self- determination. But members of the Communist League and Young Socialists who have gone on a campaign-footing to counter Ottawa's reactionary campaign against Quebec found a hearing for their views. Despite some loud boos and hisses when communists explained they were champions of Quebec's independence, they were able to participate in the discussion. Young Socialists member Jason Phelps stated that "The Canadian government's use of the War Measures Act against Quebec and the recent role of the army in Somalia show the real nature of Canada as an imperialist country."
Socialist views get a hearing
A literature table set up outside the meeting featured a sign reading, "Canada-NATO Troops Out of Yugoslavia, Defend Cuba's Socialist Revolution, and Support Independence for Quebec." Communists were able to sell 16 issues of the Militant from the table. "We heard you were for Quebec's independence," said several people who came by to talk.
In explaining the stakes for working people in the chauvinist campaign against Quebec, communists pointed to two issues of the Marxist magazine New International that contain "Land, Labor and the Canadian Revolution" by Michel Dugré and "Imperialism's March toward Fascism and War" by Jack Barnes. These articles are particularly useful in providing a working-class explanation of what's behind the Canadian rulers' chauvinist offensive, the place of right-wing mobilizations for the partition of Quebec, and the role of Canadian imperialism today.
At a conference featuring a Cuban professor in Montreal, several people came to the Communist League table specifically to pick up a French translation of a Militant editorial supporting Quebec independence. Michel Prairie, a leader of the Communist League, participated in the discussion, comparing the struggle of the Cuban people for sovereignty, dignity, and in defense of socialism with that of the Quebecois. "Fighters for Quebec independence have a lot to learn from the Cuban revolution," Prairie said.
Ned Dmytryshyn in Vancouver and Brigitte Grouix in Montreal contributed to this article.
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