What Quebec expects from the US

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Q. In your recent statements you seem to expect the United States to welcome the emergence of an independent Quebec. What precisely do you want and expect from the United States? How might an independent Quebec be more in the US interest than a united Canada?

A. We hope that the United States will opt for a position of neutrality vis-a-vis Ottawa and Quebec City. We hope that it will remain neutral while adhering to the great principles it has espoused in applying its foreign policy -- I am thinking in particular of the principle of a people's right to self-determination, which the American government supported when it was adopted by the UN.

In addition, we believe that we have a right to be heard by the government of the United States. The Parti Quebecois was democratically elected, and it would seem normal that it be given a chance to explain its position, particularly to those who may be affected by our proposal of sovereignty-association. And yet up to now the American government has turned for explanations of the evolution of Quebec's internal political situation to the central government, which is opposed to our ideas!

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But neutrality does not mean indifference. The United States has sizable interests in Quebec, and naturally it will want to make sure they are protected.

At first sight, there is no reason for the US to look forward to a change on its northern border when the status quo has for years been universally cited as an example of "good neighborliness." Don't fool with a winning combination, as they say in sports circles. But I think that the US, in its own interests, would be making a mistake if it failed to understand the forces at work in Quebec.

Despite the similarities on the economic and cultural planes, the United States and Canada are actually very different. The US was forged by peoples from many different nations. Assimilation was sufficiently powerful to create a homogeneous society and mold a single nation. This is not true in Canada, where for two centuries two very different societies have coexisted, following paths that are not only not parallel but are in fact diverging ever more widely.

These "two solitudes" lie at the very heart of the concept of a sovereign Quebec. Hence a new agreement between Quebec and the rest of Canada has become an urgent necessity. On this new agreement depends to a large extent the maintenance of stability to the north of the Canadian-American border, and stability is obviously a matter of deep concern to our neighbours south of that border.

Q. Quebec is highly dependent on foreign trade, and the US is the province's largest foreign trade partner. Last year the PQ's Minister for Economic Development, Bernard Landry, said that Quebec would try to establish an economic association with the US in the event that Canada rejects sovereignty-association. Is this a serious proposal, and if so, how do you envision its development and form?

A. If the majority of the people of Quebec vote in favor of sovereignty-association, we feel that the government of Canada will have every interest in negotiating with Quebec. If Canada, for emotional reasons, were to decide to act contrary to its own interests for a few years -- and once again, we are convinced that it will not -- we would naturally intensify our economic relations with the United States more quickly than we might have done otherwise.

Economic association is a broad term; it can include ties of various kinds between two or more states. There can be a system of free trade, a customs union, a common market or a monetary union, depending on whether the parties wish to combine free circulation of goods and services with, respectively, a common foreign tariff, common economic policies -- especially in matters of manpower, circulation of capital and technology -- or a common currency. This stand is theoretical. In practice, as far as the United States is concerned, we shall have to wait and see before we move in any direction.

Q. How does the Quebec Government view the Franco-Americans, particularly those of New England?

A. Quebec is the French-language center of North America. It constitutes a distinct society with its own institutions, history and culture. In the New England states live people of French descent who have become bona fidem Americans. Many of them no longer speak French, but the fact remains that because of geographical proximity, broader contact has been built up between Quebecers and New Englanders in recent years. Of course the Quebec Government claims no authority over, nor direct responsibility for, persons outside Quebec who speak French. Nevertheless, it does intend to maintain various ties with New England, particularly at the university level. It also takes part in cultural events.

What I have just said about New England can apply equally to Louisiana; however, since Louisiana is much farther away, we decided a few years ago to open a Quebec office in Lafayette. This office facilitates contracts and exchange programs with the people of Louisiana. In any event, whether they live in Louisiana or elsewhere, we are always pleased to cooperate with any people who, like ourselves, show an active interest in the French language.

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