Canada Toughens Stance On Quebec, Human Rights
Foreign minister emphasizes stronger foreign policy. INTERVIEW
BOSTON — WARNING of the harsh repercussions Quebec faces if it secedes from Canada, the Canadian government has switched from coaxing Quebec to stay in the fold to laying down a tougher line.Barbara McDougall, Canada's secretary of state for external affairs, acknowledged in a meeting with Monitor editors Nov. 21 that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's government has shifted its approach on Quebec sovereignty. In a wide-ranging interview, Mrs. McDougall - who was named secretary of state by Mr. Mulroney in April after serving six years in other ministries - was asked about the effect on Canada's global influence if Quebec splits off. "That's not going to happen," she replied, then added: "Or it will happen over my dead body and the dead body of the prime minister." Saying it is "not in anyone's interest that this country split apart," she affirmed that "a lot of the messages that we are delivering across Canada are much tougher." She also said Canada's influence in the world if separation took place "would simply disappear" and that "it would not be a friendly parting." Her words echoed the hard line taken by Mulroney during a visit this month to his home turf of Charlevoix, Quebec. The shift, analysts say, appears designed to more strongly counter the separatist Parti Qucois argument that Quebec would encounter only mild transitional problems if it breaks away. McDougall contends the government is simply pointing out cold truths, but others say it further tinges the debate with emotion. "Which way things go on the sovereignty issue and Mulroney's proposal will have mostly to do with political atmospherics," says Charles David, a professor of international relations at the Royal Military College of St. Jean, Quebec. "Economics, too, are important since a bad economy usually plays to the federalists. But atmospherics in the form of loud speeches, misplaced comments could still take over." Beyond the domestic hard line, Canada has in the past few months become more assertive in foreign policy. In mid-October, Mulroney surprised the 49-member Commonwealth by saying Canada would cut foreign aid to countries with poor human rights records. The Mulroney government is reported on the verge of cutting aid to Kenya, long a close partner. "By coming out strongly and publicly with this ... we're trying to urge other countries to do the same thing," McDougall said. The Mulroney government gained recognition on human rights in 1984 by taking the lead among Commonwealth countries in condemning South African apartheid. And the recent move linking foreign aid to rights has been seen as an extension of that initiative. But a new element, analysts say, is the eagerness with which the government is asserting Canada's view to a world long accustomed to a less-pronounced Canadian role. Canada's role, for example, in the Organization of American States' (OAS) effort to reverse the Haiti coup is notable for its backing of a restored democracy - even if it means using force to do so. "Force is always the last, ultimate step," McDougall said Oct. 2 at the OAS in Washington, according to Maclean's, a Canadian news weekly. "There is a much larger willingness to throw weight around," says John Kirton, a political scientist at the University of Toronto. "That threat of force is in the vanguard of Canadian foreign policy and follows in spirit of our Gulf war involvement." Asked about Canada's stance toward the coup in Haiti, McDougall said: "The prime minister was among the first to condemn it.... We're very involved and feel very strongly about it." Taking this sort of hard line is a big change for many Canadians, whose post-World War II predisposition has been distinctly anti-militarist, Canadian observers say. In the post-cold-war world, Canada appears to be adopting stronger positions, in part to enhance its position within the OAS, the United Nations, and other groups, Mr. Kirton says. In that vein, McDougall alluded to a broader role for Canada. "What this [Haiti experience] has told us is that it is not good enough in a country with 200 years of an appalling history behind it to go in and monitor an election," she said. "You have to stay and help the institutions work.... The next time we monitor an election we're going to discuss how to follow through."