Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stephen Harper Must Tell Madame Marois "Non"

A little history lesson:

The year was 1995. The place was Quebec. There was a referendum going on that would decide whether or not Quebec would seek to separate from the rest of Canada.

Jean Chretien was the Prime Minister of Canada. Lucien Bouchard was the Premier of Quebec. Chretien was reluctant to get involved in the referendum. And Bouchard took full advantage of that.

Mr Bouchard promised Quebeckers the moon: after separating from Canada Quebec would not accept its share of the national debt. Quebec would continue to use Canadian currency. Quebec would continue to benefit from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) without negotiating their way into it.

None of these things were possible. But Chretien made no forceful attempt to dispel Bouchard's delusions (some would say lies). And Quebec very nearly voted in favour of separating from Canada.

That was 1995, nearly 20 years ago. Now the year is 2014, and Quebec's is having an election. Quebec's current Premier, Pauline Marois, is making very similar promises to what Bouchard promised. Marois has insisted that a sovereign Quebec would continue to use Canadian currency, and would have a seat on the board of the Bank of Canada. She also suggests that Quebec would effectively have no borders with the rest of Canada.

It seems reasonable to suspect that Marois will also insist that not only would a sovereign Quebec not accept its share of the national debt, but won't give up the transfer payments that effectively fund its lavish lifestyle.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper must not repeat the mistakes of Jean Chretien. To all of this he must say "non."

Marois' suggestions are in now way acceptable or even possible. Given how her government chooses to manage the Quebec economy -- discouraging, if not outright refusing, economic development -- the rest of the world has a right to  its input on the desirability of doing business in Quebec. That pretty much requires a Quebec currency to fall like a stone against the Canadian dollar on international markets. With the Parti Quebecois in power, fall like a stone such a currency would. Guaranteed.

The idea of a sovereign Quebec without borders also flies in the face of the very concept of sovereignty. Having borders is a precursor of any semblance of sovereignty. Any 100-level political science student in Quebec presumably understands this, even if Madame Marois does not.

I understand that Prime Minister Harper is reluctant to get involved in the Quebec election. There is some good reason for this. But this is not an acceptable reason to remain silent and allow Marois to deceive the citizens of Quebec about what independence would mean for La Belle Province.

Ju me souviens, Mr Harper. Remember what happened in 1995. Do not repeat the mistakes of that year in 2014.

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