Some of the liveliest speculation about the future of Quebec's relations with Canada concerns the possibility of military confrontation in the wake of Quebec secession. In these breathless accounts, Montreal becomes Belfast, or worse still, Beirut or Sarajevo. Armed bands of crazed Anglophones, supported by machine gun-toting Mohawk Warriors, declare independence on Montreal's West Island, turning the Fairview shopping centre in suburban Pointe Claire into their interim Parliament. Armed Crees seize Hydro-Quebec dams in the James Bay and start selling electricity directly to Consolidated Edison, bypassing the provincial utility. Canadian Forces in combat gear, just back from peacekeeping duty in Bosnia, are sent directly into battle in Hull as efforts are made to secure strategic bridges leading from Ottawa to the ski hills and bike trails of Gatineau Park. Inspired by the dispute between Ukrainians and Russians over the ships of Black Sea Fleet, Quebec sailors seize a Coast Guard icebreaker and begin steaming for Quebec City. Spiced up with a little love interest, this could be the start of a great made-for-TV movie.

But this remains the stuff of fiction rather than of credible speculation. Canadians are a remarkably peaceable people. Our history of civil strife is brief, more sporadic incidents than anything else. The Quebec terrorism of the 1960s and 1970s, with its boobied-trapped mailboxes, selected bombings and the murder of Pierre Laporte, was mercifully limited in its bloodshed. As for the Mohawk confrontation at Oka of 1990, it ended with a whimper, not a Waco, Texas-like conflagration that resulted in scores of dead and injured. In the historic confrontations between Quebec and the rest of Canada, we've tended to vent our anger through nasty newspaper editorials and raised voices during federal-provincial conferences. It's more likely that Canada will end, not end with the crackle of automatic weapons but with the droning of politicians, constitutional lawyers and actuaries around a mahogany boardroom table.

All this doesn't mean that military issues don't remain some of the most sensitive in any eventual negotiations between a Quebec bent on separation and the rest of Canada. Even in a country like Canada, with its decidedly unmilitaristic past, talk of defence brings together an amalgam of touchy issues -- the loyalty of armed forces personnel, the symbolic value of national sovereignty, border questions, alliances with other nations and lots of money invested in military bases and equipment.

Let's start by discounting the possibility that Quebec secession will become an issue of grave concern to military strategists in the U.S. Pentagon. The era when the separation of Quebec might have caused military strategists in Canada and the United States to fret over the implications for North American defence are over. With the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet nuclear threat, the strategic importance of the whole continent, and particularly its northern tier has diminished markedly. The worries that Quebec would become a "Cuba of the North" or a decidely neutral nation refusing to take part in NATO and NORAD have also dissipated.

Like the NDP, the Parti Québécois has shed any overt anti-U.S. positions and now espouses defence policies that sound remarkably like the those of recent Canadian governments -- maintain a conventional military force that would fulfill commitments to the UN, NATO and NORAD, promote world peace, protect national sovereignty and provide aid to the civil power. Quebec may fear U.S. cultural domination, but it will be careful not to alienate the Americans on defence issues. As with free trade, Quebec separatists don't have trouble cosying up to Americans if it means moving them out of the sphere of influence of English Canadians. In the end, Jacques Parizeau will be unwilling to do anything that would upset the U.S. and threaten the recognition he desperately craves from Washington.


Pentagon officials are unlikely to worry because strategically, Quebec isn't very important to the "defence" of North America in the first place. Even in the days of the Cold War, Quebec wasn't of much strategic importance. Although its land mass is large, the province has no ice-free seaports and most of its southern coastline is along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Even after Quebec secession, entrance to the Gulf and the shipping lanes leading to Quebec City and Montreal remains under Canadian control. To the north, the Northwest Territories act as a buffer from any threat that might have once existed from over the Pole, and to the east, Labrador and Newfoundland are there as a protection against the now non-existent Soviet submarine threat. As for the St. Lawerence Seaway, its importance as a commercial waterway is in steep decline, with increasing volumes of grain moving through West Coast ports. Concerns over the strategic importance of the Seaway have long been overblown. Sinking a laker full of grain would hardly be worth the effort, because nobody would notice.

André Legault, a political scientist specializing in strategic studies at Laval University, sums up Quebec's strategic importance in this way. "If Canada is marginal, Quebec would be even more so, because its territory will represent nothing but a simple enclave within the much larger Canadian federation."

Quebec's lack of strategic interest is reflected in the current military presence in the province. A relatively small portion of the uniformed personnel in the Canadian Forces is actually stationed in Quebec, making up about 14 per cent of the 74,000 members of the regular forces. There are only a few large Quebec bases -- the land bases in St-Hubert and Valcartier, the supply depot in Longue Pointe in east-end Montreal and the air force base at Bagotville. There are no naval bases in Quebec although there are several naval reserve units. Added to these Quebec-based regular forces are more than 15,000 reservists and several thousand civilian personnel.

The Bélanger-Campeau Commission used the fact that Quebec has few bases and relatively few soldiers in the province to justify its claim that it is responsible for only 14.5 per cent of the budget of National Defence. These calculations leave out the operations of National Defence headquarters in Ottawa and all the Quebec residents who work there. It also assumes that Quebec gains in no way from the role of the Navy, for example, since naval operations are based in the Atlantic provinces or British Columbia. Using the same logic, Prince Edward Islanders shouldn't have to pay for any share of the national defence budget, because CFB Summerside has been shut down and the province no longer has a military base. The Bélanger-Campeau calculation serves the separatists well by allowing them to show that the cost of a Quebec army would be small.


Although the PQ has seldom shown much interest in defence and strategic issues, party policy does call for establishment of a Quebec army after independence. Jacques Parizeau has said that it's essential for a separate Quebec to have its own army and it would be absurd to delegate these responsibilities to a joint Canada-Quebec force. "It's fundamental that Quebec have its own armed forces. An army whose loyalty is to the nation becomes a support for democratic life." He insists that a Quebec army would be modest in its goals and would first respond to domestic security needs, like the Oka crisis, where close to 4,000 members of the Canadian armed forces were called in. It would also exercise Quebec sovereignty over the North, patrol Quebec's coastline, and protect the fishery.

Quebec's own military needs after sovereignty will probably be limited to some land forces that could provide aid to the civil power and some maritime surveillance capability on the St. Lawrence River. Quebec already has the nucleus of a small army with the brigade based at Valcartier near Quebec City. But Legualt says that if Quebec wants to simply protect its own sovereignty, it doesn't need two squadrons of CF-18 fighters at Bagotville. It could acquire a small number of more modest planes. When it comes to Maritime defence, Quebec could build for itself some small vessels to patrol the Gulf of St. Lawrence that wouldn't need the elaborate anti-submarine capability of Canada's new frigates.

For a Canada without Quebec, the military question has to be asked in terms of each of the three components of the armed forces, according to Joseph T. Jockel, director of the Canada Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. For the navy, separation wouldn't cause much of an issue, because it's based on the two coasts with no substantial installations in Quebec except for the naval reserve headquarters in Quebec City. It becomes a bit touchier when it comes to the army, Canada would lose one-third of its effective force if the 5th brigade at Valcartier were to become the basis for a Quebec land force.

But it's the future of CFB Bagotville, in the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region, that raises the touchiest questions. With the full withdrawal of Canadian Forces from Europe, the base is one of only two remaining homes for Canada's fleet of CF-18 fighters, the other being in Cold Lake, Alberta. From Bagotville, two squadrons of CF-18s, totaling 36 aircraft, provide interceptor capability for the eastern half of the country including the Far North. Another 65 CF-18s are based at Cold Lake and another 20 or so are undergoing overhaul work or are in storage at any one time.

The work carried out by the aircraft at Bagotville would have to be reassigned to the base at Goose Bay, Labrador, or elsewhere because their coastal and other surveillance work would have to continue. If Quebec were to keep the CF-18s, the issue would be complicated by the fact that all the CF-18s across the country are commanded from Fighter Group headquarters in North Bay, Ontario. It seems unlikely the armed forces of a newly independent Quebec would want to be taking orders from their old colleagues. As Jockel points out, "How would Quebec man, train, and maintain what would be, in effect, a small piece spun off from a larger air defence force? Whose aircraft would be responsible for air defence operations in Atlantic Canada? Would Quebec build its own air defence control center, or would it propose that North Bay become a joint Canada-Quebec control center? If Quebec opted for its own center, would Canada be obliged to create duplicate facilities in Atlantic Canada?"

Any decision on the CF-18s will be tied up with the future of NORAD. Jockel has speculated that the U.S. might prefer dissolving NORAD rather than be forced to reorganize it to include Quebec as a third member. Jockel argues that the need for a joint command with operational control over all North American air defence is disappearing. Norad could simply be replaced with an arrangements between Canada, the U.S., and perhaps Quebec, to share military information and draw up joint plans. Jockel says that from the viewpoint of military efficiency, the CF-18s would be best operated jointly by Quebec and Canada but politically that might not be acceptable to either side.

One risk that Quebec faces in proposing a modest military is of being accused not only by Canada but by the U.S. of being a defence freeloader, unwilling to bear its fair share of North American defence costs but happy to take advantage of the collective security umbrella.


Perhaps the most tricky issue will be the future of Quebeckers serving in the Canadian armed forces. Where will there loyalty be? To Canada or the new Quebec state? Harriett Critchley, director of the Military and Strategic Studies Programme at University of Calgary, argues that Quebec separation would require the disbandment or relocation to Canada of all the elements of the Canadian Forces currently in Quebec as well as the disbandment of all reserve and militia forces in the province. Then would come the sensitive issues of what to do with the members of the forces who would wish to remain loyal to Canada.

Figuring out what to do with members of the armed forces is not as simple as deciding on the fate of federal civil servants in Quebec. Soldiers have committed themselves to fight for their country and can't be expected to switch allegiances and fight for another country simply following the results of a referendum. It's clear that some members of the Forces would see no problem in joining Quebec's own military but many others, perhaps the majority, might wish to stay with Canada. In the aftermath of the breakup of Czechoslovakia, about two-thirds of Slovak military officers actually opted for Czech citizenship.

This will be particularly sensitive because Quebeckers make up such a big part of the armed forces. While Bélanger-Campeau emphasized the fact that only about 14 per cent of the regular forces are based in Quebec, the commission conveniently overlooked the fact that fully 28.5 per cent of the armed forces, 21,236 men and women, are Quebeckers by birth. These Quebeckers serve the armed forces not only in Quebec but across the country. If a separate Quebec were to spends only 14.5 per cent of the $10.8-billion a year that Ottawa spends on Defence now, Canada will be left with an armed forces that is heavily overstaffed, particularly with Quebec-born soldiers.

Although Canadians would probably prefer to see Quebeckers in the armed forces remain loyal to Canada, if all these soldiers, sailors and airmen do opt for Canada, it could cause considerable difficulty. Not only would it impose a financial burden on Canada, which will be forced to carry a military after losing almost one-quarter of its GDP, but it could result in the anomaly of having the country defended by soldiers from an a now-independent Quebec. Solutions will not be easy to find.

With Quebec's minimal defence requirements, there has been speculation that the newly-independent state might be content to leave defence in the hands of Canada or propose a form of joint management of the armed forces. Quebec might pass up on setting up its own armed forces to save money and to assure Canada and the U.S. of its reliability.

Even if Quebec wanted joint management of the armed forces, the rest of the country would be unwilling to do so if the split were in any way acrimonious. We believe that the chances of any joint Canada-Quebec institutional arrangements after separation would be slim. That would be particularly the case when it comes to the military. Imagine if Quebec natives were engaged in an Oka-style revolt against a sovereign Quebec and Canadian soldiers were forced to intervene as part of a shared Canada-Quebec military operation. It would place Canada in an impossible position. After splitting the country in two and dickering over who owns what and who owes what, it would be healthier for both countries to keep their armed forces distinctly separate. Co-operation would be desirable but forget about a joint command or jointly-run units.


If Quebec decides to have a modest military, it runs one major risk -- threatening the future of its defence industries. Many of Canada's largest defence contractors are based in Quebec, and have long been supported by federal contracts and generous research and development funding. In aerospace alone, Quebec is home to 45 per cent of Canada's $9-billion a year industry, which provides about 25,000 high-paying high-skilled jobs in the province. Although the aersopace industry is now primarily civilian in its orientation, defence contracts still account for roughly 30 per cent of the industry's output.

Quebec is the location for some of Canada's major aerospace businesses including Bombardier Inc. and its Canadair division; Canadian Marconi Co., Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Ltd., Pratt & Whitney Canada, Oerlikon Aerospace Inc., Unisys GSG Canada Inc. (formerly Paramax Electronics), Rolls-Royce Canada Ltd. and the CAE Electronics unit of CAE Inc. Companies like Oerlikon Aerospace and Bell Helicopter wouldn't even be in Quebec in the first place if it weren't for federal contracts and grants. And this list doesn't include a range of other defence-related businesses in Quebec, including MIL-Davie Inc., the shipyard near Quebec City; Expro Chemical Products Ltd., which makes explosives; and the munitions division of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.

With Quebec out of Canada, Canadair's controversial contract for maintenance of the CF-18 fighters, which is handled out of Canadair's Mirabel facility, would have to be withdrawn or allowed to lapse when it expires. Canada's fighters could hardly be maintained in a foreign country. That would give Winnipeg's Bristol Aerospace a second chance to get the contract that most Westerners believe was stolen from them to begin with. And MIL-Davie, Quebec, shipyard which has survived on federal contracts and handouts for years, will have to turn to Quebec for help. Some defence contractors will likely decide to move out of Quebec to satisfy requirements of their major customer, the government of Canada, for production in Canada. Others may rethink the future of their entire Canadian operations. Canada's job will be to make sure that if companies and their employees are going to leave Quebec, they'll head to Ontario, British Columbia or Nova Scotia and not south to Ohio or Kentucky.

Not only would Quebec have trouble keeping Canadian defence contracts, it would have trouble with its U.S. defence business as well. Canada has long had defence production sharing arrangements with the U.S., which allow Canadian companies to bid on U.S. defence contracts and participate in the development of American defence systems. In return, Canada procures much of its defence requirements south of the border. In the aerospace business alone, exports accounts for about half of the defence component for Canada, with most going to the U.S. A Quebec aerospace company like Héroux Inc. depends heavily on the U.S. air force for helicopter repair and overhaul business under the defence production sharing arragnements.

Once Quebec secedes, it will have to negotiate defence production and development arrangements with both Canada and the U.S. Otherwise, it risks being shut out of lucrative contracts. The problem for Quebec in getting new defence-sharing arrangements is that to profit from these deals, you have to be a substantial purchaser of military hardware yourself. "You've got to buy something to be in the game," says one industry official. With Quebec facing big budgetary problems and with little commitment on the part of the PQ to a significant military presence, the prospect of big defence procurement contracts will be limited.

Canada, as well, will have fewer goodies to offer defence contractors. With 25 per cent of its population gone and almost as much of its tax revenue also lost, Ottawa will be forced to extend the cuts that the military has been undergoing for several years. With the shrinking of its military budget, Canada will probably have to reduce its overseas commitments to peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts. In addition to the financial constraints that secession and the subsequent reorganization of the Armed Forces will bring on, the very act of dividing the country will probably make Canadians more conscious of the need to assure national sovereignty first, before committing too many resources abroad. And resources will be stretched due to the simple fact that Canada will retain a huge coastline to patrol and will have to maintain a credible presence in a geographically-partitioned country.

The division of military equipment could be sticky and there is the opportunity for swapping equipment. Although location is generally the best indicator for division of these kind of assets, this isn't simply a question of dickering over the ownership of several hundred computers or a fleet of cars. Assets like ships and fighter aircraft are not only expensive, they have strategic value and they may not suit each side's particular needs. If Quebec inherits everything associated with the current military bases in the province, its land forces would be well-equipped and have access to three transport helicopter squadrons. But it will lack aircraft for search and rescue, maritime patrol and large transport operations, like Hercules aircraft. Canada's fleet of 12 frigates, to be all delivered by 1996, are based on the two coasts with none in Quebec. But with Quebec having no coastline to speak of and no desire for a blue-sea navy, it will probably be happy not to inherit any.

Although the knee-jerk reaction might be to fly all of the CF-18s from Bagotville to Cold Lake on the eve of secession, this might not prove to be a wise course of action. The value of this equipment will likely be accounted for in the division of assets and liabilities and Canada might be better off getting these planes off our backs. Since the withdrawal of CF-18s from Europe, the armed forces has an oversupply of the planes. In any division of assets after separation, Canada may prefer to leave with Quebec the CF-18s and the problem of figuring out what to do with them. As for surveillance duties now handled out of Bagotville, we could probably handle them from Goose Bay, Iqaluit and elsewhere in eastern Canada, using the remaining 90 or so CF-18s with the Forces.

The prospects of dividing the armed forces will be a huge challenge. It will require downsizing throughout the forces, more drastic than through all the years of budget-cutting, and starting from the top at National Defence Headquarters. Otherwise, the overhead costs will hinder Canada from having a military that will be able to respond to real needs, whether in Rwanda or in case of a natural disaster at home.

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