Humourist Yvon Deschamps once wisecracked that what Quebébécois really want is an independent Quebec in a strong and united Canada.What does Quebec want? It's a political riddle that has long baffled English Canadians. But this is not the time or place to answer these kinds of unaswerable questions. What interests Canadians today is knowing exactly what the PQ government wants from the rest of Canada to enable Quebec to become an independent, yet still relatively prosperous country. The PQ has set out its plan in its official program, which it calls Ideas for my Country and in a more popularized version, Quebec in a New World: the PQ's Plan for Sovereignty.

Sovereignty is a slippery concept. In a federation like Canada, provinces share sovereignty with the federal government under the constitution. And Quebec already has a good-sized share. University of Montreal political scientist Stéphane Dion argues convincingly that "Quebec already has the most powerful second level of government of all OECD countries." (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is the club of the 24 most important industrialized countries.) Delegates to presidential conventions in the United States when getting the floor to speak or make nominations like to identify themselves bombastically as coming from "the great and sovereign state of ...," even though their powers are much more limited than those of the average Canadian province. U.S. states like Canadian provinces share sovereignty with the federal government. But a constitutional sharing of sovereign powers in a federation is not what Quebec is talking about.

The PQ definition of sovereignty was first set out in a white paper before the 1980 referendum. It was subsequently accepted by the Bélanger-Campeau commission and the National Assembly used it in the 1991 referendum legislation. According to this definition, Quebec sovereignty means:

The flip side of the coin is that the Canadian government would no longer collect taxes from a sovereign Quebec. Canadian laws wouldn't have legal force anymore in Quebec. And Canadian treaties and agreements would no longer bind Quebec. In a word, from a Canadian point of view, Quebec would be as separate a country as the United States or Mexico.

In the December communiqué releasing the draft bill on the sovereignty of Quebec, Jacques Parizeau announced the establishment in January of fifteen regional committees and a national committee to get input from the public and to generate support for sovereignty. The regional committees are comprised of ten to fifteen local people including MNAs and MPs and presided over by local non-elected representatives. (Other committees for the young, the elderly and ethnic communities may also be created). The national committee will be made up of the presidents of the regional committees and chaired by an individual handpicked by the premier. The committees, which are being boycotted by federalists who consider their mandates stacked, will begin their pro-sovereignty propaganda and consultations in February. The committees are charged to draft a "Declaration of Sovereignty" modelled on the the U.S. "Declaration of Independence," which will incorporate the fundamental values and the main objectives of the Quebec nation and be designed to inspire Quebeckers to put aside their reservations and embrace sovereignty. The end result will be a bill on sovereignty that the PQ plans to ram through the National Assembly, perhaps as soon as March. The stage would be set for a referendum on sovereignty as early as May or June. If there is a yes vote in the referendum, the act declaring Quebec a sovereign country would take effect one year later.


Jacques Parizeau originally intended to hold a referendum on sovereignty 8 to 10 months after the September 12, 1994 provincial election. This would have placed it sometime between May 12, 1995 and July 12, 1995. Prime Minister Chrétien quipped that if it were held on the June 24, St. Jean Baptiste Day and Quebec's national holiday, we could celebrate its defeat on Canada Day. With the polls showing that there isn't enough support for sovereignty to carry a referendum, the date has been slipping. Parizeau is now merely promising to hold the referendum by the end of 1995. Signs of splits in the separatist camp are emerging. The Bloc's Bouchard is more cautious and shares Green Bay Packer Coach Vince Lombardi's philosophy that winning isn't everything, it is the only thing. Fearing that another humiliation of Quebec would undercut Quebec's bargaining power, Bouchard says a referendum should only be held when it can be won. This could presumably be in eight months, eight years or never. On the other hand, Jacques Parizeau makes light of the fear of losing clout by asking sceptically what negotiating power Quebec has now. Perhaps Parizeau is less concerned than Bouchard about losing because he refuses to take no as the last word in a referendum.

The suggested referendum question in the draft bill on sovereignty is, "Are you in favour of the Act passed by the National Assembly declaring the sovereignty of Quebec? YES or NO." The question, which presumably could be changed as a result of the public consultations, appears to be relatively straightforward, but was chosen on the advice of experts on public opinion polling to maximize its chance of success. It puts the onus on the Quebec public to reject a declaration of sovereignty by their democratically elected representatives and uses the softer term of sovereignty rather than independence. The National Assembly declaration itself is also dressed up with reassurances that Quebeckers will continue to enjoy economic association with Canada, Canadian citizenship, the Canadian dollar, and their old age pensions. The referendum question shows that Parizeau, who nearly resigned in principle over the crafted ambiguity of the 1980 referendum question, has himself mastered the art.


Canadians have had a difficult enough time of it tinkering with our own constitution. Imagine the enormity of the task facing Quebeckers as they have to draw up a new constitution for a sovereign Quebec. But maybe Quebec is more governable than the whole of Canada.

The constitution will be the defining document of a sovereign Quebec. It will be prepared by a constitutional commission, made up of members of the national assembly and hand-picked outsiders, who will presumably assemble views from across the province. But if Bélanger-Campeau is any indicator, it will make sure that nationalist voices get a priority hearing. For an initial period at least, the PQ plans to convert its provincial institutions into national ones rather than creating new institutions. The existing British parliamentary system of government with a prime minister, cabinet and National Assembly will be retained. A minor change will be that the lieutenant-governor would be replaced by a ceremonial head of state elected by the National Assembly. (How about Lucien Bouchard? He'll need a new job to supplement his parliamentary pension which the National Citizens' Coalition estimates would only be $26,199 per year if he had retired in June 1994.) The new expanded lawmaking, taxing and treaty making powers of the National Assembly will not fundamentally change the way it works today. A Supreme Court of Quebec will be established and federal courts in Quebec will be integrated into Quebec's judicial structure.

The Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms will be entrenched in the constitution, becoming a potential source of as many legal headaches as the Canadian charter. The rights of the anglophone minority will also be recognized in the constitution as will be the ancestral and treaty rights of aboriginal peoples and their right of self-government. And don't be surprised if these rights are spelled out very clearly by the constitutional commission to demonstrate the PQ's "good faith" in the run-up to the referendum.

The PQ leaves the door open for the constitutional commission to propose more sweeping changes to Quebec's institutions. According to the PQ, it would be possible to make further changes to Quebec's transitional constitution after sovereignty was achieved. One intriguing possibility mentioned in the program is the adoption of a system of proportional representation. This is a throwback to the days when the PQ used to win a larger share of the popular vote than seats. Once they figure out that the current system serves the PQ well, there will be no more talk of proportional representation.

To assure the continuity of law, legislation would be passed maintaining Canadian federal legislation such as the Criminal Code and the Bankruptcy Act in effect until replaced with new Quebec legislation. Courts will then be able to continue to make decisions based on federal legislation, and an awkward intervening period of anarchy will be avoided.


Even though the PQ never acknowledges it, the most important thing it wants from Canada is speedy recognition of Quebec as a sovereign state. Though, the PQ hates to acknowledge that Canada has any say whatsoever in the political future of Quebec, recognition is almost a precondition for the acceptance of Quebec in the international community and its entry into international organizations. In fact, PQ strategists are so worried that Canada might withhold recognition that they keep on speculating that the United States and France could be called upon to pressure Canada and "bring it to its senses" so that a sovereign Quebec could be recognized. The PQ also doesn't mention that it presumes Canada would never use force to keep Quebec in Canada.

The PQ wants to create a sovereign Quebec within the existing borders of the province of Quebec. It contends that the territorial integrity of Quebec is guaranteed by Canadian constitutional law while it is still a province and by international law once it becomes sovereign. The last thing the PQ wants is a messy territorial dispute with the rest of Canada and the aboriginal peoples. Not having the fire power of the Canadian armed forces at its command, it hopes to be able to fend off competing claims for Quebec territory with sharp legal arguments.

Based on international law, the PQ claims that ownership of all federal property within the Quebec borders would pass to the Quebec government without compensation. While noting that the Quebec government would not be formally bound to pay the federal debt once it leaves, the PQ magnanimously commits the Quebec government to share the debt since part of the debt was incurred for the benefit of Quebeckers. The PQ mentions as a possibility the methodology worked out by the Bélanger-Campeau commission for sharing federal assets and debt.

According to Quebec in a New World: the PQ's Plan for Sovereignty, the PQ government intends to propose what it considers to be "mutually advantageous forms of economic association to the federal government." This proposal, which is part of a giant PQ wish list of unrealistic economic plans, will include "joint bodies, established through treaties to manage the economic relationship between Canada and Quebec."

Knowing that the Quebec public is worried about throwing out the "Canadian economic space" baby with the bathwater of Canadian federalism, the PQ says it will propose "an economic association treaty or sectoral agreements." So while Canada will be rejected as a political space, it will in PQ dreams flourish as an economic space with these attributes:

In an effort to shore up its bargaining position and to reassure those phalanxes of conditional Quebec separatists, the PQ also claims erroneously, that Quebec could maintain some of the features of the Canadian economic space without the agreement of Canada. This is the part of the PQ's strategy of assuring Quebeckers they'll get sovereignty-association even if the rest of Canada isn't so inclined. Most notably, the PQ mistakenly asserts that "Quebec could continue to use the Canadian dollar without anyone being able to stop it." (See Chapter 9 on this subject.)

The PQ argues that it is in the interest of Canadians as well as Quebeckers to maintain the free movement of goods and services by keeping the existing customs union and free trade area. But it then retreats from this contention, maintaining that even if Canada turned down a customs union, free trade would be sufficient to protect the free movement of goods and services. And pulling back still further, it argues that even if free trade were rebuffed, Quebec would still be able to join GATT and take advantage of the "most-favoured nation" clause to get the same treatment from Canada as any other country. (Our views on Canada's interest in preserving trade with a sovereign Quebec are offered in Chapter 10.)

The PQ counts on the ability of Quebeckers to retain their Canadian citizenship to assure the free movement of Quebeckers to and from Canada. Again this is designed to assuage concerns among reluctant Quebeckers about losing a citizenship that is highly respected around the world. The PQ discounts the possibility that Canada would revise its citizenship legislation to forbid dual citizenship in the case of Quebec, when it is allowed with every other country in the world. (Our own decidedly different interpretation of the citizenship question is provided in Chapter 11.) To hedge its position, the PQ proposes a reciprocal agreement with Canada under which any Quebec citizen who settles in Canada will become a Canadian citizen with no waiting period. The PQ is especially concerned about the fate of Quebeckers who live on the border and work in other provinces. (See Chapter 13 on the public service.)

The PQ also has some suggestions for managing the proposed Canada-Quebec economic association. They range from simple rules, through formal dispute settlement mechanisms, to joint management institutions. In particular, the three main joint institutions would be:

Other joint commissions managing specific aspects of the association such as environmental or transportation issues could be established. Quebec participation in the Bank of Canada is also raised although no specific proposal is made.

One of the first international initiatives of a sovereign Quebec will be to apply for membership in the United Nations. Quebec will then proceed to join an alphabet soup of specialized agencies including: the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the World Health Organization (WHO); the International Labour Organization (ILO); the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); the World Bank; the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Quebec also wants to become a member of La Francophonie, the Organization of American States, the Commonwealth, and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Becoming part of the North American Free Trade Agreement will also be a priority, as will be joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD).

The coup de grâce. Jacques Parizeau wants Canada to still pick up the $240-million tab for most of the costs if Quebec City hosts the 2002 Winter Olympics, even if it's going to be the Fleur-de-lis that will fly over the Games site in a separate Quebec.

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