WHO SPEAKS FOR CANADA?
It's Day One of the negotiations between Quebec and the rest of Canada after a victory for the separatist forces in the referendum on Quebec sovereignty. On the Quebec side, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard lead a small group of cabinet ministers and bureaucrats armed with a carefully crafted series of propos- als, backed by mountains of studies on the details of dividing up the country,
On the Canadian side, the negotiators begin trooping in like the dancing cutlery in Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Behind the full federal cabinet led by Jean Chretien and Sheila Copps troop Clyde Wells, Mike Harcourt, Ralph Klein and the remaining provincial premiers and territorial leaders. Next come scores of aboriginal leaders led by Ovide Mercredi, fol- lowed by a clutch of opposition politicians led by Preston Manning and Audrey McLaughlin's successor. Finally, it's the dance of the special-interest groups, led by Maude Barlow, Mel Hurtig, Tom d'Aquino, John Bullock, Bob White, Sunera Thobani and a cast of hundreds more. By that time, there's no more room in the meeting room and they're spilling out onto the street.
In the first order of business, the Canadian side suggests mov- ing the negotiations to the new Palladium hockey arena in subur- ban Ottawa. They need the 18,500 seats to accommodate all their negotiators and assorted advisors. It doesn't matter that the arena won't be ready for another couple of years because the Canadians will need at least that much time to come up with a common strategy. The Quebec side walks out in a huff, vowing to secede unilaterally within three months and to withhold its cheques for interest on the national debt until Canada gets its act together.
If everybody speaks for Canada, nobody speaks for Canada. The challenge for Canadians in dealing with a Quebec bent on seces- sion will be to move quickly to establish a coherent negotiating strategy to defend the interests of the remaining nine provinces. It won't be easy. Even with Quebec gone, Canada will have to struggle against strong centrifugal forces. But, like it or not, we're going to have to trust a small group of men and women to negotiate on our behalf, backed by a consensus on the major issues. We'll be guaranteeing a dangerous and interminable period of indecision if each of the 22 million Canadians living outside Quebec insists on a place at the negotiating table. The Tower of Babel is not a model for an effective negotiating team.
Unable to countenance the consequences for the rest of Canada if Quebec ever voted yes on sovereignty, Canadians have chosen simply to dismiss the possibility that the ultimate goal of the sep- aratists will ever be achieved. Quebeckers will never vote for sovereignty. They're too cautious. They're too scared. They're too ambivalent. They really are deeply attached to Canada. And even if Quebeckers do vote for sovereignty, the vote won't be decisive enough to give the PQ government a mandate to carry out the fateful act. And besides, the Pequistes couldn't separate with only a bare majority of Quebeckers supporting them. It's simply too important an issue to be decided by such a narrow margin. And even if there is a significant margin on a referendum question, it doesn't mean Quebec will become sovereign. After all, it's against the Canadian constitution. It's against interna- tional law. It can't happen!
But political secession can and does happen. If Quebeckers decide democratically that they don't want to be part of Canada any more, they're going to leave. Court injunctions and brilliant arguments by erudite constitutional lawyers won't stop the political will of Quebeckers if they want their own state and have decided to take it. Even if some aren't sure they want to secede but foolishly leave their political fate in the hands of politicians like Jacques Parizeau for whom separation is their life's goal, it will happen.
If Canadians had wanted to stop the secession movement in Quebec, they should have done it thirty years ago by declaring the unity of the Canadian federation inviolable, by outlawing the Parti Quebecois and never allowing a referendum on the issue. These alternatives were too undemocratic for Canadians and their politicians, who believed that they could convince Quebeckers of the merits of staying in Canada. They were also concerned that tough action might provoke violence and civil unrest. Whether deliberately or not, our government has admitted that Quebec can go if it decides democratically to do so.
SEPARATISTS IN A HURRY
After decades of dreaming of their own state on the banks of the St, Lawrence River, Quebec separatists are becoming impatient. They know they must work quickly if Quebec is to become an independent state before their current electoral mandate runs out in 1999. The last thing Jacques Parizeau wants is to leave it to the Liberals to complete Quebec's march to sovereignty or, more likely, to stop it cold in its tracks. And, because providing his promised good government ultimately means cutting spending as every other government in Canada has been forced to do, Parizeau has to act quickly and call a referendum before it dawns on Quebeckers that the PQ will be harsher than their Liberal pre- decessors. That's why moving quickly to a referendum vote and then on to secession itself is essential if the separatists are to have a chance of succeeding.
The wily Parizeau caught many by surprise when he made public his referendum strategy in December 1994 and included with it the text of the referendum question. By asking Quebeckers simply whether they approve the Act passed by the National Assembly declaring the sovereignty of Quebec, the PQ govern- ment aims at giving secession the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from the legislature. Opposing the Act would be in effect rejecting the law of the land.
The question is simple and relatively direct, perhaps decep- tively so. That's because the referendum question can only be understood by including in it the complete bill with all its reassur- ing statements on everything from citizenship to old age pensions. Prime Minister Chretien says the only honest question would be to ask Quebeckers whether they want to separate from Canada-
The question may not be ideal from a federalist point of view, but only the most obtuse Quebecker will not understand its real implications. Besides, the question will be all but forgotten in the final emotional days of the referendum campaign, when the choice will be between symbols and personalities, fears and expectations, Canada and Quebec, the maple leaf and the fleur- de-lis, Daniel Johnson and Jacques Parizeau, and Jean Chretien and Lucien Bouchard.
Is it enough for the referendum vote to pass by 50 per cent plus one vote? Can a bare majority of adult voters in the province of Quebec decide the fate of the province and ultimately the whole country? In other secessions, votes of 90 per cent plus aren't uncommon. Yet the PQ has always argued that all they need to go ahead with secession is a simple majority. William Gairdner, author of Constitutional Crackup: Canada and the Coming Showdown with Quebec, argues that this is neither legal nor sen- sible. "It means that if fully one half of the people says No, and one half says Yes, meaning both sides are legitimately opposed, balanced and equally right, a single citizen could walk into a bal- lot box and decide the destiny of Canada." Some would argue that a major decision on the fate of the country should require a two-thirds or 80 per cent vote. Yet these aren't the rules we're dealing with.
If it were determined that a two-thirds vote were needed to effect a secession and only 63 per cent of Quebeckers voted for separation, would that be a victory for Canada? What sort of legitimacy would federalism retain in Quebec in that situation? Would Canadians want Quebec in Confederation if a majority of Quebeckers had said no to Canada in a referendum? What would be the point? Governing Canada is hard enough already- Can one imagine the task with a recalcitrant majority in Quebec that wants to leave?
Unfortunately for those who argue for a two-thirds vote in a Quebec referendum, the precedents are not on their side. In the 1948 Newfoundland referendum, union with Canada won with only 52.3 per cent of the popular vote, and then only in a second ballot, after eliminating one of three initial options. (In the first ballot, union with Canada got only 41.3 per cent of the vote.) Nobody has since questioned the legitimacy of the ultimate deci- sion, even though only a bare majority of Newfoundlanders actu- ally wanted to join Canada.
In the national referendum on the Charlottetown accord, there was never any indication that anything but a simple majority of votes was sufficient to decide the result in every province. Nobody doubted that the 54.4 per cent vote against the constitu- tional agreement was a massive rejection of the pact. The defeat was considered so massive, in fact, that only a few brave (or dense) politicians have dared to utter the dreaded "C" word since.
The PQ receives support for the simple majority position from an unlikely source--Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who says that in Reform's experience with internal votes, it's hard to justify different majorities for different issues. "My inclination is to go with 50 per cent plus one," he says. Manning nonetheless speculates that a 51^49 decision could be incredibly divisive in Quebec. "It isn't Canada that is going to get hurt. If you [Quebec separatists] acted on that, you'd be going off on a new boat with a very delicate balance that would assure the sinking of the boat."
It would be wrong to try to discount the significance of victory for the separatists, as long as the win was not too slim. (According to an Angus Reid/Southam News poll taken in June 1994, 55 per cent of the population in English-speaking regions of the country believe that a yes vote for independence should be accepted in the rest of the country.) But before making any defin- itive statements about whether 51 per cent, 53 per cent or 57 per cent is a sufficient majority, we will have to wait and see what happened in Quebec after a vote. If the separatists win by a whisker and the federalists in Quebec decide to fight on, the rest of the country would probably wait and see before conceding that the battle to keep Quebec was lost. But if a separatist victory is considered solid, don't be surprised if a consensus develops quickly in the political and business elites inside Quebec to put an end to the uncertainty and move forward to sovereignty. Quebeckers may simply decide that enough is enough and that they will pursue separation. And Canadians outside Quebec may decide it's time for Quebec to go even if less than an overwhelm- ing majority of Quebeckers is in favour of the idea.
Assuming that there is a decisive yes in the referendum, what should we do? One approach would be to do nothing and to force the Quebec government to take the initiative. This would absolve the Canadian federal government of any responsibility for Quebec's secession, which would be a big political plus for the party in power. It would also make it more difficult for Quebec to separate and could conceivably lead the Quebec government to abandon its efforts. On the other hand, it would create much uncertainty and could seriously disrupt the Canadian economy. If Quebeckers decide democratically that they want to separate from Canada, we should respect the will of the majority and, in good faith, enter into negotiations to implement the split. ONE GOVERNMENT OR TEN
Who should respond to Quebec and negotiate for Canada? The PQ is clear on this point. It would be the federal government. No talks with ten governments, Parizeau has told his biographer Laurence Richard. This is convenient for the PQ because it sim- plifies things. If the separatists admit upfront that the nine provinces, two territories, the aboriginals and the special-interest groups would have to be brought in, they would be inviting a negotiating regime something like the constitutional talks that Quebec has been participating in for the past thirty years, and which the separatists believe have been unproductive.
In any negotiation, says veteran Canadian trade negotiator Gordon Ritchie, the first issue, to settle is whether the person or persons facing you have a mandate to talk. While it's clear who would talk for a Quebec bent on secession, it isn't clear who would talk for Canada and what mandate these negotiators would have.
Parizeau will have to learn soon enough that he won't be deciding the composition of Canada's negotiating team any more than he will be dictating the result of the talks. This will be the prerogative of Canadians in the nine remaining provinces and two territories of Canada.
Since Canada will continue to exist even if Quebec leaves, secessionist murmurings from British Columbia and Alberta are not to be taken seriously. We believe the federal government will still have the leading say in these discussions. This does not mean the provinces would be excluded. If Quebec is to secede legally, the constitution would have to be amended, so the provinces would have to be brought on side to approve any deal. And how could the provinces be excluded from discussions on such key issues as the division of the national debt, which could affect their own capacity to borrow? Can Ontario be excluded from talks on the fate of its economic relations with its second-largest trading partner? Can the Atlantic provinces be absent from the table when there are discus- sions on maintaining trade corridors from the Atlantic provinces through Quebec to markets in the rest of Canada--the lifelines of their economic existence? Can Newfoundland be left out when the border with Labrador is on the table?
And what of native Canadians? Can they be excluded from talks when the future of natives in Quebec is being discussed?
NEED AN ELECTION?
Would a federal election be essential in the wake of a yes victory? Preston Manning believes so. "If Chretien campaigned in Quebec as the leader of the federal forces and lost the referendum, then the government would have to resign and there would have to be an election. And Canadians would have to decide who represents them in the rest of Canada. And I don't think they could accept a Quebecker no matter how sincere a federalist he was because they'd say you can't be on both sides of this thing." In fact, Manning thinks the split could be a fatal blow to the Liberal Party in Canada.
A federal election is a possibility, but its result might not be as clear-cut as Manning expects. First, a federal election, even after the referendum vote, would still have to take place in Quebec as well as the rest of the country. If there is an election in Quebec, then it's conceivable it will simply be a reprise of the just-com- pleted Quebec referendum vote, with the Bloc Quebecois perhaps even picking up additional seats. In the rest of the country, it's far from certain what would happen. Canadians may see Reform's Manning as their saviour and sweep him. into power, but it's just as likely they will decide that the Liberals are best able to keep the rest of Canada united. In fact, there is the distinct possibility that an election could result in a minority government--plunging the country into a worse crisis than it was in to start with.
There will surely be calls for a snap election but there may well be no time for one. With a separatist referendum win, a series of events will play out quickly. If the Canadian dollar starts tumbling and international investors become worried about the safety of their Canadian bonds and other investments, we won't have the seven weeks to spare on a national election campaign, let alone the six or twelve months needed to organize a con- stituent assembly on Canada's future, as suggested by many. The well-being and stability of Canada will be at stake. Rapid deci- sions will be necessary and we may have to cut a few legal and political corners to make sure that Canada's interests are defended.
Like it or not, the federal government is the only national institution that has a constitutional mandate and that will be able to respond rapidly enough to the crisis at hand and reassure the public that the situation is under control. (The constitution has been interpreted by the courts as giving the federal govern- ment broad powers to act in an emergency under the provision for "peace, order and good government" in section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867.) Also, the federal government controls the important levers needed to defend Canada's position in dis- cussions with Quebec. Ottawa controls the Bank of Canada and the Canadian currency that the separatists want so dearly to hold on to. The federal Parliament will decide on whether Quebeckers can retain their Canadian citizenship after seces- sion. The federal government negotiates trade agreements like NAFTA and GATT on behalf of all Canadians and will decide whether to give diplomatic recognition to Quebec as a separate state. And it's the federal government that's on the hook for our $550-billion national debt.
By all means, the provinces must be brought into the talks but provincial premiers have even less of a mandate to negotiate Quebec separation than Ottawa has. Nobody elected Mike Harcourt to look after monetary policy or Clyde Wells to decide on defence issues. As Maureen Covell, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University who has looked into the issue, says, "There would have to be consultations with the provinces but the federal government was still elected as a national government by English Canadians." Remember, it was the federal government that conducted the free trade negotiations with the United States, although in consultation with the provinces and other interest groups.
A rapid response will be especially important if the federal government decides that it will resist secession and insist that Quebec remain within Confederation. Under international and Canadian law, Quebec has no right to secede, and Canada can make this clear to Quebeckers and the outside world. But if such a position is taken, Canada will have to be ready to use force if necessary to keep Quebec from separating. This could be done by invoking the Emergencies Act (the successor to the War Measures Act), as was done during the October Crisis of 1970.
Before the government takes such drastic action, it will have to judge whether it has the full support of Canadians to do what is necessary to retain Quebec in Canada at all costs, even if a major- ity of Quebeckers want out.
If the federal government decides to negotiate the terms of Quebec secession, it will have to transform itself into me govern- ment of "the Rest of Canada." Although it will be constitutionally impossible to exclude Quebec MPs from deliberations of the House of Commons or from a federal election, it must be under- stood that they will have lost all legitimacy in deciding Canada's fate. That goes for Liberals as well as members of the Bloc Quebecois. For Quebec MPs to determine the outcome of negoti- ations with a secessionist Quebec government would be perverse and would reduce the legitimacy of the whole process.
Canadians from outside Quebec will insist that Quebeckers like Prime Minister Chretien and Finance Minister Paul Martin cannot negotiate the breakup of Canada "with themselves." Yet Chretien was elected with a strong mandate from across the country, and he has always been perceived as a strong defender of Canada. So don't be surprised to see Jean Chretien return to the New Brunswick riding of Beausejour to be re-elected in a byelection or to see Paul Martin quit his Montreal seat and return to his home town of Windsor, Ontario, to seek re-election to the Commons.
If Chretien decides that he doesn't want to be the prime minis- ter who will preside over the separation of Quebec, a new Liberal leader will have to be chosen. But with time of the essence, there won't be months to waste on a leadership convention. Some abbreviated selection process by caucus and the party may be the only way to go. And only non-Quebec MPs need apply.
One possible way to facilitate the development of a consensus and to give the federal government a greater degree of legitimacy as the representative of the rest of Canada would be to establish a national unity government that would bring the Reform Party and the NDP into a grand governing coalition. Such a multi-party approach has been the response of British parliamentary govern- ments during times of national crisis, as well as Canada's Borden government in the First World War. Its nonpartisan composition would enable English Canada to present a united front in dealing with Quebec's demands and would preserve international confi- dence in the stability of Canada.
The possibility has also been raised of a national referendum, but here again there are pitfalls. What question would the referen- dum ask? Would Quebec participate? What if Canadians were asked if they approved of allowing Quebec to secede and a major- ity voted against the idea while a majority of Quebeckers voted to secede? And what if a majority of Quebeckers voted to stay in Canada and a majority in the rest of the country decided it would be best if they left? The use of a national referendum could, in fact, backfire. Only this time, unlike after the Charlottetown refer- endum, there may be no status quo to return to.
DO WE REALLY HAVE TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION?
How would Quebec actually negotiate secession? Like most fed- erations, Canada doesn't have a provision in its constitution allowing a province to secede. This isn't surprising. After seeing the disastrous effects of the American Civil War only a few years previously, the Fathers of Confederation were hardly going to contemplate secession as they were attempting to knit together a group of disparate colonies into a single nation.
If a decision were made to secede on a strictly legal basis, changes in the Canadian constitution would be needed to elimi- nate all references to Quebec as a province. Otherwise, Quebec could argue that it had the legal right to continue to elect MPs to the House of Commons even after secession and to continue to participate as a full partner in the federation. Constitutional opin- ion is divided on whether provincial unanimity would be needed for these constitutional changes, as required for certain changes under section 41 of the Constitution Act, 1982, or whether it would be sufficient to secure agreement from seven provinces representing at least 50 per cent of the population, as under sec- tion 38, which applies to other changes. Patrick Monahan, a pro- fessor at Osgoode Hall Law School, argues that unanimity is required because the changes would affect the offices of the gov- ernor general and the lieutenant-governor of Quebec and the composition of the Supreme Court. He also argues that accepting the alternative means essentially that seven provinces could gang up and vote to expell Quebec or another province from Confederation.
Monahan also insists that because section 35 of the constitu- tion protects aboriginals' relationship with the Crown, native Canadians would have to participate in any talks with Quebec, (It is clear that, at a minimum, section 35 guarantees that any amendment to the constitution affecting aboriginal peoples must be discussed at a specially convened constitutional conference attended by representatives of the aboriginal peoples.)
With the experience of the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords still fresh in everybody's minds, Monahan is convinced that Canadians outside Quebec could never possibly agree to allowing Quebec to go legally. "There is virtually no chance of a negotiated agreement under the existing Canadian constitution." He argues that what killed Meech Lake was the perception that Quebec was getting special status, and what sepa- ration entails is "special status writ large."
If, as Monahan claims, Canadians would never allow Quebec to leave the country constitutionally, what are the prospects for a uni- lateral declaration of independence (UDI)? The draft bill declaring Quebec a sovereign state states that it will become law "one year after its approval by referendum, unless the National Assembly decides on an earlier date." The implication is clear. If the referen- dum passes, Quebec will secede a year later, no matter what.
By inserting a date for sovereignty in the question, Parizeau has designed a "question with a fuse," according to Marcel Cote, a Montreal consultant and one-time strategist for the Mulroney government. At the end of the fuse is the bomb, of a UDI, which will explode whether or not Canada agrees. With a fuse lit by a yes vote, a nasty game of constitutional chicken will begin, espe- cially if the rest of Canada decides to oppose the secession. Will Quebec risk allowing the UDI bomb to detonate or will it lose its nerve and douse the fuse? Will Canada call Quebec's bluff, refuse to negotiate and risk seeing Quebec take off without agreeing to take its share of the $550 billion national debt?
A question with a fuse leaves open the possibility that separa- tion will be a messy and potentially dangerous affair, with Quebec attempting to seize its independence against the will of the federal government and struggling for recognition from the international community. It also opens up the prospect of runs on Quebec banks, native blockades and Quebec's trying to oust the federal government from Quebec territory. With no orderly trans- fer of power from Ottawa to Quebec City, Marcel Cote can see the administration of government collapsing. "They'll get my mother mad because they'll skip one of her pension cheques." Monahan sees worse; "a disastrous contest for sovereignty" over Quebec territory that could lead to civil disorder or violence.
Cote is convinced that Quebeckers are simply too ambivalent about the whole issue of separation to contemplate a UDI and will never vote yes in a referendum that threatened that sort of outcome. If the final version of the question includes a date for UDI, middle- of-the-road Quebeckers will reject it because it would close off their options. "I don't think a hard question will ever make it," says Cote, who considers the question included in the draft bill "a hard question dressed up as a soft question." Nor does he believe a UDI will ever take place. "The Quebec government will never dare to separate unilaterally because it's way too costly."
Monahan says a UDI can work only if the separatists have overwhelming popular support--at least 85 per cent of the vote. "With 55 per cent, it's not realistic," he says, arguing that the PQ government will try to avoid any such commitment because "it will be almost certain to fail." And a Canadian government could not acquiesce to a UDI because it would never receive a mandate from the Canadian public to agree to one. Monahan also insists that by allowing Quebec to go unilaterally, Canada would let Quebec walk away from paying its share of the national debt. "Once the UDI is effective, you have terminated the links and allowed Quebec to escape."
Monahan's conclusion is simple. The only possible result of a positive vote for secession in a Quebec referendum is a stalemate. That's because an agreement on a constitutional amendment, passed by all ten provincial legislatures and both Houses of Parliament, would be impossible. Also impossible is the alterna- tive, a UDI, because it would exact too high a price on both sides. He concludes that separation will never actually take place. "In brief, either attempt to take Quebec out of Canada would lead to a deadend." Marcel CQte shares this view and believes that specu- lating about how separation would take place is "all mind games. It can't happen because it's too difficult."
Should we all sleep soundly because the constitution has no provisions to allow Quebec to leave Confederation? Hardly. What will determine me fate of Quebec is politics and not constitutions, says Edward McWhinney, a Liberal MP and constitutional expert who has advised several provincial premiers including Robert Bourassa. He reasons that it's ridiculous to argue that the constitu- tion would have to be changed to allow Quebec to leave Canada.
"There is no way that if there's a clear Quebec vote [to secede] you can say it's illegal and they can't do it. Germany reunited and it just tumbled together. The Soviet Union collapsed without fol- lowing the constitution written by Stalin. And the English got rid of James II. You can't contradict the facts of life." Adds trade negotiator Gordon Ritchie, "You can't say that Quebec has to stay in Confederation because you can't get the paperwork done."
"If they decide to go, there's no way we can stop them," McWhinney insists. What he is saying is that we may have to go ahead with negotiations and acquiesce to Quebec's unilateral dec- laration of independence--what we call "UDI with a wink." It is probably the best way of cutting through all the constitutional red tape if a decision is ultimately made to let Quebec separate. In accepting the UDI, the federal government would be relying on its temporary powers to act in an emergency.
Ensuring changes to Canada's constitution that acknowledge the new facts of life would become a matter of a legal clean-up after the dirty deed is done. In the meantime, Monahan argues, the "courts would have to interpret the entire Canadian constitu- tion in the light of this new political reality and read it as if it made no reference to the province of Quebec." By this he means that any provisions relating to Quebec would become "inopera- tive." Included would be those providing for representation in national institutions like the Senate, the House of Commons and the Supreme Court, and those guaranteeing bilingualism in the National Assembly.
Even without completing all the required constitutional amendments, there is nothing to stop Canada from recognizing the government of a separate Quebec state. That remains a pre- rogative of the federal government. Nor does McWhinney believe that negotiations over details of the secession need be a long, drawn-out affair. "It's amazing how common sense takes over," he says. Unless territorial disputes clutter the agenda, he believes that most of the basic negotiations could be over in thirty-six hours. That is overly optimistic, but talks need not go on forever. In Czechoslovakia, the negotiations on the major issues involved in the 1993 split were completed to the satisfaction of both sides in only a few months.
It is also wishful thinking to believe that a PQ government would never attempt an actual UDI. Parizeau has already argued that Quebec has the right to declare independence unilaterally, saying in May 1994 that "the decision to have a country will be taken by Quebeckers and by Quebeckers only." Parizeau and Company are determined separatists. Their political purpose in life is to push towards their goal and if the Quebec electorate gives the Pequistes a mandate, they'll run as far as they can with it, even if they leave the public behind.
A realistic scenario may see the negotiations begin on a range of issues from the debt to defence on the understanding that any agreement would be submitted for approval to the provinces in order to get the constitution amended. But as the clock ticks towards the date set for eventual separation, it may be apparent that constitutional approval from all provinces will not be possi- ble in time. If all other issues were settled and Canadians still believed Quebec had to go, Ottawa could give a wink to a UDI and recognize Quebec as a sovereign state. Approving changes to the Canadian constitution to legitimize the arrangement could come after the fact and perhaps be ratified through another national referendum.
Ottawa at the Helm
If the negotiations are to be handled effectively, the federal gov- ernment will have to take the primary responsibility for speaking for the rest of Canada, It will have to exercise strong leadership, not hesitating to make the difficult and controversial decisions that will be necessary to protect our interests and prevent instabil- ity, Yet the federal government will need to broaden its legiti- macy by bringing the provinces, native groups and even the fed- eral opposition parties into the process through extensive consul- tation and perhaps direct membership in the negotiating team. But that team has to be kept small and there won't be time to bring in every interest group in the country.
Because of the high stakes for Canada, the prime minister should be personally responsible for the negotiating team, per- haps assisted by a senior minister. The team itself could be orga- nized into a Canada Negotiator's Office, headed by a chief negotiator reporting directly to the prime minister- This would be a single-purpose organization outside of the day-to-day opera- tions of government, structured like the Trade Negotiators' Office set up to negotiate the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Trade negotiations, involving direct country-to-country bargaining under tight time deadlines and over a wide range of complex issues, provide the closest parallel to the type of activity that will be required to divide the county.
To ensure widespread input into the process, Ottawa could establish a Canada Negotiating Council, comprising the prime minister, the premiers of the nine provinces and the two territo- ries, and native leaders, to oversee the negotiations. Committees of interested parties and federal and provincial officials could be formed to work with the Canadian Negotiators Office on specific issues such as the division of the debt and trade rela- tions, These committees could be modelled on the Sectoral Advisory Groups on International Trade (SAGITs) that were used to such good avail during recent trade negotiations. Negotiating with Quebec will be an enormously difficult exer- cise and will require the participation and co-operation of Canadians if it is to succeed.
As we will point out later, this will not be the time to re-con- federate Canada by redesigning political institutions like the Senate to accommodate the new demographic balance in Canada or entrench the native right to self-government. The priority will be to arrange for the departure of Quebec from the federation with the minimum possible damage to the rest of Canada. Rewriting the constitution can come later,
As we will describe later, any agreement by Canada permitting Quebec to secede must be a package deal that includes settlement of all the outstanding issues including division of the debt and assets, the currency and trade issues. Only when all those issues are settled can a legal secession or even "UDI with a wink" be contemplated.
All this may seem impossible to envisage now, but in the chaotic days after a yes vote, Canadians will demand clear leader- ship. We shouldn't underestimate the desire of Canadians outside Quebec to preserve Canada as their country and to try to save whatever they can from the process of breakup. Consensus could be a lot easier to achieve than we think, especially when our eco- nomic lives and the future of what's left of our country depend on it. As Dr. Johnson observed, "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
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