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CANADA: Secession v. Survival

31 minute read

Most Canadians understand that the rupture of their country would be a crime against the history of mankind.

—Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau

It is more and more sure that a new country will appear, democratically, on the map.

—Quebec Premier René Lévesque

A political time-bomb is ticking away north of the U.S. border. What it threatens is the unity and perhaps even the survival of Canada. The bomb comes in the form of a threat by the separatist government of Quebec to seek independence for the country’s largest province. Next week, at an extraordinary three-day meeting, Canada’s national and provincial leaders will gather in Ottawa to discuss means of righting the country’s grave economic problems, which include a galloping 8.5% unemployment and 9.5% inflation. But underlying the talks will be a nervous awareness that Canada’s 111-year-old confederation is in danger and that, as Montreal Novelist Hugh MacLennan puts it: “This country we have taken for granted might be lost to us.”

It was on Nov. 15, 1976, that Canadians suddenly discovered part of their country might soon be missing. That day Quebec’s predominantly French-speaking voters gave 41% of their ballots, enough to form a majority government in the province, to the left-of-center Parti Québécois, which only ten years ago was a splinter group on the fringe of provincial politics. Independence for Quebec is the party’s main goal—indeed, its raison d’être. Some time next year the government is expected to hold a province-wide referendum. How the issue will be worded is uncertain, but in essence the voters of Quebec will be asked in a plebiscite whether or not their province should take the first steps toward becoming a new, independent North American nation. If Quebec does eventually secede, Canada’s already impoverished Atlantic Provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island) will be perilously isolated from the rest of the country. Separatist pressures, moreover, could very well increase in the western provinces, which have long chafed against the central government’s lack of concern for their interests. Canada, in short, could be torn apart.

The resolution of these alarming possibilities rests in large part in the hands of two French-speaking Quebecois: Canada’s aloof, intellectual Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 58, and passionate, populist Quebec Premier René Lévesque (pronounced Leh-vek), 55.

The two antagonists have much in common, including an acquaintanceship that goes back more than 20 years. Both are outspoken believers in the democratic process, men who are convinced that the coming confrontation between province and nation will be resolved without bloodshed or violence. Both, paradoxically, are held in more or less equal esteem by the 4.8 million French-speaking Quebecois, who constitute around 80% of the province’s population. And both men, as sons of Quebec, seek the goal that is at the heart of Canada’s crisis. That is the preservation of the French language and culture within a country of 23 million people, nearly three-fourths of whom have English as their first or only language—a country, moreover, that shares a 3,987-mile border with the largest and most powerful English-speaking culture in the world. Says Gérard Pelletier, Canada’s Ambassador to Paris and a friend of both Trudeau and Lévesque: “Among Francophone Canadians, wherever they are, only a minute fraction contemplates passively that we might all get assimilated in this great feast of English-speaking North America.”

The difficulty is that Trudeau and Lévesque differ totally on the means to prevent the assimilation of the French—a problem that has dogged Canada ever since British General James Wolfe ended French rule in Quebec with his victory over the Marquis de Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham in 1759. For Trudeau, the safeguarding of the Gallic heritage of Quebec, as well as that of some 1 million other French-speaking Canadians in other provinces,* can and should be done within a tolerant, officially bilingual Canada. For Lévesque, the solution is a homogeneous, independent state where Quebecois can be maîtres chez nous (masters in our own house).

Quebec’s claim to a distinct identity has for centuries made it Canada’s problem child. Novelist MacLennan described the historical relationship between French-and English-speaking Canadians as “the two solitudes.” Roman Catholic, French-speaking, stamped by a different culture and tradition, the mostly rural Quebecois lived a separate life from that of the province’s Protestant, English-speaking minority, which centered its activities around Montreal and the nearby Eastern Townships. For the Anglophone elite, the hub of Quebec life was Montreal’s fashionable Sherbrooke Street, within easy distance of the banks and big businesses that they dominated almost exclusively. For the French-speaking upper class of lawyers, intellectuals and politicians, it was the history-drenched Grande Allée, in the provincial capital of Quebec City, 150 miles farther north along the St. Lawrence River. The two peoples were more or less separate but certainly not equal: as early as 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that “the immense majority is everywhere French. But it is easy to see that the French are the conquered race.”

The St. Lawrence—frozen solid or clogged with ice floes for nearly five months a year—is the lifeline of Quebec: a rugged land of 594,860 sq. mi., bigger than France and Spain combined. As in the rest of Canada, most of the province’s population huddles along a narrow ribbon in the south; the vast majority of Quebecois live within 50 miles of the St. Lawrence, and 82% live within 200 miles of Montreal (pop. 2,758,780). Quebec is rich in iron, copper, zinc and timber, and produces 80% of the non-Communist world’s asbestos. Its 450 rivers give it huge reserves of hydropower. Vast hydroelectric projects, like the $16.2 billion James Bay complex now under construction (see map), have made Quebec one of the world’s major centers of aluminum production. The province is also a principal Canadian manufacturing center for textiles, garments and shoes, industries that provide 25% of Quebec jobs. With a gross provincial product of $45 billion, Quebec provides 23% of Canada’s total G.N.P., second only to neighboring Ontario. If Quebec became independent tomorrow, Lévesque likes to boast, it would rank as the 23rd wealthiest nation in the world, ahead of Iran and South Africa.

Much of the province’s development dates from the early 1960s, when it underwent an expansion of education and state enterprises that French-speaking Quebecois call la Révolution Tranquille (the Quiet Revolution). With the door suddenly open to new opportunities, the church-oriented conservative rural habitant rapidly evolved into the secular, outgoing urban Quebecois, with typically North American tastes for big cars, color-television sets and le rock. Quebeckers trained in economics and sociology thronged into the glass-and-steel cubicles of a mushrooming provincial bureaucracy. But despite this rattrapage (catching up), English-speaking Canadians retained their dominant role in business. Among the 105 largest private companies in Quebec, only 14 have a majority of French-speaking directors; in the other 91, only 9% of directors are Francophones. French remained the dominant language on the factory floor, where Gallic Quebeckers held disproportionate numbers of the lowest-paying jobs. English was the tongue of management. Some French Quebeckers felt that they were being treated as “the white niggers of America”—and in their homeland to boot.

It was in the early ’60s that resentment against Anglophone domination led to the first stirrings of radical separatist feelings, embodied by the tiny Quebec Liberation Front (F.L.Q.). Terrorist F.L.Q. members planted bombs in mailboxes outside homes in Montreal’s affluent Anglophone suburb of Westmount. Separatism received a huge burst of publicity in 1967, when the late Charles de Gaulle gave his notorious “Vive le Québec libre!” speech at Montreal’s city hall. Around the same time, portions of Quebec’s 850,000-member union movement turned to Marxist ideology, launching widespread strikes and demonstrations. In 1969, when Montreal police and firemen went on a 16-hour strike for higher pay, hundreds of thugs and militant students launched an orgy of robbing, burning and looting. Property damage came to $3 million; two men were shot dead.

The terrorist activity reached its height in Canada’s October Crisis of 1970. F.L.Q. gunmen kidnaped British Trade Commissioner James (“Jasper”) Cross and Quebec Labor Minister Pierre Laporte, eventually murdering the latter. Prime Minister Trudeau invoked Canada’s 1914 War Measures Act, placing the entire country under martial law. Quebeckers were deeply traumatized by the presence of gun-toting soldiers in their midst, but an overwhelming majority approved the harsh antiterrorist measures.

While Laporte’s murder completely discredited the F.L.Q. radicals, it did not demolish moderate, democratic separatists—like René Lévesque and his Parti Quebecois. Slowly and steadily, the Péquistes continued to gain ground, helped considerably by the sloppy government of the dominant Quebec Liberal Party. Then came the 1976 election. At the P.Q. victory party in Montreal’s Paul Sauvé Arena, 6,000 supporters embraced, wept and roared out the words of a modern Quebec chanson, “Tomorrow belongs to us …” The message was not lost on Quebec’s 800,000 English-speaking citizens—or on the rest of Canada.

Housing prices slumped in Westmount, Mount Royal, Hampstead and Montreal’s outlying English-speaking suburbs as homeowners left the province. In the first nine months of 1977, Quebec suffered a net loss of 30,622 people. Some nervous English Quebeckers who decided to stay deposited their savings at banks in such U.S. border cities as Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Burlington, Vt. Last month a major uproar broke out when Canada’s largest life insurance company, Sun Life Assurance Co. (assets: $5.5 billion), announced that it was moving its headquarters from Montreal to Toronto. After urgent personal pleas from Prime Minister Trudeau, Sun Life officials said that the firm and its 1,800 head-office employees would stay—for two more years.

Why separatism? Why now? For the Parti Québécois, the answer is simple logic: a people with a common language, customs and culture should “naturally” form a nation-state. That conviction has been nourished by a sudden, popular expansion of French pride, in which Quebec became, if not a political state, most certainly a state of mind. It is summarized in a provincial-government slogan: “De plus en plus en Québec, c ‘est en français que ça se passe ” (More and more in Quebec, it’s in French that things are happening). Quebec has sprouted dozens of novelists, playwrights and chansonniers who sing their culture’s praises—and bewail their unhappy history as a conquered people. One of the most popular plays in Quebec City, La Complainte des Hivers Rouges (The Red Winters’ Lament), by Roland LePage, salutes the leaders of an abortive 1837 rebellion against the British with the lines:

You taught us to climb toward the


It took us a while, but now we are

following you.

The real reasons behind separatist feeling in Quebec are more complicated than that. The rapid industrialization of the province has brought unprecedented mobility to Quebecois—and with it, uncertainty about whether their unique way of life can possibly last. The Quebecois birth rate, once the highest in Canada, has become the lowest: 15 per 1,000 people. The French-speaking proportion of Canada’s population has dropped from 27% to 25% and is likely to decrease further. Since 1946, nearly 378,000 immigrants, mostly Greeks and Italians, have come to Montreal. In nine cases out of ten, the newcomers learned English, rather than French, as their new working language. That was especially painful to Quebeckers, who are proud to call Montreal the second-largest French-speaking city in the world.

Many Quebeckers fear the compelling force of North America’s predominant language and culture. When French-speaking sons and daughters of the province learn English—as they frequently must to gain jobs or advance in them —they begin to be weaned from their native language. Outside Quebec, Canada’s scattered French-speaking minority regularly loses a large part of its younger generation to English-speaking North America. Says Quebecois Poet Fernand Ouellette: “In a milieu of bilingualism, there is no coexistence, there is only a continuous aggression of the language of the majority.” Quebecois are particularly bitter because little effort is given to preserving their language in the rest of Canada. Quebec has traditionally provided comprehensive, tax-supported education and complete social services in English to its English-speaking minority. No other province fully reciprocates.

The Parti Québécois solution to the language issue has been to preserve French by restricting the use of English. A draconian law known as Bill 101, approved by the legislative assembly last August, makes French the only “official” language in Quebec.* Under its terms, all business with the provincial government must be conducted in French. All professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, must display “appropriate” fluency in order to practice in Quebec. Corporations will be monitored by a government board to ensure that French becomes the “language of work.” To pacify English-speaking Big Business, the Quebec government has promised to tailor exceptions for some 40 national and international corporate head offices located in Montreal.

The most controversial part of the law deals with education. It radically limits the right of new residents of Quebec—including Canadians coming from predominantly English-speaking provinces—to send their children to English-speaking schools. Among Quebeckers, only a student with at least one parent who attended Anglophone institutions can attend; all others must learn in French.

The aim, says Quebec’s Cultural Affairs Minister Camille Laurin, is “to make Quebec as French as Ontario is English.” It is also a de facto move toward separation.

In the rest of Canada, the Parti Québécois’ determination to break away from the confederation has created fear, frustration and resentment. “What more can the people of other provinces do?” asks Carrol Potter, a retired Canadian armed forces veteran in tiny Middleton, N.S. “We have a French Canadian Governor-General [who represents Queen Elizabeth II], a French Canadian Prime Minister and a lopsided number of French Canadians in the federal Cabinet in Ottawa [twelve out of 33]. Yet we are told that the French Canadian is still dissatisfied.”

Gloom is particularly deep in the Maritimes, where unemployment ranges from 10.4% to 17.5%. Reason: Quebec’s separation would leave the four provinces and their 2.1 million people with 300 miles of foreign territory between them and the rest of Canada. Says Premier Alex Campbell of Prince Edward Island: “We would have only our poverty to share with any other province still around to become a partner with us.”

In Canada’s booming Western provinces, separatism reinforces strains of a different kind. Western premiers are pressing for additions to their already considerable powers under Canada’s founding British North America (BNA) Act of 1867. Among them: a provincial veto over federal decisions concerning natural resources, a greater say in the operation of the Bank of Canada and a hand in the appointment of Canada’s Supreme Court judges. Says Manitoba Premier Sterling Lyon: “English Canada tends to see Ottawa’s tunnel vision [toward Quebec] as distracting from real issues.”

In such Western Canadian provinces as British Columbia and Alberta, the belief that the central government ignores their collective needs is virtual Holy Writ.

There are even Westerners who preach their own brand of separatism. Says John Rudolph, a wealthy, independent oilman in Calgary, Canada’s oil capital: “If Quebec separates, Western Canada will become more important and will be able to negotiate its own membership in Canada.” Rudolph, however, is in the minority; the overwhelming majority of Western Canadians want their country to remain united.

This is the grim climate in which Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque are now circling each other like wary knife fighters, probing before attack. Quebecois call the longstanding separatism debate one between head and heart, between reason and sentiment. Surely no two opponents better fit their respective roles.

In personality, Trudeau and Lévesque are almost exact opposites. Canada’s Prime Minister is cerebral, disciplined, removed, impatient with his intellectual inferiors. His personal motto is “Reason over passion.” Trudeau is a political theorist turned political activist who thinks of himself as a philosopher-statesman. His public speeches frequently sound like university lectures. First elected Prime Minister in 1968, partly because of his Kennedy-like charismatic appeal, he has seldom been far from the front pages, some of which he would prefer to have avoided—most notably those recounting the stormy breakup last spring of the marriage to his young, attractive wife Margaret.

Lévesque, by contrast, is a chainsmoking, disorganized, hot-tempered bundle of emotional energy from one of Quebec’s poorest farming regions. His manner is shy and self-deprecating. While Trudeau’s speeches are structured and formal, Lévesque’s are extemporaneous, meandering marvels that somehow manage to reduce complex abstractions to simple—often too simple—terms. He is extraordinarily popular with his constituents; polls show that Lévesque would be overwhelmingly re-elected today.

Despite their differences, the careers of the two Quebecois are curiously intertwined, and reflect both the unity and conflict within Quebec’s tightly knit society. Said Claude Ryan, until recently editor of Montreal’s intellectual daily Le Devoir: “Destiny has for a long time prepared Messieurs Lévesque and Trudeau for a decisive confrontation.”

Trudeau was born in 1919 in Montreal’s affluent, French-speaking Outremont district, the son of a millionaire oil and land investor. He attended the best Jesuit schools, consistently topping his class. He went on to the University of Montreal law school, then spent two years studying politics and economics at Harvard and in Paris and London. He returned to Quebec in 1949 as a labor lawyer and economist. Trudeau flirted with socialism and became an outspoken civil libertarian, fighting against the autocratic and nationalist provincial government of Premier Maurice Duplessis. Early on, Trudeau accepted the idea of Quebec as a nation and a people, but never saw the necessity that it be a political state. As he later wrote in his political journal Cite Libre (Open City), ethnically based governments are “by nature intolerant, discriminatory, and, when all is said and done, totalitarian.”

Lévesque was born in New Carlisle (pop. 1,100) on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. The son of a local lawyer, he attended Laval University in Quebec City, where he earned a B.A. but spent much of his time playing poker (he is “reckless” at it, says a partner of later days). Lévesque was suspended from Laval’s law school in his third year for smoking in a lecture hall, and took the opportunity to drop out. Lévesque, who speaks a fine, colloquial English, worked in Europe as a broadcaster with the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II, and for Canadian radio in Korea. Afterward, he quickly became Quebec’s most popular television newsman. Lévesque first met

Trudeau in 1952, at the behest of their mutual friend, Gerard Pelletier, in an encounter that set the tone for most of their future dealings. “You speak well,” said Trudeau brusquely, “but can you write?” Trudeau then reminded the startled journalist that Lévesque was two years overdue on a promised contribution to Cite Libre.

In 1960, Lévesque was elected a member of the Quebec Liberal government headed by Premier Jean Lesage, and thus was in on the beginning of the Quiet Revolution. As Minister of Natural Resources, Lévesque soon established himself as a radical force within the Cabinet, and in 1963 pushed through one of the most important measures of that period: nationalization of the province’s private electrical utilities into Hydro-Quebec (current assets: $6.5 billion). At the time Lévesque was labeled “René the Red” for his advocacy of the scheme. He was twitted by Trudeau, then a Montreal law professor, for insisting on a full takeover of the utilities. Partial takeover was enough, said Trudeau; spending public funds to own more than that was an expensive currying of nationalist pride. Lévesque was a strong Quebec nationalist even then. Said he in 1963: “I am first a Quebecois and second, with a rather growing doubt, a Canadian.”

Trudeau took the opposite tack for solving Quebec’s problems; he sought to change English Canada from within. Convinced of the need to fight rising separatism, he entered national politics in 1965 as a Liberal member of Parliament from Mount Royal in Montreal. Three years later, after serving as Canada’s Justice Minister and Attorney-General, he succeeded the late Lester (“Mike”) Pearson as Prime Minister. During Trudeau’s first election campaign, young girls—including his future wife—flung themselves at him. Businessmen asked for his autograph. Crowds gathered wherever he went. Said Trudeau in those palmy days: “However Canadians are classified, the needs of each must be recognized.”

In trying to meet that ideal, Trudeau, in one of his first major steps, elevated French to equal status with English, at least insofar as the federal government could. His 1969 Official Languages Act provided that French could be used in federal courts across Canada and in any dealings with the government. He raised the number of French-speaking employees in Canada’s 330,000-member civil service from 9% to 27%, roughly their proportion of the population. Trudeau warned English-speaking bureaucrats that they would need fluency in both languages for many jobs, and had language courses instituted for them. Legislation was passed requiring that products be labeled in French as well as English. When an English-speaking man expressed horror at seeing “paillettes de maïis ” (cornflakes) on one side of his breakfast-cereal box, the Prime Minister snapped: “Turn the damned box around!”

Trudeau’s $750 million bilingualism program upset many bureaucrats. In the Western provinces, it was felt that, in a popular and apt phrase, “French is being stuffed down our throats.” All of a sudden, for example, there were bilingual STOP/ARRÊT signs in Rocky Mountain national parks. Trudeau lost prestige even among Quebeckers in July 1976, when commercial air service in Canada was shut down for nine days because 2,700 pilots and 2,200 air-traffic controllers went on strike to protest government plans for bilingual air-traffic control over Quebec. Trudeau’s government caved in, and many outraged Quebeckers suddenly became P.Q. supporters.

Trudeau has suffered the lumps any politician who has held office for ten years can expect to accumulate. The country’s original infatuation with its leader waned, rekindled briefly at his last election in 1974, then waned again. His government has shown many signs of tired blood. These include scandals involving Cabinet ministers and other Liberal Party officials, and admissions that the legendary Royal Canadian Mounted Police have taken part in illegal entries and the unauthorized opening of mail. (The latter scandal was compounded last week when Trudeau’s Solicitor-General, Francis Fox, 38, who was responsible for the Mounties, announced that he was resigning because he had forged a husband’s signature in order to get an abortion for a married paramour.) Before the Péquiste victory, Trudeau’s government had the approval of only 29% of Canadians.

While the Prime Minister’s star was tumbling, that of the premier-to-be was beginning a new rise. After failing to convince Quebec’s reformist Liberals that they should adopt a separatist policy, Lévesque quit the party in 1967 to found the Mouvement Souveraineté Association, the forerunner of his Parti Québécois. He squeezed out radical elements, earning a reputation as a democratic moderate, and thus the organization survived the antiseparatist backlash that followed the F.L.Q. kidnapings. In 1968, Lévesque predicted that his party would pick up 20% of the vote in its first provincial election and become Quebec’s official opposition in the second. “From there, it is only necessary to wait one’s turn to be the government.” His turn came the third time around. In 1976, the P.Q. toppled the Liberal government of Lévesque’s onetime friend Robert Bourassa, winning 69 of 110 seats in the provincial assembly. In a calculated ploy, Lévesque downplayed the separatism issue and instead ran hard on a platform of good government.

Nonetheless, Lévesque made clear that sooner or later Quebec would face a referendum on separatism.

If the voters were asked directly to choose independence from a range of options, polls show, the Péquistes would lose. Only 19% of the population favor that stark choice. However, 40% approve “sovereignty-association,” which is the way that Lévesque refers to independence plus a hoped-for economic union with the rest of Canada. But fully 67% of the same sample favor “revised federalism,” meaning constitutional changes that would give Quebec greater autonomy within the Canadian confederation. Faced with that evidence of fluid opinion, P.Q. experts are now debating how to word the referendum question to give Lévesque the best chance of winning a favorable vote. Their probable strategy will be to woo more people into the camp of “sovereignty-association” by asking for power merely to “negotiate” that option. This step-by-step approach aims at allowing the Péquistes to create their own wave of support—and implicitly includes the idea of repeated referendums until independence is reached.

Meantime, Trudeau and Lévesque are playing a political cat-and-mouse game. Lévesque has refused to name a specific date for the referendum vote. He is waiting for Trudeau to call a national election; that is considered likely this spring or in the fall. The P.Q. would presumably argue that anything less than overwhelming support for the Prime Minister was proof that the rest of Canada had no concern for Quebec. The P.Q.’s hopes for a Trudeau setback are not entirely farfetched, since the Trudeau government’s popularity zoomed after the Péquiste victory but has now dropped back to 42%, v. 34% for the opposition Conservatives, led by youthful Western Canadian Joseph Clark, 38.

Lévesque’s separatist ambitions leave some serious questions without satisfactory answers. One is the potential fate of the 1 million French-speaking Canadians who live outside Quebec. Should Quebec secede, protection for their cultural identity, which is already meager, would almost certainly disappear. The Péquiste solution is that non-Quebecois French Canadians would have the choice of emigrating to the new Quebec—a kind of diaspora in reverse. Considering the province’s 11 % unemployment rate, that is not an inviting prospect for many. Moreover, the Acadians of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and the French-speaking descendants of Manitoba’s fur trappers have traditions of their own. By and large, French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec seem to want more equality, not an uprooting of their lives. Says Raymond Poirier, executive director of Winnipeg’s Franco-Manitoban Society: “If they continue to pass laws that do not permit the Francophone community to grow, they will have to build a fence around us and turn it into a zoo.”

As the polls on separatism indicate, there is a serious doubt as to how much in tune with its electorate the Parti Québécois government really is on its fundamental goal. Sociologist Guy Rocher of the University of Montreal argues that while Quebec’s cultural elite is nationalistic, statist, European in outlook, and intellectual in expression, the new mass culture of the average Quebecois is less wedded to government, more pragmatic, and oriented toward the U.S. As a pro-American populist, Lévesque is something of an exception in his 26-member Cabinet. With 17 graduate and postgraduate degrees among its membership, it certainly fits Sociologist Rocher’s description as elite.

Another major question is whether separation would contribute to the regressive isolation of Quebec from North America. That is Trudeau’s contention. Says he: “Our Holy Mother the Church is being replaced by holy nationalism. We’re forbidding French-Canadian parents to send their children to English schools just as, 20 years ago, Catholic parents were forbidden to send their children to Protestant schools.” The repressive nature of Bill 101 seems to back him up.

Will Lévesque’s government stay in office long enough to win what it wants? Corporate investors are discouraged by the government’s “anti-scab” law, which will in effect shut down factories when employees are on strike, and by the mandatory minimum wage—currently $3.27 an hour, the highest in Canada. There are popular grumbles about the unemployment rate, which is still climbing. Moreover, the Liberals are likely to choose as their new leader Montreal Journalist Claude Ryan; he is deeply respected in Quebec and is an ardent believer in more power for the province, within federalism. Thus, by election time in 1980—for that matter, before the Péquiste referendum—the voters may have a vigorous and attractive alternative to Lévesque.

By then, Quebeckers will know that the economic union with Canada that Lévesque wants may not be feasible. No fewer than five provincial premiers—including Ontario’s William Davis—have said they will not negotiate any such arrangement. Simon Reisman, an Ottawa financial consultant, points out that the bulk of Quebec’s secondary exports—textiles, garments, shoes—depend heavily on the highly protected Canadian market. “Other Canadians,” he says, “are prepared to accept this cost only to the extent that they believe it binds the nation together.”

Hostility toward Quebec is bound to increase if Lévesque wins a referendum. Somewhat inadvertently, Trudeau himself raised the specter of serious violence over Quebec’s separation. In a televised interview last month, the Prime Minister said that he would not “be shy about using the sword” if illegal separation was attempted. Trudeau’s comment caused a strong reaction at home and abroad but was taken somewhat out of context. As he has made clear many times, he believes that Lévesque’s government is committed to democracy and respects the law. Nonetheless, the way in which many Canadians leaped upon Trudeau’s “sword” comment indicates the tensions buried not far beneath the still civilized surface of Canada’s crisis.

Some editorialists have compared Quebec’s desire for autonomy with the mood of the American South prior to the Civil War. The two situations are far from the same. For one thing, there is no direct competition between differing economic systems in Quebec and the rest of Canada, as there was between the industrializing Union and the largely rural Confederacy. For another, the issue of language rights is not comparable to the passionate issue of slavery—although some radical separatists outside the Parti Québécois would like to think otherwise.

Still, Francophone families do feel some of the agonizing splits that tore American homes more than a century ago. Instead of brother against brother, they are more often elders against children, since Parti Québécois support most often comes from the younger generation. Says Martine Hébert, a student in Quebec City: “I have an uncle in Toronto. He says that we’re cretins, that a separate Quebec would not survive. How can he judge? He looks at it with the eye of a person from a foreign country.”

In at least one foreign country—the U.S.—there is the same kind of apprehension. Although it has carefully steered clear of any hint of interfering in its neighbor’s internal affairs, the Carter Administration agrees with Trudeau that Canada’s breakup would be a major tragedy. The U.S. has many reasons for feeling that way, not the least of which is a historic sense of neighborliness, reinforced by millions of individual contacts between Americans and Canadians every year.

Beyond that, Canada is America’s largest commercial partner, with a joint volume of trade that reached $50 billion last year. U.S. investments in Canada total some $30 billion; Canadian investments in the U.S. add up to $5 billion. The two countries are tied together in countless undertakings. Among them are the joint operation of the St. Lawrence Seaway and, most recently, the $12 billion Alcan pipeline, which will bring Alaskan natural gas to the Lower 48 by 1983. Such projects could be upset or stopped by Quebec’s separation.

Canada and the U.S. are also linked in defense matters, primarily by NATO and the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). There are NORAD radar installations in Quebec. One-third of Canada’s air interceptor force is stationed there. Canadian antisubmarine forces protect the Gulf of St. Lawrence and other coastal waters from the dangers of submarine missile attack. Despite René Lévesque’s assurances, there is no hard guarantee that an independent Quebec would—or could—take part in the same defensive commitments.

Quebec separation has hurried along a change in Canadian-U.S. relations—for the better. For many reasons, including the Viet Nam War and some of Richard Nixon’s economic policies, chilliness set in during the early ’70s. The ebbing of good will was reinforced, ironically enough, by a tide of nationalism in English-speaking Canada. Trudeau’s government embarked on a series of irritations of the U.S. involving gas and oil export price hikes without the usual neighborly consultation, and other commercial matters (including tax-law changes that resulted in the closing of TIME’S special Canadian editorial edition).

Ottawa’s relations with the U.S. began to improve markedly around the time of Lévesque’s victory. Canadian nationalism, which had begun to peak, subsided. Cultural chauvinism, however, still shows signs of life, especially in Ontario. Last summer Canada’s government-owned ra-SYGMA djo network canceled a production of Richard HI when native-born actors protested the hiring of British citizens —including Actress Maggie Smith —for the lead roles. On the political front, Prime Minister Trudeau has a far closer relationship with Jimmy Carter than he did with Richard Nixon or with Gerald Ford. Carter, in turn, has placed more emphasis on North American harmony than his predecessors did. Thus when Vice President Walter Mondale returned from Ottawa last month, he declared that relations with Canada “have probably never been better.”

How that relationship will continue now hangs on Canada’s fate. The odds on Lévesque’s success currently seem low, but the Parti Québécois will persevere in its separatist mission. Should it succeed, a rump Canada would undoubtedly fall further within the U.S. economic orbit.

Another concern is that in the struggle, the government in Ottawa —which is already weak by U.S. standards—will lose so much authority that Canada will have trouble directing its social and economic future.

Much now rests upon the shoulders of Pierre Trudeau, who says that the task is “to win the hearts and minds of Quebeckers to stay in confederation.” Trudeau is keeping a large part of his counterstrategy against separatism under wraps. But among other things, his government intends to arm itself with the power to call its own referendum, in case René Lévesque unfairly biases the Quebec plebiscite question. The central government is also preparing proposals for constitutional change: for example, stronger provincial representation on Canada’s Supreme Court and in other national institutions, and a bill of rights protecting French-and English-language rights. These would not only placate Western Canadians but might also make Lévesque seem unreasonable to Quebec voters should he refuse to accept them. All that is still part of the future. At present the stark fact is that Canadians may have to struggle harder than at any other time in their history to keep their future intact.

*Mostly concentrated in Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba, with smaller numbers scattered in the other six provinces.

*Last month a Quebec judge ruled that a part of Bill 101 was unconstitutional. French cannot be the only official language in the provincial legislature or provincial courts, he said, since use of English there is guaranteed by Canada’s constitution.

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