Canada's friend in Paris

Sarkozy sees it. And to his credit, he's not afraid to talk it up.

Sarko décore Charest - février 2009

French President Nicolas Sarkozy barely glanced at his carefully crafted speech when he made Quebec Premier Jean Charest a member of the Légion d'honneur this week. Instead, he spoke from the heart, going out of his way to praise Canadian unity.
Calling Canadians "my friends" and Quebecers "my family," Sarkozy extolled the values of unity, openness and tolerance. Without explicitly mentioning separatism, he asked: "Do you really believe, my dear friends, that the world needs division, needs hatred, in the midst of the unprecedented crisis it is going through?" Then he went on to slam "sectarianism," "retreating into oneself," and "defining one's own identity through fierce opposition to another."
For Quebec secessionists this was a stunning, if oblique, rebuke.
Granted, Sarkozy had nothing to lose. Charest is staunchly federalist. Separatism is on the political back burner in Quebec. And France does a tidy and growing $8 billion two-way trade with Canada, $4.5 billion of it outside Quebec.
But French leaders haven't always been so sensible. Back in 1967, Charles de Gaulle calculated, spectacularly wrongly, that he could serve his nation's interests by shouting Vive le Québec libre during our centenary. That brought on a diplomatic chill that lasted for years.
Happily, Sarkozy has none of de Gaulle's pretentions on this file. During his trip here in October for Quebec City's 400th anniversary, Sarkozy endeared himself by speaking bluntly in favour of unity, and of a deeper France-Canada partnership. That makes good sense.
Canadian and French troops are fighting together in Afghanistan. We have $32 billion invested with each other. We share a common history, culture and values. We both seek to thwart terror, deliver aid and promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law. That gives us a strong and growing interest in each other's national success.
Sarkozy sees it. And to his credit, he's not afraid to talk it up.

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