When visiting Lebanon last month, French Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal failed to speak up when a Hezbollah politician compared Israel's past role in southern Lebanon to the Nazi occupation of France. In Beijing earlier this month, she said France's justice system could learn lessons from China, a notorious human-rights abuser. Now, the gaffe-prone darling of the French left has weighed in on the question of Quebec separatism, declaring her support for "the sovereignty and freedom of Quebec." France may be a friend, but the facile Ms. Royal is proving to be something else entirely.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper quickly responded to her provocation, saying that "experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country." Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion put it more pointedly: "She has no credibility." Said Mr. Dion: "You don't wish for the dismantling of a friendly country. Canada doesn't wish for the dismantling of France and France doesn't wish for the dismantling of Canada."
It is true that no prominent Canadian politician would dream of voicing support for, say, the independence of Brittany. (Even though, since it has its own languages and a unique culture, a perfectly lucid argument could be made for Brittany's "sovereignty and freedom.") The same can unfortunately not be said of French politicians with regard to Quebec.
Ms. Royal's foolish mutterings recall French president Charles de Gaulle's "Vive le Québec libre" proclamation on the balcony of Montreal's City Hall in July, 1967. By his premeditated attack on Canadian unity, made while a guest of this country, the great old general succeeded in unfastening a wrenching separatist debate over the future of Quebec that continues to this day. But he did more than that. He also brought dishonour upon himself and France.
His country serves as a graveyard for tens of thousands of young Canadians - English- and French-speaking both - slaughtered in two world wars. There is no greater monument to Canadian heroism than the Canadian National Vimy Memorial at that First World War battle site in France. Even after the liberation of France in the Second World War, Gen. de Gaulle was in Ottawa, beret in hand, asking for Canadian help in his country's reconstruction. He repaid it all with a single despicable act.
For many Canadians, Charles de Gaulle, a hero of the 20th century, is remembered only as a meddlesome ingrate. But Ms. Royal is no de Gaulle. The way she is going, it is unlikely she will be remembered for anything at all.