par Randall Palmer
QUEBEC: A debate on whether Quebec is a "nation" has opened a can of worms with hefty implications both for Canadian unity and for the future of the main opposition Liberal Party.
Two separate resolutions, one from the separatist Bloc Quebecois and one from the Quebec wing of Canada's pro-unity Liberal Party, are causing major headaches by forcing politicians to declare openly whether Quebec is a nation.
The House of Commons will today debate the Bloc's motion, which states simply: "That this House recognise that Quebecers form a nation."
Those who do not want the mainly French-speaking province to separate from Canada face a dilemma. If they vote yes, they risk encouraging separatism and lengthy constitutional negotiations that could potentially lead to the break-up of Canada if they fail. If they vote no, they also risk bolstering the separatists who could say Canada refuses to recognise their legitimate aspirations.
Emotions are still raw more than a decade after Quebec voters came within a percentage point of voting for separation in a referendum in October 1995.
The other resolution that is causing a political headache was put forward for debate at next week's federal Liberal leadership convention. It would recognise "the Quebec nation within Canada". The words "within Canada" are meant to guard against the concept of an independent nation, one that could take its seat at the United Nations.
But it would also call for "this historical and social reality" to be "officialised" - once again raising what many see as the spectre of constitutional haggling.
"Clearly this motion has the capacity of being misunderstood, so people are trying to see if we can send a clearer signal," said Gerard Kennedy, one of the leading candidates for the Liberal leadership, which will be decided on December 2nd.
The candidate with the most delegate support, former Harvard don Michael Ignatieff, brought the whole debate into the leadership race when he declared his support for the concept of a Quebec nation within Canada.
Fearing the whole debate could fracture the party, interim leader Bill Graham summoned all the leadership candidates for a meeting yesterday to smooth things over, but no solution immediately emerged.
The trouble for federalist politicians is that the idea of "nation" - in a largely cultural sense - is often used in Quebec.