Quebec, too, may be divisible

Premier Charest's Past back to haunt him; But his office was quick to issue a denial

Québec 2007 - Après un OUI - Charest et la partition

Premier Jean Charest found himself in damage-control mode yesterday after he evoked the possibility of the partition of Quebec in the event of a Yes vote on sovereignty.

"I don't believe Quebec would be indivisible," Charest told reporters as he campaigned north of Montreal. Three hours later, Charest's office issued a statement saying the premier had misspoken when he said he didn't believe Quebec could not be divided, but he continued to evoke the prospect of the issue of partition being raised.

"I reiterate, as premier and as leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, that Quebec's territory is indivisible. I reiterate also that the day after a hypothetical separation of Quebec, our people would be confronted with a period of turbulence. ... We cannot exclude the probability that this question would be raised."

Over the last couple of days Charest has fuelled his campaign by gleefully ripping into a series of Action democratique candidates for comments they have made in the past.

Yesterday, some of Charest's past comments caught up with him.
In January 1996, while still leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, Charest told the television show Sunday Edition that if sovereignists have the right to dissent, so do others.

"It's far from being clear that Quebec isn't divisible," he said. "I think the Crees and the Inuit would have a very good case."

Charest's comments were part of a collection of quotes about partition gathered by the Privy Council Office under Stephane Dion's tenure.

The quotes were among documents regarding the 1995 referendum recently released under the Access to Information Act.

Asked about his previous comments yesterday, Charest said he doesn't want to see the partition of Quebec, but it would be on the table should Quebecers vote for sovereignty.

"What I said, and I continue to believe, is that this issue will be raised. I have no doubt about that.
"When it is raised, we'll just have to see how we deal with it if that were to happen."
Among the statements gathered by the Privy Council was also one by Stephen Harper, made in the aftermath of the 1995 referendum, which calls into question what exactly he proposed when he introduced a motion in the House of Commons late last year recognizing "the Quebecois" as a nation within a united Canada, and whether that could set the stage for the partition of Quebec in the event of a Yes vote.

"Obviously, given the ethnic and socio-cultural make-up of modern Quebec society, only the pure laine Quebecois could arguably be considered a people," Harper told the House of Commons in December 1995.

"While they constitute a majority of the Quebec population, they do not constitute a majority in each region of Quebec. This produces a curious result, that if the Quebecois pure laine are a people and if they have a right to secede, they could not claim the right to territorial integrity."

Charest refused to comment on Harper's 1995 remarks, but distanced himself the position Harper espoused.

"My view is when we speak of Quebec as being a nation, it is very inclusive and it includes every citizen of Quebec."

Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair has said the motion recognizing the Quebecois as a nation will be helpful in separating Quebec from Canada in the event of a majority Yes vote in a sovereignty referendum.

Last night, in a press conference, Boisclair said partitioning Quebec is out of the question under any circumstances, be it within or without Canada, citing the stands of previous Liberal premiers Robert Bourassa and Daniel Johnson.
"The question that should be clear is that the integrity of Quebec's territory will never be in question," he said.

"And this no matter what Quebec's future or the democratic choice Quebecers make."

He accused Charest of failing in his duty as an elected Quebec official.
"He cannot make mistakes like that and excuse himself late at night with a press release," he said. "I expect a clear statement without ambiguity from the premier of Quebec. He must defend Quebec's interests."

ELIZABETH THOMPSON, HUBERT BAUCH of The Gazette contributed to this report

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