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April 27, 2005
Austin Bay: Will Canada Be The Next Failed State?

One of the bitter ironies of the Canadian Adscam scandal involves the status of Quebec. Originally, the government launched the Sponsorship Program as a public-relations effort to convince Quebeckers that they are a vital part of the Canadian federation, hoping to combat the separatists that had gained enough political power to force a referendum on independence -- which lost, but only narrowly, a few years ago. After seeing $250 million of Canadian tax money disappear into the pockets of Liberal Party activists and the party coffers, however, the momentum away from separatism has been reversed. Now 54% of Quebec favors separation from Canada in some form:

Mr. Martin found himself in the thick of a revived national unity debate after a poll placed support for independence at 54 per cent its highest level in seven years.

Quebeckers are recoiling from daily corruption allegations emerging from Justice John Gomery's inquiry, but they don't justify the country's breakup, the Prime Minister said.

The separation of Quebec is not the answer to abuses like this, Mr. Martin told The Canadian Press during an interview in his corner office, a sparsely decorated white room in the Langevin building across the street from Parliament Hill. ...

But a federal lawsuit and criminal charges against people implicated in the sponsorship scandal has acted as an accelerant to smouldering separatist sentiment in Quebec.

Too bad the Liberals didn't concern themselves with separatism while they had the opportunity to do something about it. Instead, they used the money designed to ease the cultural tensions and build Canadian nationalism to line their own pockets and use the program as a party slush fund outside of electoral regulations in order to retain a grip on power. It beggars the imagination to think that Martin could be serious when he scolds Quebeckers for considering separatism when his own party stole their money.

How serious is the threat of dissolution north of the 49th? Austin Bay takes a tongue-in-cheek look today at the previously-unthinkable status of Canada as a "failed state":

Here's a thumbnail sketch of that analysis: Say Quebec does become a separate European-style nation-state -- a "people" with cultural, linguistic, religious and historical identity (never mind the objections of Mohawk and Cree Indians living in Quebec). Quebec has the people and resources to make a go of it, though the economic price for its egotism will be stiff. British Columbia also has "nation-state" assets: Access to the sea, strong industrial base, raw materials and an educated population.

Oil-producing Alberta might join the United States and instantly find common political ground with Alaska, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. Canada's struggling Atlantic provinces might find statehood economically attractive and extend the New England coastline. A rump Canada consisting of "Greater Ontario" -- with remaining provinces as appendages -- might keep the maple-leaf flag aloft. As for poor, isolated Newfoundland: Would Great Britain like to reacquire a North American colony?

Austin has some fun with this concept, and up to a month ago, I might have laughed this off as well. Americans may not appreciate the tensions that exist within our Northern neighbor, and Adscam has inflamed them to record levels. The recent Quebec polls represent just one aspect of the interprovincial tensions. If readers take the time to read through the excellent comments left here by Canadian readers, it quickly becomes apparent that citizens of most Canadian provinces have their own issues with federation as well.

I for one don't find this instability encouraging. We may have our differences on international policy and other issues with Ottawa, but we have a long and treasured relationship with a united Canada. We share one of few demilitarized international borders based on centuries of friendship, trust, and a shared sense of mission, even if our cultures differ in small but significant ways. Dissolution will abruptly and sharply change that relationship, complicating not just our security situation but the nature of the North American continent altogether.

For this reason, I remain absolutely stumped about the lack of interest shown thus far by the American media in the Adscam scandal. Though a Liberal government collapse looks imminent and probably unavoidable, even a newspaper as close to Canada as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has barely mentioned it. The lack of interest in Canadian politics will catch Americans with their pants down if Quebec goes its own way and precipitates a general collapse of the national system in Canada, an embarassing development for a country that takes such an interest in global politics.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 27, 2005 6:34 PM

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