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Sarkozy Should Butt Out of Quebec

by Archives October 28, 2008

French President Nicolas Sarkozy must be confused. Judging from his call for Canadian unity at Quebec City’s Francophonie summit, you’d swear he thinks it’s 1967 all over again. 1967, of course, being the last time a French leader’s opinion on Quebec sovereignty actually had significance.
“If someone tells me the world today needs an additional division, it’s that we don’t have the same vision of the world,” said Sarkozy at the Canada-European Union summit on Oct. 17.
One might inquire why Sarkozy, who was such an outspoken proponent of Kosovo’s independence, now finds himself rejecting Quebecers’ national aspirations?
But of even more importance is why any French president would be deluded enough to imagine his stance on Canadian domestic affairs is anything but unwanted and uncalled for interference.
Since the 1970s, France’s stance on Quebec’s sovereignty has been that it would approve Quebec’s decision, whatever it may be. By siding with federalists, Sarkozy made a clear, and untimely, break with tradition.
“He doesn’t understand the Quebec people’s sovereignty project, which on the contrary, is a very inclusive project, open to the world and modern,” said Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois in response to Sarkozy’s comments.
At the present moment, the immediate prospects for Quebec’s independence are not outwardly inspiring: the Parti Québécois isn’t in power; the Bloc is stagnant, and there is no set referendum on the horizon. Yet there remains a strong will and an optimism among separatists.
By saying that Quebec’s independence would be an unwanted division in Canadian unity, Sarkozy has done nothing but prove he has an antiquated view fuelled with misunderstanding.
When Charles de Gaulle came to Montreal in 1967 and gave his famous “Vive le Québec libre” speech, his comments resonated with the spirit of the times.
Today, however, Quebecers are no longer in a position of dependence, and no longer have need of outsiders to justify their demands.
Quebecers, President Sarkozy, don’t care for your moral lessons on politics. Federalists don’t need your backing, and sovereignists don’t need to be sold on the merits of a unity they feel is deleterious.
Canadian domestic affairs, from sovereignty to health care, belong to no one but Canadians. After all, Sarkozy would be a lot less enthusiastic if Stephen Harper went to France to comment on their state of affairs.
If Quebec does one day achieve independence, Sarkozy is right, it will be a break in Canada’s unity – but it will reflect what most Quebecers think is best. And that’s what matters. A nation’s fundamental right to self-determination, or a division as Sarkozy likes to call it, isn’t always a cause for all to celebrate but is sometimes necessary for the evolution of democracy.
Oddly enough, perhaps Premier Jean Charest responded best to Sarkozy’s comments.
“It’s for us to determine what our future is,” he said. “We don’t need to ask permission from the French people.”
Indeed, Quebecers neither want nor intend to.

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