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Are we ready for West Quebec?

By: David Haas

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 06:00 am

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As the present near-war between Russia and Ukraine demonstrates, replacing a single multi-ethnic country with two or more separate ethnic states does not solve all the problems of ethnic tension. Historically, different ethnic groups overlapped in geographic areas while largely maintaining their own identity. Problems are particularly apt to arise when one ethnic state contains significant numbers of people sharing the ethnic identification of a neighbouring state.

On one side of my heritage I am descended from Germans who settled in the southern Volga region of Russia around the time of Catherine the Great. A documentary relic of my family’s subsequent departure for Canada just over a century ago is a form completed by hand in German but printed in Ukrainian.

There was at that time a significant Ukrainian population along the southern Volga. As of 2013 there were still about half a million ethnic Ukrainians in the Volga Federal District of Russia and the Ukrainian government actually opened a consulate-general there to look after its interests.

My interest in the Russia-Ukraine dispute stems partly from family history. Of more immediate personal concern, two countries in which I hold citizenship – Canada and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – may not survive 2014 intact.

In the U.K., Scotland is poised for an independence referendum on September 18. As opposed to the notorious weasel wording of the Quebec sovereignty referendum in 1995 (“Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?”) the question being put to the Scots is blunt: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

A yes result would dissolve a formal union established more than 300 years ago. Although legally it would affect me, as a practical matter I am too far removed to be much affected should Scotland go independent.

Of closer impact, the separatist government of Quebec has called an election for April 7, and talk of independence is already coming from the current separatist premier, who seems poised for re-election. No doubt if elected with a majority government she will attempt to convert Quebec to an ethnic-based independent state, whether through another referendum, or perhaps just by an act of Quebec’s National Assembly.

The latter approach would be contrary to Canada’s federal Clarity Act, passed after the Supreme Court of Canada pronounced on the conditions under which a province can leave Confederation. But would a re-elected separatist government feel bound to respect this?

There is another issue. In the 1995 referendum debate, talk arose that Quebec independence might be followed by demands for counter-secession by groups there wanting nothing to do with it. Back then Quebec’s separatist government reacted with horror. Quebec, it proclaimed, was indivisible. Indeed? Ever hear of West Virginia?

Writer David Haas is a long term St. Albert resident.


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