© 1994 Karen Selick
 Peaceful in Polka Dots

An edited version of this article first appeared in the May, 1994 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.


 Peaceful in Polka Dots

Like any two people contemplating a divorce, Canada and Quebec are soon going to have to start considering the issue of who gets the kids.  In this context, of course, "the kids" are the voters, taxpayers and other residents of Quebec, not all of whom are going to want to go with mom when she finally makes the decision to walk out on dad.

The problem is that these kids come with more than just the usual assortment of moveable kid stuff--baseball cards, Nintendo sets, and the like.  These kids have valuable property: houses, cottages, stores and factories--stuff that can't be moved.

A few months ago, one separatist politician made headlines by saying in public what has undoubtedly been repeated over and over again in private conversations among separatists for years:  if Quebec's anglophone minority doesn't like the idea of separation, they can always leave.  There are two ways of interpreting that comment.  The cynical interpretation is that he's eager for all the rich Anglos to vacate Westmount so that he and his compatriots can snap up their real estate at fire-sale prices. 

The charitable interpretation is that he simply isn't familiar with the concept of enclaves.  For that there is a cure: he needs to read a book called Canada Remapped, by Ottawa author Scott Reid.

This book neither advocates nor opposes Quebec's separation.  Instead, it reads more like a national boy scout manual, exhorting us urgently to "Be prepared."  If separation never comes, no harm will be done from having prepared for the contingency.  But if it does come, much grief can be avoided.

Reid's first concern is that Canada avoid the bloodshed that has accompanied almost every political secession in history.  His second concern is to offer a choice of political allegiance to as many Quebecers as possible, without forcing them to physically pack up and move.  His third concern is to ensure good future relations between Canada and a sovereign Quebec. 

The same arguments that would give Quebec the right to secede from Canada can be made in favour of Anglophone or aboriginal portions of Quebec seceding from the province and remaining in Canada.  Dissenting Quebecers may well be willing to comply with the curt suggestion that they leave by leaving politically but not physically--in the same way that Quebec is proposing to "leave" Canada.  To distinguish the two levels of secession, the book uses the term separation to refer to Quebec leaving Canada, and partition to refer to the divvying up of Quebec territory.

Canada Remapped looks at two notoriously bloody cases of separation and partition: Ireland and Yugoslavia.  It also examines the separation and partition that occurred in Berne, a canton of Switzerland, in 1979--a process so peaceful that it never made the evening news here in Canada.  By comparing how the process was handled in each case, Reid extracts lessons which he hopes will make the Canadian experience resemble the Swiss experience, rather than the Yugoslavian or Irish. 

The fundamental step is to entrench in the national constitution a democratic mechanism of implementing partition, before separation occurs.  The plan should allow citizens to choose their country of allegiance by majority vote in the most localized elections possible--preferably by provincial polling district.  For the lawyers in the crowd, Reid has even provided an appendix containing the Berne constitutional amendments which could be studied as a precedent.

What would the map look like after all the voting was finished?  Reid has done careful research to determine the likely voting patterns on a poll-by-poll basis.  The book comes complete with maps and graphs showing where Canadian enclaves would probably arise.  It also considers the problem of ground access and proposes the creation of a narrow highway corridor to join the enclaves to the rest of Canada.

All of this may sound extremely far-fetched and impractical to the uninitiated, but Reid has foreseen even that problem.  He provides the reader with several examples from around the world of enclaves, both past and present, that have functioned in a practical, peaceful routine. 

Most readers probably wouldn't know, for example, that there are twenty-two chunks of Belgian territory that are completely surrounded by land belonging to the Netherlands, and that there are even smaller parcels of Dutch territory nestled entirely within the Belgian enclaves.  If the Dutch and the Belgians can manage this polka-dotted affair, Canadians and ex-Canadians should be able to, too.

Canada Remapped is well reasoned, thoroughly researched and capably written.  Reid does not shy away from thorny issues, nor does he imagine that his proposals will bring perfect peace and harmony to everyone.  However, his is certainly the most humane and least inflammatory treatment of this issue that I have heard of.  Unlike other partition proposals, his aim is not to punish Quebec for leaving.  That way lies war. 

If you can't find this book at your local bookstore, ask them to order it for you from Arsenal Pulp Press in Vancouver.  While you're at it, get a second copy and send it to your member of Parliament.

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June 07, 2000