by Austin Bay
April 27, 2005
A political specter haunts North America -- the specter of the world's next failed state.
We can still call it Canada, at least for a couple years. And who knows, like news of Mark Twain's demise, my cheeky pessimism may be greatly exaggerated. Our northern neighbor's polyglot populace of beer drinkers, peaceniks, Mounties and socialists may yet dump their crooked politicians and craft a new, more robust deal with Quebecois separatists.
If you don't know about Canada's crooked politicians, you're not alone. Democracy and free speech are breaking out in Beirut, but they're both taking a beating in Ontario. The Canadian government has a press clamp on an investigation into the ruling Liberal Party's "Adscam" kickback scheme. A "judicial publication ban" is the term. It may soon rank with the Watergate rhetoric like "modified limited hang-out." Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Paul Martin is implicated in the Adscam fiasco, and he's starting to look like the northland's Richard Nixon.
In the Internet Age, clamps and bans crack quickly, and the Liberals have seen their popular support go poof. A U.S. Web site (www.captainsquartersblog.com), run by Minnesotan Ed Morrissey, started posting leaked statements from the judicial hearings. The Web site instantly became Radio Free Canada and Deep Throat combined, with hundreds of thousands of Canadians going online to read the damning evidence. Now Canadian newspapers are on the story, but it's another case of major media following the Internet's lead. On his Web site, Morrisey sums up Canada's Adscam as "... transfers of cash to the Liberal Party as part of the money-laundering effort ..."
Linda Seebach of the Rocky Mountain News, in a column about Morrissey's coda of Watergate's Woodward and Bernstein, observed that there's "hardly any coverage of what the Canadians call 'AdScam' in the U.S. press, although something that could cause the Canadian government to fall ought to be of interest to that country's southern neighbor ..."
But "federal" Canada remains an iffy proposition, and becomes iffier as the separatist Parti Quebcois (PQ) gains political clout at the expense of the corrupt Liberals.
Bewitched by a Never Land notion of a francophone French Quebec freed from the yoke of "English-speaking" Canada, the PQ radicals regard themselves as culturally unique, prime ethnic candidates for their own nation state and United Nations seat. It's not a new concept. Charles De Gaulle, in a 1967 act of French unilateralism, gave Canadians the jitters when he quipped, "Vive Quebec libre."
What happens to Canada if Quebec secedes? Canadians are once again pondering this question -- live on the CBC -- and given Canada's status as America's number one trading partner and continental neighbor, U.S. citizens should consider the ramifications.
Canadians in the western and maritime provinces already dread the political power of populous Ontario. (Quebec serves as a political balance to Ontario.) If Quebec bids adieu, "remnant" Canada's political rules will be subject to revision. Subsequent regional bickering could lead to further fragmentation.
What might a grand Canadian breakup look like? Jim Dunnigan and I, in the 1991 edition of "A Quick and Dirty Guide to War," played speculative cartographer and redrew Canada's political map.
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?