Monday, November 27, 2006

Canada Recognises Quebecers As a Nation

Canada's parliament has recognized Quebecers as a nation within a united Canada.

It backed a controversial proposal that has already prompted one minister in the minority Conservative government to quit.

The House of Commons voted 266 to 16 in favor of the motion, which the government said it saw as a way to head off pressure from separatists who want to break away from Canada.

But critics said the proposal could actually bolster the separatists, and the pro-independence Bloc Quebecois said it would use the change to demand extra powers, including Quebec's right to speak at international meetings.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Michael Chong resigned over the vote and said the separatists would use it to sow confusion.

"I believe in this great country of ours, and I believe in one nation, undivided, called Canada," Chong, whose cabinet brief included Ottawa's ties with Quebec and Canadian provinces, told a news conference.

"They (the separatists) will argue that if the Quebecois are a nation within Canada, then they are certainly a nation without Canada."

Chong's resignation does not threaten the government's survival, but it does underline political tensions over the status of Quebec, which has already held two closely contested referendums over whether to break away from Canada.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper drafted the motion last week in response to one from the Bloc that recognised Quebecers as a nation, but did not include the words "within a united Canada".

Chong said he remains a Conservative member of Parliament and was loyal to Harper.

He was the first minister to leave the cabinet since Harper defeated the Liberals in January. Chong quit after the government said it would dismiss cabinet ministers if they did not vote for the proposal.

French-speaking Quebec already calls its legislature the Quebec National Assembly and calls Quebec City its national capital.

"It won't change anything in their day-to-day lives," insisted Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, a leading Quebec legislator, during Parliamentary debate.

"It won't give Quebecers more powers."

Many Canadian politicians have welcomed the motion as a way of mollifying Quebecers. But others said it risked opening the door to the break-up of Canada down the road.


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