EVERY TIME Jean-Noël Tremblay, Quebec’s minister of cultural affairs, intones about the international role of the State of Quebec (which is fairly often) some English-speaking voice utters a howl or a moan of protest — much, we suspect, to Mr. Tremblay’s gratification. It’s time to take note of a few facts about this so-called issue.
Anybody, anybody at all, can “negotiate” with any foreign government that is willing to receive him. Friends of Rhodesia can send gasoline to Ian Smith. Private organizations like CARE have made their own arrangements with dozens of governments in the past 20 years. If B’nai B’rith or Hadassah, or a group of individuals in the Canadian Jewish community, wanted to set up a scholarship fund in Israel they could take it up directly with Jerusalem. They could work through the Canadian Embassy in Tel-Aviv if they chose, but no rule or regulation says they must.
Obviously it would be absurd to forbid a provincial minister to do what any private citizen can do without a licence. But equally absurd to argue, from either side, that such “negotiations” amount to international recognition of Quebec as a sovereign state.
It’s true, of course, that a provincial minister appears as something more than a private individual in these transactions. Other nations might, and most of them do, hesitate to do business with a provincial representative unless he has the explicit endorsement of the Government of Canada. It appears from Mr. Tremblay’s recent complaints, after a visit to Paris, that even President Charles de Gaulle’s officials feel this inhibition — it was a coolness on the part of France, not of Ottawa, of which Mr. Tremblay was complaining.
The misgiving is well founded. It is a discourtesy — sometimes inadvertent, sometimes not — for another government to deal with a Canadian provincial authority instead of going through the Government of Canada and its embassy. But when such a discourtesy is committed it does less than no good to make a public fuss about it. All that’s achieved is the kind of publicity that separatists enjoy and that Canadians should deplore.
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