Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ex-Premier Reveals Saskatchewan, in 1995, Mulled Secession on Its Own as Quebec Independence Vote Neared

Roy Romanow, the former New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) premier of Saskatchewan, confirmed this week that in 1995, as Quebec prepared to hold a referendum on independence from Canada, a secret cabinet “‘constitutional contingencies’ committee” met to plot possible moves in case the result was a “yes.”  One of those possibilities was for Saskatchewan to proceed with its own secession.  The committee’s existence had just been revealed in excerpts, in the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s, of a forthcoming book by the journalist Chantal Hébert titled The Morning After: The Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was.

The committee included Romanow (pictured at the top of this article), two or three cabinet members, and his minister for intergovernmental affairs, Ed Tchorzewski.  “It would have been absolutely foolish to talk about it at the time,” Romanow told the Saskatoon Star–Phoenix this week, when asked about the need for secrecy at the time, adding, “You had to have the committee meeting in secret; otherwise, you’d have headlines [like], ‘Romanow considering pulling out.’  The key word is ‘contingency’—contingent on a successful vote for Quebec separation.  What were our options?”

In addition to secession, the secret committee mulled possibilities such as annexation by the United States—something also openly contemplated at the time in the Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, which would have been cut off by a Quebec secession from the rest of Canada.  But Romanow says now that neither that nor independence were considered by the committee viable.  As he put it this week, “ The separation idea simply was not on. It would not make sense economically and socially,” he said.  “It would offend everything with respect to my personal history.  I didn’t go through patriation and the Night of the Long Knives and the Charlottetown accord for that—these are things I believe in passionately, so [secession] was simply not on.”

The flag of Saskatchewan
More likely, if the referendum had succeeded, would have been a strengthening of ties with British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and the northern territories, Romanow said, mainly because the remaining parts of Canada would have to find new geopolitical orientations.  As the Star–Phoenix summarized this thinking, “If Quebec separated, Atlantic Canada would be ‘an island,’ Ontario would likely strengthen its ‘north–south’ economic partnerships, and the western provinces would be on their own.”  In the event, the secessionist cause lost by a handful of votes.

For the most part, Saskatchewan has been very nearly the least separatist among Canada’s Anglophone provinces.  Alberta is the most independent-minded, although their main separatist party, the Western Block Party (W.B.P.), hung up its hat (pictured above) earlier this year (as discussed at the time in this blog).

The 1995 referendum was a nail-biter for all Canadians.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]

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