Conrad Black: Quebec Independence No Longer A Threat

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CONRAD BLACK
There is no longer a threat of Quebec independence because Quebecers have become "addicted" to transfer payments from other provinces, former media baron Conrad Black said Friday. (CP) | CP

CALGARY - There is no longer a threat of Quebec independence because Quebecers have become "addicted" to transfer payments from other provinces, former media baron Conrad Black said Friday.

Speaking at a sold-out luncheon at the Calgary Petroleum Club, Black said there is less support now for Quebec sovereignty than there was 30 years ago.

"It was the case then that you couldn't really govern in Canada, you couldn't form a government in Canada, without reasonably strong representation from Quebec," Black said.

"That has changed because of demographics and, to a degree, economics," he said, adding, "I don't think there's any serious danger of Quebec seceding."

Black said that as tedious as the process was at the time, the federal government was able eventually to make Quebec reliant on the federal transfer payment system through good-faith negotiations.

"It wore Quebec down and it enabled this transfer payment system to addict the French Quebec nationalists to receiving money so they could run an all-white-collar economy."

Black said the Quebec government of Pauline Marois is trying to talk a good game on sovereignty, but he believes the support and will for independence just aren't there.

"They just can't cut it. They've made the deal. They'll go through their pretence of a semi-autonomous state and they've taken the addictive bribe and they aren't threatening to break up the country."

The first Quebec referendum fight, led by Premier Rene Levesque in 1980, featured a confusing question about sovereignty association. Quebecers opted to remain in Canada. The second campaign, in 1995, was led by Premier Jacques Parizeau with help from Bloc Quebecois founder Lucien Bouchard. Quebecers voted by the slimmest of margins to stay in the federation.

Soon after that vote, Prime Minister Jean Chretien referred the question of unilateral secession to the Supreme Court. Almost two years later, Parliament passed the Clarity Act which required a clear decision for independence and a national process for negotiating secession.

"It's clear they can't get anywhere near a majority without a trick question and they can't put a trick question in anymore," Black said.

Black returned to Canada a year ago under a temporary permit after serving 37 months of a 42-month sentence in a Florida prison for fraud and obstruction of justice while head of media giant Hollinger International.

In a highly-publicized battle in 2001, he renounced his Canadian citizenship so he could accept a peerage in the British House of Lords.

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