Chirac says Paris would recognise Quebec

HUGH WINSOR

Ottawa

The Canadian Foreign Minister, Andre Ouellet, tried to play down the importance of a promise by President Jacques Chirac that France would recognise an independent Quebec if separatists gain a victory in next Monday's referendum.

Speaking after a meeting of the Cabinet, Mr Ouellet said he did not think Mr Chirac's comments during an interview in New York with CNN would have much impact on the campaign. "I think obviously some people in Quebec would like to see this as a major endorsement," he said. "If you look at what he said, it's not a major endorsement at all."

Mr Ouellet pointed out that Mr Chirac was responding to a hypothetical question from a caller to CNN. "He said he would recognise a fact. And everyone would recognise the fact [if separatists won]. It would change diplomatic relations."

In Paris, a presidential spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna, said Mr Chirac had not meant to endorse independence for Quebec, but separatist leaders in the province were quick to pounce on hiscomment. The Bloc Quebecois leader, Lucien Bouchard, said that by confirming a commitment Mr Chirac had made to him a year ago, when the Quebec leader had visited Paris, he was supporting the separatists' argument that Quebec can survive as an independent country.

President Chirac told the interviewer that France would respect the outcome of the referendum vote but would not interfere in the referendum campaign. Mr Chirac had also given the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, an assurance that France would not meddle in the referendum when he attended the G-7 Summit in Halifax in June.

This is in contrast to France's position during the 1980 referendum campaign, when French agents were active in promoting Quebeckers' dissent.

Mr Chirac's earlier promise to Mr Bouchard was made while he was still only the mayor of Paris. The Bloc Quebecois leader had visited France seeking commitments because international recognition would be a crucial for a nascent independent Quebec.

Mr Bouchard also visited Washington but had a frosty reception. While saying formally that Quebec's future is for Quebeckers to decide, US officials, including President Bill Clinton, have made it clear they wish Canada to be stable and united. Last week, the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, went a step further , saying that Quebec would have a tough time negotiating trade deals.

For an independent Quebec, French recognition would have an important moral impact. But the separatists' first priority for formal recognition is the US. It will also be crucial for Quebec's industries to gain access to the North American Free Trade Agreement, an admission that the US and Canadian governments have said will not be automatic.

Quebec has also said it will apply to the World Trade Organisation and that it would like to become a partner in both Nato and Norad, the North American Air Defence pact.

Financial markets have continued to react to polls that place the "Yes" side with a narrow lead over the federalist side. On Monday, the Canadian dollar had lost a full cent against the US dollar, though yesterday the drop had slowed, levelling out at about 72.86 cents.

Three polls will be released this week which could also have an impact, especially on what are considered to be strategic voters who want to give Quebec a strong bargaining position with the rest of Canada but who do not want to separate.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...