121. Telegram 372 From the Consulate in Quebec City to the Department of State1

372. Subject: Reassuring Uncle.

1. Paid first courtesy call this morning on new Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Claude Morin. He said he hoped USG understood Parti Quebecois govt is not made up of radicals and wished to pursue moderate, friendly relations in North American tradition with rest of Canada and with U.S. While political sovereignty remains basic to PQ program, his govt will function as Provincial govt within existing constitutional context until changes are made in orderly, democratic manner. Referendum to determine wishes of Quebecois on independence issue may come in two years time or could be delayed longer. Morin confided that he and his colleagues have not yet decided what form referendum might take or when it might be presented to people. Planning, he said, is still in vague generalities. “As you know, we did not expect recent election victory and were waiting until after election to define policy,” Morin laughingly confided.

2. Two Federal/Provincial conferences, scheduled to be held within next two weeks, will help orient PQ strategy, he said. These initial contacts should give Levesque and colleagues better idea of attitudes of Ottawa and of other Provinces. Quebecois have agreed follow agenda fixed for conferences prior their coming to power. Constitutional question will be allowed only one hour’s discussion at end of premiers’ meeting, according Morin; a period obviously too brief for any meaningful discussion of such a complex subject. Conference can not be prolonged beyond midday on Dec 14 as Premier Levesque must return for special session of National Assembly which opens in afternoon of 14th.

3. Morin prefered not to discuss GOQ tactics in negotiating constitutional future with Ottawa. Claimed he and colleagues have not yet thought through problems. Said it is clear that Trudeau is looking for clear constitutional issue with which to confront PQ and to burnish his image as defender of federalism. O.’s aim would be to precipitate early crisis which would allow him force independence crisis “prematurely.” Levesque will attempt avoid being manoeuvered into such confrontation.

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4. GOQ is encouraged by enlightened, concilitory attitude displayed in editorials in Toronto Star. However, Morin said he would like to see “decentralization” more precisely defined. “It could mean everything or nothing. We are still ultimately dedicated to an assumption of political sovereignty, but we wish to preserve as many of the useful links with the rest of Canada as possible. In other words,” he said, “we would not be satisfied with some arrangement which simply gave us a devolution of powers like the right to choose our own television programs.” In short, he and his colleagues are encouraged by some of the conciliatory signs coming from English-speaking Canada, but wish to see these gestures translated into specifics before they decide how to react to them.

5. With special emphasis, Mr. Morin carefully stated that Levesque and GOQ wanted the USG to understand that the PQ is not neutralist and is planning to define a defense policy. The old “pacifist plank” in party platform was drawn up by the small group of intellectuals who were important in the foundation of the PQ. However, present leadership has for some time recognized the need for a change in defense policy and accepts the fact that “pacifism is impossible” in the North American context in which Quebec must exist.

6. Comment: Morin and Levesque are anxious that USG not see PQ as disruptive force inimicable to American interests. Morin indicated his understanding when I again told him that USG would prefer a strong, united Canada. His unusual emphasis on need to define defense policy was clear effort reassure us that independent Quebec will take what it views as realistic view towards continental defense and recognize legitimate US concern.

  1. Summary: The Consulate reported a December 3 meeting with Claude Morin.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1976. Confidential; Immediate. Sent immediate for information to Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto.